Archive for the ‘Theological musings/personal reflections’ Category

CAN’T ONE SEE WELL-KNOWN THINGS DIFFERENTLY?

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

We have already shared our joy of having Olexandr/Sasha back with us on our Jeneralka campus – Sasha who is an IBTS graduate and who wanted to come and give two months of his life to help us out in surviving this winter as a volunteer. Here are some of his thoughts, and pictures.

A decade ago my family and I left IBTS heading to Ukraine, to our home country. It had been nice to be a Master student and spend hours, days, even weeks and months in the library reading books and periodicals, studying different theological approaches to common life situations. A process of learning seemed more difficult than applying what had been learnt.

However, in real life – I mean, outside of cozy and warm classrooms or comfortable and quiet library – this is different. Many obstacles and challenges, misunderstanding and hardships, or even hatred come and test your ability in applying knowledge gained from your studies. And you begin doubting in what has been read and studied, well-known things start to look inappropriate, impracticable or undoable. And we tend to forget of what Jesus told to his followers, namely not to be afraid in what they were going or supposed to do since His power, His comfort and spirit would dwell withing them.

We often see things as they always are and nearly forget of many other ways of looking at the situation or issue from another perspective, distance, or a different angle. In certain circumstances in order to understand the crux of the problem it is necessary to get closer to the issue, perhaps, even to go on knees and place yourself in an awkward and maybe unusual pose. Once it’s done you suddenly begin seeing well-known things differently, in a new way. Such a lesson was offered to me once again in the fall of 2013, as I came to IBTS, but not for the lectures this time. On my knees I learnt that things can be viewed differently from a tiny wild camomile covered with crystal frost but full of life and determined to struggle among dead leaves fallen off the trees and hardly noticed by those who happen to walk by and look at the nicely cut lawn from a distance.

The plant brakes its wisdom; in harsh environment of winter cold it continues blossoming and producing life-giving nectar, and waiting for the needy – bee, hornet or other insects who have already fallen asleep till better times in spring – to come and be fed.

– Sasha

Baptists and Baptistries

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

I recently stood in the chapel of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in West Yorkshire. The Community of the Resurrection is a high church Anglican community. It has produced fascinating theological writers such as Harry Williams and dynamic missionary bishops like Trevor Huddleston.

The Community chapel has recently been re-ordered and as you enter the first thing you see is a beautiful circular marble baptistry. There is a metal trough in the top of the baptistry into which water is constantly running, with the powerful symbolism of the living water. However, more noticeable is the fact that the shallow metal tray lifts out to reveal a full scale plunge pool for submersion/immersion – and it is used! So, here is a high Anglican infant baptizing tradition making a positive affirmation about the baptism of believers with a very visible baptistry.

I contrast that with most of the Baptist churches in my home city in Yorkshire where  the baptistry well and truly hidden under floor boards often covered with the Communion table. I have preached in churches in eastern Europe where a baptistry is visible, though often out of reach of the congregation behind the pulpit and communion table.

The one church building I had a hand in designing and developing was at Barnoldswick Baptist in the north of England were we did incorporate a baptistry at the entrance to the worship room.

In north America there is a tendency to have a visible baptismal tank, often high up on the wall behind the pulpit, but such a remote positioning seems to argue for baptism as something of a spectacle, rather than a participatory liturgical action involving the whole congregation.

So, here is a plea to open up the baptistry, make it more central to our gathering, intentional, missional communities. Let’s have baptism as a more visible focus of the believing community because we claim that baptism is important to us and let’s make sure the  event involves not only the candidate and the baptizers, but the whole community of faith.

Keith

Baptist Saints?

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Andy Goodliff and Steve Harmon, reflecting on the “Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary”  or, as the Orthodox remember, the Dormition of Mary (15 August), wondered about the world Baptist community developing a list of 365 people we might remember in our daily cycle of prayer, covering a calendar year.

 That is a horrendous task and Baptists have always been very wary of recalling individuals in the household of faith, lest we attribute to them special honour. (On this see a response by Stephen Holmes .)

At IBTS we have had a simple practice that on some occasions at the Eucharist we have gone round the circle, each of us naming someone we wanted to thank God for who helped us on the journey of faith – perhaps “the lesser saints”, certainly, most of them unknown to me !

 How are we to get this right ? I think Steve and Andy will struggle to compile a global, acceptable list (too few theologians ? not enough women ? who on earth where they ?). Yet, perhaps we are not over inclined to remember those who walked before us in discipleship and surely sing praise to God around his throne ?

Their list so far includes the inevitable “big” names – Smythe, Helwys, Spurgeon, Andrew Fuller, George Beasley-Murray, William Carey, Martin Luther King, James McClendon.  Here is a completely different list dreamed up in ten minutes on a hot Prague afternoon :

 Ernest Alexander Payne                        1902 –  14.01.1980. Ecumenist.

 Gotfryd Fryderyk Alf                            pioneer of Baptist work in Poland/Prussia

 Maureen White                         BUGB International Secretary, IBTS administrator

 Johann Gerhard Oncken                       leading figure in Baptist development in Europe

 Jindrich Novotny                                  leader in Baptist work in Bohemia

 N F S Grundtvig                                   developer of baptistic work in Denmark (EU programme named after him on informal adult education)

 Ivan G Kargel                                       pioneer of Baptist work and theology in Russia

 Vasili Pashkov                          pioneer of Baptist work in Russia

 Asbjørn Bakkevoll                                youth leader in Norway, BWA commission leader

 A.T. Øhrn                                            BWA General Secretary

 Josef Nordenhaug                                 BWA General Secretary

 Gerhard Claas                                      BWA General Secretary. Previously German Baptist and EBF General Secretary

Rachel Iversen                                     woman missionary to Congo, President of BWA Women (Norway)

 Jessie Davies                                        tireless worker in the YBA office, serving four General Secretaries

 Lois Chapple                                         BUGB/BWA women’s leader

 Jonas Inkenas                                       1903 -1983. Leader in Lithuania, exiled to Siberia

 Marija Inkeniene                                     died 7/11/2009 aged 103. Linguist (seven languages), Baptist leader. Wife of Jonas. Exiled in Siberia.

 Donald Foster Hudson                           Missionary in India. Theologian. Linguist. Honoured by the Bengali and Urdu communities in West Yorkshire for his help and support when he returned to the Uk in 1960’s

 Robina Wilson                                       Missionary in Congo. Leader amongst Baptist women in the UK.

 Alexander McLaren                              Preacher. First President of the BWA

 Alfred Illingworth                                  Member of Parliament for Bradford

 John Fawcett                                        Pastor, educator, hymn writer (“Blest be the Tie that Binds”)

 A Trevor Hubbard                                 Baptist leader, pastor and statesman in north west England

 D Tait Patterson                                    Baptist pastor, liturgist, developer of the idea of retreats for pastors

 George Farr                                          Old Testament scholar, noted for his exemplary pastoral care of students.

 John Howard Shakespeare                     BUGB General Secretary and ecumenist.  1898 -1924

 Dan Taylor                                           leader of the General Baptists of the New Connexion

 David J Charley                                    President, BUGB, leading chest physician, campaigner on moral, social and health issues.

 Osvald Tärk                                         (born 1 Oct 1904 – died 25 May 1984) – influential pastor, theologian, well known as pastoral counselor and as a person of integrity in Estonia and beyond

 Emilie Bertelson                                    (born 14 October 1884 – died 7 July 1965) – missionary in the East regions of Estonia near Lake Peipsi, worked especially among Russian speaking people, in her youth in the aftermath of Communist revolution worked in St Petersburg, a woman whose commitment and spirituality made an impact on people who met her

An Advent ring?

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I was walking on the snow-covered streets of Old Town Prague last week making my way to a meeting of the Conference of Czech Rectors of which I am a member. The streets are now alive with wooden huts full of speciality items for the Christmas markets – Glühwine, Old Prague Pork, various delicacies, bright glass baubles, silly knick-knack items for stocking fillers and of course, wreaths of greenery with four bright coloured candles – purple, red, blue or gold – for this Advent season. They sell well, but here is the irony of the Czech Advent ring: there is no central white candle. The four weeks of Advent are clear enough and people love the rings, but the meaning is lost – the Advent Hope, the Word of God, John the Baptist preparing the way and Mary, expectant for the Christ Child.

In our chapel our Advent ring is different, for sat in the centre is the pure white candle to be lit on Christmas Eve at midnight.  It was C S Lewis in “Narnia” who penned the famous line “always winter, never Christmas,” and that is how it can feel in the Czech Republic. The winter festivities abound, the wreaths with their candles, fruit, cinnamon sticks galore, but the central Christ-light is missing, not only in the wreaths, but in the hearts of this city which was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

– Keith

The Ministry of Women

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The Baptist Union of Great Britain has accredited women for ministry since 1918. This is not universally the case in Europe though Baptists in Denmark, Georgia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and in some other regions support this stand. In other European countries it is clear women exercise leadership and ministry even if Unions do not always acknowledge this fact publicly.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain has recently reaffirmed its stance and this has provoked lively debate – at least on the sites of British Baptist bloggers! For example, here and here.

At IBTS we have been privileged in that many EBF Unions have sent exceptionally gifted women to study with us and develop their gifts as leaders, missiologists, theologians and preachers. To help them develop and hone their gifts is an immensely satisfying aspect of our ministry.

What causes me concern is that having supported, affirmed and recommended young women to us for further formation some Unions seem not to know how to use such God-gifted women when they return to their home situations. At this point I am a classic Anabaptist believing God calls women and men into His service and that gifting, not gender, is key. We now need Union leaders to carefully think through what they are doing when they write such letters of affirmation.

– Keith

Oxford Impressions

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

As my study leave is coming to its close, many people want to know my impressions: what I liked best, what was most memorable, what was the most surprising, etc. That got me thinking, and, as usual, reflecting on it by writing (during lunch break, in case my supervisors are interested!)

Of course, Oxford is a special place when it comes to studying, reading, and writing. A bit like IBTS being a hub where you may stumble upon all sorts of Baptists, this place is always full of all sorts of academicians, public figures and otherwise famous people giving a talk here or there. One of my highlights was probably hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu preaching at an evensong at St John’s College: a simple, yet so moving a message about the ever-outrageous implications of incarnation and what it means for the “mixing of religion and politics.”

One important factor making a difference to being at Oxford is having a ‘home,’ which I did through the hospitality of Regent’s Park College. But that also made me even more conscious of those who are ‘homeless’ – both in terms of a spiritual community, leaving their marvellous intellects wondering wherever the wind may blow, and those literally homeless, even in the very centre of Oxford. There are jugglers, who usually sit next to the doors of Pussey House. Quite a few of the homeless are selling “The Big Issue” – a magazine which has been created on order to help the homeless start earning some income (similar to  “Novy Prostor” in the Czech Republic). Walking the same routes daily, I got to know the sellers a bit. All of them have a different take-on. I can recognise them by voice and each one’s specific phrases: “Will anybody take care for the homeless?” “Would you spare some change?” “Help me to get a place to sleep tonight!” Others, with a streak of humour, sing out the title – “The BiiiiIIIIG ISSSSssssue!” Some have dogs – different dogs on different days – appealing perhaps to dog-lovers such as I, except that I’ve “adopted” a man who sells his Issues silently. Just standing there on his assigned corner, and never producing a sound unless you engage him in a conversation and want to hear his story. (more…)

Climate Change in Copenhagen

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Have I just become a soft liberal or am I right to be concerned at the heavy-handed tactics adopted by the Danish State Police against those protesting peaceably about lack of progress at the climate change conference?

Sure, there are some anarchist disruptors there – no doubt well known to the Danish secret police, but images broadcast across global TV and comments on blog sites from respectable Christian activists suggest Denmark has “lost the plot” and that the police force is engaged in repressive tactics more reminiscent of China or the “old” USSR than a modern EU member state of liberal ideals.

Shame on the Danish police force and government! If you were not prepared for peaceable activist protest why offer to host the event (which you seem to be doing very badly!)

– Keith

Remembrance Sunday in Prague

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Like many other British Baptist pastors I have been part of ecumenical services at War Memorials in towns and villages in the heart of the English countryside. As a teenager I was base drummer in a Scout band which accompanied the Royal British Legion Parade in a small village near Bradford.

This year I experienced the event in a very different way – at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Prague. A Czech military band and honour guard were there, the “padre” was in place – the Revd Professor David Holeton, a very good friend of IBTS, the British Ambassador, the British Military attaché complete with spurs (he is from a cavalry regiment) and lesser figures – sergeants and all who are working with the Czech forces in Brno and had come across to participate.

But here was the difference – in this small cemetery were buried service personnel from all over the British Commonwealth who had died in the Czech lands in the push to defeat the Nazis. So after Last Post and Reveille the wreaths were laid by Embassy staff from Australia, Ghana, Pakistan, Cyprus, Canada, an Indian Air Force Wing Commander with a “handle bar” moustache, South Africa, Poland (Polish troops who fought with Britain after their country was invaded in 1939) – in that small cemetery area controlled by the Commonwealth lay young men from 19- 30 years of age who had left home and security to fight against forces of repression in the middle of Europe. To the strains of “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations the wreaths were laid. Then at the end, the Czech veterans who had fought with the Royal Air Force, proudly wearing RAF uniform, dazzlingly bemedalled one 90 year old laid his wreath whilst a blind paratrooper was helped to lay his.

The whole event was quite moving – this community of nations who had united to crush an oppressive force. In the heart of Prague on a damp November day we remembered, surrounded by headstones – many of which read simply “an unknown soldier who gave his life – his name is known to God.”

– Keith

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