Thursday, September 22, 2011


Some people claim to see fern seeds yet fail to see the Elephant standing right in front of them - C S Lewis.

Bishop Tom Frame, in his provocative new (2010) book A House Divided? The Quest for Unity Within Anglicanism wrote:
'Synods, like all committees, are wary of radicals, mavericks, prophets and reformers. They tend to prefer those... who will never challenge the prevailing orthodoxy or suggest institutional risk-taking'.
* 'In my view, the Australian Church has too few creative individuals and too many critical observers... The Church seems to produce more renegades than revolutionaries, and more would-be iconoclasts than innovators'.
(Full review: ).

I mark important bits in the books I read: I double-marked those.

From teenage years onwards I've been something of an iconoclastic radical, asking provocative questions of traditionalists whose 'status is the quo'. If people take seriously something which is manifestly ridiculous, I can't ignore it. So it's not surprising that I have rarely been invited to occupy positions of leadership or speak at annual conferences in conservative organizations (unless I've been given a highly circumscribed subject to speak on... and yes, on those occasions, I have been respectful, and only mildly provocative! :-)

Teenage sample (to an elder in the Brethren 'Assembly' our family attended):

'So you take the Isaiah text (58:13) about not doing anything pleasurable on the Lord's Day literally. What do you do between church services, on Sunday afternoons?'

Elder: 'I take a nap.'

Moi: 'Do you find that pleasurable?'

Elder (a little confused): 'Well, yes, I suppose I do...'

Moi: (some months later): 'What do you do these days on Sunday afternoons?'

Elder: 'I go for a walk.'

Moi: 'Do you enjoy your walk?'

Elder (again confused): 'Yes, I do, actually.'

Moi: 'But you don't go to Cronulla (the nearest surfing beach) for a swim?'

Elder: 'Certainly not!'

Moi: 'So it's OK to enjoy yourself on terra firma but not in the H2O on the Lord's Day?'

Elder was silent (and still confused)...


I've experienced at least one paradigm shift in my thinking in each decade of an interesting existence.... including these 'Aha' experiences:

Late teens: No particular Christian group has a monopoly on the truth

Twenties: The KJV will not be used widely in 20 years because God wants his Word to be understood - especially by young people, new Christians, and those for whom English is a second or third language...

Fundamentalism has some strengths, but militant Christian fundamentalism (of the John R Rice variety) doesn't have much to commend it. Biblical Inerrancy is not a doctrine the Bible posits for itself, so it must be heretical...

In the first church I pastored (Narwee Baptist in Sydney) we added a staff member (Dave Kendall) when we couldn't afford to. We simply found enough people who wanted to strengthen the youth ministry in our church to increase their offerings for a year to support this move. In the 1970s we did the same at Blackburn Baptist Church when Robert Colman was added as the fourth pastor - again, when the 'bean-counters' would have advised against it. The corporate just shall live by faith eh? The result: momentum was generated in those two churches, which grew substantially over four and eight years respectively.

Thirties: 'All institutions are inherently degenerative' (Robert Merton). They tend to accrue power instead of giving it away and exist at the mercy of petty bureaucrats. Thus clericalism in churches (all of them) is evil: leaders are supposed to empower others for ministry but hardly ever do that well. When institutionalism infects a denomination, the churches get the idea that they exist for HQ rather than the other way around. Also institutions tend toward exclusiveness. For example, the 'closed membership' stance of most Baptist churches in Australia (until recently) made a judgment that an 'immersed' teenager was more competent to be a member than a godly ex-Methodist who'd been baptized by sprinkling! When I broached this subject to the deacons at Blackburn Baptist Church in the early 1970s, one of them kyboshed discussion with an 'over my dead body' response... See the talk I've given to Baptists around Australia on this topic. The tide is turning on this one.

Social Justice and Love for God/others are the key Kingdom values for Jesus but they don't get a mention in the historic Christian creeds or evangelical Doctrinal Statements. Why is that? Inherent Pharisaism in conservative Christian culture... See my article 'Pharisees Ancient and Modern' for more...

The truth embraces many dimensions: the temptation of tired minds is to focus on just one aspect and thus imbibe a very restricted spiritual diet. For example, 'Worship' has seven meanings in Biblical and subsequent Christian history, but most churches embrace just one mode, and are thus impoverished. Mission has three dimensions (justice, works of mercy, evangelism) but most churches major on one, or at most two of these. 

Traditionalists, conservatives, progressives and radicals all have a special insight into a particular phenomenon's worth because each group's asking different questions. A mature mind will not be locked into a bigoted 'left- or right-wing' position on this or that, but will strive to be 'above the fray', wingless.

Forties: Paradox, ambiguity, is a beautiful thing. 

Men who spend more than 50 hours a week pursuing their vocation will not make good fathers. Sons and daughters especially between 11-14 need their dads. In our sick culture males especially 'are what they do': their worth is measured by how well they perform compared to other males. The mid-life crisis is all about realizing that this competitive instinct is sick and destructive.

Fifties: Clergy are a wounded lot. The number of ex-pastors equates with the number of serving pastors in the Western world. Before commencing John Mark Ministries we could find no cross-denominational ministry to burned-out pastors anywhere. There are plenty of them now.

Each of us should identify our strengths and give ourselves away to individuals and groups who are powerless (in my case Dawn Rowan and ex-pastors and their spouses).

Sixties: Since the Old and New Testaments have nothing to say about homosexuality as an orientation, nor about the possibility of a faithful committed relationship between two Gay/Lesbian people, who am I who happened to be born with a heterosexual orientation to deny my sisters and brothers the rich benefits I've enjoyed in 51+ years of marriage? This is the major paradigm shift the Church worldwide is wrestling with at present. Like all other paradigm shifts (eg the emancipation of slaves and women) we'll look back in twenty years' time and wonder what all the fuss was about...

Seventies: The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word (who first said that?). Looking back, I'm grateful for these insights which have moved from 'ridiculous' to 'the norm' within a decade or two, when the tribes have caught up with them... The major one where the tribes are still dragging their feet is the institutional/ empowerment one...

 Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized: First, it is ridiculed, second, it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident (Schopenhauer).

But. in all this, there is a price to pay. 'A prophet has no honor in the prophet's own country' (John 4:44).

Rowland Croucher

September 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment