If the greater Evangelical Christian world is a party, then “the Brethren” are in the corner twiddling their thumbs, waiting for it to be over. Ok, this may be an exaggeration, but there is truth to it.
The brethren are not really part of the evangelical landscape, or at least in what I have seen. I see this in two ways. One is theologically, and the other is ecumenically.
A great history
No one will deny that the Brethren have an important theological history. It was Darby and the Brethren that ignited Dispensationalism to the world. Dispensationalism is a framework still used today, although in many different variations.
It is taught in seminaries like Dallas Theological Seminary. In fact, it is Dallas that we have to thank for the constant development, revision, and defense of Dispensationalism.
Where are we now?
The question is, what are we contributing and engaging with today? I am not saying that we need to birth something as good or greater than Dispensationalism. But we should still be engaged in current Biblical and Theological discussion, something I see the Brethren lacking.
Not that we have to understand every major and minor view, for then our brains would give out and we would then only be reading scholars and not the Bible. But people need to be aware of current discussion.
Are we in the mix of important discussions?
Are we aware of important ideas being discussed that have huge impacts on how we read the Bible or understand God? What about the New Perspective on Paul advocated by important biblical scholars like James D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright?
Or debates on subordination within the Trinity discussed by theologians like Kevin Giles, Wayne Grudem, and Robert Letham? The former could change how we read the whole New Testament (although that is not necessarily a bad thing). The latter would change how we view Christ’s role in the Trinity and His relationship to the Father.
Both of which are immensely important. The field of biblical and theological studies is always changing and there need to be people within the Brethren who are aware of these changes, or else we will be caught off guard.
Building relationships with other groups
The other area that I see the Brethren lacking is in the ecumenical community. I’m sure for some the word ecumenical means forsaking the truth about the Bible for liberal theology, and that is not what I am advocating.
I advocate for an ecumenical movement like what Peter Leithart argues for in his book The End of Protestantism. A movement that is simply local Pastor and Elders going to other churches in their area and to begin to talk and build relationships with one another.
Together in the gospel
Together we can be stronger in spreading the message of the gospel, meeting the needs of the church at large and keeping out blatant false teaching. As part of the Brethren I always heard talk of the how the church is not a building but the universal church, every believer everywhere. So why aren’t we interacting with the whole church? It is like sitting down for dinner but not speaking to any of your family members!
Restricted by fear
Some might fear that by coming together we will lose many of the things that make the Brethren distinct. That is all well and good, and the Brethren have good things to offer, but we could say the same about the Baptists, the Lutherans, the Reformed churches, and perhaps even the Pentecostals!
By coming together and talking, we sharpen one another, and as we discuss and think through our doctrine and church practice we will become stronger, not weaker.
The Brethren can no longer stay in the corner of the ‘Evangelical Party’. It is time for us to talk, learn, and worship with our brothers and sisters across the street and throughout the world.