The Great Revealer

There are many political issues which are genuinely complex for Christians.

Tax policy. The role and size of the State, and how that’s balanced with individual responsibility. How best to tackle crime, or education. As a pastor, I want to acknowledge that there are good arguments for leaning left or right on these or any number of other issues. And I don’t just say that because I’m a pastor and I don’t want to offend. I really do believe these things are hugely complex, and good arguments can be made in different directions. Most political issues are not simple.

How we respond to the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow isn’t one of those issues, though.

This is one of the things which, for Christians, is simple. Continue reading

Earthquakes & End Times

In New Zealand we’ve recently had a rather severe earthquake; 7.8 on the Richter scale, centred in Kaikoura. Thankfully, there were very few casualties, though the damage to infrastructure was significant.

In the wake of the quake, social media filled up with all kinds of comments, many of which were in response to some very unfortunate remarks from a prominent Kiwi televangelist. For a great engagement with some of the biblical issues at play there, I recommend this post by Frank Ritchie.

However, judging by social media, the quake has also seemed to exercise the end times enthusiasts. My experience in Christian ministry over the last 7 years has taught me that there are a lot of these folks out there in our churches. Usually their enthusiasm is fueled by pop-theology done by teachers with not much credibility beyond an internet following.

Why do these teachers and this subject get so much air time in the evangelical Church?

To be fair, some of it, I think, is a genuine sense of fear and intrigue. After all, the bible does say things like, Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:7-8). Continue reading

The Things I Wish I’d Preached…

I recently heard another preacher suggest keeping a database of the sermons you’ve preached; themes, verses, a short summary.

What a great idea!

I decided to follow his advice, and compiled a database of my sermons from the last year and a half. It was eye opening.

First, it helped me to see my pet subjects. It amazed me how often I came back to two themes: trusting in the character of God, and finding meaning and purpose in Christ.

It also helped me to see some of my blind spots. Here are 3 things that I’m determined to address in my next year and a half of preaching… Continue reading

Should Pastors Change Their Minds?

Alister McGrath has argued that the “dangerous idea” of Protestantism – dangerous to the Catholic church at the time, at least – was that each Christian should be able to interpret the bible for themselves.

As many Protestant churches have become less rooted in history and tradition (such that many who read this sentence will see “Protestant” as an archaic term!) this has meant that finding a common thread or set of beliefs amongst Protestant churches has become more difficult.

In the New Zealand Baptist context, this is even more apparent. Here, Baptists have never been ones for creeds and confessions, unlike some of our Baptist brothers and sisters in other times and places.

All of this means that it’s not uncommon for congregants, and even pastors, to have a much more fluid view of doctrines, beliefs and practices. And, of course, to change their minds over time.

I recently asked a question on Facebook: should pastors have their theology “sorted”, or are you happy for them to be on a journey, and to change their mind about certain things? I asked it to two sets of people: congregants, and pastors.

Continue reading

I Was Wrong

In my early 20’s, I had some pretty strong opinions. As I close in on my 30’s, I’m still holding on to some of them. But with others, I’ve either changed my mind, or at least softened a bit.

If I could hop in a time machine and take my 20 year old self out for coffee, I’d tell him he was wrong about these 5 things (after I told him to join a gym)…

1. Stop looking for silver bullets.

In my early 20’s I was into the emerging church in a big way. If you aren’t familiar with it, it was a movement trying to re-imagine what church could be, driven by a group of authors such as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. I don’t blame anyone but myself for this, but somehow I got it into my head that this was the future of the church, the new Reformation, and everything else was soon to be obsolete. Except, over time, the emerging church movement sort of faded away, which was a bit embarrassing. This isn’t to say it didn’t have some interesting things to say, or that it didn’t make an impact (I think it did, and continues to, in some ways). But it wasn’t a silver bullet. Now that I’m older I realise that these “waves” often come through the church, every few years. And often they’re helpful and energising. They just aren’t silver bullets. Continue reading

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