A New Project

Centre Street Baptist Church is a part of a denominational family- Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec (CBOQ). This family, along with other regional denominational families in Western Canada and Atlantic Canada, as well as the French Union, together support our mission a discipleship organization Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM). As a part of that Canadian Baptist family, we proudly support CBM field staff through the Partners In Mission (PIM) initiative. Our partners, Michael and Melanie Waddell, are currently on home leave due to COVID, but their work in the Philippines continues, through partnerships that have been formed, and initiatives on the ground which continue to proceed in doing great work.

CBM has been hard at work developing ways for our Churches and missionaries to remain connected and for the work to continue. What that creative work has resulted in is the Hopeful Gifts project, which is not a new idea, but a new way of doing it. So, Centre Street has now signed up to be part of this initiative supporting Faith + Work initiatives in the Philippines.

What is Faith + Work doing? This project supports sustainable local business initiatives, to provide training and seed grants etc to support local communities and individuals. This is a practical way to alleviate poverty, provide financial security, and develop communities. This includes farmers and artisans needing a small boost to get ahead. This is a tangible way to positively impact the lives of others.

How you can get involved:

  1. Donate to any fundraising team member. Pick a team member, and donate online.
  2. Become a team member. On the Centre Street Faith + Work website you can click “Join Team”, and the begin engaging friends, neighbours, family, co-workers, etc. Share the link so they can donate online and track our progress on the website.
  3. Just share the link on your own social media or by email so others can see and contribute to an amazing work.

To read more about this project, join our team, make a donation, or get the link to share, visit Centre Street’s Faith + Works page. This project runs until December 31, 2020.

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Thanksgiving is possibly my favourite holiday. It lands in my favourite season. Our observation of Thanksgiving largely revolves around food. It normally means gathering with the family in one place. There isn’t the same level of chaos that comes from doing Christmas with small children. I do, of course, love Christmas and Easter, but as a clergy person, those occasions, though filled with joy and reflection, are also exhausting. By Boxing Day and Easter Monday, I’m usually toast. Thanksgiving is in some ways easier.


But this year isn’t normal.

What do you do when it’s not normal? Gathering everyone together isn’t feasible this year for most families. So many have lost jobs because of COVID. Many are in grief. Others are dealing with fear. Many are struggling without their normal social supports, and encouragements.

I’m part of that age bracket that believes sitcoms haven’t been the same since Seinfeld ended. I mean, there are good sitcoms still, but it’s not the same as the glory days. But among the best episodes of Seinfeld is, of course, the Festivus episode, in which Frank Constanza’s made up holiday of Festivus is explored. Among the key features of Festivus observation are putting up the bare aluminum pole, “feats of strength”, and perhaps the most important part: the airing of grievances, when everyone gets to dump all their complaints against one another. In a year like 2020, it feels weird to have a moment when we are expected to express gratitude, and might feel more natural to set up the aluminum pole, wrestle each other, and commiserate and dump all our grievances. 2020 is just more suited for Festivus than Thanksgiving.

We could certainly go through some biblical passages that encourage God’s people to rejoice and give thanks, even in the midst of difficulties. Habakkuk ends with the prophet announcing that in spite of the catastrophe his people were experiencing, he would rejoice. The prophet Micah announces that though he’s down, he will rise, and will remain faithful, and look to God’s light. Lamentations contains a lengthy description of suffering and national disaster, but in the middle, the author announces boldly that there is hope because of God’s faithfulness and the possibility of a new day and dawning of new mercies from God. The Psalms are full of songs of defiant joy in tough circumstances. The New Testament epistles encourage the earliest Christians to hold on to hope and joy in the midst of trials and suffering. Unpacking all the examples would take an extremely long time.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians wrote “Rejoice in the Lord always”. And some days, I wish I had the means to speak directly to Paul. I might have some Festivus grievances for him. Rejoice always? Isn’t a pandemic a time to tear clothes, put on sack cloth and ashes? Isn’t lament a more appropriate response than rejoicing? We all know there are occasions when rejoicing feels inappropriate (and in reality, definitely is inappropriate)- a funeral for a child for instance. The same man who wrote “Rejoice in the Lord always” also wrote “Mourn with those who mourn”. Grief and mourning are appropriate. Rejoice always needs some unpacking. As Qohelet also affirms:

“There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Eccl. 3:1).

Thanksgiving is a time we set aside for gratitude. But COVID has pushed us into a season of frustration, fear, discomfort, loneliness, and all sorts of other feelings. So can we simultaneously have gratitude for the good, and frustration about the negative? Yes. So, if you have that tradition of using Thanksgiving to make a list, keep that up this year. Even if you’re tempted not to. Festivus is not that far off. Don’t pretend like the bad stuff isn’t there, or doesn’t affect you. Just remember that the bad things aren’t the only things. It’s hard to avoid the tunnel vision, but it’s a vital practice to keep that perspective. This will allow us to persevere in the difficult days as we hold out hope for the better days. Thanksgiving is different this year, but perhaps it’s actually more important than ever.

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Ask Pastor Graham, Vol 6.

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Ask Pastor Graham, Vol. 4

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Ask Pastor Graham, Vol. 3

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Ask Pastor Graham, Vol 2

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Ask Pastor Graham, Vol 1

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COVID-19, Anti-intellectualism, and Faith

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Matthew 11:25-26)

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore something which was an area of interest and investigation of mine during my time as an undergrad at an evangelical (specifically Baptist) university. I had more than one conversation with one of my history professors, whose area of expertise was North American evangelical intellectual history, about anti-intellectualism in the evangelical world. We discussed Mark Noll’s influential work The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind among other things. The Church where I was discipled was in a university city. My pastor had an engineering degree as well as his theological training, and was working on a doctorate. I was surrounded in that congregation by mainly well educated, white collar professionals; professors, lawyers, accountants, and other really well-educated people. It wasn’t until my university years I ran into this reality of anti-intellectualism in the evangelical world.  Without going into too much detail here, there does exist a current of this hostility to academia in evangelicalism, in part because of the close ties with fundamentalism which rose up in reaction to the Enlightenment. There is, in this trend, a skepticism of higher learning, science, and especially academic theological studies which include critical study of Scripture (“critical” here does not mean it is criticizing or demeaning Scripture, but a social/historical/scientific approach to studying Scripture, manuscripts, history of reception, redeactions, etc).

COVID-19 seems to have shown the world more of this trend, as churches defy directions to remain closed in many areas, refuse to follow advice from health officials (or in some cases explicit orders from law-makers) regarding closures, masks, social distancing, etc. Many have shouted aloud that this is impinging on freedom of religion, or is part of an attack on Christianity by “leftists”. Many shout we need not listen to these directions because “God will protect us”. Some seem to flaunt and glory in their defiance of the experts, and imply that this is a sign of godliness. While it may seem to some like this fits with Christ’s call to have “childlike” faith, and not trust in the wisdom of this world, I’d strongly object to that take. In Matt. 11, Jesus praises God for hiding “these things” from the wise and learned. Does this mean God is against learning, expertise, science, and we ought to not listen to experts? Is Jesus anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-expertise? Should we reject the direction of those telling us not to gather as per normal (even here in Ontario where gatherings are permitted with certain restrictions)? No. For three reasons:

  1. The greatest command, said Jesus, was to love God with our whole selves, and the second is like it; love your neighbour as yourself. Reading through the New Testament, you will find multiple instances of Christians called to place the needs of others above their own. These restrictions which have been put in place are for the protection of everyone. To love my neighbour, I should heed the directions to keep distance, and encourage people, especially the medically vulnerable to remain at home, wear a mask in case I have unknowingly been exposed and have not yet shown symptoms. To insist that people should come to Church is to ask my neighbours to take irresponsible risk and put themselves in harm’s way. This is unloving.
  2. Paul encourages the Christians in Rome (ie. those living in the political centre of the Empire) to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7) because God has a purpose for government. Does government always live up to their calling? No, of course not. The world is not a perfect place. The Roman government was hardly the ideal picture of God’s perfect justice. But Paul had a concern that the Church not make a name for themselves as disobedient, seditious, or anti-government. This was in part for their own safety (the “don’t poke the bear” approach to interactions with power structures), but also because of our call as Christians to be people who seek to make peace. Yes, we call on our government to act justly, and we owe higher allegiance to God. This may at some point put us in conflict with authority. Yes, the Church is meant to gather regularly for worship, for mutual encouragement, for breaking bread, for hearing and meditating on Scripture. But we also have alternative means of communication. No it’s not the same, but a temporary halting of gathered worship is manageable and we will be ok for a time. Since the government’s directions are in line with the command to love our neighbours, and we are under no pressure to give up our convictions, and we can still do a lot with the technology we have, we have a responsibility to heed the call. In this case, the direction to not gather in large numbers is not to prevent the spread of the Gospel, but to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
  3. Most importantly, there is an important exegetical point to be made regarding what could be- and sometimes is- read to be a biblical mandate to be anti-intellectual. When Jesus praises God for hiding “these things” from the wise and learned, we have to ask what are “these things” and who are the “wise and learned” Jesus is speaking of? “These things” are those noted in the immediately preceding verses regarding the rejection of the prophetic word (and John specifically) and the “woes”, the warning of judgment on Galilean towns because of the unwillingness to hear and welcome the Word made flesh. The learned and wise are religious leaders, not government officials, health agencies, scientists, etc. Jesus is not saying Christians should not listen to experts in their field. When Paul speaks of the wisdom of the world as foolishness (1 For 1), he is not saying modern medicine is wrong, and we should simply trust in God and nothing bad will happen. The Bible never makes any such promise to Christians, in fact, it regularly points out that life will have difficulties, and we ought to walk wisely. The wisdom which Paul is speaking of is not expertise in science, medicine, etc. He is speaking of a worldview which cannot comprehend a Christ who suffers and dies by crucifixion; a Messiah who is counted as a criminal and a disgrace. This is not a license to ignore the advice of the educated and trained experts in their field when it comes to safety and public health.

Centre Street has decided to take a slow, cautious approach to reopening. This is not because we lack faith in God. This is not because we are capitulating to the demands of an ungodly system seeking to crush the Church. We are doing this because we care for one another, we care for our community, and we want to do this the right way, ensuring the safety of everyone. I am very thankful for the fact that this congregation seems to be of one mind on this. There has not been any push internally to open up sooner. We do see around us some Churches opening with strict regulations in place. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of local churches flaunting anything, or being reckless. For this, we are thankful. But as we watch the news and see things from the USA, it’s disheartening to have churches and individual Christians so often at the centre of spikes in COVID-19 infections. Sadly, there is a possible exposure situation in an Aylmer church. This stems from a funeral service. Hopefully there are no further infections. But this is why churches have to be very cautious. To our congregation, I say thank you for your solidarity and patience. I look forward to being able to be together again. We will continue the live-stream after we recommence for those who are still not ready for whatever reason. We totally understand. We know some have medical conditions that make them vulnerable, and we want everyone to feel a sense of belonging to this family to the best of our ability.

Until then, I am praying for you all, and wish you a wonderful summer, and expect calls in the near future from myself or another leader.

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Summer Update

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Send it to the Wilderness


Watch the NT Wright video mentioned here.

The piece of Jesus as Lamb of God is available here


Roy E. Gane. Leviticus, Numbers (NIVAC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

John E. Hartley. “Atonement, Day of”. Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2002.

— Leviticus (WBC). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992.

Gordon Wenham. Leviticus (NICOT). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.

Posted in forgiveness, hermeneutics, Judaism, Lent, NT Wright, Old Testament, Sermon Podcast, soteriology, theology | Tagged | Leave a comment