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!
One thing for sure about Stone-Campbell Christians, we love to meet! And in my role at World Convention, I get to “convene” (meet) with others at many of our gatherings.
May to July is the busiest time for meetings of our churches in the United States. Early May brings the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, June is the Christian Scholars Conference, every July is the North American Christian Convention and the Summer Celebration at Lipscomb University. Alternating Julys see the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Fall and winter bring Summit at Abilene Christian University, the Stone-Campbell Dialogue, and the International Conference on Missions. Not to mention countless other regional, state, and local meetings.
And that is just in the U.S.A.! Our people meet locally, regionally, and nationally all over the world, often with several thousands in attendance. That is why at our last World Convention board meeting in April, our board initiated a new approach for our Global Gatherings. On every continent where there are members of the Stone-Campbell Movement, there are regular well-attended gatherings. The proposal is that instead of having an independent stand-alone Global Gathering of the World Convention, we should partner with meetings of our people that are already planned and well-organized. This would mean a genuine partnership with those meetings. World Convention would desire to maintain the integrity of those meetings, but would provide speakers from across the globe and attendees from several countries.
Thus our meeting in New Delhi, India, January 12-15, 2017 is a partnership with the All India Convention and the International Conference on Missions.
When do the churches gather in your country? Would you consider a partnership with World Convention to make that a Global Gathering?
July 6, 2014 was a great day for me and for World Convention. Thanks to the dedication and organizing skills of Bill McDonald, Brad Walden, and Barrett Coffman, we had a World Convention Sunday that day in Lexington, Kentucky, USA.
The day began with a presentation on World Convention at the historic sanctuary of South Elkhorn Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a church where early leaders of our movement like Moses Lard, and J.W. McGarvey preached. Then we enjoyed a marvelous worship service with a stirring sermon on unity from Bill McDonald.
After a quick lunch, we drove to Southside Church of Christ, where Barrett Coffman (my former student) is the minister. Interested individuals from all three American streams of our movement met to hear of our ministry and the upcoming Global Gathering in India. Two surprises of that visit were meeting another former student, Amanda Jones, and a second cousin, Bruce Davis, whom I had not met before.
Then in the evening I preached on unity at Tates Creek Christian Church. Brad Walden, the former pastor of that church, pointed out the cornerstone of their latest addition to the building, which reads,
“Worship Center, 1996, John 17:21.” That had been my sermon text for the evening.
It was a day of great blessing to me and to many who now know more about World Convention. Perhaps you would like to organize a World Convention day in your city? If so, we would be glad to help!
Since I was so close to Cane Ridge, the next day I made a brief trip to the historic meeting house where Barton Stone and others preached. I have been there many times but this time found two World Convention connections I did not know about. On the back outside wall of the meeting house is a portrait of the house. Beside it is a sign saying the portrait was sent by train to the meeting of the World Convention in Toronto in 1955!
I also discovered that when the shrine building protecting the old church was dedicated on June 30, 1957, the dedicatory speech was given by Jesse Bader, the founder of World Convention.
So my World Convention Sunday carried over into Monday!
Our Global Gathering in New Delhi will be 12th January (Thursday) till the noon of 15th January, 2017 (Sunday). It is not too early to start saving and planning to be part of this once in a lifetime experience!
We plan to meet at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi, pictured here.
The stadium is on the grounds of beautiful gardens in a clean, safe, inviting area of New Delhi.
It is too early to have specific accommodations, but here are some nearby hotels:
69 high 44 low (farenheit), 21 high, 7 low (celsus)
20 minutes from Indira Gandhi Airport
$1400 from Nashville, Dallas, Indianapolis; $1200 from Sydney; $800 from Johannesburg or Nairobi; $1600 from Sao Paulo; $1000 from London; $1100 from Toronto.
Sample day trip to Taj Mahal from New Delhi: http://www.indiatraveltours.com/delhi-tajmahal-agra-train-car-tour.htm
But we gather not as tourists, but as brothers and sisters in Christ to have fellowship and to learn with and from fellow Christians from all over the globe. We gather to witness the work of God in India. We gather to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus over the entire world.
More information will be coming in the next months, but start now to think and pray and plan to attend this great meeting of God’s people.
World Convention has worked to spread the good news that the church is growing throughout the world, particularly in the Global South. In Latin America, churches are growing in number, in vibrancy, and in maturity. Many witnessed that firsthand at our Global Gathering in Brazil. In Asia, although Christians are a small minority in many countries, many are hearing the good news of Jesus for the first time. Asian churches are growing and sending missionaries to countries throughout the world. That’s why we are holding our next Global Gathering in India. Africa has become the new center of Christianity in terms of numerical growth. That’s why we hope to have a Global Gathering there.
But what about North America? The good news of the growth of Christianity elsewhere has been accompanied by alarming reports of the decline of Christianity in North America.
However, some recent books dispute that claim of decline. One is The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah, a professor at North Park Seminary in Chicago. This is a powerful and prophetic book that all North American Christians should read. Rah challenges the North American church’s captivity to individualism, materialism, and racism. He believes (rightly in my view) that the North American church can only be freed of those captivities by learning from Christians in the rest of the world.
He also makes a compelling case that the church in North America is growing numerically, It may not seem so to those of us in white, suburban churches. Rah says, “As many lament the decline of Christianity in the United States in the early stages of the twenty-first century, very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways.” Immigrants to the United States are bringing with them a vibrant Christianity, resulting in some of the largest and fastest growing churches in the country.
So what can World Convention do for churches in the United States? By connecting them to churches throughout the globe every day, God can work to deliver those churches from Western cultural captivity and point them again to the power of the gospel. We can learn to listen to our brothers and sisters from around the world and through them hear the voice of God who is at work among us.
The board of the World Convention with members from nine countries met in Nashville, April 1-3. God worked powerfully in that meeting, opening new pathways and possibilities for the ministries of World Convention.
The board approved a more succinct mission statement for World Convention:
In Christ, all are reconciled to God and to each other, and in the Spirit, God calls us to proclaim this good news throughout the world. World Convention (Christian-Churches of Christ-Disciples of Christ) embodies and encourages fellowship, understanding, and common purpose within this global family of churches and relates them to the whole Church for the sake of unity in Christ Jesus.
World Convention seeks to fulfill this mission by connecting our churches everywhere, every day. We connect through this email newsletter, through our website, in personal visits, and many other ways. One way we seek to connect our churches is through a Global Gathering. After much prayer and discernment, the multinational board of World Convention has decided with much disappointment and regret that its next Global Gathering, scheduled for 2016, will not be held in South Korea as planned. This decision was prompted by challenges within the leadership of the churches in South Korea. World Convention is thankful to God for the growth of the churches in South Korea. Our prayer is that we might hold a Global Gathering there sometime in God’s future.
The board responded to a moving invitation from churches in India to hold a Global Gathering there. We are overjoyed to announce that the board accepted that invitation and our next Global Gathering will be in India, likely in 2017. More details on that meeting will be forthcoming.
The World Convention board also elected Ajai Lall as its new President. Ajai is the founder of Central India Christian Mission. For more on his work see http://indiamission.org/ and https://vimeo.com/84273044.
Please keep the ministry of World Convention in prayer.
God is at work among us!
One of the joys of my calling at World Convention is that I get to visit many vibrant and creative congregations.
Last Sunday I was at Aspen Grove Christian Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Adam Kaufhold, their minister, planned a marvelously creative service around the story of the crossing of the Jordan, as told in Joshua. After telling the story in the children’s sermon, he led the entire congregation on a reenactment of the crossing. We got in line, read prayers, cleansed our hands with water, and crossed the “Jordan” on dry land. On the way we each picked up a rock to add to the memorial of what God has done for us. At the end we had matzos and honey in the Promised Land.
This was not simply a neat ritual. It was not merely different or fun. It was a solemn reminder of the power of God and our call to trust in him. The waters of the Jordan do not part until we have the faith to step into the water.
All of which relates well to the mission of World Convention. Christian unity at times looks as impossible as crossing a swollen river. If we rely on our own wisdom and resources, it is impossible. But if we step out in faith, trusting God to open a way, he graciously and powerfully leads us safely through.
So in your own corner of the world and also through the ministry of World Convention, step out in confident trust. Work with God beyond your own resources. Join in God’s work of Christian unity so that the world might believe in God’s love.
And think of making a gift to World Convention. This ministry of Christian unity depends on God to provide. And God may provide through you. Here at the beginning of the year we particularly need your gifts. So prayerfully consider