Given my own astounding capacity for logic and abstract reasoning, there are but few people left in this world who have the capability of challenging me intellectually. One of those is Dr. Thomas E. Philips, currently an associate professor at Point Loma Nazarene University. Another more recent influence has been my good friend Phil Webster, recent Duke Divinity School MTS graduate and current student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. I’ve found Phil to be particularly engaging as we share similar Evangelical backgrounds. As such, I’ve had the privilege of taking part in some profound discussions with Phil regarding the present condition of the Evangelical church in America as well as its future.
Phil has recently posted what I consider to be an ideal summary of the limitations, in both theory in practice, of Catholics and Evangelicals. Most of what he proposes echo similar thoughts of my own, which I haven’t been able to put together quite so eloquently. I’m especially sympathetic with Phil’s desire to incorporate the positive aspects of both of these traditions into Church practice. The only reservation I have is his view of the ‘house church’ model as the ideal combination of these traditions. Granted he was cautious to point out that this is his personal view, but I think this perspective could bring just as many limitations as favoring one tradition over and against the other. While I believe no church should be without a ‘house church’ concept as part of its model, these should not be all encompassing. To do so misses the power of the gathered multitudes whether it be in song, service, prayer, or the slaughtering and bleeding of large amounts of cattle and sundry livestock.
I think in some Christian circles (Evangelicals for sure, Catholics too?) there is an unwarranted fear of ‘large churches,’ and a leaning towards the ‘apostolic utopianism’ of the ‘house church.’ I would venture that a lot of it has to do with subconscious reactions to a lot of the unfortunate aspects of popular Evangelicalism which Phil pointed out, and which I find unfortunate. Scripture seems to contain many different church/ministry styles, the feeding of the multitudes and the growth of the church following Pentecost as two examples of the what I consider the ‘biggie size.’
Well, thankfully Philâ€™s halfway around the world or he’d probably be whipping an elephant ear dipped in chocolate at me as I’ve managed to take his article for Christian ecumenicalism and reduce it to a wandering banter about church size.
Anyway, Phil, you’re not alone in your hope for an ecumenical church. May such a vision be in our prayers and practice.