Monday, 29 September 2014

IS IT RIGHT TO TALK ABOUT US GROWING THE GOSPEL?

On two recent occasions in conservative evangelical circles, cc has come across the phrase 'grow the gospel' with Christians in local churches as the subject of the verb. But is it biblical to talk this way?

After the avoidance of the Apostles' being distracted from the ministry of the word and prayer in Acts 6 through the appointment of seven godly men to deal with the fair distribution of food in the Jerusalem church, Luke declares:
And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6v7 - RSV).
That is certainly gospel growth and the overcoming of the deployment problem in the church was crucial for enabling such growth. But critically for this question, Luke makes the word of God the subject of the verb, as he does in Act 19v20.  He does not say the church grew the word.

The Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3 appeals for prayer
that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith (v1-2),
The prayers of the Thessalonian church are thus very important for the progress of the gospel and for the deliverance of Paul and his fellow workers from those who would hinder the proclamation of the gospel. But again the word is the subject of the verb.

This formulation surely makes sense in the light of the New Testament's teaching about the respective divine and human roles in gospel growth, as Paul explains so clearly in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul and his fellow workers preached the gospel faithfully and as they did so God brought about the conversion of human hearts, thus giving 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ' to previously spiritually blinded individuals (v5&6).

So, Christians have a role in God's sovereign plan in proclaiming the message of salvation and praying for its progress but God's unique role is the decisive one in converting individuals and thus 'growing the gospel' in the sense of more people believing it and gospel-proclaiming churches being built up. Thus, making the word of God the subject does not exclude human activity but attributes the lion's share of the growth to the right Person.

In the light of this, is it not arrogant to speak of us in our church taking actions to 'grow the gospel' in our locality? At least, even if those speaking in these terms have the right theological framework in their minds, it sounds arrogant, so is not the phrase best avoided when 'we' are the subject of the verb?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

RENEW LEADERS BID TO RALLY ANGLICAN EVANGELICALS WITH 2014 COMMITMENT

This news report first appeared on VirtueOnline in the US: Leaders of the ReNew movement, a joint initiative between Reform, Church Society, and the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), this week attempted to rally Anglican evangelicals with a new commitment and basis of faith.

The ReNew 2014 Commitment, published at a conference in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, pledged Anglican evangelicals ‘to investigate the opportunities to revitalise’ local Church of England churches and/or plants ‘with or without diocesan approval’. 

Regionally, the Commitment urged Anglican evangelicals to work together ‘to pioneer, establish and secure healthy Anglican churches’. ‘To this end we will work to recruit, train and deploy men and women for Anglican ministry in local churches,’ the Commitment declares.

The Commitment includes a doctrinal statement. ‘Knowing that unity is a work of the Holy Spirit which can only be established through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the fellowship of all those who subscribe to the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration.’ it begins.

But the ReNew statement goes further than the Jerusalem Declaration on women’s ordination to the presbyterate and episcopate. It includes an affirmation of the classic evangelical doctrine of male headship in the church and the family: ‘We affirm that men and women are equal as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. We also affirm that God created male and female differently, in order for them to complement one another…Within the church there is a divinely appointed order in which elder/oversight roles are given to men only.’

The ReNew Basis of Faith, to be signed by all conference planning committee members and speakers, also affirmed matrimony as ‘the lifelong union between one man and one woman’ with sexual relations outside that context being ‘sinful in God’s eyes’.

The Commitment pledged the conference delegates who signed it to support Reform, Church Society and AMiE in creating a national database of Anglican evangelical churches, clergy and laity, providing advice and training on political and legal issues and ensuring the provision of authorised episcopal oversight.

There are some reflections on ReNew below the news story on VOL.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

UNBIBLICAL PRESUMPTION IN COLLEGE OF BISHOPS' SEXUALITY STATEMENT

The Church of England's media statement following the College of Bishops' 'shared conversations' on sexuality this week is biblically unfaithful because, whilst the New Testament teaches assurance, it does not teach presumption. Indeed, the Apostle John's First Epistle clearly teaches that true assurance depends on professing Christians' abiding in the truth of the apostolic message:
That which we (the eye-witness Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ) have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1v3 - RSV).

The meeting included diocesan and suffragan bishops and the eight senior women clergy elected last year. Emitting a toxic fume of spiritual and moral relativism, the statement declares:
As part of the conversations the college shared the different responses being expressed in the life of the church and the deeply held convictions and experiences that inform them. In this the college reflected the diversity of experience and view held by the country as a whole. The college also acknowledged that at this stage it was not seeking to achieve consensus nor to make any decisions but rather the purpose was being open to see Jesus Christ in those who took an opposing view to their own position.
For all the Bishops' attempts to reassure orthodox Anglicans that the introduction of authorised services of same-sex blessing is not a foregone conclusion, this statement is highly proscriptive and indeed dogmatic in its view of revisionist church leaders. It strongly implies that it would be sinful to treat a convinced revisionist as an opponent because he or she must be a real Christian on the basis of their self-perception.

But this approach flagrantly disregards the biblical fact that departing from the New Testament's teaching that sex is exclusively for heterosexual marriage involves the presuppositional rejection of apostolic authority.

According to 1 John, that is how false teachers are identifiable - by their rejection of God-revealed apostolic truth. Such men and women are not in fellowship with Christ's authorised witnesses and are therefore not in fellowship with the Father and Son. Such teachers need to be opposed not affirmed. It is unbiblical presumption to think that we can have the Lord Jesus in our lives if our minds and hearts are divorced from the authentic apostolic message.

John's teaching is harmony with the Apostle Paul's:
And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he (the Lord Jesus Christ) has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you have heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1v21-23).

Thursday, 18 September 2014

THE SPIRITUAL COST OF SKIMPING CONFESSION

This piece appeared in last Friday's Church of England Newspaper.
  
The poet T.S. Eliot may have been right that 'human kind cannot bear very much reality'. But it is surely crucial that in church of all places we are encouraged to face it.

That is why it was disappointing during my recent holiday to find, at two services of Evensong according to the Book of Common Prayer, confession
expresso at one church and confession niente at another.

The church at which the Confession was rushed was an Anglican evangelical parish church and the one that omitted it altogether was a Cathedral.

The consumerist narcissism of our age will surely go unchecked if local churches do not use every biblical means at their disposal to get us to face up to the objective truth about ourselves in God's sight - that we are great sinners in need of a great Saviour - as the exhortation prior to the BCP Confession so clearly states:

“Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may receive forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy. And although we ought at all times humbly to acknowledge our sins before God; yet ought we most chiefly so to do when we assemble and meet together...”

To encourage us to reflect on our lives and to face up to the truth about ourselves, the Confession should be said slowly. To omit it altogether is spiritually disastrous.

Encouragingly, both sermons at the churches were of high quality. The one at the Cathedral on John 6 paid careful regard to the theology of John's Gospel and called for real Christian faith and commitment. That at the Anglican evangelical church on the parable of the sower in Mark 4 was outstanding.

It included teaching on the verses immediately after Jesus' explanation of the parable - v21-25 - which are very important in understanding its call to be positive and fruitful in embracing the message of Jesus' Lordship. These verses are often omitted in sermons on the parable. It was so helpful to hear them clearly explained and applied.
But unless we retain the discipline of confessing our sins privately and publicly, this wonderful message of the Lordship of Christ will only take root superficially in our hearts, if at all.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

WHEN HOMOPHOBIA BECOMES AN OFFENCE UNDER THE CLERGY DISCIPLINE MEASURE...

Changing the Script calls on Church of England Bishops to enforce new Synod anti-homophobia measure (Media Office, September 9th, 2020)

Following the overwhelming vote in July by the General Synod of the Church of England to make homophobia by clergy a disciplinary offence, the Trustees of Changing the Script have written to every Diocesan Bishop calling on them to properly enforce the new measure.

Canon Sir Cardew Cool CBE, director of Changing the Script, said:

"LGBTI laity and partnered clergy are deeply hurt and upset by the homophobic statements that continue to be made publicly in a minority of Anglican churches. Millions of people in our society are appalled that the leaders of the Church of England are tolerating this. We call on Diocesan Bishops to take firm action against clergy who:
  • claim that New Testament passages such as Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 forbid gay sex among Christians
  • refuse to conduct same-sex marriages and blessings
  • claim that LGBTI people can become straight through therapy
To safeguard LGBTI people against further trauma and disruption in their relationships, Changing the Script will be reporting homophobic hate speech incidents in churches to the authorities. It will also be handing over the names of Bishops who have been lax in enforcing anti-homophobia in their dioceses."

News Update: Changing the Script publishes gay-friendly New Testament

Changing the Script has published a gay-friendly edition of the New Testament that celebrates the diversity and equality agenda.

Head of Media, Dame Jezebel Puff OBE, said: 'We believe this edition of the New Testament promoting a positive self-image for LGBTI people will come into widespread use in churches of all denominations across the country. In partnership with government agencies, Changing the Script is sending a free copy to every primary and secondary school. This is a new publication to be enjoyed by people of all faiths and none."

ENDS

Here for the record is one of the deleted passages:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6v9-11 - NIV).
The significance of America's bad guy image for the war on Islamist terror appeared on VirtueOnline.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

MAKING OVER THE MINISTER IN A CORINTHIAN AGE

Hi! Welcome to Making Over the Minister brought to you by Corinthian Productions. Last week we met the Revd Dave (camera pans to bald middle-aged man huddled over a cup of tea in his paint-peeled vicarage kitchen). Our team have set to work on him. We've fitted him with a hair-piece, a rainbow clerical shirt with dog collar to match, a slick pair of new glasses and put him through his paces in our communication box (camera pans to Dave in front of a bank of TV screens peering at his new stand-up routine). His sermons are now shorter, snappier and a lot funnier. With our cameras rolling in his church, his congregation numbers have certainly been on the up and he reckons now the show is going out the register will be going through the roof...

In such a cultural context, the Apostle Paul's teaching about authentic gospel ministry in 2 Corinthians brings much-needed realism and encouragement to beleaguered ministers.  That is why cc is most grateful to the friend who has just sent our prayer network of old Oaks the audio link to the Revd Mike Cain's talks at July's Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London on 2 Corinthians 3 & 4. Entitled Removing the Veil, they are a great way of immersing oneself in heart-warming spiritual waters before September kicks off. The three talks are available on the Proclamation Trust website here.

With great clarity, sincerity, and grounded ministerial realism, Mr Cain, senior pastor of the Emmanuel family of churches in Bristol, shows the glory of authentic gospel ministry, as Paul both teaches and exemplifies it.

Mr Cain vividly describes the cultural pressure to abandon biblical ministry for a more impressive package that panders to the image-obsessed Corinthian culture of the 21st century West. And he is very clear on the necessity for ministerial weakness in the proclamation of the true biblical gospel of God's saving love in the Lord Jesus Christ.

These talks warm the heart with Paul's ministerial priority:
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4v5&6 - RSV).

Thursday, 28 August 2014

SHINING CHRIST'S LIGHT WHETHER IN ROTHERHAM OR RICHMOND

In communities where girls are at risk from exploitation by criminal gangs of Muslim men and where they are not, churches and church schools must urgently and purposefully teach the young people in their care to 'live as children of light' (Ephesians 5v8 - NIV).

The Apostle Paul's teaching in Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 is desperately needed in all human societies and cultures. Without it all of us, whatever age we are or social background we come from, are vulnerable to falling into sin or running into danger.

It is noteworthy that in these chapters Paul teaches the vital importance of:
  • sexual self-control. 'Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people' (5v3).
  • restraint over alcohol. 'Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit' (5v18).
  • the God-created institution of heterosexual marriage. 'Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband' (5v33).
  • the leadership role of fathers in the family. 'Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord' (6v4).
These emphases, especially in relation to the wrongness of sex outside of heterosexual marriage and the essential role of the father-led married family in the nurture of children, offend against political correctness. But that ideology, which has poisoned the UK public sector, has been thoroughly discredited by Professor Alexis Jay's devastating report into the appalling child protection failures in Rotherham.

Christians faithfully upholding biblical truth in the teeth of political correctness will not eliminate the terrible evils that are perpetrated in a dark world. But whether in Rotherham or in Richmond, the living God is calling local churches and Christian organisations to shine the light of the saving truth of the Lord Jesus Christ in the public square in obedience to His Word: 'Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them' (Ephesians 5v11).

This piece on Anglican Mainstream by Andrew Symes - Rotherham: A Call to Mission - is a must read.