So, the Evangelical Alliance and Oasis have parted company. EA have taken the initiative and have “discontinued the membership of Oasis Trust” and have done so on the grounds that the Trust was “unwilling to fulfil the council’s request to adjust the content of their website/resources and social media output to equally profile the traditional Christian view” on human sexuality.
The parting of the ways has been handled as well as it could be. When the EA Council states that they “remain deeply respectful of the work and achievements of the Oasis Trust and have a strong desire to avoid any unseemly dispute and to speak well of each other” I wholeheartedly believe them.
The important issue at hand, I suggest, is not today’s press release (‘tomorrow’s chip paper’) but the implication for that part of God’s church for whom EA and Oasis are ‘our neighbours’, those of us who call ourselves evangelicals.
Let us not be naïve – there isn't a goodie and a baddie here. There is, instead, a certain inevitability that flows from diverse views being expressed within a creedal network, on how we engage with a world that has changed, and is changing, rapidly.
Evangelicalism has many strengths – I speak as someone who is metaphorically a card-carrying Evangelical – it is the tradition that has primarily nurtured me over the years, though it is not the only one.
But Evangelicalism also has it's weaknesses, not least its propensity to draw boundaries, with the inevitable rejection of, or separation from, those whose interpretation of the faith is different.
I am a Baptist Christian and an evangelical. There are Baptist Christians who are not evangelicals and whose theology is very different to mine. I’m comfortable with that. I enjoy fellowship with such brothers and sisters and I learn much from them. I see no need, nor have no wish to separate. Is this because I am wishy-washy? Devoid of conviction?
No. Its because Baptists – well, most Baptists – have historically eschewed creedal statements, having been birthed in persecution and therefore wishing to avoid creating a kind of doctrinal standard against others will be weighed in the balance.
Rather, as the Union of which I am an accredited minister so helpfully states in it’s Declaration of Principle:
- That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.
- That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who 'died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third day'.
- That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.
The primary focus on Jesus Christ (which EA believe in too by the way - its just that membership is based on creedal affirmation) is more than a form of words – it is a reminder that the One around whom we gather is infinitely more valuable as a standard for fellowship and cooperation than our humanly constructed (even when Spirit-inspired) doctrines and convictions.
In the words of the old chorus -
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
This is why I believe Baptists have the opportunity to hold these tensions together. I know we can. I hope we will.