Vol 2 No. 1 New Year’s Reflections

“For surely I know the plans I have for you , says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

 A very happy New Year to all in this community called the Baptist Union. Today’s newsletter comes at a time when some of the uproar and business of the recent holidays have subsided and some clearer thinking is being sought. I want to provide some food for personal reflection and formation as we start the New Year. You will recall in previous notes and on the Union’s website that there are video clips that introduce some patterns of daily reading and reflection. Today’s material puts some daily patterns and yearly perspectives together in one letter. Christ’s disciples asked him how to pray and this is what he gave them to say; (surprising how rarely many of our churches and in most of our lives we neglect his advice in this matter).

 “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.’ “

—Matthew 6:9–15

 The best historic summary of doctrine and theology (at least doctrine and theology that is palatable in most of our churches) is the Apostles Creed. It was used at the founding meeting of the Baptist World Alliance in 1905 and repeated in the centenary celebration in 2005.

 I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

    the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Amen.

 

I use both the Lord’s prayer the Apostles creed almost on a daily basis.

The context of starting each day in a good frame of heart and mind and in God is beautifully in C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. The title of this particular piece in this book is “The First Job Every Morning”.

 The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes from the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, ‘Be perfect’, He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder – in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

C.S. Lewis, The First Job Every Morning, Mere Christianity, Bk IV, ch. 8

 

Our verse from Jeremiah at the beginning of this newsletter puts the larger promise of God to me so very well. “For surely I know the plans I have for you , says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11.

But my verse for the year: For myself, and for my sisters and brothers in Christ, and for the Baptist Union is.

 

  “No eye has seen,

 no ear has heard,

   no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”(1Corinthians 2:9)

 

Even so may this be our experience Lord Jesus.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

And a very happy New Year,

Jeremy Bell

The week between Christmas and Epiphany 2006

Vol 1 No. 24 Christmas Letter

The mosaic instructions in Deuteronomy could easily apply to our Christmas preparations:

 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on you forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. (Deut. 11:18-19)

 We are asked to create symbolic remembrances of God’s gifts and truths for us (some of the Christmas images; the star of the Nativity scene, the Christmas cycle of readings and the Advent cycle of candles, themes and readings) We are called to teach them (verse19) and talk about them everywhere: at home and away; imagine saying Merry Christmas at work, or mentioning that you are going to a Christmas eve service. Oh horrors! We are also asked to hold them in our hearts when we lie down in the stillness of the night and when we rise up first thing in the morning. What we celebrate in the aforementioned verses is the Christmas message of the arrival of Jesus.

It is essential to form traditions, ‘rituals’ and household and Church patterns around celebrations like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and rites of conversion, communion and baptism. What patterns and traditions do you have? Have you renewed those rituals, memories and traditions lately? My own extended family has a Bible reading and prayer at thanksgiving, Christmas, major anniversaries and Easter.

Here are some of the traditions that were passed on to me as a child and young man by my own family. These traditions and gifts have changed my life. When I graduated from grade 12, I was given a Bible for my ‘adult years’. When I turned 21 I was asked what I wanted and I requested two things: a complete set of the Narnia Chronicles and a recording of Handel’s Messiah. Both were spiritually formative in my growing years, both have profoundly renewed and fed me at key junctures of personal spiritual need. I want to talk about these two gifts (of Christmas theme!) for just a moment.

Christ’s references to a child’s understanding and receptivity to the gospel are well known as are the references in Isaiah to the promised child. We sometimes find the message of the faith more available and accessible when it comes in a more ‘child-like’ form; the Christmas story, carols, even songs like ‘Jesus Loves Me’ come to mind. Here is the dedication to the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe(a dedication that if any of the print reviewers had read they would have unlocked at least some of the Narnia myster.)

 

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear and too old to understand, a word you say, Baptist Union of Western Canada but I shall still be

          your affectionate Godfather,

            C.S. Lewis

 

The Narnia Chronicles have sold almost a hundred million volumes to date. They are about to embark on an even more significant cultural influence with the release of the new film this Christmas. I would like to commend the film to you, as one of the best I’ve seen. A proper review of it will follow in the weeks ahead. Sufficed it to say, that it’s impact on me is spiritually renewing, and a great gift reminding me of the presence of Christ in the midst of the Advent Season. The Narnia Chronicles, as Lewis correctly writes, are indeed fairy tales. The Christmas story, quite clearly, is not. Christ is truth incarnate. It may be that the special gift of Jesus at Christmas has been lost to you in recent years. The mystery of the incarnation has been misplaced. Just as Lewis wrote in his dedication in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “some day you will be old enough to start reading Fairy Tales again”. My encouragement here is for us to rediscover the wonderful mystery of the incarnation; whether you see that mystery through the eyes of a child or an adult.

Let me briefly mention Handel’s Messiah, which I heard recently in Calgary, under the direction Ivars Taurins. I have heard the Messiah performed live almost two dozen times and have never heard a stronger choir, a more passionate conductor or a more moving soloist than Daniel Taylor.  The messiah, as many of you will know, has a libretto comprised solely of scripture, hence its power. I cannot convey to you the experience because it is interpreted by the holy spirit to every Christian who hears it. Yet my own experience this year – seeing the Narnia film, listening to the Messiah and reading advent scriptures – reflects George Frederic Handel’s comment as he wrote the Messiah: “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!”

I am reticent to be so intensely personal in these observations, yet I wish to direct us, to four central themes in this Christmas newsletter:

  • the deuteronomic exhortation to teach and gift our children and one another well
  • In Narnia, Mr. Beaver, referring to the Aslan as the Christ says, “‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’” Christ comes to us this Christmas, not as a child playing safely in a manger, but as the savior and redeemer, bent on changing me.
  • Handel’s words of scripture to music resonate in our lives and remind us that God is a God of surprises. May we be open this Christmas to the surprises he has for us.
  • Lastly, may we take these last four days to read these simple passages, to reground ourselves if we have lost our footing.
    • Wednesday, December 21: Isaiah 9: 6-7.
    • Thursday, December 22: Isaiah 11:1-10
    • Friday, December 23: Luke 1 and Matthew 1
    • Saturday, December 24: Luke 2:1-7
    • Christmas Day: Luke 2: 8-20

 

 

A very Merry Christmas to all,

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

Advent 2005

Vol 1 No. 23 Prayers

“For surely I know the plans I have for you , says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

 

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ ” —Matthew 6:9–15

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Amen.

 

C.S. Lewis, The First Job Every Morning, Mere Christianity, Bk IV, ch. 8

 

The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes from the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, ‘Be perfect’, He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder – in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

 

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”(1Corinthians 2:9)

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

Vol 1 No. 22 Month of Sundays

There are times when this letter simply needs to catch up on some news. This week’s news takes the form of some of my visits and experiences; observations that might be useful in whatever context we find ourselves in.

Our title is taken from that expression “a month of Sundays”, a phrase meant to suggest a very long time. An average month contains four Sundays. The particular Sunday of November 27th found me attending four services in one day (Kerry happened to be away on an Advent retreat with an old friend). It emerged as a richness of experience. This newsletter will talk briefly about those experiences.

Each service had its contribution to my life in Christ, each was used to touch me in particular ways. I mention them because I have often found that intentionally visiting other churches accomplishes several things;

  1. It shows me that God speaks in other traditions apart from my own.
  2. It lets me hear with “new ears” the word of God in free church, liturgical and presbyterian context…
  3. It gives me ideas for personal spiritual formation and for sharing with others.
  4. I am taught that Christian “orthodoxy” has many faces. Especially important is the way traditions that use the lectionary engage scripture more comprehensively and thoroughly than many of our Baptist churches do. (There are sometimes problems with interpretation but at least the scripture is read).
  5. Lastly, visiting other churches helps me to be thankful for my own church and its tradition.

 

I began my first Advent Sunday at St. John’s (Shaugnessy) Anglican Church, the largest evangelical Anglican community in the country. It was a 7:30am communion presided over by a very exuberant intern and Dr. J.I. Packer. The interim was at great pains to say that while Advent did represent the beginning of Christmas and the coming of Jesus we should in fact have on eye firmly on his return as well. It was quite correct theologically but I wondered whether we could have Christmas first. It was a service attended by about 3 dozen (don’t worry, they average well over a thousand in the rest of their services). What particularly moved me was the wide use and range of  scripture, the timelessness of words and especially the “general confession” and “collect” that I have often heard from this tradition. I make these prayers available here and add the general prayer for the church, one of the best “set” prayers I know outside of scripture.

 

Prayer for the First Sunday Advent

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkenss, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in the great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen.

 

Prayer for Forgiveness

The Communion

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against they Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings. Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of they Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The Collect for Communion

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Prayers for the Church

Most gracious God, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth; in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where any thing is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen and confirm it; where it is in want, furnish it; where it is divided and rent asunder, make it whole again; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The second service (it is now 9:30) I attended was 10th Avenue Alliance in Vancouver. This church has become one of the key places for both young people and Regent College students under the creative leadership of Ken Shigematsu. I was encouraged to hear both the Advent season explained and the active prayer support for people after the service. A young man I know from a previous church had just experienced the death of his father and was reluctant to go forward for prayer; I connected him with volunteers and saw how he was met and welcomed by them. Two other things. Ken was preaching on the book of Ruth and used the image of a Tapestry. Ken used a series of paintings (rendered on power point) by a local artist Barbara Februar to capture the evolution of a life; once sparse and distressed moving to a more textured and rich place in God. It was a wonderful exercise. Speaking of art…the adults (after the children had left for Sunday School) were given paper and pencil to draw the most memorable Christmas image. A lump of coal goes to the congregant who drew a dollar sign (I kid you not) and full marks to Daryl Johnston (a Regent College faculty member) who drew a sketch of his grandmother’s house. 10th Avenue Alliance is active and alive in the heart of the city. It is a renewing and encouraging place.

Eleven in the morning found me at West Point Grey Baptist (actually 11:10), a place where I have many good memories and friends. I found such a remarkable balance; the marking of Advent, a complete and eclectic range of music, a clear structure yet an overriding informality. West Point Grey used a fold art format for their calendar; a simple order of service backed by a full month of events which, when folded out looked like a cross between a poster and a placemat from The Spaghetti Factory. Point Grey has a wide range of ages, a sense of community (over a hundred registered for Advent dinner) and at least two very gifted preachers, David Morrison and Mark McConnell. The West Point Grey Fellowship meets simultaneously with the Point Grey congregation and is led by Rev. LynnLi. I will get back to the preaching at West Point in next week’s newsletter as David was personally very helpful in the teaching. I left the church that morning encouraged by God and welcomed in his name.

The first Sunday in the Christmas season is marked by many of the Vancouver churches by a carol and choir festival. This year was no exception. Two things were particularly exceptional; we had our service at the same time Vancouver was hosting the Grey Cup and, while the attendance was down a little the praise, and singing, leading and reading by Joy Fellowship members and teaching by Jonathan Michaels made for wonderful energy. It is hard to free time in the season (the second Sunday in Advent might be a better, less competitive time) but for those of us who care it is a glorious beginning to a busy season.

There is my month of Sundays; all in one day, regardless of the culture or context, all in the name of one Lord Jesus Christ. Even now, Lord Jesus, come into our experience of this season.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

 

P.S.

My father, Roy Bell, turned 80 on December 5th. My parents (Roy and Elizabeth) have been in pastorates, in England, Moncton, First Vancouver and Calgary as well as the Principal and faculty of Carey Hall. While there are many other things to say as a family member, Mark Buchanan put it best when he said many of us have benefited from Roy’s mentorship and ministry. Thanks be to God.

Vol 1 No. 21 Christian Demographics

I mentioned in my earlier newsletter that I had met with other Executive and Area Ministers from other Baptist groups in Canada.

The meeting was held in Edmonton under the leadership of Jamey McDonald who is the Baptist General of Conference of Canada Executive Director. As part of the two day meeting we met with Reginald Bibby the University of Lethbridge’s sociologist. Reg is well known to many of us as an effective and prolific writer of religion in Canada. He has been enormously helpful in challenging the popular media’s cultural dismissal of the Christian faith in Canadian society. A reading of Bibby’s latest book, Restless Churches, gives a picture of a healthy, growing and energizing Christian faith at the beginning of this new century. Reg is also known as a former Baptist Union minister and more importantly, for me personally, he was a counselor (and Ken Hilmer the director) at Gull Lake Camp where I became a Christian. More of Bibby in this newsletter later…let’s go back to the other Baptist groups in Canada.

 

There are five main Baptist groups in Canada:

 

Group         # of Churches Sunday Attendance

BGC Canada 100 14,000

NAB Conf 126 22,434

South. Bapts (Canada) 206 11,446

Fellow. of Evang. Bapts 503 86,299

Baptist Union/Ontario & Quebec/Atlantic

Baptist Conv ON & QC 1050 143,000

 

Why so many Baptists? There are many answers to that question, some of them not very flattering to those of us who call ourselves Baptists. The simple “e-mail” version is in Canada the variety of Baptists have been determined by ethnicity and theology. While this is a wild oversimplification it touches on the basis of these groups and not necessarily their configuration today.

The Baptist General Conference comes out of the Swedish tradition and the North American Baptists out of the German tradition. These two groups along with a very strong Ukrainian cohort were originally part of the Baptist Union. The Southern Baptists represent both an ethno-cultural perspective along with (in the last two decades) a more conservative theology. The fellowship evolves out of a split with mainstream (not to be confused with mainline) Baptist life in the 1920’s and are also more conservative in culture and theology. That’s a thumbnail sketch. So what does it rear?

To begin with what statistical place do these groups have in Canadian society?

 

Canada’s Top 12 Religions Groups in 2001 

1. Roman Catholic 12,936,910 45%

2. United Church   2,839,125 12%

3. Anglican   2,035,500   8%

4. Christian (unspecified)     780,450   3%

5. Baptist     729,475   3%

6. Eastern Orthodox     606,620   2%

7. Lutheran     606,590   2%

8. Muslim     579,640   2%

9. Protestant (unspecified)     549,205   2%

10. Presbyterian     409,830   1%

11. Pentecostal     369,480   1%

12. Jewish     329,995   1%

(Source: Statistics Canada, 2001 Census)

 

(Note: These are minimum numbers as the totals represent how people “self describe”. In other words, someone may go to a Mennonite, Pentecostal or Baptist church but not describe themselves as such. Non- affiliation language is a popular method of church planting while by-passing perceived regular cultural labels associated with a specific denomination.)

 

How many churches does that represent?

 

Number of Churches & Affiliates

Religious Groups Approx. No. Churches No. of Affiliates

Roman Catholic 6000           12,900,000

 

Mainline Protestants 8800 5,892,000

United Church 3800 2,839,000

Anglican 3000 2,036,000

Lutheran 1000   607,000

Presbyterian 1000   410,000

 

Conservative Protestants 9800 2,776,000

Alliance   380     66,000

Baptists 2000   729,000

Evangel Missionary   300     67,000

Free Methodist   130     14,000

Mennonite   550   191,000

Nazarene   170     14,000

Pentecostal 2000   369,000

Reformed   270   116,000

Salvation Army                         380     88,000

Wesleyan     80     12,000

Other 1500   330,000

Non-denominational 2000   780,000

(Source: Yearbook of American and Canadian Statistics, Statistics Canada 2001 Census)

 

There are some basic observations we can make. There is a rise in the independent Christian movement in this country. There is also a rise in teens and adults going to church. In 1980, 16% of Protestant teens went to church and in 2000, 26% attended. 55% of Canadians expressed that they are receptive to being more involved in a church; 45% in British Columbia, 62% in the Prairies and an astonishing 59% of 18-34 year olds. (Source: Bibby Project Canada 2000).

What a time to be alive as a Christian in Canada. I’m not going to belabour these numbers today. I would however like to mention some things in brief.

I want to ask some open ended questions about some of these stats. If over 720,000 people call themselves Baptists why do only 268,000 (give or take a few) attend church? If more folk are attending church are we one of the churches they are seeking out God in? Are we removing extraneous barriers to people finding Jesus or is our church culture more important to us than the incarnation? When we love our own culture more than those in our community we realize how challenging the incarnation (God with us; Emmanuel) must have been for God.

This is a reflective time, not a “numbers game”. What has God called each of us to in the years ahead? Whatever God has called us to we live in exciting times and, if we are open, He will do much in us (reflective/spiritual formation) and through us (active/proclaimative).

 

Continuing in a fruitful Advent Season,

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

Vol 1 No. 20 Christian Calendar

First, some miscellaneous notes: I have had a fair amount of feedback on the Creeds and Statement of Faith discussion. It is a discussion, not a denominational trajectory, on the radar of the Board and Senior Staff but initiated by me and I take responsibility for facilitating a lively debate, not for pre-determining its conclusion. I expect the first round of discussions will continue until the end of the year. Responses have ranged from “Statements of Faith (yes!), Creeds (no!)”, to “we’ve done this work before”, to “let’s talk”, to “why we are doing this?” and finally the soul who pleads for the voice “outside” the community that was both prophetic and provocative. So far so good!

This News and Notes covers how my time was spent last week and the week that this newsletter straddles.

On November 4th my wife, Kerry and I set out for Alberta. On Sunday, November 6th I set out from south of Calgary on my own – Kerry rejoined me in Banff on Monday– to preach in Claresholm (by the way, Fort MacLeod is a great place to have breakfast at 7 in the morning). Dennis Stone and Patrick Hazelwood along with this very diverse church welcomed me into their midst. I really enjoyed my time with them. After the 9:30 service at Claresholm –  a place that you’ll hear more about in video clips in the New Year –  I headed up to Gull Lake for the dedication of their new Retreat Centre. The evening included over 90 guests, and even had a waiting list! Among the guests were benefactors, volunteers, old campers, staff (including Todd & Cindy McLaren and Jeff & Kristy Dyer, with Jeff helping emcee) among others. There were board members and too many others to mention, but I can’t leave out the presence of a very tasty whole roasted pig (who was, sadly, nameless) and Faye & Bob Webber who organized the evening. I was asked to speak at the event for one very simple reason: I became a Christian at Gull Lake at the age of 9 in 1964. The evening was great! I found myself very moved by the experience of going back to my spiritual roots. Gull Lake Camp has excellent plans, dreams and hopes for the future. Check out their website for news and inspiration – www.gulllakecamp.net

The Banff Pastors’ Conference has occurred every November for thirty-five years. It has been a cooperative event between The Baptist Union and the North American Baptists, although the realistic partnering of the two has become a question mark as the latter’s participation has dropped below 20% of the total enrollment.

My profound thanks goes out to Jack Borchert and Linda Kilburn for organizing us this year. They posted a lot of committee time with the NAB’s and built on a legacy that Gerry Fisher has greatly contributed to. Dawn Johannesson also contributed greatly to our time of “ordering”. Sam Breakey helped lead our first evening in prayer. Sam Chaise, the Baptist Union President and Pastor from Olivet, did a moving and profound work with the worship. Brian Stelck presented on behalf of Carey and Ryan Sato gathered the youth workers together for a late evening time of encouragement and discussion.

I want to write for a moment about the miscommunication in our literature for the conference. The Baptist Union of Western Canada recognizes, affirms, calls and ordains women to the gospel ministry. We have elected from amongst us a variety of moderators to lead us in our denomination. Those moderators include Linda Kilburn and shirley bond both of whom are well known amongst us. We have entrusted the leadership of our denomination on a national & international level to the late shirley bentall, who was a former president of cbm and served us in an exemplary fashion. We are in debt to these women, to those who preceded them and to those who will follow. I take full responsibility for any communication that used terms like “pastors and wives” as a generic phrase when it fails to include and affirm men who are the spouses of pastors and especially women who are dismissed by the term, when the phrase “pastors and wives” can only be hurtful and unhelpful. Enough said. No more miscommunication in print or in principle will take away from our work together in the future. If you have comments on this, then call me directly at 604-225-5903.

The only flaw that the Planning Committee can be accused of is having two gifted speakers in Nancy Ortberg, a former Willow Creek Staffer, and currently a consultant, and Tom Cowan from First, Vancouver. The problem is you wouldn’t want to miss a session (it cut down on free time for some) and the stimulation coming at you was overwhelming.

Nancy spoke on: “Leading a Catalytic Church”, “Transformational Community” and “Reaching the Post Modern Generation”. Tom spoke on a general theme of “Behind Closed Doors: What Pastors and Spouses never talk about”.

Nancy was big picture, strategic and had lots of practical ideas. Tom was biblical and ruthlessly pastoral, asking about the choices we make in ministry which affect ourselves, our health, our families and those we minister to.

Both sets of talks are on the website for you to download – www.buwc.ca

The new website was unveiled by Steve Fisher to great applause and cheers. Please log on soon. On November 15th we’ll begin our Resource Centre online, check with Pam Stevenson if you have questions.

This week I’ll be meeting Reg Bibby, the sociologist of Canadian Religion, with other Baptist leaders in Edmonton on November 14 and 15. On the 17th I’ll be in Toronto to attend the Church Planter’s symposium with Dan Watt. On Saturday I’ll fly to Winnipeg for Sunday services at Maples Evangelical and Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship in the afternoon.

Monday will see me with the Winnipeg ministerial (I have a church “intervention” on Tuesday in our constituency so I’ll have to visit West Manitoba in the winter).

The Lord is good!
The Baptist Union is diverse and about the Father’s business.

Thanks be to God.
In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

PS.  Next week: Advent … Christmas Preparation

Vol 1 No. 19 Banff Pastors Conference

First, some miscellaneous notes: I have had a fair amount of feedback on the Creeds and Statement of Faith discussion. It is a discussion, not a denominational trajectory, on the radar of the Board and Senior Staff but initiated by me and I take responsibility for facilitating a lively debate, not for pre-determining its conclusion. I expect the first round of discussions will continue until the end of the year. Responses have ranged from “Statements of Faith (yes!), Creeds (no!)”, to “we’ve done this work before”, to “let’s talk”, to “why we are doing this?” and finally the soul who pleads for the voice “outside” the community that was both prophetic and provocative. So far so good!

This News and Notes covers how my time was spent last week and the week that this newsletter straddles.

On November 4th my wife, Kerry and I set out for Alberta. On Sunday, November 6th I set out from south of Calgary on my own – Kerry rejoined me in Banff on Monday– to preach in Claresholm (by the way, Fort MacLeod is a great place to have breakfast at 7 in the morning). Dennis Stone and Patrick Hazelwood along with this very diverse church welcomed me into their midst. I really enjoyed my time with them. After the 9:30 service at Claresholm –  a place that you’ll hear more about in video clips in the New Year –  I headed up to Gull Lake for the dedication of their new Retreat Centre. The evening included over 90 guests, and even had a waiting list! Among the guests were benefactors, volunteers, old campers, staff (including Todd & Cindy McLaren and Jeff & Kristy Dyer, with Jeff helping emcee) among others. There were board members and too many others to mention, but I can’t leave out the presence of a very tasty whole roasted pig (who was, sadly, nameless) and Faye & Bob Webber who organized the evening. I was asked to speak at the event for one very simple reason: I became a Christian at Gull Lake at the age of 9 in 1964. The evening was great! I found myself very moved by the experience of going back to my spiritual roots. Gull Lake Camp has excellent plans, dreams and hopes for the future. Check out their website for news and inspiration – www.gulllakecamp.net

The Banff Pastors’ Conference has occurred every November for thirty-five years. It has been a cooperative event between The Baptist Union and the North American Baptists, although the realistic partnering of the two has become a question mark as the latter’s participation has dropped below 20% of the total enrollment.

My profound thanks goes out to Jack Borchert and Linda Kilburn for organizing us this year. They posted a lot of committee time with the NAB’s and built on a legacy that Gerry Fisher has greatly contributed to. Dawn Johannesson also contributed greatly to our time of “ordering”. Sam Breakey helped lead our first evening in prayer. Sam Chaise, the Baptist Union President and Pastor from Olivet, did a moving and profound work with the worship. Brian Stelck presented on behalf of Carey and Ryan Sato gathered the youth workers together for a late evening time of encouragement and discussion.

I want to write for a moment about the miscommunication in our literature for the conference. The Baptist Union of Western Canada recognizes, affirms, calls and ordains women to the gospel ministry. We have elected from amongst us a variety of moderators to lead us in our denomination. Those moderators include Linda Kilburn and shirley bond both of whom are well known amongst us. We have entrusted the leadership of our denomination on a national & international level to the late shirley bentall, who was a former president of cbm and served us in an exemplary fashion. We are in debt to these women, to those who preceded them and to those who will follow. I take full responsibility for any communication that used terms like “pastors and wives” as a generic phrase when it fails to include and affirm men who are the spouses of pastors and especially women who are dismissed by the term, when the phrase “pastors and wives” can only be hurtful and unhelpful. Enough said. No more miscommunication in print or in principle will take away from our work together in the future. If you have comments on this, then call me directly at 604-225-5903.

The only flaw that the Planning Committee can be accused of is having two gifted speakers in Nancy Ortberg, a former Willow Creek Staffer, and currently a consultant, and Tom Cowan from First, Vancouver. The problem is you wouldn’t want to miss a session (it cut down on free time for some) and the stimulation coming at you was overwhelming.

Nancy spoke on: “Leading a Catalytic Church”, “Transformational Community” and “Reaching the Post Modern Generation”. Tom spoke on a general theme of “Behind Closed Doors: What Pastors and Spouses never talk about”.

Nancy was big picture, strategic and had lots of practical ideas. Tom was biblical and ruthlessly pastoral, asking about the choices we make in ministry which affect ourselves, our health, our families and those we minister to.

Both sets of talks are on the website for you to download – www.buwc.ca

The new website was unveiled by Steve Fisher to great applause and cheers. Please log on soon. On November 15th we’ll begin our Resource Centre online, check with Pam Stevenson if you have questions.

This week I’ll be meeting Reg Bibby, the sociologist of Canadian Religion, with other Baptist leaders in Edmonton on November 14 and 15. On the 17th I’ll be in Toronto to attend the Church Planter’s symposium with Dan Watt. On Saturday I’ll fly to Winnipeg for Sunday services at Maples Evangelical and Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship in the afternoon.

Monday will see me with the Winnipeg ministerial (I have a church “intervention” on Tuesday in our constituency so I’ll have to visit West Manitoba in the winter).

The Lord is good!
The Baptist Union is diverse and about the Father’s business.

Thanks be to God.
In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

PS.  Next week: Advent … Christmas Preparation

Vol 1 No. 18 CBM

I spent the week of October 25 to 31st in Montreal at the board meetings of the Canadian Baptist Ministries.

Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) is a uniting and enabling organization that brings the largest Baptist groups in the country together. These groups include:

∙ United Baptist Convention of the Atlantic Provinces

∙ L’Union d’Eglises Baptistes Francaises au Canada (New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario)

∙ Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec (English Quebec)

∙ Baptist Union of Western Canada (in every province and territory)

∙ Canadian Baptist Women

The Board is made up of approximately 12 members representative of the independent denominations plus executive ministers, Presidents of convention, some invited guests and some senior staff.

Once a year CBM meets in the Toronto Area and once a year it rotates between the areas. We are in Vancouver the spring of 2006, Toronto in the fall, and Moncton, New Brunswick, in the spring of 2007. The Union has made it possible for my wife, Kerry, and I to travel together from time to time. Montreal was one of those opportunities. Denis Casaubon of the French Union (an executive with Liquid Air and a resident Western Canadian for several years in the 1990’s) hosted us most thoughtfully. His colleague, Roland Grimond, the French Union Executive Minister appealed to us to take seriously our commitment to French Canada in particular their heart for church planting.

We discussed governance. We looked at how to prioritize, in a needy world, the almost 10 million dollars CBM raises each year. We looked at how differently we view the complementary demands of evangelism and social justice. It was fascinating to begin to get to know sisters and brothers in Christ from over 1200 churches across this wonderful land. I filmed almost 30 film clips for our new web launch in early November. These clips last between 1 and 4.5 minutes and touch on a collage of ministries and people.

Each of the conventions reported on their work as did Canadian Baptist Women. To give you an anatomy of how we meet (which changes depending on the people) the executive ministers of each region (which are legally separate and constituted denominations in themselves) meet for a day to examine and encourage one another.

The General Secretary of CBM (Gary Nelson, a native of Calgary) joins the executive ministers on that day and both Sam Chaise (our BUWC President from Olivet in New Westminister) and the CBM President Cal Malena (Emmanuel, Saskatoon) joined us for part of the day.

The following day the Executive of the Board meets (around 16 people) and for the last two days all the CBM board and invited guests meet.

The Baptist Union reps on the board (voting and non-voting) are: Cal Malena, Heather Thomson, Alfred Reschke, Tom Mei, Glen Alexander, Jeremy Bell, Faye Reynolds, and Sam Chais.

As you will see from our video clips of the CBM board and the familiar faces of those in our own clan in the Union we are well served by very gifted people. It is a particular pleasure for me to be working with a former colleague in Sam Chaise and with Gary Nelson, a former room mate from summer work in McKenzie. The gratitude for Cal Malena as chair is enormous. Cal “rides herd” on an eclectic, passionate and articulate group; constantly connecting the collective right and left brain. Faye Reynolds led us in one of our morning devotions by not only feeding our hearts in God but also by challenging how we do ministry together.

I hope over time to give you a better idea of our Baptist life together in Canada. This was my first CBM meeting and I am on a steep learning curve.

Please find attached the CBM Ends Statement from May of last year and pray for our collective worship and service in the time ahead.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

Vol 1 No. 17 Remembrance Day

This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War. What follows is a blunt, and in some places disturbing reflection of that event.

Each year the number of veterans for the Second World War become fewer and fewer. The stories become harder to retrieve. Our dependence on memory becomes more frayed as those who have vivid, first hand recollections recoil from the burden of trying to convince another generation that war brings destruction to men, women, children, communities and nations. Yet war in our world continues. The threat of war remains intact after two and a half centuries with the European powers (along with the cooperation of North America for much of that) bringing suffering and death to 10’s of millions of people (mostly their own citizens).

As a country we are extremely ambivalent about our warring history. Despite our history of conflict we prefer to see ourselves as observers and non-combatants in a mad world. We occasionally allow for our recollection of our stellar contributions towards post WWII stability and peace keeping for five decades.

I am personally challenged by this Remembrance Day in my role as a Civilian Chaplain for the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (the home of “Smokey” Smith, Canada’s last Victoria Cross holder who died this last summer). In my role as Padre I will be screening/interviewing eight young infantrymen for service in Afghanistan. They carry with them great risk to their personal safety. If past experience is any measure, not one of them volunteers because they see the opportunity as a lark or an adventure. I am constantly moved by their sense of commitment to a peaceful world and their pride in representing Canada. They are our proxy in a challenging violent and dangerous world. If each of them pass scrutiny I will commit to keep in touch with their families and pray for them regularly over the next year.

I ask this Sunday that all of us remember some of the following things:

∙ Remember the horror of war or all who are affected by it; those who lost their lives, the injured, combatants, non-combatants, civilians

∙ Please pray for peace

∙ May we feel called to a renewed ministry of reconciliation 2 Corinthians 5: 18,19.

∙ Give thanks for those who “gave their todays so that we might have our tomorrows”

∙ Pledge with those who have gone before to remember their sacrifice and convey that sacrifice to this generation.

∙ Mark a full minute of silence in the service this Sunday.

∙ Have someone share their personal experience of war, fleeing violence, or war (as a soldier or civilian).

∙ Remember the many sides of “war memories”.

 

I know of a woman who, as a six year old little girl from Germany, remembers V-E Day as the day the Russians took her civilian dad and shot him in the village square. I know a woman whose widowed cousin, in fear of the approaching Soviet army, murdered all but one of his eight children and then killed himself. I remember a friend of our family in the 1960’s in Edmonton who died a lingering, desperately painful death from being gassed in WWI. Memories are mixed, memories are different.

The apostle Paul could honour the vocation of the soldier. Peter would see the centurion Cornelius become a Christian. Jesus would declare to us that the peace makers are blessed, yet He Himself defeated death by both His sacrifice (very passive, if you like, allowing His own death) and the power of His resurrection; which was anything but peaceful or passive.

Finally please pray for our chaplains and the re-discovery of three things; Our gratefulness to God for our freedom and a personal and passionate commitment to peace. May we commit like the children of Israel, who repeatedly re-called their history (as a reminder of God’s faithfulness  ). For in re-calling history we have a greater opportunity not to repeat it.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

 

 

 

 

Vol 1 No. 16 Creeds

We have a great deal to be thankful for as Baptists as we have (by and large) been the historical advocates for the religious tolerance, separation of church and state and the biblical “marriage” between social justice and evangelism. One of the distinctives that many are most enamoured with is that we are not a “creedal” church.

Creeds are simply statements of faith drawn from the church’s historical interpretation of essential theological and biblical foundations. Not all creeds are created equal. Some were created for political reasons. Some were crafted along specific theological and doctrinal lines so as to “skew” the intent of the biblical writers.

There are advantages and disadvantages to creeds. When they were used as de facto oaths of allegiance to a secular or ecclesiastical power they were wrong. When creeds or, in a broader format, statements of faith are used as a religious or cultural tool of coercion they are equally wrong. We are all too familiar with these problems and more. We are also deeply concerned as Baptists to be able to make personal discernments and choices as the scripture and the Spirit lead. That traditional will continue in the Baptist Union.

All these concerns are legitimate within a particular historical and cultural framework. We have several contemporary dilemmas however. There is within the Christian church context in Canada a theological left which can tend towards believing very little of the historical and biblical faith and a theological right that can tend towards legalism and a refutation of God given analytical gifts. On the other hand we have a culture which denies pluralism (the right of all to believe side by side without interference or ridicule) and embraces syncretism (which puts all beliefs in a blender and declares the resulting goop a victory for taste but reduces every belief to the same value).

A statement of faith is something that can be an affirmation of belief in an age of unbelief, and syncretism. It does not need to be coercive (comply or else you are not one of us), but needs to honour the Lord by contributing to worship and community. A statement of faith, prayerfully crafted and discussed can be an affirming declaration to newcomers about who we are in Christ…united, worshiping, welcoming and at one with other Christians.

The current statement of faith in circulation that has been approved by the Baptist Union for use at Carey Hall is the one that some use as our reference point. There is a tradition that the academy-seminary is the creator and repository for such documents and the Union is part of that tradition. I have initiated a discussion with several circles of leadership in the Union so that we might work on a statement of faith. I have outlined the historical problems with such issues. I have tried to explain why we need to explore such a statement. This is an era which is in need of orthodoxy, clarity, community, and worship not coercion, triumphalism, and rote.

Please find three statements of faith’s or creeds attached. Let’s discuss freely, think through and arrive at some consensus in the months ahead. I look forward to hearing from many of you.

Let’s find new ways to express faith together apart from the clutter around us; a dynamic, historical and compelling faith for this day and for the years to come.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

 

The Apostles Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again form the dead’ He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:

And in on Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made;

Who for us men and for out salvation came down from heaven,

and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary,

and was made man, and crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;

He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again

according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven,

and sitteth on the right hand of the Father:

And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead;

Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one catholic and apostolic church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 Carey Hall Statement of Faith

We accept wholeheartedly the revelation of God given in the scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments and confess the faith therein set forth. We here explicitly assert the doctrine which we regard as crucial to the understanding and proclamation of the Gospel and to practical Christian living:

1. The Sovereignty, love, and grace of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, providence, revelation, redemption and final judgment.

2. The divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and its entire trustworthiness and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

3. The value of each human being as created by God. The universal sinfulness of humankind since the fall, which alienates all from God and subjects all to condemnation.

4. The full deity and humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, whose substitutionary sacrifice is the sole ground of redemption from guilt, penalty and power of sin.

5. The justification of the sinner by the grace of God through faith alone in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

6. The illuminating, regenerating, indwelling and sanctifying work of God, the Holy Spirit, in the believer.

7. The church as set forth in the New Testament and understood historically by the Baptist community.

8. The expectation of the personal, visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ, our participation in the resurrection, and the hope of eternal life.