Taking Baptism Seriously 1.0

There are four orders of ministers in the Church.  There are bishops, priests, deacons, and lay.  The Church spends a good bit of its resources on ensuring that the first three are up-to-snuff (whatever that might mean in the given context).  It is generally up to those three, the ordained clergy, to disciple the fourth, the laity, and ensure their up-to-snuff-ness.  Some Christians may not like that idea – they’re not “professional” Christians (ie. not clergy).  Why should they have to be involved in the Church’s ministry?  They were never ordained in the Church – what right do they have to tackle this task?

The old joke was that clergy-people were paid to be good, but that laypeople were good for nothing.  I would dispel this idea to some extent, because I’m not paid to be good.  I am not paid for services rendered.  Rather, I am afforded an allowance, a stipend, by the local church (through the diocese), to allow me to live within this geographical parish.  All of the “services rendered” are a function of the person I am, because of who and what God is continually making me.

In the same way, all Christians are called to ministry because ministry is the fulfillment of who and what God is making them.  Lay people in the Church may not generally consider themselves to have been ordained, and perhaps they weren’t ordained to the particular ministry of the priesthood in the Church, to thus maintain the order of the Church, but something like it did happen to them.  They were baptized.  You were baptized.

There are so many things to be said about baptism, but I will here only point in the directions that we’re going to go in future blog posts.  We can talk about baptism’s roots – where did this practise come from? was it an anomaly that sprung up in a void?  We can talk about the symbolism of baptism – what is signified by the water? what is the meaning inherent in the rite?  We can talk about the elements of baptism – why water? how was it instituted this way?  We can talk about the vows taken in baptism – what are they? what significance do they hold? how are they practically applied to daily living?  We can talk about covenantal relationship with God – what does it mean to be God’s people?  We can talk about taking our own baptisms seriously.

All these and more, to come.

A Short Course

We hold these odd weekends, and we give them a Spanish name.  Now, the odd thing about the weekends isn’t what happens on them, but the culture that grows around them.  They’re a short course, which in my understanding doesn’t refer to a course of study but to a course that a runner might race through.  While not a course of study, however, there is a good deal of information presented during these weekends.  But it isn’t a subject that a person might be interested in and may, therefore, seek greater understanding of on a whim, when they see it offered nearby.  It is all of life, and the material presented about it, during this weekend, is all-of-life in summary.  The weekend is actually running a short course, which mirrors in mini the whole of life.  Well, that’s sort of the point.  The odd thing is that a culture rises up around the weekends themselves – they are made an end in themselves, as though holding the weekend is the point.  But the point of the weekend is to equip people for the long course.
Sometimes the weekends have been allowed to falter into this narcissistic culture, and it has taken over.  Full of people who are seeking to re-live some experience from some other time they ran a short course, possibly a course of the same name but perhaps not; possibly a course in the same place, though perhaps not.  Weekends become about recapturing a moment long past, and the longer course becomes about facilitating the shorter one.  Yet it is no foregone conclusion that this will be the end, for this is not what the purpose is.
Instead, the shorter course may remain about the longer course: about sending people to the longer course with their eyes open, so that they can see and understand life in a new way.  Beginning the process of transformation that is so integral to the Christian life, these short courses can offer people with the tools that are required to succeed as a Christ follower.  Disciplines, and relationships to keep disciples (those who are disciplined) accountable to one another, and a method to engage in the accountability process.  This then brings growth in transformation that the world so desperately needs.  People who are on God’s side, and who are in His grip.

Slapping on the Price Tag

I was at a certain store (one which I probably frequent more than I should) yesterday, and noticed the sale table.  It said: “50% off lowest marked price.”  Price tags are such helpful little things, aren’t they?  By them we are made aware of what we can and cannot afford; they set a standard of expectation around monetary value; they ensure that all who make purchases in stores are treated the same.  But I can’t help considering, at the same time, that there is one particular price tag that often goes unnoticed.

“If you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the early Christians were, your own heart will tell (read: convict) you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but simply because you never thoroughly intended it.”

I remember reading that quote a number of years ago – I can’t remember who spoke it, but it’s one that’s stuck with me.  It lays out a challenge, and it’s a challenge that I’m all-too-often wanting to take up, but distraction or half-heartedness or ignorance or inability just seem to keep me from really doing so (oops – I guess those last two can’t be keeping me from it, as the quote itself intimates).  But consider those who have sold out their own interests for the sake of following God (read: for the sake of true piety).

Moses built a life for himself, after meeting up with the Midians.  He had a family, a job… a place in this world (which, Michael W. Smith suggests, gives a reason).  When God took hold of him, Moses resisted.  He didn’t want to go to the unfamiliar, to challenge the king of Egypt, to take the nation of Israelites under his wing – he made excuses for why he shouldn’t go.  But ultimately he did.  But it wasn’t an easy journey.

Elijah had lots going for him.  He was God’s prophet, and when he spoke he was speaking God’s words, and God honoured them.  At Elijah’s word there was a drought for three years in Israel.  At Elijah’s word fire fell from heaven.  At Elijah’s word rain fell again on that dry and parched land.  Yet Elijah knew they weight of the burden that was upon him, and he went out to the desert and asked to die.  Yet when God sent him out again, Elijah forsook even his “right” to die according to his own terms, and went.

Being God’s man (or woman) isn’t easy.  Abraham never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to him.  Moses never set foot in the Promised Land.  Samuel had to relinquish his position of authority.  Jeremiah spent time in the bottom of a cistern.  Jesus’ first disciples/apostles were all put to death.  Let there be no mistake: if someone is going to get in on this, there’s no turning back.

Some people like to do things half-heartedly.  But being God’s people is about selling out to Him.  Think of the Israelites, for their story is our story.  Delivered from slavery in Egypt, they were faced with a choice: would they return to slavery in Egypt (an option that they considered a surprising amount of times), would they be slaves to their own passions and desires, or would they be slaves to God who had delivered them?  And we are faced with these same options, as those who have been delivered from slavery to sin.  Will you sell out your interests to God, who has purchased you, or will you steal yourself back from Him for your own ends?

We used to play poker, at Tom’s, while waiting for our whole group to arrive for movie night.  Some played conservatively – hoping that by betting small amounts they would last longer in the game.  Some played a little more liberally – hoping that by winning slightly larger amounts they would last longer in the game.  Rarely did anyone go all in.  Going all in is risky.  You can win it all or you can lose it all.  It’s a risky endeavour.  In cards you never know what the other players have, which can be scary.  But is going “all in” with God the same?  I submit that it isn’t.  We have some promises and guarantees that suggest that it’s not just a safe bet, but not a bet at all – if we’ll go all in, we’re guaranteed the payoff.

But that takes a few things.  We’ve become accustomed to being half-hearted about faith.  We need to be encouraged for going all in.  As far as going all in is concerned, we’re talking about selling out ourselves and our investment in our own interests for the sake, instead, of God’s interests – and this means entrusting our interests to Him.  Someone who only half-sells out isn’t called a sell out.  They’re called “deeply committed…” and I think we’ve had enough of that in the Church.  What we need are sell outs.  In war, one side can’t half-surrender to the other – if it’s to be called surrender, it has to be complete surrender to whatever terms are made.  In the same way, we cannot half-surrender to our Lord.  We must learn to fully yield ourselves to His terms and His plan for us.  If we’re not going “all in,” then let’s be honest about what we’re doing instead: it’s not surrender; it’s not trusting Him with our selves and our futures.

The Church’s Sure Foundation

There is one foundation stone.  He’s the One that the builders rejected; the One who has become the chief cornerstone.  Upon Him is built the testimony of the prophets; upon Him is built the witness of the apostles.  To Him the saints cry aloud: Holy, Holy, Holy!  To Him the angels sing: Lord God almighty!  To this One the martyrs join in praise: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!  To Him do we ascribe all riches, power, glory, honour, wisdom, might, and praise.

There is a place for liturgical practice, and music, and churchmanship, and tradition, and Scripture.  All of these must be a part of our worship – whether by positive degree or negative.  But worship of the One is our cause in the Church.  Holding Him forth is our mission in the Church.  We cannot be too rigid in our liturgy that the Spirit is stifled among us.  We cannot be too lax in our liturgy that the Spirit is not welcomed among us.  We have a higher calling than this.  We cannot be so enamoured with musical fad that we abandon the depth of the soul’s language, nor can we be so married to the tried and tested that we don’t allow our spirits to sing new words and expressions to the Lord.  Our music is to enable and empower our worship, but it is not our worship.  So it is with all elements of worship.  The part must not be mistaken for the whole.

There are a number of things that the Church becomes a part of – things like advocacy, education, justice, marketing… but all of these are just things.  Nothing more.  And not only that, but they’re things that other groups in society do, and usually do better.  The Church can, and even should, in some cases, get involved in these enterprises, but let there be no mistake.  That’s not what the Church is about.  The Church is about so much more.  There is no project that can rightly and justly be taken on in the Church if it is not in the context of serving Jesus Himself, because this is His Church.  If we lose our context, then we lose our all.  There is one thing that the Church is about that no other institution in society is about; one thing that the Church does better than anyone else; one opportunity for offering hope to the world that only Church has.  His Name is Jesus.

There is no replacement.  There is no other foundation.  There is no other.  Jesus.

The Heart’s Release

He went a long ways out into the desert, and lay down beneath a broom tree

And He said here I am, all alone, would You please take my life from me

And You looked him square right in the face and said, “Boy you’ve not yet run out of grace.

Get up.  Come and follow Me.”

These are some lyrics from a friend’s song, taken from his first album “Broomtree.”  I met Keith a number of months ago, and in the time since we ran into each other we’ve become good friends.  He helps with the music at our weekly Saturday evening contemporary worship, and does a fine job.  Not long ago we hosted a hometown concert for him.  These particular lyrics are taken from a song called Release Me.  It’s a song that’s styled after Elijah, and his predicament.  Here’s this mighty man of God, who has a clear burden placed on his heart for the cause of God among His people, with a clear call to be a prophet and with clear examples of prophetic power at work in his life, and what does he do?  He goes out into the desert, highly depressed, and seeks to end.

Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, reflects on where life is led.  It’s not in the high places – the moments of great illumination – the mountaintops (which, as I remember, were actual mountaintops for Elijah), but in the daily work.  The daily place is the place of insecurity, the place of not knowing, of the seemingly uneventful and insignificant.  But it is also the place of sharpening, the place of refining and testing.  It is the place where the work is done – the place of preparation, sanctification, and proclamation.

What is the burden that God has placed on your heart?  Where does your passion lie?  Do you even know, or have you become so numbed to your own self through the circumstances that you’ve encountered that you couldn’t say?  Is your heart a heart for the lost, or the lonely? a heart for the orphan, or the widow? a heart for the hungry, or the hurting? a heart for overseas relief, or for nearby wanderers?  Are you driven by curiosity?  Are you motivated by the pursuit of pleasure, happiness, or justice?  How can you use these passions that God has given you for His glory, instead of your own indulgence?  How can you live in the daily work of life, rather than seeking the mountaintop constantly – as though nothing else mattered?

Elijah had mountaintops.  The words he spoke fell from his lips with the authority of God’s words.  Fire fell from heaven at his command.  But he still had to live in the daily work of life.  It was that daily drudgery (as one might call it) that prepared him for the mountains.  Maybe one reason we don’t get mountains is that we have so much trouble using the valleys and deserts for what God’s purposed them for – the preparation.

These are just some random ramblings.  Hope they give you some food for thought.

A New Day, Part 2

So what’s new about all of this? Nothing. It’s what Church Renewal has always revolved around – well, successful Church Renewal. Putting Jesus at the Centre. The Church is so good at losing its focus. We’re a bunch of people who are really good at being distracted – like children who see flashing lights, or hear catchy tunes, or get their first taste of fast food. We’re easily misled. All of our precepts which were intended to lead us to the place where Jesus is the Centre, all of them have been well-used weapons in the hands of our enemy.

Lutherans can be coerced into anythiing if it can be proven from Luther’s writings. The Reformed traditions won’t do a thing if it can’t be drawn from Calvin’s works. Anglicans love to recite the 39 Articles, the theology of Cranmer, the ecclesial polity of Hooker, or to pay tribute to the Homilies. Methodists love the Wesleyan method. But all of these things were intended for only one purpose, and that purpose was not to be held up as law by neo-Pharisees – but to draw people into the place of true worship, where Christ Himself is the centre; where Christ Himself is the focal point for our lives of faith. As Paul wrote – were you baptized into Luther? were you baptized into Calvin? were you baptized into Cranmer? were you baptized into Hooker (the worst name out of the bunch for these purposes)? No! You were baptized into Christ! So let Him be the Lord who is in the centre. Well, those may not have been Paul’s exact words or phrases.

So why call this a new day? Because this is our day. We do nothing new. We do nothing that others haven’t done before us. But instead, we reject the lie that so many have bought into that whatever can be proven as allowable within the boundaries of canons is acceptable; we reject the lie that the authorities for the Church are people named Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, Augustine, Kant, Barth, Packer, Stott, Spong, and all of the others that you may think of; we uphold the One Lord of this Church – Jesus – and none other. And so, even now, a new day begins to dawn for the Church – because we will not be swayed by trendy music, or liturgical fads; we will not waver in devotion because of causes or precedent; we will stand for Jesus, and do all we can to make Him known – all we can to inspire true faith in Him and Him alone.

Those who are interested in whatever theological interests they may have, let them be interested in such things. But let them pursue them within the context of Christ’s Lordship over His Church. Those who are interested in whatever traditions they may have, let them be interested in such things. But let them pursue them within the context of Christ’s supreme Lordship over His Church. Those who are interested in whatever cause has presented itself, let them be interested! Let them pursue it, however, within the context of Christ’s Lordship over His Church. Whatever we do, let it be in Christ’s Name and for His honour and glory. Let the Queen serve her function within the Anglican Church, but don’t be misled – she is not the head of this scraggly band: Jesus is (and though I don’t have it from her mouth or by her hand, I have no doubt that she’d agree with that statement).

The story is told of a deserter being brought to Alexander the Great, who looked the youth up and down and finally asked him his name. The young man replied, “Alexander.” To this, Alexander the Great flew into a rage and, grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck and lifting him from the floor, said to him in a threatening tone, “Change your character, or change your name.” In the same way, the Spirit grabs us today and challenges us: if we intend to continue to call ourselves Christians, then Christ must be made evident in what we do and how we do it. If our character cannot be changed, then let’s stop defiling His Name and cease to call ourselves Christians. Christocentric Renewal.

A New Day

So I picked up some women (parishioners) from Cursillo today, and their experience was quite renewing. It reminded me of my wife’s words after she attended a similar weekend a year ago: “It’s the best kept secret in the Anglican Church.” She wasn’t raised Anglican, so her view is rather more objective than the views of those of us who were raised within (of course, we all think the liturgy is the jewel of Anglicanism, don’t we?). Someone related an illustration to me of starting a bonfire. You don’t light the whole mass of brush at once, you light one twig – one branch – and the fire spreads. Cursillo is one way of lighting the fire – and as one friend has related, it doesn’t just start the fire but also equips people with the tools to keep the fire burning.

But you know, twenty years ago there was a renewal movement in the Canadian Anglican Church: it was poised to take the church by storm. Anglican charismatic revival had hit Canada, and it was spreading, and it had some influence, and it had adherents. But there was a misstep. It was the same misstep that the Wesleys took centuries earlier. They were trying to bring new life, revival, renewal, to a group of people who didn’t know they were dead. Without that knowledge, people aren’t ready to accept or receive.

Consider, if you will, two case studies (these are by no means exhaustive, but I think they illustrate the point well). Close to home, I know a pastor who was “let go” from his church after only serving there for two years. In that time, the church’s Sunday attendance had tripled in size. So many people hear that story and they wonder why any church would fire a pastor who had tripled its attendance! Well — do you know why? Because they weren’t desperate enough to be open to accept the new life on the terms that it was offered.

Consider, too, salvation through Jesus Christ. Who is ready to accept Jesus? The man who feels his need; the woman who knows what she deserves and seeks deliverance from it. What is going on there? These are the people who know their need; the people who feel how desperate their situation is in their bones. These are the people who are ready to accept God’s Grace. Conversely, Jesus pointed to the rich – the people who could provide for themselves all of their perceivable needs – and He said that it was very difficult for these ones to enter the Kingdom. Why? Because they did not know their need.

So, in similar manner I am saying that the Anglican Church didn’t know its need for new life twenty years ago. It didn’t know that it was in need of new life when the Methodist revival hit. That’s why these things didn’t stick; it’s why people who were a part of them were, to some extent, shoved out. I know far too many of the renewalists from twenty years ago who suffer from a general disillusionment and with the institution that needed (and still needs, I might add) the Great Physician to bring His healing balm and new vitality to it, but had refused these when they’d been offered.

Perhaps today the Anglican Church is more aware of its need, of its desperate situation. I pray that it may be so. These are not the days for those who have the fire of the Holy Spirit in them to keep silent. These are not the days for us to speak softly. These are the days for action; the days for pressing forward with the new life that we have received, offering it to all others freely – as it has been given to us. It is my desperate hope that clergy and laity who push for renewal in the Christ’s Church would have the support of their bishops (would have their bishops add their voices in unison). It is my somewhat cynical opinion that bishops who would not add their support to the efforts made to bring about new life in the Chruch should not be in the positions that they are.

Certainly this will take different forms in different places – but what better time for us to move to being a people who call out for the Holy Spirit to revitalize us with a fresh touch of God’s mercy and grace, not because we deserve it but precisely because we don’t, than during Advent? May we rally ourselves around the great Adventan witness: Maranatha! Oh Lord Jesus, come!

So may today be a new day – a day when those who have been touched with new life rise up and accept nothing less than God’s best for our brothers and sisters, and nothing less than their all for Him. Oh Lord Jesus, come!