It’s time we got over our tribalism

Photo by Elisabeth Fossum on

I grew up with my family attending an independent Methodist mission hall, elsewhere my Grandma was a fully accredited Methodist preacher.  Her husband had grown up in the Brethren movement in Belfast. Apparently Great Grandma had herself been a Methodist but had joined the Gospel Hall her husband belonged to when they got married. 

Dad was a local preacher and would visit a wide variety of churches and chapels throughout the year.  For a couple of years he pastored a Baptist Union Church.  A successor to that small church is now an FIEC member.  Dad’s bookshelves were stacked with Banner of Truth books. He drew on Calvin, Hodge and the Puritans for his own study and preaching prep.

Although our Independent Methodist mission should have technically fallen into the Arminian camp, reformed theology probably informed quite a few of the leaders.  Martyn Lloyd Jones had been a guest preacher and there were close links with places like Lansdown Road Baptist.  The wider picture in Bradford was of churches across denominational and tribal boundaries rubbing along together, enjoying fellowship together and partnering for the Gospel together.

The point I am making here is that church life was decidedly non-Tribal.  Our church was non Charismatic and some members at one point had left to plant a more charismatic church but relationships were good (mind you the pastor of the new church was the son-in-law of the pastor of the old one!), those who attended the local Elim church were our friends and we frequently were allowed to borrow their building for baptisms.  In fact, when a local AOG church got into difficulties, the remaining elder came to us looking for help.  I cut my preaching and my church revitalisation teeth with the Pentecostals (all that this dear old man asked was “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit”)

It is my concern that over the past few decades, there has been an increasing sense of tribalism within the Evangelical church. The Tribalism has got to the point where even within tribes there are divisions. It is not even enough to be Reformed! Whilst formally things like Gospel Partnerships appear to have pushed for greater opportunities for some within the reformed tribes to work together, relationally I feel that we are further away.

I’ve had numerous conversations with people particularly around the questions of race and class and at some point the phrase “in our constituency” has been used.  Sometimes I have to say “look I’m not sure I ‘belong’ to ‘our’ constituency.”  I am first and foremost a believer in Jesus. I am grateful to the Wesleyans without whom I wouldn’t have heard the Gospel, I appreciate the passion of Pentecostalism and I am decidedly reformed in my theology.  BUT “reformed” should probably stick at describing my theology and not a particular tribe.

So, my appeal is that we stop thinking in tribal terms and remember that we are all one in Christ Jesus.

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