Friday, 25 May 2012

Character Traits

I always enjoy our local Key Leaders monthly get-together.  It’s where we hammer out our overall issues for the northern Regions under our care.  And it’s a bit of public personal discipleship, too: “iron sharpens iron”, and all that.

Last time we picked up some of the challenges Mick’s been giving each of us about considering the strengths and weaknesses passed on from our upbringing; connecting with our dreams; and noting the core values we strongly hold.  I gave it a bit of a twist, asking what about the strengths and weaknesses we’ve inherited as a church. 

There was an issue that directly got me thinking about this.  I’ll see if I can explain it briefly.  I have this growing concern about abortions in the UK.  And I don’t know how to respond constructively.  At a recent Christian Institute meeting, a figure of 209,000 for the UK for 2011 was quoted.  Actually the official statistics for England and Wales for 2011 are just short of 190,000.  Contrast this with the Rwanda genocide deaths of 259,000 (in Kigali – see my “Africa – Day Seven” blog), and the immense and lasting outcry that’s ensued. 

There’s something doesn’t add up about the acceptance of these two statistics, put in parallel.  I’m old enough to remember the introduction of Leo Abse’s Abortion Reform Act (1967).  On a conservative estimate, we’ve committed five million legal abortions, (The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child has done some background).  This is approaching the World War 2 Nazi Holocaust level.   Do you detect an equivalent hoo-hah?  No.  So here’s my problem: why don’t I know what to do?

Back to the character traits we inherit from our upbringing.  Where we have them, we’re unconsciously strong in certain directions.  And where we don’t, we’re undeveloped, and don’t easily find the facility or even vocabulary to go there.  For instance, my father was very good with his hands: woodwork, metalwork, craftwork, calligraphy, etc.  Result, whenever something needed fixing at home, or with the car, or in the garden, he was there having a go.  I thought that was normal, and – though not so keen - followed suit.  Admittedly, because he couldn’t afford all the tools, my Dad was a bit of a bodger.  He never had a bank account – he ran on cash accounting; (his weakness; I had to learn budgeting from my Mum).

I came up with four inherited traits for Jesus Fellowship.
1.  Classic evangelical conversion, with its penal substitution view of atonement, and often characterised by a “coming to the Lord” or “decision”.  Sheffield’s Sunday evening gospel events circulate around this as a “given”.

2.  The Pentecostal/charismatic model of filling with and release in the Holy Spirit.  A second “crisis”, leading to the operation of spiritual gifts personally and in church life, and anointed ministries of leadership.

3.  The influence of Pentecostal holiness – or its antecedent Methodist holiness; or its antecedent Moravian, and even further back Anabaptist separation of church and world. 

4.  Our Baptist roots of independent church government.  (I had to explain to the guys that Baptists aren’t a denomination, but an affiliation).  This has got us into some trouble over the years, where opposers have wanted us “brought into line”.

Now, the corollary: where other theologies and practices leave us scratching our heads.  In reverse order:
4.  Ecumenism.  This is held to be a major major feature of church life in the 20th Century.  For some of my generation, the World Council of Churches at Uppsala (1968) was defining.  Here in Sheffield, I get together with leaders from the other local churches.  That includes the liberal University parish church, with its annual cultural Festival, Christmas carols for Christian Aid, etc.  (I won’t even venture on to Multi-faith.)

3.  The Theology of Christ the King, predicated on a “Christian England”.  Here we March for Jesus singing, “Make way for the King of kings”, and intercede for the kingdom coming through school governorships; Council Chamber prayers; nightclub, workplace and sports-team chaplaincies, etc.  Only “we” don’t!  Don’t get me wrong – we joined in, and I read Care’s magazine.  And we even had a recent Agape sheet about rich and generous John Thornton.  But it’s not our DNA: two kingdoms is.

2.  We don’t get along with ordained, hierarchical and sacramental church.  I explained “ex opere operandi” to my guys, because I’d met a lovely businessman who attended a high church and was genuinely intrigued how one may “receive Christ” in Jesus Fellowship.  There were howls of “heresy” (you see how the guys needed to discuss this).  And we mentioned infant baptism.  I’m humbled and grateful that God is raising up amongst us succession leaderships of prophetic and apostolic stamp.

1.  We don’t do the “spiritual journey” bit, even though we have members from new age and other religious persuasions.  A robust, “when you’re converted, you’ve arrived” is more instinctive.  I wonder how we reconcile C S Lewis’s preference for a “moral influence” atonement?  Maybe we just uncritically enjoy Narnia stories.  I suspect that if you scratch the surface, you’ll find something similar in the “Hawk and the Dove” series. 

There are wider considerations like liberation theology and God’s preference for the poor.  But we don’t do too badly with the Jesus Centres.  Don’t we come across as narrow?  Are we in danger of falling under Paul’s censure, “Did the word of God originate with you?” (1 Corinthians 14:36).  Maybe a lot less than average.

So there’s my problem – I have no developed context for the political engagement implied in advocacy issues like pro-life and traditional marriage.  But I can bless those who do. 

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