Inter-church relations

Consideration of relations between churches should always be based on a clear understanding of the independence of each local church. A sufficiency in the Lord makes the local church free from external authority in all matters of doctrine and discipline, and adequate for the demands of Christ’s missionary commission. Yet this independency should not be interpreted in terms of isolation. Although independent of external authorities, churches are bound by a spiritual and biblical necessity to give practical expression to their love to one another and their unity in Christ. The Body of Christ is seen not only in the local church but also in the voluntary fellowship of independent churches. There are three particular areas of such fellowship:-

1. Co-operation. Those who are strong ought to help bear the burden of the weak in the support of missionaries sent out from among them. Consultation between churches about opportunities and policies relating to missionary enterprise is desirable.

2. Consultation. In days of general confusion and slackness, it is right for churches to seek agreement about doctrines, and about the application of discipline, so that like-minded local churches can honour the disciplinary actions of one another. Speaking the truth in love, churches that are strong in the faith ought to seek to win back those churches that are in danger of departing from it and thus causing damage to the unity and witness of all.

3. Co-ordination. In matters of works of charity those who are strong should bear the burdens of others in this country and overseas. Churches must care for one another both in spiritual and in material matters.

The basis of inter-church fellowship is adherence to sound doctrine, and the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit. An orthodox statement of doctrine is inadequate without a living conviction and experience. Such fellowship must honour the independence of the local church, being enjoyed voluntarily under the constraint of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Furthermore, it is not primarily organisational, and any institution associated with it should be for certain specific and limited objectives, and not necessarily a permanent structure. These characteristics of honouring sound doctrine and local church independency, and of a spiritual rather than institutional unity are not found in the ecumenical movement as reflected in the British Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches.

In working out the practical implications of these principles it must be conceded that there are degrees of fellowship. While all true gospel churches should be seen to be at one, it is clear that those who have most in common will be drawn most closely together in practice. There ought to be no hindrance to inter-church fellowship between all who hold to the reformed and baptist teaching of scripture, along with the principle of restricted communion. This is recognised and realised in ministerial fraternals, local associations, fellowship groups and in the Strict Baptist Mission. In such settings and in the bonds of christian love, churches may receive and give advice to one another, and pastors and people assist and encourage each other in mutual joy and sympathy. The degree of fellowship will be limited when Arminian doctrine and methods of evangelism intrude, along with ecumenical involvements and non-baptist teaching. Great care is needed in working out a balance between the ideals, as seen in the New Testament, and dangerous and compromising involvements in our own day. Yet at no time should the differences between essentially evangelical churches become a matter of unseemly conflict.

Eph. 1 :19; 2 Cor. 8 and 9; Acts 15:1 through to 16:5; Gal. 1 :8; 2 John 9-11; 1 Thess. 2:14.