Something is dying; something is not yet born
Baptists have been encouraged to return to their roots and explore what it truly means to abide in Christ
The call came from Alan Donaldson, the General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, during the Baptist Assembly sermon on Sunday morning.
Taking John 15: 1-8 (The vine and the branches) as his text, Alan's sermon was entitled "Something is dying; something is not yet born".
He highlighted how we are living in disorientating times, citing the pandemic, war in Ukraine, mass migration, an era of sexual and gender questioning, and the cost of living crisis.
How will we navigate this?
Alan said he couldn't offer a definitive answer, but ‘a direction of travel’. In doing so, he said he wanted to lead delegates 'to explore the riches of scripture and the riches of our roots as Baptists.'
The Bible reading - recorded for Assembly by the young people of Bunyan Baptist Church, Stevenage - contained 'one of the great metaphors of the New Testament', said Alan.
'It is a metaphor of connection, it is a metaphor of truth, it is a metaphor of hopefulness.
‘it's a metaphor introduced by Jesus at a time of disorientation for his disciples.'
And that message from Jesus to his disciples is: “abide in me” or “make your home in me.”
One current example of a people doing this are the Ukrainian Baptists, said Alan.
'Throughout this conflict they have returned to their roots and abided in Christ.
'With bombs, shells and mortars landing around them they have sought refuge in church basements and simultaneously sought the presence of God as two or three gather in his name.'
During these times they have found reasons for thanksgiving together, prayed together, entered the discipline of gathering together to eat bread and drink wine and baptised new believers. It is here, 'in connection with one another they testify to experiencing the presence of God in the midst of great conflict.'
'It seems so simple,’ continued Alan. ‘But I fear we are losing this fundamental Baptist emphasis of two or three gathering together in Christ’s name. Of prioritising dwelling with Christ in community with others.'
He encouraged delegates to go back to our Baptist roots which draw us naturally into ‘communal, intergenerational discipleship.’
Returning to the Ukraine Baptists, Alan said they then leave the safety of the basements to serve their communities.
'Out of the security of dwelling in Christ, they entered the insecurity of a war zone and poured out their lives in service.’
And in doing so, they have gained a greater understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, Alan explained. ‘It is in truly going into this world that we grasp with greater depth the love, the protection, the security, the peace, the wholeness, the joy that we receive as we abide in him.
'Going is our classroom of discipleship. As you go, you grow.'
In what was possibly an Assembly first, Alan used the medium of dance to emphasise his point, inviting his wife Ruth to the main stage. Together they performed a jive move called stop and go.
It was an image of God dancing with us closely, enabling us to go while holding us tight, telling us that he loves us.
Concluding his sermon, Alan said, 'Don't forget the dance, but don't forget the point - our heavenly father by his grace draws us in and gazes upon us.
'He holds us closely, protects us, reminds us of our beauty tells us you are in the vine, and then simultaneously sends us out spinning into a disorientating environment, yet knowing we are still connected.
'We are still secure in him, dwelling in the godly household, held in the everlasting arms, experiencing him with us when we are being held and also as we go, through his presence and the presence of other believers, then together overflowing into the community.
'Around us Lord, may it be so, that we learn to abide and go. Amen'
Access Alan's sermon here. The video begins with the Bible reading at 57mins 25 secs: