Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Same sex partnerships

I stand firmly among those who consider undue attention and energy debating same sex marriage issues is a distraction from our primary missional mandate. Following a published article last week, however, I think it is necessary for me to clarify some things, with my own voice, especially whilst apart on sabbatical and apart from face-to-face conversations. I need to explain this merely reflects something of my own perspective and does not suggest anyone else, or body, is necessarily taking my own view.

The suggestion, which concerns me the most, is the following:

The West of England Baptist Association (WEBA) – one of 13 regional associations of the Baptist Union of Great Britain – has effectively challenged guidance issued by the Union which says each minister can make up its own mind on the issue of same sex marriage.

Not only am I a fully committed member of our Baptist family and take my responsibilities as a Regional Minister very seriously, but this comment is not true on two counts:

The Baptist Union has not issued any such guidelines. Although I can understand why this has been misunderstood, it remains a misunderstanding. As a Baptist Union we (please note) have made no changes to the disciplinary guidelines for Accredited Baptist Ministers, which proscribe any teaching or support of same sex relationships as acceptable alternatives to the traditional understanding of marriage and relationships. Any such support remains a matter for discipline under these guidelines, which are themselves administered by the Ministry Team in Baptist House. The comments made at last years Assembly, which I was present for, are on the BU website. As a Regional Minister, I share responsibiity as guardians of the covenant, which is at the heart of our associating together. 

Neither I, nor the Trustee body I am a part of, wish to contribute to anything towards the sensationalist suggestion of splitting our Baptist Union.

The particular presenting issue of same-sex marriage has arised, as a result of the changes in Government legislation regarding marriage.

Biblically, my own stance is to affirm the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage, as a union between a man and a woman. 

Historically, I do not believe it was ever intended decision making by any local Baptist church would be acceptable to other churches within our Baptist Union if at variance with the otherwise general understanding of Scripture. That is our Declaration of Principle includes the boundary lines 'our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures'. This is not the same thing as suggesting every church has a right to decide whatever it wishes.

Relationally, I wish to stand with the vast majority of British Christians who have opposed the same-sex marriage legislation as being unbiblical. We stand in unity, on this particular matter with brothers and sisters in Christ across the historic denominations, as well as the Evangelical Alliance.

Pastorally I shall continue to deal with people as I have always done; with grace and compassion, but with a willingness to address the boundary lines for those seeking to follow Jesus Christ.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Mission across Europe .. reflections on Eurochurch 2015.

I’ve been away at the Eurochurch conference, which is one attempt at providing a learning community for various people involved in mission and church planting from across Europe. A wonderful group of people to be a part of.

Here’s some observations, my own included:

·      Although Lesslie Newbigin (1909-98) probably began what we now call the Missional conversation, it remains at best picked up by early adopters and is not deeply embedded among us, or in our organisations.

·      The influence of Christendom may have begun to wain around the end of the 19th Century, but has a long tail.

·      The reverberations of all the 1960s highlighted has continued around Europe, albeit differently.

·      Answers for Europe will not come ready packaged from elsewhere.

·      Europe is in danger of denying our foundation (Christian) story ever existed.

·      Whenever there is a crisis in a culture it revolves around truth and epistemological questions.

·      We are living in a pivotal time in Europe for the church.

·      The NT word kairos is a word usually associated with repentance (metanoia), which calls for a turn of the whole body (mind, direction, actions, life).

·      The gospel travels along relational lines.

·      The extent to which the Churches of Europe believe the future is in attractional church models will reveal the extent of the problem (on this evidence massive!).

·      If the only tool you have is a hammer then everything else looks like a nail. (Alan Hirsch quoted elsewhere, but worthy of another mention).

·      Our problem is weve arrived at a place where we think we have to get people to feel bad about themselves before we can introduce hem to Jesus.

·      Discipleship is the number one issue across the (European) board.

·      Challenge to take people from building their kingdom (and inviting God sometimes to fit in) to building Gods kingdom, with Jesus as King.

Many more, much to digest and missional movement to nurture.

Friday, 24 April 2015

West of England Baptists & Albanian Baptist Union Partnership

I'm back from our partnership visit to Albania now and more than anything, I'm conscious I need to understand a whole lot more, before we can be of any real use.
However, the one thing staring me in the face is the huge danger of exporting models of Christian community from elsewhere. Alarm bells were ringing in my ears almost everywhere I went.

In 1967, the government, declared it had eliminated all religion from the country and proclaimed itself the first atheist state in the world. All the remaining 2000 religious buildings were closed. This followed on from Albania becoming a Communist state in 1944 under Enver Hoxha, who remained in power until his death in 1985. The right to practice religion was restored in late 1990. Interestingly, Paul the Apostle was in Albania, so the light of the gospel was lit 2000 years ago.

Today, 24 years after Christian missionaries were allowed in, there are 160+ evangelical churches in the country, with the number of 'Protestants' around 8000. In this context, protestant and evangelical appear to be one and the same. Almost all appear to be members of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance

The official 2011 census figures states:
Muslims 58.79%
Christians 16.99%
Atheists 2.5%
Prefer not to answer 13.79%
Believers without denomination 5.49%
Not relevant/not stated 2.43%

The population, as a whole, numbers nearly 3 million. 

The size of the Baptist congregations we met the leaders of number around 350. There are 9 churches who form the relatively new Albanian Baptist Union. Most of the churches, whatever their network, or denomination, are fairly small.

It's dangerous to be glib and I find being judgmental is a sin I can easily adopt, so I'm conscious I need to tread warily. However, there does appear to be a need (and something I heard from Albanian nationals) for the multiple mission agencies involved, to take a step back, to at least review their strategies. I recall Michael Griffiths, one time leader for OMF talking about how mission agencies can become parasites, feeding off the church and I just wonder what percentage of resources still being poured into Albania remains a blessing for the national churches?

Obviously, by entering into partnership, WEBA could be part of the problem, or part of the solution, which is a dilemma and responsibility we are keenly aware of. I ask for your prayers, so we might know wisdom, faith and courage in all our plans.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

West of England Baptists & Albanian Baptist Union Partnership

Here in Albania we're developing our partnership (West of England Baptists & Albanian BU) and these are the guys making it such a joy. Mondi (right) is the ABU President and the other two .... well! 
Seriously, though, Maki and Pete are such a privilege to have heading this up.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Spring Harvest reflections ....

Maggie and I were away, over Easter, at Spring Harvest, which was a great way to start my sabbatical. I tend to talk about sabbaticals in hushed tones, as they remain a huge privilege few other people have. With privilege comes responsibility. I have three months stretching out before me, during which I can stand apart from the normal stuff, which can so easily invade my life to the point direction appears lost. In my case, I'm exploring the question whether an institution can become a movement again, or at least that's where I'm starting from, but please don't mention words like 'thesis'.

Some within our WEBA Baptist region will be aware I commented on taking the question 'what are you hearing from the God of Transformation?' with me into sabbatical. This arose because I spoke on Isaiah 54 the week before and this was one question I wanted to work with myself, out of those I passed on to the great people of Minchinhampton Baptist Church. 

Over the weekend, Christy Wimber spoke one evening and announced she'd decided to speak from Isaiah 54, so inevitably my ears are even more pricked up than usual! Now's not the time, nor blogs the place, for what's coming out of this for me personally, so I'll simply share one, or two, things pertinent for the Baptist circles in which I mostly operate:

What happened to our renewal for mission of the 1980's?
What happened to the re-structuring for mission of 2000?
What happened to the Futures Process for mission of 2012?

In Isaiah 54 God calls for rejoicing and joy to come out of past barrenness and humiliation. 

The next ten years are critical ones, not simply for Baptist Christians in the UK, but across the whole Church. Missional movement won't happen by simply re-labelling what's in the tin, if the insides remain the same.  

One of the reasons I was down at Spring Harvest was to explore how we (as Baptists under our Association Missional Partnership "seventy-two" banner) can develop partnership together. Personally, I think we need a much deeper collaboration across evangelical boundaries, but I am genuinely excited about the journey we're currently on.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Passion Play in Trafalgar Square

I was thrilled to listen to the interview, with James Burke-Dunmore, this morning on BBC. He's playing Jesus in the Passion Play to be held in Trafalgar Square tomorrow and was excellent. I've looked for the link to no avail on i-Player, but have found a couple of other links here:

Image result for James Burke-DunsmoreHere are iPlayer links to the radio interviews James did on 29 March 2015 (links expire in 28 days):
BBC Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday
BBC Radio London 94.9FM Inspirit with Jumoke Fashola