Be kind to everyone

During the heights of lockdown, we produced an online conference called ‘Together’, we were all missing gathering as a church, so I asked Garry Williams (London Seminary / Ebenezer Chapel, Luton) and Jonty Allcock (The Globe Church) to open up God’s Word and show us the biblical and historic reformed view of the gathering. Jonty spoke from Ephesians 3, looking at ‘The joy of gathering’ and Garry looked at ‘The presence of God when we gather’. 

Both talks were very helpful but I was aware that Garry’s talk would cause a stir – how right I was!

Within days I was told I should take it offline and over the next few months I was told “you are no longer one of us” even though I was unaware that I was part of an amorphous and undefined group! That is the context, but not the purpose of this post.  

I asked Garry to speak having heard a talk he gave at a Proclamation Trust conference in 2014 (‘Everything is Ordinary: Pragmatic Minimalism and the Presence of God’). Clearly, that talk had scratched an itch, given the number of emails in my inbox; but for some, it opened a festering wound that needed to be bandaged with haste, so some began to address the subject. 

Garry began his talk at our Together conference with 2 questions…

  1. Do we gather to worship the Lord Jesus Christ when we come together as his people?
  2. Is God present with his people in a particular way when they gather together to worship him?  

Garry was polemic, but far less so than those who put forward their views in the previous years. He was fair to those with differing views, accurate in his description of the historic reformed position and thankfully he avoided dismissive and unkind comments which so often grace our pulpits about those we oppose (2 Timothy 2:24-26). 

In ministry we are always going to find some doctrines we don’t quite agree on; baptism is an obvious one. We ought to be able to talk about these things with one another over a cool beer and have the humility to learn from one another. If we can’t agree, that’s ok, but we must be kind to each other, face to face and when apart. Having an accent that isn’t from up north, doesn’t excuse us from this biblical norm – being unkind is being unkind.

Too often leaders veil nastiness with the language of ‘discernment’ and ‘refutation’, which are essential for maintaining healthy churches, but again – being unkind is being unkind. I fear that the root cause of this is driven by a desire to hold onto power within a constituency and all the money that is intrinsically joined to that rule – but that is for another post!

For all the polemical smears, God has been laughing and opened up more and more opportunities, particularly with pastors and ministers recently, which is why I am writing this post. A surprising number have humbly asked what they could read or listen to. They want to know more. They want to understand what God’s Word says about the gathering of God’s people each Sunday. Is God distinctly present? How? 

If that is you and want to know more, can I suggest you sit down with a couple of friends and read something together, chat about it, and pray about it? You may not agree with each other and that is ok. A few things you might consider reading that put forward both sides…

  1. An email conversation (December 2000) between Tony Payne (Matthias Media, Sydney) and Don Carson. 
  2. God Dwells Among Us’ by Greg Beale and Mitchell Kim. 
  3. A more detailed version of the above ‘The Temple and the church’s mission’ by Greg Beale.  

We don’t mind which side you come out on, but let’s not be arrogant and ignorant sophists!

If anyone would like to start a reading group on Zoom, please do get in touch 🙂

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