Sunday, August 13, 2006

Baptist Blog

I'll begin by paraphrasing Luther: Condemned are the Anabaptists, who imagine they can do anything on their own. From Heidelberg Disputation(?)—I'm not sure. I've just finished reading Chapter 13, "Why I am (Ana)Baptist/Anglican" of Brian McLaren's a Generous Orthodoxy, so here's my blog; I'm actually allowing myself latitude about not compulsively linking to and referencing absolutely everything, but you can find a direct link to the book in my Products and Packaging from July 28.

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative,...emergent, unfinished... by Brian McLaren on Amazon

A Generous Orthodoxy coverAt this moment I don't recall what I was reading by whom at which time, but something I read not too long ago mentioned people in the churches sometimes designated "historic peace churches" are not reluctant to talk about the wrath of God, while mainline-types often hesitate to talk about sin and depravity and many conservative evangelical types are into sweet, friendly Jesus—"springtime Jesus" but not the Crucified One become the Risen Christ at Easter's dawn. So for a while I referenced Mennonite, Brethren and others birthed from the Radical Reformation as "Wrath of God" churches. A while ago I also mentioned that God had (sort of) taken me out of the liberal, activist American Baptist church that shaped my early Christian journey - though in my late teens and early 20's I wasn't all that young - because there aren't many Baptists writing heavy-duty theology. I've long been aware that a huge part of my attraction to the Reformation tradition has been its huge quantity of well-considered theology. McLaren mentions a scarcity of Baptist theologians, too—right on track with my own perception! As I continue research and consideration of my future book about ecological theology...

I love this chapter—esp the Ana/Baptist section, but also the Anglican one. Here's this blog's point of departure for me:

from AfterglowSarah McLachlan


Heaven bend to take my hand and lead me through the fire
Be the long awaited answer to a long and painful fight
Truth be told I tried my best
But somewhere long the way I got caught up in all there was to offer
But the cost was so much more than I could bear
Though I've tried I've fallen I have sunk so low...

Heaven bend to take my hand I've nowhere left to turn
I'm lost to these I thought were friends to everyone I know
...and there doesn't seem a way to be redeemed
Excerpts in my mind from "Way to Go", an autumn 2004 blog on city delights round out this Sunday evening's sentiments.

Although I'm trying to be a little whimsical, I'm also trying hard to say conventional mainline protestant churches have not been working for me, for whatever reason. In addition, as I contemplated returning to the East Coast and scoped out websites for the two churches close to Harvard Square that logically would be my first places of inquiry – First Congregational and University Lutheran – and then checked out Old Cambridge Baptist, everything about OCBC seemed to make it my way to go. Notice the not-oblique reference to my blog quoted supra! By the way, every one of those churches I just mentioned is liberal and activist, so in those terms any differences are negligible. The Theology page on OCBC's website reads,
Some of our visitors marvel . . . "and all this at a Baptist church!" We take our theological bearings from deep within the European and British tradition of anabaptists, which held that the Gospel, rightly interpreted, was the a matter between an individual, his or her community of believers and God.
Before reading Chapter 13, I read Chapter 12, "Fundamentalist/Calvinist." Discussion question #1 asks about "fundamentals of the Christian faith that we're willing to fight for." I'll reply yes, definitely: Solus Christus!

As I fondly reminisce about First Mariner's ABC that nurtured me so, I do realize its very small size was a major part of its effectiveness for me. My youth and shapeability, bendability or whatever you want to call it doubtless was another overwhelming factor! I've told about this in person but haven't blogged many details, but the community was demanding and intense: in order really to belong they expected and pretty much directed you to be at worship, at Bible study, participate in and when asked lead a discussion; we had a close to locally legendary Holy Club that met weekly to discuss a book chapter or sermon, quite apart from Bible study groups. Baptist?! As I've previously mentioned, I was baptized in an Episcopal church as a young child, but when I asked the 1st Mariner's pastor if I needed to be baptized again (ana), he asked why would I!? We routinely took part in both everyday and specific issue-oriented neighborhood goings-on. When local and national political campaigns were on the docket, we were expected to work for the candidate or cause of our choice: no particular position dictated, but you'd better be there and you'd better show you care! A couple of times a group of us ventured out to the countryside on weekend retreat; those times we observed regular periods of silence and prayed the canonical hours, so I got to borrow the office books from the Franciscan Friary a couple doors. That discalced order of brown-robed brothers would traipse around the snowy winter city sidewalks and streets in sandals! One might imagine "Baptist" by default would be liturgically low-church, but we weren't exactly so. BCP worship was not unusual for us, and when a friend expressed an interest in elaborate liturgy, the pastor (who also was executive director of the multi-service agency housed in the same building) sent her around the corner to Old North. The same pastor, observing my interest in theology, suggested I attend Krister Stendahl's Wednesday morning Eucharist at UniLu; those Wednesdays, followed by breakfast and discussion at a local restaurant for anyone with time who was inclined, helped define my future. I'm not at all sure I outgrew the bounds of the now-disbanded First Mariner's Church, but God sent me in other directions.

McLaren distinguishes churches such as the American Baptist, which for the most part claim a British Isles heritage and Anabaptists of continental European origin, but in the blog at hand I'm grouping them together as being different and distinct from Reformation, Methodist (ummm, Arminian, Pentecostals...) and those on the Canterbury Trail. And again, while the person in the pew or on the streets might imagine mode of and age at baptism the primary dissimilarity, that is so not so. In fact, I don't perceive it as counting much at all, and I'm not sure McLaren does, either. I'll quote him from page 229: ...Anabaptists have long understood that what really counts is a fruitful way of life." Omigosh! On page 231 he says, "As outsiders [Anabaptists] learned to function at the margins, and they learned that the gospel functions there just as well as or better than at the centers of power, prestige, wealth and control." Part of my own story, and these days I'm saying it out loud: over the past dozen years I have felt and literally have been pushed to the edges, out from the center of society, of the church and of the human endeavor and in the process, I know I have experienced the heart of God, which is the heart of a stranger who doesn't really belong anywhere. During this time I've actually emerged as a theologian, learning to articulate God's passion and human reality. After all, throughout the witness of the Bible and history's witness, we learn the fullness of divinity and the fullness of humanity are the same, captivatingly revealed in Jesus Christ. Got it? I'm finally getting it! Pages 232-223: "Anabaptists know that community is far more costly than that [the candles, programs and training videos McLaren cites as examples]: one cannot add it to anything, rather one must begin with it in order to enter it, practice it and preserve it." Since Brian McLaren says it so well, here's my final quote, from page 223: "The exchange of treasures around that table can enrich us all, and without the Anabaptists there, the party is hardly worth having." He's talking about Christian – possibly formal ecumenical - conversation, a vital aspect of the eschatological feast of redemption's completeness, but it must go far further, to the Welcome Table of the Eucharist we celebrated this morning; it needs to culminate and then continue with the sanctuary and the healing embrace of the Welcoming Community I long for and finally am admitting in words I need in order to be alive (yes) and even to survive much longer.

Brian McLaren includes four pages about Anglicanism; I've blogged some about my experience with the Episcopal Church, especially last winter when I wrote about the short-lived Book of Daniel TV program, but in a day or two I'll write a few responses to the end of this Chapter 13.

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