Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bournemouth Police Hate Christians!

Bournemouth Beach in the sunshine.  Beautiful, isn't it?  What a glorious place to live!  Or to visit! And the tourist office here - quite understandably - is promoting Bournemouth as a great place to spend the Queen's Jubilee Weekend.  And it is - but do be careful if you're a Christian.  Because  

Bournemouth Police hate Christians.

Last week-end an open-air preacher in Bournemouth was threatened with arrest.  I wasn't there - but my source is reliable.  The preacher mentioned hell, and a conversation with a passer-by went like this:

PB: Well, I'm going to hell anyway.

Preacher:  Why's that?

PB: Because I'm gay.

Preacher: There's no need for you to go to hell.

At which point, the passer-by walked off and made a complaint at the police station.  The police turned up, warned the preacher that Dorset Police had three priorities - homophobia, racism and domestic violence, in that order (NOT what it says on their website!) - and told him that if there were any more complaints he'd be arrested.

Bournemouth Police hate Christians.

Note: the preacher hadn't mentioned homosexuality.  If he had, he would still be within the law - but he hadn't.  He hadn't criticised gays.  If he had, he would still be within the law - but he hadn't.  He hadn't said that gays go to hell.  If he had, he would still be within the law - but he hadn't.

Bournemouth Police hate Christians.

Some few years ago now I went into Bournemouth Police Station (which advertises outside that it has a gay and lesbian liaison officer) to complain about the infamous advert suggesting that Bible-believers were shedding the blood of gays.  I'd complained by post that the advert was a religious hate-crime and been told to come in and complain in person - and a gay policeman was waiting for me.  Now, I'm almost six feet tall (if I wear two-inch heels), weigh close (too close) to fifteen stone and am not easily intimidated.  But he intimidated me.  He told me I didn't know the law (I did, on this point), that Anne Widdecombe (former minister in the Home Office) didn't know the law, told me unequivocally that most violence against gays was religiously motivated - and so on.  And he did it in a way that made it a somewhat frightening experience.  It's odd, really - I'm WASP, Tory (mildly) and middle-class, the very sort that's supposed to support the police.  But they don't support me.  But then...

Bournemouth Police hate Christians.

Some years prior to that - do you remember? - 69-year-old Harry Hammond help up a sign in Bournemouth that said 'Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord'.  When a crowd attacked 69-year-old Harry and pushed him to the ground, the police were called and arrested - Harry.  He was tried and convicted for a public-order offence, and died shortly afterwards.  Even gay activist Peter Tatchell called the trial 'an outrageous assault on civil liberties'.  Good old Peter.  Can you imagine the outrage if a gay man had been attacked by a crowd, and he'd been arrested?  And tried?  And died shortly afterwards?  How many 'Bloody Sunday' enquiries would we have had about that?  But then:

Bournemouth Police hate Christians.

Please note: I haven't said a word against gays in this entry, or anywhere else on the blog - OK?  I've said a few against the police, and Bournemouth Police in particular, whom I no longer trust.  But that's because  

Bournemouth Police hate Christians.

Disclaimer: by 'Police' I mean the Force Policy, not individual policemen and women.  I'm sure there are some fine folks in Bournemouth Police.  I'm sure some of them will be Christians.  But I bet they're keeping their heads down...

As far as I know, copyright does not exist in any of the photos used.  I'll gladly remove any where I am wrong.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Evangelism doesn't work?

Here at MBC we're in the middle of a very full week of guest meetings with evangelist Roger Carswell.  It's been a lot of effort, and a lot of money.  The meetings have been excellent - believers and unbelievers agree - but attendance (of believers and unbelievers) has been poor and disappointing so far.  So I was interested to see that John Stevens over at his blog today is interacting with Andrew Evans who critiqued an earlier post of John's.  OK - with me so far?  Stay with me - go on, make the effort - 'cos it's important.

John had suggested that 'the attractional model' of evangelism - getting the unconverted to come into the church - isn't all that good an idea; it doesn't work.  Here's the quote:

  • I was very struck by Julian's vision for training the members of the congregation to do the work of evangelism out in the community. He rightly questions the viability of an "attractional" model of evangelism where churches are seeking to reach the "never-churched" rather than the "de-churched", as people simply will not come in to the church. As he put it, the church seems to have nothing to offer them that is not done better by the world. Instead they want to equip the members of the church to share the good news of the gospel with the community where they are. I think this is a ministry shift we will increasingly need to make in our secular and post-Christendom society if we are to reach the lost all around us. We have taken it for granted that unbelievers will come to church, and that we ought to invite them to come in as our primary evangelistic strategy (or even worse to give up and wait for revival when they will come in without being invited!) and as a result tend to treat our church gatherings as if they are a cross between a meeting for committed believers and the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19v11) where we are addressing interested unbelievers. We have acted as if the church IS the market place or public square for evangelism. It may have been in the past, but in most communities it is not today. This doesn't seem to be the New Testament model. In the NT,  "church" is the gathering for committed believers, designed to encourage and edify them. Occasionally an unbeliever might come in amongst them (1 Corinthians 14v24). The gospel is to be taken and proclaimed outside of the church, whether in the public square, house to house, or in individual personal witness. We need to face up to the fact that we have to take the gospel to people, and not just invite them to come to where we preach it. This is going to be essential if we are to reach the nation.

I know, like and respect John but have never (as far as I know) heard of Andrew before today.  But I want to say that I'm completely with Andrew on this.  His reflections on what John says are very clear, while John himself isn't being particularly helpful.  Here's some random thoughts why:

First, his follow-up post contains the statement 'Many of the ordinary local churches [that I have visited or am in contact with] have expressed their feeling that event based and invitational evangelism has involved a lot of effort for little return.'

Oh, dear - how awful.  Because it's not what the New Testament teaches, is it?  The New Testament teaches that proper, God-approved evangelism is a little bit of effort for a lot of return, doesn't it?  No, hang on - wait a minute!  It doesn't teach that at all; sorry, my bad.  The parable of the sower explicitly teaches that evangelism IS a lot of effort for little return.  And the apostle Paul walked, struggled, prayed, wrote, suffered, was stoned and imprisoned - that was a lot of effort.  And the churches he founded were weak and contemptible.  A lot of effort, Paul - a little return.  What's that you say?  'Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies...'?  You'll never reach the nation like that.  If you go into that town Paul you'll be stoned and left for dead - and the only 'converts' you get will be a major disappointment.  It's a lot of effort for very little return.  Find a better model, I implore you.

Second, John's contrasting model is that of Julian Ribera - the 'Julian' in the quote - a fine man, doing a fine work in the difficult community of Moulescombe in Brighton.  There is no way I want to criticise Julian, OK?  Fine man, fine work.  BUT - by his own admission, the church there is unlikely to grow beyond 40-50 people.  One could argue 'you'll never reach a nation like that...'  More seriously, John extols the advantage of 'alternative models' without being very explicit as to what they are, look:  

  • I do think that the NT pattern of evangelism is primarily to take the gospel out from the gathering of God's people into the public sphere wherever people are (and that will also vary in different cultural contexts). "Preaching" (i.e. heralding the gospel) almost invariably happens outside the church gathering in the NT - whether to the crowds in the open, in the market square, in the synagogue, or in individual encounter. One of the key features of the 18th Century evangelical revival was the Whitefield and Wesley took the gospel out of the church and to the people. I don't necessarily think that "open air" is the way to achieve this today...
So - open air was a primary NT method that worked in the days of Whitefield and Wesley but 'isn't necessarily... the'.  And neither is 'attractional evangelism' - so what is?  As far as I can see, he doesn't tell us.  

Thirdly, though he's (in effect) arguing that the ways we take for granted 'don't work', he doesn't define what 'works' means in this context, or point us to any examples of churches that are using other models that do work.  Where are there flourishing churches, growing by conversions, that don't use the 'attractional' model - and what are they doing?  We need to be told.

Fourth, John doesn't acknowledge the possibility that a vibrant preaching ministry might actually draw - in the long-term - a congregation.  It's at least possible.  If you want to see a crowd next week, I don't know how to help you.  If you want to see a crowd in ten years, try getting a good, committed preacher who'll work at it.  (I know - it's really difficult, especially since so many of them are now stuck in offices in the FIEC different places...)  

Fifth, John tries to make a case on very little Scriptural evidence.  Andrew deals with some of this, but here's another point.  Though John seems to prefer 'open-air' - even with his reservations - I think I'm right in saying that there isn't a single example, in the New Testament, of open-air preaching once a local church is formed.  Can anyone show me one?  Now, I'm not therefore opposed to open-air preaching.  My only point is that we need to be careful what we think we're demonstrating from the New Testament when there isn't that much evidence to go on!

Sixth, John suggests that Anglicanism works better, which is a strange thing for the FIEC Supremo to say.  He does, honest:  

  • I agree there are counter examples, but these tend to be in major cities and student centres, and in Anglican situations where the church still has an automatic role in the community. This is why "Back to Church Sunday" works for Anglican churches, but not most free churches.
Oh dear - again.  What's the Bishop's phone number - does anybody know?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Marks of ministry

I was much struck this morning reading 2 Corinthians 6, and Paul’s marks of his own ministry in verses 4-10.  I think they’re helpfully broken up like this:

… as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:

  •  by great endurance,

 in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger;  

  • by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love;  

  • by truthful speech, and the power of God;

[as servants of God we commend ourselves] with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 

  • through honour and dishonour,

through slander and praise.

[as servants of God] We are treated
  • as impostors, and yet are true;  

  • as unknown, and yet well known;

  • as dying, and behold, we live;

  • as punished, and yet not killed; 

  • as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;

  • as poor, yet making many rich;

  • as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

It’s interesting that the ESV (and the NASB) reads that Paul is treated as unknown, as dying, as sorrowful etc – when in fact the opposite is true from a divine perspective.  On this reading, he isn’t sorrowful, but merely regarded as sorrowful – as if others are saying ‘How can a man who lives like that possibly be anything else?’

I haven't worked through the implications of all this, though much of what he says is true of every faithful minister of the gospel.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Good Life

It's hard to say - which is my favourite sitcom ever?  It has to be either 'Yes, Minister/Prime Minister' OR 'The Good Life'.

Today I'm opting for 'The Good Life'.  Enjoy.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Ground of Perfect (amazing!) Hope

Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?

Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ;  so that, though my conscience accuse me that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them,  and am still prone always to evil;  yet God, without any merit of mine,  and of mere grace,  grants and imputes to me  the perfect satisfaction,  righteousness and holiness of Christ;   as if I never committed or had any sin: and  had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has accomplished for me;  if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart. 
Heidelberg Catechism, question 60, 1563