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Showing posts from 2016

Future Church of England: False Teachers

There's been a bit of discussion recently around the question of false teachers, particularly with relationship to the debate on same-sex relationships.

In a couple of different venues in church recently we've been looking at Jude and 1 John, which, if you know anything about these letters, are fairly strong on this question. Jude writes about the "condemnation" of false teachers who have slipped in (Jude 4) and John writes of the "antichrists" (1 John 2:18). It's interesting that in both contexts the issue is both doctrine and behaviour and of course in Jude the same-sex sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah is given as an example (Jude 7).

What becomes clear in both contexts is that (a) the false teachers are (or were) inside the church and (b) they are not really Christians (Jude 4, 19; 1 John 2:19). Some of the internet discussion has been eye-opening because people don't want to pronounce everyone who makes a mistake as a false-teacher. There…

A Beginner's Guide to Church Revitalization: What Makes a Church Need Revitalizing (Part IV)?

Again it's a while since I wrote on this, but it is something I'm constantly thinking about. Having considered problems with doctrineholiness and mission and evangelism that can lead to a church needing to be revitalized, I want to move on to prayer. Lack of prayer, it seems to me, indicates both a lack of a vibrant relationship with God in the church and it suggests that either people have given up, or are depending upon themselves for the work of the church.

Prayer

I think there are probably two issues with prayer in and for the church. The first is the one that stings all of us - are we actually doing it? The second is, I think a little more complex, but what is the content of our prayers?

So are we actually praying? I guess if you were putting a basic discipleship course together, prayer would be one of the foundation blocks. We might look to Jesus who both committed himself to prayer (e.g. Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:35; John 17) and taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9-13;…

Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - The Bible and Homosexuality (Part 5)

What does the Bible say about homosexual or same-sex relationships? That's the key question to answer given the preceding blogs in this series (see the end of the blog), which have argued that the Bible is where God has spoken to us and thus expressed his right authority over us. In short, the Bible speaks positively of sexual relationships only within the context of heterosexual marriage and negatively of all other sexual relationships, including homosexual relationships.

In this blog I'll focus on the positive.
1. The Bible is Positive About Sex
Let's be honest, Christianity has a negative image with regards to sex. Perhaps because of the way society has changed in the last 50-100 years, it seems that Christians are usually on the back foot, opposing change and apparently opposing sex. It doesn't help that the Roman Catholic Church has continued to emphasise celibacy and virginity as more spiritual states.
However, Biblical Christianity, although recognising the bound…

What should Christians learn from Brexit (and Trump's victory)?

Let me get the qualifications for what I'm not going to write in this post early. I'm not going to try and argue a position as a Christian on Brexit (or Donald Trump). Lots of people have done that already. For a post on the leadership issues, I would suggest reading Mike Ovey. Nor am I really going to comment on Donald Trump, evangelicals in the US and that sort of thing except rather tangentially. That's largely because I'm British, I've only been to the US a couple of times and I would be an idiot to think I could give much informed comment.

What I'm interested in is trying to learn some lessons from what has happened, particularly about how our culture seems to be working and how that affects Christians. One reason I've been planning to comment for a while is that I find myself in an unusual place - a resolutely middle class, educated boy (admittedly comprehensively educated and northern, but still...), living and ministering in a strongly Brexit (60% f…

Article VIII – The Three Creeds

Introduction

Are you a Bible-believing Christian?  That's what we've been looking at in the last two post on the 39 Articles of Religion which are the statement of faith of the Church of England.  The answer, if you are true Anglican, is yes.  Yes I believe the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament.  Yes, the Bible is my authority above everything else, because it is how God has chosen to speak to me.

So, you're a Bible-believing Christian then, but what do you actually believe? Well you might reply, "the Bible." But what's that about then? How do we answer that?  Or think of it another way. Suppose you become a Christian as an adult and you get baptised or confirmed.  How do you express what you believe?  You can't start reciting the Bible from Genesis 1:1 and go all the way to Revelation 22:21.

Of course, what we naturally do is come up with appropriate summaries of our faith.  We get hints of that very early don't we. So in Matthew 28:19 in the fa…

Article VII: Of the Old Testament

Introduction

I think we need to be honest as Christians: We struggle with the Old Testament don't we?


It's hard to read: all those lists of unpronounceable people and tribes.It seems so distant: all those laws about sacrifices and what food you can eat. It seems so harsh: there's lots of battles and killing and God seems to be behind some of it.It's often really hard to understand: what exactly am I to do with Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs?It's often been criticised as unreliable: did creation happen like that, what about the parting of the Red Sea and so on?

Now we're not going to answer all those questions this in this blog – although I think they are all answerable.  I wanted to list those struggles to be honest about why we often avoid the Old Testament, apart from a few purple patches and popular stories.  Even Christians who read their Bibles quite avidly are often much happier in the New Testament than the Old.  Many preachers would much rather have pass…

Remembering

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And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19 NIV)

I'm writing this the day after we were watching the moving events remembering the Aberfan disaster. In November we will remember a failed attempt to blow up Parliament and those who have died and been injured in war. Over the last few years, we've especially remembered the events of World War I, as it is now 100 years ago. As human beings we remember. We re
member the tragedies and the triumphs, the sadnesses and the joys.

In the Bible we find that God has created and commanded us to remember. The Jewish people celebrated the Passover, remembering the death of the sacrificial Passover lamb and God's great rescue from Egypt (Exodus 12:43-51). The Christian celebrates the Lord's Supper. Jesus commanded us to “do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19 NIV). Again, this is remembering the act of God, to rescue …

Only One Way

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Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)

A couple of weeks ago, as I was listening to the chanting of the prayers from the local mosque as they celebrated Eid al-Adha, I was reminded again that the areas in which we meet together, are areas where many people don't trust Jesus as the way to God. Of course, that was true in the majority white British area where I used to live in Blackburn. I suspect the majority of people there didn't think much, if at all, about God.

That brings us to one of the most famous verses in the Bible. Jesus has told the disciples he is about to leave and prepare a place for them in his Father's house (heaven), but they're scared that they won't find the way there. Jesus announces, straightforwardly, that he is the way. If you want to go to the Father and his house then Jesus is the way. In fact he's the only way – no-one can know God the Father without …

The Uncomfortable Truth of Sin

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For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 NIV)

In a recent Sunday sermon I was talking briefly about sin and realised what an alien concept the idea of sin is in 21st Century Britain. Even back in the 1970s the American psychiatrist Karl Menninger was able to write a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? I suspect we are now much further down the path of the side-lining of sin.

The Bible, however, is straight-forward on the subject as we see in this one short sentence from Paul in Romans 3. Up to this point in Romans, Paul has concluded that both Gentiles (non-Jews) and Jews have sinned. Sin in these chapters is seen particularly as breaking the law of God whether, like the Jew, you knew the law because you had the Old Testament (Romans 2:27), or whether, like the Gentile, that law is innately known (Romans 2:14-15). Now if to talk of sin is alien, I suspect to talk of the law of God is even more alien. But the truth is that as the Creator and Ruler of the w…

Reading Challenge Book Reviews Part 2

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I'm using Goodreads to do something of a reading challenge this year (I want to try and read 50 books in a year but it's not looking likely). So for the second time I'm posting some mini-reviews of what I've been reading. This time we have a Daniel theme. See if there's something for you.

1. Seeing Things God's Way by Bryson Smith
This is an excellent little study book for individuals or groups on the book of Daniel.

Each study is entitled with one word, e.g. Courage, Humility and Hope. That word is the focus of that study, which is in turn the focus of the section of Daniel. The intention is that these are relatively simple studies and, given the the complexity of some of Daniel, this is admirably achieved. The study is always rooted in the text, is usually helpful in the linking the text to life through Jesus.

There are helpful notes for leaders (and readers) at the back, which give a little more background and detail and there is a helpful summary of the compli…

Destroying God’s Temple

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV)

The Church of England is often described in positive terms as a “broad church,” meaning that people with different views can find a home within the same denomination. In some ways this is true. The Church of England has not formally pronounced on every doctrinal issue and required its members to subscribe to its view. However, the church does have a confession of faith in the Thirty Nine Articles, which you’ve been hearing about if you’ve been in our morning services. These articles are affirmed by the clergy and referred to in canon law as the basis of our belief under Scripture.  We may be a broad church, but only within these parameters.

This sort of breadth is a good thing. Too often Christians have divided from each…

Article VI: The Holy Scriptures

Article VI basically addresses what you take as your authority.  In other words, what reveals God to you. What do you listen to, to know what God says?

1. Take the Bible as Your Authority

The article is fairly clear that Holy Scripture – or the Bible – is our authority.

HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

This is the language of 2 Timothy.  So in 2 Timothy 3:15 the Scriptures – actually here Paul is referring particularly to the OT, but by extension this refers to all the Bible – the Scriptures have the knowledge, the information, to make us wise for salvation.  And then in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul makes clear that Scripture is sufficient for the Christian life.  Scripture contains everything we need to know to become a Christian and everything need to know to …

A Beginner's Guide to Church Revitalization: What Makes a Church Need Revitalizing (Part III)

Having considered problems with doctrine and holiness that can lead to a church needing to be revitalized, I want to move on to mission and evangelism. In short, the church that has given up on making disciples (Matt. 28:19) has essentially given up on it's reason to exist.

Mission and Evangelism
Now I'm aware of that there's a big discussion around the mission of the church, the missio Dei and so forth these days. So I might as well nail my colours to the mast and say that it seems to me Jesus gives a mission to disciples to be disciple-makers in Matthew 28 and that this is to be enacted as his disciples are his witnesses to the world (Acts 1:8). This is what you see happening in Acts and being worked out in the letters. That this can be nuanced in all kinds of ways is certainly true, but if we lose our commitment to seeking to persuade people of the truth of the message of Jesus Christ and then teaching them to live that out, then we have truly lost the plot as a church.

Letting Jesus Down

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32 NIV)

The US presidential candidate Donald Trump has recently been in the news talking about his faith. As part of that, he revealed that he doesn't really ask for forgiveness. Now I don't know much about Donald Trump, but I do know we all need forgiveness. You don't have to be a Christian for long before you realise that you regularly let your Lord and Saviour down.

Perhaps Donald Trump's attitude is a little similar to that of the apostle Simon Peter. When Jesus tells Simon Peter that he has prayed for him, because Satan is going to attack and cause him to let Jesus down, Simon Peter is bullish. He says:

"Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33 NIV)

We've all been there. We're confident in ourselves and confident that w…

Salvation to the Ends of the Earth

My apologies. I've got a little behind on the blog recently, so I'll be doing some catching up! Here's something I wrote for the church magazine.

[The Lord] says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6 NIV)

As Christians, we have the most incredible and the most important news to share with the whole world. In Isaiah the Lord describes this news as salvation and it is not just for Jews, but for non-Jews (Gentiles) all over the earth.

In the NT we find that it is Jesus who fulfils this as “the source of our eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9), for he is the one who died for our sins to save us from guilt, death and judgement. Paul takes up the verse from Isaiah to show how Jesus commanded him to take this message of salvation all over the world.

Then Paul and Barnabas ans…

Book Review: God's Good Design by Claire Smith

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In God's Good Design, Smith has provided a really helpful book addressing each of the main Bible passages that relate to the roles of men and women in the church and men and women in the family.

Starting with a brief scene-setting chapter addressing the impact of feminism, the main substance of the book is in two parts. In the first (Within the Church) Smith addresses 1 Timothy 2, and 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14. In doing so she develops a thoroughly complementarian position from careful exegesis of the text and engages with the majority of the egalitarian views.

In the second (Within the Home) Smith addresses Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31, with a chapter addressing questions of abuse. Again Smith develops a standard complementarian view working from the texts.

I have to say I found Smith's exegesis deeply persuasive at most points and I felt she dealt thoroughly with the common objections of egalitarians. Her argument is strong on the issues such a…

Book Review: Woman and the Bible

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In this book Evans attempts to summarise the teaching of the Bible about women, coming down on what would be described as an egalitarian or evangelical feminist reading. She works through Old and New Testaments and addresses pretty much all the key passages and issues with a particular focus on women in worship and in the home (church leadership and marriage).

Although I don't agree with her conclusions, Evans is a good scholar to be in dialogue with because she is biblical, careful and thoughtful. Her work is dated to some degree (the book was first published in 1983) and this is both a benefit and a weakness. The benefit is that Evans works out of a fairly standard evangelical hermeneutic - she works hard to understand what the passages say and why and doesn't resort to importing the historical context as many more recent authors do. However, the weakness is that she rests heavily on meanings of "submit" and "head" that are generally thought to be untenabl…

Salvation to the Ends of the Earth

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This months magazine article. We're keen to keep the Thy Kingdom Come momentum.

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[The Lord] says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6 NIV)

As Christians, we have the most incredible and the most important news to share with the whole world. In Isaiah the Lord describes this news as salvation and it is not just for Jews, but for non-Jews (Gentiles) all over the earth.

In the NT we find that it is Jesus who fulfils this as “the source of our eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9), for he is the one who died for our sins to save us from guilt, death and judgement. Paul takes up the verse from Isaiah to show how Jesus commanded him to take this message of salvation all over the world.

Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you firs…