Scriptural Warrant for Gospel Partnerships
Types of Partnerships
A Final Key to Success in Partnerships
Quotes on Uncommon Partnerships
Common Grace Partnerships
Scripture to Guide Partnerships
1 There is a discernible theology of partnership in the Word of God. The purpose of this paper is not to list and evaluate every instance of “partnership,” “partner,” or “partaker” in the Holy Bible (a worthy undertaking that), but rather to communicate the value of partnerships for Christian churches and other ministries, like seminaries.2 However, we are obliged to cite one of the most famous passages on partnership: Philippians 1:7.3 Indeed, Paul uses the word (κοινωνία, koinonia) or its derivative in 1:5, 1:7, 4:15.4 The Homan Christian Standard Bible chose to translate the Greek to the word partner, while others, like the Geneva Bible (1599) used the word “fellowship.” The New Testament team for the New American Standard Version of the Holy Bible chose “partakers.” Thus, we read:
“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:7 HCSB).
I thank my God, having you in perfect memory, (Always in all my prayers for all you, praying with gladness) Because of the fellowship which ye have in the Gospel, from the [b]first day unto now” (1599 Geneva Bible).
“For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me” (New American Standard Bible).
The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible (ESV) chose “partnership” for 1:5: “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”5
St. Paul dispatches the Greek word συγκοινωνός (Sugkoinonos) to communicate his understanding of the alliance between himself and the church at Philippi. This masculine noun— συγκοινωνός—is a compound of σύν (soon) and κοινωνός (koy-no-nos). And, yes, κοινωνός (koy-no-nos) is a branch of its famous root, κοινός (koy-nos’).
There is a powerful relationship between the vertical κοινωνός with God, through Christ Jesus our Lord, and any prospective partnership on earth.
Partnerships in Christianity exist in order to advance the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and apply the Gospel of Christ to all of and in every area of His creation. These partnerships exist because “we do more together” to fulfill the mission of God in the world. Partnerships are, thus, means of seeking to realize Biblical mandates by merging and managing physical resources— whether human resources, matériel, logistics, time, or other variables —or demonstrating metaphysical realities—Christian unity, God’s love—for the sake of God’s glory. Partnerships may not only achieve primary stated missions but realize or demonstrate subsidiary goals that could be equally important. The by-products of Christian partnerships can include, but are not limited to:
Efficiency: Partnerships may demonstrate godly stewardship. Many goals for the Church are beyond the available resources of any one individual believer, or Christian community. The concept of working together in partnerships is akin to the Electoral College of the United States in which even the smallest state has a vote in electing the President. Partnerships create a way for small churches, seminaries, and other agencies to have the same impact as large churches..
Equity: Partnerships may overcome relationship inequities (e.g., “Paternalism,” misunderstood needs) by supplying other needed perspectives.
Enlargement: Partnerships have the potential for expanding the reach of the Church.
The Association of Theological Schools in North America has identified “partnerships” as a key value to be cultivated by member institutions (in a January 2020 communication with this author). We have identified key partnership areas that will advance the mission adopted by the Faculty (in the February 14, 2020 meeting): through seminary-church alliances (e.g., the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the International Ministry Fellowship, NAPARC churches, the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA], and, in the Erskine Seminary Greenville extension: a consortium, including First Presbyterian Church, and Greenville ARP, and Mitchell Road PCA).
Our mission adopted and recommended to the Board by the Faculty of Erskine Theological Seminary is this:
Erskine Theological Seminary prepares men and women to fulfill the Gospel of Jesus Christ through theological higher education that is ecclesial, missional, and confessional.
It remains, then, to articulate our understanding of partnerships, their possibilities, limits, and modus operandi.
Scriptural Warrant for Gospel Partnerships
The very concept of the Church—qahal (קהל); ekklesia (έκκλησία)— from Moses and “the congregation” in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2) to the Redeemed People of God throughout all ages (Ephesians 3:21) assumes community and, therefore, cooperative corporate mission. Jesus speaks to the plurality of disciples. This does not preclude the necessity of individual believers sharing their Christian faith in everyday life (e.g., Acts 8: 1, 27-39). However, the Church is literally “the assembled ones,“ so, too, our Lord prayed, “Our Father which art in Heaven . . .” (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2). The history of the expansion of the Kingdom of God is replete with this ideal.
Partnerships are not only conceptual expressions but also practical necessities. Only Gospel partnerships—no single member but the whole Body—can approach the sheer size of the missional undertaking. To evangelize the earth, to declare the Lordship in Christ over all creation, and in every human endeavor necessarily require a cooperative global enterprise.
Here are some scriptures that speak to partnerships as both divine concept and revealed necessity:
“Bless the LORD, all His works in all places of His dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul” (Psalm 103:22 ESV).
“My mouth will declare the praise of the LORD; let every creature bless His holy name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:21 ESV).
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21 NKJV).
Types of Partnerships
The Lord Jesus Christ taught us that we who are born again to eternal life through His name, baptized into the one, holy, and Apostolic Church catholic, in the name of the Triune God, should be as one (e.g., John 17:21). He also taught us that there is an expectation for us to be engaged in acts of mercy for the common good (e.g., to be Good Samaritans, i.e., Luke 10:25-37). Jesus compares the general to the specific with “how much more” statements:
- In Luke 11:13: If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
- In Luke 12:24: Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
- In Luke 12:28: If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
This method of teaching moves from the broadest possible expression of, e.g., God’s care for Creation, to His special covenantal love of a believer. Yet, it would by good and necessary inference include others in-between the extreme ends of dead sparrows and faithful followers of Christ (Luke 12:6, 7). So, too, there is a spectrum of Christian cooperation via partnerships with others to express God’s mission in the world. We could divide the spectrum into, at least, three types of Christian partnerships that have Biblical warrant, historical precedent, and continuing relevance.
1. Denominational Partnerships are Christian covenantal communities of confessional-practical-organizational unity. Such partnerships exist by confessing Christians bound by a common doctrine, polity, and mission to bear witness to the gospel in nations, geographic regions, or even unto ethnicities (e.g., the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church of Mexico, or the Anglican Church of Uganda). This primary partnership is characterized by mutual submission in the Lord in matters of doctrine, praxis, polity, and mission. Christian denominations such as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) or the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) are readily accepted and easily recognized expressions of denominational partnerships. Denominational partnerships by the very definition are highly homogeneous in terms of doctrine and polity, worship and other classifications. Denominational partnerships, ordinarily, create the easiest and most efficient route to cooperation for the sake of the gospel (e.g., World Mission, the North American Mission Board, The [Anglican] Society for the Propagation of the Gospel).
2. Evangelical Partnerships are expressed agreements between two or more “like-minded” believers, organizations, or Christian communities of conviction (i.e., denominations) for the purpose of fulfilling (whether comprehensively or compartmentally) the Great Commission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Such partnerships are based upon primary doctrinal essentials and Gospel imperatives. In evangelical partnerships there is a necessary recognition of respective theological and praxis convictions. Each esteems the other by cooperating where possible without asking each other to compromise on respective differences.
3. Common-Grace Partnerships are agreements between Christians, whether individuals or corporate expressions of the Faith, and other human beings of any or no religion, for the purpose of expressing the nurture, protection, or advancement of human beings.6,7 The motivations for such partnerships are quite different between the two parties. For example, Christians may be engaged in feeding the hungry because we believe that God loves his own creation and commands that we love our neighbor. Recently, scholars have weighed in on how to express faith in concert with a post-Christian culture. James Davidson Hunter advocated “faithful presence,” in his To Change the World, while Miroslav Volf encouraged Christian to consider serving wisdom for “the common good” at the inter-religious table in A Public Faith. 8 Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College addresses the evangelistic method of these contemporary scholars by recovering the Kuyperian legacy of the “cultural mandate.” Bacote advocates an updating of the culture mandate as “transformational without triumphalism.”9 Bacote’s model is refreshingly similar to the call by Mark Laing for “Recovering Missional Ecclesiology in Theological Education.”10 There are striking similarities between Kuyper and Leslie Newbigin as it relates to common grace as a means to engage unbelievers for the mission of God in the world.11
The “cultural mandate,” likewise, is a powerful force that drives common grace alliances for believers.12 While secular organization are not designed for the purpose of accomplishing all the goals consistent with the gospel and God’s kingdom, nevertheless some do function in a way and pursue goals that can help individual Christians and the Church pursue and accomplish God-glorifying goals.13 While such partnerships are most often associated with intervention of humanitarian relief, Common Grace Partnerships may be established for realizing other desired outcomes (e.g., scientific, military). An example of the Common Grace Partnership is the carefully crafted agreement between Christian denominations and the Department of Defense of the United States of America or, e.g., the British Ministry of Defense, to provide military chaplains for the Armed Forces and their respective missions.
1 I am indebted to Professor Kyle Nel for the phrase, “uncommon partnerships.” See Furr, Nathan, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoega Ramsoy. Leading Transformation: How to Take Charge of Your Company's Future: Harvard Business Press, 2018.
2 See Appendix 1 for Scriptures addressing partnerships.
3 For a study on a theology of partnerships in the Pauline corpus see Christopher R Little, "Partnerships in Pauline Perspective," (2004). The earliest collection of Pauline manuscripts with Philippians (eight of the thirteen epistles, all but Philippians and Colossians being incomplete, because of damage) is P46. Brent Nongbri has made a significant contribution to the study of partnerships by identifying a textual variant in Philippians 1:7 [in P46]. The force of Nongbri's reading “highlights Paul’s . . . divine benefaction . . .” (p. 808). Such a reading reenforces the power of partnerships as imitations of covenantal relationships. See Brent Nongbri, "Two Neglected Textual Variants in Philippians 1," Journal of Biblical Literature 128, no. 4 (2009).
4 St. Paul employs κοινωνία in 1:5; συγκοινωνός in 1:7; and κοινωνέω in Philippians 4:15.
5 Crossway Bibles, "The Esv Study Bible," Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles (2008).
6 The late Francis Schaeffer used the phrase “co belligerence” to describe ‘common grace” partnerships. Timothy George has used “ecumenism of the trenches.” I agree with Daniel Strange. “Common grace” is a more suitable term for a Christian alliance with non-Christian parties. See Daniel Strange, "Co-Belligerence and Common Grace," Cambridge Papers 14, no. 3 (2005). Francis Schaeffer, and C Everett Koop, "Plan for Action: An Action Alternative Handbook for “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?”," Flemming H. Revell (1980): 64. Timothy George quote Quotation attributed to Timothy George in Chuck Colsen’s, ‘Modernist Impasse, Christian Opportunity’, First Things, 104, June/July 2000, p.19. See, also, John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray: Vol 2 Selected Lectures in Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 93-122.
7 “Common grace” is a phrase used without reference today. Yet, it was Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) in the Princeton Stone Lectures of 1989. See pages 178-79, and 199 in Abraham Kuyper, "Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B," B. Eerdmans Pub (1931).
8 See James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010), Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos Press, 2011).
9 Vincent Bacote, "Beyond 'faithful Presence': Abraham Kuyper's Legacy for Common Grace and Cultural Development," Journal of Markets and Morality 16, no. 1 (2013): 103. Bacote draws from the classic studies on cooperation without compromise for “common grace, including H Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (Harper and Row New York, 1951). He also cites contemporary voices like Robert Benne, The Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-First Century (Fortress Press, 1995). Donald A Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2012). Craig A Carter, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective (Brazos Press, 2006). Stanley Hauerwas, and William H Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition) (Abingdon Press, 2014).
10 Mark Laing, "Recovering Missional Ecclesiology in Theological Education," International review of mission 98, no. 1 (2009).
11 See, e.g., Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989, 1989). https://books.google.com/books?id=q6tEnRYaHI8C. For a study of Newbigin’s theology of mission see Mark TB Laing, and Paul Weston, Theology in Missionary Perspective: Lesslie Newbigin's Legacy (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012).
12 The evangelical responses of James Davidson Hunter’s “faithful presence,” and Miroslav Volf’s “common wisdom” are critiqued in Bacote.
13 I am indebted to the Rev. Dr. David Smith, Chairman of the Erskine Theological Seminary committee for the better crafting of this particular statement. This sentence is actually verbatim from Dr. Smith’s edit. I did not feel it needed any change whatsoever as it more clearly articulated my intentions.
- Quote paper
- Michael A. Milton (Author), 2020, Fulfilling God’s Mission in the World as One. A Theology of Partnerships, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/535278