Magazine article The Christian Century

Ecumenical Plan Goes to Churches. (News)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Ecumenical Plan Goes to Churches. (News)

Article excerpt

BUOYED BY growing evangelical and Pentecostal input, the broadest-ever U.S. ecumenical alliance--seeking closer relations and "a more credible Christian witness"--will submit an organizational plan this year and next to denominations and Christian organizations for their approval.

The fledgling Christian Churches Together (CCT) in the U.S.A., at its third and most decisive steering committee meeting January 27-29 in Pasadena, California, decided on a consensus approach to decision-making but stressed that it expects "committed participation" by denominations and organizations from five Christian traditions.

The five "families" are evangelical/Pentecostal, "historic" Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, "racial/ethnic" and Roman Catholic. A maximum of 20 percent of the representatives may be drawn from para-church ministries or Christian organizations "to make room for their dynamism," said Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who chaired the steering committee that met at Fuller Theological Seminary.

"This is a brand new thing for all of us," said Granberg-Michaelson, chief executive of the Reformed Church in America. The country's largest ecumenical body, the National Council of Churches, does not include Catholics or a significant number of evangelicals. Ecumenical leaders in various traditions lately have looked overseas and taken hope from Christian councils uniting Catholic, historic Protestant, Pentecostal and evangelical bodies.

Following the first two CCT meetings, in Baltimore in September 2001 and Chicago in April 2002, this third meeting on the campus of evangelical Fuller Seminary was "a breakthrough," said Granberg-Michaelson. The more than 50 official participants included people from the International Church of Foursquare Gospel, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Pentecostal Churches of North America and the Christian Reformed Church.

Even the Pasadena-based Worldwide Church of God, whose core group shifted from sectarian beliefs to mainstream evangelicalism in the 1990s, was represented by Joseph Tkach, its pastor general.

"Many who came are taking a risk, stepping forward into territory we've not been to before," Granberg-Michaelson said. The 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention--which belongs neither to the NCC nor to the National Association of Evangelicals--sent an observer, Barrett Duke, of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Duke was active in the discussions, participants said.

Two evangelical figures long comfortable in ecumenism, Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, took part. "I'm enthusiastic," said Sider as he left the closed-door meeting. "There's a fabulous spirit here." Equally upbeat were ecumenist Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore and Bishop Tod Brown of the nearby Catholic Diocese of Orange.

"The U.S. Catholic Conference is very seriously engaged," confirmed Granberg-Michaelson. "This is a kairos moment. When 25 denominations and organizations respond yes and that represents the diversity of church `families' and expressions of Christianity, we will be at the point of formation. …

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