So, come Wednesday evening, and it’s the first meeting of the “Just Looking” group. There are four of us, plus Jackie and her husband David who is leading this group.
We started by introducing ourselves in turn and explaining what had led each of us to this point, over tea and coffee and slices of the ginger loaf I’d brought with me; then David explained a little about the purposes and aims for the group. He is basing it on the Christianity Explored course, though we won’t be following the course exactly (we’re omitting the DVDs, for instance); instead, David will be using the book “Christianity Explored” by Rico Tice and Barry Cooper as a springboard for discussion as we work through weekly topics and work through the Gospel of Mark.
This week we began with the background to Mark’s Gospel, looking at the reasons why he wrote it in the way he did and reading through Mark 1:1-20. In following weeks we shall be covering the following:
- Week 2: Jesus – Who is He? (Mark 1:21-3:6, 4:41)
- Week 3: Jesus – Why did He come? (Mark 6:1- 8:29)
- Week 4: Jesus – His authority (Mark 3:13-19, 4:10-12, 4:33-41)
- Week 5: Jesus – His crucifixion (Mark 10:45, 15:1-39)
- Week 6: Jesus – His gifts of grace (Mark 11:1 – 13:37)
- Week 7: Jesus – His resurrection (Mark 14:1 – 16:8)
- Week 8: Jesus – Choices we may have to make (Mark 6:14-29)
- Week 9: Jesus – What does He demand? (Mark 8:34-38)
Unlike the Alpha course, Christianity Explored is based more upon scripture. I mentioned to David that I was rather glad that we weren’t going to be doing Alpha, as Alpha is often viewed by its critics as being a “fast-track conversion course”, with emphasis more on acts rather than scripture. The Alpha course consists of a 10-week program, with one day or weekend spent away focussing heavily on the Holy Spirit in a manner very similar to the Toronto Blessing.
I’m already wary of certain charismatic elements I’ve noticed in services at St.Mary’s – at the evening service last Sunday, Simon mentioned anointing, and encouraged people to spontaneously pray aloud during one part. I noticed that whilst singing hymns, several people lifted their hands up in a manner I would have expected to see in a Baptist congregation rather than an Anglican one. The presence of a married couple leading a prayer ministry to one side during communion also disturbed me, particularly the way they went about it; they would sit in front of and to either side of the participant, each holding one of his or her hands, and all threewould have heads very close together as the couple spoke earnestly to the participant who often looked to be somewhat overcome by emotion. The scene was very reminiscent of Scientology auditing sessions – only with a tag-team of two auditors instead of just one.
David confided that he disliked the whole “fast-track to conversion” feel of the Alpha course himself; I later had the chance to chat to both him and Jackie about it, and we seem to be in agreement that we are far more comfortable working with a course that puts the emphasis on study of scripture instead of acts; with scripture, there’s no ambiguity – one is dealing with the written Word rather than someone else’s interpretation of it. I joked that it was nice to know we’re all reading from the same page!
The discussion during the session raised some other interesting issues, including the nature and reality of the Devil, angels, and the nature of evil and the subject of free will.
One thing I will have to be wary of is monopolising the discussion however; in a small group like this it’s all too easy to find one person is answering all the questions and the others will sit back. Although I am already pretty well-read and knowledgeable on the scriptures, I must make a deliberate effort to sit back and allow the others a chance to answer first. We’re not in a classroom, and there are no prizes for being Teacher’s Pet!