Evangelical and Catholic

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I have lived my life in a time when the ecumenical movement transformed the attitudes of Christians toward one another.  The ecumenical movement has failed to fulfill its original mission, which was to reunite Christians into one institution.  Now the vision is to establish "full communion" among all the churches so that members of different churches may share in the Eucharist in one another's churches, the ordination of the clergy of different churches may be recognized by one another, and the churches may move forward into the future together with more fellowship and cooperation.  Despite the difficulties of bringing unity to the institutional churches, the ecumenical movement has fostered an environment of much more personal interaction among Christians of different churches. 

I have enjoyed deep friendships with Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics, and Orthodox.  Because the church of Jesus Christ (all of the believers in Christ) is divided into various traditions and institutional forms, it seems to me that no church possesses the whole of understanding the revelation of God or experience of the Christian life.  Some churches possess much more of this wholeness than others, but all are deficient somewhat because of the divisions in the body of Christ.  My friendship with other Christians has given me insight into the actual lives of their churches and an awareness of how much we need the emphases of all the Christian traditions to see and be nourished by the whole.

My study of the whole Christian tradition and interaction with other Christians and churches has also given me an appreciation of the spirit of Methodism.  What I perceive in Methodism and appreciate about it is that, when it is at its best, it is both catholic and evangelical.  I think Methodism is beautiful when it has an evangelical spirit in a catholic body. 

Methodism must be evangelical.  Out of the fullness of the tradition, Methodism keeps the theological focus on the evangel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It knows that there must be a personal experience of the Gospel.  Because it emphasizes experience, it is naturally a form of Christianity which thrives by inviting others into the same kind of experience.

At the same time, Methodism is rooted in the catholic tradition--the tradition of doctrine, liturgy, and practices which began to develop following the time of the apostles.  This catholic tradition has been mediated to Methodists through the Anglican tradition and the theological emphases of John and Charles Wesley, who were greatly influenced by the Fathers of the church.

There are many churches which are perhaps more evangelical than we are, but often they lack a rootedness in the catholic tradition.  Others are certainly more catholic than we are, but they lack an evangelical spirit.

I hear people calling for revival and becoming a "movement" again.  They are tapping into evangelical identity, and they are right to do so. 

Yet I think Methodism is most vital when it realizes that a revival of the Holy Spirit comes when we are attending to the means of grace--searching the Scriptures, participating frequently in Holy Communion, praying, and engaging in other practices such as small groups and service to the poor.  The Holy Spirit is free to act any way and time that the Spirit chooses, but the experience of Christians over the centuries is that the normal manner in which the Spirit  chooses to come to us is through the means of grace established by God.  This means that renewal comes not only by being more evangelical, but also by being more catholic.  It may be that we need to become more fully "church" as well as more of a "movement" if we want Methodism to thrive and contribute to the life and mission of the entire church of Jesus Christ.

 



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