Monday, 16 January 2012

Church Family?

Warning!  This one's a bit Baptisty.

I find it hard to get too worked up about the wavelet of conversation about the language of church family or Baptist family currently swashing around the Baptist blogosphere.  Just worked up enough to have a bit of a blog myself.

Seems to me that family language became popular to emphasise the relational aspect of church.  This was part of the whole cuddlyfying process that was a much welcome dimension of the charismatic movement per se and the wider informalising of culture of which the movement was a manifestation.  As such it was part of the reaction against an overly formal expression of church life.  The use of family language helped to contribute to toning down the institutional feel of church that many of us encountered when getting involved for the first time in the 60's / 70's. 

Thing is though no one image can do everything.  Each metaphor runs the risk bringing unwelcome and unintended connotations to the table. That's in the very nature of metaphors, they are allusive, evocative not definitive.  

Some advocate speaking of the Baptist movement rather than family.  I can see why this might be attractive at a time when we wish to emphasise the missional nature of church and further downplay its institutional life.  But movement language might run the risk of de-emphasising the relational dimension of church life. 

We oughtn't to imagine that by switching metaphors we will somehow get it right.  I reckon that if we are to bespeak the (ideally) rich reality of church we need to deploy a range of metaphors.  By all means let's stir up the language, keep it fresh, use it to finesse our meaning and to promote our political priorities but let's not thin it out.  By all means emphasise movement but let's not stop aspiring to become family at its best.


Rowena Wilding said...

It's funny, but there is a lot about our Baptist Union and the language that we use to describe it that screams 'institution' at me (and out-dated institution at that). Just as an example, the BU website talks about the objects of the Union, amongst which are affording opportunities for conference and "To promote fraternal relations between Baptists in this and other countries."
And yet somehow, the language of family doesn't hold the same sort of stigma for me, in fact it redeems us from the language of 'networking' as though I were an investment banker needing to 'meet the right people'.
Let's not throw out the language of family out of laziness - I think it's redeemable as long as we use it with sensitivity.

Glen Marshall said...

Rowena, yes.

Andy Goodliff said...

Absolutely, my post to which Glen is in part responding, was the first step in wanting to say language of 'family' can be helpful and unhelpful. To be helpful I think we need to give it some thicker content (... I have a little journal article hopefully coming out in which I try to do this ...) ... at the same time I don't we should rush to lose language of 'Union' ... See On the Way of Trust by Fiddes, Kidd, Quicke and Haymes for why ... (they also dislike the language of 'network')

Derrick Hill said...

There is no alternative to using “language” in our attempt to describe issues – and yet language itself is only imagery which falls short of the deep reality of almost any issue in question. Often I find that in a dispute between two ends of a particular spectrum, God manages to embrace both, even though our human logic finds this difficult.

Sadly, if we only focus on one metaphor then we will develop an unbalanced understanding and in a short while someone will be touting some equally partial metaphor for the element that our first metaphor failed to recognise adequately.

So, I have no hesitation in endorsing “family” as a partial description of the Baptist “community” which should also be a “movement” and many other things too!

ian Tutton said...

if it ain't broke don't fix it - Congregation, Association, Union, Alliance are perfectly adequate for describing Baptist life at every level and each of itself is sufficiently rich in meaning to justify their continued use...

Glen Marshall said...

Hi Ian,

What's not broke? The language, the local church or the Union?

Mike Lowe said...

Your last sentence sums it up, that we should be family at its best. For some people it literally becomes their family, because they have no family. I took a funeral last week and the widow has her neighbour now and that's it, so we're working hard at bringing her into the church family. She has responded too. She didn't go to church, but turned up Sunday morning, then at the knitting club and then at the lunch club. For me that's an example of the living reality of the Gospel.

Graham Dunn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glen Marshall said...

Hi Graham

Not so sure.

You do of course have a point (kind of me to say so eh?) I'm not in favour of fighting over words. However, I reckon the relationship between words and reality is a little more complex than you seem to allow.

In my opinion words don't merely describe reality they help to shape our perceptions of that reality and thereby play a part in deciding the kind of reality that we live.

To take an extreme example (why be moderate when you can go OTT?) there is rightly a huge sensitivity on the part of black people to the use of the N word. This is not just because it causes personal offense but also because it helps to build a certain way of seeing black people. This is turn, as it were, writes the script that they are then required to live.

Similarly in church the more we use relational words the more this helps us to see church as a relational rather than a merely or overly institutional reality.

If it's a choice between "empty" words or "mere" words on the one hand and living it out on the other, then yes, no contest. But I think words are more potent than your comment would seem to indicate.

Graham Dunn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kalyan said...

The comments are taking the discussion off-piste!

If its the "relational dimension of Church life" we are trying to build, improve and enhance, it would seem to me that words and metaphors should be rooted in framework of the heart (attitude) and not the other way around: finding the right metaphors and words would help drive our aspiration "to become family at its best."

Glen's observation that "in the very nature of metaphors, they are allusive, evocative not definitive" is right and points to the frustration of never getting it right.

Could it then be that what we really aspire is not for "family language" to make us experience (be) family, rather our experience of being family which helps articulate what family is all about? (Mt 12:34b and Luke 6:45b).

Should we set our sights on achieving the latter (that experience of being family helps articulate language), then the issue of casting aside language and words is moot.