02 November 2015
Spirit-led church unity
The Spirit of God is currently moving in the UK, bringing together people from different church traditions and cultural backgrounds for the sake of God's mission ( mission Dei). This is happening nationally, locally and regionally. Some churches are working together on mission initiatives such as food banks, Street Pastors and winter night shelters, while others are connecting through the sharing of church buildings by two churches. Still others are experiencing unity through local church networks such as Southwark for Jesus, Lewisham Churches United or Greenwich Church Leaders Forum.
Nationally, conversations are emerging through unity movements such as the One People Commission and Gather initiative, both of the Evangelical Alliance, and Cinnamon Network. My new book, Partnership in Mission: A Black Majority Church Perspective on Mission and Church Unity, explores these various expressions of Spirit-led intercultural ecumenism between black majority churches (BMC) and historic churches, such as The Church of England. The book highlights how historic church leaders can develop relationship with BMC leaders locally through the use and sharing of church building. This often poses lots of cultural, theological and ecclesial challenges, but building intentional relationships that seeks to know the people first before questioning their theology or doctrine is a good starting point.
An important aspect of unity is understanding one another and our worldviews, therefore the book begins by arguing that the term black majority churches should be changed to black multicultural churches, because diversity exists within these churches. Black majority churches are diverse in terms of ecclesiology, theology and missiology. Some of them are independent Pentecostal churches, while others are part of the historic churches, such as Baptists. Some are from Pentecostal, holiness and evangelical traditions, while others are Sabbatarians. Some of them are Unitarians, while others are Trinitarians. 1 Some of them have embraced Black Liberation Theology, while others preach Prosperity Gospel. Some of them have grown to become church denominations, while others are still independent churches. Some are church plants from their denominational churches back in the Caribbean or Africa, while others are churches that have started here in London and gone on to plant churches in other parts of the world.
Looking at the history of working together between black and white Christians in the British context, the book explores examples such as the abolitionist movement. Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797), Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (1757-1790s) and Ignatius Sanchos (1729-1780) were all African ex-slaves who were involved in an ecumenical movement of Christians from various denominations rallying together to abolish the slave trade and work towards the resettlement of ex-slaves back to Sierra Leone. This is a good example of missional intercultural ecumenism that leads to affecting structural change in society. However, this kind of Spirit-led intercultural ecumenism did not last long because of racial division in the church.
Today we are seeing different expressions of Spirit-led ecumenism developing, and my book focuses on examples within different parts of London. One example mentioned in the book is the South-East London Prayer Initiative, led by Pastor Emmanuel Obi Eze, founder of The Guiding Light Church in Bromley. This prayer initiative started in 2013 and attempts to bring together in prayer different churches in neighbouring boroughs in south-east London, including Bromley, Lewisham and Greenwich. The focus of the prayer initiative is to pray for revival in London. This is done through prayer walks, prayer gatherings, watch-night services and evangelism. How can this example of unity through prayers serve as a guide for church leaders in working together?
The churches involved in this initiative include African Pentecostal Churches, Caribbean Pentecostal Churches, Church of England, Baptists and independent Charismatic churches. The South-East London Prayer Initiative has also partnered with a South Korean prayer mission, which annually brings South Korean missionaries into the UK for prayer and mission mobilisation. This kind of intercultural ecumenism lays emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit through prayer, bringing together different people who are like-minded and would like to see Britain experience spiritual renewal. This is a clear example of Spirit-led unity.
Can our churches allow the Spirit of God to lead us to break barriers and pray together with others to see His kingdom come in the UK? What practical steps can church leaders take to build relationships with other churches and leaders in your area? Jesus himself, just before his death and resurrection, prayed that his Church would be one. Let us do all we can to live out the prayer of Jesus in reality.
Israel Olofinjana is the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist in south-east London. He is the editor of "Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in Britain", and the author of a new book, "Partnership in Mission: A Black Majority Church Perspective on Mission and Church Unity".
1 Sabbatarians are those who believe that Saturday is the day of worship as oppose to Sunday. An example will be the Seventh Day Adventist. Unitarians are Christians who believe in the oneness of God and will not see Godhead as three persons in one. Trinitarians are Christians who believe that God has revealed himself as three distinct persons but essentially one.