Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Procrastination without hurrying for any

I realise that the women bishops thing was last week's news and that a week is quite a long time in the fast moving world of blog-land. But it's taken until today for me to muster the motivation to write something about the affair. Even now I can hardly be bothered. I mean, I'm not an Anglican and I don't believe in diocesan bishops, whether male or female. Bishops or overseers are simply elders of local congregations. They are not mitre wearing, crook wielding princes of the church. And according to the Bible, elders are male and that's that. It's not really my concern as a Reformed Baptist that the ordination of women bishops failed to attract enough support in each of the Church of England's electoral collages. 

So, why am I writing about this now? It's because this issue has highlighted the anomaly of us having an Established Church. In the wake of the no vote, or at least the not enough yeses vote, outraged MPs have weighed in, demanding that the CofE gets its house in order and fast track the ordination of women bishops. Some mutter darkly that the State Church should not be exempt from equality legislation. David Cameron has demanded that the Church of England, "get with the programme", whatever that means. The fact that half of the opponents to women bishops were women rather than crusty old male chauvinists (see here) doesn't seem to figure. 

The trouble is that as the Established Church, with bishops in the House of Lords, the Church of England is vulnerable to such Erastian pressure. Erastianism is the view that the Church is in effect the religious arm of the State and should jolly well do what it's told by its political masters. Henry VIII was an Erastian. So, it seems is David Cameron, although in a much nicer way. After all, not even the Tories are the 'nasty party' any more. 

I'm a Free Church man. I don't believe in the establishment principle. Church and State are distinct institutions, with very different roles and functions. What God hath separated man shall not join together. Robert Browneseceded from the Church of England in the 1580's over just this point. The Separatist wrote an influential book Reformation Without Tarrying for Any, arguing that the church should not wait for permission from the State to instigate reformation according to the Word of God. The treatise, which outraged the authorities, was in effect his death warrant. But by the same token, the church should not give in to pressure from the State to make changes to its biblically grounded teaching and practice. 

The fact that the Church of England is the Established Church complicates matters. If the Church has a say in the State, then the State will demand a say on what happens in the Church. But when it comes to making a decision on women bishops, I suggest that Anglican leaders man-up and resist the pressure from politicos rush things through. Procrastination without hurrying for any, if you like. That should give some time for an accommodation to be reached with opponents of the measure. However, there is one thing that cannot be delayed and that is the disestablishment of the Church of England that will free it from from political interference in the first place.

What Evangelicals are doing in the middle of this unholy muddle, though I can't quite understand. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chippenham FIEC 90

John Stevens preaching

Last Thursday half a dozen of our people crammed into a people carrier. For some strange reason I ended up in the boot. We braved a wet and windy night in order to attend our region's FIEC 90th anniversary meeting, held at Ladyfield Evangelical Church, Chippenham. Considering the weather conditions, a good number turned up for the event. The start time was delayed by fifteen minutes to give time for FIEC head honcho, John Stevens to turn up. Traffic problems, exacerbated by the heavy rain, apparently. 

We were treated to a potted history of the FIEC  by Andy Patterson, and saw a video on the FIEC's vision for Pastoral Support, Mission, Training and Practical Services. News was given of initiatives in our area, including the formation of clusters of churches.

John Stevens preached on Philippians 1:1-18. His focus was on 'gospel partnership', which tied in nicely with the FIEC's aim of enabling churches to work together for the sake of the gospel. 

It was good to get a sense of where the FIEC is heading over the next few years. The emphasis on the FIEC as a movement for the re-evangelisation of the UK was welcome. I listened to a recording of a talk given by Robert Letham the other day on Building Christ's Church. He suggested that while Independents might plant new churches in their locality, only Presbyterians were capable of a strategically planting churches right across the nation. Well, the FIEC is now considering planting churches in areas of the country where there is currently no evangelical witness. Indys can and do collaborate. That is what the 'F' in FIEC stands for. 

After the meeting it was a whirl of networking and snatched conversations before braving the rain for the journey home. Apparently John Stevens is now quite famous after being interviewed on my blog. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

EMW Church Officers' Training Days

Check out the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Church Officers' Training Days, 2013. Speakers include Stephen Clark, Stuart Olyott and Peter Milsom. It's for pastors, elders and deacons. Myself and some of our deacons attended last year's event, which was very helpful - see my report.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Serving Today with Grace Baptist Mission

Had an enjoyable day at GBM HQ in Abindgon, recording a series of talks on Jesus "I am" sayings in The Gospel According to John. I've done a bit of radio work before, mainly 'morning thought' type things for BBC Radio Wiltshire and occasionally offering my opinion on topical news items. But the idea with GBM's 'Serving Today' programme is to help African pastors develop their expository preaching skills. The talks took the form of a dialogue between presenter, Andrew Cook and myself on how to preach on the different "I am" sayings. We recorded eight conversations in all, four before and four after lunch. 

The talks were mostly reworked sermons from a series I did on John a while back. The trouble was that when I agreed to do the talks for GBM, I  had forgotten I had handwritten the earlier sermons in the series. It wasn't until John 12 that I switched from handwriting my notes to using Microsoft Word. The effort of trying to decipher my messy handwriting to write up the scripts was a good reminder of why I laid aside my trusty fountain pen in favour of a keyboard. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


This week I've been hammering away at my keyboard, bashing out scripts for Grace Baptist Mission's radio programme, Serving Today. Next Tuesday I'll be heading to GBM's Abingdon HQ to record eight talks on Jesus' "I am" sayings in the Gospel According to John with Andrew Cook. I know there are only seven of them, but the first talk is introductory. 

Also I've been in and out of schools quite a bit. On Tuesday I led a primary school assembly. I'm a parent governor at the local secondary school and we had a committee meeting Tuesday evening. Then it was back to school yesterday for my daughter's Sixth Form Evening. I have another governors' meeting this afternoon. 

What with pastoral visits, Bible Study/Sermon prep and all, I haven't had too much time for reading, but I've got through a few more chapters of Paul Brown's biog of Earnest Kevan and have nearly finished The Unexpected Jesus, by Craig Hovey. His portrait of Jesus certainly isn't one I expected, that's for sure. Look out for a review next week.

I'll be preaching away on Sunday at Gillingham Baptist Church, Dorset, where we used to be members before moving to Westbury. That's Gillingam with the 'Gill' bit pronounced like a fish's gill rather than the girl's name, Gill as in Gillingham, Kent. Although for a Welshman like me, the 'll' in Gillingham should really be spoken with a 'chl' sound like Llanelli. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sinners for sale, gifts to share

I have often watched auctions taking place on TV, but I have never attended one in the flesh until now*. I cannot think about auctions without being reminded of an incident in the life of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher, John Elias (1774-1841).

Surprising at it may seem, the 1824 Holyhead Association of the Calvinistic Methodists was disturbed by bouts of drunkenness. John Elias took it upon himself to urge the people to behave soberly and decently. He began with general words of exhortation and then he started to preach....

'I feel within myself this minute,' he cried, 'to offer them [the drunkards] for sale, by auction, to whomsoever will take them, that they might not disturb us any more,' Then at the top of his voice, with his arm outstretched, as if he held them in the palm of his hand, he shouted, 'Who will take them? Who will take them? Churchmen will you take them?' 'We? We in our baptism have professed to renounce the devil and all his works. No; we cannot take them.' Then, after a moments silence, 'Independents, will you take them?' 'What? We? We, ages ago left the Church of England because of her corruption. No; we cannot take them.' Another inerval of silence. 'Baptists, will you take them?' 'We? Certainly not! We dip all our people in water as a sign that we take those who have been cleansed. No; we will not have them.' Silence again. 'Wesleyans, will you take them?' 'What? we? Good works is a matter of life for with us. We do not want them.'

Then he stretched forth his arm once again, as if holding the poor drunkards in his hand; and once again at the top of his voice he shouted. 'Who will take them? Who will take them?' Then suddenly, his whole nature became agitated, His eyes flashed as he turned his head aside, and in a low tone which could be heard by all, he said, 'Methinks I can hear the devil at my elbow saying, "Knock them down to me! I will take them."'

Then, after thirty seconds of dead silence, he cried, 'I was going to say, Satan, that you could have them, but' - looking upwards, he said in a loud, clear, yet gentle voice, 'I can hear Jesus saying, "I will take them! I will take them! Unclean to be washed; drunkards to be sobered; in all their filth and degradation, I will take them, and cleanse them in mine own blood."' The effect of this can be better imagined than described. The ministers, preachers and elders were stunned; and the huge congregation was stirred with a spirit of tumultuous joy and exultation.

John Elias saw clearly that it is not moralising, but the gospel that changes lives: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The gospel also motivates us to give, 2 Corinthians 8:9. The fact that Christ has “auctioned us” by his own blood liberates us from selfishness and greed and makes us the kind of cheerful givers that God loves. Good giving is grace-enabled giving. As children of the giving God we give not grudgingly, but gladly. We give for the good of his people and the glory of his name,
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. (2 Cor 9:12-13).
*From a talk given at Leonora Home's 'Gift Day' and 'Auction of Promises'. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

This, that and the other

We were away on holiday last week, in El Campello near Alicante, Spain if you must know. It was warm enough, around 24C most days, to spend time lazing on the almost deserted beach. The scenery was amazing. Craggy peaks, dried up rivers, scrubby, cactus strewn desert and the invitingly warm deep blue sea. 

While propped up against a strategically placed palm tree I managed to finish Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Also made a start on Unexpected Jesus: The Gospel as Surprise by Craig Hovey. The book is a review copy from the publisher, Cascade Books. Not sure what to make of it yet. Not so much surprised as slightly baffled. 

We arrived home on Friday and I preached twice on Sunday at Providence Church - on 1 John 5:18 and Philippians 3:1-3. Snow, would you believe it, snow - in November,  that and localised heavy flooding prevented some of our people attending the services. Sunny Spain, not. 

The rest of the week so far has involved the regular round of pastoral visits, message preparation, leading meetings, study etc. An added task has been preparing a series of talks on Jesus' "I AM" sayings in John's Gospel for Grace Baptist Mission's Serving Today programme.

Also worked on a talk  for this Saturday's 'Gift Day' and 'Auction of Promises' in aid of Leonora Home. An anecdote from the life of John Elias came in handy. Of which, more later.