Monday, September 27, 2010

Taking a minute

A Pastor from Beverley, East Yorkshire, a membership of 155, deacons meetings agendas that include issues around the timing of Sunday evening services, provision for elderly members, the needs to engage with the local community in both mission and evangelism. Excitement about growth, questions about the suitability of the current building, the needs of young people rising up the agenda, and structures being changed to make the most of opportunities given to Tabernacle Baptist Church. Sounds familiar? This is us today.

But not just today.

I’ve had the pleasure of looking through some of our archived minutes today, and in 1952 this was a picture of where the church was at.

It’s a discovery that has had me smiling (what are the chances I’d not be the first pastor from Beverley here?), delighted there have been some great moves forward (a stipend of £350 wouldn’t quite work) and also questioning why we’re dealing with such similar issues today. Maybe it’s because every generation has to deal with these, maybe it’s because fifty-odd years later we’re still searching for the best answers.

Whatever the reason, it’s been a good reminder, at the end of my first sabbatical, that I stand in a long line of pastors, and hopefully (until Jesus returns) a long line to come. That’s humbling, and it’s reassuring. It’s not my job to build the church, it’s not my glory to take when things go well, it’s not my empire, it’s His kingdom.

So we’re going to spend some time over the next few months looking at the values of the Kingdom, making sure we’re keeping in step with the morality of the maker, we’re holding fast to the values of the victorious Christ.

I’d love to think that in 50 years time someone will read the minutes of our meetings with thankfulness, and I pray we’ll have sorted seniors ministry out by then!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

John Boy's response to burning questions

I remember an episode of “The Waltons” that had quite an affect on my then rapidly developing sense of justice and morality. It was set in the late 1930’s and the local reverend had arranged a good old book burning, telling folks to bring all their German books for the fire, it would be an act of rejecting that evil Nazi philosophy, of cleansing a community from the very words that would lead to such dreadful warfare.

I remember John Boy protesting, and the crowd shouting him down, until he pulled a book from the fire that hadn’t caught yet and asked if anyone spoke German. A little elderly lady steps forward, a German immigrant if I remember, a woman who’d been ostracised by the town. She reads the beginning of the book in German, then translates it; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...”

This scene impressed itself upon me, and is probably what formed in me lasting unease about censorship, and a sense (not unquestioned) that free speech, access to literature and freedom of the press are good countermeasures against dictatorships both evil and benevolent.

So when I look at the contemporary story of a pastor in a small church, planning to burn copies of a book that 1,500,000,000 people consider to be sacred I’m worried, and confused.

I’m worried because I think it’s an approach that achieves little but division and enmity. I’m worried because it adds fuel to another fire, the fire that philosophical and theological liberals regularly stoke against those of us who’d lay some claim the word Evangelical. I’m worried that members of other faiths may consider that this action in some way speaks for more than the few who attend that church.

And I’m confused. I’m confused as to which Bible this pastor has been reading. I’m confused about how anyone can want to ally themselves to Jesus, have read his teaching and then perform an act like this. I’m confused as to why anyone who’d consider themselves a shepherd would lead their people into such a blind and dark place, and I’m confused about why the media are hyping this up so much, that they themselves are (metaphorically) buying the petrol to get the blaze going.

I’m an Evangelical.

I believe the Bible is the only book that can lay claim to be the utterly dependable revelation of God’s will to us.

I believe in Jesus, and that in him alone I find peace with God, that in him alone I am set free from all that hurts God, others and myself, and that in him alone I find hope, meaning and life in all it’s fullness.

I believe that God breathes the Holy Spirit into his followers, enabling them to live like Christ in this world.

I believe that people of other faiths may well be reaching out towards God, journeying towards truth, a truth I think can only be found in Jesus.

I believe that every human being was given life by God, was created by God, is loved by God and has the potential to be truly united with God.

I therefore believe that every human being is worthy of respect, is to be loved as Jesus loved, and is to be welcomed as Jesus welcomed.

This is why I won’t be burning books, and this is why I urge you to do all you can to welcome your Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Atheist neighbours as warmly as Jesus would.