Archive for the ‘rethink’ Category

Creativity and Community

“… Pixar’s fifteen-acre campus, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, was designed, inside and out, by Steve Jobs. … It has well-thought-out patterns of entry and egress that encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate. .. the unifying idea for this building isn’t luxury but community.” (p. ix; emphasis mine)

– Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Random House; 2014)


When I was part of a house church, the contrast was such that it was quite apparent to me how church buildings spoke of our corporate life together as a spectator sport—what with rows of (uncomfortable) pews, all of us sitting and staring at the back of someone’s head and the packaged program. What a far cry from the intimate, interactive and participatory nature of church meetings in homes that we read of in the NT!

That said, I’ve come to accept that church buildings aren’t going away anytime soon. I do wish however, I could rennovate our church building, with a view to proxemics, the functional use of space and the principles of aesthetics and design thinking.

I can dream in the meantime, can’t I?


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Troubled Waters

When I applied for membership in a church over a decade ago, it seemed that tithing was a sine qua non – which prompted me to undertake a personal study of tithing. I recall how I was accused of being a heretic by one of the elders just because I did not acquiesce to their simplistic and legalistic view of tithing. Despite forwarding my paper (which took a lot of time and effort to research and write) to all the pastors/elders, only one attempted to directly engage with my study (I suspect many did not even bother to read it) but he was more intent on carrying on a diatribe against me instead of engaging in dialogue. They just assumed that the “truth of tithing” was so obvious that they viewed me as obdurate and my paper as obfuscating the “clear teaching of Scripture”.  This issue was such a bone of contention that it was clear that unless I affirmed their statement “I will practice the truth of tithing” on their membership form (which, incidentally, didn’t even include a full statement of faith, other than 3 brief points), I would not be accepted as a member.

Although I had demonstrated that my nuanced understanding of giving under the new covenant embraced and actually extended the obligation of tithing, in the end, sad to say, I felt I had no choice but to quietly leave. In hindsight and retrospect, could I have stayed and sought to find a way to compromise?  Perhaps. But given that the power dynamics of the church leadership, I doubt that I would have had any opportunity to serve there and exercise my gifts, but would be reduced to just a tither and a pew warmer.

In light of my experience, you can imagine the burden I feel for the situation that arose at my present (Baptist) church, whereby a pastor from a Presbyterian ecclesial background is faced with the decision to be “re-baptized” by immersion before he can officially carry on as a pastor of this (Baptist) church. This signals of course that his previous “baptism” by aspersion (sprinkling) is invalid in some way. Obviously, given that it is a Baptist church, I can understand why he has been requested to submit to immersion.

While my personal view is that the evidence favours immersion as the practice that aligns closest to biblical teaching and early church practice (although affusion [pouring] was commonly practiced fairly early on as well), I confess that I have not personally studied baptism as thoroughly as I ought to have. In the past I joked with some of my friends that perhaps tri-modal baptism would go a long way to ending the divisiveness and bloodshed that the issue of baptism has caused; after all, this would nicely align with the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) of Matt. 28:19. Furthermore, each of the 3 modes highlight different realities that baptism signifies: participation in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, incorporation into the body of Christ,  cleansing from sin, receiving the gift of the Spirit, etc. In other words, the rich meaning of baptism cannot be captured by a single mode of administration.

While I am grateful that the my church leadership has graciously granted a generous length of time for this brother to study the matter before arriving at his decision, I feel that it would be profitable and proper for the whole church to study this as a body. Some may feel the matter has long been settled, but I would venture to guess that few church members could articulate their view clearly and defend it robustly. In this regard, I am heartened that a number of Baptists in the past decade or so, have instigated a renewed study of baptism (more on this in future posts). Furthermore, the various ecumenical dialogues have shown some promise towards a broader unity, despite further work to be done.

In the case before us, I pray that as a church we would all seek and work for peace and unity. Love and humility must ever be paramount. It would be easy to gossip and pronounce judgment on this dear brother, as if his “invalid” baptism made him a less godly person. Given the recent difficulties and departures, I hope and pray we can see a happy ending to this situation. I am not comfortable with us waiting by idly while he is asked to study the matter in solitaire. Rather, I feel as a body we need to prayerfully and patiently search the Word together with an open mind and open heart to discover and discern the teaching on baptism. It is gratifying that we are extending love and grace towards this brother and his family, but let us show further support by engaging in dialogue with him as we ponder the Word together.

If the church is right to insist on obeying the truth of baptism as Baptists have historically understood and practiced it, then what about other areas of theology or church practice? Are we willing to subject our traditions to the careful scrutiny of God’s Word?

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