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).