Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aber 2011 Morning Meetings 3 & 4

Some more notes on David Jones' Aber Conference addresses. 

III. Romans 11: The Mystery of Israel 

In Australia a new word has been coined. It is Cubs, meaning "Brogans Cashed Up". Many “Brogans”, who apparently are the Aussie equivalent of Chavs in the UK, have come into money due to gold mining. It is something of a turnaround for “Brogans” to be “cashed up”. A turnaround of greater proportions is found in Romans 9-11. Here we find that Gentiles as the centre when it comes to the riches of the gospel, while Jews are on the outside. We see a similar unexpected turnaround in Luke 15:11-32, The Parable of the Two Sons.

This was a personal issue for Paul. He was deeply concerned for the salvation of his own people, Romans 11:1.

It was also a pastoral matter, Romans 11:13. Paul did not want Gentiles converts to turn their back on the Jews, Romans 15:5-6, 7-9.

Here was also theological question, Romans 11:28-29. Has God finished with the Jews? Paul wants to unveil the mystery, Romans 11:25-26, 16:25-27.

1. Israel’s fall was not total

Paul was saved, Romans 11:1, 1 Timothy 1.13ff. He customarily preached to Jews first. There was a godly remnant of converted Jews, Romans 11:2-4. Also Romans 11:5-6. Acts 21:20 suggests that there were many Jewish believers in Paul's day.

God had his elect people within ethnic Israel.

2. Israel’s fall was not pointless

God’s purpose, was that through Israel’s fall the Gentiles might be saved, Romans 11:11. This was a great mystery, Romans 11:33-36.

Consider the goodness and severity of God, Romans 11:22. He is angrily loving and lovingly angry. The “olive tree” of Israel was not uprooted. Dead wood was broken off and the Gentiles brought in. Romans 11:23-24. Gentiles may now call Yahweh Abba. There is no room for pride on their part, Romans 11:11-12, 19-20.

Similarly in our day God has “moved south”. The church is languishing in the West, but in the Global South the gospel is advancing. May we be provoked to envy and pray that the Lord will visit us again.

3. Israel’s fall was not final

The remnant was not “leftovers” but “firstfruits”, Romans 11: 12, 15-16. Hoping for a future restoration of the Jews is not Zionism – uncritical support for the State of Israel, but a longing for revival, Acts 1:6. Most Jews don’t even live in Israel. When Paul says “all Israel will be saved”, Romans 11:26, he does not mean simply that all elect Jews will be saved, or that “all Israel” in the sense of the “Israel of God” comprised of Jew and Gentile will be saved. That the elect will be saved is no great mystery. Rather, Paul is saying there will be a great turning to the Lord among Jewish people, 2 Corinthians 3:15-16. “There will come a time when the generality of mankind both Jew and Gentile, will come to Jesus Christ. He hath had but little takings of the world yet, but he will have before he hath done.” Thomas Goodwin,

The salvation of the Jews will have huge impact on the cause of the gospel worldwide. We should be humbled by God’s severity towards Israel and grace to us. We are guests in Israel’s house, Romans 11:18, 20. This should excite us. Hope holds up the head of holy desires.

In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in… [Westminster Larger Catechism Answer to Q. 191]

Let us not be resigned to small things, but pray for all Israel to be saved and the fullness the Gentiles to be brought in.

This hope should lead us to worship, Romans 11:33-36

IV. Romans 15:14-33: To Boldly Go were No one has Gone Before 

Paul’s travel plans, Romans 15:23-25. Jerusalem, Rome and then Spain. This is why Paul wrote Romans. He wanted to go to Spain and break new ground for the gospel, Romans 15:19, 23. He has preached in the religions of the eastern Mediterranean now he wanted to head west, Romans 15:20. He wants believers in Rome to give up their small ambitions and come save the world with him. Romans is not a systematic theology for Bible nerds, but an apology for world evangelism. It is tragic when evangelicals are not evangelistic. Blessed is the church when her evangelists are theologians and her theologians are evangelists. Church members might be better called partners. We are partners in God's mission to the world.

God’s mission involves:

1. Proclaiming Christ

In Romans 15:17-19 Old Testament worship language is used of evangelism, Romans 15:16. The Lord’s Supper is about proclamation, not re-presentation. Jesus’ once and for all death on the cross unites Jew and Gentile.

The collection, Romans 15:25-27, validated Paul’s ministry, helping to overcome Jew/Gentile divisions.

2. Pioneering

“To boldly go where no one has gone before”.

Paul was not an adventurer. He was fired by a biblical ambition, Romans 15:21.

The need today is 10 times greater than in Paul’s time due to population growth. How will they hear? We need to win people for Christ, build them up in the faith, and send them out in his service. Do we have non Christian friends to whom we might witness? Are we reaching the unreached in our community?

3. Partnering

Romans 15:24. Paul wanted recruit a team in Rome to help him in his mission to Spain. Paul always worked with others, Titus 3:12-13. Are you a Diotrophes or a Gaius, a hindrance or help to mission, 3 John 6? At the end of Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler wished he had done more to save Jewish people. What more can we do to win people for Christ? The day of judgement is at hand. Don’t waste time on endless committees where minutes are kept, but hours wasted.

Will you go or stay? If you must stay, then stay to pray and pay for mission.

4. Praying

Romans 15:30-33. Prayer is the work. When Moses’ hands were raised in prayer Israel prevailed against the Amalekites, Exodus 17. William Carey urged Andrew Fuller to “hold the rope” of prayer when he went mining for precious souls in India. Was Paul's prayer answered, Romans 15:31? Yes, but not in the way he expected, see Acts 21-28. God is not predictable, but he is sovereign.

Paul’s priestly ministry of mission, Romans 15:16. He was pioneer. His work was perilous. We must pray for the success of gospel mission.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Aber 2011 Morning Meetings 1 & 2


I know that it's been a couple of weeks since the Aber Conference and that posting a report now hardly constitutes live blogging. But with one thing and another it's been a bit busy round here since we returned from our hols, hence the delay. Still, in the olden days before blogging you'd probably have to wait until October's Evaneglical Times for some Aber reportage. If you were there, you already know what happened. If you weren't, then my notes are are poor substitute for the real thing. Hopefully better than nothing, but probably not a lot.

David (Norman) Jones gave the four conference addresses in the morning meetings (Tues-Fri). His masterly expositions of Romans 9-11 & 15 were headed "God's Overflowing Grace". Before the conference the last time I heard David Jones speak was while I was a student at the London Theological Seminary (1988-90) and DNJ was pastor of Grove Chapel, Campberwell. I was looking forward to hearing him again and I wasn't disappointed.  I found his ministry insightful, challenging and uplifting. Here are some notes on the first two addresses. 

I. Romans 9:1-29: How odd of God to choose the Jews

The church has sometimes been guilty of anti-Semitism. How odd to choose the Jewish God and hate Jews! Did the fact that the Jews rejected their Messiah so that the gospel was preached to the Gentiles mean a change of plan on God’s part?

1. Paul’s distress

Why don't the Jews believe? Why are some saved and others not? Romans 9:1-3. Paul would have changed places with the Jews. At the cross Jesus swapped placed with us, 2 Corinthians 5:21. Paul’s longing for lost sheep of Israel was an expression of the spirit of Jesus. We similarly should have a deep concern for uncoverted loved ones.

2. Paul’s dilemma

Has God's word failed?

If Israel is lost, despite Romans 9:4-5, Romans 8:31-39 is called into question. But salvation is by grace not race Romans 9:6-7. There is no promise that all ethnic Jews will be saved. Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob Esau. Jacob was not more loveable than Esau. All sinners are in the same boat, the Titanic. Only grace can save us.

Are God's ways fair?

Romans 9:14-15. It is not justice, but mercy that is needed, Romans 9:16-18.

Is God's will free?

Romans 9:19. Is God free to do as he pleases? In our thinking God  is not in the centre. We hold him to account for his ways. “God in the hands of angry sinners.” But God is free and sovereign in his purposes and acts. Romans 9:21-24 cf. Jeremiah 18. 

The Gentiles were called to reshape and remodel Israel. God’s word has not failed, Genesis 22:18.

3. Paul’s delight

His delight was in Christ, Romans 9:4-5. In Christ God became man to pay man's debt to God, 2 Corinthians 5:20. Christ is the mirror of our election. We must look to him for assurance that we are among the elect. Spurgeon, "I looked at Christ and the Dove came. I looked at the Dove and he flew away." Look to Christ and be saved.

II. Romans 9:30-10:21: The Tragedy of Unbelief

Homer Simpson's grace, “We paid for this food ourselves, thanks for nothing!” Wrong attitude. Two truths need to be emphasised: To God be all the glory for salvation and human responsibility.

Why did not the Jews believe?

1. They had a foundation, but they stumbled over it

Romans 9:30-33. On God’s construction site, the Jews tripped over Christ the “stone” and rejected him. The Gentiles stumbled across him and were saved John 1:10. In the race for righteousness, the Jews lost, they did not cross the finishing line, Romans 10:4. Gentile outsiders won, Romans 9:30, 32. Salvation by works is the default setting. But righteousness is beyond the reach of sinners. Saving righteousness is given to us in Christ, Romans 10:4. The law demands obedience and punishment. Christ has fulfilled the law Galatians 3:13. Those who believe in him will not put to shame, Romans 9:33.

2. They had a zeal, but it was misdirected

Romans 10:1-2. Sincerity cannot save. Islamic terrorism. Paul the Bin Laden of his day, the “chief of sinners”. The Jews need to be saved, Romans 10:1.There is only one way of salvation – in Christ.

3. They had a word from God, but they complicated it

Moses: the way of salvation simply explained, Romans 10:5-9. Like the rich young ruler, the Jews complicated God’s word.

Jesus is everything, Romans 10:6-8. Simply believe in him, Romans 10:9. It is not that God helps who help themselves, but that God helps those who can't help themselves, Romans 10:13. Call on the name of the Lord and be saved. A simple act with momentous consequences. Whoever calls shall be saved.

4. They had messengers sent to them, but they refused to listen

Romans 10:14-21. All have heard of God, Romans 10:18 cf Romans 1. The gospel had been proclaimed to the ends of the earth, Colossians1:23. Election and evangelism go together. The unevangelised urgently need to hear the gospel and be saved.

Where are the pioneer missionaries like Robert Thomas, missionary to Korea? His ship was set alight. He was executed as soon as he reached the shore. The Bibles he brought with him were used as wallpaper. People were converted. Now 1 in 4 South Koreans are Bible Christians. Romans 10:21 God stretches out his arms to the Jews. God still speaks through the preaching of the gospel, Romans 10:14.

Belief in sovereign election should be a spur to evangelism, not a hindrance.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Riots, reasons and remedy


Thankfully Wiltshire was spared the rioting that affected several cities in the UK in August. But the West Country didn’t escape the disturbances altogether. There were reports of disorder in Bristol and Gloucester, although when interviewed on Newsnight, the MP for Gloucester, Richard Graham insisted that what happened in his city was “not a riot, but a disappointing night.”

No doubt politicians and think tank gurus will look long and hard at some of the causes of the recent outbreak of rioting that brought death and destruction to the streets of our country. Factors such as family breakdown and unemployment need to be taken into consideration. But when all’s said and done we still can’t get away from the fact that human beings are responsible for their actions, before the law, and to God. Not all rioters were hoodie wearing members of the “underclass”. Some came from nice middle class homes, but they were carried along by a wave of criminality to loot and plunder at will.

Now that the long arm of the law has caught up with them and justice has been summarily administered, many will be rueing the night they indulged in unruly behaviour from the inside of a prison cell. Hundreds of young lives have been blighted by jail terms and criminal records. All for a moment of August madness.

Buildings burnt, goods stolen, businesses ruined, lives lost. Whatever possesses people to act in such a way? The Bible’s answer is that human beings are sinners, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” "(Romans 3:23). We have failed to live according to our Maker’s instructions. On a large scale, that is the explanation for wars and riots. On a smaller scale it explains why our personal relationships are often fraught with tensions and difficulties.

The good news is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He died for the sins that separate us from God and incur his judgement. He rose again to give new life and hope to all who believe in him. Jesus is the remedy that Broken Britain needs.

*Written for September's edition of News & Views, West Lavington Parish Magazine. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Let me feel your love

The other day I was listening to Adele's cover version of Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love. I thought that the tune might be suitable for a hymn so I had go at writing one. 


Jesus, Lord
I now would seek your face.
I long to feel the
Warmth of your embrace.
My Saviour you’re so full of
Truth and grace.
Oh let me know your love.

Jesus, Lord
You died to make me whole.
Your precious blood
Was shed to save my soul.
Now to serve you
Is my highest goal,
To you I give my love.

Father why,
Did you give
Your Only Son
To win a hopeless
Case like me?
Your love transcends
My highest thoughts,
My dreams,
Yet your Spirit tells me
It is so.

Jesus, Lord
You rose up from the dead.
At your presence death’s
Dark shadows fled.
Let me feed on you
O living bread.
And ever praise your love.

Chorus

Jesus, Lord
When will you come in power,
And all men see your glory
In that hour?
I hope in you,
My refuge and strong tower.
I shelter in your love.

End

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Standing Firm - Still Protestant? 2010 Westminster Conference Papers

The 2010 Westminster Conference Papers have now been published, £5.95 including UK p&p.

Contents:

The English Reformation Today: Revise, Reverse or Revert?, Garry Williams

Puritan Attitudes Towards Rome Revisited, Guy Davies

The 1611 English Bible: An Unlikely Masterpiece, David Gregson

Repentance and Sola Fide: Various Reformation Approaches, Sam Waldron

Doomed From the Start? The Edinburgh Conference of 1910, Daniel Webber

Andrew Bonar, Malcolm MaClean

Copies can be ordered from:

Conference Secretary,
Rev. J. F. Harris,
8 Back Knowl Road, Mirfield,
West Yourkshire. WF14 9SA.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Interview with Affinity Director Peter Milsom


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

PM: I grew up in Cardiff where I attended Park End Presbyterian Church. After working for an insurance company, I trained for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church of Wales and was ordained in 1973. My first pastorate was in Mancot in North Wales. With real sadness, I resigned from this denomination and my ministry in Mancot at the end of 1974 and began a church planting ministry in the Deeside area. I have good friends who continue to serve in the Presbyterian Church. During the early years of this new ministry I worked as the Head of Religious Education at Henry Meoles senior secondary school in Wallasey. In the 1980’s, whilst continuing my ministry in Deeside, I was involved in the planting of a new church in Bala. In 1993 I moved to Malpas Road Evangelical Church in Newport.

Since 1997 I have been the Director of UFM Worldwide, a mission agency which works closely with local churches. UFM missionaries serve in 30 countries across all continents and one of my responsibilities is the pastoral care of the missionaries. I have had the privilege of visiting many countries which has given me insights into the work of God’s Kingdom around the world and the cultural diversity of the Church. The work of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples of the world, with the help of the Holy Spirit, requires the combined efforts of all of the Lord’s people.

I am convinced of the importance of evangelical church unity and its significance for our witness to the Gospel. I believe it is important for these convictions to be expressed in tangible ways. Disunity undermines the credibility of our witness to people who are searching for God and need to know the truth. I have worked out my convictions about evangelical church unity in practical ways. The church in Deeside became a member church of the British Evangelical Council, which is now Affinity, in the late 1970’s. For many years I was involved with the ministries of the Evangelical Movement of Wales and was the Executive Chairman of the EMW in the early 1990’s.  In the mid 1980’s I was involved, with others, in the formation of the Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales which brings together 60 evangelical churches in Wales. In the late 1980’s I served on the organising committee of the Grace Baptist Assembly and chaired two Assemblies. I have also served on the Council of Global Connections and have chaired the Affinity World Focus Team since its inception.

GD:  Give us a potted history of Affinity.

PM: Affinity continues the work of the British Evangelical Council. The Council of the BEC adopted the name Affinity in 2004, when Jonathan Stephen became the first Director. The BEC began in 1952 as a fellowship of evangelical churches which were not part of the World Council of Churches. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the BEC grew as some churches left the major denominations because of the growing influence of liberal theology, especially amongst the leaders of those denominations.  The churches which left the denominations recognized the importance of expressing their commitment to evangelical unity through belonging to the BEC. Affinity is a church-based body. Since 2004 evangelical Christian agencies have also become Affinity Associates. This includes Bible Colleges, publishers, and mission agencies.

GD: What is the purpose of Affinity?

PM: Affinity is an expression of evangelical Christian unity. Everyone who belongs to Affinity is committed to the Bible, as the authority for all we believe and do, and to the church, as the means by which God’s purposes in the world are accomplished. We are responding to the prayer of the Lord Jesus in John 17 “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  We believe that Jesus prayed for a visible expression of the spiritual unity all Christians have because we are “in Christ.” Unity amongst true Christians makes our witness credible to the world and is essential if the Gospel is to be taken to the whole world.  We are a partnership of churches and Christians who are committed to the Gospel. We welcome fellowship with all who are committed to the Lord, the Bible, the Church and the Gospel.

GD: Affinity seemed to begin with a bang and then (almost) peter out with a whimper. How do you plan to rejuvenate Affinity as a focus for Evangelical unity in the 21st century?

PM: Affinity continues the witness of the British Evangelical Council.  The purpose of the new name and re-launch in 2004 was to challenge evangelical churches and Christians to become more actively involved in evangelical unity. Affinity now includes Christians and churches in the UK and Ireland so the word “British” needed to be changed. Affinity also includes a number of evangelical agencies involved in a range of significant ministries including pastoral and leadership training, publishing and world mission. This partnership between churches and evangelical agencies is important because the 21st century presents challenges which we need to address together. The need is urgent. I am keen for Affinity to enable all who belong to it, and others who may join us, to work together on a Gospel agenda. We are living in a secular society and are witnessing the decline of Western civilization. We need to stand together in Gospel partnership. A new generation of younger leaders needs encouragement and younger people generally need to be evangelized. It is important for evangelical Christians not to think of Affinity as “them” but “us” and to get involved. I am always glad to hear from people who want to work out what it means to be “in Christ” together with other churches and Christians.

GD: Why should Evangelical Churches and Church groupings affiliate to Affinity rather than the Evangelical Alliance?

PM: We recognize the excellent work done by the Evangelical Alliance, which is a bigger organization than Affinity. There are certain things which are distinctive of Affinity. We are committed to the Bible and to the church. The Affinity Council consists of church leaders appointed by the various church groupings to which they belong. Everyone who belongs to Affinity is committed to upholding and proclaiming the vital truths expressed in our Doctrinal Basis. In recent years some evangelicals have begun to question key doctrines, for example, the authority of the Bible, justification by faith, substitutionary atonement, the uniqueness of the Gospel, and eternal punishment.  We take biblical truth very seriously. The affects of embracing non-biblical, liberal theology can be seen only too clearly in the tragic decline of the major Protestant denominations in Britain today.  We recognize the major issues facing evangelical churches and Christians in the major denominations, especially the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. We want to do all we can to encourage and help our brothers and sisters in those denominations in their stand for the Lord and for the Gospel.

GD: How do you see the role of Affinity with respect to the relationship between Evangelical Nonconformists and our Evangelical Anglican brethren?

PM: In 1992 I was the chairman of the BEC Council when the first Church of England congregation was accepted into membership of the BEC. Then and now we do not require a church to have actually seceded from their denomination in order to join Affinity. We recognize that some churches believe that they should continue to witness actively to the truth within their denominations. This is important for all evangelical churches which are within a denomination, whether nonconformist or Anglican. Affinity embraces a variety of churches. There are differences amongst us on matters such as the form of church government and baptism. We are united on the basis of the fact that we are “Evangelicals”. Our commitment to our fellow evangelicals is more important to us than our commitment to an historic ecclesiastical tradition. We welcome fellowship with all, whether nonconformist or Anglican, who are Gospel people and are actively witnessing to the Gospel within their denomination.

GD: Is separation from the “mixed denominations” still a live issue?

PM: Recent events within some of the main denominations mean that separation is a live issue. This is true, for example, for some in the Church of England and also the Church of Scotland. The agenda of liberal theology is being pursued relentlessly by denominational leaders. They are determined to pursue policies and practices which are a denial of biblical authority and cause real problems for evangelical churches and pastors. We are keen to do everything we can to strengthen the hands of those bearing witness to the truth within the mixed denominations and, should they decide to separate, to encourage them to seek fellowship with other evangelical churches in Affinity.

GD: I notice that Affinity’s theological journal, Foundations is now available for free online. What might readers expect from the journal?

PM: The first online edition of Foundations, our theological journal, was published in May this year. As an online journal it is now available, free of charge, to church leaders and Christians around the world. Foundations is an international journal of evangelical theology. Its aim is to cover contemporary theological issues by articles and reviews, taking in exegesis, biblical theology, church history and apologetics, and to indicate their relevance to pastoral ministry. Its particular focus is the theology of evangelical churches which are committed to biblical truth and evangelical ecumenism.

GD: A number of people were slightly bemused when the British Evangelical Council was relaunched as Affinity. Any plans for another change of name?

PM: It has taken a little time for people to get used to the new name. We have no plans to change it. One of the big challenges we face is to work together as churches and evangelical agencies in an increasingly effective partnership for the Gospel.  Affinity is not about something that other people do for us but what we, as the Lord’s people do together.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from church history would you most like to meet, and what would you say to him/her?

PM: I recently enjoyed reading Jonathan Aitken’s biography of John Newtown, “From to Disgrace to Amazing Grace.” I would have liked to know John Newton and to have talked with him about his experience of God’s grace and how that had made him a warm and committed pastor of the Lord’s people. 

GD: What is the most helpful book that you have read in the last twelve months?

PM: I enjoyed reading “Son of Hamas.”  It tells the amazing story of how Mosab Hassan Yousef, the oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founder member of Hamas, became a disciple of Jesus. It encouraged me to see how the Holy Spirit works to bring people to faith in seemingly inaccessible places.  Mosab Yousef’s experience of the love of God for him and his attempt to obey Jesus’ teaching that we should “love our enemies” is a great challenge to us as evangelicals. It is an excellent book and you won’t need to sell your shirt to buy it!

GD: What is the biggest problem facing Evangelicalism today and how should we best respond?

PM: There are many big challenges facing us as Evangelicals today. It is so important that we face these challenges together. We need to resist the increasing fragmentation amongst us. Paul’s challenge in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1 is relevant to us today, “Is Christ divided?” In my early days in the ministry we wanted to encourage each other as evangelicals across the denominations. We were warm-hearted towards each other. Since then, various factors have divided us from our fellow evangelicals. It is very serious matter. It is vitally important for us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  We must “accept one another just as Christ accepted us, in order to bring praise to God.” The divisions amongst us undermine the credibility of our witness to the Lord and hinder the task of taking the Gospel to the world.  One of the immense privileges of being a Christian is that, because we belong to the Lord and are “in Christ”, we have a real and eternal fellowship with all our fellow Christians. The great divide in the world is between those who are “in Christ” and those who are not. The great desire and prayer of all Christians is that people around the world will be rescued from the dominion of darkness and be brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Affinity is one expression of our unity in Christ and of our passionate desire to express this tangibly so that the peoples of world might believe in him.

GD: Thanks for that, Peter. Good to see you at the Aber Conference last week. 

Peter Milsom will be preaching at Penknap Providence Church's anniversary service on Saturday 3rd September, 4pm.