Article of the week: Let’s all pull together

2 October 2021


Major Steven Turner suggests that we need to take Christian unity seriously

IN a striking show of unity, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and UK prime minister Boris Johnson recently called on the country to ‘pull together’. Although they disagree on many things, the two leaders have emphasised the need for everyone to play their part in slowing the spread of coronavirus.

Within the Church we have a wide variety of personalities, abilities and ecclesiology, but we all love and serve the ‘one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:6). Yet when inviting people to attend a joint service, I’ve often heard the reply, ‘If I wanted to be a [insert denomination] I’d have gone there myself.’ Many Christians fail to see that ecumenical work is essential for the continued life of the Church.

Here are three good reasons for working with other churches.

First, there is a theological injunction. During the second half of the 20th century many documents were issued by individual denominations and formal conversations held between denominations seeking ways to unite the Church. These efforts often quoted Scripture, including the prayer of Jesus that ‘all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you’ (John 17:21). Experience tells us, however, that human beings generally do not like to be told what to do, which is why this call to unity in the book we claim as our authority is still not a reality.

Another reason is practical necessity. The pandemic has shaken the structure of our society. Businesses large and small have trimmed their workforces or shut their doors. Churches are feeling the same existential pressures. In many towns the different congregations are fighting for survival. If we insist on working separately the danger is that all will close and the voice of the gospel will be silenced in that community.

What if we apply Paul’s analogy of the body of Christ beyond a single church’s congregation? Perhaps God has spread spiritual gifts across the churches in a town, region or nation for us to share with each other. A church with financial resources and skilled administrators could set up a food bank with volunteers from other congregations. A church with media skills could create shared worship resources for other nearby churches.

Achieving missional outcomes is a good reason to pull together. While there are examples of successful co-operation, many still fear a loss of identity or suspect other congregations of ‘sheep-stealing’.

At an ecumenical conference I heard of a small gospel mission that could no longer support a minister. The handful of members approached the other two churches in the village and it was agreed that the three congregations would unite, worshipping in the largest church and using a second for social and community activities.

The gospel mission hall was leased to the village school, which was struggling for capacity due to population growth. Six months later the combined Sunday school had doubled in size. When asked why she was now bringing her children to church, one mother replied, ‘I came because I saw you working together for our community.’

We should not be surprised at this outcome: a united Church makes people sit up and take notice, which in turn opens the door for them to hear and believe the gospel.

I have found that Salvationists are sometimes suspicious of ecumenical endeavours or believe that ‘it’s the officer’s job’. Joint services are often attended by the same few people. But if we are serious about obeying Scripture, about our survival and about reaching the lost in our communities, we need to get serious about living and working as the one body of Christ in the world.




Ideas to consider

  • Congregations could discuss the needs of a community together before deciding how to appoint leaders.
  • Members could link their skills with an initiative in another church.
  • Denominations could become less like corporations competing for market share and more like centres of excellence, sharing their specialist knowledge with anyone in need.
  • We could see Fresh Expressions, pioneer ministry and other initiatives as partnerships in the gospel, reaching places church-based congregations cannot reach.
  • We could seek to discover what we have in common with our neighbours – Christian and non-Christian – rather than drive to another town to be with people like us.


From the editor

An early look at the editor's comment


Salvationist is a weekly magazine for members and friends of The Salvation Army

The War Cry

The War Cry is packed with features, reviews, mouth-watering recipes, puzzles and more.