Hong Kong: Christians at the forefront of protest


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Hong Kong’s population has been in fer-ment during June, with protests by millions against an extradition bill proposed by the autonomous city’s own administration.

The situation was triggered by the murder in Taiwan of a 20-year-old Taiwanese woman. She was allegedly killed by her boyfriend, a citizen of Hong Kong, who fled there after the murder. In the absence of an extradition agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong, the suspect was unable to be extradited to Taiwan to face trial.

The Hong Kong Administration, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, proposed a new extradition bill to Hong Kong’s Assembly to enable extraditions to mainland China, Taiwan and Macau, to supplement other such agreements with 20 other countries.

At this point, other complicating factors came into play. Mainland China, of which Hong Kong is a part, has a dismal human rights record, with widespread persecution of Christians, Muslims, and other religious groups. Such persecution has been reported by human rights agencies. Over 1million Muslims in the west of China are currently incarcerated in re-education camps, while raids on underground Christian gatherings and demolitions of churches are widely reported. These activities are designed to ensure that the dominant secular creed of state communism shapes the primary identity of Chinese from all its diverse ethnic groups.

Christian concern

In Hong Kong, with its contrasting approach to freedom of religion, there is concern that the proposed bill will enable communist Chinese authorities to circumscribe religious freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, but denied to mainland Chinese residents.

Christians number around 900,000 in Hong Kong, or around 12% of the population. They hold significant positions of influence. Chief Executive Carrie Lam is a practicing Catholic, while there are very active Protestant mega-churches from a variety of denominations.

Christian protest

In the wake of the announcement of the plan to introduce an extradition bill, Hong Kong residents protested in their millions regularly during the month of June, with the protests taking a distinctly Christian flavour in certain ways. Poster boy of the protests, Joshua Wong, is a devout Christian, and many Hong Kong churches have organised prayer events in support of the protests and opened their doors to protestors fleeing police activity.

A distinctive feature of the protests has been the image of crowds of protestors, both Christian and non-Christian, all chanting the 1970s American Easter hymn ‘Sing Hallelujah To The Lord’, written by Linda Stassen in 1974.

Hong Kong law requires that organised protests must be notified to the authorities in advance, but a religious demonstration needs no such advanced approval. Hence such public gatherings which on face value can present themselves as religious assemblies may be less vulnerable to police action.

Nevertheless, the response by the authorities has been strong. Tear gas and rubber bullets have been used to disperse some of the protests. After the level of public protest reached its peak in mid-June, Lam announced that the proposed extradition bill would be dropped, a significant concession.

Uncertain future

However, Pandora’s box has been opened and the protests have continued, suggesting that the issues at stake are not limited to the issue of the extradition bill alone. On 1 July, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s unification with China, there were violent protests throughout the city. On this occasion, ‘Sing Hallelujah To The Lord’ was not the catch-cry of the protestors. Rather, pro-democracy motivations were at play. This points to a deep-seated anxiety among many Hong Kong residents about the future of the city and its enjoyment of civil liberties and wide-ranging freedoms. Hong Kong’s autonomy status is due to lapse in 2047.

As Hong Kong negotiates its uncertain future, the churches and its active Christian minority will have an important role to play. This has been seen in the prominent role played by Christians in the extradition bill protests. Hong Kong’s status as a former British colony means that British churches have a responsibility to watch developments closely and to stand with their Christian brothers and sisters in Hong Kong in the uncertain times that lie ahead.

Professor Peter Riddell, Vice Principal Academic at Melbourne School of Theology and Senior Fellow of Kairos Journal

We are all Augustinians


Augustine

The Ancient Church gives us three great gifts: the doctrine of the Trinity, the canon of the New Testament, and the works of the African pastor-theologian Augustine (354–430).

Some might be surprised to see the last in this list, but the truth of the matter is that we, who are heirs of Western Christianity, are all Augustinians, so profound has been his influence.

One gets an idea of his impact when one realizes that 95% of his written corpus survived his death when the Vandals, originally from Denmark, took the city of Hippo Regius at the time of his death in 430. Of his City of God, for instance, there are some 375 manuscript copies from late antiquity that can be used to establish the text of this work. So, what then is his theological legacy and how has he shaped us?

The Confessions

We know so much about Augustine because of his Confessions, which is actually one extended prayer of thanksgiving for the grace shown to him as a sinner by the Triune God. It establishes a new genre, that of the conversion narrative. Thus one sees its influence in such works as John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and John Newton’s An Authentic Narrative. Through the account of his life, Augustine also establishes a theology and spirituality of grace. Augustinian theology and piety are strongly shaped by a perspective that does full justice to human depravity and therefore the necessity of sovereign grace for conversion. This is developed at greater length in Augustine’s anti-Pelagian treatises (411–430) but, in a non-polemical form, it is fully present in his Confessions.

The Confessions also set forth a perspective on God that has had enormous influence on Western thought: God is a being of ultimate beauty. At the very onset of his Christian life, Augustine was deeply concerned about the question of beauty. What is it? What is its impact on the human frame? The Confessions, in a number of its prayers (see, for example, Confessions 10.27), is Augustine’s answer in part, as it develops a vision of God that will enthrall Christians down to the close of the 18th century.

The Trinity

Augustine’s second major work is On the Trinity, which clearly establishes the full deity of the Son and the Spirit from scripture. Because the West by and large did not read Greek, Augustine’s Trinitarianism was what was read and pondered down to the Reformation, and even beyond that to the close of the 18th century.

Most helpfully, Augustine avoids modalism because of his emphasis on the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal generation of the Spirit. Sadly, the rediscovery of Trinitarian thought by evangelicals in the late-20th century was not a return to Augustine, for eternal generation and eternal procession have been questioned and even rejected, and the distinction of persons found in the authority of the Father and so-called eternal submission of the Son. But this move fails to adequately distinguish the Spirit: how does his submission differ from that of the Son? And, more importantly, this move separates the will of the Son from the will of the Father. But if we look at the incarnation we see that will is tied to nature: there are two natures in the God-man Jesus of Nazareth and therefore two wills. But if we apply this to the Father’s relationship with the Son, then we must have two divine natures, and thus at least two – and probably three – gods, or tritheism. No: the Augustinian distinction of eternal generation and eternal procession is the only way to distinguish the persons.

Then, the Augustinian conception of the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son gives rise to (to name but three good examples of Augustinian influence): (a) the defence of the double procession of the Son and the Spirit from the Father by Anselm of Canterbury in the 12th century; (b) the spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux as found in his sermons on the Song of Songs; (c) and the Trinitarian thought of Jonathan Edwards in hisEssay on the Trinity. This is a tremendous vision of the inner life of the Godhead: it is one ruled by love (note: the emphasis on the eternal submission of the Son presents us with a vision of God in which the keynote is power).

The City of God

Finally, Augustine’s third major work, The City of God, gives to the church a full-blown theology of history in which the church, ruled by love for God and humility, runs its course through history as a pilgrim body. It also develops a very important way of reading culture and politics – through the lens of love. Cultures and political structures are defined by what they love.

To be sure, not all of Augustine’s thought is helpful – one thinks of his view of human sexuality – but there is so much that is gold, that we should never be ashamed to own that our Christian faith is profoundly Augustinian!

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

New Prime Minister?


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With Theresa May stepping down, Boris Johnston was elected Prime Minister by the members of the Conservative Party and took up his new position on 24 July.

But the question on everyone’s mind is ‘Is Boris good enough?’ (pardon the pun on Mussorsgsky’s opera). Despite his two terms as Mayor of London and his short period as Foreign Secretary, the country appears to have been presented with an unknown quantity of vast proportions at a delicately balanced time in our history.

Why Boris is not Churchill

Those among the Tory faithful who voted (2 to 1) for Boris, like to imagine something of Winston Churchill in him. There is no doubt, like the great war-time leader, that Mr. Johnston has a certain charisma – an ability to electrify a political meeting and a grand rhetoric.  His first speech as PM outside 10 Downing Street had a real passion, eloquence and determination about it which many found inspiring – with the liberal media looking on simply desperate for him to make a gaff which he didn’t. He too is a wordsmith and has written for the Times and the Telegraph. His personal life, like that of Churchill, does not bear scrutiny – he has children by different relationships. During his time living in Islington, with its leftist intellectuals, Boris embraced the idea of LGBT rights.  He has often, like Churchill, been known to ‘fly by the seat of his pants’ in politically dangerous situations. But there is one crucial area where the parallels cease.

Recently we picked up a second-hand copy of Churchill’s four volume History of the English Speaking Peoples. The groundwork for this opus was done in the 1930s (with the threat of Nazism looming) but was not published until 1956. Reading Churchill’s unfolding of the story of our nation and its worldwide influence, it becomes clear that he had a view of both the legimtimacy and in some senses the superiority of a Christian civilization. For example, with St. Patrick in mind, of the fifth century he writes:’ It was from Ireland that the gospel was carried to the North of Britain and for the first time cast its redeeming spell upon the Pictish invaders.’ As he describes the struggles of the later ninth century, he has obvious admiration for King Alfred. ‘The Christian culture of his court sharply contrasted with the feckless barbarism of Viking life. The older race was to tame the warriors and teach them the arts of peace, and show them the value of a settled common existence. We are watching the birth of a nation. The result of Alfred’s work was the future mingling of Saxon and Dane in a common Christian England.’

And of course, this same vision was to the fore in Churchill’s mind in the darkest days of WWII. His ‘Finest Hour’ speech from June 1940 contains the memorable reference concerning the forthcoming battle of Britain: ‘Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions.’

Times have obviously changed, but that vision of a society deeply influenced by Christianity is unlikely to be found as part of Boris Johnston’s hopes for the ‘golden age’ he hopes to build. In this he could not be more unlike Churchill.

Can Boris change?

Yet our Lord calls us to pray for those in government, 1 Timothy 2.2. Prayer has power. And history teaches that sometimes being put into positions of great responsibility, like that of Prime Minister can change people.

Interestingly Churchill’s history refers to this. He mentions Thomas Beckett, once a courtier given to pomp and show, Henry II felt sure he had his own man in office when he appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. But he changed, decidedly. Shakespeare highlights a similar transformation which changed rollicking ‘Prince Hal’ into an august hero- king, Henry V, almost overnight, upon his accession to the throne of England.

Responsibility can change people. Let’s hope such a change is still possible in our own day.

Revelling in Ryle


file_mjle5req2xmzdhmocsdy2hp6wfofq6rrInterest in JC Ryle continues, with many of his works still being republished and a couple of recent books on his life. Why, then, is there need for this new volume? In the preface, the author explains his purpose: ‘to produce the first intellectual biography of JC Ryle’ (page xiii), an undertaking that he has found easier due to some important new studies on Anglican Evangelicalism.

Does this mean the book is for academics? Not at all. While it certainly is a well-researched and scholarly production, it presents a most readable and illuminating insight into the ministry of this clergyman who became the leader of the evangelical party within the national church of England and Wales during the late Victorian period. By the close of the book, readers will be much better informed than previously as to who Ryle was.

Through Ryle’s life

In seven chapters of varying length, Pastor Rogers takes us through Ryle’s life, analysing in each chapter particular aspects of his thought and work, and concluding with a final assessment of his ministry. The first chapter covers his early life through to his first ministerial appointments. It indicates that the content of all his messages and writings, and the whole character of his ministry as an independent thinker and actor, were shaped by his own lack of spiritual support during most of this period. Chapter Two presents Ryle as a popular preacher in East Anglia and compares his sermons with those of Spurgeon and John Henry Newman. Years later he produced Simplicity in Preaching to help young preachers avoid some of his own early mistakes. His work as an author arose out of his early pastoral ministry and Chapter Three considers Ryle’s evangelistic tracts, his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, and closes with a most intriguing and lengthy analysis of the neglected subject of Ryle’s interest in hymns and his published hymnbooks.

Controversialist

The following three chapters are more lengthy, but certainly not boring. Chapter Four is devoted to Ryle the controversialist. He opposed three movements that he considered were detrimental to the true gospel: ritualism, that sought to introduce Roman Catholic practices into church services; ‘neologianism’, that undermined the authority and inspiration of Scripture and rejected dogmatic theology and eternal punishment; and Keswick spirituality. Out of this latter controversy came Ryle’s book on Holiness. Ryle’s indebtedness to the Puritans is noted, but nowhere does the author explain the reference in the closing chapter to his being a ‘moderate Calvinist’ (p.313).

Uniter

Chapter Five, entitled ‘A National Ministry’, concentrates on Ryle’s influence within Anglicanism, especially his endeavours to unite the different factions within the evangelical party, to encourage evangelicals to be more active in church affairs and, finally, to initiate reform within the Church. This section will be of particular interest to members of the Church of England, but for non-Anglicans too, it will give a clearer understanding of the mindset of their Anglican friends, as Rogers engages sympathetically with Ryle’s belief in a state church and his rather suspicious and sometimes condescending attitude toward Christians of other denominations. The chapter also gives a brief glimpse into Ryle’s political views.

Bishop

In the final main chapter, Ryle’s time as bishop of the new diocese of Liverpool is considered, concentrating on his vision for an effective witness in such a challenging situation as the second city of the British Empire posed. Rogers also shows how Ryle’s new office gave him a stronger platform from which to oppose the disestablishment of the state church, ritualism and theological liberalism while always abiding by the law, which included dutifully consecrating churches for ritualists. Ryle’s views on the need for a cathedral are explored, as well as his relations with his favourite son who embraced the latest critical views on the Old Testament.

There are two appendices that list Victorian Periodicals and Ryle’s Church Congress Participation, a bibliography that includes all Ryle’s publications and a general index.

No one can read this biography and not be in some way uplifted and challenged.

Last Word: Seduction


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In July 2017, in the mountains of Europe, all was going well for the Freedom Party. Austrian political activists had done all they could to curse their right-wing enemies. But from the heights of Vienna the Freedom Party could not be touched. Adversaries could not lay a glove on them, and their leader would soon be the Austrian Deputy Chancellor.

Yet, at that precise moment, all was not going well on the European beaches. For, on a warm July 2017 evening somewhere in Ibiza, a Mercedes Maybach pulled up to a private villa, and an elegant woman in a black designer dress got out. Sea bass carpaccio was served behind closed doors; and there Heinz-Christian Strake, the leader of the Freedom Party, was seduced. Hours later the woman had him worshipping her own political gods.

Fast forward two years… and Strake’s enemies struck! Last month, on the eve of European elections, a condemning video of the lady in the black dress was released. Despite his protests of ‘abuse of privacy’ and ‘a honey trap,’ the Promised Land of greater political power for Heinz-Christian Strake (and his Freedom Party) was over.

Same story

In Numbers 22-24, Israel were on the verge of the literal Promised Land. Their enemies, also, peered over the cliff, saw their huge numbers, and were terrified. For seemingly nothing could stop these freed people. King Balak hired a pagan spin doctor (Balaam) and had told him to curse them. To figuratively go to the media outlets and ruin them. But every time this greedy sorcerer was told to curse them he could only pour forth blessings.

Accordingly, in Numbers 25, God’s people march on… except they don’t. Because whilst the brazen air strike from the mountains fails pathetically, Balaam’s devious ground attack in the woody plains creates utter devastation. His plan was simple. Balaam told the Moabite women to covertly entice the Israelites to be unfaithful to God (Numbers 31:16).

The arrow that felled Israel was, hence, the same arrow that felled the Freedom Party in Austria. The arrow was a sexual seduction that led to a scandalous defection.

Private war

The conditions in which such arrows flew was striking. In Numbers 25:1 Israel were in Shittim – literally ‘in the acacia groves.’ They are not yet in the Promised Land of milk and honey (and grapes, melons, and cucumbers) but they do enjoy the canopy of this umbrella-like vegetation. For with such trees came not only shade from the desert sun, but privacy. Feelings that one was being watched under wide desert skies (by the neighbours) no doubt started to ebb away. And so, under newfound darkness novel soldiers approach. The eyes of an Israelite boy and a Moabite girl meet. Except this is no Romeo and Juliet story of star-crossed lovers and the firing of Cupid’s arrow.

The wives and daughters of Moab put on military ‘high-heeled’ boots and the war paint of eye shadow and lip gloss. They to go into the front line to commit sexual immorality. And Israelite men forget God’s clear warning (Ex. 34:15). Soon they are sleeping with the enemy. Soon they eat sacrificed food. In fact, just days after battling bravely under the banner of the true and living God, they are now found bowing to Baal. Arrows of seduction had pierced their hearts. They no longer worshipped the one who had freed them.

Satan’s weapons

The weapons employed against God’s people (both male and female) have changed little over the centuries. The arrows of the Evil One are many (Ephesians 6) – but as we look across Christian history we see that one of Satan’s most effective weapons is seductive sexual immorality. For sex is the arrow of ‘oneness’ which pins ‘two’ together. Sex is the yoke between two horses; the wooden beam that tethers two animals for work – something that sets a committed pair in a particular direction together.

Hence, one of Satan’s best methods of attack is to yoke two people who are not married. And, ideally, to yoke together a Christian (who marches with the church, and with their God, towards heaven) and a non-Christian (who walks with the world, and with their gods towards the here and now). Israel literally yoked themselves to Baal (Numbers 25:3).

On guard

Satan doesn’t fight fair… does he? Certainly, he is doomed to destruction. Certainly, the ultimate battle has been won at the cross. Certainly, we are no longer slaves to him. But in the fight on the edge of the Promised Land he will aim for our hearts!

Accordingly, we are not to be naïve to that weapon of seduction. Instead we are to be alert. We are to recognise that Satan may seek to employ such tactics at any time – at times when: we feel as though we have made it through a dry period; or when we feel untouchable (as Israel no doubt did); or when we feel at liberty to ignore God’s word and not pray ‘Lord lead me not into temptation’; or perhaps most likely when we are metaphorically under the cover of acacia trees without accountability.

The enemy aims at a private sexual seduction that ends in public scandalous defection. Guard your heart.

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London

It’s Terminal


In the Hospital Sick Male Patient Sleeps on the Bed. Heart Rate Monitor Equipment is on His Finger.

I was a trainee GP sat in the living room of an elderly couple. They were in their 80s. I was 60 years their junior and equipped with the peculiar overconfidence that is the unique possession of the newly qualified. What I knew, but he didn’t, was that he had an inoperable stomach cancer. My task was to explain the diagnosis and tell him he was dying.

I was, of course, anticipating a difficult conversation. What I hadn’t expected was that, when we got to it, the word death would get physically stuck in my throat. I stammered and stuttered and, somehow, we muddled on through. Death, it turned out, was very much easier to talk about in a Bible study than with a man who was actually dying.

The d-word

Ten years as a doctor and 20 as a pastor has meant lot of d-word conversations – what lessons have I learnt? First, every situation is different. And our support of those facing death must reflect that. We’d do well to learn from Jesus. Arriving in Bethany after the death of Lazarus in John 11, Jesus meets Lazarus’s two sisters in turn. Both have faced exactly the same bereavement. And both speak exactly the same words – ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. Yet Jesus’s response to each couldn’t be more different. Martha gets a little theology (John 11:23-27). Mary gets emotions and tears (John 11:33-35). Different people really do need different things and Jesus, the master-counsellor, knew that.

So, if you want principles, then here is one: be very suspicious of articles that tell you how to talk to those facing death! Attend to the person who is dying. Let them guide the style and pace of any conversation. A no-nonsense, no punches pulled, conversation that worked really well with one person may be an utter disaster with the next.

Opening the Bible

We should certainly overcome our inhibitions and talk about death, but we should do so at their pace. There is plenty of scripture to turn to. The Psalms will be particularly helpful: the experience of mingled fear and hope in Psalm 61 or 63 or the resounding confidence of Psalm 103 or 121. From the New Testament we might turn to passages that speak of resurrection hope (Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 15; Hebrews 13:20-21) or the many words of hope spoken by Jesus himself (eg John 4:13-14; 11:25; 14:1-6). But always turn to scripture in a way that opens up conversations, rather than shuts them down. Beware doctrinal declarations that function as a kind of intellectual defence against the realities of pain and suffering. Let’s face it: a dispassionate reading of 1 Corinthians 15 is generally a lot less demanding than sharing pain and weeping real tears. But that’s what we are called to.

Six tips

But with all that said, here are six things which (depending on your role and relationship to the dying person) may be worth remembering:

1. Facilitate conversations: are there others among their family and friends they would really like to talk to and can you help them achieve that? Or would they like help in talking to health professionals and getting information? Could you offer to go with them to an appointment?

2. Is there unfinished business? A broken friendship to restore? A family hurt to forgive? A confession to make? Death often raises such issues.

3. Are there messages to leave behind? A parent might write letters or record messages for their children to receive on their 18th birthday. A parent with very young children might record some personal memories or leave mementos to help their children to know them.

4. Have they spoken about financial arrangements? It’s surprising how often everyone assumes someone else will deal with this, and in the end no one does.

5. Has someone helped them think about end-of-life care? Or funeral arrangements? You may not be the right person to do this, but don’t assume those questions have been discussed.

6. And last, but very obviously not least, what questions do they have about the provision of Christ and how do they want to think those things through? Arranging to read the Bible together regularly is often much better than a one-off blitz! It usually takes time (and trust) for questions to emerge.

So, after 30 years, does the d-word still stick in my throat? Yes, it does. And I hope it always will. For if that stops happening, it will mean I have begun to forget the pain of the person in front of me and begun to detach myself from it. And that won’t do, because, to adapt the title of an excellent book, ‘Brothers and sisters, we are not professionals’.

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at http://www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk or you can contact them at info@biblicalcounselling.org.uk or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

Held captive for Christ


COUNTING THE COST: Kidnapped in the Niger Delta
By David & Shirley Donovan
Christian Focus. 220 pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 1 527 103 061
Buy online from Amazon

countingcostDavid and Shirley Donovan, medical missionaries in the Niger Delta, were living for Christ. Doing vital work in a dangerously volatile part of the world, they had already left all to Him. But on 13 October 2017 the cost of so doing was taken to a new level.

This is the gripping account of a kidnapping. It is outrageous, terrifying, and the writing is graphic. You can smell the swamp, hear the jungle insects. If you have ever mused in your armchair with your slippers on and a mug of tea in your hand what it is like to be taken hostage by a bunch of murderous, drug-taking thugs with absolutely no scruples, this story will take you there – so be careful with that tea. Or if you have ever tried to find the words to pray for brothers and sisters in captivity for Christ’s sake, this book will show you how.

This book has two enthralling stories. The first concerns the facts about the kidnapping and the experience of being a hostage. But the second is the inner story of what was going on in the hearts and minds of those taken captive. The experience made these brave believers question many things and engage in some deep heart struggles. They write: ‘For so many, faith remains a cerebral assent to an intellectual theology. Lying exhausted and soaked upon this remote, hidden platform with men of no moral compass and with no way out, and intellectual understanding of the claims of Jesus Christ simply will not do.’

They discovered, as we all must, that living for Christ means changing on the inside. They found that unforgiveness was ‘a burden they could not carry’, and they struggled and learned to consciously every day ‘put down the sin of hatred’. They found ways to surprise their captors with compassion and hope. They who had given up so much for Christ faced squarely the question ‘Is Christ enough?’ Salutary questions for us all.