A horrendous story about some deity

I’ve been associated with the local Baptist church for a long time.  My great-grandparents were among the founders and early members, my grandmother appears in an early Sunday School photo (around 1910), my father was the minister for almost six years in the 1970s and 1980s.  I was a member, and at times actively involved in various leadership positions over most of 25 years, and after some time away my family and I have been back there for the last five or six years.  I fear that association is rapidly coming to an end.

Throughout its history this Baptist church (formed from two original independent congregations) has been strongly evangelical.  That is hardly surprising.  It was the ethos and commitment of New Zealand Baptist churches, but it was reflected in our local congregation too.  Part of that was a commitment to ministry and foreign mission –  men and women went to serve, much money was given – reflecting a firm belief that salvation was only in Christ.  A substantial part too was a commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Bible.   Not that Parliament is any sort of authority, but the Baptist Union Incorporation Act 1923 reflects that priority in the Articles of Faith included as a schedule to the Act

Articles of faith

1 The inspiration of the Bible and its authority in all matters of faith and practice.

Of course, views would have differed as to precisely what those words meant, and how specific passages of Scripture should be interpreted and applied.  But no one –  openly, or in authority – ever doubted the authority and inspiration of the Bible: all of it, perplexities and all.

The local Baptist church is currently without a pastor, but there is a meeting tomorrow afternoon to call someone to fill the position.    We’ve been told who the leaders propose to call and – as you do these days – I went to check out the individual online.  He had previously been a summer intern here a few years ago while still working his way through the Baptist theological college, but I guess people are on their “best behaviour” in such roles.   The only very evident quirk then was a passion for Star Wars which –  odd as it might seem odd in an adult –  wasn’t something to hold against him as a potential pastor.  In recent years, he has been on the staff of another Baptist church.

But it turns out this chap is moderately active on Twitter  –  and not, mostly, about Star Wars.   His comments there, and things he chooses to retweet without comment, seem to offer a fair insight of his theological and related positions.    As I read through them I’d been becoming increasing uneasy, about the individual and his views.  Last week there was this one

Two for the price of one there:

  • first, if you are a minister of the gospel, preaching and the proclamation of the gospel should be one of the highest, and most humbling, parts of the role. Perhaps preaching is out of fashion with some pastors, but….well….Peter, Paul, and Jesus all seemed to find an important (but not exclusive) place for it.    Quotes like that –  from Nadia Bolz-Weber, but endorsed by Goulstone –  suggest someone not at all certain of their high calling.   And quite what message does it send to any congregation – whether believers or those whom the church hopes, by God’s grace, to win.
  • second, the endorsement of a book which –  according to Christianity Today’s reviewer –  takes the stance that there is no such thing as sexual sin unless it involves minors or animals.     That wasn’t the stance of Jesus, or of the commandments, or of Paul.   Or of 2000 years of Christian teaching and practice, or centuries of Jewish teaching before that –  or even of most other significant people groupings in history.  Civilisation restrains and channels sexual desire.  Dissipation cares not.  Believe it if you want Mr Goulstone –  many in our ages choose to –  but don’t hold yourself out as a leader, even potential pastor, in a Baptist church.

New depths were plumbed –  or brought to light –  this morning with this tweet

That –  “some deity” –  is God revealed to us in Jesus Christ – or so Baptists, including those of our local congregation – have believed and proclaimed, heirs to centuries of Christian teaching.  That story is part of sacred Scriptures –  for Jews and Christians –  for millennia.  It is one of the formative stories of our civilisation.

I’m not interested here in debating the historicity of the story.  But it finds it a place in our Scriptures –  in the Bible –  for good and sufficient reason.   That’s the “inspiration” (in whatever specific form that took) spoken of in the articles of faith, attested and proclaimed through the centuries, by believers and church leaders.   Like many other stories in the Bible it isn’t entirely comfortable to read, but the creator and judge of the whole earth isn’t primarily about comfort.  Neither, really, is life.  But God is –  or isn’t –  whether we individually choose to believe in Him or not.  We don’t get to shape him in our image, or according to our desires. That isn’t God –  that really would be some petty idol, some “minor deity”.

It would sadden me if Steven Goulstone has decided to slew off the faith handed down to us, but he is free to make that choice.  Much sadder would be if our local congregation –  witness to God’s grace, goodness, and supremacy (and revealed in the Scriptures) for over a century –  is itself going to, to all intents and purposes, apostasize (or accommodate something very much akin to apostasy in its leadership).  Perhaps the congregation will pull back at the last minute.  There are good and decent people in that congregation –  some of whom would probably be horrified to discover this material.  But it seems unlikely.  As a group –  with others self-selecting out, away from increasingly questionable teaching in recent years –  they’ve seemed increasingly set on hooking their colours to the spirit of the age. It is a decadent age that has no place for God.  But our age still tolerates those who compromise on serious commitment to the God revealed to us through Scripture in Christ and yet fool themselves with some watered-down faith –  a local equivalent of the Three Self Patriotic Movement churches in China –  that makes few demands, calls people not to holiness but to the last trendy political cause. It was the path of liberal Protestantism a hundred years ago –  and the subsequent steep numerical declines tell the story.  Urban New Zealand Baptists increasingly seem to go whoring after the same sort of falsity –  an unserious God for a profoundly unserious people.  It is a tragedy.

UPDATE:  Slightly amused slightly saddened to see that Goulstone’s reaction –  presumably having found this post – seems to have been to block me on Twitter.   Good start to a pastorate that approach is (he having now been unanimously called and, reportedly, accepted).

9 Comments

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9 responses to “A horrendous story about some deity

  1. Graeme joyes

    I presume you have, as per Matthew, been to visit with your concerns and followed all the Biblical instructions before making a public attack on a fellow Christian. So please share how he responded to your concerns.

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  2. Interesting question. The short answer is no. I don’t know the chap personally and live hundreds of miles from him. My biggest concern is the local church, and you might reasonably ask why I didn’t raise the issues at the members’ meeting. The (perhaps not entirely satisfactory) answer to that is that I’m not a (formal) member, and have recently had experience of the leaders of that congregation not taking Matthean church discipline seriously.

    More generally, I’m not sure either Scripture or church history suggests that model you cite has generally been used when people (especially church leaders themselves) take to public forums in ways that undermine the historic teaching of the church. Offences/issues in private should be dealt with privately, but public “scandalous” teaching or witness is, I think, legitimately called out publicly (in this case in a blog with a fairly small readership).

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    • Graeme Joyes

      Thanks for the reply Michael. I must confess your blog and response saddens me. The Bible doesn’t promote vigilante sheriffs who attack others both from a distance and without a personal relationship. As a retired pastor it grieves me that a person who is not accountable to the body, feels the freedom to attack and criticise that body. You may feel justified and satisfied but ask whether this is a kingdom building strategy? As Christians we are not solo performers, so perhaps you should present yourself and your criticism to the pastor and elders of whatever church you belong to, and see whether they endorse your strategy.
      And he’s blocked you. Can you blame him. Some person he’s never met is attacking him on a blog site before talking to,him face to face.

      My initial response to your blog when chancing upon it, was, this is the act of a coward, not a prophet. I haven’t changed my opinion.

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      • Graeme
        It seems to me that your critique is, in effect, one of social media, blogs, or even Christian magazines more generally. In such fora, people put out views that (presumably) they believe and invite – actively or by default – others to agree or disagree, including to respond (letters to the editor were the old form). When you publish views on Twitter (an ultimate push medium) – self-identifying as a pastor – that seems to be exactly what Goulstone was doing.

        You imply that I’m bothered about being blocked by him. Hardly (and it is easy enough for me to get to see any future tweets anyway) – as I said, slightly amused and a bit saddened for what it says about him. As someone apparently coming from the “diversity is good and all diversity is better” wing of society, blocking the critic is a curious reaction to fairly mild and specific criticism.. (Incidentally, we have met – he even had a meal in my house – but it was several years ago, hence my comment that I don’t really know him personally.)

        Perhaps the alternative approaches are exemplified by the fact that I’m quite happy to post your comment, suggesting I am engaged in an “act of cowardice” (even though i presume we’ve never met). I run another, much more widely read, blog in which every day I take comments from people I’ve never met, many of which are critical or disagree with me.

        This blog is intended as a (no doubt flawed) witness to my faith, and commitment to orthodox Christianity. Personally, I’ve always seen it as a little risky – given that orthodox Christianity is, on so many issues, now marginalised from the public square, and I’ve been establishing a reputation as a commentator on other issues within that same square. But a key marker of what one really prioritises is what one is willing to take risks for.

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      • Graeme joyes

        Michael I apologise for the use of the term cowardice, it was inappropriate.
        Regards
        Graeme

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  3. Brendan McNeill

    Hi Michael

    I’m sorry but not surprised to read of your experience. My wife and myself recently left the Anglican church because of its compromise…. er ‘accomodation’ of same sex blessings.

    You are perfectly justified in critiquing this individual who has pushed their theology into the public domain, presumably as a means of communicating what they hold to be true and valid, and by doing so inviting comment.

    It’s disappointing that a church with such a strong history of Biblical orthodoxy has stumbled at this cultural hurdle. We spent five years at Petone Baptist when we lived in Wellington during the late 70’s early 80’s.

    The challenge is ‘where to from here’? The Orthodox Anglicans locally have started some new churches under an extra-provincial diocese and oversight from the Bishop of Tasmania, but I’m struggling to get excited about re-engaging.

    I have recently read this book:

    https://www.bookdepository.com/Underground-Church-Brian-Sanders/9780310538073?ref=grid-view&qid=1551154031683&sr=1-2

    Which is a collective of small house churches focused around mission rather than meetings, all self governing but supported by a central ‘core’ group of which Brian Sanders is one. One of my friends has enrolled in their ‘mission school’ and heads off to the USA next month for the first weeks training. I take the view that we have to get out of our buildings and re-engage with people and our culture in a strategic missional way if there is any hope for the west. This model may be part of God’s plan.

    Blessings
    Brendan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Brendan. I would be attracted if there were to be an orthodox Anglican congregation set up locally.

      Thanks for the Sanders link – looks very interesting.

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      • Brendan McNeill

        To my knowledge, Wellington Anglicans have simply gone with the flow. No attempt to establish an orthodox expression at this time. Most of the refuseniks are in the South Island, the majority in Christchurch, with one notable exception in Dunedin.

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  4. Minsk

    This trend is troubling. You’d have to look no further than Wellington Central Baptist to see the degeneration of what was a denomination that I used to be proud to belong to. There are increasingly few denominations that stick to scriptural teaching – the Brethren, Reformed. Part of the problem as I see it is the tendency of churches to call academically-trained pastors that can give you chapter and verse of the academic debates about Scripture, and less on actual biblical interpretation.

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