Marriage: have your say

In March a consultation will be launched by the Government to redefine a word — marriage.

The point of the consultation is to find out how best to legislate for same-sex couples to marry. All Christians should be asking their MP by letter, email or in their advice surgery to take a step back and answer why it is necessary to redefine marriage.

Sad debate

I come to the debate more in sorrow than anger. I am sorry that the Government’s consultation in March on the subject will seek to change the shape of marriage and therefore its purpose. I am sorry that MPs may be distracted from significant social, economic and international issues which are clamouring for our attention. I am also sorry that reasoned debate may be drowned out by prejudice, hostility — and anger.

Certainly, if the last month is anything to go by, we are dealing with an issue not so much of equality but liberty. Since I publicly expressed in a national newspaper my support for the present legal definition of marriage, a barrage of hostile hate-filled tweets, emails and letters accusing me of bigotry and homophobia has made me appreciate the importance of the issue. It is important that all Christians who value God’s institution of marriage get involved in the forthcoming consultation. It is important that Christians show God’s character not only in affirming marriage but also in the manner of debate.

The real point

Let’s be clear what the debate is not about. It is not about homosexual rights which are now enshrined in the Civil Partnerships Act and effectively mirror marriage rights. MPs have little time for anyone who denounces homosexuality or rallies against the idea of civil partnerships. It also should not be about a division between so called ‘civil marriage’ and ‘religious marriage’. Marriage as defined by a union of a man and woman should not be a religious club activity confined to the protected privacy of a church ceremony. It is historically defined by the state and informed by an established church because this country recognises marriage as a public benefit for all society. It is not simply an issue of equal rights for couples who love one another. Finally, it is not about party politics — it is a deeper issue of conscience and if there is legislation there will be a ‘free vote’.

Undermining marriage

So what is the debate about? It is about affirming the value of the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Like any institution if you take away its structure — in this case a man and woman — you change and undermine it. I know of a number of loving and committed homosexual couples, but their relationship is different to marriage. Civil partnerships have provided equal rights but we should be careful about confusing a search for equality with uniformity.

The reality is that when the only requisite for sexual unions is commitment and fidelity rather than the merging of two sexual halves to become a complementary whole, the fundamental concept of marriage is changed. We need to challenge the assumption that love and commitment trumps all formal requirements for a sexual union. We need to point to men and women being designed to complement each other in a sexual bond which is evidenced by the inherent capacity to produce children. This inherent complementarity and commitment to the other also has value beyond children to the extended family and wider society.

When sexual unions are once and for all severed in society’s perception from a commitment to have and raise children, when society then rejects the established evidence that a mother and father are both needed for the optimal development of children, the public will cease to value marriage. Same-sex marriage will move society away from the idea of marriage as a God-created coupling of a man and women to a choice model where marriage is seen as human invention, free to be changed, redefined or even discarded. Imagine society granting marriage licences to any union that met the conditions of a committed friendship and ask how long marriage can survive as an institution.

Fears for the future

As a politician I have fairly broad shoulders when it comes to personal opposition, but I fear for the school teacher who has to apply a law which goes against her conscience when teaching about marriage, or the church group in a village hall wanting to do a marriage preparation course for heterosexual couples only. The debate is primarily about the redefinition of a word — marriage. It is also about freedom of expression. Let us Christians express ourselves with loving clarity. We can do no better than follow the example of Jesus who not only made clear the marriage standard of a man and woman being joined together, but also showed his selfless perfect love to his Bride, the Church.

David Burrowes is MP for Enfield Southgate and a member of Enfield Evangelical Free Church.

‘Ten myths about Calvinism’

Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition
By Kenneth J. Stewart Apollos.
292 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 135

Calvinism (aka Reformed theology) often gets a bad press, both in the church and in the world.

This book of ten myths is a great remedy to that problem. But before all you passionate advocates of Calvinism dash out to buy your copy, I must warn you that this book has two parts. Part two is entitled ‘Six myths non-Calvinists should not be circulating (but are)’, but here is an author who is interested in putting his own house in order before sorting everyone else out (note the book’s subtitle).

Part one is entitled, ‘Four myths Calvinists should not be circulating (but are)’. For me this first section was the highlight of the book, as it clarified and corrected views that I often hear expressed or assumed, but that are rarely examined thoroughly. These four myths are: One man (Calvin) and one city (Geneva) are determinative; Calvin’s view of predestination must be ours; TULIP is the yardstick of the truly Reformed; and Calvinists take a dim view of revival and awakening.

Challenging assumptions

Kenneth Stewart presents a thorough historical case in each chapter, making careful distinctions and challenging popular assumptions with historical facts in order to separate myth and reality. In particular, Stewart wants us to listen to the whole spectrum of Reformed thinkers through the ages instead of just our particular favourites and labelling their views ‘the Reformed view’, or pulling out a Calvin quotation in discussion as though it were a top trump that beats everyone else with no questions asked!

Part two examines whether Calvinism really is anti-missionary, antinomian, tending to theocracy, or undermining of the creative arts, gender and racial equality. Historical fact is what Stewart is interested in, and, while ably defending Calvinism against these charges, he also refuses to explain away failures among various stripes of Reformed believers, at the same time as helpfully reminding us that ‘association is not causation’. The conclusion then examines successive revivals of interest in Calvinism, beginning with the present day ‘New Calvinism’ and then tracing its interdependence with several previous similar surges of interest over the past few centuries.

Where does this book leave us? Although it clearly has an apologetic role in defending Calvinism, its clearest call is for ‘fewer angular, sharp-elbowed Calvinists who glory in what distinguishes their stance from that of others and a lot more supporters of the Reformed faith who rejoice in what they hold in common with others’. And how about this for a vision for Reformed theology: ‘The abiding value the Reformed tradition has to offer is surely a rigorously biblical and God-centred approach to faith and life in Jesus Christ; Calvinists should see that we hold this in trust for the many sincere believers in Christ who would find it a tonic… if they could sample it, and for the many unbelievers who have yet to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34.8)’. Calvinist, make this your manifesto!

Peter Newton,
lover of a warm, open-hearted Reformed theology

World news – Nigeria: bombed

Joshua Dabo, like other young Christians in Jos, had dreams for his life.

He had graduated from a Christian high school, Mt. Olives Secondary School, and at 31 was finally looking forward to attending university. He was among the 120 people from the Christian community on Bauchi Ring Road who paid to watch a classic soccer match, Barcelona FC v. Real Madrid, on TV at an outdoor bar (called a ‘viewing centre’ in Nigeria) on the night of December 10. A few minutes into the match, televised in a corrugated sheet metal hall at Yangwava Television Viewing Centre at Ukadum village, a bomb went off. Dabo was decapitated. He was the lone fatality in three bomb blasts targeting viewing centres in predominantly Christian areas of Jos during the Spanish soccer match; at least ten others were injured in the blasts, leaving four in critical condition, including two in a coma.

Compass Direct

World news – Laos: rest in peace?

Officials in late December forced Christians in a Lao village to give up their faith in order to bury a family member in the village graveyard.

In Huey, Ad-Sapangthong district of Savannakhet Province, the village’s eight Christian families quickly began to arrange a funeral for a woman called Wang who died on Christmas Day. On December 26, however, village officials ordered that her body be buried according to Buddhist funeral rites or be taken to a burial ground in Savannakhet city. Lacking the resources for a city burial, the 40 Christians reluctantly agreed. But the village monk then refused to carry out the ceremony because Wang was a Christian. With Wang’s body already decomposing and officials demanding that they recant, the Christians verbally agreed to cease practising their faith in order to bury her in the village cemetery. Once the funeral was over, five of the families told church leaders in another city that they regretted their decision and that they would continue to worship God.

Compass Direct

Leading man – an interview with John Stevens, Director of FIEC

Leading a group of churches carries enormous responsibilities in the current spiritual climate. John Stevens, recently appointed Director of FIEC, spoke to EN in 2011 about his work.

EN: Please explain your new role at FIEC.

JS: On September 1 2010, I started in my new post as Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC). According to my job description, I am responsible ‘for providing visionary leadership to and the smooth running of the Fellowship’ so that it can accomplish the goals and objectives determined by the new Trust Board after consultation with the churches.

I am expected to act as a figurehead for the FIEC in the eyes of the churches and the wider evangelical world, and to cultivate relationships with other evangelical groups. I am meant to visit and encourage as many churches in the Fellowship as possible, and develop a wider ministry of preaching and writing. I also have executive responsibility for the operations of the central FIEC organisation, including the FIEC office, and ensure that we have the staffing and infrastructure necessary to achieve our goals.

EN: What changes have you had to make and why?

JS: My new role is the culmination of a long restructuring process undertaken to ensure that the FIEC is ‘fit for purpose’.

The FIEC exists to serve and support its churches, and there was a danger that an overly bureaucratic and slow decision-making process was making it difficult to do this well. A revolving three-year Presidency and administrative General Secretary were not the best ways of implementing a long-term strategic vision for the Fellowship.

The new structure introduces a more streamlined Trust Board to oversee policy and governance, and an empowered Director to deliver the vision of the Fellowship. As I have only been in the job for a few months, I am only just beginning to get to grips with things.

Completing the team

The most important steps I have taken are the appointment of additional directors to help deliver our vision. I am delighted that Richard Underwood has become Director for Pastoral Care, with responsibility for organising the care of pastors and churches, and that Trevor Archer, who is currently Senior Pastor at Chessington, joined us in January as Director of Training, with particular responsibility for helping us to raise up men for missional leadership, and embedding a culture of training among us. I hope in the near future to be able to complete my team with the addition of a Director of Outreach. Many aspects of the infrastructure of the FIEC are in need of improvement, and we are working to replace the IT system, database (and especially the web site) and our communication with our churches. I am looking for significant improvement in these areas in the next year.

EN: What is your vision for the future of FIEC?

JS: The ultimate vision of the FIEC is nothing less than to see the nation won for Christ.

The FIEC is essentially a mission agency promoting local church ministry. We have always been a grouping of gospel churches, identified by our statement of faith and commitment to the authority of the Bible. The way we pursue our vision is by supporting our affiliated churches. Our core conviction is that God works through local congregations, and so our aim is to equip and encourage the churches.

FIEC was founded in 1922 to enable independent churches to reap some of the benefits enjoyed by churches in the denominations, and to facilitate co-operation between churches to ameliorate some of the weaknesses of independency. In my view, a pattern of autonomous and self-governing local churches in partnership with each other is closest to a truly biblical ecclesiology.

FIEC has always supported churches with practical and legal advice, and we want to continue to do this, and do it even better. Today churches are increasingly subject to legal regulation, and it is extremely helpful that individual churches do not have to find out the information about this for themselves, but can trust us to do the work for them. However, we want to provide much more than this practical support. The goal of the restructuring is that we will be able to provide ministry support and inspiration to our churches that will equip them to meet the challenges of proclaiming Christ boldly and effectively in our contemporary society. We also want to develop an effective local FIEC network that will provide support and encouragement between FIEC churches across the country.

Independent thinking

I am passionately committed to the role of independent churches. Historically, independent churches have played an immense role in evangelising the nation, especially in the cities and among the less well off. While many of us have benefited greatly from the ministry of conservative evangelical Anglicans, the increasing problems within the Anglican communion, its deviation from biblical norms and the small size of the conservative evangelical Anglican constituency compared to the scale of the gospel need in the nation, mean that there is a vital, if not central, place for faithful and contemporary independency.

One of the goals of FIEC is thus to promote the gospel by developing a confidence in independency and to invest in the future of independency. I would love there to be a thriving and faithful gospel church in every community in the country. To achieve this there will need to be very many more independent churches than there are at present.

EN: Tell us how you see evangelicalism currently in the UK.

JS: In many ways the picture is mixed. Many churches are small and struggling, and finding it hard to come to terms with life in a secular society that has rejected the gospel and is hostile to the Christian faith. On the other hand, where the Bible is taken seriously and the gospel proclaimed in a way that addresses contemporary people, we are seeing conversions and churches are growing. It has been tremendously encouraging to me to visit FIEC churches over the past year and meet many people who have become Christians in the last five years. It was also very encouraging at the recent FIEC Leaders Conference to meet a good number of younger men who are in ministry, and to know of others in training.

However, in practice, conservative evangelicalism has been most effective in student settings and among the educated middle classes, and we desperately need to reach out more widely. There are encouraging signs that a younger generation will extend the reach of the gospel into different communities through church planting.

Above all we need to grasp that we are living in a mission context, where the vast majority of people are unbelievers, and we need to shape our church life, training and ministry to meet this mission situation. This is really nothing less than a return to the biblical pattern for the church, which has often been lost in the comfort of Western Christendom. We need to embrace the fact that following Jesus is not the path to respectability in the eyes of the world, but the path of shame and rejection. We are called to carry our cross and not to be ashamed of the gospel. Our goal is to love and proclaim Christ, not to be liked or appreciated. In the past we have put far too much effort into fighting pointless and losing battles against the forces of secularism, when what we need to be doing is finding ways of proclaiming the unchanging gospel to people who seem utterly disconnected from it.

Evangelical unity
EN: What can be done to best foster evangelical unity?

JS: One of the great blessings of the last few years has been the growth of true gospel co-operation between Anglicans and Independents through the Gospel Partnerships. I have seen this first hand through my experience in the Midlands, and through the A Passion for Life mission.

A younger generation has moved on from the deep divisions that fractured evangelicalism after the 1960s. The lesson has been that true unity is best fostered relationally when we work together in gospel ministry, whether evangelism or training. Service alongside one another leads to understanding, trust and appreciation. I think that, in coming years, we will need to work hard to maintain and develop the fragile unity that has emerged, which will inevitably be tested by new challenges. We will need to learn to respect each other despite our differences, for example over ecclesiology, and make sure that we do not elevate secondary matters to the level of dividing issues.

However, we will also need to be on guard to ensure that our unity is truly founded on a common commitment to the gospel. Gospel people need to stand together with gospel people for the sake of the gospel, but not with those who reject the biblical gospel, whether they be liberal, Catholics or Anglo Catholics. The temptation for independents will always be to fail to stand with gospel people, whereas perhaps the danger for those in denominations is the danger of forming pragmatic alliances with those who are not truly gospel people. The emergence in coming years of something akin to The Gospel Coalition in the US might be a necessary and logical step if we are to build unity further. It seems to me that FIEC can play a pivotal role in promoting this kind of gospel partnership.

World news – Iraq: violence against Christians

In December, a young Christian couple were killed and a Christian man kidnapped, heightening fears about the increasing threat to the Christian community now US troops have left the country.

Adnan Elia Jakmakji (34) and his wife Raghad al Tawil (25) were shot dead in their car on December 13. Their two sons were wounded as gunmen sprayed the vehicle with bullets. The family was ambushed in Mosul, northern Iraq, by an armed group.

The previous day, Sermat Patros, a 29-year-old Christian man, was kidnapped from his family’s home furnishings store in Ankawa in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He was held for three days, during which his captors demanded a $500,000 ransom. Sermat, who was blindfolded and tied down during his ordeal, was rescued by a SWAT team on December 15 to the great relief of his 21-year-old wife Amal and the local Christian community.

The kidnapping followed an outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Kurdistan which erupted in the city of Zakho after Friday prayers on December 2. Hundreds of Muslims, apparently incited by the imam’s sermon, headed from a local mosque to businesses owned by Christians and Yezidis, another minority group; they set alight 25 properties, including shops and hotels. At least 30 people were injured, and several million dollars’ worth of damage was caused. The mob swelled to more than 3,000 and moved on to attack Christian property in three other areas.

The following morning, more than 100 people, mainly youths, threw stones at a church and homes belonging to Christians in Almansoria. On December 5, leaflets were put on the walls of the burned shops threatening the owners with death if they reopened them.

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said on December 3 that instability in the region was unacceptable and that a special committee will investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians have moved to Kurdistan to escape anti-Christian violence in other parts of the country; this region is increasingly looking less of a safe haven for them.

Barnabas Fund

Book review – Good news about injustice

A witness of courage in a hurting world
By Gary Haugen
IVP. 272 pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 1 844 744 077

There are several reasons for you to buy (or borrow) and read this book. Chief among these are that: i) it is on an important topic, and ii) there is nothing else quite like it.

The important topic is that of injustice, or that subset of injustice, in which the under-privileged are exploited and abused in ways which violate the laws of the countries in which they live.

Gary Haughen worked in the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice and directed the UN genocide enquiry in Rwanda. He then founded the International Justice Mission (IJM) as a specifically Christian organisation with a clearly focused mission: to work for justice for victims of illegal exploitation in the countries of the world. It is an American organisation, but there is a British branch, based in Colchester. The first edition has been updated with a fascinating preface in which Haughen shows how Christian concern about injustice has grown over the last decade.

He provides numerous examples of the kind of injustice IJM seeks to expose and correct: enforced prostitution, indentured child labour, which equates to modern slavery, illegal expropriation of land and property by the rich and powerful, failures of police to investigate and bring prosecutions of rapists of poor women. Each is heart-rending and provokes a sense of outrage.

Haughen’s response is compassionate and canny. He feels for the victims, but he and his organisation bring to bear on their situation legal knowledge, forensic investigation and formidable powers of advocacy. Their efforts to act wisely within the legal structures and culture of each situation result in a number of successes. Real people are named and their stories told. These are immensely heartwarming. That this should be done in Christ’s name, either for Christians or for people who are thereby shown the reality of Christ’s love, is deeply encouraging.

This is not simply the story of one man and the organisation he leads. There is a sustained reflection on injustice, manifestations of violence and deception, how intervention should be practised and of individual case methodologies. This is a deeply impressive body of work.

There are challenges too. In his final chapter, the author reflects on ‘The Body of Christ in Action: what we can all do’. A study guide appendix invites us to join that reflection. Even given that none of us can do everything, the biblical stress on God’s concern for justice surely means we must listen to the likes of Haughen and respond in the way that is right for us. And there is precious little else that I am aware of that covers the ground he covers.

Julian Hardyman, 
senior pastor, Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge (and an IVP trustee)

World news – Indonesia: call for tolerance

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, speaking at an event held by the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), the largest Protestant denomination in Indonesia, on December 4, called for tolerance and condemned religious intimidation.

He said: ‘Our nation’s diversity is a strength, a gift from God which we must preserve. Therefore, we must not force our will onto or intimidate our brothers in performing their religious duties. Tolerance is non-negotiable’.

The speech came as Indonesian churches are once again under threat by Islamist extremists. A group in the town of Pracimantoro, Central Java, has appealed to the local government for the demolition of five Protestant churches in the area. It claims that they do not have building permits. The churches have received authorisation from the office for religious affairs in the provincial capital, but the local government is refusing to hand over the official documents. The leader of the Islamist group is also the head of the local government Department for Religious Affairs, which may explain the hold-up.

Tension is rising in the area amid rumours of demolition threats that have been circulating in a series of documents.

Churches harassed

Christians in Indonesia face many obstacles regarding the construction of church buildings. Obtaining all the required permits is a long-winded and complicated process, which can take five to ten years. Approval is required from a quorum of residents in the surrounding area as well as the local Interreligious Dialogue Committee. Officials often come under pressure from radical Islamists to block church building projects.

In addition to the five Protestant churches in Central Java, nine churches in West Java have come under threat by extremists. One of them, GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor, has come under severe and sustained harassment from both the authorities and Islamists. The congregation has been forced to hold services on the street in front of its half-constructed church since the authorities revoked its building permit. They have refused to allow GKI to reopen in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.

HKBP in Bekasi suffered a similar ordeal and was eventually forced to drop its campaign to build a new church after an elder was stabbed and a minister beaten in 2009.

Barnabas Fund

World news – Kazakhstan: afraid

At a closed October 27 meeting of about 20 of Kazakhstan’s most senior officials, State Secretary Kanat Saudabaev ordered the devotion of considerable resources to promoting the highly restrictive new Religion Law.

Members of a variety of religious communities are increasingly afraid to voice criticism of the new law publicly. One media company was threatened with closure if it gave the new law negative coverage and Baptist parents have been threatened with fines or imprisonment for refusing to send their children to compulsory Self-Recognition lessons in schools.

A Baptist was imprisoned for 48 hours in early December for refusing to pay fines imposed for leading meetings for religious worship, another Baptist having been separately fined for attending a meeting for worship, with a third facing a fine for the same ‘offence’.

The new Religion Law, along with an Amending Law, considerably broadened the range of offences for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, as well as increasing punishments.

F18 News (

Book review – The secret of contentment

By William B. Barcley
P&R Publishing. 172 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 596 381 919

Written by the pastor of a Presbyterian church in North Carolina, this book draws deeply from the Puritans Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson.

The author’s goal is to ‘take some of the wisdom of these “physicians of the soul”, and, using modern language, apply it to a modern context’. At the same time, he attempts (successfully, in my view) to wed these insights to the book of Philippians, which together make for a biblically grounded and spiritually nourishing read as Dr. Barcley unpacks what it means to learn contentment.

There are no quick fixes for discontentment. The society in which we live, aided and abetted by our own sinful hearts, combine to make fertile ground for discontentment to take root and warp our perspective. The author makes the case that godly contentment is an integral part of our union with Christ and calls the reader to a contentment that comes from knowing God and delighting in his goodness and sovereign care over our lives. Structurally, the book is divided into two main parts, and there are practical discussion questions at the end of every chapter which help the reader draw out the implications of the material and specifically how and where we can grow spiritually. The Secret of Contentment is exemplary in its clarity of expression, pastoral warmth and theological depth and I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending it to a wide readership — it could do us only good.

Kathy Cowan, 
member of the church family at St. Andrew the Great, Cambridge