Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why 'quiet times' should be noisy

'In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.'  
Hebrews 5:7

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lloyd-Jones: Wrong theology causes wars!

And because of these two views – that God is love only and that people are essentially good – it is said that all that is necessary to put the world right is to show men and women the good way to live and give them a picture of life as it ideally should be… Set it before the nations that God is love and that people are essentially good.  They are bound to rise to it.  Appeal to them.  Be reasonable.  Do not say, ‘Thou shalt not’, but say, ‘Isn’t this wonderful?  Surely this appeals to you?’

And the leaders of the nations tried that approach with Hitler.  Afterwards that was called appeasement.  But they believed it then.  ‘Surely,’ said Mr Neville Chamberlain, ‘if only I meet him and talk to him man to man… I’m a businessman and I’ve never failed yet when I meet a man across the table.  It’s all very well sending diplomatic notes but I’ll go to him.  I’ll sit down with him and appeal to him.  He’s bound to listen.’  And Chamberlain believed it!  He was quite honest; he was perfectly sincere.  It was his theology that was wrong.

DM Lloyd-Jones in ‘born of God’ page 87

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Much Missed

Dan Phillips’ blog entry on ‘How flu is better and worsethan cold’ reminded me, oddly enough, of Mum.

Mum never had a cold; she always had flu.  I’d seen a TV program where one of the telly doctors (Hilary Jones, I think) had said ‘The difference is this: If somebody tells you there’s a fifty pound note on the front door step and you don’t care enough to go get it, you’ve got flu.  If you can get out of bed at all, you’ve got a cold.’

So I shared this piece of medical wisdom with my Mum.  She agreed.  Definitely, she said.  Then she added ‘You really feel bad with flu.  I had flu last week, and could only just manage to go to work...’

She was a character, Mum.  And she’s much, much missed still.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sunday’s Silent, Secret Sadness

(This, my first ever ‘guest post’, comes from a Northern Pastor known to me.)

It is Sunday evening, and the Sabbath is almost over.  Once more it has been – I am told – ‘a good day’.  There were good numbers at both services.  I preached at both and managed not to lose my way in either.  I think I explained the texts fairly, and applied them with some warmth and passion.  We sang heartily to the praise of God.  We know that God was with us.  It was a good day.  And now I am home; no students called this evening, no pastoral problems need my attention.  It’s a warm home, a loving wife, a gracious God.

And yet.  Yet my heart aches.  I am but a breath, now, from retirement.  Only yesterday (it seems) I was a new minister; now, I’m the oldest man in our fraternal.  And I have done so little.

Have I been faithful?  Yes, I believe so.  I have preached everything I believe, popular or not.  I have refused to ride hobby-horses – as far as I know.  I have pressed the claims of God and of Christ and his gospel, both in congregations and to individuals.  There is much where I have failed.  I have not studied enough.  I have certainly not prayed as I should have and am called to do.  But I have studied, and I have prayed, and I have preached.  God has blessed; we have seen many who are ‘hopefully converted’, many who go on with the Lord, many who serve him in different ways and even in different countries.

But tonight, like most Sundays, as I drink my tea and warm my feet a heaviness descends upon me, a secret silent sadness.  We have not known the Spirit’s descent in power!  How many have heard me again, and thanked me again, and gone home unsaved again?  How many ‘almost persuaded’ there are!  How many ungodly professors have gathered again! (Just once.  Most of them only come once).  How little difference has been made!

I believe in preaching.  I believe I am called to preach.  I am honoured to be loved and respected so much more than I deserve.  But – oh, Lord!  How long?

(Thanks to Stephen Baird for the photo, Arizona Lights)

Monday, February 20, 2012

More Mastermind

Following on from a couple of weeks ago...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jim Hacker

After yesterday's brief reference, here is the man who once said 'I must find out where my people are going, and lead them there.'

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When leadership fails

I preached – or tried to – on Exodus 32 this last Sunday evening – the incident of the golden calf.  What struck me most was the failure of Aaron’s leadership: how quick he is to respond to the people’s request to make them gods; it is not the job of the true leader to follow the (wrong) demands of the people. 
Jim Hacker - the ultimate leader?

And how quick he was to blame God, or providence, or fate: ‘Out came this calf!’ (verse 24).

How much weakened he was, too, by his failure to make use of the plural leadership that Moses had provided: ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you.  Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them…’(24:14).

I have never regarded myself as a natural leader; any abilities I exercise in that direction are gifts of grace and part of God’s call.  It has been a great relief, over the years, to come to an increasing understanding of what leadership is in the church, and in particular to surround myself with other leaders who can take the blame make up for my faults.  My understanding is still growing – at this rate, by the time I retire, I may be ready to start (!)  This much, it seems to me, is clear from the Scriptures:

  1. Christ is the head of the church, and he, alone, has authority in it.  No other ruler – pope, priest, queen, council – is to be tolerated at all.  To tolerate such ‘rulers’ is effectively to turn the church of Christ into a human organisation.
  2. Christ rules in his church only by his word: ‘Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’  As the risen Christ walks among the lampstands, he does so to assert his rule (both making promises and issuing warnings/threats) as well as to speak by his word.
  3. Chaos would ensue if every church member ‘did their own thing’ based on their (mis-)understandings of the Word.  Babes in Christ need help to see its meaning; the rebellious need to be challenged, rebuked and corrected – and so on.  Therefore, Christ has ordained under-shepherds in each church.  Since they are to rule in Christ’s name, they must be able to show the relevance of the Word.  This explains the one qualification elders need beyond being ‘godly men’: they must be ‘apt to teach.’  Seeing it this way helps clear away misconceptions.  They do not need to be able to preach – they need to be able to apply the Word to church situations.
  4. British people, and British pastors, are uncomfortable with the Scriptural vocabulary of ‘rule’.  We are used to singing ‘Rule Britannia with its assertion ‘Britain never never never shall be slaves’; being ‘ruled’ sounds like ‘slavery’ – so we want democracy in our churches.  It is part of our psyche.  The predominantly congregational ecclesiology of the last century or so makes us uneasy about the idea of elders ruling.
  5. Nevertheless, the Scriptures won’t allow us to escape the concept of rule.  Elders must therefore rule:
    1. By the Word, not their preferences.  And it must be seen as such – hence, again, ‘apt to teach’.
    2. From a life-style that shows their own commitment to Scriptural (not man-made) holiness.
    3. Not with any view to financial gain – ‘not for filthy lucre’ – a phrase that’s used three times in the AV about elders, not once – and then once about deacons, too.  (See 1 Timothy 3.3, Titus 1.7, 1 Peter 5.2 and 1 Tim. 3.8)  The church’s affairs are not to be manipulated for the financial benefit of the elders.
    4. Not for power, lording it over the flock (1 Peter 5.3).  Like their Master, elders are to be servant rulers.
    5. With a view to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.  The way the church organised in the first century led to a world turned upside down.  Congregational democracy can prevent anything being done; elders must not tolerate this, nor initiate it.
    6. With eagerness: ‘eager to serve’ (1 Peter 5.2).

Thus, it is wise:

  • To teach the churches the headship of Jesus; this is one truth that may be self-evident to pastor/preachers, but almost certainly isn’t to most of the flock.  Its implications must be spelt out. 
  • To show the churches how elder-government expresses that.
  • To encourage the elders to have a vision for growth, not maintenance.  Growth will not be restricted to numerical growth, but it will certainly include it.

(Conrad Mbewe’s chapter on eldership, in ‘Foundations for the Flock’, has helped me order and express some of the above.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

A phenomenal talent, an awful tragedy

Those with phenomenal talent seem to have a well-above average tendency to leave us early.  It isn't yet known what killed Ms. Houston, but her destructive life-style was no secret.

The song that will always be most associated with her name has powerful, personal memories for me.  While it was still a big hit, my own wife Elaine was in the midst of one of her sessions of serious illness, and she became frightened that, this time, I would lose patience and leave her.

In one of those Grand Romantic Gestures that only a Yorkshireman is capable of, I bought her Whitney's 'I will always love you' and said 'Listen to the lyrics of this.'  Hmm; I should have listened first.  For though the refrain is 'I...I...I... will always love you' the whole song is saying 'I will always love you, but I'm leaving you.'   It wasn't - to be honest - a great help at the time.

Still - great song, wonderful voice, phenomenal talent - and an awful tragedy.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Who's the Man of God?

A few years ago, I heard a good brother preach on 2 Timothy 3:16,17 - in which he said, among other (and better) things, that Scripture was useful so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for godly living.

I don't object, on this occasion, to the substitution of gender neutral language.  I object that he's missed the whole point of the text.

Look it up: 'man of God' in both Testaments always means a preacher.  In the OT, it's Moses or the prophets; in the New Testament, actually it's always Timothy.

What Paul is saying in 2 Timothy is not that the Scriptures are useful for everyone.  Of course, that is true - it's just not what he's saying.  What he is saying is that the Scriptures alone are all that the pastor/teacher needs for his work: he is, by the knowledge of the Bible, 'thoroughly equipped' for every good work he is called to do.

He is not saying that Betty Christian does her quiet time in the morning and finds that her set passage for the day corrects her doctrine and rebukes her behaviour.  That is true, too.  But what Paul is saying is that Timothy must use the Scripture to teach, correct, rebuke and train in righteousness.  And he says it again in 4:2.

Two things follow from a proper understanding of the text.  One, the pastor must correct and rebuke - and when church members take offence at that, as they often do, that's because they've misunderstood their relationship to the pastor.  When a church member asks 'Who do you think you are?' the only proper answer is 'I think I'm the man of God.  And this is what the Bible says a man of God should do.'

Two: what can't be done with Scripture is not the pastor's job.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tout ça change...

One of the things we noticed at yesterday's fraternal was the irony, or sarcasm, of the writer in 2 Samuel 11:4 (now she [Bathsheba] had purified herself from her uncleanness.'  

Bathsheba is on her way to commit adultery, and she knows it.  David has sent for her in order to commit adultery, and he knows it.  But - hey!  What's the moral law anyway?  Provided the ceremonial law - the 'incidentals' of religion - are being observed...

One Christian lady whose husband has left her for another woman told me recently that he had told her 'I know what we're doing is wrong.  But we are reading the Bible and praying together.'  OK; that's all right then.

Jesus called it straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Confident Christianity

Had the joy of hearing my 'old' colleague Chris Sinkinson today, on preaching Old Testament narrative.  Chris pastors Alderholt Congregational Church, lectures at Moorlands Bible College in Apologetics and (apparently) serves as part-time heart-throb there, too. His lecture/seminar/fraternal was stimulating, as always.  BUT the purpose of this little blog entry is to introduce his new book on apologetics, which he brought along today.  Called 'Confident Christianity', it's a whistle-stop tour through history, philosophy and theology ('from ancient Greek philosophers via Enlightenment thinkers through to the worldviews of twenty-first-century thinkers' says Steve Brady's blurb) - with the aim of making Christians more confident in their faith.

Sounds heavy, eh?  But that's the brilliance of Chris - it's not heavy at all.  Chris is a brilliant communicator with an ability to make complicated things not just simple, but interesting too. 

So easy, even a dog could understand it.

Whenever I think of Chris, I'm reminded of an old story about Billy Butlin (the founder of Butlins) and Fred Pontin (the founder of - well, have a guess).  As a young man, Pontin worked for Billy, before striking out on his own.  Later in life, Sir Fred had to introduce Sir Billy to someone and did so like this: 'Billy Butlin taught me everything I know about this business, didn't you Billy?'  To which the older man apparently replied 'Yes, Fred.  But not everything I know!'

I can't say anything like that about me and Chris - but we at MBC did give him opportunity to practice for a while.  

Monday, February 06, 2012

Morecambe and Wise - Mastermind

A truly awful photo.

What, the new one at the head of my blog?  Yes, I know it is.  But the old one - me and my granddaughter Abigail - is somewhat out of date now.  While I look for a better one, enjoy yourself with this...

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Well worth a read

This little piece over at Jeremy Walker's blog - on God's fatherly care - is well worth a read.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Let me show you what I mean...

An opinion in search of a text

Trying to think through the whole question of 'sola scriptura' as it applies to Christian behaviour, I posted yesterday an attempt to show that football was sinful.  (Which I don't believe - see yesterday).

And I ended by saying 'Nobody argues like that, do they?'  - and implying that, actually, lots of Christians argue just like that.  Here's what I mean.

I’ve recently been challenged by some folks over a passing comment I made, in private, that I would not tell new Christians that it was a sin to smoke.  Now, let me be upfront here.  I have never taken a single draw on a cigarette in my life.  As a child, I was subjected to the most effective aversion therapy imaginable by two heavily-smoking parents.  I hate the habit.  

But I know Spurgeon smoked.  (‘Different era; they didn’t know how harmful it was.’)  

Doctor Lloyd-Jones smoked in the early part of his ministry.  (‘Still a different era…’  No, really - it's not!)  

And I know, too, that even today some ministers (particularly, it seems, of the heavily Presbyterian kind) smoke.  ('Different e- oh...')  It doesn’t make them right, of course; but is it a sin?

‘Surely,’ said one good and godly friend, a retired pastor with many years experience, ‘Surely you would point out to them that their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?  And that they are wasting an awful lot of money?’

Do you know, I don’t think I would?  Let me ask you, my friendly Retired Pastor, how many seriously obese people did you take on one side during your ministry, and tell them that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit?  And that the money they were spending on too much food and sweets and the like could be much better used in the Kingdom?  None?  Really? No, I’m not surprised.

Why am I not surprised?  Because what you have is an opinion in search of a text.  ‘I know smoking is wrong; let me find a text to prove it.’  And you’ve lighted on a text  (1 Cor. 6.19) that’s actually about sexual immorality.  It isn’t even about keeping our bodies healthy at all!

Allow me, will you, to give another example.  I was once very rude to a good brother who didn't deserve it, and I am genuinely sorry.  But the point was a valid one.

It happened in this wise.  A ministers' fraternal was talking about Christians and alcohol, and this GB said 'I recognise that alcohol is a gift from God.  But I know that many young people abuse it, and therefore I gave up drinking a long time ago and think that all pastors should.'

To which I responded, without thinking, 'Did you give up having sex with your wife, too?'

Why ask such a shocking thing?  Well, look:

'I recognise that x is a gift from God.  But I know that many young people abuse it, and therefore I gave up x a long time ago and think that all pastors should.'  

Now, if that is a logically valid argument, it is valid for whatever you put as 'x'.  Put 'alcohol' in, and many Christians nod and smile.  Put 'sex with your wife' in and you get an awkward silence before someone changes the subject.

Well, I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have been rude to an older, godlier and often wiser brother.  But what he had, I'm afraid, was an opinion in search of an argument.

If we continue to do that, when others (professing Christians or out and out worldlings) see through our arguments, we do immense damage to our claim that we base everything on Scripture.  How can they believe that our refusal to let women preach is based on Scripture - when we claim that other things are, that plainly aren't?  How can they believe that we stand against homosexual acts because Scripture insists on it, if we stand against alcohol with the same 'reason' - that turns out, on the easiest of examinations, to be false?

Do I have to say that I'm not, really not, suggesting that Christians should be encouraged to smoke or drink?  I am, though, trying to apply the principle of sola scriptura - of 'good and necessary consequence'.

Comments are welcome, but - as other bloggers sometimes put it - the usuals will be observed.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Sola Scriptura?

An opinion in search of a defence?

What does it mean for us, as evangelicals, to argue that the Holy Scripture is the only rule of faith and conduct?  Only the other day, I quoted the Westminster Confession:

Chapter 1. VI: The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

What does it mean to say ‘by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture?’

The first thing we have to say is that it is an admission: an admission that not every circumstance we will meet is covered in Scripture.  Even more so now than when the WC was framed, life has changed beyond recognition.  We cannot reasonably expect Scripture to say anything about (for example) embryo research, and it doesn’t.  But it is extremely dangerous to argue, therefore, that Scripture is an inadequate guide in this area (or any other).  We admit things have changed; and we look for principles and the necessary consequences of those principles.

The second thing it means is that we must deduce our conclusions from the Scripture, and not impose them upon the Scripture.  It is too easy to decide first that something is wrong and then go looking for Scriptures to defend our opinion.  Because we are sinful and our logic/reason is flawed along with the rest of us, we may well find such a defence.

Let me give you an example.  Suppose I held the opinion that football (soccer) is sinful.  (I don’t hold that opinion.  I hold it to be boring.  I hold it to be pointless.  I do not hold it to be sinful.)  I then want to impose my view on the church here at MBC, and perhaps on the church at large.  I need to prove my case from Scripture.  Here goes.

1.      There is no instance of soccer or any ball game (I might want to be careful with that if, for example, I want to allow snooker or tennis as legitimate) in the Bible; that alone ought to give us cause for concern.
2.      Our own society is so obsessed with football that the language of religion is used about it; Bill Shankly’s famous comment that ‘it is more important than life or death’ is only one example.
3.      The very fact that ‘the world’ is so obsessed is all the proof that the spiritually mature need: we are not to love the world.  We are told of those who do love the world that the love of the Father is not in them.
4.      Those gifted at football may be taken very young and sheltered from real life and then emerge, still in their teens, into a job whose pay and life-style is virtually guaranteed to ruin them.
5.      The moral lives of many of those who do play football just underline for us the enormous danger of this sport – see some of the racier tabloids, almost any day of the week.
6.      Football gives rise to, and is supported by, an enormous gambling industry which is in itself sinful and should be shunned by anyone following after holiness.
7.      Vast amounts of time and money are spent on the game – by professionals and amateurs alike.  But we are commanded to redeem the time because the days are evil; and we are to be good stewards of our money (which is the Lord’s money). 

QED, therefore: football has no place in a Christian’s life.

If we want to rub it in, we can easily show (or claim) that past worthies did not indulge in sports at all.  We can also, probably, point to one or two people who have fallen into sin as a result of football.  (‘Eee, our ‘Arold never drank at all until ‘e got into that footballing crowd.  Now ‘e’s an alcoholic with two broken marriages and no end of affairs behind ‘im….’) 

Then we point out that, if none of the arguments are convincing on their own – well, surely, the cumulative effect must be?  Are you so stubborn, so blind, that you can’t see or won’t admit the very obvious?

Now then, dear reader.  Are you going to give up football, then?  No?  Why not?

Because the argument isn’t Scriptural.  It doesn’t become Scriptural just by quoting a few Scriptures.  And it doesn’t become a strong argument by piling one piece of nonsense on top of another.

But nobody argues like that, do they?  No?  Sure?  Back tomorrow.