By Dave Miller
Every disciple we have the opportunity to train and teach will come with a theology, whether an existing believer, newly passionate about God’s mission, or a brand new believer with little to no church background. In the American context, understanding of the Bible and church may be little or much. One thing you can be sure of, they will all have an opinion. Even more so when the kingdom work begins intersecting multiple denominations and faith traditions.
So how is the missionary to make decisions about cooperation and teammates when even the mention of something as simple as baptism in mixed theological company can elicit eye rolls, panic attacks, or shouting matches. If we want to see #NoPlaceLeft, it will take all of God’s church new and old, together. However, we must be realistic about unity.
Over the next few weeks we will share some learnings on how we are trying to navigate the terrain from our team in #NoPlaceLeftOKC. We are striving to cooperate in mission as much as possible, while also not asking each other to compromise on deeply held biblical convictions that differ.
Part 1 - We must strive for unity without uniformity.
Part 2 - We must not compromise on our theological convictions.
Part 3 - We contribute we do not control.
Part 4 - We must honor the work entrusted to others.
Part 5 - We must practice grace.
Part 6 - We must not be afraid to wrestle with our differences to learn from one another.
We must strive for unity without uniformity.
Coffee and theological differences can be a treacherous combination. More than one friendship has fell on hard times over the book of Revelation or the order of salvation. The easy response, avoid the conversation altogether. Try to do mission the biblical way, however, and you won’t take one step without running face first into your theology. It may not be in the proper sense like Systematic or Biblical, but most definitely in the practical sense. You believe the Bible and are acting according to what you believe it says or you wouldn’t be engaged in God’s mission.
As long as you are running in familiar circles theologically, teaming up in mission goes pretty smoothly. But as soon you catalyze across a city, men and women of different denominational and faith traditions will come across your path. When your echo chamber is busted and a sensitive theological issues arises, how do you respond?
Mission cooperation makes you ask hard questions and wrestle with tough answers, because billions have still never heard the gospel. It is our deeply held convictions from the scriptures that push us to do whatever it takes to multiply the gospel. So treading on those convictions while trying to accomplish the mission is oxymoronic.
There are some beliefs that determine whether a faith tradition is inside or outside of orthodox Christianity. These crucial tenants of the faith are not up for debate. They determine whether one is inside or outside the Christian faith. When wrestling with those foundational truths and levels of cooperation Al Mohler’s Theological Triage has been an incredibly helpful tool for me. First order doctrines wrote Mohler “would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith.” First order issues for example would be the full divinity and humanity of Jesus, justification by faith alone, one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Differences on these issues divide the church from cults. These doctrines determine eternities.
“Believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues” Mohler continued. In this we find issues like baptism. We can share the gospel together as brothers in Christ and disagree on the mode and timing of baptism. We would, however, find it difficult to plant a church together. Time does not permit a full discussion, nor does my opinion give a final say on any of your discussions. We have, however, found in OKC we must engage in these discussions to find where we can and should cooperate, while at the same time understanding where we can celebrate another’s work knowing cooperation would do more harm than good. We are also beginning to see our differences as a tool to sharpen our understanding and learn from one another in our blind spots.
Not long ago I set across the table from a faithful brother in OKC who comes from a Full Gospel background. I come from a Southern Baptist background. As we talked through all God is doing in OKC, in our families, and in each of our lives, we celebrated in thankfulness. We talked about the miracles happening as God answers the prayers of his people. Some of those miracles are life altering changes that can only be explained by God. Others were the instant removal of pain and sickness while gospel conversations where had in the harvest. We were both able to celebrate all God was doing and discuss the methods we use when asking God for those miracles. He goes further methodologically than I am personally comfortable when claiming Jesus authority, where I would simply ask the Father in Jesus name. He teaches and expects a baptism of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues, while I have never spoken in tongues and to not seek the opportunity. Yet, his experience in leadership development and systems managment coupled with his biblical knowledge is a timely compliment to questions arising in the emerging movement in OKC. There is a clear benefit from specific areas of cooperation for the mission.
I have some choices. I can avoid this brother because of our clear disagreements. I can avoid our disagreements to keep the relationship. I can acknowledge our disagreements and seek to cooperate where we can and thank the Lord for the work in his life where we cannot. The first two are the easiest in the short, but the third presents the best opportunity for a long term relationship to work together towards #NoPlaceLeft.
The reality is, we have relationship boundaries. When I married my wife I intentionally forsook all others. That is a relationship boundary. When my family chose to move to OKC, to the families of Roswell, NM there was a new relationship boundary. When I reach my ability to handle new relationships and have to say no, I create relational boundaries. Even Jesus had Peter, James and John with him as his inner 3 and then the 12. All the while Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were still in Bethany waiting for Jesus to stop in for a visit. Jesus had relationship boundaries.
All boundaries are not equal in exclusion. All boundaries do not equal all in our all out. Where, when, and how we can cooperate in mission is a delicate discussion. I will not act like it is not. Clarity, though it takes time, allows us to run together when we can and entrust the work to another when we cannot, WITHOUT jealousy and strife. Unity without uniformity means intentional relational boundaries actually bring unity in mission, rather than division, as long as the God’s work to see #NoPlaceLeft is our focus and egos are checked at the door.
Unity in the mission. Unity for the city. Unity for the Great Commission completion are not an option. We cannot and will not be able to do this alone. We need every available man and women engaged to see #NoPlaceLeft. Cooperation boundaries then must be discussed or frustration will erupt in its place. We do not own the Great Commission. Not everyone will work towards its completion the same as we, but thank God many followers of Jesus from different theological traditions and denominations are giving it all they’ve got. Together we will get closer to #NoPlaceLeft.
Praise God for all those followers of Jesus who are headed straight down the Great Commission Highway, even when they are on a different bus than me.
Until there's #NoPlaceLeft...