Monday, February 15, 2010

The Theological Impetus for Global Partnership

Now, this post today, just perfectly fits the title of my blog – “Ramblings.” Because, you see, what is moving me to write this is just simply my frequently rambling mind.  I’ve had some thoughts on global partnership—new to me—that I need to write down . . . to discipline myself to write. 
     First, there is the critical issue that faces the 3rd Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (just one of
six issues): 

Partnering in the Body of Christ: Toward a New Global Equilibrium

Seismic Shifts in Global Christianity.  Global PARNTERSHIPS for world evangelization, unlike anything possible in the previous twenty centuries, are now attainable as we develop relationships that are based on mutual respect – acknowledging that God has called us to be one in Him.

These new partnerships, increasingly led by visionary leaders from the majority world, will also involve more lay people who comprise the vast majority of those who bear witness to Christ in this Century.  By sharing
the best available resources and best practices, together “the whole church (will) take the whole gospel to the whole world.”


Now the practical question for me as a mission leader is, Why?  Why should I lead my team and seek to mobilize others to enter into partnerships within and outside of the denomination, within and outside of the nation?  It is honestly just very challenging to me to assess the value of such partnership. And, if I look on a larger scale, how do I convince my local Baptist association or the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole to engage in meaningful partnerships with churches, agencies, and associations from other parts of the world?

TIBM has “partnering with others” as one of our seven central tasks.  So it is something that we do.  And with certain of those partnerships, it is not difficult to convince me that the relationship is important and valuable, but if you ask me to articulate why, I’m not sure I could do so convincingly.  More fundamentally, I’ve had trouble articulating why partnership as a practice is inherently right and good and to be passionately pursued by all Christian churches, agencies and organizations.  I mean, if it is only a matter of trying to keep us from bickering at each other, well, then partnership is reduced to a mere necessary annoyance – like filing your taxes.  Even if the value of partnership is only practical – sharing “resources and best practices” – well, I suppose that is good, but doesn’t that potentially reduce the impetus for partnering to the desire to seek relationships of convenience? So that if I cannot be convinced of the practical benefits of such an arrangement, there is really no reason to enter into it. 

Is there more? Is there a deeper, essentially ontological, compellingly theological reason for engaging in global
partnerships?  Is there an inescapably Biblical demand that relegates all pragmatic motivations and hesitations concerning partnership to the dim background?  Well, of course, I have a thought.  Consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  
(Ephesians 3:16-19, NRSV)

I believe that one of the things that Paul’s prayer declares is that it is impossible for local bodies of Christians to reach (or even significantly approach) spiritual maturity without engagement in genuine relationships with Christians outside that local group.  Look with me at this text:

1. The Desired Result is Spiritual Maturity – note Paul’s “so that” in verse 19.  Everything that Paul is praying is “so that” something will result in the beneficiaries of his prayer.  It is “so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Which is a wonderfully evocative way of speaking of spiritual formation, maturity, sanctification – God’s work to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ.

2. The Cause of the “So That” – It is clear that Paul believes that when a Christian is enabled to comprehend (the Greek word καταλαβέσθαι means literally to “eagerly seize”) and know the multidimensional, knowledge-surpassing love of God, the result is spiritual maturity—the “so that” of verse 19.

3. The Essential Conditions of Comprehending – Note that Paul’s prayer assumes that this comprehending and knowing of God’s love is only possible “together with all the saints” (v. 18).  This fellowship is presented here as a necessary condition for which Paul is praying on behalf of his readers without
which, the apostle is convinced, grasping the love of God and thus spiritual maturity is an utter impossibility.

4. The Plurality of You – The Biblical demand for partnership comes into full relief when we recognize that the “you” of Paul’s prayer (v. 16, 17, 18, and 19) is plural (preserved nicely in the Nepali Bible as “timiharu”).  That is, the “you” being rooted and grounded in love in verse 17 is the local body of believers that has received and is now corporately reading Paul’s epistle.  Thus is it a local body of believers for whom Paul is praying in verse 18 when he says, “I pray that you [all] may have power to” comprehend and know the love of God. It is this plural you then that must enter into relationship, dialogue, and indeed partnership “together with all the saints” – Christians from outside that specific community – “so that” spiritual maturity may result in their body. 

What we are left with is an inspired prayer that sees spiritual maturity as only attainable when local bodies of
Christians are engaged in meaningful partnerships with other communities of faith outside their immediate context.  That is, we may say confidently from this text that any given mission team, church, agency, denomination, or Christian organization will be unable to be all that God would have them be as evangelists, medical missionaries, church planters, Bible translators, campus ministers, Christian educators, relief workers, worshippers, intercessors, disciples, or Jesus-followers apart from the pursuit of global partnership as a corporate spiritual discipline.  Or, to put it positively, the active pursuit of ever-deepening global partnerships by local bodies of Christians enables those communities to better (and increasingly so) comprehend and know God’s love which results in dramatic spiritual transformation and growth.
  
This is true, I assume, because there is actually only one body of Christ in the world (4:4) with one triune God indwelling, ruling over, and guiding that whole body (4:4-6).  That the gifts of Christ are distributed among all parts of that body (4:7ff) further testifies to the fact that it is when that global body is peacefully bonded together (4:3), pursuing and gradually arriving at the unity of faith (4:13) that the Church of Jesus Christ in the world functions as it should (4:16).  It is when the whole Church builds itself up in love (4:16) – which it cannot do outside of the exercise of the spiritual discipline global partnership – that it “grows up in every way
into him who is the head, into Christ” (4:15).

Whew! Okay, then, think about that for awhile. I’d love to read your comments. Also, I strongly encourage you to engage the global conversation on this topic at http://www.lausanne.org/global-conversation/more-partners-at-the-family-table.html where you can read several articles, watch a video, explore resources, and interact with others.  Blessings!