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.

CAR: more deaths
Three pastors were among those killed on December 5 in violence in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.
Another pastor is on the run with his family after he learnt that the rebels were looking for him. He is from a Muslim background and went into hiding after the rebels burnt his home and that of relatives living close by. World Watch Monitor

Iran: Bible completed
After 18 years of work, the translation of the Bible into modern Persian was completed on December 13.
Working alongside some of the best Hebrew and Greek consultants in the world, every word has been checked with the original languages. The work to typeset and finalise files for printing is under way, and the plan to print and distribute 100,000 copies of the Bible is under way. Elam Ministries

Iran: joy unexplainable
A note associated with Christian prisoner Farshid Fathi was reported on January 1, addressing those who have been praying for him during his over 1,100 days in prison.
Arrested in 2010 in Tehran and sentenced to six years in prison, he wrote of how he was celebrating Christmas with unexplainable joy in Christ. He described his walk with Christ as filled with, ‘great endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, hunger, purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God’. Mohabat News

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

Letter from America by Josh Moody: ‘Preachers of L.A.’


From a British point of view it is scarcely believable.

But coming soon to American TV is a reality TV series based on the flamboyant lifestyles of preachers from Los Angeles. Called Preachers of L.A., it promises a behind-the-scenes look at how certain kinds of megachurch pastors really live. The concern that this announcement has generated has largely been about the evident ‘prosperity gospel’ emphasis of these ‘Preachers of L.A.’ (see October’s column). I am reminded, though, a little of the old quip about Mary Baker Eddy’s ‘Christian Science’ movement, that it is neither Christian nor Science. Similarly the ironic aspect of the prosperity gospel is that it is neither offering true prosperity nor the real gospel.

Christian subculture

I am mentioning Preachers of L.A not so much to comment on the prosperity gospel but to remark on the sheer cheese factor. It continues to amaze me because my background was so different but there really are people who grew up in an environment where most, if not all, of the cultural conversation revolved around church, Christian media outlets, and general subcultural Christian norms of a fundamentalistic type.

If part of the purpose of this ‘Letter from America’ is to explain American evangelicalism to its British counterpart, then it is important to stress this subcultural phenomenon. J.I. Packer nailed the issues related to it in his Fundamentalism and the Word of God. It is important to read that classic book, or at least understand its context, because otherwise a lot of the books published over here, the books that are read, the church models that are promoted will make little sense — or worse they will be adopted unthinkingly in a British context without realising that the target that they are aiming at exists in Tallahassee but not Sevenoaks.

Reacting to culture

Many American evangelical leaders who appear to be writing in a way that moves away from Christian orthodoxy are doing so because they are reacting to a culture in which they grew up where there was a hardline connecting ‘do not drink’ or ‘do not go to the movies’ with ‘believe in substitutionary atonement’. I barely can conceive that such a thing can exist — and it is rarer now than it was — but, believe me, it has not gone away here.

Different context from Britain

It can be more subtle than that too. Some models of church growth, or church health, are really sending the message, ‘we are not a bunch of ignorant fundamentalists but know the Bible and church history quite well’. That is all fine, I suppose, but it has little relevance to someone who is unlikely to think that the vicar from St. Peter’s down the road is an ignorant fundamentalist. More likely to think that he is wet, or out of date, or a very nice man as long as he doesn’t insist that everyone has to believe in Jesus and go to church.

Few then in the UK are likely to ape the more outlandish models of ministry soon to be broadcast in Preachers of L.A., but there are other preachers who do not appear in reality TV series, and who are not prosperity gospel preachers, whose models of ministry are nonetheless designed for their cultural context, a context that is remarkably different from other places in the world. Remember the Bible does not provide us with 16 ways to do church just like we do. God seems to have left more up to the creativity, maturity, and common sense of the leaders of his church (insisting on orthodoxy and orthopraxy, of course) than we might have done if we had been designing or writing a manual for church that was to last thousands of years. Of that we may be grateful, feel a little scared, and rather more free than preachers of L.A., San Francisco, D.C., New York, Dallas, or anywhere else that might spring to mind.

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the November 2013 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: Moment or movement?


In my youth we enjoyed the old game of seeing how many people we could squeeze into a Mini.

Little did I know how useful those skills would be when trying to organise ReNew, a new conference for conservative evangelical Anglican leaders that took place last November.

ReNew’s conviction is that in a fast-changing world, and denomination, conservative evangelical Anglicans must work together more closely and more effectively than in the past. In that spirit, members of Reform, AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) and Church Society, together with representatives of Gospel Partnerships, contributed to the planning process.

Word had got around and during the days leading up to the conference we were inundated by individuals asking if there was any chance we could squeeze them in. High Leigh obliged wonderfully.

ReNew was to be a conference with a difference. For sure, there were excellent biblical expositions from Hugh Palmer, Alasdair Paine and Paul Williams. Yes, there were encouraging reports of church growth in urban and rural parishes. Yes, the conference hoped to bring the work of GAFCON 2 ‘home’ to England.

Consultation

So, what made it different? In a word – consultation. ReNew was designed to allow detailed consultation with the delegates, so that their wisdom could help shape plans for evangelical Anglicanism in the coming decade. Accordingly, much of the first day was spent in small groups discussing the past, present and future, sharing experiences, describing successes and failures and praying together. Just as at GAFCON 2, there was much need to repent as well as to plan.

Consultation makes for a complicated conference programme. The desire to assimilate and respond to the feedback from the groups meant that many of those speaking on the second day were found scribbling late into the night. New delegates arrived on the second day needing to be brought up to speed and be given a chance to feed their thoughts into the process. A degree of unpredictability had to be accepted and decisive decision-making was required. More than one delegate noted that such spontaneity and clarity have not always been traits that have marked our evangelical Anglicanism!

New beginning?

So, two months on – was ReNew just another talking shop? Three things encourage me to believe that it might be not just a moment in the year, but a movement for years to come.

First, the consultation revealed an almost universal desire for clear leadership within the constituency. That was, perhaps, no great surprise, but the obvious question remained – who should lead? As the consultation progressed, it emerged that there was an identifiable group of men to whom those present looked for direction and to whom they were willing to entrust planning the future in more detail. Since November they have been working in increasingly close co-operation, particularly in relation to the Pilling Report.

Secondly, following what was set in train at GAFCON, general approval was given for AMiE to take more concrete shape. AMiE has the twin aim of serving faithful Anglicans, whether within the traditional structures of the Church of England or otherwise, and enabling faithful Anglicans to reach the lost in England.

Thirdly, and perhaps most hearteningly, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of emails I have received offering to share financial, and other, resources with members of the ReNew network.

These three outcomes reveal a growing commitment to practical partnership in the gospel and for this we must give thanks to the God of grace and pray that he might grant a reformed future for the Church of England!

Susie Leafe, Director of Reform

This article was first published in the February 2014 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 February issue of EN. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.

Are you being served?
It was widely reported in late December that Marks & Spencer was planning to allow shop assistants to refuse to handle pork or alcohol if the individual’s Islamic religious belief prohibited them from so doing.
Broadly welcomed as endorsing freedom of religious expression in the workplace, commentators were keen to ascertain whether similar accommodation would be made for Jews, Christians, and those of other faiths in other areas of employment. Ruth Woodcraft

All Souls March Mission
All Souls Langham Place in London is having a time of outreach on March 2-9 with evangelist Roger Carswell.
They would love other churches to be involved. The week will include a chat-show element before Roger speaks. Guests include a paralympian, the former correspondence secretary of the Queen and the BBC’s Football Focus presenter, Dan Walker. Info: sam.gibb@allsouls.org

Changes at EP
The board of Evangelical Press (EP Books) has set up its missionary work as a formally independent organisation called EP Missionary Trust (EPMT).
EPMT is a separate charity under UK law and became fully operational on January 1. The decision to form EPMT allows it to attend to the specific needs and opportunities of EP Mission while retaining the synergy and co-operation with EP. EPMT

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

Editors commentary: Too much of a good thing?


What did your pastor preach last sunday?

Hopefully he preached faithfully from the Bible. And probably he gave an ‘expository sermon.’ By that term we mean that he took a passage of Scripture, explained its meaning and brought practical application for living.

Often these expositions are consecutive. Over the weeks the preacher takes the congregation through a whole Bible book. So if we’re asked what’s going on at church we might reply, ‘We are going through James,’ or ‘We are looking at Esther.’

This expository method of preaching, taught on most conservative evangelical Bible courses, can be of enormous benefit. One of the great formative experiences of my own Christian life as a young man was to hear Stuart Olyott, over a period of about six months, preach through Romans so that we could remember the shape and argument of the whole book. It also has many advantages. It delivers the congregation from being continually exposed to the minister’s hobby horses. It means that we don’t avoid the difficult bits. We have to face up to the teachings which are at odds with today’s society; we have to include understanding God’s wrath as well as his love. Expository preaching also naturally leads into an overview of the whole Bible, which is good for everyone.

Time for a rethink
However, I have wondered whether we have put ourselves in something of a straightjacket. While noting its many advantages, is this expository method the only way to teach Scripture authentically?

A number of factors have prompted a rethink.

First, though there is something like it in Nehemiah 8, we don’t generally find this kind of sermon in the Scriptures themselves. The sermons we find in Acts, for example, certainly refer to Bible texts and explain their meaning, but they are not restricted to one passage. Usually they draw on a number of references as they pursue a message. The particular problems of a local church set the agenda for Paul’s Letters, which he then addresses, deploying Scripture appropriately, not the other way around. Sometimes the writers of the Letters could even be accused of the dreaded ‘error’ of ‘proof texting’ – though, of course, never out of context.

Second, in our pursuit of consecutive exposition, are congregations becoming doctri-nally ignorant? They know many Bible passages and what they teach, but these have never been put together in any ordered systematic way. This means they don’t have a theological framework in their minds by which to think their way through life. This can lead to spiritual disaster. For good reasons churches used to have catechisms. Wouldn’t it be helpful from time to time for a church to be taken through its Confession of Faith showing its biblical basis? If the different books of Scripture are like different instruments in an orchestra, sometimes the whole orchestra needs to be heard on certain doctrinal or practical themes.

Third, congregations are refreshed by hearing a different approach. Variety can help.

Fourth, sometimes the consecutive exposition method can encourage a kind of mechanical approach in a pastor which is not good for any one. He knows what he is doing next week and he just gets on with it. There might be a crying need for teaching on reconciliation or handling terminal illness in the church, but he is in the 23rd chapter of 2 Chronicles and has already prepared his message.

Don’t misunderstand. I love expository sermons. But isn’t there more than one way to skin a cat?

I shall probably be accused of heresy.

John Benton

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The mirage of equality


Mirage of Equality

Much has been said about equality in relation to the debate about same-sex marriage.

So much so that we are intoxicated by it (see September EN, page 17). The problem is that equality is an idea not a fact. There is a good deal of discussion as to what ‘basic equality’ might be. Nobody has ever seen it or really knows if it exists. To believe in it requires a good dose of faith.

Liberty, equality, fraternity

The creed of well-meaning humanists today runs: Now abideth these three, liberty, equality and fraternity, but the greatest of these is equality. Originally the words ‘or death’ figured too, but no tolerant person would take things that far.

There’s nothing new here. These three abstract notions were enthroned by the French revolution when the goddess Reason replaced the cross on the altar of Notre Dame in Paris. Even if Napoleon soon put an end to that, the revolutionary trinity was enshrined in human rights.

There is also a dynamic at play here: liberty from oppression is the road to equality and equality is the service station on the way to social well-being and justice. Equality is the greatest because it’s the king pin. Equality exists when liberty has done her work freeing us from the entrenched interests of tradition or religion.

The limits of equality

Nature is the reef on which equality flounders, because the natural world is an ocean of diversity, even if it has order and structure. Whatever one thinks, we cannot escape the fact that male and female are two ways of being human, different in physical ability, mental and psychological make-up and bodily constitution. Adults and children are not equal, nor are those who are whole and those who suffer from terrible infirmities. Animals and humans are different, so are living things and inanimate objects. This is not Christian cant; all religions and cultures recognise it. Just consult the Tao of all things and you will find that in that system of thought reality is ultimately not one but two, that is, unequal.

In some areas real equality does exist of course, but they are quite limited. We accept equal opportunity for all in education or the work place, which is a good thing. However, no one takes it in an ultimate sense and thinks it would be a proof of equality if Wayne Rooney were to be put in charge of a nuclear power station. Equality before the law is a fundamental right too, because everyone should be treated the same. Equality most of all concerns weights and measures and things in which precision is essential. £1 is 100p and equal to 1.16 euros at a given time. But an apple is not an orange, a person with an IQ of 90 is not equal to one with 150, or a baggage handler to an airline pilot. To apply equality in some areas is a category mistake.

Equality speak

In public debate equality is the motor of progress. It makes what has been considered undesirable until now acceptable. Why is everyone mesmerised by equality, if it has so limited a function in reality? I think it’s for a religious reason. The idea of equality allows people to remake reality according to their desires and exercise a sort of divine control when the inequalities of nature, aided and abetted by human injustices, seem intolerable. The field is levelled by exercising control over the structure of social reality.

Evening-up the balance would be fine if it remained within the cultural mandate and served to limit human sinfulness. In that case equality would be an aspect of common grace. But the problem is that human autonomy and the desire for power gets out of hand. Social engineers, who think they know best, exercise control for the rest of us, as if they were gods.

Equality and progress

Equality is like the sacred calf of old. Everyone pays homage to it and no one seems to express reservations about it. People are not surprised when in the name of equality things that were illegal or unacceptable a generation ago are now fully legal. In fact equality helps turn the tables. In some cases the bad has become good and the good bad. Those who think differently are considered psychologically fragile and, likely as not, fascists or retrograde bigots.

All this is the case with same-sex marriage, which is a leap into the dark. The practice of cultures and ages is overturned with little understanding of the whys, the wherefores or the consequences. This is such an enormous change that future generations will wonder how it happened. Not even the ancient Greeks or Romans, who found same-sex paedophilia quite acceptable, thought of redefining the institution of marriage. And yet we act as though this were business as usual and back it up with the best of intentions and appeals to equal rights.

It has been suggested that same-sex marriage will support the institution of marriage, no doubt meaning that any form of social commitment is better than none. Heterosexual marriage, however, has such a bad track record in present society that there is little reason to suppose that its new counterpart will not reproduce the same problems in a new context. Sin remains sin and human nature remains human nature in any context.

So why the pressing need for new legislation on this question? The only reason seems to be that well-meaning people, politicians and other leaders, have to go all out in a politically correct society to prove that they are on the side of the goodies. They seem to think that any cause endorsed by equality shows that they are bone fide champions of progress.

Conclusion

This shows what a dangerous position we have reached in Western society, when policies are promoted for obscure reasons and not because they are morally justified. Vague notions like equality serve to hide the real issues which become impossible to speak about. The wages of spin is the manipulation of opinion with arguments that are smoke and mirrors.

From a theological point of view, public policies that have equality as their principle and goal give our leaders the unhealthy impression of power and how they can wield it as benevolent gods to cure the ills of society. In a sense, the humanist pursuit of equality is an attempt to solve the problems of sin and injustice without God. I think that is why debates on any issue in which equality is involved quickly turn venomous. These issues have, for the people who promote them, a pseudo-religious motivation that inspires their zeal and often intolerance of those who do not see eye to eye with them.

Ultimately the problem with equality talk is that it never was, never is and never will be something that belongs to created reality, apart from in a restricted technical sense. The foundation of the Christian faith is that God and man are different, and unequal. In the realm of personhood, equality exists only in the perfect oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the ‘unity of the Godhead… of one substance, power and eternity…’ (Westminster Confession, II.3). Real equality exists in God alone and where he establishes it according to his will and purpose, above all in the spiritual unity between believers who are united with Christ, and made one in him.

Paul Wells, is a teacher at the FacultŽ Jean Calvin, Aix-en-Provence, and lives in Eastbourne.

This article was first published in the Oct 2013 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 2014 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the February issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday January 24. 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!