Showing posts from 2017

Justification by Faith Alone

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:28 NIV)On 31st October 1517 a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a document of 95 theses or short theological statements, to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in Germany. This act was the start of what became called the Reformation, when the good news of Jesus, which had been buried in the medieval Roman Catholic church, was rediscovered leading to the formation of the protestant or reformed churches (including the Church of England). This year we celebrate 500 years since that critical event.Perhaps the must important of Luther’s theological rediscoveries was the truth of justification by faith alone, which we see expressed very clearly in Paul’s letter to the Roman churches. For Luther this was “the article with and by which the church stands, without which it falls”So what is it and why does it matter so much?To understand justification you need to imagine yourself as a defe…

Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - Same-Sex Attracted Christians and the Church (Part 11)

In the last blog in this series, I looked at the question of how a church should pastorally respond to same-sex attracted non-Christians. This time I want to consider how the church should respond to same-sex attracted Christians.We are a Church of Saved SinnersFirst, it’s important to say that every local church is a church of saved sinners. In the Bible, the major focus of the “church” is not the building, or the denomination, or the institution. The common meaning of the Greek word translated as church (ekklesia) is “assembly,” i.e. the people of God assembled together. The people in this case are, of course, those who have repented and believed in the good news of Jesus (Mark 1:15). So, the church is the assembly of saved sinners.It is not just that we were sinners and now we’re perfect - each time we meet should make that clear, however much we try to put our Sunday best on! No, the Bible is clear that we live with an ongoing conflict with sin (Galatians 5:17). So the church is m…

Standing Fast in Hard Times

The magazine article for September:With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. (1 Peter 5:12 NIV)It was a tough time for the church. The society around didn’t know anything much about Jesus, “living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and destestable idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3) and they were increasingly antagonistic towards Christians - even when they were only doing good things. It could have been worse (in time it would be), but there were insults, mockery and unjust punishments. To be a Christian was to be be despised rather than respected. That was how it was in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) when the apostle Peter wrote to them.Perhaps that sounds a little familiar to now. Once we might have thought we lived in a Christian country, but things seems a little more like 1 Peter 4:3 in the UK now and bit-by-bit we seem to be seeing Christia…

Building on the Rock

My August magazine article, which also briefly reflects my concern with some of what was said around General Synod about Jesus the Word and the word of God the Bible.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 NIV) The artist Michaelangelo said that:
“There is no greater harm than that of time wasted.” If that’s true, then a lifetime that has been wasted is a terrible thing. It should make us fear getting to the end of our lives and looking back on a wreck of wasted time and opportunity. So how can we make sure that our lives are not wasted?

Jesus tells us a short story about wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). It’s perhaps one of his most famous and one that children have often heard in school or in Sunday School. It’s so simple. A wise man builds a solid house by choosing a solid foundation. When the storms come, it stands up to them. The foolish man builds a weak house, on …

Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - Same-Sex Attracted Non-Christians and the Church (Part 10)

A key question in this discussion is: how should the church love those who experience same-sex attraction? In the last blog, I began to look at some of the implications for the church of the Biblical view of same-sex relationships that I have outlined. In that blog I focused on the impact of the pressure of the change in society and the conflict within the church that has caused. In that conflict, the tendency seems to be to paint those who take a biblical line as harsh, unloving and homophobic. This is sad, because nothing could be further from the truth.

In thinking about how a church can be faithful to what God has said on sexuality and show love and compassion to those who experience same-sex attraction (which is also what God says!), it can help to think of people in different situations. Inevitably this will involve some generalization, but hopefully it can still be helpful. In this blog, I want to reflect on how Christians and the church should respond to non-Christians who exp…

Article IX: Of Original or Birth Sin (Part 1)

Introduction Whatever you believe, you have to be able to explain the existence of evil or wrong in the world don't you? We all have a sort of inbuilt antenna or conscience that reacts when we see something we feel is morally wrong. It picks up those well publicized evils: Nazi Germany, the horrors of the moors murders, the vileness of some of the sex abuse cases at the moment and so on.

But it also works at a more personal level.  Our consciences prick us when we know we've done something wrong: the lie we tell, the gossip we share, the unkind thought we have. We know that evil exists within each one of us. It's something that seems to come naturally.

As a parent, I don't spend my time teaching my children to be naughty.  That came naturally enough. No, I have to spend time teaching them to be good.  You know in yourself that even when you're being “good” that behind that is a whole bunch of mixed motives.  I'm good when people are watching, because I want the…

Archbishops and False Teachers

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. (2 John 1:9-11 NIV) So the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have invited the Bishop of Edinburgh to be a special guest next week at General Synod, which has, not surprisingly, upset many orthodox believers as it is this Bishop who proposed the motion in the Scottish Episcopal Church to change the marriage canons to allow same-sex marriages.

As a Church of England minister, one of the most difficult aspects of the Church of England is to work out how to deal with the false teachers (there are really quite a lot of them, after all!). It seems to me that John helps us out in fairly clear terms in his second letter. The false teaching in question is related to the incarnatio…

The Risen Christ - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (Part 3)

In part 1 of this mini-series on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 I emphasized the need to hold onto the apostolic gospel. In part 2 we saw how Paul reviews that gospel. In this final part (somewhat belated part), we look at how encourages us to trust the gospel and to trust him, the messenger of the gospel.
Trust the Gospel (vv.5-8) The gospel summarized in 1 Cor. 15:3-5 is the gospel Paul preached. He wants these Corinthian believers to know it, but he also wants them to trust it. So he lists all the people who saw the risen Jesus, ending with himself.

It’s an impressive list of multiple appearances, to multitudes of people, many of whom are still alive to ask (1 Cor. 15:5-8)

We have a list of appearances, some to individuals - Peter, Jesus’ brother James, Paul; some to groups - the twelve, the apostles and one to a large crowd of more than five hundred.

I think the point is simple. Imagine the court case. In the dock there’s a defendant accused of a set of related crimes and on multiple occa…

Church History, Prediction and Strategy

Elections and History So apparently the election we just had in the UK was going to be like the early 80s when the left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot took on Margaret Thatcher and was duly trounced - do you remember reading that in the papers a few weeks ago? The relevant piece of history told you all you needed to know. Corbyn, who was, if anything more left wing and more generally unpopular didn’t stand a chance and Theresa May would roll him and the Labour party over.

If you didn’t notice, things didn’t quite work out like that! But it’s a powerful illustration of the dangers of using history and applying it to the present day.
Evangelicals and History Increasingly however, I see evangelicals who are (rightly in many ways) excited by church history at least possibly falling into the same trap.
For example, the state of the church is paralleled with the time before Whitefield and Wesley. There are some shocking statistics apparently about attendance at communion at St Paul’s on Ea…

Facing Tragedy and Terror

My magazine article for July.


He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev 21:4 NIV)

The UK has had a hard month. Terrorist attacks with many killed and then an horrific fire destroying a tower block with many lost. One of the most natural and common responses has been to wonder how we can live in such a broken world, with such tragedy and terror in it. The singer Katy Perry captured this after the Manchester bombing when she wrote:

'Praying for everyone at @arianagrande's show... Broken hearted for the families tonight. Broken hearted for Ari. Broken hearted for the state of this world.'
We must pray for those who have lost loved ones, for the emergency and security services and for our leaders. We must pray for our broken world.

If we’re Christians, we’ve always known it’s broken, because that’s what sin did to the world. Our experience in the UK in the last …

Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - Same-Sex Relationships and the Church (Part 9)

In the final few blogs in this series, I want to address briefly some of the church and pastoral implications of God’s view of same-sex relationships. Books have been written on these subjects, so this will only be an overview, but I hope useful all the same.
So far we have seen that God reveals his will to us in his word the Bible. If we’re Christians we accept that God is always right and always in charge, so we submit to him, which means submitting to the teaching of the Bible (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). We have then surveyed the teaching of the Old and New Testaments to see a consistent picture that God defines same-sex relationships as sinful and thus (like other sin) persisting in sin without repentance will lead to exclusion from the kingdom of God, i.e. someone who does not repent cannot claim to be a Christian or have the hope of eternal life (Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8).
In this blog, I want to address briefly how this view brings us into conflict with our soci…

The Risen Christ - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (Part 2)

In part 1 of this mini-series on the resurrection I reflected on the need to hold on to the Easter faith, the gospel that Paul preached, in the light of false teaching from 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. In vv.3-5 Paul goes on to summarise that gospel.

Know the Gospel (vv.3-5) We are to know Paul's  gospel so we can hold firmly to it. The brief summary is in vv.3-5

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV) It's important to note that these are the things of first importance, i.e. the things you can't reject and still say you are a Christian believer.

1. Christ died for our sins. Christ's death does have many facets and applications in Scripture. For example, it's described as a victory and as an example for us to fol…

The Risen Christ - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (Part 1)

At the start of Easter week the BBC released the results of a poll on people's beliefs in the resurrection. The headline read:

Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians
Note what that's saying. It's not that a quarter of the population of the UK don't believe - that wouldn't surprise us at all and from the figures it seemed to be that actually half the population don't believe. What it's saying is that a quarter of people who identify as Christians, don't believe.

That would probably shock us, especially if it translated into a quarter of people in our church. 1 in 4 of us! It should shock us, as we'll see, and it should get us to question people's definition of what a Christian is, if they think they are a Christian but don't believe the resurrection.

But it's not a new problem. Paul faced a similar issue with the Corinthian church as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:12-13.

11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so …

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

I've considered lots of spiritual reasons for a church to need revitalisation. In considering lack of people this time, we're coming to some more practical ones. The spiritual and the practical are likely to be connected of course. For example, we can't be surprised if bad doctrine leads to a collapsing attendance at a church, nor an insufficient commitment to prayer or evangelism.

There are some increasingly shocking statistics about churches in the UK. The general decline in church attendance and membership of course becomes specific in local churches. For example, in the Diocese of Manchester, around a third of the churches have less than 35 people attending.

So we now have many churches that struggle to keep going because they are too small. Sometimes this is financial (which we'll consider next time) - there are not enough people to pay the bills. But this need not be the case. Sometimes churches are financially quite secure, either for historic reasons, or because…

Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - The Bible and Homosexuality (Part 8)

Having covered the Old Testament passages that refer to same-sex sexual relationships in the last blog in this series, this time I want to turn to the New Testament. We could consider a number of passages which refer to "sexual immorality" (the Greek porneia and related words). Given the Old Testament background and the culture of the time, these almost certainly often include reference to homosexual sex (see for example Mark 7:21, Ephesians 5:3 and Revelation 22:15). However, for brevity we will consider those passages that refer specifically to homosexual sex. We have already briefly considered Jude 7 in light of Genesis 19, so there are three more passages to consider.

Romans 1:26-27

The second half of Romans describes how God's wrath against humanity's sin is expressed as he gives them up to ever-increasing sin. Vv.26-27 are given as a particularly clear example of this.

The verse describes as shameful and unnatural the homosexual acts of both men and women. Effor…

Future Church of England: Philip North and Non-Conservative Horror

I wrote briefly about the response of conservative evangelicals to the debacle with Philip North stepping back from being Bishop of Sheffield. However, I have seen another response which I find intriguing if a little frustrating.

It's the response the non-conservative evangelical who is horrified at how North has been treated. They are shocked that the 5 guiding principles have not been abided by. They are appalled to see that conservatives don't actually flourish in the church.

I wonder if you can guess why I find that a little frustrating. When they were involved in pushing through the legislation and the principles with respect to women bishops, I wonder what they thought would happen.

Let me make a few of observations to those non-conservative evangelicals who are now expressing such horror.

1. You broke the promise of 2 integrities. Well just as that promise was broken, it turns out this one can be.

2. You created an incoherent and impossible situation. The 5 guiding principle…

Future Church of England: Philip North and Conservative Evangelical Horror

Well here we are again. Philip North has been put forward as the new bishop of Sheffield and forced to stand down. Conservatives of all stripes, including Conservative Evangelicals, have taken to social media to express their horror. In particular, there is horror that the settlement over women's bishops and the "5 guiding principles" have not been respected.

It seems to me we are naive if we're surprised, even if we are angry. From the process that forced women's bishops on us and those five guiding principles, it was clear that our "flourishing" was a sop that had already been undermined. The five guiding principles were always a dog's dinner. When you have to preface something with "they need to be read one with the other and held together in tension, rather than being applied selectively," you know that they are incoherent, which indeed they are.

Despite valiant attempts by some conservative evangelicals with respect to the principles…

Ministry Opportunities in Rochdale