Christ prayed that his followers would be one (John 17:11, 22). But the global church is clearly and deeply divided—the Catholics broke from the Orthodox, then the Protestants broke from the Catholics, and now the Protestants are endlessly divided among themselves.
American evangelicals are currently engaged in some soul searching about what precisely constitutes an “evangelical”—and whether that designation is even worth keeping. Many gen-Xers and millennials, unsatisfied with the consumer-style churches favored by their parents, have departed for more liturgical forms of worship characterized by creeds, incense, and rituals. And all the while, especially in the global South, Pentecostal churches continue to grow, though not without creating controversy along the way.
In such an unsettled environment, how can Jesus’ prayer for church unity possibly be fulfilled?
Gordon T. Smith, president of Ambrose University in Canada, has an exciting and promising proposal in his book Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three. Smith has fashioned a beautiful vision for the unity and interdependence of these major streams of the church.
Smith’s descriptors obviously need some teasing out. By evangelical, he refers to those churches characterized by a high regard for Scripture. By sacramental, he has in mind churches—Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian—that place a great deal of weight on the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By Pentecostal, Smith means churches that seek the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit and aim to recapture the spiritual vitality of the apostolic age.
What Smith offers is no airy-fairy ecumenical project. His point ...