Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 2: Partnership Founded on the Gospel

In the last post in this series we saw that there are three major implications to speaking about partnership as 'gospel partnership'. First, it means that it is a partnership that is founded on the gospel. Secondly, it is a partnership that is for the sake of the gospel. Thirdly, the way in which we conduct this partnership must be shaped by the gospel. In this post we are going to examine the first of these implications: Partnership founded on the gospel.

In thinking through partnering together in the work of the gospel, two of the crucial questions we need to ask are ‘who can we work with?’ and ‘who has the authority to decide this?’

We do not have the authority to decide who we are partners with in the gospel. Only God has that authority. If it was up to us to decide, we would gradually whittle it down until we get to the stage where ‘it’s just me and you, and I’m not too sure about you.’ We do not decide who is part of the church and who isn’t, Jesus does.

Now this does not mean that we simply  throw our lot in with anyone who calls themselves by the name of Christian, not all genuinely are. That is why we need to ask ‘who can we work with?’ Neither does it mean that we can partner to the same extent with all who are genuinely believers. There is a place for wisdom and discernment in answering this question. There will be those who are genuinely converted, yet who may hold to unhelpful teaching or practice that would hinder the work of the gospel. Whilst not wanting to say they are not believers, we would want to exercise caution in the way we deal with them, which may mean that we cannot partner with them to the same extent as we could with others.

Because God decides who we can and cannot partner with this means we must look to what He has revealed to define the boundaries in which gospel partnership can take place. This means that we must let the gospel, as revealed in Scripture, define these boundaries. It is not denominations (as important as some of their distinctives may be), nor pragmatics, nor cultural identity that marks out who we can work with, but the gospel. One of the implications of this is that we must see our identity primarily as found in the gospel, rather than as being bound up with denominations, cultural background or anything else which shapes who we are.

This will mean that we need to think and work hard about articulating the biblical gospel and what are the things (both doctrinally and in practice) that have direct implications on the gospel. We need to work together on defining these gospel boundaries and articulating what we must not compromise on at any costs, and what areas we are free to be flexible in. This is the basis for partnership.

We are not the first to have to face up to this issue, the historic creeds and confessions of the church down the ages have been formulated partly to serve this purpose, and the statements of faith of more recent times have been doing the same.

Previous Posts in this series: