Tuesday, August 14, 2012

finding my Baptist story in the Uniting story

The front of my Masters thesis has the following inscription:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from [God's] holy Word.

It was 1996 and I was training to be a Baptist minister in New Zealand. Exploring mission (in this case analysing contextual images of the atonement as part of post-graduate research) it was liberating to discover these words in an old Baptist hymn book and their origin in a sermon, preached by an early Pilgrim father, John Robinson, in July 1620.

Growing in my Baptist identity, I felt a connection. This was a history I found inspiring. Here were people who prized religious freedom and radical discipleship, who had a way of seeing God that looked forward, that expected growth and innovation.

Imagine my surprise last week, some 16 years later, in another country, in another denomination, to hear these very same words quoted. Not only quoted, but then to be invited to sing the very hymn, from which the words come (We limit on the truth of God).

No, not in a Baptist church, but in a recent worship service here at Uniting College. The service, part of our monthly Leadership Formation Day, was shaped by an invitation for us in the Uniting Church to remember the Great Ejection, a moment in history this month some 350 years ago, when non-conformists where forced out the Church of England.

During the service, four candles were lit.

As each was lit, a part of this story was named, various leaders celebrated, the importance of religious freedom and radical discipleship named. It was explained to us that the Uniting Church was formed from three denominations. Now, in the three years that I’ve been around the Uniting Church, I’ve heard a lot about the Methodist and the Presbyterian roots. But there is a third partner, the Congregationalist church. And here in chapel, this previously silent member of the family, the Congregatationalist part, was being given voice.

“the Congregational mind: in taste, catholic; in feeling, evangelical; in expression, scholarly; in doctrine, orthodox.’” (Bernard Lord Manning)

I sat open mouthed, amazed, that what was a very important part of my Baptist story, was also part of the Uniting Church story, also named, repeated, honoured. My (Baptist) long lost traveling companions are also Uniting Church long lost traveling companions. We share similar forebears.

(For those who think that what happened 350 years ago is dry and dusty, it’s worth noting that earlier this year, a Service of Reconciliation was held at Westminster Abbey. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, preached at the service, in which the Anglican church sought forgiveness for the Great Ejection. Here is some of what Rowan preached –

‘Until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ [Ephesians 4.13]

Our Christian faith is something constantly growing, constantly moving towards greater maturity, a greater approximation toward the stature of Christ. And as we grow we need for our maturing, challenges that push us away from infantile faith.)

Posted by steve at 09:45 PM

2 Comments

  1. Ah, another of my favourite hymns, but you stopped too soon:
    “We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind,
    by notions of our day, and sect, crude partial and confined…”

    Comment by Tim Bulkeley — August 15, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

  2. I grew up in the Congregational Church in Auckland singing this hymn. It always seemed freeing fro some of the rather confining evangelicalism I grew up into. It has always been a part of my own faith description – there’s more to truth than your own take on it. Interesting connections you make, Steve.

    Comment by Chris Bedford — August 17, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

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