Friday, 27 April 2012

Two kingdoms, one king over both

Unless I'm very much mistaken, I had the pleasure of the fellowship of the author of this helpful blog post for a few months about a decade ago.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Weekly communion

I was interested to read the posts and readers' comments here: "How often should a church celebrate communion?"

I join with the commenters who, being part of churches which practice weekly communion, now find the whole conversation to be verging upon the bizarre. I don't think I'd use words, like Taylor, that it's a "badge of honour"; but it's something simply very natural for people who believe the gospel to do; and, I argue, unnatural not to do.

The purpose of a weekly believers' fellowship is to praise God's name, present our prayers to him and hear God's word preached and remember his Son's death. To do the last of those, Jesus specifically gave us the Lord's Supper - and concerning that one, we have rather more explicit instructions than the others.

How did we end up in a position where remembering the death of Jesus week by week becomes something that's up for debate?

Does anyone want to start debating whether we should pray in the church meetings this week?

Preach this week?

Sing hymns to God this week?

That would be quite a bizarre discussion, would it not?

One reader of my paper, a pastor, said that the important thing was not whether we keep the Lord's Supper or not, but that we make sure we focus on Jesus. That comment struck me as being self-contradictory. The Lord's Supper is the means that Jesus himself gave us to help us do that very thing.

If I were to say that it's of minor significance as to whether the car has an engine, but that the real matter is whether it gets us to the destination or not - is that not bizarre?

To quote a few readers' comments from the above post:
How often do we want to be trained in unity? How often do we want to proclaim the Lord’s death? And how often do we eat with our fleshly family, and friends, and the world, and why would we not want to eat with Jesus as much as possible to trump (or counter) those times?
It strikes me that neither Bancroft nor Stewart gives any arguments against doing it weekly. Bancroft gives no arguments at all, and Stewart argues that it’s bad to insist that it must be done weekly. But that’s not a reason not to do it weekly, just a reason not to make it legalistically required. Since Van Neste just thinks it’s a good idea to do it weekly (and not some absolute requirement such that we sin if we don’t), I don’t think the other two have argued against his position at all.
Amen. I argued the same in my paper.
Why is the burden of proof on those who want weekly communion? Why does the point need to be argued any more than does weekly preaching, or weekly congregational singing, etc?

Reasons to practice weekly communion:
    1. We commune with Christ in the Supper.
    2. We remember Christ’s death and resurrection in the Supper.
    3. Our faith is strengthened and our soul nourished in the Supper.

    Why would you not want to do this every Sunday?
Amen, amen, amen. My own paper on the subject contains the same arguments as Van Neste's in the link above, at greater length.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

"Sexual freedom" is sexual slavery

All-too-frequent newspaper headline: "'I slept with FORTY strangers in five years': Student from loving home reveals how she became an internet sex addict"

Humanistic freedom is the same as slavery. The 1960s sexual revolution allegedly liberated women... to what? Well, as an increasing number of newspaper stories report, it liberated them so that they could become cheap objects of gratification for lustful men, with those men no longer having to face any significant consequences. The old concepts of modesty, propriety and virtue (how quaint!) being broken down, the men can take their fill, exploit young girls day and night, and there's nothing to restrain them. After all, it's all consensual, so what's the problem? Ah, liberation - turns out to be the same as exploitation.

True sexual freedom is not the same as sexual anarchy; it is found in submitting to the Lordship of Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

All Lloyd-Jones recordings now available for free

All the audio recordings of on of the 20th century's most influential preachers are now available for free download:

About ten years ago, a dear old saint gave me several cases of MLJ. What a blessing - also most interesting to hear sermons preached that I'd previously read in the printed books.

Interesting creationism discussion

From the Voice of Russia, the Russian equivalent of the BBC World Service - never heard of them before!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

No compromise

Some good quotes gleaned from various sources and found in Dr. Gareth Crossley's chapter on Judges in his "Old Testament Survey" (Evangelical Press):

"Samson, when strong and brave, strangled a lion; but he could not strangle his own love. He burst the fetters of his foes, but not the cords of his own lusts. He burned up the crops of others, and lost the fruit of his own virtue when burning with the flame enkindled by a single woman." (Ambrose)

"There is a potential 'prodigal' in the heart of every believer. We find it hard to believe some of the things God teaches. We find it hard to obey some of the commandments he gives. We find it hard to walk in holiness and subdue self-interest and deny ourselves our sinful pleasures. We find it hard to pray as we ought, to read Scripture as we should, to attend worship as God directs. We find it hard to love our brethren as our Saviour requires. We find it hard to seek the lost, share the gospel, do good to all, to love our neighbour. In a hundred and one ways it is evident that our greatest enemy is within. Is it our 'self'. My greatest enemy is me! 'The heart os deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked' (Jeremiah 17:9)." (Crossley).

"If we wilfully spare a single Canaanite, or enter into a tacit agreement with the enemy, though we may perhaps not fail of heaven at last, we shall have stripes of sorrow on our journey thither: 'they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you'. Our prospects will be dim, our usefulness will be impaired, our light will be turned into darkness, and our songs into dirges of lamentation; while the remorseless, tyrannous lust humbles us again and again, sinks us lower than the dust, and reduces us to exquisite and abject misery; the just penalty of refusing to take up the cross and deny self, that we might follow Christ. Merciful Lord! Deliver me and thy whole Church from the humiliation and bitterness of being subject to the Canaanite!"

Money, missions and maturity

A Christian brother and father-figure in the faith forwarded me an article from a journal of missions in the West, written by a visiting Senior Pastor of an American church. He had done some research, interviewing selected African "leaders" about the way forward for missionary co-operation in the African scene.

I don't have a link to the article online. But here was my slightly-amended reply...

Interesting, thank you....

There seemed to me to be a rather significant internal contradiction in the overall message. Those interviewed did not want colonial-style missionaries. But they did want to increase the flows of money which are at the heart of maintaining colonial-style missions.

Those two things only reconcile if you want to have money without accountability. At the risk of over-simplifying; "you pay the piper - but let us call the tune". If we adopt the image of the Western church as the father, trying to raise up his children in the African church to maturity, then this seems to be the part where the teenager says "Dad - get me my own credit card, I'm an adult now. But it's my life - don't poke your nose in to what I do with it!" The root problem, if we follow that metaphor, has been all along in dad - once you reach the teenage years, it's a bit late to sort this problem out, and it's time for damage control.... it is a good thing that God is gracious and ultimately we can hope for more than that. But it's a hideous mess now.

Frankly I disagree with the basis of the paper as a whole. It works within a paradigm. It looks how to find solutions within that paradigm. I think the problem is actually the paradigm itself, and the solution is to replace it. I wondered if he realised the irony of the whole concept of the Western man trying to understand the African's concerns better by visiting/interviewing the elite, Westernised folk at the elite, Westernised institution...

God bless,

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Relaxed about life and death

Professor Sam Berry is a geneticist, and prominent opponent of the Biblical account of creation. There's quite a lot to object to on both Biblical and factual grounds to his interview with "War Cry" magazine here, but this really sticks out:
Personally I am agnostic as to when life begins. It could be a week or a month after the egg was fertilised. But there is nothing in Scripture that says that the newly formed egg is a human being in every sense of the term. I have, therefore, no moral objections to the use of stem cells from a very early foetus.
Did you follow that?
  • He's agnostic (not sure) as to when life begins.
  • Possibly it begins a week after an egg is fertilised...
  • ... Possibly it does not.
  • So, research on stem cells might be playing games with life made in the image of God, and hence a serious sin ...
  • ... or it might not.
  • But since he's not sure, he concludes that "therefore" he need have no moral objection.


Suppose that before Professor Berry on his desk was a big red button. It's not certain what that button actually does.

If he presses it, then millions of innocent people might instantly die. He's not sure. He considers it a possibility. On the other hand, possibly, if he presses it, nothing of anything significance might happen at all. He can't prove it either way.

What should Professor Berry then do?

According to the logic he applies above and in other parts of the interview in regard of the human foetus, if you are not sure, then there is "no moral objection". You can merrily hammer away at the button. Because apparently, if you're not really really sure that the button kills millions of innocents - well, then it's OK!

Professor Berry is demonstrably not a safe and godly guide on these issues, despite his massive learning.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Don't give up...

The traditional annual Devizes-to-Westminster canoe-race post....

I notice that 5-times Olympic gold-medal hero Steve Redgrave didn't make it to the end of the 125-mile Devizes to Westminster canoe race... Due to "tiredness".

He stopped at 87 miles. The 70-90 mile stage - the well-known (if you know the race at all!) make-or-break stage... and you never know what depths of darkness you'll find and what will happen until you get there.

Here's a few bits from the diary of memories I wrote after finishing the race Easter Saturday morning in 1998...
Hambledon & Hurley (65-68 miles)

This is the worst moment of my entire life.

Cookham (75 miles)

I soon realise how wrong I was. This is quite easily the worst moment of my entire life. I promise myself that there is no way I am going to go through this and not finish. We are still making good progress and are holding out physically.

Penton Hook (94 miles)

This is the worst moment of my entire life. I point this out to Mr. Newby. He reassuringly points out that the moment in five miles time is bound to be much worse.
Reading that all 4 Olympians gave up makes me feel quite big, though I realise I'm running off vapours from fuel which ran out years ago! This quote tickled me somewhat, as it brought back ancient memories of light-hearted banter with the rowing club during training sessions on the river: '"It's a funny sort of race. I'm used to quick blasts of 2,000 metres," he said.'

Amazing performance by Richard Hendron and James King to win the race the third consecutive year. Those people physically are from another planet. As of course is Redgrave; but taking up canoeing only this year as a 50-year old was pushing it even for people with as much physical conditioning as he's had. It's called "The Canoeist's Everest" for a reason!

And well done my old school, Kimbolton, for winning the junior team event, if indeed they have (finish should be about now, and they'll win unless someone falls in - which on the tidal stretch of the Thames is always possible). I trained with the last Kimbolton team to do that (though wasn't in the team itself until the next year). Aah, nostalgia.

I'd love to spend time on such things again, but I'm in a different race now and I can't enter ones like that without leaving this one. This one is longer, there's fewer people at the side cheering you on, and there are no mile-posts to measure how far you've gone and how far you're got until you reach the end. Easter time also brings tiredness when terms of teaching end and we slump back and look for signs of progress and find much less than we hoped for... but don't give up. There is an end, and it'll be infinitely more wonderful than we can conceive, however dark things get. It's 14 years since I arrived at Westminster, 22:51:58 after the first stroke at Devizes, and after all that time it still brings such a powerful wave of memories. If we can, as many do, go through such things for an earthly reward (I'm not sure where my medal is now...), what about for a heavenly one? Don't give up; you'll never regret carrying on. Can you imagine that on the last day we'll hear people say "I served Jesus too much"? He served us infinitely more, and keeping our eyes on him will keep us going until the end.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

So long, "Archbishop"

Having fisked the head of the government, its someone else's turn next...

Apparently, the "Archbishop of Canterbury" (I'm a non-conformist, so the quotes are compulsory) is stepping down.

Rowan Williams made me very sad, continually, during his time in this position.

We don't expect newspapers to quote Christians accurately. We don't expect them to quote much accurately - if you've ever had personal knowledge of stories that end up in the papers, then you'll surely know what I mean.

Dr. Williams is highly educated; a real scholar and gentleman and diplomat. However, I don't recall - ever - and I was looking - ever reading a report of Dr. Williams, in his various speeches and sermons, telling the world what it needs to hear. I never read a report of him saying any of the key facts by which the gospel of Christ challenges our fallen world:
  • That God is holy and has a law, and is rightly angry with us for our continual rebellion against it. That he has a clearly revealed will in "hot button" political issues of today, like homosexual practice, abortion, marriage and divorce, etc.
  • That Jesus of Nazareth, having risen bodily from the tomb, is thus proved to be the world's one true Lord: king of kings and president over presidents, to whom every knee must bow.
  • That all those outside of Christ are lost and ruined in trespass and sin. That only those who repent and believe can be saved.
  • That religion in itself is of no help and is actually a hindrance - that a living, personal knowledge of Christ is our true need. There is such a thing as personal conversion to Christ which results in a new nature and the receiving of the Holy Spirit.
  • That the atoning death of Jesus on the cross is the only true hope for any individual soul, or for the world.
  • That Jesus is subduing all nations to himself by his Word and Spirit and that one day he will return to judge the world. That everyone in the UK has a soul and will one day enter either eternal glory or eternal damnation.

No doubt being "Archbishop" is a complicated and difficult position. But that makes returning to the main things even more important, not less. It makes the need to be plain and clear greater, not smaller. Does Dr. Williams believe any or all of those things? I haven't done any deep study of his theology - but I never read any report of any of his utterances in which even one of the above things was said. Tragic.

I am not an Anglican, because I think Anglicanism as a system, systematically contradicts the Word of God. But whether we agree or not, all true Christians can all pray that whoever holds the role next will be of a better ilk, and that the nation might, in God's undeserved mercy, hear what it really needs to hear.

The supremacy of Christ

Our "Resurrection Sunday" sermon will, God-willing, be from Colossians 1:13-23 :
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (NIV)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Re-making Jesus

Yuk. Jesus re-made in the image of modern squishy progressive politics.
  • "We remember the ... living legacy of Christ". Perhaps that's what the PM does. That is regrettable. Orthodox Christians rejoice in the present reality that results from Jesus' rising again from the dead and presently reigning from God's right hand to which he later ascended. They do not have fellowship with his legacy, but with himself.

  • "The New Testament tells us so much about the character of Jesus; a man of incomparable compassion, generosity, grace, humility and love." It also tells us about his eternal nature as the everlasting God, the second person of the Trinity, which the PM, or his copy-writer or whoever, totally omitted to mention. Such a Jesus would be a huge challenge to our ways of life, rather than just a soft, undemanding teacher with a mere "legacy" to "remember".

  • "These are the values that Jesus embraced". Quick... someone... get me the puke bowl... "values that Jesus embraced"... barf! Excuse me a moment. OK, I'm back now. I thought that embracing values was what squishy secularists did. Jesus, as the Son of God sent from heaven, authoritatively preached and demonstrated the truths of God's glory, power, righteousness, justice, truth, love, holiness, grace, mercy and pardon for guilty sinners, and then opened the way back into God's presence by his dying on the cross and rising again. "Embracing values" (steady...) is something that trendy secularists do. Christians bow the knee in repentance and faith before the only Lord and Saviour of mankind.

  • "I believe these are values people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in, and admire." That's a nice platitude, of course. But what about the true message of the resurrection, that the Jesus whom wicked men crucified is also the one true Lord of the world and our final judge, to whom every knee must bow? The one who is king of kings and prime minister over prime ministers? I don't think the early Christians were persecuted for their faithful preaching of candy-floss values that "people of any faith, or no faith, can also share in, and admire", do you? The point of Jesus' resurrection, ascension and pouring out of the Spirit is that it makes it possible for the true 'values' to be actualised and not just admired from afar. He sends the power to change dead and corrupt hearts so that such things can actually be lived out in a community. Jesus-the-imaginary-squishy-secularist can preach all the values he likes. Unless we get a hold of Jesus-the-living-and-powerful-Son-of-God it's all for nothing.

  • "It is values like these that make our country what it is – a place which is tolerant, generous and caring." This is Jesus re-made in the image of modern lovers of pleasure and self-indulgence, who think that "tolerance" means saying "that's fine, enjoy yourself" to every form of depravity, debauchery and perversity, whilst calling those who speak against it "bigots", "homophobes", "prejudiced" and the like. Does the PM really believe this drivel or does he actually think that Jesus was his age's version of Peter Tatchell?

  • "In the book of Luke, we are told that Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – advice that when followed makes for a happier, and better society for everyone." It would have been better if the PM could have followed this advice in reference to Jesus himself.... is it more honouring to Jesus to re-make him in one's own image, or to tell the truth about him and his teachings? Are we doing Jesus a service by re-writing his teaching to fit our own preferences? Would the PM like anyone to treat his speeches in such a fashion, and so radically gut them of their content and thrust? Did Jesus just come to give us a happy time? Make us wealthy and happy in this life? What happened to the way of the cross? There's no cross at all in this "Easter Message"... this isn't Christianity, it's gospel-free modernist fluff.

One wonders what the point of such a statement is. Many of the UK government's policies are in direct contradiction of the revealed will of Jesus Christ (e.g. promotion of sexual perversity, the wide-scale slaughter of unborn innocent children, fiscal confiscation and redistribution of earned wealth far beyond the Biblical definition of basic necessity, the wide-scale promotion of envy (which they call, "campaigning for fairness"), a criminal justice system which ignores the basic demands of retribution and restoration to the victim, to name but a few). Does the PM, or his press office, believe that people are fooled by this statement? Is there some political end served by such an insult to actual Christians? Do they think Jesus himself is fooled? Or are they just fooled themselves and not even known what they say or what they affirm?

Sad and regrettable. Let those of us who are not confused about what Christianity is and what Jesus actually said and did make us sure that nobody comes away from our preaching not sure about the truth. And pray for our leaders that they might also receive more light.

Heaven is not my home

Sometimes misunderstandings and mistakes become so pervasive that we cease noticing them. Before the Reformation, Christendom took it simply for granted that the "Church" and the (corrupt) institution centred at Rome were basically the same thing, though the latter needed some reforming. The suggestion that this identification could be a completely mistaken idea sounded revolutionary - which is why it took a revolution to displace it.

Since the Enlightenment, the idea that the point of Christianity is to spend eternity in heaven has taken root so comprehensively that few realise how unbiblical it is. Our songs and sermons continually belt it out: we hope to get out of this creation and into the eternal state as soon as we can.

And yet, we do still remember and often preach the truth: that heaven is not the eternal state: we look for resurrection and the renewal of this earth. Our hope is not to go up and stay there: the Bible preaches that the New Jerusalem is to come down from heaven to earth. Jesus will come back and bring the saints with him. The righteous will inherit... the earth, as both Testaments teach (Psalm 37:4, Matthew 5:5). The point and climax of the Biblical story is that through heaven coming down to earth in the person of Heaven's Glory, Jesus Christ, that eventually the fullness of that glory must follow it. It comes now as the gospel is preached in the Spirit's power: it will arrive finally in the consummation of all things.

It is right to emphasise that during this age, we are strangers and pilgrims in the earth. We pitch our moving tent and must not look for foundations now. We await a heavenly city. But that does not mean a city which is in heaven and remains there; but one which is heavenly in its glory and will come down to the earth.

Yesterday I was reading to my children, and the text said that Jesus was coming to take us home. A few weeks ago, I heard the preacher saying that Jesus was coming to take the church. Those statements are false. The Son of Man, when he returns to the part of creation that was made to be man's sphere of dominion, will be bringing the church with him, not taking it away. When he returns, he will not be taking anyone anywhere: he will be staying. The earth does not belong to Satan or his servants; they will be banished: the righteous will remain.

There is a kind of "stranger and pilgrim" teaching which neglects and subverts the Biblical basis for that language. The Biblical model of the alien/foreigner/stranger/pilgrim is Abraham, in Genesis 12-25. Where was he a stranger and pilgrim? In the land that was promised to him to inherit. He toured it and lived in tents in it, believing and knowing that this was the land given, via his seed, to be his. There is a flavour of teaching that comes to us today and tells us to be "strangers and pilgrims", but by that it means that we are to behave as if the present creation and all of its institutions and structures had little significance for Christians. We just try to live as salt and light in them, to make them tolerable before the whole stinking lot is dumped in the eternal trash heap. Jesus is King, the kingdom is present in little pockets, but this creation is not the realm of his rule - it just has small outposts here and there, made up of people anticipating the real arrival of the kingdom. That way of thinking is wrong.

The real arrival of Jesus' kingdom was 2000 years ago. As he told his disciples quite plainly, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power" (Mark 9:1). Soon afterwards, he died, rose and ascended to God's right hand to receive all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18-21), and commissioned his disciples to make known that glory throughout all nations on earth (heaven being already pure and perfect, Matthew 6:10). When Jesus told his followers that within one generation they would see his arrival on the clouds in power and glory (Matthew 24:30, 34), every Jewish ear knew immediately that he was directly quoting Daniel chapter 7. They were not words about the end of the universe, but about the establishing of the "fifth kingdom", which Daniel 7 said would be in the days of the Roman Empire - not many thousands of years later.

Since the Enlightenment many Christians have sadly retreated from a robust doctrine of creation. They preach as if our goal was to get out of the material world, out of the body, and into the spiritual, float realm of heaven. The first verse and chapter of the Bible refutes that way of thinking: in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth: and gave the earth to man to have dominion over. The Son of Man came as the "last Adam" (1 Cor 15:45) to complete what Adam failed to accomplish; and his method of accomplishing it is through his death, resurrection, ascension, pouring out of the Spirit and sending out of his disciples in his name until the end of the age. Our great hope is the final resurrection when he comes back in power and glory; not to remove us from this creation, but to glorify it as was his original purpose.

We are not "strangers and pilgrims" in the sense of living lightly in relationship to this present creation, but in the sense of living lightly in relationship to this present age. There is a huge difference. Like Abraham, we are not strangers in a land that has nothing to do with us, but in the one we know we will inherit. We work and labour for Christ in the power of his Spirit today because we both anticipate what he will do in future at the completion of all things and we expect to see his kingdom take the progressive steps towards all that must be done before that completion. Our lives do not only reflect heaven as an anticipation of the future-final-coming-down, but in order to bring more of it down now. We are not just trying to get along and stop the stinking corruption of this world until he whisks us away. The earth today belongs to king Jesus, and we call all to submit to him.

The post-Enlightenment compromise on this robust doctrine of creation has been a disaster for the Christian church, and it is one of our most urgent needs today to recover the Biblical position. We are not "strangers and pilgrims" who will one day return to another country somewhere else, but also heirs who are certain to inherit. Getting that distinction right will make a massive difference to the way we worship, live, raise our children, evangelise our communities and confront secularist idols as we proclaim the Lordship of Christ in all things.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A simple chart to introduce the historical writings

Perhaps someone somewhere will get some use out of this... I've added a simple chart to my website's miscellaneous resources page. Its purpose is to introduce the historical setting for the "historical writings" (as classified in the English Bible - Joshua through to Esther) to my Bible college students.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Grace and peace

Stephen Dancer helpfully reprinted a Warfield quote the other week...

In the context of the realisation of the truth of that quote, there's so much comfort in that familiar yet awesome opening to the apostle Paul's letters:
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Commissioned with authority by the eternal triune God, Paul authoritatively sends greetings - but not mere platitudes. Though we are so wretched, yet the heavenly Father and his Son who bled and died for wretches want us to receive sincere affirmations of their favour towards us, and of the reality of their reconciliation with us. The one who is Lord over all sends us his heart-felt greetings; the one who created Heaven and Earth wants us to know that, our spiritual barrenness and poverty not-withstanding, he loves us and cares for now and forever. Even when we unpack the greetings of a letter, words must very soon fail.