Two poems for Pentecost

Steve Turner, ‘Spiritus’ I used to think of you as a symphony neatly structured full of no surprises. Now I see you as a saxophone solo blowing wildly into the night, a tongue of fire, flicking in unrepeated patterns. Adrian Mitchell, ‘Goodbye’ He breathed in air, he breathed out light. Charlie Parker was my delight. …not, of course, a classically English confusion of aesthetic and theological judgements – I might be tempted to imagine some level of inspiration on that level for Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, but not for anything by Bird Parker. Rather, following the methodology of my former colleague Jeremy Begbie, an attempt to narrate Pentecostal experience of God’s Spirit in musical grammar: it is, I believe, far more like Bird’s instinctive and immediate following of a contextual instinct than the playing, however sensitive, of notes pinned like so many dead butterflies to the pages of a classical score. Peter, the broken apostle, did not, on the day of Pentecost, perform an endlessly-rehearsed-and-analysed account of theological fact; instead he was granted the ability, born of three years’ exposure to, and indwelling of, the Truth, to improvise in the key of gospel. ‘He breathed in air, he breathed out light…’ – may it be true of me, each time I dare to presume to speak, to faithfully improvise in that same key, and so breath out only...

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The BUGB affirmation of the ministry of women 1: legality

[Lengthy apologia – skip past the italics for the meat if you like… This post is something of a departure from a self-imposed blogging rule. Lots of denominations, and lots of groups within denominations, issue statements, enter discussions, make pronouncements. I read a lot of them, and think about many of them. From time to time I have begun to write blog posts about some of them. Always, I revise my plans in one of two directions. Mostly, I simply don’t write the post. Sometimes, I abstract into generic ideas and post about the ideas. Discussions in denominations other than my own are, in an important sense, none of my business – I don’t know the contexts and the conversations, and so anything I might say will inevitably be poorly-directed and gauche. The Baptist Union of Great Britain, however, is a context to which I am close. I was baptised in a BUGB church, ordained as a BUGB minister, served locally and nationally on BUGB working parties and committees. Over five years ago I transferred my church membership and ministerial accreditation to the Baptist Union of Scotland, but last year I spoke at the BUGB Assembly; this year I have and will again address conferences of BUGB ministers. I have the privilege to count the present and former General Secretaries as friends; one of the divisional heads is a former student of mine; many, many friends to whom I speak regularly are in BUGB churches. There is always more going on than one person can understand but this, perhaps, of all foreign contexts, is one I understand. That said, it is no longer my context, and I have no responsibility, or mandate, to speak into its deliberations. (Although, through either editorial error or astonishing graciousness, I notice that I have not yet been removed from the published list of BUGB accredited ministers…) I have resisted more than once the impulse to write to the Baptist Times, BUGB’s house journal – whilst I retain an interest in what goes on ‘down South’ it is, straightforwardly, none of my business.] BUGB Council recently strongly re-affirmed the ministry of women within the denomination. This re-affirmation has been queried in public by people whose history of commitment and insight is something I can only hope to aspire to in the future. The causes of the queries would seem to be two, linked, hesitations: on the one hand, what is the formal role of BUGB Council in determining and dictating policy for the Union or the churches? On the other, where in this decision is the traditional Baptist commitment to liberty of conscience? The latter of these points seems to me a simple misunderstanding. Baptist commitment to liberty of conscience has never been, and should never be, a bar to religious (or other…) associations expressing choosing to gather around certain convictions. No king, government, bishop, or priest should ever coerce anyone into believing anything – this is liberty of conscience – but the inevitable concomitant of this is that any person or association should be free to determine her/its own determinations of the limits of fellowship.  I can decide that I will only worship with those who are Calvinistic, or who hold to a premillennial escahtology, or who take their communion cups in their left hand; I can form a religious association with others who believe the same; what I may not do is create laws that disadvantage those who do not belong to my religious association. As Thomas Helwys had it: Wee still pray our lord the king that wee may be free from suspect, for haveing anie thoughts of provoking evill against them of the Romish religion, in regard of their profession, if they be true & faithfull subiects to the king for wee do freely professe, that our lord the king hath no more power over their consciences then over ours, and that is none at all: for our lord the king is but an earthly king, and he hath no aucthority as a king but in earthly causes, and if the kings people be obedient & true subiects, obeying all humane lawes made by the king, our lord the king can require no more: for mens religion to God, is betwixt God and themselves; the king shall not answere for it, neither may the king be iudg betwene God and man. Let them be heretikes, Turcks, Jewes, or whatsover it apperteynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the King by the scriptures. (Mistery of Iniquity 1612, p. 69) Helwys wrote this in...

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