Students hear the rumour


2014_04 Apr CoverOver 100 students responded to the gospel at a UCCF city-wide student mission entitled ‘Rumour Has It’.

The Prohibition Era-themed week of events, which took place in late January, saw around 20 CUs from across London team up with 15 churches to put on a week of evangelistic events.

Students dressed up in 1920s jazz/Great Gatsby-style costumes and served (non-alcoholic) drinks. The Bill Edgar Trio provided music and entertainment for a jazz café. Bill is not only a great pianist but also Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. The gospel was preached by UCCF director, Richard Cunningham. Around 300 students came to All Souls Church, the central London venue, each evening, with many more attending local campus-based lunchtime dialogues.

Energetic atmosphere
London UCCF team leader, Natasha Kasprowicz, said: ‘There was a huge crowd on the opening night, many of whom were non-CU members. The team worked hard to make the venue a creative space and there was a wonderfully engaged and energetic atmosphere throughout the night. There was a standing ovation for the Bill Edgar Trio, who were fantastic – really powerful and moving. Richard invited students to fill in a feedback form which includes the opportunity to indicate “Count Me In” or “Tell Me More”. We had received about 75 response slips after the first two evenings, and a further 28 responded on the final night’.

Natasha continued: ‘There was an electric atmosphere in the room as Richard spoke about the cross and as he and Bill Edgar engaged with students’ questions in the Q & A session. We were overwhelmed by the number of questions we received and it is clear that a number of students are thinking very seriously about what they’ve heard’.

Opening minds
Freddie, a CU member from Ravensbourne, has been reading the Uncover Seeker Bible Study material with a friend. Freddie invited him (with seven others) to the ‘Rumour Has It’ events. On the final night, the friend responded by indicating ‘Count Me In’ on the feedback form.

St Mary’s CU had their largest-ever lunchtime event, with 15 people coming along (the CU is tiny). A CU member’s room-mate said: ‘I would call myself an agnostic/atheist, but today has definitely opened my mind to [another] possibility!’.

Keen atheist
Of the opening night, Richard Cunningham commented: ‘Tonight was remarkable – huge crowds of unbelievers, energy, creativity, a standing ovation for the Bill Edgar Trio and great listening to the gospel.’ One attendee exclaimed: ‘I’m crying my eyes out! She [Ruth Naomi Floyd] sings so powerfully’. Ashley George, a UCCF Christian Union staff worker, said: ‘I sat next to the president of the Atheist Humanist Society at a lunch bar today. He is keen to read Uncover, so it looks like he’ll be reading with the CU president’.

Natasha concluded: ‘More than 100 students have indicated over the course of the week that they want to know Jesus, or want to find out more. This number does not include any who have indicated that they want to find out more during the local daytime events. One of the girls who spoke with Richard has been a churchgoer, CU member and part of a Bible study group. She became a Christian yesterday’.

Hugh Palmer is rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and chair of Word Alive

 

This article was first published in the April2014 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 from around the world


Prayer FuelHere 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.

Belgium: killing petition
The Bill to allow Belgian children of all ages to access euthanasia is being opposed by people all across Europe, via a petition organised just hours after the Bill was voted through in mid-February.
Although there are concerns that it will produce a constitutional crisis if the Bill isn’t signed by the Belgian monarch, the aim of the petition is to protect the vulnerable.
Christian Concern

The petition to oppose the signing of the Bill can be found at http://www.citizengo.org/en/4158-not-sign-legalisation-child-euthanasia#8203

Mexico: services cut off
On February 11, 25 Protestant families had their water and electricity supplies disconnected and were effectively put under house arrest, because of their refusal to participate in traditionalist Catholic religious ceremonies.
One person was arbitrarily detained by village authorities and imprisoned for more than 24 hours after he attempted to reconnect his water while under the supervision of state officials and police. This follows an escalation of discriminatory behaviour towards the group of Protestant Christians since 2010.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Poland: millions seeking
The website ‘Looking for God’ has registered its two millionth unique visitor in February.
‘Unique’ means that even if an individual visits the website several times it only counts as one visitor. The official population of Poland is 38 million and the figure gives some indication of the effectiveness of this medium for reaching people.
Fellowship of European Broadcasters (FEB) 

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

Anglican update: Complementarian is Arian?


The Church of England’s governance is more democratic than many would have you believe.

No significant change to the liturgy of the Church of England can take place without the approval of a majority of the 44 diocesan synods. But the system is complex; representatives to diocesan synods are elected from the deanery synod representatives, who are, in turn, elected by their congregation. This complexity is one of the reasons that evangelicals tend to be under-represented in the governing structures of the church.

Over the next two months every diocesan synod will vote on the latest legislation to enable women to become bishops. Those pushing for this innovation are claiming that we have found the answer. They assert that the legislation is simpler than the package that failed in November 2012 and it will encourage a spirit of trust that will allow all to flourish.

Any doubters are referred to one of the five guiding principles of the new dispensation, which states: ‘Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures.’

So it is ironic that, as the diocesan debates begin, we find increasing hostility towards those who hold firmly to a complementarian view of gender. Despite all these fine words about ‘flourishing’ and ‘trust’, the facts on the ground tell a different story.

Calling me a heretic

At the Sheffield diocesan synod in March the Dean of the Cathedral summed up the debate by asserting that the complementarian view of the inter-relationship between the divine persons of the Holy Trinity goes against the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. In other words, it is un-Anglican to believe in headship. No opportunity was given for a complementarian to reject this charge of heresy and the vote simply proceeded on the basis of the Dean’s remarks.

It is a serious matter to report such division in the church, but I do it not just for the benefit of Anglicans but because this is the charge of more liberally-minded theologians from all denominations. The Dean is obviously not the first to allude to the idea that a complementarian view of gender leads to an Arian-style heresy and it would seem he is unlikely to be the last.

Nature of the Trinity

As the debate about women’s roles in church becomes a debate about the nature of the Trinity, we can no longer see it as an issue of secondary importance. If our men and women are not to be blown off course by these accusations, then we need to prepare and equip them to understand and refute these arguments. The nature of the Trinity has always been challenging but, wonderfully, some excellent work has already been done by Bruce Ware*, Mike Ovey and others. Reform would be delighted to help any evangelical who is currently facing this challenge.

Please pray that the increasing hostility in diocesan synods will actually open the door for courageous men and women to proclaim the wonderful truth that in the Godhead we see equality and difference worked out perfectly.

 

Susie Leafe – Director of Reform

This article was first published in the April 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


Prayer FuelHere 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.

Assisted dying
Following a consultation of its members, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) will remain opposed to proposed changes to the law on assisted suicide, it was reported in February.
77% of the respondents to the consultation were opposed on account of the effects on the vulnerable, the problems implementing changes without coercion to die being possible and the ‘slippery slope’ nature of the proposals leading to no-consent deaths occurring.
Right to Life Charitable Trust

Wales: smacking stays
On February 11 the Welsh Assembly rejected an amendment to criminalise parents smacking their child.
Assembly members voted 39 to 14, with one Assembly member abstaining. However, Deputy Minister Gwenda Thomas said: ‘There will be an opportunity to examine these issues in forthcoming legislation in this Assembly term’. The issue of criminalising smacking is likely to return to the Welsh Assembly before the 2016 election.
The Christian Institute

Sunday football
Northern Ireland’s national football team will be forced to play an international match at home on a Sunday for the first time, for a Euro 2016 qualifier, it was reported at the end of February.
The news has received widespread criticism, with some urging the Irish Football Association to challenge the decision. Previously, countries have decided their own fixture schedules, but not since an electronic selection process was introduced.
The Christian Institute

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

Editors commentary: Too much of a good thing?


A GP friend was finishing a home visit.

He had been examining a middle-aged woman and was just putting his stethoscope away. Having noticed her smile and wanting to find a pleasant word as he departed, he commented: ‘What lovely teeth you have’. Nothing could have prepared him for the response. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘they were my mothers’! The winning smile turned out to be composed of a china set from years gone by, which just happened to fit perfectly. Not everything that looks good is all it seems to be!

For many years now there has been a self-satisfied smirk from anti-smacking pressure groups against those of us who believe, as the Bible tells us, that a ‘potch’ (Yiddish for a mild but suitably painful slap on the backside, delivered out of love and concern) ought to be among a parent’s options in disciplining our children. ‘Positive parenting’, which eschews all such techniques and beamingly suggests that children only ever need encouragement, is made out to be so right and the use of a smack met with a supercilious ‘we don’t do violence in our house’. Even Christian parents have bought into this seemingly ‘more loving’ way of doing things. However, the smile is beginning to prove false for ‘positive parenting’.

Failing our children

Recently, Judith Woods reported in The Daily Telegraph on the Scandinavian experience. It seems those very countries which prided themselves on their ‘enlightened’, child-centred parenting style are having second thoughts. Best-selling Swedish academic David Eberhard has concluded that his countrymen have created ‘a generation of arrogant young adults who lack social empathy, personal resilience and, after a childhood of pampering, are destined to be bitterly disappointed in life.’

The area of discipline in parenting is sensitive and complicated and I can’t get into detail here, except to recommend that before those who disagree with ‘tough love’ leap to their computer keyboards to fire off a riposte, they take the time to have a good look at the 2009 book The Spoilt Generation: why restoring authority will make our children and society happier. It is by researcher Dr Aric Sigman, and although he is a non-religious academic who ‘has not so much as had tea with a vicar’, he comes to the conclusion of Proverbs 13.24, that loving parents discipline their children when it is needed and not to do so is to ‘hate’ them.

God who uses pain

As ‘professional’ bodies, indoctrinated with political correctness and therapy culture attitudes, currently press parents not to do anything that might make a child cry, it seems that God is rather different. Taking his cue from the book of Proverbs the writer to the Hebrews explains to us why the Christian life can never be easy. God uses the circumstances of our lives and even persecution to ‘discipline us for our good, that we may share his holiness’. We are reminded that ‘no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful’ (Hebrews 12.4-12).

It would seem that if Christians buy into the false smile of the ‘positive parenting’ lobby it will not be long before they come to conclude that God is a bad parent. ‘How dare he make us cry?’

And think of Jesus. ‘How could a God who strikes his Son as a penal substitute upon the cross in his service possibly be worthy of our allegiance?’ If I’m not mistaken ‘positive parenting’ could, if taken into the evangelical camp, easily become a Trojan horse to undermine belief in central matters of the gospel. We won’t be smiling then.

John Benton

This article was first published in the April 2014 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

Happy Birthday Heidelberg!


Happy Birthday Heidelberg

Of all the 16th-century confessions and catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism is still the most widely used and the most beloved.

Mention the ‘Heidelberger’ to any old ‘Dutch Reformed’ believer and usually the reaction you get is a smile and a warmed heart. Even those from different strands of the Reformed faith often wallow in the literary and theological genius of Question and Answer 1 of the Catechism:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death,[1] am not my own,[2] but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ,[3] who with his precious blood[4] has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil;[6] and so preserves me[7] that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head;[8] indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation.[9] Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto him.

What is so memorable about this catechism as we celebrate the 450th anniversary of its publication this year?

Its history

In the middle of the 16th century, the Reformation reached the Palatinate, a large province in the South of Germany. Soon strife broke out among the different Protestant streams — those who considered themselves the only true successors of Martin Luther (the ‘Gnesio-Lutherans’), those who were followers of the more moderate Philip Melanchthon (the ‘Philippists’) and those who were influenced by Calvin‘s Geneva and it‘s theology and practices (the ‘Calvinists’).

In 1559, Frederick III became elector (ruler) of the Palatinate and was therefore one of seven responsible for calling the Holy Roman Emperor. Initially not very pious, he was won over to the Reformation faith by his wife, a devout Lutheran. When he commenced his reign, he sought both the political and spiritual welfare of his subjects. And he did so by seeking to unite the Protestant parties by way of a powerful common confession of faith — the Catechism, which he commissioned in 1562.

In the Preface to the catechism (later known as the ‘Heidelberg Catechism’), he writes that he is ‘bound by the admonition of the divine word, and also by natural duty and relation’ and therefore has ‘determined to order and administer our office, calling, and government, not only for the promotion and maintenance of quiet and peaceable living, and for the support of an upright and virtuous walk and behaviour among our subjects, but also and above all, constantly to admonish and lead them to devout knowledge and fear of the Almighty and his holy word of salvation’.

By the time he commissioned the catechism, Frederick III was a deeply godly man. This gained him the name Frederick ‘the Pious’. He was concerned for the spiritual condition of his subjects. During the many theological debates in Heidelberg and elsewhere during the 1550s and 60s, Frederick was eventually — to the disapproval of his still Lutheran wife — convinced of a Reformed view of the Lord‘s Supper and other core doctrines. Thus he started his reform movement by drafting Reformed theologians to serve as professors at the influential university in Heidelberg. Two of the most gifted pastors and theologians were Zacharius Ursinus (1534Ð1583) and Caspar Olevianus (1536Ð1587). Especially Ursinus had already written catechetical works, such as a larger catechism for theology students and a shorter catechism for the laity. In 1562, then, Frederick gathered a team of theologians and pastors to produce a new catechism that would serve as ‘a summary course of instruction or catechism of our Christian religion, according to the word of God, in the German and Latin languages; in order not only that the youth in churches and schools may be piously instructed in such Christian doctrine, and be thoroughly trained therein, but also that the pastors and schoolmasters themselves may be provided with a fixed form and model by which to regulate the instruction of youth, and not, at their option, adopt daily changes, or introduce erroneous doctrine’ (Preface of 1563).

Its message

The message of the Heidelberg Catechism is foremost a message of comfort. In a time of political and spiritual unrest and of death being ubiquitous, comfort is what people needed. However, the Heidelberg Catechism is by no means man-centred. Rather, anyone who studies it will readily see what is meant by that comfort — nothing but the gospel.

Already, Q. 1 talks about the misery of sin, the redemption that is in Christ and the resulting walk of holiness and obedience. Q. 2 makes this even more explicit:

Q: How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?

A: Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.

It is this starting point — the misery of our sinfulness and lost estate (part 1 of the Catechism) — that makes us long for a true, biblical comfort, the comfort of the gospel (part 2). The faith the Heidelberg Catechism expounds is not an esoteric faith. Not once are the words ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinistic’ mentioned. It is, rather, ‘our catholic, undoubted Christian faith’ (Q. 22). True faith is defined as ‘not only a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also,[5] forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God,[6] merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits’ (Q. 21).

The content of that faith, i.e. the gospel, is then expounded in the shape of the Apostle‘s Creed (Questions 23-58). The gist of this exposition is that if I believe all this, I am justified before God (Q. 59). The following Question 60 must be counted as a gem of Christian doctrine among the confessions of the Christian church:

Q: How are you righteous before God?

A: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ:[1] that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,[2] and am still prone always to all evil;[3] yet God, without any merit of mine,[4] of mere grace,[5] grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction,[6] righteousness, and holiness of Christ,[7] as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me;[8] if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

Its total view of the Christian life

I have already pointed out the intuitive and biblical structure of the Catechism, sometimes summarised according to its three parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. What is intriguing about the structure of the catechism at this point is that it reflects a certain view of the total Christian life. The three-part structure of the Catechism is less a ‘pattern of conversion’ — realising your sin once, coming to Christ initially and decisively, and following Christ — than it is a pattern of the entire Christian life.

The Christian knows all parts of the Catechism and experiences all of them continuously. The mirror of the law that drives him to Christ, the gospel in all its glory and grace, and the obedient life that flows from it.

It is worth noting that the Heidelberg Catechism places the discussion of the law under the heading of part 3 — gratitude! Thus, it is clear from the outset that obeying God‘s law is not and can never be a way to Christ, but rather is the fruit of belonging to Christ by faith alone.

Personal pronouns are employed throughout the Catechism. They serve to build up the personal faith and assurance of God’s people. Christ not only delivers sinners (through faith) in general, he has delivered me from my sin with his precious blood.

Sometimes people wonder if the Heidelberg Catechism is still answering the questions that people are asking. I, for one, am convinced that it does — and if it does not, then people may just be asking the wrong questions. I know no better manual of the Christian faith and the Christian life.

Sebastian Heck is minister of SelbstŠndige evangelisch-reformierte Kirche Heidelberg (Free Reformed Church Heidelberg) in Germany and co-editor of the recently published A Faith worth teaching: The Heidelberg Catechism’s enduring heritage (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).

This article was first published in the October 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

What’s coming up in the April issue of EN


April 2014 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the April issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday March 21. 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!

Christians in a PC world (book review)


CHRISTIANS IN A PC WORLD Christians in a PC world
Facing the challenge of political correctness
By John Benton
EP Books. 192 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 0 852 349 120

Christians today are in desperate need of being able to understand the times in which we live. We need to do that for a number of reasons.

First, we need to be able to biblically evaluate what we see around us and understand what we can and should endorse and what should be appropriately rejected. Second, we need to be able to engage with the world to present to it a gospel which is the only means of salvation. Third, we need to be active — as good citizens — to be arguing for a prevailing culture which is both fair and compassionate.

John’s timely book helps us in all of these areas. It’s a multi-faceted look at the particular issue of political correctness. However, the reader is drawn in to think about culture and society with respect to a number of different issues such as multiculturalism, sexuality and so on.

Big ticket items

It’s a relatively easy read, and sound in its biblical exegesis — a good combination. On the ‘big ticket’ items, I’m pleased to report that this is an orthodox and wise analysis. Although many of the topics (an overview of postmodernism, atheism and its impact on culture, and so on) are covered in greater detail in other books, here they are usefully brought together in digestible chunks.

The author admits, however, that political correctness is difficult to define and I wonder whether — at the margins — one person’s political correctness may be the next man’s grounded compassion. In other words, the slipperiness of the term means that we need to be careful being black and white about everything. There are some issues which are clear cut (and these are ably demonstrated). There may be others where we would genuinely differ on whether legislation would be appropriate or not (for example, the presence of a Christian blasphemy law). Perhaps, though, that is beyond the remit of an introductory volume such as this.

Notwithstanding these complications, this is an excellent introduction to some of the issues of our day presented with clarity and biblical faithfulness.

Adrian Reynolds,
Director of Ministry, The Proclamation Trust, and part of the leadership team at East London Tabernacle Baptist Church

 

 

This article was first published in the October 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

Can this prophet be saved? (book extract) True word for tough times


Can this prophet be savedJeremiah had to preach judgment relentlessly.

It began to wear him down and he speaks to God in his discouragement. Verses 10-14 set the stage for Jeremiah’s complaint. The prophet is feeling so low he wishes he had never been born, v.10. Then v.11 begins with ‘Yahweh said’ and so we have the Lord’s words all the way through to v.14.

There follows a re-emphasis of Jeremiah’s message in v.12: ‘Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?’ The message of judgment cannot be changed. It is like iron. In vv.13,14, Yahweh seems to be speaking to Judah’s people: ‘Your wealth…I will give as plunder; I will make you serve your enemies in a land you do not know’. Judah is going into captivity in Babylon. That is the preface.

I want to take you through Jeremiah’s experience recorded in vv.15-21. We are not prophets like Jeremiah, but there are aspects of his experience that overlap with that of any Christian disciple facing opposition.

Balancing on a paradox, vv.15-17

‘You know, Yahweh. Remember me and care for me and take vengeance for me on my pursuers and do not — due to your longsuffering — take me away. It’s for your sake I have borne abuse. Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me the joy and delight of my heart, for your name is called over me, O Yahweh, God of Hosts.’

You have two elements here. In v.16 you have Jeremiah’s joy. As he assimilates God’s word Jeremiah finds his highest pleasure. But then notice how this is wrapped around by v.15 and v.17 in the costliness of Yahweh’s call.

He is facing, v.15, both danger from pursuers and ridicule. In 11.18-23 the Lord tells Jeremiah that there is danger from the men of his home town who are plotting against his life. The ridicule is reflected in 20.7-8. Jeremiah had to proclaim destruction, but people ridiculed him because it had not yet happened. ‘Maybe you’re a false prophet, Jeremiah.’ Pashhur placed Jeremiah in the stocks overnight; and when he was freed Jeremiah said: ‘Your name is not Pashhur but Magor-missabib (terror on every side)’. But later, 20.10, the people threw this back at Jeremiah. Whenever the prophet appeared they sneered: ‘Look there. There’s terror on every side!’

In v.17 we note that the costliness also involves isolation. Jeremiah says: ‘I have not sat in the circle of those who party; nor did I celebrate. Because of your hand I sat alone, for you have filled me with indignation’. This isolation is fleshed out in chapter 16. Jeremiah is not to have a wife or children, 16.1-4. In addition the Lord says: ‘No going to funerals, you might be tempted to comfort somebody… and there is no comfort for this people’. Then he says: ‘Do not go to weddings either’. Utter isolation, terrible loneliness. He’s not even allowed to pray for this people, 15.1. It’s too late for prayer.

So you have the joy of Yahweh’s word and the costliness of Yahweh’s call. You are balancing on a paradox.

The composer Haydn was a musical genius with a naturally buoyant spirit. Yet he was married to a woman with whom he was utterly incompatible. She had so little regard for his music that she cut up his manuscripts to use as hair-curler papers! How do you pull that together? That is what you have with Jeremiah and in the normal Christian life. What does knowing Jesus mean? It means to know the power of his resurrection and at the same time the fellowship of his sufferings Philippians 3.10. This is normal Christianity.

Stepping over a line, v.18

Basically I think v.18 goes like this: v.18a is permissible but v.18b is not.

Scripture encourages us to ask questions. You can anguish over God’s timing. For example: ‘How much longer, Yahweh, will you forget me — for ever?’, Psalm 13 (cf. Psalm 10, Psalm 88.9). But you can go too far, as Jeremiah did at the end of v.18. I do not think the text reads as a question here, but rather as a statement: ‘You really are like a deceitful brook to me’. In Israel some brooks might be full of water in the rainy season, but in summer as dry as a bone. You may be there at a transitional time hoping for water but finding none. You are a deceitful brook. Jeremiah is assaulting God’s character. He has stepped over a line.

I think we need to understand that this is possible. In our psycho-slanted age, with its ‘let it all hang out’ attitude, you can step over the line in your complaining to God. In a previous age we may have been overly cautioned about this; in our day we may not be cautioned enough. So bemoan his mysteries. You have that freedom. But do not assault his character. Do not step over the line.

Coming under an ultimatum, v.19

Jeremiah records Yahweh’s response: ‘Therefore, if you return I will restore you. You can stand before me and if you bring forth what is precious rather than what is worthless, you can be as my mouth. They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them’.

The reply hinges on a verb ‘to return’ or ‘to turn’ used four times here. The Lord is saying that Jeremiah can come back. ‘If you return, if you repent, I will restore you. You can go on prophesying again. But it all depends on your response.’

But notice the use of the verb in v.19. ‘They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’ They can accept your message if they will, but you must not turn to them. You must not cave in and preach a positive message that I have not given you. You may want to. But you must not do it. The Lord is putting Jeremiah under an ultimatum.

Jeremiah pours out his despair and Yahweh says ‘Repent’. Sometimes the Lord deals directly like that. A.W. Tozer tells of a time in his pastorate in Toronto when an attractive young woman made an appointment to see him. She was troubled about a homosexual relationship with her room mate. She was looking for some kind of reassurance. Instead Tozer faced her squarely and said: ‘Young woman, you are guilty of sodomy and God is not going to give you any approval or comfort until you turn from your known sin and seek his forgiveness’. What was her response? ‘I guess I needed to hear that’, she admitted. Sometimes we need an ultimatum.

Resting in fresh assurance, vv.20-21

But Yahweh does not merely rebuke. He encourages. ‘And I shall make you to this people a fortified bronze wall, and they shall fight against you but they will not get the best of you, for I am with you to save you…’ There is that assurance.

If you go back to Jeremiah’s call in 1.18,19, you get the same bronze wall imagery. That’s important. Yahweh is not telling Jeremiah anything new. He does not have a new secret for the Christian life. This fresh assurance is the old assurance stated once more in a new situation. That is important because that is the way Scripture operates in our lives as well.

Exhausted physically and somewhat depressed, Martyn Lloyd-Jones had the summer of 1949 in Wales hoping to recover. He returned to London in September, but had made little progress. He was to preach the next day at Westminster Chapel, but it was as if the fountain had dried up, there was nothing there and all his concerns were coming back. Lloyd-Jones said he was in his study that Saturday afternoon in near despair, and ‘there came into my mind from Titus 1.2 that phrase God who cannot lie. You remember: “Eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised us long ages ago”’. And he said he was utterly overwhelmed, he was in tears, and the sermon was given to him there and then. But you see it was not some new truth. It was the old truth and the same God, freshly revealed.

Now stand back from Jeremiah 15 and get perspective. Think about what a marvellous miracle it is that folks like Jeremiah, and other servants of Christ, can get the stuffing knocked out of them and yet they can be set to rights and say ‘I will still serve him’.

This article is an edited extract from True Word for Tough Times © 2013, by Dale Ralph Davis, recently published jointly by Bryntirion Press and EP Books (ISBN 978 0 852 349 342, £6.99), and is used with permission. To purchase the book email bridgend bookshop@emw.org.uk or phone 01656 665912 or visit http://www.epbooks.org

 

This article was first published in the October 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

The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: Pet sounds


Music ExchangeIt’s strange how some instruments go in and out of favour in church music groups.

Our ears seem to be drawn to the same kind of instrumentation that we are used to hearing in mainstream popular culture. For example, in the 80s and 90s we were used to lots of saxophone: Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty), Careless Whisper (George Michael),Poirot (I mean the signature tune to Poirot, not that Poirot played the saxophone onCareless Whisper). But the sax has now largely disappeared from the pop scene. I’m sure that this is the reason that the sax has also disappeared from featuring on today’s Christian music CDs, leading it to being side-lined in church bands too.

A few strings

At the moment, the only classical orchestral instruments we hear on Christian music CDs produced in the West are a few strings. Everything else is electric or closely tied to folk music. So if it’s out with the saxophones, flutes and trumpets, it’s in with the banjos, Uilleann pipes, Dobros, fiddles, accordions and penny whistles (don’t worry — I don’t know what all of them are either.)

This can leave us church musicians feeling a bit out of it, because the majority of those who volunteer to help with music in churches play orchestral instruments. This is naturally the case because these are the instruments that people learnt at school.

I’m just as guilty of side-lining instruments that ‘don’t fit’. Rumour has it that I’m not fond of the clarinet. Just for the record, I use a clarinet sometimes for a Sunday morning service, though I admit that using the clarinet doesn’t confirm that I like the clarinet!

Using the gifts God has given

The point is that following stylistic trends can make us slaves to a certain sound. It’s not particularly healthy if we never ask the servant-hearted saxophonist in the congregation to play because that’s not the kind of sound that is wanted. The saxophone may make a come-back in another ten years’ time, but that’s not the only reason to encourage them to keep playing in church. Being a church musician is about learning to serve God’s people by using gifts he’s graciously given. If we see a keenness to serve, and the musician is skilful enough to lead a congregation well, then we are doing them and the wider church a disservice by standing them down.

The Men’s Convention band I played in a couple of years ago was laughed at by one of the overseas speakers for using ‘horns’ (trumpets and sax). This was a pity because the players served us all with humility and added a colour and light that is sometimes needed to drive the singing of 4,000 men. At the Evangelical Ministry Assembly a few years ago I also remember arrogantly suggesting to a brother that there wasn’t much place for a bassoonist in a contemporary church music group. I was rightly rebuked. A bassoon may not fit with our world’s definition of a music group, but the Lord’s definition of any group (musicians or not) is that they serve him humbly and that they serve his church sacrificially.

That’s why I use a clarinet. Not my cup of tea (OK, I admit it), but the person behind the clarinet is someone who is keen to serve Jesus, and who plays well enough to bring colour to the words we sing as a congregation without drawing attention to himself. That’s the ‘style’ of musician that Jesus wants. So please don’t be scared of using instruments that aren’t ‘in’ at the moment. We need to be growing servants of Jesus, not slaves to style.

Bagpipes in the morning!

Of course, it’s a good thing to be culturally sensitive — it’s not a great idea to pull out the bagpipes at an 8.30 am Book of Common Prayer service — but, if music is done well and sensitively, there’s no reason why any instrument can’t be played in a way that will bring honour and praise to God — even the clarinet!

 

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the October 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