At various points in the New Testament, believers are urged to live in imitation of Christ.

‘Imitate me,’ says Paul, ‘as I imitate Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11.1). Those in ministry are specifically called to shepherd the flock, and their pattern for doing so is the Chief Shepherd of the sheep (1 Peter 5.1-5).

The problem comes, however, when imitation gets confused with substitution; when reflecting Christ morphs into replacing Christ. It’s dangerous being a ‘mini-messiah’ – dangerous for us and dangerous for those we try to save. Here are some of the pitfalls.

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Silent Anglicans

One year before WWI broke out, Winston Churchill wrote a memo: ‘Timetable of a Nightmare.’

It predicted details of the coming war. Churchill frequently warned of the danger his country faced – the majority of his fellow leaders merely complained about him. Sir Henry Jackson spoke for many when he wrote that he ‘did not like the style’ of Churchill’s writing. Churchill’s warnings of danger were ignored and instead his manner, style and motivations were impugned. Trying to prepare the military and nation to defend itself felt like wading through treacle with chains of iron around his neck – because free and open debate about the actual issues was precluded by those in a position to act.

A similar problem weighs upon evangelicals in the CofE today. Crisis looms on the horizon, but leaders, organisations and churches are frightened even to debate the issues impartially.

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Driving with the Doctor

In the car, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones has become my companion.

Through someone’s kindness I have come into possession of the recordings of his messages on Romans. What a thrill it is to listen! And unsurprisingly, he has brought me great encouragement recently.

In September I am due to speak at a conference for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The title is ‘Complementarity and Contending for the Faith’ and the blurb for the day is spot on: ‘The early church contended for truth over Christology. The Reformers contended for truth over soteriology. Today we contend for truth over anthropology – what it is to be human.’

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India: ‘God is on the move’

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For a new believer in northern India, it’s not uncommon to be baptised at midnight, not because it’s more meaningful by moonlight, but because the cover of darkness offers more safety in a region where Christians increasingly face persecution.

For a new believer, gaining ultimate freedom in Christ often means losing other freedoms, like drawing water from the community well or walking down the street without fear of being beaten. Amazingly, churches are growing where many of the 400 million people are in desperate poverty and most have never heard of Jesus.

To Rohan*, it is a vast mission field. ‘God is on the move,’ he shared. ‘There is a tremendous growth that is happening.’

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New church for Huntingdon

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Huntingdon is a market town about 20 miles to the north-west of Cambridge with a population of about 24,000. Being situated where the River Great Ouse meets the Roman Ermine Street (from London to York), Huntingdon has always been situated on a crossroads.

Although there are a number of small churches from various denominations, the rapidly growing population of Huntingdon and the surrounding area means that there is a huge need to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ salvation to the many who currently have no church connection.

So, two years ago, the Diocese of Ely approached St Andrew the Great (StAG) and asked them to consider planting in Huntingdon under a Bishop’s Mission Order, a new form of Church of England plant which sits alongside the existing parish system. StAG has a recent history of church planting (this will be the fourth). With the tag-line ‘The gospel to Cambridge, gospel workers to the world’, the church was keen to undertake and support this project, despite the financial and people costs. It will be led by Charlie Newcombe, who has been Associate Vicar at StAG for the last four years, and the church will launch publicly, God willing, on Sunday 16 September 2018.

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Wash away your sin

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‘You have one week to close this church’!

Christians were frequently ordered to do this by the previous regime, before 2011, in Myanmar (Burma). How did they respond? Churches would pray all through the night and the next, and then petition the authorities for a reprieve – which the Lord sometimes wonderfully granted.

Pastor Andrew from Myanmar told us about this when he spoke at the Pastor Training International (PTI) Supporters’ Day at Grace Church, Guildford, during his visit to the UK this Summer.

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Are the churches under judgement?

The church generally is in steep decline. Generally, churchgoing has halved since 1980. All kinds of efforts are being made to rectify the situation.

There are new evangelistic courses. There are conferences. There are prayer meetings for revival. But at present God seems to be taking little or no notice.

John J. Murray helpfully gets us to contemplate the possibility that not just the nation but the church is under God’s judgment. The church under judgment? It is a question very few seem able to ask in our continual concern to be optimistic and upbeat.

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It’s a cry that comes from many an anguished heart. People may know they need God but, when the tough times hit, they get overwhelmed by their circumstances and the words dry up. Rarely is this a deliberate choice – few actively decide to make life harder for themselves by ceasing communication with the Lord of all (though, at times, an angry heart may choose to walk away). But it’s a common struggle and one that, if left unchecked, can lead to spiritual drift. So, how do we help our brothers and sisters in their time of need?

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Understanding sexual abuse

Tim Hein and his wife Priscilla are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Now a minister and Vice Principal of a Bible College in Adelaide, Australia, Tim has produced this mature and practical guide drawing on his own experience of psychology, counselling and spiritual care. Widely researched and culturally relevant (with illustrations from classical psychiatry, films, novels and pop songs) there is compassion, realism (no quick fixes) and plenty of sanctified commonsense.

The setting is very much the local church because, although ministers and pastoral workers may feel out of their depth supporting an abuse survivor, they do have a vital role on the road to recovery.

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The church, robotics and AI

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Confession time: I love cutting-edge cinematography.

However, I did fall asleep during Avatar; Dr Who’s son used to attend my church, but I have never viewed a single episode; I have read George Orwell, but not 1984; and I’ve never seen Star Wars.

In short, I don’t like Science Fiction. Which is why, on 29 June, I attended For The Sake of the Future: The Church, Robotics + AI conference at the British Library. For the symposium, put on by CARE (Christian Action Research & Education), sought not to highlight a futuristic fiction, but rather an imminent future reality.

Indeed, from the moment Pepper (the Japanese humanoid robot) greeted me, I knew that this was not going to be your standard Christian convention. And it was fascinating. I left with far more questions than answers, but one notion became very clear. Humanity is on the brink of a massive global technological revolution, and local churches need to think carefully about the pastoral ramifications.

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