Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 3a: Partnership For The Sake of The Gospel (1)

In the previous post we saw that gospel partnership is a partnership founded on the gospel. A second implication of calling partnership 'gospel partnership' is that it is a partnership for the sake of the gospel. Over the next few posts I want to explore what it means to partner together for the sake of the gospel.

If we simply stayed at defining the boundaries, which is crucial, we would not have gospel partnership. Rather, we would have a gospel agreement, a group of people who agree on the gospel. This is different to gospel partnership. Gospel partnership has a purpose; it is a partnership for the sake of the gospel. That is, it is working together to see the gospel proclaimed and lived out.

But what will this working together for the sake of the gospel look like? There are a number of key areas involved in this, with much overlap between them. We shall look at the first two of these areas in this post, and shall examine the rest in the next couple of posts.

1) Defending the Gospel
Scripture is clear that in these last days, while we wait for Christ’s coming, there shall be false teachers, those who teach a different gospel. If we have clearly defined the gospel as the foundation for gospel partnership (discussed previously), we will be in a better position to discern false teaching and to hold one another accountable so that we are not led astray by it.

Further, we will need to defend against it. It is much easier to do this in the context of a partnership of brothers and sisters who are committed to the gospel, than on our own (especially if there are many who are being blown by this wind of new doctrine). Partnering together to defend the gospel will mean continually reminding one another of the gospel and helping one another to grown into a deeper knowledge of it, as well as helping one another to grapple with the issues that are thrown up by new winds of doctrine and articulating a clear biblical response to it. Not only that, but also helping the churches we serve to stand firm in the gospel and not to be swept away by any new teaching, whether it be through helping each other address it in our preaching and teaching or by producing resources for the average Christian in the churches we are serving.

This means that as we think together through gospel partnership we need to be asking how, practically, we are going to do this. What structures do we need to put in place? What can we be doing to help us continually to be clearly articulating the gospel and growing in our understanding of it? What can we be doing to guard the church in oue country against being swept away by new winds of teaching? What resources would help in doing this?

The best way to defend the gospel is to proclaim it. This moves us on to a second key area: Proclaiming the gospel.

2) Proclaiming the Gospel
Under this heading come a number of things. This is a broad category which encompasses proclaiming the gospel locally, nationally and globally. The faithful, clear and prayerful proclamation of the biblical gospel is the heart of gospel partnership. It is what will shape the rest of gospel partnership.

Partnering together for the sake of the gospel will mean being committed to the prayerful proclamation of the gospel. This takes place on many levels:

i) Locally it will mean that we are committed to the faithful persevering work of prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4), continually teaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) as revealed in the Bible both publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20) in unceasing commitment (Acts 20:31). This is not something that can be sustained in isolation. Therefore we need to be partnering together to support and encourage this, and to hold one another accountable in this.

Further, on a local level it will mean a commitment to reaching our local area with the gospel. Gospel partnership sees that this is not just the concern of one congregation but of us all. We ought to be helping one another to reach our local areas. This can take many forms (e.g. sending a team to help the church in another local area during a mission week). The mindset behind this is not ‘I’ll mind my own business and let you get on with your work in your corner while I busy myself in mine’. Rather, it is taking an active concern, interest in, and commitment to one another’s ministries and seeing ourselves as partners together in one overall ministry. Therefore, doing all we can to see the work of the gospel continue in someone else’s sphere of ministry through actively supporting and encouraging them in their ministry.

ii) Nationally it will mean thinking, working and praying together about how we see the whole of our country (across any borders or boundaries there might be) brought under the sound of the gospel. This will mean that we are doing the above in supporting one another in different local areas across the country. It will involve working together to send out mission teams to different areas of the country. It will involve working together to see churches planted in areas where there are none presently. It will mean going or people to go to these unreached areas.

This will not be easy. It will be costly. It will involve being sacrificial, not holding the best resources or people for ourselves but actively sending them out to proclaim Christ where He has not yet been named (Romans 15:20), as we see Paul doing throughout the New Testament. Further, because in our country it may be a day of small things, and we are few, it will also mean the difficult task of working together across denominational and cultural boundaries. This is why it is so essential that we see ourselves as primarily identified by the gospel. We need to think hard and work hard together about how we do this.

iii) Globally. We do not want to restrict our working together in the proclamation to be restricted to our own land. It would be unhealthy if we are focussed solely on our own country and holding all of our resources and people to ourselves, instead of lifting our eyes to the vast harvest fields of the world in need of workers. An Irish gospel partnership must not have its aim as seeing Ireland reached with the gospel, we want to see this happen globally (This article has been written with an Irish context in mind). It might be helpful to describe our focus as seeking to see the gospel proclaimed throughout Ireland so that it might be proclaimed throughout the world. Or, to use Jesus’ terms, to make disciples of Ireland so that we can make disciples of all nations.

But what will this look like on the ground? For a start it will mean partnering with gospel workers and churches in different parts of the world in the ways that we have already outlined (obviously being adjusted to make allowances for the geographic limitations).

Further, it will mean that as partners together in the work of the gospel in our own country, we are working together to send missionaries out to all peoples. As well as raising up workers to send to various parts of our land, we are committed to raising them up to go even further afield and providing the resources to do so (training and resources will be discussed in a later post). This will involve working with existing missionary organisations, and thinking through how we ought to relate to them. But it does not mean assuming that this is the job of the missionary organisations, and that our churches need not play too much a part. The church is the primary means for the sending out of missionaries, and we must not abdicate our role. We need to be active in preparing and sending workers into the harvest field.

With the busy slog of regular pastoral ministry it will be hard to keep global missions on the agenda in our churches, there will be plenty of other things to distract us. Therefore we need one another, not only in sending, but also to keep one another accountable, and to lift one another’s eyes to the harvest fields again and again.

Previous Posts in this series: