Melbourne Baptist Church Hosts Same Sex Wedding

A story broke on DavidOuld.net this morning, naming a Baptist Church in Victoria which has recently opened its building to host a same sex wedding.

The focus on DavidOuld.net is of several ordained Anglican ministers from the Diocese of Melbourne who were present at the ceremony, and who appear to have formally participated during the service. It is not currently known who the official celebrant was, but presiding over a same sex marriage is a violation of the government marriage licence for both Anglican and Baptist clergy. Anglican and Baptist marriage celebrants can only conduct weddings according to the marriage rites of their said denomination.

According to the Baptist Marriage Rites, marriage is “the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

My concern is the news that a Baptist Church in Melbourne has hosted this wedding, and it appears as though at least one ordained Baptist minister was involved. This doesn’t project a view of Victorian baptists that will adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Community Church of St Mark belongs to the association of Churches that is the Baptist Union of Victoria. I cannot imagine that they would have received permission from the BUV to conduct a same sex wedding on their premises. Such permission is not however required as local churches have significant autonomy.

There is a question as to whether the Community Church of St Mark rented out their building to a third party or were  formally hosting and supporting the event? In one sense, that distinction is a matter of semantics, for either option is a clear promotion of same sex marriage. Footage of the wedding procession clearly shows the banner of St Mark’s being paraded, thus indicating at least some involvement by the Church. In addition, an ordained baptist minister was also present and part of the procession, and it appears that she was involved in a formal capacity.

Why does this matter?

It is important for baptists for at least these two reasons:

First, Community Church of St Mark have misrepresented what Baptists believe about marriage. They have welcomed teaching and have blessed a view of marriage that contravenes the clear doctrinal position of the Baptist Union of Victoria. In so doing, they are sending confusing messages to local communities as to what Baptist believe about marriage, and in so doing they are leading people astray from God’s good purposes. 

Second, Churches who are affiliated with the BUV are in relationship with each other. There is rightly a significant degree of autonomy given to each church, however an association is not arbitrary or meaningless. Without clear theological common ground that is affirmed and practiced, churches can’t work together. To what point can we share an identity together when that name is being misrepresented in such grievous ways?  The question is, should our Baptist Churches allege unity with another Church who has decided to act against Baptist doctrine? Is it appropriate to call Community Church of St Mark to repentance?

The issue of marriage is not unimportant or secondary in the Bible. Indeed, during last year’s plebiscite debate advocates made it clear that they believe it’s about human rights and amending one of the great social evils in our country. For Christians, our Scriptures define sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage as porneia, it being alongside many other activities which prevent people from entering the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul includes homosexual activity as being “contrary to the sound doctrine  that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” If the Bible defines this as a Gospel issue, then it is incumbent upon us to do so as well.

This morning’s news is incredibly sad but unsurprising. For some time there have been baptist clergy and churches agitating to redefine marriage and to be given permission to formally conduct same sex weddings. These numbers are small, only representing tiny fraction of the BUV, but they are persistent. We are being naive if we believe that this matter will eventually blow over and that these advocates will simply give up.

A precedent can easily become a pattern if we don’t speak up.

As it currently stands, Baptist marriage celebrants cannot conduct same sex weddings. The position for churches is however somewhat murky. The spirit of the law suggests that a Baptist Church should not facilitate a same sex marriage, either by renting out their building or by inviting a secular celebrant to preside. However, the strict letter of the law does not (to my knowledge), prohibit this practice. This ambiguity needs to be attended to and fixed in the near future.

 


Update (Monday 7pm): I can now confirm that the officiating celebrant was Rev James (Jim) Barr. Rev Barr was formerly the Senior Pastor at Collins St Baptist and at Canberra Baptist. He is now a Welsh Methodist credentialed minister, and thus no longer holds a baptist licence. It is however unclear how how substantive his role was in this service, given that Baptist and Anglican clergy were also participating. In other words, one question is answered, but the original concerns remain, and they are substantive concerns for Baptists and Anglicans alike.

Do we want a Maverick Baptist College?

Simon Carey Holt has written a blog piece where he speaks favourably of the current climate of Whitley College. Simon is currently the Senior Pastor at Collins Street Baptist, and for many years he taught at Whitley.

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It is good to hear Simon’s perspective. There is much that can be said in response, but here are four thoughts for now.

First, it is important to understand the role Simon attributes to the college.

For example, he states, “Theological educators must be prepared to stand on the sidelines of the church and call it to account. Like those pesky prophets of old, courageous theologians call the church to be different than what it is, a challenge to a radical transformation and a critique of the status quo.

While putting it in a rather gentle way, Simon is essentially saying, the College’s role is to speak down on the churches, telling us what we are doing wrong.

Yes, we need a theological college with academic rigour, where students are encouraged to think deeply and engage with a broad spectrum of theological persuasions. We also need a college that is anchored to the ‘faith once for all delivered’.

The question is, is it the role of the college to “call churches to account”, or does the college exist to serve the churches? When a former lecturer portrays the college as a maverick with a stick, he only reinforces concerns and exemplifies how out of touch they are with the Baptist community (and with Baptist polity!).

Second, Simon believes the college listens to the churches, but is that the case? I have no doubt that a few churches are listened too, but if the College was truly listening to the broader churches, we would not be hearing concerned voices from a growing number of churches and pastors.

Which leads to a third point,

Simon suggests, “As a priestly community, the theological college is one that nurtures and enables the local church”.

This is a noble desire, one which is worth pursuing, but as I mentioned last week,  many of our churches do not have confidence in the College to train and teach the next generation of Gospel ministers. This is demonstrated by the fact that churches continue to send their people to alternative theological colleges in Melbourne and interstate.

Fourth, Simon said,

In my experience, criticisms like these often hold a kernel of truth mixed with a good dose of ignorance and clichéd hyperbole. Too often such criticisms are leveled by those who have never sat in a class, never pursued a sustained conversation with a teacher, and never read anything of substance written by those they deride. Sadly though, when mud is thrown it sticks, deserved or not.”

This may be a fitting description for some scenario somewhere, but here it is nothing more than a straw man. The reality is, some of the concerned baptists have sat in classes, they have conversed with teachers, and they have read publications. And many who made the decision to study at other theological institutions have engaged with Whitley College in other ways over the years.

I notice that Simon does not deny the theological discord between the College and Churches; indeed he admits Whitley promotes ideas and teachings that are incongruent with those of the churches. His rationale is, the College is  a prophetic voice speaking to the BUV, “like those pesky prophets of old, courageous theologians call the church to be different than what it is, a challenge to a radical transformation and a critique of the status quo”.

I guess Hananiah was a prophet of sorts! Should not prophets contend for the faith, rather than contravene the faith? In fact, professionalising prophecy was the error of the kings of Israel and Judah. While God may use a voice from the college in a ‘prophetic’ way, assuming the mantle of prophet is dangerous, and is certainly not the role ascribed to it by the BUV.

In conclusion, we want to see a faithful and growing Baptist College in Victoria, which is able to serve our Churches well. I agree with Simon in that a change of leadership is opportunity to ask hard questions. Hard questions have been asked this year; what remains to be seen is how they will be answered.

Advertising: Principal of Whitley College

The Baptist theological college in Victoria, Whitley College, is looking for a new Principal.

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This is an exciting opportunity for the Baptist community in Victoria, as well as for one auspicious applicant.

There is an elephant standing a few blocks from the famous Melbourne Zoo, and one which can’t be ignored: The name ‘Whitley College’ conjures up a long history of theological liberalism, and with good reason. The sad reality is, there are very few statements in the Baptist doctrinal basis that are not rejected by one or more of Whitley’s faculty and adjunct teachers. One cannot assume that penal substitution or the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessarily affirmed or taught as Bible truth. Ideas such as universalism, modalism, affirming homosexual practices, are all to be found in teachings among the faculty.

I understand there are some Victorian Baptists who have a positive relationship with the College, but there is no escaping the fact that many churches (perhaps the majority) will not currently send their people to Whitley, because of radical deconstruction of the evangelical and baptist faith that swirls around its Colosseum looking building. 

For two generations Evangelicals have overwhelmingly stayed away from Whitley (except for ordination studies), and have trained at other Bible Colleges in Melbourne, and even interstate.

That being said, there is a growing desire to see reform, and to see our college move forward.

Letters from various Whitley Board members have been circulating this year, aghast at the idea that Baptists are expressing concerns over the college’s orthodoxy, but the reality is, these concerns have been present for decades. For the most part people have been afraid to speak up, and when they have, no one has been listening, until now. In several public forums this year, including May’s Gathering, numerous concerns were raised regarding the teaching and training emanating from Whitley, communicating that the Churches want change.

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Please refer to the formal job description. In addition, I can speak for some Victorian Baptists who are keen to see the following attributes in the College Principal:

  • We are looking for a Principal with strong Evangelical convictions and who affirms the doctrinal basis of the BUV.
  • We are looking for a Principal with a pastoral heart.
  • A strong leader and visionary for the future of training Gospel ministers.
  • A character that fits with the qualifications described in 1 Timothy 2 and Titus ch.1
  • A Principal who can effectively engage with Victorian Baptist Churches

The College Principal is an important position, and provides a significant opportunity for the future of not only the College, but also for the Baptist Union of Victoria. 

Perhaps you would like to join with many of us in praying for this process. Anyone interested in applying should follow the above link (applications close August 22nd)

Complementarianism, a conversation Baptists want to have?

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On the ‘Baptist Union of Victoria’s’ Facebook page this week, a series of articles have been posted on the topic of women in leadership. These articles are not written by Victorian Baptists, nor do they, I believe, reflect the formal Baptist position on women in leadership. If that were the case, the BUV would have to give up its affirmation of diversity, and a growing number of Baptist churches would no longer welcome in the BUV family.  However, the publication of these articles is raising questions among pastors, especially the commentary accompanying these posts,

Not all Baptist Churches provide opportunities for women to lead. How is your church doing? “Some sexism is blatant, but most of it is subtle, hidden behind so-called “good intentions.” In many churches, it is hidden behind misinterpreted gender roles.”’

What is your church doing to empower more women to lead?

The last question is useful and important, but unfortunately it is being framed by a particular view that wishes to distort a true complementation position.

Uncritically dumping articles into public space can be unhelpful, and leaves readers wondering whether the BUV agrees with the content of these articles, and whether their churches are meant to follow suit? 

Obviously someone is wanting to generate a conversation, and it is certainly a topic worthy of dialogue. But to avoid giving the appearance that the BUV is driving this, they ought to put their name to these posts, and they should publish articles that fairly represent the views they are so openly criticising.

The most recent post is Kylie Pidgeon’s article, Complementarianism and Family Violence: The shared dynamics of Power and Control. Kylie Pidgeon raises several important questions that deserve proper consideration by the local church, and I grateful to her for doing this. But sadly, the timbre of her message may be muddied due to the parodic character of other articles being promoted. 

In summary, the message being conveyed through this series of posts is that complementarianism means ‘sexism’, ‘gender inequality’ and even ‘domestic violence’. This is a serious accusation and one that ought only to be suggested with the greatest care.

Take for example, the article promoted yesterday, written by Charlie Olivia Grantham, The Case of Subtle Sexism.

Grantham writes,

“male headship are all different strains of the same toxic ideology—sexism. Some sexism is blatant, but most of it is subtle, hidden behind so-called “good intentions.” In many churches, it is hidden behind misinterpreted gender roles.”

But hold on, the Bible teaches and affirms male headship in both marriage and the church. Is the author suggesting the Bible is sexist? Is she accusing God, the author of Scripture, as being sexist? Or with a gigantic and unexplained hermeneutical leap, she can simply denude the relevance of all those passages of Scripture?

Also, Grantham refuses to accept there are countless intelligent and godly women who affirm complementarian theology and practice. In fact, one mature Christian woman, whom I was talking with today, rolled her eyes at Grantham’s suggestion. Is she a sexist for disagreeing with Grantham? Apparently so, as Grantham claims to know the mind of God (even if other women do not) when she says, ’I realized that even if God is calling her to preach, she will never know it because she is blinded by sexist lies fed to her over a lifetime.’

In encouraging woman to take the lead in church, Grantham doesn’t call women to the Scriptures, and to trust God in his word; instead, she calls women to believe in their ‘gut instinct’. What terrible advice to giver anyone, whether male or female. As Christians, is not God in his word an authority over us, and is not our task to trust him and follow his words?

Not only is Grantham’s advice unsound, her presentation of complementarianism is a gross caricature. It’s akin to me pointing to a picture of Bugs Bunny and saying to my kids, that’s exactly what real rabbits are like! Perhaps Grantham is picturing a conservative church somewhere, but it is not representative of any complementarian church I know of.

I remember sitting in a meeting with denominational leaders four years ago, and they all believed complementarians taught that women were inferior to men. I assured them that was not the case, and a church teaching such would be contravening Scripture. But what it showed me is that there is significant ignorance on this issue, and now I understand why, if people are relying on articles like this.

There is such a thing called misogyny, and when it worms its way into the home or the church, it needs to be exposed and thrown out: It is sin. But this is not what complementarians believe or practice. Was the Apostle Paul a woman hater for writing (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, dare we add) 1 Timothy ch.2?

The Bible is adamant on the question of equality between men and women. One is not greater than the other, and neither are they the same. The Bible gives examples of women exercising ministry in the local church and encourages women to serve. We want to learn from them and seek to faithfully apply these Scriptures in our own churches. The Bible also teaches male headship in the home and church; stereotyping or disregarding these Scriptures, only serves to create bigger issues.

Complementarianism is not some strange and archaic practice belonging to pre-enlightenment era of history, it is a view held by many churches today, including Baptist Churches, and it is a position held with broad historical precedence and deep theological warrant. When I have time, I am keen to lay out these arguments in another article.

Having said this, I know thoughtful Christians who have done the hard work of exegeting the Biblical texts and have landed in a different place to myself. I disagree with them on this matter, but I still love them and we partner together in ministry ventures. 

Even among complementarians there are some differences. For example, New Testament theologian, Michael Bird, holds to a complementarian view of marriage, but not for the church. John Dickson is okay with women preaching in his church, although they do so under the authority of the church’s leadership. Some churches have male elders but encourage male and female deacons. At Mentone, we praise God for the many women who serve in a multitude of ways, including on staff and as deacons. We would be a far lesser people without their godliness, gifts and love in service.

It is disappointing to see this issue raised in such an unhelpful way. I’m sure it is probably just a super keen staffer wanting a conversation started. At the moment the BUV is an exciting people to be part of, with many encouraging things happening, and so this is a rather unfortunate incident. Hopefully we can do better in the future.