Prayer fuel: News from around the world


Here are a handful of news-bites from around the world included in the December 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.

Kuwait: literacy
62 church leaders attended a literacy workshop in October, organised by the Bible Society in the Gulf in partnership with the Kuwait Coptic Church.
The Bible-based programmes train leaders to help migrants to learn how to read and write Arabic, which will enable them to help the large migrant community in Kuwait to read the word of God in their own language. Fellowship of European Broadcasters (FEB) 

Poland: no trick or treat
Halloween has been banned in a Polish city because it is seen as ‘anti-Christian’, it was reported on October 30.
Children have been told by town hall bosses in Radom that they must not dress up while shops were ordered not to sell decorations. The celebration is ‘pagan and satanic’, said Cllr. Slawomir Adamiec.’ Metro

Most persecuted
According to an article published in The Spectator on October 5, 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
Christians are by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet, with 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, for reasons related to their faith. Author John L. Allen Jr. said: ‘The global persecution of Christians is the unreported catastrophe of our time.’ Fellowship of European Broadcasters (FEB) 

 

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

Anglican update: Directing Reform


EN caught up with Susie Leafe, the recently appointed first full-time Director of Reform, just before their leaders conference and asked her a few questions.

EN: Tell us about your own conversion.
SL: I grew up in a nominally Christian home, so I went along to Sunday School at our parish church and learned a few Bible stories.
It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that friends at school made me realise that there was more to being a Christian than going to church. I went along with them to a Luis Palau mission at Wimbledon Theatre, heard the gospel explained clearly and ‘went forward’.
My teenage years were a testament to  God’s faithfulness, as he consistently provided me with Christian friends, helpful churches and the regular pattern of a Scripture Union summer camp, and my unfaithfulness as I sought to live with one foot firmly planted in the world. I guess I was about 21 when I finally decided, as an adult, that the evidence for God’s goodness was overwhelming and that I could trust him in every area of this life as well as for my eternal salvation.

EN: Please could you explain to the uninitiated what Reform is and does?
SL: Reform is a network of churches and individuals that have bound themselves together in fellowship to uphold, defend and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the original doctrines of the Church of England.
Members of Reform are encouraged to engage with the pastoral and doctrinal issues that are currently bubbling away in the Church of England. We produce papers and articles to inform and stimulate discussion. Members are involved in pioneering new ways of doing ministry and we actively encourage and help candidates as they go forward for ordination.

Conservative evangelicals
Members of Reform represent the interests of conservative evangelicals within the structures of the Church of England at diocesan and national levels. There are many members of Reform on General Synod and we seek to support one another through prayer and discussion as we consider how best to speak and vote when we have the chance.
Rod Thomas, our Chairman, is a gifted networker who has worked hard to ensure that our views are understood by those with power to make decisions that affect the future direction of the Church of England.

EN: What is your role as Director of Reform?
SL: In short, my role is to deliver the objectives set by the Reform Council. So I work closely with Rod Thomas and Johnny Lockwood, our part-time administrator.

Keeping the network connected
Since its inception in 1993 the Reform network has grown to the point that it has become too large to work effectively without someone on hand to keep the different elements of the network connected. So, since being appointed in July, I have sought to build relationships across the network. At a simple, personal level, this has meant meeting or phoning members to discover the opportunities and difficulties facing gospel ministry in their ‘patch’.
One of the exciting things that has come from these personal contacts is that it has made it possible to identify the common issues and potential solutions that the Council needs to examine and address.
I am also responsible for representing the views of Reform members in different settings. This might involve sitting on a Steering Group — such as General Synod’s latest attempt to find a way forward on women bishops — or responding to requests from the media. There is also a need to build relationships with other gospel-focused groups both inside and outside the Church of England so that we can work more effectively with one another.

EN: What are the challenges for the future?
SL: Reform faces the same challenge as every other Christian: the challenge of continuing to be faithful witnesses to the whole counsel of Scripture.
At Gafcon2, Mike Ovey gave a very helpful address entitled ‘The Grace of God or the world of the West’ which outlined the dangers we face from cheap grace, the growth of individual entitlement and spiritual narcissism. I thoroughly recommend it to all those who missed it as it provides a helpful analysis of the culture in which we live.

Means of salvation
In the Church of England, as in other denominations, we face ongoing debates that on the surface appear to be about gender equality or sexual morality. In fact, at a deeper level, these debates question the nature of God, the church and the means of salvation. For example, if it is not possible for men and women to be equal in status and different in role then it starts to undermine the very nature of the Trinity. If it is impossible to be equal and different then the Father, Son and Spirit must play identical roles in order to be equal, which plays havoc with the idea of substitutionary atonement.

Upholding marriage
The Pilling Commission on Human Sexuality is likely to report to the House of Bishops in the next few months. We pray that the bishops will recognise the importance of upholding lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage as the only relationship in which sexual activity is permitted by God, but fear that this is improbable.
Anglican evangelical leaders from Reform and other groups are meeting to pray for God’s mercy on our land, to consider how best to react to these challenges and to make plans for our future ministry. We would value the prayers of the readers of Evangelicals Now.

For more information about Reform, see their website www.reform.org.uk 

This article was first published in the December 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 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 December issue of EN. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.

NI: same-sex adoption
The Northern Ireland Health minister has lost a bid to overturn a court ruling in favour of same-sex adoption in Northern Ireland, it was reported on November 1.
The Supreme Court rejected Edwin Poots’s application to appeal the case, saying that it did not raise an arguable point of law. An earlier court had said restricting joint adoptions to married couples was unlawful, despite overwhelming public support for keeping the law as it is. The Christian Institute

Shari’a finance for UK
Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali in early November warned that David Cameron’s proposals to make Britain the first non-Muslim country to sell a shari’a-compliant bond could trigger a series of ‘unforeseen consequences’.
He also said that Christianity was being increasingly excluded from the administration of law, after one of Britain’s most senior judges said members of the judiciary were ‘secular’ figures serving a ‘multicultural community’. Bible Society’s Newswatch

The whole truth
The Magistrates Association, which represents 23,000 lay magistrates, has rejected a motion which proposed ceasing the current practice of defendants and witnesses swearing on the Bible, it was reported in late October.
At their annual general meeting in Cardiff, a JP urged members to reject the motion because it represented a ‘further marginalisation of faith in our society’. The motion was defeated by a show of hands. Bible Society’s Newswatch

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

Editors commentary: Supporting Sunday Schools


I believe in Sunday Schools and that children should have teaching specifically tailored to their needs.
A child’s way of understanding is not the same as that of an adult. ‘When I was a child… I thought as a child’ (1 Corinthians 13.11). A child can understand the truth in a simple way, but can also misunderstand. To mention a crass example, when she was a girl, there was a boy in my wife’s class named William Heaven. You can imagine the kinds of confusion that arose in the little boy’s mind from the opening sentence of the Lord’s Prayer. So it’s good that there is a time when children are taught separately from the rest of the church. Sunday School teachers do a wonderful job.

During the sermon
Our Sunday School takes place during the sermon time. Here are some reasons why. We believe that all the Bible is necessary for our Christian maturity (2 Timothy 3.16,17). But is everything in Scripture appropriate for children? There are some horrifying things in the Bible. Is it really appropriate to preach to children from Genesis 19 or Judges 19 and 20? Do they need to hear about David being asked for a bride-price of 100 Philistine foreskins? I could go on.
So if the custom of the church is to keep children in the sermon, what happens to the preaching programme? Either we blunder on preaching stuff which will make parents rightly squirm as their children listen. Or we bowdlerise holy Scripture, there being ‘no go’ areas for the preacher, and less than blunt application, because there are children present. So, instead, the Sunday School teachers take the kids and teach them in ways helpful to them.
We also have Sunday School during sermon time for the sake of outsiders. Requiring children from non-Christian homes to sit through the sermon is generally a disaster. Not only are the parents not used to church, but it is likely that the children will hate being forced to sit through a sermon and will play up, the parents will be embarrassed and will probably be put off ever coming again. By contrast, if they join the beginning of the service and then there is a lively and well-organised Sunday School during the sermon, the whole family may well feel relaxed and welcome among God’s people. We’ve even had the youngsters of un-churched parents asking, ‘Dad, please can we go to that church again?’ Sunday School teachers are worth their weight in gold!

Get behind them
But what do we do to support our Sunday School teachers? First, do we run and support an evening service? Sunday School teachers need to be fed as well as feed the spiritual needs of the children? Or, having had our children taught by the teachers in the morning, do we plead family responsibilities and leave them to attend a rather sad and sparsely populated evening service? Second, do we give the Sunday School time in the prayer meeting and listen to the needs of teachers? Third, do we give the Sunday School our best and most gifted people? Sadly, today’s children tend to be easily bored. The Sunday School needs people of presence and flare. Fourth, do our Sunday School teachers get all the training they need? In the contemporary child-centred world, youngsters tend to be far less biddable. Have our teachers been trained, not only to be able to teach in an exciting way, but also how to win children, and bring control to a boisterous class?

John Benton

This article was first published in the December 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

Links worth a look!


Enjoy some of the links we thought were worth a look!

Desiring God – Don’t raise good kids

Kevin DeYoung – 10 Errors to avoid when talking about sanctification and the gospel

Tim Chester – Must I read my Bible every day?

Gospel Partnerships – Why would a small church plant have a preaching group?

Tim Challies – 18 things I will not regret doing with my wife

If you come across something yourselves you think we’d like to share with our readers – let us know. We always love hearing from you.

A fatal flaw in our democracy


Fatal Flaw in our democracyDespite the chaotic and often corrupt practices of politicians, we would probably agree that democracy has brought great benefits.

These include freedom from tyranny and exploitation by ruling classes with no concern for the welfare of the common citizen, unprecedented prosperity and social benefits which have lifted millions from abject poverty, freedom of speech and religion, fair trials and (mostly) impartial justice.

But can Western democracies continue to have confidence in their governments?

The financial crisis

The financial crisis of 2007-8 and the subsequent severe recession that hit mainly Europe and the US have exposed the financial weaknesses of many countries. Several have had to seek bail-outs from fellow Euro-zone countries, the IMF and others, just to stave off collapse: Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus, with Spain and Italy struggling to keep out of the same humiliating clutches of international creditors.

When the crisis hit, causing a severe decline in economic activity, governments found their tax revenues plunging and found themselves in a double squeeze of falling tax revenue and escalating spending on welfare payments. This created huge and rising budget deficits that forced governments to borrow from the international capital markets in ever larger quantities. As debts rose, investors became spooked, especially about debt incurred by the weakest countries. As a result, many countries had no choice but to accept painful austerity measures in return for bail-out packages. Citizens of those countries, and even Britain, now face the unpleasant task of raising taxes and cutting spending in order to balance the budgets.

Tax history

While it may seem obvious to those of us in the financial industry, many people don’t understand the link between the benefits they receive from government and the rising debt that we are battling to cut. Before the early 20th century, many people will be surprised to learn that the US did not have an income tax. Britain adopted various temporary income tax schemes in the 19th century, but for the purpose of paying for wars. Before the 20th century, most government expenditure was to pay for defence and police forces, the costs of running the institutions of government like Parliament and the courts. It was financed largely by consumption taxes, tolls and various levies.

Although government programmes to help the poor are documented going back to the Roman Empire, the notion of a social welfare state financed with income taxes is mainly a 20th-century idea. We can point to a number of reasons for this development, ranging from well-meaning liberal governments responding to the abuses of the Industrial Revolution and, later on, the Great Depression, the influence of Maynard Keynes and his idea of using deficit spending (spending more than the government receives in tax revenues) by governments as a means of promoting economic growth, to the more sinister influence of Communism that legitimised the idea in the minds of socialists that governments have the right to ‘redistribute wealth’ from their rich citizens in the name of social justice.

While the original causes can be debated, certainly most Christians will sympathise with the idea of such things as helping the poor. But how has the welfare state fared in the hands of politicians and voters, the majority of whom now no longer embrace Christian values but who are increasingly influenced by postmodern ideas?

Welfare state and government debt

While countries have all gone through periods of rapidly rising debts throughout history, prior to the 20th century such financial emergencies were almost always caused by financing wars. It is only in the 20th century where we find governments dedicating increasing proportions of their budgets to social benefit payments. Initially governments sized these payments according to their available tax revenues, but it wasn’t long before they began an unprecedented wave of new welfare schemes financed by ever increasing income taxes. And when those weren’t enough, governments began borrowing money to make these payments, with seemingly no plan to pay off these debts or even to balance their budgets to stop the debts from increasing.

By the time the crisis hit in 2007, the US and European countries had already allowed their debts to rise to uncomfortable, even stratospheric levels for peacetime economies, ranging from 50% to even 250% of their GDPs (gross domestic product, the total value of economic production in a country). Britain’s debt was around 50% of its GDP in 2007, but, despite austerity measures, our debt has risen to around 80% of GDP in 2013 and is forecast to continue to rise. This is unprecedented for a peacetime economy.

The problem is worse now because, unlike wartime expenses which naturally come to an end when the war is over, welfare schemes have mostly been set up as so-called ‘entitlement programmes’, which means that governments have obligated themselves to pay pensions, national health care and other welfare payments according to need, regardless of whether tax revenues are sufficient to pay for them.

There is a demographic time bomb, especially in Western Europe, with rapidly aging populations forecast to place ever increasing burdens on future generations, where fewer and fewer workers will have to finance greater and greater numbers of longer living retired people with their needs. So already stretched governments with little flexibility or extra reserves face payment obligations pre-programmed to increase, while having to raise taxes at a time of economic recession. This is placing an increasing drag on the economy, fuelling further revenue declines, making the problems much more difficult.

How did we get into this mess?

There is a fatal flaw in Western democracy in a postmodern world. As Western Europeans have moved away from Christian principles, they have also rejected the idea of truth in favour of thoroughgoing relativism. All that matters is my life now. As postmodernism has rejected moral truth, people have turned to a philosophy of self-centredness.
Let’s see how this has undermined the institutions of Western democracy. What started as a sincere effort by politicians of the previous century to use government taxing power to provide social welfare has now morphed into something very ugly:

1. Politicians, in an effort to get re-elected, have over the years cynically promised voters more and more benefits, even when they knew that they couldn’t afford them and would have to borrow to finance them.

2. Voters with no concern for the long-term common good of the country have demanded more benefits from their governments, recasting them as payments to which they are ‘entitled’ rather than understanding that they are dependent on a prosperous economy.

3. As politicians are presented with evidence of increasingly perilous government finances, rather than take the hard decisions to rein in run-away costs, they have contributed further to them by passing more generous payments in an unscrupulous attempt to win votes. In Greece, France and Italy, successive governments have ignored the warning signs that the trajectory of government pension obligations was unsustainable, agreeing to allow people as young as those in their 50s to receive full pensions.

4. Some people with the attitude of ‘what’s in it for me’ see no moral problem in abusing the welfare system. Rather than enter into a debate on how to prevent these cases in order to allocate scarce money to those who really need it, the press and interest groups often shout down the politician who is brave enough to question the status quo.

5. On the other end of the scale, unscrupulous bankers engage in interest rate manipulation to gain trading profits, and greedy business people engage in dishonest practices to maximise profit and lobby susceptible politicians to pass laws that allow them to escape tax obligations on most of their income.

6. Principled politicians find it hard to get elected because voters want to support the politician who promises them more, regardless of the cost.

7. As governments took on more ‘cradle to grave’ responsibility for the social welfare of their populations, they have taken an ever larger share of income from their citizens. Until recently the top rate of tax in some countries had risen to 90%, creating huge incentives for wealthy citizens, also motivated by self-interest, to cheat on their taxes or hide money in offshore accounts.

8. Those who are willing to pay their taxes to support social welfare are dismayed to see politicians fiddling their expenses or, as in Greece, government payrolls swell enormously with phantom patronage jobs granted by politicians as bribes to gain support for election. Thus more citizens become cynical about their politicians and distrustful that government can spend their money wisely, believing instead that most of the money will end up in the pockets of corrupt politicians who stash their money in offshore accounts.

So the self-centredness of the postmodern world puts us in a vicious circle: unprincipled politicians, responding to pressure from voters who look to government to solve their problems, pass benefits the country can’t afford. When financial crisis hits, governments are forced into austerity measures, raising howls of protest from voters who understandably don’t like their benefits taken away or reduced, regardless of whether the money is there to pay for them.

All this, as in the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s, has a destabilising effect on our political process.

Footnotes

Many of the statistics come from http://ukpublicspending.co.uk which seem to tally with other sources. When they say they’ve cut our debt, they mean they’ve cut it from what it would have been without the austerity measures. The top tax rate was in the 90% range in a number of countries. In Britain it was around 90% through the 50s and 60s according to the National Taxpayers Union and other sources.|

Steve Gandy – a senior banking executive in London

This article was first published in the July 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

Buddhist priest meets Jesus – look out for the December issue of EN!


December 2013 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the December issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday November 22. 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!