I was out preaching the other night, and after the service got into conversation with a guy called Dan. We are both the same age, born within a couple of weeks of each other, grew up in the same bit of Liverpool, but six months ago Dan lost his job when a well known Merseyside company went to the wall. Dan needed someone to talk to, and I was around; he is three months behind with his mortgage payments, already in arrears with other debts and desperate to find a job before he loses his home.
It's because of people like Dan that we partner with organisations like CAP, and churches run drop-ins and debt counselling centres. But good and commendable as they are, I wonder to what degree such projects are a symptom of the church's real struggle these days. When people need help, we're great at organising projects, but I can't get out of my head that when I read the pages of the New Testament, churches didn't have people like Dan. We are told that they had everything in common and no-one amongst them was in need. They didn't need debt counselling projects, because those who had, simply shared with those who had not.
And as I ruminate and debate about who we are and what is our future as Baptists, I can't help wondering whether all this talk about the need to be radical and innovative, might just be the result of a far more challenging reality that we struggle to face up to. Perhaps the reason that we want the radical and innovative of our own making, is because those old fashioned demands of the Gospel are simply too radical for us to countenance. And this is a question that I ask of myself before I dare address it to anyone else.
In one of the earlier posts, someone spoke of courage, and typical to our form, we quickly reduced our definition of courage to daring to defy and internal regulation of our own making in relation to same-sex partnerships. Is that really how domesticated our definition of courage has become?
Might we find a model for Baptists beyond 400 in those well rehearsed verses at the end of Acts chapter 2? Might we find the Lord adding daily to our number those who are being saved, if we dared to simply put into practice what we read there? Perhaps its safer to stick with defining the difference between movements and institutions, declaring the need to be radical without ever really explaining what radical means or sounding off about everyone and no-one who is clearly to blame for the mess we are in. Meanwhile the Dans of this world wait in dread for the re-possession order, while as good Christians we all assure him that "We'll pray for you"
The Beyond 400 book is available online online here.
This book provides an intriguing and lasting snapshot of Baptists in conversation in the 400th year, gathering together insights from a divers group of contributors looking back, looking forward, looking in, and looking out.
The book comprises of the 40 articles and many of the 1000+ comments shared in the conversations that started at www.beyond400.net in 2012. 118 pages, A5.