Thursday, 27 August 2009

Working Together (Part 5)

And here endeth my discussion...

The delay has been to do with holidays, decorators and a bit of procrastination!

I will use the headings in previous parts of the discussion to give a snapshot of where I am now.

Doctrinal Unity

The Evangelical Alliance basis of faith is a useful start point and is definitely a litmus test for me. I don't try to exclude on that basis but it helps to show where people are coming from. That is why "Mission Shrewsbury" is probably more my comfort zone because such a deep sense of "sharing" key points of faith builds trust and makes things tick a bit better.

In reality "Christian" and "Trinitarian" would be on the outer echelons of what "working together" means for me. Hope 08 meant using that definition and standing as a body of Christ across much wider doctrinal lines than I have done before and was a useful exercise in seeing how far we could go, which turned out to be quite far, raising thousands of pounds to deliver 54,000 leaflets with over 20 Churches standing together.

Within evangelicalism I personally hold the view that if they love the Lord and honour scripture then I want to work with them and their errors in the same way I want them to work with me and my errors. Charismatic / Non charismatic is not automatically an issue, or are issues of denomination, Church government, gender or atonement, which all seem to be fairly hot topics. I guess I want to take people at face value and I don't think those things have to be stumbling block to unity unless we make them so. So I work with baptists and paedo baptists, complimentarians and female ministers, charismatics and cessationalists, within an evangelical framework. If they held their definition tighter I would be excluded so why should I seek to do that to them?

I also think the Church / Para church discussion is almost completely redundant in practice and I will seek to work with both. In Shrewsbury that means especially the Shrewsbury Youth for Christ team, as well as Shrewsbury Fairtrade, and plenty of other national para church ministries such as Barnabas Fund. If Jesus was willing to talk about the kingdom of God being the priority then I need to too, and my ecclesiology needs to accomodate others who do things a bit different.

Spirituality

My spirituality is far more defined by being charismatic than it is about particular tenets of my evangelical faith. My worship is far closer to some people I have differing views to than it is to some I would share most viewpoints with.

I feel crushed in certain evangelical settings where we choose to worship together in unity, as long as no-one puts their hands up, speaks in tongues, or claims to hear from God through anything other than scripture. I am a square peg in a round hole and so for "unity" within a shared expression of spirituality I would look to the pentecostals and charismatics and feel at home with them far above some who may tick more theological boxes.

That is why I think I would still prefer to go to Spring Harvest above New Word Alive, and why when I look around my friendships they are basically all charismatics from all sorts of different streams and groups. They are not just people I share a knowledge of God with, but shared experiences of God and a wider spirituality.

Focus

The idea that some Christians or Churches won't support "Stop the Traffik" because of its "links with Steve Chalke" seem so utterly devoid of anything that remotely approaches the love of Christ that I am speechless.

If the focus is a kingdom value or a biblical value then I want to support it and love it.

So in Shrewsbury we support The Ark day centre for homeless and vulnerable people which is run by Church Together. Churches Together is a broad spectrum group, wider than many would be comfortable with, and up until recently the staff member of the project (who has now moved on) was a Buddhist. Was that a deal breaker?

No. We gave them money, held events to raise money for them and blessed the ministry expressing and upholding a kingdom value.

I have not pushed the boundaries about how that works across faith groups, not least because in Shrewsbury there is not the diversity to pose the question.

I think we have to see the mission, God's purpose, and the kingdom of God and then see where we are, rather than a check a theological passport, entrance exam and see what we have left. The bigger the focus, the wider the definition, in most cases. Fair Trade being a good example. I will work with anyone who is standing up against oppression of workers.

Relational

We are all on a journey. Some very close friends from years ago have moved ground theologically and now inhabit a very different place to me. Considering I am only 30 I can see the distance widening and relationally we all have to be big enough to cope with it.

The challenge that provokes in me is that can I start "new" friendships across a divide that big? I think that is a question for all of us. I think the idea that we can generate "unity" out of purely doctrinal, or spirituality led frameworks takes the essential role of people out of the equation. The fact is some people just plain annoy me and I think some people are totally amazing and it rarely correlates with a precise definition of what propitiation means.

As well as "who will I work with" or "How should I work with them" I need to be asking the question of "What am I like to work with" as a relational, personality focused question. The level of "unity" I achieve and model within the body of Christ will also be linked to how annoying I am, to my ignorance, my arrogance, my naivety and my ability to offend both accidentally and maybe even deliberately.

Conclusions

Some people may read this and think I am a sell out to the reformed faith. Other may read it and think I am confused. Some people may read it with a hint of relief. Who knows? I will let you decide.

But I am increasingly convinced that the more we pull up bridges within the body of Christ the less we focus on building bridges outside the body of Christ, and the moment I pull a bridge up on someone else for their theological viewpoint I risk myself being on the wrong side for mine.

Instead I want to see the body of Christ as a wonderful patchwork quilt of history, theology and practice and I am here, shaping my bit, in my place, within my understanding and challenging, provoking, encouragin and loving others and allowing myself to be challenged, provoked, loved and encouraged by them.

I do that largely within an evangelical framework because that is my foundation and an easy start point. I recognise this is already suitably narrow to make narrowing it further a damaging exercise.

I don't like groups or conferences or anything really that defines itself by what it is not, rather than what it is. I want to be a person who knows what I can work on, and who I can work with, and push the boundaries, not what I can't work on, and who I won't work with and live in an ever decreasing circle of unity that ends up with an isolationist agenda.

I am pretty sure if Jesus came back tonight He would judge me not just on what I believe but for my motives in believing it. I think we would all be pretty shocked by the consequences of that and who Jesus would seek out and honour for their faith. It almost certainly would not be the person with the finest theology or the most complete understanding, although it could be, we don't know, and that is the problem of drawing lines in this imperfect world.

1 comment:

Huw said...

Lots to think about here, Dave. Liked your comment about the "Stop the Traffik" issue. The silly thing is, it isn't an exclusively Christian thing (witness the stand devoted to it in the front foyer of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool which I visited today). It IS, though, an excellent example of what I commented in my post on part 4 - that if the focus is right and leads to an extension of the kingdom of God, then we should not be in any way backward in supporting it publicly and vociferously. The church is simply not strong enough sometimes (and the correct-thinking evangelicals even less so) to tackle big issues like people trafficking on our own.

Another issue, of course, is this thing of widening gaps between the developing journeys of believers. Very important. My experience, and those of friends I have spoken to, is that if you maintain a relationship of honesty over a long period, you earn the right to challenge other viewpoints. There is not much to be gained by challenging a view when you are unprepared to talk - or listen. This principle works with people of other faiths as well, of course.