Over this past week three events converged together to influence me, yet again, concerning my personal convictions of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND at the same time fervently ecumenical.
- Event No. 1 – I preached a 4-day revival at church with dual affiliation with my tribe (Southern Bapt) and a more moderate form of Baptist life, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
- Event No 2 – The CEO of the Southern Bapt. Conv. Executive Committee Dr. Frank Page was on our campus, speaking in chapel, meeting with local pastors, and sharing in my class.
- Event no. 3 – I finished an interim at a Christian Church – Disciples of Christ – in Hodgenville.
In one week, I was stretched to see the significant work of other baptistic forms of ministry, 2) made increasing proud of my Southern Bapt. roots and heritage and its mission around the world for the Gospel, and 3) said goodbye to a wonderful group of Christ-honoring believers of another tribe altogether who I don’t align with biblically or theologically, but was able to worship and preach for them for several months without any issue whatsoever.
My conclusion is simple – You can be BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical at the very same time.
Without question, I am very denominationally-loyal to my tribe called Southern Baptist. I came to faith in a SBC church through an amazing ministry called vacation Bible school. I was baptized, discipled and ordained to the ministry in a SBC church. I have four degrees from three SBC-connected institutions. I was married by a Baptist pastor in a Baptist church to a Baptist girl. My personal church membership from salvation until today is in a SBC church. I firmly believe in the doctrine, mission and direction of my tribe with all my heart.
But I am also very committed to being fervently ecumenical. Being ecumenical is having the vision that more than one tribe (or denomination) will be in heaven and that you can do more together for the Gospel than you can apart. We live in a post-Christian, postmodern America where faithful, biblical Christianity is moving to the periphery of the society and I fervently believe we need each other more now than ever.
I think it is all about perspective and context. Consider this scenario.
You are in the Middle East doing underground mission work and you happen to discover another group of like-minded Christians working among the same people group, but from another denomination. Do you work with them or reject them entirely?
Well, you carefully consider their missiological framework and understanding of salvation, that is by faith alone in Christ alone, and you begin working with them as best as you possible can without compromising your convictions and remaining biblically faithful. You will both be in Heaven together one day, why not work together now for the Gospel and bring more souls with you.
Seems easy right. Its not. I have found the closer the denominations are to each other, the harder it is for them to trust each other and work together. For example, it is very difficult for the conservative Baptists and more moderate Baptists to work together because they have purposely separated from each other for a variety of reasons. Those reasons might be a particular theological doctrine or most likely a social issue but the intentional division drives a hard wedge between the two groups.
Likewise I have come to recognize it is tough for the Disciples of Christ tribe to work closely with the independent Christian church groups because they have purposely separated from each other and have no desire to rejoin.
Conversely, I find it is much easier for two tribes who are relatively far apart theologically to come together for a single purpose and work hand-in-hand. For example, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals are coming together on issues like human trafficking, the sanctity of human life, and the mandatory coverage of contraceptives. You also see various groups who would differ on all sorts of theological and liturgical issues working together in disaster relief or Operation Christian Child shoe boxes.
So what is my point. I believe the American 21st century Evangelical Christian must embrace the BOTH/AND nature of being BOTH denominationally-loyal AND fervently ecumenical. Our culture and world is turning ever-increasingly more hostile toward the Gospel and message of Jesus Christ. In a world where we are moving more and more toward the minority, division and isolation into tribal loyalties will not be helpful.
Whatever you might think of the Together for the Gospel movement, I believe they have embraced the right motto – We can come together for the Gospel of Jesus and be both denominationally-loyal and fervently ecumenical.