Unpacking Baptist Assembly

The Baptist Assembly (or The Gathering) was held from Thursday to Saturday this week. As I posted about earlier, the big issue of contention was what we would decide about same-sex marriages. These are a few of my reflections and questions coming out of that. I should say that the rules and regulations can be a bit dizzying at times, so please don’t read this as a technical breakdown. Also, there are still a great deal of thoughts and emotions for me which have yet to completely crystallise. So this may be less clear and concise than usual.

In the end, after heaps of discussion, and so many motions and counter-motions I lost track, (at one point we voted on a motion to stop talking and vote on a motion… it was like Inception), the delegates voted through an amended proposal which turned the stance against pastors officiating same-sex marriages from a statement into a recommendation. We also voted to put together a working party which will explore the issue further and report back in future, potentially with more recommendations.

I tried my best to note down the positions expressed by those who spoke to the proposals, though I gave up after about an hour. While it’s not scientific, I generally felt that about a third who spoke were against the proposal, and in favour of, or open to blessing same-sex marriage. Another third were not in favour of blessing a same-sex marriage, but did not feel it was the Union’s place to make a binding decision, or an issue to divide over. Finally, roughly a third seemed to feel this was an issue to divide over, and that it was a biblical or gospel issue.

As far as the decision to affirm a conservative stance as a recommendation, but not a binding statement, my read was that there was a general feeling that this represented a decent compromise. I supported it of course (as it was the only proposal then under consideration), but people on both sides – apart from a handful of dissenters – seemed relatively happy with the outcome. I personally described myself as “7 out of 10” happy with the outcome to the people that asked!

Having said that, while I think there is much good in this outcome, I also still have questions and concerns. I haven’t landed the plane on some of them, but I’ll try to express them below… Continue reading

Union

Here’s something I’ve been pondering…

I am a Baptist by conviction. My denomination isn’t perfect, but I feel a sense of belonging and I believe in core Baptist principles like the priesthood of all believers and baptism by immersion.

But imagine for a second that through reading and prayer, I came to the conclusion that God was calling me to baptise infants. Perhaps I met a couple who sincerely believed in infant baptism, who asked if I would baptise their child, and that led me on a journey to where I decided that I wanted to affirm and practice the baptism of infants.

Perhaps then, I discussed this with my elders, then my congregation (let’s go with Sunnybrook Baptist, since – I hope – it doesn’t exist), and they agreed with me.

Of course, an issue would be that we had now taken a stance that would be hard to argue as “Baptist”. Would we be the first Baptist church in history to embrace and teach infant baptism? Possibly. Almost certainly if we only considered New Zealand Baptists.

What then?

I guess there would be two possible paths.

First, we could – as gracefully and graciously as possible – inform the Baptist Union that through a sincere and thorough process, we’d moved outside of historic Baptist tradition. Attempting to keep relationships intact, we’d still have to own the fact that we’d embraced a position that wasn’t a Baptist one. Maybe we’d change our church’s name to Sunnybrook Community Church. Or maybe we’d look to join with a denomination who shared the theological position we’d recently come to. This would be a necessarily sad process, but it would also be one we’d make with integrity.

The other path is more complicated.

We could, I suppose, argue that our unity as a denomination is more important than what our church teaches about baptism. We could argue that instead of just one view of baptism that is acceptable to the whole Baptist movement, the Baptist Union should be wide enough to include different views on baptism. That there should be space for you to hold to your conviction about baptism and for me to hold to mine. Not to mention, the Christian Church has always grown and changed. Maybe baptism by immersion is no longer as essential as it used to be.

…Option one is sad and difficult, but it seems to me that it would be the path of integrity. If the above actually happened, I don’t think many pastors would opt for the second path. After all, it would render our union kind of meaningless, or at the very least pretty shallow. As well as that, most theologically trained pastors would know that if we wanted to make a compelling case for calling ourselves “Baptist” while at the same time embracing a position that has never been taken by Baptists historically, we’d have to come up with a more convincing argument than, “Can’t we all just get along?”

I think you could exchange the issue but the above imaginary story would play out the same. Maybe Sunnybrook Baptist decides that they love me as their pastor so much, that they want to do away with congregational governance and ordain me as their priest. Whatever.

If the above were to actually occur, I don’t think many Baptists would be convinced that Sunnybrook was still a legitimate Baptist church. I don’t think Sunnybrook would think of itself as a legitimate Baptist church.

…This weekend at the Baptist Gathering, delegates (of which I’m one) are going to be voting on whether to affirm two proposals:

 1. That Baptist pastors do not conduct same sex marriages.

 2. That Baptist property is not used for the holding of same sex marriage ceremonies. Continue reading