Jeremy Sarber

3 reasons to avoid tribalism

Adam Mabry, a Reformed charismatic, writes in his article, Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other:

In church history, bad things have happened when those with teaching gifts [Reformed Christians] have been relationally or structurally separated from those with miraculous” gifts [charismatics]. … This separation has never been more apparent than the present. It’s cause for concern when Pentecostals/charismatics get together in their conferences, read their books, remain in their churches, and never get out of their sandbox. Such tribalism is how some pretty egregious errors are birthed and nurtured—the prosperity gospel being the most obvious example. Numerous times I’ve listened to my Pentecostal/charismatic brethren and thought, If only they looked more closely into the Scriptures, they could have avoided this problem. As one of my mentors put it, Charismatics love the fire of God’s power, but sometimes we burn things down with it.”

As has often been noticed, charismatic experience can lead honest, well-meaning Christians astray into terrible error. The God-always-only-ever-wants-to-bless-you-and-make-your-life-great nonsense that accounts for some louder voices destroys our ability to suffer well. The Word of Faith movement is sometimes indiscernible from sympathetic magic. But that’s where the profundity of the Reformed love for the Bible can come to help. That is, if we would come to help.

Next, he turns things around to focus on his Reformed brethren, saying:

Just as concerning as it is when charismatics stay in their own sandbox, so it is with us Calvinists. I’m so grateful for the recent explosion of interest in Reformed theology. I was Reformed before it was cool enough to come with tattoos, plaid shirts, and beards, but it’s nice to be part of the in-crowd, I guess. But let’s not fool ourselves—the Reformed movement pales in size to the Modern Pentecostal/charismatic Movement (hereafter, MPCM). MPCM is the fastest-growing religious movement in the history of the human race. In 1900, there were statistically a meaningless number of such Christians. Presently, the number sits around 700 million, or 1 out of every 3 believers. Just to put it into perspective, that’s more than the total number of Buddhists, Jews, and all folk religions in the world. MPCM isn’t going away. Quite the opposite.

And it’s not growing because they’re all heretics (many are, to be sure, but not nearly all). They’re growing because they’re making disciples. For as much as we Calvinists talk, think, and teach well on the subject, the charismatics seem to be doing more of it. To use my mentor’s metaphor again, we Calvinists construct a beautiful fireplace, but sometimes we struggle to get the fire going. We might learn something from our charismatic brethren, if we knew any.

I’ll jump ahead to the article’s conclusion:

Can you imagine the exponential good that would happen if charismatics learned exegesis from the likes of Don Carson? What kingdom fruit would be born if Calvinists learned to exercise missional faith like our MPCM counterparts? I sometimes daydream about what could happen if the passion of the Pentecostal for the power of God and the passion of the Calvinist for the Word of God could be combined to accomplish the work of God. The world just might see the glory of God.

This purpose means we’re going to have to lead. The history of the Western Church, particularly since the Reformation, is so pot-marked with breakups, splits, and violent divisions over second- and third-tier doctrinal differences that it’s little wonder our culture thinks Christians are divisive. We who cherish the doctrines of grace must lead in practicing grace toward those with whom we differ. And we can because the gospel shows us that this is precisely how Christ treated us. We can because the Spirit is available to enable such grace in us. We can because God knows that accomplishing the mission is going to mean we must work together.

Charismatics and Calvinists need each other. We don’t have to agree to be agreeable. We don’t have to compromise our consciences to effect change. And we don’t have to sacrifice biblical faithfulness for spiritual power. We can have both.

The author makes several good points in this article. Let me highlight just a few.

1) There is no perfect church.

The author doesn’t say that explicitly, but he implies it. Regardless, we know it’s true. If we know it’s true, then why should we act as though it isn’t?

Our tribal nature makes us extreme. We would never say it this way, but we often act as though our tribe has it all figured out while everyone else is completely wrong. The truth lies somewhere in between. Doesn’t it? We don’t have it all figured out, and just because other churches are wrong about one thing or another, doesn’t mean they’re wrong about everything. Perhaps we could learn from them.

Notice what Paul says in Ephesians:

He gave shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15)

There should be a mutual striving for maturity and knowledge of the truth in the church as we grow up into Christ.

2) We can’t be a positive influence on people with whom we refuse to associate.

When we build walls around our church or ourselves, we’re not just keeping everyone else out. We’re not only preventing false doctrine from entering. We’re trapping ourselves inside. We’re limiting the truth of God’s word from spreading beyond us.

I’m going to make a statement that will probably sound more controversial than I intend. I am less concerned about being a good Reformed Baptist than I am being a good Christian. Spurgeon said it best when he said, I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist. I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist. But if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, It is Jesus Christ.’”

We are disciples of Christ before all else. Let’s not forget that. If we do, we may find ourselves doing more to promote our church or denomination than God’s kingdom. If we grow more concerned for our tribe than the entire body of Christ, the walls go up, and we cease to do much more than hurl stones over them at anyone who passes.

This problem of tribalism isn’t a new problem for the church. Do you remember what Paul told the Corinthians?

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, I follow Paul,” or I follow Apollos,” or I follow Cephas,” or I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

The church was forming divisive factions even two-thousand years ago. There is nothing new under the sun.

3) We don’t have to agree to be agreeable.

That’s a direct quote from the article, and it’s true. I’m not suggesting that we strive to form a megachurch that includes people from every Christian denomination. I’m not suggesting there aren’t vital issues which warrant strict separation. Paul commanded, Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them (Ro 16:17).

Even so, we often have trouble identifying our brothers and sisters in Christ. Oh, you’re charismatic. I’m not one of you. Get thee behind me, Satan.

We’re not alone. The apostles struggled with this problem as well. In Luke 9, John so proudly announced, Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us (Lk 9:49). He wasn’t part of their elite group. Jesus responded, Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you (Lk 9:50).

It’s interesting to see the progression in that chapter. First, the apostles argue over who is the greatest among them. Second, they prevent a man from using God’s power over Satan because he wasn’t one of them. Then, the Samaritans show them disrespect, so James and John ask Jesus, Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them? (Lk 9:54). Jesus rebuked them.

Paul tells us to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3). Remember that our unity already exists. We have share it because God has made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:5). When Paul tells us to maintain that unity, our goal is to strengthen the relationship between fellow believers, members of God’s family. To which tribe they belong is a moot point.