Never has there been an attempt to bring Christians on such a broad spectrum of traditions and beliefs together on one table as the Christian Churches Together (CCT) USA. By September 2005, the CCT will have 25 member groups that come from Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Ethnic, Pentecostal, and Orthodox churches the largest variety in the history of US Christianity.
The vision for CCT began in September 2001, with a meeting of church leaders who felt a need for greater fellowship, unity, and witness among the broken body of Christ. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America (RCA), has served as the chair of the CCT steering committee since it was formed three years ago.
The following is the full text of a Dec. 10 interview with Wes Granberg-Michaelson.
How many churches have given their support to the CCT to date?
Twenty three. You could find the current list on the CCT website: www.christianchurchestogether.org. From memory, I could say we have a good core from the evangelical and Pentecostal traditions, about the same amount from mainline protestant churches, about four orthodox churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. We also have some ethnic churches like the Korean Presbyterian Church.
Is the plan to launch in 2005 on track?
We hope so. The official launch will be in September, and we have a meeting planned for the first three days. We said we want 25 churches, and we want to make this as diverse as possible. We are still sending out invitations as widely as possible so every Christian church denomination has the opportunity to consider if they are called to be a part of this fellowship.
What are the biggest goals for the CCT?
It would be the same as our mission statement, which is listed on the website as well. Our real focus is to draw closer together; thats what this is all about.
What have been the greatest challenges to realizing these goals?
Simply trying to do what has never happened before. Weve never been able to have a common table of organized Christian fellowship at this level, which includes the official leadership of mainline branches of Christian churches, the Orthodox Church, the evangelical church, the Pentecostal and ethnic churches, and even the Catholic Church. This just never happened before in American church history, and the challenge has been to see whether we are ready for it, and whether the movement of the spirit is such that we are at that time. Another challenge has been to overcome some of the suspicions and fears that have prevented us from gathering like this in the past.
Some have worried that with such a broad spectrum of theological voices, it may be impossible to maintain a firm identity or to make many decisions. What would you say to those people?
I think that remains to be discovered. I think as Christians even along this broad spectrum, we hold some common values for common faith, and a common commitment to Gods work. We all live under the same Bible, Lord and historic expressions of faith.
For example, during the preliminary discussions, most of us gathered there agreed that issues like poverty and the AIDS crisis is strongly ethical, and that we need to look together at these issues. We agreed that the influence of the church must shape the values of the larger culture in these issues. I think that despite theological differences, we can probably find a broad agreement on issues like these.
Certainly, with a wider diversity of voices, there will be a range of things we dont agree on. However, I think we will find common ground, and when we come to that level, I think it will be very powerful. When you look at those who are drawn toward the CCT, most of them see the deep need for unity and trust within each other.
What will be the role of the National Council of Churches, the current largest ecumenical fellowship of churches, in the future CCT?
The NCC, like the National Association of Evangelicals, is a fellowship of churches, so they dont join the CCT as members. They are more of a liaison, and their own member churches are invited to join the CCT; in fact, the majority of NCC churches are involved in the CCT. Therefore I believe these larger groups would want very much to be in dialogue with the CCT, but they wont formally be members.
When do you suppose the CCT can enter into a stage beyond dialogue -- to an era of action?
That will take some time; we really wont act together until we know how to be around each other. I certainly think that we will emerge as an active group, but with a crowd this diverse, it will take time to continue to build trust. But I think we all believe in what John 17 says, you come together in unity so the world may believe and not for ourselves but for the sake of Gods intention for the world.
The Rev. Wesley Granberg Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America since 1994, is the chair of the steering committee to the upcoming Christian Churches Together in the USA. Prior to becoming General Secretary, Michaelson served for six years on the staff of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, as the moderator and task force member on relations with evangelicals.
Michaelson graduated from Hope College in 1967, completed his theological education at Princeton Seminary, and graduated from Western Theological Seminary.
Wesley, his wife Karen, and their two children Jonkrister and Karis, live in Michigan.