As of Friday, November 8, 2013 various Christian disaster response organizations were rushing to prepare their response to the Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines. In some cases they were moving forward alone feeling they could respond best by using their own capacities and specialties.
Others were preparing to respond through a global coordination group who would channel their financial, material, and volunteer resources to places of identified need based on the capacity of their coordination group to manage their response.
A third set of disaster response organizations were preparing to respond in collaboration with various partners using a correlation approach where they identify whose efforts would go first, who would back them up, who would go where for the greatest impact, and where the gaps are that need to be filled.
Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches
October 30th-November 8th, 2013 Christian leaders from throughout the world met in Busan, South Korea for the 10th assembly of the World Council of Churches. Whenever this group meets one of the themes for discussion is Christian unity. The question is something like, what would it take for the global Christian Church to be in unity?
The answer for some Christian groups is that the question is irrelevant. The doctrinal differences and the ecclesiological authority issues are dividing, not uniting, and partially non-negotiable.
For other Christian groups the question is on target. It speaks to one of their core values. They continually work and pray for Christian unity. They have formal dialogues with other Christian groups and work in the direction of full communion.
In some cases the unity sought is spiritual and to an extent theological. Or, it is organizational or organic involving at least full communion if not the merger of denominations. Or, it is strategic and tactical such as is experienced in disaster response.
Encounters with Ecumenism and Interdenominational Efforts
During my early ministry, I learned about various ecumenical and interdenominational perspectives. First, was in training with Lyle Schaller, a legend in congregational consulting. One of his points was that ecumenical efforts and church growth are incompatible. Those who focus on ecumenism seldom want the Church to grow. Those who focus on church growth seldom take time for ecumenism.
What I remember learning from Lyle is how to distinguish between an ecumenical effort and an interdenominational effort. In ecumenical efforts you have to compromise to find common ground. In interdenominational efforts you can collaborate to find higher ground.
Second, was my involvement as a national denominational staff person with the urban task force of the now defunct Joint Strategy and Action Council. We tried a pilot urban project across denominational lines, but found we had to so water down our convictions to find a common set of values that once we had done that any action was mediocre and ineffective.
Later I served on the board of the South Carolina Christian Action Council and headed up a task force when a major hurricane came through South Carolina to set up an interdenominational organization that collaborated with a dozen Christian groups in their long-term response efforts. It brought excellence and effectiveness.
Needed is Christian Collaboration
As a result of these and other experiences, I am not a strong proponent of Christian unity. I am fine for those who feel a calling to unity to express their calling. I suspect, however, that it is not the assembly of Christian leaders that will bring about Christian unity, but the action of the Triune God. Perhaps the various assemblies will help us know when God is calling forward that unity. Hopefully it is unity and not uniformity.
The early Church dealt with uniformity in the Council at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. Following that Council four different types of Christianity continued to emerge. They were not unified, but they did have the opportunity to collaborate with one another.
What I believe we need are interdenominational efforts where Christian groups collaborate on issues of greatest passion surrounding the core Gospel message that is often expressed as the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment. Rather than unity that results from ecumenical compromise, we need synergy that results from interdenominational collaboration. This collaboration is where each Christian group brings to opportunities for action-then-reflection the best they have to offer to a world that needs the positive witness of the unconditional love of God.
We do not have to agree on all theological points or even achieve full communion. We only have to believe that our proactive collaborative witness of word and deed—our missional engagement—can make the crucial difference in the lives of peoples in their relationship to God, one another, and the context in which they live.
Is this currently found anywhere in global Christianity? Maybe the Global Christian Forum at http://www.globalchristianforum.org will seek to achieve this. Maybe the Lausanne Movement at http://www.lausanne.org can embody this. Maybe God will need to raise up another effort. What is your perspective?