British Baptists: a Rock and a Hard Place

The British Baptist Union is a mixed bag, and the scope of its membership continues to widen. It currently has two candidates for National President in 2020, for whom its member churches will vote. I considered their online profiles ahead of the ballot. One of them, Yinka Oyekan, is of dual Scottish-Nigerian heritage, declaring:

I see a great challenge in our third principle of declaration namely how do we enable and empower every disciple to be able to bear a personal witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.

Intriguingly, he goes on to write:

In 2008 the church in Reading experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, this was followed in 2016 by a second evangelistic outpouring of the holy spirit (sic) labelled The Turning. This second outpouring has resulted in 5 thousands of believers across many denominations and streams going out onto the streets and sharing their faith with their communities.

Reading must be fertile ground indeed. I looked into The Turning, which the Baptist Union website lavishly describes:

Organisers of a street mission which began in Reading and became known as The Turning have revealed that more than 7000 people in the UK have responded to the gospel in the last year. The Turning’s first annual review also showed that more than 2000 evangelists have been trained for Turning events in eight areas of the UK. Each area has seen hundreds respond to an invitation to accept Christ. 

2000 evangelists! (Or is it 5000? – see two paragraphs above). 7000 converts! I imagine new premises have hastily been erected to accommodate this wonderful new crop of believers. On Yinka’s church website, he claims to lead ‘an apostolic team…responsible for the vision and direction of the church family under God’s inspiration.’

So, another ‘apostle’ converting many thousands to Christ. Now I long for revival and I rejoice with the angels if many people have found Christ under his ministry. But I did a little delving, and alarm bells rang louder. Not only does he make some unusual claims (“I began to see angels everywhere") but he seems to have been personally mentored by one Bill Johnson, whom he thanks “for investing in me the last few years, it kept me going through very difficult times and kept me spiritually alive”. Johnson is the leader of the infamous Bethel Church in California, an organisation known to promote ‘grave sucking’ or ‘grave soaking’ among other dubious and anti-Christian practices.

But wait till you meet the second candidate for the presidency. Dawn Cole-Savidge writes in her candidate profile:

Ministering in the margins has enabled me to view the world and our faith through many different lenses, and part of this journey has led me recently to come out as Pansexual. I consider myself to be an open-book and someone who often wears her heart on her sleeve, and whilst I’m unable here to get into the depths of the process that led to my coming out, I’m always open to questions and dialogue that come from a genuine place. My own personal experiences as someone on the margins, as a queer woman…motivate[s] me to accept this nomination for the Baptist Presidency.

I’ll confess I had to look up ‘pansexual’, though I suspected its meaning. It refers to one who is attracted to people regardless of sex and gender. Normally, we’d have said ‘bisexual’, but this term supposes that there is such a thing as male and female which the more nuanced and fashionable pansexual does not. Although apologetic for being white and educated, she will, if elected:

‘Bring fresh ideas and I will champion those who also find themselves on the margins. It is my passion to lend my platform to those who aren’t normally offered one, and to challenge those who are often privileged because of: their race, age, gender, sexuality, physical or neuro ability, mental health, or even their theology’

The church at which she currently ministers, Bloomsbury Baptist, claims

We embrace intelligent, liberal, open theology. We are deeply radical and non-conformist.

Yet I have always found liberal theology to be deeply conformist, conforming to whatever philosophical fad the world espouses. 100 years ago, it denied miracles, creation and the resurrection; now it denies biological gender and the imperative of heterosexual marriage. It’s those of us holding to evangelical doctrine with the highest regard for scripture who are radically nonconformist. And as for liberal theology being most intelligent? Isaiah in 62:2 describes those ‘who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts’ as ‘rebellious’.

So if you’re a British Baptist, there’s your choice, that’s what is on offer. A flashy revival with many thousands miraculously converted under a living apostle’s benevolent gaze, or a spiritualised mirror-image of current worldly culture. In many respects, these two candidacies sum up the two paths taken by the British Church in the past 25 years. Grand claims and charismatic razzmatazz on the one hand, and ‘woke’ liberalism on the other. I have no doubt that both candidates have a form of genuine and sincere godliness, but what of the power thereof? The apostle concludes:

“from such turn away.”

I’m glad I’m not asked to vote.  

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay