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.