Friday, May 02, 2014

The Evangelical Alliance, Oasis Trust, and evangelical unity

Today has been a sad day for evangelicals in the UK. The largest umbrella organisation, the Evangelical Alliance (EA), has today discontinued the membership of Oasis Trust, an agency that has done more than almost any other to raise the profile of evangelism, youth ministry, gospel-inspired social action ministry and a distinctively Christian approach to matters of education, health and social welfare.

The reason the EA did this? Steve Chalke, the founder and director of Oasis, has called for a public conversation between evangelicals around the issues of human sexuality, same-sex marriage and faithful examination of approaches to scripture.

Let me be clear, what I feel is a tragedy is not that the wider evangelical constituency might differ with Steve and Oasis, but that the simple act of calling for a conversation has led to them being effectively defined as non-evangelical.

It was remarked to me recently that Jesus merely had to say one sentence for Lazarus to be raised from the dead, and he was, yet Jesus spends a whole chapter (John 17) calling for unity, and we’re still divided.
Whatever hope we have for unity within local fellowships, between churches and across the boundaries of our denominations, movements and streams, it must be rooted in the generosity to engage with a different viewpoint, and to at the very least be willing to participate in a conversation.

Our unity as evangelicals is found in who we understand Jesus to be, how we understand his life, teaching, death and resurrection, the central place of scripture in our life, and the importance of participation in the mission of God in the world.

By taking an issue like human sexuality and making it a defining point of evangelicalism we are declaring its importance to be on a par with those unifying topics. It’s not.

We simply have to find ways of agreeing to disagree on these secondary issues, or else there will be no alliance at all, merely the splintering of broken pieces of the pot that was being formed. “My way or the highway” can have no place in the company of those called to follow the one who considered equality with God not something to be grasped, but took on the nature of servant.

You can read the EA press release here

And Oasis Trust’s response here.

Please pray that this sad state of affairs might somehow lead to a renewed sense of urgency to find ways of unifying evangelicals of all stripes, and for the humility of Jesus to be seen in us all.

Latest News
On 6th May the EA released a members briefing from Steve Clifford. They are clear that the issue is broken relationship, and that a member organisation had made a complaint. What seems to be missing is any sense of this being a failure in terms of being unable to either resolve that complaint, or hold a creative tension.

8 comments:

Duncan MacLean said...

Sad but not surprised. Oasis has been a significant ministry over the years, and I question the EA decision.

Mark Jennings said...

You capture so well how many of us feel. Thank you Jonathan.Lamentably,for people gifted, in Jesus, with such good news to share; it is,sadly,a bad news day, such a distraction and so divisive.

Keith Parr said...

It is an odd one. The common sense approach is we set up a method to have that conversation, a debate with a neutral Chair. Bring the people together and do some reconciliation.

Annie Weatherly-Barton said...

Have to agree with all you have said. I wonder if the days of big institutions is over. One person and/or a committee making huge decisions without any conversation at all; Not with the EA constituents or with Oasis. Sorry to say this but to me it smacks of arrogance and very little humility. For very many years I have ceased to consider myself an evangelical. I do not want to be tied to someone else's agenda. Why must one consider itself under the authority of an institution that makes such a decision without any reference to anyone but itself? There are many Christian institutions who do not speak for those who are at the coalface but still take it upon themselves to make decisions without any discussion. Well they have discussions alright but among themselves and those with the "in" crowd. There is no wider debate. As said on Facebook there are so many issues we should be concentrating on but we seem to be focused on one issue only. Not sure where God is in all this but His love and His compassion is lost in the mess of arrogant pottage.

Peter Stewart said...

I'm sure the Holy Spirit must be grieved by what's happening here over the issue regarding the Oasis Trust.What will it take I wonder for us to become a more harmonious Church. A national day of prayer perhap's. Or something along the lines of 'The Festival of Light'
What I.m trying to say is that there are much more serious issues at stake here and we need to find way's of reconciliation on all sides.What must people outside of the 'Church' think when they see us carrying on like this! Such scriptures as 2 Chronicals Ch 7v14. If my people will humble themselves and pray... and Luke Ch 9v46-50.. v50b "for whoever is not against you is for you" Jesus's words or "Let him without Sin cast the first stone" etc; come to mind

Annie Weatherly-Barton said...

Yes indeed Peter. Such a wise response as prayer is so important as is the ability for institutions to have the capacity to listen first, talk and then discuss long before taking a unilateral decision.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the comments thus far.

Peter, I sure that the impulse for prayer is a good one, and I'm certain many folks have been.

I think there is a great heritage n the word "evangelical" that belongs to more people than the EA might recognise, that's why I'm not ready to give up on it yet.

Brian Davison said...

I think the most telling statement is the one that the refusal of oasis to comply with (what the EA consider to be) a reasonable request means the relationship is untenable.
If every relationship in which i did not get my own way was untenable I would be a very lonely person. Fortunatly our heavenly father considered a relationship in whcih humanity had failed to act upon a reasonable request (Dont eat the apple), followed by teh reasonable requests of all the prohpets was not only tenable, but worth dying for.

Actuall yone has to wonder what would happen if God refused to act upon one of their reasonable requests?