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Inter Church Relations

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The positive not the negative

The purpose of this paper is to deal with positive aspects of inter-church co-operation. There is clearly much that could be said on the negative side. There are serious concerns with the modern ecumenical movement in its various guises.

The evidence of Scripture.

There is an abundance of evidence that the Churches of the New Testament did not exist in splendid isolation. They related to one another. The evidence exists both in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles.

Acts 11:22

News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. (NIV)

The Council of Jerusalem                  Acts 15

Acts 21:17‑19

When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 16:1‑4

Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me. (NIV)

Galatians 1:1‑2

Paul, an apostle ‑‑ sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead ‑‑ 2 and all the brothers with me,

    To the churches in Galatia: (NIV)

Philippians 4:14‑16

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. (NIV)

Colossians 4:10‑16

My fellow‑prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow‑workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

    16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. (NIV)

1 Peter 1:1

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

    To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, (NIV)

All of which demonstrates that the congregations of the New Testament were linked by fellowship ties that enabled them the confer on matters of doctrine, and be of practical support and encouragement to one another.

The attempts in history.

Episcopal

A hierarchical system of rule by Bishops (Arch-bishops, Cardinals, Popes etc) The idea of a single Bishop with authority over one let alone more than one congregation is unknown within Scripture. Of the Church Fathers, Ignatius[1] alone argues for it and even he does not claim Biblical authority. Jerome[2] is quite explicit stating that it grew "by custom rather than by the Lord's actual appointment". We are not able to say with certainty how they were first appointed, but there is strong evidence from Clement of Rome[3] that it may have been by popular acclaim. It is usually linked with some form of belief in "apostolic succession." It is the system followed by the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican Communions. It may be modified in various ways. eg The General Synod of the Church of England consists of three sections Bishops, Clergy and Laity. Voting structures are complex and designed to give say to a wider variety of the members while retaining an effective Episcopal veto.


! Presbyterian

A pyramidical hierarchy of courts. A typical structure being

1          Kirk-session (consistory)          Local minister and Elders (ruling Elders)

2          Presbytery                                Ministers and representative Elders within a geographical area.

3          Synod                                      Consisting of representatives from several Presbyteries in a larger area.

4          General Assembly                     Minister and Elders commissioned by the Presbyteries acting as a final court of appeal.

This is the form of Church government followed by The Church of Scotland, The Free Church of Scotland, the United Reformed Church, Elim Pentecostal and others.

Congregational or Independents

Based on the belief in the "Priesthood of all believers". It grants to each assembly the right under God to order its own affairs in submission to the Lordship of Christ. Like Presbyterianism it is found in its modern form only since the Reformation though it would claim to be based upon the teaching and practice of the New Testament. Modern congregational Church government can be traced back to the mid 1500's. It is the usual form in Congregational, Baptist, Brethren, and Assemblies of God Churches. They were not isolationist and often linked together in "voluntary associations" Their Church polity was set forth in the  Savoy Declaration of 1658[4]

Late experiments

In the wake of the Charismatic movement and the assertion of the continued office of Apostle several groupings have arisen on a "hierarchical shepherding" pattern. "Apostles" and their delegates rule in geographically diverse areas. These tend to be very authoritarian groups with rule by Elders at local level, and rule of Elders at national level.

The purpose of wider fellowship.


 

1.         The avoidance of "peculiarity" in doctrine and practice.

2.         Fellowship.

3.         Mutual encouragement and support.

4.         Capability in areas where the size and strength of an individual congregation would prove inadequate. eg. Missionary work, Church planting, Ministerial training.

5.         Mutual church discipline.

6.         Arbitration in internal strife by request of the local Church.


Safeguards

7.         All association is voluntary

8.         Clear doctrinal similarity on essentials

9.         Power to remove churches which cease to conform to these norms.

10.       No assumption of authority over the local church

Wider fellowship

                                                Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC)

                                                Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches (EFCC)

                                                Association of Evangelical Churches in Wales (ACEW)

                                                Grace Baptist Associations

                                                British Evangelical Council        (BEC)

                                                Evangelical Alliance      (EA)     ?

                                                Essentially Evangelical

Equal and opposite errors.

 

Failure to separate

The New Testament is crystal clear on the need for believers to be separate from

1                    The world

John 17:14       

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.                                    (NIV)

 

Ephesians 5:11

11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 6:14-15

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?                    (NIV)

2                    All false teaching

2 John 7

7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.                            (NIV)

1 Timothy 4:7

7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  (NIV)

2 Timothy 3:2-5

2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.                       (NIV)

Titus 3:10

10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.                           (NIV)

Galatians 1:8-9

8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!    (NIV)

It was in order to make this teaching explicit that the FIEC decided some years ago, when it was re-wording its basis of faith, to add these words to the section on The Church: 'True fellowship between churches exists only where they are faithful to the gospel'. 

Failure to unite

It latter years the true Church has been much better at dividing than at uniting. Yet this has always been the goal of the godly.

 

Hopes for a visible unity expressed between all biblically governed, evangelical churches can be traced back many centuries. This was the passionate desire of Oliver Cromwell who, during the last years of his life, was constantly frustrated at Parliament's inability to propose a religious settlement where there would be 'union and right understanding' between all churches faithful to the gospel.

 

In 1652, John Owen, surely the greatest of all the many Puritan theologians, produced fourteen fundamentals of the Christian religion which might form a basis for church union. But while they were widely debated, there was no consensus for action. In his True Nature of a Gospel Church, Owen declares: 'Such a communion of churches is to be inquired after as from which no true church of Christ is or can be excluded' [5]. Nevertheless, any such "enquiries" that were made proved fruitless.[6]

 

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)  strove to maintain this balance at the cost of his health (perhaps his life). He separated from the Baptist Union because of what he termed the 'down-grade' of concern for biblical truth within it. He refused to be part of a denomination that was held together only by the rite of baptism by immersion - a doctrine he considered not to be vital for salvation and therefore 'secondary' in that sense.

Nevertheless, Spurgeon saw the importance of visibly expressed unity between the true people and churches of God and longed for the day when it might be expressed again. Like many who have a deep desire for this true ecumenism, he was charged with lovelessness and schism. Yet he could write: 'There are thousands who are of one mind in the Lord; let them break through all the separating lines of sect, and show their unity in Christ, both by prayer and action' .[7]

While Spurgeon believed that both Arminianism and paedobaptism were more likely to lead to down-grade, he had no desire to separate from whatever fellowship was possible with churches where these were believed and practised. Along with the baptism of believers, he did not even regard a true Calvinistic perspective as being among the essentials of the gospel. He was perfectly happy to lend his support to, and preach in, Bible churches of any denomination. Even after he had left the Baptist Union, Spurgeon remained in fellowship with the Surrey and Middlesex Association, which, though broadly evangelical, was certainly not distinctively Reformed.

'We care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system; but we believe that Calvinism has in it a conservative force which helps to hold men to the vital truth... The present struggle is not a debate upon the question of Calvinism or Arminianism, but of the truth of God versus the inventions of men ... That union which is not based upon the truth of God is rather a conspiracy than a communion' [8]. Nevertheless, Spurgeon's enemies constantly accused him of trying to impose Calvinism upon the Baptist Union. His heartfelt plea was: 'Oh, that the day would come when, in a larger communion than any sect can offer, all those who are one in Christ Jesus may be able to blend in manifest unity!' [9]

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones minister of Westminster Chapel London exercised a huge influence over evangelicalism in the 20th Century. He held to the same essential position.

“I do not care whether a man is a Presbyterian or a Baptist or an Independent or Episcopalian or a Methodist, as long as he is agreed about the essentials of the faith”[10]

 

Seeing no way in which “Denominations” where going to be reformed from within Lloyd-Jones made a historic speech at the second National Association of Evangelicals held in October 1966. It was a passionate call for evangelical churches to 'come together' he had no clear vision as to how this would develop but was certain that it would mean the leaving of doctrinally compromised denominations. The Anglican Rector of All Souls Langham Place John Stott, gave an impromptu response in which he flatly opposed both  Lloyd-Jones' assessment of the evangelical scene and his remedy “and sincerely hoped that none would act hastily.” That division between the two most prominent evangelicals of their day had profound repercussions on both Free Church and Anglican Evangelicals.

Many “Reformed” ministers wanted to give greater emphasise to separation. Lloyd-Jones repeatedly warned against being too proscriptive and detailed in our basis for fellowship. The end of which road is to be like AW Pink in fellowship with no-one!

Anglican Evangelicals met in Assembly at Keele in 1967 the opening address was given by The then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey (an Anglo-Catholic) passed resolutions that committed it to broad ecumenical unity. Stott and Packer led many in one direction, a direction 180o away from where many others were seeking to go. The result was a more divided evangelicalism than ever. An evangelicalism ripe for further division and invasion by such phenomena as the Charismatic movement with its own ecumenical agenda.

Unity on denominational distinctives, unity on perceived common spiritual experience, both led to unity with no biblical grounding.

Any movement must have authority. The sole legitimate authority for the Christian is God’s revealed Word the Bible.

Wherever there is no grasp of, or commitment to, inerrancy (the Bible is always true), sufficiency (the Bible is always enough), unity (the Bible is always consistent) and perspicuity (the Bible is always clear), the authority of the Bible will be constantly usurped or misconstrued. Unless error in Christian belief or practice is the result of flagrant disobedience, it always comes down in the end to an incorrect handling of 'the word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15).[11]

 


----

    [1]           Ignatius (c. 35 - c. 107) of Antioch.

    [2]           Jerome (c. 342-420) translator of the Latin "Vulgate" Bible.

    [3]           Clement of Rome (c. 96)

    [4]         Drawn up by representatives of 120 congregations at the Chapel of the old Savoy Palace. It is closely linked with the Westminster Confession 1646

[5] Banner of Truth, Vol xvi, p 185

[6] Bible Churches Together (A plea for True Ecumenism) Jonathan Stephen Published by FIEC p20

[7] Preface to the 1887 collected volume of The Sword and the Trowel.

[8] The Sword and the Trowel, April, 1887

[9] The Sword and the Trowel, November, 1887

[10] Westminster Record, July 1963

[11] Bible Churches Together (A plea for True Ecumenism) Jonathan Stephen Published by FIEC p45

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