A popular trend of our day is for churches to identify themselves not only by denomination, but by networks. Networks are cross denominational organizations which offer support, training, and recommendation. A prime example of how networks operate is an organization called the Gospel Coalition which enlists member churches from several Presbyterian and Baptist denominations. One of their goals is to link fellow believers across denominational, ethnic and class lines.
The Gospel Coalition is a broadly reformed network of churches which seeks to encourage and promote Calvinism. The term reformed is a claim to history beginning in the sixteenth century when many Catholic clergy disenchanted by the church sought to reform Catholicism. When reform did not work these men including John Huss, Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, Jakob Hutter, Menno Simons, John Calvin and John Knox withdrew from the Roman Church, writing their own theologies and drawing to them communities of followers who identified by their names.
The Gospel Coalition claims to advocate “gospel centered principles” and practices; however because of their excessively Calvinistic theology they are driving a wedge in some denominations, for their strong position on predestination (unconditional election) runs opposed to Christians who are strongly evangelical holding to a theology that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Southern Baptists have organized a group to study and find a solution to this developing schism.
This group is a mirror of earlier reformation groups who through narrow theology battled one another, excluded those not like themselves, and at times when they held political clout killed many for holding mildly divergent beliefs. John Calvin and his followers battled against Anabaptist groups, killing some. Zwingli and Luther both disagreed with Calvin on church government. All sides participated in various wars with the Catholic Church.
Within the past three years, The Gospel Coalition has faced some battles of its own. Mark Driscoll, an organizer of the Gospel Coalition in battle with Matt Chandler was forced off the council of the Gospel Coalition; he was also forced from Mars Hill Church in Seattle where he served as pastor. Matt Chandler has also faced conflict for his strong disciplinarian methods.
The Gospel Project states its desire is to glorify the savior and do good for those for whom He has shed his blood; but with the current battles between the leadership, members of the coalition, and within denominations this statement sounds shallow. The Gospel Coalition for some has become a platform to build fame, hold power, and sell books. While modern day conferences give the facade of worship, their real purpose is to capture followers.
The Gospel Project website states one of the reasons they exist is to encourage and educate current and next generation leaders. Indeed their website offers many articles for education and training. Sunday school literature is produced to promote Calvinistic beliefs. Members of the Gospel Coalition also serve as faculty and even presidents of many seminaries. However, the indoctrination of Calvinism has caused much distress among churches and several church splits.
The organization sees member churches as sharing a biblically grounded and united mission, but only when there is Calvinistic unity. We live in a time when some question whether denominations will continue to exist. We do not yet know the answer, but the second question is whether Gospel Coalitions, Willow Creek and Saddleback Communities and other networks will hurt or help denominational connections in the future.