I scanned the final print version of The Baptist Times this morning. This caught my eye from 1977, the year of the "Protest Assembly". Reading the text it would seem that protest is code for someone actually asking a relevant question that sends the procedural process folk into a tailspin. Maybe I'm being unfair, but it would seem that when a denomination is more concerned about the correct procedure than the question, we're in a real fix!
Anyway, the question was raised by one Douglas McBain of Lewin Road (I had the privilege of meeting Douglas in the 1980's and was really helped and encouraged by him), who apparently woke the assembly up with his challenge from the floor over the interpretation of the data on decline in the denomination, which in his words, had nothing to say about the life, health and spiritual strength of our denomination.
In a later article for The Baptist Times he wrote about the "malaise" afflicting our churches where we'd lost the cutting edge of evangelism, how poorly paid most ministers were, churches that were afraid of change, too many colleges, and looking backwards rather than forwards. A week later he wrote about the need to have hope, be courageous, innovative and avoid any tendency towards centralisation.
I guess as the lights go out on our denominational paper and come on with the Beyond400 website and the Baptist Times website to be launched, we have to hope that we will not only listen to these voices from the past but also to the voices of the present who once again are calling for courage and innovation. Perhaps too its time to recognise that we are not like other denominations and we do not need to protect the centre in order to go forward at the margins. We don't need a centralised system that organises our life for we ought to be able to organise ourselves locally. Not in fierce independence but in cooperative interdependence.
Two years after the '77 Assembly a report was produced. It's take on the decline in membership? Apparently we were now "slimmer but stronger". If we compared the 2012 figures against the 1979 numbers I worry that we might find ourselves positively diaphanous!
Steve Turner once said: History repeats itself; has to, no one ever listens. Are we listening?