Standing As Evangelicals
One element of our Leaders’ Conference next month will be to follow in the footsteps of other evangelical Christian conferences by taking part in an initiative called 17:21. John Stevens introduces us to it and explains why FIEC is taking part.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17v20-21)
This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation, which recovered key truths about the final authority of the Bible and salvation in Christ alone that are the basis of evangelical unity. One way in which we can mark this anniversary is to stand together with other evangelicals who hold to these same truths.
FIEC is committed to the principle of gospel unity with those who share the core convictions that are reflected in our Doctrinal Basis. Whilst we might have very different cultures of ministry and differ over many secondary issues (on which FIEC churches themselves take a variety of views), those who hold to these truths are spiritually united in the Lord Jesus Christ, and are members of his body.
Sadly evangelicals have often failed to live up to the biblical demand to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit, and have separated from each other even when they hold to the same core gospel truths.
In order to express our unity with other evangelical believers in the UK, and our commitment to stand together with those who share our core convictions, the FIEC Trust Board has decided to take part in the 17:21 initiative at our forthcoming Leaders’ Conference in Torquay.
This initiative was birthed out of a series of consultations between evangelicals from a wide spectrum of organisations, which sought to overcome misunderstandings, fractures and divisions. I (together with other FIEC pastors) was able to take part in these consultations and to explain the vital importance that conservative evangelicals place on unity rooted in commitment to doctrinal truth, especially the authority of the Bible and the atoning death of Christ as our substitute and representative. These concerns were heard with generosity and understanding.
17:21 is not an organisation, nor a move to establish any kind of structural unity. It is more an expression of our common fellowship in core gospel truths, as reflected in the Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith, which is almost identical in content to the FIEC Doctrinal Basis.
During 2017, Christian leaders at a range of festivals and conferences have expressed their commitment to these core gospel truths, and their desire to stand in unity with those who share them. They have symbolised their common convictions by affixing their thumb print to a scroll that has travelled between the different festivals.
Some of the conferences that have taken part have strong links with FIEC and its churches, including Word Alive and the Keswick Convention. The new chair of the EA Council (which has supported this initiative) is John Risbridger, the pastor of Above Bar Church in Southampton, one of the largest churches affiliated to FIEC.
So we are delighted that Steve Clifford, the General Director of EA, and David Coffey, will be joining us at the Leaders’ Conference in Torquay. On Tuesday evening we will be hearing more about the 17:21 initiative and Alan McKnight (Chair of the FIEC Trust Board) and I will be adding our thumb prints to the scroll.
A Joint Declaration
There will be an opportunity for everyone at the conference who wishes to do so to join together in a joint declaration of our unity in the gospel, and to commit to maintaining respectful unity and fellowship with those who share them.
The words that we will use are:
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, through whose life, death and resurrection we are reconciled to God and to one another, we gladly celebrate our unity, identity and common life in Him.
We rejoice that we belong to the one Father, are redeemed by the one Lord Jesus, and are indwelt by the one Holy Spirit.
As members of the one family, we are united in our commitment to the Lordship of Christ; the centrality of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, dying in our place; His resurrection; the divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament scriptures; the importance of conversion; and the calling to gospel witness and active service in the world.
We rejoice in the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, a unity which transcends the boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, economic status, gender and denomination.
We give thanks for the many expressions of partnership amongst our churches which have declared that unity across the centuries and throughout the world, and we rejoice in the enrichment that is brought to our corporate life by the many diverse aspects of evangelical worship, work and witness.
We repent of those attitudes and actions which have lessened our active commitment to living together as those who are one in Christ Jesus, or which have injured the body of Christ and tarnished our testimony to God’s reconciling grace.
Seeking to obey Christ more fully, we commit ourselves afresh to prayerful and active unity.
By God’s grace and through our shared witness, we pray that a fractured world might see and experience the reality of God’s reconciling power in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the glory of God and His good purposes.
We will then pray together and sing In Christ Alone to praise God for the basis of the unity we enjoy.
My longing is that FIEC will be known not only for its gospel clarity, but also for its gospel generosity. FIEC churches strive to foster good local relationships with other evangelical churches, even those that are of a very different character to themselves. Many of our churches belong to the Evangelical Alliance, or to a local Gospel Partnership or other form of local gospel grouping. Churches work together with pan-evangelical mission agencies and para-church ministries.
The fact that we can express our fundamental unity in the Lord Jesus and the gospel does not overlook the many differences that we may have with other evangelicals, still less pretend that we could always work together in ministry or mission because of our very different cultures, theology or methods. However we want to affirm that we are already united in Christ, and to affirm our desire to seek to express this in meaningful and respectful ways.
Given the terrible spiritual situation in the UK, with best estimates suggesting no more than 3% of the population know Christ as Saviour and Lord, and when core gospel doctrines are being assaulted by the forces of secularism and progressive liberalism, it is vital that we stand together to defend the vital truths that were recovered 500 years ago.
I am encouraged by the rapprochement that has taken place in recent years between British evangelicals as we face the common enemies of unbelief and cultural compromise.
It is my prayer that 17:21 will be a reminder to British evangelicals of what ought to be most important to us, and that it will foster greater humility, connection and cooperation as we face the challenges to come.