Last Sunday we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first group of Jesus’ followers and friends; as a comforter, as a uniter and to inspire their (and our) continuing mission.

We concluded the service by ‘mapping’ the distinctive ways each of us enable others to find their own distinctive ways of following Jesus, and so it was wonderful, at prayers on Monday morning, to hear this from 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, from the Amplified Version:

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them].

Amen to that!

It was relevant then to discuss, at the church meeting after Sunday’s service, the approach our Association has taken to the issue of Baptists holding different views on welcoming LGBTIQ people into our churches, by insisting that there cannot be different ways of understanding Scripture, or different gifts or ministries, but that those who hold a different view must be removed from the Association.

How different the position of the Baptist churches of the UK has been!

A friend sent me a link to their statement, ‘The Courage to be Baptist: A Statement on Baptist Ecclesiology and Human Sexuality’ this week. It begins by saying:

Every Western denomination is struggling with ethical questions about human sexuality. The authors of this statement do not pretend to have the solution to those questions; indeed, we disagree amongst ourselves on them. We do agree that Baptist churches, associations, and unions will respond best by having the courage to be faithful to who we are called to be: faithfully Christian and faithfully Baptist. Such faithfulness has often served us well in other debates in the past, and will, we trust, serve us equally well when different disagreements arise in the future…. What follows is not intended as criticism. Rather, it is a summons—we believe possibly a prophetic summons—to face our disagreements and divisions not with fear, or with unBaptist attempts to assert control, or by deferring to expertise or authority, but in love, in fellowship, in association, in union, seeking together to know the mind of Christ, to walk together and watch over each other even where we disagree, until such time as the Lord shall give us more light and truth.

“To have the courage to be faithful to who we are called to be: faithfully Christian and faithfully Baptist.” What a wonderful expression of faith and courage.

What makes me sad is that our Association, rather than facing our disagreements and divisions with love and fellowship, rather than expressing our faith and courage, has chosen “unBaptist attempts to assert control”. As you have heard, the motions that were passed at the Special Assembly now require churches to affirm, every five years, “the basic doctrines, objects and core values of the Association [as] an ongoing requirement for Affiliation”, and require ministers to affirm “the basic doctrines, objects and core values of the Association” every year as part of their Continuing Ministerial Development – and their continuing status as accredited ministers.

I told those gathered on Sunday that while I do not essentially object to the basic doctrines, objects and core values of the Association (you can read these here – I have three objections to this process.

Firstly, I strongly hold the view that Baptists are not a creedal movement. We believe in the Lordship of Christ and hold that scripture is authoritative for us in that it points us to Christ. For this reason Baptists have rejected formal creeds or statements of faith and I do not believe that Baptist churches and Baptist ministers should now be forced to affirm these documents in order to belong to the Baptist church.

Secondly, these motions were brought by these five churches for the purpose of removing one church, Hamilton Baptist, which went through a very Baptist process of discerning amongst its members the mind of Christ when it came to welcoming LGBTIQ people and, after doing so, concluded this was where the Spirit of God was leading them. To seek to remove them from the Association seems to me to not only be dismissing that Baptist process, but, as the UK statement says, demonstrating an “unBaptist attempt to assert control.” It is the act of bullies – not Baptists.

And thirdly, I do not want to be part of actions that cause more pain to the LGBTIQ community. They have already experienced so much rejection from the church and I want that to be part of stopping that somewhere – in some small way – with the decisions I make.

My hope remains that the Association will change direction; that we might still adopt a position that is far more like the UK statement. However, as those of you who were at the meeting know, if this does not happen, I have decided I am not prepared to affirm “the basic doctrines, objects and core values of the Association”. This may mean that my accreditation – which has been not easily gained in a denomination that has not always been welcomed women in ministry – may be taken away. But, as I said above, I cannot be part of actions which do not demonstrate the courage to be faithful to who we are called to be: faithfully Christian and faithfully Baptist.

This Sunday, however, we are celebrating the unity that the Spirit can still bring – in a very visible way – as Rev David Campbell will be preaching at Canberra Baptist and I will be preaching at St Andrews. (If a few of you would like to come there you may hear a sermon you’ve heard before, but it would be lovely to see some familiar faces! 😊) Please welcome David, however, at our place! 😊

Grace and peace,