NEW YORK – On Wednesday, January 29, leaders from 30 denominations across United States arrived at a consensus on a proposal to form the broadest Christian alliance, comprising of more congregations of Christianity than the currently largest ecumenical organization, National Council of Churches (NCC).Catholic Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, California, and Baltimore's Cardinal William Keeler were among the 55 participants who met at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Both are members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' ecumenical committee. "I don't think there has ever been anything like this attempted before in this country," Brown said. The steering committee of the budding effort, tentatively called Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., will invite a wide range of national church bodies and agencies over the next several weeks to join them.
The loosely knit alliance would represent five segments of U.S. Christianity, listed in the plan as "Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, Orthodox, Racial/Ethnic and Roman Catholic."The Catholic church and most evangelicals and Pentecostals do not belong to the National Council of Churches, which is currently America's largest ecumenical group. If the new alliance does emerge, it could supplant the National Council or radically alter its role in American Christianity.
The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, steering committee chair and chief executive of the Reformed Church in America, called the meeting "a remarkable breakthrough. We gathered a wide representation of the Christian churches in the U.S.A. and were able to inspire them into making a deep commitment together.
"Brown said the U.S. Catholic hierarchy could decide on the proposal within two years. Granberg-Michaelson said that's the likely timetable to go from the planning stage to formal launch of the organization.
The nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, may be reluctant to join, though it had an observer at the meeting.The idea of a broad Christian alliance emerged from discussions three years ago within the National Council. The council is not sponsoring the new unity effort, though its chief executive is participating in it.
Mainline Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical church leaders have met twice for these explorations - September 7-8 in Baltimore and April 4-6 in Chicago - and had planned a third meeting in January 2003. The NCC is helping to facilitate the conversations, which involve "virtually all NCC member churches" along with several non-member communions, Huszagh said.The organization would gather groups that "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures" and "worship and serve One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
"The proposal sent to churches says that, in the early stages, the alliance will exist mostly for common worship, fellowship and dialogue on "commonalities" and "differences." Later, it would become more active in "speaking to society with a common voice, whenever possible," and sponsor forums where Christians could address specific issues.The National Council and rival National Association of Evangelicals each have faced organizational woes in recent years.
The National Council currently includes 36 Protestant and Orthodox denominations with 100,000 local congregations. The National Association of Evangelicals unites 51 denominations, 45,000 congregations and 250 interchurch agencies. U.S. Catholicism has 65.3 million members in 19,500 parishes.
The following document was the invitation to the proposal:
Christians Churches Together in the U.S.A.: An Invitation to a Journey
As Evangelical, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic church leaders, we write to all Christians in the United States to share our longing for an expanded Christian conversation in our nation.
In Baltimore on Sept 7-8, 2001, we met to pray, to listen and to seek the guidance of God on whether all who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures can talk together about how to share with the world our common confession of Jesus Christ.
We continued this prayerful conversation in Chicago on April 4-6 and sensed the Holy Spirit leading us to new possibilities. We are Christians who long for greater unity. It is our longing which most clearly points us toward "something new" as a possibility for the churches in the United States. We celebrate the unique traditions, gifts and charisms of our respective faith communities.
We also acknowledge that when our differences create unnecessary divisions, our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ is distorted. We offer our lamentations and longings with prayerful expectation that the Holy Spirit is moving us toward a new expression of our relationships with one another and our witness to the world.
· We lament that we are divided and that our divisions too often result in distrust, misunderstandings, fear and even hostility between us. We long for the broken body of Christ made whole, where unity can be celebrated in the midst of our diversity.
· We lament our often diffuse and diminished voice on matters critical to the gospel in our society. We long for a more common witness, vision and mission.
· We lament how our lack of faithfulness to each other has led to a lack of effectiveness on crucial issues of human dignity and social justice. We long to strengthen the prophetic public voice of the Christian community in America.
· We lament that none of our current organizations represents the full spectrum of Christians in the United States. We long for a place, where our differences could be better understood and our commonalities better affirmed.
In Chicago, we began to see a vision of a new life together. This vision has led us to provisionally call ourselves "Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A."
With excitement we began to sketch the outlines of a new level of relationship and action that offer a common witness for Christ to the world. This common witness will be visible through our:
· Celebrating a common confession of faith in the Triune God.
· Seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit through biblical, spiritual and theological reflection.
· Engaging in common prayer.
· Speaking to society with a common voice.
· Promoting the common good of society.
· Fostering faithful evangelism.
· Seeking reconciliation by affirming our commonalities and understanding our differences.
· Building a community of fellowship and mutual support.
In Chicago we felt led to invite the churches.
We invite all churches who confess Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to join us on this journey. We have only just begun to explore how to walk together. The questions for conversation, the ways to talk together and the paths to take all remain to be fleshed out by those whom, we trust, will join us on this difficult and essential journey of faith and obedience.
We cannot know the details of the way, but we long to allow the Holy Spirit to answer our Lord’s prayer to the Father, "that they may all be one . . . so that the world may be believe that you have sent me." John 17: 21
APPENDIX -- DRAFT BASIS STATEMENT:
Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. gathers together those churches and Christian communities which acknowledging God’s revelation in Christ, confesses the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scripture, and in obedience to God’s will and in the power of the Holy Spirit commit themselves to seek a deepening of their communion with Christ and with one another; to fulfill their mission to proclaim the Gospel by common witness and service in the world for the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
April 6, 2002 Chicago, Illinois Attendees/Signatories: Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Armenian Orthodox ChurchBishop Dimitrios Couchell, Greek Orthodox ChurchDr.
Peter Bouteneff, Orthodox Church in AmericaBishop Tod Brown, Roman Catholic ChurchCommissioner John Busby, The Salvation ArmyRev.
Rothangliani Chhangte, American Baptist ChurchesRev.
Dr. Seung K. Choi, Korean Presbyterian ChurchBishop Edwin Conway, Roman Catholic ChurchRev.
Robert Edgar, National Council of ChurchesRev.
Dr. David Engelhard, Christian Reformed Church in NABishop Jon Enslin, Evangelical Lutheran ChurchBishop Chris Epting, Episcopal ChurchRev.
Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Reformed Church in AmericaMs.
Elenie K. Huszagh, Esq. President, National Council of ChurchesCardinal William Keeler, Roman Catholic ChurchRev.
Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Presbyterian Church in the USAVery Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Orthodox Church in AmericaArchbishop William Levada, Roman Catholic ChurchRev.
Michael Livingston, International Council of Community ChurchesSister Joan McGuire, Roman Catholic ChurchBishop George McKinney, Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches of NARev. Roy Medley, American Baptist ChurchesColonel Philip Needham, The Salvation ArmyRev. Judy Mills Reimer, Church of the BrethrenDr. Ann K. Riggs, Director of Faith and Order, National Council of ChurchesRev.
Ronald Roberson, Roman Catholic ChurchRev. Robert Sawyer, Moravian Church in AmericaRev. Ronald Sider, Evangelicals for Social ActionBishop Melvin Talbert, United Methodist ChurchRev. Lydia Veliko, United Church of ChristRev.
Jim Wallis, Sojourners/Call To Renewal Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)Rev. Robina Winbush, Presbyterian Church in the USABishop McKinley Young, African Methodist Episcopal Church