Friday, 30 March 2007

The Many-Splendoured Cross

I'm off to Word Alive, where I'm on the team for the student track. I'll be doing a Subject Matters forum on studying maths, reviewing Questioning Evangelism (it's good), and leading an Impact Group. While I'm away, some better reading material than anything I post is this article by Dan Strange, from The Many-Splendoured Cross.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Loving lenses

A Ref21 reader reminds us of a comment MLJ made about the order of the 1st & 2nd great commandments, and the danger of reversing them: "Seeing our love for God through the lens of loving our neighbour vs. seeing our love for our neighbour through the lens of loving God."

I think that may be one mistake we're quite prone to. In Chalke's infamous title which I've just read, perhaps one of his mistakes is to understand God's love through the lens of our love. It ends up being a nice love, rather than a holy love, and thus is at odds with anger or punishment. (It also means he redefines holiness.) Whereas if we understand God's love as he's revealed it rather than through our lens of fallen human love, we see love the right way round. God is love. But we don't then get to define what that means: God does (in the same paragraph, which is handy, if you don't completely ignore it) -
[1 John 4.7-12] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Loving church

God's New Community, by Graham Beynon, is a good book. A practical theology of local church which I found challenging. I love church, and must live that love more practically.

On which note (that of loving local church), there are a few things I'd like to get clear...

Local church is fantastic. But it's not The Church. It's not where church starts & ends. One congregation is not by itself the Bride of Christ, nor the Body of Christ. It is a body of which Christ is the head, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. And certainly not when you're just effectively speaking of one congregation of one denomination (or independent congregation) out of the whole of the Church in any given city.

Since your particular local church, while fantastic, is not exclusively The Church, neither does it have the monopoly on being God's plan for mission. Mission teams do not just exist because local church isn't doing it's job properly; short term mission teams / work place mission teams / educational establishment mission teams exist because God's put us into Church. He designed Church. He didn't just design the particular local congregation you like. And you're not just a member of that congregation; you belong to his Church. You have no right to ignore Christians who are in other local churches.
Mission teams exist not because 'not every local congregation is doing church as well as yours', but because our Lord prayed that everyone who believes in him through the apostles' message would be one even as he is one with the Father. And since Jesus prayed it, it's happened. We are one. Not just in the local church you've chosen, but like it or not, with all the other gospel-believing Christians too. And why? So that the world might believe that Jesus was from the Father. Fantastic!

But that means that united witness is severely stunted if you're counting on it happening just through the particular local congregation you've joined and ignoring all other Christians in your area / street / workplace. Don't get me wrong: God uses these distinct communities, these assemblies, for the growing of his Church. But there's something very wrong if our evangelism insists on restricting itself to these. Because part of the mission strategy for which Jesus prayed was for all those who believe in the Apostles' message to be one so that the world would believe - i.e., visibly. So no matter how brilliant the evangelistic vision and practice is of the particular local congregation to which you belong, you will not do evangelism as well as a local congregation as you will if it's seen that you're part of The Church: the body of believers in which we are united by the Holy Spirit.

It's not an ideal situation, having many different local congregations, of course. But you don't follow Christ's John 17 mandate/prayer by pretending that you're the only church going and ignoring the mission-targetted unity you have with other Christians, others in God's Church.

Let's love Church. That is, let's love local church, and mission teams, and Gospel Partnerships, and other such things that go together to live out the Church of Christ which he bought with his own blood: for Jesus' sake and the sake of those around us who need to believe that he and the Father are one.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

"Play nicely, dear."

"We want to teach positively: we want to teach in love. You don't fling people's faults in their face: teach truth, but you don't need to refute error - leave that to the Holy Spirit. You don't want to drive people away but to be welcoming to those weak in the faith."

It sounds nice, doesn't it? Love, truth, and the Holy Spirit. The problem with that is that love which cares for a brother's life will minister rebuke. Truth cannot be ministered without correction of error. And the Holy Spirit ministers through his people. Our hearts are idol-factories and to minister God's word faithfully will always involve the tearing down of such false altars to set up the proper one (Jesus) in their place. Our minds set their thoughts on false hopes, with false ideas, and need renewed so that we would be transformed from glory into glory. That is the application of truth. We must not only hold to positive truths (like those expressed in the DB) but push each other as brothers & sisters in Christ that we each apply it in every area of life - knocking down the idols we meet on the way. To do otherwise makes mockery of saying we believe those truths.

If we're scared of refuting error, of correcting, rebuking, training each other in righteousness by his word... then settle into a nice fluffy ministry. People will like you more. In fact, they might just flock to hear you. Your group will be popular. It might even look like unity - all these people all in your group. Just (while you're at it) don't try to copy Jesus (rather too harsh on the pharisees - and as for his remark to Peter, it just didn't welcome that weak disciple), Paul (argh, don't mention Galatians), Peter (you'd think he'd have learnt from being so harshly rebuked by Jesus - but no, he goes and writes 2 Peter 2), John (oh dear, so binary, so black and white in those letters! So cutting about opposing views!), James (applying the gospel with such blunt pronouncements? Hardly charitable) or the writer to the Hebrews... Hm, or the rest of Scripture.

Let's teach the truth in love - the whole truth - to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness, that the man of God be thoroughly equipped for every good work. That's how the Holy Spirit designed it.

Surprised by the voice of God

Read right through this to the end: "The morning I heard the voice of God." It's well worth it, and rather challenging.

And this evening a student said to me, "Apart from becoming a Christian, joining CU was the best decision I've ever made." Which rather encouraged me. Likewise a student from a country which is very culturally Christian, who'd become a Christian earlier but not really known what it meant to live it distinctively - now shocked that she's going onto CU committee, says CU has made all the difference. Sometimes it's nice to have a bit of encouragement. Another student is coming perilously close to being sacked from his student job because he refuses to hard-sell the store credit card with a deceitful speil which barely mentions that it's a credit card, since the accumulation of credit cards are usually very damaging and as a Christian he won't do that to others. Distinctiveness. The gospel at work. Encouraging.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

on Belgium

Thank you for your prayers for Belgium & the GBU. I'll try to summarise in bullet points.

Daniel and Ellen White took over as General Secretary & Assistant last summer. They are the only staff of the GBU & moved from Britain (together with their 2 young children) to serve the GBU.

God has done an amazing work through them (accompanied by the IFES team). Last year, student leaders would say, "We like GBU because we get to meet other Christian young people when there aren't any others in our church." This year, they were reporting on loving getting into the Bible & being transformed by it, being trained in Bible study & evangelism, and doing evangelism & being greatly encouraged in it. They now know the gospel and have real vision for reaching their fellow students with it. Praise God!

However, while recognising this, the GBU board have dismissed Daniel & Ellen for 'a difference in vision'. They agree on the gospel as outlined in the IFES doctrinal basis. They agree that we should concentrate on this and not pronounce on secondary things as a GBU. However Daniel thinks that he must help students apply the truths of the gospel, expressed in the DB, to every area of their lives. For example: if a student attends a church which denies the resurrection, or denies salvation by grace alone through faith alone, or the ultimate authority of the Scriptures, he would in the course of things help them to think through the implications of this, especially if they were GBU leaders. He believes that the application of truth includes the correction of error, and that this is not secondary.

This is clearly a distressing situation, most of all for the students in the GBU: they love Daniel & Ellen and have been helped enormously by their ministry.

At the GBU AGM on Saturday, the current board was dissolved because of this. On 22nd April an Extraordinary General Meeting will be held to elect a new board. That board could then chose to reinstate Daniel & Ellen.

Personally I have the impression that some run scared of losing the support of the main protestant denomination in Belgium - the state supported United Protestant Church. This denomination ranges from protestant-but-fuzzy, through new age ("notre Terre qui est aux cieux..."), through churches which deny the resurrection, to a few evangelicals hanging on in there as it's the best boat to fish from. As 'Protestant' is rather suspicious to start with in an ex-RC/'free thinking' country, "Evangelical" is considered really fringe and divisive - even amongst Christians. To a Belgian Christian, "Evangelical" is non-RC, non-Protestant, non-Pentecostal. Evangelicals, so much in the minority, tend to react with an overly exclusive and defensive attitude. So someone said, "You're going to hole the GBU up in a corner as fundamentalist Evangelicals..."

  • Please continue to pray for Daniel and Ellen, for the God-exalting ministry of evangelism, Bible teaching and student training that they do to continue, and for strength and grace for them.
  • Praise God at the encouragement from the students, for their growth in maturity in the gospel and its fruit, for their vision for evangelism and hunger for the word.
  • Praise God for the decisions of the AGM: it was sore and messy but it potentially preserves the evangelical vision of the GBU, shared with IFES throughout the world.
  • Please pray for the EGM of the 22nd April, that board would be elected committed to the gospel, its application and promulgation among students in Belgium. There are few potential candidates for this, and some want a more ecumenical direction to the GBU.
  • There are many hurting Christians because of this - a young & foreign Gen Sec & family whose future is uncertain, seeking to continue ministry while they may, IFES team leaders who stand with them & so are also uncertain of their future, ex-board members who thought they were working hard for the GBU. Whether or not they are right or wrong in this issue, they are brothers & sisters in Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in power in each to bring reconciliation, humility and correction, for the glory of his name, that outsiders looking in would glorify God.

I ask you to pray for them - I recommend praying through 2 Corinthians 4 for the situation.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Pray for Belgium

Pray for Belgium & the GBU. That's all I can say: plead with God to act to glorify his name & his gospel in his Church, in his GBU students whom he loves, in the GBU staff & supporters, that his Kingdom would come and his will be done in Belgium as it is in heaven. I'm sorry I can't say more, but please pray.

Monday, 12 March 2007


One of the things I enjoyed in Norn Iron was being in Keith Getty's band (aka New Irish Choir & Orchestra - now the New Irish Arts). He's being going to far flung places recently, though has retained his accent, I'm glad to hear. He's worth listening to here.

Once in my Dad's bookshop, where he was in for books to study Revelation (to prepare for a show a year from then - he goes in for serious Bible study before any music!), I was moaning to Keith about the lack of decent worship songs. He cut me off: "Don't complain about the bad ones; write good ones!" Things haven't changed, and thankfully he's been writing the good ones, as I've not got beyond putting melodies to my Mum's kids choruses. Go on, hear what he has to say about hymns, worship songs, church music, writing hymns, his testimony, church services, and hiding in the toilets to avoid bad music before coming out for the sermon (not advised).

Tuesday, 6 March 2007


Dave Bish has set the table for us to enjoy Mike's 3-course feast in 1 Corinthians from the South East leaders training weekend (Cheers, Dave!). (Tim Rudge treated us to 2 Peter in the Midlands, but they don't seem to be online yet - we only had the Leicester office media guys recording for us, after all...). Just been a bit of a glutton and listened to all 3 talks in 2 days - rich food, rich food. God's gospel wisdom shaming the wisdom of the world.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Friday, 2 March 2007

God is not an Englishman

I've been reading "Watching the English", by Kate Fox, and have been amused, informed and confused (about the supposed class divisions anyway). And it made me wonder, how much does our culture influence our view of God? We (often appropriately) speak of post-modern culture, of Western culture, of post-RC Western European culture (me, most recently). But English culture?

I do think that most English people would expect the following if they passed God in the street:

1) They'd expect God to ignore them. It's a child's hide & seek principle: I can't see you - you can't see me! On seeing an Other approaching, I avert my gaze lest I make eye contact and thereby have to embarassingly acknowledge the existence of said Other and his intrusion / influence (albeit minute) on My Private World. If we passed God in the street, politeness dictates that he would ignore us.

2) If God was so rude as to speak to them (perhaps in an unavoidable situation: if I bumped into him by accident, for example), then he would a) apologise and b) talk about the weather.

3) If they happened to be on 'acknowledging' terms with God - hung out at his place socially sometimes, for example, then they would expect one of the following exchanges:
- Alrigh'?
- Alrigh'.
or, after pleasantries / complaints about the weather,
- How are you?
- Well thank you. (Or, more frequently in some circles now, "Good, thanks.")
Politeness dictates agreement with such assessments.

I want to put up a big banner, "God is not an Englishman." He won't be ignored. He refuses our 'right' to My Private World, free from the Other. He speaks unapologetically. He doesn't go in for small talk about the weather. He won't agree 'politely' with our self-assessment of "Alright" or "Good", no matter how often we're round at 'his place'. And he just doesn't go in for a self-depreciating sense of humour. A sense of humour, yes, but self-depreciating, no. He's God. He's not an Englishman.

"God is God; you are you: try to not get the two confused."
[Relay Worker, on Jonah (who seemed to have the same problem).]

Thursday, 1 March 2007

We confess that we confess

As if it were not enough that Carl Trueman regularly gives us his humour, he now asks us to humour him. While acknowledging that we all like to imagine that we hold some Biblical ground between two extremes, CRT really thinks that he does that in this case. Creeds & confessions. Good, bad, or pointless? (Hm, most of them have many points, but we'll leave the humour.) "A good creed seldom goes unpunished." The UCCF Doctrinal Basis is criticised as divisive by those who don't seem to grasp that any unity we have comes from the gospel. Independent churches can often criticise the Westminster (or 1689, given their church polity) on the basis that it isn't a sufficient safeguard, so we might as well just have a little statement of faith & add to it when necessary. Others say the Bible is our only creed. So what of creeds & confessions?