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One Spirit, Many Traditions

by Arthur F. Glasser, May 1, 1988

fourlevels_lJesus made it very clear that believers are to demonstrate their oneness in the gospel in order “that the world may know that thou has sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23).

However, since believers who sometimes differ are carrying out the task of world evangelization, this solidarity must be expressed in different levels of relationship.

Communication

The simplest level of Christian relationship is communication. We should
never deliberately separate ourselves from leaders of Christian traditions
remote from our own experience. Without expending excessive amounts of time and
energy, we need to communicate with all those who are theologically distant from
us yet part of the larger Christian movement.

Fellowship

Then there is the level of fellowship. Years ago, Eternity magazine
published a series of articles, challenging readers to openness to Seventh Day
Adventists, based on their convictions concerning Jesus Christ, Scripture and
salvation by grace through faith. Because of ignorance at the time, I felt the
articles terribly misguided. Today, by God’s grace, I recognize my Seventh Day
Adventists as more than friends. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ and
I enjoy fellowship with them.

Cooperation

Add a measure of commitment and you arrive at the next level–cooperation.
According to Scripture, I must be willing to express publicly my oneness with
all those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior–as I do. This means there are
multitudes with whom I’m not in association with–the highest level of
relationship–but with whom I’ll cooperate for limited objectives.

I believe in joint evangelistic efforts, such as those promoted by the
Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. I’m not a Charismatic in the
contemporary sense, for example, but I’ll defend my biblical obligation to
cooperate with Charismatics and Pentecostals to further the gospel.

Association

The deepest level of Christian relationship is association. “Can two walk
together, except they be agreed?” reads Amos 3:3 (KJV). The passage points up
the need for considerable agreement in doctrine, lifestyle and ministry if
permanent association–a lifetime commitment–is to be made. For example, my
articles of ordination are with the Presbyterian Church of America. Of course
this doesn’t mean that I’m in complete accord with all its courts say and do.
But I’m in enough agreement to remain and serve in the denomination.

[This article first appeared in “The Leadership ’88 Letter”, Vol. 1, No.
4, published by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. It was written
to younger leaders and ministries looking for handles on cooperation in world
evangelization. Jay Gary
served as the Program Director of Leadership ’88.]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
For nearly twenty years, Dr. Arthur Glasser (1914-2009) served as the dean of the faculty and Senior Professor of Theology, Mission and East Asian Studies at the School at World Mission of Fuller Seminary. Prior to this he served for twelve years as home secretary for the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (formerly China Inland Mission), under whose auspices he
began his career as a missionary in Western China at the end of World War II. During his tenure of service at Fuller Theological Seminary he also served from 1976 to 1982 as editor of “Missiology: An International Review,” the official organ of the American Society of Missiology.

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