I’ll take a moment out of exploring what can unite the world to briefly write about what can unite us as Evangelical Christians in Cork.
Trinity Presbyterian Church back room has been an influential place for me.
John Faris is a man who (enduring the taunts of those who proclaim rapid church growth models) has turned the church around dramatically over his time in Cork, who has faithfully served this city and who has a profound impact on my life and countless others. So much of what has happened in Cork, John has been involved in supporting, before quietly stepping back once it was on its feet, to let others take the praise. But more than anything, he’s been at the heart of a yearning for unity in this city.
The first meeting in that humble back room was between Evangelical Church leaders and “Affinity” representative Peter Milsom. Peter passionately put forward a case for outward looking generosity in our yearning for unity. Noting that:
- Christ is the One who has already bought unity at the cross (Ephesians 2 – we are not primarily the creators of unity), and that
- Rarely in the scriptures does the Bible mention unity of a full church but it none-the-less does: John 17 is a classic example of this. Ephesians 5 being the other that springs to mind
There in that room, many got heated in their comments very quickly, not because of what Peter said, but over the hint that people may be Christians who we’d join with in mission who do not profess to hold to justification by faith alone as classically understood. Now that is a topic for another time, and not one I’ll delve into here.
But what about for evangelical Christians (for example, those who would happily hold to the IFES Doctrinal Basis, not only in word but in emphasis [much of liberalism that has killed the church, has been because of emphasis, not always because of false doctrine])?
The second meeting in that back room was one to start to plan Cork city-wide mission 2017. And as people who all happily believed the Doctrinal Basis and its emphasis, less was at stake. But questions of unity still arose. We’ve agreed to keep the main thing, the main thing, but what about the secondary issues that will still arise that we disagree on? (1 Cor 15 one place that dictates the things of prime importance. The emphasis of the things in general in scripture being another)
- What happens when someone wants a female preacher?
- What happens when someone wants to practice healing alongside evangelism?
- What happens when an event is held in a pub?
Well there are three models of unity that come to my mind as most commonly used:
- Unite round the lowest common denominator. In the above issues, we all agree that males can speak, we all agree in evangelism (but not all healing in that way) and we all can hold events elsewhere. And so we err on the side of caution on all three.
- Work out what you’ll concede to each other for the sake of the gospel and realising that you’ve already got the main thing in common. Perhaps there’s one event all year that would work amazingly better in a pub than it would elsewhere? Perhaps female evangelists and female testimonies can be prioritised over and above female Bible teaching? Perhaps offering to pray for healing after you’ve been chatting to someone may be good, but not as the first emphasis of why you speak to them? It’s about finding a middle ground.
- Decide that no matter what the issue, those leading can practice what they want, as long as it is still keeping the main thing, the main thing and within evangelicalism’s bounds. Want a female speaker to give a prophetic utterance in a pub? Be my guest! It’s allowing all things in love.
I’ll come back to examining each of these three in due course, but for now, why not take a read of John 17 and pray for a yearning heart of a right kind of unity, whatever that may look like! And please remember, we’re not concerned as much in this example at what is right, as much as how we hold in tension those within evangelicalism who are different to us.