Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reflecting on 1966

These are questions/issues arising in my mind following on from yesterday's postings on MLJ's call to evangelical unity in 1966.

No, I don't ask these questions glibly. No, they're not solely aimed at the anglicans, if you think about it they're as pertinent for indies and FIECers as well, especially 6, 7 and 8. No, I don't think I have the answers 'sorted' yet myself. Yes, I think we cannot avoid these issues. And yes, quite a lot is at stake in the answers we give.

1. Is it legitimate to stay within a denomination because it’s paper definitions are orthodox, even though the people we are therefore ‘in fellowship’ with in the denomination are clearly heterodox?

2. At what point does the ‘denominations are not churches’ argument break down? (i.e. does denominational affiliation equate to genuine fellowship).

3. At what point does denominational loyalty (‘visible’ or ‘institutional’ unity with a mixed range of confessions/theologies, often with those we are in serious disagreement with) impede loyalty/visible unity with other evangelicals (those who are confessionally most similar to us, those who we are confident we can call brothers and sisters).

4. Can we/should we plan to reform a denomination from ‘above’ (by full participation in its hierarchy) and will becoming accepted/welcomed to the ‘conversation’ necessarily mean compromise?

5. Can we/should we plan to reform a denomination from ‘below’ (by grassroots/congregation-level action)?

6. Is there such a thing as ‘guilt by association’? If yes, to what extent (when does association mean guilt?). If no, are there any limits to the associations we form and what defines these limits?

7. Over what is it legitimate for Christians to divide? Are there levels of division/fellowship and if so how do we define these?

8. What is our doctrine of the Church?

Right, I'm off to nail a copy of these to the doors of St Helen's Bishopsgate and Capitol Hill Baptist Church.


matthew said...

Pete, these are great (and somewhat uncomfortable) questions. And I think the key is no. 8, and how that links with our soteriology, our view of the sacraments (esp baptism and what baptism does/means for the baptised), which in turns links with visible/invisible church questions, disipline, etc... I genuinely don't know what someone who's Reformed, but not independent and baptistic does in our British setting.

Pete said...

Thanks Matthew
Yeah, 8 does seem to be the key. It was certainly the way MLJ tried to proceed on the whole issue in his appeal.

And, although he was wrong on a lot of things, Archbish Ramsey was probably right when he nailed evangelicals for having a poor doctrine of church. We've been so obsessed with our societies and organisations (and perhaps our individualism) and campaigns and parachurch mega-plans that we've neglected thinking about the Church for a long time now.

Also, one of the practical problems in the UK is that there is little alternative (denominationally speaking) for reformed, paedobaptist evangelicals who believe in a connectional form of church government (i.e not independent).

Dave Williams said...

I agree. Number 8 is the priority. There are a number of reasons why we cannot afford to have a doctrine of the church (and I mean the wider Evangelical community) such as how it impacts through things such as the New Perspective on our understanding of salvation

Pete said...

Thanks Dave
Not sure if I understand your statement correctly, are you saying we should or should not have a doctrine of the church (I presume the former), and what exactly are you saying about the new perspective (are you pro or against, are you talking Wright, Sanders or Dunn?)

Dave Williams said...


Yes we should have a theology of the church -definately up for that.

New perspective I think there is a relationship there in Tom Wright's views of the church and his views of justification. I must admit I don't feel quite able to fully articulate that yet but those are the sorts of things we would need tobe able to articulate if we were aiming to express a full doctrine of the church

I would accept some of the evidence related to New Perspective but not the inteperetation