Connecting Corporately for the Sake of the Vision: Part 3
In his landmark Crossroads series, Dr. Gilbert W. Stafford helped the people of the Church of God to see their movement from a unique perspective. This post concludes a three-part series excerpted from chapter 10 of his second book, Vision for the Church of God at the Crossroads. It is particularly applicable to the work of the Project Imagine roundtable. I share it with you that you may read for yourself some material that I’ve asked the members of the roundtable to read.
As always, we solicit your prayers for the roundtable. Our second meeting is scheduled for February 27–March 1 in Florida.
But how does one raise the central pole? First of all, a denominational church structure is not the answer. By this I am talking about erecting a structure that people are asked to join. People join the United Methodist denomination, the Church of the Nazarene denomination, the Assemblies of God denomination. The Christian church does not need another denomination that people are asked to join. Most observers agree that we are in a truly post-denominational era. If we were to try our hand at constructing a denomination, we would be building something that is already crumbling before we start. We would cut the heart out of why we came into existence in the first place, in which case the only legitimate approach would be to completely repudiate our association with the Church of God reformation movement. The building of another denomination is not why we come into existence.
As I see it, the only way to raise the pole is for the leaders, preachers, and teachers of the Church of God to come face to face with the questions as to whether we are genuinely committed to the historic vision of what it means to be the church that is pleasing to God. Will we preach it, teach it, prepare ordained ministers for it, and be accountable to each other for its sake? The pole that has to be raised is a truth pole. It is only as the truth of this historic vision is lifted up, celebrated, and lived out that the pole will be raised. Apart from our being caught up in the vision—committed to it, empowered to preach and teach and write about it, invigorated to spread the good word about it, and devoted to living it out in all dimensions of our church life—no pole will be lifted up. Apart from this, the fragmentation will proceed unabated. Apart from this, we will be little more than a footnote in the history of the Christian church.
Our ongoing connectedness has to be more than an organizational connectedness. It has to be a visionary connectedness. It has to be a truth connectedness. It has to be a relational connectedness. It has to be a celebrative connectedness. It has to be the connectedness made possible by an ordained ministry that is committed to and equipped for preaching and teaching this vision. It is a connectedness made possible by congregations and agencies and organizational structures that are accountable for what they do with the historic vision.
But what about all of the persons who are members of local congregations? Must all agree with the historic vision before becoming participants in the local congregation? The clear answer is No because, according to Scripture, salvation is the basis for membership in God’s one universal church, not agreement on all the details regarding the historic vision. Our first priority is to win people to Christ. Persons who come to Christ are thereby incorporated into Christ’s one and only church. No one should ever ask new converts to join the Church of God reformation movement. Salvation is the critical matter. That salvation makes us all members of the one universal body of Christ is basic. However, as persons are nurtured in local congregations of the Church of God, the nature of that nurture should be according to the historic vision of what it means for a local congregation to be an expression of the one universal church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in harmony with New Testament emphases. And in the course of time, we can hope that the truth will be taught, preached, and lived out so well that all will come to affirm that vision, be devoted to it, and live accordingly. We desire that everyone “see the church,” as we used to say. But that must never be confused with being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. “Seeing the church” is a doctrinal issue. Being redeemed is a salvation issue. It is important always to maintain this distinction.
Furthermore, we can affirm the participation of Christians in the life of congregations of the Church of God who do not agree with the historic understandings of the Church of God. No requirement should ever be made that all in our local congregations must agree with all of the historic understandings of the Church of God. People are not being asked to join a denomination. All should be welcomed into the fellowship of the one universal church. This does not mean, however, that our preaching, teaching, and leadership ministries should play down anything with which some do not agree. Going down that road is certain disaster. It is important for all who participate in the life of the church to know we have indeed come to some theological and doctrinal conclusions on a whole range of issues. All who are members of our congregations should be exposed to these particular doctrinal understandings of the Church of God, about which no apology is made. Whatever persons do with it, our responsibility is to faithfully preach, teach, and practice the historic vision, and to trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest.