Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A tale of two tabernacles


Recently during our brief break in London, we faced the usual question of where to worship.  We settled on East London Tabernacle in the morning, and the MetropolitanTabernacle in the evening. 

East London Tabernacle

Where have all the preachers gone? Gone to America, every one… But here’s one who came the other way.  Ken Brownell is American, an able preacher, and the Pastor of ELT.  I was at LTS with him 30+ years ago, and he’s been at ELT almost ever since. 

Founded by Archibald Brown – one of Spurgeon’s friends – this church is close to Mile End tube station, and close to another church advertising ‘miracle service here every alternate Sunday…’, which struck me as singularly unambitious! 

The philosophy of the church is very much that of MBC I imagine: sound and reformed teaching, a mixture of old songs and new songs led by a good band and pianist.  The preaching – on Jeremiah 13:1-15 (the linen belt) – was certainly good – good clear headings that got to the point of the passage well and applied the passage to the church at ELT.  It did, I felt, lack that indefinable ‘punch’ though – perhaps because it is a difficult passage.  The church was very friendly and welcoming and we had several invitations to stay to lunch.

Metropolitan Tabernacle

The big decision for me was to attend the Met Tab in the evening – my regular reader will know that I have blogged about it, and its pastor, from time to time.  Dr Peter Masters has been pastor here for around 40 years – yes, honestly!  It’s about 36 years since I last visited on a Sunday and was keen to do so this time because – well, he can’t go on forever.

From my point of view the Met Tab does most of the unimportant things wrong, and does so by conviction.  They are VERY separated: the FIEC and even the Grace Baptists seem to be too compromised for PM.  He believes (edited: see comments) that only the AV should be used in public worship, only the organ should accompany the singing, no songs at all from a charismatic stable should ever be sung (the Tab have produced their own large but narrow hymn-book), people should dress in ‘Sunday best’ to come to church, God must be addressed as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, never ‘you’ (PM calls it ‘the reverent tense’ which really bugs me: it’s not reverent and it’s certainly not a tense!) and so on.

It would be wrong though to say that ‘there are no concessions to anything modern’ – the building is large, light and airy for example – nothing gloomy about it.  All their literature is brilliantly produced, crisp and modern-looking and in full colour; a screen at the front carries a simultaneous transcript of the sermon (!) for a number of deaf folk who sit there, and there is also ‘signing’ for them, and simultaneous translation via headphones into Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and French - now that's impressive.  While in many respects it is old-fashioned (and I believe wrongly so), it is not ‘for the sake of it’ – where it is old-fashioned it is as a matter of principle.  Three out of the four songs sung that evening were Psalms, or psalm-settings.

There were around 400+ people there; the surprising thing to me was that between one-quarter and one-third (a guess, obviously) were young people – twenties or younger.  (Attendance in the mornings is, I was told, upwards of 700.)  Everything was very formal: all the sidesmen were in grey suits, as was the secretary who read the notices, (edited: see the comments) the men who took up the offering, the church leaders who accompanied Dr Masters from the vestry.  PM began the service with a solemn ‘Let us pray’ – on the stroke of 6.30.  Everything, from there, ran like a well-oiled machine. 

The preaching was very good indeed: PM always preaches evangelistically in the evening (Hooray!  Somebody ought to!), and on Sunday he was on the centurion (Luke 7:1-10) whose servant was healed.  PM’s points were breathtakingly simple – even obvious: 1. The centurion was awakened to his need.  2. He recognised his unworthiness.  3.  He realised the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus.  (If you’re interested, you can hear it or watch it by following the link here (http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/) to ‘When spiritual need dawns’.)  Though PM began the service hoarse and looking rather pale and frail (he is well into his seventies) there was little sign of it when he preached.

This too was a friendly church; on my way to the door I was stopped twice (by men in grey suits!) who introduced themselves, chatted for a while, and were very welcoming.  Exactly the same, I remember, happened the last time I was there – they’re (rightly) determined not to let anyone out without someone speaking to them.

First-thought lessons:

  1. Strong convictions build a church (under the Holy Spirit – need I add that?)  PM is different from most, but he knows what he wants and why, his leaders seem to be united around that and the church has grown a multi-cultural and multi-age congregation.  It may be that (humanly speaking, this time) it is their very distinctiveness that has served to attract people.  Which brings me to…

  1. A church where everyone knows why they do what they do is likely to be a strong church; hence there’s a need not just for convictions but for communication. 

  1. Big men have big faults – I do think PM’s separatism has crossed the line (but see Romans 14.4).  Our faults, however, do not prevent God from working mightily.  (The Met Tab was more-or-less a dying church when PM went there.)

  1. It is possible, and important, to do things well.  The Holy Spirit does not require sloppiness and has not promised to bless it.  Everything that is done in church therefore, being done ‘as to the Lord’, can and should be done as well as possible – whether it’s music, stewarding, preaching/leading, upkeep of the buildings, Sunday School and so on.  The impression of competence is important, not least because it reinforces the belief that the service of God is important. 

  1. There are benefits to a long ministry – what one preacher called ‘a long obedience in the same direction’.  Of course there may be dangers, too – and perhaps PM’s failure, in his seventies, to have someone ‘in situ’ ready to take over will have disastrous consequences, as it did at Westminster Chapel.  But the benefits (provided it is a good, visionary ministry) surely outweigh the risk.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Funny nativity - priceless

'Now, don't forget to sing loud and clear, children...'

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Liz Murray – Breaking Night, part 2.

Back in January last year, I promised I’d review this book.  At last, here it is.  

Liz Murray is a young, American woman with a Harvard education, and a career as a motivational speaker.  ‘Twas not always so; ‘born to a drug addicted father who was in and out of prison, and an equally dependent mother who was in and out of mental institutions, she seemed destined to become just another tragic statistic,’   (from the jacket flap).  This book is her story.

It is very well written; gripping and compelling (perhaps a little longer than it needed to be, but that’s just a quibble).  I’m pleased to say that there is very little bad language in it, even when quoting friends from life at its worst.  There’s no salacious scenes at all – just some hints about what was going on.  It is refreshing to find someone not glorying in dirt and evil.

It’s refreshing too to read someone determined to take responsibility.  She sees clearly that, however dark our situation, we are responsible for how we react to it – the need to make ‘empowering choices.’  (As I remember, she only lapses once from this, when she says that the addiction of her parents was ‘not their fault’ when it is plain that they had made wrong choices again and again when they had had no need to do so.  But you can forgive a daughter that unconditional love for her parents, surely!)  What I particularly love is that Liz does love her parents, and cherishes their memory – even though it seems to me, an outside reader, that there was very little to love and cherish.

So, young Liz found herself sleeping rough often, increasingly dependent on friends who would house her for a night, or nights – and increasingly fearful of the day of the day that it would stop. 

'At what point would I become too much?  When would they start saying no?  this couldn’t go on forever.  And just the thought of being in dire need and having to, one day, hear my friends flat-out say no to my hunger and my need for shelter – and to turn away from my desperation – well, the thought of that rejections was just too much to deal with.  I dreaded that moment of ‘no’ that I sensed was coming.  What does it feel like, the moment someone you love turns you down?  I didn’t want to find out.'

Getting to know a girl called Paige was a turning point.  Paige had been a runaway, but now held down a job, had her own apartment – and pointed Liz to the way out.  After several rejections, Liz enrolled at an ‘alternative high school’ in New York City – a school for anyone who was motivated, with or without money.  There the hard work began, and the climb our of dependence.

Here she tells how the climb took not one decision, but hundreds of day-by-day decisions that are empowering, rather than disempowering.  Early morning, cold and surrounded by sleeping friends – with an hour’s subway ride to get to school – the easy decision was to stay with them, warm, sleepy and – going nowhere.  The empowering decision was to walk away, get to school, and work.  Years of such empowering decisions took her first to Harvard, and then to more success as’ the founder and director of Manifest Living, a company that provides a series of workshops that empower adults to create the extraordinary things in their lives.

What’s interesting about this video clip is the similarity – and difference – to Biblical holiness.  Liz emphasises that it’s not a once-for-all decision, and neither is holiness.  She emphasises that there are lots of pressures to hold us back – as there are with holiness.  She knows and declares powerfully that consistent movement in the same direction inevitably leads to real progress – as with holiness.  She is realistic about the temptations from well-meaning friends to be less committed – as with holiness.  The two big differences, of course: our goal is not our own prosperity, but pleasing him.  And we have, within, the Holy Spirit, driving us ever on and empowering us to make empowering changes.

An excellent book – and I commend it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

A little obedience

Hilary was a young woman we saw converted in Aylesbury.  She hadn't expected to be converted - she came to church to try and make a bargain with God, but he did exceeding abundantly above all she asked or imagined.

A few weeks later she came to see me.  She'd been reading in 1 Corinthians that a woman should not pray with her head uncovered (11:3).  She explained that, since she was the only Christian in her house, she did most of her praying in the bath.  Did God want her to get out and get a hat first, she asked?  She was serious - she just wanted to please him.

Though still very young, she died suddenly a year or two ago.  She never lost that joy in the Lord that made her want to please him in smallest details.  She never lost that willingness to understand - and then obey - the Bible.  

God give us more converts like Hilary.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The power of his... death!

[Some] teachers tell us that we must live in the light of the resurrection.  All God's power is being made available to us and we need to appropriate resurrection power.  But in the New Testament it is the cross, rather than the resurrection, that is the model for Christian living.  Jesus said that if we were not prepared to take up our cross daily, we could not be his disciples )Luke 9:23).  The cross speaks of death, not resurrection power.  Paul writes like that about his own life and ministry: we always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, he says (2 Corinthians 4:10).  When he goes on to speak of the life of Jesus being revealed, he says 'death is working in us but life in you.'  Again, he says of himself 'even to the present hour we both hunger and thirst and we are poorly clothed' (1 Corinthians 4:11).  The evidence of resurrection power in the life of the believer, according to Paul in Philippians, is that we share in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

Perhaps I may illustrate from my own life in a way that every Christian should understand.  There have been two major miracles in my life: the first is the one that plucked me from sin and washed my clean, took me out of the Kingdom of darkness and placed me in the kingdom of God's own dear So.  the second miracle is the one that has kept me, and keeps on keeping me, there!  For the Christian life is not always easy, and my own flesh reacts against its discipline; and yet, by grace, here I am.  And you too; if you are a Christian, you have known the same two miracles. 

There is, of course, more to come.  But it is 'not yet'.  There are things which we cannot have now not because we do not have enough faith, but because God reserves them for the life to come.
(from my 'Why, Lord?', page 69, published by Day One)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunset at Ulrome

This is a rather nice - especially since only taken with a mobile phone - photo of sunset over the sea from Ulrome, taken in September this year.  Tomorrow - Monday - we travel up (God willing) to clear the caravan - a caravan we've had since 1988, on a site we've been on since 1980.  Since then - when Elaine was pregnant with Andrew - we've holidayed on the same site three to five weeks a year, every year.  And we've never got bored.

Now, the caravan is old and tired and we just cannot afford a replacement.  If we could, it would make no sense to place it on a site that is at least five hours' drive away.  So, reluctantly, we've taken the decision to sell the caravan - for a pittance - and leave the site behind.

It won't be easy.  It has so many memories, almost all of them happy.  (One or two miserable ones when Elaine was at the lowest point in her first illness.)  Memories of Jo and Andy as children.  Memories of Mum and Dad and a generosity that daily seems to me to be more amazing than I'd ever realised.  Memories of arriving at 'the van' to find the fridge stuffed with chocolate (have you seen my figure?)  It's hard to believe it's over.  And I don't imagine, really, that we'll ever get back there.

And though I try to sit light to 'things', I'm a softy, too.  It will be heart-wrenching to leave.  Thank you, Lord, for more than 30 happy years of holidays.  For Mum and Dad.  For everything.

Sunset at Ulrome - in every conceivable way

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why I love Piper (and Calvinism)

John Piper is (probably) my favourite living preacher; I love the way exegetical accuracy and exemplary passion are merged in his every message.  And I love his doctrine; for me, too, Calvinism is something that makes me want to sing and (even!) dance.  For me, too - like for Spurgeon before us - 'Calvinism' is but a nickname for pure Biblical Christianity.

One of Piper's big influences though is the Roman Catholic GK Chesterton.  (It's OK, it's OK - even Lloyd-Jones quotes Chesterton).  And Chesterton, it seems, hated Calvinism.  Below is an extract from one of Piper's blog posts - I'd copy the whole thing, but Desiring God doesn't really like that.  You can find the whole thing, though, here.  Why does Piper love Calvinism, and Chesterton hate it?  It's because it's...

Not the Same Calvinism

But how then can Calvinism awaken such joy in me, and such hate in Chesterton? Because they aren’t the same Calvinism. He thinks Calvinism is the opposite of all this happy wonder that we have in common. The Calvinism he hates is part of the rationalism that drives people mad. Exhibit A:
  • "Only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. . . . He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin."

No, Mr. Chesterton, William Cowper was not driven mad by Calvinism. He was driven mad by a mental disease that ran in his family for generations, and he was saved by John Newton, perhaps the humblest, happiest Calvinist who ever lived. And both of them saw the wonders of “Amazing Grace” through the eyes of poetry. Yes, that was a healing balm. But the disease was not Calvinism — else John Newton would not have been the happy, healthy, holy friend that he was.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Abigail's fractions

Abigail is 4 - note that, 4; it's relevant.  She's our oldest grandchild and a darling, like the other two.  She's bright as a button and sharp as a razor, and has just started school.  So Rachel, her Mum, decided to do some fractions with her.

Picture the scene, will you.  Mummy and Abigail, book open at a page showing a farmer with his sheep.

Mummy:   Here's the farmer with four sheep.

Abigail:  Yes, Mummy.

Mummy:  Now, if he divides those sheep in two, what has he got?

Abigail:  Four dead sheep, Mummy.

True, true.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Charismatic Crackpot

We had a charismatic crackpot  in church recently.  Not all charismatics are crackpots, any more than all crackpots are charismatic.  Indeed, CJ Mahaney is one of my favourite preachers.

But this man, I fear, was both.  I’d never seen him before, but noticed him in the congregation.  He stayed quiet enough during the meeting, and I went to introduce myself to him afterwards.  Within seconds – literally – he’d told me of the wonderful ministry he had, the hundreds (literally) of amazing miracles God had worked for him in a few short weeks (more, in fact, than in the whole of Bible history) and that he was a direct descendant of a famous preacher (one who, incidentally, had no children…).  He told me he was full of the Spirit.  That he was on fire for God.  That he’d been a Christian for years before he was baptised in the Spirit.

I knew where this was going, so I smiled, and said ‘Well, my understanding of that is different from yours.’  I tried to wish him well and walk away, but he wasn’t having that.   It then went like this:

Him: Have you been baptised in the Spirit?

Me: In the Bible, baptism with the Spirit means conversion; it always does.

Him: No; I was a Christian for twenty years before I was baptised in the Spirit.

Me: No, you weren’t.  In the Bible, baptism in the Spirit is conversion – look at 1 Corinthians 12:12.

Him:  I’m on fire for God, sold out for Jesus.  It’s wonderful; everyone should be.

Me:  Undoubtedly.  But I’m a Bible man…

Him:  So am I.

Me:  … and in the Bible baptism with the Spirit is conversion.

Him:  It’s not; what about ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’  (He’s referring to Acts 19:2)

Me: If you read the passage, they replied ‘We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit…’ and when they were asked what baptism they had received, they said ‘John’s baptism.’  These people weren’t Christians.

Him: They were men of God.

Me: It doesn't say so; whatever they were, they weren’t Christians.  They hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit and they’d only received John’s baptism, not Christian baptism.

Him: Are you filled with the Spirit?  I‘m on fire, on fire – you should be on fire like me.  I’m on fire, I’m full of the Spirit.

Me: Well, you’re full of something, that’s for sure.  But it seems to me that it’s yourself you’re full of, not the Spirit.

Now you may accuse me of being ungracious.  Possibly.  But I had tried to get away without offence, debate, or rancour; and please note:

  • a) he wasn’t – in practice – evangelical, though he may have claimed to be, and even thought he was.

Like many charismatics (I’ve said this before, haven’t I?) he responded to my ‘the Bible says’ with ‘my experience is…’  When I pushed  him about the Bible (a little more than the above extract suggests) he made one attempt to respond.  Good.  But it wasn’t a good one, and he hadn’t thought it out.  When that was pointed out, he switched from his own experience to my experience…

‘Sola Scriptura’ is the basic principle of evangelicalism.  Experience – true or false – is  never an adequate response to the Bible.

  • b) he wasn’t Spirit-filled, either – though he certainly claimed to be

The Holy Spirit is given to glorify Christ, Jesus said (John 16.14).  But this man spoke of himself, not Christ.  There was no obvious humility in him (in fact, there was obviously no humility) which is a sign of the Spirit’s work (Eph. 4:2).

These people are dangerous.  They mislead the immature and hinder the truth.  There are few greater needs today than for the church of Jesus to leave behind its gullibility.

(See, by the way, Conrad Mbewe http://www.conradmbewe.com/2012/05/prophet-tb-joshua-does-it-again.html for another story – much more interesting than mine.)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ian McMillan and National Poetry Day

Ian McMillan the Bard of Barnsley was on Breakfast News today.  TV regular, radio presenter, playwright, poet - his series of stories Richard Matthewman - co-written with the late Martin Wiley - are among the funniest things I've ever heard, and very poignant.  For I grew up in the same area, at the same time.

In fact the thing none of the sources tell you about IM is quite possibly the least important: I was at school with him.  Wath Grammar.  Comprehensive, now.  (It was then, but nobody admitted it.)

Anyway, this morning IM said poetry was important and we should have a go.  Here's my go.

Ian McMillan, they say, is a poet, 
From Barnsley they tell us he came.
Not so though, I know, and I'll tell you,
'Cos Darfield launched him to fame.

Now Darfield's a suburb of Barnsley,
But 'suburb's' too posh of a word,
We don't have suburbs in Yorkshire,
Just towns at the end of the road.

Our hero was grammared in Wath,
Queen of the villages, said Vic- 
Though she'd seen such a pick -
When they'd given it, wi' paint, quite a lick.

There 'George' Brown and BobGod they taught him,
English and history - and such
As would stand in good stead
When his poetry he read
And me - at the top of the class.

(I wish!)

It's hard to be a poet in Yorkshire,
Larkin and Ted Hughes say the same.
They don't care about rhyme
When they come out o't' mine
Just a pie, and a pint, is the game.

So he still lives in Darfield, but travels
To Barnsley, to Hull and beyond.
Down South if he has to - 
It's not rare that he has to - 
But his voice never changes
For Yorkshire he allus remains.

I'll stick to the preaching...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sam Storms and Convergence

It occurs to me that I haven't ever said any more about Sam Storms' dangerous book 'Convergence' after this.

So here today is a link to a review by the redoubtable Tim Challies.  I share all his concerns, and it has the advantage (some of you will think) of being gentler than I.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Who wrote Hebrews? (3)

It was great on Sunday night to begin a series on 2 Corinthians, not least because no-one wanted to argue with me about who'd written it!  ('Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...')  

I don't intend to spend the rest of my blogging career talking about who wrote Hebrews, but I thought it was worth one more shot.  Objections 'voiced' to my defence of Pauline authorship seem to be these:

1. Paul didn't say he wrote it, and if the had, he would have done.  Answer: no authorship is claimed in the letter, but someone plainly wrote it!

2. Yes, but 2 Thessalonians 3:17 ('I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters...') says that Paul did identify himself in all the letters he wrote.  Answer: no, actually it doesn't.  He says that he penned a final (not opening) greeting in his own hand.  2 Thessalonians is one of the few places where he draws attention to that (see 1 Cor. 16:21, Col. 4:18, Philemon 19;) and the final greeting in Hebrews may well be 13:22-25.  He does not, for example, draw attention to his own handwriting in 2 Corinthians - but see 13:11ff).

3. Hebrews could have been written with apostolic approval - like the gospels of Luke or Mark - and 'why could Hebrews not have been written by Barnabas, or Apollos, say?'  Well, it could.  But Luke and Mark were included in the canon because they were written with apostolic approval; Hebrews is there because it was believed to be by Paul.  Barnabas, Apollos, Priscilla etc; - they're just later inventions to make the (imaginary, in my mind) problem go away, as far as I'm aware.

4. How do I account for the canonicity of James or Jude?  That's a good question; perhaps we can come to it some other time.  BUT for now - note that it is only a peripheral question to this particular issue.  If you're trying to show that apostolic approval is or isn't the criteria for acceptance, then 'How about James and Jude?' is directly relevant.  Otherwise, not so much.

Now, here's another Big Gun:

Who is the letter from?  What was clear to the original readers is not immediately clear to us, because the writer does not give his name.  Paul is the most likely candidate.  There are lots of similarities between his other letters and this one, both in style and content.  Everything is centred on the person and work of Christ.  In addition, the writer has a close and affectionate link with Timothy (13:23).  What seems to clinch it, however, is the fact that the author's final sentence is, 'Grace be with you all' (13:24).  Every one of Paul's letters ends with some sort of similar benediction.  Closing prayers for grace are his unique signature tune (see 2 Thess. 3:18).

The Christian church has had a long history, and the centuries bear witness that most scholars have accepted Paul as the author of Hebrews.  The reason he throws some people off the scent by some changes in style, yet plays his signature tune without signing his name, is probably something to do with the awful persecution going on at the time.  In the Second World War many Allied broadcasts went out to continental Europe using varying wavelengths, but particular tunes were used in the programmes so that discerning listeners could identify their source and pick up hidden messages encoded within them.

In such circumstances those who do not recognise the tune, or who cannot crack the code, are left guessing. Guesses about who may have written Hebrews include Apollos, Aquila, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Philip the deacon and Clement of Rome.  The list is actually much longer than this, but we do not need to pay any attention to it.  The fact is that if Hebrews had not been written by an apostle, or by someone writing under the supervision or influence of an apostle, the early church would never have accepted it as Scripture.  But it accepted it with very little hesitation.  Early Christians hummed tunes which many others have never learned.
(from 'I wish someone would explain Hebrews to me', by Stuart Olyott, Banner of Truth, page 3.)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Who wrote Hebrews? PS

Dr Lloyd-Jones isn't dealing with the question of Hebrews authorship here, but makes a point that I would say requires Pauline authorship:

And in a very interesting way we do know from history that when the early church came to define and to determine the Canon of the New Testament - there were large numbers of Christian writings by then, and the question was what should be put in and what should be left out - we do know that the Holy Spirit led the early church to decide in this way: they said that unless a document purported to be a Gospel or an Epistle and could be traced back to an apostle, either directly or indirectly with apostolic authority, it should not be included.  The test of apostolicity was the text that was employed by the early church in the wisdom given to it by the Holy Spirit in determining the New Testament Canon.  Now all this is indicative of the fact that an apostle is a man with unique authority; he is given the doctrine; he is given the truth.  The Lord gives it to him; the Holy Spirit guides him, and he transmits it.  He is a chosen servant, specifically sent to represent and to speak for the Lord in this way.

So - if you think Paul didn't write Hebrews, what evidence do you have of an apostle behind it?  And if the answer is 'None', then why is it in your Bible?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Who wrote Hebrews?

Who wrote Hebrews – and why it matters.

I promised my September resolution would be to get back to blogging.  One thing I plan to do is get round to writing those posts that, over the years, I’ve promised: the ‘7 habits’ one, the ‘Liz Murray’ one (the video no longer works on this entry - try Youtube) – maybe even the dispensationalist one (but it would be unwise to hold your breath for that!)

But first, a little piece on Hebrews.  I’ve always believed that Paul wrote Hebrews, and I still do – largely because the evidence against it is so flimsy.  The ‘traditional’ view is that Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul, sometime around 55-58 A.D.  This view is now often regarded as outdated and you may come across statements along the line of ‘Nobody nowadays believes Paul wrote Hebrews.’  Well, I do; let me give you some reasons (and you may also like to read Fred's).

1. Why ‘Pauline’ authorship is often denied

Remarkably few reasons are actually given, but they include:

a)      the Greek style is very different

b)      there is no opening greeting from Paul

c)      When Hebrews quotes the Old Testament, it quotes the Greek, Septuagint, version, whereas Paul does not

d)      2:3 seems to suggest that the writer had heard the gospel second-hand; Paul insists that he received the gospel personally from the Lord (see Galatians 1:11-12).

2. Why I still believe Paul wrote Hebrews

Starting with the ones above, then moving on:

a)      Stylistic differences may be easily accounted for.  For example, Hebrews may have been written in Aramaic for its Jewish audience, and then translated into Greek.  Or it may simply reflect different times and circumstances.  The Greek style of John’s gospel, 1,2 and 3 John and Revelation are said to be quite different, but they all come from John’s pen.

b)      The missing greeting is interesting but not conclusive; circumstances may have required it in some way.  It's a strange argument anyway: 'It doesn't say Paul wrote it, so he didn't.'  Hmm.  It doesn't say anybody wrote it - perhaps nobody did?

c)      If Hebrews was first written in Aramaic and then translated (by Paul or someone else) it would have been natural to include Scripture quotes from the Greek Old Testament.  And many writers on the Bible quote different versions at different times.

d)      This is the strongest argument, but is equally easily turned in favour of Pauline authorship.  Galatians tells us that Paul received the gospel directly from Jesus, but that it was confirmed by the other apostles (Galatians 2:5-9).  That’s just what Hebrews 2:4 says!

e)      The writer of Hebrews is very close to Paul’s ‘son’ Timothy – 13:23.

f)        Ancient writers from as early as 150 AD say that Paul wrote Hebrews (Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 AD, Origen, 185-253 AD).  The early church historian Eusebius also attributes it to Paul.

g)      The earliest collection of Paul’s writings, known as the Chester Beatty manuscript and dated about 200 AD, includes all of Paul’s epistles except the Pastorals, but does include Hebrews (between Romans and 1 Corinthians).

h)      Peter says clearly (2 Peter 3:15) that Paul had written ‘Scripture’ to Peter’s (Jewish) readers.  If that’s not Hebrews, we don’t know what it is.

i)        Writings were only accepted as ‘canonical’ by the early church if they had apostolic authorship or approval.

Why it matters

But does it matter?  I’ve always said ‘No’, but I’ve changed my mind.  Let me tell you why.

As I've said, the church decided which of the many writings available were ‘Scripture’ on the basis of apostolic authority: did an apostle write it?  If not, was an apostle behind it (as seems to be the case with the gospel of Mark)?  If yes, it was Scripture, God’s word.  If no, then it wasn’t – full stop.

If Paul didn’t write Hebrews, then there is no evidence at all of an apostle behind it.  If that’s true, it isn’t Scripture.  The comments we sometimes read (‘Oh, it’s so obviously God’s word; anyone can tell that…’) are so subjective as to be worthless.  And they’re effectively the ‘burning bosom’ argument that Mormons use to justify their own rubbish.

If you don’t think Paul wrote it – why is it still in your Bible?

Monday, September 03, 2012

A kind of magic

When they were children, we took Jo and Andrew twice to see Wayne Dobson perform.  Both times I was dragged on stage to be mocked, and to 'witness' this trick's performance.  And yes, I could see how he did it.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Keeping the promise...

OK, let's start September with a little light relief, courtesy of Chris ('I taught him all he knows') Sinkinson and Evangelicals Now:

A girl was being mocked in class by her teacher because of her Christian faith.  'Come on,' said the teacher, 'Explain to us why you're a Christian.'

'Well,' said the girl, 'My Mum's a Christian and my Dad's a Christian and they brought me up to believe in Jesus.  So I'm a Christian.'

'That's just ridiculous,' countered the teacher.  'What would have happened if your Mum had been stupid, and your Dad had been stupid?  What would you have been then?'

'In that case,' said the girl - not needing much time to think about it - 'I guess I'd have been an atheist.'

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Resolution for September...

Start blogging again. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Yorkshire ready to declare independence as medal tally rises?

...meanwhile, in an alternative* reality...

Is Yorkshire ready to declare independence as medal tally rises?

Our Northern correspondent Alicia Gilberthorpe Ainsley-Arkwright interviewed brothers Alf and Bert Greenlea after their recent triathlon triumph, where Alf gained gold and Bert, despite being given a one-hour time penalty after he mounted his bike two centimetres before the line, gained a bronze model.  Alicia began by asking about that penalty.

Alicia: So, Bert, you had to wait an hour because you’d mounted your bike early.

Bert: Ay, that’s right. It’s in t’rules.

Alicia: And that meant you came in a couple of seconds behind the silver medallist.  Do you think that’s fair?

Bert and Alf: Oh, ay.

Alicia: You do?

Bert: Ay.  It’s in t’rules, tha' sees.  Wouldn’t wanna cheat tha’ knows!  (Guffaws from both brothers at the idea.)

Alicia: But it was an hour penalty and you were only two centimetres early – isn’t that right? Just two centimetres?

Bert: Nay, lass, nay.  It were nearly an inch.  Rules are rules, tha’ knows.

Alicia: Will you be lodging an appeal?

Bert and Alf: No.

Alicia: You wouldn’t consider it?

Bert: No.

Alicia: Why not?

(At this point, Bert looks puzzled and glances at his older brother Alf, who decides to explain.)

Alf: It's alright, Bert.  'Appen t'lass is from dahn South.  Well, tha’ sees, (he begins) Bert got on his bike too early.  Tha' shouldn’t ‘a’ done that, tha’ knows Bert?

Bert: Nay, Alf, I know.  I dunno warra’ wa’ thinkin’ o’.’  'Ah tell thee, ah'm that ashamed.  That's not 'ow us Mam brought us up, is it?  To cheat?

Alf: Well, never mind.  Them kind men in t’office decided not to disqualify thee.  So tha’s gorra bronze medal.  (Bert smiles a winning, sheepish smile and looks up at Alicia.)

Bert: Rules are rules, tha’ knows!.

Alicia: How did you take up the sport?

Bert:  Ah, well, by accident really.  Our Mam were ill and we ‘ad to go get ‘er prescription.  It ‘ad been raining a bit…

Alf: Quite a lot, really. 

 Bert: Ay, well enough for t'street to be flooded, and we had to swim down to t'cross-roads.  

Alf: And when we got dahn there, well, t'road were blocked and we had to run ovver t'hill to go in t'back way.  

Bert: That only left us a little way away, tha' sees; and we were able to borra bikes.  

Alicia: And when you did get 'ome - home - eventually, you'd actually beaten world-record times, is that right?  

Alf:  I don't know abaht that.  We'd a' been quicker, but Bert stopped to chat up Mabel, daft 'apporth.  

Alicia: Mabel?  

Bert: Me wife.  

Alicia: You stopped to talk to your wife?  

Bert: Ay, well, she weren't me wife then, like.  I wa' just sweet on 'er.  

Alicia: And since then you've done all your training in the same Yorkshire streets, I understand?  

Alf: Ay, that's right. 

Alicia: Why didn't you go off to Miami or California like some of the other athletes?  

Alf: Well, tha' sees, it's me Mam again.  She like us to be 'ome in time for tea.  Miami and California - they're a long way away.  

Bert: 'Undreds o' miles, I think.  

Alicia: No, I know you couldn't have come home each day.  But you could have moved out there.  

Bert:   What, tha’ means live ovver there?  Warra’d I wanna do that for?  I wa' born in Yorkshire, me.  

  Alf: Ay, me too.  Though we did go to Manchester once.  Do you remember, Bert?  

Bert:  Ay, I do.  It were enough that, once.  Do you want to see us medals?

* Not, please note, an alternate reality.  That would be - confusing.

Where are they from again?

The Brownlee brothers, Alastair and Jonathan, made history yesterday by becoming the first brothers in a century to stand side-by-side on the winners' podium.  Alastair had won gold medal in the gruelling triathlon, and his younger brother Jonny, despite being penalised 15 seconds for 'getting on his bike too early', had won bronze.  For Jonny, the effort of trying to make up those 15 seconds meant that he collapsed in the treatment room after the race, and the medal ceremony had to be delayed an hour.

A remarkable achievement for two brothers.  Where are they from again?  Oh, yes:

Yorkshire.  And did they blub on the podium?

No, sir.  They did not.

Preaching on Youtube

To my enormous surprise, I found myself on youtube, preaching at the Grace Baptist Assembly last year.  The video is here.

Or, here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Olympic Fever

No-one is more surprised than I that I've actually found these Olympic Games interesting.  I'm not a sporty type; my athletic figure is merely a natural gift.  Against my will, almost, I was massively impressed by the opening ceremony (and surprised; I'd always thought James Bond was fictional).  And I, too, gentle reader, was caught up in the euphoria on Super Saturday.

But I do have one grouse.  It's those men (and it is men) who blubber into the microphone when they haven't won.  'I've let everyone down.  I've let my Mum down (sob).  I've let my Dad down (sob).  My neighbour's budgie has given me such support.  I've spent months living in a tent in Arctic conditions (silly fool - ed.) and my whole life is pointless.  Blubber, blubber, sob.'

Hmm: here's a tip for those who are 'inspired by these games' that are 'inspiring a generation'.  If you can't face the possibility of not winning - don't compete. 

And guys - in general - stop blubbing.  Win or lose, you're men.  Quit yourselves like men, eh?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Reason to Believe

A significant song in my history...

Friday, August 03, 2012

John Owen - Beau Brummel Puritan?

Arguing that before we can recognise the Puritans we must wipe off from their faces some of the mud that has been thrown at them, Reeves* says:

For one thing, they did not even look like what we think of as the stereotypical Puritan.  We imagine that, amidst all the gaudy puffed sleeves and bodices of the Elizabethan period, and the jolly ruffs and doublets of the laughing Cavaliers, the Puritans just wore black - and scowled.  That is how their portraits show them, for that was their Sunday best (and sitting for portraits was a formal thing).  But on other days they might wear all the colours of the rainbow.  John Owen, probably the greatest Puritan theologian, would walk through Oxford 'hair powdered, cambric band with large costly band strings, velvet jacket, breeches set round at knees with ribbons pointed, and Spanish leather boots with cambric tops.'


Contrary to popular impression, the Puritan was no ascetic.  If he continually warned against the vanity of the creatures as misused by fallen man, he never praised hair shirts or dry crusts.  he liked good food, good drink and homely comforts; and while he laughed at mosquitoes, he found it a real hardship to drink water when the beer ran out.

* Mike Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame, page 145-6

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Lloyd-Jones on Evolution

One of the saddest things in modern evangelicalism is the way many preachers with no scientific training assume evolution must be true, because science says so, and then indulge in contortions to fit Genesis into it. Yet it isn't just Genesis: the whole gospel falls (it really does) if evolution is true.  The fact that there are many fine gospel men who manage, somehow, to hold them in watertight compartments doesn't affect that reality.
Here is Lloyd-Jones, who was scientifically trained, making the point:
But today people subtract from the gospel, do they not?  They say, 'We can no longer believe the early chapters of Genesis; science proves that they're not true.'  Actually, it does not, of course.
'But,' people say, 'evolution disproves Genesis.'But what is evolution?  It is just a theory.  It has never been proved and it never will be.  But why am I concerned about this?  It is because the gospel is a unit, a whole, and if you reject any part of it you will be in trouble with all the rest.
It is all very well to say, 'I think man has evolved out of the animals but I am still a Christian, I still believe in the doctrine of salvation.'  But how can you?  What do men and women need to be saved from? Why do they need to be saved?  Have they ever been perfect?  Has there been a Fall or not?  How many people fell if there was a Fall?  No, the whole of the gospel hangs together.
(Authentic Christianity, Vol. 3, page 35)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wiersbe on Calvinism (2)

A long time ago, I posted this  on Warren Wiersbe, quoting him sounding very Calvinistic.  It has turned into far and away my most popular post ever, and it will be interesting to see if this follows suit.  (That's not why I'm doing it - honest.)

Since then, a much-respected friend* who knows Dr Wiersbe well has assured me 'Warren is not a Calvinist'.  Then, today, I came across this in his 'Be alert' little book, commenting on 2 Peter 3.

  • 'The Lord... is long-suffering to us-ward.'  Who is meant by 'us-ward'?  It would appear that God is long-suffering to His own people!
  • Perhaps Peter was using the word us in a general way, meaning 'mankind.'  But it is more likely that he was referring to his readers as the elect of God (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:10). God is long-suffering toward lost sinners because some of them will believe and become a part of God's elect people.  We do not know who God's elect are among the unsaved people of the world, nor are we supposed to know.  Our task is to make our own 'calling and election sure' (1:10; cf. Luke 13:23-30).  The fact that God has His elect people is an encouragement to us to share the Good News and seek to win others to Christ.
  • God was even long-suffering towards the scoffers of that day!  They needed to repent and He was willing to save them.

Now, you see, apart from one phrase that could be read as if people become elect once they believe - a reading which is denied by the rest of the extract - that IS my Calvinism.  Which set me wondering.  Do we (who confess ourselves as Calvinists) present such a harsh view, such an unfriendly face, that anyone as winsome as Dr Wiersbe (one of the most winsome men I have ever met) cannot possibly be regarded as one of us?  Are we the wrong sort of Calvinists?  Or is there some other explanation?

* Here's a clue.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Blast from the past

Reminded of this, inevitably, by Olympic Opening Ceremony.  I don't know if it's true but I remember hearing that Millie only ever earned ten shillings and sixpence from this world-wide hit.  (That's 52.5 pence, folks.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Neo-evangelicalism gone mad?

I came across this quote from a well-known preacher today, and wonder what my readers might think of it?  I'll not mention names at the moment, but he said

'Nothing can separate us [from Jesus] even if we are sexually filthy, and worse, a thousand times a day.'

Is it somewhat worrying?  Is it neo-evangelicalism gone mad?

The well-known preacher I quoted is Martin Luther; and I changed his quote only slightly to avoid giving anything away by archaic language - but you may regard it as simply a better translation of the German, if you wish.  The whole quote is found in Michael Reeves' book 'TheUnquenchable flame' (page 49) which I am thoroughly enjoying as the best entry-level book on the Reformation I've ever read.  It's clear, it's theological, it's funny.  A longer version of the quote goes like this: 

'Be a sinner and sin boldly, but rejoice in Christ even more boldly... No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.  Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small?'

And I confess freely that, though I (by grace alone) have committed neither fornication nor murder, not even once, when I read this quote this morning it was exactly what I needed to hear and my poor heart leapt with joy that God should bring this quote to me today of all days, when the weight of sin was heavy on me.  

To quote Luther further, 'My temptation [was and] is this, that I think I don't have a gracious God.’

' Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing!’

Friday, July 20, 2012

7 Habits

I've been a fan of self-help books long before I knew what they were; the first one I ever bought (I've still got it) was called 'Teach yourself speed mathematics simplified' by Edward Stoddard.  I was about 9, and it seems to be this one.

Stephen Covey - arguably the Prince of Self-help writers - died this week in his 90th year.  His classic, 'The 7 habits of highly effective people' has sold going on for 25 million copies.  Stuart Olyott put me on to it some years ago.

Covey was a Mormon, devout and committed.  It showed in his magnum opus, since it lay great stress on character, rather than techniques.  (While I've no agreement with Mormon theology, they do lay great stress on character - at least in theory.  I don't know about the practise.)

The '7 habits' seem very obvious once they're articulated.  Have you ever noticed - the best ideas almost always do?  Here they are:

  • 1. Be proactive
  • 2. Always begin with the end in mind.
  • 3. First things first.
  • 4. Go for win/win solutions to problems - they often exist.
  • 5. First understand others, then labour to be understood.
  • 6. Synergise (work as a team, with each member doing what they're best at).
  • 7. Sharpen the saw - renew yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to look at each of these (or at least some of them) and blog about how they may be applied to pastoral ministry.  Who knows?  I may learn something!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Switzerland and Superlatives

It's just too easy to run out of superlatives here.  Yesterday - Wednesday- we managed another of the 'runs' that wasn't open last time - the Mannlichen cable car.  It's advertised as the longest cable car ride in Europe and we can well believe it.  It's clearly visible from the balcony where we're staying, and the base station is about a twenty-minute walk.  The summit is 2222 metres high (Grindelwald is 1050 metres) and the view - as you will see when I can add pictures - is breathtaking.  It is almost as breath-taking as First...  Lunch at the top, and the clouds came down.  We're still not sure what happens if the cableway itself is 'clouded-in' - we didn't wait to see, but enjoyed the run back.  It is possible - and good - to do several significant walks from Mannlichen, but we don't believe in Purgatory.

And today - Thursday - we did the last of the 'runs' that we're hoping to do.  We'd been told that the 'Grosse Scheidegg Rundfahrt' (Roundtrip) was worth a go.  It is!
We began in Grindelwald, by bus - what we'd call 'ordinary service bus' - just after 9.30 this morning.  This took us to Grosse Scheidegg where we changed buses, waiting (by choice) half an hour for the next bus to continue the journey to Schwarzwaldalp.  There we waited again by choice - this time for a full hour, during which Elaine had her coffee and we both had apricot pie at a stunningly-situated restaurant.  Then we took the 'postbus' as far as Meiringen.

Now, Meiringen, I wasn't aware, is the location of the Reichanbach Falls, where Sherlock Holmes didn't really meet his fictional doom.  It was a surprise to see, as the bus drove down the street, the 'Hotel Sherlock Holmes'; it was a bigger surprise to see an apparently authentic London street sign - 'Baker Street'!

From Meiringen, on by train to Brienze, then by boat to Interlaken (with lunch on the boat), and then 'home' by the 'usual train' to Grindelwald.

And it all sounds so normal!  But the roads - THE ROADS - those first buses travel: 'on one side... a magnificent view of the world-famous Eiger and Grindelwald, and on the other side to the Engelhorner and the Reichenbach valley.'  But even that doesn't say it: I have never seen such narrow, steep, hair-pin and precipitous roads in my life.  The bus-drivers were, frankly, amazing.

The weather - both days - stayed really bright and sunny for the first two-thirds, then (as I've said) clouds yesterday, some rain today while we were on the boat.  But brilliant weather for the most part, and brilliant excursions.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

An awful lot of know-how

There are a lot of things that Switzerland really knows how to do well.  Make chocolate.  And clocks.  And knives.  And make their trains run on time.
AND - it knows how to rain.  After the delights of FIRST, we decided on Saturday to have a day around the chalet/flat.  Always pleasant.  In the evening, it began to rain and to thunder a little.  It rained all day Sunday (though it didn't stop us getting to Parkside Church to hear Alistair Begg), with intermittent thunder and very low clouds.   And it rained all day yesterday, Monday.  More thunder.  More low clouds.  Often the cloud is so low that the Eiger is simply invisible - a major magic trick if ever there was one. 
And when I say it rained - well, a quiet storm is the best way to describe it.  Water flooding down the roads and pavements.
We got out for meals twice - to the same place each day.  The Memory bar does a burger day on Sunday and a Burito day on Monday - 10CHFr for a really good meal.  The Buritos especially were an unexpected delight.  But that was the extent of our excursions.
Today it's Tuesday.  Surprise, eh - right after Monday again?  It isn't raining, though the forecast isn't brilliant.  The clouds are on the tops of the mountains: that is, we can see the mountains again, but we're not sure whether it's worth ascending.  It may just be a day in Interlaken, then.