My Ecumenical Journey

Preston Sprinkle

Ecumenicism refers to “efforts by Christians of different Church traditions to develop closer relationships and better understandings. The term is also often used to refer to efforts towards the visible and organic unity of different Christian denominations in some form.” Wikipedia goes on to say (don’t judge me, I read it from time to time, and so do you): “The adjective ecumenical can also be applied to any interdenominational initiative that encourages greater cooperation among Christians and their churches, whether or not the specific aim of that effort is full, visible unity.”

Both terms, ecumenicism and ecumenical, were basically f-words in the Christian subculture I grew up in. There was one true church, and genuine Christians who were serious about sound doctrine (that is, the doctrine that this one true church promoted) were the ones seriously following Jesus, and everyone else was on a slippery slope toward liberalism. And that slippery slope is as wide and jammed packed as LA’s 405 freeway heading past LAX at 5pm. Like the select few saints who were truly following Yahweh in Elijah’s day, doctrinally sound Christians today are few and far between. Amillennials, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians—I mean, we’re not saying they’re not saved (necessarily), but all of them are doctrinally unsound. Old earth creationists, annihilationists, or post-trib rapturists are equally unsound. Those who think (like D.A. Carson and John Piper) that Mark wrote the first gospel and that other gospel writers “borrowed” material from him were also closeted liberals and unorthodox in their view of Scripture. John Piper is iffy, since he’s a historic premillennialist. Wayne Grudem can’t be totally trusted either, because he’s charismatic and dedicated his popular Systematic Theology to John Wimber—the leader of the third wave charismatic movement. And if you believe that the “sign gifts” are for today, then you also have departed from sound doctrine and might just be demonically possessed. 

Yes, these are all true scenarios in the Christian environment I was nurtured in. I’ll never forget leaving this environment for the icy shores of Aberdeen Scotland in 2004, where I pursued my Ph.D. studies amongst 25 other Christian students from about 24 different denominational traditions: Methodists, Presbyterians, charismatics, Lutherans—all of whom, God forbid, believed in women in ministry. What blew me away was how passionate they all were for the gospel, the Scriptures, and following the way of Christ. My categories were blown. These people were supposed to be closeted Satan worshippers (not really…but sort of) and all I saw was the humility of Christ in them. An ecumenical spirit was sparked in my soul.

For the next several years, I kept studying and reading and learning from other traditions. I still held to some rather conservative views and still loved Scripture more than I ever had. But I enjoyed interacting with, learning from, and disagreeing with writers and speakers from other traditions. I learned that true faith is not formed in an echo chamber, but in a stew of thought-provoking voices that aren’t afraid to challenge your arguments as an act of worshiping the same God together. 

I also started making friends with, and speaking in, other churches, denominations, and traditions. Presbyterians, Baptists, Mennonites, Methodists, Quakers (Friends), Church of God (Anderson), and many more. I was shocked at how much they all had in common. Many of these churches felt the same. They played the same songs, preached from the same text, had the same outdated carpet, and worshiped the same Triune God. No doubt, they had their differences. But these differences all seemed to be secondary to their common allegiance to Gospel and the revelation of Christ through Scripture. 

Then, in 2017 I started The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender—an organization aimed at helping the church—any church—think more deeply and scripturally about sex, sexuality, and gender related questions. Sure, the fringe liberal churches don’t touch us and neither do the KJV only fundy types. But once we cut off the thin layer of fat on both ends, we’ve got a massive chunk of ecumenical meat left in between. Methodists, Evangelical Covenant, Church of God Anderson (Cleveland hasn’t called us yet), AOG, FMC, UMC, RCA, CRC, SBC, Acts29, Roman Catholics, American Baptists, charismatics, non-charismatics, anti-charismatics, and many others have asked us to help them disciple their people well in their ministries. And I’ve grown to appreciate many aspects of their ministries. I certainly don’t agree with everything they all teach (who does?), and I’m not sure I’d feel super comfortable at some of their churches (who can?). But the gospel continues to be the magnetic center that holds us all together. And I can from the bottom of my heart say that I appreciate their voice and ministry in the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God would be worse off had they never existed. 

I still hold to some, perhaps many, traditional values that I grew up with, and my commitment to Scripture has only grown stronger over my 28-year journey in the faith. I’m so thankful for the various ways that God has worked amongst the diverse array of messed up people He calls saints. And I’m humbled and honored to be counted as one of them. 

Yeah. I think I’m ecumenical

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