Acts 20.21 says, “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul was the first of Christ’s men who actively and aggressively sought to evangelize the Gentiles. Reaching non-Hebrews with the Gospel was not a new concept. Isaiah and other prophets foretold of the Gospel spreading to Gentiles. Christ Himself ministered to Gentiles, such as the woman at the well and the Roman centurion to name two.
Before this encounter with the Ephesian pastors, Paul had written in his letter to the Ephesian church, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” (Eph. 2.14-16)
When Christ died on the Cross, He obliterated the differences between Jews and Gentiles. We know this to be the doctrine of justification. We all stand on equal ground before the Father in the blood of Christ. If the Gospel can conquer the most significant ethic differences, enabling believers to worship and serve Christ together, surely the Gospel can enable us to cooperate with each other.
What do I mean by cooperation? I mean occasions of worship and or ministry when two or more churches can work side by side to advance the cause of Christ. We see very little of this today, and there are a variety of reasons for it.
As I mentioned in a previous article, distance from each other can be a factor in why we are unable to work together. For example, distance would be a significant obstacle if my church (Grace Bible Chapel), which is near Gettysburg, were to come together with Mt. View Bible Church in Hummelstown or Bible Baptist in New Bloomfield. All three churches are at the extremity of the scope of our fellowship. I marvel when churches from Lancaster and even from Maryland are represented at the fellowship. The pastors of those churches drove significant distances to be part of our fellowship. I digress. I understand that it would be difficult to convince the elderly or some of the peripheral attenders of our congregations to drive a significant distance to worship or serve with another church. That being said, we as pastors are the motivating force behind this. We can communicate the need for cooperation, and, if we don’t, who will?
Sometimes our circles of influence are a factor. Each of us attended different colleges and seminaries. We have our own circle of friends, and there is nothing wrong with that. My personal hope is that you are leading your church to cooperate with those ministries. So, participation with the churches in our fellowship is not a litmus test of the health of your church. Nevertheless, we tend to work with others who are of the same mindset. “Birds of a feather…,” so they say. Let us be willing to extend ourselves beyond or ordinary circles of influence. We will find that there are dear brothers and sisters in Christ who worship and serve Christ as passionately and devotedly as we do. This will also help us to break of our our isolation, as the previous article explored.
I will be frank but not unkind with a third reason. Sometimes we will not cooperate because we have our own hypercritical opinions about life and ministry. We see something in another church or ministry that we don’t like (which is nearly always just a different way to do the same thing we are doing), and we decide that we won’t have anything to do with them. Here’s the kicker. We often refuse to cooperate under the guise of “exercising discernment.” There are times when we must separate from error and heresy. We must do so boldly, lovingly, and graciously. God’s Word requires such separation. The problem is that we sometimes separate from solid brothers and sisters in Christ just because they do ministry a little differently than we do. As I wrote earlier, if the Gospel can overcome significant differences like ethnic origins, it can surely overcome our cynical pettiness. Maybe another pastor’s ministry has a different flavor than we prefer, but that doesn’t make him someone from whom we should separate.
Let me end with a word of testimony. One of the main reasons for the Mid State Choir Festival lies in the effort to foster cooperation among the churches in our fellowship. Here is what was said at the welcome and opening of the rehearsal clinic. “Getting any two churches in our area to cooperate on anything is like finding hen’s teeth. That we have six churches together is unprecedented in our area. This has truly been a work of Christ.” Heads all over the audience started nodding. Those statements resonated with the people in our choirs — with the people in our churches! They saw the need for us to cooperate with each other. If our own people can see the need, we ought to be able to encourage and even inspire and guide in that direction.
Our need to cooperate will become more and more evident as persecution begins to rise, which will be the focus of the next article.