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AndyGoodliff
baptist minister and PhD student
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Whatever we make of the Baptist Union's Council statement on same sex relationships last month it will not be the last word. Those Baptists who feel they are unable to affirm any kind of same sex relationship and who see this as a victory for a perceived 'majority', will find that the statement will not be the last word. In fact it may well be that the statement will galvanise those who seek to affirm same sex marriage to be more open in their conviction, and will also lead others, not affirming themselves, to more vocal as well, in arguing that an affirming position be acceptable within the Union. That is, rather than drawing a line in the sand, the statement has ignited a bigger conversation. Those who affirm same sex marriage amongst BUGB Baptists are more numerous than the conservatives realise; not a majority within the Union, but then I challenge the view that the conservatives hold the majority either. (I'm not convinced that speaking in terms of 'majority' is helpful, because it smacks of democracy rather than communal discernment). I suggest that many sit in the middle between the two extremes, and find themselves pulled by both Bible... Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2016 at andygoodliff
The entire Christian faith hinges on the words ‘He is risen.’[i] We talk about the centrality of the cross, in fact for some Christians the cross is all that matters, everything else is like window-dressing. But without the resurrection the cross is just a death; We might sing of the power of the cross, but the power of the cross is powerless without the resurrection. Without the resurrection the gospel is no news; without the resurrection the words of Jesus are an impossible dream; without the resurrection the church is a bunch of delusional do-gooders who’ve wasted too many opportunities for a Sunday lie-in; without the resurrection Jesus himself is just a tiny footnote in history; without the resurrection death is still the last word on life; without the resurrection the only way to overcome evil is to fight fire with fire; without the resurrection our past is a prison and our future is fate; without the resurrection your bank balance and your BMI is all that matters; without the resurrection the possible election of President Trump would mean the end of the world. I say again the entire Christian faith hinges on the words ‘He is risen.’ As the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2016 at andygoodliff
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I am part of a small team that has sought to find ways of telling the Christian story in Southend Town Centre. A few years back we took over an empty shop for Holy Week and installed a form of the Stations of the Cross. Last year we sought again to tell the Easter story through a series of framed bits of art that we placed in different locations across the Town Centre. This year we commissioned 5 local artists to design a cross. We then produced 500 small crosses and we dropped them all over the town centre for anyway to find a take away. The five cross designs was a fascinating way to how others see the cross. I'm not sure what each of the artists was intending, but these are my reflections. This first cross is imprinted with a compass. I see this in two ways. First, the cross is that which stands radiating out across the world - north, south, east, west. Second, the cross is the compass of the Christian life, it is how the church seeks to orientate its life. This second cross is imprinted with flowers. I see these flowers either as about... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2016 at andygoodliff
Today is the last day of Lent, tomorrow is Easter. The 40 days is up and this is the last in my series of posts that have offered an account of baptism. For this last day, I turn to the 'baptist' theologian James McClendon. Probably the most important Baptist voice of the 20th century. Author of a 3-volume Systematic Theology and now (posthumously) The Collected Works of James McClendon (also 3-volumes). The third volume was published during this 40-days and I offer an extract from it, in a sermon where McClendon speaks of baptism. One was baptised in the River Jordan, another in the River Tiber. One was baptised at the seashore, another in a mountain stream, another in a city fountain - Rome was full of fountains. Yet there was something alike in all cases. "When we were baptised," Paul writes, "it was a burial ceremony" (see Rom 6.3-4). "we were buried with him by baptism into death." Not, of course, literal death, but a ceremonial death, a ritual death - to sin. Yet a death so effective that the baptised are now identified with Jesus who died and rose again. In other words, baptism is a sign, an... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2016 at andygoodliff
Earlier in Lent I shared a prayer by Stanley Hauerwas. Today, on Good Friday, I share an extract from a sermon he preached on the occasion of a baptism in 2007. What do we today to Sierra and Jonas cannot help but put them in danger. For today they will be given life not only through death but through a particular death. The life they are given through this death is one that threatens those who are hard at work creating a world without death. Baptism is deadly business. To be baptized is to die in Christ and to be raised with him. Through baptism into the life and resurrection of Jesus, Sierra and Jonas are made participants in a living body that defies the culture of death. … Through baptism the baptized have inscribed on their hearts the story of Israel, Jesus, and the church. Their bodies will be storied by the story begun with Abraham, who did not ask God for a life without death. He wanted to know what God would give him, and God gave him an heir and land. We believe that God kept his promise to Abraham; Jesus is the heir and his body... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2016 at andygoodliff
Baptists tend to name their churches geographically. So we are Belle Vue Baptist Church because we happen to be located on Belle Vue Avenue. There are a few Baptist churches named after people. I know of a Thomas Helwys Baptist Church in Nottingham, named after one of the co-founders of the Baptist movement and there is a Carey Baptist Church, named after William Carey, the first BMS missionary, who went to India. I know of a church in Cardiff called ‘Calvary Baptist Church,’ named after the placed where Jesus was crucified. There are others apparently named Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and more. I wonder why they chose that name? I wonder how that name shapes the church? I share all this, because earlier this week I came across, as you do when you use google, various churches in America called Gethsemane Episcopal Church.’ Anglicans usually tend to go for names of Saints – St. Mary, St. Martin, St. John’s. I wonder what it means to be named Gethsemane? I wonder what it might mean we renamed ourselves ‘Gethsemane Baptist Church’? Often our focus on Maundy Thursday is on the Last Supper, but tonight I want to look at what happened later... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2016 at andygoodliff
As we gather closer to Good Friday, here is a reflection on baptism from Craig Hovey. The church's failure to be a martyr-church is supremely seen in those cultures that continue to baptise the young for sentimentality's sake. For many, baptism involves neither incorporation into the life of the community of faith nor incorporation into the death and resurrection of Christ. It is not a drowning in the surging waters, a participation in the suffering Christ, a commitment to undergo the discipline of the church relative to its new life and mission made possible by Christ's resurrection. For many, baptism does not recall and invite the promises of God to the new member, those promises that will be necessary in a life marked by dedication and risk. Rather, it forgoes the weightier matters of life and death in favour of sanctioning the life and choices one will make on one's own. In absolute contrast to the gift God has given the church in baptism for marking the difficulty of discipleship and God's upholding, for many baptism only enshrines one's individual life apart from God and entrenches one's autonomous freedom from the church. It becomes a quaint ceremony for an innocuous... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2016 at andygoodliff
Here comes a reflection on baptism in the Syriac Christian tradition from Eugene Rogers and his book on the Holy Spirit, After the Spirit. The Syriac tradition looks at the meaning of baptism in a different light. The Syriac tradition does not portray baptism as a grim moment in which sinners grit their teeth and try to wrest their redemption from the cold and unforgiving water. The tone is entirely different: one of praise, thanksgiving, and wonder, as befits a glimpse into the trinitarian relations and a share in the feasting at the wedding of the Lamb: How fearful and full of awe is this moment when the supernal beings stand in silence upon this baptismal water - thousands upon thousands of angels, ten thousands of Seraphim hover over this new mother, holy baptism, the spiritual mother who gives birth to spiritual sons who enter into the bridal chamber of life that is full of joys … They stand by the river Jordan to receive the Son of God who has come to perfect baptism. The Holy Spirit descends upon him from the uppermost heights, not to sanctify him, but to bear witness to him. The Syriac tradition can see... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2016 at andygoodliff
If it is not too indulgent, today I post a sermon I preached on baptism in March 2014. What has happened here today? What have we witnessed and experienced? Some might say that what has happened here this morning is an ancient initiation rite, it’s the means that the church requires for people to join the club, to become an insider. And this is not untrue. Aimee through her baptism has become part of the body of Christ, a member of God’s people. Some might say that what has happened here this morning is the declaration of what somebody believes, they have announced in public their faith in God. And this is also not untrue. Aimee has made a confession of faith, she was asked four questions and shared her story of why she believes and felt it was right to come to baptism. But I want to suggest something else has happened here this morning which does not begin with the church or with Aimee, but with God. I want to talk about what baptism does to you and more specifically what God in baptism does to you. So this is a sermon for Aimee, to say something of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2016 at andygoodliff
Today's post comes from Kim Fabricius and a sermon he posted on the Faith and Theology blog, to which he is a regular contributor. Fabricius is a URC minister in Wales and is very funny, as well as a great preacher. In the sermon below he reminds us of the oddness of baptism. I’d like your opinion about a couple I know, about something they did, did to their child. Of course they loved their baby to bits and surrounded him with all the care in the world, cooing and cuddling, bathing and bonding, taking tender care about all his needs and his feeds and his smelly little deeds. They were good parents. But then one day they made a decision: they decided they didn’t want to keep their baby to themselves, or even to their own kin; they decided they wanted to share their child with other people, indeed to raise their child as part of another family, a genetically unrelated family, where their child would have not only other brothers and sisters, but also other mothers and fathers too. In fact, this new family would, in principle, supersede their own family as the child’s true and ultimate home.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2016 at andygoodliff
Preamble Last week I posted that Council were to meet and part of their agenda was to reflect again on same sex marriage. Following their meeting they have issued a new statement, which appeared on Monday morning. (A copy was emailed to ministers on Friday afternoon). I am part of a Baptist church that is not planning to register as a place where same sex marriages can be held. As a minister I do not feel at the moment in a position where I could conduct a same sex marriage. I do though have good friends who take a position of wanting to affirm same sex marriage in the church. I would happily be a member of any of their churches and would happily share in ministry with them. I continue to be open to engage theologically, biblically and pastorally around this issue. In my mind this is not a settled issue. I am not troubled that other churches and other ministers might come to a place of affirming and celebrating same sex marriage. I recognise that as Christians we will come to different positions, and that every view on homosexuality - those that affirm and those that are against... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2016 at andygoodliff
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I offer today 3 pictures of the baptism of Jesus. This pictures comes from 1330, it is from an Armenian Cathedral in Iran. It also appears on the front cover of Curtis Freeman's Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor, 2015). This is Piero Della Francesca's painting from 1450 and can be seen in the National Gallery, London. This painting is called 'The River' and is by John August Swanson (1987). At the bottom is Jesus being baptised and then above are all these other persons using the river. Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2016 at andygoodliff
Will Willimon tells a story of baptism. Once upon a time I went out to a small rural church to baptize a twelve-year-old boy whom a pastor had been instructing in the faith. I was happy to oblige until the pastor said, “Jeremy very much wants to be immersed. Can you do that?” “Er, uh, sure. I can do that,” I said, unwilling to admit that I had rarely baptized anyone by immersion. I arrived at the church that Sunday morning, and sure enough, there was the pastor standing on the front steps of the little church with a small boy. “Jeremy, this is the bishop,” the pastor said proudly. “It’s an honor for you to be baptized by the bishop.” Young Jeremy looked me over and said only, “They tell me you don’t do many of these. I’d feel better if we had a run-through beforehand.” “That was just what I was going to suggest,” I said. We went into the church’s fellowship hall where the pastor showed me their newly purchased font, dressed up by a carpenter in the congregation, surrounded by pots of flowers. Jeremy said, “After you say the words, then you take my hand and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2016 at andygoodliff
Flannery O’Connor's short novel The River is a shocking story, in which a baptism lies at the centre. Below is the extract of Harry Ashfield's baptism in the river. “Listen to what I got to say, you people! There ain’t but one river and that’s the River of Life, made out of Jesus’s blood. That’s the river you have to lay your pain in, in the River of Faith, in the River of Life, in the River of Love, in the rich red river of Jesus’ blood, you people! …. All the rivers come from that one River and go back to it like it was the ocean sea and if you believe, you can lay your pain in that River and get rid of it because that’s the River that was made to carry sin. It’s a River full of pain itself, pain itself, moving toward the Kingdom of Christ, to be washed away, slow, you people, slow as this here old red water river around my feet.” … “If I Baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2016 at andygoodliff
Another short reading of baptism, this time from the theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book Nachfolge, from which today's quotation can be found, was published in German in 1937, in the years of Nazi government of Germany. Baptism thus implies a break. Christ invades the realm of Satan and lays hold of those who belong to him thereby creating his church-community. Past and present are torn asunder. The old has passed away, all things have become new. The break does not come about by our breaking our chains out of an unquenchable thirst to see our life and all things ordered in a new and free away. Long ago, Christ himself has already bought about that break. In baptism this break now also takes effect in our own lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (SCM, 2015 [1937, ET= 1948]), p.170. Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2016 at andygoodliff
Marilynne Robinson is regarded as one of the greatest living novelists, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for her novel Gilead. The novel should be required reading for everyone going into church ministry. Gilead has been followed by two sequels - Home and Lila, which explore the same events of Gilead, but from the perspective of a different character. Gilead tells the story of a congregationalist pastor called John Ames. In this section of the novel, Ames remember when, as a child, he once baptised a litter of cats! (There is another baptism scene in Lila as well.) Now, this might seem a trivial thing to mention, considering the gravity of the subject, but I truly don’t feel it is… Once we baptized a litter of cats. They were dusty little barn cats just steady on their legs, the kind of waifish creatures that live their anonymous lives keeping the mice down and have no interest in humans at all, except to avoid them. But the animals all seem to start out sociable, so we were all pleased to find new kittens prowling out of whatever cranny their mother had tried to hide them in, as ready to play as... Continue reading
Posted Mar 15, 2016 at andygoodliff
Today's story of baptism is from Robert Webber reflecting on what brought him to baptism. The son of a Baptist pastor, Webber wrote a lot about worship and especially how the worship practices of the past might be important for the church of the future. At the age of twelve, I was sitting in the kitchen eating a snack when my father pulled up a chair, sat down beside me, and looking me in the eye said, 'Robert, don't you think it is time to be baptised?' I had not given a great deal of thought to being baptised. I was a Christian, to be sure. I grew up in a strict Christian home, and while my faith was the faith of the family, I had not doubt or disbelief. Still, I found my father's question to be haunting, even challenging. for the first time in my life I was asked to affirm the faith that was mine by family environment. The question raised doubt in my mind. Was this a faith I could personally embrace? I was only twelve, so the level of doubt and the quality of my questions were superficial. After a time of personal reflection I... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2016 at andygoodliff
This week the Council of the Baptist Union will meet. On its agenda will be to look again at the issue of same sex relationships, two years on from the statement it agreed, which affirmed the Union's position that marriage is between man and women, but also affirmed (in line with the Declaration of Principle) the liberty of the local church, through a process of discernment to possibly affirm a same sex relationship. In the two years a good number of churches have spent time considering the issue of same sex relationships, many using the BU's own material that seeks to help church think biblically and pastorally (I can think of at least 5 in the Southend Area). This is good news. What has also happened is that a small number of churches have registered, or are in the process of registering, as places of worship in which same sex marriage can take place. That some churches have registered is proving very difficult for churches (and possibly Associations) who are unable to affirm same sex relationships. This may well be a test of our Union. This is not the first test (other issues have tested it in the past) and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2016 at andygoodliff
Today's musing on baptism comes from David Ford, who was until last year Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. The paragraph below comes from his little book The Shape of Living, which was the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent book in 1997. Baptism is the clearest Christian testimony to the fundamental and inescapable reality of being overwhelmed. It is the basic event of Christian identity. Those of us who are baptized have taken on an identity shaped by the overwhelmings of creation, death, resurrection and the Holy Spirit. We have also entered a community that spans generations and relates us to many who have died, as well as to perhaps two billion people alive today who are identified as Christians. This is being overwhelmed by people; but it does not stop with the Christian community because Jesus Christ faces in love the four billion or so others too. David F. Ford, The Shape of Living (Canterbury, 2012 [1997]), p.23. Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2016 at andygoodliff
I love this evocative paragraph from Michael Jinkins, which was sent to me this week by Doug Gay, and so I have found way to include it. We are soaked to the skin in the death of Christ. Our union with Christ drips from us. We never "get over" this immersion; this drowning in Christ's death marks us daily; it marks us out, "names" us to the world and to one another as "children of God"; we are shipwrecked, run aground on the death of Christ; we trail wet footprints of this drenching wherever we go; we never dry off. Baptism is the continental divide, the absolute division in the topography of Christian existence: "we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" Romans 6.4). And in this way, baptism is set as a seal upon our hearts for a love strong as death, and as the sign of our paradoxical existence in Christ, our lostness to ourselves, which is also our salvation because it consists in our being called to die in Christ.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2016 at andygoodliff
Rodney Wallace Kennedy is lead pastor of First Baptist Church, Dayton, Ohio. Today's account of baptism comes from a sermon he preached on the Sunday celebrating the Baptism of Christ, January 9, 2011. Baptism is not a cute ritual for babies or a free ticket to heaven for pre-adolescents. It is far more than that, and Baptists, of all people, ought to lead the way in making sure people know that baptism is the entrance into the valley of the shadow of death, the long walk into the light and the Promised Land. I asked you to remember your baptism this morning. Touch, feel, renew your vows. Baptism really is a big deal. … Baptism is a journey of doing all that God requires. American Christians have a hangup: We claim a status instead of a calling; we claim rights instead of requirements and privileges instead of responsibilities. Some Christians think they are morally superior and go about the business of cramming their moralism down everyone else’s throat. Some Christians think they are emotionally superior and feel sorry for those who don’t carried away in worship. Some Christians think they are intellectually superior and delight in insulting the faith of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2016 at andygoodliff
Here's a story that is but tragic and humorous and reveals something of the problem with baptism and the disunity of the church. (I found this story via Travis McMaken's The Sign of the Gospel, which begins with another story that reveals the problem of baptism and re-baptism) Early in this century, a baby born in England, Lucille by name, was taken by her maternal grandmother to the local Wesleyan chapel to be baptised. Lucy's father, a sturdy Anglican, was skeptical about the whole proceeding since the Church of England does not regard Methodist clergy as being in the apostolic succession. So he took Lucy to the Anglican parish church where was baptized again. Now Lucy's mother was a convert to the Salvation Army and didn't think much of either the Wesleyans or the Anglicans. So she took Lucy to the local citadel for presentation under the banner of blood and fire - the Salvationist counterpart to baptism. In time the family emigrated to the midwestern United States. The community they moved into had neither an Episcopal Church nor an army Citadel; so the family attended the Methodist Church. As a teenager, Lucy joined a class of those preparing to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2016 at andygoodliff
The account of baptism today comes from the film O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. In the middle of the film the characters come across a river baptism. THE RIVER White robes stream down the hill, out of the woods, and down the riverbank. The voices swell in a great chorus: VOICES We went down to the river one day, Studying about that good old way, And who shall wear that robe and crown, Oh Lord, show us the way... We are booming down to reveal a minister in the foreground. He stands belly-deep in the river, easing a white-robed man back-down into the water. Behind him a line of robed singers lengthens steadily as people stream out of the woods. Pete, Delmar and Everett emerge from the woods and gaze down at the river. White-robed people continue to drift past them. EVERETT I guess hard times flush the chumps. Everybody's lookin' for answers, and there's always- Delmar wades out into the stream, cutting in line. EVERETT Where the hell's he goin'? Delmar has reached the minister and holds his nose as the minister incantates over him and lowers him into the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2016 at andygoodliff
This story of baptism comes from Andrew Kleissner, a British Baptist minister currently in Ipswich. This took place in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, in around March 1981. The custom was for churches to hold baptismal services on Saturday during their annual “Bible weeks”, with newly-baptised believers taking Communion for the first time the following day. The Evangelical church at Missira, a suburb of Bissau, was full of expectant people at 4pm. About 30 people from two churches, mostly young, all clad in white gowns, were ready to be baptised by immersion in the local river. The congregation processed joyously for about a mile along the dirt road, past houses and down towards the river. The candidates walked quietly in single file, flanked by Christians singing loudly. Many onlookers joined in the procession so about 200 people eventually arrived at the river bank. Here we encountered two problems. One was that the water level, at the end of the dry season, was very low. The other was that a group of men were washing their lorry on the shore, just at the baptism site. Domingos Dias, the local evangelist, explained what we were about to do and they graciously agreed to stop... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2016 at andygoodliff
Today is Mothering Sunday. I was reading Beverly Gaventa's excellent book Our Mother Saint Paul, which explores the various maternal descriptions Paul uses in his letters about himself (1 Thess. 2.7; Gal. 4.19; 1 Cor. 3.1-2; Rom. 8.22). At the end of the introduction she shares a prayer from St. Anselm that picks up this language. Anselm also describes Jesus as mother. O St Paul, where is he that was called the nurse of the faithful, caressing his sons? Who is that affectionate mother who declares everywhere that she is in labour for her sons? Sweet nurse, sweet mother, who are the sons you are in labour with, and nurse, but those whom by teaching the faith of Christ you bear and instruct? Or who is a Christian after your teaching who is not born into the faith and established in it by you? And if in that blessed faith we are born and nursed by other apostles also, it is most of all by you, for you have laboured and done more than them all in this; so if they are our mothers, you are our greatest mother. ... And you, Jesus, are you not also a mother? Are... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2016 at andygoodliff