Sunday, 13 April 2014

Distant relatives in the Baptist "family"

Over the past few years I have noticed that certain people of influence in the Baptist Union refer to the Baptist family. It seems to be something of a buzzword or popular term of endearment.  It has that ring of cosy familiarity and intimacy, a close knit fellowship of blood brothers and sisters. We are, as Christians, purchased by the blood of Christ and members of his spiritual family.  That's good and true.

Now to some people the idea of family is not that good and wholesome. Not everything in the family is fine and friendly. There are feuds, fights and all sorts of falling out. There are painful partings, estrangements, deeply harboured grudges and resentments, irreconcilable differences, arguments over inheritance, money and material possessions. There can be abuse and cruelty.

Some families grow apart.  They move in different spheres, have different interests and have a completely different outlook on life.  Some worship wealth, others worship status and strive for more material things. Then there are those who wish to live a bourgeois lifestyle in a desirable area, "at the right address",  and wish to keep away for certain "types".

In some families there are love/hate relationships, and sometimes the line between love and hate becomes blurred.

Since 1968 I have been preaching in Baptist churches, particularly when I was a theological student in the 1970s.  Now and again I came across Baptist and evangelical churches where the culture was so very different from my own.  The people in these Baptist churches seemed to have completely different interests and lifestyles, ways of living that were and are unlike my own.  It seems strange and somewhat odd that these folk who perhaps appear bigoted and boring to me, yet we have a common faith and fellowship in Christ Jesus.  We do not choose our biological brothers and sisters, and we certainly do not choose our spiritual ones, those born again by God's Spirit.

Then there are those who have the Baptist label but they are so distant and disturbed that one wonders if they are relatives at all.  I am thinking about members of Westboro Baptist Church and other extremist Baptists who engage in campaigns of hate.

God has a great sense of humour.  He puts distant and diverse people together in Christ.  The early Christian church experienced tensions and ethnic disputes. See the beginning of Acts 6. God has many children, and some grow up to be a disappointment but some do amazing works of love and grace. I rejoice in Baptist missionary work. I rejoice in Baptist scholarship. I rejoice in great times of fellowship in Baptist churches. I rejoice in my relatives, distant and diverse in the Baptist family, and in all God's children who are heirs of the Kingdom of God.  For most of us, family matters and in families we experience deep love and affection. Long may it continue in the Church, whether close and comforting, or distant and diverse. Love covers a multitude of sins and shortcomings.

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