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Challenges and opportunities after the Referendum

Political preaching, befriending a Baptist church in Europe, rediscovering the significance of the Lord's Supper – Andy Goodliff suggests ways churches can face post EU Referendum challenges   


Man reading Bible John700

Like many, the last ten days have generated in me much soul-searching and angst with regard to our national life post the EU referendum. Those of us who are pastors have been trying to find words that are helpful, truthful and hopeful for these times. The division in our nation has been reflected in our churches, and in a much more pronounced way than after recent General Elections. In that, I don’t think many of us were prepared.

We are faced with challenges, which may also be seen as opportunities. Sam Wells in his book Improvisation argues that life is a series of offers, which can be accepted or blocked. To accept an offer is to find ways to keep the story going, to block is to find ways to refuse to keep playing. Sometimes as the church, Wells argues, we might need to be prepared to block, but most of the time we need to accept what is offered, creatively and imaginatively, and also faithfully. The challenges before us might be viewed as opportunities to be accepted. (For a really helpful reflection on the meaning of the word ‘accept’ see Stuart Blythe’s post here).

The first challenge and opportunity is to learn that the church is called to be the church. Our political structures and institutions are only ever provisional, whether they are in Westminster or Brussels. God calls us to be the church, those shaped by the Word and caught by the Spirit. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which means ‘the called out.’ Here is an opportunity for the church to stop being just another leisure activity and grasp its purpose.

As the church, we are those who live between the times. The church is simultaneously for the nations and against the nations, we announce God’s yes to his kingdom, and God’s no to the kingdoms of sin and death. In the language of Hauerwas and Willimon, we are resident aliens. We are summoned to seek the peace of the city regardless of whether we remain or leave.

Already it is clear that one means of seeking the peace of the city will be to confront any kind of racism or xenophobia that has begun to emerge.

Here is also an opportunity, perhaps important for us Baptists, to rediscover the significance of the Lord’s Supper. In a conversation a few weeks back, a friend said that if we stopped celebrating the Lord’s Supper in our churches, it would a take a while, perhaps a long while, before anyone noticed. In a divided nation, a divided church gathering at the table is not merely an act of remembrance, it is an act of recognising we are a body. At the table we are sister and brother, and to refuse to share in this meal is to refuse to share in Christ. The table knows no borders, all are welcome. At the table there is no us and them. Here is an opportunity to explore the politics of the table. It is not that we overlook our differences, but that they are overwhelmed and transformed by the power of the cross and gift of the Holy Spirit. Amongst a divided nation, the church demonstrates its witness in table fellowship.
 


a divided church gathering at the table is not merely an act of remembrance, it is an act of recognising we are a body.


A second challenge is how as a nation we will relate to Europe. This challenge is an opportunity for us also to reach out to fellow Europeans through our membership of the European Baptist Federation. Here is a moment to befriend a Baptist church in Germany or Greece, France or Poland as an active means of saying we are part of you and you are part of us. The church knows no borders. Where for too long we have regularly seen our nearest neighbours as other, to create a link might teach us to see Europe differently, and so create a different kind of European Union, a Union of churches that seek to befriend, encourage, support and bless one another. As the hymn goes ‘Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.’

 


Here is a moment to befriend a Baptist church in Germany or Greece, France or Poland as an active means of saying we are part of you and you are part of us.


A third challenge is whether we dare address any of this in our congregations and how. I wonder if there is an opportunity here with regards to our preaching.

I’ve been struck that once a month Sam Wells (him again!), preaches on an ‘Issue of our Times.’ Over the last year he has given attention to thinking Christianly about Europe, the NHS, dementia, immigration, climate change, social media and lots more. In this he enables his congregation to not separate faith from politics, faith from ethics or faith from culture. We need more political preaching. We need more ethical preaching. We need more preaching that helps people discern what it is to be the church between the times. We need to show each other that there is no issue that the gospel does not touch, that there is no question which we should fear to address.

 


We need more political preaching. We need more ethical preaching.


I wonder if we helped each over to properly develop a Christian mind, that says we always start with Christ, we might see a church with renewed confidence. If we do not provide that voice, we leave a space for it to be filled by other voices and stories. As Karl Barth is supposed to have said, we preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

There are surely other challenges, which might also be opportunities. I offer those mentioned above as one place to start.


Picture: Todd White/Creationswap


Andy Goodliff is minister of Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend-on-Sea



 

Baptist Times, 04/07/2016
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