Of the making of books about Spurgeon there is obviously no end, but this one enters the lists as one of the best.
It is a big book, in every sense of the word. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, USA –who gained wide acclaim for his three-volume history of the Baptists – is back with a monumental and well-documented tome on one of the finest preachers.
Nettles puts his finger on the reason for this from the outset in the words of the great man: ‘I would have every Christian wish to know all that he can know of revealed truth… Do not give way to a faint-hearted ignorance, lest you be great losers thereby’.
We sigh on reading that, wondering why many so-called evangelical preachers have taken the broad way of faint-hearted ignorance, aided and abetted by a false reliance on supposed spirituality. Spurgeon was an advocate of a systematic theological explicitness and a conversion ministry, both in the light of revealed truth. All he did, in the pulpit, the press, his charities or elsewhere, depended on his perception of revealed truth. Central to this was the sureness of the covenant of redemption revealed in Scripture and the certainty of salvation founded on the eternal transactions sealed in eternity by the trinitarian persons. Founded on that, his ministry was nothing but an incoming and an outgoing of revealed truth in his life.
That is the thesis Nettles documents in the various stages, the troubles and joys, the depressions and upliftings, the mockeries and blessings that Spurgeon experienced throughout his life, until exhaustion brought him to its end. From Kelvedon to Norwood Cemetery, Nettles gives us a blow-by-blow account with no detail spared. As expected, there are chapters on preaching the ‘whole counsel’, on the theological method and content of his ministry, on controversy, and of course on the downgrade conflict, which has lost none of its relevance.
Could be speaking of today
Spurgeon was no lover of conflict for itself, but when he wrote: ‘Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture and casting slurs upon justification by faith… (about) the truth of God versus the inventions of man’, he could be talking about the present. If Spurgeon’s ministry showed one thing, it is that the gospel never changes and that it is always relevant, however much the world seems to change. Amidst the triumphs and the achievements, there is a poignant chapter of 40 pages on sickness, suffering and depression that reminds us that, in spite of the acclaim, Spurgeon was brought down by the problems a minister experiences, sometimes a c u t e l y. But this world is not a place of punishment, and the waves of trouble serve the refiner’s gold.
This is a book to read and digest, to meditate and come back to. Even in the most routine circumstances Spurgeon encourages us to do what he did – give everything in obedience to the Lord and persevere. There is a one-page Scripture index and a detailed subject index, but unhappily no list of Spurgeon’s writings or of the abbreviations used in the footnotes – surely something to rectify in a new edition.
Paul Wells is a teacher at the Faculté Jean Calvin, Aix-en-Provence, and lives in Eastbourne
This year, of course, sees the centenary of the start of the First World War.
It began on July 28, 1914 – and lasted until November 11, 1918. It brought into conflict the ‘Triple Entente’ of France, Russia and the United Kingdom with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was, perhaps, the most terrible conflict the world had ever seen and perhaps will ever see. On the Allied side some 22 million were killed, missing or wounded and on the German side the same statistic was around 16 million. And although the war is associated with cheerful songs such as ‘Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag’ and ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, actually it brought death on an industrial scale and traumatised most of those who survived.
When I was a lad, some of those men were still around in my town. I had an old uncle who lived across the road from us in a very sparse cottage, uncle Harry Johnson. I will always remember his gaunt features, the grey stubble on his chin and his grim attitude. He still wore his puttees from the trenches – those bandages the WWI soldiers used around their lower legs. He was a hard, sad man who, I think, spent most of his money on drink to drown the memories.
The conflict left a deep scar on our nation, not just because of the vast numbers of lives lost, but the feeling that the generals on both sides had carelessly squandered the lives of thousands of men who they sent into hopeless battles with little chance of survival.
Where was God?
It was absolutely horrific. Understandably people ask: ‘Well, where was God?’. The Bible’s answer is two-fold. First, the cause of war lies with human beings (James 4.1). It is human greed, pride, jealousy and sin which starts wars. And part of God’s judgment on a sinful world is that he ‘gives us up’ to reap the fruits of our own sinfulness (Romans 1). He does this in the hope that we might come to our senses and turn back to him.
But the second part of the Bible’s answer is the gospel. Into our war-torn, foolish and selfish world, God has sent the gospel – the promise of eternal life through his son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. And it seems that in the midst of the terrible conflict of WWI, God was actually greatly at work bringing many men to personal salvation in Christ – so that though they might die, yet they would have eternal life which no one could take away from them.
There is a striking photo of an army chaplain, standing in the observer’s cockpit of an early bomber, preaching to the troops. I don’t know if this padre was preaching the gospel (rather than the nationalistic nonsense of ‘God is on our side’) – but much gospel work was done in those years. For example, an organisation called Scripture Gift Mission (SGM, now SGM Lifewords), who gave out thousands of Gospels and New Testaments to troops, has recently published some of the letters they received 100 years ago from troops and they say: ‘All across Europe, soldiers were turning to Christ in their thousands. There was a longing for God, and an appetite for the Bible that church ministers had not seen before’.
Letters from the war
Here is an example: ‘When your small Testaments were distributed on the Common at Southampton, I, among others, accepted one in a more derisive than complimentary manner. I little dreamed that I should use it and find in it great consolation in lonely hours… I have learned to realise the great personality of the Saviour. When at night I have been on duty alone with him by my side, and the Germans but 30 yards away, I realised that I needed more than my own courage to stand the strain. When the shells of the enemy have burst periodically at my feet I have marvelled at the fact of still being alive’.
Jeremy Williams of SGM Lifewords says: ‘While many soldiers may well have received the Gospels and New Testaments with scant interest, or even as a ‘lucky charm’, for many they became treasured possessions, read and re-read in times of loneliness, boredom and fear. Some were brought home and kept. Others were posted home with the personal effects of those who died. One sad letter in SGM’s archives was passed on by a clergyman in Manchester. ‘Perhaps you may remember speaking to two young men at (censored ). They were starting to join their regiment, and you kindly gave them copies of Mark’s Gospel. One of them is still in training, but the other – my only son – was killed in action last month. The contents of his pockets were returned this morning. Amongst them was the little book, well thumbed and stained with his blood.’’
The Bible holds out the promise of eternal life. For example, the Apostle Paul speaks of ‘the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me’ (Titus 1.2).
Amid the great tragedy. many were turning to Christ, believing such promises. Now, some might react scornfully and say: ‘Well, the soldiers were frightened and they swallowed a lot of pie in the sky to calm themselves’. The cynic might say: ‘There is no eternal life and to preach such things to men in that situation is just a sick joke’. But Paul’s text speaks of ‘the hope of eternal life’, given by ‘God, who does not lie’. Paul insists that God is reliable – a ‘man of his word’.
Captain Robert Campbell
Last autumn, in the Daily Telegraph, a story from WWI came to light about a man of his word. He was Captain Robert Campbell – an officer with the East Surrey regiment who was captured during the Battle of Mons early in the war, in August 1914, and kept as a prisoner in Magdeburg Prisoner of War (POW) camp.
In 1916 he received news that his mother, at home in Gravesend, was dying. What he did was to write to the German Kaiser, asking to be allowed to go and see his mother before she died and absolutely promising that if he was allowed to go he would come back. Incredibly the German emperor granted his request, allowing him two weeks leave. The only bond he placed on Captain Campbell was his word as an officer. Captain Campbell returned to his family home in December 1916 and, sure enough, kept his promise to go back to Germany and back to the POW camp.
Though the temptation must have been great to stay, he kept his word. Perhaps even more astonishing is the fact that the British Army let him go back. After all, here was another officer they could have sent back to the front.
God will keep his promise
Now here is the point. If a mere man like Captain Campbell was someone who, no matter what, kept his promise, and if a human institution like the British Army was so concerned to show itself honourable in making sure that one of its officers kept his promise, we can be more than assured that God, who is far more truthful than any man, will keep his promise.
The Bible tells us that God is one who is jealously concerned for his own glory, his own honour. Through Jesus Christ, he promises the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He will not, he cannot, let his promise in the gospel fail. The gospel is no trick. It is ‘the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and … has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me’, says Paul.
In the middle of tragedy
Amid the tragedy of WWI God was at work giving many eternal life. You may have many troubles in your life. Many people sadly have to view their own lives as a tragedy. But in the midst of that tragedy God offers salvation – eternal life.
The Bible says: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’.
A Long Way Down, which came out in March, is the fourth of Nick Hornby’s books to reach the big screen.
First there was the semi-autobiographical Fever Pitch, in which Colin Firth played a fanatical Arsenal supporter. (An American version was also released featuring Drew Barrymore and the Boston Red Sox.) Then came High Fidelity, in which music-lover Rob reflects on a string of failed relationships. About A Boy featured the laddish Will, played by Hugh Grant, who befriends a young boy with a troubled home life. Now A Long Way Down presents an unlikely foursome as they contemplate suicide. With subjects like these, it’s little wonder Hornby is known for his dry, dark humour.
I’m a big fan of Nick Hornby’s writing. I admire his understated, self-deprecating wit. I like his wry observations about the seemingly trivial details of human relationships and family life. I appreciate the insight he offers into the psyche of a certain brand of bumbling nineties males. I love the way that he handles heavy topics with a relaxed, cheerful and poignant tone that feels utterly appropriate. I’m not the only one to praise his so-called invisible style, which is often described as being ‘deceptively simple’. There is, of course, a good dose of bad language, adultery, obsessiveness and family breakdown in his novels. But what else would you expect from a writer committed to exploring the emotional and social responsibilities of 21st-century individuals?
Hornby returns repeatedly to the same question: to what extent are people entitled to live selfish lives? His characters make various attempts to work out the answer to this question. In About A Boy, Will is determined to do as he pleases and disprove the idea that ‘no man is an island’. David and Katie in How ToBe Good find themselves in all kinds of moral quandaries as they struggle to live selflessly. The characters in A Long Way Down consider cutting their ties altogether. But, try as they might, Hornby’s characters cannot seem to isolate themselves from the world, and the people, around them. They’re constantly drawn back to relationships and community.
Resorting to religion
Hornby’s website features an interview in which he responds to the question, ‘How vital a force is religion in contemporary culture?’ He claims: ‘Most contemporary Western writers are a pretty godless lot, myself included, so religion plays less of a part in contemporary fiction than perhaps it should, when you think about what kind of a role it plays in contemporary life’.
His novels do make vague attempts to engage with the idea of spirituality and organised religion in a godless culture. In How To BeGood, the Christian faith is enacted as a ‘sad, exhausted, defeated’ duty. In Juliet, Naked, one of the characters claims that religion is supposed to make you ‘love people more, forgive them their petty transgressions’. However, great art somehow seems more capable of performing this task. Perhaps art is, in some cases, a kind of religion?
In fact, in one of Hornby’s early short stories, faith is defined as ‘one simple thought that renders everything else in life temporarily insignificant’. Whether a religion, a hobby, a career, a musician, a football team, a love affair, or children, faith is just some kind of all-consuming idea.
Hornby does seem drawn to the idea that Christianity ‘might be used to assist thought’. It might, he suggests, help us to consider ‘who we are and what we’re doing here and how we intend to negotiate the difficulties and tragedies that are unavoidably a part of being human’. At times he even seems slightly nostalgic for the seriousness of Christian thought, quoting Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going: ‘And that much never can be obsolete, / Since someone will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious.’
In his own life, Hornby finds it hard to escape the emotional narratives of Christianity. When his youngest son was troubled by the death of pop star Michael Jackson, he found himself relying on the language of faith. He said: ‘The terrible thing is how quickly one resorts to religion. I have staunch atheistic principles, but the moment Jesse became upset, I’m going, “It’s alright, don’t worry. Michael Jackson’s gone to heaven” ’. Yet elsewhere he claims to be repelled by the Christian idea of the afterlife. It seems that, for Hornby, religion is something which may have emotional benefits at particular moments in life, regardless of whether or not it is true.
One of the characters in How To Be Good says: ‘I don’t believe in Heaven, or anything. But I want to be the kind of person that qualifies for entry anyway. Do you understand?’. You have to wonder how closely Hornby would align himself with this view, and how strongly it would resonate with many of his readers.
Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN and works as an events planner and freelance writer in Cambridge. More of her articles can be found at www.rachelthorpe.com
Lyn Coles tells her story and how she now helps others
The ripple effect of one abortion can affect as many as 45 to 50 people.
Those people will include the mother, the father, the grandparents, the existing and future siblings, health professionals, abortionists, clergy, friends, co-workers, extended family members, future spouses – and so the ripples continue.
As believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, are we equipped to come alongside those affected by abortion in our churches and in the communities in which God has placed us? Abortion is a mission field – but the workers are few.
Suffering in secret
Many women hide the secret of abortion deep in their hearts and they are suffering the consequences. They carry an incredible burden while wearing smiles on their faces. Both Christian and non-Christian women ‘choose’ abortion.
The rhetoric of ‘choice’ though, hides the reality of coercion. Women will not choose abortion if they have another choice. In a crisis pregnancy, coercion towards abortion comes in many forms – losing your relationship, income, home, or education; bringing shame on the family / church / yourself; misinformation on what abortion actually entails presented as fact – with no mention of the long-term, detrimental consequences on your life.
Christian women often choose abortion to hide sexual sin outside of marriage. Whatever the reason for choosing abortion, the disenfranchised grief is the same in each woman. The circumstances may differ, but the humanity and personhood of the pre-born child remains the same.
My abortion and PAT
I aborted my son Stephen on September 21, 1980 when I was 18 years old. I wasn’t a Christian and I was completely ignorant and naïve as to what abortion involved. I was told by those I trusted that it was a simple procedure, that my son was just a ‘blob of cells’ at 10 weeks gestation and that I had my whole life ahead of me to have children. I could have the abortion and my problems would be solved.
Little did I know that abortion, rather than solving my problems, would just give me new ones. I struggled with ‘post abortion trauma’ (PAT) for the following ten years and suffered in silence. Some symptoms of PAT are depression, anxiety, guilt, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders and self-harming, to name but a few. Often anniversaries, like Christmas, birthdays, the anniversary of the abortion itself or the due date of the birth of the aborted child, trigger and exacerbate these symptoms.
Forgiveness and grief
I gave my life to Christ when I was 32 and I instantly knew that I was forgiven for all my past sin, including my abortion. So why was I still struggling with it? Through the grace and mercy of God, I was led to another Christian woman who talked me through aspects of PAT and I went through healing for my abortion. For the first time, I was allowed to grieve the loss of my son Stephen and recognise that he was a child, created in the image of God, and that abortion is never the answer to an unplanned or unexpected pregnancy. Ever.
That was 20 years ago and since then I have been involved in abortion recovery ministry on a voluntary basis. The elders of our church commissioned me and my husband Andy into this ministry back in 2006.
Setting women free
Surrendering the Secret (STS) is an abortion recovery Bible study rooted in the gospel. I am a ‘Certified Leader’ of the study, having trained under its author, Pat Layton, in the USA. I have been running this programme in Belfast for the past four years. It is amazing and such a privilege to be part of God’s plan in setting women free from the pain, shame and guilt of a past abortion. Jesus doesn’t want us to live a guilt-ridden life, whatever your secret sin, but instead he wants us to live a guilt-free life and live it to the full. If he sets us free, we are free indeed!
Over the years, post abortive women learn to live in silence and secrecy, stockpiling hurts they have buried deep inside. We struggle for years with repressed memories of guilt, shame and depression. Most women feel they are not allowed to talk about their abortion experiences because it was their ‘choice’. They carry a great burden of shame and failure, afraid to reveal their hidden pain.
Secrecy and shame are a destructive combination, as women are forced to endure long-lasting destructive effects in isolation. As with any traumatic event, many post abortive women experience physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms related to PAT. Often the medical community overlooks abortion as a risk factor in a woman’s physical and emotional health. One study in Finland showed that, in comparison to women in the same study who carried children to term, women who aborted were six times more likely to take their own lives through suicide.
Inspired to speak
In a recent American Family Association Journal article, David Platt (senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama) confesses to have been ‘shamefully passive’ about the topic of abortion until some of the women in his church began to journey through the STS Bible study. Platt’s heart was stirred to take action by the women in his own church who came forward with their ‘deep scars, emotionally and relationally to experience the healing that the gospel provides when it comes to past abortions’. He was inspired to speak about abortion, combining biblical truth balanced with spiritual care for the soul. The women in his church have responded and are being set free from the heartbreak of past abortions, and future generations are being protected.
A generation yet to be born
‘They will come and tell a people yet to be born about his righteousness – what he has done’ (Psalm 22.31).
Healing occurs best in the context of a redemptive community. The gospel is all about redemption. Surrendering the Secret is an eight week course and includes a participant’s workbook and weekly DVD sessions and it is rooted in the gospel. Ideally the primary facil-itator of the group should be a woman who has had an abortion and been through recovery, but it is not imperative. If you can facilitate a Bible study and have a heart for hurting women, you can lead this course.
The demand is there, but women are not aware that abortion recovery help is available to them. In 2014 we hope to provide national training opportunities in the UK and Ireland for STS. Please pray and ask the Lord what he would like you, your pastoral team or your church to do about bringing hope and healing to your community.
Trouble and wounds are inevitable in this life, but we have the power to choose how we deal with them. Abortion attacks us at our very core – our identity as women. We believe the lies the enemy of our souls whispers to us and the secrecy enslaves us. God wants to set his daughters free from the choice of abortion. Our identity is in Christ alone. He gently walks women through the past pain towards repentance, healing, redemption and hope which is to be found in him alone.
If you are interested in finding out more about how you or your church can facilitate an STS study, please contact Lynn on +44 7788 151339 or email@example.com Please note that abortion does affect men, whatever our culture and society says, and help is available for men also.
A couple with good jobs, and well-behaved children, and they wanted to be part of our church. Our church?! A lovely, eager, problem-free family, landing in our pews and our lives. We all looked forward to getting to know them and enjoying helping them get stuck into the church’s work. God is good.
He is good, and he was very good in bringing us this lovely couple and their kids. They did get stuck in. My family and theirs had meals at each others’ homes, and they were some of the most vocal encouragers I had. And even I, naïve and slightly optimistic younger Pastor as I was then, knew that smiling faces can easily hide crying hearts. After a couple of years I saw the husband’s tears when he opened up to me. It was the marriage.
Opening up about marriage
Middle-aged men don’t easily share their problems. Marriage problems are some of the most painful, and the hardest to share. But he opened up. One day he told me that the marriage was little more than a convenient partnership. Loveless, sexless, grey, sad, and even tragic. The kids knew the simmering anger between the parents, the separate lives they led, the enforced smiles when at church. The dad was terrified that this strain was starting to have its effect on the children. Divorce frightened him, too, but he knew it was an option. He knew he needed to get some help.
We all know that finally owning up to problems is the first step to tackling them. I felt honoured that this dear friend told me just how bad things were. We know, too, that men are particularly guilty of not recognising problems, or explaining them away, or just plain ignoring them. I believe that it was a work of God’s Holy Spirit that this man said that he needed help. He and I sat down for a couple of long conversations. I knew that he and his wife would actually talk more freely to a Christian marriage counsellor than to me, and that in this situation that was the right recommendation to make. So they set their first date for an open discussion with the counsellor, and those meetings began.
What happened next, and what’s happened over the ten or so years since that conversation, is a simple but very beautiful story of healing. Slow, obviously, with fits and starts, and some relapses into old attitudes and patterns of behaviour, but the solid rebuilding of trust and love, and establishing intimacy again. I remember how he shyly smiled as he proudly told me ‘we held hands last night. We just sat on the sofa and held hands.’ I was so thrilled for them both. Today they are still at our church, seeing their children grow towards adulthood. They’re just as committed to the gospel. And their lives show those marks of Christian authenticity. The Holy Spirit’s enabling, the grace of God, faith in his promises, obedience to his Word. It’s all there. And it’s beautiful.
Why tell you all this? To encourage you. God works in ordinary people, taking ordinary trials and tears, and bringing new strength, and real progress. If that couple had divorced, people would have grieved for them, but then moved on. God’s Spirit brought them both to long for change, then to seek help, and to work for change. And here they are today, as real, time-tested signs of the quiet power of God.
The church is a strange coming-together of weak, struggling people. Make sure appearances otherwise don’t deceive you. Treasure your church family, they are a most precious gift of God. Pray for each other, help each other. Be honest, and pursue openness. Believe in very every-day and yet wholly supernatural grace. Celebrate those who are still pressing on in the gospel.
Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!
In this book, Amanda Robbie gives us an honest, humorous insight into her own messy life. She takes each area of life in turn, exposes the mess, then ‘chats with us’ about how we should think biblically about it.
It is written for Christian wives and mothers. As a mother of three boys, reading it was like drinking a cup of hot chocolate. Comforting. I felt as though I was sat at her cluttered kitchen table while she peeled the potatoes for lunch.
Her main message is that only God’s grace gets us out of the mess of our sin. God’s grace is seen most clearly in our weakness and mess. God’s grace is leading us to heaven where the mess will be gone.
She, very helpfully, challenges us to get our heart motivation right. For example, our motivation for tidying our house should be that those in it can rest and relate to one another.
She reminds us that the Bible is full of mess – messy people, messy family situations, messy mealtimes. Problems become opportunities in the providence of God.
She encourages us just to have a go and not to wait until everything is perfect. Even a single Bible verse snatched while semi-comatose with a breast-feeding baby, is better than waiting for the perfect moment for a perfect quiet time.
This book didn’t really go beyond comforting, but it made me laugh (‘God does have a view on the state of my skirting boards: his command to me is to subdue them’ was my favourite line!). It helped me to press on, imperfect as my attempts are. I can trust God that his word will do his work, even though I missed a few days of the daily Bible reading plan! She points us to Jesus on every page, which for me is a good book.
Linda Allcock, pastor’s wife at Bush Hill Park Community Church, Enfield
Michael Prest encourages the UK church to get out more!
World mission is not exactly having a heyday in the UK church.
Numbers coming forward for long-term mission are down and, as the church in the global south continues to grow, our own place in world mission often leaves us scratching our head.1
Let’s be honest, the world has moved on since Hudson Taylor got on a slow boat to China. If it’s not PC to talk about truth at home, then the idea of sharing our faith with those far away sounds ultra colonial. ‘Leave them in peace’, the world says. ‘OK’, we reply. And, after all, these days ‘the world is on our doorstep’, so let’s sit tight.
And then there’s the image problem. The UK church planting movement comes to us via Twitter, has a real sense of purpose and a multitude of ‘big name’ endorsements. Global mission all too often comes with a once-a-year rendition of ‘facing a task unfinished’ and a dusty missions noticeboard full of people that no-one has ever heard of.
OK, so all of that is a bit of a caricature, but you get the point. Often, by implication, we’re left thinking that sending people overseas is something we did in the past. Global mission can just be done at home. All of which means that our attempts to rally the troops to respond to the needs of the wider world often meet with quizzical looks. It’s all a bit passé.
Now don’t get me wrong; it’s great that local mission is high up on the agenda right now. It’s great to see so many being identified, equipped and set apart for new plants. It’s thrilling to see opportunities among international students and immigrant communities being identified and taken. You sense the ‘but’ coming, don’t you?
Preparing for the ‘but…’?
Praise God for a vibrant, roll-your-sleeves-up and-get-on-with-it movement of church planters in the UK today. With just 6% of Brits heading to church each weekend and at least 94% thinking the gospel has nothing to offer, there is an urgent and pressing need for many more to follow where they go. And… behind the gloss of being the focus of the current Christian media, praise God that so many leaders and their flocks – those who go and those who send – are willing to make the tough, costly decisions to break new ground and to be on mission here, in our own back yard.
Praise God too for the local, cross-cultural mission to the nations that God has brought to us. The opportunities are thrilling and the stories remarkable. In the years I was in ministry in the UK we baptised as many people from other nations as we did from our own. We met people that God had brought to the UK who would likely never hear the gospel in their home countries. And of course there are the non-student communities from around the world that God has placed us among. It’s tough work, yet praise God for the believers who are doing beautiful things for Jesus, loving those that society rejects, sharing the good news with those that society passes by. There is so much more to do.
And so there’s no need for a ‘but’. How could any believer mourn the progress of the gospel in the UK? Praise the Lord! Faithfulness in mission is not about getting on a plane. The big imperative of the Great Commission is to make disciples. The going and baptising and teaching obedience all focus on that, they’re not ends in themselves.
Where we’ve gone wrong
And perhaps that’s where we’ve gone wrong in our call to missions around the globe. Perhaps we’ve been too quick to emphasise the ‘going’ as the litmus test of obedience in mission. And maybe in turn, that’s why the term ‘mission’ overseas has become so blurred in our minds, being attached to anything and everything done by anyone and everyone who heads across the ocean, as if something magical happens as soon as we leave UK airspace.
If global mission is primarily about going, then we’ll talk about adventure, exciting cross-cultural experiences and crazy exploits with foreign cuisine. Now there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but here’s the thing – the next generation of Christians don’t need to go on a mission trip to experience jumping off a waterfall or updating their blog on the back of a rickety bus half way up a mountain. They can take on those challenges in all sorts of ways and many of them already have.
Making disciples worldwide
However, if world mission is primarily about making disciples, then yes, while we might get to jump off a waterfall and eat some crazy insects, we’ll primarily talk about serving, evangelism and discipleship.
On the surface, they don’t sound like inspiring strap-lines for a new mobilisation campaign and yet, as we come back to the Bible, we see that nothing could be more contemporary, nothing could be more relevant or urgent.
Because the wonderful stories of the growth of mission here in the UK are part of the bigger story of what Jesus is doing all around his world. He is seeing to it that the gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is preached to all peoples, to the ends of the earth. This work, Jesus says, is as integral to salvation history as were his death and resurrection (Luke 24.44-49). And this work is to continue until the day he returns (Matthew 28.20).
All of that is certain, even before we look at the needs around the world, before we see the stats of those who have yet to hear and the stories of those who wait in darkness. And so, while making disciples is what we’re called to do, geography remains hugely important. To speak of global mission is not to speak of a tension between, or competition with, mission at home. We’re to make disciples in every nation, from every nation, to every nation.
Of course questions remain. How are we to work in a world that looks so different to the one in which we once exerted so much influence? How does the growth of the church in the global south change the way we approach our global task? Important questions, vital questions, but questions that must help clarify – not prevent – our engagement in the task that God has given his church until his Son comes again.2
So, what in the world are we doing? How are we doing at understanding and communicating the global, vital, promised work of Jesus in our world? How are we and our churches getting on when it comes to intentionally praying for the Lord to raise up workers for his harvest fields around the world? How are we doing at identifying, training, equipping and sending gospel workers overseas as well as round the corner?
Maybe it’s time to dust down that noticeboard. Jesus is at work and the gospel is on the move.
Michael Prest works with UFM in SE Asia and was formerly a minister at Beeston Free Church, Nottingham.
Michael is helping to organise the first Local Church Global Mission conference, on Saturday 7 June 2014 in Nottingham. It aims to encourage churches to be active in identifying, training, sending and supporting workers for cross-cultural mission. Jonathan Lamb and Andy Paterson are the main speakers. The conference is being backed by nine organisations including FIEC, Affinity, Keswick Ministries and Crosslinks. Full details at www.localchurchglobalmission.org/details.
A recent Channel 4 programme charted the extraordinary rise and development of Pentecostal West African churches, around London’s Old Kent Road.
Across the capital there are now well over a hundred recently planted churches, meeting in warehouses and office blocks, empty shops and reclaimed cinemas, involving thousands of mainly Afro-Caribbean young people. The common thread running through the stories of these young adults, aged 18 to 30, was the practical love shown to them by the members of the church. Sometimes this began with food and a place to sleep. Often it was a virtual parenting, especially of young males who had no father figure, giving firm Christian ethical teaching alongside gospel compassion.
Perhaps the biggest shift of world view, involved in the process we call conversion is from a perspective on life in which I am the centre of everything, to one in which in practice, as well as principle, Jesus Christ is Lord. That is the crucial mega-shift which dethrones me from the centre of the universe and enthrones the Lord Jesus as rescuer and ruler and our initial commitment to repentance and faith needs to be renewed day by day, as we present ourselves to the Lord as living sacrifices, (Romans 12.1-2).
If we Christians are going to impact our contemporary culture with its world view that God is either non-existent, or at best largely irrelevant, it will be through personal encounters with the revolutionary, other-centred life-style of the Lord Jesus, exemplified in us, his agents. That can best be defined in terms of self-giving love. Nor is it surprising that this begins within the family of God’s people. ‘A new commandment I give you,’ Jesus told his disciples, ‘love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13.34-35).
Love in the church
What is so important is the observation that the first focus of this life-changing love is within the church itself. Understandably, the watching world wants to know whether we really live in the house that our preaching builds.. Or is it just another ‘con’ – no different from all the other empty promises and manipulative techniques we are so tired of, with the politicians and the media? That is why every time there is another exposure of financial or sexual scandal in ‘the church’, it is a further nail in the gospel coffin. Yes, but that is equally so when a local church congregation degenerates into squabbles and fights, power plays and imperialist ambitions, which deny the essence of the gospel and destroy its witness in the area. Thank God that many of our congregations are relatively free of these things, but the price of such freedom is eternal vigilance. So the issue is that when we scatter, after our Sunday gatherings, into our home neighbourhoods and places of work, to rub shoulders with those who do not share our faith, or whenever a newcomer attends a church event, is their dominant impression one of the reality of the love of Christ? His love for us, our love for him and our love for one another spilling over into all the world.
Or do they encounter a well-oiled and active evangelistic machine, which is keen to talk them through the latest gospel presentation, but not perhaps so keen to be relational-ly involved enough to take time to listen to and understand their heart-cries? Of course, the deepest love we can show to anyone is to share the good news of sins forgiven, peace with God and the assurance of eternal life for all who turn to Christ and trust in him. But if we do this in a mechanistic way, concerned only for professions, rather than meeting individuals as and where they really are, do we not deny by our attitudes the very self-giving love on which the gospel we preach is founded?
The love of Christ
This is no time for empty words and deceptive arguments, much less the tri-umphalist hype which has so often distorted the message of the suffering saviour. But still the world is, and always will be, open to love, since we are made in the image of the God who is love.
That love takes seriously the needs and burdens which fill the horizon of our lives when we try to live without reference to our creator. Whether it is at one end of the social scale the deprivation, unemployment, sickness or addictive behaviours, or the greed, worka-holism and success-driven paranoia at the other, they are all barriers to the reception of the good news of Christ crucified and risen. They each give rise to the God-substitutes with which the human psyche always tries to satisfy its aching longings. They form a radar screen, expert at deflecting the incoming missiles of the truth of the gospel. But the way they are disabled is by the love of Christ flowing through us, as his disciples, his free samples. For what we are shouts so loudly that people often cannot hear what we are saying.
David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.