Monday, 14 August 2017

The True Israel of God

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Cor 3:16-17.

There is much confusion today about the biblical place of modern day Israel as a nation. Some believe that the emergence of Israel on the world map has huge significance biblically. Some Christians believe that the rebuilding of a third temple in Jerusalem will be one of the major signs of prophecy before the return of Christ. But is this the case?

The Bible verse from 1 Corinthians teaches us that the church is the temple, not Jerusalem's temple, one which was destroyed in AD 70. Even if this temple was rebuilt, the LORD God would not be present there, in a Redemptive sense. It therefore would have zero prophetic significance.

Fresh questions need to be asked polemically, in order to answer false claims that are made by dispensationalist Christians. However, we need to go further than simply answering false claims; we desire to know also the truth of the Scriptures more clearly.

There are two resources that I would like to point us to, in order to help us on this subject of the true Israel of God.

1. O. Palmer Robertson's book called "The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow". This is a gripping read with many fresh insights into the types and shadows of Old Testament promises.

2. A sermon by Rev Nick Batzig called "Jesus, the True Israel of God" (https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=726171058490) is excellent. This wonderful sermon goes further than giving apologetic answers. Nick expounds that the Son of God is the fulfilment of Israel's promises. Israel is a person. Listen to it and be blessed, as well as having meaningful answers to spiritual questions.

When we are the point that much money is wasted on Israel dispensationalist projects, such as rearing red heifers in Texas because they are supposedly needed for future temple sacrifices, then we need to teach Christians properly. False doctrine, leads to false ideas of how to serve the Covenant LORD, which can then lead to disaster.

Let's pray for a recovery of biblical truth regarding the true Israel of God.

Friday, 4 August 2017

There is the need for prayer for the recovery in the church of ...

The Summer time affords the chance, for me at least, to step back and reflect. In my assessment there is the need for urgent prayer for the the professing evangelical church on a number of fronts. I will make a list of these points for further consideration and I intend to blog on them. My small contribution, is intended to stir and stimulate a biblical interest in truth. I continue to be discouraged as a Christian at the lack of lively interest and attention given by many professing Christians in the Bible and the truths contained therein.

Here is a list of points which need further elucidation from Holy Scripture and prayer for their recovery in the church.

1. The Lord's Supper.
Perhaps top of the list is the right administration in the church of the Lord's Supper. The elders are supposed to guard the Lord's Table to ensure that only those who are worthy partakers, do indeed partake. The amount of confusion in the way the Lord's Supper is administered in many places, leaves a question open. Can a church be a true church, and not administer the Lord's Supper in a biblical and reverent manner?

1 Cor 11:27-29 "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself".

2. Reverence in public Christian Worship.
Hebrews 12: 28-29 "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire".

The order of the day in most professing circles is to consider, how can we be contemporary in worship? The Bible asks a very different question, which is: How does the Covenant Lord require to be worshipped? The high point of public worship should be the reading and the preaching of sound doctrine out of Scripture, so that the hearers can draw near to the Living God with "reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28) and in "Spirit and truth" (John 4:24).

3. The recovering of a love for preaching.
Preaching is the "backbone of the church" and the church cannot survive and thrive without. No amount of Christianity Explored courses, evangelism or music driven worship can replace it. Professing Christians may not desire preaching and when this happens it is a symptom of spiritual illness; something that the people themselves may not realise. Paul the apostle corrected the Corinthians and he taught them: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" ( 1 Cor 1:22-23). "We preach", Paul said, but it was the non-Christian Jews who sought signs instead, and not the true church.

4. The rejection of the obsession with extra-biblical revelations.
The so-called Charismatic movement with its many tentacles has been one of the most damaging movements in the late 20th and early 21st Century's. Why? Despite the Scripture's warnings that nothing is to be added or taken away from Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, Proverbs 30:5-6) and Revelation 22:18-19), this movement has displaced the pre-eminence of the Bible in the church with its quest for extra-biblical experiences and revelations outside of the Bible. "There is nothing new under the sun" with this quest, because the Quaker movement did the same thing, yet today the Quakers are a barren, fruitless and unbiblical monument to warn us. The warning "Remember Lot's wife" could be said of the Quakers to warn Charismatics and stop their wrong pursuits: Remember the Quakers.
To bring someone back out, of Charismatic chaos and confusion is often very difficult, because it is now a new and deeply ingrained tradition. When its claims are challenged by the Bible, Charismatic adherents defend their position using unbiblical arguments and opinions, and they often do not realise they are doing it. John MacArthur has done the church a service with his books called "Strange Fire" and "Charismatic Chaos".

Charismatic heresies need addressing with clarity, boldness and persistence to rescue people from this mass of false teaching.

5. Love for the laws and commandments of Scripture; Too often there is a rejection of the commandments of God in favour of a rule-less religion
Have you ever heard a professing Christian say "I am under grace not law. Holding to the Ten Commandments is legalism!". This statement has a ring of plausibility for many, despite the fact that it reveals a completely false message and a false gospel. The Lord Jesus stated clearly: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" John 14:15. A gospel presentation that talks about revelling the grace of God, and yet holds to a message that never mentions the Covenant Lord's commandments, imperatives and rules, is a false one.

6. For fresh clarity on eschatology: the common notion around is a two-stage rapture theory or a theology which replaces the church with the State of Israel (Christian Zionism).
This dispensational approach to the Bible, instead of a Reformed covenantal approach to Scripture, must be challenged. What often begins with a seemingly innocent desire to study the "end times" often ends up in a quagmire of flawed propositions, one's which are not supported by Scripture. We need to hold all truths in balance with Scripture. An obsession with so-called end times events replaces the whole panorama of biblical truths for a fascination with a handful of ideas. I have never met a Christian who holds to dispensational teaching and yet remains balanced.

7. A clear understanding of biblical church government: Feminism is now gripping the church
The rise of women teaching in the church and their holding office to lead men and women in the church is revealing and fast-paced. The Holy Spirit has spoken that women are not permitted to teach or to exercise authority over men. Women are not permitted to hold the office of elder, minister and deacon. There are ample opportunities for service for men and women, but only qualified men may hold public office.
What does this yielding to feminism reveal? It shows a desire in part of the church, to be like the world and that they will substitute a desire to be like the world with Scripture. It is a trade-off and one that grieves the Holy Spirit. 1 Timothy 2-3. Titus 1 and the whole of Scripture teach that qualified and godly men only are to rule, lead and teach the church.

8. Covenantal baptism
Any approach to baptism which negates the teaching of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, needs to be brought under scrutiny. Such approaches to baptism, opens the door to relegating the 39 books of the Old Testament to a lowered position. This is dangerous. Paul instructed Timothy that "All Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable ..." (2 Timothy 3:16).

9. A love of and the pursuit of personal and corporate holiness.
It seems as if the talk of holiness is "out of fashion", but it is in fashion in the eyes of heaven. Without holiness no one can see the LORD. Holiness is not an optional extra for Christians it is the very essence of Christianity. Do you agree and have you thought about your personal holiness in recent times?

Each of these points needs unpacking in order to help Christians to navigate their way of out these spurious teachings and if need be, out of churches that promote such teachings. It is the duty of Christians to be loving, but they must also seek out churches that hold to historic and biblical truth.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

"The Christ of Wisdom" by O. Palmer Robertson

Palmer has done it again! This book is a continuation of a number of fine theological books he has produced in recent years. The first was, I believe, "Christ of the Covenants" (1980), a book that has helped many Christians, seminary students and ministers to better understand the biblical covenants. This has been followed up with his book called "The Christ of the Prophets" (2004) and now with "The Christ of Wisdom"(2017).

This latest book is wonderfully researched and it offers rich insights into five biblical books: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and The Song of Songs. I take a different line to Palmer on the Song, I believe it teaches about Christ and the Church and not simply about human love, but that aside, this book is excellent.

Here are the main chapter headings:

Proverbs: How to walk in Wisdom's Way
Job: How to Puzzle
Ecclesiastes: How to cope with Life's Frustrations
Lamentations: How to Weep
The Song of Songs: How to Love

There has also been Palmer's book on "The Flow of the Psalms" (2015) published as well on the arrangement of the Psalms in the Psalter. One can hope that Palmer will continue this series and include some presentations on NT books as well. Let us pray and give thanks for this author, for wisdom, strength and insight in these writing projects which are enriching the body of Christ.

Ps Another valuable book by Palmer is called "The Final Word". This deals with the doctrine called the finality of Scripture. If you are thinking through the matter that the office of Apostles, prophets and prophecy have ceased, then this book may well be what you need.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Fight for the Lives of Unborn Children: Green Shoots in Sheffield

Can you believe that there have been over one billion abortions worldwide?1 This year marks the 50th anniversary of the legalisation of abortion here in the UK. More than 8 million abortions have taken place here since then. The latest figures available demonstrate that more than one in five pregnancies end in abortion meaning that on average 523 abortions are carried out every day in England and Wales. It is truly shocking but how do we even begin to respond to this?

A Response
We must pray. We pray to a God who is omnipotent. He can turn situations very quickly, if he so chooses. Many of us can take encouragement from events in the recent past. The ‘Iron Curtain’ fell almost overnight, after many people prayed for decades. Suddenly, there were many opportunities for the gospel. Similarly let us pray that there would be a wholesale change in attitudes to the value of human life.

We must teach people the truth on these matters. Many in society do not know their right hand from their left and some in the wider church are not as strong as they could be on this issue. Yet God’s word is clear: The Bible states that life begins at conception, every human is made in God’s image, and the deliberate taking of an innocent human life breaks the sixth commandment: ‘You shall not murder’. We must stand firm on these truths even when society (and some in the church) accuse us of lacking compassion for not allowing abortion in some ‘hard cases’. This is not merely an ideological issue – abortion not only results in the death of a child, but also many women who have an abortion deeply regret their actions. In 2008 a study found that women who have an abortion are 30% more likely to develop a mental illness. So we must teach with compassion, but also without compromise.
We can also seek to intervene. Is there anything we can do to make a woman reconsider having an abortion? Perhaps many of these women will react with fear on discovering that they are pregnant. Perhaps the baby was conceived in a situation that a woman would not have chosen. These women are now vulnerable – what will they do with the life within them? What options are available to them? It is ironic that those who are overtly ‘pro-choice’ do not offer pregnant women many choices at all – mostly they want a woman to choose abortion. Sadly, also, a woman’s own doctor may recommend an abortion.

Many women will not be offered an alternative or any material to make an informed decision. For instance, last December it was reported that a lady considering abortion felt she was simply on a conveyor belt to end the life of the child after arriving at a Marie Stopes clinic.
However, another choice is available for these women. A number of ‘pregnancy awareness centres’ have been opened across the UK. These offer woman confidential counselling and the opportunity to have a free ultrasound scan. Women going to one of these clinics may change their mind about having an abortion. They can hear about the other options (perhaps of adoption or how to manage the situation) and they can see, through the ultrasound scan, that there is a real baby within them and not a mass of impersonal cells. An ultrasound programme operating in the United States of America estimates that 370,000 lives have been saved since 2004.

The Story So Far
Over the last three years, Kevin and Maria Bidwell, along with others, have been working to establish a Pregnancy Advice Centre. The ethos is to provide wise and directive advice for pregnant women. Our aims are three-fold: to save the lives of babies; to minimise regret among women; and to present a Christian worldview for life. We now have premises and people are being trained so that ultrasound scans can also be offered. We are refurbishing the unit that we have and are setting up a website. We will potentially open initially to offer advice and then in the coming months offer ultrasound scans. Remarkably, the Lord has been answering prayer on many fronts. We have an ultrasound machine, with a couch; it is exciting to see the Lord’s hand upon this, even though we often feel ‘out of our comfort zone’. This work is vital and yet it requires perseverance, patience, faith and trust in the Living God. Will you join us in prayer?

Pregnancy Advice, Sheffield: How you can be involved
The website currently being constructed has an address (www.sheffieldpac.co.uk) but this will be a front for pregnant women coming to the centre. We are conscious that we need to actively build awareness among Christians and to raise funds to run the centre each month. If you would like to be added to the email database then contact us at kevinjbidwell@gmail.com and we will send brief bite-sized updates. Of course the need for prayer almost goes without saying, but also if you are in Sheffield you might like to visit us. The centre is five minutes from Junction 34 off the M1. Do contact us in advance (appointments would be needed for this to make sure we are available).

This year, sadly, marks the 50th year since abortion legislation was passed in the UK. On Friday 3 November we will host an evening to increase pro-life awareness. It will be held at Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe Common, Sheffield S9 2AD (just three minutes walk from the centre). Kevin Bidwell, the minister of Sheffield Evangelical Presbyterian Church will speak on the biblical theology of pro-life and Chris Richards will speak on ‘Putting the ethics into practice: experiences from the centre in Newcastle’. The Newcastle centre (http://www.tyneside-pregnancy.org.uk) are planning to extend their service also to Sunderland in the near future.

Kevin J Bidwell

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Are you interested in training for the ministry within a confessional framework? Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary is the only Presbyterian seminary in England and we are growing.

We have flexible options for studying for a MDiv or a Masters course to suit the needs of the student. Our aim is simple. To train for the work of pastoral ministry to serve as a teaching elder in a confessional Presbyterian church.

Here is the website link: http://presbyterianseminary.org.uk

If you are interested in knowing more then please contact me through the Sheffield Presbyterian Church contact page and we can talk. Do pray for this seminary as England urgently needs men for the ministry who are called, competent, equipped and godly. The church website for contact is: www.sheffieldpres.org.uk

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything". 2 Timothy 2:1-7

Monday, 3 July 2017

Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth".
2 Timothy 2:15


A minister who teaches the church MUST be equipped in sound systematic theology. Why? How else can he rightly divide the Word of God if he does not comprehend the unified system of truth, as presented in Holy Scripture? A minister has to preach the whole counsel of God and systematic theology provides the tools for such a man to do this. A man in the pulpit without training in systematic theology is like a plumber working on a boiler without a tool bag. It is that serious!

Many men who are allowed into pulpits with no theological training; but would you allow such a man to function as a primary school teacher, an electrician or a nurse to work without formal training? Of course not. So why do we place the bar so low at times for the minister serving in the church of God?

I have several book shelves with various authors presenting their systematic theologies. One that has remained a faithful friend to me over many years has been Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology (in one volume). Furthermore this work comes in three sizes.

A Summary of Christian Doctrine: This is the slimmest of the three possibilities. It is published by the Banner of Truth and it provides a succinct summary of Christian truth.

Manual of Christian Doctrine: This is the medium size book and it is most useful to train a man who needs to be further equipped for Christian ministry at the early stages.

Systematic Theology (one Volume): This is the full work comprising some 738 pages without the index.

This work is highly reliable, doctrinally stable and it equips the church in what is known as the analogy of faith. We must interpret Scripture by Scripture. The Westminster Confession makes this plain in its first chapter, 1:9.

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly".

Friday, 30 June 2017

Theology and Ecclesiology MUST be part of preaching!

There is a certain mood in our day which suggests "drumming things down". A minister friend of mine was criticised once for using too long theological words in his sermon and explication. Perhaps this could be wrong in some circumstances, but my friend rightly explained that if you are ill then you quickly become familiar with difficult words from your Doctor. We must not unnecessarily over-complicate things in the church and neither should we over-simplify things either. The latter is mainly the problem in British evangelicalism! The church needs a full-bodied recovery of theology and ecclesiology in its preaching.

We cannot preach Christ, without also preaching the doctrine of the church! Why? It is because the LORD Jesus Christ is the head of the church and He died for the church. Rev Brian Norton, a friend, mentor and faithful pastor in Durham Presbyterian Church, is now in heaven. But he modelled as a minister an attitude of pouring out his life for the church. Why did he live in this way? It is because Jesus died for the church, and not for projects, he lived as a minister for what primarily counts, the health of the Christian church. We must live for the upbuilding, strengthening and equipping of the true church. Do you live like that as a Christian? Selfishness is culturally acceptable and it is a part of our decadent British; it is an accepted cultural norms. But, we should not be living a selfish life as a Christian, this should not be so amongst the church and professing Christians. Let us live godly, self-effacing and with a servant heart to support the church.

Colossians 1:18 "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent".

Ephesians 5:22, 24-27 "Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour ... Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish".

Many Christian ministers and churches never mention ecclesiology in their preaching and they show no interest in it. That is often, until problems arise. And problems will indeed arise if the doctrine of the church is not opened up, because spiritual darkness will be tolerated in the church. Ecclesiology is part of the whole counsel of God and it must be preached. One of the best books I have ever preached on was the Book of Titus: a book full of ecclesiology and doctrine. When it is opened up for the people of God it is like "smelling salts".

Let the full light of ecclesiology shine in the church so that Scripture guides our view of church government, our practices in worship (and not our preferences) and our doctrine. This is why we cannot allow women to hold church office as elders, ministers or deacons. Why? The Scripture forbids it. Period. End of discussion, except that we will explain why God teaches thus and so, but we must submit to the Lord's wisdom and not push forward our own wisdom upon the church where it contradicts the plain teaching of Holy scripture.

What about theology? Theology means the study of God. The church must preach God and then we can rightly understand man. The church should fill our thoughts about the Triune God. Where else can this knowledge be found? The Lord Jesus Christ is the theologian par excellence. Why do I say that? Just read the Gospel of John. It is full of theology and the church needs this.

Let us pray for a full orbed recovery of ecclesiology and theology in all facets of the life of the church. So that the life of God can be visibly seen in the church's love for the Triune God.