Thursday, March 27, 2008

Prayers for Mission Saddleworth

The mission week is now well and truly over. In the end it was a strange sort of a week. The odd thing about mission weeks and the like is that you find yourself immersed in a place for 7 days, beginning to feel its concerns, fear its dangers and temptations, despise its idols, see its tremendous potential, only to then pack up and return home.

As a result, intercessions and thanksgivings form the most obvious, easy, immediate way to stay connected to (God's) long-term mission in Saddleworth.

I give thanks for the fact that the gospel has established a foothold in the area. In the midst of some middle-class gospel-apathetic do-goodery God has established his Church. I pray that his people there will buck the trend (numerical decline) and go from strength to strength. May there always be faithful people in Saddleworth.

I also give thanks for those Church members who turned up, invited friends, and provided prayerful support for the mission. I pray that all three churches we visited will grasp a much clearer vision for serving Christ in the Church and in the village.

I also give thanks for being shown considerable hospitality, warmth of fellowship, and being allowed to share in the material goods (mainly homes and food) of many Church members across the seven days. I pray that such hospitality would become the bedrock of 'life-on-life' discipleship, creating a culture of mutual pastoral care, accountability and spiritual zeal.

I give thanks for the Christian influence in the schools. For the regular assemblies taken by the vicar, for the Christian teachers, for the Christian headmistress of one school in particular. I pray this influence would continue and grow, and bear fruit in conversion. I pray that over time this influence would blossom into fully-grown Christ-centred biblical-worldview education.

I give thanks for the chance to witness a little on the ground, (at times) mundane, non-urban gospel ministry. I give thanks for the chance to see the pitfalls, dangers, potential distractions, and the internal and external pressures which face many ministers in their charges. I pray for all the leaders of the family of God in Saddleworth, that they'd plough a straight line.

I pray against the devil and his schemes, against disunity and apathy, against the idols of 'the good-life' and of 'churchiness', against the idea that the only way is down, against false hopes and false paths to growth, and for Saddleworth's future in God's plan to glorify himself in the Son.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The story so far...

Since arriving on Sunday evening we've

- Done 1 open air service (brass band included), 4 assemblies (2 different schools), 1 PCC meeting, 1 visit to the old folk's home and 1 coffee morning.

- Been served meat and potato pie twice (thrice for Marian).

- Spoken about heaven, hell, mission (what is it?), forgiveness, the cross, resurrection, palm sunday, death ('what about x, who was a lovely person, but didn't believe, I can't believe they'll be in hell?' seems to be a common question).

So, if you get the chance, pray for bottle, grace, patience, wisdom, energy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saddleworth Mission 2008

Ever heard of Saddleworth in West Yorkshire? No? Me neither. At least not until I agreed to help my college tutor organise a mission with two parish churches there for this easter week.

As a result, I'll be there from tomorrow onwards, helping brothers and sisters in Christ take the good news of easter to their neighbours. The first event is an open air service complete with brass band (Brassed Off anyone?) at which I'm giving a brief Palm Sunday talk. The last events are services on Easter sunday. In between there's coffee mornings, school assemblies, and other events filled with eastery goodness.

If you get a chance, please pray for us (there's a team of 7 of us going from Oak Hill). If I get a chance I might blog on location about how it's going.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Church attendance in England

Statistics aren't everything. But they also aren't nothing.

This post prompted me to go and dig out the figures on church attendance from the last English Church Census. I found them here. They make for a sobering read in some ways.

6.3% of the population of England attend church regularly.

Of which 40% attend evangelical churches of some description.

Which means evangelicals make up about 2.5% of the population.

Which is 1,264,800 people. (And falling).

We could analyse this 2,5% even further, by looking at the way it breaks down into broad, mainstream and charismatic evangelicals. But that would be perhaps a little too controversial. As it stands the 2.5% figure is enough to be thinking about.

[Off the main point slightly: The only thing is, when your church is 500 people strong you don't really feel like 2.5% of the population. I'm not against bigger churches, I don't buy the 'smaller is better' mentality of some (though I think there are issues about church life and discipleship tied to considerations of size). But I do think that one of the negative side effects of being in a bigger church is that you don't feel the cold bite of the wind. When you're singing the praises of God with a few hundred other people every sunday you can feel like the gospel is doing better (numerically speaking) than it is. Does that contribute to our bouts of evangelistic apathy and naivety, to our spiritual weakness, to our prayerlessness?]

I do believe that Britain has a Christian future. But we've got to realise that it won't happen at this rate, until (by the grace of God) we make some changes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wilson at Blenheim

Has the British Church become domesticated, like 'one of those little yippy dogs trained not to pee on the carpet?'

That and related topics are dealt with in these lectures on

The Gospel and your Church
The Gospel and your Family
The Gospel and your Government

by American Pastor Doug Wilson available here for free download. I for one am looking forward to listening to them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The LORD your God is the only Lord...

The Vatican has added another seven to the 'old school' seven deadly sins. They are:

Environmental pollution
Genetic manipulation
Accumulating excessive wealth
Inflicting poverty
Drug trafficking and consumption
Morally debatable experiments
Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

The reason? It seems like the old sins just aren't driving people to the confession box enough. [After all, who really gets upset these days by a bit of lust, greed, or sloth?]

Apart from questioning the presumption to decide which sins are death-inducing, cynics might also worry that the Apostolic Penitentiary (who, according to the BBC are "in charge of fixing the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners") is motivated by self-interest in trying to stem the tide of ever-diminishing visits to confession.

Meanwhile Libby Purves has some thoughtful things to say about the way our tax and benefit system treats the poor as if they are incapable of looking after their own money. She says "the message [repeatedly given in successive government budgets] is that if you are poor, you must be kept in the status of client and petitioner..." handing wads of your hard earned money over to the government in order to "immediately beg nanny government to give them back." She sums up:

"If you are poor, the Government's message is simple: “You are not in charge of your life and prosperity. We are. Trust us. Keep on voting for us or you're stuffed.”"

All this in the same week that someone suggests that school-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country. What I found very telling was how Lord Goldsmith understood the education system: "The citizenship ceremonies, which are just one of the many things I have suggested, are a way of marking that passage of being a student of citizenship to a citizen in practice." It might surprise many of us Christians to discover that the education system is not, after all, about being taught 1+1 and your p's and q's in a value-neutral environment (as if one actually exists), but about being given "a sense of shared belonging, a sense that you are part of a community with a common venture, to integrate better newcomers to our society and be clearer about what the rights and responsibilities are."

Meanwhile, back in reality, there is still only one God whose righteous law defines what is sin and determines the punishment, only one Lord to whom we owe absolute allegiance, and only one Saviour in whom we trust for forgiveness, prosperity, and identity.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Religious Worldliness

In 1 John 2:12-14 John tells the believers that he is writing to them for three reasons, reasons which define them as true believers over against the false ones he’s writing against.

a. Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
b. You know him who is from the beginning.
c. You have overcome the evil one (you are strong, the word of God abides in you).

By contrast, it seems the false believers were in love with the things of the world, which john also describes in three ways. It seems to me that these in some way ‘map onto’ the three defining features of the believers above. They 'love the world,' i.e.

a. The desires of the flesh (rather than forgiveness, giving in to sin).
b. The desires of the eyes (living by sight, not by faith, focussing on what the eyes desire, rather than ‘desiring God’).
c. Pride of life (strong in oneself, rather than in the word, so proud like the evil one rather than experiencing victory over him).

But what’s also interesting is that there’s a definite allusion to Ezekiel 24:21 and the description of the temple which God was about to destroy (I’ve altered the order from Ezekiel 24 to highlight the connection with 1 John). The Israelites loved the temple, but it was a misplaced love, a foolish presumptuous faith that they’d be ok despite their sin. The temple is described as

a. The yearning of your soul.
b. The delight of your eyes.
c. The pride of your power.

This is especially poignant, given the connection in John’s gospel between faithless Israel and the ‘world’. And then there’s a further connection with Genesis 3:6 and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

a. It was good for food (the desires of the flesh? Yes, food is good, but not when God says 'don't eat').
b. And a delight to the eyes.
c. Desirable to make one wise (self-sufficiency for life rather than God-dependency).

Does all of this help to explain, then,

1. Why loving the world is utterly opposed to being a Christian. It’s an inversion of the benefits found in Christ, a ‘false faith’ if you like?

2. How the sin of the Israelites in their trusting in the mere possession of the temple despite their ongoing sin, was a repeat of the mistake of Eve in the garden, and deserving of the same punishment (expulsion from the garden/ land)?

3. In other words, being like the world in the 1 John 2:16 sense, and like Eve in the Genesis 3 sense, and not at all like a true believer should be in the 1 John 2:12-14 sense, might at times look extremely religious and pious, but in reality be like the presumptuous ‘false faith’ of Ezekiel 24:21?

[Also, the connection with Ezekiel 24 (and 'world' in John's gospel) might suggest a 'run up to AD70' setting for the epistle. Could the false teachers and believers have been apostate Israelites or Judaisers? Like Israel in Ezekiel's day they loved the world and the things in it, i.e. they clung to the temple in false faith?]

Thursday, March 06, 2008

More theo-traffic on the information super-highway

Mark D. Wallace (the middle initial is important, believe me) has been blogging away for a while, though seems to have picked up the pace recently. His blog is worth a look because

a. He's the *head boy* I mean Senior Student (oops) at Hogwarts/ Oak Hill College.

b. He blogs about things like - Christian Counselling, 1 Corinthians, and the happenings in the global anglican communion.

c. He's a sincere and godly brother in Christ.

Enjoy him and his thoughts here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Virtual Word

Oak Hill student Mr Philip Sweeting has been offering the cyber-world his theological delights for some time, and yet I never knew until yesterday. Anyway, since he linked to me, I thought I ought to return the favour (it's all a little in-bred and self-referential isn't it, the internet?) and link to his blog - TheVirtualWord (no spaces because punctuation is for wimps).

He says there that

theVirtualWord we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and we exist to promote Evangelical Christianity and to attempt to engage with current issues in a thoughtful way."

Which seem like good things to believe and attempt to me. So, read and enjoy. (Though he does need to post a little more often).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

John Owen - Transformationist?

This view of the intention of God in the creation leads John Owen to propose a (to my mind at least) distinctly 'Kuyperian' (or 'transformationist' - see here for a good quote on that sort of thing) approach to culture.

“…God would hereby instruct us both in the use that we are to make of his creatures, and the improvement that we are to make of the work of the creation unto his glory. For the first, it is his will that we should not use any thing as merely made and created by him, though originally for that purpose, seeing as they are so left they are under the curse, and so impure and unclean unto them that use them…but he would have us look upon them and receive them as they are given over unto Christ…This God instructs us in, namely, to look for a profitable, sanctified use of the creatures in Christ, in that [he?] himself ordered them in the very first creation to fall at length naturally under his rule and dominion, making them all by him."

So, if we want to glorify God in our use of the various elements of the old creation, we must view them as not just having been created by God, but as belonging specifically to Christ the Redeemer, as being intended for subjection to him in the new creation.

So what does this mean of non-Christian use of the creation?

"The whole mystery of laying the works of the old creation in a subserviency unto the new being hidden from many ages and generation, from the foundation of the world men did, by the effects and works which they saw, conclude that there was an eternal power and infinite wisdom whereby they were produced: but whereas there is but a twofold holy use of the works of the creation – the one suited unto the state of innocency, and the moral-natural worship of God therein, which they had lost; the other to the state of grace, and the worship of God in that, which they had not attained, - the world and the inhabitants thereof, being otherwise involved in the curse and darkness wherewith it was attended, exercised themselves in fruitless speculations about them…and glorified not God in any due manner, Rom. i. 21. Neither do nor can men unto this day make any better improvement of their contemplation on the works of creation, who are unacquainted with the recapitulation of all things in Christ, and the beauty of it, that all things at first were made by him. "

I think this means that Owen would, for example, argue against any concept of common grace, or natural law, providing a 'neutral zone' where Christians and non-Christians can meet to do social-political-cultural work. God-honouring use of the creation in all of these activities (whether painting, building a bridge, teaching geography, or writing a song) is only possible when creation is viewed as properly belonging to, and destined for, the Lord Jesus Christ. God wants us to look at and treat creation as being subject to him.

All from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol III. 81-82.

John Owen: The purpose of creation

In drawing theological instruction from the description of the Son in the latter part of Hebrews 1:2 ('by whom he made the worlds') Owen argues that the creation always had the new creation in view:

“God designed from eternity that his great and everlasting glory should arise from the new creation.”

That's why the creation was made by the Son - the very one who would later become incarnate and inherit the creation as its Redeemer:

“God in infinite wisdom ordered all things in the first creation, so as that the whole of that work might be subservient to the glory of his grace in the new creation of all by Jesus Christ. By the Son he made the worlds in the beginning of time, that in the fullness of time he might be the just heir and lord of all.”

Or, put another way, “[a]ll things at first were made by him, that when they were lost, ruined, scattered, they might again, in the appointed seasons, be gathered together into one head in him.”

This, he argues, explains the idea in Romans 8:19-22 of creation eagerly awaiting the full manifestation of Christ's kingdom:

“The creation hath, as it were, a natural propensity, yea, a longing, to come into subjection unto Christ, as that which retrieves and frees it from the vanity, bondage, and corruption that it was cast into, when put out of its first order by sin. And this ariseth from that plot and design which God first laid in the creation of all things, that they, being made by the Son, should naturally and willingly, as it were, give up themselves unto obedience unto him, when he should take the rule of them upon the new account of his mediation.”

Creation was made in such a way (by the Son) as would fit with God's intention that it be redeemed and brought under the rule of Jesus Christ in his role as mediator.

All from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol III. 77-81.

John Owen: The purpose of God in the call of Abraham

Biblical theology and 'missiological readings of the bible story' are nothing new. Here's John Owen on Abraham and the nation of Israel:

“God having from the foundation of the world promised to bring forth the 'Seed of the woman,' to work out the redemption of his elect in the conquest of Satan, did, in the separation of Abraham from the rest of the world, begin to make provision of a peculiar stock, from whence the Seed of the woman should spring. That this was the cause and end of his call and separation is evident from hence, that immediately thereupon God assures him that ‘in his seed all the kindreds of the earth should be blessed,’ Gen xii. 1-3, xxii. 18; which is all one as if he had expressly said to him ‘For this cause have I chosen and called thee, that in thee I might lay a foundation of bringing forth the promised Seed, by whom the curse is to be taken away, and the blessing of everlasting life procured,’ as Gal iii. 13, 14. For this cause was his posterity continued in a state of separation from the rest of the world, that He might seek a godly seed to himself, Num. xxiii. 9; Mal. ii. 15: for this cause did he raise them into a civil, regal, and church state, that he might in them typify and prefigure the offices and benefits of the promised Messiah, who was to gather to himself the nations that were to be blessed in the seed of Abraham, Gen. xlix. 10; Ps xlv.; Hos. iii. 5; Ezek. xxxiv. 23. And all their sacrifices did but shadow out that great expiation of sin which he was to make in his own person…”

From: John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol III. p13.