Ed Stetzer: Partnering Across Denominations

This past summer, we hosted the Amplify North American Evangelism Conference. People from many different denominations were represented, both among the speakers and the participants. Sometimes churches do not play well with other churches from different denominations. But I believe there is value in working with people from other denominations.

We can learn from one another and grow together in our love for Christ and the world.

I’m the head of the North American Lausanne Movement. Lausanne is a global movement co-founded by Rev. Billy Graham and John Stott. I lead the North American region, so I gather people together from many denominations at the Billy Graham Center.

I am not ecumenical in the traditional sense. Such traditional ecumenism tends to find the lowest common denominatintor where people can partner together with all sectors and segments of the church for a common goal. However, I am an evangelical ecumenist, as I’ve described in an earlier article. If we have a common understanding of the gospel, there are some things we can do together, but there are also some things we cannot do together.

For example, Tim Keller is a friend and, to be honest, a role model. We can work well together on many projects. Yet, despite my appreciation for Tim, we can’t plant a church together. We have different views on baptism. We both love Jesus and love the Bible, but we have come to different conclusions about how baptism should be done.

We could plant a church together until the first baptism, and then we wouldn’t know if we needed a cup or a tub. Because that’s important to me theologically, we wouldn’t be able to start a church together.

While we can agree to disagree on issues like baptism, there are other issues that are nonnegotiable within evangelicalism. Tim and I do agree that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and in our place. We uphold that by grace and through faith we can receive him. The fundamentals of the gospel are not “agree to disagree” issues. I can’t partner with someone who has differing first-order beliefs in the same way I can partner with someone like Tim, who has differing second-order beliefs than I do but the same first-order beliefs.

Where’s the line?

First-order beliefs are the nonnegotiable beliefs. I’ve called them essential issues.

They’re issues such as the nature of the gospel, the divinity of Jesus, or the authority of Scripture.

Second-order beliefs are beliefs that would generally place you in different churches. They might be Arminianism, Calvinism, beliefs about gender roles, or baptism, to name a few.

I’ve called them convictional issues.

Third-order beliefs are things that are not a big deal, such as worship style or other preferential issues.

I’ve called them preferential issues.

People who have differing first-order issues are of a different faith. Second-order issues are different denominations. They will limit some partnerships, such as trying to plant a church, but we can still be partners of the same faith. Third-order is only a different preference, and we can most easily partner and engage in different ways.

Click here to read more.
Source: Christianity Today