Summary: Are there limits on co-operation between churches? If so, what are they?
“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.”
Churches are to be autonomous; no outside agency should dictate to a congregation in matters of faith and practise. This means that we should have no ecclesiastical hierarchy to dictate belief or practise. Biblical Christians have no headquarters to compel uniformity. It means there is no “church boss” to control the church. Because we are autonomous does not, however, mean that we do not seek to co-operate with other churches of like faith and practise in advancing the work of the Kingdom of God.
It is only because contemporary Christians are confused about the distinction between the church and the Kingdom that this issue even needs to be discussed. Together with all who have been born from above, we work to build God’s Kingdom. Building the Kingdom is a labour that will not be completed through our human efforts, but we are nevertheless responsible to live as citizens of the Kingdom—honouring Christ our King, fulfilling His call to evangelise and glorifying Him through holy lives reflecting His righteousness. This work is assigned to all who are called by the Name of the Son of God. Though we encourage Kingdom work, and though we labour together with all Christians in the Kingdom of God, we do not—indeed, we cannot—co-operate with every religious organisation in missionary advance. The reasons for this are several-fold, revolving around our understanding of ecclesiology. Baptists are a doctrinal people, and our doctrines define both who we are and how we carry out the work our Lord has assigned. Our work is never done in isolation, but rather we realise that we are engaged in a great work that unites churches throughout the world. The message this day is designed to explore briefly the co-operative work of Baptists.
OUR MISSION AS CHRISTIANS — Reviewing the text, you will notice an arresting phrase. John speaks of Christians as “fellow workers [sunergoì] for the truth” [VERSE EIGHT]. Clearly, the term, “fellow workers for the truth,” suggests the interrelated nature of our Christian life. Apparently, God wants Christians to co-operate at some level. This does not mean that distinctions between the several communions claiming to adhere to the Faith do not exists; but it does mean that Christians are obligated to seek unity in the Faith. This unity must, however, be based upon doctrine.
That co-operation must be centred on Christ is evident from an earlier missive. “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” [2 JOHN 9-11].
Our mission is to exalt Christ, and when we co-operate in Christian missions, we fulfil this mandate. I have just introduced two similar terms that are vital to our understanding of the will of God for us as children of God—“mission” and “missions.” Every Christian, and consequently every church, is expected to be on mission with Christ. Before His ascension, Jesus issued a weighty charge to each Christian. That charge is iterated at least five times in the several Gospels and in the Book of Acts.
In the evangelist Matthew’s account of the Ascension, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [MATTHEW 28:19, 20].
Mark records Jesus’ commission to disciples as, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” [MARK 16:15, 16].
Doctor Luke has the Master addressing His disciples with these powerful words, “It is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” [LUKE 24:45-49].