Thursday, 13 August 2009

Working Together (Part Four)

So there is such thing as doctrinal unity, and it certainly can be a good thing.

Setting out parameters of what we do and don't believe is really important.

But I would say their were three other real drivers towards unity: spirituality, focus and relational. If we only define doctrinally we miss some of the great richness of what it means to be part of the body of Christ, even the bits that are "in error" compared to us.


Our Church would look and sound the same as plenty of Churches who would believe all sorts of different things within an evangelical framework. The outworking of our faith would look pretty similar. Our corporate worship would look pretty similar. I am charismatic, and therefore, have a strong identity and sense of desire for an expression of worship that I share with many others.

Some people I share almost total doctrinal unity with, look and feel quite different in their spirituality. Usually through being cessationalist. Church feels different. Even people's private spirituality looks and sounds a bit different. The way we "hear" from God differs. Not only does it differ, but their theology directly rejects and opposes my theology, experience and practice.

I am very happy for someone to read the bible, for the Holy Spirit to illuminate a particular passage and for them to receive guidance/comfort/wisdom from that experience. I embrace that as a way of hearing God. In fact, I embrace that as the primary way of hearing from God. But they think speaking in tongues is gibberish and prophecy today does not happen and therefore anything that claims to be so is false. So their spirituality fits neatly within my framework but mine is topped, tailed, squeezed, bruised into their framework.

That is why I may want to read the books of certain people but not necessarily regularly engage in corporate worship with them, because actually we would be colliding two different expressions of spirituality, even though we have doctrinal "unity".

This is a primary difficulty I faced within the Christian Union scene. Joint evangelical worship is a funny old thing.


What is unity for? It is about who we are or what we do? If it is who we are then is that shaped by what we do? I think so. I think our definitions and parameters need to be changeable based on what we are actually focussing on.

I think the problem with an isolationist evangelical agenda is that if we will only work with the "right" people then we won't really work with many people.

The liberal wing of the Church have, on the whole, been ahead of their time with social action and social justice. Only in the last 10-20 years has it really become a fully fledged agenda within the wider evangelical movement, despite historically it being an integral part of UK evangelicalism.

If the issue is "Fair trade" or "The Environment" does it really need a carefully worded statement about penal substitutionary atonement to work together?

Or is anything we do together seen as a risk lest we are tarnished with the same brush as those incorrect people?

But what if they ARE right to focus on the issue in hand, and maybe even ahead of the game? Do we need to set up a seperate "evangelical" version or do we support what is happening? I think a bit of humility goes a long way in how we relate to others when the focus is the kingdom of God, the value are biblical, but we are coming from different directions.


There are some preachers I just don't like. Some writers I just don't click with. Some leaders I just find difficult. Undoubtedly others would say the same about me.

Doctrinal unity does not mean I will actually like someone socially. Nor will it protect me from being bruised by someone else's personality, or bruising them with mine.

Actually, some of my deeper friendships are with other believers who really are on a different page in some doctrinal beliefs but they "get" me and I "get" them. Actually, I would rather spend time with them, and work with them, because frankly it is a more enjoyable experience.

On another angle, it does sometimes look like people just do not like the style of some else's ministry / spirituality / relational dynamics and then they can't do anything right.

Take Mark Driscoll. Loved and loathed in almost equal measure. The problem is some people utterly "click" with his style and do not seem capable of seeing his vulnerabilities, the weaknesses in some of what he says and does and the dangers of how they can be worked out by others. The flip side is others who find his style dreadful throw the baby, and reams of wonderful understanding out with the bathwater.

In 10 years time I imagine Driscoll will be really sad about some of the things he has said and some of the fights he has picked. I also imagine some of his dectractors will have been won over by his track record. That is after all the experience of many charismatic groups and "new" churches since the 1960s. Big mistakes were made, but so has some wonderful progress. That is why Terry Virgo is now welcome to speak at New Word Alive and Keswick, as an example.

So next up I will put the microscope back onto me, my heart and how I work this out in practice and looking at local relationships. I will use the terms doctrinal, spirituality, focus and relational as marker points to help me.


dave bish said...

That's helpful - the focus of unity is important. I have unity with my bank for the purpose of handling my money, but we'd not agree on a lot of things... the whole issue of partnerships is very focus dependent whether on social issues, political issues, christian mission issues, who you have to preach, which conferences you recommend etc. The playing field isn't always the same.

Relationship is absolutely key - there are people I love dearly who because of certain differences I wouldn't work with in something, but I would in others. And others with whom I have much agreement but no relationship. When you can have shared purpose and depth of love it's really special. Takes time, circumstance, character and opportunity to start to build relationships.

Huw said...

Dave, your dealing with "focus" is helpful, partly because there are times we will want to work, in a structural or communal way, with, for instance, Muslims (perhaps in issues to do with the media or race relations legislation) or perhaps non-Christian community groups (on issues of local justice, police brutality, gay rights, etc). In South Africa, this made for some strange bedfellows indeed, not just across denominational, political and racial divides, in order to present to government our opposition to issues such as detention without trial, the use of the military in police actions, etc. Very few of the issues we face as Christians (and which cause us not to be working together) are as severe as those faced by the S African church in the 70s and 80s. Perhaps we do need to hang loose a little and get back to God's primary command of loving Him and loving one another as we love ourselves (which in the west, is QUITE A LOT!).