I believe local churches engaged in the work of ethnic conciliation need to establish three types of relationships to represent the Kingdom of God and accomplish human flourishing in their community: colaborers, compadres, and cobelligerents.
These our churches and parachurch organizations that align philosophically and theologically on all primary and most secondary issues. These may be churches within our denomination or network structures. Working with colaborers is the easiest and most comfortable of the three relationships, which is why the other two types of relationships are necessary.
In Spanish, the term compadre has two meanings. First, it refers to a child’s godfather. According to the Roman Catholic tradition in my family, the compadre is a trusted family member or friend who stands with the parents at the baby’s christening and assumes responsibility for the child if the parents can no longer care for the baby. The second meaning of compadre is friend. Churches, especially church plants, should seek out compadres, developing strong partnerships with other local churches that are firm on the essentials of the Christian faith but may differ in opinion on secondary issues. The younger church will also gain credibility in the community when it seeks an older, established local church to walk alongside. This partnership communicates that the younger church does not think they’ve been sent by Jesus to replace an old and unsuccessful church; rather, by working to support the older church, the younger church shows that Jesus has called them to join Him on His mission in the community. For this to happen, evangelicals will need to branch out beyond their tribe and build relationships with mainline churches that share a common understanding of the gospel and Jesus’ mission.
Francis Schaeffer popularized the idea of cobelligerence and often received pushback for his views on it. Cobelligerence is when two enemies unite to fight against a common enemy. The question Jesus’ church must ask is: When is it proper to partner with nonbelievers to address a common social ill in our community? Schaeffer said,
Christians must realize that there is a difference between being a cobelligerent and an ally. At times we will seem to be saying exactly the same thing as those without a Christian base are saying. If there is social injustice, say there is social injustice. If we need order, say we need order. In these cases, and at these specific points, we would be cobelligerents. But we must not align ourselves as though we are in any camp build on a non-Christian base. We are an ally of no such camp. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is different—totally different. . . .
We must say what the Bible says when it causes us to seem to be saying what others are saying, such as “Justice!” or “Stop the meaningless bombings!” But we must never forget that this is only a passing cobelligerency and not an alliance.[i]
Schaffer qualified his thoughts in an interview with Martin Wroe and Dave Roberts: “I have two words which I would recommend to anybody . . . and they are ‘ally’ and ‘co-belligerent.’ An ally is a person who is a born-again Christian with whom I can go a long way down the road. . . . A co-belligerent is a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position but takes the right position on a single issue.”[ii] According to Schaeffer, Christians can and should engage with nonbelievers on a short-term basis when they agree on a single issue. Cobelligerence can help address a social ill or event if approached with a biblical framework and a clear timeline for the church’s engagement alongside the nonbelieving entity. Here is how you might be ABLE to employ such a framework:
Apply Wisdom (Matthew 10:16): Be evangelistic during the time of interaction. But don’t be overly romantic. Expect some hostility because the convictions of those you’re alongside may not be rooted in or in pursuit of Jesus.
Be Clear (2 Corinthians 6:14-18): Realize that your mission is to represent God’s Kingdom and live out Kingdom ethics. Jesus’ church transcends the social ills you’re addressing. Remember, the gospel’s power does not rise or fall because of partnership with any movement. So clearly communicate short-term participation in cobelligerency, and make sure you continue gospel-saturated work in your community after these events are over, without partnering with the cobelligerents, to safeguard your biblical convictions and the distinction of the church’s mission.
Live Pure (Ephesians 5:1-14): Abstain from any sinful activities that those in your cobelligerency practice. If, while joining them in lobbying or protest, you decide to participate in acts of hate, sensuality, or other forms of sin, you’re no longer distinct in morality or mission and must confess (1 John 1:8-10), repent (2 Corinthians 7:9-11), and seek restoration (Galatians 6:1-2).
Engage Responsibly (James 1:22-27): Be committed in ministering to the widows, orphans, and poor in your city that are part of the systemic oppression. Evangelicals in your city may have often neglected these people before, and your commitment will show cobelligerents your long-term priorities.
You’ve been reading with D.A. Horton from his new book- Intensional: Kingdom Ethnicity in a Divided World. Get the book or keep reading with a free excerpt here. D. A. is a Mexican-Choctaw-American church planter and speaker who engages with the tensions between our racial realities and the truth of the gospel. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at California Baptist University and pastor of Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, CA.
[i] The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaefer, vol. 4, A Christian View of the Church, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1985), 30–31.
[ii] Martin Wroe and Dave Roberts, “Dr Francis Schaeffer,” in Adrift in the 80’s: The Strait Interviews, ed. and comp. Stewart Henderson (Basingstoke, UK: Marshall Morgan and Scott, 1986), 31.