Monday, 20 October 2014

CONSISTENT HOLINESS TEACHING CALLED FOR IN 'POPOLOGETICS'

Ted Turnau's book, Popologetics - Popular Culture in Christian Perspective (P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, 2012), both reflects and is fuelling a growing interest among younger Reformed evangelicals in engaging positively with popular culture.

Currently, this interest is rooted in a sound biblical worldview, which faces up to the reality of sin and idolotry in contemporary TV output, electronic media, films, music, books and art whilst rightly recognising that God's 'common grace' is also present in human culture.

Here is an example of Dr Turnau's solid biblical persective:
If our rebellion and alienation run deep and distort our hearts so decisively, then these sins will inevitably affect culture as well. Though God established culture as good, we should expect every dynamic of culture to be distorted by sin. And sure enough, if we look at what culture was supposed to be at creation, we can see it twisted and misdirected at every turn (p60).

Such biblical realism provides a confidence-inspiring basis for Dr Turnau's well-argued exhortation to Christians to be salt and light for the Lord Jesus in their attitude to and engagement with popular culture.

But this movement could become victim of what one might call 'second generation complacency'. The strong and deeply thought-through biblical perspective of the first generation of Reformed exponents gets taken for granted, assumed, by the next generation of evangelicals and then eventually compromise with the prevailing culture and sinful worldliness sets in.

The movement's current leaders need to make sure that they continue to highlight God's call to personal holiness and the priority of evangelism. The Apostle Peter's perspective in his first letter is vital if 'popologetics' is to stay fixed to its biblical moorings:
Therefore (in the light of the true saving message from God Christians have been privileged to receive through the Holy Spirit) gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be yourselves holy in all your conduct: since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1v13-16 - RSV).
This piece about how new diversity rules are impacting on church schools appeared on ConservativeHome.

Speaking out for sexual holiness is the responsibility of all Reform members not just the same-sex attracted appeared on VirtueOnline.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

CAN A FALSE TEACHER DELIVER AN UPLIFTING BIBLICAL TALK? YES HE/SHE CAN

Otherwise the false teacher would gain no traction in the visible church of Christ.

So on certain spiritual subjects the Bible addresses the false teacher will be able to impress sincere Christian people with his or her depth of theological learning and ability in expounding a particular biblical passage or topic.

Furthermore, the false teacher's personal charisma, including the image of piety they project, will enhance their spiritual plausibility. In certain cases and indeed necessarily for the false teacher's impact on English audiences, he or she will assume an air of humility, having cultivated the disarming art of self-deprecation.

But for the spiritually discerning they are still recognisable as a false teacher because they do not teach the whole counsel of God and on primary biblical issues, for example the propitiatory nature of Christ's sacrifice for our personal sin, they have flagrantly rejected apostolic authority.

The Apostle Paul's warning to the church of Corinth is critical for developing spiritual discernment in recognising false teachers. Exposing the 'super-apostles' who were so dazzling the Corinthian Christians, Paul wrote:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11v13-15 - RSV). 

That is why those of us with pastoral responsibility for the Lord Jesus' precious flock in local churches must take special care about how we react when a celebrated false teacher delivers a spiritually uplifting speech.

The odd good talk does not a faithful ministry make and indeed is necessary for the projection of an unfaithful one.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

DANGEROUS LACK OF CLARITY IN 'LOVE LETTER TO GAY BISHOPS'

It is dangerously unclear what those Anglicans who have signed the ‘love letter’ to gay bishops - urging them to come out, as reported by The Sunday Telegraph, mean by the terminology they use. It would seem that the signatories have a secular understanding of 'sexual orientation' in mind, which would include active sexual practice.

Certainly, the letter makes no clear distinction between sexual attraction and practice:
We write to assure those bishops who may choose to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual that you will receive our support, prayer, and encouragement...We have no doubt that the vast majority of Anglicans will welcome and embrace those of you who are gay or bisexual for your courage and conviction if you come out: weeping with you for past hurts and rejoicing in God’s call as witnesses to Christ’s transforming love and compassion...If you stand out we will stand beside you.

Apart from appearing to suggest that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is acceptable for Christians, the letter fails to recognise the pastoral situation of married bishops who 'may choose to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual'. For a married bishop to go public about his same-sex attraction, he would surely be duty-bound to exercise the utmost pastoral sensitivity towards his wife and children.

To go public without their consent would be an appalling dereliction of duty towards his own family and would be contrary to the Ordinal, as it would be for an incumbent.

What the letter signally ignores is the biblical fact, clearly set forth in the Ordinal, that ministers of the gospel are called to be an example to Christ's people both in their life and doctrine. In the light of Holy Scripture and the historic Anglican formularies reflecting the Bible, any ordained person who is engaging in sex outside of heterosexual marriage is falling short of the standard that should be expected of an Anglican minister and should therefore resign or face a due process of ecclesiastical discipline.

And in response to this worldly letter the current House of Bishops needs to say so in order to be diligently faithful to the Ordinal's call upon consecrated bishops 'to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word'.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

GROW THE GOSPEL - ARE WE THE RIGHT SUBJECT OF THE VERB?

On two recent occasions, Cranmer's Curate 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?

The book of Acts records that after the Apostles avoided being distracted from their ministry of the word and prayer through the appointment of seven godly men to deal with the fair distribution of food in the Jerusalem church
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, Acts makes the word of God the subject of the verb, as it does in 19v20.  It 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.