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Tri-Unity is Relational

There's this phenomenon in the evangelical church of conservatives and charismatics who too often stand opposed and apart from one another. There are many ways to characterise these groups, but one is this: conservatives tend to do their unity on paper with clear doctrinal statements, where charismatics favour relationships and are less concerned about writing things down. I'm generalising....

I work for UCCF and we have a "doctrinal basis" which is a statement of core evangelical doctrine. It's often called "the DB" which beyond the comedy association with my initials is a nonsense. Why? Because a "basis" on it's own is nonsense. As "basis" must be the basis of something. And in this case it's the basis (in doctrine) of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. Which, to state the obvious, is a f-e-l-l-o-w-s-h-i-p.

A fellowship isn't something that comes about automatically. It's true to say I can gladly have fellowship with anyone who agrees with the doctrinal basis of the UCCF. It's not true to say that I have fellowship with everyone who does. Fellowship is about relationship. Paul and Peter could have fellowship but they didn't until they started having fellowship (Galatians 2) - they met, they spoke, they shook hands, they agreed, and they ate together until Peter stood up, broke fellowship, and denied the gospel, but that's another story.

The unity between the persons of the Triune God certainly has agreement on the doctrine of the gospel - obviously, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are on the same page about the plan! But they have fellowship because they love one another. They find their identity in their relationships with one another, they find their life in one another. 

I'm not saying that doctrinal agreement doesn't matter. Trinitarian fellowship is inherently missional since our God is, and if you're pulling in different directions you might be "friends" but fellowship is too strong a term to use. But doctrinal agreement is never enough. Relationship is what is needed. And that takes one person reaching out to another in friendship - saying it's not good for me to be alone, I want to walk with you, I want to learn from you, I want to serve you, I want to pray for you, I want to stand with you, I want to lift you up, I want to work for your success even if it cost me mine, I want to cover you, I want to defend you, I want to celebrate with you. I make no claim to being the great peacemaker, but I'm offering my hand.

As someone who has a foot in both classic evangelical camps - which fits my churchmanship in Newfrontiers, and my work in UCCF - I want to stand holding out my hand in both directions - who am I to stand apart from those Jesus has put together? Who am I do to "my own thing" when there are brothers and sister I could stand shoulder to shoulder with? Who am I to divide what God as joined?

My marriage was confirmed in writing. We signed documents. We wouldn't be married without that. But a marriage that exists only in documents of registration is no marriage at all. A marriage takes love and relationship and the joining together of what God has joined. The Triune God means for us to stand together - not pretending the differences and difficulties aren't there, but nonetheless standing together in love.

My perception is that the divides are narrower than they used to be but it's still going to take some faith to build and cross the bridges. A piece of paper wont fix it - it'll take dying-to-self men and women to reach out surprisingly, to risk being rebuffed, to "risk" forming relationships. To be people who go out of ourselves, just as the Son was sent into this world to gather us up into the Triune life, and not just to some vague association and paper-thin connection, but into intimate fellowship - the-eat-and-drink-together, I'd-die-for-you kind of fellowship.

What's stopping you?

See also: Exercises in Trinitarian Community and Jesus had a mission strategy


  1. love this bish, especially this paragraph (although I might question the first sentence):

    "A fellowship isn't something that comes about organisationally. It's true to say I can gladly have fellowship with anyone who agrees with the doctrinal basis of the UCCF. It's not true to say that I have fellowship with everyone who does. Fellowship is about relationship. Paul and Peter could have fellowship but they didn't until they started having fellowship (Galatians 2) - they met, they spoke, they shook hands, they agreed, and they ate together until Peter stood up, broke fellowship, and denied the gospel, but that's another story"

    I'd love you to spell out the "broke fellwoship and denied the gospel, but that's another story" - yes it is but I'd love you/us to pursue the implicaitons of that. While this is an emphasis that touches on the NPP, it strikes me that Tom Wright at least speaks of "table fellowship" ie christians eating together, rather than "the right hand of [apostolic] fellowship" - which seems to reflect NPP's lack of attention to the pastoral epistles (something I noticed in Wright @ the otherwise brilliant Wheaton Conference recently)

    Being addressed to not only to the saints but to overseers and deacons in particular, I come often to Philippians 1 in the context of staff work committed to [eldership in] the local church:
    insofar as "the conservatives" value "what is right", while "the charismatics" value "feeling in my heart" (*NB I'm speaking as a fool here), then Php 1v7 critiques any model of ministry which reduces fellowship to some lowest common denominator, whether technical agreements or tribal affiliations:

    3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
    7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

    Might I suggest Paul has in mind not only saving grace but the grace of apostleship, or at least apostolic fellowship?

  2. On the Galatians thing, I've written elsewhere - but I do think fellowship with God and his people is pretty big in Galatians...they depart from God when they depart from the gospel, and Peter separates from God's people in Antioch, and there's a fair bit on fellowship in the rest of the letter.

    Salation is salvation into the Trinity and into God's people where the goal is a meal!

  3. "organisationally" wasn't quite the word I was after... maybe automatically. I know where I want to go with it but can't quite find the word.

  4. Now you see my favourite bit was "Trinitarian fellowship is inherently missional since our God is" and the excellent final 2 paragraphs. Wonderfully balanced there.

    I love the picture of the fellowship of the Ring treking on their mission to destroy the battle. Much better than Rublev's ubiquitous icon (I dislike that icon on so many levels).
    Table fellowship, Sabbath rest, etc is mainly future hope. That is the goal, but it is not our mission now (although living like the future has come to pass is a powerful witness - we also can't ignore the sinful present). I think that should be the emphasis when thinking about the fellowship of the church in the here and now. We've got to find our place in redemptive history. I am so convinced that unity in churches/CUs only comes from unity in seeking to save the lost, not for the sake of unity.

    We are Together on a Mission (what a wonderful phrase). As Chris notes fellowship in the NT often seems to be apostolic/sent fellowship.

    [incidentally Chris, I found your observation about NTW interesting in the light of Tim Chester's recent review of Suprised by Hope DVD where he comments Wright has little to say about evangelism.]

    This is not to say that the Trinartarian approach to unity is wrong. Far from it - there is no other real unity in diversity. Jesus Christ says that he has fellowship with God because he does what the Father tells him to do (his mission) and loves him for it and because the Spirit indwells him so he has the power to complete his mission. So together they are united on a mission. Cf. Mike Ovey's lecture on Inseparable Operation: The trinity working together.

    Really, really loving your blogging recently Dave. Theology hitting the road and looking beautiful. Thanks.

  5. I meant "destroy the ring" but I'm sure you're used to my typos.


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