Monday, 10 September 2018

Murder - We're all Cain

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
9 September 2018

Genesis 4.1-16 (OT p.3)
Hebrews 10.1-6, 10-14 (NT p.239)

Listen to the sermon here:

On the Saturday night of the August Bank Holiday weekend, a couple of weeks ago,
            a young man was stabbed to death in South East London,
            not too far from where I live.

His death came just days after the Metropolitan police
            announced their 100th homicide investigation in London this year.[1]

The capital's murder rate is on course for a 28 per cent rise in 2018
            after a wave of street killings, mostly gang-related knife-crime,
            but fuelled by a rising middle class demand for cocaine.[2]

And today, as we come to consider the story of Cain and Abel,
            I want to suggest that Cain, the first murderer of the biblical tradition,
            is still alive and living amongst us.

It seems to me that this archetypical ‘marked man’ of human history has refused to die,
            and that as a consequence in our city, and throughout the world,
            many lives continue to be taken at the hand of another.

The drive to shed blood, righteously or un-righteously,
            is as strong as it ever has been.

So my question for us this morning is this:
            what might it take for Cain to be laid to rest?
What is necessary to overcome the seemingly universal tendency towards violence?

My hope is that as we spend some time with this story,
            and the various ways it has been interpreted,
we may begin to uncover some of the darkness in our own world
            which drives human siblings to bloodshed.

But first, I’m going to start which what seems to me
            to be the biggest theological problem in this text:
what on earth kind of a God have we got here,
            who provokes Cain by rejecting his offering,
whilst simultaneously receiving
            that brought by his brother Abel?

This surely seems to be a capricious, unpredictable God;
            one who offers no explanation or rationale
            for either his giving, or his withholding of acceptance.

He seems very much like the God of the book of Job,
            making a bet with Satan about whether Job’s faith will withstand testing.

And here I want to suggest again something I’ve said before,
            which is that the biblical narrative can best be understood
            as a series of thought experiments about the nature of God.

If we were to take every description of God in the Bible
            as an accurate and infallible revelation of the nature of the divine,
we would get into all sorts of trouble,
            because we would have to reconcile a whole variety
            of competing and contradictory pictures.

A more helpful approach, it seems to me,
            is to regard the various portrayals of God that we find in scripture
            as a series of questions about the nature of God:
                        Is he a God of love or a God of war?
                        A God of forgiveness or a God of vengeance?
                        …and so on.

And here in chapter four of Genesis,
            we encounter a story which is trying to grapple
                        with where God fits into the very real human fear of rejection;
            a fear which underlies and distorts
                        so many of our relationships with one another.

There is a theory, put forward by the Jewish philosopher Moshe Halbertal,
            that the sacrificial systems of cultic religions such as ancient Judaism,
                        originated with the desire to build relationships
                        through the giving and receiving of gifts.[3]

We know that many cultures around the world even today
            have deeply embedded gift-giving traditions,
where the glue that holds society together
            is found in the giving of gifts
            with no expectation of immediate reward.

And a gift economy, founded on such traditions,
            will function very differently to a barter economy,
            and differently again to a market economy such as our own.

The important thing in a gift economy is that your gift is received.
            If it is, then you have a good relationship
                        with the person to whom you have given it.
            But if it isn’t, the relationship is broken,
                        and conflict has entered the system.

Halbertal suggests that when it comes to desiring a relationship with God,
            the gift giving mechanism is inherently unequal,
because there really is nothing that a human can give to God,
            which can adequately match the gifts that God has already given to us.

As a consequence, he suggests that the idea of offering a sacrifice
            emerged as a way returning to God
                        just a portion of what has already been received,
            in the hope that in receiving the sacrifice,
                        the relationship between God and the giver
                        will be re-established for another year.

But the dark side of the sacrificial system
            was the fear that if for some reason God didn’t receive the sacrifice,
                        maybe it was the wrong kind of sacrifice,
                        or had been offered in the wrong kind of way,
            a person might become estranged from God.

This led to the development of ever more complicated cultic rituals
            around the process of offering sacrifices,
with the emergence of priests, laws, and ceremonies
            to ensure that a sacrifice, when offered, would be received properly by God.

It also allowed for the development of a theology of atonement,
            where the gift of the sacrifice in some way expressed
                        not only thankfulness and a desire for relationship,
            but also repentance for those sins which had broken the relationship
                        between humans and God.

Within the Jewish system, this developed over the centuries
            into a full-blown theology of sacrificial atonement,
where the sins of the people were put onto a sacrificial lamb,
            which was then put out into the wilderness to die,
in the hope that the sacrifice of the innocent animal
            would lead to a re-establishment
            of the divine-human relationship.

And the relevance of this for our consideration of Cain and Abel
            is that whilst this story is set in pre-history,
we need to remember that it took shape in, and was written down by,
            a society with a highly developed sacrificial system.

Cain and Abel is a story which enabled the Jews of later centuries
            to explore their deep fear that without their careful cultic rituals
                        to ensure successful sacrifices,
maybe it was still possible for God to reject their offering;
            and that if he did,
            the consequences of that broken relationship would be disastrous.

There was clearly a fear in Judaism that God might not accept the offerings of his people,
            however carefully they had been offered,
and the prophet Amos plays on this fear unashamedly
            in his call to repentance and social justice:

Amos 5.14-15, 21-24
Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

For Amos, the choice before God’s people
            was the same choice as that which had faced Cain (Gen. 4.7):
Their offerings had been deemed unacceptable,
            and they must now choose whether to respond well, or badly.

Cain, as we know from the story, embraced murder, violence, and anger;
            and Amos knows that that potential still resides
            in the heart of all Cain’s descendants;
but Amos hopes the people of God in his time
            will rewrite the script and choose to embrace justice and righteousness,
and that through their repentance,
            and their offering of gifts of goodness and mercy,
they will discover a new quality of relationship with God,
            that the mere sacrificing of animals and produce had not generated.

And so we’re back to Cain and Abel,
            and how this story might begin to challenge us,
            in the ways that we seek renewed relationship with God.

It would be very easy for us to say
            that we would never make in our lives the mistake that Cain made;
            that we would never go so far as to commit murder.

But if we find ourselves tempted by such complacency,
            we need to hear again the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5.21-24 
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

We can become Cain and Abel in our time, in our church even,
            just as easily as the people of God in Amos’s time could.

John Steinbeck said of this story from Genesis chapter four, that
‘These sixteen verses are a history of mankind in any age or culture or race.’

The story of Cain and Abel is a story about the choices daily before each of us,
            as to what decisions we are prepared to make
            in our longing to be justified.

Who, or what, are we prepared to sacrifice?

The desire in each of us to be right, and to be on the side of right,
            is very strong.
We all long to be righteous
            in the sight of ourselves, each other, and God.
But the price we are prepared to pay for being right,
            can be disturbingly high.

It is so easy for us to write violence, oppression, and bloodshed
            into our desire to ensure our own sense of righteousness.

We create our own cultic systems of ritual scapegoating,
            which make us righteous by demonising the other.

We become Cain, and the other becomes Abel.

And if you doubt me, just take a look
            at what our society is doing with regard to refugees and immigration.

I am deeply troubled that the God we worship as a nation
            is not the God of universal love we see revealed in Jesus Christ.
I’ve said before that our time as a Christian country,
            if such a thing ever even existed, has now long gone.

And in its place, our national obsession has become a god of our own construction
            who takes shape in ideologies of isolationism,
                        and in the fear of the foreigner,
            and in the protection of national interest above all else.

We have deified nationalism,
            and we have constructed our own highly efficient cultic system
            to ensure that our behaviour is deemed righteous, and acceptable in its sight.

If you spend any time with the asylum and immigration system,
            you quickly realise what an efficient scapegoating mechanism it is,
            and what dehumanising effects it has on those who fall into its workings.
If you spend any time with the benefits system,
            you quickly discover the cost it exacts on those
            who have to negotiate the sanctions and punishments of universal credit.
And I could go on, with issues of housing and homelessness,
            low pay and extortionate credit,
                        reduced access to healthcare,
            and privatisation of essential services,
                        all contributing to a national identity
                                    which demands our worship and rewards our obedience
                                    whilst scapegoating the vulnerable.

But still we bring the offerings of our efforts, our money, our taxes,
            and leave them on the altar of the free market economy,
trusting the gods of neoliberalism will receive them with gratitude
            and that we will leave justified.

Well, I’m afraid that I think it’s time to call time on this false god,
            because any system that requires the sacrifice of the vulnerable minority
                        to preserve the righteousness of the majority,
            is contrary to the gospel of Christ.

So, back to Cain and Abel again.

After Cain killed Abel, the LORD said to Cain,
            "Where is your brother Abel?"
And he said,
            "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"
And the LORD said, “What have you done?
            Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

Here we come to the crux of the matter.

We are Cain. I am Cain, you are Cain.
            We are those whose participation
                        in the contemporary systems of cultic sacrifice,
            has led to the scapegoating and death of sisters and brothers
                        whose innocent blood cries out to God from the ground.

We are all guilty here.
            We have not been our brother or sister’s keeper.
We have looked first to our own interests,
            and allowed ourselves to become blinded to the interests of others.

And our fractured relationship with the God of love
            will not be fixed by offerings of worship, or money, or effort.

Rather, our calling as the people of the God,
            is to trust the one-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ,
to know that we are justified,
            not because of anything we do,
            but because of what God has done for us already.

But then we bring our offering of thanksgiving to the altar,
            as a gift for God given out of the abundance of forgiveness
            that we have already received.

And here’s the thing:
            if we are to bring an offering that God will look on with favour,
then we need to hear again the voice of Amos,
            reminding us that the offering that is pleasing to God
            is the offering of hearts and lives committed to justice.

Our righteousness will be found,
            when righteousness flows to others
            as a never failing stream of life giving water.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Why This Church? Congregational Church Government

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
2nd September 2018

Acts 15.1-35
1 Corinthians 12.12-27

I have a question for those of us who have attended church meetings over the years,
            both here at Bloomsbury and elsewhere.
What, I wonder, would be your third most memorable church meeting?
            I ask this because, out of all those meetings,
            are there even as many as three that stick in your mind as memorable?

I have to admit I have struggled to answer this question myself.

There was the one that commended me for ministerial training,
            in Sheffield in about 1995;
and the one here at Bloomsbury a few years ago
            where we decided to register for Same Sex Marriage;
but beyond that, they are all something of a blur
            of reports received, elections conducted, and minor decisions taken.

They’re OK, and at the time they felt important enough to justify going to the next one,
            but not many of them have been particularly memorable if I’m honest.

So, as I come to preach this morning on the topic of Congregational Church Government,
            I want us to take some time to consider together
            what we think we’re doing when we gather together in Church Meetings
                        to discern the mind of Christ for our congregation?

Church meetings are, after all, one of the key distinctives
            of what it means to be a Baptist church.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain is built
            on a document called the Declaration of Principle,
which lists the three convictions that you need to hold to if you’re going to be a Baptist.

Taking them in reverse order,
            the third one is a commitment to mission and to sharing the good news of Jesus.
The second one is the conviction that baptism is for believers upon profession of faith.
            And the first one is as follows:

The Basis of the Baptist Union is:

1. That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.

And that’s it. If you can sign up to those three, you can call yourself a Baptist.
            Mission, Baptism, and discerning the mind of Christ at a local level:
‘each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
            to interpret and administer His laws.’

Those of you who were hear a couple of weeks ago
            would have heard me preaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
and when we came to the gift of Discernment,
            I commented that in a Baptist context, this is a gift that is primarily used
                        communally and for the common good
                        in our practice of church meetings.

Theologically speaking, it is when we gather as the body of Christ
            that we discern the mind of Christ.

I can’t do this on my own, and nor can you
            - we need each other in this,
            challenging and correcting, listening and affirming.

Discernment, Baptist-style, is a communal activity,
            and the church meeting has developed as the primary place where this happens.

Historically speaking, the practice of church meetings
            was also a crucial part of the way Baptists understood authority.
In both the Roman Catholic church and the Church of England,
            God’s authority over the church was mediated
            through a hierarchy of ordained priests.

Think of it a bit like a triangle, with God at the top,
            and then a widening base of various layers of leadership
            filtering God’s authority down to a congregational level.

Different to this, the Baptist vision of the church
            was built on a theological conviction known as the priesthood of all believers,
which held that there was no need for any human intermediary
            between the simple believer and God
            - because we can each of us pray direct to God in the name of Jesus.

This meant that the early Baptists realised
            that they could do away with the hierarchy of authority.

When you do this, you end up with an inverted triangle,
            with God still at the top,
but with the primary place for the discernment of his will
            being found in the local congregation,
            rather than in a hierarchical structure.

There is still a place here for the exercising of the gifts of ministry and leadership,
            but they are always offered in the service of the local church,
            not over and above it.
This is why I’m a minister not a priest:
            because ‘Minister’ means ‘servant’,
            and I’m a servant of my congregation,
                        offering my gifts for the benefit of us all.

It’s important for us to note here
            that there is still a place for the wider church beyond the local congregation,
                        and we shall discover more about this in November
                        when we come to look at Independence and Interdependence.

But for today, we’re going to concentrate
            on the way God’s authority is discerned within a local congregation.

Another way of thinking about this is to ask the question:
What is the will of God and how do we grasp it?

·        How do we know whether it is right to have person A or person B as our minister?
·        How do we discern who our deacons should be?
·        How do we know what we should do with the money we collectively offer to God?
·        How do we know what God wants us to do
            about key issues facing our congregation at this time?


These are the kinds of questions
            that might be addressed in a typical church meeting.
They’re important questions,
            and they’re questions that are vital for the good functioning
            of our congregational life together.

But, and here I’m going to be really honest,
            they aren’t often very exciting questions.
Sometimes they are, but on the whole they’re not.

In fact, in my general experience,
            most of the time in most of the church meetings I’ve attended
            has been taken up with matters of finance,
                        buildings and fabric, and administration.

I remain profoundly grateful for those who handle such matters on our behalf
            - and without a competent secretary, treasurer, diaconate,
                        and the various supporting teams,
            we would probably go bust, have a catastrophe with our building,
                        or get into enormous trouble
                        because some form was filled out incorrectly.

But my question for us this morning
            is whether these should be the primary, or indeed only,
            things we do in our church meetings?

Certainly, since the early twentieth century,
            most Baptist churches have devoted most of their church meeting time and energy
                        to issues of governance.
            The ever rising tide of bureaucracy and accountability in wider society
                        has demanded that we take these things seriously and do them well,
                        and quite properly we have responded in kind.

After all, if we are going to have a building
            out of which we are going to do all the amazing things
                        we do in our wider congregational life,
            then we have to make sure that we take good decisions
                        about its upkeep, development, and use.
If we’re going to be able to afford the ministry
            that we believe we’re called to live out,
            then we need to take good decisions about our money.

Issues of finance, fabric, and administration
            are not divorced from issues of mission and ministry,
            they are foundational to them.
And because of our authority structure,
            it remains important that these decisions are owned by the church meeting.

So here’s my first challenge:
            When we gather together to deal with these issues,
                        let’s take them seriously, do them well,
            and honour those who do so much of the hard work on our behalf.

And I need to say very clearly
            that a key part of this will be turning up and being part of the meeting.
We’ve had a couple of church meetings recently
            where we’ve barely scraped a quorum;
and if we are not quorate, we can’t do what we need to do.

So - if you’re a church member,
            even a church member who finds issues of finance, fabric and administration
                        somewhat uninspiring
            - we still need you at the meetings,
                        because you still have your part to play in the way we run our life together.

But, did you know that if you rewind back into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
            Baptist church meetings were something very different.
Most of the time in these early Baptist meetings
            was spent not on governance but on discipleship.
The Church meeting was the place
            where the members discussed, often in quite lurid detail,
            the goings on of the private lives of one another.

And people were disciplined by the church meeting
            if their lives didn’t conform to the standards
                        that the congregation had set for them,
            with some even being voted out of membership
                        - the Baptist version of excommunication.

Our own church was no exception,
            as the following except from our church history shows:

Between 1849 and 1866 twenty-four disciplinary cases came before the church. Usually bare details are given in the Minutes. Eight involved bankruptcy, others were for adultery, stealing, having a baby too soon after marriage, intemperance, and renouncing Christianity.[1]

These days, of course, we live in a very different world,
            and I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest a return to these church meetings of old,
            where such matters were addressed in public.

But there is an important point here
            - which is that when your ministers and deacons
                        have to deal with difficult and complex personal circumstances
                        on behalf of the church,
            which we do from time to time,
                        we are only doing so using authority delegated to us by the church meeting,
                        and ultimately we are accountable to the church meeting for the way we do it.

But I am still left wondering
            if there is more to church meetings than we’ve covered so far.

We know that they’re going to have to include issues of governance,
            and address finance, fabric and administration,
and we know that they are the source of the authority
            for the discipline side of discipleship
            insofar as that is the business of the church.

But is there more?

I think we’ve inherited a bit of a language problem
            in the way we talk about church meetings.

We sometimes speak of them as being the church ‘business’ meetings.

But this does not mean ‘business’ in the sense of finance and industry,
            as in ‘businesswoman’.
Rather it means the ‘business’ of the church,
            the things that keep us busy as a congregation,
            the things that matter to us.

Stuart Blythe suggests that
            church meetings should deal with ‘Matters that Matter’.[2]
And that whilst this clearly includes governance,
            it should not be restricted to it.

So what, in addition to finance, fabric, and admin,
            might feature on a church meeting agenda?

Glen Stassen, an American Baptist ethicist, makes a good point.
He says:

Some churches seek to avoid offending any members, and so steer clear of controversial issues and confrontations… [but] this reduces the gospel to private matters or general principles that do not clash with interests and ideologies. These churches fail to confront members in ways that provide the guidance we need in our lives, and they avoid addressing injustices and problems that threaten us. They offer something far removed from the Jesus in the gospels who challenges the religious and social complacency of his generation.[3]

In so many ways we have reduced our faith to the personal and the individual.
            We receive the content of the sermon individually,
                        and act on it or not privately,
            we vote in church meetings individually and occasionally secretly,
            we are baptised one at a time.

And yet we are baptised into the communal body of Christ,
            as we are together priests before God and to one another.

The church meeting, where we gather to discern the mind of Christ,
            calls us away from our individualism
            and back into relationship with one another.

So I find myself wondering what would it look like
            if church meetings included opportunities to hear from each other
                        on more controversial issues,
            to be confronted together about the injustices and problems that we all carry.

I don’t think Stassen has in mind here a return
            to the kind of ‘nosey parker’ approach of earlier centuries,
where individuals were singled out for their transgressions and disciplined.

Rather, what I think is in view here is a more collective approach to discipleship,
            where together we are unafraid to tackle big issues,
            and to seek the mind of Christ for our community on them.

And the thing is, and hear this very clearly,
            we don’t all have to agree!

We can have a discussion, hear from one another,
            even challenge each other,
            and not actually end up in complete agreement.

Did you notice that in the reading we had earlier from the book of Acts,
            they don’t end up in complete agreement either.

The Council at Jerusalem, the first Church Meeting of the early church,
            forges a compromise from conflict,
            so that they can move forward together,
but they know that they are going to live with disagreement
            in how that will be worked out in different contexts.

Similarly, in the reading we had from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth,
            he is very clear that the members of a church are all different from one another,
            and that Christian unity is not Christian uniformity.

So what would it look like
            for our collective discernment of the mind of Christ
to include not just next year’s church budget
            or the next phase of our building’s development,
but issues that matter beyond our gathered community?

After all, we are the body of Christ gathered on Sunday,
            but we are the body scattered on Monday.
I wonder how our Church Meetings on occasional Sunday afternoons
            might affect our lives Monday to Saturday?

What would it look like if our gathering included discernment together
            on issues of politics, or immigration, or racism,
            or homophobia, or anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia?

Not with a view to necessarily all agreeing at the end of it,
            but with an intent to hear from one another,
            and in doing so to hear from Christ himself.

What would it look like if we came to church meetings in humility,
            holding our convictions lightly,
willing to be challenged and to change,
            rather than to argue our corner or defend our position?

What if church meetings became the cradle
            for justice and inclusion in our community?

If you think I’d dreaming here,
            let me take you back to the origin of the practice of voting in church meetings.

In 1835, a man called Charles Stovel published a manual on church order,
            in which he commended balloting as a good procedure.[4]

Until this point, as far as we know,
            Baptist churches didn’t use voting as part of their discernment
                        - they just prayed and talked until it was clear,
            and if it wasn’t clear, they came back next week or next month and tried again.

These days, of course, voting is embedded in our constitution.
            A simple 50% for most issues,
            but a two thirds majority for calling a minister or buying and selling property.

You could read this adoption of voting into church meetings
            as a move away from spiritual discernment in an earlier, purer form,
but you’d be wrong if you did.

The wonderful thing about voting,
            is that in a Baptist context, everyone gets a vote.

In 1832, just three years before the publication
            of Stovel’s Hints on the regulation of Christian Churches,
the Reform Act had extended the franchise in England
            to about 650,000 men.
Which works out at about 10% of the male population of the country.
            90% of men, and all women, still couldn’t vote in national elections.

For Stovel to advocate a practice of voting where everyone gets a vote
            - male and female, rich and poor, property-owning or not,
is a radically subversive, gospel-inspired remodelling
            of the structures that bind wider society together.

So yes, we sometimes vote, and when we do our votes matter.
            But they matter because each of us has a vote, each of us has a voice.

And I appreciate this could just sound like a plea to attend church meetings
            - but if you’re a member of the church and you don’t attend,
                        then you don’t have a vote, and you don’t have a voice,
                        and we’re all poorer for that loss,
            because it may well be through you
                        that we will hear the mind of Christ speaking to our community.

It pains me to think that we may have lost Stovel’s radical vision
            of the church meeting as the place where barriers to inclusion are removed.

What, I wonder, would it look like today, in our context,
            to rediscover that urgency, that intensity,
whereby our way of gathering and discerning
            as Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
was itself a process of challenge
            to the structures of oppression still at large in our society.

Stephen Holmes suggests that the Church Meeting should be

profoundly subversive of almost every human social order … This is the church, where every social division is levelled and each person granted the dignity of one made in the image of God and remade through the sacrifice of Christ and the work of the Spirit.[5]

So what would it look like if our meetings were places where everyone was heard,
            not just the same old articulate few.
What if we committed ourselves to hearing, and hearing well,
            to voices from the margins of our community,
            even if they make us uncomfortable?
What if we found ways of hearing from those
            who don’t like speaking out loud in public debate?

Ruth Moriarty gives us a clear challenge:

If the Church Meeting fails to hear from all of the voices within its membership then it fails to hear the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s voice and so operates with a limited image of God.[6]

She goes on to suggest that what we need is the Spirit of Pentecost,
            present with us each time we meet,
giving us all the gift of new speech and careful hearing,
            so that all can hear the words of Christ.

And here’s the thing
            - I don’t have all the answers to this.
I haven’t heard from God how we should structure things in the future,
            I don’t have a master plan for reconfiguring church meetings.

Because I’m your minister, not your priest.

I need you, and you need me,
            as we share together the priesthood of all believers.

But I’m going to keep asking the questions,
            and I’m going to keep listening.

Because we need to keep hearing from one another,
            we need to keep challenging one another,
as together we discern the mind of Christ for our community.

So, I’ll see you at the next church meeting,
            and we can continue the task of working this out together.
[1] Bowers, Faith, A Bold Experiment, pp. 173-4
[2] Blyth, Stuart, ‘“Your Will Be Always Done” Congregational Discernment as Contextual Discipleship’, in Blyth and Goodliff, Gathering Disciples, p.78.
[3] Blyth, Stuart, ‘“Your Will Be Always Done” Congregational Discernment as Contextual Discipleship’, in Blyth and Goodliff, Gathering Disciples, p.77.
[4] See Holmes, Stephen, Baptist Theology, p.102.
[5] Holmes, ‘Knowing Together the Mind’, 185.
[6] Moriarty, Ruth, ‘Discernment and the Church Meeting’ - forthcoming.