Comic 9 27 burnout

I’m burnt out… I think.

After I finished my time as preaching pastor this past Easter Sunday, I took two weeks off from going to any church. A sensible move I thought since it had been along time since a weekend wasn’t marked by anxiety and stress. I went last week but not this morning. I’m just burned out. There is another factor though, which is that my current church is not necessarily the place I want to be right now. I love the people and the community of friends I’ve developed over the years, but they meet in a movie theatre and it just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. Ryan over at the Emerging Anabaptist, who attends the same church (but a different site, we’ve unfortunately yet to meet in person), wrote a bit about the pitfalls of meeting in a movie theatre. One of his points certainly holds true for me:

No Sense of Sacred Space

There is something to be said for liturgy of presence. Where you are definitely changes the vibe of a worship gathering. In some ways it can be good, especially for those who aren’t used to churches, as I mentioned above, to be in a non-traditional building. At the same time, though, I definitely think there is a degree to which people approach going to church in the same way that they approach going to see a movie because that is what the setting is obviously reminding us of.

Let me be clear: like other Anabaptists, I do not believe that any space is actually more sacred than any other. What I do believe is that we inevitably bring all our senses into worship with us and that is a good thing. When our sensory perceptions are saying “this is a setting where you kick back and be entertained,” it is harder on a subconscious level to be focused, to be open to hearing in what ways you need to work hard at in following Jesus, and in general to be in a worshipful state.

This effect really shouldn’t be ignored, even in the unchurched generation. If you’re doing worship gatherings in a theatre or other non-traditional venue, do what you can to still make sure it feels different, as a place of spiritual growth and strong community rather than individual entertainment.

If I were to sum it up in one word, I would say there is simply a lack of reverence in the services. I don’t mean they don’t love God; they absolutely do. But as far as liturgies go, it’s as low as you can get. It feels almost more like a university lecture than a worship service. This works for some people; a lot of people in fact (their current attendance across their sites is about 6-7000 people), but I find liturgical services in a traditional church building more beautiful and worshipful. There is something about a space where everything is designed to point you to God and teach you something about Him before a word is read or a song is sung.

Preaching every week is tough and frankly right now I feel like what I don’t need is too feel like I’m back in the classroom. I need to see God’s love expressed through beauty and silence. I don’t get either of these in a movie theatre setting, at least not how our church structures their services.

So, I’m trying to think of how I can recover and be ministered too in a church I don’t really feel attracted to. We will see.

Should we dedicate our children?

Once upon a time all infants were baptized. Baptism carried with it two meanings: one of state citizenship and one of supernatural citizenship. So, when the anabaptists came along and not only refused to baptize children but re-baptized adults they were not just attacking the ruling church’s authority but that of the state’s as well.

Fast forward to today, we have largely left the state connection to baptism behind, but are still divided on the question of infant’s and what to do with them. Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans, Presbyterians and some others still baptize infants, while Baptists, Anabaptists, most independents and others do not. Over the years this has left a bit of emotional hole in the psyche of some Christian parents who don’t hold to infant baptism, but none-the-less feel the need to “do something” with their children. It is important to note that not all paedobaptists (those who baptize infants) believe that anything in particular “happens” when the water hits the skin. Presbyterians don’t believe that baptism represents a washing away of sin as the Catholic Church teaches, but they still see a scriptural and historical warrant for it.(1)

Enter infant dedication. Infant dedication is a ceremony (or “event” if you prefer) where a child and their parents come before God and their congregation, friends and family and promise with the help of God and the community to raise the child according to their faith in Christ. The ultimate hope is that one day that child will choose to enter into a relationship with Christ themselves.

You wouldn’t call dedication a sacrament, nor is it even an ordinance, for it is nowhere commanded by Jesus. That’s because it doesn’t really have any basis in scared scripture as something Christians should do. It is borrowed from our Jewish friends and their tradition of taking a newborn child to the temple for dedication and naming. We see this recorded in the gospels in the case of Jesus (Luke 2:22-24).

I’ve been to a handful of Christian dedications and I’m even been privileged to do one for some dear friends of mine. I am, however, becoming less and less convinced that this is a practice the church should engage in. Now, to be sure, I have never heard anyone say “you must dedicate your child”, indeed, quite the opposite if true. There is nothing salvific or even particularly metaphysical about the event as opposed to some version of infant baptism that see the child being remitted of all original sin.

So, if it doesn’t do anything, then it’s not necessary. And if we mandate it then we’re doing it as tradition and wouldn’t that be terrible?! (slight sarcasm)

There was one dedication ceremony in particular that set me on this path of thinking about the validity and wisdom of infant dedication. It was for the beautiful new son for some friends of ours. It was a great and special time, but I came away thinking “the only difference between this and a baptism, was the water” (some even refer to dedications as “dry baptisms”). For some reason this really bugged me. Is this what we’re arguing about is this substance called water? I mean, if the words the minister/pastor says are virtually identical to a baptism, then are we just kidding ourselves? Are we truly being consistent with our beliefs by instituting something in place of something that we say we shouldn’t do. Are we somehow assenting to the very practice we’re eschewing?

Of the small group of anabaptists and baptists I’ve consulted for this article, they’ve all said it’s not essential, but appreciate the meaning behind the ceremony. One even said, if he had the choice, he wouldn’t do them, but because of the sentimentality attached, he would perform a dedication if pressed. He would be very clear however that this is not baptism and the child still needs to come to faith on its own and choose to be baptized.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s sinful, I’m just not sure it’s consistent. Baptize or don’t, but if you’re not going to baptize maybe we shouldn’t import a ritual from another faith (even if it is our faith of origin as it were) to fill that gap that is purely cultural and sociological.

I’d welcome your thoughts. What do you think? Can we dedicate our children while having complete integrity with our faith and stated position about baptism?

(1) Redeemer Presbyterian in New York (Tim Keller’s church) has a good explanation of it’s position on infant baptism (PDF).

Archbishop of Canterbury Enthroned

ImageOn March 21, 2013 Justin Portal Welby was enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, becoming the head of the Church of England and nominal head of the Worldwide Anglican Communion. I’ve printed the text of his inaugural sermon below.

Canterbury Cathedral, 21st March 2013

(Commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Feast of St Benedict)

Ruth 2:10-16; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Matthew 14:22-23; “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”, Matthew 14:27

To each one of us, whoever and wherever we are, joining us from far away by television of radio, or here in the Cathedral, Jesus calls through the storms and darkness of life and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”.

Our response to those words sets the pattern for our lives, for the church, for the whole of society. Fear imprisons us and stops us being fully human. Uniquely in all of human history Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one who as living love liberates holy courage.

“If it is you tell me to come to you on the water” Peter says, and Jesus replies “come”. History does not relate what the disciples thought about getting out of a perfectly serviceable boat, but Peter was right, and they were wrong. The utterly absurd is completely reasonable when Jesus is the one who is calling. Courage is liberated, and he gets out of the boat, walks a bit, and then fails. Love catches him, gently sets him right, and in a moment they are both in the boat and there is peace. Courage failed, but Jesus is stronger than failure.

The fear of the disciples was reasonable. People do not walk on water, but this person did. For us to trust and follow Christ is reasonable if He is what the disciples end up saying He is; “truly you are the Son of God”. Each of us now needs to heed His voice calling to us, and to get out of the boat and go to Him. Because even when we fail, we find peace and hope and become more fully human than we can imagine: failure forgiven, courage liberated, hope persevering, love abounding.

For more than a thousand years this country has to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God; by the ordering of its society, by its laws, by its sense of community. Sometimes we have done better, sometimes worse. When we do better we make space for our own courage to be liberated, for God to act among us and for human beings to flourish. Slaves were freed, Factory Acts passed, and the NHS and social care established through Christ-liberated courage. The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary courage.

In humility and simplicity Pope Francis called us on Tuesday to be protectors of each other: of the natural world, of the poor and vulnerable. Courage is released in a society that is under the authority of God, so that we may become the fully human community of which we all dream. Let us hear Christ who calls to us and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”.

The first reading we heard dates from the time of Israel before the Kings. It is the account of a Moabite refugee — utterly stigmatised, inescapably despised — taking the huge risk of choosing a God she does not know in a place she has not been, and finding security when she does so. The society Ruth went to was healthy because it was based on obedience to God, both in public care and private love.

Today we may properly differ on the degrees of state and private responsibility in a healthy society. But if we sever our roots in Christ we abandon the stability which enables good decision making. There can be no final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society if it is not finally based on rootedness in Christ. Jesus calls to us over the wind and storms, heed his words and we will have the courage to build society in stability.

For nearly two thousand years the Church has sought, often failing, to recognise in its way of being that Jesus is the Son of God. The wind and waves divided Jesus from the disciples. Peter ventures out in fear and trembling (as you may imagine I relate to him at this point). Jesus reconciles Peter to Himself and makes the possibility for all the disciples to find peace. All the life of our diverse churches finds renewal and unity when we are reconciled afresh to God and so are able to reconcile others. A Christ-heeding life changes the church and a Christ-heeding church changes the world: St Benedict set out to create a school for prayer, and incidentally created a monastic order that saved European civilisation.

The more the Church is authentically heeding Jesus’ call, leaving its securities, speaking and acting clearly and taking risks, the more the Church suffers. Thomas Cranmer faced death with Christ-given courage, leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel, on which we still draw. I look at the Anglican leaders here and remember that in many cases round the world their people are scattered to the four winds or driven underground: by persecution, by storms of all sorts, even by cultural change. Many Christians are martyred now as in the past.

Yet at the same time the church transforms society when it takes the risks of renewal in prayer, of reconciliation and of confident declaration of the good news of Jesus Christ. In England alone the churches together run innumerable food banks, shelter the homeless, educate a million children, offer debt counselling, comfort the bereaved, and far, far more. All this comes from heeding the call of Jesus Christ. Internationally, churches run refugee camps, mediate civil wars, organise elections, set up hospitals. All of it happens because of heeding the call to go to Jesus through the storms and across the waves.

There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country. Optimism does not come from us, but because to us and to all people Jesus comes and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we will see a world transformed.

(Photo: The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at his enthronement. Photo by the Press Association)

Great news for ecumenism!

It’s not my intention to make this a “news” site, but this isn’t the kind of news you keep to yourself.

For first time since schism, the Ecumenical Patriarch will attend a pope’s installation Mass.

This is really quite big if you know your history.

Tuesday will be a landmark day in the history of Christianity and ecumenical relations: the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople will attend Pope Francis’ installation Mass, celebrating the Eucharist with him.

As if that wasn’t enough, three other Orthodox bishops are coming with him! – Dr. Michael Barber

This is surely due to the work of Pope John Paul II and especially Pope Benedict XVI who made ecumenical relations between east and west a top priority for his pontificate. Pope John Paul II when referring to the east west schism said that the Catholic and Orthodox Church’s are like two lungs that need to be brought back together. I can only hope that this is a sign of good things to come. Imagine: east and west reuniting. Simply incredible. Maybe it will take years and still more years or perhaps it will never happen, but this is a pretty incredible development that will be exciting to watch. Especially because as archbishop Pope Francis was Ordinary of Eastern-rite Catholics in Argentina when they were without an ordinary.

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