Christianity 201

August 24, 2012

Essentials and Non-Essentials

NIV Eph. 4: 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called ; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Yesterday we looked at five areas of Christian doctrine that will always contain an element of mystery.  Today I want to look at five areas where we have potential for unity.  In March of 1998, Rev. Dr. Arnold Cook was the president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada and wrote this story:

It was 1990. The despotic dictator of Romania had been toppled late in 1989. In domino fashion other Eastern European countries overthrew Communism. Dr. Mariam Charter and I were part of two probe teams which the Alliance sent to check out possible ministries in four of these countries. Agenda? How do we introduce ourselves to leaders in these countries who have never heard of the Alliance? Amazingly within 45 minutes we agreed on the following points:

  1. The centrality of Christ
  2. A strong commitment to missions
  3. Focus on the work of the Spirit
  4. A commitment to church planting
  5. No position on Calvinism versus Arminianism

Christian leaders we met were incredulous that a denomination existed which took a middle stance on such issues as the security of the believer and the charismatic controversy.

The C&MA in Canada is known for what is called “middle ground theology.” People in Canada are often just as incredulous as the people in Eastern Europe when they learn that a growing Evangelical denomination permits some variance at the pastoral or congregational level on what others consider hot button issues.  Dr. Cook goes on to name a few:

Historical theological issues: e.g. Reformed theology versus the holiness tradition. Both streams have contributed to the formation of the Alliance.

Prophetic aspects of the end times: e.g. The chronological timetable of Christ’s return related to the Great Tribulation. We have focused on His coming, relating it to the completion of world evangelization. (Matt 24: 14; 28: 16-20)

Faith healing controversy: e.g. Is healing in the atonement? What about faith healers? We stand squarely on healing in the atonement and simply teach and practice divine healing for today.

Charismatic controversy: e.g. Are all the spiritual gifts for today or did some or all case with the Apostolic church? We are out in the middle, believing in all the gifts for today, but not considering ourselves charismatics.

Church governments: e.g. Are we Congregational, Presbyterian or Episcopalian? We are a hybrid; akin to Presbyterian with representative government, but having a healthy congregational dimension.

Women in ministry/leadership: Most evangelicals adhere to one of three positions: hierarchical (no public ministry); complementarian (many ministry roles excluding eldership); or egalitarian (no limitations to leadership roles). Historically, we have held to the complementarian position, where women have ministered with great blessing.  [Note: This year the C&MA in Canada moved to permit women as elders.]

Why this middle stance?

An outsider could perceive us as spineless. Proponents of the Canadian conservatism theory might label us “typical Canadians” who cross the road to get to the middle! Historically this stance has been rooted in strong Biblical convictions versus compromise. Our theology and ethos have been forged by the centrality of Christ. This passion for our all-sufficient Christ has relegated every other good cause to secondary status.

Forty-four autonomous national churches form the Alliance World Fellowship. What holds these culturally diverse churches together? It appears to be the Fourfold Gospel, i.e. Christ our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. No one is sure where it originated. Some feel it is simplistic. But it does fulfill the criteria for an effective mission statement: i.e. It’s short, understandable by a sixth grader and repeatable at gun-point!

“Middle ground stance” — there must be a more dynamic term. Thanks to one of our pastors I have found it: The Radical Middle. Why “radical”? The tendency of Christian movements is to polarize. Few find the middle ground. Even the points of the Fourfold Gospel have never been fine-tuned theologically. Why? How could we justify energy spent fine-tuning details of Christ’s second coming when a third of the world has never heard of his first coming.

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