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 :-)