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February


Re: An urgent call for the confessing church

What a fabulous article. Bonhoeffer's call to confessing Christ over nationalism, as a 'love of state - right or wrong' is surely right. We see the biblical post-tribal state of shalom, as the happy coincidence of people and authority in harmony and the pursuit of the good life. This is something affirmed in Pauline theology and something that Donald Trump's ascendancy calls us back towards. The nation state is good and of God.

Thinking theologically; the escalating typology in biblical apocalyptic demonstrates that where power is assert ed 'over and above' the nation state - where Satan imposes an order above that of Christ and an usurped authority is superimposed over the nations - YHWH simply intervenes to bring it into submission. We await this ultimate victory and see this pattern repeated, as rehearsal, in history. There are those who make the interesting point that what some have called the rise of 'populism' can be identified with 'nazism'. We could add that this over-extends an analysis of effective history, particularly when considered in the light of an apocalyptic typological biblical frame. The historian, Simon Sebag Montefiore, suggests other important analogous lessons to learn about the oppression of nations by supra-power blocks and elites. In Socrates, there is the prediction that democracy would decline into fragmented tribalism, over which a false 'self-serving demagogue' would arise.

What strikes me, is that both 'identity politics' and, in reaction, 'the populist turn', as identified by the author, are part of the problem. Dear Editor, in a spirit of responsive constructive criticism, I wonder if alluding to 'self-serving demagogues' is wise or rigorous? Who should the reader consider? Anthony Thiselton, in 'God and the post-modern self: on meaning, manipulation and promise' predicts that tribalism, dissipation and fragmentation will be a future for western values. In this case, both 'identity politics' and 'allowed rhetorics' are not the positive expression of liberal progression but evidence that eschatology cuts across the aspirations of futurologists.

If we are to look for 'self-serving demagogues', outside of the totalitarian states, within a biblical-apocalyptic typology and a Pauline approach to statehood, then we may see it where simple 'trading arrangements between nations' have the potential to become 'arrogated control of nation states' by supra-national authorities. If this is the case, then the EU and Facebook are good candidates for the identification of the 'self-serving demagogues' , to which the writer eludes.

The author, rightly calls us to be a Confessing Church, in response to tyrannies such as racism and nationalism. I would add that this call is within a wider frame of political conversations about freedom and justice. Classical liberalism could be seen as both a celebration, through the principle of maximal freedom, of genuine plurality and the deliberative value to protect the voice of anyone who speaks, no matter the view of the majority.

One of the problems, predicted by Thiselton, Pannenberg, Gadamer and others, is that we now see the rise of a totalising form of liberalism. This is where compassionate capitalism (the strong pursue the good and the state protects the weak) is supplanted by a form of international state-promoted globalism that conforms all values to its own. Here, it asserts the 'righteous shutdown' of all views but its own. It therefore follows that one of the greatest risks in confessing Christ, in the UK today, is to fall foul of the entrapment of liberal 'hate-speech'. We must be strong and courageous in standing against all forms of injustice and standing for liberty from all forms of injustice.

Finally, my final response to the points raised in Seun's helpful article, which follow on from the comments below, is that there is a difference between the necessity and virtue of the nation state, as proposed by, for instance Trump, and the pursuit of nationalism, into which Trumpism may elide.

Here, I think it is good to separate what would be defined as good, within a Pauline frame, a group of people, through democratic self-determination, forming their independence as a state; from, what is bad within a biblical apocalyptic frame, which is the divisive self-assertion of a corporate ego, categorising the other as alien and promoting an arrogated authority above the nation state.

The rise of all forms of nationalism, within the UK, USA and across Europe, requires
greater critical scrutiny from the confessing Church of Christ. It is indeed a welcome and urgent call.
Rev Webb

Seun Kolade warns against 'petty nationalism' and 'ultra nationalism'. Perhaps one reason why we see the rise of ugly and distorted forms of nationalism is that moderate politicians (and Christian churches) have long failed to develop and advocate a generous and moderate nationalism. Kolade says 'humanity trumps nationality'. But why do the two have to be set against each other? A love for humanity does not cancel, invalidate or 'trump' a love for one's family; faithfulness to my local church is not a contradiction of loyalty to the universal church: the two are perfectly compatible. Loyalty to humanity is too general and vague a concept to stand alone. People need particular loyalties, particular identities, and particular spheres in which to discover and express their love for humanity. I believe that one of the greatest needs of the present time is for a Christian advocacy of a humble, generous and balanced nationalism. Simply opposing nationalism will push people to extremes, as it has already done. The spirit of the apostle Paul (whose universalism cannot be doubted) is worth pondering: 'I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart ...for the sake of my own people, those of my own race' (Romans 9.2-3.)
Mike Thomas


Thank you, Mike Thomas, for your comment. To avoid confusion, here is what Seun Kolade said in full about humanity and nationality:

"The Scriptures recognise nationalities. We are told, for example that God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (Acts 17:26).

Yet even in this scripture what we see is the affirmation of the essential oneness of humanity, even within the canvas of national diversity and cultural differences. In short, humanity trumps nationality. The things that bind us together are more important, and should inspire our devotion and passion, rather than the things that break us apart."

So if there is distortion, the real distortion would be to suggest that the author is in any way opposed to the idea of nationality, or that he has set nationality against humanity. Nothing, my friend, could be further from the truth, otherwise what is the point of highlighting the scripture in Acts 17:26? Nationalities are important. Time and again the scripture tells of "nations, tribes and tongues". If anything, it would be more accurate to suggest that the author was saying, in effect, that while nationality is important, humanity is more important. That does not at all detract from the value and importance of national identities. Or other forms of identities, for that matter.
Seun Kolade


Thank-you for clarifying your meaning. Given that you believe that nationality is important, I would be genuinely interested to know what ideas you have to help people in Britain, in these unstable times, to affirm, celebrate, and contribute in positive ways, towards a sense of nationhood. Simply telling people, as the spokespersons of the Church often seem to, that 'humanity' is the thing that matters, leaves the question of what we owe specifically to our own nation unanswered. In fact it leaves the field open for others to answer that question in undesirable ways. Our Christian calling in this regard would seem to be to help people develop a healthy sense of nationality and a due regard for their own culture; not deifying national identity - the tendency of the right, nor sideling and sneering at it - the tendency of the left. So - any ideas?
Mike Thomas

Yes, in other words the church should be a left-wing lobby group. Pretty much what the Baptist Union is rapidly becoming it seems.
Ricayboy

Ricayboy, your comment certainly does not reflect the message of the article. Except, of course, you are suggesting that issues such as human solidarity, compassion and the pursuit of justice are left wing concerns.
Seun Kolade

No of course they aren't Seun. However, they are not the ONLY issues that Christians should be concerned about or about which the Bible speaks. I get the impression that many in the Baptist Union would rather stick to socially-acceptable causes such as bashing Brexit and Trump, fighting climate change and 'discrimination' rather than turning their attentions to the (equally) godless agenda of many on the left. In my opinion 'fascism,' and intolerance can manifest themselves just as much amongst so-called liberals as they can amongst nationalists and such. As a person with socially-conservative, traditional views I often feel increasingly marginalised in the liberal-leaning city I live in. No offence meant towards the article: I think you made some good points.
Ricayboy


Re: Creative tension 
Obviously there are many more details to this than Anthony has been able to include here. One or two observations:
- Growing clericalism in Nonconformity during the late 19th/early 20th century enhanced the status of many ministers and possibly undermined members' contributions to churches' direction and strategy; this was also the period when Church Meetings became more routinised "business meetings".
- I seem to remember that one of the by-products of Charismatic Renewal in the 70s was a belief in "letting the leaders lead"; sometimes of course this led to excessive authoritarianism. I suspect though that the remnants of this thinking, coupled with the adoption of management-style strategies in some churches, have led to the situation as it is often found today.
- We all know that the idea of Church Meetings genuinely being a forum in which the members of a Covenant Community collectively seek the mind of Christ has often failed; meetings famously either degenerate into trivial matters, or the sharing of personal opinions and preferences, or "church politics" - a far cry from what they should be! And numbers are often low.
- I have often pondered on the inherent tension between Ministers/Deacons/Members as having strong parallels with our Parliamentary system on Prime Minister/Cabinet/Parliament. Whether this is a product of history or accidental, I cannot say.
Andrew Kleissner

Re: 'Stand together for peace'
The Baptist Union of Great Britain - the Labour Party at prayer. Harsh but true?
Ricayboy

Re: Messy Church
I read with interest your article on Messy Church.
I’m certain that Messy Church has been one of the key things God has used to touch the lives of people with the Gospel in the last decade.
But now Messy Churches have been running for a considerable while it is important that we assess what they are and how they fit into the life of the church.
The simple question I would like some data on is how many parents who aren’t a natural part of the church family have brought their children to Messy Church when they are five and have remained in direct contact with wider church life when their children are too old for Messy Church?
We all know that Toddler Groups are a great way of getting people into the church and sharing God’s love with them, but the transition to the wider life of the church is notoriously difficult. Messy Church goes much further, but it shares the same problem of translating attendance at these groups into people becoming a part of the wider redemptive church community.
Messy Church by its very nature pitches at certain age ranges – it’s cool when you’re 5 year but probably not so when you’re 10. What then? I’m certain there are some churches who are doing a great job of seamlessly integrating Messy Church into their wider church life, and I’m equally sure that there are many who struggle with this. We need to we willing to assess honestly, see what God is doing and getting on board.
Me ssy Church is a vital tool in our armoury, and like all weapons we need to learn its strengths and weaknesses and become proficient in wielding it.
P Cook

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