Month: December 2009

Baptist liturgy

Visiting a Baptist church today, I was struck by how ‘liturgical’ it is, in the sense of following a quite rigid structure. This wasn’t altogether obvious to me growing up in Baptist churches; we were open to where God was taking us, unlike those Anglicans stuck in their prayerbooks. Our services were spontaneous and not bound by tradition.

But the Baptist service leader must make some gentle, cliched jokey comments to start out with, usually referring to sport, current events, or presently, the Christmas season. Then we have some songs. And strangely enough given how serious Baptist beliefs really are, the mood is never allowed to get too serious. The service leader then gets to give a couple of Daily Bread type thoughts for the day, a little like an anecdote from Reader’s Digest.  Everyone sits and listens. (But what’s everyone thinking, that’s what I want to know?) One of the anecdotes today compared the job of a life insurance salesman with our job as eternal life insurance salespeople. Always look for a chink in a conversation to get the eternal message in. Oh dear, that’s reducing the gospel a little isn’t it? If I think about that too long, I will get really upset. I’m not going to think about it. I’m going to let it wash over me.

 Some notices, another song, a sermon, and then perhaps the closing hymn. Oh, I forgot the offering. And every second week, the private cup of grape juice and piece of cracker. (We mustn’t have it every week or it will become a ritual, I was told growing up.)

And that is the spontaneous Baptist service – for better or for worse.

Authority in science and religion, with short reflections on climate change, creation science and house church

The popular challenge to climate change science raises interesting questions about authority, expertise and the gap between popular opinion and the ‘experts’.

For many scientists, academics and politicians, there isn’t a debate about the science – or there shouldn’t be. In The Australian a few months ago, at the time Ian Plimer’s climate change scepticism book came out, an opinion piece (a rare voice from the left) said that the public needs to just believe the experts when it comes to climate change science. We aren’t scientists, we can’t just step in with our own opinions and trample over years of careful research.

But everyone likes to have an opinion, and the prominent public voices expressing scepticism about climate change give people the sense that there is a real debate, and they’ll be in good company remaining sceptical.

It reminds me of the creation-evolution ‘debate’. (Interestingly, Ian Plimer wrote an angry and thorough refutation of the creation scientists in Telling Lies For God; now he’s on the other side of consensus.) For most biological scientists there is no debate between an 8000 year old world and a much older one. But for fundamentalist Christians, a well produced DVD/book/magazine from Answers in Genesis convinces them that not only is there a debate, but that debate is over whether the Bible is true or not and the creation scientists have reason on their side over against the conspiracy of the atheistic evolutionists.

(I was brought up a creation scientist, and I have no wish to revisit arguments for special creation and young Earth. I am interested in hearing from people who have a well thought out theistic evolution they have managed to integrate with their faith.)

Just as we’ve always had folk religion, maybe we have folk science these days. Everything is just a matter of opinion. You show me your scientific consensus on climate change, I’ll show you my sceptics with PhDs in geology or whatever who mount a contrary argument and get as much air time in the media.

I’m not convinced that scepticism toward the experts and a conviction that one can hold one’s own opinion on any subject is a peculiarly postmodern phenomenon. Look at the superstitions which dominate nineteenth century village life in Thomas Hardy novels. Look through the Bible how the general public is always prepared to go off in a different direction than the mandated one. People have always insisted on their right to have a contrary, illogical, irrational view of reality and manage to live by it. Perhaps more individualistically so these days.

(Am I saying I want strict controls? No. I’m just observing. I don’t think there’s easy answers to these questions.)

This all gets me thinking of the phenomenon of house church. I have been quite turned off house church the last few years. Not the ecclesial concept of a gathering of Christians meeting in a household context, but more the house church movement, which is full of people with their own opinions on everything, and not always very well thought out ones. There are crazy people in every church, I suspect, but in a house church their opinion becomes as valid as everyone else’s. Should we go on with the status quo, then, and deny most of the congregation a voice? No, I don’t think that’s good either. I think it’s a dilemma that needs much attention by any church.

I have real problems with the amount of authority invested in the priest/pastor/minister of traditional churches.  I don’t think it’s what Jesus or Paul envisage in the New Testament, not at all. I agree with Yoder that the Bible has a trajectory moving away from religious specialisation.

But simply rejecting the authority of the (trained and accredited) pastor is not the answer.  We shouldn’t pretend that church is really very simple and it’s just a matter of clearing away the complexities those power-hungry establishments have created.

No answers, just some dilemmas, some frustrations with our ‘I reckon’ world.