Battles and Disputes: Evangelical Tribes

Paul Mathole, the Vicar of Platt in Manchester, gave a few talks at Word Alive this year on ‘Tribes and Power in Church’. Perhaps more generally addressed to those churches in large urban centres with a multiplicity of ethnicities, the lessons he gave still apply to broader Christendom. We might separate into ‘tribes’ he argues, by our dividing into distinctive theological camps or interpretive groupings. He suggested the following tribal splits developed in the following decades:

1960s/70s Contender or separatist? Should Christian in compromised denominations contend for the truth within them (John Stott?) or form new churches, untainted by liberalistic compromise (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)?

1980s Cessationist or continuationist? Did the gifts of the Holy Spirit, along with signs and wonders end in the first century, or should they be mainstream Christian experience?

1990s Complementarian or egalitarian? Are men and women of equal value but have distinct ministry roles, or are they the same in every way?

2000s Denominational or interdenominational? Do we only work with churches of our own persuasion, or with different churches if they still preach the gospel?

2010s Articulate or ambiguous? Do we clearly state our opposition to same-sex marriage and relationships, or quietly avoid the issue, focussing on other things?

Of course, one controversy does not neatly end in a year ending with a 9, and a new one conveniently begin in a year ending in a 0, but it is an interesting concept. Whether these are the chief conflicts within evangelicalism for those decades is a worthy discussion. Previous divisions might be creation vs evolution, relations with the state church, Bible versions, and baptism. What will characterise the 2020s? I suspect an old one will return- our relations, or otherwise, with Romanism. Her conservatism will appear attractive to many beleaguered evangelicals. Or it may be the existence of gender. As neo-Baal worship continues to suffocate national life, proposals for three-way marriage may be a further dividing line, with various cloth-heads lining up to cite the patriarchs’ numerous wives to persuade us to further abandon traditional marriage.

There will always be battles to fight this side of our Lord’s return; there will always be arguments to have, opponents to combat, heresies to withstand. How many of these are foundational, essential aspects of the faith once delivered, and how many are peripheral side issues upon which believers may amicably beg to differ, may the Holy Spirit give us wisdom to discern.