Dear Friends,

I keep thinking about the icon of the Transfiguration that Megan included in her contribution on Sunday 11th Feb – the image of foot-in-mouth Peter and James and John tumbling down the mountain, but still clothed in the same light, the same halos of light, as Megan said, as Jesus, Elijah and Moses.

It is incredibly encouraging – and humbling – to think that God wants us to be part of what God is doing in our world – even when we feel entirely discombobulated (like we are tumbling down a mountain). God still invites us to be part of God’s mission of love and justice.

Did you know that the Baptist churches of Papua New Guinea have a practice (or at least they did in the years my family spent in West Papua) of sending a church leader up a mountain, to spend the night on the mountain, when an important decision had to be made?

I remember Geoff Thompson, the PNG/West Papua Baptist Mission Australia leader, visiting my family in Jayapura when I was 12 years old and telling us about his experience as the designated leader sent up the mountain for the night. It was very dark, he said, and surprisingly cold, but it had certainly given him many long quiet hours to talk and to listen to God.

It won’t be as dark and as cold at church this Sunday, but after our 95th Church Anniversary Service, with special guest speaker, Rev Scott Pilgrim, and after the special morning tea, we are participating in another Baptist practice – a practice that helps us make God-directed decisions together – a church meeting.

As Aron mentioned last Sunday in the announcements (I might be biased, but I found him very engaging!) Baptists have a unique government structure – one that Canberra Baptist is determined to preserve.

We believe that, as it says in Colossians 1:18, “[Christ] is the head of the body, the church…” And that Christ is still the head of the church. Jesus didn’t start the Church and walk away. No, Christ is the head of the Church – so all church structures and decision-making processes must be built around that reality.

We also believe and practice the concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ As it says in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” The message of the gospel is the equality of all believers in the sight of God. All of us are equally sinners, and all of us are equally saints. We are all invited to be part of God’s work. (If there was an icon painted of Canberra Baptist Church we would all – despite being sinners and saints – usually at the same time – have halos around our heads!)

And we also believe in church meetings! When the early Baptists looked at the New Testament church, they saw that the church would gather on occasions (you can read Acts 15) to discuss issues and make decisions, and that these meetings had the authority to manage the affairs of the church. So, for Baptists, the decision-making body became the church meeting, a meeting of the priesthood of believers seeking together the mind of Christ.

Some people are attracted to Baptist churches because they look democratic. But church meetings should not be decision making by popular vote. Church is not a democracy. It is a theocracy, government by God for God, through the instrument of the church meeting. When a vote is taken and some vote ‘yes’ and some vote ‘no’, that can be an indication of failure. It can indicate that either the minority or the majority have not done the work, or the whole community has not done the work, of understanding the will of God, the mind of Christ, together.

So, please be prayerful for our time together on Sunday. Please come and celebrate our 95th anniversary. And please be thankful – every day – that God invites us to be part of God’s mission – sharing God’s love and justice – with others. As we will sing together on Sunday:

Lord, you always speak in Jesus,
always new yet still the same;
teach us now more of our Saviour;
make our lives display his name.

O Lord, you always speak in Jesus.


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