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How to do unity in a Christian Union, in practice...

I want to address how this can be done. Our fellowship is based on matters in the closed hand. It is vital that members understand this. Inevitably this means that we need to live with differences on other matters. That’s easy to say when someone else has to live with things not being done the way they’d want, it’s harder when it means things aren’t done the way I want.

The turn over of people means that no local policy is set in stone, review will be necessary. The urgency of the mission means that taking lots of time every year to review this from scratch would be a waste of time and a distraction.

Here the overriding principle must be love. This would be to use 1 Corinthians 13 in context, not for marriage but for Christians relating to one another in the body. Primarily in the local church, but the principles extend to Christians Unions as a subset of the local churches. Here the principles are of trust and seeking to benefit others ahead of ourselves. This means I would rather be wronged that have someone else be wronged. I would rather go against my preference on the secondary matter than have someone else have to live with difference.

This can lead to the paralysis of two Christians saying ‘after you’ at a door way. Normally however in any group that unites from several backgrounds there will be a majority grouping and a minority. Democracy favours the majority, love would favour the minority to avoid power and numbers trampling over others. With love and a sufficient focus on the declared mission of the Christian Union we should be able to quickly put others ahead of ourselves.

Adopting a mindset of love for one another, based on our shared love of the gospel that unites us means we can also forgive and bear with one another when mistakes are made, actions are careless and hurt is felt. For Example, two real CUs though I'm not telling which ones they are but what follows is advice I would gladly give to them.

CU1. In this CU over 50% of the students attend a conservative evangelical Baptist church.
CU2. In this CU almost 100% of members attend the same egalitarian Pentecostal church.

How things get to this stage doesn't really matter. It may be due to past over-emphasis in one direction or another, or it may just be as a result of circumstance and the pack-mentality of students choosing a church, the demographic the University draws from or some other unintended neutral factor... Both CUs if they’re seeking to fulfil their founding purposes will want to develop unity around the closed-hand matters with as many people as they can. They’ll need to do something about charismatic gifts and women speaking... and they have liberty on this as they unite around the gospel.

By majority CU1 might move to no women speakers and no exercising of spiritual gifts. By majority CU2 would probably have charismatic speakers, women speakers and lots of exercising of spiritual gifts.

I’d suggest both could be wrong to do this... Instead, with careful explanation, CU1 would be wise to go against majority preference and be permissive about women speaking and the exercising of gifts. CU2 would be wise go out of it way to be more conservative in who it invites in to serve and in the way it runs its meetings in hope of lovingly making those students with whom it could unite feel welcome, rather than feeling excluded. In both cases this would also be a demonstration of humility to recognise that we have much to learn from those who are different to us. Neither action compromises the closed hand, both serve to keep the open hand open.

In all cases there will be those who feel wronged by the way things are done. The student who is convinced that women should not teach, but who in love for others sits under the teaching of a woman. The student who is convinced women can teach but doesn’t take offence when yet another man comes to teach. The student who longs for prophecy but bears with those who think that it doesn’t happen today. The student who doesn’t believe prophecy happens but seeks to learn from words that are shared.

Love believes the best of others motives. Love seeks the best for others. Love looks to unite rather than feel wronged, grumble or complain. Love looks to learn from others. Love loves the open hand and the opportunity to step out its own preferences and ways of looking at things. Love loves the closed hand that binds us together over the matters of most importance.

Finally some personal reflections, I need to maintain this humbly generous approach to others because I know how easily I can drift into arrogance and pride. I know that I’ve changed my convictions on all sort of things. At age 19 I could have been described as an evangelical-charismatic-egalitarian-arminian-baptist. At 29 you could call me an evangelical charismatic complementarian calvinist baptist. Naturally I think those changes are positives otherwise I wouldn’t have adopted them. One of the changes probably happened when I was about 22/23 and the other a couple of years later, and I was almost persuaded over to infant baptism a couple of years ago. My evangelical and charismatic convictions seem only to have deepened over the 11 years I’ve been a Christian. Along the way I’ve been part of a Pentecostal church, a Baptist church, an Anglican church and a Newfrontiers church. I have good friends with whom I’d agree on almost everything, and equally good Christian friends with whom I’d differ on many different matters.
I also know I’m still learning and growing. Surely at 29 years, and 11 as a Christian I’m not the finished article.

I’m a work in progress and I’d better stay that until I die.

There is a lot more to me than five theological labels. Furthermore, I was accepted, love and welcome in as a Christian Union leader at 19. Woe betide my 29 year old self if I would have excluded my younger self from that, likewise I hope I’ve not become anything I’d have been ashamed of back then.

Even on matters of the closed hand, but particularly on the open hand issues, I must remain convinceable of different positions if they can be Biblically demonstrated. That’s not to say proof-texted – I’d want to consider historical perspective on both my current and the proposed view. Even where I’ve not really changed my views on certain things I’d hope that they’ve been carefully examined and re-examined and retained with greater conviction, warmth and humility.

It’s easy for us to abuse one another. Take it from one who has abused other Christians more often than I care to remember. Through that I do love that the gospel of Jesus is one of bringing people to unity in Jesus, to uniting us as his people in him. The gospel creates the church, one that even has room for me.


  1. "Instead, with careful explanation, CU1 would be wise to go against majority preference and be permissive about women speaking and the exercising of gifts."

    How do you imaging this working in practice? Would this CU actively invite a woman to address their meeting, or would they just be open to accepting the idea if an egalitarian member of CU suggested it.

    As a complementarian, I want egalitarians to feel confident attending CUs. I don't think the issue is important enough to be a barrier to unity. But to the extent that a CU cannot avoid taking a position on certain secondary issues, I would far rather they take the correct view (which in this case means I think not having women teaching the Bible to a mixed gender meeting).

    I have now graduated, but when I was in CU I tolerated what I thought was a wrong view on this issue. But if I personally had the choice of who spoke at CU meetings, I would not invite someone who I thought was forbidden by the Bible from having that role.

    One solution that seems tempting is to say go on the side of caution and take the side of those who think something is forbidden. For example, perhaps an egalitarian would have less of a problem with the absence of women speakers, than a complementarian would have with their presence. But I am not sure this logic really works - for example, there are probbaly very few CUs that would the stop having modern songs if a few advocates of exclusive psalmody joined.
    Actually, if only psalms were sung in a meeting, I would have no reason to object, even though I don't think that would be required.

  2. The problem is that the cautious approach still assumes one position is right. Your correct is someone else's incorrect - and if the issue is not to divide over it, why not be accepting to the other rather than guarding of self?

    If we go by forbidden... its ok that you say women teaching is forbidden - but that assumes the validity of your (and my) position on the issue. To the egalatarian it would be forbidden to differentiate between men and women...

    I'd rather be trusting, let myself be wronged and bear with others rather than limit things. And I think this is possible without abandoning a love of doctrine. Things have to be worked out carefully place by place because love isn't a simple formula but about how gospel people interact with one another.

  3. Hi Dave. I think we may have met a number of years ago - but I came across this very interesting article and couldn't help but put my 2 cents in!
    From 2002-2003 I was the President of the CU at Exeter Uni, and at that point the CU was probably 50/50 charasmatic & conservative evangelical christians. Up to that point women speakers weren't invited to speak (unless it was an evangelistic event), and the use of the gifts in the meeting were frowned upon (although we starting to surface none-the-less). When a number of committee members wanted to invite a gifted female speaker we of course had to decide whether we as a committee agreed on this. After many weeks of discussion, and with only 2 of the 8 committee members still insisting this was unbiblical, I made a call as President to allow women to speak. This decision was based on the principle that a position of freedom should be reached on secondary issues where there is disagreement (especially where such a difference is universal amongst the evanglical church worldwide). Over the following years, I've often questioned this decision (especially since it was promptly overturned the following year!). The princicple seems sound, but when applied to other areas, can be seriously questioned. e.g. sex/sexual acts outside of marriage is sometimes disputed, but we don't hold a position of 'freedom' on this issue. However, I still feel this was the right decision, and more importantly was handled with respect, serious consideration and advice from pastors & UCCf staff.

  4. Yeh Rob, we did meet - we were on team together. It's tough to work these decisions. If worked out in love then they could easily flip from one position to the other year on year, because imposed rule isn't the point, but rather "how can we best love one another on this issue" - or more, "how can I best love others"


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