Archive for the ‘reformation’ Tag

Guest ‘Week’ Part 6: UNITING CHURCH

And finally… Unity is not always a word that springs to mind on this website, particularly given some of the recent discussion! In the Co-Mission Initiative the question is often which will happen first – will be abandon Anglicanism or will they throw us out?? With all this in mind, it’s a privilege to end Guest ‘Week’ with an article by my brother-in-law Simon recognising the existence and importance of UNITY in the modern church. It’s not an article I could have written and I’m therefore delighted to post it and think on it. (And apparently there is Part 2 coming soon!)

A seismic change has occurred in the church in Britain over the last thirty years, in particular. You might not have noticed it. It may have crept past you. But I think it might just be the most significant work of God we have seen since the Reformation. 

Sixty years ago, if you went into a Baptist church, the preacher would probably be preaching hell, spiritual gifts had died out 200 years after Christ and adult baptism instead of infant baptism was the most important theme. Anglican churches were sprinkling water on children’s heads and spreading incense and talking about being nice to each other. Pentecostal churches were using lots of spiritual gifts and many were saying if you didn’t speak in tongues, you weren’t a true believer. In many of these churches, sermons would contain put downs to other denominations of Christianity. The vicar (or whatever) would subtly throw in a cuss to another church, “we’re not like that other church round the corner,” and Christian identity was formed not only by what you were but also by what you were not. Your identity existed yes, in Christ, but also in your denomination, what your exact doctrine was, who your pastor (or whatever) was and how you worshipped.  

I’ve spent some time in Italy and found that things, for the most part, are still like this over there, although there are some signs of change. Apart from the Catholic Church there are four main evangelical churches, with four completely opposing sets of doctrine, some of whom do not even recognise each others’ existence as Christian churches. In Siena the four churches would regularly preach against each other: the church which practised spiritual gifts was allegedly demonic; the one which didn’t was apparently missing the Holy Spirit (they might have had the other two prongs of the Godhead). The Valdeseans were “almost Catholic” (a massive insult) and the Pentecostals wore hankies on their heads so were too strict. This made it somewhat uncomfortable for me as I liked to regularly visit all four. I kept all the negative things they said about each other in a little book and made sure I never repeated them when I visited the other churches!  

The seismic shift, which I hope will spread even to Italy from our country is this: we’re losing our denominational boundaries.

It’s not complete yet, and there are still churches opposed to each other. There are still major disputes in the church. But ask yourself this… can you recognise a Baptist/Anglican/Charismatic/Methodist church any more? There are Baptist churches which practise spiritual gifts, Anglican churches that baptise, Methodist churches that preach a powerful gospel and Charismatic churches that don’t mind if you don’t speak in tongues and would actually quite like things to be done a bit more formally and efficiently!  

I frequent an Anglican church that baptises adults, believes in spiritual gifts and preaches the gospel every week from the Bible. Unthinkable even twenty years ago! (I was taught to mistrust churches with pews and spires when I became a Christian in a school hall church).

A lot of credit has to be given to the Alpha course and other cross-church initiatives which, I believe, are doing the work of God and unifying his church. A post-modern belief that knowing God is more important than knowing things about him, that loving people is more important than understanding and that there is no invalid way of worshipping God, is the packaging for the new consensus. And it seems that perhaps people are finally beginning to see that God is big enough and broad enough to meet all kinds of worshippers exactly where they are, as long as they worship with their hearts. 

Its hard to overstate the extent of this change in just a couple of decades. The rise of the non-denominational Christian is a 21st Century thing; the believer who would rather not subscribe to an exacting set of beliefs or doctrines; who would rather not be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran, but who wants to be counted as a Jesus follower, a God-botherer, a disciple no matter where he worships and serves. This Christian knows that some believers might find one day more holy that another or find some food unclean (1 Corinthians 11), but knows he has freedom in Christ to worship without those burdens.

Inside churches things are changing too: There are very few people these days, who would condemn the use of spiritual gifts and healing. At the same time, there are very few churches now who madly try to invoke the Holy Spirit every meeting and force people to speak in tongues or fall over.

The vast majority of churches follow the doctrine of adult baptism by immersion and christening kids seems to be dying out.

Most churches believe in the truth of God-inspired scripture. There seems to be an agreement across churches on all kinds of things that once divided them. Of course this is not the reality for all churches, there are still disagreements on some non-crucial aspects of the faith, such as what to do believe about homosexuality, but looking at the broader picture of what is happening across the country, its hard not to be impressed by the similarity of Christian doctrine across the country compared to sixty years ago. A new national consensus about key doctrines of faith seems to be forming. And this can only be good news, because there is only one church, one body and one baptism. We haven’t yet seen true unity across the British church, but God has done a pretty huge work in us and broken down a great number of barriers, to enable his Church to be more like what he intended it to be. The future of the Church is service.