Insecurity and Unity
Current upheavals in the world of organised religion are producing some visible responses in terms of new alliances.
Christians should be the most secure people on the planet. What more can be had than knowing one’s identity is as a child of God. Yet at a corporate and personal level there are signs that a sense of ‘who we are’ is often dependant on a host of other factors – not least denominational belonging.
A major upset occured at the turn of the millennium split the Free Church of Scotland when a substantial number of ministers and members departed to form the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Now the matter of whether or not to use hymns and instruments in ‘public worship’ has resulted in yet another schism. Needless to say these developments have reduced the ranks of the denomination. It is then not altogether surprising that a ‘come on over to my place’ invitation was issued last year to disaffected Church of Scotland ministers: an influx would serve as a welcome boost to the numbers while also increasing the sense of status and well-being.
Now we have the national Church of Scotland riven over the matter of homosexual clergy; with many amongst the ranks of ‘evangelicals’ (whatever that word now means) in pulpit and pew planning to jump ship.
However, when there is a split, it is often the case that the division is along not one, but two lines – delineating three groupings. One group leaves, while another one happily stays. However there is a third group, made up of those who are unhappy but – for one reason or another – stay where they are ‘within the camp’.
But amongst this cohort, insecurity can be a major factor; not least amongst leaders. The contemplated loss of many of colleagues; while simultaneously seeing both their denomination severely diminish (in numbers and esteem) and facing a growing disenfranchisement within it. (At least those who leave have the option of joining themselves to another denomination if they feel that need. But for those who stay this is not an option.)
A search for new alliances
Accordingly a search for new friends in the evangelical playground is instituted with a nascent willingness to compromise on differences; including those which may previously have been used as a rationale to justify division.
So could we see the question of differences on baptism sidelined? Could we see Cessationists (who don’t believe that the apostolic gifts are available today) cosy up with Pentecostals and Charismatics (who do)?
Could we even imagine that a new Entente Cordiale will develop between the historic institutional denominations and the so-called ‘new churches’ which came into being during the 20th century?
From an historical perspective the situation where this is the least likely to happen is with the Church of Scotland. Forty years ago the denomination was the ‘big beast’ in the jungle; all others were further down the ecclesiastical food chain. The corporate mindset of the Kirk was still then living in the ‘days of Empire’.
The Loss of Empire
Looking out to others
But things have changed. The realisation that the Empire is no more has now arrived; and the rising sun of this revelation could produce a fresh outward-looking vision. Couple this to the need for a new set of Bible-believing friends, and great things could happen.
When loneliness and insecurity kick in, much can change. Clive Calver, the former Director of the Evangelical Alliance, once remarked that achieving unity in adversity is easy – folk huddle together for warmth.
Whichever way, one recent development has seen a Church of Scotland minister undertake a survey of ‘new churches’ in his area. Having determined to stay within the Kirk, he reports on being encouraged by his dialogue with these groupings. And as some of the latter have been around for over a decade, they will no doubt be encouraged to be making an appearance on the ‘traditional’ church radar screen.
It is interesting to observe that many of these new churches are – in terms of size – fairly small. Some are not much bigger than a house group, but they are taking their place and making their mark in a now ecclesiastically-cosmopolitan world.
What is absolutely certain is that the status quo and power blocs of yesteryear are crumbling. And the concomitant insecurity could produce some very interesting alliances. Watch this space.