Westminster Seminary California
 

Practical Ecumenism

W. Robert Godfrey, Resident Faculty  |   October 9, 1994   |  Type: Articles
 

The twentieth century has seen much discussion of the importance of Christian unity. The advance of secularism and rival religions especially in the West have led many Christians to write and speak about the crucial witness that Christian unity would offer to the world.

The concern for unity has produced some denominational mergers (for example, the United Church of Canada) and some international organizations of denominations (for example, the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches). But many of these developments have grown out of a liberal theology where unity is rather easy because the truth is believed to be relative or at least less clear and precise than in historic Christianity.

Some more conservative examples of ecumenical activity have occurred our time. The Presbyterian Church in America merged with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. Some confessional Reformed churches organized the National Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (NAP ARC).

The cause of Christian unity has also suffered greatly in the twentieth century. Many more denominations exist now than at the beginning of the century. Especially in America many congregations are either independent or very loosely affiliated with other churches. Presently in Korea there are more than 125 Presbyterian denominations!

Clearly Reformed Christians must continue to work for Christian unity. But such unity will not be built only by the work of denominations and their agents. Christians locally and through a variety of voluntary associations can also give expression to Christian unity and cooperation.

Let me tell you about one organization that is doing a remarkable work for Christian cooperation. The organization is called CURE – Christians United for Reformation. CURE was the brain child of some young men and Rod Rosenblatt in southern California who wanted to promote the great teachings of the Reformation: Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone. The leading figure among them was Michael Horton.

They decided that this enterprise would be a joint work of confessional Reformed and confessional Lutheran people. Neither Lutheran nor Reformed would compromise their confessional principles, and where they disagreed, they would say so openly and frankly (bluntly, if you are German). But they recognized that in the midst of an increasingly shallow and theologically illiterate evangelical world, the rich, Biblical theology of the Reformation was desperately needed. They agreed that American Christians needed to be reacquainted with Word, sacrament, church and theology.

CURE has worked on a number of fronts. Starting from its base in Anaheim CA, it has produced a weekly radio program, a weekly “Academy” for the study of theology, a bi-monthly journal, Modern Reformation, several conferences each year, and a number of significant books from the pen or under the editorial hand of Michael Horton.
The radio program now airs Sunday nights in most of the largest radio markets throughout the nation. The format is a discussion of a theological topic - usually following some theme, such as a study of the book of Romans. The main participants are Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger and Rod Rosenblatt. Horton and Riddlebarger are Reformed. (Horton is a minister in the Reformed Episcopal Church and Riddlebarger is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church. Both are graduates of Westminster in California.) Rosenblatt is an outrageously funny Missouri Synod Lutheran of Danish ancestry who teaches theology at Concordia University in Irvine, California. They are supported by Shane Rosenthal who out of his misspent youth has a phenomenal knowledge of contemporary music which he uses to great effect on the program.

After a time of discussion, the program takes telephone calls from people with questions or observations.  The result is an often madcap, but very pointed presentation of the great concerns of the Reformation. The program manages to be Biblical, very informative, very funny, and “with it,” a combination not often achieved by confessional Reformed or Lutherans. (I might add for worried Outlook readers, that while these men think that such music and fun are appropriate for a radio program, they do not think they are appropriate to a church service. Unlike many today they can distinguish between formal and informal, between solemn occasions and relaxed ones.)

The radio program has produced a wide listening audience and has been sought out by radio stations around the country. It has had an impact, awakening people by the thousands to the depths of Biblical truths and the usefulness of Reformation theology.

CURE has also had an impact through its books. Michael Horton - just thirty years old and currently completing a doctoral degree at Oxford - has written or edited eight books: Mission Accomplished (1986), The Agony of Deceit (1990), Made In America(1991), Putting Amazing Back into Grace (1991), Christ the Lord (1992) Power Religion (1992), The Law of Perfect Freedom(1993) and Beyond Culture Wars (1994). The Agony of Deceit was in many ways the breakthrough book - a collection of essays looking at the problems of televangelism. The books have a remarkable ability to speak a word from the Reformation (which is to say from the Bible) to some of the most important issues of our day.

Recently CURE has gotten involved in trying to correct an effort in ecumenism that misfired. Richard John Neuhaus and Charles Colson led a group of Roman Catholics and evangelicals which produced a statement of consensus on theological and cultural concerns. A number of other evangelicals, including confessional Reformed and Lutheran theologians, expressed great concern about the inadequacies of the statement on justification and on the character of Roman Catholicism. Michael Horton wrote and edited a response which has gained a number of signatures and is a very useful clarification of the great issues that do and must divide evangelicals from Rome.  (Horton’s response is printed separately in this issue of The Outlook, as “Agenda Suggestions for Roman Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue.”) This response may well become an important document in the growing need for evangelicals to oppose the fascination with and conversions to Rome that are occurring in our time.

Originally published in The Outlook, October 1994 by Reformed Fellowship, Inc. www.reformedfellowship.net.  Used with permission.

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