Tuesday, March 22, 2011

OUR UNITY IS BASED ON JESUS AND NOTHING ELSE

I’ve written a little before on the unique blending of denominational backgrounds within our little Mission House Church. Somehow, even though we each come from divergent and oftentimes hostile denominational streams, everyone within our simple church family has managed to overlook our differences and love one another in spite of this.

So, why am I writing about this again? Well partly because I’ve started to notice that a lot of the other organic and simple churches in our area share a common denominational background, which means that their unity isn’t strained by the same forces that a group like ours might encounter. In our group we can't appeal to a common set of doctrines. If anything, we've all abandoned our identity as members of a particular denomination and embraced our core identity as followers of Jesus.

On paper, then, our house church family shouldn't be so united. We come from Pentecostal, Calvary Chapel, Vineyard, Brethren, Baptist, Lutheran and non-denominational backgrounds. How can we all sit together and worship together without sparking an argument? Simply because we have intentionally avoided centering our gatherings together on issues or doctrines that we know are potentially divisive.

Because we’re sensitive to these theological landmines we’ve instead focused our meetings on the One Thing we can all agree on – Jesus.

Not that other groups aren’t centered on Jesus and what it means to follow Him daily. I'm certain that they are. But since our group is not all on the same page when it comes to doctrines I think we have a tendency to emphasize following our Lord Jesus and discovering together how we can put His teachings into practice in our actual lives.

This also doesn’t mean that we don’t tend to stray over into areas where there are differences of opinion. We have had our share of disagreements and in those cases we’ve done our best to allow everyone an opportunity to communicate their perspective on scripture. Thankfully we’ve stopped short of trying to impose a particular perspective on everyone else in the church. No one has to agree with me, or with anyone else, on a peripheral issue in order to remain a valued and loved member of the church family.

For example, my wife and I have a huge personal conviction when it comes to our calling to love and serve the poor in the context of following Jesus. We formed the Mission largely because we wanted to plant a church where 100% of the offering could go to help people in the community (and even within our own church family) who were struggling financially or in poverty. We regularly serve at a local motel and share free groceries with families living there each month. But at no time does anyone in our house church family feel guilty for not joining us in this service. (Yes, we've asked them to make sure). Of course, we freely invite people to come along with us, and we regularly share testimonies of what God is doing through this service, but we don’t impose our conviction on anyone else in the Body.

Again, it’s not as if our group is perfect. We’re continually learning from our mistakes. But one thing we’ve tried to hold on to is the idea that everyone is free to share in our church family and everyone is free to disagree as long as no one attempts to sway the group to “go their way” in a certain practice or doctrine.

As Christians we have to admit that our calling is to love one another, not to argue one another into agreement on doctrines that are non-essential. We’re totally ok with people sharing their perspectives on the scriptures. That's how we grow together! But what we advocate is an attitude that listens and doesn't have an agenda to change the other person's mind.

Think about it: If you wanted to find something to argue about in your church fellowship I'm sure you wouldn't have to look very hard. The question is whether or not your desire is to seek for what things you disagree on, or if your desire is to seek for the things that you all agree on?

Here’s another example. A few months ago we had a new visitor to our group. In the course of our open sharing time someone brought up an issue of healing. This new brother shared his firm conviction that it is always God’s will to heal. He was allowed to share his perspective and no one interrupted him. After he was finished I shared that my perspective (and I was clear to state that I could only speak for myself) was that sometimes God choose not to heal and instead used the sickness or the struggle to work the character of Christ into our lives.

Again, my goal was not to convince him that he was wrong or to change his mind. I knew that I probably couldn’t do that anyway (and I didn’t). To be sure that this brother was ok with my sharing a counter point I invited him to lunch the following week and he and I talked together about our group’s commitment to allow differences of opinion. The great thing was that this brother understood and celebrated our open share time and our desire for freedom and acceptance of one another.

Our group only asks: “Are you following Jesus daily and is it your aim to know Him and to let the Bible be your guide?” If the answer is “Yes” then you’re in! We ask nothing else of those who desire to fellowship with us, as long as their desire is also to walk with others who may, or may not, agree with them on everything.

Our aim is to avoid being distracted from our main goal which is to love God and to love one another and to follow Jesus in our actual lives.

I think that whatever church you’re part of, you have to be ok with sitting next to someone who holds a different opinion about eschatology or baptism or spiritual gifts, etc. and still call that person a brother and love them simply because they are part of the same family of God.

If someone denies the Gospel or teaches a strange doctrine that distorts the Gospel or character of Christ, then yes, of course, you need to correct that. But we're not saved by having the correct information about the Bible, nor are we saved because we can communicate complex theological ideas, we are saved because we have a transformational encounter with the living Jesus and we fall in love with Him and His Word.

By the Grace of God our church family will continue to love one another and to accept one another on the basis of Christ and not on the basis of agreement on a set of doctrines.

-kg

4 comments:

Chris Lovie-Tyler said...

Hear hear!

I've experienced the unity you're talking about in the group I'm part of, and it's only because we make Jesus our common ground. (We're all from quite different backgrounds too.)

I won't say it's all been plain sailing, because we've had some really difficult things to work through—a while ago we had to work through the issue of speaking in tongues—but the point is, we did, and it was worth it.

Another valuable post. Thanks, Keith.

Art said...

Brother what y'all have seems light years ahead of most functioning under the Name at this time. May I suggest I hear a hint of 'what would Jesus do?" in your sharing however and you would certainly agree room for tweaking our walk always exists. I suggest exploring that organic relationship with Jesus more; it ALL comes down to our enjoyment of Him and learning how to let Him flow through us His life and virtues etc. Galatians 2:20 helps;it is no longer I BUT CHRIST! Blessings, Art

tommyab said...

Keith,

thank you very much for this sharing.

Did you ever have to deal with very practical beliefs, such as proponents of hemiplegic body/church (darbyst brethren, and others who believe that women ought to stay in silence)??

One just cannot ignore this. Either one group or the other ought to make compromise.

Or things like head covering in women??

I've seen churches (institutionnal, and house churches) where half of the women were covered, the other half not. It just looks terribly weird.

(With such issues, you may think we're in the '50s? ;) We're always like that among evangelicals in Canada, 50 years behind US, and it's way more worst in Quebec...)

your brother,
Tommy

Keith Giles said...

Tommy: No one (so far) has come into our group and suggested the head-covering thang. But, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess.