Saturday, April 19, 2008

T4G08 & NWA08 - Doing unity, lessons from conferences

In some circles unity is highly prized. Chiefly in Jesus' circle - he prays for his people to be united. But what kind of unity? Does it mean we have to do everything together? Clearly in some cases - gathering Christians into local churches is a key way to be together. And, I think, gathering them as mission teams in certain contexts (such as with students) is another. But trying to always do everything together seems somewhat unnecessary. What is more useful day-to-day is to be supportive of one another in prayer and speech and in meeting needs while we get on with the ministry God has called us to.

But, what happens when you try to unite from accross the streams and denominations for a conference? Is it to live the impossible dream to imagine that American baptists, presbyterians and 'reformed charismatics' can hang out together for 3 days in a Louisville conference center without killing one another? Is it lunacy to think that you can put British baptists, anglicans (in their various streams), newfrontiersvineyard, fiec Christians together for five days in a cold caravan park in north Wales and achieve anything? The UCCF guys are used to mixing it up across the spectrum but this isn't normal for most of the UK church. Some who believe in tongues and prophecy today... some who think that there should be bishops, others Apostles apostles, other still just elders... some who baptise one way, while others another. The possible pitfalls are endless but the common ground is no lowest common denominator, rather it is the greatest treasure of all.

The last fortnight says to me, IT CAN BE DONE. But it's not easy. Fundamental to making this happen is the glue. The central sticky ground of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. These two conferences are born out of a desire to gather Christians for the benefit of the local church on the (doctrinal) basis of the gospel. Provide them with the highest quality of gospel-centred Bible teachers and preachers and you're on strong ground. You need your rockstars like Piper, Virgo and Carson, a Mohler, Duncan and a Dever, a couple of veterans like MacArthur and Sproul, an 'average pastor' like Mahaney and then the new kid Thabiti to blow them all away.

Still, when Christians gather for conferences they don't just listen to preaching. They need to eat and drink. That's ok because the Brits can find a source of beer and the rest will find somewhere to socialise. But Christians also sing. And here comes the usual sticking point.

Observe, New Word Alive. Bring in Soul Survivor's Sam Parker and Lisa Francis, plus Stuart Townend and Lou Fellingham & co. Let them lead but recognise that out of courtesy to the less charismatic / more traditional things might need to be a bit more restrained than usual - though that isn't going to stop my good friend Sean Green from giving his all along with the very many other 'charismatics' in the room, whilst not shocking the life out of those who aren't used to more than psalms or the 'hymn-sandwich'.

Observe, Together for the Gospel. Bring in the gentleman, Bob Kauflin from the charismatic continuationist stable, but have him lead with a piano and voice with a grand range of old hymns.
In both cases the principle is one of respect and love. Grabbing extreme positions inevitably makes things difficult, and when coming together around gospel we can lovingly lay down other preferences for the sake of our brothers and sisters - whatever direction you're coming in from.

One last ingredient is needed. A good dose of self-deprecating humour so that we don't proudly take ourselves too seriously about everything. Being with those who are not 'LIKE ME' is never going to be easy, but call me an optimist or just call me a believer in the gospel - it can be done. Let us be serious above all else when it comes to the gospel, but equally warm and humourous about our own traditions and quirks - and so in love gather for the greatest cause of all: The Gospel.