Saturday, 23 February 2013
Now the free evangelical church in Swanvale Halt, with whose minister Tim I debated soteriology some time ago, was asked to host one of these events, and has refused, much to the consternation of the gentleman who organises the rota. Tim called attention to the Statement on Gospel Unity of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches to which his is affiliated, which made it impossible for them to take part in ecumenical events with certain other churches in the area. This is part of what it says:
If we are to find common cause with other believers, it will be partnership on the basis of a shared commitment to the Gospel. This will be expressed by a shared doctrinal basis.
... the New Testament warns repeatedly of false teachers and false prophets coming into the church. Whilst such false teachers profess to know Christ as Lord, and appear as brothers, they are in reality wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7v15, Acts 20v29-31). In twisting or distorting the Gospel they rob us of our message for the lost, and instead of building up believers in the truth lead them astray to spiritual ruin (Col 2v18-19, Rev 2v20-23). Elders are charged with the primary responsibility of guarding the flock against such malign influences, and we are commanded to reject them and remain separate from them (Rom 16v17, Gal 1v8-9, 5v12, Phil 3v2, 2Pet 2, 2John 9-10, Jude). ... Matters of spiritual life and death are at stake if these false brothers are accepted and their deviant doctrines embraced. We are therefore obligated by love to stand apart from them, both for the sake of the church and its witness to Christ, and also for the sake of such false teachers themselves, as we would long for them to come to repentance and true saving faith.
Well, that tells the rest of us, though I do wonder how many of Tim's flock are actually aware that this is what they're supposed to be thinking. I sympathise on one level, as I don't think the boundaries of ecumenical activity are infinitely flexible. Some local churches left CTIHD a few years ago, for instance, when it voted to let the Quakers take in, because the Society of Friends has no statement of belief. I suspect most Christians overlook this difficulty with Quakerism because it's so old and so familiar, and because Quakers have such an admirable moral record. However they don't bother me, heretics though I regard them, because at root they are focused on the person of Jesus Christ and what he is recorded as saying and doing. I'd have far more problem with the Unitarians, though - and there is a Unitarian congregation locally - because their ideas stem from an entirely different source and have left Jesus a long way behind. Nevertheless, all that aside, I think the FIEC statement arises from the same error I gleaned from my conversation with Tim, that of turning 'faith' into a statement of faith. The New Testament always treats 'faith' as an act, a response to Jesus, not an account of who he is or what he does that can be tied down to a set of words or doctrines. Faith is that, when we are presented with the Christ, whenever we are presented with him, we turn towards him rather than away. Taking that and turning it into a statement of doctrine, as the FIEC very explicitly does, is pretty much what Blessed Paul refers to as a 'dead work', I suspect.
Talking about these things is precisely what an ecumenical structure should be doing on the grounds that exchanging ideas stands a better chance of leading us towards the truth. I wonder whether anything along those lines could be arranged.