» Historical Society
By Andrew Picard
As a movement of churches we Kiwi Baptists have always been passionate about seeing our churches grow. We rightly share this passion for mission and growth with our earliest forebears. However, along with a passion for growth in the quantity of our church life they also had a passion for growth in the quality of our church life together. This passion stemmed out of their understanding of the nature of the Church.
The Church is a creation of God. Its life comes from its deep communion with God through Christ in the power of the Spirit. As the community of the triune God, the Church is called not just to do something (grow bigger and bigger) but to be something; a community created in the image of the Trinity. The Church in its life is called to display to the world the end for which all things were created – deep and lasting communion with God and one another.
In our life together the Church, as the community of God’s new creation, is called to image the deep and lasting relationships of self-giving love that exist between Father, Son and Spirit. This calling to be a certain people gripped the earliest Baptists and led them to desiring a quality of life together over simply a quantity of life together.
Interestingly, instead of calling for churches to get bigger and bigger, they called for churches to maintain a size small enough that everyone knew each other personally. As they grew they planted further churches that were small enough that everyone knew each other personally.
We are called not just to do something (get bigger and bigger), but also to be something (the new creation of God who exists as a community of relationships – Father, Son and Spirit). In A Declaration of Faith of English People, Thomas Helwys, one of the pioneering Baptists, wrote this:
“That the members of every church or congregation ought to know one another, so that they may perform all the duties of love one towards another... And especially the Elders ought to know the whole flock, whereof the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers... And therefore a church ought not to consist of such a multitude as cannot have particular knowledge one of another.”
This was a call for the Church to remember to be something and not just do something. As inheritors and translators of the earliest Baptist vision, we do well to keep asking ourselves, “how do we carry this vision of a certain quality of life together forward for the 21st Century?” As our churches grow, how do we maintain a focus on knowing one another personally? Is it through our small groups? Do we need a fresh movement of church planting? Is it multi-congregational churches? Is it through Facebook or Twitter or Virtual Church?
Benezet Bujo, an African theologian, reflecting on the Western Church, notes how strange it is to an African that you would go to church and not know the name of the person sitting next you! How do we emphasise the quality of our life together as well as the quantity of our life together?