Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Virgin Birth of Christ

I. Introduction

I would like to look at the virgin birth of Christ. But, perhaps “virgin birth” is the wrong way to put it. There was nothing supernatural about his birth. Jesus’ human nature went though all the normal stages of gestation from zygote, to embryo, to new-born baby in around nine months. He was born in the same way as everybody else.

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2)

It is the conception of Jesus that is miraculous and supernatural. He was not conceived by two human parents. But his mother, Mary was enabled to conceive him by the Holy Spirit.

The Role of Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus

Luke tells us that,

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35.)

There is an echo here of Genesis 1: 1 & 2. The Spirit of the Lord who hovered over the old creation now overshadows Mary in an act of new creation. The Father prepared a body for his Son (Hebrews 10:5). The Son voluntarily took flesh and blood humanity (Hebrews 2:14). But it was through the Holy Spirit that Christ’s human nature was created. By the power of the Highest, the impossible happened; a virgin conceived and the Son of God stooped to become flesh. Although the external acts of the Trinity are undivided, each Person made a unique contribution to the incarnation of the Son.

Did the Holy Spirit create Jesus’ human nature out of nothing and simply implant the fertilized zygote in Mary's womb, or was she Jesus’ genetic mother? The text suggests that Mary was enabled to conceive Jesus as a result of the work of the Spirit, vs. 31. Mary was not “surrogate mother” to Jesus. She contributed the unfertilized egg, replete with her DNA. It was from that egg that the Holy Spirit created the human nature of the Son of God. The Spirit contributed the remainder of Jesus’ genetic code including his Y chromosome that made him male. The great Confessions of the Puritan era insist that:

The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. (Westminster Confession of Faith VIII:2) [emphasis added]

John Owen wrote,

Such was this act of the Holy Ghost in forming the body of our Lord Jesus Christ; for although its was effected by an act of infinite creating power, yet it was formed or made of the substance of the virgin Mary. (Works III p. 164.)

Thus, Jesus is of one substance with God as his Son and one substance with us as the Son of Mary. Christ fully identified himself with the humanity he came to save. God sent his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” Romans 8:3. Because he was formed from the substance of a sinner, he looked like and lived as a true man in our fallen world. Yet he was without sin. Luke 1:35.

John Owen once more:

But the body of Christ being formed pure and exact by the Holy Ghost, there was no disposition or tendency in his constitution to the least deviation from perfect holiness in any kind. The exquisite harmony of his natural temperament made love, meekness, gentleness, patience...and goodness natural to him.

But Christ also experienced the hardship of life in our fallen world:

[He knew] grief, sorrow and the like, he took upon him also those natural infirmities which are troublesome to the body, as hunger, thirst, weariness and pain – yea, the purity of his holy constitution made him more sensible of these things than any of the children of men. (Works III p. 167).

So, the humanity of Jesus was sanctified by the Holy Spirit from its conception. The Son of God took a real, yet perfectly holy human nature. It is only by his virginal conception that Jesus Christ could be one with God and one with us. Yet, Matthew and Luke alone explicitly mention the virginal conception of Christ

II. Theological Significance

1. The virginal conception of Jesus explains how the Word was made flesh.

We must remember that we need to piece together what the whole of the New Testament says about the incarnation of the Word who was God. John and Paul tell us that he was made flesh or manifest in the flesh, but we need Matthew and Luke to explain how God became man. We need not speculate about this. Jesus’ human nature was not created out of nothing. His humanity was created by the Holy Spirit from the substance of Mary.

2. The Last Adam

It is important that Jesus’ human nature was not produced by the union of Joseph and Mary. The human race is fallen in Adam. Adam’s sin cascades down the generations through natural procreation. Not that procreation is sinful – but all naturally conceived human babies are born sinners in Adam. Owen comments that Christ’s humanity,

Being not begotten by natural generation, it derived no taint of original sin or corruption from Adam. (Works III p. 168)

Jesus did not have to say, as David did: “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5.) All human ancestry can be traced back to Adam, the representative head and biological originator of all subsequent human beings. We read, Adam “begot a son in his own likeness, after his image”- in the likeness of is fallen father (Genesis 5:3). Donald Macleod develops this theme for us:

But Adam did not beget Christ. The Lord’s existence has nothing to do with Adamic desire or Adamic initiative. As we have already seen, Christ is new. He is from outside. He is not a derivative from, or branch of Adam. (The Person of Christ p. 410)

Jesus took human guilt not because he was born bearing the guilt of Adam, but because he voluntarily “bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24.)

In 1 Corinthians 15:45 & 47, Paul contrasts the first Adam with the last Adam.

45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.

There are only two representatives of the human race – one represents us in our sin, guilt and rebellion against God, “For since by man came death” (15:21a). In the first Adam all are lost, all sin and all die. But Jesus does not belong to the first Adam. He is one of us – born of woman. But as the last Adam, Christ is the head of God's new humanity. United to him we have resurrection life and glory,

by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (15:21b,& 22).

The last Adam is the “second man” vs. 47. Adam was the first perfect man, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven. He is the last Adam – there can be no more representatives of the human race. Jesus, as the second man is the pattern for all redeemed humanity. We shall be made like him,

And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. (15:49)

3. Only a true God-Man could save human beings from sin.

The virginal conception of Christ reassures us that our Saviour can act as the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is fully God and fully man, able to represent both parties. Man has sinned against God, the man Christ Jesus has borne our sins and the punishment that we deserve. He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh (Ephesians 5:30).

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17.)

III. Practical Value

1. We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses

Hebrews 4:14&15. The exalted, virgin-born Son of God knows the lot of human beings in a fallen world. He has been there. This hymn expresses it perfectly.

There is a Man, a real Man
with wounds still gaping wide.
From which, rich streams of blood once ran
in hands and feet and side.

'Tis no wild fancy of our minds,
no metaphor we speak.
The same dear Man in heaven now reigns,
Who suffered for our sake.

This wondrous Man of whom we tell
is true almighty God.
He bought our souls from death and hell,
the price His own heart’s blood.

That human heart He still retains,
though throned in highest bliss,
and feels each tempted member’s pains,
for our afflictions His.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16.)


2. The incarnated Christ is the pattern for an authentic, holy human life.

We are to live as new men, united to the last Adam. Colossians 3:9 & 10. His mindset is to be our mindset Philippians 2:5-11. We have been called to follow his example 1 Peter 2:21-25.

3. The incarnation of Christ is affirmation of the goodness of creation and a pledge to redeem it.

When God became man, he reaffirmed the value of humanity. God became man! This has ethical implications for our modern world. How can we believe in the virginal conception of Christ and abortion or embryo experimentation? How can we confess that the Word became flesh and treat other human beings, made in God’s image with contempt?

Christians belong to God’s new humanity – 2 Corinthians 5:17. The Spirit that created Jesus’ perfect human nature from the substance of the virgin, dwells in us. He will create for us perfect human bodies like our Lord’s glorious body (Romans 8:11.)

The enfleshment of the Word in the womb of Mary was the first stage of the redemption of the physical universe. (Romans 8:19-23.)

In the new creation we will fully understand Matthew 1:23,

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Revelation 21:3 & 4

3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Do we need to pray for revival?

As we reflect on the year that is now drawing to a close, Christians have a lot to be thankful for. God is good and he continues to be at work in the churches. But we must also search our hearts as we reflect on the weakness of the churches and our lack of impact upon the world. What is the answer to the present spiritual malaise?
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And shall we then for ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great?
(Isaac Watts)
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Do we need fresh programmes, or do we need to discover "new ways of doing church"? No doubt we should strive to be contemporary and try to find new ways of reaching the world with the gospel. But will these things alone turn the present situation around? Surely something greater is needed, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God!
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What is Revival?
The term "revival" was redefined by C. G. Finney in the 19th Century. He used the word "revival" of evangelistic missions that could be organised and planned by the churches. Finney taught that churches could have a revival any time they wanted, if only they fulfilled certain conditions. This new thinking represented a huge paradigm shift in the understanding of revival. Before Finney, the term "revival" was reserved for an exceptional outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. The "Evangelical Revival" in the UK and the "Great Awakening" in the US were understood within this framework. Jonathan Edwards, the great Theologian of revival wrote,
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It my be observed, that from the fall of man, to this day wherein we live, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit of God. Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances. Yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always has been by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy
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When conversions were few and the spiritual life of the church was ebbing away, the godly used to long and pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God. My native land of Wales was blessed with a series of revivals, beginning in 1735 with the preaching of Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, to the 1904/05 revival.
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Old Testament
In the Old Testament prayer was offered for revival,
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Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)
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O LORD, revive your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)
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What the Psalmist and prophet are praying for is that the Lord will turn from his anger against his people, deliver them from their enemies and grant them his presence. A great example of Old Testament "revival" is the work of God during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, described in 2 Chronicles 29-31.
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Without using the language of "revive" or "revival" a similar concern is found in other Old Testament passages:
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Oh that you would rend the heavens! That you would come down! That the mountains might tremble at your presence (Isaiah 64:1)
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O Lord, hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord listen and act! Do not delay for your own sake, my God, for your city and your people are called by your name. (Daniel 9:19)
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No doubt the desire of the prophets finds an echo in the hearts of New Testament believers.
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New Testament
But is it right to pray for revival under the New Testament? The Spirit was poured out upon the church on the day of Pentecost. He continues to be at work in the churches to this day. What more could we possibly want? But wait a minute. The outpouring the the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the beginning of new age of the Spirit and a unique event. However, the church in Acts experienced fresh outpourings of the Spirit subsequent to Pentecost.
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And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
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While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. (Acts 10:44)
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The power of the Spirit upon the preaching of the word was a notable feature of New Testament Christianity.
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Preaching with Power
Consider these statements of the apostle Paul. Clearly for him, there was more to preaching than accurate exegesis, telling illustration and thoughtful application:
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And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4 & 5)
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For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
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Paul did not take this kind of preaching for granted as if there was something automatic about the Spirit's power upon his ministry. He continually urged people to pray for him,
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praying always...and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20)
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Should we not likewise pray for the preaching of the word in great power today? The lack of power in much of today's preaching is the cause of the weakness of the church and the indifference of the world to the gospel
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Declension and Renewal in the New Testament
Some people object that under the Old Testament there were spiritual peaks and troughs, making prayer for revival understandable, but in the New Testament, no such pattern can be discerned. But what about the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, where the church at Ephesus has lost its first love and the church at Laodicea has become lukewarm? When we look at church history, we can see with Jonathan Edwards that the church has gone through periods of decline, followed by remarkable outpourings of the Spirit. It is simply not true to say that the Old Testament pattern of spiritual decline and revival has been abolished since Pentecost. The same Spirit is at work under both dispensations. The Spirit of the Lord who worked so powerfully during the reign of Hezekiah is responsible for all the great revivals of church history.
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Prayer for Revival
What was the answer for the church at Ephesus that lost her first love? No doubt she had to "repent and do the first works". But is that all? Did she not need to return to Paul's marvellous prayer for the church in Ephesians 3:14-21?
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14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
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If our churches had a greater comprehension of the love of Christ, if we were filled with all the fullness of God so that he was glorified in the church by Christ Jesus, would that not be a great revival? Let us plead the promise of our Saviour,
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11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:11-13)
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Revival is not a "singularity" where all the normal rules of Church life break down. Revival is an intensification of the regular work of the Spirit. When he comes in revival, he will convict the world of sin, glorify Christ and shed God's love abroad in the hearts of the people of God with great intensity. He will enpower the preaching and witness of the church to the salvation of great numbers of sinners and sanctify believers by the truth.
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The hymn I quoted earlier concludes with this verse,
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Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quickening powers;
Come, shed abroad the Saviour's love,
And that shall kindle ours.
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May we lay hold upon God and not let him go until he pours out the Spirit of Christ upon our churches with mighty power!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Happy Christmas & a Peaceful New Year

I don't usually go in for chatty personal stuff, but being the "season of goodwill" and all that, I thought I'd make an exception. I would like to wish all my regular and new readers alike a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. I'm quite a new blog-head and I entered blog-land with some trepidation, thinking, "Will I be wasting my time posting all this stuff - who's going to read it anyway?" To my surprise I've been getting a regular stream of visitors, mainly from the US, UK and Germany. Some of the comments have been weird and a bit spooky, others helpful and encouraging, still others have expressed outraged disagreement. But that's cyberspace, where the wacky and the wise collide, creating the sparks that make blogging such an interesting thing to do.
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This has been an eventful year for me, the second of my pastorate here in Wiltshire. We have seen many encouragements in the Churches I serve with new people coming along, a conversion and baptisms. I finally finished by BA (Hons) degree. My thesis was on "The meaning and significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ" and I've published some of it on the blog.
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I wouldn't be any kind of preacher if I did not remind you, dear reader, of the meaning of Christmas, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, to destroy the works of the devil," (1 John 3:8.) That was my text for this morning. The devils' works - his lies, murder and accusation of the brethren have been destroyed by the Son of God. Though his holy life, sacrificial death and resurrection, Christ has defeated Satan. Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world. "Who is he that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." (1 John 5:5.) As the Truth he destroyed the devil's lies. As the Life who died and rose again, he destroyed Satan's murderous designs. The accuser of the brethren is cast out of heaven because Christ bore the penalty for our sin. We overcome the devil by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12: 9 & 10).
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This afternoon at our 4pm Carol Service, I preached on Matthew 2:3, "When king Herod heard this [the news of Jesus' birth] he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him." There was more trouble than expected when one of our candle decorations caught fire during the sermon and had to be exstinguished! This reminded me of one of R. S. Thomas' haunting poems "The Chapel",
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But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
(From R. S. Thomas Collected Poems 1945-1990)
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Oh that both preacher and people would catch fire - the fire of the Holy Spirit upon the proclamation of the gospel!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Preaching pure and simple

Preaching pure and simple is the title of a new book by Stuart Olyott, published by Bryntirion Press (2005).

Olyott is a well known and much appreciated preacher of the gospel. He writes that “The kingdom of God and preaching are like conjoined twins who cannot be separated; they stand or fall together.” Surely all Evangelical Protestants would agree with that statement?

This is a book that all who are interested in preaching should read. Are you a budding preacher? You should certainly read it. Olyott will give you sound advice on what makes good preaching. Are you an experienced preacher? You should read it too. Here you will find much that is challenging and stimulating. You will be forced to review your ministry in the light of Olyott’s high standards.
What constitutes good Biblical preaching? The writer specifies seven qualities that should characterise the proclamation of the word of God: Exegetical accuracy, doctrinal substance, clear structure, vivid illustration, pointed application, helpful delivery and supernatural authority. Where any one of these ingredients is missing, preaching loses its power. When that happens the people of God suffer and sinners fail to see the gospel in all its captivating glory.
The writer cannot be blamed for not dealing with everything in the compass of this relatively short book. The question of the call to preach is not given attention. If you want some help on the use of notes or extemporary preaching you will have to look elsewhere. But this book is full of sane, yet passionate Biblical wisdom for those called to proclaim the word of God to the people of today’s world.
Do you want to help someone to be a better preacher? Buy them this book. Do you want to be a better preacher yourself? Read this book and take its lessons to heart.
May this excellent work be used to aid the recovery of pure, simple and anointed preaching.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Martyn Lloyd-Jones - 1966 and all that

2006 Will be the 25th anniversary of the death of Welsh Evangelical leader Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The great preacher has left a controversial legacy behind him. Next year also marks the 40th anniversary of his famous 1966 address to the Evangelical Alliance on "Evangelical Unity". Ironically, that address was the cause of great divison in UK Evangelicalism. Much has been written about the events of this period and it is essential to get our facts right.
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A Call for Evangelical Unity

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones had long been concerned about the position of Evangelicals within the mixed denominations. He has been involved in Ecumenical discussions in the 1950’s, and he did not like what he saw. But most Evangelicals were content to remain in their theologically mixed denominations, having fellowship with other Evangelicals through the Evangelical Alliance and other agencies.

In October 1966 the Evangelical Alliance convened a conference to discuss the issue of Christian Unity. Lloyd-Jones had already expressed his views to leaders of the EA in private. He was given to opportunity to speak his mind in public.

Lloyd-Jones argued that the setting up of the World Council of Churches in 1948 and the whole Ecumenical Movement had created an entirely new situation. The ambition of this movement, he argued is to create “territorial, comprehensive national churches” in which all the denominations could unite. He asked, “Are we content with just being an evangelical wing in a territorial church that will eventually include, and must, if it is to be a truly national and ecumenical church, the Roman Catholic Church?”

Lloyd-Jones suggested that it was quite wrong for Evangelicals to be divided from each other by remaining in their denominations.

You and I are evangelicals. We are agreed about these essentials of the faith and yet we are divided from one another…we spend most of our time apart from one another, and joined to and united with the people who deny and are opposed to the essential matters of salvation. We have our visible unity with them. Now, I say, that is sinful.

Finally, “the Doctor” urged evangelicals to seize the historic opportunity to come out of their denominations and come together “as a fellowship, or an association, of evangelical churches”.

Lloyd-Jones’ argument sounded so persuasive that the chairman John Stott was genuinely concerned that Evangelical ministers would leave the Church of England the next morning. He used his position as chairman to flatly contradict what “the Doctor” had said.

I believe history is against what Dr Lloyd-Jones has said…Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside it. I hope no one will act precipitately…

Alister McGrath, in his biography of J. I. Packer, wrote that, “‘the shadow of 1966’ has lingered over English evangelicalism ever since.” He is right, Lloyd-Jones made Evangelicals face up to the challenge of the Ecumenical Movement. Are we only to be a “wing” within this great Movement, or shall we stand together united in the gospel? These matters have become even more urgent with the advent of “Churches Together” - (A UK-wide ecumenical body). We are now in the position of Churches being affiliated to the Evangelical Alliance, the Baptist Union ( a theologically mixed denomination) and Churches Together. Evangelicalism has become just one theological option that is no more or less valid then Catholicism or Liberalism. This is what happens when we fail to think through the challenge of the Ecumenical Movement.

Lloyd-Jones subsequently withdrew from the Evangelical Alliance and threw his weight behind the BEC. The BEC was founded in 1952 as an Evangelical response to the founding of the WCC in 1948. The founders were T. H. Bendor-Samuel and E. J. Poole-Connor of the FIEC and representatives of Evangelical Presbyterian Churches in Scotland and Ireland. The BEC was robustly anti-ecumenical, but also stood for Evangelical unity. The BEC was re-launched as Affinity in 2004.
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A Call for Separation

A call to secede from the denominations was implicit in Lloyd-Jones’ 1966 call for Evangelical unity. In 1967, the Doctor gave the main address at the BEC Conference on “Martin Luther and his message for today.” He challenged Evangelicals who had wavered over their involvement in the denominations to consider their position.

So I close with an appeal. The position round and about us is developing rapidly. The ecumenical movement is advancing day by day, and it is traveling in the direction of Rome. But it is not only heading to Rome, it is heading towards an amalgamation of so-called world religions, and will undoubtedly end as a great World Congress of faiths…

What then are evangelicals to do in this situation? I reply by saying that we must heed a great injunction in Revelation 18:4: ‘Come out of her my people!’ ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’ Come out of it! But also come together into an association such as the BEC that stands for the truth and against compromise, hesitation, neutrality and everything that ministers to the success and plans of Rome and the ecumenical movement. Come out; come in!

But Lloyd-Jones’ call was not heeded by all evangelicals.
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A Policy of Evangelical Intergration

In 1967 the first National Evangelical Anglican Congress meet in Keele. John Stott was conference chairman. Stott, who, as we have seen, publicly disagreed with Lloyd-Jones in 1966, was determined that Evangelical Anglicans be fully involved in their denomination. Prior to the conference he set out his agenda:

It is a tragic thing, however, that Evangelicals have a very poor image in the Church as a whole. We have acquired a reputation for narrow partisanship and obstructionism. We have to acknowledge this and for the most part we have no one but ourselves to blame. We need to repent and change.

The Liberal, Anglo-Catholic Archbishop Ramsey was invited to address the conference. He told these Evangelicals that they should put experience before doctrine and that they should turn their backs on their old exclusive stance. The Archbishop stated that, “We are all called as Christians and as Anglicans we should be learning from one another.”

The Conference responded to this call and accepted that all who were involved in ecumenical dialogue “have the right to be treated as Christians.” John Lawrence, who had long worked for a change of attitude among Evangelical Anglicans was well satisfied with the result:

Now this wall is down Evangelicals will be heard in a new way, but this would not have happened if they had not shown that they are now ready to listen to others.

As Lloyd-Jones had warned, this policy meant that Evangelicals had reduced themselves to being a mere wing in the great ecumenical project. Can we be content with that? Is it right to assume that Liberals who deny the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ “have the right to be treated as Christians?”
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We Stand alone Together!
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The attitude of Evangelials to the ecumenical project is one of the pressing issues that we have to face in the 21st Century. Our stance should be that of the US 101st Airbourn Division, immortalised in the Band of Brothers TV series, "We stand alone together".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Narnia & Penal Substitution

Simon Mayo's BBC Radio 5 Live programme discussed C.S. Lewis' book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe yesterday afternoon. Among the contributors was Toby Forward, Cannon of Liverpool Cathedral. Forward said that he liked the first half of the book, "a cracking good story." But he found the death of Aslan in the second half "brutal and distasteful." When pressed on why he, as a Christian found this allegory of Christ's crucifixion so abhorrent , the Cannon responded by saying that C. S. Lewis had employed a "Medieval" view of Christ's death. Toby Forward explained that Lewis was teaching penal substitution - that God cannot forgive sinners unless a sacrifice is offered. The high-ranking clergyman described this view of the cross as "unpleasant" and a part of the Christian tradition with which he does not agree.

All this is rather strange. I know of some Churches that are holding Narnia events precisely because the story teaches that Christ had to die to save sinners. To paraphrase Isaiah 53: 6, "We all, like Edmund have gone astray and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." If Christ did not have to die in place of sinners for us to be forgiven by God, then the cross becomes a meaningless gesture. It is only by the "deep magic" of Christ bearing the punishment of our sin on Calvary that sinners are put right with God. What Cannon Forward finds so objectionable is "the offence of the cross" (Galatians 5:11). It is offensive to our human pride that we are so lost in sin, that only the death of Christ can rescue us. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). A cursed Messiah may not be a pleasant thought, but in his curse, we find blessing, "that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14.) If we can save ourselves by being good and doing our best without the "deep magic" of Christ's death and resurrection, then God put his Son through the agonies of the cross - for what? As Paul wrote, "if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Galatians 2:21.)
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The sacrifice of Aslan on behalf of Edmund is a good picture of the death of Christ. The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David stands triumphant in glory as a Lamb as though it had been slain. He has redeemed us to God by his blood! (Revelation 5:5, 6 & 9.)