Late last week I posted an article on the Gospel Coalition blog entitled Why Redundant Ministries Can Harm Our Mission. In the article I express my concerns about nearly identical Christian ministries competing when they could be partnering. As a response to the article, many people, including my father, asked what partnership would look like between theologically distinct denominations.
First, let me readily admit that in some situations partnership between denominations is simply not possible. For instance, if one denomination chooses to host a pastor’s conference specifically for female pastors, it is quite unlikely that a denomination that does not ordain women will be a partner in that conference. But it is important to realize that there are not as many serious theologically divisive distinctives as one might think. Partnership is more likely than not if denominations will take the time.
Second, what generally tends to keep denominations from partnering effectively is not theological differences but differences in ministry philosophy. I once participated in a street evangelism program with a friend who had the opposite few of God’s sovereignty in salvation than I. Yet what create trouble for us in working together was not the different theology but her different ministry philosophy. I preferred to share the gospel with as many people as possible on a given outing, while she preferred to spend an entire night trying to convince the same person to believe. While this philosophical difference may have been affected by our theologies, Arminians and Calvinists can work together effectively in evangelism if they agree upon their ministry approach.
Which means that in order for those from different theological perspectives to ascertain whether or not their theological disagreements render partnership unlikely or to see if they are on the same page philosophically, they have to talk to each other! This, more than anything else, is the main reason that denominations do not partner effectively. We assume the differences are insurmountable, but we never make any attempts to overcome the obstacles, however large or small we imagine them to be. Most churches already have a theological consensus of agreement in the Nicene Creed and Apostle Creed. Most churches are to be considered in the realm of orthodoxy. Why then do we allow a church’s differing opinion on a particular theology to keep us from even making an attempt at partnership?
Denominations have great value and I am certainly ‘pro-denominations.’ I would even go so far as to say one could make a Biblical argument for them. However, denominations are not to be isolated and insular any more than churches should. Instead, we should strive to cooperate with other ministries by taking that first step of sitting down and talking about ministry philosophy and theology. In most cases, everyone involved will realize that the obstacles are more imagined than real.