This move has led to a little more wariness in relating to other churches in case they once again become embroiled in overbearing church structures.
In a move to bring unity into the body of Christ, there have been various attempts at networking these disparate groups together. These networks divide broadly into three types.
The first type is those led by empire builders. These networks, are often led by an ex-pastor, who is still seeking a CEO position. They draw together similar groups from other areas. The leaders of these networks often require that member groups pay a "tithe" to the network. Effectively they become mini denominations, complete with hierarchy and organisation. The very thing that people who leave organised religion are seeking to get away from!
The second category of networks are those who seek to form a grouping for mutual protection and fellowship. This sort of network avoids the pitfalls of the previous category having little in the way of leadership structures and hierarchies.
There is however one huge disadvantage. It is a club, that you are either a member of or not, and if you're not a member you might as well not exist.
The membership of this type of “network” is controlled by the network, so if you are outside the group it is extremely difficult to join as members only relate within this group.
So, these networks rather than promoting organic, relational life, tend to stop fruitful interactions with other like-minded Christians. Even though that is far from their intention, that exclusivity leads to arrogance and an "us and them" way of thinking that is completely foreign to the idea of us being part of one body, one holy priesthood.
The final category of network that I want to look at is churches who decide to work together in unity and heart as one body, with one head, Jesus. Fully recognising and submitting to one another. Fully accepting all Christians as brothers and sisters. Including every believer and excluding none who are in Christ.
Recently, two separate, self-proclaimed "house church leaders/apostles" have held what they describe as "open" house church strategy meetings, and yet when folk I know asked about attending, they were told that only "the leadership" would decide who could come and participate. Hardly the open picture that we see in the New Testament.
In an attempt to keep all networks and relationships open and free our good friend Robert Fitts, published the following some 15 or more years ago:-
A declaration and prayer of unity (By Robert Fitts):
"I belong to everything that belongs to Jesus and everything that belongs to Jesus belongs to me! And it's not “us and them” it's just us, for there is only one body of Christ. And the problems of the church, the whole church, are our problems because we are the church! And we can do more together than we can do alone.
Father, in the name of Jesus Christ my lord, I do acknowledge that I am a member of your spiritual body, the church in this city and throughout the world. I do accept and receive every one of your children as my brother or sister because you are our father. It doesn't matter where they live. It doesn't matter what race they are, what peculiar beliefs or practices they may have, whether they are post, pre, or a-millennialist. It doesn't matter if they baptize by sprinkling or by immersion, whether they are Armenianists or Calvinists. It doesn't matter if they go to church on Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, whether they are catholic, protestant, orthodox or Jew. I don't care if they are Baptist, Methodist' Presbyterian or Four Square. I do now declare and decree in the name of Jesus Christ the lord, the son of god almighty, that I am one with every other born again believer that lives, that has lived or ever will live in time and in eternity. I will accept them. I will receive them. I will love them and support them. I will pray for them and as you direct me, lord, I will co-labor with them, and I will endeavor to keep this unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. Amen!
Keeping Relationships Open: 1) If you have a problem with me, come and see me privately. I'll do the same for you.
2) If someone else has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. I'll do the same.
3) If someone will not come to me, say, "Let's go see him together." I'll do the same.
4) Be careful how you interpret me - I'd rather do that. It's too easy to misinterpret intentions. I'll also be careful how I interpret you.
5) If it's confidential, don't tell. If you or anyone else comes to me in confidence, I won't tell unless the person is going to harm themselves; or harm someone else; or a child has been physically or sexually abused. I expect the same from you.
6) I don't read unsigned letters.
7) I don't manipulate; I won't be manipulated; don't let others manipulate you. Don't let others try to manipulate me through you.
8) When in doubt, just say so. If I can answer it without misrepresenting something or breaking a confidence, I will.”
(taken from “The Church in the House” by Robert Fitts)
© 2017 Prof. Keith W. Smith. Reprint by written permission only