Evangelicals Together

One of the great strengths of events such as the Keswick Convention, Word Alive, Bible By the Beach and so on is that they bring together evangelicals regardless of denomination.

As the classic Keswick banner reminds us, we are ‘one in Christ Jesus’. Of course, we then go home and resume being Independent Evangelicals, Grace Baptists, Anglicans or whatever branch of the church we are in.

This that the issue of  en  reminds us gospel is greater than our denominational allegiance. What a joy it is to read of Presbyterians (p.5), the Free Church of England (p.3), the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion (p.3), the Welsh Evangelical Alliance (p.2), the FIEC (p.3), Affinity (p.2) and the Evangelical Alliance (p.32).

The travails of the Church of England (p.2) will rightly raise, for some, questions of whether it is possible to be an evangelical in that denomination – as Stephen Kneale very reasonably asks a couple of pages on from here.

Writing recently, one woman who began life as a Gospel Standard Strict Baptist, then joined the FIEC, and is now an Anglican evangelical, wrote: ‘I have seen the Church of England from the outside as well as within. There are some dire things about it but, I can honestly say, I have also seen how it offers unique opportunities to proclaim and share the good news of Jesus…’ She encouraged non-Anglican evangelicals to ‘stand behind your [CofE] brothers and sisters. As they face forwards with the armour of God firmly in place, you can be watching their backs’.

We will all have our own views on these things, and quite rightly so. But, as you turn the pages of this month’s  en  and see the gospel challenges and encouragements of evangelical life in varied denominations and organisations, do give thanks – and pray.

Highly-commended evangelistic aid

Key Moments of Biblical Revelation
By Richard Bauckham
Baker Academic, 120 pages. £15.99
ISBN 978 1 540 961 907

In modern multi-confessional Britain, we cannot just ask: ‘Do you believe in God’, but must add: ‘In what kind of God do you believe?’

The word ‘God’ means something different to Hindus, Jews, Muslims, etc. Once, at a ‘Rally for Islam’ in Trafalgar Square, a white Muslim convert angrily denied to his shocked Christian hearers that ‘God is Love’. Sadly, many Christians are unable to adequately present God’s attributes – perhaps because so few sermons focus on these, especially in terms of divine ontology.

Aimed at the layman

Bauckham’s short and accessible book – aimed at the layman – is an excellent aid in this respect. There are four chapters – The Revelation of: the Divine Presence; the Divine Name; the Divine Character; the Trinity. The first centres on Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Gen.28), and the promise that God was ‘with’ him. Bauckham focuses on the fact that the dream reveals that God is not locally restricted, but that He is in ‘every place where Jacob sleeps’ (p.9). YHWH was not the local deity of Canaan, but was also ‘with’ Jacob in Mesopotamia (Gen. 35:3, p.10). Later, when Jacob moves to Egypt, God promises to ‘go down’ with him (46:4). The point is not omnipresence, but that ‘God’s presence is personal and active’ (p.12). Ultimately, this is realised in Jesus as Immanuel – God with us (p.19).

The revelation of the divine name -YHWH – discloses not just a nomenclature, but rather that ‘God is self-subsistent and self-determining’ (p.42). Bauckham prefers its future meaning – ‘I will be what I will be’. God cannot be constrained, but freely ‘commits Himself to a course of action for Israel’s sake’ (p.43). Immediately, this refers to their redemption, but Bauckham emphasises that the Shema (Deut. 6:4), ‘The LORD is one’, means that He is the unique God ‘of all the earth’ (p.46), and that the nations will know God by His personal name – not the names of other deities.

The revelation of the divine character occurs in Exodus 32-34 – the golden calf and its consequences. When Moses asks God to show him His glory, God reveals that He is gracious, merciful, loving, faithful, forgiving and holy (p.67). This is useful to explain to Muslims, who often query the need for the crucifixion by asking why God cannot simply forgive – ignoring His holiness.

Jesus – greater than any prophet

The last chapter centres on Christ’s baptism, His transfiguration, and on the centurion’s words at His crucifixion. Obviously, at the baptism, we encounter the descent of the Spirit and the voice from heaven which affirms that Jesus ‘is my beloved Son’ – the accent being on the adjective, since this indicates Jesus’ uniqueness, as in Genesis 22:2; Judges 11:34 (p.97).

Similar language is used at the transfiguration, but Bauckham shows that its import is that Jesus is superior to the prophets Moses and Elijah, for whom Peter wishes to make three tents as if they were all on the same level (p.100). The force of the heavenly words is that ‘This is my beloved Son … listen to Him’ (p.101), correcting Peter’s lack of understanding. Jesus is greater than even the greatest prophets – very relevant in answering Muslims.

The centurion’s words are pertinent: Jesus truly is the Son of God. Bauckham’s book is to be highly recommended as an evangelistic aid.

Dr Anthony McRoy

Dr Anthony McRoy is a researcher and lecturer in Islamics. He is the author of From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain.

Hate crime laws creep closer

Hate crime law which could see people criminalised for things said in their own homes is on the verge of coming a step closer in Scotland, with hopes expressed by the Law Commission that England and Wales will follow suit.

MSPs will vote on whether or not to proceed with the controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill in December. The proposed legislation has united churches, secular groups, comedians and the police in opposition to all or parts of it.

Scottish Christians have been among those voicing strong opposition to the Holyrood Bill. In late October the Free Church of Scotland declared that it would ‘have a chilling effect on free speech … It is too easy for someone to fall foul of the legislation simply by disagreeing with someone else’s opinion.’

An unprecedented 2,000 submissions were made regarding the Bill. It would potentially see people criminalised for discussions that happen in their own homes. QCs Anthony Hudson, Kevin Drummond and Lord Menzies Campbell have warned that the Bill ‘directly interferes with freedom of expression’.


Humza Yousaf, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, agreed in September to raise the threshold of the ‘stirring up’ offences from behaviour ‘likely to stir up hatred’, to behaviour ‘intended to stir up hatred’, after widespread opposition. However, Mr Drummond QC expressed his concern that intent is still impossible to determine and is open to exploitation. ‘Anyone unfortunate enough to be charged with a hate crime resulting from a domestic conversation will not know until a jury returns its verdict whether the necessary intent is found to have been present,’ he argued.

The Scottish Police Federation suggested the Bill would seriously damage the relationship between the police and the public.

A Free Church submission stated: ‘[Those preaching] will have to take care as to what they say each week, perhaps consulting their lawyers before speaking on controversial ethical issues in society.’

Meanwhile, in England and Wales, the Law Commission is suggesting similar changes. There is currently a ‘dwelling defence’ in law which protects conversations in the home from police intervention, but the Law Commission believes this should change so that private conversations in the home about controversial issues such as same-sex marriage or transgender ideology could result in prosecution.

The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Communications, Ciarán Kelly, commented: ‘The Scottish Government has drawn criticism from all corners for its sinister hate crime legislation, but the Law Commission for England and Wales appears to have paid no notice.

‘Restricting free speech, and policing ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ views, sows division and resentment. The government would do well to ignore this report.’

en staff

Why I believe evangelicals should quit the C of E

Increasingly, Evangelical Anglicans are finding it difficult to remain within the Church of England.

Now, as a Dissenter, you will hardly be surprised that I think they should all leave. But I don’t think those who are convinced of Anglicanism should necessarily leave their faithful Anglican communions. I may not be convinced of their ecclesiology and praxis, but if you are – and your church holds to the gospel – I wouldn’t expect you to leave. But the Church of England, however, is a different matter. Here are five reasons I think it is untenable for genuine believers to remain.

Fellowship with false teachers

It is well known that the Church of England is broad. Some actively tout that as one of its strengths. But the reality is that those who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ are repeatedly warned in Scripture to have nothing to do with those who peddle a false gospel (cf. Rom. 16:17; 2 John 10–11). It is hard to see how remaining in the same denomination as such people – actively affiliating ourselves to the same groupings to which they are welcomed – demonstrates any sense whatsoever of the separateness to which the Lord calls us.

Whilst Paul insists that those who persist in sin should be put out from among us, many actively take their parishioners to meetings knowing that at them such false teachers will be delivering talks. They attend groups and meetings with those who clearly preach a gospel entirely contrary to the one they claim to believe. How do we justify this in light of what the Bible tells us regarding the fellowship of darkness and light?

Submission to false teachers

Similarly, there is no getting away from the fact that episcopalianism is hierarchical. You take your orders from a bishop who has a say over your church and submit to suffragan bishops underneath them. For example, the Archbishop of York – who originally supported Jeffrey John in his bid to become Bishop of Reading and whose views on the issues surrounding that controversial application remain unchanged and well-known – sits in the second-most important post in the Church of England to whom many others answer. At some point, Evangelicals must admit they are ultimately in submission to those who would reject the gospel of Christ.

Some, of course, try to get around this by submitting to flying bishops or those outside of their area. It is hard to see how this, realistically, upholds the principles of episcopalianism and isn’t something of a fudge. But, that aside, it doesn’t get around the fact that those bishops coming into your diocese remain under the authority of the selfsame bishops you are seeking to avoid. The Bishop of Maidstone, under whom many conservative evangelicals place themselves, still acts under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whatever diocese he works. If you have placed yourself under his authority, but he is still answerable to your diocesan bishop, in what way have you resolved the original issue?

Propagation of false teaching

Even if it is denied that Evangelicals submit to such false teaching, it is quite clear that those in authority continue to appoint to important positions those who deny important doctrines. This, minimally, suggests they see no problem with such things or, worse, actively endorse them. For example, there is the appointment of the Archbishop of York. However, there is also the appointment of The Revd John Shepherd to the Anglican Centre in Rome, a man who denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Those responsible for the appointments are, therefore, actively propagating such false teaching. These are the same people to whom Evangelicals are submitting by remaining within this denomination.

Changes to doctrine

Many wish to avoid the above points altogether and insist, just because some people in the church hold errant views is no reason to leave it. While the church holds to the Thirty-nine Articles and its official doctrine remains sound, they will remain.

Whilst that sounds noble, in reality, the teaching and practice of the church has changed. The introduction of transgender liturgies and same-sex blessings, though the church may still insist that it holds to the Thirty-nine Articles and they haven’t changed, make clear that praxis has overtaken. I can insist that I still hold to my church constitution all I like, but if everything I do within my building departs from what is written there, it is little more than empty words. The fact is, doctrine has changed. It has been changing for some time.

Whilst the constitution may still be sound, the leadership is neither willing to implement it nor to discipline those who depart from it. It actively allows – even encourages – practice that would depart from the gospel. The Evangelicals have repeatedly drawn their red lines that have been repeatedly ignored and they have repeatedly backed down. To stay is to accept that doctrine has, in reality, changed.

A question of faithfulness

I have written previously about how the fundamental job of the church, and of Christian people, is to be faithful to Christ. The question Evangelical Anglicans need to seriously ask is this: can I realistically be faithful here?

Lee Gatiss, of the CofE’s Church Society, will respond to this article next month.

Stephen Kneale

Stephen Kneale is the Minister of Oldham Bethel Church and he blogs at www.stephenkneale.com

Why you can relax while saying the Creed

‘We believe in one God’

How do we get to the point where we can stand up and say ‘We believe…’? What is the energy that enables us to say this and that keeps us saying it? These might seem like strange questions to ask, but they are important. It is possible to think of saying the Creed as something we do by an act of our own spiritual willpower, much like a superhero who strains every sinew to bend his will to lift the steel girder that has fallen on a car. If that is how I feel as I say the Creed then I have misunderstood a great deal – not only about the Creed, but about the Christian life itself. The very act of saying the Creed, of being able to declare the Christian faith before God, the angels, the demons, and the world, is possible only by the grace of God. It is not we who have brought ourselves to this point where we can say ‘We believe’, nor is it we who keep ourselves here. It is all of God. Our mouths declare God’s praise only because He opens our lips. It is bad enough to think that we come to profess the faith under our own steam. It is even worse to think that it was the church that created the realities described in the Creed. Everything the Creed speaks of is real only because God is who He is in eternity and because God has done what He has done in history. We are not the ones who constitute the ‘Christ of faith’ when we say the Creed: the Christ of faith is the previously-existent Jesus of history.

Wayward opinions

There are wayward theologians who think that instead of describing objective reality the Creed simply expresses the religious feelings of the Christian community, conjuring supposed realities out of spiritual sentiment. They read it as an expression of what people feel, rather than as a testimony to the God who exists and the things He has done. But, contrary to the opinion of learned church historians such as Dan Brown, the Creed did not make Jesus Christ who He is.

The clergy of the early church who authored the Creed did not believe that they were making a great human assertion. They believed that they were simply summing up what God had already Himself declared in Scripture, using the vocabulary of their own times. This was His utterance, not theirs; His property, not their own. The Creed receives the given revelation of Jesus, it does not make Him who He is; saying the Creed is a receptive not a constitutive act. The Creed responds to the Jesus of history, it does not write a history for Jesus.

How far from Dan Brown are we?

It is easy to point the finger at figures like Dan Brown, but if we say the Creed in a spirit of self-sufficiency, if we do not utter it with a profound sense that we can say these words about these realities only as a divine gift, then we are not far from him. Saying the Creed is a God-initiated and God-sustained utterance about the God who already is and the deeds He has already done.

This is such good news for us. It means that the things described in the Creed actually exist, and that when we say the Creed we do not do so in painful self-reliance. We can relax into saying the Creed, speaking it with the joy of those who awake to find themselves able to speak a beautiful foreign language without even having tried to learn it. If it were not disorderly, one could even imagine joyful laughter accompanying the saying of the Creed in church. God’s people rejoice to employ their loosened tongues to speak of His wonderful works. Perhaps the next time you say the Creed you might at least smile inwardly.

Dr Garry Williams

Revd Dr Garry Williams is Director of the Pastors Academy

Do you need to develop better digital habits?

A few years ago, I was asked to do a main stage seminar on digital technology at a large conference for ministers.

In the Q&A time I got a rather angular question from a minister who I think was feeling overwhelmed: ‘This is all very well for those who are young and trendy, ministering to hipsters, but what does it have to do with the rest of us?’

After thanking him for calling me ‘young and trendy’ (I was nearly 40 at the time!) I shared that actually my ministry context was predominantly council estates, that these are as a percentage of income the biggest users of digital technology, and that this made the point that digital technology is so ubiquitous that whoever we are, rich or poor, young or old, child or parent, we all need to engage with its implications for how we pastor people.

We are all affected

I share the story because I think this view is still quite prevalent, but it’s a significant error. Digital technology affects us all. We have become even more aware of that over the past few months of Covid-19, when so much of life moved online. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so if the gospel is not shaping our life online then the world at large will be. Here are two areas to start us thinking:

1. Teach online virtues

Jesus wants his followers to obey all that He commanded (Matt. 28:20). ‘OK, but the Bible doesn’t teach us about life online, does it?’ It is true that the Bible wasn’t written into a digital media context, but it has much to say to us about it. Jesus is Lord of all, and He’s Lord of the digital as well. The digital age hasn’t taken Him by surprise. His words are still sufficient to ‘thoroughly equip [us] for every good work’ (2 Tim. 3:17).

• His teaching on patience has much to say to our desire for the immediate and the prevalence of frustration.

• His teaching on the importance of tempering knowledge with love has much to say to a generation that quickly says ‘I know’ because we’ve read a blog or can Google it, but doesn’t really know how to live life out.

• His teaching on humility, listening well to others and to His word, has much to say to our febrile online debate.

• His teaching on purity has much to say to the prevalence of the pornographic and the hypersexualisation of the human body.

2. Live out what we know

It is painfully ironic that a tendency for evangelicals to treat people as brains on sticks who merely need to be filled with godly content, is now reinforced by the secular West and life online. However, a life of following Jesus is not just about what we know – ‘orthodoxy’ (though that is vital of course), but about how we live out what we know – ‘orthopraxy’.

Being concrete and seeking to encourage godly habits is not legalism (as some wrongly think it to be). Time and again, Paul emphasises the importance of godly models of behaviour alongside godly teaching: ‘You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life’ (2 Tim. 3:10); ‘Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:1).

The digital world knows this already: why do you think all video content has autoplay prompts to get children and adults habituated in clicking on ‘watch next’? They know the power of praxis. Therefore, we have to be thoughtful in evaluating digital practices and ingraining godly alternatives. Turning off autoplay functions, setting limits on time online, turning off phones (not just onto silent mode) at meal times, leaving phones downstairs rather than taking them up to bed, never tweeting a quick response when you are angry, checking a post’s truth before you share it. These are just some suggestions to get us thinking about what godly praxis looks like in our life online.

Pete Nicholas

Pete Nicholas is co-author of Virtually Human: Flourishing in a Digital Age. For more resources visit www.virtuallyhuman.co.uk

Lessons in the school of Covid

Life is tough: a fact that many of us comparatively prosperous Christians in the West have too easily forgotten.

In that sense, Covid is a wake-up call, reminding us of the reality of suffering in a broken world. But it is also an experience from which we must learn. As we continue to endure the pandemic, what are some of the things the Lord might want us to learn? Here are three possibilities:

In the first place, we cannot sing in our services. Our mouths are covered by masks. Might it be that our voices are silenced so that we might hear the voice of God more clearly? Has our singing become too focused on musical performance, and are too many of the words in our songs banal?

It’s not all about me

Secondly, we are reminded that church services are not about our personal preferences. Too often is heard the cry, ‘I don’t like it with face masks’ and ‘It is not the same’. Indeed; and both are true. But when has corporate worship ever been about our own comforts and wants? Perhaps these temporary inconveniences remind us that it has always and only ever been first and foremost about the Lord – and not primarily about ourselves.

Finally, perhaps the pandemic is a preparation for the greater persecution in the West that is to come: the time when our pastors and ministers are imprisoned, when our websites are shut down, and preaching Biblical truth is deemed offensive and made unlawful.

Richard Sibbes, the Puritan, said: ‘Christ’s work, both in the church and in the hearts of Christians, often goeth backward that it may go the better forward…. We learn to stand by falls, and get strength by weakness discovered; we take deeper root by shaking.’ May this be true for our churches in this day.

David Baker

Photograph: Anna Shvets.

Spend a day in prayer!

Things are not going to be better by Christmas. The pandemic continues.

The country is in trouble. The churches are under strain. We need help and encouragement. This ought to be one of those occasions when Christians give themselves to prayer in a concentrated form – perhaps for a day or half a day. But how do you do that – especially if you are not used to such things?

Here are some ideas to consider.

1. What’s the point? An extended time of prayer at a time like this is for reflection, repentance and calling on God for His mercy.

2. Scheduling the time and place. Make a date in your diary. Find a place where you can be quiet and alone. This may be in your own house or at a friend’s who is out for the day.

3. Make a worry list. Sometimes all that will happen if you have time on your own is that your mind will fill with your problems and your worries – and there is a danger of spending the day focused on them instead of on God. So beforehand write down your worries. Then say to yourself: ‘I will pray through them for a limited time – but I’m not going to let them dominate the day.’

4. Take some equipment. Think through what you might need. You will need a Bible and a pencil and paper. You will need some lunch, etc.

5. How to stay alert. Make sure that you get adequate rest the night before. When you are engaged in your extended time with God change positions – sit for a while then walk around, and so on. Have variety in what you do. Read the Bible, pray, sing a hymn. Praying in a soft voice will help you to concentrate and save you from your thoughts wandering.

6. Taking notes. If while you are praying you feel the Holy Spirit impressing something on your heart, write it down for further thought.

7. What has happened? Don’t feel you must end the day with some amazing discovery or palpable life-changing experience. Remember that prayer is about waiting on God (Ps.27.14), not Him fulfilling your agenda.

It can be good to start by thinking in terms of three one-hour slots. Use an A4 sheet of paper. In preparing, select a few verses or a passage of Scripture which will act as your compass for the day. You can focus your thoughts around those verses and keep coming back to them if your mind wanders. At the centre of the A4 sheet draw a fairly big circle and copy your verses into it.

Then around that centre circle draw three other circles. Each of these circles will represent an hour in prayer. So you choose three areas to pray over. They might be: 1. Worship/thanksgiving; 2. The state of the nation; 3. Other people.

Or they could be completely different things which you feel you need to pray through. Say: 1. Family; 2. Church leaders; 3. Church.

Label your circles. Then from each of the three surrounding circles draw five lines (or spikes). At the end of each line name a person or a situation related to the subject of this circle. You are then going to spend ten minutes praying for each of those. Of course, five x ten minutes doesn’t quite make a hour. But that gives you leeway to stretch your legs or to pray about some other matter which the Lord might bring to mind as you pray through the subject.

After each hour in prayer give yourself a break. After the first circle have a half-hour coffee break. Or go and clean the house. Or do some physical exercise if that helps to refresh you. After the second circle it may be lunch time – take an hour, relax or read. Then it’s time for the third circle. Again, follow this with a tea break or similar.

A fourth hour is good. Here you can leave the circles behind. Maybe go for a walk to pray. There may be things on your spikes you feel you need to pray for again. You may want to pray through your worry list at this point. There may be other things that God has brought to your attention. It is always good to finish this time with a few moments in worship and thanking God for who He is – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God forever.

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, http://www.pastorsacademy.org