Friday, October 18, 2013

Strange Fire...

It won't have escaped the attention of either of my readers that John MacArthur is hosting a conference on the Charismatic Movement this week, called 'Strange Fire'.  If you were in doubt, the title makes it clear that he's agin' it.  By the wonders of modern technology - and they truly are wonders - we can all watch the conference 'livestream' if we choose - though for those of us here in the UK, the timing is awkward with some sessions beginning at 3a.m. GMT.  (Having said that, Conrad Mbewe is speaking at 5pm GMT today - he's always worth watching.)

What's interesting to me, as a convinced cessationist, is the reaction of some really quite sane charismatic commentators: 'MacArthur shouldn't be doing this; he's dividing the body of Christ.'  Even Adrian Warnock thinks that.  (Adrian also quotes MacArthur while ignoring the context, and then defends himself for doing so.  Even worse, one man in his comments plays the race card!  Now we know that the charismatic movement is good - anybody who opposes it is like those who oppose racial equality.  Note to anybody that's interested: THE MOMENT anybody plays the race card in a debate that's nothing to do with race, I lose all interest.  It's like wearing a t-shirt that says 'I have no valid argument to make so shut yer face.')

It's interesting that when Charismatic churches (NFI, for example) and conferences hold meetings promoting charismatic theology, that seems to be a good thing.  But let anyone speak out against it, and that's a bad thing.  Are our charismatic friends becoming like some in the gay movement - wanting to stifle all debate, expecting all those who disagree to keep silent?  Surely not.  And yet...

The claims to renewed charismatic gifts in the church are either the biggest fraud to hit Christendom since infant baptism OR the greatest blessing to the church since apostolic days.  I've no doubt which; I hope MacArthur and his fellow contributors are careful to make a good case.

One of my regular readers (hi, Martin, how are you doing?) thinks I give far too much attention to charismatic issues on this blog.  He suspects that it's evidence I'm a repressed charismatic!  (Funny - that's another tactic the gays tend to use...)  Not repressed, brethren - recovering is the word.  So, just in order to keep him happy - I'm working on a little series.  Watch this space. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Spurgeon Preaching to Persuade

Barry King

Dear Preacher of the Gospel,

Before you let your 'native reserve', 'cultural sensitivity' or even your 'theological position' keep you from earnestly imploring sinners to repent and believe the gospel today, please, I urge you, consider the words of Mr Spurgeon who preached thusly: 

"We need a Baxter to bring men to immediate decision—Baxter with weeping eyes and burning heart—Baxter who says, “I will go down on my knees to entreat you to think upon eternal things.” Baxter, who cries and groans for men till they cry and groan for themselves! Why will you die? Why will you let that fatal procrastination kill you? Why will you put off seeking the Saviour until your day is over? Why will you still waste the candle which is so short? Why will you let the day go when the sun already dips beneath the horizon? By the shortness of time, by the sureness of death, by the certainty of eternal judgment, I beseech you to fly to Jesus and to fly to Jesus now."

May many come to Christ through your preaching today.

Warmly in the Saviour,
Barry King

Barry's words are used with his kind permission; and he sent me the link for the Spurgeon sermon, 

Have you ever heard anyone plead with a congregation like that?  And - not withstanding Barry's opening remarks - would it be culturally appropriate in the UK today?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Better than life

It's been a bit quiet round here lately.  It's not that I've more work to do than I used to have; it's just that it takes me longer to do it.  However, by the kind kindness of one of the Editors of the Evangelical Magazine of Wales (one of the very best Christian periodicals in the UK), I have permission to post some of the articles I've written for them over the years.  That should at least get us started: here's the first, 'Better than life'.

Better than life

'Life is good.'  I was browsing recently through the 'Friends Reunited' website, catching up on what has happened to some of my old friends.  After nearly thirty years, it's fascinating.  Some are living in far-flung parts of the world; others have been there and come back.  Some have suffered great illness or tragic bereavement.  Several seem to making a real success of their careers but are not nearly so successful in their personal lives.  But the comment that sticks most in my mind is the girl that said 'life is good.'  Even in our bleakest moments, most of us would admit to finding life better than the prospect of death; I'm reminded of Maurice Chevalier who when asked his reaction to growing old said 'I prefer it to the alternative!'  But there is something that is better; better by far than even the most comfortable of lives: 'Your lovingkindness is better than life,' said David the psalmist (Psalm 63:3).  It is a staggering claim, and David makes it in the full knowledge that his life is in danger as he flees from King Saul, who was determined to kill him.

David is not on his own.  Centuries later, another servant of God is in danger and makes a similar claim.  This time it is the apostle Paul, in prison for his faith and facing possible death.  If he were to be given the choice to live or die, he says, he would hardly know which one to choose, because 'for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain' (Philippians 1.21).

It is not just the great saints who feel like this: ordinary New Testament believers, we are told, 'joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property' (Hebrews 10.34).  Why did they do this?  'Because [they] knew that [they] had better and lasting possessions.' For the same reason, believers accepted suffering and rejoiced in it (Romans 5:3) – even when it led to martyrdom.  It is one of the best kept secrets in the world: knowing God, knowing his love poured out in our hearts, is the very best thing that the life can offer.  There may be great costs to being a Christian: sin has to be turned from, ambitions may have to change.  Suffering and rejection may come.  But all these things have been found by Christian people to be as nothing: not just (just!) because of the peace that having sins forgiven brings, and not even because of the assurance of heaven.  Rather, it is because of the joy of knowing God himself.  'Your lovingkindness is better than life.'

Raymond Lull

Raymond Lull was the first missionary to the Moslems – he was born in 1235.  In 1314, as a man of almost 79,  his love for Christ was burning brighter than ever.  He returned quite deliberately to an area of North Africa where he had preached as a younger man and known much danger. For nearly a year, he laboured secretly among the little circle of converts that he had won over previously to the Christian faith.  Then, weary of seclusion, he stood in an open market where once he had been chased out, and proclaimed Christ knowing full well that it would cost him his life. Filled with fury at his boldness, his hearers dragged out of town and stoned him to death on 30th of June 1315.  Why did he do such a thing?  'Your lovingkindness is better than life.'

Devotion like that can only come from an appreciation of the love of Christ, and there are many such stories, even in our own day.  John Piper quotes the story of a man from Haiti, named Edmund.  His church was having a special offering, and one envelope contained $13 cash – equivalent to three months' income for a working man and at least as striking,  therefore, as a three or four thousand pound gift would be in our own land.  One of the church leaders, knowing or guessing where the gift had come from, looked round for Edmund in the meeting but could not see him.  Later, though, he met him in the village and discovered that he had sold his horse to raise the $13.  'But why didn't you come to the meeting?'  he asked.  Edmund hesitated, and at first would not answer.  Finally, though, he admitted 'I had no shirt to wear.'  Why would a poor man – too poor to clothe himself properly – make such a gift?  'Your lovingkindness is better than life.'

In the light of this verse and those stories, there are two things that need to be said.

The first is that too many of us Christians today live at far too low a level.  Somehow, though we know God and rejoice in the forgiveness of sins, we have allowed ourselves to be seduced again by the world.  Perhaps we can say 'to die is gain' but we have grown to love the things God has given us in this world more than we love the giver.  We could not take joyfully the confiscation of our property.  We find it hard to make sacrifices, even for the sake of the gospel.  We have grown used to giving our tithe – surely it's enough?  And when the church has special needs, we will dip a little – a very little – deeper into our pockets to help.  And as a result of our worldliness, the Holy Spirit is grieved.  Our Christian experience is impoverished, our Christian witness is poor.  And the cause of the gospel languishes.  Only a radical re-thinking of our priorities followed by radical action will make any difference.  'My heart says of you 'Seek his face.'  Your face, Lord, will I seek.'

The second thing is addressed to those who do not know the Lord. Perhaps you're idly flicking through this magazine, wondering what Christianity is all about or why some people take it so seriously.  This is why: God made us for himself, that we might know him, love him and enjoy him.  He is infinite and eternal; there is therefore no limit to his goodness, to his power – and to his loveliness.  However hard we might try, the truth is we can never be satisfied with anything other than God himself.  As one old preacher said 'God made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him.'  Our sin has separated us from God – and that single fact accounts for all the misery in the world, and all the misery in our hearts and lives, too.  But God gave his Son, Jesus, to die for us, so that we might be reconciled to God.  That is the gospel; that is the good news.  And those who turn to him find him to be great and gracious beyond words.  They begin to know him, and enjoy him – and look forward to heaven, where they will love him and know him without any barriers between.  Do not let anything else keep you away from him, and away from the heaven he offers.  'Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that takes refuge in him' (Psalm 34:8).


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Steps to renewal?

...surely clericalism as a leadership style is Spirit-quenching.  Clericalism, which on my analysis involves more persons than the ordained, is a sort of conspiracy between leaders and those led: the one party (it does not matter which) says 'all spiritual ministry should be left to the leader,' and the other party says, 'yes, that's right.'  Some leaders embrace clericalism because it gives them power; others, running scared, embrace it because they fear lest folk ministering alongside them should overshadow them, or because they feel incapable of handling an every-member-ministry situation.  But every-member ministry in the body of Christ is the New Testament pattern, and anything which obstructs or restricts it is an obstacle to a renewing visitation from God.  What does this suggest that leaders, and others, ought to do now?...

The first step, perhaps, to the renewal of the Christian people is that leaders should begin to repent of their too-ready acceptance of too-low levels of attainment both in themselves and in those whom they lead, and should learn to pray from their hearts the simple-sounding but totally demanding prayer in Edwin Orr's chorus: 'Send a revival - start the work in me.'
(J.I. Packer in 'Serving the People of God', page 83/84)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ah, me... (part 2)

If you prefer it in writing, here is Conrad Mbewe's modern-day parable:

Car keys are meant by the car designer to be used only in the ignition keyhole. You do not, in the name of human rights, insert them in any other opening on the dashboard or, worse still, in the exhaust pipe. It is only when we follow the mind of the car designer, and insert the keys in the ignition keyhole, that we can have a joyful and fruitful ride.

Kids playing in their parents’ car often insert keys anywhere. With their voices they mimic the roaring of the engine. With their hands on the steering wheel they gleefully bounce off the seats as if they are on a bumpy road, but they never bring back any groceries from their joyful rides. That is okay. It is kids’ stuff!

The leaders of the Church of Scotland are adults. Have they enquired from the Designer of human sexuality where to insert the keys in order to have a fruitful ride?

Ah, me...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

All I will say...

All I will say about the Late Lady Thatcher, copied unashamedly from the blog of Cranmer::

In the Commons, it was her friend Conor Burns who mingled just the right amount of personal recollection with her international political accomplishments. He paid moving tribute to The Great Lady from the very seat in Parliament where she made her maiden speech, and the place to which she returned after leaving No10. He ended with her own account of attending Mass at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in 1993: 
Every nook and cranny was packed, and the choral singing of unfamiliar Polish hymns was all the more uplifting because I could not understand the verses. It forced me to try to imagine what the congregation was asking of God. Foreign though this experience was, it also gave me a comforting feeling that I was but one soul among many, in a fellowship of believers that crossed nations and denominations. When the priest rose to give the sermon, however, I had the sense that I had suddenly become the centre of attention. Heads turned and people smiled at me. As the priest began, someone translated his words. He recalled that during the dark days of Communism, they had been aware of voices from the outside world offering hope of a different and better life. The voices were many, often eloquent, and all were welcome to a people starved so long of truth as well as freedom. But Poles had come to identify with one voice in particular - my own. Even when that voice had been relayed through the distorting loudspeaker of the Soviet propaganda, they had heard through the distortions the message of truth and hope. Well, Communism had fallen, and a new democratic order had replaced it. But they had not fully felt the change, nor truly believed in its reality, until today, when they finally saw me in their own church. The priest finished his sermon, and the service continued. But the kindness of the priest and the parishioners had not been exhausted. At the end of Mass I was invited to stand in front of the altar. When I did so, lines of children presented me with little bouquets while their mothers and fathers applauded.

...Of course, no human mind, nor any conceivable computer, can calculate the sum total of my career in politics in terms of happiness, achievement and virtue. Nor, indeed, of their opposites. It follows, therefore, that the full accounting of how my political work affected the lives of others is something we will only know on Judgement Day. It is an awesome and unsettling thought. But it comforts me, that when I stand up to hear the verdict, I will at least have the people of the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in court as character witnesses.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

In the Pink

Some time ago in another place I voiced (a little tongue-in-cheek) the opinion that A.W. Pink may not have been genuinely converted.  I based this speculation on the fact that though he travelled the world, living on three continents, he could not find a single church that was worth joining – and this at a time when, for example, Lloyd-Jones was ministering in Westminster.  ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us’ (1 John 2.19).  I used the analogy, I remember, of a ‘minister’ conducting adulterous affairs on several different continents and arrogantly defending his right to do so.  We would not consider a man who was so contemptuous of his wife and marriage vows to be a believer or, at very least, a man to be admired.  Why then are we so wimpy about a man who was so contemptuous of Christ’s bride?

Recently, Pyromaniac Dan Phillips weighed in with his critique of Pink and does it so much better than I.  Tom Chantry’s replies (several of them) in the ‘comments’ section are illuminating and worth reading, too but the rest of the comments – not so much.

Of course, I have no way of knowing the state of Pink’s heart, regenerate or not.  But let it be faced about professed Bible teachers who dismiss all of evangelicalism that does not agree with them on every jot and tittle.  Such men are not to be followed.  They are not to be supported.  They are not to be admired.  Their souls are in danger.

Let the reader understand.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Too far, this time

Many years ago I read a piece by Peter Masters reviewing IVP’s ‘New Bible Commentary Revised’ in which, among other things, he criticised it for its ‘liberal’ dating of the Exodus.  I checked the book to see who this nasty liberal was and discovered – to my surprise – that it was Hywel Jones, a man I knew and know.  Now, Dr Jones may (or may not) be wrong about the date of the Exodus, but he’s certainly no liberal.  That was the first indication I had of how naughty Masters can be when criticising others – it wasn’t (by any means) the last.

I was surprised when he criticised Iain Murray, in the eighties, for compromising the gospel. I was saddened, when Lloyd-Jones died, that he got no mention in ‘Sword and Trowel’ – in spite of his major influence on evangelicalism in the UK and on Peter Masters personally.  (Even today, the Met Tab bookshop website only lists two of Lloyd-Jones’ books – and on closer examination they turn out to be two editions of the same title (‘Why does God allow war?’).)  It’s somewhat amusing therefore, in a sardonic kind of way, that Masters positions himself as the faithful upholder of the Lloyd-Jones position. And I’ve been saddened to see him condemn men such as Carson and Piper and Macarthur, none of whom have escaped his lash.  None of them are beyond criticism – of course not.  But they all – to a man – are faithful evangelicals standing for truth in a compromised world.  Masters’ thesis, however, seems to be that everyone outside his own small group is somehow neo-liberal – and to see just how small his own group is, check out the names of speakers at their Summer School.  How many different names can you spot?  How many of the UK speakers have you ever actually heard of?

My regular reader will know that I have, from time to time (and very recently) blogged positively about PM and the Met Tab.  I commended his evangelistic preaching in the only article I’ve ever written for Banner of Truth.  I  have tried to uphold the view that – although he is unnecessarily narrow and critical in some areas – he is a man of God, blessed by God and should be recognised as such.  Some of my friends ‘cluck’ in amazement at my support for him, even though it has been limited.

Now, however, he has taken a step too far for me.  The Sword and Trowel’s publication of the vicious attack on WEST is just too much.  You can read it here  and read, also, on the WEST website, a response from 'a friendly third party'  here.  

I take leave to wonder whether such articles would ever be published if the author were not confident of the protection of 1 Corinthians 6 which prevents believers going to a secular court to settle differences  (Actually, I’m not sure it does – but that’s a different matter.)  WEST is an Evangelical, Reformed Bible College standing firm on a strong basis of faith.   Palgrave, however – without any shame – attempts to destroy the work of that seminary as she suggests that they are to be condemned because of imagined association with various heresies and heretics.  Well, you may read the articles for yourself.  You may, of course, decide that her international credibility lends weight to her criticisms.  Or you may never have heard of her.

And then, today, an email comes to me – and other FIEC pastors – from another internationally-known theologian, ‘Susan’.  In it she attacks the FIEC for its involvement with the ‘Explicit’ conference later this month.

What connection does this have with ‘the Tab’?  As far as I know, only that the talks linked to are given by Dr Ted Williams at a Tab Summer School. 

Now, regular reader, you will know that I’ve expressed serious concern about Mark Driscoll – which must mean I have some reservations about Acts 29.  You may even have read my review in Evangelicals Now of Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ (Chandler is a major speaker at the ‘Explicit’ conference’) which ends ‘In summary: it’s a good book in many ways, but for me its flaws and flippancy make it one that I’m unlikely to use.’  And I haven’t always agreed with the FIEC, either.  But when Andy Paterson is quoted as saying "Everything I have seen and heard confirms that these men love the gospel, love the Saviour, love the Bible and would be regarded as orthodox, main-stream evangelicals. I would also commend to you the ‘Gospel Coalition’ website where Chandler plays a significant role alongside Carson, Keller and Piper"  I see no reason to doubt him.   

But what of their associations – the people they meet with, fellowship with?  ‘Susan’ comments ‘I cannot comment on the Cardiff speakers, they may well be sound, however their association with Acts 29 and others raise serious concerns.’  But she fails to notice that, also involved in the Gospel Coalition and speaking at one of its conferences, is Joel Beeke – a regular at the ‘Tab’ Summer School. (See here)  The same logic would see the Met Tab condemned for its association with Joel Beeke who is himself associated, through the Gospel Coalition, with the ‘New Calvinists’.

I am not saying, of course, that WEST, or the FIEC, or any of the men involved are beyond criticism or should not be questioned.  BUT - and it's a big BUT (that's why it's in capitals), there is all the difference in the world between 'Brethren, I think this conference, or this partnership, is a serious mistake and I urge you to reconsider it for the gospel's sake' and 'Oh, look: WEST has joined the ranks of the compromised too.  Come out from among them and be separate!'  Readers can judge for themselves which category Palgrave and Susan fall into.

I have little doubt (a little doubt, to be frank) that both of these ladies are genuinely and sincerely concerned for the truth.  Certainly, that’s a Biblical concern: ‘Earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.’  At the same time, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is ALSO a Biblical concern – and there is none of that in these writings.

Perhaps it’s inevitable, in a fallen world, that we should all overplay one and downplay the other to some degree.  We have to learn to live with that.  But there are, I think, limits.  And that limit is now passed, in my opinion.  It is time for those who love truth AND gospel unity to show their disapproval of the Met Tab’s ongoing critical spirit by cancelling orders for Sword and Trowel and refusing to attend their Summer School, until these matters are put right.  But it won’t happen, for as Lloyd-Jones commented to TT Shields, ‘I’ve noticed that whenever dogs fight, a crowd gathers.’


Disclaimer: lest I be accused of hiding it, I admit to counting Jonathan Stephen and Andy Paterson as friends (I hope they don't mind) as well as faithful gospel ministers, and I am currently doing a course of study with WEST.  

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

He'd still 'rather have Jesus'

Bev Shea was 104 years old last Friday.  Converted aged 6, God has kept him for 98 years!