I’m reading Romans. ‘Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.’ And ‘for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption.’ And ‘If God is for us, who is against us? He who did no withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord.’
Yet towards the back end of the epistle, we find that the Roman Christians were judging, and even despising, one another. It wasn’t just them. The Corinthian church was notoriously divided. The whole first century church had ructions over whether non-Jewish believers should be circumcised, and we learn from Galatians 2:11-14 that Paul rebuked Peter for hypocrisy on this point. The gritty reality of being in fellowship with people whose ways of following Jesus are different than ours can seem a long way from the spiritual realities Paul speaks of in the early part of Romans.
The Annual Assembly of the NSW and ACT Baptist Association on Friday and Saturday will consider, yet again, proposals to expel churches (like ours) that affirm same sex couples. (A point that, a century from now, will surely seem as arcane as the question of circumcision does to us.) Our delegates will encourage the Assembly to take more time to think about these questions in the hope that the Association will realise that it is unBaptist to enforce uniformity of belief and practice on societal issues like same-sex marriage. Our delegates will also speak to our motions to amend the Association’s constitution to require a stronger consensus to disaffiliate churches or alter the constitution.
We have spent a lot of time on this issue over the last couple of years—rightly, because it is important—but I often worry that we may become too focussed on it to the detriment of our life and mission as a community of followers of Christ. It will be a source of grief if this controversy leads to a split in the Baptist Association, but there have been such griefs before while God’s love and grace continue. So let me finish with another quote from Romans. ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.’