It’s all a matter of trust

There is little more galling than being told by people you consider close brothers, either from from the same denominational family and affiliate groups or with the same theological commitments as you (or both), making clear they do not want to partner with you. This can work its way out as either a direct statement to that effect or as a more passive refusal to engage in meaningful partnership.

I have been told by people with whom I share almost every narrow point of theology and practice that they don’t want to help us. In one case, I was turned down for support because my would-be patrons decided I did not share their distinctives. This conclusion was drawn despite my background/upbringing, affiliations and current practice all being in accord with them. It was particularly unfortunate given that other churches with whom we share identical theology and practice – who had no longstanding relationship with the group – received their support.

Likewise, as I have mentioned here, my Anglican friends have made it abundantly clear that any resources available within their denomination would not be directed towards errant Free Churchmen such as us. Not only that, it often feels as though partnership within the Anglican communion – even with those who hold diametrically opposing gospels and fundamentally different views about Christ – takes precedence over practical relationships with the Evangelical non-conformists with whom they agree on 99% theologically.

As I asked there, ‘shouldn’t gospel unity be worked out in a way that visibly demonstrates it is more valuable to us in reality than our denominational allegiances?’ Further going on to state:

I would just love it if perhaps there might be some visible outworking of the often cited claim that the gospel is most important. It would be really nice to feel that we as Evangelical non-conformists are not viewed with more suspicion than your liberal, homosexual Anglican counterparts with whom you remain in fellowship. And it is all very well us saying it ain’t so, but perhaps some of us would do well to put our money (or time, or resources, or whatever) where our mouth is.

Stories do not abound of wonderful working relationships between Anglican and Dissenting churches. I am not aware (but am willing to hear otherwise) of any genuinely co-planted churches, though I do know of church plants by one or other side being supported in prayer by the other. One would have thought – with all the talk of gospel partnership and genuine fraternal relationships – we might have been able to scare up one or two funding, resourcing or planting partnerships crossing the divide.

As far as I can see, such a lack of partnership between those within the same denomination, as well as across denominational divides, boils down a lack of trust. It’s not that we don’t think the same thing, it’s that they don’t trust me. We may think the same things, hold the same theological views, come from the same ecclesial background and yet none of this seems to matter. It is simply a trust problem. A problem of trust in me. That is a sobering realisation.

I’m really not complaining about that. Frankly, I understand. It is totally unreasonable to expect people who know absolutely nothing about you to throw money, people and resources in your direction. It would be nice if the conversation could get a bit further so the initial lack of trust might be overcome, but I do get it. I mean, without putting too fine a point on it, I wouldn’t send those things to someone I didn’t trust either. And, to be frank, I rarely trust those I don’t know from Adam coming cap in hand apropos of nothing. They might hit all the right theological notes but, without a better and longer-term relationship, I’m not sure I’d be reaching immediately for the cheque book or sending members either.

The question, then, is how do we build trust?

8 comments

  1. Interestingly our non conservative evangelical friends have managed it. St Thom’s Crookes was an Anglican/Baptist partnership. I thnk the CofE has a name “LEP” they went on to start St Thoms Philadelphia which included a house church movement church.

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  2. In the great divide in 1966 many came to the reluctant conclusion that evangelical Anglicans were in fact just that: primarily Anglicans, rather than just Anglican evangelicals. When push came to shove, that is where their allegiance was. Over the years we hoped to be proved wrong, and the signs have been encouraging: but what you say suggests there is still a way to travel. So many times I have heard ‘we will leave the denomination when…’ But when that crucial milestone is reached, they name a further one further down the hill.

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  3. From memory -not of the actual coming together but of being in Sheffield in the 90s and knowing their story, I think it was either that one church was struggling or a problem with the building. They decided not just to rent but to work together. They had both a Baptist pastor and Anglican vicar – I think there were separate members but not separate services so every service was Baptist/Anglican. You would have “Baptist style communion” some weeks and CofE others. My assessment though would be that in the end really the Baptists were swallowed up by the Anglicans – that may be to do with the building used being the Anglican one and the vicar being the stronger personality. The coming together was really centred around a charismatic theology and other things were secondary. Cof E have doen other LEPs (Local Ecumenical partnerships) I think as have Baptists (there is a Baptist/Methodist or two in Bradford) however nothing on that scale and I suspect often a more liberal context.

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  4. But given that many of us don’t remember the 60s that’s concerning! I think it is the fear of giving up status/buildings – our clarity on baptism on the one hand but also from our side -how do we do at dealing with denominations? Do we get them? Incidently I don’t feel comfortable personally with the FIEC majoring on the I in their list I think there ar elots of Christians and churches in the FIEC who would prefer to see it as FiEC in other words we are first and foremost Evangelicals and that affects our ability to be in mixed denominations but are not conviction Independents in the same way. I also remember one pastor saying that we assume that Evangelical Anglicans see themselves ass “big brother” to us but the relationship is much more distant (uncle).

    Well I’m speaking from the non-comfomist side of the fence. I’d really like to know how our Anglican brothers do see us.

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  5. There’s an Anglican evangelical pastor in my town who has chosen to preach in the church of the other Anglican minister (who is among other horrors working to bring same-sex marriages into CofE churches). This evangelical and I should share pretty much everything theologically. Yet he has never spoken to me or made any approach to me in over 18 months here, even though before he came I shared coffee and drove him round ‘our patch’.

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