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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Lawless Christianity

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When I was seven, my family went on holiday to France.

I remember vividly the final day. We set off in the dark and had to drive along a narrow, dark country lane, with a ditch on either side. Suddenly, the back wheels ended up sliding, with the nose of the car pointing up out of the ditch. How were we going to get out? Thankfully, we managed it – and I survived to tell the tale!

The path of Christian obedience has, as it were, a ditch on either side. On the right there is the ditch of Legalism, and on the left there is the ditch of Antinomianism. What they have in common is this: both misunderstand the relationship between law and gospel. Get that relationship right, and you stay on the road. Get it wrong, and you end up in a ditch.

In what way does the antinomian misunderstand the relationship between the law and the gospel? Whereas the legalist uses the law to displace the gospel, the antinomian uses the gospel to displace the law. The word antinomian simply means ‘against the law’. Not all Antinomianism looks the same, however, and we can distinguish between ‘hard’ Antinomianism and ‘soft’ Antinomianism. (Apologies if those titles sound a bit ‘Brexit’ to you!)

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The NHS and my robot selfie

Our National Health Service, launched by Aneurin Bevan on 5 July 1948, was a marvellous innovation and the country owes a great debt to its founders and those who work so hard within it.

But the system is very much under strain. The government has promised a huge injection of cash, and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (who attended the Westminster prayer breakfast addressed by Tim Keller – see report here) has announced plans to keep NHS staff up to scratch on the latest healthcare technology. Recently the company Babylon hit the headlines with claims that its robots are better at diagnosing illnesses than most GPs. Dr Ali Parsa, CEO of the company, claims: ‘Babylon’s latest artificial intelligence capabilities show it is possible for anyone, irrespective of their geography, wealth or circumstances, to have free access to health advice that is on par with top-rated practicing clinicians.’

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