Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mistakes make perfect...

Ah Wulf - who is the finest bass player I know, a man with dexterous fingers and great musical sensitivity - asks the right question: will mistakes be part of our new song?

Well, I think possibly they will. It opens up a whole theological discussion about the relationship between mistakes and sin - they can't be the same, can they? And so there must have been mistakes before there was disobedience in the garden...

Even more heretical(?) Jesus must have made mistakes as he learned to be a carpenter. You can just see Joseph's exasperated expression as Jesus messed up a mitre joint (whatever one of those is!) and his patient retelling of his apprentice son how it's done.

So, in the jam session I hope to have with Wulf after the resurrection - when I will have had time to sit and perfect my guitar technique - I've no doubt we'll make lots of mistakes. But the music we make by the end of that session will be sublime!

Living with longing

The reason Gulag Orkestar is such wonderful music is because it is suffused with a deep longing. It's straining for something that will complete life but which, though in view on the distant horizon, is completely out of reach.

Which raises the question: will we still have this feeling when the Kingdom comes in all its fulness and we know as we are known. Will that happen in an instant or will part of the adventure of living on the new earth be about exploring the height and depth and breadth and length of the mind of the God expressed in this fabulous creation?

I don't know.

Part of me hopes that the longing doesn't die at the resurrection. Part of me thinks that being human is asking questions, probing what we don't know. In the resurrection we will still be finite beings and thus limited in our knowledge and able to learn.

We find all our answers in God. The trouble is that we haven't yet learned all the questions and I assume we won't even after the resurrection.

Am I being dangerously heretical? Please don't tell me if I am because in some areas, ignorance really is bliss!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dreaming of new worlds

I'm preparing for Thursday break listening to Beirut's Gulag Orchestar - and dreaming of new worlds.

Thursday Break is our lunch time service for mainly older people - though it does attract a couple of local office workers. This term, we're doing a series on encouragement and I'm speaking this week on encouraging one another with talk of our eternal destiny. I'm using 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 as my launch pad.

At the same time I'm listening to Zach condon's wonderful music. He records under the name Beirut and is a riotous mixture of indie sensibility and east european soundscapes - gypsy guitars, violins, trumpets, accordions, ukuleles and farfisa organs.

It set me thinking, no dreaming, of new worlds. When the Kingdom comes in all its fullness, will I be able to explore and interact with all the music of this world? When I hear an album like Gulag orchestar it makes me want to set off in search of its roots, the music that inspired it. I'm an indie pop and rock man but I love African, middle eastern and eastern european sounds. I listen to Tinariwen and Amadou & Mariam and ache with a longing to know about where this amazing music comes from. But I don't have time because I've people to see, sermons to write, projects to organise and lots of other things to do.

When Jesus returns and the world is renewed and all the glories of the nations are brought into the Holy City - as Isaiah saw it would - I hope I get the chance to explore it all. What a new world that will be. I'd also love to be able to play some of these strange instruments and jam with musicians of all cultures.

A flight of fancy? I hope not.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quality service

Well, I have to sing the praises of Amazon. It took all of five minutes to produce return labels, fix up for DHL to come and collect my faulty item and re-order it. A couple of hours later confirmation arrived that a (hopefully) pristine version of Jewett's book will be with me very early in the New Year - a wonderful post-Christmas pick-me-up!

I have to say, that as I was preparing a sermon on Romans 8 for Sunday as part of a day looking at lessons in prayer, so I sneaked a peak at what Robert had to say about the passage. His prose is gorgeous, the layout is clear and the quality of commentary is exceptionally high.

This evening we're out street pastoring, so the forecast of gales around midnight in the South east is not greatly encouraging!

Waiting for a scholar

Well, after weeks of waiting since I ordered it and a decade of anticipation before then that it was coming, I finally took delivery of my copy of Robert Jewett's Hermeneia commentary on Romans, 1140 pages distilling the scholarship of a lifetime on the apostle and this letter. It looks fabulous, except...

Except my copy was mangled in the post and it's got to go back! I was gutted - sad boy that I am! Still, I suppose having waited so long, I can wait another month or two....

I'll have to read the festschrift edited by Sheila McGinn published ahead of the commentary to continue to whet my appetite.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Stuff happens

Lots of meetings this week - joint assembly planning (a Baptist thing), training sessions for our housing project and the JusB annual bash - the latter two are back-to-back repeated sessions, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.

So, I'm having to a fair amount of prep and then present the material twice. Going ok so far - I'm about half-way through!

This coming Sunday I'm going to be talking about membership issues with our young families home group. I hope to air some of the things I've blogged about over recent weeks and see how they react to them.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of discussion we have. I'll let you know. In particular, I want to talk about baptism and membership and how they feel about our way of doing things. I'll wait until I hear their views before I share my own - with them and you!

Otherwise, I'm reading Rodney stark's new book Cities of God: the real story of how Christianity became an urban movement and conquered Rome. Stark is a sociologist who writes a lot about religious movements, an agnostic who believes that Christianity is responsible for the rise of science and the flowering of democracy. He's written about Christian origins before in a book called The Rise of Christianity which is readable and fascinating.

He is prone to make sweeping statements - which could be why I really like his stuff - and he is very dismissive of people who don't take the New Testament (especially Acts) seriously as a historical record. So, he's hugely stimulating and I have to say that 80 effortless pages in, this new book is proving hugely entertaining and informative (it's also pretty cheap from Amazon!)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Celebrating arrivals

We had a great day yesterday inducting our new minister for youth and young adults. Our prayer is that Jonathan will become a key part of our team here helping us imagine new ways of being and doing church - especially amongst most alienated from our inherited forms of church.

I've also been listening to the new Magic Numbers album, those the brokes. Yet more West coast harmonies, liquid guitar playing and some nifty bass lines. It's music that makes you smile. Yet there is a lyrical edge that belies the breezy tunes making the album an increasingly rewarding listen.

And I took delivery in the week of Alan Jamieson's new book, Church Leavers: Faith journeys five years on. Alan is a New Zealand baptist minister who five years ago produced a book called The Churchless Faith, based on his PhD research among people leaving evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal churches. Now he's revisited many of those interviews to see where people are in their faith and their engagement with church or post-church groups. Should be fascinating.

I keep telling myself that this week will be less frantic than last - fat chance!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Serving one another

We were looking at Galatians 5:13-15 in church this morning.

It's simple stuff - Christ has set us free (from sin, religion and the Law) so that we can serve (actually the word is 'be slaves of') one another. So that's simple, then!

The context is interesting, however. He urges us not to devour one another - something he says in 5:15 and repeats in 5:26 at the end of his discussion of living in the Spirit, so it clearly matters to him. But he's also concerned that we aren't led astray by people who ought to know better.

And Paul is not polite about them - if they're so keen on circumcision, he says, let them go the whole hog and lop off their private parts altogether (5:12). In what sense isn't this Paul devouring his enemies?

Good question.

The answer lies in whether we've grasped how important it is to serve one another. The point of our freedom is not that we serve God but that we serve one another (which is the evidence that we are relatring properly to God). Paul's rivals were not serving the interests of the Galatians, but their own desire to exercise power, have followers. They were devouring the Galatians' freedom by their desire to control their behaviour. So Paul gives them short shrift.

Part of being family, being church together is that we will serve one another, help one another grow in freedom and understanding of the good news about Jesus, support one another as we live our Christian lives in the world.

This makes Galatians 5:13-15 a key membership text - because whatever words we use to describe our belonging together, our belonging should be marked by mutual service.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Making church family-shaped

I've been putting together the winter issue of Talk - the magazine of the Mainstream movement - this week. It's on the conference theme of intentional discipleship. One of the key components is examining LifeShapes - Mike Breen is one of the speakers and Paul Maconochie is leading a seminar strand.

I've begun to think about how some components of LifeShapes can begin to mould the basic relationship life of our church - helping people to support and be accountable to one another in small groups (threes and fours). If this happens I think it would have a profound impact on how we do membership.

In conversations - as well as comments on this blog - the issue of how we relate to one another has been bubbling around. Certainly over a great Sunday lunch last week, we had quite an animated discussion about how unhelpful membership language was - it tended to create barriers between Christian people (namely those who were 'in' and those who were 'out') and it suggested the church was more of a business than a family.

If people are in supportive and mutually accountable relationships because that's basic to the shape of our church, regardless of whether they're members, maybe it'll help us to be more inclusive in the way we treat one another. Maybe we'll begin to know better how each other sees things, so charting direction and making decisions becomes more intuitive.

I certainly think that Mike Breen and Walt Kallestad are right when they say 'High control/low accountability church leadership systems are not working. The preoccupation with programmes, property and products is missing the mark.'

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Welcoming communities

I came upon an interesting US blog (doing my usual morning trawl of my favourite blogsites and links from them) by a US southern baptist minister called Michael Bryant. He can be found at

apropos of nothing as far as I could tell, he blogged this quote last Thursday:

'[C]entral to the Baptist vision of the church is the insistence that the church
must be composed of believers only. That is the distinctive mark of the church
for Baptists and others who fall within the stream of those who advocate what is
sometimes called the gathered church, or more often today, the believers'
church. This mark may also be called the principle of regenerate church
membership.' (Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, 81-82)

This has always been the distinction between the gathered church and the parish model. The latter argues the church in a neighbourhood if for everyone who lives there, the former that the church is really for believers who covenant to worship together and live lives that are accountable to one another.

In some senses, the gathered model is more New Testament than the parish one. Church was for believers - indeed by the second century when following Jesus was illegal and punishable by death, the key role of deacons was to keep outsiders out.

But in our day, this model is less easy to follow and less attractive. People are more mobile, they choose church from a wide menu of options on the basis of preference (worship style, quality of Sunday School, emphasis in teaching, etc). On top of that, as churches we want to be open so that people who drop in are not only welcomed but drawn in by what we do.

This in turn feeds into any conversation we have about membership. If we make everyone who comes feel welcome, go out of our way to include them as fully as possible in the life of the church (inviting them to home groups, asking them to share in the financial upkeep of the fellowship, enabling them to volunteer in exercising ministry in some way through the church), how can we restrict 'membership' to a close inner circle of people who've jumped through a set of hoops we've erected for the purpose?

I want to run as open a fellowship as possible. I hold firmly to the view that people need to belong before they believe (and believe before they behave) and I hold firmly to the view that our fellowship is enriched by Christians with a variety of backgrounds.

So how do I make membership work in the light of this? Answers on a postcard, please...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Catching an exhibition

Went to see the Rodin exhibition at the Royal Academy today. I don't know much about him - except the kiss and the thinker - but was impressed by his ability to breathe life into stone. I went with a delightful member of my congregation who made the trip a real joy.

Picked up Philip Jenkins' new book. He wrote The Next Christendom a couple of years ago which is a compelling analysis of the rise of the church in the south. His new one is more of the same, looking at the use of the Bible in the Christianity of the southern hemisphere and coming to some surprising conclusions (apparently). I'm looking forward to it. It's in the qua after I've finished Horrell and a book by Paul McKechnie, a New Zealand-based ancient historian, called The First Three Centuries: perspectives on the Early Church. It's very readable.

We'll be experimenting with new ways of doing members meetings in the new year - following last night's leaders' meeting - in as much as we're going to try having one on a Sunday over lunch.