25.6.10

Retreat on the streets and calming Christadelphians



Just like the clip. Not really related in any big way to my reflection below but looking forward to this new comedy coming up soon on BBC 2. 

Today we ventured into Nottingham with our personal possessions denied us but one pound fifty pence generously supplied for a six hour escapade. We were to reflect on how it feels to be without and with little to live on. Now, in some ways, we knew that this was not going to be an ordeal, by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed six hours walking around a city is certainly something I am sure we have all done before, even for the purposes of shopping, perhaps when travelling and holidaying or when having become lost somewhere new. Confined as we have been in lecture rooms for much of this lovely weather, it seemed to present more opportunities for joy than hardship.

I buddied up with my wonderful friend and prayer partner and off we went. We chat and we chat, my friend and I, about faith and ministry and life and experiences and our past and our futures, our dreams and our fears and one of our early conversations was about a dream I had had the night before in which a grey haired lady was hoping we might identify our spiritual gifts. We were standing in some kind of semi-circle and my friend said very clearly, 'God has gifted me with the ability to speak in tongues'. I was last in the semi-circle and she prayed over me and said the words 'Father and Mother' and I just remember feelings of slight bemusement and then the dream seemed to finish. We went on to discuss other things as we walked. And we walked and walked. Good exercise.

My friend and I window-shopped and discussed the places we knew in the city and visited St Peter's Church, we chatted to a man selling The Big Issue and visited an art gallery or two.

We then walked from place to place negotiating our small funds for a sandwich, a pear and a bottle of water, feeling as though we had done quite well for ourselves, resisiting the temptation of a meal for £1.39 at McDonalds and we found a place to sit and eat near a fountain.

After lunch, we found ourselves in the 'Bible Learning Centre', curious by what it might be advocating, God, we hoped but we were open to the possibility that we would discover it was something else entirely.

Inside we were faced with a somewhat surreal display of clinical, white, plastic boards outlining the Old Testament grand narrative through the lens of the prophet Daniel in particular, so that certain prophesies might be proved to have come true by the events that have unfolded in time and history since. Christ was presented as the stone or the crystal and the second coming was imminent. The sparse room contained old manuscripts which we were not allowed to touch and small booklets called 'Glad tidings' and Bible reading programmes and information about seminars we could attend should we wish.

We sat on a sofa and were joined by the woman in charge, who had grey hair. We asked her to explain to us her vision for the shop and then we began to discuss matters of faith. She referenced a Dr Thomas, through whom she had arrived at her understanding of Scripture. He had acquired divine revelation as to Scripture's meaning two hundred years ago when he was on a dangerous voyage, in fear of his life, and had promised God that if he was spared, he would disseminate the information and to cut a long story, we have the Christadelphians.

We seemed to have some common ground with this woman but she informed us that we were mistaken in our doctrine. There is no trinity. There is no devil. Christ was not pre-existent, although she seemed to understand the concept of the Logos. The Holy Spirit is not a person and the Spiritual gifts are not for today. I asked her about whether she believes that the Kingdom is breaking in and she said no, that she sees no signs of it. I asked her about miracles and about speaking in tongues and other manifestations of the power of God and she said that they had all ceased. My friend, just like in my dream, said 'I speak in tongues' but the lady said that this was 'babble' accompanied by trance-like fits or altered states of consciousness. I said that in my experience there was no trance-like state, it was all just the most normal experience and simply a part of many Christians' prayer life. She was unconvinced and informed us that there is no heaven, we are all waiting for the second coming, she was a creationist, a fundamentalist and there is really no hope until Jesus comes back. Her father had expected his return and lived and died disappointed and she was hoping for it because from what she understands about the world, and the state it is in, the time must be near.

We wished her all the best and affirmed her searching after the heart of God but left really sad for her that she has no concept of the power of the Holy Spirit, God's love and his constant inbreaking. The now and the not-yet, the joy.

We returned to St Peter's to give thanks and also to pray for her, that she should come to know the Living God. I do not doubt that as we left, she was probably praying for us, that we give up our babbling and join one of her seminars.

Outside St Peter's, we overheard a street-preacher, lamenting sin and separaration and handing out leaflets in the hope that people would turn from their evil ways and repent and join the Kingdom.

So...we entered a shop and were the only people in it and were received with suspicion and then watched people dodge their way around the street preacher, hoping not to have to take one of the leaflets that he was thrusting into their path.

I need to unpack all of this, think about what it is God is doing using the Church of England as his mouth-piece, very grateful that he is and that it is something unthreatening to most people. I am left reflecting on the generosity of our faith, its ability to listen to others, its hermeneutical openness and its great process of discernment, the traditions of the last two thousand years by which we have arrived at our doctrine. I am grateful that the voices are many, that the view of God is wide and expansive, that those theologians each reveal something which we can wrestle with. I am grateful that I do not have to follow the interpretation of one man a couple of hundred years ago but that the Anglican faith has wrestled and listened and considered and continues to do so. I am grateful for a living God, who lavishes his children with Spiritual blessings, who is powerfully at work in our lives so that we can feel it, that his word is a living word, pointing to Jesus Christ and that we come to understand it by the power of the Holy Spirit.

...and all that for just £1.50 and few miles of walking!!

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.