Gail Reid is director of communications for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and managing editor of their publication, Faith Today.
"We stand before you as a warning," said Rev. Brian Wilkie, associate minister at Dominion-Chalmers United Church in Ottawa and board member of the Community of Concern. "The United Church is a model of the consequences of unfaithfulness. Do not think you can compromise and get away with it. Hold fast to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ — there is no other Saviour." He then added through tears, "Do not rejoice over our downfall — instead be our brothers and sisters."
Wilkie was one of three representatives from the renewal groups in the mainline denominations. The panel took place in Ottawa on October 26 at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada's yearly event for their 32 affiliate evangelical denominations and over 150 ministry organizations. Those present at the workshop were there to learn: How they should pray for the renewal groups in the historic churches.
Wilkie was not alone in his passionate challenge to evangelicals outside the mainline churches. "We need your encouragement — not your judgment," said Rev. Jerry Smith, chair of the Essentials Council within the Anglican Church of Canada.
Quoting Nehemiah, he explained that all Christians are needed to rebuild the community of God. "They must work side-by-side in their own symbolic 100-foot gap with two enemies: the pagan community from without and the opposition from within." Yet for those in mainline renewal, there is often a fight on either side with evangelical leaders. Some have questioned if Smith can be a Christian and remain in the Anglican Church. Others have suggested that the renewal groups have caved in to the liberal haziness of the leadership in their denominations.
"Instead of criticizing us, pray for us," pleaded Smith. "Go further and reach out to your neighbour ministers. Develop a relationship with them — mentor and encourage them. Pray for the fellowship of evangelicals coast to coast to encourage one another." He reminded the audience that there are core faithful in every denomination. The issue of our own tribal stripes and colour must no longer make a difference.
Rev. Calvin Brown, Executive Director of the Renewal Fellowship Within the Presbyterian Church in Canada, agreed: "In diversity there is a richness and the glory of God is revealed. As followers of Jesus come together, God will have dominion from sea to sea in Canada."
Brown told of many answers to prayer including the coming together of many mainline renewal groups who last year to organized a successful joint conference on the theme "Christ our Hope." These conferences are continuing to the encouragement of many in mainline churches. Whereas in the past, few evangelicals had any influence in the theological schools within the Presbyterian Church, he noted that this has begun to change with unanimous appointment of a well-known evangelical as principal in one of the three denominational colleges, and the appointment of other evangelicals to other faculty positions as well.
Brown closed by asking other evangelicals not to despise the rich heritage of the mainline churches but to pray that the strong biblical basis would be recovered. For the Presbyterians he asked that they pray that the mantle of John Knox (the founding father of Presbyterians, who prayed "Give me Scotland or I die.") would fall on anyone entering a Presbyterian pulpit. When that prayer is answered we will see not only the church but the whole nation renewed.
Brian Wilkie shared a different view; he spoke of lost ground. In 1957, The Christian Century magazine gave the United Church the highest rating because it placed the most value on evangelism. But as the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ waned, so did the Church. In 1988, the United Church lost tens of thousands of their brightest and strongest believers when the Church officially agreed that homosexuality should not be a bar to those in ministry.
Wilkie said the renewal groups continue to battle on, but it is very difficult because many are tired and lonely. The problem is very deep and the evangelicals within do not have the political strength to rein in the excesses. He agreed with Smith, that it is harder when outside evangelical ministers do not support them. At one of the Ottawa joint ministerial meetings, "I felt like a pariah," said Wilkie, "when I said I was from the United Church. It would be easier to leave, but God has called us to stay."
"Still, we do not begrudge those who have left," he said. "We know that God has called them out to grow within your evangelical congregations. They couldn't grow where they were in the same way." One person told Wilkie that God spoke to her in a dream and said that the United Church is like the porch of the Body of Christ and many find him there. At the time the woman thought, "yes, but people don't live on a porch!" Nevertheless, many would agree that the United Church is known for its acceptance and outreach. "And where else can you go Sunday after Sunday and preach to unbelievers in your own church," said Wilkie with a smile.
"Despite all of this we in renewal have been fed by angels," Wilkie said. "Through it all we have experienced God's power and his presence and his feeding. Pray that we will accept God's hand upon us, until his will is done."
Left to right, The Revs. Jerry Smith, Calvin Brown and Brian Wilkie.