A few years ago, a leader in my denomination referred to me as “the most dangerous person” in the denomination. The reason this leader gave? I was, what he called, an “Evangelical Ecumenist.”
Now, he certainly didn’t intend for it to be a compliment. But I have a confession—I like it. I think the term Evangelical ecumenist fits very nicely, actually. And the part about being dangerous? Well, that’s precisely the kind of danger that Jesus calls us to—the dangerous act of living and working together as the Body of Christ.
I consider myself an Evangelical ecumenist. Big ‘E’ for Evangelical, little ‘e’ for ecumenist, because, while I believe evangelical ecumenism is crucial, I don’t follow the classic approach to ecumenism.
What I mean by that is I don’t believe in searching for the lowest common theological denominator through a generalized statement, such as “Jesus is Lord.” Of course Jesus is Lord. But Jesus is much more than that. He is God. He is the One born of a virgin. He suffered, died, was buried, and rose again, ascended into heaven, and is coming to judge the living and dead. Jesus is the head of the church, which has pastor/elders and deacons, calls people into covenant membership, and baptizes believers.
That’s too specific for many big ‘E’ Ecumenists. So while I’m not an Evangelical Ecumenist, I am an Evangelical ecumenist.
Perhaps I am more of an ecumenist than many other Evangelicals. I’ve spoken at the national meetings of 60 different denominations. I was last at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and in July I’m also attending the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference and the Evangelical Methodist Church national meetings.
I consider it a great privilege to train pastors, evangelists, lay leaders, professionals, and church planters from all different denominations.
We’re Better Together
Some things are just better together. What would the Fourth of July be without fireworks? Simon, without Garfunkel? Facebook, without your uncle sharing conspiracy theories? Ok, maybe Facebook would be better without that. But the point stands—some things are just better together.
The same is true of the People of God. Church history has shown us that when God’s people work together, we can accomplish more than when we’re squabbling over differences or ignoring one another altogether.
My ecumenism does not mean that I think all Christians are the same and believe the same. Nor does it mean that we should even ignore our differences. But I do believe we can still share in the same gospel. We may not all baptize our people the same, but we share in one common baptism (1 Cor. 12:13). That common bond empowers us to work together on common issues in our communities. We can tackle issues of poverty in our cities together. We can advocate for the sanctity of human life together. We can work to end injustices together.
What do the Anglican Church in North America, the Southern Baptists, the Wesleyans, the Evangelical Free Church, and non-denominational have in common? We’re baptized into one body and share a common goal to share the gospel.
To some degree, to even identify as an Evangelical is to be an Evangelical ecumenist as far as the gospel is concerned. After all, “Evangelical” doesn’t refer to any particular denomination—it is a shared term! Theologically, agreement among Evangelicals has centered on the need for people to receive the gospel and give their lives over to Christ.