Saturday, 30 March 2013

Put it in the bank of heaven

Don't put your trust in the benevolence of the state. Put it in Christ. One day all that is on the earth will be gone; but Christ will remain, and the new creation will be enjoyed by all his people forever.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Discipleship and mission

I just read this line "Discipleship can easily be forgotten when churches focus on mission."

That sentence makes my head hurt. According to the Great Commission, mission = making disciples. If you've even begun to think of "mission" and "discipleship" as two separate activities, then it's time to back-track.

There is only one valid mission; it's to teach the nations obedience to Jesus. To do what Adam failed to do: fill the earth with God's glory through an obedient human race. Whatever stage those you concentrate upon (whether as a pastor amongst an established flock, or pioneer evangelist in an unreached area, or whether serving God in various ministries intertwined with a secular calling), there's only one thing you're doing: enabling people by word and prayer to follow Christ. Mission and discipleship are one. Any other approach is reducing the Christian life to a list of activities - bit of discipleship here, bit of mission there. But God's creation and his redemption thereof are not meant to be atomised in that fashion. If you forget discipleship when you focus on mission, then you've forgotten the big picture of what the Christ-given task is for the human race.

More cell-phones than toilets?

A UN study shows that more people have mobile phones than toilets.

This is interesting, but having lived amongst the kind of folk the UN is thinking about, and as someone with some statistical training at tertiary level, I think that the mere observation itself is of quite limited value.

The UN's web-page itself does not explain how they counted someone as having a cell-phone; it only says: "Of the world’s seven billion people, six billion have mobile phones." I find it hard to believe that only one in seven human beings lacks a cell-phone. According to the UN's own statistics (, twice as many human beings as that are not yet 15 years old. The one billion people without cell phones appears to equal the world's population of under-9 year-olds.

So perhaps the statistic means 'people with access to a mobile phone within their immediate family', or something like that. If it only means "mobile phones in existence" then that is very problematic. How many do you have?

Further research shows the same "six billion" figure from the UN in this article - This states that the six billion is registered SIM cards. That includes people with two SIM cards - which is very common indeed outside of the West (dual-SIM phones are the biggest sellers). In Kenya many people had three (I did). Then there's SIM cards in tablets and wireless Internet dongles - and such dongles are again often the most common way of accessing the Internet outside the West (though tablets appear to be generally a Western phenomena so far).

So, from what we can see, this figure appears to have little to do with what it is presented as being - the number of people who have cell phones.

This leaves me wondering how the 2.5 billion people without latrines were counted and what that figure actually corresponds to.

I've learnt by experience that many people without latrines don't have them because they didn't want them. Even people with mobile phones and without latrines. The UN article says that those without were "mostly in rural areas". Those in such areas are also those who can most easily build them - because they have space. In the town, in slums, you only have what your landlord provides - which might be one latrine to 50 people. (Were all 50 of those counted as having access?). But where there's land, you can build as many as you like, and put them out of sight.

Yet, from our experience, many people haven't. Latrines in many remote areas have arrived only when outsiders have arrived and explained their benefits. And experience shows that often people in these areas are much more interested in the latest phone than in improving their sanitation. Ignorance of how disease works is part of this. What can't be seen immediately at work is more difficult to believe in, and hard to explain those without education of if it's going to involve them doing some work. The immediate benefits of phones are clear. Of changing a thousand-year-old toilet habit? Not so much. Another factor is the complex web of human emotions to do with pride, envy and contentment - comparison with neighbours, being looked down upon by other groups, etc. What goes on in there is hard to entangle.

So - concerning the meaning of this statistics, I have many questions and few answers. I'm glad that the UN's article on the subject recognised some of the complexities here - these problems are usually community-dynamic problems, not funding problems.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

To bind up the broken-hearted

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; - Isaiah 61:1
The Christian blogosphere, and the general Western obsession with "getting it right" (which is much to be preferred to an obsession with getting it wrong, of course!) might give you the impression that being a Christian, and being successful, are the same thing.

Christianity is about lining up your doctrines, dealing with every situation according to the gospel and... great! All is well.

It's there too in Kenyan Christianity - tick all the boxes, and you'll succeed; where "success" is understood in immediate, earthly terms.

But the real Jesus was sent to bind up the broken-hearted. Why are they broken-hearted? Because sin brings ruin. It must do; that is its nature. Sin is an assault on God's good order. Because of sin God's creation has been left in ruins. Peoples' lives have been left in ruins. There is coming a time when "he will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 21:4). But that time has not yet arrived. Until it does, there will be times when the tears will flow and the hearts will break. Doctrines and beliefs may still be held; but the real-world tragedies remain. It is not Christian to pretend that broken hearts don't exist. It is Christian to take immense comfort in the Saviour who binds up the broken hearts.

Where, then, is your comfort? It can't be that the world is already perfect. Even in this post-resurrection age, hearts must and will break. Our comfort is that the Lord Jesus himself has been personally sent to bind up those broken hearts. The Father loves us, and commissioned his Son to come and have his own heart and soul and body broken, that ours might be healed.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The secular deity rises

One recurring theme on this blog in recent years has been the progress of the all-powerful secular state. Government as God. The gradual take-over of the familial and ecclesiastical realms by the state. Instead of three God-appointed authorities (government, church, family, each in their own sphere, possessing inalienable rights that the other has no rights to usurp), only one.

Many Christian bloggers find it very inconvenient to join these dots up. Isn't it only border-line crazies who fear Big Brother?

One sub-theme within this that I've highlighted has been the question of the eighth commandment. God cannot breach the eighth commandment. Since everything belongs to him, he is incapable of stealing anything; he can demand any of it, at any time.

Government, however, does not possess such rights. It has a lawful right to impose taxation for limited and defined ends, but not an unlimited one. The earth and its riches do not belong to Caesar. Governments can, do, and are, involved in stealing.

That distinction, however, collapses in consistently secular societies. When God is abolished to the 'private' (read: irrelevant, functionally non-existent) realm, and government is God, then private wealth must inevitably be progressively abolished. In theory, the state then becomes the owner of everything. Citizens only possess wealth by temporary, benevolent grant. At any time, it can be reclaimed and redistributed at will by the state. That's the theory that government economics have progressively taken in the modern West. And theory, as it always done, has progressively turned into practice.

Is that border-line crazy talk? Am I highlighting far-off abstract ideas that will never happen? Can we safely ignore this kind of issue?

The citizens of Cyprus can't. The "crazy talk" just happened, in the real world, today. Citizens of Cyprus may have believed that their wealth was their own. They just learnt that in fact they only held it on trust for the state, when the state had a need. And the day when the state felt it had a need just dawned. The latest is that anyone who held more than 100,000 euros is subject to expropriation of between 40 to 100% of their assets above that level. And an EU spokesperson has said that this method of solving government-debt crises could/should serve as a "model" for the future.

Christianity matters to all spheres of life. When you allow talk of "don't get political on me, bro!" to cower you into to the "private" sphere, you're going exactly where the statists want you to go. They want you to go there, so that their religion can be imposed on all of us. The concept of an a-religious state is impossible. Law must be based upon something. There must be ultimate principles and ultimate beliefs about reality which provide the principles which are codified in law. The only question is which principles, not what. If a state in this present age is not based upon the facts of Christ's Lordship and universal rule, then it will be based upon something infinitely worse.

There are plenty of crazies out there. But some of those crazies are the ones who think that a secular state is a long-term benevolent entity.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Jesus is the Son of God

In a previous post I remarked that in the 14 year tenure of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, I could not recall seeing a single report of any of his speeches in which he asserted several essential key points of Christian belief. It was all politics and do-gooding. The lordship of Christ over the UK today? His death on the cross? Our need to repent of where we'd stopped following the Bible? Nope. Even allowing for the newspapers' general tendency to report things from their own perspective instead of objectively, that was a spectacular failure.

As such, it would be churlish for me not to appreciate seeing something different in here:
"For more than 1,000 years this country has to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God; by the ordering of its society, by its laws, by its sense of community."
That's the nail on the head. Britain and the West did not rise through modern-day secular humanism. It rose through the faithful sufferings of God's people as they sought for a settlement in which the truths of the Bible, and the supremacy of the resurrected Son of God, were duly recognised. Modern secular humanism is parasitical, leeching off the past benefits whilst lyingly pretending that things have always been this way. Meanwhile, the foundations subside and the capital of the past is about to run out.

The above quote recognises that the lordship of Jesus is a public fact, and not only that, but public fact number one. It is not, according to the gospel (which declares that Jesus rose in this world, in this present age) a private religious belief, only relevant for people who happen to like it, and then only in their private lives.

Not so encouraging was a report from a relative who heard some more of Justin Welby's inauguration on the radio, and reports that he said both (something like) that Christianity did not hold that a man could have sexual relationships with a man; but also on the other hand he had been challenged in his thinking by meeting nice couples as personal friends.

Which is it? And which note will win out when the pressure of the world is placed upon him? Anyone who's risen in the church of England in modern times is used to a massive degree of compromise over Biblical essentials. Yet we can pray with integrity that the sound which wins out in Mr. Welby's proclamation is not (paraphrasing) "I have nice friends and the feelings that that brings make me wonder whether Jesus was really right after all", but "Jesus is the Son of God, and creation is his. There is an order of creation, which is not up for grabs, no matter how many warm and fuzzies come our way". (As an aside on that point, over here and here Steve Hays makes the point that there is nothing nice and fuzzy about sodomy, despite the best PR of the homosexual lobby. A man penetrating a man is intrinsically revolting; an act of the utmost depravity).

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Pope is a Roman Catholic

As I read various comments and opinions from secular and professedly Protestant commentators upon the selection of the next Roman Pontiff, many things are said. Especially upon where he comes from; his position within the spectrum of RC opinion; and so on. Various commentators analyse him from their own point of view, in relationship to the social and political issues of today.

Amidst all of this, however, very many - and this is worrying when those commentators profess to be Biblical Christians - appear to have overlooked an essential point.

The Pope is a Roman Catholic.

Not only that, but his role is to advance the agenda - the doctrines and programmes - of the Roman Catholic Church. He is charged with the responsibility to make sure that distinctively Roman Catholic beliefs and practices are advanced in the world. That's not a side-effect of his role; that is his role.

Many secular commentators, who lack self-awareness, gloss over this because they are acting according to their world-view, which screens out the non-secular dimensions of whatever they're dealing with. Or, in the case of decided secularists, they screen that out deliberately, hoping to persuade their readers to also routinely do so.

When evangelicals do the same, though, it's tragic. The Pope has a special responsibility to advance the distinctive teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism, such as these:

  1. The insufficiency of Christ's work on the cross to purchase salvation for the elect; the necessity of the Roman priesthood for salvation, and of the continuation of Christ's offering in the Mass, and the completion of the work of dealing with sin in Purgatory.
  2. The insufficiency of the Bible for the instruction of the church; the necessity of new revelations and interpretations through the Roman hierarchy.
  3. The insufficiency of faith for appropriating the redemption which is in Christ; the necessity of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic church, from cradle to grave, in order to gain access to Christ's merits and reduce our time in Purgatory.
  4. The insufficiency of divine grace alone for salvation; the necessity of our contribution through good works.

According to the Bible, those are all completely ruinous errors. As such, whether the election of a new Pope advances pan-globalism, feminism, liberalism, conservatism, or any other manner of -isms is, in the ultimate analysis, nothing but a side-show. From an authentic Christian perspective, the main problem is that the Pope is going to be advancing the soul-destroying errors of Roman Catholicism. That's his job. And the job of Bible-believing Christians who hold teaching positions is to make sure that the flock are aware of that.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The secular approach to hypocrisy

Disclaimer: I'm a Protestant; ergo I think that the Roman Catholic church has erred, not only on minor questions, but on those essential to the gospel that brings salvation itself. So, the aim of the following is certainly not to defend errant priests. It is part of the Protestant critique of Roman Catholicism's lack of faithfulness to Scripture, that by forbidding marriage to those to whom God did not forbid it, it exposes them to unnecessary temptation which (in a fallen world) is often going to have bad consequences. Right, now down to the point.

Many recent responses to the downfall of Keith O'Brien, formerly Roman Catholic archbishop, well illustrate the secular approach to hypocrisy.

O'Brien spoke out against the normalisation of homosexual relationships as if they were equivalent to marriages. He also spoke out against homosexual activity in general, as a moral evil. It turned out that he had himself indulged in such activity from time to time.

The latter part of that is certainly hypocrisy. The Bible, whilst teaching that all mankind are and continue to be spiritual failures, also requires that spiritual leaders are not themselves those with a lifestyle of major sin. And there are some sins which can bring permanent disqualification from public Christian leadership. Indulging in homosexual activity whilst in the ministry would be one of them. So, O'Brien was a hypocrite. He should resign; he has resigned.

The world can see that there has been hypocrisy. They now pour their opprobrium on O'Brien, for partaking in that which he reprobated. But what, when they've finished doing that, do they offer as a solution?

Note also that some of which the world called hypocrisy was not hypocrisy. There is no hypocrisy involved in experiencing same-sex attraction, whilst believing that that attraction is an effect of being a fallen human being, and that to indulge or act upon it would be sinful. There is no hypocrisy in believing those things and preaching them. There is no hypocrisy in preaching that homosexual inclinations are evil, just as heterosexual temptations towards adultery, fornication or various forms of depravity within a marriage are also evil. Avoiding hypocrisy does not mean that our lives, desires and theology line up perfectly. There is no hypocrisy involved in pointing out that sodomy is not a basis for marriage, unless you yourself are also making legal arrangements to contract such a "marriage" at the same time - and there's no evidence that O'Brien was doing that.

Furthermore, the solution to hypocrisy is not to abolish a category of moral evil. Because O'Brien did not practice what he preached, does not mean that not preaching it is the only available solution. He could also not practice it, even whilst experiencing the temptation. Or, he could cease to masquerade as a Christian leader whilst doing so.

If he opened the Scriptures, he would find that not the merits deposited in the church of Rome, but the finished and final work of Jesus Christ was able to bring him a supply of grace to fight and overcome temptation. The world is using O'Brien's hypocrisy as a stick to beat Christians with - we should all shut up about the topic that the world won't shut up about, because otherwise they'll accuse us of hypocrisy. It's true that the world, when it abolishes moral standards, can no longer be accused of hypocrisy, per se. Hitler could not be accused of exercising a double-standard towards the Jews, because he both practised and preached their destruction. But how is that good? What is good is to both preach against and not practice sin.

It is better to have a world in which people realise that their are standards, and are then ashamed when they take a bold stand for them whilst not personally practising them, than a world in which people claim that there are none. The former world has foundations that can be built upon; the latter is godless anarchy. When crying down hypocrisy, the world should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath-water. In the case of sexual standards, that is precisely what the sexual revolutionaries intend to do. Don't be fooled.