Thursday, February 25, 2010

Christian Churches Together holds meeting on evangelism.

When Christian Churches Together (CCT) held its annual meeting, the group talked about evangelism and met in the Pacific Northwest. When research groups explore religious attitudes in the US, asking what religious group people are affiliated with, this region scores the highest anywhere answering "none"--about 63 percent. So it’s been dubbed "the None Zone." What better place to explore the contemporary challenges and understanding of evangelism.

It is the first time this young but growing organization has focused on evangelism. With Catholic, historic Protestant, Orthodox, evangelical/Pentecostal, and historic Black church participants--the five "families" that make up CCT00this dialogue on evangelism was the richest I’ve experienced in so broad a gathering. To put it bluntly, the main ecumenical institutions like the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches rarely put this topic on their agendas, and the evangelical and Pentecostal communities talk about evangelism mostly among themselves. So this was a fresh encounter.

Mel Robeck, a Pentecostal scholar from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., reminded us that the mandate to "make disciples" had never been withdrawn, and that common witness by divided church families requires the building of trust. That’s what has been happening within CCT.

We looked historically at evangelism with the help of Douglas Strong, professor of the History of Christianity at Seattle (Wash.) Pacific University School of Theology. In the time of the "Great Awakenings" in America in the 1800s, free and open commerce and a common language in the emerging continent provided a social infrastructure similar to conditions enabling the growth of the early church. Plus, revivals were related to movements of justice like the abolition of slavery, and many groups and camp meetings were bi-racial.

What does that mean for today when we say the "world is flat," and we are participating in a communications revolution certainly as radical as the advent of the printing press? And where, by 2030, there will be no racial or ethnic group constituting a "majority"--more than 51 percent--of the population? Meanwhile, participation in religious institutions across denominational lines is mostly in decline.

So the recovery of the church’s missional mandate is essential. Doug Strong argued that we need to be "reinvigorated by the idea that God’s mission of the church is to be a sent community to restore the world...." And such a call means immigrants and people of color are essential partners in building a faithful and fruitful future. Hearing this affirmed in a setting like CCT was deeply encouraging.

CCT will continue its exploration of evangelism. Difficult areas have to be addressed, like proselytism, the challenge of interfaith relations, our theological understandings of salvation, and what evangelism looks like in a post-modern context. But we have discovered a place where leadership from the diversity of the Christian community can have an honest and engaging encounter about the meaning and practice of evangelism in contemporary culture.

-- Wes Granberg-Michaelson is general secretary of the Reformed Church in America and president of the "Historic Protestant Family" of denominations in CCT.

Source: 2/25/2010 Newsline

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