Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Communion and Emmaus



I wont be the first to point out the Eucharistic nature of Luke 24:13-35. Compare especially 24:30 with 22:19. Again the function is pedagogical rather than mystical. There is no need ask how Jesus is present at the meal, because he is literally present. Instead the Eucharist reveals to Cleopas and Co. that Jesus had been with them all along. The broken and blessed bread was a sign that pointed them towards the reality of Christ's presence. Jesus was only especially present in the breaking of the bread because the two disciples became aware of his presence. If Jesus is truly with us and has promised never to leave us what need is there for the elements of communion to be anything more than a sign that give us the grace to receive, believe and awaken to the reality of God-with-us in Christ?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The hidden children: some half baked thoughts about communion

A couple of the morning's scripture readings coincided with some thoughts I've been having around children and communion recently.

Exodus 12:26-27 makes it clear that one key function of the passover meal is pedagogical. To pass on the story to the next generation.

The accounts of the last supper are generally thought to be accounts of a passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples and thus show Jesus as instituting a new passover with himself as the sacrificial lamb whose blood brings his disciples from under the threat of death into freedom. And so, despite the angry cries of the sacramentalist, a key part of communion is also pedagogical ("do this in remembrance").

The discussion about who is the greatest in Mark 9:33-37 reveals that in the middle of a conversation with the 12 Jesus is able to lay hands on a little child. Suddenly rather than a group of men standing around Jesus we think, well, who else is there? It is noted by Luke (8:1-3) that there was also a group of women who followed Jesus around. What about whole families? What about children? Or is this child just a resident of the home they are at?

Anyway this sudden appearance by a child makes me wonder if children are hiding in other accounts of Jesus' life, not least the accounts of him celebrating passover with his disciples, at least some of whom may have had families to share passover with. Is it likely that a group of men would have celebrated this family feast without their families? That is certainly the way I have always assumed it was until today. 

If there were children present at the institution of communion would that affect your view of whether children are allowed to partake at your church?

Let me know what you think :-)

Is there a parachurch in the Gay Marriage Debate?

If you have been following the excitement generated by World Vision (USA)'s announcement that they would now hire those in same sex marriages and their almost immediate capitulation to evangelical protest I think you would see a good case study of the current dilemma facing the Western church.

What I found most striking was World Vision (USAS)'s belief that they could make such a change with being seen to take a side in the argument. Instead WVUSA thought this move was a,
"very narrow policy change" should be viewed by others as "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity." He [the WVUSA president] even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.
and that this was merely
solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor."
It is only after the hostile aggressive and immediate response from the evangelical church (USA) that the decision is then viewed as as taking a position on a biblical and theological issue.

What can we take from this. Firstly I think we need to realise unity has its limits.  Unity is a positive but if stretched too far we inevitably end up losing someone. Growing inclusivity will always exclude those whose exclusivity is being challenged. As John Crosby said of the Presbyterian Church USA,
"We have tried to create such a big tent trying to make everybody happy theologically. I fear the tent has collapsed without a center."
Inclusivity is not an absolute value for Christians. It is for our society and often for reasons that Christians can and should support. I want to live in a society that is more inclusive of different cultures and abilities. But I am also comfortable with exclusion. I exclude people all the time in order to maintain the integrity of the church. I exclude those who are divisive. I exclude those who will only be included if I pander to their every whim. I exclude those who pose a significant threat to the physical or spiritual well being of the church. If I didn't practice exclusion there soon wouldn't be anyone to include anyway.


Secondly, the idea that you can defer theology because you are focussed on doing good deeds is totally bogus. There is no "parachurch" that exists as a non partisan service provider to the church which can ignore the issues that are dividing churches. The guys who supply our toilet paper or pens may or may not be Christians and so I am not concerned to check their theological credential before I hand over the money for services provided. But those who are reaching the poor with the good news of Jesus in this other countries on my behalf need to be sharing historic orthodox Christianity, for the same reason I do not give money to the Mormons to support their efforts.

Let me know what you think :-)










Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Changing my mind about Same Sex Marriage and the BU

It is always nice to get the opportunity to prove my commitment to an open mind and being open to reasoned persuasion. As always this is me thinking out loud and I reserve the right be wrong or change my mind in light of a much better argument. :-)

My initial strong and vocal opposition (not just on the blog I also discussed this publicly and privately at a BU pastors conference last year) to excluding baptist churches and/or pastors who affirmed SSM was triggered by two factors, 1) a desire to see us defined positively around issues of unity rather than negatively around those we exclude, 2) a lack of principled rationale on why this issue should be a defining one for our movement.

The concern for legal protection and denominatinal reputation are pragmatic secular reasons and while worthy of some attention should not be the driving force for our actions.  Especially when it comes to something as drastic as dis-fellowshipping a church.  The principles on which we act need to be theological - doing the right thing is always the right thing whether or not it is prudent in the secular scheme of things. Lyndon Drake in a baptist magazine article has also articulated a pastoral concern, however censuring pastors of other churches who teach something that we may be detrimental to the health of our flock is hardly practical, and so again we are making a special case for homosexual marriage without showing our working.

I haven't changed my mind about any of that, and I'm deeply opposed to making such major decisions based on fear or pragmatism. Instead I've realised that those like Rhett who want to see a more confessional unity in our movement are right, even if I haven't been satisfied by their reasons. What I can't accept is that such confessional unity would be around a single issue and especially not this one.

To my mind there are some deep questions that are currently not being addressed in our back and forth on the issue and that we need to find answers to in order to proceed to a solution.
  1. Why do we make this the issue we divide over when no registered pastor has to take an exam on their understanding of the Trinity? There is no good answer to this that I can find.
  2. Women in leadership is just as significant an exegetical and theological issue and affects a larger number of people. So if we are going to start excluding churches for one thing, why not the other?
  3. What I have found really distressing as I've followed the debate is how little understanding of the theological and biblical reasoning behind previous policy changes there is. How is it possible that many in our denomination allow women in leadership and divorced people to remarry when they clearly are under the impression this is forbidden by biblical teaching?

Sexual ethics have historically been important boundary markers for the church and the church was birthed in a culture when homosexual love between men (though not women) was accepted, affirmed and even honoured at least by some parts of society.  In some ways the world has gone full circle and the need for clear boundaries is more important than ever. In todays climate of over sexualisation of just about everything and everyone, a distinctive Christian ethic needs to be well worked out, not just a jumbled collage of knee-jerk reactions. For theological, missional and pastoral reasons clarity and certainty in sexual ethics are becoming increasingly important.

I think we do need a greater and stricter confessional unity in the Baptist Union. But I would not be able to support one that is solely based around the issue homosexual marriage. So I would argue we need to start from the foundations. Develop a robust Trinitarian statement of belief (instead of the half baked back of an envelope statement that currently serves) and a clear and definite ethical framework within which complex issues can be worked out properly. Part of this would be the development of a comprehensive sexual ethic that was based in the teaching of Jesus (Mark 7:1-23) and the NT, not the purity codes of Lev 15, etc. This would need to include educating every registered pastor and making sure as part of the registration process that they understand and abide within that faith statement and ethical framework.

Once we know what framework we are working within as a BU then it is fair to ask all churches and pastors to opt in. And those who don't then dis-fellowship themselves. This would hopefully remove the need for witch-hunts and heresy trials, which surely no one wants to see. At the moment so much has been assumed about what NZ baptists believe and what we stand for. Yet our current statement of faith does not mention the Trinity or the resurrection, to name but two significant omissions! We really need to agree as a union on what we believe before we start excluding those who don't believe the same as us. Otherwise we just have mob rule.

The truth is it has suited most of us that things are so free and easy in the BU, we've been happy enough not be tested by others on our understanding of doctrine and not to do the hard work of working out our theology and ethics together. Could this be a new season for us as we realise we do need to hammer this stuff out and not just leave each other to our own devices? Would we commit to this process even if it looked likely that we would lose more churches than just the tiny number of possibly pro SSM ones? I don't know, but I'm game if you are.

Let me know what you think :-)


Thursday, December 5, 2013

quote of the day: Dickson on Scripture Abuse

The problem is: God's word does not quite put it that way, and attempts to argue otherwise usually involve stretching biblical passages beyond their plain meaning. I used to do it myself in both sermons and (I am embarrassed to say) in my first book. The motivation was honourable - I wanted more Christians to be more involved in the work of the gospel - but as with so many other issues, a worthy goal does not give me permission to handle the scripture poorly. We are involved in God's mission, and so we must allow his word to shape our part in it. The slogan "Every Christian an evangelist" has a noble purpose, but it is not a biblical way of speaking.

John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, p24

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Disconnected Church

Congratulations to Dr. Mike Crudge on the successful completion of his PhD in communications on the disconnect between the perception of the church in society and the perception of the church in the church!

Go here to read the abstract  (Mike's blog)
Go here to read the thesis

The research is from New Zealand but I'm sure would be applicable to other western countries as well.

Fighting for . . . ?

 

There is a sad tendency for Christianity to become associated with belligerence and intolerance and to be know for fighting over issues which seem only loosely connected to the gospel. Perhaps this is inevitable when we insist on a morality which goes against the flow of mainstream society. But what if we could be known for fighting for other things too, like

an end to slavery
the dignity and worth of every human life
or an end to unjust and artificial systems of debt and credit

those three are just by way of example, but my fear is that it is easier to fight about things than for things. That we can easily spend a great deal of time and energy fighting about the correct view of marriage or something else, all the while the world goes to hell in a handbasket because God's servants have stopped doing their job in order to quarrel.

It is not that I don't think that these arguments are not important - they certainly are, but my observation has been that we find we have plenty of energy for fighting over who is right, but little for fighting for what is right. I suspect there is a powerful psychology at work here, a principle that needs to be stubbornly resisted. These fights need to be had, but they must not consume us, define us or distract us. The fights over should be minimised so that the fights for can be maximised.

Monday, November 25, 2013

quote of the day: Capon on Unnecessary Goodnesss




Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful.
Robert Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p 40 
cited in Michael Bull, God's Kitchen, p31

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Trinitarian Evangelism

A short and to the point video on why we need to reinvent our evangelism around the Trinity,

Video originally from http://321.revivalmedia.org/why-mention-trinity-in-evangelism/


And here is an example of such, I like it lots.


What do you think?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hermeneutics and Same Sex Marriage

There are (I think) three basic hermeneutic approaches for those who want to align a pro-same sex marriage view with scripture. And, let's be fair, they may have even arrived at these views from scripture through applying these hermeneutics.

The first is the no comment hermeneutic. It says "the Bible does not address modern homosexuality, i.e. a consensual loving monogamous relationship between equal adult parties." This is true and should be recognised as a reason for caution by both sides of the debate in how scripture is applied to contemporary categories. OTOH the implication cannot be, but often is, that therefore the Bible doesn't speak to this issue through its general teaching on sexual ethics. This is because (Christian) biblical ethics, properly understood, is not a list of doos-and-don'ts and then when those doos-and-don'ts fail to cover a situation we have to make it up. Biblical ethics give us an ideal, a goal, they are teleological more than deontological, and so we do not need every situation covered in scripture as any situation that falls short of the God given goal is in effect wrong.

The second is the trajectory hermeneutic. It runs thus: "the Bible presents us with a trajectory of increasing liberation, the NT is more permissive than the OT; slavery and patriarchy are affirmed in the Bible but Christian tradition has come to realise they were wrong in light of the deeper teaching of scripture. As we have recognised the rights of slaves and women we are on a trajectory that now must embrace homosexuality." I would not accept this hermeneutic for two reasons, 1) I do not believe it recognises the consistency of scriptures teaching on the dignity/worth of all humanity and in particular of women and the oppressed; 2) While the issues of women and slavery are often paired in the NT e.g. 1 Cor 7, household codes, etc, (not least because most women of that era had little more rights or status than slaves) there is no correlation between these subjects and homosexuality. So even if we allow for a trajectory of liberation (I don't) there is no Biblical reason to make homosexuality the next step up that ladder than anything else originally disapproved of by scripture.

The third is the slippery slope hermeneutic. This is in many ways the least credible, but in fact the one most commonly heard. It goes like this: "well the Bible says no divorce, but we allow divorce, so who is to say we shouldn't allow gay marriage. and anyway we used to think beer and dancing were bad and now we all drink Bud' and go line dancing." This shows how often those who missed out on the debates the first time round interpret a biblical position on a contentious issue like divorce or alcohol as a simple and inevitable loosening of standards and don't understand the sound biblical reasoning behind it. This is worrying as it means many Bible believing Christians do think a pick and choose approach to scripture is the common practice and do not understand the complexities of biblical interpretation and application. It does not seek biblical justification for the next step but merely points to a lack of biblical justification for the last step . . . so what the hell does it matter what we do?

None of this is to say that I think this solves all arguments or deals with more philosophical and theological questions around the issue. I know that I would need to defend most of these assertions in more detail - this is just a blog post after all. What these hermeneutics illustrate to me is that we need to pull our discussion back from the argument in hand and actually have some basic discussions about what it means to faithfully interpret the scripture. It ceases to become gay marriage that divides us but a more fundamental issue of scriptural interpretation. Sloppy and slapdash approaches to biblical interpretation are not the sole preserve of the pro same sex marriage lobby but more conservative Christians are just as capable of being culpable on this. How sincere are we really about being biblical in this - or do we just want to be right?

Let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

quote of the day: Marshall on criticism


Honesty compels me to admit that there are times when exactly the wrong person at exactly the wrong time with exactly the wrong motives has nevertheless said exactly the right thing.

Tom Marshall, Understanding Leadership, 1991, p97

An important principle, not to discount what can be valuable criticism just because it's source is suspect, even a broken clock is right twice a day, provided it has stopped and is analogue not digital. (cartoon from here)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Same Sex Marriage and Baptist Ecclesiology

My friend and fellow worker in the Lord's vineyards of western central Auckland, Rhett, has a couple of good posts first before last weeks national assembly of the Baptist Union of New Zealand and then one reflecting afterwards. I like and respect Rhett, I'm grateful for his provocative posts as they help me formulate my own thoughts for coming discussions with my own church and the union.

Like Rhett, I do consider the biblical teaching on marriage being between a man and a woman and the wrongness of homosexual behaviour to be clear.

However, his posts alert us to some issues not around sexual ethics but how we fellowship with other believers who do not hold to the same sexual ethics we do. In Rhett's first post he compares the issue of same sex marriage to that of infant baptism. He suggests if a church changed their stance on infant baptism the honest thing to do would be to stop pretending they were baptists. I would agree with that. However, I do not see it as being analogous with same sex marriage. Credo baptism has clearly always been a feature of baptist life, it is a defining characteristic of being baptist - much more than models of church government, it is why we have the name. But even on this issue there is not homogeneity. Some churches - mine for instance - actually have constitutionally open membership so that we can have members who were baptised as infants in other denominations without requiring them to be baptised as adults. Despite this serious breach of what it means to be baptist it doesn't seem to be a problem within the union.

Now the issue of same sex marriage is quite different. I would want to distinguish between two groups on this issue. Those who do not care what Jesus wants or what the Bible says and so embrace same sex marriage as a socially necessary evolution and those who sincerely believe that Jesus wants and the Bible teaches them to to embrace same sex marriage as theologically required progress. While one group have cast the essentials of Baptist unity aside, the second group are still within our statement of faith. More importantly the second group are still able to work with those more conservative on this issue because discerning Jesus' will and applying the Bible to our lives is still our common goal.

My impression with the tiny number of NZ baptist churches that have even indicated a willingness to accept same sex marriage is that they all fall into the second group. This is important because although we disagree on a very serious issue we still agree about the centrality of Christ and the scriptures. We are still united by what we have in common.

For me Jesus is bigger than same sex marriage, so even though I am quite convinced same sex marriage is not his will I will still recognise anyone who is honestly following him as my family.

For me biblical authority is bigger than my interpretation of a particular issue, so even though I think (and I do) that they are very wrong I want to win that argument by persuasion not by exclusion.

I know that many more conservative Christians see me as being soft on the issue and cannot accept that this second group really exist - anyone who holds this viewpoint must just be in rebellion. I am not soft on this issue, it is just I am stronger on the sufficiency of Christ.

Baptists are in union, not a denomination, because our unity is not confessional but Christological. Baptist understand themselves first and foremost as disciples of Jesus, not as those who have correct theology. Because our unity is based around our desire to follow the master the tendency for us all to sometimes mistake what the master is saying is not a cause for disunity but humility and patience with each other.
 
Let me know what you think :-)


Monday, October 7, 2013

brick a brack 071013

Hi long suffering and much neglected blog fans, a little brick a brack to warm your cockles . . .

Candida Moss has been stirring up trouble, taking on O'Reilly (HT Robert Myle's nu blog) to argue that Jesus was an anachronistic socialist. (particularly entertaining is O'Reilly the writer of history books not knowing what anachronistic is! ;-))



but also writing revisionist rubbish about Christian martyrdom of which Clayton Croy writes a stinging review.

While conservative Christian rhetoric is sometimes guilty of excesses, this book swings
hard in the opposite direction, revising history and denying much of the evidence for
early Christian persecution. Modern ideology drives Moss’s thesis more than ancient
testimony, and the result is a distortion of history more severe than the caricature she
wants to expose.
Ouch!

I really enjoyed this article on the evolution of humans as "hot day meat chasers"
But what most sets us apart as runners is that we’re really cool—we naked apes are champion sweaters and can dissipate body heat faster than any other large mammal. Our main rivals for the endurance-running crown fall into two groups: migratory ungulates, such as horses and wildebeest, and social carnivores, such as dogs and hyenas. They can easily out-sprint us by galloping. But none can gallop very far without overheating
And look out for the the new atheist church, it is all the fun of church but without all that God bothering!



Enjoy!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Augustine in the NZ bush








This film was based around a poem St Augustine wrote about being so consumed by the world that we loose sight of everything Godly around us. Directors - Aaron Long + Gustavo Acero Cinematographer - Gustavo Acero Actor and VO - Aaron Long Audio Engineer - Luke Schroder Score - La Liberte - Where the Wind Carries Script - St Augustine - Ever Ancient, Ever New

Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Tanning Advice

Well this is the wrong time of the year for us antipodeans but due to the hole in the ozone we need this advice year round.


It was doing the rounds on facebook, no idea who the creator is, happy to be informed so I can attribute.