Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Southgate Fellowship: Ideals and Realities

The issues discussed below flow on from those of my previous posts, especially here and here.
Repeatedly, the TSF statement revels in ideals. Take this for example:
53b) We deny that the Holy Spirit would ever lead and empower any movement outside of the church of Jesus Christ or any movement in the name of Christ that pits one part of the evangelical faith against another.
The Apostle Paul disagreed. He was able to rejoice even when people preached out of selfish ambition (Phil 1:17-18). He seems to have been able to hold up an ideal and rejoice even when the reality did not match that ideal. This is a huge challenge to many of us who would rather the Holy Spirit worked in a different way.
Under the heading ‘The Holy Spirit and Non-biblical Religion’ a number of affirmations and denials are targeted at those who, in the words of the statement, seek to ‘remain’ ‘embedded’ in an ‘alien faith system.’
It starts off in this way:
55a) We affirm that the only way of faith, hope, and life is to be a member of the Body of Christ.
Since we are told explicitly that when we are joined to Christ, we become members of his body (1 Cor 12:12-31) it is hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with this affirmation.
55b) We deny that claims about the work of the Holy Spirit or any other claim can be rightly used to justify a person’s remaining within a Bible-denying or Bible-subjugating faith system.
However, many societies do not separate the spiritual and the secular, the ‘religious’ and the mundane. So, all of life is lived in a religious milieu, including family life.

Which leads me to ask two questions:
1.     Is the newly believing son, daughter or wife of a serious-minded Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist householder under moral compulsion to leave the home? It would appear that the TSF think so. Paul argues otherwise (1 Cor 7).
2.     How should this work out in a country that has a totalitarian government, say North Korea, where any amount of open dissent from its juche ideology can land you in a prison camp or worse? In the West we are blessed to live in lands that allow for free association.
The statement continues:
55c) We deny that the Holy Spirit works to affirm, adapt or improve non-Christian religions.
Without a definition for ‘religions’ this is impossible to evaluate. Does Roman Catholicism count as a ‘non-Christian religion’? 
The next affirmation states as a fact a situation that is clearly not true, unless we cast doubt on all those, and there are probably millions, who have chosen, for their own reasons, for a time at least, not to express their discipleship in a visible church.
55d) We affirm that when Christ saves those of other faith systems, he leads them by the power of the Holy Spirit from their false religion into the visible Body of Christ.
If this were so, then anyone claiming to have become a secret believer in, say North Korea or Saudi Arabia, has not been led by the Holy Spirit and is not saved by Christ. Do the TSF really believe that? If not, then they surely need to revise that affirmation.
Section 56 continues in the same vein:
56a) We affirm the Holy Spirit working through the Word is the ultimate authority for a godly and ethical life.
56b) We deny that anyone may live in a manner pleasing to God by embedding a professed faith in Christ within an alien faith system that denies the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The TSF states that, 
… though a superficial appearance of being a-religious is possible, all human beings are necessarily religious at a more fundamental level, on account of their being divine image bearers. Romans 1 reveals authoritatively that human ultimate commitments are always religious. (§90e)
Surely this must mean that late-modern Western culture with its widespread acceptance of secularist notions of privatised faith and its expressive individualism is an ‘alien faith system’.
If this is so, those of us who live and work and witness in this system, including the TSF, are living in a manner that cannot please God.
But, as I have observed (ad nauseam, you will be forgiven for shouting) since there are no definitions of ‘religious,’ ‘remaining,’ ‘embedding,’ and ‘faith system’ it is impossible to be sure if this is so.

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