Re: “We’re not a café church. We are church”
Interesting read. May God bless you all and all your ministries.
Linda Parsons (via Facebook)
Re: The Reformation and the Declaration of Principle
You are of course right in saying that it Christ himself, revealed through Scripture, who is our highest authority - and in underlining how often we fail to place him in that position in our decision-making.
However we surely have a problem in that the "plain meaning of Scripture" is not always obvious! Quite apart from deliberately manipulating to suit our own thinking, and trying the relate an ancient set of texts to modern situations, we are left with two questions (there are, I'm sure, many more). One is the degree to which specific injunctions, from the eating of shellfish to the place of women in churches, have either been superseded or are culturally-related. They thus need at least to be re-examined to see what deeper principles may lie beneath the surface. The other is the fact that none of us read Scripture (or any literature) in a contextual vacuum; we not living in the first-century Roman Empire, seventeenth-century Europe nor present-day Indonesia or Bangladesh. We need to be aware of the extent to which our cultural surroundings and background inevitably affect our reading and interpretation.
I would therefore suggest that a simple phrase with which I heartily agree is, in fact, not so simple when we start digging down a bit. However I would still commend the general sentiment of this article and, indeed, encourage our churches to revisit the Declaration of Principle which is a valuable statement.
Thank you for your comments Andrew. Although I wrote this to try and stimulate a discussion around authority rather than interpretation. Perhaps I'm misreading you but it is interesting that you refer to the DofP as a 'valuable statement'. It was that kind of terminology that I wanted to talk about. Isn't the DofP rather more than a valuable statement? Doesn't it carry authority as the basis of the union?
The same with Scripture. As we interpret the Bible the questions you raise are important but ultimately the Church Meeting can only appeal to Scripture in interpreting Scripture. At least that is what struck me as I re-read the DofP in the light of the historical background to Sola Scriptura. It was this whole question about authority that I was trying to tease out.
I'm not sure that I'm quite following the argument unless you're saying that Church Meeting tends to appeal to all sorts of authority but doesn't prioritise Scripture, and tends to make decisions by appealing to "what the members think is best" rather than seeking the mind of Christ. If that's the case, then I am with you as we tend to think that Church Meeting is a democracy in which the majority opinion (or the most forceful participants!) determine the decisions without much reference to outside authority - but that isn't what it ought to be at all!
I have often ( well, quite often!) said that Church Meeting is one of the "jewels in our Baptist crown" yet, as you will know, it so often has a bad name for being both tedious and fractious. Clearly there are some issues on which Scripture cannot really be brought to bear (such as the colour of that mythical carpet) but a more rigorous application of Scripture might sometimes produce some remarkable and surprising decisions!
There is a problem though because, whether we like it or not, the clear meaning of Scripture is not always clear, interpretations vary and different parts are emphasised by some and not others. This is very much the case in the debate about human sexuality which has led some Church Meetings to strongly back Same-Sex marriage and others to strongly oppose it - both a rguing from Scripture but with a different hermeneutic. One of the big questions that arose out of that was whether BU Council could "impose" a "preferred option" on the matter as this was an infringement of the DoP.
On a wider issue, I don't think enough Baptist Christians - and dare I include ministers? - know the DoP well enough or keep it in the background of their thinking. As you say, it is the Basis of our Union and ought to be given more respect and thought than it gets.
Thank you for taking the time to continue the conversation Andrew. I find your responses helpful in sharpening the questions that I’m asking. Essentially I agree with what you are saying but want to explore exactly what we mean by some of these processes. I agree that the Council cannot force a particular interpretation upon a local church due to the DofP.
However, my questions focus on what exactly we mean by the ‘different hermeneutic’ you refer to. I’m not accusing you of this but I wonder if we are sometimes lazy (and hazy!) in how we use that term. Apolo gies for being a little pedantic but the noun hermeneutic usually refers to a methodology of interpretation as well as the interpretation itself. It seems to me that the DofP allows for differing interpretations only within a shared methodology (or perhaps ‘aim’ is a better word) - namely that, as the Church Meeting seeks to discern the mind of Christ on a certain matter, the sole authority is the Bible. For example, if an argument was offered that stated ‘the Biblical author said X but modern understanding suggests Y’ I cannot see how that can carry any weight in a Church Meeting. If my last sentence seems oblique that is because it deliberately reflects the tenor of my original article - I was struck by the fact that the DofP recognises no authority in the Church Meeting other than Scripture. Conservatives are often as guilty of this as liberals. When controversial issues are discussed, ironically, the phrase ‘both sides are arguing from the Bible’ is often offered as a reason not to discuss any salient Biblical passages!? I think back to major decisions I’ve been involved in - was it always made explicit how the decision reflected the teaching of Scripture? If not, did the final decision break the DofP?
Most other denominations have mechanisms of including things like reason, the tradition of the Church, experience etc into the intepretative mix. Even though those who drafted the DofP in the 19th century would have been well aware of these other sources of authority it is striking that they do not mention any of them. At all. I’m not trying to thee limit freedom of the Church Meeting in interpreting the Scriptures as it sees fit. What strikes me from the DofP is that in making decisions about ‘faith and practice’ only the Scrip tures have any authority. I hadn’t noticed that before. Appeals to authority are often subtle. Like you, my ears are attuned to this. Long standing members tend to imply that their word counts for more than everyone else’s, others hint at financial backing or educational qualifications in the area being discussed. I’m sure that most of the time people are not even aware they are doing it. I’m suggesting that, according to the DofP, the job of the chair is to constantly remind the meeting that none of these appeals to authority carry any weight at all. We must not dismiss them, but the chair is to simply repeat - is that consistent with what the Scriptures teach on this matter?
Mmm, but you're assuming that the meaning of Scripture is always plain and clear. You know as well as I do that, if that was the case, then 90% (or whatever) of rows between Christians would never have happened and the Church of God would be far less divided.
My belief is that, however objective we may wish to be in our reading of Scripture, it's something we can never achieve. On the one hand, Scripture was written in very different times and cultures to ours, which may mean that the readings which we think are "obvious" might have carried quite different meanings t o the original readers. Then Scripture is a translation; no language translates exactly into another and translators have to make difficult choices if they are to convey nuances of the original text. Finally we are all conditioned by our own culture and background, however we try to stand back from it. A lot of this will apply to any old literature we read, of course.
Now I'm by no means denying the illumination that is given to us by the Holy Spirit; nor am I saying that the whole task of Bible reading is so difficult that it must either be left to the professional academics or not even attempted in the first place. That would fly in the face of all that is precious in our Reformed heritage and indeed suggest that God only gave his Word to a literate and informed few. All I am saying is that, keen as we are to place ourselves under the authority of Scripture and to let it be the arbiter in our churches' decision-making, this is not as simple a task as it may first appear.
I think we are talking passed each other now. I’m not disputing that the task is hard or any of your examples. My point is just that the fact that it is a complex task doesn’t change that it is the basis of our union. My hunch (which prompted the article) is that because it is such hard work we tend to pay it no more than nod.
Re: Four tips for helping foodbanks
That was very helpful. I hadn't considered some of those things when giving to a foodbank.
Re: Time to reform ‘ageist’ church
The thing is, quite often, it can be people who have been members of a church for thirty plus years who hold it back. They can kill initiative, won't leave their comfort zones, and prefer the status quo as the church dies around them. Not all, of course, but certainly many in our pews.
Re: What kind of society do we want?
I want a church that cares as much about the people in its community, as it does about those abroad. my local church is always on about mission and giving abroad, and there are homeless people sleeping a hundred yards from their door and they walk right past them every Sunday then go on about helping poor people abroad. A bit hypocritical and not following the Good Samaritan.
Re: The Apology - Ten Years On
How about, in these times of tension, we also help the nation discover what it means to be British? We should set out British values, and value the indigenous people as much as we welcome others.
Re: 'The life held within that comma'
I have always said this. Well-meaning Christians often drive past hundreds of homeless people in need, in their own towns and cities, to go to the Calais jungle. Surely they should help those they drive past first? After all, France is a safe democracy, their lives are not in danger there and they have food and bedding. be a Good Samaritan, stop and help those you drive by first.
Re: I was in prison and you visited me
A really helpful article with many ways to get involved! Thank you for including our programmes, and for raising awareness about this important work.
Prison Fellowship E&W
Re: Are you decaying nicely?
Some of us, sadly, have never been able to call ourselves "stunners". Perhaps that's not such a bad thing, really ...