the real thing?

eating cereal 4In an effort to start the day with a healthy and filling breakfast I have been eating wheat-based, biscuit-shaped cereal. Not the branded ones that have a name that blends the content with the shape, but supermarket own-brand ones.

And I can tell the difference. These fall apart rather easily, are not as densely packed and don’t have quite the same taste. They were considerably cheaper, but I can tell that they are not the branded ones.

I can remember the first time I saw an advert for the product whose name proclaims disbelief that it is not butter. My Mum duly bought some and after tasting it I decided that they had put an inaccurate ‘not’ in the name of their product. I have been tempted to suggest that “I can’t believe it’s not better.”

A while ago I was having a conversation with someone who did not know much about our church. Without embarrassment or hesitation they asked me, “Are Baptist churches proper churches?”

I was at a bit of a loss to know how to respond. Should I explain the Baptist Union Declaration of Principle? Should I point out that we are fully involved in the national and international ecumenical movements such as the World Council of Churches and thus accepted by all of the other Christian denominations as ‘proper churches’? Should I point out that the Baptist World Alliance includes churches from 120 countries that have 42 million members worldwide – the largest non-conformist denomination in the world? Should I explain the roots of Baptist churches: dissenting against the Established Church and standing for what they believe (see the Declaration of Principle again, even though that is a later document)?

Or should I ask what they thought a proper church was? In my mind I was deciding what ‘proper’ meant and defining it in ways that probably would not mean much to the person who had asked me. In fact what they wanted to be reassured about was not so much that we were not a cult, but more whether we were part of the Church of England. When I explained that we weren’t I got the feeling that she saw us as being like a supermarket version of The Brand, or ‘I can’t believe it’s not Anglican’.

But actually what makes a church ‘proper’ is not primarily doctrine, statements of faith, ecumenical credentials, size or history. It’s not even whether or not they are Anglican. It’s whether Jesus is at the centre of what we do. Is our worship focused on him? Is our activity motivated by a desire to represent and share him? Is our mission his mission? Are we a collection of free samples of Jesus? Can people encounter him through us? And can people see it in the way that we relate to each other – sacrificial, unconditional, Jesus-given love?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Allegedly, these come from church notices. There is a link to breakfasts and (possibly) sabbatical leave:

Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles, and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
Evening massage – 6 p.m.
The Pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday morning.
The congregation is asked to remain seated until the end of the recession.
The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
The Rev. Merriwether spoke briefly, much to the delight of the congregation.
During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.
Due to the Rector’s illness, Wednesday’s healing services will be discontinued until further notice.

2 thoughts on “the real thing?

  1. Two comments from up the road in Ipswich.

    1. You have made an assumption that the wheaty biscuit with the brand name was the “real thing”. How can you be sure? Perhaps the supermarket clone has greater integrity and reality, and perhaps its disintegrating principle is more authentic than the stick-together properties of the named one? i.e. I am really questioning our perceptions of “authenticity” and “reality” – they depend from one’s standpoint.

    However my argument does rather fall apart when one remembers that the supermarket version is a deliberate – and, it appears, inferior imitation of the branded product. But what would be the situation if, in fact, the two products were iderntical save for the packaging? (I don’t know if that happens with cereals, but it seems to be the case with my contact lens fluid!)

    2. Re. “proper church” – I have been asked the same questions. But one does hear people saying “He goes to the Catholic (or whatever) Church and I go to a Christian Church” – which implies either ignorance or a value judgement! Mind you, my wife does tend to say, “Such things ought never to happen in a Christian Church”, which makes me wonder what a Buiddhist or Muslim Church would look like!

  2. In one of those ‘co-incidences’, earlier today on FB, my teenage niece was agonising over whether she was Catholic or Protestant.

    Knowing her spiritual ‘background’ is essentiallly Non-Conformist, it did make me smile.

    But it also illustrates some of the uncertainty that can exist even within ”the church’ – especially towards the younger end – about the ‘differences’ between denominations.

    And if it’s hard for someone raised in an open, informed and overtly evangelical christian home to get their head round, imagine the difficulty for someone ‘on the outside’.

    Continuing Nick’s food analogy, for me it’s not the brand that matters, but taste and texture!

    Whatever flag we sail under, our faith – and by extention our churches – should ‘taste’ nice to those we meet, who visit us or we are with day by day. They should want another spoonful! And while they are enjoying the flavour, if there’s something firm to chew on or a bit of crunch to it, that’s no bad thing.

    What it shouldn’t have is a foul aftertaste or be so tough going as to be indigestible.

    As a vaguely related aside, I remember some years ago calling a minister friend to check the ‘credentials’ of a group that a work colleague had started attending. The colleague was quite a vulnerable lady so I was concerned that she didn’t fall into the wrong sort of company.

    Unfortunately they were Baptists! 😉

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