A More Generous Portion of Pudding
Andrew refutes a point I made, “[Matt’s] examples, of the trips we have both taken to Istanbul and Belfast recently, actually make this point. I did not partner in mission with those churches because we already had good relationships… I went out there to build relationships with them because we are on the same mission and share the same theological convictions.” Andrew is seeing this the wrong way around – and as such, this point highlights where the difference between us lies. True, neither of us had relationship with many of the people in the churches we visited; our relationship with them was yet to be formed. However, the very reason we visited these churches is because of our apostolic relationships, which is the point I have been trying to make. Andrew and I, and our friends in Istanbul and Belfast, share mission and theological convictions precisely because we share a relationship with men we recognise as apostolic. If it weren’t for that apostolic relationship, it is highly unlikely either of us would have visited either of those churches.
I am writing this post while on a plane heading from St Louis to Los Angeles. I am a pastor and I am in the States spending time with other pastors. I love pastors! The thing is, there are a lot of lonely pastors in the world, pastors who have great theology – written down theology! – and a deep commitment to mission, but who need more than anything to work out their mission and their theology in the context of meaningful relationships. I am in the States with pastors I know, and love, and with men I recognise as apostolic. With them I don’t feel the need to have a written confession as the governing aspect of our relationship and mission, any more than I feel the need to have a written playbook when I am with my wife and kids.
I have also been with some pastors who were new to me, and to my apostolic family, but are looking at becoming part of us. With these men there is theological and missional due diligence taking place. (We do this through the grid of ‘Reformed, Charismatic, Missional’ by which we mean, 1. Believing that sovereign electing grace plays the greater part in salvation and in history – over against human responsibility – together with a clear doctrine of human depravity and the righteous wrath of God, making penal substitutionary atonement utterly essential to our lives. 2. The expectation of an experiential, empowering baptism with the Holy Spirit in the lives of all converts for their fullest possible life in God in this age, together with the eager desire for spiritual gifts and the tangible presence of God in our lives and in the life of our churches. 3. The conviction that the primary role of the church is mission and that mission is not at odds with other essential identities of the church, such as being a community, a people of the Word, and a people of the Spirit.) However, while this theological and missional due diligence is necessary, it is not sufficient. Unless there is a real heart connection, we are never going to meaningfully work out our mission and our theology together. And – vitally – this heart connection is not merely at a peer level, but by the connection we all feel to those we recognise as apostolic. It is the apostolic relationship that connects us, and pulls us together, theologically and missionally.
Andrew argues that long-term unity and stability are harder to maintain if shared theology and shared mission play second-fiddle to shared relationships. I disagree. Without the primacy of shared relationships – relationships built around apostolic ministry – shared theology and shared mission don’t mean a great deal. We just end up in lonely pastor land again.
A soufflé may appear tricky to bake, but once you know how to be generous with the eggs, getting a soufflé to rise is a piece of cake.