Here are a handful of news-bites from around the UK included in the December issue of en. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.
Christians = terrorists?
Pro-marriage and pro-life Christians have been listed next to terrorists by a group of secularists and atheists in a manifesto calling for the establishment of an ‘international front against the religious-right and for secularism’, launched in mid-October.
Signed by homosexual-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, the National Secular Society’s president Terry Sanderson and prominent atheist A C Grayling, concerns have been raised that genuine concern about murderous terrorists is being hijacked to attack evangelical Christians. The Christian Institute
NI: against exploitation
The Northern Ireland Assembly voted in mid-October to criminalise paying for sex, and voted to support the introduction of statutory child trafﬁcking guardians alongside statutory victim support.
In voting for these provisions Northern Ireland now leads the way in having the very best anti-trafficking and exploitation legislation in the UK. CARE
The Prince & persecution
Muslim leaders have a duty to warn their own followers about the ‘indescribable tragedy’ of the persecution of Christians around the world, Prince Charles insisted in November.
He said that faith leaders must not remain silent. His comments coincided with the publication of a new report which concludes that Christians are the ‘most persecuted religious minority’ in the world and that Muslim countries dominate the list of places where religious freedom is most under threat. The Daily Telegraph
Sabbaticals are seen by too many as the refuge of the lazy, the weak and the workshy.
If a Christian minister is to leave his post for a period of time, he may think it confirms his church’s suspicions that he’s a sponger, exploiting his congregation’s goodwill.
I for one know very few lazy evangelical pastors. I know dozens who are worn-out, overwhelmed and therefore ineffective in their calling.
These men need a sabbatical, and they and their churches need to understand what that involves, and why it can be such a blessing.
Pastors need sabbaticals
Ministry is exhausting. If you are properly preparing and declaring God’s Word week in week out, it will exhaust you. If you are caring for people, really bearing their burdens, weeping with them as they weep, it will take its toll. If you are making yourself the servant of peoples’ deepest spiritual needs, you will pay the price. Sabbaticals are not luxuries; for most proper ministries they are essentials if the worker and the work will flourish long-term.
What is a sabbatical?
I see it as an extended time of paid leave, when the pastor has no responsibilities in the church he is serving. A month is a minimum, six months is certainly a long time in UK circles, three months is a good length. Ideally, the pastor (and his family) should aim to be away from the home and church for at least some of that agreed-upon time.
What should you do on one?
The answer is, whatever you need in order to get refreshed. Lie on a beach, if that’s your thing; do a course of study, whether that’s your own planned reading, or a seminary module; write an article, or a book; learn an instrument; go and be part of and study another congregation or ministry. Just work out what will refresh and encourage you for the next leg of ministry, and make your arrangements.
Arrangements are complicated.
If you are married, or have school-age kids, then you must think and talk these things through. How will your wife and the children benefit? Three months being dragged off after husband’s / dad’s pet ambitions is a recipe for family strain.
Talk, plan, pray, prepare. And don’t attempt too much. This is to be a rest, after all. The last thing you need on sabbatical is to feel frustrated at how little you accomplish – you’ve got ministry for that! Set realistic goals which don’t over-exert.
Arrangements for the church need time to put in place. The church needs to understand what the sabbatical is, why you’re seeking one, and what the implications are for the church’s life. This needs a series of leadership-level conversations held a minimum of six months before the proposed sabbatical. Pastors, expect the church to be surprised at the request and probably daunted by the implications. Take time to answer all questions from your fellow leaders and church members. At the end of the day your sabbatical must be something they’re enthusiastic about, too.
Never apologise for seeking a sabbatical, if you’re convinced you need one. And remember, it’s common in the secular workplace for employees to have courses, opportunities for exploring other work-experiences, or managed career-breaks. Asking for a relatively modest time away from the burden of ministry is not an outrageous request. It can also do the world of good to a church. The pastor is not the church’s Saviour, simply his servant. It can – and should – do without its Undershepherd for a season every now and then.
Policy in place?
Does your church have a policy of sabbaticals for your pastor? Have you discussed a sabbatical with him? And if not, why not? You and he could be missing out on a highly enriching experience.
Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.
Transition of leadership is always a testing time for organisations.
This is certainly true for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which came into being in 2009. Following the consecration to the office of bishop of a man who was in a samesex relationship, those who could not accept this within a Christian church formed a new church, faithful to Anglican teaching. It was recognised by the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON), which first met in 2008 in Jerusalem.
Not a proper Anglican
Their first archbishop, the Most Revd Robert Duncan, had been Bishop of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church (of the United States of America) prior to ACNA’s split from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and so was already a fully ‘recognised’ Anglican bishop. His elected successor, the Most Revd Dr Foley Beach, was not a bishop in TEC or anywhere else. So some could argue that he was not a proper Anglican bishop.
Archbishop Welby’s advisers appear to have taken such a view. Only days before Archbishop Beach’s investiture on 9 October the Church of Ireland Gazette published an interview with Archbishop Welby.
Welby pulls plug
In 2010 the Church of England General Synod had recognised and affirmed the desire of those who formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family. Since ACNA is not yet a member in the formal list of the churches of the Anglican Communion, the Synod agreed to explore what relationship ACNA might have with the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
The smoke signals were thought to be favourable. But it appeared that Archbishop Welby held that ACNA was an ‘ecumenical’ partner and therefore closed the explorations. Some suggest that Archbishop Welby was misquoted and that there is more to say. ACNA was so ‘upset’ about this that Archbishop Welby’s letter of ‘greeting’ to Archbishop Beach was left unread at his investiture.
Instead Bishop Greg Venables, former primate of the Southern Cone of Latin America brought warm greetings from the Pope. ‘He wrote to me just a few days ago and said when you go to the United States please, in my name, give my personal congratulations and greetings to Archbishop Foley.
‘Assure him of my prayers and support at this moment and in the future as he leads the Church at this very important moment of revival and mission’.
This is, of course a greeting to an ecumenical partner and one of the ‘separated brethren’. Archbishop Welby’s view appears to be much the same. His statement may have been determined by lawyers for whom the question is whether ACNA clergy and bishops are ‘proper’ Anglican clergy.
Archbishop or Confession
To emphasise the point made in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration that Anglican identity does not depend on recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury – but is rather a matter of biblically faithful confession – seven primates of the Anglican Communion (Kenya – chairman of GAFCON Primates Council, Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda Jerusalem and the Middle East – chairman of the Anglican Global South network, Myanmar, and Southern Cone) present at the service received Archbishop Beach ‘ as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion’.
Following the installation, these primates issued this statement: ‘We, the undersigned primates, were honoured to participate in the joyful investiture of the Most Revd Dr Foley Beach as Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, and to receive him as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion … the heart of our calling is to share the transforming love of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We celebrate that the Anglican Church in North America shares in that same mission and purpose. We and our Provinces will continue to share in gospel work together, and pledge our continued partnership with the Anglican Church in North America to pursue the work of Christ’.
Prebendary Charles Marnham, rector of St Michael’s Chester Square, London said at the investiture: ‘ACNA should be in no doubt that you have many friends in the Church of England who admire and respect your costly, courageous and principled stand in recent years’.
Archbishop’s real view
What is the real view of Archbishop Welby? He strongly affirms his opposition to same sex marriage. ACNA has stood for this Anglican teaching, in the USA, often at great cost to their clergy and to the loss of their church buildings. Yet institutionally Lambeth seems unwilling to recognise them as a Church which is a member of the Anglican Communion.
What might lie behind Justin Welby’s apparent uncertainty about ACNA? Membership of the Anglican Communion is not an administrative issue but a confessional one. The bodies that can make such a decision are the Lambeth Conference, or the Primates Council on its behalf. Due to the disfunctionality of both the Lambeth Conference (not being held in 2018) and the Primates Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the only current functioning locus of the Anglican Communion. He is trying to make it more collaborative by consulting personally with all the primates and until that is done he will not take these confessional decisions.
Vinay Samuel writes: ‘The GAFCON primates, as the only visible group at the moment, are following the right route in taking that decision. But more than ad hoc recognition is needed. The Anglican Communion Primates Council needs to be properly constituted so that such decisions can be made. The question is whether the Anglican Communion Primates Council can meet any time soon’.
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.
North Korea: investigation
A UN report has called in late October for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The report concluded that ‘a number of long-standing and ongoing patterns of systematic and widespread violations [meet] the high threshold required for crimes against humanity in international law’ and that these crimes ‘clearly merit a criminal investigation’. The report found that ‘grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity are ingrained in the institutional framework’ of North Korea. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Thailand: wise proverbs
A new multi-media project has been launched in Thailand, it was reported in mid-October.
The Proverbs Project from Voice of Peace is designed to introduce modern, educated Buddhists in Thailand to the gospel. It consists of a book with 52 chapters, 52 radio and television programmes, a correspondence course, social and mobile media. In Thailand proverbs are used for teaching children and youth so it is therefore ideal as an entry point for presenting the gospel to the Thai people. Fellowship of European Broadcasters (FEB)
USA: ironic equality
It was reported in late October that Christian groups at California State University have been stripped of recognition because they refused to sign a policy which would require them to open their membership and leadership to all students, including non-Christians.
Groups that do not sign the new policy lose free access to meeting rooms, are barred from student fairs and cannot receive funding from student associations. The move has been heavily criticised by members of a nationwide campus ministry. The Christian Institute
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I was visiting an older couple who had come along to one or two church events.
They told me a little of their own life in business and their travels. I can’t quite remember how the conversation turned, but suddenly the wife said something which took me aback but was very heartening. ‘The people at your church’ she said, ‘are like a different race – they are all so kind’. I quickly assured them it was the Lord’s church, not mine, and that despite God’s goodness to us we are far from perfect. But here a couple of outsiders had sensed something wonderful among us and as soon as I was able I related this comment to the church for folk’s encouragement.
Holiday at home
Where did this comment originate? This couple had first come along to a three-day ‘Holiday at Home’ hosted in the church during the summer. They had been thrilled by the fun and the love they had enjoyed. In particular they had been struck by the fact that during the school holidays many of our teenagers had been happy to get involved with older people and serve as waiters and waitresses. This had affected this couple so much that at the close of things, with tears in his eyes, the husband had got up and said how much they had both enjoyed themselves and that the way our society is going he had come to think that such young people had ceased to exist – but here they were. ‘I don’t understand why you do it’ he said, but then, probably with the short lunchtime messages he had heard about God’s love in mind, he concluded, ‘but perhaps I think I do’.
Hearing these comments about loving Christians seeming like a new breed of human beings, we are reminded of our new birth and Peter’s words: ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation… Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God’ (1 Peter 2.9,10). And even hardened atheists and agnostics sometimes have to admit that there is something different about God’s people when they encounter Christian love.
In her Scenes of Clerical Life, the great doubter George Eliot grudgingly highlights this, concerning evangelicalism: ‘No man can begin to mould himself on a faith or an idea without rising to a higher order of experience: a principle of subordination, of self-mastery, has been introduced into his nature; he is no longer a mere bundle of impressions, desires and impulses. Whatever might be the weaknesses of the ladies who pruned the luxuriance of their lace and ribbons, cut out garments for the poor, distributed tracts, quoted Scripture, and defined the true gospel, they had learned this – that there was a divine work to be done in life, a rule of goodness higher than the opinion of their neighbours… that fitness for heaven consisted in purity of heart, in Christ-like compassion, in the subduing of selfish desires… Miss Rebecca Linnet, in quiet attire, with a somewhat excessive solemnity of countenance, teaching at the Sunday-school, visiting the poor, and striving after a standard of purity and goodness, had surely more moral loveliness than in those flaunting peony-days, when she had no other model than the costumes of the heroines in the circulating library’.
Often, so aware of the sins with which we battle and the missed marks which attend our lives, Christians can fail to appreciate who we really are by God’s grace. And sometimes outsiders can perceive more clearly than ourselves our true identity.
Last month’s commentary mentioned the editor’s poorly mother. She went to be with Lord, peacefully, on 7 November.
‘Music is a gift of God… After theology I accord to music the highest place and greatest honour.’
So said Martin Luther, who composed chorales to be sung by all the people, not just the clergy as in the Roman Catholic Church of his day. It is largely to him that we owe today’s opportunities for congregational singing.
But do we make the best possible use of them? I will be asking some searching questions about the songs we sing. My prayer is that this will stimulate fruitful discussion and encourage a God-honouring approach to the musical side of church life.
My musical family
First, let me say a little about my background to show where I am coming from.
Music was always prominent in our family life. As a family we occasionally performed Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony. Two of my brothers followed musical careers, one of them becoming the youngest-ever Fellow of the Royal College of Organists at the age of 17. My father was an organist and choirmaster; and I myself have been a chorister. I have experienced a variety of musical traditions in both Anglican and nonconformist churches, including numerous evangelical churches in Spain. Four years’ training at the London Bible College, when Ernest Kevan was Principal, provided me with resources for bringing biblical teaching to bear on practical issues. Music is one such issue.
Just a matter of taste?
Is musical style merely a matter of personal taste? No. To some extent it mirrors the spirit of the age. As H.R. Rookmaaker said in Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, ‘there is nothing neutral’. Like other aspects of culture, music should be judged by the standards of God’s Word and by the effect it produces. Music can soothe a troubled spirit (1 Samuel 16.23), but it can also whip people into a frenzy.
Adolf Hitler would only listen to military bands and music composed by Richard Wagner. Wagner despised the music of his contemporary Felix Mendelssohn on account of its ‘Jewishness’ and advocated the elimination of all Jews from German society. Significantly, Hitler saw him as his sole predecessor. He attended several performances of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. The explosive Prelude to Act 3 feels like a musical accompaniment to Hitler’s ranting speeches. For a complete contrast, take Elton John’s Candlein the Wind at Princess Diana’s funeral. It moved people to tears.
The renowned conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once said that, if he were a dictator, he would compel everyone between four and 80 to listen to 15 minutes of Mozart every day. In an educational research project some years ago, Mozart was played during school lessons. The result? Improved concentration, as the sheer beauty of Mozart’s melodies and harmonies evoked a tranquil, tension-free atmosphere.
What kind of atmosphere?
Since music invariably creates a certain atmosphere, we ought to ask what kind of atmosphere we generate through the music in our Sunday services and Christian conventions. John Bell of the Iona Community thinks we have swapped the model of the Victorian schoolroom for that of the theatre. Is this true? Has today’s pervasive pop culture influenced our music in any way? Does a Christian gathering in which music features strongly ever feel like a pop festival?
Like all God’s gifts, music can be used in a self-centred fashion or in a way that exalts God himself. Do our songs reflect the truth of God’s Word and promote godly living? If singing is to glorify God, we need to remove any obstacles that might hinder us. The questions below will draw attention to several possible hindrances.
Questions to face
To what extent are our minds engaged when we sing?Do we sing with both spirit and mind (1 Corinthians 14.15)? In his book And Now Let’s Move into a Time ofNonsense, Nick Page describes how the pop song has replaced the poem as the model for most Christian songwriters today. Poetry, he points out, stimulates serious reflection; but pop songs tend to provoke a purely emotional response, with the music taking precedence over frequently banal words.
Do some songs claim too much?If I sing ‘My love just keeps on growing’, am I displaying an indefensible self-confidence rather than a humble spirit?
How are tunes to be judged?Is it stating the obvious to say that they should be easy to follow? Sadly, there is an increasing number of tunes which are too complicated, making it difficult for the congregation to keep in step with the musicians and hampering concentration on the words. The main reason for this trend seems to be that most Christian songs today are written not for congregational singing but for performance before a listening audience. Is this a commendable development?
Words and music
All tunes should fit the mood of the words. Generally speaking, a major key and fast tempo suit a joyful theme, a minor key and slow tempo a sombre theme. But what if words and music clash? Does the triumphant ‘Hallelujah!’ in the hymn Man of Sorrows! feel strangely subdued when the new tune ‘Burney Lane’ takes it on a gentle downward cadence? Are the solemn words of the children’s song ‘We can’t be friends because of our sin’ neutralised by the jaunty music? Incongruously, the words ‘I’m sorry for the wrong I’ve done’ are set to lively, upbeat music.
Music affects us at a subliminal level more than we realise. If it conflicts with the message of the words, it may well become the dominating influence and win the battle between the two.
We rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus is in the highest place, with a name that is above every name (Philippians 2.9). Do we revere this precious name and all that it represents when we sing nine times ‘How cool is that!’ in praise of Jesus’ miracles and deity? It may be groovy, but does it drag the Lord down to our level?
What kind of songs do we choose for our children to sing? Children learn through singing and need a balanced musical diet covering a variety of themes, including those we might be tempted to avoid, such as sin and judgment. Are we looking for songs that are faithful to Scripture, couched in simple, non-theological language? Do we check carefully not only the words themselves but also the style of writing? Children tend to take everything literally. What, then, will they make of Our God is a Great Big God ? The combination of ‘great’ and ‘big’ speaks of physical size! The song continues: ‘He’s higher than a skyscraper… deeper than a submarine’. Will this portrayal implant a distorted picture in children’s hearts and minds?
Lots of questions! They raise issues we all ought to ponder; but let us also be grateful for all the songs that we can happily sing without any misgivings about their quality. Many of those produced in the last 20 or 30 years have been a source of great spiritual blessing.
One example must suffice. A heart-warming song by Stuart Townend and Mark Edwards directs our thoughts heavenwards as it focuses on life beyond the grave. Through helpful use of the first person singular I can make my own the words ‘There is a hope that burns within my heart’ (verse 1) and ‘lifts my weary head’ (verse 2). Firmly rooted in Scripture, the song strengthens our faith; and the fine poetry (eschewing language like ‘Cos the Lord don’t change at all’, found in another modern song) enables us at the same time to reflect on something ‘lovely’ and ‘praiseworthy’ (Philippians 4.8). More songs like this one, please!
Whatever our personal tastes may be, we must never forget that any sinful attitudes in the musical arena can easily undermine that unity which Paul urges us to maintain in Ephesians 4.3.
Our final question must therefore be: Are we applying this teaching of God’s Word and thereby exhibiting musical godliness?
There has never been a shortage of books about the Christian ministry. So, when yet another one appears, one might rightly ask, ‘Why buy it?’ – especially if you happen to be a minister, or student, already too busy to read the books you have.
And, given the propensity in our day to look for the latest ideas on ministry, why bother with the counsel of someone from the 19th century? James Garretson’s work on the life and works of Samuel Miller gives good answers to both these questions.
Miller, along with Archibald Alexander, was one of the founding fathers of Princeton Theological Seminary He played a key role in laying the foundation and setting the tone for what that institution was to become during the decades that followed. Garretson introduces him to us in two biographical sections at the beginning and end of this book, interspersed with two sections providing a comprehensive overview of his teaching on what it means to be a preacher and a pastor.
The genius in this rather unusual approach is to let us see the close connection between what Miller was as a Christian and what he taught about ministry. Indeed, as we follow through the excerpts gleaned by Garretson from the Princeton archives – not only from Miller’s lectures and letters, but also from what was said about him by his students and colleagues – we quickly realise that his influence came as much from what he was as through what he taught.
Trust and obey
The scope of his instruction about the work of the ministry was extensive: covering everything from sermon preparation through to how a minister should conduct himself towards women in the congregation. The keynote that is sounded again and again as being the hallmark of this man’s view of ministry is the fact that faithfulness to the truth of the gospel is inseparable from a life that reflects the Christ of whom that gospel speaks.
Not surprisingly, Miller’s wisdom and insights are presented in the context of a culture that is very different from our own and carry something of the quaintness of that era. But that should not stand in the way of seeing how strikingly relevant this material is to the church of our day. If we are concerned about cultivating the kind of ministry that will mould the church for its lasting good, this is a book that deserves to be read.
Mark G. Johnston, minister designate, Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cardiff