Dealing with other Christian groupings

As we all know, there are different Christian "groupings" in our world today. For various reasons, these groups tend to stay away from each other because of the big differences that exist. Yet to cut ourselves off from other believers is also to potentially cut us off from legitimate aspects of God's work within their group.

Let me present three Australian groups: Sydney Anglicans, Pentecostalism and Evangelical Uniting Church people. Each of these three groups has its own subculture, unwritten rules and ways of doing things. All three, in my opinion, have errors in biblical interpretation which manifests itself in ungodly behaviour.

Of course, God knows that these groupings exist - but He also knows that his church, the body of Christ, is one.

I'm not advocating some form of top-down, ignore-all-differences sort of solution that has been offered in the past. I don't know what the future will hold for these groupings. However it is becoming clearer that the emergence of the internet has led to many crossovers between these different groups, which is why I can appreciate the musings of the Signposts people as they work for change within the Pentecostal church in Australia.

A few years ago I came up with this simple table to describe the four different ways that groups can approach each other. It is based upon two basic ideas: The level of engagement and the level to which differences are ignored or expressed:



Differences are ignored

Who cares?


Differences are expressed

Those evil people

Loving Confrontation

Let me pick a group. Let's say Sydney Anglicans and their view of Pentecostalism. I would probably place them in the box labeled "Those evil people" because there is most definitely a desire to express differences (by explaining how unbiblical modern Pentecostalism is, mainly), but there is no real engagement with them. The result is, in practice, things like sermons and magazine articles critiquing modern Pentecostalism but without any form of relationship being formed.

Let me reverse it. How would Pentecostals view Sydney Anglicans? I would say that one part of it would be similar ("Those evil people") but I would hazard a guess that many Pentecostals wouldn't care. In other words, they're not really interested in Sydney Anglicans or what they believe. This ends up fitting into the "Who Cares" box - differences are ignored, and there is no engagement to speak of.

Here in Newcastle we have a whole bunch of churches that get together every few years to host "Hunter Harvest", a biannual evangelistic event organised between mainly Pentecostal, Anglican, Uniting and Roman Catholic churches in Newcastle. While there is a firm level of engagement, there is an explicit attempt to ignore differences (or "celebrate" them). This results in "Ecumenism", which I have placed in inverted commas because I am referring to it in the way that most evangelicals understand it, rather than it being interpreted in its literal sense.

I would say that the first three boxes - "Who Cares", "Those Evil People" and "Ecumenism" - are not what God wants of us. God wants us to move beyond our grouping, our subculture, and reach out in love to those in other groups - yet this is not done without pain or without confronting the issues that divide us. "Loving Confrontation" is the best place for all groups to be because that is where the issues are being dealt with while trying to work out how to love one another.

It means, for example, that while I stand firm on the core of my belief system, I make a concerted effort to reach out and understand Christians from a different grouping. Of course the way I do this is far from ideal, but I wish to head in this direction.

One great advantage that we have with the internet is that we now have the ability to communicate with those in different groupings. I have no Pentecostal friends that I meet in the flesh, but I at least can listen to their thoughts and dreams and pain when I go to signposts. Similarly, I have no friends who are Uniting Church Evangelicals, but I can read their articles and listen to their plans when I visit their website.

Just recently I have been contacted by some friends I went to Bible College with. At the time (1992-93), he and his wife were seriously considering ministry in the Uniting Church while I was pretty much ensconced in Sydney Anglicanism. As a result, we had some big differences. But we didn't ignore one another, and neither did we agree with one another and neither did we hold our tongues when it came to expressing that. I was very blessed by having him and his wife around to challenge me - and I hope in some small way I was able to challenge them.

So I suggest that you try to make friends with those outside your comfort zone - while at the same time not being backward in your beliefs with them. I need to do this more - I think we all do.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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