‘Forgive me Lord, for I pray in paragraphs’

I think it is Peter Wimsey who somewhere apologises for the fact that he speaks in paragraphs; his thoughts are so ordered, he seems to suggest, his mind so clear, that whole chunks of connected logic fall from his mouth when he opens it; he realises that this might be irritating to those less blessed with intellectual clarity, and so he says sorry. It struck me with force last week during a church leaders’ meeting that I pray in paragraphs. Not because my relationship with God is so ordered, but because I have become professional about praying, at least in public; I wish that were not so. One of our pastors introduced an issue that was on his heart, asked us to pray; it was something I cared about deeply in the life of our church, and I began; I managed a...

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Communal discernment and the church meeting

As Baptists, we believe in communal discernment of the will of God, and we engage in such communal discernment through the church meeting. However, this raises a question: is the practice of church meeting just a convenient occasion for communal discernment, or is it of the essence of such work? Is there something special about communal discernment that takes place in the context of church meeting, or is that practice of gathering merely a way of facilitating a process that can happen equally as well in other contexts?

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Church as (non-nuclear) family

When the Bible talks of the church as ‘family’, what picture are we meant to see? Not, I am sure, our own instinctive picture of a nuclear family, parents and children alone, a tiny two-generational group separating from wider society. To speak of the church as a family, and of Christians as sisters and brothers is not to make demands about intimacy within a certain congregation, but to make demands about concern and availability across the whole world.

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Arguments for male-only ministry, good and bad

A conversation with a good friend yesterday reminded me of an old (9 months; palaeolithic in internet debating terms) blog post by another good friend, Mike Higton. Mike addresses a class of arguments for restricting certain things – church teaching ministry, perhaps, but the argument works equally well for frontline combat roles or for preschool childcare – to people of one gender. He addressed arguments of the form: ‘This role requires characteristic X; But characteristic X is generally more developed in people of one gender; so this role should be reserved to people of that gender.’ Thus expressed, this is formal, but the concrete examples are not hard to list: men are generally physically stronger, so only men should be miners; women...

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The consolations of faith: on leading on non-religious funeral

Today I led a funeral service for my grandmother; in accordance with her views, and the wishes of her children, the service was devoid of any ‘religious’ content. I found this odd. Not difficult, but odd. Obviously, when asked to do it, I said yes; it did not take any thought to decide to help family members at such a time, and I rapidly worked out that, whilst I could not lead a ceremony speaking words I did not believe, I have no problem (indeed, a fair amount of experience, one way or another) in acting with integrity in public whilst not saying certain things that I do believe. What difficultly there was lay in working out what the service was for, in order to construct an appropriate form of words (I keep saying ‘liturgy’ in my head,...

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Theology, ethics, and church growth: or, how to prove anything with statistics

It is an important part of the role of the academic, particularly the academic who chooses to comment in non-specialist arenas, to be very clear about precisely what is, and what is not, shown by a given piece of evidence. I picked up on a minor Twitter storm yesterday concerning claims and counter-claims about the linkage of church decline with a progressive/accepting stance on issues of sexuality.

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Moral arguments for independence

The Sunday Herald yesterday ran an advertisement carrying the names of thirty-four Church of Scotland ministers committed to a claim that a yes vote in the independence referendum would improve social justice in Scotland. Three individuals were quoted, two of them offering (what could be constructed as) moral arguments in favour of independence. Are they right? My judgement is that one might be, but it relies on an undemonstrated premise if it is; the other is wrong; both judgements depend on some interesting moral reasoning which is worth exploring.

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