Last Sunday, I preached at a Brethren church on “Signs and Wonders” and at a Pentecostal church on the importance of Sabbath and I thought how much things have changed. I couldn’t have imagined a Sunday like last Sunday, say 20 years ago. Many Brethren churches would have believed that signs and wonders passed away with the original apostles, and many Pentecostals, confident that they could do all things through Christ, would have been activists who would not have taken Sabbath seriously. Things have changed and, for the most part, for the better.
I am not pushing for the abolition of denominations and church traditions. God and His truth are so big that no group can capture it all. Different traditions have tended to focus on different aspects of God’s agenda. For example I appreciate the Word-centred commitment of the Evangelical tradition but have appreciated the emphasis on the real presence of God and His power that I get from my Pentecostal and Charismatic friends, many of whom would consider themselves Evangelical too. I appreciate the theological robustness of the Reformed tradition but it has been the more mainline churches who have taught me about our social responsibility to the broken in society.
Please understand that I am not advocating a position where anything goes and we just ignore theological differences. The Bible properly interpreted is still our final authority. I know we all bring our own biases to the Bible but there are hermeneutic principles that help give some degree of objectivity. This is one of the legacies I received from Regent College. My professors were all folks who were loyal to their own denominations and traditions, and there were Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Brethren, and Pentecostals to name I few. But I noticed that if there were clash between a denominational distinctive and the Bible, the Bible would come first. This sometimes got them into trouble with their denominational executives, but the Word always came first.
Therefore I do believe we should all understand and respect the traditions we come from. I will be horrified if, in practice and emphases, our churches became clones of the church of the day, be it Hillsongs or Saddleback or Bethel or Redeemer, etc. I think this is a lazy way to do things. We should all seek the Lord as to how each of our churches ought to express its faith. I believe true unity of faith and practice will come in the new heaven and the new earth. In the meantime, Lord protect us from boring sameness.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t let our traditions blind us to new things the Lord wants to teach us from His Word. Good traditions should be foundations we build on, not prisons that prevent us from growing and maturing.
And so I was delighted to talk to a Brethren church on signs and wonders and to a Pentecostal church on the importance of Sabbath. I wanted to affirm their traditions but also show, on the basis of God’s Word, that there are new things or new emphases that the Lord may be pointing out to them at this point in their journey.
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