(John Bunyan, Christian Behaviour, quoted in Bunyan the Christian, Gordon Wakefield, Collins, 1992).
Gordon Wakefield was a lifelong Methodist, and passionate ecumenist. He had no hesitation in affirming the valid and rich diversity of the Christian tradition, while holding with careful intent to his own Methodist convictions. Like John Wesley, he exemplified a devout eclecticism, and urged amongst different Christian communities the nurture of 'a Catholic Spirit'. Reading yet again Wesley's great sermon on this theme was one of the diversions of my time at St Deiniol's. The anti-ecumenical stance of some contemporary evangelicals is deeply embedded in some strands of the Evangelical tradition - but it is also challenged by others, including the Wesleys, John Newton, Charles Simeon, and if we include the Puritans then Thomas Goodwin and of course Alexander Whyte. Indeed Whyte defined Evangelical spirituality as Christ-centred and hospitable hearted - a balance that both encourages and enables fellowship, avoids small minded and exclusive claims, and maintains the place of Christ without displacing others.
The text for Wesley's sermon comes from Second Kings, "And when he was departed thence, he lighted on Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him, and he saluted him, and said to him, Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? And Jehonadab answered: It is. If it be, give me thine hand." 2 Kings 10:15.
Now we might have some exegetical hesitations about the use of such a text as a justification for the Catholic spirit, and ecumenical engagement. But right hearts and extended hands does seem to suggest a willingness not to see 'the other' as a threat, or one who must think as I think. There's something grudging about giving someone the benefit of the doubt - why not give them the benefit of our goodwill that is willing to take risks? One of the consequences of celebrating, lamenting or simply conceding the onset of "post-denominationalism" is an impatience with difference, a nervousness about what is distinctive in how various groups of Christians have understood the call of Christ upon their lives. Diversity need not be competitive, exclusive, negative; it can be co-operative, inclusive and positive - and not in any way that need minimise the call of Christ to each of us to be faithful in following Him in the way He has called us to be. Indeed John Bunyan, who knew in his own experience the consequences of offending the rampant rightness of those who used power, exclusion and coercion in their efforts to standardise Christian behaviour and practice, makes exactly this point in Pilgrim's Progress.
(Quoted in Wakefield, page 67)
I am deeply, probably now indelibly dyed as a Baptist Christian, for whom "our Lord Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour is the sole and absolute Authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures....". The Baptist tradition, with its radical and separatist history, has much to offer the Church of Christ, much to teach and much to live up to as a stream in the Christian tradition. But we also have much to receive from the Church of Christ, much to learn, and much to discover and value in what others have experienced and come to know of the fullness and richness of Christ. Here are three verses of a longer hymn from Charles Wesley - they say so much........
Weary of all this wordy strife,
These notions, forms, and modes, and names,
To Thee, the way, the Truth, the Life,
Whose love my simple heart inflames,
Divinely taught, at last I fly,
With Thee and Thine to live and die.
Forth from the midst of Babel brought,
Parties and sects I cast behind;
Enlarged my heart, and free my thought,
Where'er the latent truth I find
The latent truth with joy to own,
And bow to Jesus' name alone.
Join'd to the hidden church unknown
In this sure bond of perfectness
Obscurely safe, I dwell alone
And glory in th' uniting grace,
To me, to each believer given,
To all Thy saints in earth and heaven.