Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pro Ecclesia--Spring 2010 issue

Pro Ecclesia has long been my favorite theological journal. The Spring 2010 issue that recently arrived (I was a little late with my subscription renewal) reminded me why that's been the case. The articles in this issue exemplify the sort of ecclesially engaged theological exploration that the church desperately needs from its theologians: Sarah Hinlicky Wilson on "Tradition, Priesthood, and Personhood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel"; C. Clifton Black on "Trinity and Exegesis"; John R. Meyer on "The Metaphysics of Divine Self-Donation"; and Philip H. Pfatteicher on "Some Early and Later Fathers on the Visitation of the Sick." Sarah Hinlicky Wilson's reflections on the arguments of lay Orthodox theologian Elisabeth Behr-Sigel for the ordination of women to the Orthodox priesthood are especially intriguing, and I intend to highlight them in a separate blog post in the near future.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Baptists Today story on Ecumenism Means You, Too

The July 2010 issue of Baptists Today (vol. 28, no. 7) includes in its Media Shelf section a story on Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity under the title "Baptist Theologian Draws on U2's Music: Harmon Book Calls for Christian Fellowship" (p. 30). The story, which is currently available only in print, is an adaptation of Bob Allen's Associated Baptist Press article that appeared last month.

Interested in reading the book? Order Ecumenism Means You, Too directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Re-launch of the Student Christian Movement of the United States of America

The World Student Christian Federation founded by John Mott in 1895, along with its associated national Student Christian Movement organizations, was a key shaper of the interrelated modern missions and modern ecumenical movements. I was delighted to learn recently from Luciano Kovacs, North American Regional Secretary of the World Student Christian Federation, that after a forty-year absence the Student Christian Movement of the United States of America will officially re-launch the organization on October 10, 2010 (10/10/10). This renewal of the SCM in the United States has the potential to foster the kind of renewed interest in ecumenical engagement among younger Christians that I hoped to encourage with my most recent book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity. The North American Region of the WSCF hopes to set up local SCM units across the United States in the near future. For additional information and updates, check out the web site of the Student Christian Movement of the USA and its facebook group.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"How Baptists Receive the Gifts of Catholics and Other Christians" in Ecumenical Trends

My article "How Baptists Receive the Gifts of Catholics and Other Christians" has been published in the journal Ecumenical Trends (vol. 39, no. 6 [June 2010], pp. 1/81-5/85). I delivered an earlier version of the article in March as the 2010 Lourdes College Ecumenical Lecture. This issue of Ecumenical Trends is currently available only in print, but here's a snippet from the article that summarizes its essence:

In many respects, receptive ecumenism is friendlier to Baptist participation in ecumenical engagement than some earlier models may have been. It assumes that because Baptists have been entrusted with a unique journey as a people of God, they possess distinctive gifts to be offered to the rest of the body of Christ. It also suggests the possibility that Baptists can incorporate the gifts of others into their own faith and practice without abandoning or distorting the gifts that already define the Baptist identity. Receptive ecumenism may also reveal Baptists as being much more receptive ecumenically than one might assume. Throughout their history and in their ecclesial life today, Baptists have received from Catholics and other Christians much that forms the core of Baptists’ identity as Christians while also enriching their distinctive identity as Baptists (p. 2/82).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Baptist Contributions to Edinburgh 2010: Centenary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference

In a previous post I called attention to the Edinburgh 2010 conference held June 2-6 marking the centenary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference. The following press release from the Baptist World Alliance highlights the Baptist contributions to this historic ecumenical gathering. (For what it's worth, Malkhaz Songulashvili, the archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia mentioned in the press release, represents along with his Baptist communion a fascinating case study in receptive ecumenism, for the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia has deliberately received some of the liturgical and ecclesiological gifts of the majority Eastern Orthodox tradition in their Georgian context.)

June 16, 2010

Baptists share in Edinburgh mission conference

Washington (BWA) -- Approximately 300 delegates from 60 countries, including 17 Baptists from 13 countries, attended the centenary of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, from June 2-6. The first conference, held in Edinburgh in June 1910, is regarded as the event that sparked the modern Protestant ecumenical movement and that which gave impetus to international Christian mission.

"Prominent among the 2010 participants was the significant contribution of the many women working in mission agencies, missiological faculties, various mission networks, and church departments of mission," wrote Darrell Jackson, director of the Nova Research Centre at Redcliffe College in the United Kingdom, and convener of one of the study groups at the conference.

Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, and one of four official BWA representatives at the event stated that "one can clearly see the global expansion of the faith since 1910 in the makeup of those attending." The latest statistics, Medley said, "are that 60 percent of all Christians now live in the Southern hemisphere. The foremost mother tongue in the church today is Spanish. Religious pluralism due to migration and other factors has increased throughout the world except in predominantly Muslim countries. Asia is the most religiously diverse region in the world."

Malkhaz Songulashvili, archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia and another BWA representative, declared that "Edinburgh 2010 should be considered a huge success not only because of all the sessions and documents that were discussed and approved, but also because it was a fascinating encounter of God's people from all sorts of traditions, cultures and countries."

Songulashvili noted that "Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Oriental and Eastern Orthodox came together to discuss matters of common interests on an equal footing." Jackson observed that many "plenary presentations and small group discussions were led by a variety of individuals from around the world."

The major focus of the conference was on nine themes, including foundations for mission, other faiths, mission spirituality, mission and unity, and theological education for mission.

Common Call, a declaration released during the five days of meeting, asserted that "the church, as a sign and symbol of the reign of God, is called to witness to Christ today by sharing in God's mission of love through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit."

Common Call implored the church to trust in the Triune God with a renewed sense of urgency, to remember Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and his resurrection for the world's salvation, to know the Holy Spirit, and to affirm the importance of the biblical foundations of missional engagement.

The declaration affirmed that Christians should incarnate and proclaim the good news of salvation; enter into authentic dialogue, respectful engagement and humble witness among people of other faiths - and no faith - to the uniqueness of Christ; celebrate the renewal experienced through movements of migration and mission in all directions; become communities of compassion and healing; and to have a new zeal for justice, peace and the protection of the environment.

Medley indicated that "questions as to the nature of the relationship of the Christian faith to other faiths and to culture" will continue to be of great interest to those who are engaged "in missiological circles."

The four BWA representatives at the mission conference were Medley from the United States, Songulashvili from the Caucasus country of Georgia, Marvia Lawes, a Jamaican missionary in Panama, and Noah Moses Israel from South Africa.

© Baptist World Alliance

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Fellowship Blog reviews Ecumenism Means You, Too

The Fellowship Blog, an online community hosted by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has posted Kris Norris' review of Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity. Here's a snippet from Kris' review:

Harmon does an exceptional job of producing an easy-to-read guide to ecumenism. He makes often-complex theological themes such as eschatology and Trinitarian theology easily-understandable for readers of all types. I highly recommend Ecumenism Means You, Too not just to those who have an interest in ecumenical topics, but to all members of the Body of Christ called to a unified witness, unified mission, and unified identity. This book can be beneficial to all Christians as it highlights an important aspect of missional living that churches often tend to overlook.

Interested in reading the book? Order Ecumenism Means You, Too directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bavarian Baptists and Lutherans in Dialogue--in English

In a previous post I called attention to the agreed statement published by a joint working group of Baptists and Lutherans in Bavaria and linked the text of the report in German. I'm pleased to discover that I'm also able to link the English translation of the agreed statement, along with the Baptist and Lutheran introductory remarks delivered at a reception celebrating the presentation of this convergence document (also in English). In addition, this interview with Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit of the (Lutheran) Church of Norway, the current General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (photo at left), makes positive reference to the results of this dialogue.

In my opinion, this is the finest text yet issued by a bilateral dialogue in which Baptists have been involved and would serve as an excellent model for such conversations at the international level.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This is what a preacher looks like, too

Smyth & Helwys Publishers recently released This is What a Preacher Looks Like, a collection of sermons by 36 Baptist women edited by Pamela R. Durso, my former faculty colleague at Campbell University Divinity School who is now serving as executive director of the organization Baptist Women in Ministry. I like the concept of this collection for a couple of reasons. One is more directly related to the theme of most of my posts on Ecclesial Theology: the ordination of women as pastors/priests/presbyters is an important matter for ecumenical dialogue, figuring prominently in recent rounds of the Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue but also surfacing in other bilateral and multilateral conversations. It is important that such conversations give attention to the concrete embodiment of the pastoral ministry of women, and this collection of sermons by Baptist women can help serve that purpose. (I've made known my own ecumenical perspective on this matter in my book Towards Baptist Catholicity, in which I address in the final chapter one question raised by the book's title: "The most significant reservation which I have about becoming Catholic or Orthodox is my support for the ordination of women to offices of pastoral ministry, which of course runs counter to the current ecclesial discipline of the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy" [p. 200].)

I also like the idea behind this book because the woman to whom I'm married is in many ways the more expressively creative preacher in our household. Kheresa earned her undergraduate degree in religion summa cum laude, holds a Master of Divinity (with biblical languages), and served for many years as director of admissions for a graduate/professional divinity school, yet she has seldom had an opportunity to preach--partly because she's Baptist in the South, partly because she has a healthy aversion to self-promotion, and partly because she's married to someone who tends to get these sorts of invitations (which is a shame--because, again, in many ways she's the more expressively creative preacher in our household). Kheresa did have an opportunity to preach in a divinity school chapel service a few years ago. I've posted below the text of the sermon on John 13:1-15 she preached on that occasion.

It’s been said that only two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Perhaps a third item should be added to this pair—unpredictability. Life is unpredictable!

A few years ago I was reminded that life is unpredictable when the calmness of a warm later summer evening was shattered. It was September 1996, and Hurricane Fran attacked central North Carolina like a ravenous beast. Stately pine trees snapped like toothpicks. Oak and elm trees sliced through homes. Roads were blocked. In the absence of electricity and running water, central North Carolina was eerily silent.

My family was one of the lucky victims of Hurricane Fran. Our home sustained only minor damage, but we were without running water and electricity for a week. Although my parents never experienced the Great Depression for themselves, my grandparents did. And they taught my parents the importance of preparation and saving. As a result of this instruction, several months before Fran hit my parents had purchased a very large quantity of beef from a neighbor. The beef, along with countless pints and quarts of vegetables and fruit, was frozen in two freezers on my parents’ property. In the wake of a hurricane, that proved to be an unfortunate circumstance. Not only were we without electricity and running water; we were on the verge of losing a substantial amount of food and money.

A member of our church family who regained electricity within 48 hours after the storm learned of our situation. She vowed to provide us with fresh water daily. And she did. She invited us to shower at her home as much as we wished. She salvaged as much of the food that was destined to spoil as she possibly could, and she cooked for us. She did all of these things for us while she cared for the families of her two daughters, who were also without electricity and running water.

We did not ask Judy Mills do these things for us. We didn’t expect her do these things for us. Judy Mills did these things for my family simply in response to her love for God and God’s people. She took care of us because she loved us. Love often does those unnoticed, menial tasks because it is selfless and ever-giving.

Love that serves is often quiet and unassuming. On the eve of the Passover, Jesus by example taught the disciples an unpredictable yet powerful lesson on love-centered service.

It was not a typical spring evening in Jerusalem. The city was bustling with thousands of Jews who had traveled miles to offer Passover sacrifices in the Temple. Jesus and his disciples were there as well. Their entry into the Holy City had been a most unusual spectacle. Jesus had been welcomed and heralded as king by curious festival-goers. Now Israel’s newly proclaimed king found himself in a small room, surrounded by an unpromising group of hungry, dusty disciples who could not understand the nature of his ministry and who struggled to understand his perplexing teachings.

As the final rays of evening light cast long, weak shadows across the room, the disciples and Jesus gathered with dusty feet to share what would be a final meal together. Palestinian roads were unpaved, hard, and thick with dust. Travelers found their thinly sandaled feet covered in layers of caramel-colored dust. In an effort to cleanse the soiled feet of visitors, most homes were flanked by large waterpots. Slaves of affluent homeowners greeted visitors and gently washed away the layers of dust from weary feet. Slaves completed the cleansing process by drying weary feet with soft, clean towels.

The group that found itself with Jesus in a small room on the eve of the Passover was too poor for even one servant. So they gathered, with their dusty, tired, unwashed feet and growling stomachs, around a makeshift table that carried a bountiful spread of bread and wine. Succumbing to the hunger pains that riddled their stomachs and the strong desire to debrief the day’s events, the group began to dine on a well-deserved meal. In the midst of the pauses between excited chatter and the silence that accompanies the savoring of a fine meal, Jesus moved quietly from the table. Acting in the role of a servant, the newly proclaimed king removed his outer garment, tied a towel around his waist, poured cold water into a used basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel that cascaded down his side.

One can only imagine the thoughts that must have entered the disciples’ minds. One can imagine the voices becoming more and more quiet as Jesus the King cradled one of Andrew’s callused feet in his hands, and with his strong, gentle hands, the hands that would soon be broken and torn by nails, cleansed it with cool, soothing water. The room was filled with a deafening silence as drops of caramel-colored water splattered against Jesus’ own legs and feet.

One can only imagine the thoughts that must have entered the disciples’ minds as they sat, dumbfounded by the menial task being performed by Jesus. It was a task that they should have performed for Jesus. It was a task not befitting a king.

One can only imagine the thoughts that must have entered Jesus’ mind as he knelt in front of Judas Iscariot and washed his betrayer’s tired, dusty feet. Jesus knew that the final hour of his life was drawing nigh. Jesus knew that, cradled in his hands, was the foot of the one who would betray him with a kiss. In that quiet moment of humble service, Jesus was filled with sadness, frustration, love, and hope.

The deafening silence was shattered by the excited voice of Peter who exclaimed, “Lord, are YOU going to wash my feet?!” Peter’s misunderstanding provided Jesus with an opportunity to expound upon the very powerful lesson of humility in the service that he was performing. In response to Peter’s exclamation and his appeal for the Christ to wash his hands and head, Jesus explained to his disciples the nature of service: “Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

With his face fixed on the cross and his royalty about to be stripped, Jesus the King performed a task that testified to the life he would pour out for all persons. The portrait of Jesus with a basin of water, the portrait of Jesus performing an act customarily reserved for slaves, captured the essence of the cross. In humility Jesus the King neglected the heel of bread that reclined on his plate. He removed himself from the bellowing laughter of his companions. As the cold water poured down bare feet and pooled in the basin below, Jesus Christ testified to his person and work. With his life and with his actions that evening, Jesus reminded his disciples that they must become servants to all persons, the persons who are easy to love and the persons who are a challenge to love.

On the eve of the Passover, as his death loomed heavily before him, Jesus washed disciples’ feet. The menial act was a lesson on true servanthood for the disciples of the first century and for us today. In one unpredictable moment, Jesus taught by example that service is not to be done for service’s sake. Service finds its strength in the humility of Christ-like, agape love. Service finds its servanthood in the love that gives itself away. Service finds its servanthood in the love that loves when love is easy to give and when love is hard to give. Service finds its servanthood in the person of Jesus Christ.

There are many lessons to learn from John’s account of the foot washing. We could easily discuss the perils of a life lived in pride. We could attempt to explore the nature of humility. We could delve deeper into the text and grapple with the presence of elements of baptism that pervade this biblical account. There are many more lessons to learn from the story of the footwashing. However, there are at least three lessons that are important to us as Christians and as ministers who strive to be Christ-centered, Bible-based, and ministry-focused.

First, a servant’s heart is filled with love. On the eve of the Passover, Jesus stood with one foot in two worlds. He stood in the world of his earthly ministry. He was with his closest friends, and he was with his closest betrayer. Jesus also stood before the cross. He was only hours from a cruel death. As he stood with one foot in two worlds, Jesus loved those persons who surrounded him. Jesus’ love for these persons was evident in the act of the foot washing. The footwashing was evidence of Jesus’ love for his disciples. Jesus loved Thomas, Bartholomew, Peter—and even Judas Iscariot. It was Jesus’ love for this motley group that compelled him to serve them.

When Hurricane Fran victimized my family, Judy Mills’ unconditional love for us was evident in her service to us. Judy served us with a love-filled heart.

Love is constantly giving and constantly caring. That is what love is all about. It is the kind of love that is experienced when a mother presses her cool palm against the fevered brow of her child. It is the kind of love that is experienced when a man has lost everything – home, family, career – and a friend reaches out and embraces him with an embrace that speaks volumes in its silence. It is the kind of love that respects and serves even the local drunk who is an embarrassment to the community. A servant’s heart is filled with love.

A second lesson we can learn from John’s account of the footwashing is that a servant’s heart is filled with humility. The service Jesus performed in the footwashing was a humble one. The King Jesus set aside his divine royalty and washed dirty, tired feet. There is a passage in The Beloved Captain by Donald Hankey that describes how a captain of ship cared for his men: “We all knew that he was our superior. I suppose that was why he could be so humble without loss of dignity. When we started route marches, for instance, and our feet were blistered and sore, as they often were at first, you would have thought that they were his own feet from the trouble he took. If a blister had to be lanced, he would very likely lance it himself.” Humility demands that we worry less about our titles and our stature in the community, and focus more on serving those around us. Humility demands that we embrace the beauty of serving what we may perceive to be unbeautiful.

A third lesson we can learn from John’s account of the footwashing is that a servant’s heart serves even when it hurts. While the biblical text does not specifically state that Jesus washed Judas Iscariot’s feet, but it is implied. If Jesus did wash Judas’ feet, the experience must have been painful. Perhaps the real pain did not reside in the fact that Judas would ultimately betray him. Perhaps the real pain resided in Jesus’ deep love for his betrayer. Despite the fact that Judas would soon betray Jesus with a kiss, Jesus served him as a servant.

A servant always serves in spite of the hurt. In his book Embodying Forgiveness, L. Gregory Jones recounts this story about an Armenian woman in the early part of this century:

“A Turkish officer raided and looted an Armenian home. He killed the aged parents and gave the daughters to the soldiers, keeping the eldest daughter for himself. Some time later she escaped and trained as a nurse. As time passed, she found herself nursing in a ward of Turkish officers. One night, by the light of a lantern, she saw the face of this officer. He was so gravely ill that without exceptional nursing he would die. The days passed, and he recovered. One day, the doctor stood by the bed with her and said to him, ‘But for her devotion to you, you would be dead.’ He looked at her and said, ‘We have met before, haven’t we?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘we have met before.’ ‘Why didn’t you kill me?’ he asked. She replied, ‘I am follower of him who said ‘Love your enemies.”

A servant will serve even when it hurts. True servanthood occurs when personal feelings of pain and injury are set aside. True servanthood occurs when we allow God to heal our hurts and transform our pain into love for even those persons who have hurt us. That is what the love of Jesus Christ is all about.

Life is unpredictable, but love and servanthood are constant. The cross of Jesus Christ, as illustrated in the footwashing, is an exemplary enactment of supreme servanthood. It demands a response. Jesus Christ has set the example for us, and the Spirit empowers us to grow continually in Christ-likeness. We must do more than simply preach and teach servanthood. We must grab a basin. We must gird our loins with a towel. In love and humility we must wash each other’s feet.

Amen, Kheresa.

Edinburgh 2010: Centenary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference

The World Missionary Conference held at Edinburgh in 1910 is regarded by many as the international public beginning of the modern ecumenical movement as we know it today. In Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity I introduce this historic event and its significance for the ecumenical movement:

It is no mere historical accident that the beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement in the nineteenth century coincided with the beginnings of the modern missions movement. The missionaries quickly concluded that taking a divided Christianity to the mission field harmed their witness for Christ, and some of them issued the earliest modern calls for ecumenical convergence. In 1806 William Carey (1761-1834), a Baptist missionary to India, proposed that “a general association of all denominations of Christians from the four quarters of the earth” meet each decade at the Cape of Good Hope. Carey’s dream was realized in part by the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1910 that led to the founding of the ongoing International Missionary Conference in 1921. While these gatherings were initially limited to Protestants, they served as the nucleus for what became the primary institutional expression of the worldwide ecumenical movement (p. 27).

Today marked the opening of Edinburgh 2010, a five-day conference marking the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference of 1910. The conference web site will be posting news stories and links to resources throughout the conference and thereafter. Below is a press release about today's opening session:

Edinburgh 2010 opens with prayer, praise and reflection

Christian songs and hymns from around the globe mingled with the native skirl of bagpipes at welcoming ceremonies for Edinburgh 2010, a five-day conference marking the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference of 1910. By the start of the conference, 297 registered delegates from 60 nations were joined by more than 100 additional visitors and staff on the Pollock Halls campus of Edinburgh University. John Bell, a leading musician from the Iona Community and editor of the Church of Scotland’s hymnal, provided continuity to sequences of greeting, reflection, Bible readings and prayer. He also introduced a diversity of musical styles from church communities in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Edinburgh 2010 takes as its theme “Witnessing to Christ Today” and welcomes Christians from a variety of church traditions: Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical and Pentecostal. It is an occasion to review the history of faith over the past century and to look toward the future of world Christianity.

In opening remarks on Wednesday evening 2 June, the assembly heard from representatives of local sponsoring organisations: the University of Edinburgh, the Church of Scotland, Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), the Roman Catholic Church, the Scotland Evangelical Alliance as well as the general council of Edinburgh 2010.

During opening prayer on the following morning, reflections were offered by the leaders of two international sponsors of the conference: the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

The Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, affirmed that “mission and unity belong together. To be one in Christ is to witness together to Christ.” Discipleship, he said, demands the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen for human salvation: “This means that if there is to be a witness to Christ, there must be a mission movement of the cross. This means that if there is a will to be one in Christ, there must be an ecumenical movement of the cross. Nobody needs triumphalistic movements.”

Acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of his audience, Tveit continued: “It is important to keep a healthy dialectic and creative tension between the many dimensions of our calling. To witness to Christ is both evangelism and the prophetic stand for Christ’s will for justice, peace and care of creation.”

The Rev. Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the WEA, warned that despite advances of the past century “there is no corner of the world where the mission of the church is complete. God’s calling to the whole church is to take the whole gospel to the whole world, and that call comes anew to us in every generation.” Some people have yet to hear the gospel of Christ, he explained, while in some other regions including Europe “re-evangelisation is desperately needed.”

Noting the promise of theological conversations among Evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholics and member churches of the WCC, Tunnicliffe admitted that “there have been many things that have divided the different streams of the church. We would be foolish to think in these few days all those often deeply-held and painfully fought-over differences could be resolved. But I hope that we can listen to one another with love and respect, build bridges rather than create chasms, pray together, learn together, discover new friendships.”