Thursday, July 01, 2010

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