UPDATE I have since also had filmed a video interview with Liam Goligher.
This is the last post in my interview series with Liam Goligher. In previous posts we have addressed our distinctives, things that unite us, the atonement, and now to conclude, we will look at some very interesting comments Liam made about church government and structure.
Towards the end of our time together, I asked Liam what he felt the current crisis in evangelicalism was teaching us about how we define evangelicalism. There is, he said, a fundamental problem at the heart of the current evangelical movement. In the past we wanted to be independent and build a structure that allowed a “free for all.” His own church, he said, is entirely independent. When it comes to the evangelical movement, it seems that no one is in a position to bring some definition — if a person claims they can sign the statement of faith in good conscience, the general perception is that we are powerless to do anything about it. This whole scenario of the last couple of years has made Liam think that we all need to revisit the idea of church polity or church government:
“What is now clear is that independence is not the answer. We need to look at more of a Presbyterian-style model with some outside accountability. I see in newfrontiers, for example, an effective attempt to recreate the balance between the autonomy of the local church and an appropriate, biblical ‘apostolic’ authority. We all need to look at models like that and see what we can learn from them.”
Interestingly, Liam accepts that he himself, in common with many other evangelical leaders, in practice functions in a very similar way to one of the leaders of an apostolic family of churches like newfrontiers. He trains young men, encourages them, helps to place them as pastors, and supports them from a distance in their pastoral work. He provides to those people a sense of identity and support that goes beyond the local church and which is significantly more than what is available by merely owning a denominational title or the label “evangelical.”
I am excited to see that men like Dr Goligher are beginning to understand that pieces of paper and organisational structures do not guarantee orthodoxy. I believe that it is no accident that the New Testament speaks of God giving gifts of specific men with ministries to the whole church to equip us and help us to do works of service. It is these men who are supposed to stop us being blown around by every wind of teaching.
There are not many with the stature and authority of a man like Liam Goligher. As the interviewer, I was struck that there is an urgent need in the Church today for men like Dr Goligher to rise up and use their God-given authority to bring clear definition and leadership to others. That leadership will obviously be primarily directed by each man of such calibre towards churches who share the majority of both the theological and stylistic distinctives that he holds dear. Increasingly such men will, I am sure, be joining hands together across such divides in a very clear way to stand up for the distinctives of the Gospel. The Gospel is far more important than the second-order issues that sometimes stand in our way of working together. I will give Liam the last word in this write-up of our meeting:
“We have not linked arms in the past as much as we should. Provided we can agree that local churches have their own theological identity and style, interaction between us is essential, especially as it seems that at the moment the whole evangelical house is collapsing around us.”