Saturday, July 31, 2010

Some holiday reading

We're off on holiday later this morning, with a week in Carmarthen followed by the Aber Conference. I usually take a few books with me when we go away. Often a novel or two and a couple of theological titles. Novel-wise in recent years it's been something by P. D. James and/or John Grisham. This year I thought I'd have a change from law-based fiction and have a go at Gilead by Marilynne Robsinson. It takes the form of a letter from a dying Minister to his young son. Sounds good.

Also I think I'll pack my recently aquired copy of The Poems of Edward Taylor, edited by Donald E. Stanford. I'm just getting into Taylor's work and being on holiday will give me a little more time to meditate on his wonderfully Christ-centred metaphysical poetry.

When it comes to theology, I'm not sure what to bring. I'd like to finish Vanhoozer's Remythologizing Theology. I've got as far of page 377 out of 539pp. I managed to get a free copy from CUP in exchange for reviewing it on the blog, so I'd better get cracking. On the other hand, a £70 heavyweight hardback hardly lends itself to reading on the beach. What if it accidentally got  smeared with sun cream, or splattered by one of Mr. Whippy's 99's melting in the hot sun? Unthinkable. But then again, we don't have to go to the beach.

I've got some books on Roman Catholicism on the "to read" pile in preparation for my Westminster Conference paper on Puritan Attitudes Towards Rome, but do I really want to take Pope Benedict XVI: Commander of the Faith on holiday? The question kind of answers itself. Although...

Of course, this is meant to be a family break, not study leave. So, I won't be able to spend too much time with my head buried in a book. But as nothing is more relaxing than a good read there will have to be room amongst the suitcases, beach cricket set and other holiday stuff for some reading materials. Swimming in the sea, watching Toy Story 3, evening walks along the beach and Remythologizing Theology. Sounds like a good holiday to me.  

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI and the United Kingdom

Pope Benedict XVI and the United Kingdom,

This publication has been timed to coincide with the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI (16-19 September). During his time in the UK the Pope will meet the Queen at Holyrood Palace, Scotland. He will address a gathering of both Houses of Parliament. Also Joseph Ratzinger will beatify Cardinal Newman, making him the first Englishman to be made a “saint” since the Reformation.

The impending visit has already caused some controversy, not least due to Ratzinger’s failure to deal with the problem of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Before becoming Pope he was Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Rome’s disciplinary body (formerly called The Inquisition). It is alleged that as Prefect he knew what was going on, but did little to prevent children being abused by paedophile priests.

Evangelicals might feel a little unhappy concerning the high honours that will be accorded to such a man. But it seems that by and large we have given up the fight when it comes to the controversy with Rome. We appear to have forgotten what the Reformation was all about. The aim of this book is to set out the influence of Protestantism on our national life and to expose Roman Catholic false teachings.

The Pope presides over a system of sacramental salvation. He claims to be head of the visible Church, with supreme and universal power over the people of God. Since 1870 Rome has regarded the Pope’s ex cathdera pronouncements as infallible, elevating his authority to the level of Holy Scripture. The Virgin Mary is regarded as “co-mediatrix” alongside Jesus, compromising the unique saving value of Christ’s finished work. The Reformers were right to battle against unbiblical Roman Catholic doctrine in their day. Still we must contend for vital, gospel-centred Christianity in opposition to the errors of Rome.

Not all readers will agree with the authors’ Presbyterian views on Church Establishment or that the Pope is the Antichrist. But here is a timely reminder that the man who is due to visit these shores in September is a powerful leader of a false religion. Roman Catholicism robs our Lord Jesus of his unrivalled role as head of the Church and the only mediator between God and men.

Perhaps the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI will give Evangelical Protestants a fresh opportunity to graciously explain the differences between Rome and genuine, biblical Christianity.

* Reviewed for September edition of Evangelicals Now.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Gary Benfold


GD: Hello, Gary Benfold and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

GB: A Yorkshireman by birth and conviction, I was 'awakened' through hearing Lloyd-Jones preach, and converted as a teenager in a Wesleyan chapel where they loved the Bible enough to move away from Wesleyanism when they saw it didn't fit. I went off to study Business Studies at Bradford University, taught in Rotherham for three years (to give me time to grow up - not sure it worked) and then began to train for pastoral ministry. I'm married to Elaine, and have two adult children and three darling granddaughters.

GD: You have a blog entitled, Who's that Preacher? What made you start blogging?

GB: I was just playing around to see if I could set up a blog - I'm not very computer literate. I didn't take it seriously for quite a while - one evidence of which is that this year I've posted almost as many posts already as in the whole previous five years. But I've continued because it gives me chance to reflect on issues - trivial and otherwise - that catch my attention, and share my thoughts with anyone interested. I've also discovered, just this past month, that the number of 'hits' goes up dramatically if I put a preacher's name in the title!

GD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for reflection on theology and ministry?

GB: Its weaknesses are obvious: the ignorant share what they don't know all too easily, and stoke up the fires more than is helpful. And light-hearted banter can be taken too seriously by the Reformed Thought Police and get 'slammed' in a national conference. Its strengths, though, will take longer to emerge: though I'm glad to have found my way to Phil Johnson and Dan Phillips, neither of whom I would ever have read otherwise.

GD: Who has had the most influence on your theological development?

GB: Oh, easy: Lloyd-Jones and Packer. I'll never forget the shock of reading Packer's 'Introduction' to Owen's 'Death of Death in the Death of Christ', and discovering that my free will wasn't free, and God's free grace really was. Both have exerted immense influence on me since, though I differ from each significantly.

GD: I well remember reading that intro in my lunch break when I worked in a steelworks in Newport many years ago. It's what put the 'L' into my TULIP. Describe your call to pastoral ministry.

GB: Hmm. I was converted just a month or so before I went up to university, and Bradford had an excellent CU - the only Reformed one in England at the time, I think - where we had regular visits from Stuart Olyott and Geoff Thomas and others of similar convictions. But the big turning point for me was a CU houseparty, where the preacher was taking us through 2 Timothy. I'd never heard systematic expository preaching before and I was absolutely gripped - I can still weep when I recall sections of it. I remember thinking 'If I could do that, it would be worth spending my life for.' Gradually over the next couple of years the conviction grew within that God was calling me to spend my life trying to exactly that. Ironically, the preacher that influential weekend was Roy Clements, who has since turned away.

GD: Where did you train for the ministry and what was the most helpful aspect of your training?

GB: I trained at the London Theological Seminary, from 1980-82. The most helpful thing was sitting under men who took the Bible and the Spirit seriously and were passionate about Christ. You were there later, I think - what did you find most helpful?

GD: I ask the questions round here, Gary. Now, what is the most helpful piece of advice that anyone has given you on preaching?

GB: Two things vie for first place: Alistair Begg 'Think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself hot'; he got it, I think, from Leith Samuel who himself got it from someone else. But it's deceptively helpful: the first thing is to write down everything you think the text is saying, during which some sort of structure will probably begin to emerge. The second stage insists on you checking to make sure you haven't missed the point, or something crucial. The third thing is obvious, I think; and the fourth, too easily neglected.

Rivalling this advice for first place is from Olyott: State, illustrate, apply.

GD: What is the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching?

GB: You want a succinct answer to that? Are you kidding?

GD: No. But moving on, if time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you most like to meet, and what would you say to him/her?

GB: That's fun, isn't it? Who wouldn't love to meet Spurgeon, or Whitefield? But I think I'd settle for Lloyd-Jones, and say 'thank you.'

GD: Did you enjoy the recent Evangelical Ministry Assembly?

GB: Oh yes. They're usually uneven, and this one was too. But it was great to hear Vaughan Roberts on Whitefield, saying things a Proc Trust Anglican needed to say; and electrifying (to me) to hear him describe Whitefield's first preaching in London and point to the door through which I'd entered a few minutes earlier and say 'He entered through that door; came down that aisle, and climbed into this pulpit.' Wow - history lives.

GD: I wasn't there, but I've just started listening to the MP3 downloads (see here). Good stuff so far. Should Evangelicals welcome the pope's visit to the UK in September?

GB: I don't think Evangelicals should care one way or another - he's just another leader of another false religion. But Englishmen (sorry, Guy - the British) should care very much. As I understand it, he still claims to be a head of state, and still claims jurisdiction over England. Isn't that right? [Sure is.] And he may be prepared to keep quiet about it for 'the long game' - the Vatican certainly thinks in centuries - but we mustn't think he isn't serious. Unless and until he repudiates all such claims, then he shouldn't be welcomed - should he?

GD: Certainly not. Care to name your top three songs/pieces of music?

GB: Beethoven, Violin Concerto (played by David Oistrakh); Beethoven, Piano Concerto no. 5 ('Emperor') (played by Ashkenazy); Bruch, Violin concerto (played by Janine Jansen).

GD: Is Elvis' version of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" really better than the Simon & Garfunkel original?

GB: Oh yes; but Peter Masters' version far outstrips them both.

GD: I'll take your word for it. You are sometimes confused with fellow pastor-blogger Gary Brady. For those who can't tell the difference, which one are you?

GB: The one without a famous father-in-law. The slim one. The old one. The one who doesn't speak Welsh. (Spot the odd one out).

GD: You're both a bit odd. Right, what is the most helpful theological book you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...

GB: I've re-read parts of Knowing God by J. I. Packer - it's theology that thrills the heart. If I may be frank - I wouldn't read some of the stuff you review. I'm not criticising anyone else for reading it, but I can't see how it would actually help me reach the lost or build up the saints... in fact, I think it would get in the way. Please feel free to shoot me down.

GD: I've always believed that pastors should read widely and deeply. I don't think that books have to have a direct relevance for pastoral ministry in order to be worth reading. That's my excuse anyway. Now, what is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

GB: The thing that troubles me most is the defeatist and backward-looking attitudes of some of the Reformed movement in the UK - you may have heard me on this before. I don't say it's the biggest problem facing evangelicalism, but it certainly doesn't help. I could go on about this. I certainly don't want to be unkind to anyone. But I wish there was a conference in the UK like 'Together for the Gospel' or 'Resolved'. I've thought about starting one myself - a conference for happy Calvinists! But I might be the only one there...

GD: Lastly, which blogs do you especially enjoy reading and why?

GB: Pyromaniacs; Dan Phillips' Biblical Christianity - both of them for their combination of insight and wit and - sometimes - outrageous comments. Yours, of course - mostly to spot the spelling errors. (Just kidding). Melanie Phillips, for a different - and I think often more accurate - perspective on current news.

GD: Well, thanks for dropping by for this chat, Gary. I am to typing what Les Dawson was to playing the piano. Or as Eric Morecambe once said, "All the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order." I shall try and keep the typos coming just to entertain the pedants. See ya!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Edward Taylor on the Rose of Sharon

I've been dipping into The Poems of Edward Taylor, edited by Donald E. Stanford, University of North Carolina Press. Taylor (c. 1642-1729) was a Puritan Pastor who served in the small frontier town of Westfield, Massachusetts. He was a prolific poet in the metaphysical style of John Donne. The true value of his poems was not properly appreciated until the 1940's.

One poem is a meditation on Song of Solomon 2:1, "I am the rose of Sharon". Taylor, in common with his contemporaries saw this as a depiction of Christ. I'm aware that The Hebrew indicates that this is probably the Shulamite's self-description, rather than a reference to her Beloved. Also, while I think that the relationship between the Shulamite and her Beloved is a wonderful example of married love and is therefore typical of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33), I'm a little wary of allegorising the details in the manner of some Puritan exegetes of the Song of Solomon. Be that as it may, Taylor's poetic meditation on Christ as the Rose of Sharon is a wonderful piece of devotional literature. Have a read of this verse and note the remarkable play on words in the penultimate line (p. 13).

But oh! alas! that such should be my need
       That this Brave Flower must Pluckt, stampt, squeezed bee,
And boyld up in its Blood, its Spirits sheed,
       To make a Physick sweet, sure, safe for mee.
       But yet this mangled Rose rose up again
       And in its pristine glory, doth remain.

See here for an earlier posting of one of Taylor's poems, which includes a link to more of his work.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The State has no right to act as if it were the head of the Church (2)

How should we configure the relationship between the church as subject to the Lordship of Christ and the State? Both are God-ordained institutions, but they have different roles. The task of the Church is to preach the gospel to the world and disciple believers. The function of the State is to govern the nation, upholding the rule of law using force if necessary. Here in the UK we are in the biblically anomalous position of having an Established Church. The Church of England is in effect the religious arm of the State. The Prime Minister appoints senior Anglican clergy including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Church of England Bishops sit in the House of Lords. As Free Church people we might like to see that position changed and the Church of England disestablished. But disestablishment does not mean that Church has nothing to say to the State. Hardline secularists might insist that faith-based values have no place in public life. But if Christ is Lord at all, he is Lord of all. As Abraham Kuyper famously said,

there is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all does not cry out, ‘Mine!’.
Now, we are not saying that Christians should have the right to impose their faith or morality on non-Christians. But we refuse to retreat into religious ghettos. Jesus called us to be salt and light. Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon saying, Jeremiah 29:7. Church and State are distinct institutions, but Christians should be actively involved in public life. We have a biblical mandate to endeavour to influence and shape government legislation for the common good, Proverbs 14:34. The work of individual Christians such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury have had a beneficial impact on our country. So also the efforts of organisations like the Christian Institute.

Part of the problem we are facing is a shift in public morality away from virtue towards rights. Rather that Sate promoting the good (Romans 13), i.e. marriage as basis of family life, now we are in the realm of rights. The role of the State is to balance the competing rights of vested interest groups. Thus homosexuals demand the right to adopt children and the State accords them that right at the expense of the right of Christian adoption agencies to only allocate children to heterosexual couples. In this case the good of the child is not the utmost concern. That would involve the child being brought up in a loving, stable home with married adoptive parents. No, the main thing is the so-called right of gay couples to adopt.

Political Guru Philip Blond has argued that if we are to fix broken Britain then one thing we have to do is move away for moral relativism and a culture of 'rights'. We need to recover the idea of the common good. The collapse of virtue in society has led to the state having an ever more intrusive role, policing a society that is increasingly out of control. The recent proliferation of CCTV cameras bears witness to this fact. Christians should be actively bringing biblical values to bear upon public life in order to help shape a society that is based on virtue rather than rights. Our song is not “stand up for your rights” (Bob Marley), but “stand up for your love” (U2).

So, we will not withdraw from the public square. We acknowledge Jesus’ lordship over the whole of life. But we will not allow the State to dictate the teaching of the Church. Christ alone is our head.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The State has no right to act as if it were the head of the Church (1)


The Pharisees were out to ambush Jesus. The killer questions was, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or nor?” The dilemma for Jesus was this. If he said, “Of course not, Caesar is a tyrannical Gentile dog.” Then the Pharisees would have reported him to Pilate as a dangerous subversive. However, if he said, “Yes, of course, Israel is part of the Roman Empire and we should pay our dues.” then they would have denounced him as unpatriotic and disloyal to God’s own people, the Jews. Famously Jesus answered their question by saying, Matthew 22:21. The trouble is that Caesar can sometimes demand that which belongs to God. Early Christians were thrown to the lions for not confessing that Caesar is Lord. Obviously we are not in a situation where the head of state demands our worship. Ours is a different and more subtle challenge. Recent decades have witnessed systematic dismantling of the Christian heritage of our country. We are living in an increasingly secular society where the authorities have little patience with faith-based values. But we cannot give to Caesar that which belongs to God alone

Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close because they refuse to place children with homosexual couples. Christian registrars have been sacked for declining to officiate at Civil Partnerships. Gary McFarlane, a Christian marriage guidance counsellor was dismissed because he asked to be exempted from counselling homosexual couples. His appeal against his dismissal was rejected by Lord Justice Laws because his views were "held purely on religious grounds". They therefore could not be justified and would be "irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective ... divisive, capricious and arbitrary". The cases I’ve mentioned have affected individual believers, but the Church itself has recently faced challenges in this area. It was only with some difficulty that amendments were made to the Equality Bill that otherwise would have forced Churches to hire people whose beliefs and lifestyle are not on accordance with the teaching of Scripture. That happened under the previous government. But before the General Election David Cameron said in an interview,

I don't want to get into a huge row with the Archbishop here... but the Church has to do some of the things that the Conservative Party has been through – sorting this issue out and recognising that full equality is a bottom-line, full essential… if our Lord Jesus was around today he would very much be backing a strong agenda on equality and equal rights, and not judging people on their sexuality.
Recently David Cameron signalled his support for the appointment openly homosexual Jeffrey John as Bishop of Southwark, although the appointment was rejected in the end.

Once again the issue is: Who is the head of the Church? Can the Church simply change its beliefs and practices and undergo a process of reinvention something like a political party in order to adapt to perceived public opinion? The challenge of intolerant secularism is akin to the challenge faced by the German Churches in the 1930’s. In their Barmen Declaration the Confessing Church stated,

8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
And
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
The State has no right to try and impose its secular values on the Church and we must be prepared to resist this trend. As far as our beliefs and conduct are concerned the Church is subject to the sole headship of Christ. In the seventeenth century James VI of Scotland (who later became James I of England) attempted to impose his will on the Scottish Kirk. Andrew Melville told him where to get off in no uncertain terms,

Sirrah, ye are God's silly vassal; there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is king James, the head of the commonwealth; and there is Christ Jesus, the king of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, not a lord, not a head, but a member.
Knowing what we do of James, if anything Melville was being a little generous in describing the king as a member of the Church in any meaningful sense. But similar sentiments might be aimed at our present Prime Minister in his attempt to tell the Church what she should teach and believe. Quoting the Barmen Declaration once more,

8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
Jesus is our head and the Church is subject to his voice as expressed in Holy Scripture, which is our sufficient and authoritative guide in all matters of faith and conduct, 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Is the pope really head of the visible church?


In the Prime Ministerial Debates prior to the General Election, a question was asked that managed to unite Gordon Brow, Nick Clegg and David Cameron. It was this, given his stance on homosexual rights and abortion did the candidates welcome the Pope’s visit to the UK in September? All three politicians said that they welcomed the Pope’s visit. And all three agreed that he was wrong on gay rights and abortion. I think that they were unitedly wrong on both counts. It is not necessarily a good thing that the Pope is visiting the UK, although we agree with him on the issues raised by the questioner.

When he arrives in the UK for a four day official state visit, the Pope Benedict XVI will meet the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury, address a gathering of both Houses and Parliament and beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman. What should we make of all this? Hopefully it goes without saying that anti-papal bigotry is out of place. And I’m not sure that noisily protesting and waving placards is the best way to get out point over when the Pope arrives in our country. But when popemania hits the UK we might be given an opportunity to explain why we are not so enthusiastic concerning the arrival on our shores of Benedict XVI. I mean, not all Catholics are exactly over the moon about having the hardline Cardinal Ratzinger as the leader of their Church. When the Cardinal succeeded Pope John Paul II one American Roman Catholic complained, it "is like electing Rumsfeld after George Bush".

Now I realise that Evangelicals have largely lost interest in the controversy with Rome. We have other battles to fight such as the inerrancy of Scripture and the defence of our religious liberties, let alone the challenge of reaching the UK with the gospel. But we can’t get away from it that easily. In the face of a hostile secular society, Evangelicals are being increasingly drawn to Rome. After all, we are agreed on a good number of essential truths such as the Trinity and the virgin birth, sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ. In the States the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement has been actively trying to resolve outstanding differences between Rome and Evangelicals. Many question whether the divisions of Reformation were justified. Also in the States the Manhattan Declaration committed leading Evangelicals and Catholics to speak out on the issues of marriage, abortion and freedom of religion. Fair enough, but the Declaration also implied that both parties proclaim the same gospel. The UK’s counterpart, the Westminster Declaration included the obligatory Roman Catholic signatory.

But the Reformation isn’t quite over yet. Many of the great doctrinal differences between Rome and Evangelicals are unresolved and one of them is, “Who is the head of the Church?” So, what exactly does the Roman Catholic Church say on this matter? I quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

CRC 882: The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.
This is a clear violation of biblical teaching. The blasphemous claim that the pope may exercise "unhindered power" over the Church is a direct challenge to the unique headship of Christ. The idea of the primacy of the Bishop Rome was unknown in the early centuries of Church history.

The New Testament knows nothing of hierarchical Church government with the pope lording it over cardinals, bishops, priests and people. Local Churches were led by their appointed elders. Elders served under the authority of the apostles. But all was in subjection to Christ, the one true head of the Church.

Our head, the Lord Jesus is Prophet, Priest and King.

His prophetic role is undermined by Roman Catholic teaching,

891: The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . .
As Prophet Christ continues to infallibly teach and guide the Church through the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. The Spirit enables the people of God to recognise the Bible as the Word of God and understand its contents. The ascended Christ has gifted the Church teachers with whose task it is to explain and apply the Bible to his people, Ephesians 4:11-12.

We need no other priest than Jesus, our great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. He atoned for our sins once for all on the cross. He ever lives to make intercession for us. Roman Catholic teaching denies this saying,

893: The bishop is "the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood," especially in the Eucharist which he offers personally or whose offering he assures through the priests, his co-workers.
Ministers are not priests who re-offer the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass. Christ's death atoned for sin once and for all, Hebrews 9:28. The only mediator between God and men is the Man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5. In him all of God's people are constituted a royal priesthood, 1 Peter 2:9. We recognise no popes, bishops, clerical priests or any other supposed mediators between God and his people. Christ alone is sufficient for that task.

Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. The exalted Jesus is head over all things for the church, Ephesians 1:22-23. He, not the pope has "universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered", Matthew 28:18-20.

We therefore resist Roman Catholic claims concerning the pope's headship over the visible Church. The Bishop of Rome is a usurper and therefore cannot be a focus of unity for all Christian Churches. Christ alone is head of the Church. It would be an act of disloyalty to our Saviour to recognise any other Lord and head of the Church but him.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who is the Head of the Church?

Last night I drove to Cheltenham to speak on behalf of the Protestant Truth Society at Cheltenham Evangelical Free Church on the queastion Who is the Head of the Church? 

Here's an excerpt from the intro:

At certain points in church history the big issue has been, “Who is the head of the Church?” This was the case at the time of the Reformation, when the Reformers insisted that Christ alone is the head of the Church to the exclusion of the pope. It was the defining point in the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 that led to the founding of the breakaway Free Church of Scotland. The seceders could no longer tolerate the position where local grandees appointed church leaders. In 1934 the German Confessing Churches published the Barmen Declaration in an attempt to resist the Nazification of the Church. They asserted that the Church belongs solely to Christ and is subject to his Word alone.

I suggest that this is one of pressing issues of our time. In recent years the Government has attempted to ride roughshod over aspects of the historic teaching of the Church. Secular rights-based equality legislation has trumped biblical teaching on sexuality. Christian adoption agencies have had to close. Back in January of this year there was a titanic battle in the House of Lords to protect the freedom of Churches to employ only people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the Bible.

Also, we can’t ignore pope’s visit to UK in September. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the Bishop of Rome is the head of visible church. The goal of ecumenical movement is to reunite Christendom under the authority of the pope. How should we respond to that as Evangelical Protestants?

So, as we consider “Who is the head of the Church?” we will be bearing in mind both the political and the religious contexts of the question.

To be continued...

Monday, July 19, 2010

John Owen on the true end of preaching

Here John Owen is discussing the worship of images with Franciscan Friar John Vincent Cane in his anti-Roman Catholic polemical work, A Vindication of the Animadversions of Fiat Lux. His opponent alleged that the one end of preaching is to "work upon the minds of men so as to stir up their affections." For Owen this is hopelessly inadequate.
Did never any man inform you that the one end of preaching the word was to regenerate the whole souls of men, and to beget them anew unto God? that it was also to open their eyes, and to illuminate them with the saving knowledge of God in Christ? that it was to beget and increase faith in them? that it was to be a means of their growth in grace, and in the knowledge of God? that the word preached is "profitable for reproof, correction, doctrine, and instruction in righteousness?" that it is appointed as the great means of working the souls of men into a likeness and conformity unto the Lord Jesus, or the changing of them into his image? that it is appointed for the refreshment of the weary , and consolation of the sorrowful, and making wise the simple?
Did you never hear that the word preached hath its effect upon the understanding and will as well as upon the affections, and upon these consequently only unto its efficacy on them, if they are not deluded? Is growth in knowledge, faith, grace, holiness, conformity to Christ, communion with God, - for which end the word is commanded to be preached, - nothing at all with you? Is being made wise in the mystery of the love of God in Christ, to have an insight into, and some understanding of, the unsearchable treasures of his grace, and by all this the building up of souls in their most holy faith, of no value with you?
Are you a stranger unto these things, and yet think yourself a meet person to persuade your fellow countrymen to forsake the religion they have long professed, and to follow you they know not whither? or do you know them, and yet dare to thrust in your scurrility to their exclusion? Plainly, sir, the most charitable judgement that I can make of this disclosure of yours is that it proceeds from ignorance of the most important truths and most necessary works of the gospel. (Works of John Owen, Volume 14, p. 445-446).
Well, that told him, and us!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Red Tory by Phillip Blond


Red Tory, by Phillip Blond, Faber and Faber, 309pp

By their Gurus you shall know them. Will Hutton's The State We're In influenced the thinking of new Labour in the 1990's. Although it has to be said that rather than take on board his radical proposals for restructuring the economy, almost all Labour seemed to do was pinch his catchword, "stakeholder" and use it as a label for a cheapo pension product. If they'd paid more attention to the substance of his argument against City obsessed laissez faire capitalism, maybe we wouldn't be in the state we're in today. Blond is the man behind David Cameron's talk of the "Big Society" where, "We're all in this together". No, our Great Leader hasn't been watching to too much High School Musical, he's been reading Phillip Blond. Interestingly, some of Blond's ideas on the associative civil sate have more than a passing resemblance to Hutton's stakeholding economy. Blond argues that state employees should be empowered stakeholders in the service they provide rather than salves to centralised controls and targets. In a further twist, Hutton, whose book was a damning indictment on Thatchernomics has been appointed to lead a review of public sector pay of behalf of the Lib-Con coalition. Gurus eh?

Anyway, Blond's book attempts to do exactly what it says on the cover, which is to show that both left and right wing policies have broken Britain and then put forward some proposals for putting the country back together again. The author is presently director of the think tank ResPublica. Prior to becoming a full time policy wonk Blond was a theology lecturer, teaching at the Universities of Cumbria and Exeter. Blond's work is informed by his Christian theology, but is not explicitly based on engagement with the text of Scripture. In fact, in the one place where he alludes to the Bible  - "the truth...shall set you free" (on p. 161-162), he attributes the words to St. Paul rather than Jesus (see John 8:32). Blond is an Anglican.

The writer begins by describing 'Broken Britain', setting out the economic, political and social mess we're in. With both public and private debt at record levels something has gone badly wrong with the economy. Participation in politics is at an all time low as evidenced by the declining turn out at successive General Elections. The parliamentary expenses scandal has further undermined the public's trust in politicians. Too much power has accrued to the centre, distancing government from the people.  The social fabric of the nation has been torn apart by the evils of poverty,  welfare dependency and family breakdown.

Blond rightly identifies the breakdown of marriage-based family life as one of the major factors in the shattering of British society. Marriage is often seen as an outdated institution, derided by the sexually liberated as repressive and feminists as oppressive to women. But, refreshingly, Blond argues that marriage is in fact a socially progressive institution and that widespread marriage breakdown has been a disaster for women and children,
For the family offers the site of both sharing and nurture: it is where people learn to limit their desires and give to the greater good. It is the site of character formation and life orientation. In short, the family is a profoundly relational institution and, since it places individuals within a context of obligation and responsibility, it embodies the essence of mutuality. The fact that many now celebrate its destruction as somehow part of the liberation of women only testifies to the destruction of the chance for a real feminist founded on what most women want - marriage and children alongside creative work and social engagement. (p. 91).
It's good to read of an influential voice in the world of politics saying something like that. I hope the Conservative Party will not altogether abandon its manifesto pledge to recognise the value of marriage in the tax system. The duty of the State is to encourage and reward good behaviour in its citizens and marriage-based family life is a solid basis for the good society.

According to Blond the policies of parties on both the right and left of the political spectrum have added to the problems facing the UK at this time. Thatcherism placed too much trust in the untrammelled power of the markets and gave rise to a highly individualistic consumer society. When elected in 1997, new Labour did little to challenge this state of affairs. The dominance of the City remained unchallenged and the gap between the richest and poorest in society grew ever wider. Added to this, in the Blair/Brown years central government became more powerful.  Public services were micro-managed through target setting. Countless CCTV cameras have been installed so that the Big Brother State can keep a watchful eye on its increasingly unruly citizens.

Blond lays much of the blame for the current malaise on what he calls "The illiberal legacy of liberalism". Liberalism denies the existence of objective truth and fosters moral and cultural relativism. In that context the duty of the state is not so much to promote that which is good and virtuous in society as to arbitrate on the rights of competing interest groups. The Christian basis of our national life has been eroded. Long held religious liberties have been compromised. Homosexuals are accorded the right to adopt children resulting in the closure of Christian adoption agencies. In the name of its equality legislation the last Government endeavoured, but thankfully failed to force Churches to employ homosexuals in ministry roles.

Under the weight of sustained attack from moral relativism, instant self-gratification has replaced private virtue. ASBOS now have to do the job that was once a matter of decent neighbourliness. As David F. Wells reflected,
We live precariously on the knife-edge between chaos and control. What was once an open space between law and freedom, once governed by character and truth, is now deserted, so law must now do what character has abandoned. (Losing Our Virtue, IVP, 1998, p. 63)
Or as Blond puts it the illiberal legacy of  liberalism means that, "a supposed monopoly of power exercised by the sovereign individual is really...a mask for the monopolising authority of the sovereign state." (p. 156).

So much for "Broken Britain". How does Blond propose that we fix it?

He wants a restoration of moral ethos based on moral absolutes and public virtue. Blond challenges neo-liberal economics where amoral market forces rule, arguing for a more ethical approach where social justice is valued as well as profit. He suggests programmes for the creation of popular prosperity that will benefit the less well off. The writer also proposes a radical overhaul of public services. He wants public services to be freed from centralised controls and front line workers empowered to act as innovative stakeholders in the service they provide.

This is Blond's  'Red Toryism', "Red because it caters for the needs of the disadvantaged and believes in economic justice; Tory because it believes in virtue, tradition and the priority of the good." (p. 35). Blond has hopes that David Cameron with his talk of the 'Big Society' might well be a Red Tory too (maybe with a tinge of orange in deference to his coalition partners?). We'll have to see how much of the Guru's programme is actually implemented by the Lib-Cons.

Red Tory provides much food for thought for Christians reflecting on the world of politics in 21st century Britain. Any attempt to wed private virtue and personal responsibility to social justice is surely to be welcomed. But I wonder whether Blond's diagnosis of the problem facing 'Broken Britain' at this time is sufficiently radical. The moral and spiritual brokenness of our country is not simply the effect of liberalism or the misguided policies of left and right. It is due to man's sinful rebellion against God. As the apostle Paul surveyed the moral wasteland of 1st century Rome he saw a society that had abandoned God and was subject to his just wrath, Romans 1:18-32. The only hope for Rome was the gospel of salvation, Romans 1:16-17.

It is a fact of nation's history that the greatest periods of social reform have followed Christian revivals. William Wilberforce successfully campaigned against slavery abroad and a multitude of social evils at home in the wake of the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century, associated with George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, early trade unionists, were Methodist Christians. Lord Shaftesbury's agitation for better working conditions for those who toiled away in the "dark satanic mills" of the Industrial Revolution was inspired by his Christian faith. Similarly with George Muller and his orphanages. In the 19th century Nonconformity exercised a powerful influence on the Liberal Party. This is not to say that we must wait for another revival before trying to change society for the better. At all times Christians have been called to be "salt and light",  bearing witness to and  living out  the good and wholesome standards of God's Word in public life. But I'm afraid that it will take more than Blond's proposals to fix 'Broken Britain'. God alone can do that, Psalm 85:4-7.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Some thoughts on the mortification of sin: Dynamics


John Owen, 1616-1683, author of On the Mortification of Sin

Colossians 3:5-7

Those who are still dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) have no hope of mortifying sin. False teaching cannot help us either Col 2:20-23. But those who have been united to Christ crucified and risen are empowered to put sin to death and bring holiness to life. In the concluding post in this series, we take a look  at some of the dynamics of mortification according to the New Testament:

i. Remember who you are

Paul makes this point in Romans 6:11-14. Never forget that sin is no longer your lord and master. Christ has set you free, John 8:32. Live as a free man or woman in Christ.

ii. Expect a life-long struggle

It is no easy thing to put sin to death. Sins that we once thought were mortified may return. New situations or stages in life may find new sins raising their ugly heads. Don’t believe anyone who tells you of quick and easy way to mortify sin. Sins are like a persistent weeds. And  gardeners never finish weeding. There is growth in grace and progress in the fight against sin, but it is hard work, Galatians 5:17.

iii. Look to Christ

He is able to help you in the struggle to put sin to death, Hebrews 12:1-3. His blood cleanses us from all sin, 1 John 1:7-9. John Owen makes this point in his classic, On the Mortification of Sin,

"Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet." (Works of John Owen, Volume 6. p. 79).

iii. Kill sin by the Spirit’s power

If you are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit is in you, Romans 8:9, 12-13. Walk in the Spirit, Galatians 5:16 and see his fruit being produced in you, Galatians 5:22-23. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit or quench his work. He will empower you mortify sinful desires and crucify covetousness. The mortification of sin is not something you can do on your own. But you are not on your own. God has united you to his Son by his Spirit.

iv. The future hope

The mortification of sin is a work for believers who live between the already of being raised with Christ to a new life of holiness and the not yet of full resurrection glory. Our "members" will only be completely mortified when we are raised from the dead by the power of Christ. Then our life which is now "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3) will be revealed, Colossians 3:4. This hope motivates us to "purify ourselves even as he is pure", 1 John 3:1-3.

The gospel-driven life is a constant battle against sin. You have died with Christ to the old life of sin. You have been raised with him to a new life of holiness. Therefore obey the gospel imperative and put sin to death that you may be holy as the Lord your God is holy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some thoughts on the mortification of sin: Mortifying covetousness


Colossians 3:5-7

Paul concludes his vice list  of sins that must be mortified with “covetousness, which is idolatry”. This is a strange statement on the surface of things. What has covetousness or greed to do with idolatry? What has the last commandment to do with the first, Ex 20:3, 17? The answer is, everything. If we put a greedy desire for anything ahead of the joyful worship of God in the beauty of holiness, then we have become idolaters.

The venal Gordon Gekko of Wall Street infamously quipped that “greed is good”. Our acquisitive society agrees. Covetousness makes the world go round. The world of advertising plays on our desire to accumulate more and more stuff, whether we need it or not. New Labour's Peter Mandleson said that he was entirely comfortable with people becoming  “filthy rich”. And with that sentiment in mind, we note that under the last Government the gap between the richest and poorest in society became wider then ever. The credit crunch was in part caused by the covetousness of city slickers who took huge risks for quick, easy and lucrative returns. Towards the end of his acute analysis of our current financial woes in Who Runs Britain?, Robert Peston makes an astonishing statement, worthy of Gekko himself, "It may not be pretty but, on the whole, greed is good". (p. 336). "No" says Paul, "mortify...covetousness, which is idolatry."

1. Mortify covetousness by cultivating a right attitude towards God's gifts

We cannot mortify covetousness by attempting to divest ourselves of all but the minimum material goods. God made the material world and it is in this world we live our embodied human lives. Killing covetousness is not a flight from physicality. The problem with covetousness is that it fails to recognise that material things such as food, clothing and housing are not ours by right. They are God's gifts to us, Acts 14:17, James 1:17. When we see material goods as gifts rather than simply possessions, the appropriate response is gratitude rather than greed. With Job we also need to accept without resentment that what the Lord gives, he can also take away, Job 1:21. That is why Paul warned the rich not to trust in "uncertain riches", but in the living and giving God, 1 Timothy 6:17.

Regarding our material wealth as a gift will also enable us to defy the impulse towards covetousness by prompting us to share with others what the Lord has graciously given to us. For the Christian our watchword is not, "greed is good", but "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35).

2. Mortify covetousness by learning the secret of contentment

According to Paul, "The love of money is a root of all evil", 1 Timothy 6:10. We can help mortify this expression of greed by having a right estimation of money. Consider Proverbs 30:7. We need to learn the secret of being content with what the Lord has given us. Paul had to learn this difficult lesson for himself, Philippians 4:11-13. We can rest content knowing that God will supply all our needs, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:33.

Of course, covetousness involves more than greed for material goods like money or food. We can covet another Christian's spiritual gifts or envy the way that the Lord is blessing their ministries. That is not the right spirit, Philippians 2:3-4. We need to learn to be content with the gifts that the Lord has given us and use them for the building up of his church as he sees fit to bless, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7.

The same goes for bloggers. Who wouldn't want the readership of a Challies or the Pyros? But the tenth commandment applies to us too, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's blog". We more lowly bloggers will simply have to learn to be happily contented that anyone bothers to read our stuff.

3. Mortify covetousness by seeking ultimate satisfaction in communion with the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit

If we think that getting "filthy rich" or gorging more food, or buying that special gadget - I'd simply love to have an iPhone - will give us fulfilment and lasting satisfaction, then what we desire has become an idol. Only God can truly satisfy the human soul, Psalm 36:7-9. As Augustine said of God, "You have made us for yourself and we can find no rest unless we find our rest in you."  Yet some people live for food. Their "god is their belly" (Philippians 3:19). Recent news stories reported that thousands of people are living on state handouts because they are too fat to work. In a bad case of “Top Gear-olatry” others put their cars before God, worshipfully washing and waxing their beloved motor on a Sunday morning rather than going to church. But our religion is not that of unholy trinity of Clarkson, Hammond and May. We worship the one true and living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and live to enjoy communion with him, 2 Corinthians 13:14. If you live for anything else, then you are just as much an idolater as those depicted in Isaiah 46:5-7. The best way to mortify covetousness is to make the God of the Gospel your ultimate treasure and delight, Psalm 73:25-26.  

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some thoughts on the mortification of sin: Sin is serious

Colossians 3:5-7

Sin is not a trivial matter. It is deadly serious, yet our society has little grasp of the utter seriousness of sin. The tabloids and glossy celeb mags revel in the seedy shenanigans of so-called celebrities. Our political leaders seem to have lost all sense of moral seriousness. David Laws had to resign from the Government for misusing parliamentary expenses in order to hide his relationship with another man. Despite his conduct, colleagues described him as an "honourable man". After using family snapshots in his election literature, Chris Huhne recently announced that he was leaving his wife of 26 years for another woman. There was, of course no question of the duplicitous Government Minister resigning from his post.

Sinful behaviour is often explained with reference to medical or psychological factors.  Sin has been medicalized so that what once would have been regarded as bad conduct is explained or excused by reference to some or other 'syndrome'. An office worker in US sacked for being routinely late for work. But on appeal she was reinstated. Her tardiness was apparently due to a 'chronic lateness syndrome'. That's alright then!

But Paul will not allow us to trivialise or excuse sin. If we are going to mortify sin, then we need to see exactly how vile and evil it is. In the passage under consideration the apostle gets down to brass tacks. He does not content himself with a mere general statement, saying "put sin to death". He descends to particulars, Colossians 3:5. Paul was a man who called a spade a spade. He will not allow us to gloss over the utter sinfulness of sin. Many of the sins in this "vice list" have to do with sexual sin. Today people speak of unmarried couples having a “one night stand”, or a "fling", Paul calls it “fornication”. A married man will claim that he has “fallen in love” with another woman, excusing himself by saying, "it feels so good that it can't be bad". Paul calls that “passion” and “evil desire”. The apostle is not allowing us to hide behind words and phrases that try to make sin seem less evil than it is. A spade is not an "earth removing implement", but a "spade". And sin is sin. That is why we have put it do death.

Moreover, sin is serious because it attracts the wrath of God, Look at what Paul says in , Colossians 3:5-7. This is the universal testimony of Scripture, Romans 1:18, Mark 9:42-48. Sin, all sin deserves eternal punishment. Yes, God’s wrath against our sin had been propitiated in Christ, Romans 3:25. But that is what it took for God to deal lovingly with us and justly with our sin. Sin is that serious. We cannot afford to play with it. We cannot tolerate in our lives the sin that provokes God’s just wrath upon the world, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

We once lived as "sons of disobedience", walking in the way of sin, subject to God's terrible wrath. But that old life is dead and gone, 2 Corinthians 5:17. Now, rather than walking in sin we must mortify it. Sin is a killer. Kill it or it will kill you, Romans 8:13.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Some thoughts on the mortification of sin: Grammar

  

Colossians 3:5-7

When I was in school grammar was out, which might explain a lot. Beyond the basics of commas, full stops and spelling, little effort was made to teach us the meaning of technical grammatical terms. It was only when I began to learn Greek and Hebrew at the London Theological Seminary that I had to get to grips with the finer points of grammar. Of course you don’t need to know grammatical jargon in order to make yourself understood, but it can help.

In grammatical terms living the gospel-driven life is all about understanding the relationship between the indicative and the imperative. The indicative is a statement of truth – it indicates or describes something, “The water in the swimming pool is clear and warm”. The imperative issues a command:, “Jump in the water and have a swim.”

"What has all this grammar this got to do with me?" You might say. It is vital that we get this point and have a clear understanding of the relationship between the indicative and the imperative in the Christian life. As the early 20th century New Testament scholar, Gresham Machen said, “Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative...[it] announces, first a gracious act of God.”

In this case the indicative is this: Colossians 3:1, 3:3. The believer has died with Christ to the old life of sin and has been raised with him to a new life of holiness. That is the “triumphant indicative” describing the reality of our position in Christ. But we can’t leave it there. The indicative gives rise to the commanding imperative: because you are dead to sin and alive to God – “Therefore…”, Colossians 3:5.

Notice that we are not told that we must die with Christ and be raised with him. That is not something we can do. God does that for us as he unites us to Christ by the Spirit. But as those who are dead to sin and alive to God, believers must put sin to death and bring holiness to life.

Our union with Christ in his death and resurrection gives rise to the essential pattern of the Christian life, which is that of mortification (putting to death) and vivification (bringing to life). “You died” (Colossians 3:3) “therefore put to death” (Colossians 3:5). “You were raised” (Colossians 3:1) therefore bring holiness to life (Romans 6:11-13, 22). Alternatively, Paul speaks in terms of "putting off" sin and "putting on" holiness, Colossians 3:8, 3:12.

The triumphant indicative, “You died and been raised with Christ” leads inevitably to the compelling imperative, “You must therefore put sin to death and live a new life of holiness”.

That fact that the imperative is issued at all tells us that while the believer has been united to Christ in his death and resurrection, he or she is not perfect yet. We must work out what God has worked in, Philippians 2:12-13. If we are going to live the gospel-driven life then we are going to have to mortify the sin that remains in our lives. We are still “on the earth”, living in a fallen world and our “members”, the members of our bodies must not be used for sinful purposes, Romans 6:13.

Understanding the grammar of mortification concerns grasping that union with Christ crucified and risen is the the dynamic that empowers us to obey the apostolic command to mortify sin and live holy lives for the glory of God.  

Friday, July 09, 2010

George Whitefield - The Divine Dramatist?


I had to go to London on Wednesday to attend a meeting of the Kensit Memorial Trust, the body entrusted amongst other things with looking after the Kensit Memorial College, which is currently home to the London Theological Seminary. I chose to travel by rail rather than car partly so I could redeem some time by reading on the journey, which is a little difficult when driving. I almost finished Philip Blond's Red Tory, which I've been dipping in and out of for a couple of months and made a good start on The Imperative of Preaching by John Carrick, purchased at the Banner Conference back in April. In a chapter on The Exclamative, Carrick quotes from Harry S. Stout's The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, and gives a withering critique of the historian's interpretation of the great 18th century preacher.

According to Stout,
To appreciate Whitefield's printed sermons fully, we have to read them less as lectures or treatises than as dramatic scripts, each with a series of verbal clues that released improvised body language and pathos. Words or phrases such as 'Hark!' 'Behold!' 'Alas!' and 'Oh!' invariably signaled the pathos Whitefield dramatically recreated with his whole body. The words were the scaffolding over which the body climbed, stomped, cavorted, and kneedled, all in an attempt - as much intuitive as contrived - to startle and completely overtake his listeners.
To which Carrick responds with almost Whitefieldian eloquence, tearing Stout's thesis apart with a powerful use of the interrogative.
This is an astonishing evaluation. We do not deny that Whitefield possessed remarkable natural gifts and abilities which, but for the grace of God in his life, might well have brought him great success and even fame on the stage. But to focus so exclusively on the natural at the expense of the spiritual is to do a grave injustice to the memory of this great and saintly preacher. What about Whitefield's prayerfulness? we ask What about Whitefield's spirituality? What about Whitefield's godliness?  Indeed, what about Whitefield's God? What about the whole concept of divine authority, power, and unction in preaching? What about the Spirit of God? In that most mysterious and complex of activities, namely, preaching, are these factors not absolutely pivotal?
While is is fitting for Christian historians to try and understand the natural historical factors involved in an episode like the Evangelical Revival, we must never forget that the living God is involved in the historical process and that he sometimes intervenes in a most powerful way. It is reductionist to try and explain  revival events or the effects of preaching that takes place in revivals on a purely natural level. The model historian for the Christian is not Kant with his dichotomy between the 'phenomenal' the and 'noumenal', but Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 4:31.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Patrick Soohkdeo on The Islamisation of the West


In an article on The Islamisation of the West Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund writes,
Governments and the public must be made aware of the danger of allowing Islamist activists to take over Muslim organisations and claim to represent all Muslims. The excessive demands of Islamists must be rejected, along with their blaming of host societies for all the difficulties faced by Muslims. It is important that democratic Western societies do not give up their hard-won heritage of equality before the law, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. It must also be made clear that tolerance must work both ways and that threats of violence are unacceptable. Muslim communities must try much harder to isolate and expose Islamists who reject integration and the violent radicals among them.

For Christians the growing Islamisation of the West can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity to sharpen our thinking and renew our evangelism. As we Christians see Muslim zeal, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice, we should be driven to repent, to pray for revival and act boldly for God in this generation. We need to stand firm on our Biblical foundations, beware of compromises and reach out in love to Muslims, offering them the Gospel of salvation in Christ.
See here for the whole article (PDF).

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A footnote on Justification and Sanctification

I'm currently reading and enjoying Kevin Vanhoozer's latest, Remythologising Theology. The book has proper footnotes rather than endnotes. Endnotes are a bit of a pain as it means having to flick back to the end of the book to look up the note. Life's too short for that.

I would be an exaggeration to say that some of the best material in the book may be found in the footnotes, but they are always worth a glance to the bottom of the page. Here is a choice note on justification and sanctification, where Vanhoozer elaborates on this point,
Participation in the triune God - otherwise known as salvation or eternal life - ultimately hinges on the nature of one's communion with Christ. Subsequent doctrines - justification, sanctification, ecclesiology, to name a few - all work further variations on the essential evangelical communicative act that is God's being "for us."122 (p. 279)
Footnote 122 then reads,
Justification and sanctification have to do with the way in which God "communicates" his righteousness and holiness to the ungodly. God declares those those who place their faith in Christ forgiven and directs and enables them to live accordingly by having the Spirit minister the gospel to them. In this way the forgiving word of Christ "dwells richly" in them (Col. 3:16). By means of word and Spirit, then, God calls or gathers a community of the word, a company of communicants (the church). In each case - declaring righteous, enabling holiness, summoning fellowship - we see that Christian doctrine is essentially a schema of triune communicative action, a description of what God is doing in, with, and through is Word.
Vanhoozer's emphasis is reminiscent of Calvin's insight that on union with Christ the believer receives the "double benefit" of justification and sanctification. The two aspects of salvation are distinct. Justification is a declarative act of God, while sanctification is a transformative act of God. But they are inseparable because union with Christ is union with the complete and undivided Saviour,
These benefits [justification and sanctification] are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies.....Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker of his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces [I Cor. 1:13]. (Inst. III.16.1)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Day's March Nearer Home by J. Graham Miller


A Day's March Nearer Home: Autobiography of J. Graham Miller,
Edited by Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 2010, 328pp.

In a care home in Wangaratta, Australia lived an elderly couple, Graham and Flora Miller. They had been married for over sixty years. Although now rather frail, their faith in Christ and love for each other was evident to all. In a letter to his son, Graham Miller wrote, “Our health grows poorer as our expectations grow richer… we advance ‘a day’s march nearer home.’” That line from James Montgomery’s hymn, For ever with the Lord! admirably sums up the Millers’ attitude to life. It is also the title of Graham Miller’s journal from which this autobiography was drawn. The journal was originally written as a family archive for his grandchildren to read with “interest and surprise”. But you don’t have to be a member of the Miller family for this autobiography to fascinate, astonish and inspire.

Graham was a Presbyterian Minister. He began his ministerial career in the early 1940’s as a missionary in the New Hebrides, then a UK/French Condominium, now the independent Republic of Vanuatu. Under Graham’s enlightened leadership the native church became self-governing, paving the way for national independence and self-government in 1980. A charming account is given of the challenges and joys faced by the missionary couple and their growing family on the islands of the New Hebrides. Miller’s death in 2008 was marked by a day of mourning by the grateful people of Vanuatu.

In 1953 the Millers returned to their native New Zealand and Graham Miller became the Minister of Papakura Presbyterian Church. The church was blessed under his solid biblical teaching and Miller was given opportunities to minister overseas, including preaching at the Keswick Conference in the UK. After a short spell as Principal of Melbourne Bible Institute, Graham and Flora once again served on the New Hebrides before taking up his final pastorate at St. Giles’, Sidney.

After such a busy and fruitful life retirement could have proved a difficult prospect for Graham Miller. But he made good use of his latter years, giving himself to writing and above all, intercessory prayer. As such he regarded retirement the most rich and productive phase of his ministry, the crown of his life’s work.

Miller was a man of decided Reformed convictions. With grace and integrity he stood against the liberalising tendencies of his denomination, the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand and did all he could to promote the Reformed faith. Miller did not follow the Lloyd-Jones line of separation from theologically mixed denominations. But when, during his St. Giles’ pastorate the Presbyterian Church of Australia merged with Methodists and Congregationalists to form the Uniting Church, Miller sided with those who opted to retain their distinctive Presbyterian and Reformed identity. Again, unlike Lloyd-Jones, Miller was an enthusiastic participant in the Billy Graham crusades that took place in New Zealand and Australia.

There is no sense of self-aggrandizement or self-justification in this autobiography. Miller honestly chronicles set backs and disappointments as well as the successes of his ministerial career and is careful to give God all the glory. The work is full of human interest, from the simple joys of Christian family life to facing earthquakes and hurricanes on the New Hebrides.

The Millers lived as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth”, seeing each day as “a day’s march nearer home.” This journal, ably edited by Iain Murray will inspire its readers to adopt a similar mindset. It is the most heavenly minded who will do the most earthy good.


* An edited version of this review will appear in Protestant Truth magazine.