I love the technical episcopalian (in the broad sense of the word, not any denomination of a similar title) description of free church ordination as 'irregular but not invalid.' I do wonder if, at a stretch, I could claim mine ought to seen as 'regular' since one of the people who laid hands on me was an Anglican priest, but hey, who really cares?!
This week in the course of various conversations, various thorny topics have arisen to which this same phrase offers some helpful - I think - perspective. (None of this gets my essay done, but it will happen, honestly!)
So, for example, someone was involved in a churches together forum discussing inter-faith marriage and was sharing how there had been some 'textual ping-pong' over the apparent prohibition of the 'unequal yoke' the concept of salvation via a believing spouse and some of the OT occasions where the Israelites were commanded to intermarry. Having married a couple of (nominally) different faiths in an overtly Christian ceremony, maybe I'm already irredeemably compromised, but I am convinced that if 'unusual' (a softer word than irregular) the marriage is 100% valid not just in law, but also in the sight of God. And in any case, I still hope God turns out to be universalist, despite doctrines otherwise and my own inability to get there theologically.
Another example was about infant Baptism in an LEP and what part the Baptist minister ought to play - assuming that she/he was not willing to baptise infants. The question that especially fascinated me was at what stage (deliberate choice of word rather than 'age') a request regarding a minor should be seen as believer Baptism rather than infant Baptism? Some of all of this depends on what one believes Baptism 'does' (if anything other than get the person extremely wet). This isn't a simplistic 'sacrament v ordinance' argument since there seem to be a whole range of variations of theologies within each of those broad perspectives. Maybe I am an even bigger heretic, but as a literal anabaptist (Methodist infant, Baptist believer) and having thought long and hard (10+ years!) before being Baptised/re-baptised (depending on your take on it all) I am very loathe to dismiss as automatically invalid a rite that expresses something important theologically - even if many theologies of infant baptism I cannot begin to subscribe to. My own view on requests from younger 'minors' for Baptism would probably echo those of many of my peers in other traditions to requests for confirmation: I'd spend some time carefully exploring with the young person what their request meant and then (because in my heretic theology there is no salvific function in Baptism so delay doesn't matter (cf the RC priest who said of my niece at her baptism, this means that she is now guaranteed to go to heaven, and presumably wasn't beforehand)) ask them to come back to me in 6 months to a years time if they still wished to proceed, whilst in the meantime endeavouring to support their nurture. This isn't about doubting their sincerity, but acknowledging the reality that in young children there can be intense, shortlived passions. I know that Corrie ten Boom made a profund faith commitment at the age of 5, but I suspect she still accepted the disciplines of her church. When does it stop being infant baptism and become believer baptism - that is a really fascinating question!
I like weeks that stir my grey cells a little. Although I wouldn't choose to drive the great part of 1000 miles during a working week, it has given me some thinking space, which has been valuable. Now I really must stop the distraction tactics and do some work!