Monday, September 3, 2012

Unity in Difference?

I have come to find ecumenism to be a valuable and important focus for in life and ministry.  Funny thing about ecumenism, it seems like a virtual impossibility.  In theory, it's beautiful.  According to scripture, I believe it is one of the fundamental focii of the Church.  In reality... I swear, it's like herding Christians.

God loves to throw curve balls.  My first week in the south, we attended a Southern Baptist Church in the area.  Afterward, I introduced myself to the senior pastor and we talked a bit.  We had lunch later that week and he shared that they were looking for an interim worship leader and wondered if I would be interested.  He seemed like a good guy, our discussion was good, and I appreciated his heart.  As an innerantist, he didn't even throw things at me when I said I wasn't.  So we decided to give it a try for a weekend.  Yesterday, in fact.

All things considered, the worship services went relatively well from my perspective.  I was not at the top of my game musically, but nothing fell apart completely.  The church has a blended service, so the music was mostly conservative with some rearrangements of hymns and a few choruses.  It had been a while since I worked with a choir, so that was new.  We'll see how the church felt about things and what happens next in the near future.  But I loved the people and I feel a respect for the leaders in spite of our differences.  I believe the heart of the church is good.

However, when my wife and I attended Sunday School (still not a fan of Sunday School, I prefer weekly groups) we discovered they were going through "The Way of the Master" series, an evangelism training series.  Even those who don't know much about the program would quickly recognize Ray Comfort and his disciple Kirk Cameron (a la Courageous and those stunningly cheesy Left Behind movies).  The series advocates an aggressive form of (what I would call) confrontational evangelism and promises to show you how to:

*  Prove that God exists (and prove it to everyone else)
*  Use million dollar bills and other "witnessing tools" to share your faith
*  Give you confidence in sharing your faith and "saving souls"

And all this is marinated in guilt and served with a spicy hell-fire sauce for your enjoyment.

Now... setting my personal frustration aside, I acknowledge this is "a way" of evangelism.  It is not "my" way, but people have come to know Christ through this kind of presentation.  God works in mysterious ways.  I have my own questions as to the accuracy of the image of Jesus presented to them and whether this form of presentation may ultimately do some tragic damage to everyone else *except* those who respond positively to it.  But I am not God, and he sees fit to work as he sees fit to work.

Still, a significant portion of the material presented is devoted to attacking the "relationship evangelism" approach.  The overt message is that Comfort's Way is really the only way, Jesus' own way - thus the title.  This is where I struggle.  We all have our own ways of sharing and expressing our faith.  But how can we be unified when we are attacking other people for - of all things - the way they share their faith?  The short answer, I fear, is that we can't.

Of course, in the same breath, I have to acknowledge that I myself define my way of evangelism directly in opposition to the methods espoused in "The Way of the Master."  Having spent my time knocking on doors and "shaking the dust from my sandals," I have found that it hurts a lot of people.  So, I won't do it that way.  I choose not to go the way of Master Comfort.  I choose to follow my own best understanding of Jesus.

The real question lies in our willingness to acknowledge that we might be wrong.  Are we willing to say with Paul, 
What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, (Phi 1:18 NIV)
To be fair, the above scripture passage assumes that the gospel being preached is the same as Paul's.  Now one could argue that Ray Comfort and I (and other relationship evangelists) are preaching different gospels.  That is a difficult issue.  But I believe the heart of the "gospel" message is:  "In Jesus, God is with us, redeeming us and building his Kingdom."  That portion of the gospel is shared among almost all Christian groups.

So I find myself where the rubber meets the road:  can my belief in God's purpose for unity among all Christians withstand my personal frustrations with people like Ray Comfort and those who agree with him?  Am I really able to love and embrace even those whose image of Jesus looks different from mine?  Can I lead with them, worship with them, live with them, love with them and serve them?  Am I willing to let Jesus show me the kind of love he has for all his children?  Am I willing to surrender my impulse to change people, let God work in His own way and simply love them?  I believe that is the challenge Jesus is calling me to.  So, I surrender.

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