The Philippian Model
In examining the relationships of the Apostle Paul to the congregations in Rome and Philippi, the Rev. Canon Phil Groves elucidates some key elements of a partnership. His assertion is that most inter-Communion relationships were begun in a donor/receiver or superior/subordinate definition. This, he argues, is neither biblical nor healthy and the members of the Communion should follow Paul’s lead in Philippi.
The Anglican Communion has understood mission relationships across the world to be ‘partnership’ relationships. However, it has been rarely asked what partnership is and what partnerships look like. Often, relationships have been defined by donor/receiver models of wealthy provinces giving to poor provinces where mission takes place.
The following model was developed from a detailed academic study of the relationship between Paul and his community in Rome and the community of Christians in Philippi. The model is abstracted for application in the present.
1. Partners have a common purpose
From the Bible
For Paul and the Philippians the task which defines the partnership is the gospel, not only in its living out, but more importantly in its proclamation of Jesus as Lord. Others would be in fellowship with Paul and share his beliefs and values, but he is willing and eager to share with the Philippians in the task that he so categorically defined as his own in Corinth. The partnership is in danger if Paul is not able to fulfil his part, but Paul assures them that his work continues and even, surprisingly, had widened and strengthened. He exhorts the Philippians to keep on track with their part of the contract, potentially hindered by division, and much of the teaching is aimed at this.
A partnership depends upon a clear, common task in which all partners can be involved. When entering a partnership the questions must be asked: what is the purpose of the partnership? Are the parties involved able to play their role in achieving the goal?
2. Partners are of equal status
From the Bible
In 1 Corinthians Paul marks himself as apostle in order to call the divided communities to rediscover the victory of the cross. He redefines authority in weakness and opposes forms of verbal coercion. In this manner the common relationships, defined by the use of power and legitimised by charismatic authority, are challenged. As long as the Corinthian communities expect a relationship defined by dependency, partnership is not possible.
Paul recognises the Philippians’ maturity, and assumes equality of status in the relationship. He shows a level of respect and mutual equality for the Philippian church that is rarely equalled in the rest of his letters. He, Timothy and the whole church of Philippi, including the overseers and deacons, are of equal status within the partnership. All are slaves of Christ and owe obedience to Christ alone. Power exists and flows in both directions without one side dominating the other.
In a partnership both partners must have equality of status. There must be mutual respect. Partnership cannot work where there are feelings of inferiority or superiority on either side. When entering a partnership the questions must be asked: are all ready to forego feelings of superiority? Do all have confidence to know they are as important as those with whom they are in partnership?
3. Partners have a common basis of belief
From the Bible
The Philippians share Paul’s basic understanding of the gospel. They are at one on the basics fundamental to their task. They share the common ground in assenting to the Christological hymn in Chapter 2. However, there is room for contextual differences in how these fundamentals are worked out in their lives, both corporately and individually. There is room for cultural differences.
Absolute theological parity is not a requisite for partnership, but a common basis of belief, and a shared theological language within which to discuss our relationship in partnership, is of vital importance. When entering a partnership the questions must be asked: do all have a basis of shared values and beliefs? Do all have a shared theological language with which to discuss both unity and diversity?
4. Partners have a concern for unity in one another’s community
From the Bible
The Philippian church does not show evidence of fundamental division. It does not have the scale of problems of disunity displayed by the Corinthian church, but there are minor divisions. Unity is such a vital point for the continuation of the partnership that Paul considers it necessary to emphasise its value at the heart of the letter. The disunity within his own community is something that he regrets, but again, it is not of the order of the proud disunity of the Corinthians. At least he has Timothy. The path to unity is through humility in the footsteps of Jesus and his way of servanthood. Reconciliation is not achieved by judging who is right and wrong, but by the facilitation of dialogue between the divided people.
Partnership between two groups depends upon each group being united. Unity is forged by humility. Without unity the partnership will be between parties within one or both of the groups, and will encourage division. It is the responsibility of each partner to encourage unity in the other, and, when appropriate, to offer services of reconciliation and not judgement. When entering a partnership the questions must be asked: is each partner prepared to seek the way of humility to unity? Are all committed to unity in their partner community?
5. Partners are eager to communicate and to be with one another
From the Bible
Eagerness to send letters and to visit transcend the problems of travel and communication, and are even more important for Paul than an early end to his life, which will see him united with Christ (the best thing he can think of). In contrast to 1 Corinthians, he is eager to be with them, and the expected visits are for their joy and for Paul’s. Letters are no substitute for personal visits, and even trusted representatives such as Timothy are no substitute for the real thing. Communication, the joyful expectancy of the letters and visits, is an important feature of the relationship between Paul and the Philippians.
Partners will seek ways to be in communication, using whatever means are available, but never neglecting personal visits. The purpose of the visits is for mutual encouragement and to discover how the partnership is proceeding. When entering a partnership the questions must be asked: is each community able to put in the resources of finance, time, and effort into visiting their partners and welcoming them into their homes and churches? Are all prepared to maintain the links by using all forms of communication available?
6. Partners share complementary resources and skills
From the Bible
The sharing of resources is vital to the furtherance of partnership. Money is a significant part of the sharing, but it can only be offered and received in the context of reciprocal exchanges and must not dominate the exchange. The danger of money is that is leaves a debt that needs to be repaid. If it is not given as part of a mutual relationship then the donor can become the master, a contradiction of the Lordship of Jesus and thus of the gospel. Any gifts are for the gospel and given to God. The relationship is fluid and it is not always clear what one side will have to offer the other as the partnership starts out.
Partners will have complementary gifts and resources to share. Money will often be part of this, but money cannot dominate the relationship. Other gifts are required from both parties. The richer party must be prepared to offer more than money and neither side can take power over the other by the giving of gifts. When entering a partnership the questions must be asked: how can money be placed in its correct context? How are the riches of the variety of gifts of all to be shared?
7. Partners share in one another’s struggles and victories
From the Bible
The Corinthian church was prepared to pay for services rendered and to engage in reciprocity, paying for Paul’s preaching. However, they were not prepared to enter into suffering for him and showed no interest in sharing the credit for their own victories. In contrast, the Philippian church demonstrated solidarity with Paul through being prepared to face poverty and economic disadvantage, and to offer sacrificial giving for the sake of the partnership. The acceptance of liability is fundamental to a partnership relationship, but so is the sharing in profit. Neither partner was to profit in terms of wealth or status, the conventional measures of their age. Credit with God is regarded by Paul as a more valuable reward.
Partners will be prepared to share in liability and rejoice in one another’s success. Partnership requires commitment that may, at times, lead to suffering in solidarity. It requires the ability to rejoice in the partner’s success. When entering a partnership the questions must be asked: is each prepared to share in the suffering of the other? Are all prepared to share delight in victories?