I want to introduce a concept I've been working on for the past few months. "Working on" is probably too strong - more like noodling. That's it. I've been noodling this for a while.
It all got started with some questions that people were raising about who you can do life and ministry with, who's on your team, and who can serve as a potential partner. These weren't really my questions but were prompted and promoted by folks like Together for the Gospel, the Gospel Coalition, and other groups. These are non-denominational groups that center on the message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus and come together across the normal lines to do so. T4G, as it's affectionately known, has as its hosts two Baptist, a charismatic, and a Presbyterian. They don't normally run in the same circles, but they have a partnership that lets their relationships (both personally and professionally) thrive.
Out of those relationships came Al Mohler's tiering system. First tier issues were the biggies that allowed things like T4G and TGC to happen. I've come to appreciate that perspective as we, as a church, have done work with various groups. And today I'd like to write a little bit about how I've been thinking about all of this and how it applies to ministry.
Instead of tiering, I think of these things in spheres.
The first sphere is the Kingdom. What belongs in this sphere? These are things that make you a believer and follower of Christ. This is where the Gospel belongs, the Good News of Jesus atoning death and conquering resurrection. It's also where the Godhead belongs, the beautiful mystery of God as Trinity. And the last piece that I'd put in there is the Bible as God's faithful and authoritative self-revelation. You might argue about particulars on any one of these, but the general tenor is the acceptance of them all. Without them, there is no Kingdom because there is no King (Godhead), no way of entering the Kingdom (Gospel), and no way to know of or live in the Kingdom (Bible).
The second sphere is the Church. Issues of doing life together on the earth in a local community of faith belong in this realm. Questions of membership, baptism, Communion, how a church functions, leadership, church discipline, and other issues of the like fit here. And for me, these are not bad distinctives. I know there are those who wish we could all just get along and have one big church in each city. I'm okay with that not happening. I see a goodness in this diversity. Essentially the question here is, "Can we do this life together?" I know we can do life together in Heaven when the Kingdom is consummated. But what about here and now?
The last sphere is the Heart. The Heart is the most personal of the three and where, in my experience, the most wrestling happens. Here is the place where personal questions of morality and activity get answered. Those can be as simple as drinking alcohol or abstaining. They can be as difficult as figuring out the proper way to relate to an abuser. Should I fast weekly? What's my process of forgiving my spouse? Do I, as a Christian, own a gun? Which way do I vote?
Tomorrow I'll do some thinking about the interaction of these spheres. As a pastor, I know the danger of confusing them and the wreckage it can cause. I also know the beauty of it happening in the ways God designed.
But that's just me thinking thoughts...