In a previous article/broadcast, I discussed denominations. I found them to be a mixed bag. They create problems in the Body of Christ, but they also serve a useful function. I don’t think eliminating them is possible or necessary, but I am concerned with maximizing our ability to enjoy deeper fellowship and cooperation with other denominations Our lack of concern for and cooperation with one another, I believe, is hurting the Church as a whole. It’s part of the reason for our declining influence in America. We seldom work together as a team.
Last week I talked about why we tend to pull apart from other denominations or, at least to minimize our interactions. This week I will make some positive suggestions that may help us sort through this challenging and complex issue.
How can I wisely cooperate and assist believers from other churches and denominations?
1. I can wisely cooperate and assist when I keep reminding myself that there’s only one Body of Christ and that it’s bigger than my own group
Can you accept this? Or do you believe that the only “real” Christians are in your church, denomination or part of the theological spectrum? Although, only a minority of us would openly state this, on the subconscious level I suspect that this is often how we feel. The problem is that we’re mistaken. Christ’s church is bigger than us and ours. When John says, in Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb,” do you really think that this will only include your people? Christ’s Bride is far broader and more diverse than we could ever imagine. It’s helpful to frequently remind ourselves of this glorious truth; to stretch our minds out of their “my little world” provincialism.
2. I can wisely cooperate and assist when I gain a sense of the relative importance of various doctrines
All doctrines are not equally important. Some are foundational to our basic faith; others are not. Some are clearly taught; others are more obscure. I can gain deep fellowship with someone who disagrees with me regarding the proper mode of baptism. I cannot gain deep fellowship with someone who denies the deity of Christ. This point, admittedly, is somewhat tricky, since we don’t always agree on what is foundational and what is secondary. I would advise us, at the very least, to keep the foundational list fairly short. Let it involve what is clearly taught in Scripture and what is essential to a basic understanding of God and of the gospel. This leads to my next observation:
3. I can wisely cooperate and assist when I realize the difference between Scripture and doctrine
In order to use Scripture we must interpret it. These interpretations form the basis of our doctrines. Our interpretations, however, are not the same thing as Scripture. They’re one step removed. They’re influenced by our filters – our background and our presuppositions. Two people may interpret the same passage in two different ways. Furthermore, much doctrine is based on extrapolation. We take a basic Bible statement and attempt to draw out its unspoken implications. Nor are our creeds, weighty as they may be, at the same level as Scripture. I’m not saying that doctrine doesn’t matter, or that it is entirely subjective. It does matter and there are definitely some doctrines which make more biblical sense than others. All I’m noting is that a little flexibility is in order when dealing with other Christian believers and groups. Everything is not as cut and dried as we may have been led to believe. I’m, in fact, that when we stand before Christ all of us will find that we were mistaken on some points.
4. I can wisely cooperate and assist when I’m willing to focus on our commonalities and set aside differences
Can I, as an evangelical, have significant fellowship with a more liberal believer, someone, for instance, who doesn’t believe in inerrancy? I will lose some of you at this point, but I believe that I can. I’ve discovered, to my initial amazement, that more liberal believers may still love the Jesus of Scripture, and trust in Him for salvation and for life. In other words, we will share eternity together. And we also probably share many if not most biblical beliefs. This point, by the way, is also relevant among fellow-conservatives, moderates, or liberals who often allow even their variations to block fellowship. If I encourage another believer in Christ, even if we have our differences, isn’t that good? And if they do need to change their beliefs or practices to a more biblically sound stance, won’t encouraging closeness to Christ open the door for Him to work in them?
5. I can wisely cooperate and assist when I learn to engage in constructive dialogue
Do we listen, really listen, to believers from other groups, to find out what they actually believe? Often our perception of them is based on stereotypes. Furthermore, other groups are not monolithic. Everyone in that other denomination, or even that other church, isn’t a carbon copy of the group. Ask questions. When you share your own views, try to do so respectfully. Be willing to learn. Believe it or not, we don’t have it all right and they don’t have it all wrong.
6. I can wisely cooperate and assist when I recognize different levels of fellowship
I will pray with any fellow believer (or non-believer, for that matter). And there are a wide range of ministries that we may share, such as food pantries, homeless shelters, and so on. I’d also be willing to share in community inter-church Bible studies with most, if not all Christian groups. These give us a chance for dialogue and to show love and concern without necessarily endorsing everything that everyone else says. I’d probably draw the line at inviting a speaker into our pulpit whose teaching would oppose what my group considers to be essential doctrine. That’s a setup for dissension since the pulpit is considered a place of authoritative teaching, and, to some degree represents the views of the local church. But I can still have substantial fellowship with someone I’m not comfortable inviting to preach.
This morning, as I was out for my prayer/meditation walk, a car pulled up beside me and the window rolled down. I take a bucket and pick up garbage while I pray – an act of community service I enjoy. He’d seen me doing this numerous times and wanted to thank me for it. I told him that I did it while spending time with the Lord. This opened a door to a wonderful thirty or forty minute conversation about Jesus. He had actually felt as if God wanted him to stop and talk with me. Our enthusiasm for Christ flowed back and forth as he shared what God had done and was doing in his life. I could feel the Spirit sparking – God stirring us through each other. Oh, I didn’t mention that he was. . . Catholic. God is at work everywhere and I want to join Him there.