Searching for Mystery in the Mission of God

A review of The Mission of the Church: Five views in conversation edited by Craig Ott                  (Published by Baker Academic 2016)

MOTCIn the style and tradition of “Three views of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism” edited by Brad Nasif et al., Craig Ott has now brought together five significant missiologists from major Christian traditions to reflect on the Mission of the Church.

This fascinating volume invites the five authors to first state there understanding of the Mission of God and then to respond to their fellow authors. The book has its weaknesses but contains much to stimulate debate and set an agenda for further inter-confessional enrichment. The two major drawbacks of this collection of essays are firstly, as Ott admits in his introduction, that of the five chosen authors four are North American men, and secondly that the Orthodox input is limited to a contribution from an Eastern Orthodox Church in North America with no voice from Eastern Europe or the Oriental Orthodox Churches. That said the five authors do bring to the table Roman Catholic, Conciliar, Evangelical and Orthodox perspectives. They are Stephen Bevans, Darrell Guder, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Edward Rommen and Ed Stetzer.

The focus of the debate is clearly missiological but this inevitable leads into an exploration of soteriology, Christology and eccleciology. All authors are agreed that there has been, over the past fifty years, a very significant convergence between their traditions which has placed both Trinitarian theology and the Missio Dei centre stage. Related agreements around the primacy of the church in mission, apostalicity as its primary characteristic in mission and the missional significance of (Eucharistic) community are also very much in evidence and are explored at some depth.

When it comes to embracing the holistic nature of mission there is often a greater sense of agreement between our Roman Catholic, Conciliar and Latino conversation partners than between the two evangelicals with Stetzer still wishing to retain an element of ‘priority’ for the verbal proclamation of the Gospel. Ion Bria’s language of “the liturgy after the liturgy” as an expression of a commitment to ensuring that our mystical union with Christ embraces the broken world with healing and reconciling life, is not only used by Rommen.

The area of greatest difficulty appears to be ecclesiology, something we have experienced during several of the LOI consultations. What, or who, constitutes the church and how; the relationship between the church and the Kingdom (or reign) of God; and the relationship between church and mission are all warmly, if not hotly, contested. Rommen in particular adopts a rigorous approach to apostalicity which, he maintains, can one be achieved through verified apostolic succession. He suggests that only such apostolic churches have the capacity (and ecclesial authority) to engage in mission. He asks of all mission movements “are [your] staff members legitimate successors of the apostles or simply hired help?” It is interesting that none of his conversation partners directly challenge this point or offer alternative approached to legitimate apostalicity.

Finally, my greatest disappointment was that what I had expected to be the Orthodox gift to this debate is in fact missing. There is none of that rich vein of apophatic faith which helps us grasp, or rather be grasped by, the mystery of the mission of God – the unknowability of the working of God’s Spirit amongst his people. Perhaps the North America bias of this volume has led to a rationalistic debate that robs us of the wonder of knowing that the God who is eternally in mission is also eternally a God of surprises, of paradox and of mystery. It is this that, for me, makes that divine-human relationship, which as Rommen so powerfully reminds us is both the fulfilment and content of mission, so intoxicating impossible to resist.

Mark Oxbrow  (International Director, Faith2Share)

Healing – a Neglected Aspect of Orthodox-Evangelical Dialogue?

Over the years, I’ve read quite a few accounts of people transitioning (I don’t want to use the word ‘converting’, as conversion is to Christ) from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy. There don’t seem to be many published about folk moving in the opposite direction, but if there were I’d devour those too. (Suggestions, please!)

A friend recently raised with me the possibility that healing may be a neglected aspect of Evangelical-Orthodox dialogue. Yes, we seek to heal relationships at the corporate level, encouraging groups to work together where they can to serve God’s mission in our broken and hurting world. Part of that is through creating a space in which positive relationships can be built, providing a context for addressing some of the issues which cause such pain to members of one tradition or the other. And by God’s grace LOI seeks to encourage joint efforts in areas where communities need to see God at work bringing healing.

But isn’t it true that some of us have been affected by our experiences in moving from one Christian community to another, whether those experiences were good or bad? How does that skew our perception of the community we have left? How does it affect our ability to work with, and relate to, that community? And how can a dialogue process between two Christian traditions take this dimension into account? It would be good to hear what you think …

Jetlag and Interviews

Jim Stamoolis, Leslie Doll, Tim Grass, Nathan Hoppe, and Mark Oxbrow of the planning group.

Jim Stamoolis, Leslie Doll, Tim Grass, Nathan Hoppe, and Mark Oxbrow of the planning group.

Tim was in Chicago from 19-26 April for a week’s meetings about LOI, and he and others were interviewed by John Maddex for an Ancient Faith Radio podcast. You can listen to it at: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/features/the_lausanne_orthodox_initiative.
The group planning our consultations had a productive day advancing preparations not only for this year’s gathering in Cambridge but also for our planned North American regional consultation in Boston in June 2018. We plan to look at the topic of discipleship, something close to all our hearts as Christian servants. More anon!

LOI Committee excited by the future

The committee at work. Some members joined us by Skype.

The committee at work. Some members joined us by Skype.

The LOI does much of its organization during a 3-day residential committee each year. We met at the Coptic Centre, Stevenage, from 16-18 January, at the kind invitation of His Grace Bishop Angaelos. The welcoming environment and home cooking provided an excellent setting for us to pray, think, and discuss together.

Among other things, we discussed:
– a consultation for theological educators (present and future) to be held in Cambridge from 5-8 September this year;
– a regional consultation for North America, to be held in June 2018;
– how we can make the work of LOI better known, and develop relationships with supporters, partners, and donors;
– and how we can engage with some of the ‘hard to reach’ places, both Evangelical and Orthodox.
Hard work, but we came away excited at what lies ahead, and thankful to God for his hand upon us.

New doctoral thesis on the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius

The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius has provided many in the English-speaking world with an excellent meeting-point for Christians from Eastern and Western traditions, and in particular between Orthodox and Anglicans. A new Ph.D. thesis by Dimitrios Salapatas, a student at the University of Winchester, outlines and evaluates the bridge-building work of the Fellowship. I was interviewed regarding the dialogue between Orthodox and Evangelicals held under the Fellowship’s auspices until 2014, and it is a pleasure to bring this work to the attention of a wider audience, with the author’s permission. Below is the abstract.

The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius: Quest for Truth, Quest for Theology, Quest for Unity
An Exploration of Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Ecumenical Theological and Ecclesiological Relations from 1927 until 2012

This thesis aims to examine the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, an ecumenical body that promotes relations between various Christian denominations. Despite being founded on the grounds to promote relations and dialogue between the Anglicans and the Orthodox, it has widened this scope, introducing new churches in its life, conferences, publications and history. In the first and second chapters of this thesis the first eighty five years (1927-2012) of its history are explored, identifying the Society’s strengths and weaknesses in achieving its objectives, whilst studying its theological approaches to the reunion work, understanding that this body has been a progressive fellowship, theologically and ecclesiastically. The third chapter investigates the life and the theological, philosophical and historical views of Nicolas Zernov, who had as a life goal to foster relations between the churches, whilst also promoting Orthodox and Russian topics to a Western audience. The final chapter examines two themes by two important members of the Fellowship, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia’s ideas on deaconesses and women priests and former Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams’ views on icons. These two topics are interesting and current for the continuation of the relations between the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion, trying to further understand each other in order to eventually achieve what many in the Fellowship profess and what the Bible promotes, ‘that they all may be one’ (John 17:21). The conclusion of the thesis assesses the work of the Fellowship, whilst also looking into the post 2012 objectives and achievements of the Fellowship and the future goals of the Society. Therefore, this paper is a quest for truth, a quest for theology and a quest for unity.

A Message from His Holiness Patriarch Matthias I

During our recent gathering in Addis Ababa, we were delighted to receive the following message of greeting from His Holiness Patriarch Matthias I, head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Sprit, One God, Amen!

“Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in Unity” (Psalm 133:1)

Esteemed fathers and beloved brothers!

It is with deep sense of gratitude to Almighty God that we welcome you to this ancient land of the Ancient Apostolic Church.

I would like to express the joy of our church in hosting this meeting with word of the Psalmist – “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity”  Ps 133:1)

We hope that your meeting will contribute a lot to Christian unity as well as to finding ways and means to tackle common problems and preservation of world peace.  This is not hard for the church because the church is the source of peace and fraternity.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is one of the oldest church that accepted Christianity as early as the 1st Century A.D. by the baptism of an Ethiopian official who went to Jerusalem for worship in 34 A.D. (Act 8:26).  Then since 4th Century A.D. Christianity became the state religion, and for the last 1600 years, the Ethiopian Church had been the repository of Ethiopian culture history social life etc.  Today, we have an enormous number of literary work of high religious, historical and philosophical values.  Some Christian works of the early churches are found only in Ethiopic version.

So, the history, literature, worship, faith and education have been subjects of discussion for world scholars, and its unique heritage most of which are registered as World Heritages are attracting visitors from all corners of the world.

Today, our church has over 50 million members, hundreds of thousands of clergy and thousands of parish churches with many branches in almost all parts of the world.

Our church fulfills international duties as well.  It is one of the churches that laid the basis for founding the World Council of Churches (WCC), All African Conference of Churches (AACC) in 1948 and 1963.

This is not the first time for Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church to host international meeting.  It did host the first meeting of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in 1965 – during the time of Emperor Haile Selassie, who was the defender of the faith, and the meeting came up with important resolutions and decisions.  In 1971 hosted the Central Committee meeting of World Council of Churches (WCC) and of the Executive committee in 1980.  With this, the church has striven for strengthening of Ecumenism with the aim of restoring the ancient unity.

Today, our church is glad to host this meeting consisting of members and church leaders from different parts of the world and I hope you would come up with findings and resolutions.

 

Dear  brothers!

You will learn a lot about our church from presentation that follow, but I would like to say few words about the role the church plays besides its Apostolic and Evangelical mission.

The church plays important role in development activities and in inter-church relations.  It works with organizations and group of different faith especially in the field of development, peace and environmental issue in leadership position.  It exclusively conducts tangible development, humanitarian activity, tackling environmental issue as well through the development wing of the church.

At last, I would like to express my hope and wishes that God will guide the discussion according to His will, assist you to come to common understanding in finding common solution for common problems.

May God enlighten this meeting!

The LOI Addis Ababa consultation: some personal reflections

When I received a phone call shortly before we set off for the airport, advising me that a state of emergency had been declared in Ethiopia, I wondered what to expect. Yet at the same time there seemed to be no reason to change our plans to gather, and it was clear that the Ethiopian committee, whose members had first proposed this meeting, would be keen for it to go ahead. Now, looking back, Ann, my wife, and I can see that the Holy Spirit was at work in ways which could never have been planned – and sometimes in spite of our planning! One or two folk thanked us afterwards for our vision and courage; all I can say is that there did not seem any alternative to following where the Lord was leading, and it was enough to know that we were in his hands!

Most of those present were Ethiopian nationals, Orthodox as well as Evangelical. The conversations Ann and I had with various individuals left us with a great respect for them, and we shall continue to keep up with what is happening in a country which fascinated us during the fortnight we spent there.

In a previous post, you will find the statement of intent, which summarizes what happened and the personal commitment made by participants. As the week continued to unfold in unexpected ways, we learned to do what one participant called ‘rolling with the punches’, or, to put it another way, looking to discern what God was doing and falling into line. I think there was one day which went according to the planned programme, but the others certainly didn’t, for reasons beyond our control. Yet the original aim, of seeing relationships formed, strengthened and encouraged, was more than amply fulfilled as we shared together. For some, the consultation came as an answer to years of prayer; for many, it was a time when they experienced the blessing of God. May it lead to deeper understanding and co-operation between Orthodox and Evangelical believers in a country where both traditions appear so vigorous.

Statement of Intent from LOI Regional Consultation in Ethiopia

loi-2016-ethiopia-group-picture-2The LOI Regional Consultation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia concluded today by issuing the following Statement of Intent.

Download PDF version here

Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative Regional Consultation, Addis Ababa

11-14 October 2016 (1-4 Tikemt 2009)

Statement of Intent

Sixty Orthodox and Evangelical Church leaders, theologians and mission workers gathered in Addis Ababa for a Regional Consultation at the invitation of Ethiopian leaders from both traditions. Over four days, we prayed, discussed, studied and shared meals together and were graciously received during our visit to the Ethiopian Patriarchate. Over half those present came from Ethiopia, with further regional representation from Egypt, Eritrea, India and Kenya. Many Orthodox participants came from the Oriental family of Churches, and were joined by participants from the Eastern Orthodox family of Churches. Evangelical participants came from the Mekane Yesus Church, the Kale Heywet Church, the Meserete Kristos Church, the Mulu Wongel Church and the Anglican Church of Ethiopia, as well as Anglicans, Baptists, Independent Evangelicals, Methodists and Presbyterians from other parts of the region and the world.

 We wish to express our gratitude to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Evangelical Churches of Ethiopia for hosting our gathering. At the opening session we were encouraged by an inspiring message of greeting from His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, and members of the Steering Committee were warmly received by His Holiness, who encouraged them to continue the work of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative (LOI).

From a shared commitment to the historic Christian Faith, we discussed the themes of witness, peace and unity, and explored how we could address these topics together. Among other aspects, we also considered how to better understand and relate to brothers and sisters of other religious traditions in the region, as demonstrated by the work of the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia.

Our time together reinforced our desire to co-ordinate our activities and co-operate with one another in a deeper way, and we wish to renew our commitment to doing so as Evangelical and Orthodox Christians. The Churches in Ethiopia look forward to continuing to work together in this way.

As participants in this historic gathering, and in response to the evident moving of the Holy Spirit amongst us, we go forward from this consultation with a clear commitment to pray for, encourage and empower a deeper fellowship in mission between our respective traditions.

To fulfil this commitment we will endeavour, in the strength of the Holy Trinity, to:

  • bear witness daily, in word and deed, to the reconciling love of the Gospel;
  • be patient, forgiving, generous and humble towards one another as we struggle with theological, cultural, historical and personal differences that divide us, as well as the historical context of our relationships, always seeking the mercy of God;
  • foster continuing engagement between our traditions within the whole region of the Horn of Africa, as in other regions, for the sake of the Kingdom of God – using, where appropriate, the insights, resources and experience of the LOI;
  • support those in Ethiopia whose vision is to explore and express more deeply our respective, and joint, participation in the Mission of God for the sake of His glory in this land;
  • encourage the “formation of mission-minded leaders” within our respective traditions, and hold in prayer the 2017 LOI consultation on this theme.

In making this commitment we, as participants in this consultation and members of the Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative, draw strength from the prayer of our Lord that we might “be one” in life and in witness, in the spirit of John 17. We draw hope from the experience of divine grace which we have enjoyed together this week in the fellowship of the saints of all ages.

Addis Ababa

14 October 2016

4 Tikemt 2009 (by Ethiopian calendar)

Looking forward to our Addis Ababa consultation

I have been so busy with getting ready for this that I have not posted for several weeks, but on behalf of the committee and participants I would like to request your prayers for this gathering. We meet from 11-14 October – next week! At least half the sixty people present will be from Ethiopia, with others who have worked there, as well as participants from other countries in the region. This is exciting, because the initiative for holding a gathering in Addis was very much that of local Christian leaders. Moreover, almost half those present will be Orthodox from a range of jurisdictions. Sadly, in spite of our efforts, we have encountered significant bureaucratic problems in making the practical arrangements, and some who had hoped to attend will be unable to do so.
Our theme is ‘Witness, Peace, and Unity’, timely topics and a challenging agenda. Please pray that we shall be given wisdom by the Holy Spirit to see how we can better witness together, seek peace together, and realize our unity together in Christ. Pray too that those whom God wants there will make it, and that they will gain something to take back in feed into their own ministry.