AARON: I see a lot of disunity in the body because of theological and doctrinal differences. Do you feel that at times those of us in the body get too caught up in things that we think are non-negotiables when they truly are not? Does it distract us as the Body from accomplishing God’s desire for His Kingdom?
PAUL: Well to generalise I haven’t found in Australia the same kind of aggressive polemics I encounter from time to time in the U.S. I was very blessed by my first church, St Andrew’s Chorleywood, which exposed me to the teaching and practice of a great smorgasbord of Christian traditions. Though charismatic renewal often occasioned conflict within congregations, at the same time it profoundly united swathes of believers across old boundaries of churchmanship and denomination. That experience was my start point in the faith – experiencing Gospel preaching, the things of the Spirit and a move to mission as three powerfully unifying forces among believers across many spectrums.
The versions of tradition-ism that I have been exposed to have been more about denominational sub-cultures seeking to safeguard their distinctives in-house. And, look, I reckon that all our traditions hold genuine treasures within them. But I have to say, when I hear people all concerned about maintaining in-house denominational distinctives in the face endemic decline and the loss of entire generations from the church’s ambit – well I can only think we have lost the plot! That’s why I really prefer your question, Aaron, about fundamentals and non-negotiables. Because that’s where we find our unity and our Godly purpose.
AARON: So what are the non-negotiables in your faith?
PAUL: My fundamental is that I believe in Jesus. And I believe in the only Jesus we have any objective access to – the Jesus of the New Testament. Because of the resurrection of Jesus I believe in God. Then, because Jesus said “these are Scriptures that testify to me” I find I have to consider the Old Testament.
But if God is as he appears in Jesus then I can’t read the OT in a fundamentalist kind of way. Jesus really rules that out. I love the scope of prophecy, proverbs, poetry, praise, story, psalmody, history with interpretation and teaching in the OT. And I love how Jesus and the Apostles always come away from the OT with prophetic or esoteric readings – never the plain meaning. So there’s a heap of openness and exploration to be enjoyed in that treasure-chest!
Then, because to receive the sent one is to receive the Sender, I have to take seriously the authority of the Apostles’ as we have it expressed in writings of the New Testament.
Those are my perpetual start points…and also that I think it’s good to be nice to each other – even when we differ on our personal “non-negotiables”!! I guess that’s what I saw modelled in my first church.
AARON: What if we were much less convinced of the negotiables and secondary things so that we could focus on working together to grow the Kingdom of God, trusting Him to work and move as we release control?
PAUL: Amen to that. Releasing control is a toughie with all of today’s proper concerns around professional standards. But once we have properly established modes of safety in community, for me the word “control” has a very negative overtone. Back in the 1980s I saw monastic brothers and sisters birthing vibrant new churches in Amazonia’s interior while the diocesan structures seemed to be doing their best to stifle the new groups. This was because they were anxious that without sufficient priestly presence or control they could not guarantee how much like the mother denomination these Base Ecclesial Communities would end up looking!!
I may be harsh in my reading of it (I was very young at the time) but it still gets me in the gut that the authentic faith and love of those new communities and the holistic approach of those new believers seemed to weigh so little against the denomination’s value of a predictable outcome in neat conformity with the old order. To me that’s completely back to front.
Today I think, at least I hope, some denominations are dawning to the possibility of beginning relationships with the new and the grassroots in a spirit of acceptance and journeying together for the sake of mission – rather than beginning with censure and regulation and then wondering why we can’t develop a relationship.