Monday, 2 July 2018

3.5 And to take part

Our bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all that follows, in what we participate in, is completely dependent on God’s grace: without the utterly loving and benevolent attitude and initiatives of our Heavenly Father, expressed through His Son and by the Holy Spirit, faith would not be possible for us (Ephesians 2.5-8).

Where this fountain of saving grace breaks out, into our lives, through the Person and works of Jesus Christ, our ability to take part in all that God desires for us is dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit actively engaging our lives, in that intensified and empowered manner that comes because Jesus Christ, the Risen King, is our Lord.

John the Baptist realised that this enabling, by the Holy Spirit, would come from the Messiah (Luke 3.16). It was an empowerment that the Resurrected Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to wait for, prior to taking part in any further mission activity (Luke 24.49). The Apostle Peter, in witnessing the outpouring of the Spirit that came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, recognised that this was made possible by the ascension and exulted place now occupied by our Jesus Christ, given to Him by our Father in Heaven (Acts 2.33).

Throughout the accounts of the emergent church, in the book of Acts, we see the critical role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the disciples to take part in a ministry that replicated that of Jesus Christ, carrying Good News into the World. It is this dependency on the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit that punctuates the life of the early church and that must punctuate our life, if we are to be effective witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer, seeking the enabling of the Holy Spirit, marked the life of the early church. Prayer has also marked the life of Christians, throughout the intervening centuries, who have longed, lingered and cried out to God for His intervention, in a manner that has led to a reviving impulse being experienced in the heart of vibrant churches today. Wherever we witness effective mission in the world, leading to the salvation of people through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, it is born out of a prayerful dependency on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into Christian lives.

Taking part in Christ’s mission involves our participation in the Body of Christ, the church, for it is to the church that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given (1 Corinthians 12.12-14). The New Testament witness is that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the gathered church, as it seeks after the pleasure of God (Acts 2.1). This action, of taking part, requires our involvement with fellow disciples, seeking harmony with them, that the presence of Jesus may be found and expressed among us (Matthew 18.19-20). It follows that the life of discipleship is not an isolated, solitary occupation. Taking part means acknowledging that God calls us to collective collaboration with others.

This life of interdependency, expressed through collective collaboration in seeking after and implementing God’s plans and purposes, lies at the heart of our Union’s life. It is not an easy path for any of us to follow. In our contemporary context and culture, many of us find ourselves predisposed towards isolationism and a fragmentation of social responsibility and accountability: it all too easy for any of us to pursue the path of atomised, privatised existence. What God calls us into is a life of participation, both with Him and with others called to be disciples, parts of the Body of Christ. We acknowledge that this life of collective collaboration finds expression primarily in the life of the local church; but we also acknowledge that each church is part of the larger body of Christ, which finds expression through what is held in common with other local congregations. Interdependency and mutual accountability are part of the currency of love that brings fabric to the life of churches within our Union, as parts of the Body of Christ. The challenge of cultivating and implementing a culture that we believe is pleasing to God, one of interdependence and collective collaboration, is one that we need to constantly apply ourselves to.

For church to operate effectively, there is the need to equip and train people for effective leadership. Leadership is important to us, as Baptists: so it is that we recognise, across our Union, those who are called and equipped to be accredited ministers: those among us who, recognised by our Board of Ministry as suited to positions of leadership, are committed to pursuing and promoting our Baptist way. Our accredited ministers are people who willingly make themselves accountable to our wider Union in pursuing this path. It may happen, at times, that people desire to affirm both their own, personal independence and also call for strong leadership to be exercised in their local church. Leadership, however, that absolves us from the responsibility of communally discerning what God wants for us, is not our Baptist way. We are all required to remind ourselves that our lives now belong to Jesus Christ, not to ourselves (1 Corinthians 6.19-20). At the same time, we need to remember that the only Leader that we have is Jesus Christ Himself.

It follows that a ministry of leadership in church life should be entrusted to those proven to be humble, exhibiting maturity, demonstrating effective allegiance and submission to the rule of Christ Himself. The ministry of leadership, within the local church, is for those who are committed in seeking to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit through active collaboration, in interdependency and mutual accountability, with other members of the church.

This path of ministry, expressed through integration with others, taking part in the mission of Jesus Christ, is not an easy one. It can, however, be learnt. This is the way of discipleship. The act of learning and developing skills of enabling both leadership and effective submission to Christ alone is what distinguishes us as people who belong to the Messiah. It is through taking part in this process that we can take part in Christ’s mission and ministry. Together, we develop our witness to Jesus Christ and are exhibited by God as His Royal Priesthood and Holy Nation (1 Peter 2.9-10). This is what gives credibility to our witness to the New Creation that God brings about in human lives, the springboard for our taking part in the evangelisation of the world.              

Questions for reflection:

·         In what ways have you become conscious of the Holy Spirit’s enabling in your own life?

·         Does being interdependent on others scare or excite you? Why?

·         When have you experienced ‘communal discernment’ in a personally affirming way?

3.4 To the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s ‘good news’ for mankind. It is the ‘evangel’. Gospel = Good News  = Evangel. More specifically, the Gospel is Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. So it is that the first, four books of the New Testament are presented as ‘Gospels’. They are the accounts of the life, ministry and victory of Jesus Christ.

It is in the unfolding and demonstration of who Jesus is and what He does that the Gospel is made known. Jesus Christ Himself proclaimed, at the outset of His ministry, the Gospel ‘of the Kingdom of God’, calling people to repentance and faith in this Good News (Mark 1.14-15). It is the declaration that, in Jesus Christ, the reign of God invades and penetrates the space and structures of this present Age, bringing release and transformation. In this sense the Gospel is, in Jesus Christ, the embodiment and expression of the Messianic mission, fulfilling the prophetic utterances of Isaiah, when Jesus announces, in the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry, that the Holy Spirit is especially present upon Him, enabling Him to declare the Gospel, release prisoners, give sight to the blind and set free the oppressed (Luke 4.18-19). The Gospel is the declaration that God, in and through Jesus Christ, is reclaiming the Earth for a redeemed mankind and God’s rule, ending the domination of the Devil (1 John 3.8) over what is, properly, the dominion of mankind (Genesis 1.26-28).

Where Jesus Christ both declared and embodied the expression of the Gospel, it follows that the Gospel is the account relating to everything about Jesus Christ. It is there, in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. It is in the description of the Word of God becoming human, in Jesus Christ, in the prologue of John (John 1.1-18). It is in the telling of the teaching and events throughout His life and ministry. It is in His atoning and vicarious death upon the Cross. It is in His Resurrection. It is His ascension to Heaven and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church at Pentecost. It is in His present reign in Heaven and in His coming return to Earth. All of this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What, though, of the centrality of His death on the Cross: that He died there, making atonement for our sins (Romans 3.25)? Is this not the Gospel? Indeed, it is: it is pivotal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The account of Jesus’s death serves, along with His resurrection, as the climax of each Gospel account. It is through the Cross that we are saved and enrolled into participation in the life of Jesus Christ. It is there that the redeeming transaction takes place, wherein He bears the consequence of human sin; and we are enabled to be infused, through our participation in Him, with the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5.21). Yet let this be clear: the news of what Jesus Christ accomplished at the Cross, by itself, does not constitute nor describe the whole of the Gospel. The declaration of His death and His bodily resurrection must be held together (1 Corinthians 15.3-4), in declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why is this conjunction of the bodily death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ so important? The answer was made clear to the Apostle Paul. In grasping the reality of the divine exchange, that was made at the place of Calvary, when Christ took our sins to Himself and caused us to be deemed righteous before God, the Apostle saw that Christ’s bodily resurrection on Easter Day prefigures, enables and points the way to our bodily resurrection, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Conjoined to our humanity, Jesus Christ’s death, as a human being, was a death undertaken for all humanity; and His bodily resurrection a translation into new life to enable us all (2 Corinthians 5.14-15), that we would embrace Christ and the newness of life that He brings (2 Corinthians 5.17).

We are able to share as witnesses, to this Gospel, because we have come to the place of faith: we have been brought to the point where we willingly declare our allegiance to this living, resurrected and reigning Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 10.9-10). Faith in Christ is the willingness to recognised that we are redeemed in order that we might be joined to Him, to participate in His humanity, as those who live their lives for Him and the purposeful advance of the Kingdom of God.

It is this conjunction and meeting, of our humanity with His humanity, that enables us to function as witnesses to our resurrected Lord. Christian faith involves embracing that, in Jesus Christ, we are called to share in the embodiment and expression of the Gospel to and for others around us. Just as the Apostle Paul resolved to know nothing but Christ Jesus and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2.2), we are to understand that our Christian calling is to embody, in each of our lives, the Gospel of Jesus Christ: for it is Jesus Christ’s life that is now being expressed in us and through us (Galatians 2.20).

Focally, Paul saw our baptism as a means of expressing this voluntary enrolment by us into the life of Jesus Christ (Romans 6.1-4): where we embrace the centrality of His death and His resurrection for us. It is an enrolment that we enter, as conscious, responsible people, by faith; and thereby express our consecration to live out our lives in faith.

In embarking on this path, we are caught up in His victory over death, despair, darkness and the Devil; and our calling is to walk in the path of the humility and consecration as shown by Jesus Christ Himself (Philippians 2.5-8). It is to the way of the Cross that He calls us (Luke 9.24), a journey of consecration to the advancement of the Kingdom of God upon Earth (Luke 9.57-62). As the Apostle Paul realised, it is a life where we embrace the path of self-giving and service that is evidenced in the life of our Lord, in a manner where that same evidence is found in our lives as well (Philippians 3.6-14).

Bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the act of carrying the presence, of the inbreaking Kingdom of God, in our own lives. It is a mighty power to be released and realised in and through us, that it might find in us a deep and fertile soil in which it may be planted (Mark 4.1-32). It is that which is enabled in us, to the Glory of our Heavenly Father, in and through all that has been made possible through the life, ministry and victory of Jesus Christ. It is what is released in us, by God’s grace, through the mighty workings of the Holy Spirit. This is what we are called to take part in. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Questions for reflection:

·         What does it mean for you, that Jesus Christ died on the Cross?

·         How relevant is it, in your understanding, that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead?

·         Why do you imagine Jesus was like us in every way, except in sin?

3.3 To bear witness

Witness arises from discipleship. It begins not with what we do, but with who we are. It is not, necessarily, a conscious undertaking: we will witness, for good or for bad, whether we are seeking to do so or not. Witness is the act of demonstrating what is in our heart, revealing deep convictions through the practices of our lives. Witness for good, in Jesus name, can only take place when we embrace the nature of our duty and the identity that we are being reshaped into, through intentional discipleship. In this sense, Christian witness is the unselfconscious act of evidencing Christian discipleship in our lives.

Witness is the expression of our communion with One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28.19). Witness occurs where we are caught up in the activity of the Holy Spirit, emanating from our exalted Saviour, drawing us into a deeper participation in His life, ministry and victory over the darkness that defiles the face of the Earth in this present Age. Witness is an act of worship to God our Father, through life in the Son, energised within us by the Holy Spirit.

Such a witness arises when the Kingdom – the rule – of God, penetrates our hearts by the Holy Spirit; where we have received the cleansing that comes to us, through the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ. This brings us to the wellspring of convictional drivers, that express our new identity in Jesus Christ, rooted in the identity in God. Witness involves the character of God’s goodness being expressed into and through our lives, not through our own ability, but through the transforming presence of God acting within and upon our lives. Witness occurs where the celebrated characteristics of God’s goodness, as declared to Moses at Mount Sinai, are sourced to emerge from our lives: grace, compassion, slowness to anger, merciful love, faithfulness and forgiveness (Exodus 34.6-7); all punctuated and made possible by the self-giving of Jesus Christ, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2.2).

This call, to bear witness, extends beyond the personal and individual to ‘every disciple’: what models the presence of Christ, and bears witness to Him, is not only the life of a person but the lives of people together. The Holy Spirit is given, in renewing and reviving power, to people as persons in relationship with one another, not to individuals in isolation. The renewing presence of the Holy Spirit comes to us as people, interrelated and committed together, expressing witness to Jesus Christ. This arises from the Holy Spirit animating us, as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). The Holy Spirit comes to invigorate and vivify the church: those people who have come into a new relationship together, because of Jesus Christ. In a Society where fragmentation of social units and isolation of people is a growing concern, an opportunity for more effective witness is increased when we give ourselves to pursuing a model of church life, that emphasises the quality of God’s goodness, expressed and exhibited in and through the relationships that we have with one another.

Being a Baptist means more than discovering and owning personal salvation. Receiving Jesus Christ as our God and Saviour, the sole and absolute authority in our lives, is where it begins. Bearing witness, as part of our Baptist identity, calls us to give attention to our relationships with our fellow disciples, other members of the Body of Christ. This is true both of the local congregation to which we belong and within the wider church. Establishing and maintaining the ‘peace of Jerusalem’, the dwelling place of God, is an integral part of our response to God. We are to bear witness as a people together, where the pleasure and blessing of God becomes apparent; and can be recognised by others (Psalm 133).

It is in this manner, in embracing the duty of every disciple to bear witness, living lives that are rooted in an identity formed and forged among us by the Holy Spirit, rooted in and reflective of the humanity of Jesus Christ, that our mission to the world begins. The church is called to be a window into the Kingdom of God, so that the world can look through the window and be confronted and met with the goodness of God (1 Peter 2.9).

The church is to be the place where people can meet with both the glory and the goodness of God. This can be further expressed through any number of initiatives into local community and wider society, where local church finds ways of both serving and meeting the needs of people. This is found today, in many of our churches, through ministries such as Debt Counselling, Community Cafes, Thrift shops, Exercise Groups, Lunch and Breakfast Clubs and other forms of engagement with people.

The church is to be the location where the glory of God is made manifest in people and relationships. The church is also where the transforming quality of God’s presence can be sensed; and the supernatural acts of God be made known. God made His glory known to Israel, through His mighty acts. He made it known in and through the ministry of Jesus Christ and of the disciples who followed on His way. God will make it known through us, where our witness is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Questions for reflection:

·         How have you been conscious of the Holy Spirit reshaping you, that you might bear witness to Jesus Christ?

·         In what ways has working together with other Christians affected your witness?

·         How has a ‘mending of relationships’ positively effected your witness?

3.2 Of every disciple

We are all disciples, of someone or something. Followers, shaped and disciplined by a person or a preference; influenced, formed and conformed to whatever offers us identity and motivates us, drawing us towards meaning and fulfilment in life. But are we disciples of Jesus?

As it was with the first followers of Jesus, it can today be unclear who is to be counted among the disciples of Jesus. The ongoing path of discipleship seems to sift and separate people, as time goes on. Some find the demands of discipleship too much (Matthew 8.21), or the cost too great (Luke 14.26-27). Those who continue on the path of Christian discipleship appear, however, to be those who are irresistibly drawn to Jesus (Matthew 5.1): they recognise the glory of God in Him (John 2.11), the voice from eternity that calls to them through Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God (John 6.66-69).

It is this allegiance, to the person of Jesus Christ, that leads and builds on the birth and foundation of duty among us. Consciousness of Jesus Christ, the Lord that He always was, the source and centre of our life and being, dawns in our understanding. This doesn’t mean we cannot, at times, falter: the first disciples knew moments of failure (Matthew 26.56), even denial of Jesus (Luke 22.34); but enduring disciples are drawn back, in longing and desire, looking for Him to be the focus of their life and purpose.

This allegiance, that discipleship demands of us, is forged in a relationship where God has acted before we even realised it, reaching out to us before we ever thought of reaching out to Him. Before any of us became disciples, God had committed Himself, declaring His desire to take and shape us. It is God’s faithfulness, arising from His heart, that gives birth and shape to the covenants expressed in the Holy Scriptures to Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and David. It is a faithfulness, rooted in God’s promise, that leads to a fulfilment of all He intends in a New Covenant, where He puts His law in our minds and writes it on our hearts (Jeremiah 31.33). It is a work forged within us by the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36.26-27).

In sharing the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, our identity as disciples finds a context for understanding this formation of discipleship. Here, in the celebration of the New Covenant, in the signification of the blood of Jesus Christ (Luke 22.20), we remember (1 Corinthians 11.25) His blood poured out for us (Hebrews 12.24). In taking to ourselves the bread and the wine, tokens of His body and blood, we celebrate the path of deliverance that Jesus has forged for us and the path of discipleship that God has called us to. Discipleship is a journey, where we hold Jesus and all He represents at the centre. In this manner, we express our commitment to journeying on the same path of discipleship that Jesus travelled upon for us. We declare both our thankfulness for what Jesus Christ has done for our salvation and our desire and readiness to travel the path of obedience with Him, as disciples of our Lord (Luke 14.26).

This sense, not only of duty but of responsibility, to participate in and continue the ministry of advancing the Kingdom of God upon earth, is integral to the path of discipleship. From the first mission of the apostles (Matthew 10.1), through to the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20), Jesus nurtured His disciples in developing the convictional drivers and practices which define His ministry. Disciples are people who have a commission from God and a sense of duty to pursue this path: because they own a life rooted in the life of Jesus Christ Himself. It is a life, like that of Jesus, that is to be attentive to the direction of our heavenly Father (John 5.13), owning responsibility to pursue the same manner of ministry as Jesus Christ, as He instructed (John 14.12).

To fulfil this responsibility of discipleship, we need empowerment: an empowerment that allows and enables us to participate in the work of God. This can only come about through the active presence and power of the Holy Spirit within us and upon us. There can be no pleasing worship of our heavenly Father, in and by the name of Jesus Christ, without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through our lives. This is something, Jesus teaches, that we need to long for (Luke 11. 13) and wait for (Luke 24.49). Furthermore, while each disciple is called personally, always part of the larger body of disciples, there is a responsibility on each of us to seek after and look to receive that empowerment that would come to us from God, in Jesus’ name (Acts 19.2).

This desire, for a greater intensity in experiencing the activity of the Creator Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is not to be mistaken as a selfish or hedonistic distraction. It is a necessary pursuit for each of us. The ministry we are called to, in Christ, is not one that can be undertaken unless it is energised by the presence and power of the Kingdom of God, working in us and through us. God’s desire is to spread the fragrance of Jesus Christ throughout the world (2 Corinthians 2.14-15), drawing men and women into discipleship through our lives of witness to Jesus Christ. Our calling is to be part of a process of replication, multiplying disciples (Matthew 28.19). The presence of the Kingdom of God, active in each of our lives, leads to an overflow into the lives of others, bringing them to taste something of the love, mercy, healing, forgiveness and deliverance that Jesus Christ brings. Through each of us, God would minister in this way into the lives of others: for God desires that everyone be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2.4).

Discipleship does not limit or inhibit us from being ourselves. It frees us into being the people that God has purposed us to be. It liberates us from empty goals and false expectations. It brings us to bask in the experience of and knowledge that we are sons and daughters of the living God, delighting in His command. This is what enables us to bear witness.

Questions for reflection:

·         Who are the people that have influenced you most, in your life, so far?

·         Apart from Jesus, what are the allegiances and loyalties that feature most in your life?

·         At what times, in your life, has your path taken a different turn, because you have sought to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

3.1 That it is the duty

Duty is a strong word. It suggests both constancy and constraints brought to life. Our affections may be stable and strong but are vulnerable to both distraction and deviance. Duty, however, calls us back to a line to walk along. It is a significant ingredient in bringing order to life. Duty directs and defines us in the way that we relate to family, friends and colleagues; and shapes our interaction with those among whom we are called to serve.

The life of Jesus Christ, witnessed to in the Gospel accounts, is a life defined by duty. A duty to fulfil His calling, to bring the fullness of God’s life to mankind, to usher into Creation the presence and knowledge of God. We see this in Him, as an adolescent, sensing the need to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2.49); and we see it in Jesus as an adult, self-consciously embracing the knowledge that He is sent by God (Luke 4.43). Focally, we hear it expressed in the words of Jesus, when He affirms that He undertakes nothing of Himself, doing only what He sees Father doing (John 5.19), only what Father has taught (John 8.28). It is this sense of duty, to fulfil the purpose for which He was sent, that punctuates and defines Jesus’ life.

Duty requires a relationship, through which developing commitment arises. The relationship that defines Jesus Christ, more than any other, is that which He has with God His Father. From the beginnings of His ministry, as witnessed to at His baptism (Mark 1.9-12), His relationship with Father is punctuated by Father’s personal affirmation of His Son; and the endowment of power for effective ministry, through the coming of the Holy Spirit to be upon Him. Likewise, Jesus embarking on a path, that leads to Jerusalem and His crucifixion, was punctuated by Father’s affirmation and declaration of Jesus’ unique relationship to God (Mark 9.7).

There is a need, within a culture where personal freedom and self-determination is applauded, to affirm that duty is not a dirty or disparaging word, to be discounted by us. Rather, it reminds us that what is to direct and define us, both in our humanity and in our faith, is that we live our lives under the command of Father. In this sense, there is no place for ‘free will’ in the Christian life. To become a child of God is to come under the command of God. It is to find delight in seeking out and doing our Father’s will.

But what is the content, the nature of this duty? The answer lies in our purposeful participation in the life, ministry and victory of Jesus Christ. Our duty is to seek Father’s pleasure, doing the things that Jesus did. As with Jesus, we will not do all these things simultaneously; but under the Holy Spirit’s anointing and enabling, we will have revealed to us what it is that was Father wants and expects us to undertake.

This realisation, when grasped and embraced not only at a personal but also at a communal level, transforms the dynamics of congregational life. We gather together as Christians, not only to praise and honour God in worship, being taught from the Scriptures and discovering truths from them: we also gather in worship to pray, discuss and seek to discern what it is that God is directing us towards, in terms of mission and ministry. We discern together how to use our time, talents and money. Here is the key to our Baptist way. We are under the command and owe allegiance to none but God alone, looking to discern the pleasure of our Heavenly Father. We listen to the preacher, learn from the teacher and weight the words of the wise; but our duty is to discern together and obey the will and the command of our Father, in accordance with the mission and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

An awareness of duty and obedience will affect and reshape our congregational life, bringing us to own no commander but Jesus Christ and commit to obeying His voice. In this manner, our relationship to our heavenly Father will powerfully impact our personal lives. It relieves us of the question, ‘what should I do with my life?’ Where we lack a sense of duty, our Christian life can become either an enacted fantasy or a barren desert: we can become anarchists, imagining that we are free from restraint, or become frustrated by our own impotence and inability to do what Jesus did. A positive appreciation of duty changes everything. We are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and do the thing that Jesus was doing (John 14.12). Realising this, that we are people under command, should sharpen our awareness of the need to be attentive in listening to and obeying the voice of God, as the Holy Spirit would lead and guide forward.

Duty implies not only participation but also allegiance. Our life and ministry belong to Jesus Christ, an expression of His ministry. We are, in Christ, the portals for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, into this present world. Realising this will transform appreciation of our faith: not simply a subjective feeling within us, but faith as focus and attentiveness to the character and rule of God. Duty draws us to faith as allegiance to Christ and His ways, expressed through our lives and brought to the lives of those we live among and minister to. Faith becomes a call to apprehend the will of God and to undertake ministry in a way that is both instructed and empowered by Him.

What of love? Is not love the greatest thing (1 Corinthians 13.13)? Love is the currency of duty, in this life that we live for God. All that properly proceeds from our Father, in allegiance to and participation in our Lord Jesus Christ, will be expressed in love. The manner and investment of that love is to be discerned, through the workings of the Holy Spirit in us, according to the will of our Heavenly Father. This is the path of discernment upon which duty draws us forward.

Questions for reflection:

·         Has a sense of duty shaped your life, as a Christian? In what ways?

·         How have you gone about seeking to discern God’s will for the way ahead?

·         In what ways has God given guidance into your life through other people?

2.7 Was buried and rose again the third day

The end of the beginning; and the beginning of the end. The burial of Jesus marks the end of one Age and the commencement of another. Something decisive has occurred, indicating closure. Because of the resurrection, the world as it was no longer is the world as it will be. The contrast is between an incoming Age, marked by the character, ministry and teachings of Jesus; and a passing Age, an Age that He confronted and challenged, as it dominated over and sought to define the lives of men and women. His resurrection marks the beginning of a new reality.

The resurrection is, critically, as important as the death of Christ (1 Corinthians 15.3-4). The potency of the two foci, Jesus Christ’s death and the Resurrection, are to be held together. The Cross and death of Christ proclaim that atonement has been made, reconciling us to God. The Resurrection makes the declaration that an outcome of this, in the transformation of both people and the world around us, has broken in upon the present. The physicality of Jesus’ body, taken from the tomb and reconstituted through the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit as an enhanced physical body, startlingly declares to us that the power of the New Heavens and the New Earth has been released into the present dimension that we live in. The old laws of death and decay, arising from the pandemic of sin, have been violated. A new order has broken through, superimposed upon the old. It is the beginnings of what is to come.

Because of this, the resurrection can be an embarrassment. Where we feel a pressure to conform to the needs of society, to bring a religious message that legitimises structures that are built on values antithetical to the ways of God, then the Resurrection confounds us. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ does not fit well with a religious agenda that seeks to affirm the permanency of the structures and authorities that dominate a world continuing to live by the old order. A message of forgiveness and promise of a future life, beyond death, is tolerable: it does not disrupt the status-quo of government and commerce within this present Age. But the message of Resurrection violates the sanctity of the present order. It shows that the revolutionary and disruptive values and objectives of Jesus Christ are those that will last, that are vindicated by the rekindling of His life and the transformation of His body. The resurrection calls us to inhabit dimensions that bring together the reign of Heaven and the physicality of life on Earth.

Resurrection of Jesus Christ’s physical body brings a new reality, superimposed upon this present Age, the invasion of the Reign of God. It brings a taste of the New Heavens and New Earth to us now. The resurrection of Jesus invites us to learn a new vocabulary, a new way of speaking. A new way of seeing life and purpose. It invites us to look at the world around us in a way that perceives its fa├žade and its illusion of permanency.

Part of that new vocabulary, as discussed in 2.5, resides in the way we speak of faith. Faith has to be more than a subscription to a statement, more than a bare basis of belief. Faith involves our enlistment into carrying the presence of resurrection reality, a foretaste of it experienced by us, to be attested to in and through our lives. Faith becomes the drawing down of the presence of the New Heavens and New Earth, into the physicality of the world we live in; even as Jesus Christ manifested the presence of His resurrected body among us. Such faith involves a participation in ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11.1).

This faith, the faith of the non-conformist, as we meet with it in Scripture and affirm it in our Declaration of Principle, is a call to action. The declaration of resurrection reality, at the end of the second part of our Declaration, leads into the dynamic commissioning of every disciple – of those who have faith - that we find in the third part of our Declaration. Such activism is a hallmark of baptistic faith. It is rooted in the magnificent reality of our Lord’s physical, resurrected body, assuring us that the reign of heaven has broken into this present world that we inhabit; and that we can have the presence and power of Heaven with us now, as we live out our lives.

2.6 Who died for our sins according to the Scriptures

How much does God really care? Sometimes we approach the significance of Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross in terms of mechanics: discussing the means whereby and the end effect achieved. And these do matter. Foundational to the Christian message is the declaration that Jesus Christ died, was buried and rose again, according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15.3-4). As the atoning lamb of God (John 1.29), Christ’s death is both substitutionary (Hebrews 2.9) and sacrificial (Hebrews 10.12), Jesus Christ taking our place (2 Corinthians 5.14). At the Cross, when Jesus died, we see punishment effected for mankind’s sin, perfecting humanity (Hebrews 5.8-9) and propitiating God’s wrath (Romans 3.25). The pain that Jesus endured was both punitive and healing (Isaiah 53.4): the wonderful, divine exchange executed at Calvary (1 Peter 3.18).

Through all of this, we need to remember that Christ’s death is the measure of how deeply God cares. How much He cares for you and for me. The death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is not but a journey to be endured, for Jesus; but it is the outworking of the heart of God’s love and compassion towards us. Jesus Christ’s death brings a further unveiling of the revelation of the Name, the identity, of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see here the depths of God’s commitment towards us. And here we meet with God’s invitation to us, to grow deeper in our experience of His love, through what Jesus Christ has done for us: the length, breadth, height and depth of that love with which God would now engulf us.

The significance and power of Jesus Christ’s death had immediate cosmic repercussions, which the Gospel accounts record. The change of atmospheric conditions, the tearing of the veil in the Temple, the breaking open of tombs of the dead and their coming out of them (Matthew 27.45-53): these events, occurring at the time of crucifixion, draw us towards experiencing the continuing, cosmic reverberations of that death, reaching out through space and time and impacting us still today.

This continuing power of Christ’s death signifies the type of relationship that God wants to have with us. It is expressed, as we saw, in our baptism. God demonstrates His heart for us in this relationship of intense intimacy, a moment of exchange to which Jesus Christ comes, ‘to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). Here is abundant, unqualified love, manifesting the fullness of His rescuing, redeeming purpose. From here the greater dimensions of His Kingdom presence are released into our lives.

How can we grow in our experience and understanding of Christ’s death for us? Hebrews 2.14-15 helps us to develop this:

In as much then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

In dealing with the ‘fear of death’, God releases into us the experience of reconciliation with Himself. Experience of death’s defeat comes, for each of us personally, as we invite the Holy Spirit to reach down into the depths of our dark night to dispel the fear of death that threatens to engulf us, allowing us to realise how Jesus meets with us in that place. The prayer, ‘Come, reign of God!’ that Jesus teaches us as disciples (Luke 11.2), recognises that the reign of God needs to be ushered in at our invitation, acknowledging Christ’s full embrace of us in His death, usurping the rule of the Devil over our lives. As the power of death is defeated by Jesus Christ, communion with God in righteousness and holiness is restored in us.

An integral aspect of this reign of God, the presence of God’s Kingdom, was evidenced prior to the pinnacle of Jesus Christ’s ministry that came at the Cross: it was present in the healing and deliverance ministry that Jesus exercised and inducted His disciples into, a ministry that began after His baptism in the Jordan and continued, throughout His life, beyond the Cross and into the ministry of the church, after the ascension of Jesus and the release of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today, ministries of healing and deliverance have multiplied in local churches, where effective evangelism and church growth is taking place, within Scotland as well as further afield. A realisation, that the power of Jesus Christ’s death releases us into a ministry that expresses the atonement that He undertook for our sakes, allows a continuation of His ministry in and through us, as His continuing body here on earth.

It is from this place, from the Cross that He died, that we carry our witness to Christ into the world. It is from here that our mission and ministry begin. We set out, not from a position of success or power, but from one of vulnerability and weakness. Our vindication does not lie in our own hands, but with God. Our sharing with others, reaching from the Cross of Christ, begins with our sharing the vulnerability and weakness that others feel and are threatened by, through circumstances that face them. It is at this point that their meeting with Jesus Christ, through us, begins. 

Questions for reflection:

·         In what way can you see your life continuing to be reshaped, because of Jesus Christ’s death?

·         What aspects, of being joined with Jesus Christ in His death, do you find yourself resisting?

·         In what ways do you express vulnerability and weakness in your life, if at all?

2.5 And Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

Repentance and faith. Oil and vinegar. Or bread and butter? Either way, the two go together. Yet where repentance is both a turning away and a turning towards God, faith takes our relationship with God to another level. In faith, we enter into a positive response to Jesus. Whether as in the meeting of Simon the fisherman on the banks of the Galilee, of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road, an Ethiopian eunuch on a chariot or the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. Faith involves a response to a revelation and realisation of Jesus Christ, with further entry into a relationship that reorientates and motivates us, moving us forward into the plans and purposes of God.

Faith in Jesus Christ is more than acceptance or subscription to an idea or a folio of facts.  Jesus Christ is a person, not a proposition. Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord is deeply interpersonal, different from acceptance of an object or the adoption of a concept. It is different, too, because of His nature, because of the unique identity He presents to us, both as a human being and as the One, Creator God. He is able, because of the humanity that He shares with us, to draw us into Himself.  This is more than the action of an avatar, a passing visitation by a god come in human form. It is the very appearance of God in our humanity. The Incarnation, the enfleshment of the Word of God, the Father’s Son, was not just a passing fancy or a temporary state adopted by the Christ. His humanity is now permanent, conjoined to His Deity. There is, in the Heavens, One who became like us – in every way except in sin (Hebrews 4.15) - so that we might become like Him, children of God for all eternity. He shared in our humanity and dealt with our sin and its consequence so that we, in turn, might become in Him the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5.21).

What are the implications of this, for the further development and better practice of our faith? We noted, at the outset of our pastoral commentary, that we are called to look to Jesus Christ as the real person that He is. What we hold to builds on the foundation of entering and possessing a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Likewise, in reflecting on our dependency on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we observed that the Holy Spirit’s presence is neither abstract nor theoretical:  His presence is to be experienced by and among us. So it is, as we look together at the Holy Scriptures, that we begin to apprehend the way, the truth and the life that is there for us, in Jesus Christ. We noted that the relationship that God calls us into is not a detached one, where we approach Him from far off. It is a filial relationship that God intends us to experience as well as to believe in, a relationship that embraces every aspect of who we are. Our faith involves a purposeful entering into participation in the life, ministry and victory of Jesus Christ. In this, our faith expresses a baptist tradition that pursues non-conformity to the values, virtues and convictions held to by wider society, because the relationship of primary importance to the person of Christian faith is our relationship with Jesus.

This reorientation that faith requires is not only towards the humanity of Jesus. Certainly, on the one hand, we are called to a path where there is a humbling of self, to obedience and service of our Heavenly Father. In this, we are called to conform to the humanity of Jesus Christ. At the same time, we are already lifted, through the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, into a dimension of living that is to be characterised and vitalised by an intensified presence and activity of the Holy Spirit at work, in and through our lives. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom – the reign – of God, where the Heavens herald into our present existence a renewal and a revival of all life. In this, faith opens to us new experience and awareness, a foretaste and an anticipation of all that is to come in the New Heavens and the New Earth, that Jesus Christ heralds in.

Such faith is organic, growing through what we apprehend, not limited by what we cannot comprehend. It demands of us humility and a deeper growth into a fuller relationship with this person, Jesus Christ. He calls us to ‘share His yoke’, to team with Him, learn from Him and serve in His name. This faith involves the mystery of knowing, not fully knowing, always growing in intimacy and resonance with the one we love. It is like marriage. It has seasons of change, yet always maturing as we seek to keep focus on the one we want to hold constant in love. Always it is faith in Jesus. Sometimes it can aspire to be as the faith of Jesus. Such faith is built on the faithfulness of Jesus, the faithfulness of God.

Questions for reflection:

·         What circumstances most make your faith in Jesus Christ ‘come alive’ for you?

·         In what ways does your faith lead you to behave in ways that do not conform to our culture’s expectations?

·         What are the biggest challenges, for you, of living with Faith in Jesus?

Friday, 22 June 2018

2.4 Of those who have expressed repentance towards God

As I write, my devotional readings have taken me to the book of Jeremiah, in the Old Testament. When I read and listen to this prophet, I am struck by the determination of God, expressed by the prophet, to bring His people through a process of refining, leading to renewal and restoration. I am struck, too, at the apparent intransigence of a people mired in sin, and the urgent call of God that they should repent, turn back to God. What is repentance? And why is it something we do not often speak much about, in contemporary Christian circles?

Repentance is a two-edged sword: that is one reason we find it hard to handle. It involves both a turning away from and a turning towards. Turning away from sin and practices that displease God. Turning towards God, pursuing righteousness and justice and practices that please God. Which comes first? The question can sound like ‘the chicken and the egg’ conundrum. Yet repentance is a necessary precursor to faith: that to suggest that faith could or should precede repentance is to misunderstand the meaning of faith, in a New Testament sense. Faith, in the way it is sometimes spoken of it, can be emptied of its meaning. It is not a proof of faith, for example, that a person believes or accepts that there is a God who is the Creator: even demons believe this (James 2.19). Nor, it would appear from Holy Scripture, is it a proof of Christian faith that a person recognises that Jesus Christ died for our sins: the call to Christian faith, in the New Testament, is that we should confess Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 10.9). Christian Faith, we would contend, involves an investment of ourselves in the substance of that faith: Jesus Christ. We shall see more of this in the next section.

The Gospel narratives of the New Testament leave us in little doubt as to their prioritisation of repentance. John the Baptist prepares the way for the Messiah through preaching a message where, announcing that the Kingdom of God was arriving on Earth, repentance was necessary and called for: a turning back to God in renouncing practices that are contrary to the express will of God (Luke 3.10-14), to produce fruit that are in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3.8). The baptism that John baptised people with was one that acknowledged this repentance: John understood that the baptism that the Christ would bring was a subsequent one, a baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit and with fire’ (Matthew 3.11; Luke 3.16).

 At the beginnings of Jesus’ own ministry His declaration, concerning the immanent arrival and manifestation of the Kingdom of God, was accompanied by a call to repentance (Mark 1.15). Later, in the New Testament Epistles, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews would identify the call to repentance as foundational to the Christian message (Hebrew 6.1), as the Apostle Paul did, in giving account of his preaching (Acts 20.21).

What does this tell us about repentance? Repentance is not simply expressed through a private attitude of the heart: it involves turning away from and renouncing practices that are displeasing to God. Why might this prove to be a challenge or a problem for us, today? I would suggest that there are two reasons.

The first reason is a continuing belief in ‘decisionism’, the contention that simply ‘by believing’, a person can become a Christian: that what is involved is basically a change of attitude or inner persuasion. It fits well with a belief in the ability of each and every person to freely choose their identity and ideology; and with societies and cultures that view wider society as being constituted as the sum total of the individual, separated people that come together to constitute it. This, in itself, betrays the crisis of so much contemporary culture: the conviction that society exists only in so far as individuals choose to identify with it and be part of it.

A second reason follows from this. Our Declaration of Principle’s insistence on a call to repentance challenges the way we understand the constitution of a healthy and robust society. The Biblical vision is that a healthy society is made up of communities of conviction; and that the Christian life has a pattern of practices, that indicate and arise from our convictions. Some of these practices are grounded, not in transient cultures and contexts, but in the essential substance of Christian identity that arises out of the humanity of Jesus Christ. That these practices might differ from and contrast to the dominant or politically promoted practices, found in the wider society around us, is not our immediate concern. What matters is that we understand that practices are indicative of convictions; and that convictions constitute communities. Without communities of conviction, with recognised practices and norms, there can be no stable society.

The priority that lies, in the call to repentance, concerns this need to constitute communities of conviction, wherein we demonstrate and model what it means to be part of a society that honours and worships our God and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. We lose our sense of the need for repentance when we lose our vision of salvation as being that which God effects for His people:  a faithful society, made up of people as constitutive parts, rather than viewed as the simply the sum of individuals who believe. It is possible for contemporary church to fail in preparing people for faith, through repentance, when sight is lost and our focus is moved from an understanding of Christianity’s community nature. The call to repentance is to build church as a society of believers who share convictions, regarding the revealed will of God, demonstrated through practices that are consonant with the authority of Jesus Christ, expressed through the testimony of the Holy Scriptures and the leading of the Holy Spirit, as discerned by the community of the church.

Questions for reflection:

·         What has ‘repentance’ caused you to turn away from? What has it caused you to turn towards?

·         In what ways can we encourage people to move from their first ‘decision’ to believe, to living as a ‘disciple’?

·         How important is church, as community, to you? How could it be better?

Monday, 11 June 2018

2.3 Of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

God is unique. Our Creator, who loves with an everlasting love, reveals Himself to Israel as a singular entity: ‘the Lord our God, the Lord is One!’ (Deuteronomy 6.4). He alone commands our worship, adoration and service. God is One.
Our Declaration of Principle affirms that God’s authority is expressed by Jesus Christ. The Declaration also represents baptism as an induction into participation in the life of the One God, who reveals Himself to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How is it that we are to make sense of this revelation from God, as He reveals Himself, as He is?
In the Bible, Jesus is the one in whom we recognise God our Father to be revealed, as He truly is. All the qualities of God’s glory and goodness are made manifest in Jesus Christ. So it is that, when the disciples look at Jesus, Jesus tells them that they see God their Father; for it is the Father, present in Jesus, who is at work in all that He is and does (John 14.10). In Jesus, we are confronted with God’s character (Hebrews 1.3), for Jesus Christ is the icon – the exact image – of the invisible God (Colossians 1.15). Where Jesus is our meeting point with God, it is the Holy Spirit who is the dynamic presence of God, teaching us and touching our lives with an infilling presence and power: the ‘other’, whom Jesus asks the Father to send (John 14.16-17), the Spirit whom the Lord Jesus pours out on His disciples (Acts 2.33).
In my own worship and prayer to God, I am always aware that I come to God who is One. When I approach Him, I know that God my Father makes Himself known to me in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that when I read about Jesus in the Bible, I am meeting with a revelation of God that is that of a Son to a Father: ‘like Father, like Son’. I am also very much aware that I am coming to meet with a living Jesus, who has been raised from death and now reigns in the Heavens, exercising all power and authority in heaven above and over Earth below.  I know that there is no power in the heavens or on earth that can match the power of Jesus; and I know that the presence and the power of God’s Kingdom, released and expanded throughout the Earth, comes through Jesus Christ alone.
It is because the Holy Spirit comes to us to fill us, from the Father and through the Son, that I delight to receive and looked to be filled by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings the flavour and the presence of God’s holiness to my life. It is the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, infusing me and embracing me, that fills me with unsurpassable delight and joy. In this sense, I experience God: I apprehend Him through His presence in me and anointing upon me.
When I read the Holy Scriptures, when I am contemplating what to say or do, I look for a sense of ‘rightness’ that fits with the Holy Spirit’s presence within me, as well as what fits with what is written in the Bible. When what I sense is then confirmed, in what my fellow Christians are sensing and understanding God to be saying or wanting, I experience gratefulness and confirmation of God’s revelation into my life and theirs.
In my walk with God, it is vitally important to me to hold on to this relationship, between the invisibility of Father, the image and identity of God that is met with in Jesus Christ and the immediacy of experience and empowerment that comes through the Holy Spirit. This is a dynamic reality of meeting with the One God: a meeting with the invisible Father, through the definition that comes through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, applied into our culture and context through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is the reality of meeting One God: from the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. It is the knowledge and experience of this dynamic relationship with God that animates and enables faith within me.
This is the representation of the One God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Scriptures speak of. Many have and continue to try and explain how it is that God operates in this manner: this is not something I would presume to do, nor encourage others to attempt. What I do find is that approaching God in this way elicits a response within me. Firstly, it reminds me that there is much I do not know or understand about God. The Father is not directly visible to me: I do not yet fully comprehend what God is like, although when I pass from this life into His presence, hopefully then I will (1 Corinthians 13.12). Secondly, I find it wonderful to know that all that I can grasp about God and that which God wants me to know for now, in this present life, is met with in the person of Jesus Christ. Not only that I can read about Him in the Bible; but that I can know that He knows what it is like to be human, as I am human, sharing and understanding all the struggles that I deal with; and that He loved me enough to die in my place and bear me up, through Himself, into our Father’s presence (Ephesians 2.6). Thirdly, I love to look to and long for repeated experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit’s presence – the very presence of God – infusing my whole being with God’s love and presence. I am addicted to seeking the presence, empowering and enabling of the Holy Spirit. I delight to know and sense the presence of this Holy Spirit living within me; and it is a delight and a joy when I recognise His presence in the lives of others, and see His power at work, bringing healing and quickening hope: the Holy Spirit working through us, into the lives of those in need, touching those who have never before met with the presence and the power of God.

God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: not a theory or a formula. This is the way that the One, unique God, who is our Creator and our Saviour, deals and meets with us, that we might grow and develop as His children for now and into all eternity.
Questions for reflection:
·         In what ways, if at all, have you experienced the presence of God?

·         How does the revelation of God as ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ inform and instruct us as to how we might approach God?

·         I what ways has your appreciation and understanding of God grown, or been challenged, in the last year?

Sunday, 22 April 2018

2.2 Into the name

To act in a person’s name can be a powerful thing; and it can also be presumptuous, if authority has not been delegated and authorised. In the main Christendom traditions, the authority of the church has normally been understood as being established through relationship, if not in explicit partnership, with the power of State or Empire. The Reformation, by and large, did little to change this. The naming of great theologians, such as Luther and Calvin, as ‘magisterial Reformers’ recognised that the authority they exercised in people’s lives was one that acknowledged by and depended upon cooperation with the power of civil magistrates.

For baptists, the source of authority and therefore the shape of our identity could rarely, if ever, be confused with the authority of the State. Baptists, throughout history, have resisted the call to  conform to the dictates or expectations of the political establishment. Authority and identity has been looked for elsewhere. In the second part of the Declaration of Principle, the authority that we affirmed in the first part of the Declaration – the authority of Jesus Christ – leads us to reaffirm the true nature of our new identity; and to review the implications it bears.

The extended narrative of Exodus 3, in the confrontation that takes place between God and Moses, exemplifies the profound mystery there is in divine encounter, both as recorded in the Holy Scriptures and as found in present experience. To be confronted by God is something we might apprehend, but never fully comprehend: we cannot contain or define, within the parameters of our understanding or experience, the One who authors and holds the Cosmos in existence. Yet we can enter into a relationship with God that shapes and changes us, at God’s initiative and at His volition. We see the self-conscious limitations of Moses caught up and countered by the dynamism and power of God’s initiative, where God declares Himself as, ‘I will be who I will be’ (Exodus 3.14). God redefines Moses, moving Moses from a place where he seemed to enjoy independent and free, self-determination, to a place where God becomes the centre, the subject; and where Moses becomes the satellite. Furthermore, the revelation of God’s name draws Moses into a new identity and a new purpose for living. This reorientation of Moses proceeds, God revealing Himself and dealing with Moses, as God did with the patriarchs who came before Moses, in ways he does not expect. It continues on through the Book of Exodus, reaching its climax at Mount Sinai, in Exodus 34.6-7. Here, the apex in Moses’ experience of God, is where God reveals His goodness - but not the full extent of His glory. The event is recalled by Peter in 2 Peter 1.3-4, when Peter rehearses the nature of the participation that God draws us into, a participation that is in the life of God Himself. An appreciation of this meeting with God is echoed in the writings of Paul, as He too reflects on the effects of that meeting by Moses with God, which is paralleled in our own experience (2 Corinthians 3.17-18).

Baptism by immersion leads us to experience something of what it means to be united with Jesus Christ. We are also called to a deepening appreciation of the way in which we are renewed and redefined as persons, in the light of God confronting and embracing us, ‘into the name’. Our identity is not simply augmented or adjusted by conversion to Jesus Christ: it is radically repositioned.

Scottish, evangelical Christians, standing in the traditions of mainline, western churchmanship, will appreciate something of what God has done for them. We are acquainted with the news that we are saved as both ‘saints and sinners’. We are thankful for God’s mercy and forgiveness. We are delighted with the revelation of God’s love. Yet the inheritance of Christendom, in seeking to shape Christians as good citizens of Empire, Kingdom or State, has encouraged us to focus upon the passive, receptive quality of discipleship: appreciation of what we have received from God. What, however, of the way that baptism ‘into the name’ commissions us, a commissioning into a journey of wondrous redefinition and discovery of who and what we have become, through God’s embrace of our lives?

The manner of Christian living that most of us have been conditioned into has, I suspect, been founded on perspectives of the Christian life based on conformity, not non-conformity. We instinctively adhere to the desires and dictates of the State; and to an understating and practice of Christianity that conforms to these. I recall my own sense of shock and surprise when, some years ago whilst visiting in Eastern Europe, a Russian colleague asked me, ‘what is the attitude of Scottish baptist to the laws of the secular State?’ When we live with an assumed attitude of conformity, we adopt a restricted perspective that cannot fully appreciate, apprehend or embrace what it means to be brought, by baptism, ‘into the name’. Yet when we are baptised ‘into the name’, it is into a life where each of us has a new identity and a new empowerment, not least in terms of gifting. This will call us into a life of ministry that, in turn, releases the power and presence of the Kingdom of God to confront the powers and principalities that Christ has overcome, including those that govern this world we live in.

At the heart of our identity, the new identity in Christ that God has called us into, is the issue of empowerment. We now share a life where we have been initiated ‘into the name’, one that has been made possible through God’s embrace of all that we are. We have been brought into the life, ministry and victory of Jesus Christ. Sacramental traditions, interpreted and perpetuated through centuries of Christendom, can foster both a receptivity and understanding that restrict us to a passive participation ‘in the name’. The narratives of Scripture, however, would suggest that a ministry that functions ‘in the name’ is one that is proactive and empowered. Moses was raised up by God, in power, so that God’s name would be declared in all the earth (Exodus 9.16). It was by the power of the name of Jesus, Peter declared to the Jewish Council in Jerusalem, that the lame man at the Beautiful Gate was made whole (Acts 4.7-10). It was with empowerment, in the name of Jesus, that Paul adjured the Corinthian church to act against immoral behaviour (1 Corinthians 5.4). 

Grasping what it means, to act in empowerment, ‘in the name’, is something that Jesus Christ exhorted and called the first disciples to realise: that God would not refuse them a request that conformed to Him. Jesus Christ called them to look to, act and undertake in His name, in a manner consonant with His mission and ministry (John 14.13-14). Around the world, where this is understood and laid hold of, we see the church in advance. Pray God that we, in our generation today, rehearse and rediscover the meaning of baptism ‘into the name’.


Questions for reflection:

·         In what ways has your life become ‘repositioned’, as you have journeyed as a Christian?

·         Do you view yourself as a person with authority, under authority, or both together?

·         In what ways might your life be described as characterised by seasons of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ faith?