Tuesday, June 27, 2017

London Seminary 40th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service


On Saturday we attended the London Seminary's 40th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service. I attended the seminary from 1988-1990. Former principal Philip Eveson chaired the meeting and gave a potted history of the college. It was encouraging to hear that around 400 men have been trained for the pastoral-preaching ministry at the seminary. Its reach has extended to five continents. The ethos of London Seminary can be summed up in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:7, "by the word of truth, by the power of God". The college was founded in 1977 by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He wanted the seminary to help equip men to proclaim the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. It has remained faithful to that vision. 

Leaving students spoke of how the seminary had helped prepare them for ministry and shared concerning the work to which the Lord was calling them. Outgoing Principal Robert Strivens gave a report on the work of the seminary in the current academic year. Incoming Principal Bill James read the Scriptures and prayed. 

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky preached the word. His message was based on John 15:18-25. Jesus told his disciples that they would encounter hatred from the world as they heralded the gospel. Not exactly an encouraging thought for budding pastors and preachers. But a healthy dose of realism is needed for those setting out to minister God's word in an increasingly hostile secular world. To withstand this opposition, Mohler reminded us to abide in Christ (John 15:1-8), to expect the help of the Holy Spirit (John 15:26-27) and that Jesus had prayed that we will be kept from the evil one (John 17:14-19). The preacher commended the work of the seminary, which is on a much smaller scale than the one he leads, commenting that faithfulness is measured not in numbers, but density. This particularly dense alumni is certainly grateful for that. 

An excellent buffet tea was served after the meeting. It was good to catch up with some old friends connected with the seminary. Hard to think that it's almost 30 years since I began my studies there. I was in my early 20s - around the same age then as my son is now. Spooky. 

If you are interested in training for the pastoral-preaching ministry that is biblical, theological, practical, contemporary and affordable, why not consider the London Seminary?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Democracy, the worst form of Government

 
For years to come pundits and political historians will discuss why the predicted Conservative landslide failed to materialise. Was it the unpopular Tory manifesto? The Brexit factor? The youth vote? Who knows? One thing’s for sure, you can never be sure what the Great British Electorate is going to decide. Not these days anyway. Now we have a weakened government that faces the huge challenge of negotiating our exit from the EU on the best possible terms.

Democracy, eh? Winston Churchill once rather gloomily mused, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

Benign dictatorships usually end up malignant, corrupt and oppressive. The same goes for rule by a small group that cannot be held to account by the people they govern. Tony Benn suggested that five questions should be but to those in power: 1. What power have you got? 2. Where did you get it from? 3. In whose interests do you exercise it? 4. To whom are you accountable? 5. How can we get rid of you? Every system of government needs checks and balances to stop rulers abusing their powers. That is why in our system the government is held to account by parliament and is subject to the rule of law.

These checks and balances are necessary because as has been said, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. We might wonder why that is the case. Churchill gives us a clue in the words quoted earlier. We live in a ‘world of sin and woe’. Human beings have a destructive tendency to mess things up spectacularly. We daren’t give too much power to any individual because we are all sinners. That’s why ‘democracy is the worst form of government apart from all those other forms’.

Democracy can’t solve the problem of sin, it can merely help stop it getting out of hand. But of one it is written, ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’. 

* For White Horse News, News & Views & Holy Trinity Parish Magazine 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Voted

Given a choice between the unelectable and the uninspiring the latter got my vote. Not so much 'things can only get better' as, 'could be worse'. Much worse. 'Red Tory' has it. 

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A choice between the unelectable and the uninspiring

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I don't know. In my political convictions I'm stuck somewhere between Red Tory and Blue Labour. Progressive when it comes to the state using its powers to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get on in life. But a social conservative when it comes to traditional marriage and the family, the importance of work, the need for society for have strong moral values, and so on. Big on the importance of free speech. Robust discussion of political, moral and religious matters are a Good Thing. I have little patience with factional identity politics. 

Not convinced at all by Corbyn's leftist tax & spend programme. Soft on defense. Cosying up to the IRA, Hamas, etc. Diane Abbot [get well soon]. Lib Dems need to suck up Brexit and move on. Leave we must. Remainers (like me) are just going to have to hope that we get the best possible deal on exiting the EU. Tim Farron has had a disastrous campaign. Ukip? Nope. 

But the Tories. What an uninspiring lot. 'Strong and stable' became 'weak and wobbly' when manifesto commitments subjected to scrutiny. The dementia tax debacle. There's a good argument to be made in favour of the policy. It's an improvement on the current situation where people have to sell their homes when still alive to fund their care, with only £23k protected. You could even say that it's progressive to get people with valuable properties to fund at least some of their own care costs. We brought nothing into this world and we can carry nothing out. Leaving 100k for middle class, middle aged kids to inherit isn't so bad. Personally, I'd prefer some kind of social insurance against care costs to spread the burden, but there we are. Pressure was applied and the PM buckled.

Security should have been May's strong point, having been Home Secretary for so long. She sounded impressive in the wake of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks. But it's no good saying 'enough is enough' when you have been in personal charge of the nation's security. Especially as it seems clear that the terrorists involved in both atrocities were known to the authorities, but left at large to kill and maim at will. What's been going on under Theresa May's watch? Would we be any safer under Corbyn & co? Diane Abbot as Home Sec. Please.

On education, what we need is fairer funding for all schools that keeps pace with increasing pupil numbers. No additional Grammars. Under the Tories the education system is a messy hybrid. We have a mixture of LA die hards, Orphan Annie stand-alone academies [it's a hard knock life for them] and MATs in which schools are deprived of their autonomy while crazy money is awarded to CEOs. A mess.

I could moan on some more, but that'll do.

This election presents us with a choice between the unelectable and the uninspiring. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Voting Intentions

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No, I'm not going to try and suggest who you should vote for on 8 June. 'That's a relief' you might respond, 'I wouldn't have taken any notice anyway.'  Fair enough. It isn't really the job of church leaders to meddle in party politics.

Elections, eh? Some people cast their votes tribally because theirs has always been a Tory/Labour/Lib Dem family. Couldn't think of voting any other way. Others take a more considered approach. They read the manifestos, watch the TV coverage and consider what the newspaper columnists have to say before making up their minds on who they would like to see running the country. Then there's the, 'don't vote, it only encourages them' brigade. Personally I just can't be bothered with that kind of apathy. 

After all, governments have the power to make a  difference in a whole range of areas that impact on our everyday lives. Defense and security, law and order, the economy, education, health, etc. And through the ballot box we the people get to have a say on who wields that power. 

That said, we shouldn't pin all our hopes for a better world on politicians. They are only human after all. Their grand plans and promises are often  overtaken by unforeseen events. Plans may need to be adjusted and sincerely made promises may prove impossible to keep. The Bible wisely warns us, “Do not put your trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3).

Only God is worthy of our total trust. He was willing to send his own Son, Jesus to die on the cross and be raised from the dead that we might be forgiven and enjoy new life. We can be sure that God’s plans will never fail and his promises will always hold good. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord... to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11). That gets my vote. 

* For June's Holy Trinity and News & Views  parish mags. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Selma

We wanted to see this in the cinema, but it wasn't mainstream enough for our local Odeon, so we had to wait until it was on the telly. A powerful film on the civil rights movement in 1960's America. At that time blacks in the Deep South were denied their constitutional right to vote by an obstructive voter registration system. The town of Selma was a case in point. British actor David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader masterminded peaceful protests in Selma with the aim of pressurising President L. B. Johnson into legislating to remove barriers to black people registering to vote. 

Fellow-Brit Tom Wilkinson plays the President. The clashes between MLK and LBJ are well done. The President explains that as a politician he has to be concerned about many things, while as an activist King is only focused on one thing. Johnson sympathises with the cause, but needs time. King wants urgent action. 

All the main parts are well acted, offering convincing portrayals of the characters involved. You'll wait in vain for Oyelowo's rendition of the 'I have a dream...' speech, as the King family denied the film makers the rights to make use of MLK's speeches. The sermons and speeches shown in the film have been cobbled together, but they seem to hit the right tone. 

Things turn nasty in Selma when black people attempt to stage a protest march from the town to Montgomery, the Alabama Sate capital. The road was blocked by police at the far side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The police charge the protesters, mercilessly beating unarmed men and women. A black man is shot in the clear up operation. King rallies people of all colours to the cause, especially inviting Christian Ministers to join a second march to Montgomery. 

King leads the marchers to within sight of the police line that once more blocked the road at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rather than risking another confrontation, the preacher drops to his knees in prayer and then turns around, leading the protesters back into town. 

The act of preaching is rarely explored in Holywood movies, so it was interesting to hear the dialogue between two Ministers involved in the protest as they discussed King's actions. One of them complains that Dr. King had betrayed them. He called and they came, yet at the crucial moment he turned back. The other suggests that MLK's actions may have been instinctual, "like in preaching when you are just flying. You are not on your notes, not on memory, you're tapped into what's higher, what's true. God is guiding you....Maybe that's what happened to Dr. King on the bridge. He prayed, God answered, and he had the courage to do what God had said."  

On third attempt a protest march to Montgomery finally took place, winning much needed publicity for the cause. Publicity turned into political pressure and Johnson comes round in the end. His 'We will overcome' speech is a highlight of the film. The Voting Rights Acts was passed August 1965, paving the way for black votes without obstruction.

Like all films based on historical episodes this one doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. It's not a documentary after all, but the main message comes through clearly without it being too preachy (for a film about a preacher). All human beings are created equal. On that basis racism, whether  casual or institutional is a moral outrage and should be opposed by all people of good will. 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Banner Ministers' Conference 2017 report

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There was something special about this year's Banner. Can't quite put my finger on it. Was it the new venue, Yarnfield Park Conference Centre, Staffs, rather than Leicester Uni? It proved a fine place for the conference, but it wasn't that. Was it waking up on the Tuesday morning to an unexpectedly snowy scene? That was great, but, no. The theme of the conference was 'The Living and Enduring Word'. There was a clear focus on Scripture as the Word of God and also on the One who lies at the heart of Scripture; Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. But the overarching theme doesn't in itself explain what made this a vintage Banner conference. Doctrine can be dry and deadly, even the high and holy doctrines of Scripture and Christology. 

In his second address on 'A Functional Doctrine of Scripture: the Living Word of God' Garry Williams urged us to consider whether the reason why some people have introduced elements of drama into their services was that our communication of the gospel is lacking in that dramatic element. Preachers mustn't play act their sermons, but we should know and feel something of the wonder of the truth we are proclaiming. The preaching of the Word should also equip our people to play their roles in the drama of redemption, not just stuff their minds with doctrine. Now we are getting there.

In his opening sermon Jeff Kingswood tried to explain what it was to be a 'Banner Man' in terms of Ezra 7:10: Ezra was a man who Loved the Word, Practiced the Word and Taught the Word. Helpful stuff. But as the conference showed, while we would all aspire to model ourselves upon Ezra, there is no such thing as an identikit 'Banner Man'. Each speaker had his own cast of thought, way of putting things and manner of delivery. That's the way it should be. 'Banner Men' aren't peas in a pod, but they share a common burden for a certain kind of preaching. A ministry that is rooted in Scripture and centred upon Christ in terms of content. And that is expositional, doctrinal, practical and experiential in style. It's about preaching the whole of Scripture's witness to the whole Christ to the whole man in the power of the Spirit.

Seeing and hearing that exemplified by speaker after speaker was what made this year's conference so special. Sinclair Ferguson led us through Philippians 3 in three sessions on 'Christ at the Centre' under the headings: 'Conversion to Christ', 'Communion with Christ' and 'Consolidation in Christ'. His expositions were full of exegetical insight, theological depth and were warmly experiential in tone. In his first address Garry Williams spoke on 'A Functional Doctrine of Scripture: the Literary Word of God', urging us to give careful attention to the details of Scripture in order to keep our preaching biblically grounded and fresh. David Johnston showed us how Hebrews provides us with 'A Paradigm for Preaching' and set before us 'The Word at Work' by the empowering presence of the Spirit in Nehemiah 8. Stephen Clark spoke on 'Christ's Witness to Scripture' and 'Scripture's Witness to Christ'. It was good to hear a couple of younger men preaching. Andy Young spoke helpfully on 'Marks of the Master's Ministry' from Luke 4:13-30. Ed Collier gave the closing sermon on the Parable of the Sower from Mark 4:1-20, emphasising that as we sow the seed of the Word there will be frustrations and fruit. 

On top of the organised programme of ministry sessions, there were opportunities to have fellowship with old friends and meet some new people too. On Wednesday evening we had our traditional Taffia meeting of Minister who are Welsh or have a Welsh connection. Geoff Thomas held court as usual. Sinclair Ferguson was the special guest. I bought Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson from the bookshop. 

I haven't attempted to provide a breakdown of each address, as my friend Gary Brady has already done that and you can catch his live blogged reports here. Banner have posted videos of each message here. I left the conference with a renewed desire for deeper communion with Christ and a revived passion for preaching the Living and Enduring Word of God. If that makes me a 'Banner Man', so be it. 

Next year's Banner Ministers' Conference is due to take place on 23-26 April at Yarnfield Park. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Their Finest


Time was when we'd take our two to the cinema to see the latest Disney release, surrounded by other youngish parents and their brood. Additional soundtrack: sweets loudly unwrapped and chomped, some brat having a tantrum because the popcorn's run out, etc. Quite liked the Toy Story series and other kid-flicks. Up was amazing. So, didn't mind all that. 

Years went by and our two became teenagers. Then it was all Marvel actioners, and (please don't tell) High School Musical sequels - for our daughter's sake, honest. Additional soundtrack: noisy sweet wrappers, popcorn crunch, coke slurps, and stupid smart Alec remarks from teenagers unaccompanied by a responsible adult. A year or so ago the wife and I went to a Marvel movie and it dawned on me that I don't actually like all that Super Bat knocking down skyscrapers stuff any more. Once you've seen one moody bloke in a cape wrecking things...

Last Saturday Sarah and I went to see Their Finest. Looking around I suddenly realised that all the people in Odeon Screen 6 were old. Apart from us. And we're the older side of young. Additional soundtrack: hushed mansplaining. 

We enjoyed the film. Nostalgic, gentle, but with a real emotional pull. It was all about the production of an uplifting propaganda film during by World War II. Loosely based on the escapades of twin sisters involved in the Dunkirk rescue [kind of]. But without allowing 'facts to get in the way of the truth'. Gemma Anderton's character, Ebbw Vale girl Catrin Cole showed that when it came to script writing she was as good, if not better than the chaps. She ended up doing far more than writing 'slops', the women talk scenes between the more actiony stuff. 

A fine comic turn by Bill Nighy as past his best actor, Ambrose Hilliard. Not exactly keen on the 'corpse part' of the twins' drunken uncle, but coming good in the end. 

For film goers interested in the process of movie making Their Finest is a treat. Tricks of the trade revealed; scripting, retro  special effects, the more difficult than you'd think business of acting. Some great lines on the relationship between cinema and real life, 'film is life with the boring bits cut out'. In movie-land, points out jaded writer Tom Buckley, stories have a structure and purpose, which isn't always apparent in real life. Not without some notion of Providence, anyway. 

Unsure why a 12A aimed at a 'mature audience' had to feature some bad language. Pity. But there were laughs aplenty and heart strings were pulled. 

The trailers flagged up some more WWII flicks for 2017 including Dunkirk and Churchill. Think we'll give the next Thor vs Hulk tosh a miss, though. Getting older has its compensations. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Banner Ministers' Conference


Off to this later. Looking forward to what promises to be a good time of ministry and fellowship. Will hopefully post a report when I get back. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

1966 and all that: an evangelical journey by Basil Howlett

EP Books, 2016, 128pp 

I was a student at the London Theological Seminary (now London Seminary) from 1988-90. During the summer of 1989 I did a summer pastorate alongside Basil Howlett when he was pastor of Copse Road Evangelical Church, Clevedon. I was only there for a month or so, but during that time I learned some valuable lessons from him concerning the work of the ministry. 

The seminary was founded in 1977 by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who was concerned that evangelicals were having to train for pastoral work in colleges dominated by theological liberalism. Rather than being fired up to preach the word, they were struggling to maintain their faith in Christ and love for him in the face of sustained attack from teachers who had little time for the biblical gospel. 

In October 1966 at the Second National Assembly of the Evangelical Alliance, Lloyd-Jones had issued a call for evangelicals in the mixed denominations to come together and form a loose alliance of gospel churches. Why should they remain any longer in denominations where the gospel was being denied?

Some have tried to suggest that the preacher's call was something of a damp squib. But in fact it was a turning point for evangelical witness in the United Kingdom. Basil Howlett for one was becoming increasingly unhappy with his situation as a Baptist Union pastor. His training for the ministry was undertaken by men who denied and indeed derided essential gospel truths. A number of Basil's fellow BU ministers were evangelicals, but others were out and out liberals. Church members were not as clear as they should have been on basic Christian beliefs and principles of godly living. Partly as a result of Lloyd-Jones' call, Howlett and the church he served took the costly step of leaving the BU. Many other evangelical ministers and churches in Baptist Union, Congregational, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations did the same, 

Evangelicals today have become used to belonging to church groupings like the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, In these groupings we stand unitedly for the gospel and there is no argument over essential truths. Time is not wasted on trying to advance the interests of a evangelical 'wing' of a denomination. Men can train for pastoral ministry in evangelical seminaries and colleges. These gains are at least in part a consequence of  '1966 and all that'.   

Basil's story is a reminder of the price that was paid by his generation of preachers as they endeavoured to ensure that churches were gospel-centered, and that the church groupings to which they belonged were united in biblical faith, not just denominational allegiance. It was prophesied that those, who, like Basil left their denominations were heading for the wilderness. But as his account shows, the Lord blessed their faithful stand and much fruitfulness followed. 

The basic principles for which Lloyd-Jones argued back in 1966 still hold good today. We need to be clear on the gospel, what it means to be a Christian and what is a church. The gospel must be allowed to define the limit and extent of fellowship between churches. Where false teaching is rife in a denomination, separation is called for. Secession should not involve sectarian isolation, however, for the gospel of grace unites us together in faith, love and mission. "Come out of it! But also come together" urged Lloyd-Jones. 

I for one found this a very moving and challenging read. Evangelicals in the 'mixed denominations' today would do well to review the lessons set out here. Is "in it to win it" a realistic, let alone biblically faithful strategy? Those of us who have "come out of it" need to devote ourselves afresh to the pursuit of deeper evangelical unity that respects differences on secondary matters, even as we "strive together for the faith of the gospel". (Philippians 1:27). The need of our nation is greater than ever for a bold and united witness to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. To that end, let us be prepared to stand alone together.