"Disabusing the Church". I think that this is what identifying with the world-wide Baptist witness is all about. "Disabusing" is a apt word, for it means "to free from undermining or inappropriate and alien elements". Consider all the movements and organizations and individuals that collect under the umbrella 'Christianity'. Baptists strive to express at a local church level what is most essential and characteristic of the universal Church of Jesus Christ. The movement believes that not every entity under that umbrella is authentically Christian or true to the type of Church that Christ desires. The Baptist churches are churches endeavoring to bear witness to a type of church which is most congruent with the nature of the Church itself, reforming itself from all cultural barnacles and traditional accretions. This 'reformist' leaven should be found in Baptist churches, and all who want to be part of a type of church that is blue-printed in the New Testament should seriously desire to join the Baptist movement.
I am currently teaching on Baptist history at the Cape Town Baptist Seminary. This task has allowed me opportunity to think over the identity of the Baptists within the world Christian movement. Together with many others in past and present history, I have been asking afresh the perennial questions: who are Baptists?, what truths do they stand for?, what should they look like today? etc. That is, what facial outlines should we construct to this 'Baptist man'. So, for the next few posts I will be looking at what being a Baptist is all about, with particular reference to some of the challenges we are facing in the Baptist Union of South Africa.
Before I end let me give you this interesting bit of SA Baptist history... Most, if not all, of the pioneer Baptists who came out to South Africa in the 1820's (Mr William Shepherd, Mr William Miller et al) came from 'Chapels' back in England. These churches did not nominate themselves 'Baptist' but rather Chapels , for e.g., 'Edward Street Chapel', 'Eagle Street Chapel', etc. For this reason the great baptist C H Spurgeon was pastor of 'New Park Street Chapel' and 'Metropolitan Tabernacle' - all without the name 'Baptist'! I thought this should be of interest in responding to the contemporary trend of some Baptist Churches to drop the name 'Baptist' from their name. More on this later. '
The following farewell words, spoken by an English pastor in Leiden to his America-bound congregation in 1620, remain crucial for any student of Scripture. Edward Winslow, who traveled on The Mayflower, remembers Pastor Robinson's parting exhortation:
We we now ere long to part asunder, and the Lord knoweth whether ever he [Robinson] should live to see our faces again. But whether the Lord had appointed it or not, he charged us before God and his blessed angels, to follow him no further than he followed Christ; and if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it as ever we were to receive any truth by his ministry; for he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word. He took occasion also miserably to bewail the state and condition of the Reformed Churches, who were come to a period in religion, and would go no further than the instruments of their Reformation. As, for example, the Lutherans, they could not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw; for whatever part of God’s will he had further imparted and revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it. And so also, saith he, you see the Calvinists, they stick where he left them; a misery much to be lamented; for though they were precious shining lights in their times, yet God had not revealed his whole will to them; and were they now living, saith he, they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light, as that they had received.
Here also he put us in mind of our church covenant, at least that part of it whereby we promise and covenant with God and one with another, to receive whatsoever light or truth shall be made known to us from his written word; but withal exhorted us to take heed what we received for truth, and well to examine and compare it and weigh it with other Scriptures of truth before we received it. For, saith he, it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick antichristian darkness, and that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once. ’
Another thing he commended to us, was that we should use all means to avoid and shake off the name of Brownist, being a mere nickname and brand to make religion odious and the professors of it to the Christian world. And to that end, said he, I should be glad if some godly minister would go over with you before my coming; for, said he, there will be no difference between the uncomformable ministers and you, when they come to the practices of the ordinances out of the kingdom. And so advised us by all means to endeavour to closely with the godly party of the kingdom of England, and rather to study union than division, viz. how near we might possibly without sin close with them, than in the least measure to affect division or separation from them. And be not loath to take another pastor or teacher, saith he; for that flock that hath two shepherds is not endangered but secured by it.’
“But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away "blindly" so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
"Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" -- As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? -- Thus they yelled and laughed.The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him -- you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us -- for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars -- and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"
[Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]
"God is like the sun. You cannot look directly at Him, but without Him you cannot see anything" G K Chesterton
A few weeks ago I walked past a house under construction. But I not only walked past it I also thought about something as I walked by (my multitasking is making huge strides forward as you can observe). How similar the church is to a construction site! On a work-site all is unfinished, there is lots of noise, lots of rubble, lots of activity and everywhere you look things don't look good. Yet how stupid the anxious owner would be to expect anything less! Any owner with his head screwed on properly should not be angry at cement in a flower bed or half-bricks on his lawns. He should know that such things inconveniences accompany any construction work. Yet how unrealistic you and I are about the church which Jesus is still building! We become petty and upset about so many things. Sometimes Christians even think of moving to another church where things will be 'decently and in order' (= no building work going on). No such church should exist! Though society may mock don't let the imperfections on God's site put you off. Use your imagination and see all that Jesus is doing in the midst of the mess.
Essential Gospel frameworks for viewing Israel-Palestine issues
I believe that we need to begin all over again. Too many sincere Christians are viewing the Israel-Palestinian struggle through the wrong lenses. We need to re-frame and get back to the framework of Jesus, Paul and the other apostles. Below are the four sides of a Gospel-shaped frame that I believe enable us to correctly approach what the issue.