Evangelical-Orthodox initiatives result in on-the-ground unity and vitality in Middle East

Efforts to bridge the divide between evangelical and Eastern Orthodox churches in the Middle East are paying dividends of renewed evangelistic and missionary involvement for both traditions, writes Jayson Casper in Christianity Today (June). Much of the impetus behind this conciliatory mood is the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and its theologian Thomas Schirrmacher, who joined with Orthodox scholars in Turkey in recently producing a book on their common beliefs—the first-ever such volume issued in the Middle East (and just translated into English), if not the Christian world. The cooperative trend came out of conflicts and suspicions about competition between Orthodox and evangelicals. Together both groups set up procedures to handle such complaints and shortly thereafter, “Schirrmacher launched extensive religious liberty advocacy by the WEA for the Eastern Christian church,” Casper writes.

Schirrmacher sees the evangelical spirit present in Orthodox and other bodies, saying that “evangelicalism is the search for the DNA of Christianity. But then other churches take it over. Suddenly it is no longer a specific evangelical conviction, but a Christian one.” Such engagement has also provided political protection and benefits for evangelicals. Evangelical efforts to establish a satellite TV network for the Middle East in Turkey that were initially rejected by the Turkish government were later accepted when a broader coalition of churches beyond “foreign” Protestant ones became involved. Today the station reaches 50 million Turks. Evangelicals have benefited from Orthodox spirituality and disciplines—with many converting to Orthodox churches—while Orthodox churches have become more mission-minded from contact with evangelicals. This influence could be seen in a 2015 survey of Orthodox Christians where respondents said they would consider giving more to their parishes if they paid more attention to missions, evangelism, and outreach.