Church In The Power of the Spirit (2)

CHURCH IN REFORMATION

According to Haymes, Baptist life is not fixed and Baptists remain open to new things that God will show by his Spirit. Now, there is a thought to meditate on for quite some time, because it is all too common for Baptist churches to lay down a foundation that they believe will never be shaken or moved.

Cook recorded that Helwys, who was the founder of the first Baptist church in England and the first Baptist minister to give his life for his faith, ‘was convinced that the Church of God as a whole has departed from its fundamental conception, and even the Reformation needed to be reformed.’

Thus the Reformation should, according to Baptists, be seen not so much as an event of past history, but rather as the beginning (?) of a process in which we are still intimately involved. The church evolves differently in different times and cultures, and no one type of church should ever see itself as the finished or complete product. As Webber said, ‘The church throughout history has unfolded in many cultures and therefore no one expression of the church stands alone as the true visible body of Christ.’

All that church is and does is open to change according to Baptists. Once again this is the theory, but it would be very easy to believe otherwise when looking at the Baptist churches across our nation. A ‘holy discontent’ with remaining the same has often long been replaced by a holy distrust of anything new or different.

Nevertheless, this ‘holy discontent’ with the status quo is an important principle of church life. According to Vos, ‘The church’s doctrine, worship, government, discipline, missionary activities, educational institutions, publications, and practical life – all these are to be progressively reformed according to Scripture.’ Yet, many Baptist churches see the Reformation as a fixed event in history and not as a process that they are currently involved in and part of.

Fiddes declared: ‘Those who have hope refuse to regard any structures as final or sacrosanct, in church or society. They have a holy discontent that is always breaking open old structures and institutions to find new life.’ Oh that Baptist churches were indeed always longing for more of Christ and more of longing to discover new things and new ways of being in him.

The constantly reforming congregation that involves everyone in the church is what McClendon was looking for: ‘Here, then, is the challenge of radical reformation in ministry: not a set-apart ministry of those who work for God while others work for themselves, and not a flock of secular “callings” (doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief) tended by a shepherd with a religious calling (priest or preacher, pope or pastor), but a people set apart, earning their daily bread in honest toil, to be sure, but living to become for others the bread of life.’

What of Moltmann? Speaking of an ongoing reformation in church, he observed that the current situation means that ‘the theological doctrine of the church cannot simply be expressed in abstract terms about the church’s timeless nature. It will have to provide points of departure for reforming the church, for giving it a more authentic form.’ As Moltmann observed only too well, ‘not every church is a “Reformation” church in the sense that it expresses its vitality through continual reforms.’ But he declared that every church needed constant reformation. How far have Baptist churches moved away from that kind of thinking and being?

When Moltmann wrote “The Church in the Power of the Spirit”, his practical concern was church reform, and he added these concerns to the postscript of the 1989 edition of his book. His concern grew ever larger in the years after the book was originally published, and he wanted the religious institution of church to be constantly being reformed into a congregational or community church in the midst of the people and with the people. He said that ‘it is a path which we can take only if we are prepared to break away from passive church membership and to start out on a new journey, entering into the active participation in the life of the congregation.’ Moltmann was not a Baptist, but he held a truly Baptist view of the need for ongoing reformation in church.

THE LORD’S SUPPER

The Lord’s Supper is, according to Jones, the focal point for Baptist believers to ‘gather and share together in thanksgiving and fellowship with each other and with the Lord Jesus, who summons us to the feast.’ The meal is not a mere remembrance service, for remembrance services remember and honour the dead; but the Lord’s Supper has the joy and celebration of the foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come, as well as revisiting the cost that Jesus paid to make our salvation possible.

Baptists remember not only the agony that Jesus endured, but also the resurrection on the third day; in this way the Lord’s Supper looks backwards and forwards, for this same Jesus will return. As Beasley-Murray said, ‘To celebrate the Lord’s Supper is to receive yet another opportunity to encounter the risen Lord.’

Moltmann spoke of the Lord’s Supper as the ‘feat of his presence surrounded by the remembrance of his death and the expectation of his coming,’ which is expected in a ‘universal, all-embracing and openly manifest form.’ Moltmann expected to encounter the Lord in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper for him was ‘the sign of the actualizing remembrance of the liberating suffering of Christ’ and, as such, ‘it is the prefiguration of Christ’s redeeming future and glory.’

Moltmann said that ‘In this meal [Christ’s] past and his future are simultaneously made present.’ Therefore, to speak of remembrance is to speak of presence, so that Moltann said, ‘It is not the historical remembrance as such which provides the foundation for the Lord’s Supper, but the presence of the crucified one in the Spirit of the resurrection.’ Such a Lord’s Supper is far removed from my own experience of Baptist churches, where it was merely a remembrance service.