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Beware the pitfalls of community engagement

August 2019

News that a Grace Baptist church has not only allowed, but actively promoted, a play celebrating the LGBT movement within its building is deeply disturbing. But Evangelical Times has decided not to name the church because we are more concerned about the wider principles than this individual incident.

We are forced to ask why a church which professes to be committed to biblical authority should take such a step. It is of course possible that in this instance the church leaders were simply unaware of the nature of the play they were promoting. In that case they will surely be more careful in the future.

However, this episode highlights a danger that is facing many evangelical churches today. We are told regularly by eminent Christian leaders that a local church must view itself as being at the heart of the community.

Instead of aiming to build the local church as an alternative society, we are told that we must co-operate with secular agencies in social, political and cultural activities designed to change secular society for the better. We are told that this is what it means to be ‘salt and light’ in today’s world.

In line with this approach, many churches have forged local partnerships with the police, social services, secular charities and other groups. Hand in hand with these bodies, they seek to provide food for the hungry, help for the homeless, counselling for the distressed, cultural activities for the culturally deprived. Churches will host foodbanks, computer courses, keep fit classes – or heritage festival events.

Some Christian leaders will say that we are building relationships which will open the door to evangelism. Others argue that we have a duty to seek the good of society and that we can have a common grace unity with unbelievers who are trying to do likewise. While others will simply mutter something vague about cultural engagement.

The plain fact is that in the end, such partnerships will always have strings attached. If we run a counselling service in co-operation with social services, they will tell us that we must not suggest that our clients’ problems may be due to sinful lifestyle choices. If we become involved with secular groups in working among the homeless, we may be told in no uncertain terms that overt evangelism is out. And if we open our buildings for community activities, then one day we may be expected to host an LGBT play.

The apostle Paul wrote, ‘Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer have with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God… Therefore go out from among them and be separate from them, says the Lord…’ Any discussion of the relationship between local churches and the society around them must start there.

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