A recent exchange on facebook demonstrates that as a
Baptists we should be wary of making responses like ‘I’m glad I’m a Baptist’ in
the face of the Church of England Synod decision last week not to appoint women
bishops (its important to note this decision cannot be said to reflect the
majority of voices in the Church of England and the vote points to the truth
that a system of voting may not mean we discern the mind of Christ). In this last
week where many of us have been lost for words at the Synod decision, as
Baptists we need to look in our own backyard as it were, and see that there are
many women who feel the same pain in our own denomination.
While as a Baptist Union there is a clear position of
affirming women in ministry and a desire to encourage more women to respond to
God’s call on their lives, there is still a minority (or perhaps more!) who
want to claim that women have no place in the pulpit or presiding at the table.
In fact the Church of England can perhaps be more confident of the majority
affirming women in ministry, because they have worked so hard to first ordain
women as priests and now (almost!) as Bishops. The history of Baptists on the
other hand saw little major (theological) turmoil when we first began ordaining
women to ministry and so there has not been the public battle that has engulfed
the Anglicans, but this led for a long time (it seems) to no real encouragement
that women should explore a call to ministry (numbers training in colleges for
most years, until very recently, have been too low). Where Anglicans in the
last twenty years have experienced a steady increase, over the eighty-odd
years Baptists have not seen a rise at anyway near the same rate. More recently
as a Union we have begun to work more actively in wanting to re-address what
might be called a laissez-faire attitude and approach to women in ministry.
The biblical and theological case it appears still has to be
made. Of course a lot of this is to do with hermeneutics and the belief that many
express (whether consciously or not) that we can read the Bible like any other
book and know what it is saying. It is a belief that practices proof-texting
(and often does that poorly) and often fails to account for the witness of the
whole of scripture and the truth that in Christ the world is not the same (Gal
3.28) – which is precisely the point Tom Wright makes here.
The best arguments that I believe for us to practice anything
but the ordination of women are: we baptise girls, women are church members,
and most strikingly the witness and example of the numerous lives of women I
know who exercise a wonderful, encouraging, challenging, Spirit-filled, Christ-centred,
godly ministry within our churches and Union.
For those struggling with 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and 1 Timothy 2, see Tom Wright here and Simon Woodman here.
For more see also The Story of Women in Ministry in the Baptist Union of Great Britain (available here).
This John Bell hymn has been appearing around facebook today, I think Craig Gardiner was the first to share it. We need more of this kind of hymns/songs in our churches today.
There is a line of women
extending back to Eve
whose role in shaping history
God only could conceive.
And though, through endless ages,
their witness was repressed,
God valued and encouraged them
through whom the world was blessed.
So sing a song of Sarah
to laughter she gave birth;
and sing a song of Tamar
who stood for women's worth;
and sing a song of Hannah
who bargained with her Lord;
and sing a song of Mary
who bore and bred God's Word.
There is a line of women
who took on powerful men
defying laws and scruples
to let life live again.
And though, despite their triumph,
their stories stayed untold
God kept their number growing,
creative, strong and bold.
So sing a song of Shiphrah
with Puah close at hand,
engaged to kill male children,
they foiled the king's command.
And sing a song of Rahab
who sheltered spies and lied;
and sing a song of Esther
There is a line of women
who stood by Jesus' side,
who housed him while he ministered
and held him when he died.
And though they claimed he'd risen
their news was deemed suspect
till Jesus stood among them,
his womanly elect.
So sing a song of Anna
who saw Christ's infant face;
and sing a song of Martha
who gave him food and space;
and sing of all the Marys
who heeded his requests,
and now at heaven's banquet
are Jesus' fondest guests.
Catriona Gorton (first woman to be a Baptist minister in sole charge in the Baptist Union of Scotland) has penned this excellent extra verse.
There is a line of women
continued down through time
Continuing to persevere
in living for their Lord
And though the church moves slowly
and trips over its feet
Yet still they keep on trusting
God's call upon their lives.
So sing a song for Edith [Gates]*
Who pioneered the way
and sing a song of others
who do the same today
And sing of all the women
who strive to do their best
as people called to serve God
in every time and place
*Edith Gates was the first woman ordained a Baptist minister in England in the 20th Century, back in 1929, and along with a Congregationalist of roughly the same date, one of first two in any tradition in the UK.
The last few years have witnessed a number of books to mark the contribution of Baptist scholars to the church and academy - see the collections in honour of John H Y Briggs, Nigel Wright, Brian Haymes, John Weaver - and it is good to see this trend continuing with this new book of essays recognising the contribution of Ernest Lucas. Ernest Lucas retired earlier this year from his position as Tutor in Biblical Studies at Bristol Baptist College. A position he has held since 1994 and so is responsible for the biblical education and formation of a whole generation of Bristol Baptist College ministerial students.
This collection of essays acknowledges the diverse areas of interest that Ernest has from the Old Testament and especially the wisdom literature, to the relationship between science and faith, to the enterprise of biblical studies, and also cricket!
Contributers are largely those associated with Bristol Baptist College (Steve Finamore, Brian Haymes, Simon Woodman, Mike Pears, Rob Ellis) and also from Trinity College (the Bristol Anglican college in partnership) - Gordon Wenham, John Bimson, Knut Heim. Alongside this are chapters by Paul Fiddes, Elaine Storkey and Robert White (Professor of Geophysics at Cambridge).
The chapters are stimulating and diverse, some providing exegetical studies of the Psalms, Job and Proverbs, others exploring the area of the environment in relation to poverty, and to discipleship. Paul Fiddes brings the biblical wisdom tradition into conversation with healthcare. Brian Haymes asks the wonderful question 'Does Ernest Lucas know what he is talking about?' in a study of knowledge and belief.
The added gem to this collection are a series of prayers by Sian Murray-Williams - a prayer follows each chapter, picking up the theme and shaping it into prayer. These are honest, funny, challenging and a demonstration of how to bring the whole of life - and in particular the academic endeavour - to God.
The book is a worthy testimony to Ernest Lucas, who whilst retired from teaching, we hope hasn't retired from writing and research. At £15 the book is well worth reading. Copies can be obtained through contacting Bristol Baptist College or here.
This week the BUGB Council decided to transform its Union life. A smaller Council (reduced by about a third), a smaller national staff (reduced by about a third) and a new Steering Group (made up by all the major constituencies of the Union - associations, colleges, council, trustees, specialist teams).
Both a smaller Council and the new Steering Group are decisions that can be read positively with potential to make Union life both lighter on its feet and more coherent. Council is a bloated beast when it tries discussion (too much talking at rather than talking to one another), a small body will hopefully enable conversations with more depth and more honesty. The Steering Group has the opportunity to bring part of our wider life round the table and so help avoid some of the disjunction that exists (this still requires trust from the associations). A small national staff has been forced by a shortfall in Home Mission, while there are some who may argue this is a positive move - a re-balancing of the Union away from the 'centre'. In my opinion it is neither - both because the equivalent of 14 persons are now left without employment, and, I think also those who remain, in the now three specialist teams, will be hardpressed and overworked. The response is that some things will either be stopped or be picked up by associations. While the national resource (mis-named, they do not just resource, but they enable churches and associations to relate) was in need of re-shaping and it may well be the three specialist teams will be more focused, there is no doubt that these are forced financial decisions, for all the rhetoric of them being about mission.
The future now requires a transformation of association life, we cannot stop at reforming the Union. This will be much harder, because each association is a law unto itself. Association partnerships - associations forming partnerships with each other, not as new bodies, but in the way two churches might partner together - has the potential to bring change, but there is some doubt in the air whether associations will commit themselves positively to this venture. The larger question, in my mind, is what are associations for?
The variation in the thirteen associations are wide, with different strengths and weaknesses in each - history, geography, personnel all play out in different ways. The disconnect in some (if not many) associations between the association as a body (an independent legal charity) and the churches within their area is often bigger than many will admit or recognise. In addition associations largely refer now to regional ministers - they are the association - local churches relationship is with their regional ministers, not with the association. One criticism from some towards the Union was it too was instiutional and inhibited Associations from some of what they wanted to do. We may find as Associations become more free - e.g. they have more control of how Home Mission is spent in their region - that they to are found to be too institutional and not missional enough. Alongside what are questions for, is the question, what kind of regional ministers and association council/trustees do we need?
Behind all of this is the question of finance - will we be able to financially support everything - from pioneering church projects, to rural ministry, to association staff, to the three specialist teams - at the moment the future seems very uncertain.
This may well be the last in a series of posts that have occupied the focus of this blog in the last 12 months. Below are links to four earlier reflections.
to Roy Searle (Northumbria Community) speaking at the recent Baptists Together in Southend and District service. (The first 30 secs we're missed). At the beginning he is referring to the picture below - 13 Baptist churches each created a picture of their church, which were joined together to make a big honeycomb. For more on the service and hopes to follow, see this report in Baptist Times.
Ian Stackhouse's new book Primitive Piety explores whether a passionate Christianity can be resdiscovered in middle-class suburbia. He argues that Christianity has, in many places, largely become too nice, it flattens out into a middle-class conformity that seems far removed from the early church, far removed from the reality of life. In what could be seen as the usual suspects, Stackhouse says we need to recover the centrality of the cross and the holiness of God, we need worship that has mystery and terror and we need more honest prayer - prayer that doesn't fall into politeness. Beyond this we need faith that has some emotion in the face of middle-class suburban piety (spirituality) that often feels to remove all emotion. So Stackhouse explores faith that gets angry, faith that embraces and befriends our desires, faith that is enjoyed and knows how to laugh. The final three chapters engage with the life of the church. A primitive, passionate Christianity must learn to love the church and the place and community where it is found, in all its messiness and idiosyncrasies and overcome the search for the ideal and perfect church. This primitive Christianity requires a leadership that goes beyond the tendency towards professionalism and manageralism, that goes beyond attending conferences and formulas, for a leadership that loves people, that puts pastoral care up front and centre. Thirdly this primitive Christianity must rediscover hospitality.
Stackhouse can write a good sentence and can also find a good sentence, the majority belonging in this book to P. T. Forsyth. You could see the book as an update on Forsyth's argument for gritty, passionate faith. Stackhouse is searching for the possiblity of being Christian, being church, in culture that makes 'niceness' a virtue. Reading the book, left me wondering whether living in suburbia, being middle-class is one of the biggest obstacles to following Jesus. Despite early good intentions, we get sucked into a life that leaves Jesus seperate from most of life. We're doing a series on Christian ethics at the moment in the church where I am minister, and the biggest challenge in our conversations is to remember Jesus, to remember to ask what difference does following Jesus make in thinking through, exploring responses to whatever issue is before us. It seems the same with how we engage with issues of food and eating, shopping and working, banking and travelling. 'Nice' Christianity is not interested in any of this, it seeks rather what one sociologist has coined a 'moralistic therapeutic deism' - a god who loves me and meets my needs and to whom I try and be good. The temptation or unconscious action is we leave Jesus behind, Jesus does not seem relevant to most of life.
Stackhouse's book has definitely prodded me again to not settle for a polite, moderate, safe, pleasant Christianity - it seems we must question whether this kind of Christianity is in fact Christianity - and pulled me to look for and embrace a Christianity that is more honest, messy, scary, mysterious and passionate.
The latest edition of the Baptist Minister's Journal contains a small festschrift for Paul Fiddes who turned 65 earlier this year. Four essays from a group of younger Baptist theologians pay tribute to our leading Baptist theologian. There was a presentation to Paul this evening at Regent's Park College, Oxford. Thanks goes to Sally Nelson, editor of the BMJ for making it happen.
The four essays are:
Beth Allison, Baptist ministerial student at Regent's explores Fiddes' theology in terms of language about God.
Rowena Wilding, who studied theology at Regent's between 2008-2011 engages with Fiddes important claim that God is one who suffers.
Ed Kaneen, now tutor in biblical studies at South Wales Baptist College, but also another former Regent's student, looks at the understanding of diakonos language and the Baptist practice of appointing deacons.
The other essay is by myself, a Regent's ministerial student betwen 2007-2010, which attempts to draw attention to the key contours of Paul's theology - Baptist, catholic, covenantal, participatory, sacramental, literary - also in service to the church as well as the academy.