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A stunted ecclesiology…

February 16, 2008

s.jpg“To read deeply in history is to cease being Protestant.” 

Cardinal John Henry Newman, himself a famous convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism


I’m pretty sure I have ceased to be Protestant (to the extent that I ever was).  As a good Evangelical, I grew up with a fairly under-developed ecclesiology (H/T J.I. Packer for the “stunted ecclesiology” description of Evangelicals).  Of course the Anabaptist narrative seeks an ecclesial space that is neither Catholic nor Protestant.  This “free church” communal ecclesiology notwithstanding, I certainly have drawn back from a sense of Church that is generically Evangelical and individualistic–with a dubious connection to the past (the whole communion of saints in Christ Jesus). 


I don’t find the impetus of the Spirit these days to be toward an agenda of protest–nor independent-mindedness.  It seems the Spirit is about the work of healing and restoration.  Humility and submission to a communal narrative.  Rejection of the autonomous individualism (secular narrative) that has powerfully shaped the Evangelical Church.   


So how is the Spirit moving among Evangelicals, drawing us back into the stream of historic Christianity.  I first read The Chicago Call:  An Appeal to Evangelicals several years ago–perhaps 8-10.  I am a big fan of this statement.  I think it identifies a weakness in the Evangelical movement and points the way to a deeper rootedness in the community of Jesus Christ–the Church. 


In 1977, upon the urging of Robert Webber, Donald Bloesch, and Thomas Howard, 45 evangelical academics and leaders gathered to pen “The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals,” whose prologue declared evangelicals’ “pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage.” This historic document began by issuing a “Call to Historic Roots and Continuity”: 

“We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scripture and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures. … We dare not move beyond the biblical limits of the gospel; but we cannot be fully evangelical without recognizing our need to learn from other times and movements concerning the whole meaning of that gospel.”

If anyone begins talking to me about what God is doing…some new movement of the Spirit…I find myself more and more asking the question:  “with whom have you tested your understanding?”  How does your view of the Church line up with that of the whole?  How are you accountable to the Church of 2,000 years?


The article in the recent Christianity Today confirms what I have observed and sensed the Spirit saying to the churches.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2008 9:21 am

    Nice blog and a interesting path on your journey.
    I wish you well in your search.

  2. February 16, 2008 10:42 am

    It’s a wonderful yet challenging journey. Pray for truth with each step.

    God’s Peace and Grace be with you!


  3. February 16, 2008 5:11 pm

    I became a Christian 12 years ago and was baptized in a Southern Baptist church. I found Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline in the public library and have more and more been influenced by Renovaré and its promotion of the “classics”. So I feel quite sympathetic with what you are saying.

  4. February 17, 2008 6:44 am

    The fact the we need to look back to understand who we are is refreshing to me. Constantly looking forward to see is also important, but only looking forward might lead us in “every direction as there is no anchoring motif (i.e. Holy Tradition) to shape us.

    I will need to get the full article in CT, but the bit I read was quite interesting and I believe this is the direction Evangelical (and Mennonites) need to head in following Jesus.

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