Prayer fuel: News from around the world


Here are a handful of news-bites from around the world included in the April issue of EN. May these encourage us as well as spur us on to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world facing severe persecution.

Algeria: fine doubled
A court in February threw out a prison sentence, but increased a fine on a man convicted of trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity.
Ibouène Mohamed was sentenced in July 2012 to one year in prison and fined 50,000 dinars (about £420) after he was accused by a co-worker of attempting to convert him to Christianity, a charge that Mohamed denied. On February 13, the prison sentence was overturned by an appeals court in Béchar, but the fine was doubled to 100,000 dinars. Originally from the more Christian northern region of Algeria, Mohamed is employed in a multinational company in the western city of Tindouf.
World Watch Monitor

Israel: Herod exhibition
The world’s first exhibition on the life and legacy of Herod the Great opened at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum on February 13, where it continues until October 5.
The landmark exhibition, Herod the Great: the King’s Final Journey, presents approximately 250 archaeological finds from the king’s recently discovered tombs at Herodium, as well as from Jericho and other related sites. Shedding new light on Herod’s reign from 37 to 4 BC, the objects on view include three sarcophagi from Herod’s tomb, restored frescoes from Herodium and never-before-seen carved stone elements from the Temple Mount.
More info: www.english.imjnet.org.il

Laos: 3 pastors
Three pastors (Bounma of Alowmai, Somkaew of Kengsainoi and Bounmee of Savet) were arrested on February 5 for ‘spreading the Christian religion’ by reproducing a DVD of a Christian film.
The pastors took a DVD about the ‘End Times’ to a shop in Phin District market to make three copies. After the copies were made, the shop owner and pastors tested one, watching the film to the end. While they were watching the film, a police officer came to the shop, saw them watching it and contacted his superior, who came with two deputies. The police arrested the pastors, who are currently detained in Phin District prison.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide

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In the light of an assured future


In the light of an assured future‘For I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another’ (Job 19.25-27).

‘I believe that when I die I shall rot and nothing of my ego shall survive’ (Bertrand Russell).

The only characteristic these two well-known statements share is their expression of certainty. The nature of that certainty is, of course, in each case, massively different.

Bertrand Russell regarded death as the means by which both body and ego were extinguished forever. For him, this was not a matter of conjecture, but certainty. Theology was rejected as ‘a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance’ (see his History of Western Philosophy). Life’s questions were to be addressed against the background of ‘the terror of cosmic loneliness’. In other words, no divine source of information exists which can reveal answers to mankind’s deepest questions, or offer certainty in an uncertain universe. Wisdom in this world is to be found within the realm of philosophy. Beyond that are merely the bleak certainties of a Creator-less universe and the finality of an unavoidable death of body, ego and all conscious existence: ‘….when I die I shall rot…’

Continuing influence

Of course, one of the remarkable things about Russell’s brand of humanistic philosophy is that it continues to shape the thinking of many people, notwithstanding his death over 40 years ago. We live in a world dominated by temporal preoccupations and the arrogance of human intellect, dismissive of God, divine revelation and matters of eternal destiny.

We just have to do our best to make sense of the world around us, in the cold certainty that there is nothing else to cling to. That is the basic point, according to this perspective.

Stark contrast

In stark contrast, however, stands the Book of Job, offering us certainty and hope amidst the many sufferings and uncertainties of this life. Indeed, the certainty and hope articulated in the verses above provide a model for Christian faith.

First, there is the certainty that ‘my Redeemer’ lives. Job’s Redeemer God is a living God and, in Christ, he supplies the way of redemption from sin for fallen mankind and conquers death. For the Christian, the resurrection is a foundation stone. This is clear from the logic of 1 Corinthians 15.17-19 (‘And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! …If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable’). Bertrand Russell would have regarded any notion of resurrection as pure fantasy, but for the Christian, his own resurrection is founded entirely upon the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection.

Second, there is the certainty of the future completion of God’s salvation plan with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Book of Job, this is prefigured in Job’s realisation that ‘…at the last he will stand upon the earth’. Job’s living Redeemer — the Christian’s Redeemer too — will one day present himself ‘upon the earth’ as Lord of all things and supreme judge, at the end of the present age.

Third, Job has assurance that physical death does not bring annihilation, but a transformed relationship with the living God: ‘…yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another’. Job’s relationship with his Redeemer is the basis of this assurance, enabling him to look beyond his own death to the remarkable prospect of seeing God face to face. Confidence of this kind also lies within the Christian’s grasp. ‘Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3.2). ‘They shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads’ (Revelation 22.4).

Our response?

These great truths do not simply form the bedrock of our future hope; they call for a response now. We should be spurred on in the Christian life, knowing that eternity can be embraced with confidence. The despair of Russell’s ‘cosmic loneliness’ is dispelled by the firm assurance of an everlasting relationship with the Lord. That should lead to a life of resolute Christian obedience in this world.

1 Corinthians 15 concludes with the following exhortation: ‘Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord’. In other words, confident of the knowledge of an assured future, in which, like Job, the Christian will see his all-powerful, holy, Redeemer God face to face, the Christian should not waver or give up, but should persist in the Lord’s work, knowing that it is purposeful and will lead to the eventual privilege and glory of seeing the Lord.

Our world

We live in a world full of conflict and social unrest, family breakdown, economic uncertainty and moral and spiritual confusion. Indeed, these are the hallmarks of its fallen state. As biblical truth seems to be pushed ever further from our country’s understanding of itself, the Christian is called to stand firm and be steadfast in the work of the Lord, knowing that a certain future has been secured: ‘…yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and not another’.

As evangelical Christians, we should pray that we are spurred on by these truths to live for Christ in opposition to the lies and emptiness of humanistic philosophy. We should also pray that the Church of England will once again be captivated by them too, for our nation’s sake.

James Crabtree, 
Chairman of the Church Society Council

This article was first published in Church Society’s CrossWay magazine, and is published with permission.

(This article was first published in the April 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Anglican update: Praying for the Archbishop


I try and pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, most days — and I hope that you do as well.
Quite apart from any biblical imperatives in this regard, there are so many pressing issues with which he has to deal.
For one thing, there is the matter of speaking biblically to the nation in the realm of politics and government. We’ve seen this recently with the support both he and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, gave to a letter signed by 43 bishops criticising planned benefits cuts. (By convention, the two Archbishops themselves do not sign such letters — but in this case they have indicated their support.) Archbishop Welby said: ‘As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish’.

Bishops?
Then there is the matter of handling and responding to all the other bishops, be they active or retired. Recently there has been good advice from the retired Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who said: ‘Resources need to be released away from lawyers, experts and civil servants towards … the equipping of those in the pew. This will lead to a lightening of bureaucracy at every level and to church gatherings which are characterised by prayerfulness and attention to God’s word rather than the “dead hand” of parliamentary procedure’. And there’s also been more complex advice from the retiring Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Price, who reportedly described the church as ‘perfect in all its imperfections’.

Internal Anglican issues
There are also, of course, the obvious internal Anglican issues for Archbishop Welby to deal with. In February, the House of Bishops ‘expressed its encouragement and support for new robust processes and steps in bringing forward to General Synod the necessary legislation to consecrate women to the episcopate’, following the most recent meeting of its working party on this subject. Church Society, which has been involved in the latest round of discussions, asks, among other things that we ‘pray for the wider church, for a conciliatory tone and catholic spirit as we continue to work out how to work together despite our disagreements over this issue’.
The other obvious internal issue is the Pilling Report due to be published during 2013, which was set up to advise the House of Bishops about human sexuality. In the newlypublished biography of Archbishop Welby by Andrew Atherstone, The Road To Canterbury, he is quoted from his days in parish ministry as saying: ‘Throughout the Bible it is clear that the right place for sex is only within a committed heterosexual marriage’. There will be enormous pressure on him to change.

‘Left-field’ issues
And then there are the ‘left-field’ issues — the unforeseen ones — with which he has to deal. One wonders what he makes of the recent decision by an independent church plant in Sheffield (itself planted by another independent, non-Anglican church) to have its minister ordained as deacon of the Anglican Church in Kenya (while continuing to work in Sheffield) by an African bishop. Confused? You’re not the only one. When previously Bishop of Durham, Archbishop Welby told his diocesan synod that he believed in ‘holy anarchy’, which he described as ‘anarchy within an organisation, a sense of diversity, of freedom, and empowering that must move us away from a topdown, centralising, managerial approach that is the curse of the Church of England’. But would that include such ordinations, one wonders? Either way, let’s continue to pray for him.

David Baker,
rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex

This article was first published in the April 2013 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

Prayer fuel: News in the UK


Here are a handful of news-bites from around the UK included in the April issue of EN. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.

Parents and the net
Dr. Bex Lewis, an expert in new media, is writing a book on parenting in a digital age and is keen to gather feedback from parents / carers of young people, it was announced in February.
If you would like to take part in this online questionnaire go to: http://digital-fingerprint.co.uk/2013/02/questionnaire-digitalparenting/
Safermedia

New connections
Clans, launched in February, is an innovative way to help international students who have been involved in a church or Christian group to connect with local Christians after they return home, so that they can continue their journey of faith.
Clans (www.clans.co.uk) is very simple. The user locates his/her home country on the Clans website and is then able to connect with believers and other international students who have returned home. Initially, Clans will just cover Europe.
Friends International

Conspiracy of silence
Politicians are too frightened to admit family breakdown is causing major damage, a senior family lawyer said in late February.
Baroness Deech said that, when it comes to the absence of fathers in families, there is ‘a conspiracy of silence. Politicians fear to address it, for they themselves or their constituents may be implicated’. The shadow public health minister Diane Abbott has said that family breakdown causes society’s biggest health issues.
The Christian Institute

For more news and prayer fuel from around the UK, subscribe to EN for monthly updates.

Editors commentary: ‘We’re paratroopers…’


There is a stirring line in Band of Brothers.
The TV series tells the story of ‘Easy Company’ led by Dick Winters, part of the 101st US Airborne Division in the months following D-Day.
The German counter-attack came unexpectedly in December 1944 through the Ardennes and the 101st were given the task of holding the area around the strategic town of Bastogne. Short of warm clothing, equipment and ammunition, the soldiers of Easy Company arrive to find fellow Americans in retreat. At this point, Captain Winters is informed that the German panzers are about to cut the road to the South. ‘It looks like you guys are going to be surrounded’, explains Second Lieutenant George Rice. Then comes Winters’ heroic reply: ‘We’re paratroopers, Lieutenant. We’re supposed to be surrounded’.

The challenge
It’s like that with us as Christians. As contemporary Britain becomes increasingly worldly, godless and concerned with nothing other than self, the God-centred outlook of biblical Christianity will be increasingly out of step and under attack from a generation of people who simply do not understand us. But that situation should not surprise us. We belong to a different Master. We are outposts of another kingdom. We might say we are paratroopers from God’s future sent on a rescue mission into a lost world which is passing away. Surrounded by antagonists? That’s what we signed up for. Jesus told us that we had to take up the cross if we wanted to follow him (Mark 8.34). The challenge to us all in coming years will be to hold our nerve.
I was reflecting on some words of the late Professor John Murray about what comprises a Christian world order. He wrote: ‘There are three basic divine institutions in human society — the family, the church and the state’.* Murray explains that all of these are given by God for the benefit of society and of individuals within society. All three are needed to keep things in balance.
But in a godless world the tendency is for the state to seek to take over and do away with church and family. We have seen this in the horrific totalitarian regimes of Communism during the 20th century. But now we are witnessing this same tendency in a different, 21st-century form. The politically correct liberals have done everything in their power to destroy the traditional family: from the promotion of lone parenthood and the marginalisation of fathers through to the latest move to redefine marriage itself. Meanwhile the media (in love with atheism) and the fifth-column religious liberals, along with the cover-ups of sexual scandals within Catholicism, have made the church into an irrelevant or even harmful nonsense in the eyes of the general population. All this leaves the field clear for state control. We are to be ruled by the changing ideas of fallen men and women alone. It’s a scary prospect.

Digging in
How will we hold our nerve? Concluding the episode of Band of Brothers where they arrive at Bastogne, there is a quote from the 101st’s ‘Currahee’ scrapbook: ‘Farthest from your mind is the thought of falling back… and so you dig your hole carefully and deep, and wait’. Somewhat surrounded, the church must not turn in on itself but keep a loving, open face to the world. However, we will need to dig in and that means digging deep into Scripture. Many ordinary church members need a far firmer grasp of why we believe what we believe if they are to stand. It also means churches being devoted to one another in brotherly love.

* The Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, Banner of Truth, page 359

John Benton

This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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How to wreck a church


how to wreck a churchRichard Bewes, former rector of All Souls, Langham Place, London, warns of the enemy within

It has been tried across the centuries — in public arenas, through mob violence and by official banning.

In the first 300 years of the New Testament church, ten massive persecutions took place, and the Roman emperor Diocletian even had a medal struck — inscribed with the boast, ‘The Christian religion is destroyed, and the worship of the gods is restored’.

But — as Bishop William Greer of Manchester once told his critic during a TV interview — ‘The church will stand at the grave of the BBC, the ITV and all other institutions knocking around the world today’. Those might sound like brave words only, were it not for the assurance of Jesus Christ that the gates of hell itself will not prevail against the church.

Critics’ failure to learn

We Christians today are astonished, not so much at the ever-continuing advance in the 2.3 billion-strong family of Jesus Christ worldwide, but rather at the amazing failure of our critics to learn from history. Naturally we weep when a Janani Luwum (Uganda), or a Mehdi Dibaj (Iran) is martyred. Such martyrs are numbered by the thousand today, as they were 20 centuries ago. But the sweep of civilisation indicates that the greater the pressure on the church from its outside persecutors, the stronger tends to be its growth.

The atheist Philip Pulman has declared: ‘Without a doubt Christianity will cease to exist in a few years’. He might have done better to heed the historian, T.R. Glover: ‘The final disappearance of Christianity has been prophesied so often as to be no longer interesting’.

Danger from insiders

And yet a church can be wrecked. To read the letters of the New Testament is to understand that although persecution from outside was bitter and powerful, the real dangers arose from men within the church’s boundaries, who — like others of ‘broad’ outlook who were to follow them — ‘creep into the ministry, but they are generally cunning enough to conceal the breadth of their minds beneath Christian phraseology’ (C.H. Spurgeon, college address, 1874).

A prime example of the New Testament warnings occurs in Paul’s letter to Titus, appointed to lead the church in Crete. Writing of such false teachers, the apostle declares: ‘They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good’ (Titus 1.16).

‘Detestable…’ Paul is not writing of the Roman Empire (of which Crete became a part in 67 AD). Nor was he fearful of other religions. Zeus was supposedly born in Crete, and Bacchus was also worshipped there — but Zeus and Bacchus, together with Osiris, Jupiter, Artemis and a host of other deities would all have to move aside with the preaching of Jesus. The real enemy was from within. The false teachers within the church were plausible in their appearance — ‘claiming to know God’; they were human in their authority — presenting ‘the commands of men who reject the truth’ (the correct reading of v.14)); they were rebellious in their attitudes — ‘rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers’.

The character of false teaching

What is it about false teaching? First, it dazzles, finding its ways into magazines and onto TV news programmes and book displays. Secondly, it deceives — drawing the unwary half a degree off course. It then distorts, for the principle of the ever-widening angle will eventually see church members ten years down the line embracing teachings that are far removed from Scripture. And, finally, it destroys. Congregations slowly die. And the brilliant shooting star that had once drawn gasps from admirers drops into the darkness and is forgotten. The books end up in Oxfam shops, but the damage has been done.

The identikit of Crete’s false teachers is not uncommon throughout the story of the church. The teachings may vary across a wide range, spanning between the blatancy of a Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania (‘We wrote the Bible; we can re-write the Bible’) to the extremism of semi-sectarianism that asserts, ‘Yes, the cross is important — but we’ve moved on further now’. How do false teachers come across?

Recognising false teachers

Titus was urged to recognise them as the big talkers (1.10); also as the peace-breakers, upsetting and dividing whole households and fellowships. They were to be recognised as the truth-warpers, with their twisting of a single issue into a major mandatory tenet. Such has always been the case. Ultimately they were the death-brokers, for, just as all things that the pure ever touch tend to result in purity, so all that the ‘corrupted’ deal with will end in corruption (1.15).

That, very largely, is how a church becomes wrecked. It happens from within.

How to resist

The question always lies before Bible people and gospel people: how are false leaders in the church to be resisted? The answer is the same as that given to Titus. First, we are to silence them by our teaching (v.11), and never to give in — but rather to out-preach them. We are also to correct them by our firmness (v.13) with the aim of winning them around. This may have to include ‘fencing’ the pulpit, monitoring the bookstall and guarding church leadership appointments (vv.5-9). Further, we are to expose them by our very lifestyle (v.16). As often as not, false teaching will finally betray its nature in its boasting, lying, sexual deviation, cheating and avarice (v.12).

Self-control and self-vigilance on our own part are vital, ‘so that in every way we may make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’ (2.10). The alternative is …detestable.

Richard Bewes OBE is former Rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, and Prebendary Emeritus of St. Paul’s Cathedral. He is a member of Anglican Mainstream’s Steering Committee. Website: http://www.richardbewes.com

This article was first published on the Anglican Mainstream website (http://www.anglican-mainstream.net) and is used with permission.

(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)