The third in a series of reflections. Part one is here and part two here.
Sometimes the Southgate Fellowship statement seems to belong to another era.
What exactly are is TSF arguing with here?
79c) We deny that a younger church has no theological, financial or moral obligation to the sending church.
Can we really frame relationships between churches in terms of ‘sending’ and ‘younger’? That may have been the reality of church and mission in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when many churches in the traditional ‘fields’ began with some sort of relationship to a missionary or mission society. The agency brokered the relationship of the new churches with their supporting churches back home. Control of those new churches was assumed to belong to the missionaries, who were themselves accountable to the mission board back home.
It took a great deal of heart searching and argument to free many churches in the global South from foreign control. In fact, it was only with the end of the colonial era that many churches became autonomous. Sadly, this process was often slow, begrudging and acrimonious, so that indigenous alternatives were sought outside of all relationship with brothers and sisters in other countries.
In recent decades the vast majority of church planting in the global South has been carried out by local evangelists. Everything is about relationships. Formal transactional partnerships are alien. The idea that churches that have shared resources might have no obligations to one another would be considered bizarre.
So why the denial?
It comes over as naïve and anachronistic.
Furthermore, one wonders whether the implications of some sections of the statement have really been thought through.
There is a proper recognition that the primary locus for mission is the local church. Parachurch agencies have their place but must not usurp the authority of the local church. I have argued for this myself.
So primary oversight of cross-cultural ministry must not be in the hands of denominational agencies or parachurch organizations:
75a) We affirm that visible churches bear the primary responsibility for the theological, moral, and ministry-method oversight of missionaries.
75b) We affirm that the visible church has the primary responsibility to recruit, mobilise, and send individual church members into mission.
75c) We deny that denominational agencies and parachurch organisations should have the primary theological, moral, and ministry-method oversight of missionaries.
Strangely, however, considering the majority of the council teach in theological colleges, no specific mention is made of them. Does the visible church have primary oversight over their work in these parachurch organizations or is that oversight exercised by others? How does primary oversight work out at Westminster or Oak Hill? Perhaps a measure of autonomy for parachurch agencies is allowable after all.
The lack of any acknowledgement that there might be an issue here causes one to pause and ask whether the ground reality is rather more messy than the formal statement. In the interest of candour, this should be more transparent.