Monday, November 20, 2006

Norwich Central Baptist Church is part of a phenomenon I have called the “Wensum Valley Churches”. These are a group of protestant churches that huddle around an ancient meander in the Norwich Wensum valley and I list them as follows:

Norwich Central Baptist Church (conservative), Surrey Chapel (orthodox), Silver Road Baptist (Traditional?) Zoar Chapel (Strict and Particular), JW Kingdom Hall (Cult), Wensum Chapel, now City church (Charismatic), The Octagon chapel (Traditional), Princes Street UR (Traditional). The Cathedral (Traditional). St. Augustine’s (Emerging/postevangelical church), St Luke’s (Postevangelical/emerging church),

Stretching the line a little one might also include “Potters House” (Charismatic Cult) on Dereham road, St Barnabus (traditional) and even Kings Church (Charismatic). Tell me if you think I should add anymore to the list. This is a phenomenon I am still studying, classifying and describing, and so I’ll appreciate any input. Some of my labels may be non-distinctions e.g. it is questionable if there is much difference between the ‘conservative’ NCBC and the ‘orthodox’ Surrey Chapel. However, I want these two labels hanging around just in case I should at some date need to fine-tune my categories. Some of the categories actually overlap. Take a good look at this group of churches – they are perhaps just as diverse as the seven churches of Asia minor (Revelation 2ff); this group of churches sprawl over the best part of the Protestant spectrum.

I have attempted to classify these churches by introducing a classification scheme that is not based on doctrine but has more to do with “style” than “content” (although style and content are often well and truly conflated) One can, in fact, find similar differences of ‘style’ in Judaism: - e.g. Judaism has the equivalent of ‘orthodox’, ‘charismatic’ and ‘cult’ styles. The generality of this taxonomy does suggest that factors, not uniquely Christian, are at work here to produce these variants. Something else must unite distinctly Christian churches, something far more fundamental than just how orthodox, gnostic, traditional or progressive churches are. For me it is easy to identify what it is: Truly Christian churches understand that their faith and anointing (of 1 John 1:23&27) are void unless underwritten by the ultimate sacrifice made by God Himself, in Christ. But having said that one has to admit that some of the above churches have adopted novel doctrines and idiosyncrasies that threaten the very core of this inclusive faith. However, for those churches who do grasp the Truth, the Truth that gives purpose to life, the universe and everything, they are united by one faith, one baptism and one spirit, in spite of themselves, whether they like it or not. You don’t choose your blood relatives – and by ‘blood’ I mean “Christ’s blood”.

Churches of Norwich look at your selves in the mirror! Don’t be tempted to admire your self or drift off into a narcissistic reverie of self-praise, discounting “all them other churches” as your spiritual inferiors or even apostate! Look in the mirror and see what you really are: You cannot dissociate yourselves from one another: from the outside you all look to be part of the same untidy theme of history, a rough and ready hodge-podge of sometimes ‘anointing denying’ people, a people whose religious elaborations piggy-back on a core faith. There are those churches amongst us who still hanker after a propriety branding of all other churches after their own image, and whose fragile sectarian conception of faith identifies the ecclesial remnant with just another tiny purist splinter group of no cosmic significance whatever, here today and gone tomorrow. Instead Christianity, in actual fact, has cut a broad fuzzy variegated swathe through history, a swathe that sometimes includes some very uneasy partners! We must strive for a robust historical conception of church that mirrors the real state of affairs we find both in Norwich and else where. This is the Open Gospel.

But the Open Gospel is not just a new fangled idea of information and systems theory: In their heart of hearts all true Christians know it:

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

One foundation yes, but a complex sometimes-tacky superstructure! (1 Cor 3:1-15!)

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