Well, I've had a week to clean off the dust, look at the photos (an unnerving number -that's one of the problems with digital photography) and let the temperature rise to what it was on a cold night in Israel, so its time to start blogging again.
Last Sunday I had the privilege of going along to Seaton Baptist Church. The speaker was David Coffey, a Minister from Torbay with a great deal of experience. He spoke on Acts 11:19-30. It's one of my favourite passages in my favourite book of the Bible. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles was the first book of the Bible I read when I started exploring Christianity for myself. I found it full of action and humanity, alongside an honest journey of faith, warts 'n all. I was hooked.
This part of the story of Acts actually starts a few chapters earlier, in Acts chapter 8. The Church has been going for a few years. It's survived a few challenges along the way and grown in number and maturity. But it's still fundamentally a Jewish sect, following Jewish traditions and customs, focused within a Jewish province of the Roman Empire. Then persecution breaks out, and we are told that all except the Apostles were scattered.
What happens to this Church, deprived of its leadership? Well, the same as what happens to any church in a vacancy when it's without it's minister; it's true character comes out. In this case those scattered believers found themselves in new and often challenging situations. They were not only refugees, but were exposed to cultures and value systems quite foreign to what they were used to. The temptation may have been to form an expatriate community in exile; close the shutters and pull up the drawbridge. That would have been quite understandable, but it's not what they did. I guess they had learnt better than that.
What's maybe most striking about this story though is that they found a new language with which to talk of their faith. They realised that their context had changed and they recognised that simply speaking slower or louder wasn't going to help them be understood. They needed to reimagine their message so that others, who saw the world and believed in a very different way, might know God for themselves. This had what may have been an unforeseen result; those Christians (and this is the first time that name - a derogatory diminutive - is used) learnt new things about God for themselves. They had the maturity to react to this newness, not with rejection, but by embracing it. And the Church grew.
It may be naive (but not unknown) for Christians today to believe that we have got God satisfactorily defined and nailed down with doctrine, like a rat in a dissection dish, but it is still possible for us to learn a great deal new about God and to allow God to transform us through the experience. We don't even have to face persecution to achieve this - though I should point out that God is not above shouting violently if God's people refuse to listen - you can simply try what I tried last Sunday and meet God somewhere different.
On the very first Sunday of the very first term at Theological College we traipsed off to church. It wasn't an Anglican church. Nor was it the second or third or even tenth Sunday. We went to Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Quaker, Pentecostal, Puritan and many other places of worship. Quite a bit was familiar. Some was uncomfortable. Bits seemed simply wrong and not the right way to do it at all. We were welcomed, fed, had things explained to us, prayed for, ignored and given weird looks. And in all of these places we met fellow Christians who challenged our faith and, with God's help, encouraged it to grow. Our God had been too small, but by the end was a little bigger (and still too small).
So try it. Go somewhere new. Consider what you experience; what priorities are apparent; where is grace, forgiveness, Scripture, holiness, and so on; what draws you to God in the experience and what turns you away? And when you've done all the Christian churches you can find, try elsewhere, or ask me to run a "retreat on the street". And then come back, bringing your bigger vision with you, and share it with others who need to know. Just as they did in Acts.
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Location:Colyford Rd,Seaton,United Kingdom