Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Death of a Rosebush
It used to be such a lovely thing, but now it's dead. I've no idea why it happened - I prayed about it so earnestly. 'Lord, you are sovereign; you can make it grow. Is anything too hard for the Lord?' It developed greenfly and blackfly, but I knew it wasn't fatal. 'Lord, all these things are in your hands. You say to the greenfly 'go' and it goes; to the blackfly 'die' and it dies. Command this, O Lord, let all the garden know that there is a God in heaven.'
What makes it worse is that our neighbours have a beautiful rosebush still. But they used worldly methods. I saw them buy books on rose-growing, and saw them spray the rose leaves and fertilise the soil. Rose growth techniques! I told them. 'None of that for me,' I said. 'Their very existence is a denial of God's sovereignty!'
Very soon now the Gardener will be coming - and he'll tell them too! 'Better to let my rosebushes die,' he'll say, 'than turn to rose-growth techniques.' Mind you, it's a bit odd - because he once wrote a book himself on roses, and it says a fair bit about healthy growth.
Still, it's dead now. God is Sovereign still.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pastoral Blunders... who makes 'em?

I've been thinking for a little while about a little series on my own pastoral blunders. Then I got this from Desiring God. When I make blunders, I don't do it in front of thousands. I don't get the video posted online. I don't have to apologise publicly on the WWW. There are advantages to being a little man!

Two things to note. First, Piper's written response is very good indeed. I'm sure Driscoll's wrong on this - he's ignoring the accumulated wisdom of the saints which says 'Be very careful.' Second - I'm not convinced Piper's video response is ungracious - are you?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Phil Johnson - grace worthy of imitation

An e-friend sent me this copy of Phil Johnson's response to a question about the Masters' article that I referred to in my Friday post. I'd tried to be gracious, but Phil manages to make me sound sour by comparison. PJ's response can, apparently, be found on the sharperiron forum - wherever that is. Read and learn, O my soul.

Given Dr. Masters' stature, his age, and his history of usefulness for the cause of Christ, I'm happy to let him have his say without feeling the need to argue with him on the points where I disagree. As you note, he makes some valid points and says vital things no one else is saying. Like you, I can't agree with him on every detail of the worship issue completely, and I certainly wouldn't place the importance he does on matters of style per se. (The doctrinal content of our singing and the mindfulness we pay to the lyrics is of much more importance in my judgment than the question of whether we're being accompanied by instruments or not.)Anyway, he has given a message on this subject at every conference I have ever attended with him. In his mind it's the most vital issue facing the church today. No one is likely to change Dr. Masters' mind on that, so all anyone in your position (or mine) can do is listen with an open heart, glean whatever edification we can from his lectures on the worship issue, and be thankful to the Lord for the way He has used Dr. Masters.If Dr. Masters had come to central London and taken the pulpit of a thriving church and let it die while making worship style the one issue he was passionate about, even while his evangelistic testimony in the community completely diminished--then we might be justified in taking him aside and suggesting that his priorities are upside down. But since the opposite is the case, and he took a historic but nearly-dead congregation and shepherded it through a season of growth and fruitful evangelism, so that it is now full every Sunday, I think he is entitled to speak his mind on the worship issue, and I'm thankful to the Lord for all He has accomplished through Dr. Masters.I'm also deeply grateful for Dr. Masters' own faithfulness and clarity on all the crucial doctrinal issues of our time.Given all that, I have no trouble listening to him with great profit even when I disagree. I just have to keep all that in clear perspective.Hope that helps.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Calvinism with Worldliness: Peter Masters Firing Blanks

There’s a lot to admire about Peter Masters. He’s held a long ministry in one place – the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon’s) at London’s Elephant and Castle. He’s built the church up from a much weaker state. He preaches the gospel with a passion and clarity that suggests it really matters. I have a tape of his on ‘Evangelistic arguments from Jeremiah’ that’s thirty years old and more – I still go back to it often to learn about evangelistic preaching. Much to admire.
But I first began to suspect that there may be something wrong when I discovered – a quarter of a century ago now – that a commentary on Exodus that he had dismissed as ‘liberal’ had actually been written by Hywel Jones, one of my tutors. Now, Hywel may be wrong on the date of the Exodus (or not), but he’s no more a liberal than Rowan Williams is evangelical. I’m grateful for the discovery – it warned me not to take too much of what Masters says at face value.
Now, Masters has launched an attack on Piper, MacArthur, Dever, Mohler and Mahaney. They are, and are supporting, ‘the New Calvinists’, a shocking merger (says Masters) of Calvinism and worldliness. But even before you read the article, it’s just possible you might be given pause for thought. Leave out CJ Mahaney for a moment – he is, after all, a Charismatic and one who regularly points out his own lack of formal theological qualification. (‘I’ve no letters after my name – but I do have two in front of it!’) Any one of the others might be thought to be – at least – a match for Masters intellectually and theologically. If all four of them are on one side and Masters on the other – at the very least, we need to beware of 'just assuming' Masters is right. (I mean, if I challenge four heavyweight title holders to a street fight, don’t just assume I’m going to leave them all bloodied on the ground. I might – but don’t take it for granted!) One or two of my e-friends have commented; here's my bob's worth.
Now, Masters is a very good debater but (it seems to me) a very poor thinker. That is, he can make an argument sound persuasive, but seems unable to tell the difference himself between a good argument and a bad argument. (I remember some years ago pointing out to some of his acolytes that the arguments Masters uses to support Sunday Schools are very similar to the arguments he says are invalid when they’re used to support home groups. A good argument, for Masters, is one that supports his case. And his case is - always - that fifties church culture plus reformed doctrine is the Biblical ideal for the rest of time.)
Take, for example, his use of Scripture in this article. There isn’t any. Well, there almost is - there are two quotes from Scripture in the article – one at the beginning, one at the end. At the beginning, he says ‘When I was a youngster and newly saved, it seemed as if the chief goal of all zealous Christians, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, was consecration. Sermons, books and conferences stressed this in the spirit of Romans 12.1-2, where the beseeching apostle calls believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. The heart was challenged and stirred. Christ was to be Lord of one’s life, and self must be surrendered on the altar of service for him.’ Indeed, Dr. Masters. And the need to be fully devoted to the Lord is a Scriptural teaching. But why – on what Scriptural basis – do you assume that the music style of worship shows they are not devoted? Would you think your Free Church of Scotland friends had a point if they attacked you for worldliness because you sing more than unaccompanied Psalms? If they said that the Met Tab promotes ‘a seriously distorted Calvinism falling far, far short of an authentic life of obedience to a Sovereign God’? Would you not want them to do more – much more – than shout louder when you asked them to justify their position?
‘The author begins by describing the Tabernacle Summer School where several hundred people gather to revel in man-made hymns and listen to speakers such as Peter Masters proclaiming Calvinistic sentiments.’
His second use of Scripture is a quote from Joshua: ‘Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ Again – indeed. But do guitars – even loud guitars – take away ‘sincerity and truth’? Are Piper and Dever and MacArthur and Mahaney worshipping false gods? If not, what’s the relevance of this quote?
Actually, its relevance is two-fold. First, it is relevant because it shows the absolute inability of Masters to produce a Scripture that really does shore up his case – if this is the nearest he can get. And secondly it reveals what I can only call theological bullying. He frightens people.
‘If you don’t agree with me, you don’t stand with the past worthies. If you don’t stand with me, you don’t stand with God. Look, the Scriptures talk about consecration. The Scriptures talk about worshipping the one true God. If you disagree with me about music, there’s no point talking to you. No point reasoning with you. You’re an idolater. You’re worldly. And worldliness is enmity against God.’
Do you want another bad argument? Take this one. ‘Aside from pastors, we know some ‘new’ young Calvinists who will never settle in a dedicated, working church, because their views live only in their heads and not their hearts. We know of some whose lives are not clean. We know of others who go clubbing.’ Yes, and I know some ‘old’ Calvinists who never settle in a dedicated, working church – some of whom are so influenced by Masters that they can’t find a church sufficiently uncompromised! And I know one ‘old’ Calvinist who turned out – after his death – to have been living a double life, with a mistress and a second family. So – old Calvinism is evil! Evil! Well, no – of course not. Just the man. Just the man.
And here’s another one. He criticises Driscoll (who hasn’t?). 'He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, symbolising the new compromise with culture, while at the same time propounding Calvinistic teaching. So much for the embracing of Puritan doctrine divested of Puritan lifestyle and worship.' Yes, Puritan doctrine forbids teeshirts (isn’t it t-shirts?) and we should preach like them in a suit and tie, shouldn’t we? Oh, no – wait a minute… the Puritans didn't, did they? And if Masters responds – as I imagine he would – ‘Everything should be done decently and in order. The Puritans dressed decently according to their own day, and we should dress decently according to ours’ – then he’s shot himself in the foot. Because once you say ‘according to their day’ you’re admitting that dress modes change. For all I know, a t-shirt is decent attire in 21st –Century Seattle. (More important: worldliness includes being concerned about dress. To give too much importance to that is, frankly, being conformed to the world.) So many of Masters’ arguments turn back against him: he criticises rap: "‘Christian’ hip-hop and rap lyrics (the examples seeming inept and awkward in construction…") Awkward in construction? Man, have you tried singing from the Psalter?
I write this with genuine respect for Peter Masters. The evangelical church in this country is much weaker because he has chosen to stay aloof (and so is he). But I write it because he scares people.
Actually, I know no-one – no-one, not even Peter Masters – who is stronger on separation from worldliness than John Piper. In his teaching. In his life-style. It’s a shame to see Masters turning his guns on these men. But he’s only firing blanks –let’s hope too many people are not terrified by the loudness.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Where have all the preachers gone - part 2.

America? Last night I went to hear Alistair Begg (you can too, but be quick - he's in Portsmouth this week). Alistair's a Scot; he's been in the US for going on thirty years now.
Colin Smith is another Scot - he's been in the US for probably a decade now, leaving these shores just when the quality of his ministry was beginning to be realised.
I'm not criticising either of these men - they responded to calls from God and from particular churches, and they've been much blessed. But if God had left them here, the UK would - surely - be stronger.
Not every potential leader has gone to the States, though. No - some of them have fallen morally and their ministry been destroyed in that way.
Some good men that I know have had their ministries limited to a degree either by their own health, or the health of their wives. In all the cases I'm thinking of, the men have continued to serve God and have achieved a great deal. But they may well have achieved more with the blessing of continued good health.
Some good men have died prematurely - as we say. I count Douglas MacMillan as the finest preacher I ever heard. I think it's true to say that if Lloyd-Jones had died as young, none of his greatest series would have been preached.
Who is sovereign over the move of ministers? And over health? And death? And even - in the end - over our sinful falls and failings? God is; God rules.
So - why has God decreed that it is mostly only the mediocre left untouched? (No, I don't mean you're mediocre - I said 'mostly'!) Why has he decreed a famine of the Word in this land?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Where have all the preachers gone?

A year ago, we spent a weekend in London and wondered where to worship. I couldn’t help reflecting on the situation 40 years earlier when people from all over the world came to London for a special Sunday – Lloyd-Jones in the morning, Stott in the evening (or vice versa). Where should we go?

There are many sound Biblical ministries in greater London. But where does the pastor on holiday go if he wants to hear a ministry that is shaping a generation? Where does the pastor of a small or medium church go if he wants – for a change – to be part of a large and enthusiastic congregation?

Greg Haslam now occupies the Lloyd-Jones pulpit at Westminster Chapel. By all accounts he’s a good preacher; but Westminster Chapel is now a small Pentecostal church (the description is from Geoff Thomas). We were staying very close to the Chapel; I might have been prepared to go but Elaine is very put off by charismatics. (Funny that; I’m the cessationist in the family!)

There’s the Met Tab, of course – Peter Masters coming to the end of a long and fruitful ministry there. But there seems to be more than a little of the Elijah spirit about him (‘I, I only, am left’) and we decided against that. So – where to go?

We settled for All Souls in the end, morning and evening. The incumbent – Hugh Palmer – was present but wasn’t preaching either time (Anglicans, eh?). In fact, it was a different preacher each time, both names I knew but men I hadn’t heard. Both times, we heard competent expositions – decent ‘Bible talks’. Not sure they were sermons, though – they never got to (what someone called) the ‘so-what hump’. If you went (as we did) already convinced that the Bible was God’s word and the sermon was important, they were easy to listen to – helpful, even. But not memorable; and for anyone who’d wandered in from the street, or been taken by a friend, there was no sense (as far as either of us could pick up) of ‘this is the most important thing you’ll ever hear in your life’; there was no sense of life or death about the message, no smell of eternity. We wouldn’t have gone back in the evening if the same preacher had been announced; and we wouldn’t have gone back, either, after hearing the second preacher.

What’s happened? There we are in one of the most influential cities in the whole world, a city that has seen some of the mightiest ministries in history – and we don’t know where to go. Where have all the preachers gone?

(Photo of London Skyline courtesty of Freefoto.com: http://www.freefoto.com/index.jsp)