Editors commentary: Uncertain sound


 trumpetWEB(view original article here)

He uses it as an illustration.
But it is a powerful one. When the apostle Paul says ‘if the trumpet does not sound a  clear call, who will get ready for battle?’ he is speaking in the context of the messages given by the church (1 Corinthians 14.8).
There are contradictory messages on some of the most important issues we can imagine coming from those looked upon as Christian leaders in our country at present. The Church of England has said no to same sex marriages in church. But simultaneously Archbishop Welby has opened Church schools to be taught by the gay activist group Stonewall. Then the ex-Archbishop, Lord Carey, has performed a truly acrobatic volte face on the subject of assisted suicide. I picked up my Saturday newspaper in mid-July to find the headlines reporting his incredible moral gymnastics. Having once been against it, now he is for it. Meanwhile, the present Archbishop confirmed the Church’s opposition to Lord Falconer’s Bill promoting assisted suicide. Mixed-message-tastic?
The arguments against assisted suicide have often been rehearsed. The Bible never allows the taking of human life apart from in the context of an act of a legal earthly government as an expression of the wrath of God for wrongdoing (Romans 13.4, Genesis 9.6). This means there is no place for either deliberate abortion or euthanasia. Lord Carey defends his about turn by referring to developments in medical technology. But actually nothing has changed. As far back as 1973 a report to the Third World Congress on Medical Law said that the majority of deaths in the present day can be made peaceful whatever the nature and character of the preceding illness. Modern medicine can almost always overcome pain without shortening life.1 In a recent conversation with me a retired senior pathologist confirmed this.
What about those who are not in pain but who feel their lives have become pointless? The problems here are: first; the assessment of pointlessness will be invariably in secular terms, and second; why limit the pointless idea to people with medical conditions? Why not assist everyone who at some time decides their life has no value to die? Dr Harold Shipman would rub his hands with glee.

Where’s the gospel?

But beyond this, what is Lord Carey saying about the gospel? If a person is cogent enough to decide that their life ought to be ended, they are cogent enough to understand the gospel, which says without personal faith in Christ they go to a lost eternity. Their life here may be perceived to have become unbearable, but what about the unbearable nature of God’s eternal judgement? That doesn’t seem to figure in Lord Carey’s calculations. It’s like ‘tacit atheism’.
The real reason for the mixed messages from these senior figures is that they try to satisfy a godless society which has inevitably redefined all moral issues in therapy terms (Ephesians 4.17-19). Categories such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ have become what ‘feels’ good and what ‘feels’ bad to us rather than what is good or is bad in the sight of God. In 2006, Lord Carey warned that if assisting someone to end their life was allowed it would soon be ‘treated as casually as abortion.’ He was right then. He is wrong now.
Christians are being confused. And these leaders’ contradictory trumpet calls, adrift from Scripture, are in danger of becoming mere ‘noises off.’ Meanwhile we are in a ferocious spiritual battle for the soul of Britain and its future.

1. See Francis Schaeffer & Everett Koop, in Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, vol. 5, p.336

John Benton

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper or subscribe for monthly updates.

7 ways to read a book… and some other great links


Links Worth A LookHere’s a handful of links we thought were worth a look this week. Enjoy!

9Marks: Book review – Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec Motyer

A Faith to Live By: A two-part series for church planters and gospel workers on keeping going through the financial stresses that often accompany ministry (part 1 and part 2)

Unashamed Workman – Don’t just preach simply, preach richly

CBMW – a summary of news clips for families

Challies.com – 7 different ways to read a book

Do we still need the cross?


credit: i-stock

credit: i-stock

(view original article here)

Marcus Nodder, senior pastor of St Peter’s Barge in West India Quay, London, explains from Isaiah 6

There’s a danger that, as we go on as Christians, we drift away from the cross.

We can operate as if we don’t need it anymore. Or, at least, not as much as we did at the beginning.

The prophet Isaiah was speaking to people who thought they were okay as they were and didn’t need God’s grace. But then in Isaiah 6.1-8 he recounts for their benefit how he came face to face with the reality of what God is like and what we are like. It makes shocking reading:

John Calvin says: ‘Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself, unless he has first looked upon God’s face… For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy – this pride is innate in all of us – unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity’.

A big vision of God (v.1-4)

Uzziah had been king of Judah for over 50 years and his fame had spread far and wide, but ‘after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God’ (2 Chronicles 26.16). In judgment, God struck him down with leprosy and he spent the final years of his life living in isolation. In 740BC he died, a leper.

Isaiah writes: ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne’ (Isaiah 6.1). The prophet was given a vision of the king. The true king. The king of kings. And what he saw shook his world to the foundations. He saw God in all his majesty and holiness – incomparable, without sin, pure, perfect, just, righteous.

Isaiah was looking at the one whose power is infinite and whose glory fills the earth. So powerful were the booming voices of the seraphim that it seemed as if the building were about to collapse. And smoke, signifying the presence of God, filled the place. Utterly terrifying.

People sometimes say: ‘I like to think of God as…’ and they fill in the blank with things like: ‘a force like electricity’, or: ‘someone who watches over us from a distance’. This is wishful thinking. It tells you nothing about the God who is actually there and leaves you with no need of the cross.

The artist Tracey Emin was commissioned to design a statue for a British city. It was a little bird on top of a four-metre pole. She explained that ‘most public sculptures are a symbol of power, which I find oppressive and dark’. She said she wanted something ‘which would appear and disappear, and not dominate’. Is that not exactly what we have done with God? A God of awesome power and majesty and holiness is rather threatening. It’s much more manageable to have a tiny God who doesn’t dominate. A mini pocket God; a pigmy God; a bird-on-a-pole God that appears when I want him to and disappears when I choose; a not-so-very-different-from-me God. But the God Isaiah saw is the God who is actually there. What was it like to meet God face to face?

A deep awareness of sin (v.5)

‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined!’ (Isaiah 6.5). This wasn’t just a ‘wow’, like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. It was the ‘woe’ of being terrified. Isaiah knew he was-n’t just small in the presence of absolute greatness, but a sinner in the presence of absolute holiness.

In particular, he felt the uncleanness of his lips, and those of his people. Why? Perhaps because on hearing the seraphim calling out he realised he was too sinful to join in. King Uzziah, having been struck down with leprosy, would have had to cry out ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ (Leviticus 13.45). Isaiah now realised he was no different – morally. What opened his eyes to that was seeing God as he really is.

In Charles Kingsley’s classic book The Water Babies, the central character is a boy called Tom, who is a chimney sweep. One day, in a huge mansion, he loses his way crawling inside the maze of flues and chimneys. Instead of coming out down the kitchen chimney, he crawls out onto the hearth of a spotlessly white bedroom, where a lovely little girl lies asleep between immaculately white sheets, a room where not a speck of dirt is to be seen. Tom, the little orphan chimney sweep, gazes around him, enchanted by his first sight of such beauty and cleanness, having never imagined that anything so spotless and lovely could exist.

But then he catches sight of a filthy little creature, sooty black from head to foot, standing on the rosy pink carpet with pools of black perspiration dripping from its body. It is so out of place in such surroundings that he shakes his fist and shouts furiously, ‘Get out of here at once!’. But the dirty figure shakes its fist in return.

And suddenly, for the first time in his life, poor Tom realises that he is looking in a mirror and seeing himself as he really is. It breaks his heart. Uttering a desolate and despairing cry, he rushes out of the house, sobbing as he goes: ‘I must be clean! I must be clean! Where can I find a stream of water and wash and be clean?’.

Seeing God in his holiness is like being dropped into that spotless white room. We suddenly see ourselves as we really are. We look in the mirror and see how out of place we are in the spotless presence of God. We feel ashamed, condemned, afraid. ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!’

In our worst moments we quite like our sin, but God’s holiness means he hates it. It arouses his righteous anger. He must judge it. And since we’re all sinners, that is a terrifying prospect. If we think of ourselves as basically good people, we will never see our need for the cross.

An experience of grace (v.6-8)

‘Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’’ (Isaiah 6.6).

Under the old covenant, God provided the sacrificial system to make atonement for the sins of the people. But these animal sacrifices were just a picture, foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

The coal taken here from the altar symbolised that a sacrifice had been made. Isaiah had confessed he was a man of unclean lips, and now one of the seraphim takes a burning coal from the altar and touches his unclean lips with it. And in that one symbolic act he is cleansed from sin. The seraphim declares: ‘Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’. What wonderful words for Isaiah, or indeed any of us, to hear. ‘Your guilt is taken away’ – your actual guilt before a holy God as well as your feeling of guilt. ‘And your sin atoned for’ – atonement means that the debt of sin is covered, paid in full.

Isaiah didn’t say: ‘Yes I am unclean, but just wait. I’ll try harder. I can do better. Give me a chance and I’ll clean my act up’. Isaiah is cleansed in an instant – not by his own efforts, but purely by God’s grace. And just as he received God’s grace through this sacrifice, so we, as we accept Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, hear the same words Isaiah heard: ‘Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’.

This is the only basis on which we can ever stand before God. As Christians we must beware when we start to say to ourselves: ‘I’m actually doing pretty well now. Been a Christian a few years. Making progress in godliness. Serving in ways I wasn’t before. Know quite a bit. And I’m doing more than that person over there’. We need to catch ourselves, repent of such pride and self-delusion, and see again what God is like and what we are like.

Because even if you’re Billy Graham and you’ve preached to millions, and tens of thousands have been saved through you, without God’s grace through the cross, you stand before God today as a lost sinner.

This is an edited extract from Why Did Jesus Have to Die? by Marcus Nodder, recently published by The Good Book Company, and is used with permission.

 

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Redeeming Church Conflicts (book review)


 

Redeeming Church ConflictsREDEEMING CHURCH CONFLICTS
By 
Tara Klena Barthel & David V. Edling
Baker Books. 249 pages. £10.99
ISBN 978 0 801 014 284

(view online article here)

Conflict is a given in the life of the church. Just as the devil had a vested interest in disrupting and dividing the order and the beauty of God’s original creation when he stirred unrest in Eden, so he continues to do so in God’s new creation, in the shared life of his people in the church.

That does not mean that conflict should be condoned in the life of the church, or that pastors and their people should be complacent about it. Quite the opposite; when we step back and see the dynamics of conflict in broader perspective, it not only gives us our bearings on how to handle such situations, but it provides the ability to prevent church conflicts turning into church crises. This book sets out to provide that perspective.

From experience

Its authors write, not from the detachment of armchair theorists, but as those who have experienced the pain of conflict in their own church family. More than that, as they faced the challenge of working through that conflict with the different factions caught up in it, they went on to discover the joy of conflict resolution. That background injects its own unique flavour, not only into what they write, but in their entire approach to writing. They have carefully and deliberately crafted their book in a way that draws their readers in and persuasively engages their hearts and minds as they work these issues through.

Threads

The book’s format is quite distinctive, almost like a tapestry with different threads thoughtfully woven together from beginning to end. One of the main threads is the retelling of the story of church division that made such an impact on its authors. The church in question is discreetly given a fictitious name, but the contours of the disagreement it faced, the way they approached it and their use of Scripture to guide them to a more than happy conclusion are clearly mapped out. The authors break the story up into six segments through the book as a whole. Turning this narrative into a motif in this way provides a great incentive to keep reading to the next installment.

The key thought, however, around which the entire book is structured and which ties in to the conflict situation out of which it was originally born, is the role of Acts 15 as a biblical model for dealing with church divisions. Chapter by chapter we are taken almost verse by verse through this passage, seeing it not merely as a paradigm for how a potentially disastrous dispute was handled by the early church; but also how it provides us with a very real theology of conflict management. Many of these chapters are rounded off with an ‘Apply this to your Church Conflict’ section.

There are other little recurring features in the way the authors develop this model of dealing with difficulties. One of them is the many ‘Mini Case Studies’ that are included. These reality sound bites are engaging and provide a vivid glimpse of how the principles articulated in the book have been tried and tested as they are worked out in practice.

The kind of issues addressed in the pages of this book are all too common and their fallout all too painful, both for churches and for the people who belong to them. All too often conflict wins in church life because those embroiled in it have not stepped back to see it from a more sane and balanced point of view. This book provides such a viewpoint and is the kind of book that should be read before the clouds of conflict start to gather. But, even if that point has been passed, here is a book that is well worth reaching for in the storm!

Mark G. Johnston, Northern Ireland

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe for monthly updates.

 

Am I a consumer Christian?


AmIAConsumerChristian(view original article here)

Richard Lacey, lead pastor of Woodgreen Evangelical Church, Worcester, asks the question

I was recently given a sabbatical by my church.

During this time my family and I visited ten different churches. It was eye-opening to experience churches as a ‘punter’ rather than a pastor and to realise afresh how daunting it can be to attend a new church – even as a Christian.

However, the most significant thing I noticed during this time was how easy it is to slip into approaching church as a consumer.

As I reflected on this, I became more and more convinced of how destructive and damaging this is, not only to the church community itself, but also to the cause of Christ. What has concerned me even more is that I’ve also become convinced that this is the dominant way most Christians – of all ages – approach church today.

Sinful church attendance

Which is a problem, because a consumer approach to church is sinful. Yes, I did just use the S-word. A consumer approach to church is sinful because it couldn’t be further away from the Bible’s understanding of what it means to be part of a community of God’s people. Being a consumer is inherently self-seeking and therefore at odds with Jesus’s example of self-giving. As a consumer, I go to church for what that church offers me, but the Apostle Paul said true worship involves offering ourselves to God: ‘Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12.1-2).

Contrasts to think about

As I’ve examined my own heart, I’ve found it helpful to contrast a consumer approach to church with a Christlike approach to church.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be satisfied. I am at the centre of the ‘experience’. My needs, expectations, preferences, tastes, hobby-horses and opinions become priorities and so I am vocal about them. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to bless, encourage and spur others on. My priority is what Jesus desires and so his command to love others therefore trumps my own desires and needs and I am vocal in expressing gratitude.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I come as a critic, assessing and judging the quality of the welcome, music, sermon, coffee and _______ (fill in as appropriate) according to my preferences. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to edify others. I look for the good in everything and everyone. I overlook imperfections, spur on those who are growing in their gifts and treat issues of preference or disagreement with grace.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be served. I expect others to meet my needs. I expect the service or activities or pastor to tick all my boxes. If not, I may decide to complain to the management or to fellow consumers. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to serve. I realise God has given me gifts to build others up and I consider it a privilege to use them. My focus is on blessing others by fulfilling the role he has given me within the body of Christ.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be entertained. I do not want to be challenged or – God forbid – rebuked. I expect to be uplifted, stirred, moved and affirmed. To be bored is a cardinal sin, to be offended even worse. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to grow. I expect to be challenged by the ministry because I know I am a self-deceiving sinner and my greatest need is to be sanctified and made more like Jesus. I humbly accept the diet God chooses to give me from his Word through those who minister to me.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I come as an individual. Interacting with others is an inconvenient necessity. I therefore don’t hang around long after meetings, or if I do, I only speak with a small circle of friends. I am uncomfortable with small groups because they involve participation, scrutiny and close personal contact. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I come to be part of a community. While at times I find it challenging, I count it a privilege to be part of a fellowship of diverse people with whom I can share my life. I welcome the accountability and scrutiny that comes from close contact with members of a small group and I seek to be an active participant in one, praying for and pastoring others.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I attend, but I don’t commit. I prefer the fringe to the core. I prefer to spectate rather than participate. I pick and choose the meetings I attend. I cannot be relied upon to turn up. I do not willingly volunteer, take on responsibility or contribute to church life. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I commit myself to my brothers and sisters and show this by my attendance and attitude to service. I embrace my calling to be a partner and co-worker with them for the gospel and I do whatever I can to support church initiatives. I therefore give sacrificially of my time, energy and money.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I come to be ministered to. I expect the church leaders to service me. I expect them to visit me, know all about me, have time for me whenever I require them, and be skilled in offering spiritual tlc. If they don’t fulfil this, then I feel my rights have been infringed. in a Whereas, when I approach church Christlike way... I come to minister to others. I recognise that there will be many unseen pastoral demands on church leaders that are greater than my own. I recognise that I have a responsibility to care for my brothers and sisters and so am proactive in watching for opportunities to minister to others.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I resist change because it involves personal discomfort. Church exists to meet my needs and so I oppose changes that inconvenience me or require me to flex or adapt. The status quo is good because it’s why I was attracted to that church in the first place. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I support change when it benefits others or has a gospel motivation. I gladly accept personal inconvenience if it means others will be blessed. I embrace changes that mean church is able to communicate the gospel and make disciples more effectively. I trust those who make change decisions even when I cannot see the need.

• When I approach church as a consumer… I will eventually end up leaving the church, either in body or in spirit. The younger I am, the more likely I am to leave physically and go to another church. The older I am, the more likely I am to leave in spirit and become detached and disillusioned, critical and cynical. I approach church in a Whereas, when Christlike way... I will end well, leaving a legacy for younger generations who will thank God for my example. I will have been a unifying influence, rather than a divisive one. I will have been a kingdom-builder rather than an empire-builder. I will have been a contributor rather than a consumer.

The big question

Which best describes your approach to church? That’s the question. Like me, do you need to repent of being a church consumer and resolve to be a more committed, selfless, Christlike contributor?

This article was originally posted on Richard Lacey’s blog: woodgreenpastor.blogspot.co.uk

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: I couldn’t move a fly!


Music Exchange

(view original article here)

The letters column struck back!

Thank you to Dave Kimber for the response to my previous article, which shows that the Word versus Spirit issue is very much alive and kicking.

I need to answer a couple of points, in which I may have been misunderstood. First, I’m not sure from my article that anyone could deduce that I’m a cessationist. I’m very much convinced that the gifts of the Spirit are as useful for the building up of the church as they have ever been. As I said, I prayed earnestly for the gift of tongues. The prayer may have been answered in the negative, but I don’t know yet! All I know is that if it would useful for the building-up of the church, then the Lord will equip me with whatever gift is needed to glorify him.

Romans cures doubt

Second, is a defence of my use of Romans 8.16. Dave suggested that this is a non-Word reference to the work of the Spirit. However, I chose this verse because Romans 8.16 is very much the Word of God. In Romans 8.16 the Spirit is stating clearly in the Word of God that I am born of God. It was Romans 8.16 that I needed at my time of doubt. The Spirit may have spoken to me outside the Word of God to convince me, but as David Cook (Australian preacher) said to me just last week, ‘anything you hear outside the Word of God is a hunch’. Just a hunch. Only the Word of God tells me that I am a child of God because Christ has made me righteous by his blood. Praise the Lord that his Spirit, through the Word, gives us real assurance and therefore real life.

Can’t sing? Not a Christian?

I’m keen to follow this up because, as a church musician, I’ve seen countless young people who have their assurance of sonship based solely on a musician’s definition of the Holy Spirit – one chap doubted he was a Christian because he couldn’t sing, so didn’t experience the presence of God in the same way all his friends seemed to. Even more seriously, if our definition of the work of the Spirit is derived by any other means than God’s Word, we are in serious danger of creating God in our own image.

Of course, we are all limited and fallen in our understanding, especially me (as Dave Kimber correctly implies) but as I said in the last article, I’m going to hold on to the truth that Jesus’s words are spirit and life, because I don’t trust the other ‘spirits’ who try and convince me otherwise. A hunch is worse than second best. However, holding to the sufficiency of the Word of God as the way the Spirit works gives freedom rather than constraint.

Stott stood firm

The Word/Spirit dichotomy was well illustrated in a book by Jean-Jacques Suurmond, called Word and Spirit at Play, where the Word and Spirit play a game together – the Word brings order, and the Spirit brings life and vigour. The same idea was encouraged in the UK when a chap called Michael Harper (1931-2010) believed he had received the baptism of the Spirit in 1962 (a second baptism, as he was already converted). Noticing dull and lifeless worship in evangelical churches, he was keen to encourage these churches to become more open to the Spirit to bring things to life. Fortunately, John Stott and others stood firm and kept their confidence in the Word of God as the means by which the Spirit works, although others followed Harper’s lead. Harper himself ended up as an Archpriest in the Antiochan Greek Orthodox Church.

Spirit at work

Church musicians, when the Word of God is spoken or sung, the Spirit is powerfully at work, whether there is any immediate outward manifestation or not. I’m deeply thankful for this assurance, because sometimes I feel the music I produce wouldn’t move a fly sitting on the piano strings, let alone a tired and discouraged congregation member. His Word will not return to him empty, so keep teaching and singing the Word of God, because ‘the words I speak to you are spirit and life’, (John 6.63, ESV).

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates.