Friday, February 21, 2014

History Is Made (And I'm Speechless)

The story almost reads like a joke. “So an Anglican, a Pentecostal and the Pope walked into a bar. . .” But what happened today is not a joke. Matter of fact, what I experienced on this day, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes” (1 John 1:1), is nothing short of historic.

Three Christians, from three nations, from three cultures and three denominational traditions representing nearly three-quarters of the world’s Christians, came together as one. They loved each other. They blessed each other. They prayed for one another. They celebrated the Bible together. Heck, they sent personal videos to each other with iPhones! They praised one Lord together, Jesus Christ. And they called one another into complete unity so that the world would know the love of the Father.

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, eyes that were wincing to try to understand what was going on and at the same time welling up with tears for what I was seeing. Let me introduce the characters:

Kenneth Copeland
 A charismatic, Pentecostal preacher, a televangelist whose ministry and media empire (Kenneth Copeland Ministries) reaches millions around the world but also invites the scorn and skepticism of many (particularly amongst Catholics and mainline Protestants) for what they consider a “prosperity gospel.”

Tony Palmer
An Anglican bishop and member of the Anglican Episcopal Church of the CEEC (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches). Palmer experienced a radical conversion in his early twenties and was introduced to Kenneth Copeland through evangelistic videos which inspired Palmer to share the gospel, door to door, with every household in his English suburb (took him 8 months). Palmer would later be invited by the Vatican to serve on the Catholic Ecumenical Delegation for Christian Unity and Reconciliation.

Pope Francis
Certainly he needs no introduction. But before he was elected pope, Mario Jorge Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Ares, became a personal friend and spiritual mentor of Tony Palmer. Their friendship continued into his papacy, as you will see in the video.

You’ve just gotta see this for yourself (please, please, please trust me - it is WORTH the 45 minutes!).

If you’re a Catholic or mainline Protestant, bite your tongue and get through Copeland’s introduction (I'll admit, I almost stopped here). If you’re an academic, hold your judgment through Palmer’s beautiful, inspiring, yet at times academically imprecise message (I know, I know, doctrine does matter and Pelagianism was condemned in the 5th century). And if you’re an Evangelical, a Pentecostal or anybody skeptical of the Catholic Church, just wait for the incredible words, spoken in the “language of the heart,” of Pope Francis.

That they may be one. . .

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Kids Believe

“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. . .” Many of you recognize the words. If you were raised Catholic, I imagine you’re sitting there reciting the rest of this ancient statement of faith in your head (and perhaps feeling at least a little self-satisfied about it). This is the Nicene Creed, the standard profession of faith for the Church (both Protestant and Catholic), and the hallmark of Christian orthodoxy since the 4th century. This is what we, as Christians, believe.

But what exactly do kids believe today? What do they believe about God, Jesus, the Church and heaven?  Many kids would acknowledge the existence of God and their belief in Jesus but listen closely and you’ll get the creeping notion that we’re on two very different pages here. So what do kids really believe? What’s the “creed” that most kids, even good Christian kids, subscribe to today?

It’s called Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism[1] and the following, written brilliantly by my dear friend and Catholic brother, Andre Lesperance, hits the nail right on the head:[2]

A Creed for Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism

I believe in one God, the real but distant maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible, and possibly some invisible things (though any talk of invisible things is futile because science can’t prove their existence).

I believe in the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, one of many enlightened gurus of spirituality who basically taught what other great spiritual leaders throughout history have taught.

Through him all things are loved, liked, and accepted unconditionally.

For us and for our comfort, he came from Nazareth and lived well, but does not expect people after him to live quite as well; lowering the bar for the rest of humanity because he knows they’re obviously imperfect, he wants us to live comfortable and fun lives, not explicitly hurting other people we see on a daily basis, and avoiding big sins like murder and rape.

He was crucified under Pontius Pilate to inspire empathy for his ideals of niceness; he suffered death and was buried, but the ideas he stood for did not die with him. Those ideas “rose again” and reign now with Jesus' soul in heaven, which is a far-off Kingdom we enter only upon dying.

He will not come again and will not judge, because he told us that judging is bad, and he is not a hypocrite.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the vague sense that God unconditionally approves of everything I do and makes no demands on me (as long I’m usually nice and never a murderer), which makes me feel good about myself.

I believe in the existence of many, unholy churches. It would be arrogant to discuss whether any of them have more or less accurate pictures of the truth, since all this spiritual stuff is made up of unverifiable opinions anyway.

I confess one baptism for the cute baby ritual that it is, reminding us that “sin” is a pretty outdated concept.

And I look forward to being in my personal happy place for eternity. Amen.

*To compare this to the standard profession of faith honored by Protestants and Catholics throughout the centuries, the Nicene Creed, go to:

[1] The term “moralistic, therapeutic deism” was first introduced in 2005 by noted sociologist, Christian Smith, a practicing Catholic who currently teaches at the University of Notre Dame.
[2] Please note this is NOT what Andre believes but this is what he has come to understand, through his extensive experience with young people, as the standard set of beliefs held by adolescents today.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NFCYM: A Place at the Table

Would it make any difference to you if a young person came to believe in Jesus Christ because she witnessed Protestant and Catholic Christians working together? Would it get your attention if a hurting teenager came to know the healing power of God’s love because he experienced the genuine love expressed among the many parts of the body of Christ? Whether Christian brothers and sisters can “play nice” and grow in missional relationship with one another has, according to our Lord, consequences far greater than we might imagine. . . like whether we can provide a compelling witness to the love of God and inspire genuine trust in Jesus Christ in our broken world today.

On the night that he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, Jesus prayed that all of his followers might be one “so that the world may believe that [the Father] has sent me and has loved them”(Jn 17:21b, 23b). Jesus prayed for Christian unity, not as a matter of kumbaya sentimentalism, but because it impacts the single greatest challenge facing the Church today - evangelization.

Thus, my presence at the NFCYM (National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry) Annual Membership Meeting in Seattle last week had a little riding on it. Would it be an occasion for good will and shared mission between Young Life and the Catholic Church or would it reinforce the divisions that have pained the relationship between the Church and mission movements like Young Life for decades?

The vision of the NFCYM is to “serve those who serve the young Catholic Church.” It seeks to invite to the table all people and organizations that significantly impact young Catholics so, like Jesus prayed, they may believe in the Word made flesh and know the love of the Father. It seems natural that Young Life, an interdenominational global Christian outreach to adolescents, an organization that by conservative estimates is reaching over a quarter of a million Catholic teens per year, would have a seat at that table.

I am indebted to the gracious invitation of Bob McCarty, executive director of NFCYM, who welcomed me as a personal guest. I was deeply blessed by the opportunity to observe the operations of the federation and engage in dialogue with federation members. Most embraced me (and the organization of Young Life) with open, if not cautious, arms. Some wondered why I was even there. After all, doesn’t Young Life “steal kids from the Catholic Church,” as the old caricature goes?

Putting things in a distinctly different light, Catholic mission leaders were surprised to learn that Young Life is genuinely interested in putting those 250,00 kids into Catholic pews around the country. Young Life is no more interested in making Catholic kids Protestant as it is in making Presbyterian kids Methodist. Young Life is not in competition with the Catholic Church. Young Life and the entire Church universal is competing with the aggressive encroachment of a worldview that strips young people of their inherent dignity and robs them of a vital connection with their only real source of life – Jesus Christ.

The question is. . .

Can we look beyond our fears and parochialism (both within Young Life and the Catholic Church) and claim the blessing of unity and mission for which Jesus prayed?

Can the conversations which started in Seattle, through real dialogue and authentic friendship, blossom into the kind of trust and missional collaboration that will be necessary to reach a world of kids with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Do we have the relational bridges in place that would ensure that those kids can find the same support and relational investment in the Catholic Church as they did in Young Life?

As Pope Francis has said, “The principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone. . . If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ.”[1]

We are driven by the same mission, bound in one body, and sent out by one Lord. I think God has prepared us “for such a time as this” – Young Life and the Catholic Church working together to reach every kid, everywhere, for eternity.[2]

[1] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), 31, 49.
[2] Esther 4:14.