Friday, February 26, 2010

Pentecostals and Catholics together on conversion and the Christian life?

One might reasonably suppose that Roman Catholics and Pentocostals have diametrically opposed understandings of the nature of conversion and other dimensions of the Christian life. Yet as a little-known ecumenical text published in 2007 and now available online reveals, these two vital expressions of global Christianity have been able to articulate surprisingly substantial agreements regarding "how an individual moves from his or her initial entry into the Christian life to being a fully active member of the church." The Roman Catholic Church has held formal dialogues with international representatives of "Classical Pentecostal" churches since 1972 (the photograph with Pope Paul VI that accompanies this post is from an early meeting of this dialogue). The report "On Becoming a Christian: Insights from Scripture and the Patristic Writings With Some Contemporary Reflections" summarizes the findings of the fifth phase of this dialogue (1998-2006). It devotes major sections to "Conversion and Christian Initiation," "Faith and Christian Initiation," "Christian Formation and Discipleship," "Experience in Christian Life," and "Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Christian Initiation." Beyond their common engagement with Scripture and Christian theological literature from the first few centuries after the New Testament era, mutual reflection on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) implemented by the Catholic Church in 1972 highlighted how much the two traditions share in common regarding what it means to be converted to Christ, to be incorporated into the church, and to be formed in a life of Christian discipleship.

Awareness of this report is important for Baptists and other Free Church Christians as they relate not only to Roman Catholics but also to other communions that baptize infants (in addition to baptizing believers whose baptism follows their commitment to follow Christ--for all churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, baptize believers; some, like the Roman Catholic Church, also baptize infants)--and vice-versa. The points of agreement identified by this text are representative of the convergence that may be possible between other credobaptist (believer-baptizing) and paedobaptist (infant-baptizing) communions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Report of the 2009 Meeting of the WCC Plenary Commission on Faith and Order

This morning members of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches received a message informing us that the full text of the official report from our 2009 plenary meeting in Crete last October, at which I represented the Baptist World Alliance, is now available online: "That They May Be One in God’s Hand: Called to Be the One Church."

A complete set of links to addresses, reports, documents, and sermons from the meeting is also available here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ecumenism Means You, Too cover design

Cascade Books has now finalized the cover for Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity. I will link ordering information here when available--stay tuned.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"How Baptists Receive the Gifts of Catholics and Other Christians"--The 2010 Lourdes College Ecumenical Lecture

Lourdes College in Sylvania, Ohio (metro Toledo area) has posted publicity information for the 2010 Lourdes College Ecumenical Lecture, which I will deliver March 21 on the theme "How Baptists Receive the Gifts of Catholics and Other Christians." This annual lecture is co-sponsored by the Lourdes College Department of Theological Studies, Toledo Area Ministries, and the Diocesan Ecumenical and Interrelgious Affairs Commission. A PDF of the printed flyer advertising the lecture is available here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Lent--Why Bother? To Take Up the Cross" now available online

The full text of my Christianity Today article on evangelicals and Lent in Baptist perspective, mentioned in my last post, is now available online on the CT web site:

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Lent--Why Bother?" in Christianity Today

The February 2010 issue of Christianity Today includes in its viewpoints section "The Village Green" a trio of brief articles by me, Frederica Mathewes-Green, and Michael Horton in which we each offer our perspectives on why evangelicals ought to take up the observance of Lent (pp. 54-55). Here's a snippet from the beginning of my article:

In central Texas, where I grew up, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday made obvious the distinctions between how Catholics and Baptists practiced their faith.

Catholic friends came to school with ash smudges on their foreheads, ate a lot of fish, gave up various pleasures for a time, and went to extra church services. My Baptist friends and I did not. We wrongly considered this evidence that Catholics believed they had to do these things to be saved. We believed we were saved by grace and therefore didn't have to do any of that.

As a seminary student, I served as pastor of a small Baptist church in the same area. By this time I had discovered the Christian year and decided to lead the congregation to take up its observance. Advent went all right; four Sundays of anticipating Christmas didn't seem like such a bad thing. Having two Sundays in the season of Christmas seemed a bit odd, but explaining their connection to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" took care of that.

With Epiphany approaching, I knew I would have some explaining to do, so I gave an overview of the history and significance of all the seasons in the Christian year. My church members looked at me, as the local expression went, "life a calf looking at a new gate." One said, "Brother Steve, this is all very interesting, but we're not Catholic. We don't observe Lent."

Can Baptists observe Lent? ....

If you're interested in finding out how I answer that question, pick up a copy of the February issue of Christianity Today, now available at many newsstands and bookstores. Or wait awhile for it to appear online at the Christianity Today web site--I'll post a link here when that happens.

(The print edition includes this artist's sketch of my publicity photo, which my three-year-old son calls the "cartoon Daddy." Does that really look like me? I suppose I should thank the artist for straightening my teeth.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ecumenism Means You, Too publication update

Cascade Books now lists Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity among its forthcoming titles, with a tentative release date later in the first quarter of 2010. The book has now been typeset and the first set of page proofs is being edited. For what it's worth, there's also now an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) assigned: 978-1-60608-865-4. Don't try to order it yet--I'll provide details here for ordering the book from the publisher,, and other sources when available.

Unlike my previous two more academically-oriented books, Ecumenism Means You, Too is intended for a general readership as a brief popular introduction to ecumenical theology that focuses on the role of laypersons in the quest for the visible unity of the body of Christ. But I hope the ministers and academic theologians among readers of this blog will enjoy it, too. Stay tuned for more details.