Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A Christian's Common Sense Guide to Christmas

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

When I was a very new Christian I was asked to dress up as Santa Claus and give out presents to children. This innocent and joyful job was heartily taken on by myself but in the afternoon beforehand a more mature Christian told me that "Santa" is Satan spelled differently and I should not do it. As a new Christian my conscience was tender and I thought "Oh no, I do not want to disobey God". Maybe you have faced similar challenges from people who may have said that Christmas is pagan or Christmas wreaths are celebrating death, and so on, or that Christmas is a Roman Catholic feast.

These issues really bring to the forefront of our minds the necessity of common sense in our Christianity and also that of the need for Christian maturity. These kinds of issues have always been around and they always will be. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 8:7-13 we read about matters of conscience: "However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble".

The church over the centuries have sought to honour two significant events in the life of Christ: The Incarnation and the Passion of Christ. It is true that Jesus was not literally born on December 25th, and tinsel and worldly Christmas activities such as drunkenness or revelling have nothing to do with the gospel. But to honour the incarnation of Christ or sing hymns that celebrate these truths are not sins.

My common sense advice for Christian's towards Christmas is to enjoy this time with our families, a time of rest and a time to remember the miracle of the incarnation, while being on our guard against excessive materialism. Let us do all things for the glory of God.

Ps I did dress up as Santa, even though he is a fictional character. Let us not forget that we must not restrict our remembrance of the incarnation of Christ to the Christmas season but throughout the year we have liberty to magnify this precious truth.

Monday, 10 December 2012

An Open Letter to the British Prime Minister David Cameron concerning the British Government's Intention to Redefine the Law on Marriage

10 December 2012

Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street

Dear Mr Cameron,

I have held back in writing to you for sometime and I believe that I can no longer remain silent. I am specifically writing to express dissent to your policies as a Conservative Party and as a Coalition government to forcefully push through legislation to redefine marriage in order to obliterate long-held views in our country. I honestly do not believe that your advisors and yourself have intelligently thought through the long term implications of these policies. My suspicion is that on the basis of Mr Osborne’s somewhat hollow comments in the Daily Telegraph (Saturday 8th December) where he stated that “he was ‘proud’ to be part of a Government that planned to introduce a law to redefine marriage” that this is indeed your determined goal.

Such an assertion indicates that the top leadership in the Coalition, though they may have a grasp on fiscal policies, that they have little or no grasp of Christianity, faiths of all kinds, social theory and the potential long-term divisions that this legislation will produce, long after this Coalition government ceases to be in office. To attempt to reshape British law with respect to marriage, does not redefine marriage, it simply places UK law out of step with the historic understanding of marriage. This political move will “cross a line” that will cause regret for years to come. In a democracy, vulnerable minorities should always be protected, however, in contemporary British society, active discrimination is pursued against those who hold differing moral viewpoints to the political elite. A deliberate scheme of anti-marriage and other propagandas are pursued in the public sphere. I dissent to this political move by the Coalition in three areas.

1). The Judeo-Christian understanding of my country on marriage is based on the teaching of the Book of Genesis which states: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. To attempt to amend the definition of marriage is a serious mistake.

2). To interfere with the Church of England, and all other faith based groups, which is the intent and implication of your leadership, is politically wrong. Our historic creed in this country believes in the liberty of conscience in matters of faith and practice. Why do you “cross a line” to interfere in matters of Christian religion when you are not ordained as a Christian minister or theologically equipped to do so? To change the law on marriage will cause deep divisions in society. To assert that a church should marry people of the same sex is beyond the jurisdiction of any government.

3). The end result under Tony Blair’s government, and now this Coalition, is to “fence off” people in the public sphere, so that anyone who disagrees with the government concerning this “new morality” is effectually side-lined, excluded and forbidden to speak out. The next step will no doubt be, to make it illegal for anyone to discriminate on the basis of the new marriage proposal and then to to promote this redefined view of marriage within the education system. To this, I and others dissent.

I have a single question for you that I sincerely would value a written answer to. Will it become illegal to voice an opinion in the public sphere, including within schools and universities, to make it known that the government are wrong concerning their new legalised revision of marriage and that marriage should only be between a man and woman?

If it becomes illegal, then you have “crossed a line” again, of which faith-based groups will not be able to back down upon. The Bible transcends culture, gender, new social fads and atheistic morality. I do sincerely hope that this government intelligently takes the time to think things through in order to reconsider their actions and then permanently abolish the notion to redefine the current British law on marriage.

Yours in concern,

Dr Kevin J. Bidwell

Friday, 7 December 2012

A Covenantal View of Baptism and Its Relationship to Evangelism

Christian baptism is in urgent need of being revisited by the evangelical church. This essay explores a covenantal view of baptism and its relationship to evangelism. The doctrine of baptism as put forward by the teaching found in the Westminster Standards is upheld. It is contended that there is a connection between God’s covenant and God’s signs of the covenant, which in the New Testament are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The shadow of baptism in the Old Testament was circumcision: whereas circumcision involved the shedding of blood and therefore it pointed forwards to the future shed blood of Christ, baptism points backwards to the shed blood of Christ and Christ’s completed atonement. Baptism in the new covenant is to be administered using water and the new covenant name of God, “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19); and it is to be applied to Christian converts, and the children of believing parents.

This is the introduction to an article that I was requested to write for Affinity in the UK. The full article is available on their website or for downloading onto a PDF. The link is: http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-63-article-3-a-covenantal-view-of-baptism-and-its-relationship-to-evangelism

Let us pray for a recovery of a covenantal view of baptism as presented in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Evolution is an Unsubstantiated Theory

In 1987, I sat under one of Britain's experts in evolution while studying at the University of Birmingham, England. Each week I would thrust my hand in the air to request the lecturer to re-explain these almost unexplainable quantum leaps in the development of life-forms. He presented no sound arguments. How could he? There is not the slightest evidence in the fossil record or any other record of these miraculous steps upwards to produce higher life forms. Evolution is an unproven theory, some would say a myth!

Despite the lack of evidence to underpin these wild evolutionary claims it has not deterred the academic world from developing a sophisticated narrative of the development of animal and plant forms, often footnoted with some comment about "millions of years ago". There is so much to say on this subject and there is so much which must be said.

In the UK today, there are huge governmental pressures in the name of "political correctness" to accept the government's "new morality" with its sophisticated approach to religion, ethics, evolution and science. To object at any point is to be labelled as a bigot or to be called "narrow-minded'. Well, I dissent to the notion of evolution on sound academic grounds. The implications of accepting evolution are immense with respect to ethics and morality. There is a much better alternative and it is to accept a world-view which has the belief in God at its heart and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A recent BBC historical documentary called "The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01p4ss6/The_Dark_Charisma_of_Adolf_Hitler_Episode_3/) repeatedly stresses that much of Hitler's evil schemes were established on Darwinian principles. Therefore, do not be misled in thinking that the acceptance of the theory of evolution is innocent. Of course, I am not suggesting that it leads all people to endorsing the wicked ideas of Hitler, but the implications can be devastating and far-reaching.

Now, the Bible is very clear and it always has been. The Book of Genesis was given by inspiration of God to Moses to clarify the whole matter. This revelation given by God came well in advance of the work of Charles Darwin. This book teaches us that: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1). God almighty created all things in six literal days and at the end of this act of Creation, he rested.

We read in Genesis 2:1-3 "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation".

The first man was called Adam and he was created by God and he was a real, literal and historic person. All humanity has descended from Adam. It is long overdue for Christians to present articulate counter-arguments to the ever-present teaching on evolution and the often common link with "new atheism" that is so prevalent and trendy. This is the counsel of Almighty God to new or old school atheists, so be warned: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God' ”.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Pursue and Pray for Godly Wisdom

"The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown” (Proverbs 4:7-9).

How beautiful it is when a Christian walks in wisdom. Wisdom, that is God's wisdom does not come quickly to us as Christians but it is part of our growth in grace. The exhortation here is to "get wisdom". We need many things in our Christian pilgrimage. We need to understand the Gospel of God (Romans 1:1), we need to learn to walk in love and humility (Ephesians 5:2), we need sound doctrine (Acts 2:42) but we also need to walk in wisdom.

This is indeed the apostolic counsel of Paul the apostle to the Colossian church. "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Col. 4:5-6).

In all we do may we not forget to pursue wisdom and here are the marks of godly wisdom from James 3:17 "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere". Let us pray for this kind of wisdom, let us pursue this kind of wisdom. May we all "get Wisdom!".

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Danger of Becoming an "Internet Theologian"

What an interesting topic! A fellow minister warned me about two years ago, that in his experience, quite often some church members becomes ensnared by certain untested "winds of doctrine" to be found on the internet. This blog post is not anti-technological. The internet is in many ways a blessing but it is also a conduit for all kinds of material. The danger I am warning of is this: Anyone can find someone on the internet who will agree with them.

For a Christian who is gullible or not well taught, this can potentially leave them wide open for a whole range of false teaching. This is warning number one! However, there is a further warning and it is that the internet can easily become a substitute for the real thing. What is the real thing? It is teaching and fellowship in and through the church. It is live preaching and fellowship that God has chosen as his ordinary means of grace. This raises another danger; that is the one of becoming over-reliant upon internet sermons.

Listen to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you' " (1 Cor.12:21). It would be completely unacceptable for all of the apostles if they heard that Christians stopped at home to surround themselves with teachers who feed their itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). This small blog article introduces some dangers of people becoming their own isolated "internet theologian", when God has ordained instead, pastor-teachers in the flesh to govern and teach us. Here is a checklist of things to consider to guard yourselves from deception.

1. Do you faithfully worship in a local church where you are in submission to godly elders? If this is not the case then you misled and therefore you are probably not in position to discern and judge between what is right and wrong with respect to theology found on the internet.

2. Do you have a teachable spirit? Most often this is where the problem lies because if you listen to internet sermons as a substitute to sitting under teaching by a pastor, then you cannot be confronted or corrected.

3. When you open your mind to teaching on the internet, take the time to find out about the location of the person's church position who is doing the teaching. Recently, I took the time to investigate a well-known reformed internet advertised ministry, only to discover that the founder had no checks and balances and he is a loose-cannon beyond the bounds of any correction. He is not part of a church, he is not ordained or trained theologically and yet he has a worldwide internet Christian ministry. It is amazing how someone can get such a following and continue "under the radar" and damage the church of God.

This blog post is a small start to hopefully protect the true sheep of God from becoming ensnared by untested and unaccountable teachers who are easily found on the internet.

1 John 4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world".

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Sermons from the London Presbyterian Conference

The London Presbyterian Conference 2012 turned out to be a huge blessing to many people, on many levels. For those who were not able to attend the conference, the sermons are now available on the EPCEW website.

The link is: http://www.epcew.org.uk/art/index.html

There may also be people who were at the conference but they also want to listen to the sermons again.


Kevin Bidwell

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism by Robert Letham

The sub-title for this book published by Christian Focus Publications (2012) is: "The Water that Unites". This should immediately grab our attention because often discussion on the subject of baptism among Christian's appears sometimes to do the opposite. This little book is a summary of the historic reformed position on baptism which includes children of a believing parent(s).

There are nine mini-chapters and I recommend this to all Baptists also to read. Why is that? Well, I do not make the recommendation as a subversive way to convert them to our presbyterian position (though that would be great), but rather to foster a greater degree of understanding and humility on all sides. Paul's admonitions are so valuable and here are three of them.

Ephesians 5:2 "Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God".

Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves".

Romans 12:18 "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all".

I would not want to stir up controversy regarding baptism but quite honestly some comments I have received from Baptists regarding a presbyterian view on baptism have sometimes been founded on a misunderstanding.

One section towards the end of the book is worth it's "weight in gold". It is entitled "Is it Biblical to Require a Conversion Narrative of Christian Children?" (p 99-101). No matter what one's persuasion on baptism, this section is of great pastoral use to every section of the church. I commend this book to you!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Third Mark of the Church

John Calvin was not a detached theologian; he was a pastor at heart, and one who refused to drive a wedge between theology and practical ecclesiology. In 1539, during a time of temporary exile in Strasbourg, the pastor from the church at Geneva clearly defended the Reformed doctrine of the church in a letter to Cardinal Sadolet. He writes that ‘there are three things on which the safety of the church is founded, namely, doctrine, discipline and the sacraments’(1) and also that ‘the body of the church, to cohere well, must be bound together by discipline as with sinews’(2). This concern for a well ordered church highlights discipline as a third strand of Reformed ecclesiology.

This third mark is widely accepted among Reformed scholars and Berkhof explains that the faithful exercise of discipline is ‘absolutely essential to the purity of the church’(3) a notion also clearly upheld by Clowney (4). The Scottish Reformation unashamedly walked in Calvin’s footsteps and modelled itself on Geneva and it is no coincidence that John Knox and Andrew Melville prepared books of discipline. Donald Macleod explains that their intention was that ‘the church must have proper biblical organisation’ if things were to be done decently and in order, to which end ‘functionaries and officers are to be appointed to facilitate the life and mission of the church’(5). However, Macleod has a clear and important goal in sight in that he asserts that ‘the church must organise itself in such a way, that it can serve the gospel with maximum efficiency’(6). This third mark is arguably a vital component for the maintenance of the first two, which may well stand or fall by the effective upholding of church discipline as part of the exercise of the ministry in the congregations.

1. John Calvin, ‘Reply by John Calvin to the Letter by Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate and the People of Geneva’ in Calvin’s Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), p 38.

2. John Calvin, ‘Reply by John Calvin to the Letter by Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate and the People of Geneva’ in Calvin’s Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), p 55.

3. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1958, repr. 2005), pp 576-8.

4. Edmund P. Clowney, Living in Christ’s Church (Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1986), pp 130-6, offers helpful discussion of these three marks.

5. Donald Macleod, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1998), pp 259-60.

6. Donald Macleod, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 1998), pp 259-60.

Monday, 22 October 2012

BBC Radio Interview on the Berlin Church Planting Work

Dear all,

BBC Radio Sheffield rang me up on Friday asking if they could interview me live on Sunday morning regarding our work of church planting in Berlin. Here is the link and scroll to 1:38 to avoid listening to the whole programme.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00zblzq (This is no longer available on the BBC I-Player to be listened to)

Be gracious with me as you listen. This interview was live and I had no idea what questions I would be asked except that it would be about the work in Berlin. She has interviewed me twice before and that helps to build a rapport.

In the work of the gospel,

Kevin Bidwell

PS Please continue to pray for our work in Sheffield and now also Berlin.
Pps It is only available on the website for the next 6 days.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Reformation Christianity for Today: November 2012

In 2008, we had the first study conference for men. This came at the request of some young men who were studying for the ministry but they had a whole range of questions that they wanted to ask concerning their new found reformed convictions. This conference has continued one year at a time. If you are a man and you would like to join us, here are the details of this years programme.

Reformation Christianity for Today: 2012

Venue: Bawtry Hall, Doncaster.

Friday 9th November 2012

9:45am Arrival , & Tea and Coffee

10:15am Session 1

Opening Devotion (Andrew Graham)

The Ingredients of Public Worship (Kevin Bidwell)

Greek Exegesis of the Main Points of Hebrews 12:18-29 (Dominik Frank)
Session 2: The Call to Worship, Congregational Singing and the Benediction (Kevin Bidwell)
Devotion (Phil Baiden)

7:30-9. 30pm Session 3

Lessons from the Life of John Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides (Andrew Graham)
Prophesying?: A Biblical and Reformed Understanding (Bill Schweitzer)

Saturday 10th November 2012

9.30-12.30, Session 4 (Coffee Break around 10:45am)

Devotion (Paul Thorpe)
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Kevin Bidwell)
Preaching: The Theological Examination of Ministers (Joel Halcomb)

The Saturday afternoon we will have time to relax and a game of five-a-side football may be organised.

4.00-6.00pm Session 5

Delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Kevin Bidwell)
Closing Devotion

6.00 pm Evening Meal

Kevin Bidwell is the minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church

Andrew Graham is the conference administrator and he is the minister of Bradley Road Evangelical Church, Wrexham

Joel Halcomb has completed research at the University of Cambridge on the Westminster Assembly. He is involved with Chad van Dixhoorn on the Westminster Assembly Project.

Dominik Frank is training for the ministry at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

Bill Schweitzer is the minister of Gateshead Presbyterian Church.

If you would like to come then please email Andrew Graham as soon as possible: andrewmichaelgraham@gmail.com

Saturday, 6 October 2012

London Presbyterian Conference, 2012

Twenty-five years ago, the Presbyterian Association in England, forerunner of EPCEW, was formed. The London Presbyterian Conference 2012 will, we trust, be a reminder of the grace of God over the last quarter of a century to our denomination, and an opportunity to engage with those who are interested in EPCEW and who are in sympathy with our desire to plant churches in England and Wales. The purpose of this conference is threefold.

1). To present biblical and warm-hearted Presbyterianism. This day will provide a window through which people can learn more of EPCEW.
2). To foster and develop our church planting contacts with a view to seeing new churches planted in the years ahead.
3). To be a rallying point for our church members as well as our office bearers.
Date: Saturday 20th October, 2012

Venue: Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, London W1C 2DJ

Time: 11.00am for 11:30am until 4.00pm.


"Building Christ's Church" by Rev. Dr Robert Letham
"The Challenges and Opportunities of Church Planting"
Rev. Dr. Kevin Bidwell
A Time of Prayer led by Rev. Andy Young and Rev. Dr Bill Schweitzer
"Thus Far has the Lord Led Us: A Historical Review of the Last 25 Years" by Rev. Brian Norton
"Warm Hearted Presbyterianism" by Rev. Ian Hamilton

There is a bookstall with a range of reformed books at excellent prices. A nominal charge of £5.00 will be made on the day for registration to help cover the costs.

This conference is open for all including families. This is not just for ministers and elders. If you cannot come then please pray for the Lord's blessing upon this momentous occasion to celebrate a recovery of confessional presbyterianism in England and Wales.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Marks of the Church (The Lord's Supper)

The second mark of a true church is the right administration of the sacraments, which are baptism and the Lord's Supper. My concern in these blog articles is to contend for the honour of the Lord and the pastoral well-being of Christians. New traditions can be formed quickly. So quickly that they may gain acceptance to be the norm and become solidified unchallenged. This can be the case with respect to the administration of the Lord's Supper.

Communion was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore it is to be a vital feature for the life and health of the church. Paul records these words of institution for the Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, and they are also found in Matthew, Mark and Luke's Gospel. "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread" (1 Cor. 11:23).

Paul the apostle had a rich understanding concerning the Lord's Supper as he wrote: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16). This kind of rich language concerning our communion with Christ, spiritually speaking, through the Communion is probably a neglected theme.

With respect to the administration of this sacrament how is it commonly administered? Is it served as a quick snack, like fast food or is it served a rich feast to nourish the church? In my experience over the years, it is all too common that the Lord's Supper is served hastily and this can deny the church the blessings for which Christ intended for the church.

Listen to the Westminster Larger Catechism on this subject.
Question 170: How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord's Supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?

Answer: As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.

Let us all join in prayer for a recovery of the right administration of the Lord's Supper for the honour and glory of the Triune God.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Baptism Continued

Does Baptism have to be by Immersion or Dipping?

Some sections of the professing church insist that baptism must be by immersion. However, does this suggestion carry biblical weight? One of the common appeals is to the supposed meaning of the Greek word "to baptise", but does this assertion demonstrate that baptism must be by immersion to be valid?

The plea is made by some, from the meaning of the Greek word “baptise” (baptizō). Proponents of this view insist that it is to be understood exclusively as “to immerse, plunge or dip”. Greek scholars concur that this meaning is included, but the context of each usage of this word in the NT does not fit such a constrained jacket of meaning (Mark 7:4, Col. 2:12, Heb. 6:2, 9:10).

Frederick Danker responsibly includes the idea of “ritual or ceremonial washing” (Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, London: The University of Chicago Press, 2009, 67). John Owen refuses to yield to this singular insistence of dipping. He writes “I must say, and will make it good, that no honest man who understands the Greek tongue can deny the word to signify ‘to wash,’as well as ‘to dip’ ”. (John Owen, “Of Dipping” in The Works of John Owen: The Church and the Bible, Volume 16, ed William H. Goold, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968, repr., 2006, 266-67).

Owen prefers the rendering “to wash” and this has implications of cleansing which is spiritually significant. The waters of baptism speak of the shed blood of Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, Eph. 1:7, Titus 3:5-6, Heb.12:24).

The Westminster Confession of Faith is affirmed: “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary: but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person” (28:3). Dipping is not excluded, but it is not exclusively necessary for Christian baptism.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Marks of the Church (Baptism)

Christian Baptism is in urgent need of being re-visited by the evangelical church. The biblical teaching of the sacraments is that they are 'signs and seals' of God's covenant grace (Romans 4:11). The fore-runner of baptism in the Old Testament was circumcision which God instituted in Genesis Chapter 17. God commanded Abraham: 'And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you' Genesis 17:9-11. Note the connection between covenant and circumcision.

There is a connection between God's covenant's and God's sign's of the covenant, which in the New Testament are baptism and the Lord's Supper. The shadow of baptism in the Old Testament was circumcision: Whereas circumcision involved the shedding of blood and therefore it pointed forwards to the future shed blood of Christ, baptism points backwards to the shed blood of Christ and Christ's completed atonement. Baptism in the new covenant is to be administered using water and the new covenant name of God, 'the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit'; it is to be applied to adults and the children of believing parents.

As with the sign of the covenant, circumcision in the Old Testament, in the new covenant this sign is also to be applied not only to believers, but also to the children of believers. The exclusion of children in baptism by evangelicals is a mistake. A sincere question remains. In which direction does the sign of baptism point? Baptists would argue that it points to our faith in Jesus and our obedience to Him. However, the signs of the covenant do not point to man but instead to God. This is why the inclusion of children in baptism is such a stumbling block to baptists, because they argue 'how can a child have faith?'.

However, baptism is not connected to the timing of it's ordinance for it's efficacy. The same is true of the Lord's Supper. The waters of baptism speak of the shed blood of Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. Titus 3: 5-6 'He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life'.

Baptism declares the priority of grace over faith. We are not saved by faith. We are saved by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 'For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast'.

It is important that we recover the biblical doctrine of baptism to ensure that God is glorified, and declared to be the alone saviour of sinners, which is by His grace alone.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Marks of the Church (The Sacraments)

The Sacraments are the Second Mark of a True Church

For a host of reasons, much of British evangelicalism is often only primarily concerned about one mark of the church; that is preaching. However, the Lord Jesus Christ instituted two new covenant ordinances, which are baptism and the Lord's Supper. There are only two sacraments and this is contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church who teach that there are seven.

In many ways, I think that the way that baptism and the Lord's Supper are administered in a church is a very good 'litmus test' for the theology of that church. For example baptism, which for all the reformers included the baptism of infants of believers. Today, many churches would refuse to baptise infants, on the basis of their accepting a different doctrine called 'believer's baptism'. However, the reformers would have contended that this doctrine does not administer the sacrament correctly. It is time for the baptistic doctrine of baptism to be challenged, especially in England and Wales.

What about the Lord's Supper? I have been in churches where it was hastily bolted on to the end of the service and the richness of this spiritual feast was not captured. Such a low view of the Lord's Supper is commonly held and practiced. Evangelical churches need to revisit this doctrine and evaluate whether they are administering it in a way that is true to the Bible and true to feeding the flock of God.

The sacraments are the second mark of a true church, can that be said to be true in your mind? Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ and the words of institution of the Lord's Supper and Baptism.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mt 26:26–29).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18–20).

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Marks of the Church (Part Four)

Preaching Must Give a Sense of the Presence of God!

There is so much to say about the preaching of pure doctrine that it is hard to know how much to include on this blog series. Recently, someone spoke to me about their search for a good church. They explained that they visited one church which has a good evangelical reputation and yet this person remarked to me something interesting. They said that "There was nothing wrong with the church, everything was sound, and yet there was something missing".

Over the recent months I have been thinking very much about what that "something" could be. I discussed this with one of my fellow Presbyterian ministers and he suggested that what was missing was a 'sense of the presence of God'. He went on to explain that if we do not understand what worship is, an activity that is to be conducted before a holy God, and not simply as a good Christian habit or for evangelism, then a 'sense of God' will be missing.

A number of years ago I heard Professor Ted Donnelly preach for the first time. I came home and told my wife that as I heard him preach, it seemed as if I was being brought before the very throne of God. Now that is preaching! In conclusion, we want sound doctrine to be preached, but preaching that is believed to be the 'high point of Christian worship'. This needs to be understood by the elders and the congregation. Understanding this can transform the worship of a church.

John Calvin made these statements several centuries ago:

‘God governs his church by the external preaching of the Word’.

‘Why is the preaching of the gospel so often styled the kingdom of God, but because it is the sceptre by which the heavenly King rules his people?’.

‘The preaching of the gospel, which is committed to [the church], is the spiritual sceptre of Christ, by which he displays his power’.

The Book of Hebrews teaches: Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28–29). If preaching is the high point of worship then it must be conducted with reverence, otherwise it is not being conducted in a way that is 'acceptable' to Almighty God. Let us think much on these things!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Marks of the Church (Part 3)

The First Mark: The Preaching of Pure Doctrine

Paul wrote to Timothy: 'What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also' (2 Timothy 2:2).

One of the challenges that we often face, in the now splintered Protestant wing of the church, is that of subjectivity. It is the problem that Paul described in 2 Corinthians 10:12, 'Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding'.

If I were to ask a fellow minister or a church member if pure doctrine was being preached in their church, how do you think they would answer? Very rarely would anyone put their 'hand in the air' and admit that it could be a possibility in their situation, that pure doctrine was absent or defective. Why? Well, let me press the point further and ask a second question. On what basis do you measure, as to whether a church preaches pure doctrine? How would you answer? Most commonly there is little or no guardrail against error in evangelical churches, therefore a subjective independent assessment has entered the church unknowingly, through a side-door.

Let me address five issues to ensure that a church is preaching pure doctrine.

1. Is the church committed to preaching?

It can no longer be taken for granted that a church is even committed to the act of preaching in today's morass of confusion within evangelicalism. It was reported to me recently that in a Christian Centre in Sheffield (notice that they have dropped the use of the word church, which is often an indication that they have departed from the Bible), that the preacher, who is more of a business-motivation speaker, spoke on a fashion-item of clothing. He made no reference to the Bible. At this point any sane professing Christian needs to leave that 'Centre' and find a proper church, one that is free from soulish entertainment.

A common indicator that a church has departed from soundness is often their room layout. Does the church have a pulpit? Commonly, the music band now takes centre stage and the preaching has to be done using a music stand. This can be a tell-tale sign that preaching is being down-graded. Another common error is that the man being introduced as being about to preach, is instead described as being about to 'share God's word'. Those who are called by God must preach and herald the truth of God and not share!

2. Does the church have a detailed reformed confession of faith?

After the end of World War II, the church had been ravaged by liberalism. As a result churches had to come together to confirm their commitment to the inerrancy of scripture and they often declared that they held to the basics of the Christian faith. Perhaps nine or ten points on the Trinity, the deity of Christ, baptism and the Second Coming of Christ, for example. While this may have been a good response to liberalism, it is insufficient for a church to be founded on apostolic doctrine using such basic points. Every church needs a solid reformed confession of faith!

How else can we measure the content of the message being preached without a rich confession of faith? How can we train men for the ministry without such a commitment to the apostles' doctrine? For all of the magisterial reformers such as Calvin, Farel, Luther, Bullinger and so, it would have been unthinkable to have a pure church without a proper confession of faith. The evangelical church in the UK must return to her Protestant roots, if we are to have a real and lasting work of reformation.

3. Are the preachers being trained to handle the pure doctrines of scripture?

I think that the previous answer makes the answer to this question self-explantory. I personally pray for a confessional presbyterian seminary in England and may you join with me in prayer for this. If this is something that resonates with you, then let us collectively join together in prayer, and let us see what our God will do.

4. Are Reformed Confessions and Church Creeds living documents for the elders and church members?

This point has to be mentioned also. A church may be committed to historic creeds and confessions of faith but it may be so, only nominally. Every generation needs to return to the first principles of the faith. A Lutheran minister in Berlin recently described the problem of the lack of doctrinal knowledge in churches in the West. We need ministers, elders and deacons, and church members, who are committed to the joy of the doctrines of the Christian faith.

5. Does the love of God pervade the preaching of the gospel?

This may not seem obvious but it is extremely important. It is not enough to have pure doctrine but pure doctrine must be preached in the love of God, otherwise it is not biblical. Listen to John the Apostle: 'Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him' (1 John 4:7-9).

I sincerely hope that this blog is helpful for us to begin to critically analyse our situation within evangelicalism. I have stated for years that the first step to solving a problem is to recognise that there is indeed a problem in the first place. May we pray for a recovery of the first mark of the church in it's fulness in our generation.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Marks of the Church (Part 2)

The Reformers’ Definition of a True Church

One of the earliest recorded definitions of the church is derived from the Apostle’s
Creed, and Christians everywhere have long confessed the belief in a ‘holy catholic
church’ and the ‘communion of the saints.’ The Nicene Creed (381) similarly
established the trinitarian faith and affirms that ‘[we believe] in one holy and catholic, apostolic church.’ This confession provided a framework for what became known as the church’s four attributes. These are unity, holiness, catholicity (universal in relation to the whole) and apostolicity (the apostolic faith and gospel) and this became the norm for the ancient and mediaeval church.

At the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had exclusively claimed these four attributes for itself institutionally, and in response to charges of schism, the Reformers sought to distinguish between a true and false church. Edmund P. Clowney observes that ‘for Luther and Calvin, the preaching of the apostolic gospel defined the true church’ but they also ‘continued to affirm the attributes from the Nicene Creed’ (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995, pp 92, 101). Two primary marks (notae) were identified by these magisterial Reformers as the distinguishing outward characteristics that make a church a true church.

Calvin’s hugely influential Institutes expressed the view that these marks
apply to visible, individual churches as opposed to the invisible and universal
church (John Calvin, Institutes, 4: 1: 4 and 9, pp 1016, 1023). He states that ‘wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists' (John Calvin, Institutes, 4: 1: 9, p 1023. The French Confession of Faith, XVIII, which Calvin prepared in 1559 also states the same two distinguishing marks).

Debate has continued concerning the attempt to discern where the lines should be drawn between falsity and purity and Calvin himself was undoubtedly aware of this complexity. He was prepared to allow for a measure of error but warns: ‘As soon as falsehood breaks into the citadel of religion and the sum of necessary doctrine is overturned and the use of the sacraments is destroyed, surely the death of the church follows—just as a man’s life is ended when his throat is pierced or his heart mortally wounded.’

For Luther as well as for Calvin, the two marks that define a true church are the preaching of pure doctrine and the administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). (Benjamin Charles Milner, ‘The Marks of the Church’ in Calvin’s Doctrine of the Church, Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1970, pp 99-133.)

It is clear that Paul had an all-consuming concern for the church to be well-ordered as his letter to Titus teaches. The church is to be governed by godly and qualified elders, who teach sound doctrine so that the church rests upon a sound foundation. Titus 1:5, 'This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—' and 2:1 'But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine'.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Marks of a True Church: Part 1

There is perhaps no more urgent subject than this at the present time in the United Kingdom. From my vantage point it seems that there is often so much confusion as to how the church should function. Our chief concern is the honour and glory of our God but also the well-being and the spiritual care of Christians. In every generation we need to come back to first principles. The rule of faith and practice for the church can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. Is the teaching of Scripture the rule for how you understand the church?

I intend this to be a mini-series of blogs on this subject. I am part of the church planting committee for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales. Often I make the comment that 'I am not interested in planting churches ... but I am interested in planting the right kinds of churches'. These are churches who are committed to the three marks of a true church.

Do you know what the three marks of a true church are?
They are:

1. The preaching of pure doctrine
2. The right administration of the sacraments (these are baptism and the Lord's Supper)
3. Church discipline; a church needs to be well ordered.

While this is an obvious question for those who know something of church history, it is not commonly taught among Christians in the UK today. Why is this the case? Well if Christians were better informed then they would and could legitimately begin to ask searching questions for their own church's practice. If Christians in the UK were asked today, 'what are the marks of a church?', how would they answer? It would probably include the following:

A contemporary worship band
A lively and relevant talk that addresses my needs
Friendly fellowship
A good range of programmes for the children
Somewhere close to where I live
Lots of opportunities for me to use my gifts
An evangelistic or missional vision

These ideas may sound attractive but do they measure up to Scripture? The answer to solving a problem is often-times to simply get people to recognise that there is a problem in the first place. This blog post sets the 'ball rolling'. Until I write the next blog post a good piece of homework for further study is John Calvin's Institutes, Book 4, Chapters 1-5.

And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church. Colossians 1:18.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Students Looking for a Church in Sheffield

To all students coming to Sheffield,

Sheffield Presbyterian Church would like to welcome students who are coming to Sheffield to study.

Our worship services are at 11.00am and 4.00pm. Our meeting place is at The Source which is near Meadowhall Shopping Centre and there is a tram stop right outside. It is the Tinsley/Meadowhall South stop.

Our website is: www.sheffieldpres.org.uk

We look forward to meeting you,

Kevin Bidwell

Monday, 2 July 2012

Setting our Sights on Heaven: Why It’s Hard and Why It’s Worth It, by Paul D. Wolfe

Paul D. Wolfe
Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 2011, 194pp, paperback.
ISBN: 978 1 84871 143 3

Setting our Sights on Heaven. What a marvelous subject to be writing on as a Christian author! Sinclair Ferguson in his ‘Foreword’ is sadly right, when he accurately diagnoses a problem faced by many contemporary churches. He writes: ‘We are inexperienced in breathing in heavenly air. But the soul that has breathed in heaven’s joyful passion for the glory of God senses more and more just how abnormal, fallen, and distorted this-world-focused life has become’ (xi).

The subject matter of this book makes for compelling reading. The work is structured in two parts: Part 1, ‘The World to Come’ and Part 2, ‘The Cure for What Ails Us’. Chapter Two, ‘Show Me the Way To Go Home’ is particularly useful, to help those who fear death, so that they can be comforted with the sure promise of the Christian’s future hope, ‘life on the new earth’ (43). Chapter Three ‘Set Your Minds’, could pastorally help us all, to become re-orientated upon the goal of our faith. This chapter emphasises the exhortation of Peter the apostle, to ‘set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:13).

There are two comments that can be made to perhaps improve the readability of this project. Firstly, I could not help but think that this book came across as a systematic theology of the doctrine of heaven. This is not wrong in itself, but the material could have been arranged differently. Secondly, the book would have been greatly enhanced if it had included a chapter which expounded the last two chapters of the Bible: Revelation Chapters 21 and 22. In this section of scripture we encounter the ‘heavenly air’ at it’s freshest.

Even if you do not read this book, may you be gripped anew with a vision of heaven,as John the apostle was, on the Isle of Patmos. ‘And I saw no temple in the city, for it’s temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and it’s lamp is the Lamb’ (Rev. 21:22-23).

Monday, 18 June 2012

Post-modernism in Western Society: "I feel, therefore I am".

The dominant worldview at the present time in England, but also in the Western world is called post-modernism. Post-modernism began around the 1960's as a reaction to the rather arrogant claims of absolute knowledge by the modernists. Modernity reached it's climax, which was the 'age of reason'. One of the quantum shifts was probably from a mindset that confessed "I think, therefore I am" to "I feel, therefore I am".

Absolute facts gave way to the highest authority in post-modernism which is the opinion of the individual. No one person is right, we all have a view and though it is subjective, it must be expressed. All opinions are equally valid, protests the post-modern person. This produces a reaction and disdain of authority, of moral absolutes and political correctness is the order of the day. Tolerance is the new anthem. However, there is a problem. The Achilles' heel of post-modernism is that it is itself extremely intolerant of absolute truth. This leaves post-modernity in a dilemma.

Why is this? The Lord Jesus Christ made absolute claims such as His uniqueness and therefore Jesus is intolerant of the claims of other religions. Jesus Christ said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). The Book of Acts presents a similar view of the early church as we read: 'And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved'. Christian's have often taken on a post-modern world view which is a form of worldliness and it is without people often realising it. Here are some examples of post-modernity.

1. Christian worship becomes an individual experience, often with the aid of Beatles' style music bands to facilitate the desired experience.

2. An in-built resistance to biblical authority structures develops. After all, everyone has an equally valid subjective idea and opinion. People just assume that their interpretation of matters is just as valid as those of a trained pastor, even when they are wrong.

3. Every individual needs to be aware of the advantages but also the dangers of using the internet, because we can find people online and instantly who will agree with us. This could cause us as Christians to simply seek people out who agree with us and we must remember that the internet and private study cannot substitute the church. This may not be a danger directly related to post-modernism but it can be. We all need to be aware of holding private interpretations which do not have a historic or confessional foundation ('Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation', 2 Peter 1:20).

4. In the realm of politics there develops a crisis of conscience because due to evolution and post-modernism there are no right and wrongs. Adultery becomes a life-choice and it is no longer called sin or declared to be wrong. This then contradicts the voice of God in the Ten Commandments.

5. Post-modernism looks down on history. What can history teach us when there is no God controlling things? History becomes a series of random events, and rather antiquated ones at that. Facts do not count, but the personal opinion of the interpreter becomes what really counts.

6. Modern art captures this prevailing thought. A piece of confused seemingly meaningless art is paraded in the world's art galleries and the question becomes: 'What does this art mean to you?'. One person says they can see a political uprising in a Salvadore Dali painting, another says 'I can see a whale', another cries 'It is a balloon'. All are right, because this style of art is intended to create an open-ended response.

7. Reformed confessions are not seen as necessary by Christians who have fallen prey to post-modernism. A post-modern Christian is excited about new ways of doing things and new interpretations of the Bible. Objective truth or the intended meaning of scripture is not the desire of a professing Christian who has been overcome by post-modernism, often unknowingly.

Let us consider how much this prevailing worldview has affected you. How does this impact your view of authority, the authority of the Scriptures, or the authority of God? In what way have you taken on a post-modern worldview without realising it? If you are a Christian, here is a prayer of David that you could pray.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!(Psalm 139:23-24).

Friday, 15 June 2012

Book Review: 'Everyday Church: Mission by Being Good Neighbours' by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester

Everyday Church: Mission by Being Good Neighbours

Tim Chester & Steve Timmis
Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham, 2011, 197pp, paperback.
ISBN: 978 1 84474 520 3

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis appear to be carving out a popular brand of the church. However, their vision for ‘gospel communities’ amounts to a radical reshaping of traditional beliefs about the church. This latest printing moves beyond Total Church (2007) by presenting a myriad of more developed proposals for evangelism to be carried out by ‘missional churches’ (10, 51).

Everyday Church has seven chapters, and the Epistle of 1 Peter forms something of a spinal column throughout. It is not intended to be a commentary on 1 Peter, but rather a ‘dialogue with the first letter of Peter’ (11). The initial chapter ‘Life at the Margins’ offers a brisk analysis of the changing face of the UK, one that is a perceived to be a ‘post-Christendom context and culture’ (20-28). They should rightfully gain a sympathetic audience from any Christian who is concerned about the sad state of our nation. An evangelistic fervor shines through, one that is commendable, especially given that ‘70% of the UK population have no intention of attending a church service’ (28). Their analysis though, leads them to unfortunate conclusions which are unsupported by biblical exegesis and which should make people committed to reformed convictions nervous.

Chester and Timmis suggest in Chapter One that ‘Sunday morning in church is the one place where evangelism cannot take place in our generation because the lost are not there’ and that the ‘bedrock of mission will be ordinary life’ (31). The next chapter ‘Everyday Community’ places great stress on the development of gospel communities ‘with a commitment to being a family’, whereby Christians live as part of an ‘everyday community of grace’, which becomes for them, ‘God’s missionary strategy’ (64-6).

‘Everyday Pastoral Care’ (chapter 3) outlines that pastoral care is a community responsibility and that ‘we need to get away from the idea that “a minister” in the sense of an ordained church leader does gospel ministry in the pulpit on Sunday’ (79-80). The authors acknowledge that their suggested approach will mean that ‘we should be ready for mess and indeed welcome it’ (83). Perhaps this anticipated ‘mess’ is what the apostle Paul calls ‘confusion’ (1 Cor. 14:33). Paul suggests a different solution for ‘churches who are at the margins’, as he counsels the elders at Ephesus to ‘care for the church of God’ (Acts 20: 28).

In the remaining chapters, the authors recommend that we should drop our preoccupation with ‘church’ (99); it is the gospel communities where the main action of fellowship, evangelism and encouragement takes place, some of which do not meet on Sunday for worship at all (111, 122). For a book that is supposed to be about the church, there are a number of gaps. There is, for instance, little mention of the centrality of propositional preaching, the sacraments, the Lord’s Day, and the use of the moral law for sanctification. For those readers who desire a completely new approach to the way that we do church, it will be welcome: for those readers who are committed to the historic marks of a true church (preaching, sacraments and discipline), there will be any number of red flags raised.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Puritan Paperback Series

The Banner of Truth have an excellent range of books in their Puritan Paperback Series and I would like to commend these to the readers of this blog. Let me draw your attention to five of them as a kind of 'Puritan starter kit'. Many people in the UK will be thinking of their family holiday and these would provide great holiday reading material.

Thomas Vincent The Shorter Catechism Explained. This gem of a book is known by few and yet is commended as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism by a host of Puritan divines. The list includes John Owen, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Brooks and Thomas Watson, to name just four. This book will help Christians to understand the intended meaning of the doctrines covered in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Hugh Binning, Christian Love. This treatise on practical Christian love should thrill the Christian's heart and challenge their way of life.

Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom. For many they have become confused on the place of the law of God for the church or maybe they have fallen into wrong teaching such as the over-emphasis that the Mosaic covenant is primarily a republication of the covenant of works that was given to Adam. This book represents the mainstream theology of the Westminster Assembly by this able Westminster divine. Here is a quote: 'The law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; the Gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life' (p 11).

John Owen, Communion with God. A majestic classic by Owen.

John Owen, The Mortification of Sin. Some Christians fall into a passive approach to their sanctification, not so John Owen. For those people struggling with habitual sins this could be the exact spiritual medicine that your soul needs.

Enjoy exploring the treasures of British puritanism and pray that we would see a recovery of puritan theology in the UK again.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Works of James Henley Thornwell

James Henley Thornwell was born in 1812 and he was a great spiritual leader among Southern Presbyterians in the southern part of the USA. Douglas Kelly in his book Preachers with Power: Four Stalwarts of the South (Banner of Truth, 1992) describes Thornwell's ministry, especially his preaching, as 'logic on fire'. Thornwell died in 1862 and due to his being on the losing side during the American Civil War he is little remembered. His works were printed by the Banner of Truth in Four Collected Volumes in 1974. Sadly this hard back edition has long been unavailable. It would be good if a publisher could reproduce Thornwell's works for the benefit of the church and it is a reminder that we need good reformed publishing in every generation. The perpetual danger is that the writings of excellent men soon become lost. This was true in the time span between the death of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the end of the Second World War in England. Spurgeon had an extensive theological library but within 60 years, it was virtually impossible to get hold of reformed theological books anywhere in England. How fast decline can happen!

I am about to get hold of volume 2 and volume 4 of Thornwell's collected writings and I cannot remember a time when I was so eager to get a book in my hand. Do you read good books? Do you pray for the Lord to put good books in your hand? Do you read books with excellent theological content? Perhaps there will be some more blogs on Thornwell in the coming time.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Is an Internet Church Biblical?

This last week I received a newsletter from someone who was encouraged by a so-called 'internet church'. This comment was made:'Almost every night a zealous Christian has meetings with his "internet church". Scores of his members come on line at the same time; they can see him as he teaches the Bible and prays with people. Unbelievers also come and he answers their questions. He is planning soon to celebrate Holy Communion with his members. He will explain who is eligible to partake in the sacrament and then following his instructions, all will share in the bread and wine together'.

How do you react when you read this? This comment regarding the 'internet church' raises questions as to 'what is a church?'; 'who is eligible to be a Christian minister?'; and 'what are the marks of a true church?'. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples and he explicitly told them: 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:18). One of the confusing things at the moment is that many groups of people use the word 'church' but they may not meet the biblical requirements to justify the name 'church'.

The Reformers had to contend with this matter due to the rampant falsehood and idolatry that was flourishing (and still does) within the Roman Catholic Church. They argued for three marks to identify a true church. These marks are:

1. The preaching of pure doctrine, that is heard and loved.
2. The right administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper).
3. A well-ordered and disciplined church (and this includes a biblical pattern of church government).

The necessity of a reformed confession was seen as vital for the ministers to adhere to, be trained by, and to uphold, the Apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). It may be easy to set up an 'internet church' but what is the doctrine of such a preacher, what are his doctrinal standards that he adheres to, and who examines him to see if he is qualified to teach the people of God?

With respect to administering the Lord's Supper, it is requisite for elders to examine people and not just to leave it to an individual's conscience. What then of baptism for an internet church? Will these internet leaders get people to baptise themselves? To do such a thing would be heretical. God sends men, in the flesh and though we may benefit from the internet, the internet is not a church. We worship a personal God and personal relationships within a living community of the people of God is the plan of the Triune God. Regarding the third mark of the church, how can a radio-pastor, or an internet-pastor administer church discipline? It is safe to conclude that the whole idea of an 'internet church' is on a slippery foundation and it is indeed not a biblical idea. If these things are not clear then, let us pray and ask the Lord to help us all by the grace of God.

Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

"Oh How I Love your Law!".

'Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day' is an exclamation by the author of Psalm 119 (verse 97). The question is 'could you say the same?'. How many Christians in 2012 could exclaim "Oh how I love God's law!"? I think not so many because we often do not rightly understand the role of the law of God. This article aims at getting Christians to become excited concerning the law of God and the theological importance of the doctrine of the law of God. Immediately, upon writing such a sentence, I can imagine people thinking that I am driving at legalism. This kind of thinking demonstrates how the role of the law of God for the church has been undermined and wrongly taught. Legalism is adding to the commands of Scripture and/or seeking a righteousness before God through the keeping of a law of any kind.

Now let us make a start on expounding the doctrine of the law of God. Two aspects of the law of God are vital for us to be able to rightly understand and apply the law of God.

1. The Threefold Division of the Law

Teachers of the church have historically understood that there is a threefold division of the Old Testament law of God. These divisions are:
A. Civil
B. Ceremonial
C. Moral

The civil aspect of the law was for Israel to be governed as a theocracy until the Messiah accomplished his redemption. The ceremonial law was the system of sacrifices and Old Testament regulations for worship to be exercised until Jesus Christ fulfilled his mission as the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 10:19-23). The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments and as the Westminster Confession states 'the moral law doth forever bind all' (WCF 19:5). We are to love the whole law but especially the moral law because this is our rule of obedience to God, as Christians.

The Three Uses of the Law (for the Church)

Since the reformation, the truth has been established that there are three main uses of the law. These three uses can be summarised under three heads using the letter 'R' as a memory aid. These are:

1. Restrain
2. Reveal
3. Rule of Life

When we confuse these aspects, we end up with a form of Christianity which is out of balance with Scripture. The law of God is to provide a restraint for sin both in the church but also society. The law of God reveals both sin and God's answer to sin, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Church at Rome: 'Through the law comes the knowledge of sin' (Romans 3:20b). The third use of the law is perhaps the one use of the law which has been debated the most and is often dismissed. It is that the law of God, the Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) are to be the rule of life for the church.

In conclusion when we become unclear concerning the law and also when we wrongly apply the law we end up in confusion. However, in my estimation the biggest problem concerning the law of God among Christians in the UK, is a total neglect of the subject of the law of God altogether. Moral standards even becomes downgraded to a band worn by people asking 'What would Jesus do?'. We know how the Lord Jesus would answer that question. "Take that band off and obey the Ten Commandments". Obedience to the Ten Commandments is not the path to eternal life but it is the path to obedience before God. Forgiveness of sins is found only in the name of Jesus of Christ and his shed blood on the cross, however let us repent of living in total neglect of the law of God so that we can say 'Oh how I love your law' and so that we can pray 'open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law' (Psalm 119: 97 and 18).

Friday, 20 April 2012

New Testament Worship is Reverent

The matter of the attitude and the approach of the people of God to the Triune God in worship, needs to be raised. Too often those leading in worship are flippant, jokey and crowd pleasing. This behavior has no place in the house of God. Why? It is because God's inerrant word demands reverence and awe during public and family worship and our personal devotions. Let us look at Hebrews 12: 28-29:

Thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

This single verse is worthy of meditation and enquiry. Here are five points:

1. Here the Bible teaches us that we are to offer (the people of God together) acceptable worship. In sum, there is a regulative principle in the New Testament scriptures for the church to follow.

2. If there is an acceptable way to worship God, then by deduction there is therefore an unacceptable way to worship the Triune God.

3. This means that, just because worship is labelled as Christian, it does not automatically follow that is is acceptable in the sight of God.

4. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews marks out two aspects of worship which must be adhered to. Our worship must be conducted with 'reverence and awe'.

5. A failure to conduct worship with 'reverence and awe' reveals a serious problem. Namely, it is a failure to understand the true character of the true God who is a 'consuming fire'. Therefore, flippant and irreverent worship breaks the Third Commandment. God will not bless that which is in rebellion to him.

If you are ever responsible for leading worship for the people of God, please consider your attitude and words in worship very carefully. The people of God need to have their minds filled with the majesty of their mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, the glory of the Triune God and the attributes of God. Let us examine ourselves to ensure that we are faithful ambassadors of the sovereign God: The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (For further reading on this matter, study the Book of Hebrews).

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Beware of MTD religion!

I write this blog article from the USA, where I have been preaching. Some good Presbyterian Christian's have introduced me here to a new term that they use to explain many sections of the professing church which offer a diet of 'moralistic, therapeutic deism'. I have abbreviated this MTD for short. When I heard this phrase I thought that is exactly what it is.

Recently, an elder in the USA introduced me to the ministry of an outwardly successful preacher called Joel Osteen. I am from the UK and I was not familiar with this TV preacher who operates from Houston, Texas and his church has in excess of 15,000 people. His latest bestselling book is called 'Every Day a Friday: How to be happier seven days a week'. As I listened to him preach it appeared to me that his message was like a children's bed time story, one of those which always ends up saying '... and they lived happily ever after'. His false smile betrayed his spiritually deceptive message of propsperity, materialism and greed with a sugar-coated appeal to Christianity. He could have been a Hindu or Buddhist but he certainly is not Christian. What I want to bring in to question is this: can such a religion be legimately permitted to be called Christian?

The UK, as well as the USA is filled with so much confusion in the professing church so that people can use the word church, claim to be Christian, quote Bible verses, smile and appear nice, and yet be total enemies of the cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18-19). They offer moralistic therapy in the name of God, but they never mention sin, judgment upon sin, the need for repentance before a God who is holy and the gospel proper. We simply need to compare our New Testament with these MTD preachers, such as Joel Osteen and many others. We will then quickly realize that though they are called a church, they are in fact not a Christian church, though they claim to be a Christian they are in fact not representing true Christianity ( a goat religion), and though they use Bible verses they do not represent the God of the Bible. In the same way, neither is a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness representing Christ but I think MTD religion is even more deceptive.

What do we do? Firstly, we need to wake up to the very subtle deception of MTD religion that masquerades as Christianity. Secondly, we need to warn people who fall prey to these false gospels. Thirdly, we need to realize that there always will be false prophets. Let us close by listening to the apostle Peter in his Second Epistle.

'But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed . And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep'.2 Peter 2:1-3.

Peter could have written this yesterday in that it is so applicable in out time. MTD religion is not Christian and let us beware and let us pray.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Recovering the Joy of Family Worship

Through the history of the church, spanning back to the days of Deuteronomy and probably before then, family worship has been essential to the covenant people of God. Why? God Almighty has three authority structures that he has instituted for his glory; they are the church, the family and the state (Romans chapter 13, Ephesians chapters 1 and 5, Genesis chapter 1-2). It is always problematic when we confuse the three of these spheres of God's authority and the outworking of his decrees. A family is not the church, the church is not called to run the politics of a nation, a church is not to overtly intrude into family life, and so on. Church history is littered with historic mistakes where confusion exists concerning this matter. For example house church structures commonly confuse the difference between the church and the family to the detriment of both. State church institutions commonly blur the distinction between church and state. Let us be aware of this.

However, this blog is aimed at stirring our thinking regarding the recovery of the joy of family worship. Listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates".

What should be the ingredients of family worship? What should be the best time for family worship? Commonly, a time after the main meal of the day is a good time. The giving of thanks for our food by the head of the household should be normal as the Bible requires this: 'Foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer' (1 Timothy 4:3-5).

The ingredients of our family worship includes:

The Reading of the Bible
Going through the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism: often we would do one question per night.
Singing a psalm and or a hymn
Praying together and for each other
Explaining spiritual truth

This is a marvellous way for a family to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), seven days per week. Family worship is not a substitute for worship in the church, it does not replace personal devotions but it is a valuable part of Christian doctrine in action.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Is an Independent Pattern of Church Government agreeable with Scripture?

This subject can be contentious but we cannot side-step this matter. We cannot avoid the subject just because feelings run high but all things must be tested at the bar of Scripture. An independent church constitution implies that no authority exists outside of the single local congregation. It teaches that the single congregation is in immediate submission to Christ and his teaching, however this matter is in need of fresh examination. For example when an independent church comes to appoint elders, a new minister or to make a major decision such as buying a new building, how is that decision made? Either an elder or minister will exert autocratic authority or the congregation will vote. Thus the authority of Christ can quickly slide into congregational authority with a democratic consensus that prevails, even when a decision may rage against biblical doctrine or sound wisdom.

Several questions need to be considered. Did the New Testament church display such independency? Can the reality of sin (in all of us) prefer an independent form of government because it most easily supports the purpose of certain individuals? Is it valid to appoint elders and ministers only on the grounds of the agreement of a local congregation? Is an anti-institutional or anti-denominational spirit the driving force towards independency?

These are searching questions but the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22, 4:15, 5:23, Colossians 1:18), therefore we must have liberty to ask questions concerning the constitution of the church. Much of independency arose in the English church as a reaction against Anglican episcopacy. While we agree that episcopal hierarchy is unbiblical, does the Bible warrant wholesale independent church government? The answer is no!

There were formal relationships and lines of authority between the authorised ministers and elders in different congregations. Here are several New Testament passages that teach the biblical nature and advantages of such a connectional form of church government.

1. In Acts Chapter 15 a conference was held in Jerusalem to settle a challenging doctrinal matter. The action agreed upon settled the issue and it was carried out collegially by all. James spoke to summarise the matter: 'The it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas' (15:22). An independent local church could never have settled this doctrinal dispute or taken the action that they did.

2. In Acts 15:22 the phrase 'the whole church' does not refer to a single local congregation but all the New Testament churches. The isolation of a single church would have been unthinkable to the apostles.

3. Elders were not appointed and examined in isolation from other churches. In Titus 1:5, we read that Titus was sent by Paul to Crete to 'put what remained into order, and appoint elders'. The problem often lies when the final course of appeal is the church members. What happens when there is an impasse? What court of appeal exists outside of a church when it is independent? What checks and balances exist?

4. There needs to be the relationship between the general and the particular. 1 Corinthians 10:17 'Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread'.

I always feel that these blog posts are all too short but my main aim is to get people thinking. Next post, Lord willing we will examine John Calvin's understanding of the work of reformation which included the reformation of church government. A church truly reformed regulates it's doctrine, worship and church government from scripture alone.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Westminster Larger Catechism: Rediscovering one of the 'Crown Jewels' of the Church

The Westminster Larger Catechism is probably one of the best summaries of the Christian faith in the English language. Unfortunately, it is not as well known as it should be. It is my desire that people rediscover and use what is one of the 'crown jewels of the church'. Though it was written in English by the Westminster Assembly, it was first published in 1648, it is not the property of the English speaking world. Other church documents such as the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed are the inheritance of the whole church.

What is the format of the Westminster Larger Catechism? It was written in a question and answer format to specifically catechise (instruct in the faith) adults or more mature Christians. It has 196 questions and the structure is in two parts. Following a brief introduction to establish that the source of our authority and theology is the written scriptures (questions 1-5), the first part deals with 'what man ought to believe concerning God'. This section teaches the doctrine of God, God's decrees, providence, Creation, the Fall of man, Christ the mediator, adoption, justification and much more. Questions 65 introduces an often neglected doctrine which is that of 'union and communion with Christ'. This truth forms a consistent thread to hold together all the benefits of Christ's redemption such as regeneration, justification, adoption and sanctification.

The second part of the catechism (questions 91 to 196) teach a thorough exposition of each of the Ten Commandments (probably the best exposition of the Decalogue I have found), and an important section on the doctrine of the church's ordinances, which are the Word, the sacraments and prayer. The Catechism concludes with a focus on public and private devotions as the Lord's Prayer is expounded.

While it is helpful to read the Larger Catechism, it is most effective when it is taught, especially by ordained Christian ministers and elders. If you have an adult Sunday School or Bible class, why not use the Westminster Larger Catechism to instruct the saints. May we all pray for the content of the material contained therein, to be recovered in the church to help strengthen the cause of the gospel, so that the Triune God is all the more glorified through the church.

Friday, 2 March 2012

What role should Music and Musical Instruments have in the Church?

Sometimes, It can feel like many of the questions that I ask on my blog seem to be going against contemporary streams in the modern church. However, our constant measuring rod for the church is not our personal preferences, ideas or plans, but everything must be brought to the bar of Scripture. Listen to what Paul wrote to the church at Rome: 'For what does the Scripture say?' (4:3). I have travelled widely overseas in the work of the gospel and it seems like there is an invasion of musical instruments into the church. Beatles style 'rock n'roll' bands seems to be the flavour of the month but we have to ask if this is part of the church's ministry.

Do we ever read of the apostles been instructed to use dramas or music to draw the crowds, so that Peter could stand up to give a quick gospel message? Do we ever read of Timothy being told by Paul to use Greek or Roman entertainment methods to keep the young people? What does the scripture say concerning these things? Musical instruments are not mentioned as a means of grace in the church, but preaching is. Once I heard a saying: 'When candles go up in the church, then preaching goes down'. I agree, but I think that I could also say: 'When the music band and PA goes up in the church, preaching goes down!'. Let us all examine these matters in the light of scripture. By the way if someone points us to Psalm 150 and the array of instruments in the ceremonial worship under the law, just ask them a simple question. Are these for the New Testament church? According to 1 Chronicles 16: 37-42, the instruments were at the giving of sacrifices. The supreme sacrifice has now been offered through Jesus Christ, who declared on the cross "It is finished" (John 19:30). Since then, these instruments are not required in the sense of Psalm 150. The church has moved forward! Instruments may help congregational singing but they must never take over the church's worship.

Listen to John Calvin's wise pastoral advice from his Institutes of Christian Religion,Book 3:10:32 on 'Church Singing': 'We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words'. Wise counsel and this is much needed for our generation in 2012.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16.

Friday, 3 February 2012

'The Rules of Right Prayer' by John Calvin

The Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin is comprised of four books. This work is a Christian classic but it is more than a classic. It contains so many truths that need to be recovered by today's church, not least John Calvin's doctrine of the church which was presbyterian. We desperately need to see a recovery of the doctrine of the church and Book Four is called 'The External Means or Aids by Which God Invites us into the Society of Christ and Holds us Therein'.

However, this blog post is concerned with a section in Book 3 ('The Way we Receive the Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to us from it, and What Effects Follow') called 'The Rules of Right Prayer' (Book 3, Chapter 20: 4-16). Oftentimes people in our generation, reject the idea of rules but what are the Ten Commandments? They are rules given by God for the people of God. John Calvin helpfully teaches four rules of right prayer and I hope that these can help us all to be stimulated to more prayer but also to approach God in the right way.

First Rule: Reverence Calvin writes that 'we be disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God' (3: 20: 4-5, p 853). This is exactly what the Book of Hebrews teaches in 12: 28 'let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe'.

Second Rule: We Pray from a Sincere Sense of Want, and with Penitence (3: 20: 6-7, p 856).

This comment guards against hasty petitioning the Lord for our needs. We need to foster a sense of our need of the Lord's help, our helplessness in and of ourselves.

Third Rule: We Yield all Confidence in Ourselves and Humbly Plead for Pardon (3: 20: 8-10)

This rule smashes the notion of brazen self-confidence before God, something that is even wrongly taught in some sections of the professing church.

Fourth Rule: We Pray with Confident Hope (3: 20: 11-14)

This rule exhorts us to obey the teaching of James and to pray with godly confidence. Listen to James 5: 16-18 'The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit'.

May we all grow in the grace of prayer and may Calvin's rule of prayer help us to make sure that we do not pray amiss!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Preaching and Gracious Gospel Invitations

Preaching is far more than giving out the information that we have prepared. In my opinion, the best preachers are those who are the best prepared; those who have given much time, with much private work before they enter the pulpit. However, the mode of delivery is not something that we can afford to neglect as preachers. In my personal experience I constantly evaluate my preaching, perhaps sometimes too much, but this is something that we need to be prepared to do.

While preaching in two congregations last year, in both sermons, I applied the sermon to different hearers in the congregation. At times I specifically addressed people and called them to respond to Christ, to come to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. I specifically addressed children during the sermons and I stopped and looked at some of the children in the congregation, to address them and call them to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. What struck me was that in both services, afterwards, someone remarked that they do not hear the use of gracious gospel invitations very often in the circles that they move in. Both comments were said positively and it set me off thinking for the following months.

Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ. Following his denunciation of Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum, he does not shrink back from preaching the gospel and in applying that message by calling people to himself. The doctrine of election does not cause him to shrink back from calling people to respond either (read Matthew 11:25-27). Listen to Christ in Matthew 11: 28-30:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We can use a variety of ways to apply the gospel but apply the gospel we must, in order to call men and women to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15). These are gospel imperatives! Once I used the title of a book by John Bunyan to call people to Christ, the title is "Come and welcome to Jesus Christ". We must not be wooden in our approach, but gracious gospel invitations should be warm, passionate, repeated and with gravitas.

May all ordained ministers grow in applying the gospel to a lost and fallen world, not least by 'casting the net' to catch men, in a world in desperate need of forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Preaching and the use of Rhetorical Questions

These blog posts can only achieve so much, but one of my desires is to encourage those who are called to the office of pastor, in order that they can better serve the flock of God. As a fellow pastor-teacher, I regularly evaluate my method and approach in preaching so that I can better serve the church for the glory of the Triune God. In recent times it has come to my attention, how important the use of rhetorical questions are in preaching in order to keep people's attention and to drive home the truth of God.

By preaching I mean expositional preaching, a sermon that draws it's message out of the Bible. The reading of a text followed by preaching based on the text read, with clear headings, the putting forth of clear doctrines and warm-hearted applications. Let me explain what a rhetorical question is, and why they are important.

What is a rhetorical question? It is a question that is asked for effect, where the answer may sometimes be obvious or it may help the listener to understand the message. A verbal answer is not expected. Additionally we can ask why are the use of rhetorical questions helpful in preaching? Such questions invite people to think, question, analyse, examine and evaluate. They raise that attention span of people listening and they just naturally speaking, encourage active listening. The need for such questions also aids the application of the truths of God. A preacher should not be simply 'giving out' information. The preacher needs to connect with his audience so that they can meaningfully apply the truth of God's Word and the use of rhetorical questions in preaching can help that to happen.

However, there is a more important reason why rhetorical questions should be used in preaching. Jesus Christ models this example, God speaking in the Old Testament uses these questions and so have effective preachers in church history.

1. The Lord Jesus used Rhetorical Questions

The Sermon on the Mount illustrates this perfectly. Matthew 5: 13 'You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?'. Matthew 12: 12 'Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!'. It would be an interesting study to read one of the Gospels and to note how many questions our Lord asked in his teaching ministry.

2. God Spoke Directly through the Prophets using Rhetorical Questions

One you become aware of this you begin to see this teaching method everywhere. For example in Amos Chapter 3, the prophet is defending his ministry and the Lord speaks through him in a whole series of rhetorical questions, questions that really make you think. Read Amos 3: 3-8. Another example is the end of Micah Chapter 7:18 and this question really leads us to the throne of grace. 'Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?'.

3. The Example of the Preacher Samuel Davies

In the last Reformation Christianity for Today conference, one of the sessions looked at a sermon by Samuel Davies. Davies was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards and the title of the sermon was ‘The Vessels of Mercy and the Vessels of Wrath Delineated’, Romans 9: 22-23. The number of rhetorical questions was beyond number almost. Here was a great preacher, one who knew how to drive home his message. What did he use? Rhetorical questions. May we learn to do the same.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Is the 'missional movement' just another wind of doctrine?

One of the seeming buzz words at the moment in evangelicalism is the word 'missional'. A new word that has crept into the vocabulary of conference speakers and such like, under the radar. It is quite common for the advocates of these new ideas to assert calmly 'we need to be more missional' or 'a missional approach is needed' and such like. But, what do people mean when they say such things? There lies the problem. Such movements are often fluid and this can be attractive because under the guise of being acceptable, ministers and often younger ministers, can try to reinvent the wheel, often in the quest for success.

Why did I ask if this movement is just another wind of doctrine? Well, firstly because it is biblical to ask such a question. Paul the apostle writes to the church at Ephesus expressing his desire that the church would mature to a 'unity of the faith', to mature manhood, while warning of 'winds of doctrine' (Ephesians 4: 13-14). I have walked with the Lord for over two decades and I have got used to these new ideas regularly coming along. Over the years, I have been misled by some of them myself. We need to 'test everything' 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

Often missionalism proposes new approaches to the church in the pursuit of church growth, or new approaches to connect or engage with a post-Christian society. One initial point we need to make is, that if want to know how to approach a post-Chirstian society, then we need to look at the pre-Christian society, the world of the New Testament. What were the priorities and methods of the New Testament church?

The early church's apostles and elders clearly recognized that the crucified, risen and ascended Jesus Christ was governing his church, growing his church and spreading his church (Psalm 110). This was a crucial undergirding principle. The methods for the spread of the gospel were the establishing of an apostolic blue-print for local churches wherever they went. The apostles were not randomly establishing different practices in different cities. What did this apostolic pattern look like?

1. The church was governed by elders, who were men which met the biblical qualifications (Titus 1:5-9).
2. One of the men had to be clearly equipped to teach and preach sound doctrine publicly (1 Timothy 5:17).
3. The priority of the church was to listen to sound preaching which was declaratory, public instruction through a qualified man. Those church devoted themselves to being diligent hearers and doers of the word of God.
4. There were not many people who were allowed to teach (James 3:1).
5. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper were taken very seriously and they were central to the life of the church.
6. The apostles' doctrine was the basis for fellowship and not the other way around (Acts 2:42).
7. There is no mention of music bands being used to draw people to the gospel!

In our own day, new methods often take root unchecked and they then become a new tradition, sadly sometimes without a fight. Let us not give ground to allow the church to be moved away from a biblical foundation, let us test all things and indeed test our own opinions constantly as well.