Archive for November, 2011

Advent season

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

We are now into the four week period of the year set aside as a preparation for the celebration of the incarnation, or the nativity. In the West Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (this year Sunday 27 November). The name is derived from the Latin root meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’.

The early western church from the 6th century onwards had a period of six weeks of fasting and penitence before Christmas. The reduction to four weeks was a gradual development, but is now almost universally accepted. Today, the accent of the Advent season is on ‘getting ready’ for the coming of Christ – at Bethlehem, into our prepared lives and the final coming of Christ in glory. Advent seems to be getting more popular – even amongst Baptists! In North America this year Advent was hailed with “Black Friday” when supposedly everyone goes on a mad post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas shopping spree.

In central Europe things feel somewhat different this year. We are in troublesome economic and political times. Unemployment rises, the world of banking still seems unstable, the borders of “fortress Europe” are being tightened and the talk everywhere is of austerity. So it seems a proper time to reflect on the deep Advent themes. This past Sunday (Advent 1) the Revised Common Lectionary reading was Isaiah 64 with the returned Babylonian exiles having to re-assess their dismal state – not all had come back and they had not been able to rebuild Jerusalem. The expectation of a highway through the desert of Isaiah 40 now had to be reflected on, because the reality in Zion was not as they had been promised. Perhaps rather like us in these Bohemian lands re-assessing the legacy of the collapse of communism twenty years ago? Then, there was a bright hoped-for future of democracy, economic development, and open borders. Now, Czechs are looking again at what has happened and experience something else. Disillusionment has set in. This Advent, in the midst of difficulty in the world, the anticipated failure of the Climate Summit in South Africa, the instability of the Eurozone, massive famine in east Africa and all, we need the realism of Isaiah 64 and the call for faithful people to have hope, to look into the gloom and darkness for the Christ light.

So, as we set up our Advent wreath of live seasonal greenery with four strongly coloured candles and with a larger central white candle representing the birth of Christ which is lit at the Christmas Eve Eucharist, or on Christmas morning, let us follow Isaiah 64 in offering confession of the failings of our world and of ourselves as we wait, in hope, for the coming reign of Christ in Bethlehem, in our own community setting and, finally, at the end of time. Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus, come!

– Keith

Two books on Baptists around the world

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Are global Baptist overviews like big red London buses ? You wait for ages, then two come along at the same time? David Bebbington has placed us all in his debt by producing his Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People, based on material delivered at Baylor University, which seeks to track the story of the world community of Baptists from the early 1600’s until today. Robert E Johnson, on the staff at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas has equally sought to provide an overview A Global Introduction to Baptist Churches within the same time frame and a similar intention to Bebbington.

The authoritative work by David Bebbington, after a long academic career, will take some matching in terms of accuracy, detail and scholarship, though his book is principally devoted to Baptists in the United Kingdom and United States, but each chapter regularly makes reference to developments within the wider Baptist family, especially in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Whilst the book has early historical chapters on our Reformation roots, the Anabaptists, Particular and General Baptists and Baptists and Revival in the Eighteenth Century, later chapters are more thematic exploring key issues such as the Social Gospel, Racism, Women in Baptist life, Ministry and Sacraments, Religious Liberty and Foreign Mission. Some of these, such as the chapter on women and the one on racism are often neglected amongst us! Johnson is not so commanding a figure on the Baptist stage and he takes an approach devoted to geographical comprehensiveness and following historical time frames with chapters on Baptists in each of the main regions of the world and in three time eras which he calls – Primal, Frontier, Proliferation. (more…)

Baptist Ecclesiology in the United Kingdom

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

British Baptists (by which I mean the Baptist Union of Great Britain and not the Baptist Union of Wales, Baptist Union of Scotland, Association of Irish Baptist Churches, Grace Baptist Churches or the Strict and Particular Association of Baptists) met in their twice yearly Council at Swanwick last week  (November 14-16). It was a difficult meeting as they were suffering, along with many others, in the Micawber syndrome. Too much expenditure and not enough income.

English and Welsh Baptist bloggers have been hard at work before and since analyzing all that went on and seeking to offer comments and remedies. For virtually twenty years this was an important part of my life, as a BUGB Council  member, chair of the General Purposes and Finance Committee, Chair of the Council (the youngest ever, apparently) and then an officer of the Union.  Inevitably, I have read all these blogs with interest. On this see Andy Goodliff, Neil Brighton, Catriona Gorton and all.  I was at the heart of the re-structuring of the mid 1990’s which shifted the balance from central control and structures to regional associations – an approach I believe to be profoundly theologically baptistic and of which I have no regrets.

However, some things need a national profile. The Faith and Unity Executive Committee with a Departmental structure and the Doctrine and Worship Committee were ideas for which I pushed and modestly represent my contribution to the current shape of Baptist life within BUGB.

What most of the bloggers have failed to note  is that our ecclesiology as Baptists in England and (south) Wales was profoundly interfered with by the Government and Charity Commission in the last decade requiring us to have a small powerful body of “Trustees” to take  decisions which in the past (and in my view, correct theologically ) belonged to a broad-based Council of the Union. Would John Clifford and even John Howard Shakespeare have allowed our ecclesiology to be so interfered with by Government in the past ? No, of course not – they would have gone to prison first! It seems only Paul Fiddes made a stand, as a theologian, against this dreadful calumny.  Ivan King and Neil Brighton  in their comments have attacked this “inner circle” view, but sadly, it was imposed upon BUGB by a Quasi Government Autonomous Organisation (QUANGO) when it ought to have been profoundly resisted! Nothing can be done now, of course, the damage was done and there is no going back. So, it seems our contemporary bloggers are caught as the ecclesiology we ought to have was given up without a struggle (I suspect Methodism and the Church of England did not give in with the same ease).

Dare I suggest that the seeds of the current discontent of the bloggers rests with an earlier decision of the same Council to remove the idea of having someone theologically trained as in some way assisting the General Secretary (a pattern going back to M E Aubrey , though with different titles) and instead look for a Baptist House structure of  “Managers” ? This is nothing against the people appointed – they have done sterling service in accord with the remits given – but everything in favour of the Council developing the seeds of their present ecclesial dilemmas of their own free will. May Andy Goodliff, Neil Brighton and others take note.

– Keith

The “Baptist Times” to cease publication

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

IBTS bloggers join the chorus of those who are disappointed to learn that “The Baptist Times” of Great Britain will cease publication in January 2012.

It has a long and glorious history as a weekly newspaper and has been read and valued by Baptists, and others, all over the world. IBTS is one of only a handful of places having a complete archive of the paper for the last century and into this century. It will be a gap in our library periodicals collection!

Prominent people have edited the newspaper down through the years, including such people as Fred Townley Lord (one time BUGB President), Geoffrey Locks, John Capon and, today, Mark Woods. The whole life of IBTS from 1949 until today has received fair and generous coverage from the newspaper and we will certainly feel the loss of its passing.

The “Baptist Times” had power to annoy this blogger over the past forty five I have been reading it by sins of omission and commission, but more often than not I have been glad it has been there faithfully reporting and commenting on the news – Baptist, Christian, general. Though for many years almost wholly owned by the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB), there has always been protection of editorial independence. I have witnessed more than one General Secretary of the Baptist Union get very annoyed by articles and rush off to see the editor ! Yet, in the end that was a good thing – a denominational paper that was not simply a denominational propaganda sheet. This will go – and we should all lament it.

BUGB promises some modern technologically “whistles and bells” enhanced information service – but it won’t be the same. It will be an “official” sanitized view – inevitably. Stephen Holmes, in his blog on the topic makes the point that we bloggers, though offering commentary on Baptist life, can’t hope to achieve the approach of journalists moderated by editors. That is undoubtedly true and from now on, in Europe, we have to work harder at ensuring information is shared, issues are commented on, the voice of the dissident is not suppressed, because we are loosing a valued and esteemed resource.

Let the final word belong to Professor Richard V Pierard, a US Baptist historian who edited the BWA history who wrote to several of us in Europe on hearing the news :

“I read on the internet about the closing of the Baptist Times and felt that was truly a sad happening and a great loss for you.  I send you my regrets.

Cordially, Dick Pierard “

– Keith G Jones

…and a video

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

…from Katka and Luda, who are responsible for this week of our Environment month, with a theme of ‘Looking Downward.’ So, on Wednesday, during our coffee time, we were introduced to very similar animals to this video – ‘Katkawarm’ and ‘Ludawarm’ – who had an exciting conversation about all the yummy things for them to eat at IBTS compost box!

Here’s the video – enjoy 🙂

More pics…

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

… this time from book signing events by Profs Glen H Stassen and John H Y Briggs – Zdenko, our Head Librarian, has produced quite a pile on both occasions!

Autumn clean-up

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Just wanted to post some pictures from our campus cleaning event which opened our Environmental Month. By now many more leaves have fallen and the boys assigned for outside work can at last begin to see the end of their task of cleaning them up (we encourage them with the reminder that soon it’ll be time for snow!)

– Lina