|22nd June 2021|
Dearly beloved Brothers and Sisters,
What are our strengths as a denomination?
In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul describes the Church in terms of a body that is made up of many parts and, as I look at Grace Communion International (GCI), I can see many ways in which God has blessed us as a fellowship. The strengths that God has given us are part of what gives us our unique identity in the greater body of Christ. They are gifts that we have been given to help us in our calling to live and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the ways that I think God has blessed us as a Church is in the deep passion and love we have for God’s word. Our denomination is blessed with members and contacts who have a rich knowledge and understanding of the Bible. As I think of our congregations in the UK and Ireland, I am reminded often of the Bereans in Acts 17 who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so”. Acts 17:11 ESV
Another strength is our love of fellowship and of coming together to praise and worship our heavenly Father. Not only do our members and contacts keep in touch with one other on a congregational level, but also we delight in gathering together on a national and even on an international level. In this sense, I feel that God has blessed us with a three-dimensional understanding of fellowship that allows us to see ourselves as part of something greater. This is something that we have demonstrated particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. While we have not been able to meet physically, we have been able make full use of the advantage that technology gives us in being able to connect beyond our local congregations. Over the last 18 months we have been able to transcend geographical boundaries in coming together to worship using Zoom, YouTube and other platforms.
God has also blessed GCI with faithful and committed members. Over the history of our Church, I can think of numerous examples of how members have committed themselves wholeheartedly to serving our Lord. In Psalm 37:5 ESV the Psalmist writes “commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act”, and this is something that I feel our members have taken to heart. We see this commitment in many ways — through faithful attendance at both our local congregations and national events, through financial contributions, and in the support and costly love we show each other. I give thanks to God for the members and contacts we have throughout the UK and their faithfulness and loyalty to both Christ and his Church.
GCI has also been blessed in our understanding of grace. In the early 1990’s, our denomination went through a time of doctrinal change. God helped us to understand that we needed to move from a theology that had been too focused on the Law of Moses and on God’s covenant with Israel to a theology focused firmly on Jesus Christ and the New Covenant that he inaugurated. This change has not been easy for us, but it has given us a rich understanding of our need for God’s grace. In 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 ESV the apostle Paul writes, “if anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God”. We have first-hand experience that salvation is a gift of God – it is not something we can obtain by right knowledge or right action.
Over the last 25 years we have grappled with how best to reflect our change of doctrine in our practice – how we live out our faith and beliefs. In our past, before our doctrinal changes, we taught a legalistic approach to observing the Sabbath and Israelite (Leviticus 23) festivals. While this has not been our teaching for some time now, we have continued to facilitate services on the Leviticus 23 festival days and have centred our messages around Jesus and what he has done for us. Sadly, however, this practice of continuing to recognise the Levitical dates has been a source of division within our precious denomination.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV the apostle Paul recognised that not all church practices are helpful. He writes “‘all things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up”. For this reason, and in line with the denomination’s position internationally, we will no longer be facilitating services on the Leviticus 23 festival days from 2022 onwards. As we move forward as a denomination, we must move out of the shadow of our past and away from the division we have had over days of worship and past doctrines.
While we will not be facilitating services on Leviticus 23 festival days, we are still very much committed to providing opportunities for fellowship and coming together. Our Paignton and Bridlington Celebrations will continue on different dates from 2022. We look forward to being able to come together to worship our great God and to growing together in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18
I appreciate that this change will be challenging. Having grown up in this denomination, I know there are a lot of fond memories associated with our past gatherings. There is always a sadness when the old things pass away but I am reminded of the word of the prophet Isaiah: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV The God we worship is the God of new beginnings, and, while there may be a feeling of sadness and loss at this moment, we must always look ahead to Christ.
God has gifted us with many strengths and I look forward to the future he has in store for us. As we move forward in love, I pray that this next chapter in our history will be our greatest yet and that God will use us powerfully to proclaim the Gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ.
“To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen”. Philippians 4:20 NIV
Your brother in Christ,
National Ministry Leader