Coalitions are best able to pursue their goal when widely based. When a group chooses to use the word coalition in its title, it conveys the sense that the group is choosing to join with a broad spectrum of other groups or individuals in order to pursue their common goal.
Coalition: n. An alliance or union between groups, factions or parties, esp. for some temporary and specific reason.
Word origin and history for coalition: n. “the growing together of parts,” from French coalition (1540s), from Late Latin coalitus “fellowship,” originally past participle of Latin coalescere (see coalesce). First used in a political sense 1715.
That’s why a coalition for the gospel sounds like such a good idea. It suggests a coalition of groups or individuals all focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ: studying it, supporting it, and sharing the good news with the world.
What is this gospel? Here are some passages that describe the good news found in Jesus:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners … . (1 timothy 1:15.)
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … . But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus … . (Ephesians 2:1, 4-6.)
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1.)
And as Jesus proclaimed this good news about himself:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19.)
A coalition formed to promote this gospel already exists, of course, but it’s not an organization. It’s an organism.
The Body of Christ
The church is the organism Jesus created to share the good news of who he is and what he has done. That is not to say that the church cannot have organizations within it. Denominations and parachurch groups have their place. But they should not confuse themselves for the Body of Christ itself.
And that’s what disturbed me when I read a recent posting from The Gospel Coalition regarding its latest directory of member churches.
1. Add your church. We invite you to add your church to our online church directory so that individuals in your area can find your church. The one requirement is that your church agrees in full with TGC’s Foundation Documents. If you affirm these documents, please feel free to add your church.
4. Report a church that doesn’t align with TGC’s Foundation Documents. If you find a church that doesn’t seem to be in alignment with TGC, we ask that you’d let us know. You can do so by clicking the “Report” link next to each listing. (From 5 Ways You Can Use TGC’s New Church Directory.)
The “Foundation Documents” linked in the first point leads off with this opening line in the Preamble:
We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition … .
A congregation that pursues the gospel but is not both evangelical and in the Reformed tradition cannot be part of the coalition, since such a church would not agree “in full” with the Foundation Documents.
The Confessional Statement (the second of the three Foundation Documents) requires a complementarian doctrinal stance:
God ordains … the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, … [t]he distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.
A congregation that pursues the gospel but holds to egalitarian doctrine regarding the roles of men and women, wives and husbands, cannot be part of the coalition because it also does not agree “in full” with the Foundation Documents..
These distinctions found in the Preamble and Confessional Statement, as Dee Parsons pointed out, are better suited for a denomination than a coalition when they are made a measure of membership. In fact, a coalition that defines its membership too narrowly is not a coalition at all.
It’s a clique.
Yet there is hope for the group to truly be a coalition, and it is found in the third Foundation Document: the Theological Vision for Ministry. There is much wisdom in this document as a general outline of what effective gospel ministry can look like, and the statements that speak of the gospel are powerful and orthodox while not being narrow nor bringing in extraneous matter. It is written broadly enough to encompass congregations from Reformed and non-Reformed backgrounds, to allow for complementarian and egalitarian doctrine, and would even join together those who fall into the “King James Only” camp alongside those that have no particular translation in mind for their congregants.
This ministry vision is where the true coalition could be found. If those who pursue, promote and proclaim the gospel agree on the broadly stated TGC ministry vision without insisting on agreement on each and every position in the Preamble or Confessional Statement, they can join together in focusing on the gospel.
Of course, there are those who insist that Reformed doctrine and complementarianism are the gospel. Some of those people will even say that egalitarians or non-Reformed doctrine holders are not Christians. Happily, such people are not only wrong but they are in a minority, and I would hope The Gospel Coalition would want to separate itself from such schismatic talk.
That doesn’t mean that people who think you need to be Reformed (as I am) and complementarian (as I am not) in order to focus on the gospel can’t form an organization and then exclude those who don’t hold to their beliefs. It’s just that the organization wouldn’t be a coalition.
The gospel, as the passages quoted above and many more found in the Bible state, is about Jesus freeing people from sin and reconciling them to God and joining him in eternal fellowship.
Whether you are John Calvin, John Wesley or John the son of Zebedee, this is the gospel message proclaimed by the church from the beginning. Let us not be like the Corinthians who separated themselves into factions depending on which teacher they most identified with:
Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. (1 Corinthians 3:3-5.)
Let us instead:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6.)
This is what a coalition for the gospel really looks like.
[For those who like to know these things, this is my 1000th post. Let there be great rejoicing.]