I am grateful for good teachers, and Keith Dyer was certainly one of mine. He taught me about the centrality of apocalyptic in the New Testament, that the Book of the Revelation is one of the most bold and politically-charged pieces of literature ever penned, and that Rudolf Bultmann is one of the good guys. More importantly, he taught me that you didn’t have to switch off your brain in order to read the Bible and to be a Christian, and that following Jesus is inextricably bound up with the concrete life of communities. It was good to read today a recent piece written by Keith, and to hear again through the words his warm voice, his love for Scripture, and his service with the people of God. Here are the closing words from his reflection on healthy New Testament churches:
Healthy churches are transforming churches, not perfect churches. Transforming churches are both being transformed and also transforming the wider community — they breathe in, and they breathe out. They take note of the various models and arrangements for leadership and governance in the New Testament, and learn from the history of the church since then, to embody ways of being and doing that keep them close to the Way of Jesus.
Healthy churches can continue to thrive when differences are expressed passionately by their members. The whole point of the ‘body of Christ’ image (1 Cor 12-14) is that we are one body, but all different, and each and every one gifted differently for the benefit of the whole.
Healthy churches do not decide things based purely on rule by the majority and formal business procedures. Democracy in itself is not a Christian form of governance. It may be the best we have for our Nation and States, but Christian communities are the body of Christ, and 51% of Christ cannot tell 49% of Christ they are wrong. Rather, we Baptists agree to act on the basis of consensus — by overwhelming, if not 100%, majority. That may take time and a lot of praying and talking to achieve, and so sometimes we use the 67% majority as a guide. So be it.
If in the end a small minority is to be overruled by a large majority, the arguments and objections of the minority should be recorded clearly in the record of meeting. It may well be that the words of such prophets provide the foundation for the subsequent reconstruction of the community after the majority have been proved wrong. Thus it was for Jeremiah, that great prophet in the shalom (= health and wholeness) tradition of Israel, and we should always be ready to acknowledge that possibility when we face stubborn resistance within our own community of faith.
It may even be that we part company on an issue, but hopefully in doing so, we can agree that ‘Paul should go to the Gentiles, and Peter to the Jews’, or ‘Barnabas and Mark to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas to Galatia’, and thereby the transforming mission of God to all humanity can benefit regardless.
You can read the rest here.