Editors commentary: Time to break up the BBC?

If the proposals to introduce gay marriage become law it will be in no little measure due to the UK’s liberal elite having forced it on us.

Instrumental in this has been the influence of the media, especially the BBC. From the first TV lesbian kiss on EastEnders through the gay story line on The Archers (an everyday story of country folk?) those years ago, the propaganda has been clearly there. Even the recent series Last Tango in Halifax, which began as a gentle tale of rekindled love between two heterosexual pensioners, turned into a TV stick to beat people unsure about the rightness of same-sex relationships. Of course, the obsequious defence always trotted out is that the broadcaster is only reflecting changes in society. But we all know that the media not only reflects but also shapes society.

One group’s point of view

The BBC is meant to serve all the different people of our country. Instead, it has become the voice of one group — the liberal elite — which pushes its own agenda. This is seen not only in its entertainment output but even in the news it reports.
Recently there have been reports of Syrian rebels beheading a Christian and feeding his body to the dogs. In Nigeria, 15 Christians have had their throats slit, it seems by Boko Haram extremists (see pages 17, 19). Are these things not as outrageous as the rape and murder of the woman on the bus in India? How can such atrocities not be headline news? Except tucked away on their website, there has been no mention of these things from our national news service. In his 2011 book, When One Door Closes, the newscaster Peter Sissons says that the BBC is anti-Christian, but respectful of Islam, and claims that its staff overwhelmingly share a liberal outlook and damage their career prospects if they do not sign up to it. In The Daily Mail in October 2006, Andrew Marr was quite upfront about this: ‘The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias’. In other words, if we have to think in terms of ‘culture wars’, it is quite clear whose side ‘Auntie’ is on.
Through the licence fee, the BBC is enormously wealthy and this money is used to the advantage of one group’s point of view. In his novel 1984, George Orwell warns of the dangers of totalitarianism. He imagined Britain governed by a party known as ‘Big Brother’ brainwashing the population through ‘The Ministry of Truth’. Malcolm Muggeridge, a friend of Orwell’s, observed: ‘It was not by chance that Orwell took the BBC as the model for his Ministry of Truth’.1

Corrosive exercise
Politicians are afraid of the media. They know that newspapers, radio and TV journalists have the power to make or break them. And the BBC interviewers lose little time in taking the moral high ground and exploiting the fact that they are free to question and criticise while never having to make policies of their own. Without balance and with a biased agenda, this becomes a corrosive exercise to which the audiences are forever exposed. Democracy is about a free interplay of ideas. But that is undermined if our greatest national broadcaster is either consciously or unconsciously simply a vehicle for one group’s propaganda.

John Benton

1. I am indebted to the book The Liberal Delusion by John Marsh, published in 2012, for these quotes.

This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Promise fulfilled – David Potter celebrates the life of his daughter Rachel

Promise fulfilled

She never owned a house or drove a car, wrote a book or made a film, passed an exam or won an Oscar. Even most Christians have never heard of her. Yet the lives of thousands have been touched by hers and hundreds have become Christians because Rachel Potter lived.

Rachel was born on August 13 1963. It was quite a day for her parents, David and Madeleine — first a baby and then, on the same day, a call to the pastorate of an East London church. Their course in life seemed clear, but it did not turn out as they expected. Soon after, their GP told them that their daughter had Down’s Syndrome.

Negative attitudes

In the 1960s and 1970s, learning disability — or ‘mental handicap’ as it was then called — was still under the shadow of negative attitudes and practices. While Rachel was still only a few months old, her mother was advised by the Medical Officer of Health to ‘put her in a home and forget you ever had her’. The ‘home’ would have been a large, isolated institution where hundreds of people with learning disabilities were ‘warehoused’, virtually imprisoned for life. Not that the Potters were aware of this or of much else relating to Rachel’s condition; they marvelled at the precious life entrusted to them.

Parenthood is demanding at the best of times; where the child has a disability it is doubly so. Rachel was a contented baby and a loving child, but when help was needed there were then few resources available to young parents. Help and encouragement came from other parents with experience of learning disability. David and Madeleine discovered a sub-culture of families seemingly overlooked by society where the common bond was a child with learning disabilities. What struck them powerfully was that so many of these parents were elderly, yet still cared for adult sons and daughters dependant through learning disability. For them the overwhelming concern was who would continue to care for their son or daughter when they were no longer able to do so. Being much younger, this was not an issue for the Potters — or so it seemed.

Home for learning disabled

Rachel was able to spend some years at a Christian residential school near Edinburgh. There her love of books found fulfilment when she was taught to read. While at the school Rachel became a Christian and put her new-found reading skill to use by daily Bible reading — a discipline she maintained on her own initiative until her abilities declined decades later. However, David and Madeleine discovered that, apart from Algrade School, there was almost no tangible Christian response to people with learning disabilities. They also discovered that, to their knowledge, there were scores of Christian parents desperate to find a Christian home that could provide a secure Christian environment for their learning disabled sons and daughters. Almost before they were aware of it the Potters were on course to spearheading a response to this need.

1976 launch

‘A Cause for Concern’ — since renamed Prospects — was formed in 1976 with the goal, at first, of providing support for people with learning disabilities to live in Christian homes. Its first home opened in Aberystwyth. The second was then to be Helena House in Reading, within walking distance of the Potter family home.

Seeing and sharing in the development, Rachel saw an opportunity for herself and asked to live at Helena House. She enjoyed living with her peers, her warm and cheerful disposition making her popular with staff and residents alike. After ten years there, Rachel looked for a change: she asked to live with a family of similar age to herself. Her dream coincided with another — on the part of her link-worker and her husband. Alice and Mike Stott both worked for Prospects and felt that they should share their home with a person with learning disabilities under the adult placement scheme. So Rachel stayed with them for a week or two — and then for 20 years! She was able to continue using the Prospects day service, thus remaining in touch with her friends.

Spiritual needs

Rachel’s personal faith also raised another issue for her parents: what of the spiritual needs of other people with learning disabilities? Their limitations are such that traditional Christian ministry does not reach them. How could they become disciples of Jesus? Madeleine began a Bible group to help the residents of Helena House. It was movingly effective and led gradually to an expansion of this ministry, first into the town and then more widely across the country. As a result, thousands have heard the gospel who had never done so before. Hundreds have been saved and become valued members of their local church.

A few years ago Rachel began to have health problems which can now be seen as the onset of dementia. Gradually she became less able to do things she had done for years, until in the autumn of 2011 she suffered a very rapid decline into complete dependence on her carers. It seemed she would barely live into 2012, but she rallied and enjoyed better health for a time. On her 49th birthday in August, she was able to recognise family and close friends and respond to the day, but a few days later she lost the power to swallow and gradually lost strength. She died on August 30 2012, still in the home she shared with Mike and Alice and their children, loved, admired and respected by all who came to know her.

Change beyond recognition

Life for people with learning disabilities has changed almost beyond recognition in the near 50 years since Rachel was born. If they come to birth — which, for babies with Down’s Syndrome, is made less likely by abortion policy — they will not be consigned to institutions like those of the past. Social attitudes have become more accepting of their presence in the community. Families receive greater support from statutory and voluntary bodies. Children with learning disabilities may even find a place in mainstream education. Churches are less likely to ask families with a person with a learning disability to stay away — it was not uncommon. Over 200 churches, in partnership with Prospects, run ministry groups specifically for people with learning disabilities. And Prospects now supports over 360 people with learning disabilities in their own homes, or homes owned by Prospects, throughout the country.

Things are so much better, but still far from perfect! People with learning disabilities still experience widespread hostility and discrimination. As Panorama’s expose of Winterbourne View Hospital showed in 2011, people with learning disabilities may still suffer abuse in the very places which are supposed to be providing care, not to mention what may happen in the community. The majority of churches still make no provision in their ministries for the hundreds of people with learning disabilities who live in their local community. And the number of Christian families still looking for long-term support for a learning disabled son or daughter, where the main carer is over 70 years of age, runs into thousands! Prospects is committed to continuing Rachel’s legacy as it harnesses Christian compassion to reach out to and provide for more and more people with learning disabilities in the UK, and beyond.

God of all comfort

Rachel was about six weeks old when David and Madeleine were informed about her condition. Their pastor, the late Harold Owen, visited and shared with them a verse of Scripture: ‘The God of all comfort comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God’ (2 Corinthians 1.4). Who could have anticipated how richly that promise would be fulfilled?

David Potter
(This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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What’s coming up in the February issue of EN

February 2013 highlights

A few highlights to look forward to in the February issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday (January 25). Of course you can always e-mail subs@e-n.org.uk as well if you’d like a complimentary copy or if you’d like to subscribe!

The other F-word (book review)


Faith, the last taboo
By Steve Maltz
Saffron Planet. 128 pages. £4.99
ISBN 978 0 956 229 632

This is not a book for you. It’s a book for you to give away to others.

It’s written to connect with people who have imbibed, consciously or not, the popular culture. It aims to get under the skin — and does so, directly, naturally and effectively.

The intention is to gain a hearing for the ‘divine defence’ — explaining life as it is through God’s Word and holding out to the reader life through faith in Christ.

Chapter 1 scratches the surface of the popular culture with imaginary conversations between people and God. In chapter 2 he introduces the expression of ‘the longing’ — what’s really going on with the world and why it is as it is — looking to be reconnected with its maker. He sets up the rest of the book by reminding the reader that the onus is with God to make his case. He then follows God’s case — through God’s story, God’s remedy (through the theme of blood shedding) and considers Christ and explores what faith in Christ is.

Written in a quick, conversational style, it is easy to read yet wonderfully straightforward. It oozes biblical faithfulness and confidence expressed with a refreshingly jargon-free choice of terms. He challenges well a number of misconceptions — that faith only has a religious dimension, that only atheistic philosophy is valid and that the authority and reliability of the Bible is easily dismissed.

It could offend. Dearly-held views are exposed and challenged with speed and ease — so knowing the people you give it to is vital.

It’s written by a man who knows the culture into which he speaks. It’s written for people who don’t know that their culture is not neutral, but who would be willing to be challenged to think about it.

Stuart Harding, 
co-pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Southport

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Do you and your church know the power and joy which you ought to?

Drinking in the spiritAround the churches I see a lot of folk whose faith has gone cold. The problem is not that they don’t know their Bibles — often they know them very well. But there is an unreality about their faith. I’ve tried to list a few symptoms of this common condition:

* a lack of any recent testimony to what God has done in our lives;
* an embarrassment to use Jesus’s name in conversation;
* a faith which is more intellectual than experiential;
* an excitement about being a Christian is missing.

And, when God seems far away, like this, then we struggle to take Christian commitment seriously. A certain laxity arises. We keep Christian involvement to a minimum.

Secular life

Do you feel I am describing you? ‘Yes’, many of us might say, ‘but I don’t know what to do about it.’

Apart from the continuing presence of our fallen sinful nature, the reason this condition so easily comes on us, is that we live in a secular society. We are trained by our whole environment to operate our lives with as little reference to God, as possible. We don’t need to look to God because we’ve got a house and a job and money in the bank for security. If we are ill, there is the NHS and insurance policies. If we need cheering up, there is TV and the internet. Living such a spiritually insulated life, in which we do not need God to intervene in any significant way on a regular basis, God becomes somewhat unreal. Faith becomes a bit of a charade.


Compare that with Paul’s aspirations for us as Christians in Ephesians 5.15-21. Here are some of the ‘symptoms’ of the Spirit’s presence evident in that passage:

* an experience of joy which does not come from alcohol (v.18);
* a speaking to one another about spiritual things (v.19);
* a heartfelt worship of the Lord (v.19);
* a thankfulness to God in everything (v.20);
* a continual attention to and witness for the name of Jesus (v.20);
* a submitting to one another — service for each other’s good (v.21).

When we juxtapose our two lists of symptoms, the diagnosis is fairly straightforward. The Holy Spirit is not among us as he should be. He is not having the influence he should have. We are not saying the Spirit is completely absent. We would not be Christians at all if that were the case. In 1 Corinthians 12.3, Paul tells us that everyone who confesses ‘Jesus is Lord’ has the Spirit and is a true Christian. But we are saying that we are not experiencing the fullness of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God with us. He is the One who makes God real to us.

Initiation in the Spirit

We meet this idea of drinking in the Spirit in a number of Bible texts. Jesus speaks of it in John 7.37,38. We find the same expression in 1 Corinthians 12.12,13. And the same idea lies behind Ephesians 5.18. ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit’.

How do people get drunk? They drink! In 1 Corinthians 12.12,13 we read: ‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised with one Spirit into one body… and were all given the one Spirit to drink’.

Here we are introduced to the idea of the church as a body. We constitute one body by being baptised in or by or with the Holy Spirit into one body. The ‘baptism in the Spirit’ has sadly been an area of confusion and trouble. But Paul sees the baptism in the Spirit as the reason why Christians are one body. We have all been immersed in the Spirit and have all been given the same Spirit to drink.

You can see immediately that the idea of the baptism in the Spirit as a second blessing which only some Christians have had won’t wash. I’m not saying Christians don’t have deeper experiences of the Spirit, but they are not ‘baptism in the Spirit’ nor do they make those Christians into some kind of elite. Paul is telling us that through baptism in the Spirit we are made one, not put into different categories.

‘Baptism in the Spirit’ is another way of talking about conversion or new birth. As Christians, we all share this Spirit-wrought change of heart which has brought us to personal repentance and faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit living in us. Our hearts have been changed by the Spirit.

Paul then tells us that we are ‘all given one Spirit to drink’. We should not take that as a one-off event, but having been initiated into the life of the Spirit we are given the Spirit to drink and to go on drinking.

Filled with the Spirit

Going back to Ephesians 5.18, we ask: ‘How are we to be filled with the Spirit?’ We are to drink. How? We drink of the Spirit through ongoing repentance and faith. Let’s see four things from Ephesians 5.18.

* Availability

First, ‘be filled’ or ‘go on being filled’. ‘The imperative is in the present tense, indicating that the believer’s experience of the Spirit’s fullness is to be a continuing one’ (Lincoln). This gives the sense of the Holy Spirit being continually available, being poured out, flowing like an accessible fountain of water to which we can come at any time. This is what the cross secured for us (John 7.37-39). The Spirit, having been ‘poured out’ (Titus 3.6), is freely available. So, as we think about being filled with the Spirit, we should not think in terms of any reluctance on God’s part. We come in faith in God’s generosity.

* Capacity

Second, that we are to be ‘filled’ with the Spirit gives the idea of it being right to view ourselves as vessels of some kind, jars with capacity to be filled. We can think of the Lord Jesus at Cana telling the servants at the wedding to ‘fill the jars with water’ (John 2.7). Now, if the Spirit is available and we are jars, what could possibly be the problem with us being filled? Nothing! Unless there is already other stuff filling the jar. If it is already full of stones and sand, then even if you bring the jar to the fountain you are not going to get much water in there. So, to be filled with the Spirit, there must first be involved some kind of emptying out of the rubbish — putting off the old self — repentance.

* Purpose

Third, what do we want to be filled with the Spirit for? The Holy Spirit’s concern is to serve and glorify Jesus. We have to be renewed in the attitude of our mind. Our old attitude was all about self. We might even be those who wish to be filled with the Spirit, but with the motive of serving self — that’s how it was with Simon the Magician (Acts 8.18,19). That won’t do at all. Our attitude must be changed. There must be more repentance at this point. God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him.

* Appetite

Fourth, the Lord Jesus is the giver of the Spirit. We must ask for the Spirit (Luke 11.12). We must wait upon him and look to him with a desire. Why do people drink? Because they are thirsty. We thirst as we realise that going on in our own strength is getting us nowhere. We thirst as we realise from Scripture and elsewhere what the Lord is capable of doing through us as he fills us with the power of his Spirit.

God has been doing great things in China. It is interesting to read the agreed statement of faith put out by the Chinese house churches in 1998. ‘In Christ God grants a diversity of gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church so as to manifest the glory of Christ. Through faith and thirsting, Christians can experience the outpouring and filling of the Holy Spirit.’

How to get ourselves thirsting? Think of the needs of our spiritually barren and wasted land! But think of what might be if God sends his Spirit. Think of the conversions — think of the joy in families, the lives changed! Think of the love and genuine kindness in the church! Think of how our towns and cities might be changed! Doesn’t it make you thirsty? Here is the antidote for Christians whose faith has gone cold.

John Benton – pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford, Surrey, and editor of Evangelicals Now


(This article was first published in the November 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.)

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Mission – quo vadis? (part 3)

Mission_quo vadis_3The final part of Thorsten Prill’s consideration of the current problems in some evangelical missions (view part 1 or part 2 here).

So far we have identified three issues which cause problems. These are theological ignorance, the work of false teachers, and an unfettered pragmatic approach to ministry as possible reasons for the current theological crisis in evangelical mission organisations. However, there are other factors which may support the spread of heresy and problematic mission strategies.

Low view of local church

Sometimes it is a low view of the local church and its role in world mission that fosters unhelpful strategies and even heretical views in the mission field. For many years mission organisations have been reminding local churches in the West of their responsibility for world mission. Local churches, they rightly argue, must be mission-minded.

However, there is also a need for mission organisations to be church-minded. Unfortunately, there is still an attitude among mission organisations that sees local churches first and foremost as a source of new missionaries and financial means1. Local churches and their individual members are seen as supporters of mission agencies and their missionaries rather than as mission partners. This is especially true for interdenominational mission organisations which have no formal link with any particular church body. One reason for this is obvious: a lack of understanding of the biblical view of mission.

The biblical model of mission, as it can be found, for example, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is not a support model but a partnership model. This model stresses a fourfold partnership between local churches and their mission workers: a partnership in praying (1.4; 1.19), in serving (1.27; 4.14), in giving (2.25; 4.15-18), and in sharing news (2.19; 2.25). The role of mission organisations must be to support these partnerships. Instead, many organisations tend to see themselves as mission specialists whose job it is to fulfil the Great Commission. As a result they are in danger of mobilising the local church for their own mission which is not necessarily God’s mission2.

Lack of accountability

Such a low view of the local church and its role in mission often has implications for the accountability of mission organisations — not only in the mission field in Africa but also back home in Europe or North America. While most mission organisations have councils to which the senior leadership is accountable, these councils do not necessarily consist of official representatives of local churches, church fellowships or denominations. Instead, they are often made up of former long-term or short-term missionaries, representatives of other mission organisations, Christians with a special interest in world mission and perhaps the occasional church minister. In some cases, the general mission council consists exclusively of serving missionaries which means that there is no external accountability at all.

Because of this lack of external accountability there is little sense of ownership among local churches, but, even more important, mission organisations receive only little or no advice and correction from churches when it comes to theological issues and mission strategies. When confronted with heretical teachings they are left pretty much on their own to deal with these.

Complex organisational structures

When faced with heresies it does not help that many mission organisations, especially the larger ones, have a rather complex organisational structure, which makes it difficult to hold missionaries and their leaders accountable. These structures can lead to bizarre situations, where, for example, mission leaders are directly involved in appointing their own supervisors every year, or where missionaries, mission leaders and their supervisors are all members of the highest decision-making body of the organisation. In both cases, real internal accountability is hardly guaranteed.

Also, it is not unusual that missionaries working together on the same team are affiliated to different national mobilising offices of the same mission organisation or have been seconded from different agencies. While working under the same umbrella these national branches and agencies might have very different approaches to mission or take very different views on some theological controversies. Put differently, what the UK branch may consider as heretical may be perfectly acceptable to their Canadian colleagues. A situation like this becomes problematic when for the sake of unity and harmony these theological issues are not addressed.

Recommendation to missionaries

Potential missionaries should choose their mission organisations wisely. How do future missionaries learn about mission organisations?

Some are recommended to them by church leaders, Christian friends or missionaries sent out by their church.

Others attend mission fairs organised by Bible colleges, visit the stalls of mission organisations at Christian events such as New Word Alive, or study helpful brochures, such as Mission Matters published by Christian Vocations.

Whatever organisation they finally decide to join, their decision needs to be an informed one. The selection process of mission organisations can be quite rigorous. Enquirers and candidates have to fill in questionnaires, provide several references and undergo a number of interviews. Such a thorough process is undoubtedly helpful and necessary, but it must not be understood as a one-sided process. While it is important for the mission organisation to find out if someone is right for them, the candidate must seize the opportunity to find out if this particular mission agency is also right for him or her. It is the time to find out more about the agency’s character, beliefs, ministry philosophy, strategies, values and policies. It is the time to ask the agency some tough questions. What exactly is your view of mission? Is this view also shared by your leaders in the field? What do you mean when you speak of partnership? How closely do you work with local churches? What role does relief work play in relationship to evangelism, church planting and leadership training? What is your leadership style? What are your structures like? How would you describe your organisational culture? How do you deal with false teaching in your organisation? What happens when things go wrong?

Not to ask such questions and to join a mission organisation just because it is well-known and long established can be dangerous. Let’s not forget: what is true for individual Christians is also true for mission organisations; they cannot live on their glorious past. What counts is not their past achievements and missionary zeal, but their present faithfulness to God’s truth as it is revealed in God’s Word.

Heart of God for mission

Mission does not belong to the church, but to God, or, as Peter Lewis once said: ‘Mission is not an activity of the church but an attribute of God. It is God’s activity in which he includes the church. The church is thus caught up in a missionary movement for God. It is caught up in his flow… There is church because there is mission, not mission because there is church’.3 The Bible tells us that at the heart of God’s mission is His desire to see ‘a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language’ standing before his throne in worship (Revelation 7.9). It also tells us that as his covenant people, the church, is entrusted with his mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28.19).

What is needed for the church to be faithful to her commission globally are mission-minded local churches, church-minded mission organisations, and theologically-minded missionaries who have a passion not only for people but also for God, his word, his truth and his glory.

Thorsten Prill is a lecturer at Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS), and a Crosslinks mission partner.


1. McCain, D., 2010. Church-minded missions: taking the local church seriously. EMQ 46(2):136-138,137
2. McCain, 137.
3. Quoted in Paterson, R., 1994. Explaining mission. Tonbridge: Sovereign Word.

(This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.)

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Companion of the exalted Jesus – for the anniversary of John Stott’s memorial service

Companion of Exalted JesusTimothy Dudley-Smith’s sermon at John Stott’s memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral on January 13 2012

‘Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful’ (Revelation 17.14).

We come — from across the world — to remember our brother John. We come to give thanks to God for him; and to offer his family, with those like Frances Whitehead who were closest to him, our shared support in loss, and in that grief which goes with love. And along with them, his curates, colleagues, study assistants and innumerable friends — and latterly his devoted nurses and carers at the College of St. Barnabas.

John Stott would, I think, be pleased that my text begins by drawing our eyes to Jesus; not the child Jesus of Christmas and Epiphany, not even the Man of Galilee, but to Jesus Christ, risen, exalted, victorious and reigning. It is that Jesus who is at the heart of our worship today as he was always at the heart of John’s life and ministry.

As you know, in these central chapters of the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John has been shown, amazingly, a door open on the unutterable mysteries of heaven. Here in chapter 17 he is shown Jesus, the Lamb slain, as the final Victor in the cosmic struggle between good and evil, reigning supreme in the heavenly places as Lord of lords and King of kings. It is an awesome vision of eternal reality.

And so the Apostle discovers, there with the exalted Christ are the called, the chosen, and the faithful.


John Stott, as we all know, was called while still a schoolboy to follow Christ. It was a story he was never tired of telling. Searching for God, unsatisfied, restless of spirit, he was pointed to that dramatic image, in this Book of Revelation, of Christ knocking at the door of the human heart. It is the subject of Holman Hunt’s famous picture, ‘The Light of the World’, here in the south aisle of this cathedral.

You may have heard John tell of this experience. ‘I, too, have talked with Jesus Christ through the keyhole’, he would say. ‘I have pushed pennies under the door in response to Jesus’s knock.’ He would explain how, in the picture, the hand that knocks still bears the scars of the nails, and how there is no handle on the outside of the door. Christ must wait, and indeed has been waiting while brambles have overgrown the doorway, until we open that door to all our life and personality, and receive Christ as guest, then host; as Saviour and Lord. To that call, John ever looked back. He observed February 21 as the anniversary of his new birth. Many distinctions were to come his way: Chaplain to the Queen, CBE, academic honours. But, through it all, his true calling remained simply ‘to become more like Jesus’.

Called, and chosen

Following Paul’s conversion, we read in Acts 9 how Ananias was told that Paul was now ‘a chosen instrument of mine to carry my Name before the nations’. So God chooses those whom he calls, and equips them, for particular tasks. He chose John Stott, surely, in our day, as he once chose Paul, ‘to carry my Name before the nations’.

At the start, this was done mainly through All Souls; and then through the great university missions, through those long, arduous days at The Hookses, wrestling to leave us a permanent legacy in print; and through the many structures he cared for and helped to create: the Eclectic Society, the National Evangelical Anglican Congresses, EFAC and CEEC, the Lausanne Movement, the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, the Langham Partnership, and many others.

Do you remember John’s famous sermon, borrowing from Martin Luther King, at the opening in 1975 of the re-developed All Souls? ‘I have a dream’, he said, ‘of a church which is biblical, loyal in every particular to the revelation of God in Scripture; which is a worshipping church, a caring church, and a serving church, one whose members obey Christ’s command to permeate secular society as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, whose people share the good news of Jesus with their friends, a church which has a global vision, and an expectant church, faithful and active because it is looking for its Lord to return.’

This is a glimpse of the vision which John Stott was chosen, and wonderfully gifted, to impart, not of course to All Souls alone but to Christians and churches across the world; both in his own unceasing missionary journeys and still today in his writings and in the continuing and expanding work of the Langham Partnership. It says much for the measure of the man that his work should not die with him, but should continue to grow and flourish under the hand of God.

Called and chosen and faithful

I can be briefer here. I guess we can all bring vividly to mind particular instances of John’s determined faithfulness to his calling and work, his Bible, his gospel and his Lord. As I have been pondering this sermon, a well-known voice has been always at my elbow, saying: ‘Not about me, but about Jesus!’ And I do not think John would feel I had been true to his memory if I did not now ask each of us how we ourselves stand before those words, ‘called’ and ‘chosen’ and ‘faithful’.

So, in a phrase I learned from John, may I put to you — to each of you individually — the direct question: ‘How is it between you and Jesus Christ?’ I have no time to elaborate on that, but as earnestly as I know how, I leave the thought with you, called? chosen? faithful? How is it this Friday morning between you and Jesus Christ?

What else do we know of those glimpsed by the Apostle through heaven’s open doorway? Just this: they are ‘with him’; or as Paul put it, ‘with Christ which is far better’. John prepared, as you may have read, a formal document in which he told his doctors: ‘The reason that I do not wish to cling to life is that I have a living hope of a yet more glorious life beyond death, and I do not wish to be unnecessarily hindered from inheriting it’.

That living hope was founded on the cross of Jesus Christ, the centre of all John Stott’s life and teaching. In his book, The Cross of Christ, he speaks of the three great achievements of the cross: saving sinners, revealing God, and conquering evil. He goes on to add: ‘The cross transforms everything’ — our relationship with God, our understanding of ourselves, our incentives to give ourselves to mission, a new love, a new courage.

So, therefore, when the Apostle looked through that open doorway, he was shown that it was the Lamb — the Lamb slain, the crucified Jesus — who is yet Lord of lords and King of kings: and they that are with him are called and chosen and faithful.

Used with permission of Timothy Dudley-Smith.

You may also watch a video of this sermon and the other key parts of the memorial service.

(This article was first published in the March 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Renaming your church?

Building a brandHow you are known? That’s what a name is… how you are known.

But, of course, that needs to be based on who you are, or you are acting under false pretences. God doesn’t do that — when he makes himself known as YHWH or Jesus, it’s a faithful and true witness to who he is. A name conveys who you are.

How then do you decide a church name? For many, the church has already got one — inherited, or given from the ‘parent’ church. Continuity is valuable — we hold firmly to the tradition handed down to us: and the gospel and the God who gave it are unchanging. On the other hand, we evangelise a changing world where:

* Language changes, and meanings too.
* Cultures change, and perceptions too.
* Techniques change, and opportunities too. For example, we found 75% of people come to our church through the internet, which didn’t exist when the church was named. We contact local people most broadly through colourful printed material: the means we use to make ourselves known do impact how we identify ourselves.

Known by whom?

When naming a church, or changing its name, we need to ask, ‘Who do we want to know us?’ ‘What will this name communicate to them?’ It’s most natural to think of names which have rich meaning to Christians. Yet we want to make ourselves known to the world for the sake of the gospel; so if a name which has become precious to us does not communicate anything positive to the community in which God has placed us, it probably needs a rethink. You see, church names are an issue of gospel effectiveness, not a box-ticking aid for Christians trying to find the church they like most.

Who are we?

Over the past few years, we at Bournville Evangelical Church became more aware of the significance of how we present ourselves — so we started a review process! We wanted to get things right for the next 7-10 years. Richard Underwood (Pastoral Director of FIEC) offered to help the church membership and friends through an internal review to take our temperature.

We did so confident in our foundations: our core beliefs, structures, and ministry emphases (Word and Spirit, prayer and community, outreach). Richard helped us look again at who we are, and what we are called to be. He made us ask whether how we functioned was consonant with the gospel we claim as our driving force. Having reviewed these areas, we knew ourselves better and so could determine how we should be known.

One specific point which emerged was that the word ‘evangelical’ in the church name did not communicate well. It’s accurate as jargon: we are thoroughly evangelical in the richest sense of the word — but when we are introducing the church to outsiders, it’s a turn-off. Why? Possibly fed by international news and broad use of the term, this word now conjures up Qu’ran-burning, gay-hating, happy-clappy, unthinking fundamentalists (another hi-jacked word). So, to faithfully communicate the character God had given the church, we probably needed a name change!

That was the easy bit. What new name would accurately make us known to outsiders? Five suggestions came up from church members — Emmanuel, Christ Church, Cornerstone, Trinity and Oak Tree Church (the latter mainly because the hall in which we meet is on Oak Tree Lane). As we thought and talked, it became clear that the consensus was coalescing around Oak Tree Church. It was noted that the more theological ‘church’ names merely communicate ‘religious name’ to an outsider — not the name’s meaning.

Seeking wise advice

At this stage, we received comment and then took advice from Christians working in marketing, design and branding. Yes, we should have done that first, for a more informed approach! However, we were glad to have involved the church fully from the start. We were pointed to the horribly named ChurchMarketingSucks website, and the Igor Naming Guide. These made the point that, in our culture, there’s much to be said for names that present a picture, rather than are literally descriptive (think ‘Apple’ vs. ‘IBM’): names that fuel the imagination rather than inform the mind. We were encouraged to consider names which would bring the associations we wanted — such as life and rootedness. We took the point, which confirmed our attraction towards ‘Oak Tree Church’ — a name which has some biblical allusion, but a local feel for our Bournville area (remembering that the name is for the unconverted to know and find us, not for attracting Christian cognoscenti). Non-Christian friends confirmed that they found it a welcoming name. So, we adopted Oak Tree Church as our working name, although legally we keep the old name until we change the constitution.

Logo and launch

Logos are a big deal, particularly in seeking to reach an image-loaded culture. But what potential for endless debates and tweaks! The deacons gained approval to come up with a proposal. We engaged a Christian designer (you’d get an architect for the building!) and having outlined to him something of the character of the church, we considered three options he drafted. One was tweaked a couple of times, with feedback from non-Christians, then presented to the congregation. We had no alternative, but did give people the power of veto. If people had said ‘No’, we would have gone back to the drawing board. It got a ‘Yes’!

Happily, this process coincided with the church’s 20th anniversary, and we made that service a re-launch under the new name and logo. We invited past members, and all conceivable local players: schools, the MP, other churches, local councillors, and representation from companies and voluntary groups (having sent most of them church Christmas cards previously). There was a good turn out and we had a joyful day of thankfulness to God, from which everyone departed with a commemorative mug (with logo).

Name the fruit

So now we have started to function with a new name. It’s rather early to gauge the results, but we have more confidence in going to people with a name we don’t have to explain away. It’s been quite a lengthy process, but going through it together has enhanced, not threatened unity. It cost us several hundred pounds, but it’s been money well spent to improve our gospel effectiveness. And so we trust and hope that our new name will bring glory to the only Name that counts.

Please feel free to contact the author to discuss any of the issues raised in this article: chrisandpersis@talktalk.net

Chris Thomas

(This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

‘Three years at war’

Three years at war

An abridged excerpt, in which Josh Fortune tells of God’s encouraging presence with him as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Dirt kicks up around us, bark splinters, leaves get hit and fall lazily onto us. So this is what it is like to be under a withering hail of bullets, I think to myself. We are lying flat on the ground. An Afghan soldier several metres away from me has thrown away his weapon, and is lying like a starfish, not even wanting to lift his head.

A bullet hits a patch of earth to my right and sends up a puff of dust. Sinister cracks and snaps have become our world. It is absolutely terrifying. A British soldier to my left swears loudly as a bullet whizzes just above his head. Despite the situation, we laugh. It’s unreal. BOOM! A rocket-propelled grenade is fired, but thankfully misses. A message comes over the radio, two words that nobody in any army ever wants to hear. Man down.

‘Get up and run’
Somebody — we aren’t sure who — in one of the lead sections has been hit. He is in a critical condition, and will die if he is not rescued. We are the reserve section, the casualty evacuation section. We have to move. The platoon commander tells us that we have to go. There are blank looks of fear from both Afghan and British soldiers. We have just been hugging the ground, praying for our lives, and now we have to get up and run through the bullet-infested air. I am shaking, but I resolve not to be the one who refuses to move — I am a cameraman, and for me to delay the efforts to save a wounded man would be unforgivable. Lord, I pray in my head, I ask that you watch over me now and, if I am to die, please can it be as painless as possible.

‘Go!’ It’s time to get up. My arms and legs scream at me as I force them to make me stand. We begin to run across a boggy field. Taliban fire comes in. CRACK! CRACK!

Words to Joshua
I am absolutely terrified. I pray as I run, while pushing the Afghan soldier who is stumbling in front of me, his strength flagging. In my mind, God’s words to Joshua — the man I was named for — in the Bible suddenly come to me: ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1.9).

I know that God has ordained that I am here, in this moment, running toward the casualty with the soldiers. I know that he is completely and utterly in control of this situation. Despite my fear, I feel peace wash over me; I know that he is with me. I repeat his words to Joshua over and over as I run through the bog and the grass.

Not a pleasant sight
An orange smoke grenade bursts about 50 metres away, marking the location of the casualty. We are heaving with exhaustion, numb-legged, and the last few steps drag on and on. What we arrive at is not a pleasant sight. I immediately turn my camera off — now is not the time to gather footage. He has been shot in the face. The bullet has sliced through jaw and cheek, and emerged on the other side. His tongue, wet with dark blood, is hanging out, touching his ear. I never realised that tongues could be that long. His face has a pale green tinge to it. The medic, a young blonde Navy girl called Kate, frantically works on him, inserting a breathing tube into his nose. His mouth is too clogged with blood and ragged flesh for him to breathe unaided. We load him onto the stretcher, where Kate will have to tend to him as we run.

Chinook run
We pick up the stretcher: the wounded man is heavy with bulky gear. We sink deeper into the mud. ‘Go! Go! Go!’ the commander shouts, and we pound forward as fast as we can. I have never known physical exertion like it — none of the brutal Para selection tests from my former army days even come close to this level of agony. Hands burn, legs shake, breath is ragged. The soldiers shout at each other to keep going. They shout to the injured man — who I find out is called Jon — to hang on, telling him he will be OK. I wonder if they actually believe what they are saying. To me, it looks like he is going to die. We run, and we run, and we run. Angry, panicked voices berate any who don’t put every ounce of effort into getting Jon out of there. A British medical Chinook is on its way, and we don’t want to keep it waiting with the Taliban around.

Protect the casualty
After what seems like three hours of running — although it’s probably only about 20 minutes or so — we finally reach the makeshift landing site, that other soldiers have secured. The ‘whump-whump-whump’ of the Chinook descends to surround us. ‘Cover the casualty!’ someone screams, as the heat, grass, and dust kicked up by the Chinook thrash at our faces. We throw ourselves over and around Jon, protecting his open wounds from the cloying dust. Once it has settled, we pick him up and run him over to the Chinook. The medics take him and, within an instant, he is gone.

‘Thank you, Lord’
Silence. Birds sing. Crickets chirp. I sink to the floor and rub the sweat from my face. Soldiers begin to check that everyone is OK. We drink water, lots of water. I wring the wet filth of the stream from my socks, and feel at a complete loss for what to say. I have never experienced anything remotely like this afternoon in my life. Everybody is congratulating Kate: she ran across an open field, under fire, to save Jon with no regard whatsoever for her safety. Several soldiers thank me for helping when, as a media guy, I could have just sat there and not got involved. I thank God for giving me the strength to volunteer myself. That night, we receive reports from Camp Bastion that Jon is going to live. I lie in the dust on my camp bed and watch the moon. Tears fill my eyes. ‘Thank you, Lord.’

Beginning to doubt
One year later, things have changed. I have now been in Afghanistan for two years, and my morale is low. I have fallen in love with the daughter of the pastor of our church back home. I have one more year to push out here. We are on the eve of one of the largest operations in history. The next morning, we will be airlifted into hostile territory and seek to secure it from Taliban influence. This could get bad. Despite the fact that God has kept me for the last two years, and brought me to a greater faith in him, I am beginning to doubt. Now that I am in love — and have so much to lose — I am beginning to believe that I will end up as one of those tragic stories of young love cut short. How do I know that I can trust God? What if his plan for me is to die in the next few days?

Dog tag encouragement
A British soldier, who is part of the company that I am attached to, walks up to me before bedtime. ‘Hey Josh’, he says, pressing a small metal dog tag into my hand, ‘I think this is yours, it has your name on it, mate.’ I frown slightly, I haven’t lost my identity tags — they are still firmly around my neck. I turn over the tag that he has given me, and I am lost for words. I can see why he thought it was mine; it has the word ‘Joshua’ written on it. It is a quotation from the Bible book of Joshua, the same verses that I repeated to myself over and over as I ran to help save Jon a year ago: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’.

Wow! There is no way that this can be chance. A soldier who I barely know, walking over to me and giving me this dog tag because — for all he knew — it belonged to me. These words from the Bible, God’s promise coming at precisely this moment, when I needed it.

The reminder that I shouldn’t be afraid, because he will be with me wherever I go. Whether I will die in the next few days, or live to enjoy a long, happy life with Danielle is no longer so pressing. My God is with me, and whatever happens, I am going to trust in him.

This is an abridged excerpt from Three Years at War by Josh Fortune, published by Day One (224 pages, £5.00, ISBN 978 1 846 253 720, http://www.dayone.co.uk).

Josh Fortune now lives in London with his wife Danielle and their son Jacob. He helps run a youth group at his church and also preaches regularly.

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057