Church,  Harry Blamires,  Ministry

Thinking Christianly About Ministry

In the second chapter of the book, The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires distinguishes between two kinds of thinking – Christian and secular. To think secularly “is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth,”  whereas to think Christianly, “is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.”

It is possible, Blamires argues, that one might think secularly about Christian matters, such as the unity of the church, and Christianly about secular matters such as the cost of gas. Indeed, Blamires argues that there is nothing that cannot be thought about Christianly or secularly:

There is nothing in experience, however trivial, worldly  or even evil, which cannot be thought about christianly. There is likewise nothing in our experience, however sacred, which cannot be thought about secularly.

The challenge Blamires poses to the Christian is that far too often the Christian thinks secularly when he should think Christianly. He gives two examples from discussions of topics that are often treated secularly – church unity and organisation. The former, suggest Blamires, is given a political treatment through the application of socio-political principles. The latter, how one treats church authority, orders the service and develops any sacramental system, is largely treated in the same way a CEO might order a business or a broker might determine decisions based on markets.

One can spot the parallels to today’s church, a church often obsessed with image, with the look of a ministry, determined by a dogma of keeping up appearances. One can see it in the temporal solutions reached for in cases of conflict, based merely on human need rather than spiritual discernment. We see it in the leap to action, the act-first-think-later decision based on the need to be seen to be doing something, anything, because the one thing that is not acceptable is to sit down, to think.

And, according to Blamires, just because one knows a lot does not mean one is thinking; scholarship does not necessarily mean thinking. Thinking, to Blamires, is to challenge current prejudices, to disturb the complacent, obstruct the pragmatic. The thinker “questions the very foundations of all about him, and in so doing throws doubt upon aims, motives, and purposes which those who are running affairs have neither time nor patience to investigate. The thinker is a nuisance.”

The church is guilty of replacing the thinker with the scholar, of amassing vast intellectual capital at the expense of the a prophetic pronouncement from someone who thinks, who is never happy in the gray of the contemporary academy. The thinker, says Blamires, is not an expert on a topic; he is a firebrand whose determination is matched by his refusal to be quiet. This is not in comfortable mode; but such a mode is the place of the secular, of the NPR expert who offends no one except a dogmatist like the Christian thinker. The secular world,

“is true to itself in rejecting the thinker. It serves the laws of its own preservation in rejecting him. But the Church is false to itself when it rejects the thinker. And therefore, in so far as it adopts the fashion of the secular world and tries to submerge thought under learning, prophecy under scholarship, wisdom under know-how, it strives to secularize itself; in other words to destroy itself.”

Blamires makes a caveat – that even though the church might be guilty of such treason to itself, God is always faithful to his promise. It is, after all, certain that the church is not a human design and no church is sustained by human avarice (except those churches that are churches only by name). Yet, despite this truth, Blamires offers no excuse since just because God might make good through our fallen path, that does not justify the path. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.

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