In my last post, I considered exactly why there were so many denominations within the Protestant faith. I concluded first that while there is much diversity, there is also a lot of unity. We agree on essentials of the faith, and we gather around the Bible as the Word of God. Because of the reality that we are fallible (and sinful) humans with lenses that cloud our interpretations of unclear texts and doctrines, we will by nature differ on doctrines that are not essential for salvation (and to be evangelical). This is why we have a number of different doctrinal differences and ecclesiological differences — and at the same time, we have much in common that unites us as Protestant Evangelicals.
I want to ask another question concerning this issue though. Is it possible for Protestants who differ doctrinally and ecclessiologically to work together in the same congregation? Could a charismatic and a cessationist work together as pastors over a congregation? Could a Calvinist and an Arminian preach the Bible as a team? I want to give a qualified “yes”.
Here’s my qualification:
There are two main ways I see pastors who differ either theologically or ecclessiologically working together. The first would be that one pastor concedes his theological preferences to the leadership of the other. What I mean is this: Most churches want to be clear on where they “camp” on theological issues (and for good reason). For instance, is speaking in tongues biblical? Should it be practiced in the congregational worship meeting? Cessationists give a resounding “no”, while Charismatics affirm the biblical practice of tongues (and of course, interpretation). Well, if those two were to work together, one pastor would have to concede to the other in terms of how they worship in congregational meetings. Another issue is women in the ministry. One camp may hold to an egalitarian mode of pastoral ministry, while another may be against it. What if two pastors work together, and they differ on this issue? Well, one will have to confer to the leadership of another. I personally would not be able to work in a church that ordains women as pastors, not because I don’t want women using spiritual gifts, but simply because I believe that biblical eldership is a position given to men. But, I would have less of a problem differing to the preference of a charismatic pastor on the issue of tongues. The reason is that I’m simply not dogmatic on that issue. I personally don’t speak in tongues, but I have known many who say they do! I prefer to be non-dogmatic on the issue because of it.
Another option that I see is if a church is open to theological variety. Let’s say for instance that a calvinist baptist and an arminian baptist pastor the same congregation together. How should they teach the Bible? Well, one option would be that either the arminian or the calvinist confer to the leadership of the other. But the church could also leave the issue open to their congregation. For instance, when teaching on the subject of election or the issue of sovereignty / providence, the pastors could simply list off the viable theological interpretations on the subject, and just leave it open to interpretation. This would of course require a lot of purposeful open communication on each stance, and a certain non-dogmatism that would allow the congregation to make their own decision on the issue. This could work if each pastor were open to it. They remain open on dogmatic theology, and precise on the essentials. Having come from reformed backgrounds, I find it easier to work within theological similarity. However, I have friends with different theological backgrounds, and one thing we do agree on the centrality of the gospel, and the supremacy of Christ — and so in that light, we can work together.
Even within my own marriage, my wife and I disagree on a certain theological principles — we don’t disagree on large issues, but there are still certain small nuances that differentiate us. And we are still very apt and ready to minister the gospel to and with one another. So I can see this happening on the vocational level as well, though many think it is easier to stay within a certain denomination. What do you think?