Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Norwich Churches and Belief Communities: Unity Service.

NCBC Unity Service display

Last Sunday evening at Norwich Central Baptist Church a service was held under the rubrick United Service For the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  The Sermon was provided by Father David Paul, dean of Norwich's Roman Catholic cathedral. It was a good sermon emphasizing a Christocentric faith, a Truine God, sin, repentance and forgiveness. Fr David likened the different expressions of faith to the very different building types one finds in Norwich; from the Cathedral to the University of East Anglia and everything in between. The above picture shows a display of tea lights and church names created during the service by representatives of the different fellowships present. I have listed those fellowships below:

Let's start the list with three well established churches taken from the three main English traditions: 
Norwich Cathedral - Church of England
St John the Baptist Cathedral - Roman Catholic 
Norwich Central Baptist Church - non conformist

The Others:
Witard Road Baptist Church
St Andrews and Christchurch, Eaton, (C of E)
Central  Council of Churches Together
St Peter Mancroft, C of E
St Luke's C of E
Norwich Prison Chaplaincy
Silver Road Baptist Church
St Giles C of E
St Matthews C of E
ChapelField road Methodist Church
White Woman Lane Methodist Church
Holy Apostles RC, West Earlham

The list above represents quite a mix of traditions, notably absent, however, are representatives of the more moderate evangelical fellowships of Brethren, Independents and Charismatic churches. But the fact is even some of these evangelical moderates march along the margins of the separatist hard-line sectarian world. Unity of this kind is a very fragile thing and for some an uncomfortable almost spiritually compromising experience. In this connection it is no surprise that Fr. David wasn't going make any mention of such subjects as transubstantiation, purgatory or the status of Mary and the Pope - that could be inviting trouble, needless to say. The ethos of this sort of gathering is that whilst we have differences of opinion on such subjects, we can nevertheless gather around central and essential unifying themes such as were focused on by Fr David.

It's instructive to contrast the above list with the purist sectarian and fundamentalist Christians I have met in my time, some of whom get dishonorable mentions  in my blogs. The list below embraces a variety of both fellowships, para-church organisations and individuals of this type. Unquestionably, they all to a man would thoroughly despise the sort of unity event of Sunday night. But they hardly need a bunch of ecumenically minded Christians as a pretext to hunt down "heresy"; they can find that enough among fellow fundamentalists to satiate the "error" correcting urges of even the most fastidious of fundamentalists. If some of the Christian fundamentalist brands listed below happened to confront one another the exchange would be sharp, irreconcilable and may well end up with mutual accusations of heresy, apostasy and even blasphemy; as Lord Clarke put it in his Civilization series, among fundamentalists there is an implicit belief in the Divine authority of their opinions. The Christians listed below would likely object to being gathered together with the more doctrinally unorthodox groups such as the JWs and Mormons, but in my experience these communities show such similarity in epistemic method, approach, attitude, concept, culture, ethos, and even use of language as to warrant common classification.  The list below is far from exhaustive; as I have said before, under every stone one turns a new version of Christian fundamentalism can be found.
The 2 x 2 sect
Closed Brethren
Mark Driscoll,
Answers in Genesis
The Witness Lee Brotherhood,
Strict and Particular Baptists
Reformation identifying Evangelicals
Children of God.
Strict and Traditional Brethren
The Christadelphians
Strict and Traditional Evangelicals
Herbert Armstrong and the Plain Truth
The Jesus Army
Gnostic and fideist charismatics
The Snake Handlers sect.
Potters House
The Car Park Sect
Metropolitan tabernacle
Toronto Blessing revival
Barry Smith: Millennium Bug prophet
Gold dust and angel feathers Charismatics
William Tapley, 2010 end of world prophet 
Harold Camping, 2011 end of world prophet

The people embodied in this list would undoubtedly crow over the flabby state of the church represented by Sunday night's service. But then look at the state of this list of fundamentalists; can you imagine any of them getting together for a united service without the precaution of wearing brickbat proof helmets? Does such a collection of contradictory nasties endear the church to anyone?

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