When do someone’s beliefs become so different to our own that we can’t be members of the same church or denomination together? How do we handle people who read the Bible differently to us, especially when that means they live differently to us? Some church networks speak of sharing the vision and only welcome those who share their vision which is a way of saying, ‘you must believe what we believe in the way we believe it or you are not one of us’ but there is surely more to it than this.
For churches to truly reflect the triune God they need to legitimate diversity. Uniformity limits human possibilities; a denomination totally secure and united is in danger of isolating itself from the world around it, focusing on self-preservation and negating the mission of God. Rather we need to encourage a plurality of voices to help guide and encourage us onward.
In Baptist circles the language of covenant has become prevalent recently but there is a danger that covenant is seen in monolithic terms, where I am seen to be in covenant relationship with the Union rather than that we are seen in covenant relationship with one another within the Union. It is our individual distinctiveness that shows up our unity (that which we hold in common), it is our unity that illuminates our distinctiveness (as people who point to the fullness of God).
We need ways of agreeing what limits to diversity we can own together while still affirming each other as fellow baptists. Other than the Nicene Creed (the historic Christian faith) and the BUGB declaration of principle (those things that make us Baptists) what else might help us?