Monday, August 25, 2014

Before the C&MA in Canada: A Motion on Church Membership and Baptism

The 2014 General Assembly of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada carried a motion which
"Resolved that the question of membership requirements as they pertain to baptism be referred to the Board of Directors for study and process, to be brought to General Assembly 2016 with a recommendation for appropriate action."
Since it will be very easy for this to be taken in any number of tangential directions or misinterpreted as an ill-researched recommendation, I have sent the following document to the Board of Directors and President, and want to make it available for public reference here. It is the result of months of collaborative effort as well as back and forth with multiple levels of denominational governance.

What you see is the motion that was read from the floor of Assembly and then referred to the Committee on General Legislation. That committee discussed it and, for the stated (and popular) reason that it did not want to 'disrupt the unity', came back with the rather ambiguous recommendation seen above. However, this motion and the F.A.Q. below should offer more clarity as to what we are after.

Motion on Baptism and Membership


Someone wishes to transfer membership into an Alliance church from a tradition that practices infant baptism. Though willing to support the practice of believer’s baptism going forward, the person does not wish to imply that an infant baptism is invalid and must be redone. Do we?


Local church membership should not require a believer’s baptism of those who come into C&MA churches from infant-baptizing traditions, provided their baptism has followed in a public profession of faith. It should be noted that this proposal does not entail the diminishment of believer’s baptism as our normative teaching or practice.

Relevant lines in the Local Church Constitution:
  • Article V sentence 3 (Ordinances): “While other modes of believer’s baptism are recognized, baptism by immersion is taught and practiced as the scriptural mode.” 
  • Article VI.1 (Membership): “The qualifications for membership include a credible testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before members of the Board; believer’s baptism; ...” 
Recommendation and Rationale:

WHEREAS it would be preferable to recognize infant baptisms when accepting new memberships along with a “credible testimony of faith”, while still maintaining believer’s baptism as our scriptural teaching and normative practice:

  • that the word “believer’s” be removed from the membership requirements in Article VI.1; 
  • the word “believer’s” be relocated after the comma in sentence 3 of Article V.
  • Article VI.1 would then read: “The qualifications for membership include a credible testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ before members of the Board; baptism...” and 
  • Article V would read: “While other modes of baptism are recognized, believer’s baptism by immersion is taught and practiced as the scriptural mode.

Frequently asked Questions: 

What if someone coming into membership wants to experience a believer’s baptism? 

Our proposal does not remove the opportunity for a local church to offer this. It simply removes the requirement that they do so.

What if an incoming member was infant baptized but never confirmed in that tradition?

Our proposal does not make a requirement of local churches in this situation, but leaves it up to them to discern the best course of action. What our proposal does do is make it possible, in the providence of God, to accept a public profession or “credible testimony of faith” as confirmation that an infant baptism has become the baptism of a believer. 

What are the advantages of this proposal for persons in local churches? 

This proposal allows a person to join the C&MA membership (and to accept its stance on baptism) without necessitating a denouncement of the tradition from which they came.

What are the advantages of this proposal to local churches and the denomination?

It makes us ecumenical not only in word (Statement of Faith) but also in deed. It takes away the opportunity for other churches with whom we would like to partner to see us as “rebaptizers”. It is interesting to note that, as it stands, the C&MA would not welcome Augustine, Luther, Calvin, JI Packer, John Stott, RC Sproul and NT Wright into membership (to name a few).

Won’t these new members soon want to practice infant baptism? 

Perhaps, but they would still be knowingly joining a church that does not practice infant baptism. This proposal does not remove the obstacles to that in our church polity. Thus they would have to take that desire up with Assembly, at which point it would be a theological matter requiring careful conversation and deliberation. If this proposal makes the eventuality of that conversation more possible, it is not a conversation to be feared.

Why does this recommendation have to be brought to next Assembly?

Thinking it might not be necessary to add to an already loaded business schedule at Assembly, we spent the last year seeking permission from the President and Board of Directors simply to interpret existing legislation in a manner that allowed us to accept confirmed infant baptisms as “believer’s baptisms”. They did not feel free to do this, advising that this matter would have to be taken up with this Assembly. Unfortunately, by the time we were informed of this we had run out of time to recommend it to the current agenda with proper prior written notice.

What if I don’t think infant baptisms should be recognized? Is there a reason to say yes? 

Yes, if you feel this an area of allowable local church freedom or diversity, within our core Christian unity. The framers of this proposal also think believer’s baptism to be more faithful to Scripture, they simply want to recognize other traditions as we work together and work it out.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Lovely Bit of Football

Yeah it's just a friendly and there is an offside but this vine catches what is still a beauty play.

Sturridge ends up keeping it in and dishing to Henderson for the goal. So if you're keeping score at home that's:

Coutinho > Sterling > Henderson > Coutinho > Sterling > Coutinho > Sturridge > Henderson > Goal

Sunday, August 03, 2014

I Might be Wrong: Confrontation in a Confessing Church [sermon excerpt]

This is an excerpt from today's sermon at Richmond Alliance Church. It'll make most sense embedded in its time and place--but can probably stand alone for the most part too. Let me know if you want to talk about it. Peace.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Bartolome Esteban Murillo
"But the danger of self-deception and self-forgiveness remains when we all do our confessing in private, never living in true Christian community. James 5:16 says 'confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.' Sounds like quite a community! A real trust-environment. A place like that would take a lot of grace and humility.

I love the title of one of Radiohead’s live recordings, named after a song called 'I might be wrong.' Why are we so afraid to say that? Sometimes I think we need to just stop everything and sing that song.

Of course, apart from an underlying hope in truth and justice this doesn’t make from a great life-motto either. We don’t want to say that no one’s right [that's rather an unhopeful perspective, perhaps contributing to the tenor of the song?].


Nonetheless, it's worth it to remember those four words, because even if I am right, refusing to entertain the possibility 'I might be wrong' is the wrong way to be right.

And it is in the hopeful context of a confessing community that Jesus gives grace and freedom to say 'I might be wrong' and together to seek the right."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ecumenical Guidelines

At the bi-annual General Assembly of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada this summer, the following motion was brought to the floor and carried as written:
Resolution #5:
The President of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada provide guidelines for ecumenical cooperation that honour our heritage and Statement of Faith and submit them to General Assembly 2016 for approval.
At first this seemed a harmless, if not encouraging, resolution, but in the course of the debate it became clear that it was raised in response to Ambrose University's recent collaboration with Roman Catholics. Thus it would seem that the spirit behind it was not the promotion of ecumenical activity but its further limitation.

The resolution carried after a relatively short but nonetheless extended discussion. While people were streaming to the microphone I flipped open our Local Church Constitution to see what we already had on this; to see whether we indeed needed something more. What I found in Article 9 of our Statement of Faith was this:
 “The local church, the visible expression of the universal Church, is a body of believers in Christ who are joined together to worship God, to observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, to pray, to be edified through the Word of God, to fellowship, and to testify in word and deed to the good news of salvation both locally and globally. The local church enters into relationships with other like-minded churches for accountability, encouragement and mission.” 
I'd be interested to hear what people inside and outside of my denomination think of it, but when I looked over it again I was actually rather impressed. To me it seems like a pretty good set of ecumenical guidelines. Not a full-on manifesto, mind you, but a concise and encouraging guide.

In fact it called to mind a debate that took place several Assemblies ago when it was discussed whether to have the word "believer's baptism" in there. At that time I recall we opted to leave it at just "baptism" because this was not a statement of our church's particular belief and practice (we declare ourselves a credo-baptist tradition elsewhere), but a statement of what we felt a local church to be. If we added the word "believer's" we would be implying that we did not consider paedo-baptist traditions part of the universal church.

Obviously each word of the Article is as important as what it decides not to say. That it decides not to say a whole lot means that we are fairly open, actually, when it comes to co-operation. So when it says "the local church enters into relationships with other like-minded churches for accountability, encouragement and mission," I think it places the onus for ecumenical engagement and discernment on each congregation in its locality.

That means that the definition of a church which is given in the first part of the Article serves as all the ecumenical guideline we are (formally) going to get. From there it is up to each local church to discern in each case what is the level of "like-mindedness" appropriate to the task at hand.

If local churches are co-operating in a bake sale to get a playground built they are pretty much just going to have to agree on the guiding values that got them into that project in the first place.

If local churches are co-operating on a newspaper advertisement declaring their shared beliefs to the community, then the definition of "like-mindedness" might take a bit more work and discernment. In that case if the Statement of Faith is not specific enough on some point of doctrine the local church would be free to consult further, but it would still be the case that the local church (or college) ought to be able to do that work in their locality rather than be overly regimented by national policy.

In other words, I think the ecumenical guidelines that already exist are good enough. They are appropriately succinct and specific. If there is a desire for something particular to be added, maybe we should put the onus on those making the request to specify what exactly that is--at which point we could have a much more productive discussion.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Life Change

I am excited to announce that this fall I will become the Tutor in Theology at Trinity College Bristol.

With mixed emotions I read my letter of resignation at Richmond Alliance Church today, where I will continue pastoring until the end of August, at which point we will be making our move over the Atlantic. We leave our church family on good terms and will aim to leave them on a good foot going forward.

More to come I'm sure. It will be a busy next couple months. In the meantime, here is the website for Trinity College, here is where Bristol is, and here is where I will be working: