The “dangerous” vocation of evangelical ecumenism

A few years ago a leader in my denomination called me “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 that to be a compliment. But I have a confession, I like it. I think the term evangelical ecumenism fits very well, actually. What about the part about being dangerous? Well, that’s precisely the kind of danger 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, small “e” for ecumenical, because while I believe evangelical ecumenism is crucial, I don’t follow the classic approach to ecumenism.

What I mean by that is that I don’t believe in finding the theological lowest common 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’s the virgin born One. He suffered, died, was buried, rose again, ascended into heaven and comes to judge the living and the dead. Jesus is the head of the church, which has pastors/elders and deacons, calls people into covenant membership, and baptizes believers.

This is too specific for many great ecumenists. So even though I’m not an evangelical Ecumenist, i am evangelical ecumenist.

I am perhaps more ecumenical than many other evangelicals. I’ve spoken at national meetings of 60 different denominations. I was last at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and in July I am also attending the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference and Evangelical Methodist Church national meetings.

I consider it a great privilege to train pastorsevangelists, lay leaders, professionals and church planters from all different denominations.

we are better together

Some things are just better together. What would the 4th of July be without fireworks? Simon, without Garfunkel? Facebook, without your uncle sharing conspiracy theories? Ok, maybe Facebook would be better off without it. But the fact is, some things are just better together.

It is the same with the People of God. Church history has shown us that when God’s people work together, we can accomplish more than when we argue over differences or ignore each other completely.

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 believe we can still share the same gospel. We may not all baptize our people the same way, but we share a common baptism (1 Cor. 12:13). This common bond allows us to work together on common issues in our communities. We can tackle the problems of poverty in our cities together. Together we can uphold the sanctity of human life. We can work together to end injustice.

What do the Anglican Church in North America, Southern Baptists, Wesleyans, Evangelical Free Church and Non-Denominational Church have in common? We are baptized into one body and share a common goal of share the gospel.

Gospel music

To a certain extent, even to 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’s a shared term! Theologically, the agreement among evangelicals centered on the need for people to receive the gospel and give their lives to Christ.

Barry F. Howard