Years ago in one of our parishes we were pioneering radical obedience to biblical principles in the power of the Spirit but we felt insecure. Were we getting it right? It mattered a great deal that we were. The Lord’s work and people would suffer if we weren’t.
Because of this insecurity we were very sensitive to criticism. And we had a tendency to be over-critical of views which we saw as contrary to our own. We may even have distanced ourselves from people holding those views.
It was understandable. But God brought us to security in what he was doing through us. We hadn’t changed our principles and we’re still self-critical. But we didn’t feel threatened. .
I recognise these same reactions in all too many Christians, including leaders. They can lead to spiritual civil war (battles between Christians) rather than the real war the church should wage against the kingdom of darkness. And this is a favourite con-trick of the devil.
Sometimes two evangelicals divide because one of them is contradicting the clear teaching of Scripture. If this unbiblical behaviour persists that is sadly necessary- But sometimes they divide unnecessarily when each is seeing a different side of the balance of Scripture on a particular subject.
They can also divide unnecessarily over issues which are not clear in Scripture — for example details of future prophecy. (“I can’t have fellowship with you because you are not a post-tribulational pre-millenialist”!)
My mother was very hard of hearing. Her sister had poor eyesight. When crossing the road my mother looked and her sister listened. Between them they had a full set of faculties.
We evangelicals are a bit like that. Each of us has failed to see some aspect of truth or has failed to hear something the Spirit is saying. If we stick together, in spite of differences of emphasis and different opinions over secondary issues, we shall have a full set of (spiritual) faculties.
There are ‘traditional’ evangelicals who like good old hymns, set patterns and solemnity. And there are charismatic evangelicals who like modern songs, spontaneity and exuberance. The ‘traditionals’ can become stodgy: the charismatics frothy. They need each other.
There are strong denominational evangelicals and the non-denominational evangelicals. The former can have denominational blinkers on. The latter can spurn the wealth church history provides. Both can become sectarian. They need each other.
There are the ‘theological’ evangelicals who check everything out meticulously with their books, alongside the more ‘activist’ evangelicals who are impatient with theology and want to get out and evangelise. The former can fall into turgid theorising: the latter into a lack of depth. They need each other.
And what about the pietistic evangelicals who major on spirituality and the socially-active evangelicals who major on things like political action? The former can be very inward-looking: the latter can soft-pedal the importance of conversion. They need each other.
I’ll mention one other distinction: the ‘political’ evangelical who deliberately aims to influence the denomination at national level (for good motives) and the ‘local’ evangelical whose world is his ‘parish’. We need both emphases.
All of these distinctions are over-simplified. There is actually a spectrum of views in each case. But they do identify some major distinctions. The message is: we need one another. Let’s stick together, avoid civil war and fight the real battle.
I must add though, that there are some evangelicals I find it difficult to relate to. They include the apathetic ones who can’t get excited about the problems in the church or the needs of the world, and the ‘humanistic’ evangelicals who are involved in little prayer (or only superficial prayer) and rely on the methods of the world to try (unsuccessfully) to achieve spiritual aims.
But to all the others I’ve mentioned, in so far as they differ from me in emphasis, I want to say—as we step out into the future work of the kingdom let’s go arm in arm.
You look and I’ll listen and we’ll get safely to our destination.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction