It is an exciting time for World Convention. In January, we were part of an historic consultation on baptism. In March, several met in India to begin planning for our Global Gathering in 2017. Now two board members—Doug Foster and Kurt Platt—and I are in Africa, exploring the possibilities of a future Gathering there. In addition there is the daily work of World Convention of connecting our churches everywhere.
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The students here at African Christian College, are bright, engaged, and eager to learn. Some are quite young while many are married with children. Coming from ten African nations, they bring a variety of experiences to the classroom.
One highlight each day is chapel. The singing moves my heart.
One of the many interesting people here is Paul Shupikai, a teacher at the college. Paul is expanding our knowledge of the Stone-Campbell Movement globally by writing a history of our churches in Zimbabwe. One person he is interviewing for that history is B.J. Mpofu, Past President of World Convention.
World Convention board member Doug Foster and I are in Swaziland in southern Africa. We are here to make contacts in hopes of having a Global gathering of World Convention in Africa in the next few years. We also are each teaching a course at African Christian College, starting tomorrow (see http://www.africanchristiancollege.org/).
We arrived Saturday and instantly enjoyed the hospitality of Kurt and Wendy Platt and of Manuel and Pam de Oliveira who had us into their homes. Sunday was an amazing day of blessings, beginning with worship at the Matsapha Church of Christ. After worship we toured the clinic sponsored by the church, proving healthcare of all kinds but particularly help to those with HIV (Swaziland has the highest HIV rate of any country in the world). We then spent the afternoon with Bruce and Beth Smith who are at African Christian College to teach a course on “The Church and HIV.”
Doug and I start teaching tomorrow.
Pray for us, for Africa, and for World Convention.
For many decades, the logo of World Convention carried the words, “A Worldwide Fellowship.” This month the truth of those words were brought home to me. In addition to the marvelous fellowship with Christians in India (see last month’s ChristiaNet), we found the world coming to us.
John and Rosemary Williamson were on holiday and joined us for Easter worship at Vine Street Christian Church, toured our office, and had a marvelous lunch. John is Registrar at Stirling Theological College, an agency of the National Conference of Churches of Christ in Australia (see stirling.edu.au). John and Rosemary brought us news of Stirling and of the churches in Australia and surrounding countries.
A few weeks later, Deb and I met our Brazilian friends, Verlaini Cintra and Cristovam do Espirito Santo Filho of the Igreja de Cristo,Faicalville (see pastorverlaini.com). These two pastors were our constant helpers and companion in planning and executing the Global Gathering in Goiania in 2012. They were visiting Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee and we met them for lunch at the appropriate city of Cookeville! They brought us exciting news of the churches in Brazil and of mission efforts in the United States and Africa.
Just last weekend, Deb and I attended a choral reunion at Greater Atlanta Christian School, where I had attended and where Deb and I later taught. There we were blessed to visit with several classmates and former students from many states (and even one from Canada, making this an international gathering). They also shared stories of what God is doing in their churches. On Sunday, we celebrated the 90th anniversary of Peachtree Christian Church in downtown Atlanta, a congregation with a rich history and with vibrant current ministries to their community and throughout the world (see peachtree.org). Their pastor, Barry McCarty, plans to lead a group from their church to our New Delhi Gathering in 2017.
It will be the experience of a lifetime.
The 19th World Convention, New Delhi, India, January 12-15, 2017.
Sights. Crowds. Faces. Faces of smiling children. Faces of Christian worshippers. Stories. Stories of adversity. Stories of faith. Conversations.
All these I experienced, along with David Empson and Jim Chamberlin from the International Conference on Missions, as we visited India this week. All this and more you can experience in 2017.
We were hosted in our visit by Ajai Lall, President of World Convention. The International Conference on Missions is co-sponsoring our 2017 Gathering in New Delhi. This trip was to visit possible venues and begin planning for that meeting.
It was my first visit to India, and the sight of so many people in New Delhi was my first impression. Soon those crowds became individuals.
We had encouraging conversations with Vijayesh Lal, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, and with Bishop P.C. Singh of the Church of North India. Both are enthusiastic supporters of our 2017 Gathering, believing it will help all Christians in India.
We saw two sports complexes, one seating 4000 and the other 7000, that might serve as the location for our Convention.
Next we moved to Damoh, where most of the ministries of Central India Christian Mission (led by Ajai Lall) are headquartered. There we were embraced by the smiling children of the children’s home. We worshipped with 400 nursing students, ministry leaders, and employees. We experienced the overwhelming hospitality of Indian Christians.
We helped to dedicate a new church building for a congregation of about 150 in Jalapur.
The high point of the visit was a gathering of over 100 ministers, leaders of the Christian Churches, Disciples, the Church of North India, and Churches of Christ from nine of the 29 Indian states.
They and the 3000 churches they lead are enthusiastic about the World Convention coming to India in 2017. Two themes dominated the meeting. One is that this Convention will help unite all the Christians in India. The second was that we have the right leader for the Convention in Ajai Lall.
All will be ready for you to come to New Delhi, January 12-15, 2017, and experience for yourself what God is doing in India.
What can you do to get ready?
1. Save the dates.
2. Save your money. You have 21 months to save.
3. Watch our website (worldconvention.org) for information to come on costs, registrations, housing, tours, mission opportunities, and more.
4. Above all, pray. Usha Rees, President of Global Women Connecting, is raising up over 10,000 Indians who will commit to pray daily at 4:30 PM for World Convention. Let us join them!
God is at work!
One great blessing of my role at World Convention is spending time with our board members from thirteen countries.
It was a great blessing for me to be with several board members in January. Robert Welsh and David Thompson were the planners for the Consultation on Believers’ Baptism held in Jamaica (see the report and photograph in our last ChristiaNet).
While in Kingston, Jamaica, it was a particular pleasure to be with Richmond Nelson (President of the Kingston World Convention in 1984). Richmond gathered fifteen former attendees of World Conventions at a lunch where we updated them on the plans for India. We hope to have a significant delegation from Jamaica in New Delhi!
Last Tuesday, board member Andrej Bazinski, his wife Urszula, and Pastor Leszek Juszczyszyn from Poland visited with me and Julia in our office in Nashville. Their visit reminded me of the marvelous blessings of my visit to Poland in 2011. In 2021, the Churches of Christ in Poland will celebrate their centennial. Wouldn’t it be great to celebrate with them as a Global Gathering!
Later this year, I hope to see board members Ajai Lall in India, Kurt Platt in Swaziland, and Dan Yarnell in England. In addition, I plan to see our board members from the United States at the North American Christian Convention, the Disciples General Assembly, and Summit at Abilene Christian University.
Our board reflects the worldwide nature of our communion. Look on our website for brief information on the 199 countries and territories where there are expressions of our movement. And keep me, our board, World Convention, the global Stone-Campbell Movement, and the worldwide church in prayer.
Although the World Convention of Churches of Christ has been part of the annual meeting of Secretaries of Christian World Communions since its beginning, World Convention has not been engaged in bilateral or other ecumenical dialogues. The reason for that lack of engagement is the nature of the three churches that are part of World Convention. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been involved in ecumenical dialogues for decades, since 1979 through the Disciple Ecumenical Consultative Council. In most cases, Disciple theology would be similar to that of the other two churches in World Convention, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Churches of Christ. However, on certain topics the theology of those churches would differ from that of Disciples.
Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Churches of Christ are quite similar in theology and practice. Both groups have a strict congregational polity with no official organizations beyond the local congregations. However, in both groups, there is a loose connection between the churches through para-church ministries, colleges, religious papers, and lectureships and conventions. These two churches have not been involved in ecumenical dialogues partly because of the challenge of representation in a congregationally organized church and partly because of their opposition to or apathy toward a wide ecumenism.
However, in more recent years, both churches are more open to ecumenical engagement. World Convention is the only global organization that can provide them with a seat at the ecumenical table.
Therefore the Consultation on Believers’ Baptism, held in Kingston Jamaica in January 2015 was a historic first for these churches. Although it was not a bilateral dialogue, it did mark the first time that theologians from Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and from Churches of Christ participated in a global ecumenical consultation. Their presence was particularly important since there are significant differences in practice between those churches and Disciple churches, particularly in the acceptance of those baptized as infants for membership.
Here is the press release for the consultation:
Groundbreaking Consultation explores the meaning and practice of “believers baptism” for the future unity of the church
January 10, 2015 (Kingston, Jamaica) — A three-day consultation took place involving representatives from six different “believers baptism” church traditions to share their understandings and practices of baptism and to explore how their thinking has changed in light of the emerging theological convergence on baptism and growing ecumenical encounter over the past 30 years. This was the first time such a gathering has taken place, and thus represents an historic moment in the life of these traditions.
The traditions included the Baptists, Brethren, Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Mennonites, and Pentecostals. The 18 participants came from Jamaica, Kenya, Germany, Paraguay, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The initiative for the consultation grew out of the annual meeting of Secretaries of Christian World Communions in 2012, which noted fresh thinking and official agreements around the mutual recognition of baptism between churches who practice “infant baptism” and those who have practiced “believers baptism” have been observed.
The agenda of the consultation included presentations from each of the traditions on their past and current teaching and practice of baptism, with attention to how their understandings have changed or developed, along with the opportunity to discuss the presentations. A representative of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches was also present to provide input from the perspective of the wider global discussion on baptism within the ecumenical movement.
The highlights of the consultation, as stated in a report on the meeting, included:
- gratitude for the opportunity to have an open and honest reflection on the meaning, practice and shared understandings of baptism among the participants;
- naming the potential found in the image of “being on a journey” for the Christian life, with different forms and expressions of initiation and confession, while sharing a similar call to discipleship;
- the significance of understanding the Holy Spirit as a source both of our diversity as well as our unity in Christ;
- the need for a re-examination of the language of ‘sacrament’, ‘ordinance’, ‘sign’ and ‘symbol’ as ways to acknowledge that God is the primary actor in baptism;
- the need to recognize the continuity between ecumenical reception of other traditions as church, and the practices that marks each tradition as a unique expression of the body of Christ.
The full text of the report on the meeting will be shared with both the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions and the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC with the hope that it will move the discussion and work on the mutual recognition of baptism and Christian unity forward.
Participants in the Consultation:
Baptist World Alliance
Rev. Neville Callam, General Secretary, Baptist World Alliance (Washington, D.C.)
Rev. Dr. Glenroy Lalor, Lecturer, United Theological College of the West Indies (Kingston, Jamaica)
Rev. Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor, First Baptist Church (Richmond, Virginia)
Church of the Brethren
Rev. Dr. Jeff Carter, President, Bethany Theological Seminary (Richmond, Indiana)
Dr. Denise Kettering-Lane, Assistant Professor of Brethren Studies, Bethany Theological Seminary (Richmond, Indiana)
World Convention of the Churches of Christ
Dr. John Mark Hicks, Professor of Theology, Lipscomb University (Nashville, Tennessee)
Dr. Gary Holloway, Executive Director, World Convention of Churches of Christ (Nashville, Tennessee)
Dr. Mark Weedman, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, Johnson University, (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council
Rev. Dr. Marjorie Lewis, President, United Theological College of the West Indies (Kingston, Jamaica)
Rev. Dr. David M. Thompson, United Reformed Church and Emeritus Professor of Modern Church History, University of Cambridge (England)
Rev. Dr. Robert K. Welsh, General Secretary, Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Mennonite World Conference
Rev. Dr. Fernando Enns, Professor of (Peace-)Theology and Ethics, Free University Amsterdam (Netherlands) and University of Hamburg (Germany), member of Central Committee of World Council of Churches
Dr. Alfred Neufeld, Rector, Protestant University of Paraguay (Ascension, Paraguay)
Rev. Rebecca Osiro, Mennonite World Conference Eastern Africa Representative, and pastor of Mennonite Church in Nairobi, Kenya
Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Professor of Church History and Ecumenics, Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California)
Rev. Dr. Tony Richie, Pastor, New Harvest Church of God (Knoxville, Tennessee) and Adjunct Professor of Pentecostal Theology (Cleveland, Tennessee)
Rev. Dr. Daniel Tomberlin, Pastor, Vidalia Church of God (Vidalia, Georgia)
Back in the October ChristiaNet, I wrote of the intimate connection Jesus made among prayer, unity and evangelism: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:21).
In November I experienced that connection firsthand at two significant meetings. First was the annual Secretaries of World Christian Communions meeting, held this year in Amersfoort, Netherlands. For decades this meeting has promoted mutual understanding among the different groups of Christians in the world—Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Pentecostal, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, African Instituted Churches, the Salvation Army, and others. Out of this meeting have come several significant dialogues and discussions that represent a growth in consensus among Christians.
The secretaries of the various Christian communions come to this meeting in genuine humility, wanting to share the gifts God has given their communion and to receive those gifts from others. What we have found is a spiritual and relational unity based on our common experience of a loving God. In the words of Jesus, “may they be in us.” That unity showed itself particularly in our worship and meals times together. We have also found that Christians worldwide face many of the same challenges. Two issues that surfaced in this meeting were “How do our churches discern the will of God on theological and moral issues?” and “How do we promote both autonomy and accountability in our churches?” These are both significant questions for our Stone-Campbell Movement.
The other significant meeting was the International Conference on Missions, held in Columbus, Ohio, USA, a meeting that brings together missionaries and supporters of missions. The ICOM is partnering with World Convention to promote our upcoming Global Gathering in India.
One of the most captivating classes at the ICOM was taught by Victor Knowles, longtime friend of World Convention, and leader of Peace on Earth Ministries (http://www.poeministries.org/). Vic gave a marvelous presentation on Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. This was particularly significant at a conference on missions, reminding us that prayer and unity are at the heart of God and at the heart of all Christian missions.
Do you pray daily for Christian unity? Do you pray daily for the mission of God, that the world might know God’s love? If not, I invite you to make that daily prayer a resolution for 2015. And pray for this mission organization, World Convention, in our work of unity and evangelism.
Note these words from Jesse Bader, the founder of World Convention:
Evangelism is not the only business of the church but it is the church’s first business and what Jesus made primary his church dare not make secondary. Evangelism is not an elective. It is a divine imperative. The church must evangelize or perish. There is no alternative. To evangelize is the greatest work in the world.
These words, from the first paragraph of Bader’s book, Evangelism in a Changing America, are as relevant today as when he published them in 1957. If Bader thought he lived in a changing America, how much more do we know that we are living in a changing America and a changing world.
This emphasis on evangelism was the focus of the recent Stone-Campbell Dialogue in Abilene, Texas, that brings together leaders from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Churches of Christ, and the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in the United States. Our theme was “That doesn’t look like church to me” Professor Kent Smith of Abilene Christian University began by answering the question, “Why do we need new church planting in the United States?” His answers: because only 15% of Americans are in church in a given Sunday, because our traditional churches cannot reach all of those people, because we have moved from a walkable world to a virtual world where God is working to get our attention, and because we want to reach new people with the gospel.
We then heard exciting testimony from four church planters in various parts of the country, Laura Callarman, Jared Looney, Joel Brown, and Blake Ryan. The churches they are a part of do not look like our churches. Each of these new churches look different from each other because have targeted different populations who would not go to a traditional church. Yet each maintains its connection to Stone-Campbell churches.
Our churches globally do not all look alike. They should not. Yet there is a heritage that ties us together. World Convention works daily to connect our churches and to facilitate evangelism together for a changing world in new creative ways.
World Convention is all about evangelism together.
As Jesse Bader said in the next to last paragraph of his book:
There is a motive for evangelizing together which Christians sometimes overlook. This motive is found in the prayer of our Lord when he prayed, “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in me through their word, that they all may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21). Here, the Savior of the world is praying for the unity of his disciples in all generations in order that “the world may believe.” The most compelling reason for Christian unity is not unity for unity’s sake or unity for bigness’ sake, but unity for the sake of evangelizing the world.
Unity and Evangelism. Jesus put them together. So did Jesse Bader. So does World Convention today.
I am reading Michael Kinnamon’s latest book, Can A Renewal Movement Be Renewed? I found his “Framework for Imagination” in a chapter on “What would it mean to take the next step in ecumenical relations” stimulating. Here is the “framework” which (he admits) is not original with him and is overly simplified. However, I think we might find it helpful in thinking through the next step in relations among our streams in the Stone-Campbell Movement and in thinking of our relations with other Christians.
Competition is the stage in which a church sees itself as basically self-sufficient and in a state of rivalry with other churches which it regards as wrong in their religious claims.
Co-existence is the stage in which a church, while showing little readiness for positive relations, acknowledges that Christ may be known and followed in other churches.
Cooperation is the stage in which a church recognizes others with sufficient worth to undertake certain tasks or forms of witness together, to engage with them in real, if limited, partnership.
Commitment is the stage in which simple cooperation no longer corresponds to the degree of mutual recognition between the churches, in which they affirm the existence of lasting bonds greater then expedient cooperation.
Communion (koinonia) is the stage in which churches no longer experience themselves simply as separate entities, but, since earlier divisions have been reconciled, now try to act as one in mission and to share “sacred things.”
In the Stone-Campbell Movement worldwide, some of our churches are in the Competition stage. However, many have been faithful to or reclaimed the movement’s heritage of working for Christian unity. That is what the ministry of World Convention is all about. But how do we move our churches toward communion with others?
Later in the same chapter, Kinnamon gives recommendations on how churches might move in practice from cooperation to commitment:
1. Emphasize the building of relationships among the member churches. This happens by worshipping together in the style of the host church, in prayer for one another (asking the church being visited for what should we pray), in asking what gifts that church brings to others, in asking what gifts they hope to receive from other churches, and in asking what that church intends to do to strengthen relations with other churches.
2. Promote knowledge of the other member churches within our communion.
Do we know the traditions and practices of other churches? Do we teach about those churches with accuracy and grace?
3. Stand with other churches in time of special need.
Do we work with other churches to help others?
Is your church working in concrete ways to promote Christian unity? If so, these suggestions from Kinnamon can help!