Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Semper Reformanda

Ooh, my first blog with a latin heading. How exciting. Not that I know any Latin really, I just read about this phrase in a book once.

Anyway, a good way to mark Reformation Day (that's today, see previous) would be to pray for the reality expressed in those latin words. Semper Reformanda means 'forever reforming'. The reformers believed that one of the marks of a 'reformed' church was that it was always reforming, always examining it's life and teaching and practices in the light of the word of God. That is, to be reformed is to assume that we haven't got everything right (this is not the same as the postmodern assumption that we haven't got anything sorted and never can) and that our lives, our church practices, our teachings, all need to be subjected to the scrutiny of the word of God.

'Semper reformanda' contrasts with the approach of some reformed christians who simply long for a return to a 'golden age' and who often behave as if the 16th/17th centuries marked an end point (not just a high point, which of course it was) in understanding the mind of God revealed in the scriptures.

'Semper reformanda' challenges those of us who set our reforming sights too low because of the weakness of the church in the UK. Whilst a return to even some of the biblical norms that previous generations of evangelicals held onto would be a major and exciting progression for us today, we mustn't limit the scope of our reforming to such a recovery. We need far more than to simply 'get back to the way things used to be'.

And finally, perhaps one way to implement 'semper reformanda', as someone suggested to me today, is to stop using latin phrases where english ones will do.

Reformation Day

Happy Reformation Day everyone!

489 years ago today the protestant reformation was sparked when Martin Luther nailed some theses to a church door in Germany. The next few decades would see the recovery of the biblical doctrine¤â of salvation, scripture, the church and of the sacraments.

Since we postmoderns are so disconnected from our past, it seems a good idea to celebrate days like this that mark great turning points in gospel history. So, if you've a spare moment or two, check out

http://www.monergism.com- a website full of reformation doctrine

or

this blog about a key figure in the reformation.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Puritans and the Veil Issue

THIS is sort of interesting, making a connection I'd not really thought of. Of course, it's also half-correct 'pop history' which perhaps too easily reads modern categories of moderacy and radicalism back into events of the past. And the Puritans don't come out of it that well either.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Women Preaching to Men and Ordination and all that kind of thing

Following on from this post, Sandy Grant (an Anglican Minister in Sydney) has kindly sent me details of his response to Graham Cole's paper on Women teaching Men in the Church which he gave at Oak Hill earlier this year (and which also seems to be doing the rounds in Sydney). Sandy's paper addresses each of Graham's seven points/considerations very ably and also contains a handy link to Graham's original paper online.

Sandy Grant's paper can be read HERE

Graham Cole's paper (for those who don't have access to the copy on Acorn) can be read HERE

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Slight changes

As you can see, there have been some slight changes. Most of this is due to being on beta blogger not just blogger (oooh). Most of these should be helpful, let me know if they're not (and then I can pretend to know what I'm doing and try to sort it out).

Total Church

This post from Tim Chester looks worth a read for those interested in church planting and/or emerging church related issues (see previous posts here and here). In fact, Tim's blog is worth a look anyway, as is the website for the Sheffield-based church network he's a part of - The Crowded House. They have some thought-provoking ideas about 'church' and gospel ministry in general, and hey, its always good to remind my brothers and sisters down here that there is life beyond Watford.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reflecting on 1966

These are questions/issues arising in my mind following on from yesterday's postings on MLJ's call to evangelical unity in 1966.

No, I don't ask these questions glibly. No, they're not solely aimed at the anglicans, if you think about it they're as pertinent for indies and FIECers as well, especially 6, 7 and 8. No, I don't think I have the answers 'sorted' yet myself. Yes, I think we cannot avoid these issues. And yes, quite a lot is at stake in the answers we give.

1. Is it legitimate to stay within a denomination because it’s paper definitions are orthodox, even though the people we are therefore ‘in fellowship’ with in the denomination are clearly heterodox?

2. At what point does the ‘denominations are not churches’ argument break down? (i.e. does denominational affiliation equate to genuine fellowship).

3. At what point does denominational loyalty (‘visible’ or ‘institutional’ unity with a mixed range of confessions/theologies, often with those we are in serious disagreement with) impede loyalty/visible unity with other evangelicals (those who are confessionally most similar to us, those who we are confident we can call brothers and sisters).

4. Can we/should we plan to reform a denomination from ‘above’ (by full participation in its hierarchy) and will becoming accepted/welcomed to the ‘conversation’ necessarily mean compromise?

5. Can we/should we plan to reform a denomination from ‘below’ (by grassroots/congregation-level action)?

6. Is there such a thing as ‘guilt by association’? If yes, to what extent (when does association mean guilt?). If no, are there any limits to the associations we form and what defines these limits?

7. Over what is it legitimate for Christians to divide? Are there levels of division/fellowship and if so how do we define these?

8. What is our doctrine of the Church?

Right, I'm off to nail a copy of these to the doors of St Helen's Bishopsgate and Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Schism and 1966

It is forty years since the sad rift between evangelicals was sparked by an address on evangelical unity by Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones. Today I’m blogging some of the more pertinent parts of his appeal, confident that they raise issues for us today, issues that the forty years of sad disunity ought not to obscure.

MLJ went on to make a compelling case that it is only evangelicals who can really be guilty of schism. Any emphasis added to a quote is mine.

‘…schism is a division among members of the true invisible church about matters which are not sufficiently important to justify division.’

‘So I argue that people who do not believe the essentials of the faith, the things that are essential to salvation, cannot be guilty of schism. They are not in the church.’

‘You and I are evangelicals. We are agreed about these essentials of the faith and yet we are divided from one another. We meet like this, I know, in an occasional conference, but we spend most of our time apart from one another, and joined to and united with people who deny and are opposed to these essential matters of salvation. We spend our time with them. We have our visible unity with them. Now, I say, that is sinful.’

‘I am arguing that for us to be divided – we who are agreed about everything that really matters for us to be divided from one another in the main tenor of our lives and for the bulk of our time, is nothing but to be guilty of the sin of schism. And we really must face this most urgently.’

Evangelical Unity

It is forty years since the sad rift between evangelicals was sparked by an address on evangelical unity by Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones. Today I’m blogging some of the more pertinent parts of his appeal, confident that they raise issues for us today, issues that the forty years of sad disunity ought not to obscure.

One of the major themes within MLJ’s address was the nature of the Church herself. Here are some quotes (any emphasis added will be mine) on this very issue from the address (which quotes are by no means a comprehensive statement of his ecclesiology).

‘Are we content, as evangelicals, to go on being nothing but an evangelical wing of a church?[1]...Are we content to be an evangelical wing, making our protests, exerting our influence, hoping that we can gradually infiltrate so that others may come to see the wrongness of their ideas and the correctness of ours?’

The church, surely, is not a paper definition. I am sorry, I cannot accept the view that the church consists of articles or of a confession of faith. A church does not consist of the Thirty-Nine Articles. A church does not consist of the Westminster Confession of Faith. A church does not consist of the Savoy Declaration. A church consists of living people. You cannot have a church without living people. You can have a paper constitution with a majority in that church denying that very constitution. That is no longer a church as I see it … So I say we must come back and realize that this is our basic view of the Christian church, and that what we need, above all else at the present time, is a number of such churches, all in fellowship together, working together for the same ends and objects. They are one already in their views, in their faith, in their ideas, and they must not, as our general secretary so excellently put it, divide upon secondary, subsidiary, and non-essential matters.’

[1] It must be stressed that MLJ was referring to a ‘territorial, comprehensive, national church’ as was envisaged by the ecumenical movement, a church that would include the Roman Catholic Church. We must judge for ourselves whether the Dr’s comments apply also to the ‘ecumenical mix’ of modern day denominations.

It was forty years ago today...

On the 18th October 1966, Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones (see here and here for previous posts on MLJ) gave the opening address at the EA-organised Second National Assembly of Evangelicals. The context was that the First Assembly had set up a Commission to look into the ecumenical movement and attitudes amongst evangelicals towards a future United Church. The Commission had asked MLJ to speak on the subject of evangelical unity, knowing his views beforehand.

After MLJ’s address (which turned out to be an appeal for greater church-level unity between evangelicals, asking them to prize their own unity greater than their denominational affiliation) the Chairman, Rev. John Stott, stood up and expressed his disagreement with MLJ, based mainly on his fear that some younger evangelicals would secede from their denominations overnight in response to the Doctor’s address (there is still much debate over whether or not the Dr necessarily meant for evangelicals to leave their denominations, clearly that was the impression of some). What ensued was an increasingly deeply felt rift amongst evangelicals over the issue of unity and, especially, involvement in ‘mixed denominations’. What had been intended as an appeal for unity ended up sparking off a deep and long-lasting division. In particular Stott and MLJ took increasingly different attitudes towards the mainline denominations, with MLJ increasingly feeling he could no longer work with those who would compromise with the ecumenical movement, and Stott spearheading the 1967 Keele revolution in Anglican Evangelical church politics.

Not wishing to re-open old wounds (isn’t it great that in many ways the ecumenical movement has come to nothing since 1966?), but, because evaluation of the period has tended to evaluate Stott’s politics more favourably, I’m going to blog some of the highlights of MLJ’s address from 40 years ago. Although debate rages on as to what MLJ wanted evangelicals to do, and although undoubtedly part of his thinking was coloured by his own background, and whilst there is no doubt he made mistakes in the way he handled the crisis afterwards (as did Stott, as did Packer), I for one think the Doctor says some striking things in his appeal for unity. Many of his evaluations remain pertinent for today, and raise questions that evangelicals have yet to find adequate answers to. The sad events that ensued from his appeal must not be allowed to obscure these probing questions which demand our attention today as much as forty years ago.

First up then, a couple of quotes[1] (any emphasis added will be mine) about the state of evangelicalism with relation to issues of unity;

‘Can we deny the charge that we, as evangelical Christians, have been less interested in the question of church unity than anybody else?...Surely, with our view of scripture and with our knowledge and understanding of it, we, of all people, ought to be the first to preach the vital necessity of church unity; but we are the last to do so. Not only that, the position is that we are confused and divided among ourselves.’

‘The most pathetic thing of all, to me, is that our attitude towards the question of church union is always a negative one. You can be sure that every time you read the report of an annual assembly of any one of the branches of the Christian church in this country you will find that what evangelicals have been doing at these assemblies is make protests…We are always negative; we are always on the defensive…’

‘…and added to that is our silence in the light of things that have been happening round and about us. It is to me a tragedy that, as evangelicals, we have been silent several times this very year when certain things have taken place. Certain visits have been paid to certain places. And on many other issues we remain silent. It has been left to some eccentrics among evangelicals to make the protest, and we have said nothing.’

[1] All quotes come from ‘Evangelical Unity- An Appeal’ in D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1989) pp. 246-257.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Jeremiah Chapel Preach

Here is what I said today when I preached in chapel on Jeremiah 6:10-21 (I didn't take the whole passage though, as you will see). While I'm on the subject, Jeremiah - what a book! We should hear more preaching from it than we do.

Jeremiah 6:10-21

I wonder what we would hear if we could hear what was really being meant when we say the things we do here in chapel in response to God’s word?

When we pray what we pray
When we sing and promise God our obedience and trust
When we confess our sin to him and say we want to turn away from it.

If we could hear behind the words being said to what was actually meant, would the two be the same?

Jeremiah 6: 16-19 is a little bit like being able to do that.
What Jeremiah has given us here in these three verses is a bit like the liturgy for an anti-worship service, or a sort of mock covenant renewal service. It follows the same sort of pattern as genuine covenant renewals like the one at the end of the book of Joshua.

So, in vs. 16 the LORD invites Israel to seek after the ancient path - to walk down the road of faithfulness to him which their ancestors had, to walk the good way of the covenant, the way of rest and life. And this is the bit were in a real covenant renewal service the people would respond positively, pledging faith and obedience to the LORD. Only this time we hear what their real response is – ‘we will not walk in it’. Judah is offered the chance to live the Torah-driven life and she shakes her head and says ‘I’d rather go this way thanks’.

The pattern is repeated in vs. 17, only this time the LORD recounts how he gave them watchmen, the prophets, telling them to heed to sound of the trumpet – the impending judgment. Again the response is ‘we will not’ – Judah places her fingers in her ears.

And so now God calls witnesses, like in any covenant renewal service, only this time the witnesses are not being called to hold Judah to her promises, like in Joshua. The witnesses in the ‘mock renewal service’ are called to observe that God is just in bringing terrible terrible calamity on Judah. Vs. 19, the judgment is simply the LORD bringing the consequences, the fruit of Judah’s own evil on their own heads. Completely just since Judah has ignored the warning words of the LORD and rejected the gracious gift of the law (torah).

Of course if you were to ask the average resident of Jerusalem as he left the temple on a Saturday morning if he trusted and obeyed the LORD he probably would’ve answered with a vigorous yes, maybe slightly offended that you would ask such a question. The people in Jeremiah’s day were facing impending judgment by and large in sweet self-satisfied oblivion. They loved the temple (see Ch. 7), they were very particular and grand in their offering of sacrifices (see vs. 20).

And yet the version of the gospel they had been sold and gladly swallowed was (vs. 14) a toned down version that declared ‘peace peace’ when there was no peace, so that the warning-rebuking wounds made by the LORD were treated with a band aid of cheap grace. That’s why below the surface Judah and Jerusalem stank with the rotten smell of idolatry, greed, injustice, all the things Jeremiah puts his finger on elsewhere. Jeremiah’s mock-covenant renewal service is really there to strip away that veneer of faithfulness and show where Judah really stood in relation to the LORD, how she was really responding to the word of the LORD.

And the verdict is that she has rejected the law and ignored the prophets. That’s why our reading kicked off with those desperate words in 10.

All of which shows that it is possible to be so spiritually deaf that we don’t realise we are rejecting the gospel. It is possible to have so cheapened grace, so neglected repentance,
so smoothed over the cracks of our sin, that we think we are OK with the LORD, when in reality all the time we’re saying ‘we will not walk’ ‘we will not pay attention’.

College life means we are in constant contact with the sort of invitation the LORD makes in vs. 16 – the invitation to repent, to return to the ways of the LORD, to take Jesus’ yoke and find rest in him.

College life means we are in constant contact with the sort of warning talked about in vs. 17. The trumpet is constantly sounding in our ears because we’re constantly reading and thinking about God’s word. Few people are better aware of the danger of judgment than in this room I imagine.

And yet the danger is that we can be simply going through the motions like Judah. It looks on one level like we’re trusting in the LORD’s grace, taking our sin seriously, obeying his word, but in lots of places in our lives we look to the same old idols to give us identity, pleasure, escape, importance, and slavishly give them our love and obedience.

The danger is that familiarity breeds contempt and we become hard of hearing if not yet deaf to the LORD’s words of promise and warning. The danger is that like Judah, Jeremiah’s mock-service words better explains the response of our hearts than the words that come out of our lips.

So what should we do if we find that’s what is happening to us?

Don’t blame it on the liturgy.
This is the ‘How can I be expected to mean the same thing every day?’ attitude. And we can use that false antithesis between regularity and authenticity to excuse what is a problem with our heart’s responding to God’s word. Instead, repent and ask the LORD to unblock your ears.

Don’t blame it on repentance-fatigue.
This is the ‘Great, another thing to correct in my (delete as appropriate) theology/home life/ marriage/ study practices!’ attitude. If you’re heart is like mine then you can quickly move from that sort of legitimate feeling of having so much to sort out to absolving yourself from responsibility to apply anything. Instead repent and ask the LORD to dig you a new pair of ears.

Don’t think being a good listener is a solo pursuit.
It’s our joint responsibility isn’t it, to keep one another open to the correction and challenge of God’s word? It’s our joint responsibility to keep one another daily depending on the LORD’s grace isn’t it? We need to repent and ask the LORD to open our ears and write his law on our hearts.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Pure Course under Fire

This is worth a look and a pray. Especially when we remember that often today's Student Union reps/Societies leaders are tomorrow's MPs.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jeremiah's trumpets

I've been spending some time in Jeremiah 1-6 today. And there are lots of times when I've thought 'I've heard something like that before recently' and it turns out it's something from the book of Revelation.

For example, every now and then in his prophesying against Judah (Jerusalem in particular) in her whoredom, Jeremiah mentions war-heralding trumpets a lot. Mmm, I thought, I wonder how many times trumpets are mentioned in Jeremiah (hint, not six, not eight, but somewhere in between). The verses are listed below, and I’ve also highlighted in bold various other similarities with the Revelation chs 8-9, & 11 trumpets.

Jer 4:5 Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, "Blow the trumpet through the land; cry aloud and say, 'Assemble, and let us go into the fortified cities!'

Jer 4:19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.

Jer 4:21 How long must I see the standard and hear the sound of the trumpet?

Jer 6:1 Flee for safety, O people of Benjamin, from the midst of Jerusalem! Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and raise a signal on Beth-haccherem, for disaster looms out of the north, and great destruction.

Jer 6:17 I set watchmen over you, saying, 'Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!' But they said, 'We will not pay attention.'

Jer 42:14 and saying, 'No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,'

Jer 51:27 "Set up a standard on the earth; blow the trumpet among the nations; prepare the nations for war against her; summon against her the kingdoms, Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz; appoint a marshal against her; bring up horses like bristling locusts.

Joshua 6 is another place where we get seven trumpets. There they sounded for the fall of the pagan city Jericho as the LORD led Israel in a landmark victory in the war to claim the land. So, could the terrifying irony in Jeremiah be that now the sevenfold trumpets are brought to bear on Jerusalem, sounding a warning and a promise of her fall at the hands of the nations and Judah’s exile from the land?

If so, what does this mean when we come to Revelation 8 and 9? Are we supposed to link to Jeremiah or to Joshua 6 primarily? Or both? Is it about general end-times judgment? Is it about AD70 judgment on Jerusalem? Is it about neither? Is it about both at the same time? In Revelation it seems on the surface at least like the trumpets have more cosmic (stars fall from the sky, fish in the sea die) and global (in 11: 18 the seventh trumpets sounds for God’s victory over the nations) consequences than the Jeremiah ones which are to do with Judah/Jerusalem. But then again this is obviously affected by whether or not ‘earth’ in ch 9 should in fact be read as 'land'. Similarly, it can’t be any accident that in between the sixth and seventh trumpets we get a Jerusalem-as-Sodom based narrative about the two witnesses in Rev 11. Thoughts anyone?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Contextualisation

Today I came across a great quote from Tim Keller about contextualisation in Christian mission (click here for the Source);

'Contextualisation is the giving of God's answers (which they may not want) to the questions they're asking, and in forms they can understand'

It seems obvious when you think about it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Meaning of Meme

Following on from the previous post, I have discovered what Meme means, thanks to
dictionary.com, which tells me that

Meme = 'A cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes'

It was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 from the greek /mimeisthai/ which means 'to imitate/copy'.

Presumably then, your worldview or culture is your 'memetic makeup'?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blog Tag

The Bluefish tagged me so here goes...

Why do you Blog?
Practical reasons - writing helps me think myself clear on an issue/issues. It also means I have somewhere to store the thoughts I have so I don't lose them, and an interactive format for sharing them with others.
Other reasons - At my best, it's because I love the truth about and the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and thinking outloud and online about him and with his people will only serve to glorify his name and help re-make me (and who knows, maybe some others) in his image. At my worst, because I love myself and I crave the praise and admiration of others.

How long have you blogged for?
This is post 64. The first was December 2005, though I didn't really get going until this summer.

Which of your posts gets too little attention?
I suspect very few people want to read my exegetical paper on Deuteronomy 34 (see here), although I enjoyed doing it.

What was the last search phrase someone used to find your blog?
'Don Carson'. Ahh, we all owe that man such a debt anyway, and now I owe him an even greater one.

Your Current Favourite Blog?
Mmmm, at the moment I'm loving some of the discussions over at Daniel Newman's Blog though Big Pete has so much more to say on his blog than his lean back-catologue suggests.

Which blog did you read most recently?
That'll be the Bluefish again (which is how I found out he tagged me). He blogs with much thought and not a little passion. Bring it on.

Which feeds do you subscribe to?
None.

Which 4 blogs are you tagging with this meme and why?
Big Pete because he's so funny and he really needs to get some more material on the blogosphere.
Ros because she's in the USA and we at Oak Hill miss her.
Daniel Newman because his blog is good and more people should see it.
Helen because she gave me biscuits the other day.