Monday, 30 December 2013

Pope Francis: Five reasons to explain why he is a false teacher!

It appears that the new Pope has gained a lot of credibility points in many sections of society, including unbelievably, some Christians from Protestant backgrounds. Let me say at the beginning, that I do not doubt the "niceness" of Pope Francis and given the history of Roman Catholic persecution of Protestants, this is indeed welcome in our day. However, the Bible does not prescribe "niceness" as a benchmark for truth. If it did, then the Dalai Lama, Ghandi and many others could also be labelled as great spiritual leaders, even though the Lord Jesus Christ labels them as "thieves and robbers" or "wolves in sheep's clothing" (John 10:1, Matthew 7:15-23).

Here are five reasons to explain that Pope Francis is a false teacher.

1.He does not preach the gospel!
This is what Jesus Christ sent out true messengers of the Living God to do and we get something of a summary statement in Acts 2:38-39: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself". Have you ever heard such a message from Pope Francis? No, and you will not either because he has not been sent to the church by Jesus Christ. Anyone who does not bring this message is a thief and a robber.

2.He prays to people other than God in the name of Jesus Christ and he teaches others to do the same. This is not surprising because praying to Mary is standard heresy for the Roman Catholic Church though this is forbidden by Holy Scripture. The apostles Paul and Peter would have "torn out their beards" at the idea of such falsity. 1 Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus".

3.Pope Francis believes that he is the head of the church on earth and that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church on earth. Despite centuries of many heresies, this one is one of their worst. This is why Protestants and the Orthodox Church still, even today, dissent at such an unbiblical notion. We reject the teaching of Pope Francis that he is in apostolic succession of Peter when he refuses to uphold the apostolic doctrines of truth.

4.Pope Francis believes that he and the Roman Catholic Church are the sole interpreters of revelation (including the Bible). I know that he does not broadcast that on his public TV homilies, but this is what he believes. Do not be deceived by niceness! As a Protestant, we reject this false claim and we uphold that: "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly", The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:9.

5.Pope Francis believes that every administration of the Lord's Supper outside of the Roman Catholic Church is baseless. This is because it is not administered by one of their priests in communion with the Pope. We reject this teaching, along with the idea that salvation is only through the Roman Catholic Church.

In conclusion, let us hear the teaching of the true head of the church on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ.

John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me".

Matthew 7:15 "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves".

Luke 13:3 "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish".

Saturday, 28 December 2013

"Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media have shaped the messengers", T. David Gordon

I tend to build up a number of books which form a small pile on my shelf until I have time to read them in a relaxed frame of mind. Christmas each year is one of the those valuable times for mental refreshment and also a time for reflection. Life after all is short and we should all want to live our lives for the glory of God; in a way that is productive, meaningful and God glorifying. It is so easy to slip into a worldly mindset which tends to pamper the flesh and its message constantly tells people, "you need to relax, take it easy". This is the opposite of the message of Jesus Christ who spoke of discipleship in very opposite ways to the world. Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24 "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it".

A lack of emphasis upon a wholehearted commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ can easily enter into the church and also preaching. We have to be honest and acknowledge that there is a massive lack of good preaching today and yet the preaching of pure doctrine is the primary means that the Lord God has promised to use to extend his kingdom on earth. Many Christians have never sat under consistent expository preaching and they do not know what they are missing. This book by T. David Gordon is an excellent exposé of this contemporary problem. The lack of sound expository preaching in the church needs fixing! However, the first step to solving a problem is to recognise that there is a problem in the first place.

Simply "burying our head in the sand" will not do. Christians should be lovers of truth and this includes facing up to the painful and truthful realities of the state of the church. However, we are not left without answers and one of them is to turn to the Lord in prayer. To cry out to the Lord for this problem to be fixed (and not for only our own church, but the wider church as well). One of the reasons that T. David Gordon believes that there is a problem, is the lack of attention to texts of literature in an age of media, sound bites and visual means of communicating. Preaching is an oral event and it takes much effort to craft a sermon that is faithful to the written text of the Scripture, while being logical, unified, evangelical, with movement, points and order (pp 23-28). This is a must read for teaching elders and ruling elders, but also church members.

May we turn to the Lord in prayer for the church in the West,

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38

May we also turn to the Lord in prayer for our own minister who labours to feed the sheep with the word of God (if your minister is unfaithful to preach sound doctrine, then where possible you should seek out a church that will feed your soul from the scriptures): "To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak" Ephesians 6:18-20).

Monday, 23 December 2013

Book Review: "The Message of the Church" by Chris Green

The Message of the Church: Assemble the people before me, Chris Green
Nottingham:IVP, 2013.

Perhaps one of the most needed topics for recovery in the Western evangelical church is the doctrine of the church. Therefore, it was with eagerness that I dove into the chapters of this book, filled with a deep personal interest and not just to read this book as a book reviewer. The early chapters 1-3 provide a stimulating backdrop to the enormous significance of the author’s subject. He writes that: “to begin to understand the church we need a well-read Bible and a long timescale” (19). Chapters 2 and 3 give a further biblical theological basis for the church, which expounds from Ephesians, Genesis, Galatians and Colossians.

However, as you get into the book, Chris Green’s own particular brand of the church, which is popular evangelical Anglicanism, becomes increasingly evident and pragmatism seems to trump careful exegesis on specific details. He begins to make dramatic assertions, for example on public worship he writes: “There is no biblical warrant for referring to our time together uniquely as ‘worship’ ” (77). He then makes the contemporary move to propose that “all of life is worship” but this conclusion is not founded on sound exegesis or historical precedent. These ideas which are so common in British evangelicalism deserve a clear refutation, but this review is not the time for that.

Chapter 5 presents a refreshing exposition of the famous words of Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16:13-20. Sadly, much of the remainder of the book includes a range of significant omissions concerning the doctrine of the church. These include: the Christian Sabbath or the Lord’s Day, the place of the Law, the need for reformed confessions, a clear model of eldership instead of the oft quoted concept of leadership or church ministries, the priority of the preaching of pure doctrine, and worship regulated by Scripture. The placing of pure pragmatism before theological principle is encapsulated in the final chapter with the glowing commendation of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Church”. Green asserts that when he was a pastor he believed that “no other book had the explanatory simplicity of Warren’s” (297). Green’s portrayal of the church in practical terms is quite fluid, and this leaves me questioning many aspects of his presentation.

In sum, there is still much work to be done in recovering a robust doctrine of the church in the West; one which is reformed in its worship, doctrine and church government. It is my hope that future responses could be made to help “fill the gaps” to this kind of incomplete ecclesiology, which is espoused by many of our Anglican evangelical friends.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Five + suggested books to read over Christmas

There are certain books which have really helped me in the early days of my Christian pilgrimage to move towards sound reformed doctrine. Here are a few books that I would recommend and these would make great reading over Christmas.

1. How about setting a new Years resolution to begin reading the whole Bible as from the 1st January 2014? The Scriptures are without peer and unparalleled in human history, so if you have never read the whole Bible before, now would be a good time to begin.

2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans, especially 3:20-4:25 Atonement and Justification and the exposition of Chapter 9 God's Sovereign Purpose.

3. Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination

4. James M. Garretson, Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry

5. Douglas Kelly, Preachers with Power: Daniel Baker, James Henley Thornwell, Benjamin Morgan Palmer and John Girardeau

Of course John Bunyan's Pligrim's Progress is a must read, but I find it very hard to get people to read this, though they will watch a multitude of movies; for some reason this taxes their brain too much. You would not regret reading this classic by Bunyan.

"Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd", Ecclesiastes 12:9–11.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones interviewed by Dame Joan Bakewell

A friend of mine sent me this link recently of a previously recorded interview of Martyn Lloyd-Jones from 1970. It is fascinating and it is full of apologetic material for Christian's to defend the faith.

The link is:

I recommend this to you.


Kevin Bidwell

Monday, 9 December 2013

"Putting First Things First"

Sometimes, we simply need to come back to basics. Matthew 6:33 is one such basic of Christian living. Yet we need to be reminded of the basics. What does Matthew 6:33 from our Lord Jesus Christ teach us? "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you". This should be a life-long motto for us, because to get this one wrong, is to be wrong in other areas as well, no matter how much doctrine we know. There is nothing better than being a Christian and yet we can get distracted at times in the pilgrimage, and our priorities can become against the order of Scripture.

The Book of Hebrews is so important for us at this point because it was written to Christians ... and yet there are a number of warnings for professing Christians. Here is one such warning in Hebrews 2:1-3 "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?". This blog is written by someone who is a presbyterian minister ( and one who is most concerned about the health and well-being of the Christian church.

Though I am committed to the recovery of sound doctrine, I am also equally committed that Christians everywhere "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness". Is that your aim? Are your priorities in line with scripture? If not then, why not make the necessary adjustments, in love, humility and with joy? Why joy? Well, perhaps our spiritual joy is connected in some measure to the outworking of this crucial truth in Matthew 6:33. May we all strive to be Matthew 6:33 Christians!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Antinomianism: Identifying a problem is the first stage to solving a problem

Antinomianism means to be against the law. In Christian circles this means down-playing the ongoing application of the moral law of God and especially the Ten Commandments. Paul makes many statements in the Book of Romans that relate to the Law of God, for example, here are a few.

Romans 3:20 "Through the law comes the knowledge of sin". Therefore, if the law is removed from the church, then the cutting edge of the presentation of the gospel will be blunted and sin will not be exposed in the way it could and should be.

Romans 3:28 "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law". In other words, Paul teaches that we are saved by faith in the gospel and the person of Jesus Christ; we are not saved through our law-keeping, but he does not teach that the law has no purpose. Before we are converted we are law-breakers, but sanctification is to produce the love of law-keeping in us so that we do not continue glibly as a law-breaker in the name of supposed Christian love (as some Christians do today).

Romans 7:22 "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being". Clearly, Paul has a love for the moral law of God and he expects the church to have the same.

Romans 6:14 "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace".a This is the kind of verse which antinomians press and selectively quote. False teaching always leads people to only consider certain biblical texts and to omit others. However, our currency as ministers of the gospel is truth and this requires us to assess all the biblical data, in order to present the biblical truth. It is like being a lawyer working to present a biblically watertight case, but not just to prove our own point. This is challenging but it must be done.

An American minister recently lamented to me the collapse of the Christian Sabbath in the USA and he asked me 'what are the main influences in the UK that have led us to go the same way?'. My initial answer was "sin" but my follow up answer was "antinomianism in the church". If there is no law and rules then we can seemingly do what we want including disobedience to the Lord and the moving away from the Lord's Day. The reality is that most Churches meet on Sundays because that is what is most convenient, rather than being based on the biblical premise of it being the Lord's Day and something that is commanded as the fourth of the Ten Commandments.

In Conclusion, I call out and name "antinomianism" as a pervasive worldwide problem and doctrinal error. This is part one to solving a problem and hopefully I can write more on this topic. However, let us turn to the Lord in prayer for this problem to be rooted out of the church as well and not simply acknowledge the problem ourselves.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

There is no substitute for living church membership

"But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body" (1 Corinthians 12:18–20).

Oftentimes people can seek out and find substitutes for the church for a variety of reasons. If a church is falling into a dereliction of duty in terms of preaching the truth and caring for the flock, then people may understandably turn to the internet for sermons, books to be fed spiritually, or para-church organisation to teach them doctrine. These may meet one's needs for a season, but they are not the Lord's plan for his people. A danger can develop that we begin to become dependent on these external aids instead of being an active member of a church.

Paul envisaged that each person has to be a living member of the body of Christ as expressed in the life of living church congregations. "There are many parts, but one body". Therefore, when we do not find our place in the body or refuse to take our place in the Lord's body, then we affect ourselves but also others. The means of grace are for our edification but also our attendance in public worship and other church meetings is an opportunity to build others up as well. This is what Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing'.

Let us examine ourselves in this matter and make sure that we pray and seek out to be an active member in the Lord's church, to make the necessary changes in our lives and to put away all excuses for not doing so.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tim Keller's "divine dance": the Trinitarian Twist ...

The heading of this blog is not intended to be repetitive for repetitions sake. I have just read a helpful book review by Craig French on the chapter in the book "Engaging with Keller" which I have written. The link is:

Craig has obviously taken his time to think through the issues and his conclusion is that a "divine dance" metaphor for the Trinity is unbiblical, anti-confessional, and that it contradicts the Nicene Creed. I agree! This metaphor is plain wrong. I have commented to him in response on this blog, and I have explained that my primary aim is to see a recovery of the doctrine of the Trinity for the church, especially in the West.

Enjoy his review and read it critically because in everything Paul taught the church: "but test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). We must always keep our wits about us because we read in Acts 17 about the Berean Christians who "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" Acts 17:11.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Antinomianism is Rife Today

Antinomianism means to be against the law (nomos is law in Greek and "anti" is against). The definition is: Those who are antinomian, believe that as Christians, that they are released from the obligation of observing the moral law due to God's grace in the gospel. As you read this definition you will realise that this is probably the majority view in the Western church at the moment. But, it is not a biblical view, even though the majority may hold to such a view.

I am currently reading the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly and I am struck by the pastoral concern of the Westminster divines regarding this ancient heresy, antinomianism. Perhaps you are reading this blog and you hold to such a definition of the law of God and I would then urge you to rethink your position.

As reformed presbyterians, or indeed any form of reformed doctrine holders, we do not hold to a low view of the law of God. As G. I. Williamson explains in his commentary on Chapter 19 (Of the Law of God) of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "the law of God is central to the message of the Bible". Therefore, to fail to understand the role of the law for the church today is to miss a central thread of the whole Bible. This post is not handling the implications of anti-nomianism, but I am simply sounding a warning that it is a wrong teaching which is replete today.

Listen to Paul in Romans 7:22 "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being". Does this describe your attitude to the law of God? Listen to the Westminster Confession of Faith 19:5: "the moral law does forever bind all … neither does Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation".

This blog is a personal spiritual hobby of mine; my desire is to simply write bite-sized posts to "fan the flames" of thinking towards a reformed pattern for doctrine, the church, worship and church government. I hope this has been a helpful post.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Two Surprises Regarding a Christian's Response to Evolution

Recently, I have read the book of Hebrews. The eleventh chapter is the great faith chapter, and the third verse "leapt off the page". It reads: "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible". Also, I have begun reading a book by John C. Lennox called "God and Stephen Hawking: Whose design is it anyway?". Lennox demolishes the atheistic assertions by the brilliant professor of Physics at Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking. One wonders how could such a brilliant scientist be so blinded regarding the God of the Bible creating the world?

Hebrews 11:3 has the answers for us and it unwraps two common surprises that reveal that Christians need to be better grounded in biblical truth. Hebrews 11:3 teaches that it is "by faith we understand the universe was created by the word of God". Therefore should we be surprised when people without a true Christian faith, do not believe in Creation?

Surprise Number 1: Many Christians seem to show a complete surprise that non-Christians do not believe in Creation and therefore choose all kinds of theories such as evolution. Does our surprise reveal our lack of biblical understanding? If it is "by faith that we understand" these things, then we should not be surprised when people in the world do not understand this; also we should display greater humility as well at their ignorance. The only reason we believe in Creation is because God has made us alive in Christ and given us "faith as a gift" (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Surprise Number 2: This is when Christians or Christian ministers try to fuse two mutually incompatible ideas in a theological compromise: that is Creation by God and evolution. These are two opposing world views that cannot co-exist in the same house. It takes faith from God to believe in the Creation account, however the current predominant worldview to explain the origin of things is evolution, which does not require faith from God or faith in any god. It is utterly surprising when Christians try to explain away what is simply required to be accepted "by faith". It is a rational faith, and one that makes complete sense of this world, the reason for death, as well as life.

One final comment is that it is unwise and incompatible for Christians to try to fuse Creation and evolution. Evolution just happens to be the contemporary atheistic answer for the origin of things at the moment. This changes over time, for example in the world of Greek mythology Zeus or the goddess Oceanus may have been included in an account of the beginning of things. It would be unthinkable that a First-century Christian pastor would include Zeus or Oceanus to explain the Creation account. Likewise such cultural accommodation to include aspects of evolution with biblical Creation is untenable, unbiblical and very surprising.

Hebrews 4:14 "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession".

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Delighting in the Christian Sabbath

Listen to Isaiah 58: 13-14

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

This teaching is so alien to many Christians and churches. The Westminster Confession in its 21st Chapter on worship establishes two main points.

1. That there is a Christian Sabbath, which is the Lord's Day, and that is to be observed until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. That the whole of the Lord's Day is to be a delight, to Christians and the church.

However, is this taught and practiced by Christian's today, especially in the West? The Christian Sabbath is a gift from God and a doctrine of the church cannot be fully operational without the Christian sabbath being a guiding principle to the outworking of church life. R. Scott Clark has made the point that the abandonment of the Lord's Day evening service has promoted the so-called Lord's half day, which actually is not taught in Scripture.

Notice that in Isaiah 58:13 that the people of God are to firstly "call the sabbath a delight". Secondly, by practicing the Sabbath rightly then "you shall take delight in the Lord". This is far from an individualistic "me and my Jesus" mentality. The practice of the whole of the Lord's Day is in urgent need of being rightly taught, practiced and loved. This is central to delighting in the Lord and substitutes to this command cannot replace God's pattern for delighting in Him. Perhaps the starting point is to pray for ourselves, and to seek forgiveness from the Lord where there has been wilful disobedience and neglect of God's command at this point.

May we learn to take the "yoke of Christ" and delight in the Lord's Day each week.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Christian's greatest spiritual danger

In a recent conference I attended, there was a panel of godly and seasoned ministers who were asked various questions. One of the questioners inquired "which are the three greatest spiritual dangers of Christian ministry?". Ian Hamilton, the minister of Cambridge Presbyterian Church answered "pride, pride and pride". What is true for Christian ministers is equally true of Christians also and we must always be on our guard against this slippery enemy of our souls.

John Calvin emphasises in a number of places in his Institutes of the Christian Religion the need for true humility. In Book 2:11 he explains that “True humility gives God alone the honour”. He then quotes Augustine of Hippo who taught that "when a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, 'Delivery'; what was the second rule 'Delivery'; what was the third rule, 'Delivery'. So if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second and third and always I would answer, 'Humility' ".

The teaching of holy Scripture is abundantly clear concerning the spiritual danger of pride and the need for true humility. Listen to three passages.

The Lord Jesus Christ said: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12). This is as sure as the law of gravity. Those who exalt themselves will be abased and similarly the humble will be exalted.

James understood this truth as he teaches that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:6-7). Therefore, we must seek the Lord to grow in humility and seek the Lord in prayer for pride to rooted out of our souls.

Finally, listen to Peter, the apostle who learned that pride is a real enemy of the soul when he boasted that he would never fall away from Christ and then he denied his master three times. Peter exhorts: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you" (1 Peter 5:6)

May we all be aware of the danger of pride because some Christians do not realise that this is even a problem. Then once we acknowledge this spiritual danger, may we pursue three things: Humility, humility and humility!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Frederick Leahy, "The Cross He Bore"

This is my favourite book that I have read so far in 2013. It is a short book of just 13 chapters of devotional thoughts regarding the Sufferings of Christ which was for our sakes and our salvation. It is theologically rich, yet it is written in such a way, that the person and work of Christ may well move you to tears.

Ted Donnelly writes in the foreword: "We are too apt to hurry past the cross, to undervalue, in spite of ourselves, the supreme mystery of the ages by a shallow assumption that we know it all". Donnelly continues "We need to 'behold', to 'survey', to 'stand and stare'.

Let me give you one more taster from the first chapter called "Man of Sorrows" which expounds Jesus Christ in Gethsemane. The seasoned pastor Frederick Leahy closes this chapter with these words: "Lord, forgive us for the times we have read about Gethsemane with dry eyes". If you do get hold of this book published by the Banner of Truth, may it soften your heart and moisten your eyes.

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). May the soft words and humility of the Lord Jesus Christ, as displayed in this precious book, cause our own hearts to be softened with godly devotion to the Triune God.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Radio Interview on "Engaging with Keller"

Yesterday (1st October 2013), I was interviewed live by a radio station about the book "Engaging with Keller". While I think my answers could have been better, I was impressed with the interviewer Kevin Boling.

The website link is:

I hope that you find this helpful because the interviewer had really done his research and he brought out a range of very valuable points.

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end, Psalm 119:33.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

What does it mean to be reformed?

Jesus said "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" John 4:24.

At a recent Yorkshire Reformed Minister's Fraternal, Mostyn Robert's delivered an excellent paper on "What does it mean to be reformed?". He outlined some major themes which mark out whether a church is rightly, historically and biblically reformed, or not. He made many valuable points and one such point was to ask whether the use of the term "reformed" was losing its meaning as did the word evangelical a few decades ago. What did he mean by this? Well he explained that many people and groups are quite happy to use the term reformed, but when you begin to examine what they mean by that, it turns out that they have never really understood biblical and reformed theology.

Let me give you an example. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God, that God is in control of all things, including our salvation, is probably the starting point for most people when they are awakened to a fresh doctrinal pilgrimage. However, the truth that God is sovereign takes time to work through all of our thinking. The sovereignty of God must be worked out in our understanding of the church, in the sphere of public worship, and in all matters of faith and doctrine.

However, many groups today eagerly promote themselves under the label "reformed" and yet pursue flawed ideas for worship, the church and evangelism. Sometimes you look on and you have to ask yourself some serious questions to make sure that you remain biblically orientated. It is common for people to mentally ascend to a reformed confession and then for them to pursue Arminian methods in worship, faith and practice. If a church is committed to a reformed confession then this should be a living document, not one that simply gathers dust on the shelf. Here are three testers to ask people, in order to find out if they are reformed according to a historic definition.

1. What is your understanding of worship? What is the high point of worship?
2. What is your understanding of church government and how should churches should be led?
3. What is your understanding of a church's doctrine and how is that played out in the life of the church?

There are many teasing questions that we could further explore. For example, can a church claim to be reformed while having women doing "lay Bible readings" during a church service? Can a church rightly be adopting reformed theology and having a "rock n'roll style of music to help get the crowd going and to attract people to themselves? The whole question of music needs to be revisited because there has been a worldly invasion of music into the church which oftentimes is an Arminian attempt to draw people, a kind of new Finney-like method. I may have lost you there, when I wrote a "Finney-like" method but I am referring to the revivalist Charles Finney.

There will be more to say on this blog regarding these topics in the coming time, so watch this space, and be assured that my goal as a presbyterian minister, is to pastorally help people. To help people navigate away also from unbiblical doctrines of men as well. The spiritual needs of our nation are urgent and let us look to our sovereign God in prayer concerning all things.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sheffield Students looking for a good Reformed Church

Sheffield Presbyterian Church would like to give a warm welcome to all students in Sheffield to come and visit us. Our website is

We meet next to a tram stop (Meadowhall South/Tinsley) near to the Meadowhall Shopping centre which is just 15-20 minutes from the University tram stop near the city centre. Our services are at 11.00am and 4.00pm (at The Source). We are committed to biblical preaching. Perhaps you have never visited a Presbyterian church before and we would like to invite you to come and worship God with us. Our style of worship includes preaching, the reading of the Word of God and the singing of songs with good biblical content.

We have a young man from the USA called Ben Wilkerson who is working with students on behalf of our church and we hope that you can meet him also.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Engaging with Keller: One of my Favourite Chapters in the book is ...

Having read the whole book, I personally found that I was sharpened regarding each of the key doctrines discussed in it. Indeed this is the main aim of this book. Each chapter does indeed "Engage with Keller", but each chapter goes beyond Keller, and rightly so. Each chapter seeks to engage the reader, to test his/her assumptions on each doctrine discussed.

One of my favourite chapters in this book is chapter 5 by Richard Holst which is called "Timothy Keller's Hermeneutic: an example for the church to follow?". Why do I like this chapter so much? It is because Holst contends for the use of good sense in handling Scripture, something which is not as common as we think, and that can also include some within a reformed circle. Of great value is Holst's explanation of the "Westminster Hermeneutic" on pages 173-176 and this is well worth reading, especially by preachers and elders. There are several principles that are illuminated for us.

The Principle of Principles: "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself (WCF 1:9)".

Principle 2: The analogy of Scripture, where "all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (WCF 1:7) ... then such things should "be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (WCF 1:9)".

Principle 3: The analogy of faith (the rule of faith) is not based upon private interpretations but it should be built upon sound exegesis. WCF 1:10 summarises this idea: "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined; and in whose sentence we are to rest; can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture".

Therefore, our exegesis is not done in a vacuum, because we have so many faithful exegetes who have gone before us and these should be consulted to help us safeguard the church from speculations or the introduction of new and novel doctrines.

Holst writes in his conclusion that "expounding and applying Scripture is a huge, sometimes crushing, responsibility" (p 190). This should be the attitude of every minister of the Word. I hope that you enjoy this chapter and remember two Biblical proverbs in doing so.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (27:17).

Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly (16:22).

Saturday, 31 August 2013

John Calvin vastly delighted in the Trinity: Do we?

Gregory of Nazianzus stated: "One God; one in diversity, diverse in unity". This proposition means that when we contemplate the one, we are contemplating the three because they are one undivided being. Equal weight must be given to the oneness, threeness and co-unity of the three (Triunity); all three persons are equal in deity, purpose and eternity; each person is fully God. The Athanasian Creed affirms that "we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance".

John Calvin saw that this designation of the one true God is a special mark by which God "distinguishes himself more precisely from idols" and a passage from Gregory of Nazianzus "Oration on Holy Baptism", which Calvin said "vastly delights me", is a superb trinitarian boundary marker:

"No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them then am I carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light".

This trinitarian truth "vastly delighted" John Calvin, but could the contemporary church in the West say the same today? Have we similarly been gripped by the purity, majesty and holiness of the Triune God? We should be, we should pray to be, we should desire so. May God's grace help us to see a Trinitarian recovery in the Western church in our own generation, Amen.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Is the analogy of "light through a prism" appropriate to teach the doctrine of the Trinity?

A German friend of mine asked me this question in relation to the analogy of "light through a prism". It is an important point to explain because the Nicene Creed teaches of the eternal generation of the Son of God by using the following language:

We believe in ... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:

Now the Lord Jesus is described as being "Light of Light" and this most probably came from one of the four "God is" attributes given in the New Testament. Do you know what they are?

* God is spirit (John 4:24)
* God is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9)
* God is light (1 John 1:5)
* God is love (1 John 4:8)

How do we understand what "God is love" means? Do we look for human analogies of love in the family to describe this "God-kind-of-love"? No we do not, because it will be imperfect and therefore it will not responsibly handle the truth concerning the eternal and infinite God. Instead, we must turn to holy Scripture. The Scriptures teach us that God's love is known in the sending his Son and in his Son dying on the cross to make propitiation for sin. Concerning this truth we read that:

John 3:16 "“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

1 John 4:9-10 "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins".

Now concerning light, the same biblical approach needs to be followed because John the apostle states: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" 1 John 1:5. The context of this passage is to contrast the being and attributes of God, which is of light without darkness and sin, with that of the lives of some professing Christians. Now natural light of the sun is created by God, in order to provide heat and light for the created order. Romans 1:20 teaches "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" ... but this does not mean that anything in Creation can be used to describe God-as-he-is-in-himself and this includes "natural light". God is not created or natural, but God is spirit!

Now let us consider white light refracted through a prism into the three primary colours of red, blue and yellow and ask the question; does this analogy help to describe that the Trinity is made of one God, who is also three distinct persons? The primary colours can be mixed to make a different colour, for example blue+yellow = green, so that actual colour becomes something else. Immediately we have to ask the question, can God the Son become the Father or something else and the answer is no. Therefore, before we go too far with this analogy, immediately we realise that this illustration has already begun to break down.

I imagine that the desire to use "light through a prism", as an analogy, is a genuine attempt to explain that God is one, yet three distinct persons. However, when you choose colour schemes on your Apple or Microsoft Word documents, they usually show them on a two-dimensional circular image, where it is clear to see it is hard to pinpoint where blue begins and red starts, thus blurring the distinctions. God the Father, is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Holy Spirit is not the Father: They are together "One God and three distinct persons". In conclusion, we cannot recommend or support the "light through a prism" as an analogy to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. Instead, let us remain within the boundaries of Scripture and the Nicene Creed (381) to aid us. I hope this helps us all, in order to uphold the truth concerning the Persons of the Triune God.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Are Analogies for the Trinity Useful, Biblical or Helpful?

Following the writing of my chapter in "Engaging with Keller" on the Trinity, I have been surprised to read that some people have no problem with analogies of any kind for the Trinity. A young man called Daniel Wells has blogged on each chapter of the Keller book and pretty much rejected most things written by each contributor. In critiquing my chapter, which he did not like, he writes: "In conclusion, while I am not necessarily endorsing Keller’s use of the ‘divine dance’ analogy (I think a theological endorsement of a poetic metaphor is somewhat strange), I don’t think a case has been made to show that is undermines or contradicts the ecumenical creeds. Ultimately, I think it is okay for me to teach my children, my church, or an unbeliever about the Trinity by pointing to an aspect of creation and use it as an analogy for the Godhead (so long as it is intelligible)".

Now this kind of comment is not uncommon among well-meaning Christians and it reveals to me, a significant doctrinal downgrade, most especially on the doctrine of the Trinity. I wrote this in the book "Engaging with Keller" on page 98: "We have to be honest. The Western Evangelical church can hardly be credited with top marks for its approach to the Trinity". The popular use of analogies for the Trinity clearly demonstrates an unhelpful approach to defining the triune God. Three of the most common analogies for the Trinity that I have come across are an egg, water and a man.

* An egg which has three parts; the shell, the egg white and the yoke. The Nicene Creed states that "I believe in ... one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made". The Westminster Confession states: "In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (2:3)". Now as we think of the egg analogy, the three constituent parts of the egg are not of the same substance; the shell is made of one thing, the white of something else and the yoke of another substance. Therefore we conclude that the use of an egg analogy for the Trinity is not only unhelpful, but it is thoroughly unbiblical in asserting that there are three persons of different substances. In effect it is a Tritheist analogy which is heresy.

*Water, which can be found as ice, liquid or steam. These are three different states of the same substance, so this appears closer to what we would need to describe the Trinity, but does it really? As we think through this analogy, again it fails miserably, because it teaches with good intentions by a teacher no doubt, that there is one substance with three different and variable states which can change into something else. Liquid can become steam or ice can become water thus teaching inter-changeable roles or states. But, the three persons of the Trinity do not exist like that. The Father is eternally the Father and he has never been the Son. Similarly the Holy Spirit cannot become the Son or the Father. The three persons are distinct. The Westminster Confession summarises this truth plainly: "The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding: the Son is eternally begotten of the Father: the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son" (2:3). Again this analogy of water is wholly unbiblical and it contradicts the historic Trinitarian Creeds.

* A third analogy I have come across is that of a man. One who may have three roles, yet be the same person; a father, a son and also a husband. What more shall I say? You will have already applied your own powers of logic on this fallacy and concluded "Stop, I cannot stand it!". This analogy teaches the heresy of modalism where there is one God with three different faces. This is plain wrong.

As we have briefly found in this blog post, analogies from Creation which are projected onto the Trinitarian being of God are not useful, they are unbiblical and not helpful. On the surface, they may appear to be beneficial, but upon closer inspection they actually teach false ideas concerning God. The new covenant name of God is "The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit" Matthew 28:19 and this one name distinguishes the three persons. May we pray for a recovery of true trinitarian doctrine that is faithful to historic creeds and confessions in order to provide the church with valuable boundaries for the church's doctrine, apologetics, teaching and worship.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Reformed with a Smile ... and Outward-Moving!

As a church we had an evangelistic book-table in the city centre of Sheffield recently. If I had doubts about how lost our nation was, then they were all dispelled after meeting so many godless and lost people. Two things were apparent in all the people we met:

1). We must be committed to evangelising the lost in the West.
2). Many professing Christians have little idea concerning sound doctrine or an understanding about the doctrine of the church.

As reformed presbyterians, I believe, and with all humility, that we have real answers for the spiritual condition of the West. I hope that the title of this blog post is not trite, but I wanted to convey that we desperately need churches which are both "serious-minded" and "warm-hearted". Hence I wrote "reformed with a smile". I have actually borrowed this from someone else whom I heard using it, but it is a good slogan, I think. Furthermore, as Cornelius Van Til so ably explains in his book "Christian Apologetics", it is only a reformed worldview which is able to biblically defend the gospel in the face of hedonism, atheism, buddhism, hinduism, materialism or anything else.

The Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

This is not the time to shrink back. May the reformed section of the church advance, with godly confidence, because the church needs help to recover sound doctrine again. We need to serve the Lord with joyful zeal. May God help us in this overwhelming task. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ, Amen!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Preacher's Motto is ...

Different men may give slightly different answers, but Paul the apostle give us his motto for pastoral preaching. Where do we find it? It is 1 Corinthians 1:23: "But we preach Christ crucified". This is short, terse and oh so important. Let us break this down in a little more detail.

We preach: This is the Greek verb κηρύσσω which means to preach, to announce, as in to make a public announcement in the manner of a herald. Paul uses this phrase in the present tense because he is explaining that this is what he gave his energies to do. The apostolic method was "we preach" and nothing can replace preaching in the church. Men come along and say that we need so many other things, things other than preaching, but this is not God's method. We should not be surprised if preaching comes under attack, because the Serpent from the Garden of Eden onwards, has sought to undermine God's intended purpose and to deceive people. Therefore, "we preach" and this should be the pastor's motto.

We Preach Christ: The Lord Jesus Christ is the sum and substance of our message. Therefore the central person who is to be exalted in preaching is Christ, the second person of the Trinity who became man for our sakes and for our salvation. What a glorious message! It is not the preacher's job to artificially introduce Christ at every twist and turn of every passage that is being dealt with, but the text must be handled responsibly, which should lead to Christ who is the alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13). Christ is the end goal of redemptive history, therefore Christ should be introduced with ease. A friend of mine has a bronze plaque on his pulpit which reads "Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). This says it all.

We preach Christ Crucified: It is not enough to preach because the preaching could be man-centred and full of doctrinal error. It is not enough for minister's to preach Christ according to Paul, but we must "preach Christ crucified". This is the preacher's motto. The cross of Christ is God's wisdom, God's power and God's way for the church. Christ crucified is the way of salvation for needy sinners and this truth must be constantly placarded before the minds of God's people. Our faith is to be in Jesus Christ and His shed blood as a propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:22, 25). The verb Paul uses here for "crucified" is the perfect passive participle of the Greek verb σταυρόω meaning "to crucify". The perfect tense in Greek is most important and interesting because it refers to a "past event with present effect". We preach presently says Paul the message of Christ and him crucified. The unsearchable riches of Christ's crucifixion is a completed action in the past, but this is what is needed today, it has power today, that is when it is preached.

Let us pray for this motto to be a joyful burden for our preachers today, as Paul the apostle elsewhere wrote to the Corinthians (9:16): "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!".

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Fundamentalism versus Reformed Doctrine

As one grows in an understanding of the reformed approach to the Bible, one can see that there is always the danger of an inherent fundamentalism. I found this helpful article on the Monergism website which succinctly defines the differences between fundamentalism and reformed doctrine. The link for this is:

I thought that it was so good, that I have simply "cut and pasted" it and I hope that it is useful.

Fundamentalism Vs. Reformed Theology

In general, most modern fundamentalists take the Bible at face-value within their own socio-political context, and they usually subscribe to a form of premillennialism. However, since the term fundamentalist is often a vilification when used by outsiders, some fundamentalists now call themselves evangelicals.

Fundamentalists are often those who are reclusive and estranged from the religious establishment, which they sometimes perceive as needing an overhaul or even replacement. The first time that any group of Christians proclaimed themselves to be fundamentalists was in a meeting that took place in the early 1900s in the United States. At the time there was not the clear association of fundamentalists with militant or religious fanatics (an association people might often ascribe to them today). The gathering was merely a response, in the Church, to the huge infusion of modernism and the liberalizing trends of German biblical criticism. This tendency of modernism and unbelief in the Church gave rise to a group resistance, among religious conservatives of various stripes, to the loss of influence traditional revivalism experienced in America during the early years of the twentieth century. At this time, the "Fundamentalists" were Calvinists united together with Dispensationalists and other conservative Christians to do battle with this dramatic theologically liberal turn from historic Christian orthodoxy. They distributed a series of pamphlets, free of charge, among pastors and seminarians (published between 1910 and 1915) entitled "The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth".

These were a set of basic truths to which all the conservatives were united in agreement and still are to this day. The following is what came out of the meeting and what Reformed Theology and Modern Fundamentalism still hold in common:

Fundamentalism and its Similarities with Reformed Theology

1) The inspiration and verbal inerrancy of Scripture
2) The Deity of Christ and the virgin Birth
3) The substitutionary atonement
4) Justification by faith
5) The physical resurrection
6) The bodily return of Christ at the end of the age.
7) Christ performed miracles

But over time the original reasons for uniting began to fall apart and the differences between the Reformed and other camps began to show. The following are significant differences that we can see today between modern Fundamentalists and those with a Reformed heritage:

Fundamentalism (and its Differences with Reformed Theology)

1) The absence of historical perspective;
2) Ignores the Scriptures highly diverse literary genres;
3) The lack of appreciation of scholarship; aversion toward any secondary theological training; anti-intellectual;
4) The substitution of brief, skeletal, superficial creeds for the historic confessions;
5) The lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine; highly averse to theology;
6) Pietistic, perfectionist tendencies, often moralistic (i.e., major upon "issues" such as protesting Harry Potter movies; separating with Christians who are not KJV only);Guilt-Centered (Fundamentalism) Vs. Gospel Centered (Reformed) Sanctification
7) One-sided other-worldliness - reclusive: church separate from the culture - the holy huddle (i.e., a lack of effort to impact their communities & transform culture);
8) A penchant for futuristic chiliasm (or: dispensational pre-millennialism);
9) They embrace some form of Manicheanism (or Greek dualism);
10) Often demonize their opposition and are reactionary;
11) Envy modernist cultural/political hegemony and try to overturn the powers that be through political brute force rather than persuasion; Thus are often viewed by outsiders more like a political lobby than representatives of Christ;
12) Arminian tendency in theology (synergistic)

Monday, 1 July 2013

Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical

The title of my chapter in this book is called "Losing the Dance: Is the 'Divine Dance' a Good Explanation of the Trinity?". Here is a brief excerpt from this chapter.

Keller has lost the dance. Trinitarian unity is not founded upon a ‘divine dance’ of love. It is only to be upheld upon the basis of God’s essence. Calvin’s statement representing Reformed orthodoxy is so much simpler to grasp: ‘In Scripture, from the creation onward, we are taught one essence of God, which contains three persons’(Calvin, Institutes 1:13:18, 20, 23, pp. 142-144, 149). I cannot envisage that Augustine, the early Greek church father’s who were the architects of the Nicene Creed, John of Damascus, or Calvin, could subscribe to Keller’s definition of essence and his suggested basis for Trinitarian unity. The Athanasian Creed sets valuable creedal boundaries and affirms: ‘We worship One God in Trinity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.’

There are a range of different essays in this book which are:

1). Keller on "Rebranding" the Doctrine of Sin—Iain D. Campbell
2). "Brimstone Free Hell": a new way of saying the same old thing about judgment and hell?—William M. Schweitzer
3). Losing the Dance: is the "Divine Dance" a good explanation of the Trinity?—Kevin J. Bidwell
4). The Church's Mission Sent to "do Justice" in the world?—Peter J. Naylor
5). Timothy Keller's Hermeneutic: an example for the church to follow?—C. Richard H. Holst
6). "Not Quite" Theistic Evolution: does Keller bridge the gap between creation and evolution?—William M. Schweitzer
7). Looking for Communion in all the Wrong Places: Keller and the doctrine of the church—D. G. Hart

Ian Hamilton writes a preface and it is important to point out that this book is not simply about engaging with Keller. It provides a robust platform for all of us to examine our theology and doctrine at key points. Here is the link for this book at the Book Depository:

Monday, 24 June 2013

Engaging with Keller: Thinking through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical

This book has just been published by Evangelical Press. I am probably biased because I have written a chapter in the book on Keller's doctrine of the Trinity, but this book is long overdue. Having read the whole manuscript, it is a very stimulating read. It is not just about critiquing Tim Keller's public teaching, but it provides a stimulus for each of us to evaluate our own theology and doctrine.

The editors are Bill Schweitzer and Iain D. Campbell. It can viewed at this link:

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Puritan Churchmen would say "Para-church Mission, What?".

It is amazing that once we lose our grip on God's pattern for elders how many things potentially change. The previous blog sought to bring us all "back to basics" regarding church governance; the office of elders. I explained that if biblical eldership is not maintained then new church structures will be sought and new titles are used. People will begin to talk about raising up leaders instead of elders and deacons, but do we have a biblical mandate for such action?

In previous many decades, a new phenomena has mushroomed: "para-church" organisations. I understand that the issues are complex, but if the question was placed before the puritan ministers and elders of the seventeenth century of the necessity for para-church organisations to fill in the gaps that the church is supposed to be missing, then they would be perplexed and they would offer dissent. Furthermore the idea that non-ordained people would be thrust into teaching, evangelising, counselling, and organising, would have caused them to be utterly perplexed, I am convinced of that.

This is why, once a para-church organisation and especially a mission organisation begins to develop, it then produces a life of its own, often quite distinct from the governance of the church. Projects, single agenda issues, new concepts for the great commission and social development projects (now called "Transformation") often begin to take-over. I have witnessed this first-hand and before you know it, the extension of the church and the preaching of the gospel become side-lined. A para-church needs to justify its existence. My primary concern in this blog post is regarding para-church missions agencies because this is where things need to be corrected the most in my view.

Church planting needs to be done by men who are theologically trained, equipped and called by elders and the church. This is not a task for "people to have a go" otherwise what will be the end result. It is not that evangelism is to be done by a select handful, but the direction, guidance and ministry is to be given by elders; this is because in the NT, these are the ones who are to be doing the teaching. The teaching/preaching office is not an open office for all, but the pulpit must be guarded, and furthermore the whole of public worship is to be under the guidance of elders.

In Acts 13:1-4, Paul and Barnabas were sent out on their extensive mission trip and they were men who had been tested out in Antioch and then sent out. They were not novices. Furthermore, they established churches based on a fixed apostolic pattern and appointed elders (Acts 14:21-23). Once they had completed their mission, they then returned to Antioch: "they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."

In all of our zeal, may we be men and women who are committed to the church of God. May people say of us, that we are people committed to Christ's church.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Elders and Deacons: A Reformed, Puritan and Biblical Pattern for Church Government

I preached recently in Sheffield Presbyterian Church ( on "elders and Deacons". A young man who is a member in the church said to me that he believed that "if he asked most Christians he knows about church government, that they would have no idea what it is meant to be". My answer to him was that if this is not clearly taught and practiced then the alternative is for a secular and pragmatic leadership structures to be put in place in the church instead. Why substitute Christ's plan for his church with secular leadership structures, many of which do not convey the authority of Christ, such as musician worship leaders?

What does the Scripture say? Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus and told him the following:


"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil" 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

Timothy was to seek out able men with sound doctrine and godly character who would "shoulder responsibility" for the churches in the Ephesus region. It was most likely a presbytery of elders as Acts 20:17-28 indicates. When you consider that being a Christian could involve beatings or imprisonment elders needed to be men with spiritual maturity and strength. There were teaching elders and ruling elders who together would govern the churches on behalf of Christ. 1 Tim 5:17 "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching".

The public worship and services is to be led by elders and they are responsible for the preaching and teaching of the flock of God. How different the church would look if this was the case. And oh by the way these elders are to be married men and women are not permitted to hold this office in the church.

"Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 3:8-13".

Deacons are a very important office when they are rightly understood. These are to be men who do not govern the church but are under the elders but they are responsible for the practice needs of care and compassion in the church. Much more can be said about these two offices but for now I want to raise the profile of the biblical offices of elders and deacons, so that readers of this blog would consider a biblical pattern for the church.

For further reading, I suggest John Calvin, "The Institutes of Christian Religion", Book 4.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Church Planting in England in 2013 and beyond

One of my aims in this blog is to stir up a passion for historic reformed doctrine. Such doctrine is passionately concerned about the church and hence I have being do a mini-series on "The Puritans". The doctrines and vision of the puritans is not an antiquated relic of the past. Why? It is because the truths of Scripture do not change and neither do the basic needs of humanity. Church planting is an in-vogue subject and I have said several times: "I am not interested in church planting, but I am interested in planting the right kind of churches". One of my concerns is that in all that I read concerning church planting, I find little that attracts me.

It seems like pragmatism, evangelism, and contemporary approaches (whatever contemporary means by the way) seems to commonly drive the agenda, instead of sound theological doctrine. Church planting should be committed to sound basic principles, so that they are connected to historic reformed and biblical ecclesiology. These are:

1. A firm commitment to the preaching of sound doctrine
2. Elders are to hold to a reformed confession and ideally the Westminster Standards.
3. Worship that adheres to the regulative principle
4. Government by elders with deacons responsible for practical care and compassion (1 Timothy 3:1ff)
5. The solid care of Christians being a priority

On all these counts the theology of the puritans can help us. The NT has an apostolic pattern for the church's doctrine, worship and church government and this needs to be replicated in every generation.

Church Planting with EPCEW

My own denomination is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales and we are committed to planting solid reformed churches. If you are interested in this vision, then please contact me, and we would be delighted for you to join with us in this vision. Contact me through the contact page of

"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" Titus 1:5 Paul sent Titus to Crete to "put what remained into order" and this is needed in every generation, not least in the planting of new churches. We do not want new churches with a disordered or unbiblical model!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Biblical Christianity and Ethics

During this last week I have listened to live debates from the House of the Lords in the UK. They were debating changing the historic definition of marriage and in the end, despite good counter-arguments, they voted two to one to remove the historic understanding of marriage. The UK government intend to legalise a loose definition of marriage, that being between two people: same sex or otherwise. It is all in the name of being loving to the Gay lobby and pressure groups. How do Christians respond?

Biblical ethics has hardly been a major thrust of Christian mainstream teaching in recent years, but I am sure that this will change in the West in the coming decades. Western governments are morally rudderless and with a hedonistic agenda. This is similar to the Greek and Roman world of the First Century; during which true Christianity flourished. Listen to Paul writing to the Corinthians: "What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'" 1 Cor. 15:32. The prevalent worldview of the First Century world was to "eat, drink, for tomorrow we die". It sounds like 21st Century Britain!

We all need to be on our guard regarding hypocrisy. Many times in the House of Lords debate, I heard mockers saying that the "Church" have regularly changed their opinion on many issues such as slavery, women's rights and now marriage. It sounds convincing, but wait a minute. Are not the politicians the ones who have changed their minds? They were the ones who endorsed slavery and only made it illegal when they finally had no other choice. This is a flawed argument and we cannot rely on our nation's political leaders to offer a reliable compass on moral issues. What is the answer? It is the Holy Bible alone which provides God's answers. The church needs to freshly articulate, simply and clearly, the teaching of the Bible concerning a range of moral issues, such as:

What is marriage in the sight of God?
What is sin?
What do God's Ten Commandments teach?
Is abortion the sin of murder?
Medical research: how far can we go?
What is adultery and fornication?
Jesus Christ is the only way to God

We cannot assume anymore that people have the basic framework of morality that is informed by the teaching of the Bible. Let the church joyfully embrace this challenge, while trusting for God help.

Proverbs 24:10 "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small."

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Puritans considered Prayer to be a Means of Grace

Sometimes I have heard reformed people discussing the means of grace as "Word and sacrament". Though I understand the need to emphasise that churches should be committed to the ordinary and outward means of grace, this short-hand label is somewhat truncated. Why do I say that? It is because Question 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives a more comprehensive explanation than "Word and sacrament".

Question 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

Answer. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

Can you see what was missing? It is PRAYER which is also an outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption ... and it is made effectual for salvation. Therefore, the full and complete answer is the "Word, sacraments and prayer". And how important prayer is for the church and for individuals, not only for answered prayer but also for Christ to communicate to us. A large portion of the Westminster Standards is devoted to an exposition of the Lord's Prayer, with the intention that individual Christians, families and churches would avail themselves of this crucial means of grace.

Listen to Paul writing to the Colossian Church:

4:2: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

Paul then requests prayer for himself and his apostolic team from the church. Paul needed the prayers of churches, there was inter-dependence.

4:3-4: "At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak."

Paul then explains how Ephaphras was committed to prayer for their church. "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God" 4:12.

May we all, not least myself, not only read about prayer, but become like Christ and actually pray regularly, faithfully, with purpose and engage our whole being in the secret place. May God help us in this by his grace. The best way to learn how to pray, is on your knees, in a secret place, with the Bible open before you.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Puritans were Committed to Fasting

"Committed to what?" some may ask as they read this blog post. I must confess that as I write this bite-size article that my doubting thoughts are that many people will probably not be stirred by such a theme as fasting. However, is that a biblical reaction? The Puritans were committed to fasting during the English Civil War when many "fast days" were called and held by the Westminster Assembly. They must have sensed the urgency of the situation and the spiritual plight of the land at that time. It is not surprising to think of the impact of puritan teachings which are eagerly read over 300 years later which would have been bathed in fasting conjoined with prayer. Could we learn a lesson from these spiritual giants?

In Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day", solemn fastings are part of the ordinary worship of God. Additionally in Question 108 in The Larger Catechism, religious fasting is included as part of our duties required in the second commandment. However, what of scripture? Does the New Testament warrant the ongoing practice of fasting for Christians?

In Matthew chapter 6 on "The Sermon on the Mount", the Lord Jesus taught the following: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you, Matthew 6:16–18".

Note the phrase "when you fast" does not read "if you fast". It is anticipated that the people of God will pray, give and also fast, though there is no explicit reference to the frequency. Fasting is referenced in the Book of Acts also:

13:2 the elders in the church at Antioch sought the Lord with fasting
13:3 Paul and Barnabas were sent out with prayer and fasting
14:23 elders were chosen and installed with prayer and fasting

All Christians are invited to fast but there appears to be a special emphasis placed on God's elders to appropriate fasting to their prayer, especially in connection with making important decisions.

May we join in fasting and prayer for the good of Christ's church, for labourers to be thrust forward into the harvest field (Matthew 9:38-39), for the propagation of the gospel and for a spiritual awakening so that our Lord may restore the fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126).

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Puritans Promoted the Pre-eminence of Jesus Christ

The Puritans excelled at and delighted in, exalting the Lord Jesus Christ. From holy Scripture they ably demonstrated that Christ has no rivals, no prophets who come near his excellency and wherever you turn in the writings of the puritans they were consumed by a holy zeal to promote the pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why was this?

It was because their message was carefully drawn from the Bible. It was because their doctrine was in line with the Heavenly Father who declared at the baptism of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It was because they followed in the footsteps of the apostle Paul who wrote to the Colossians: "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent" (Col. 1:18).

Listen to some of these puritan pearls to better understand the heartbeat of the Bible, in order that we grow in our esteem and love for God's only begotten Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Samuel Rutherford: "Acquaint yourself with Christ's love, and you shall not miss to find new goldmines of treasures in Christ".

Samuel Rutherford again: "They lose nothing who gain Christ".

Thomas Brooks: "Though Christ's coat was once divided, He will never suffice His crown to be divided".

Richard Sibbes: "It is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ".

In closing, listen to Peter the apostle writing to Christians in the First Century world: "... to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:7-9)".

May we delight in Christ being exalted and may we emulate this puritan pattern for life, ministry and the church.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

An Open Letter to Lord Krebs of The House of Lords: Dissent against the UK Government's Proposed Re-definition of Marriage

22 May 2013

Lord Krebs,
The House of Lords,

Dear Lord Krebs,
Subject: Dissent Against the Proposed Marriage Bill

I am writing to you in relation to the coalition’s attempt to very quickly, even hastily, rush through the current legislation concerning the redefinition of marriage. Along with many others, I have written to our politicians, the leaders of all the parties and the responses which I received from 10 Downing Street and Ed Milliband MP were simply this; “we are going to change the law concerning marriage regardless”. I was left perplexed as to the meaning of a democratic process. It appears that the political elite of this country have decided and who are we to challenge their views?

As a Sheffield citizen, I have chosen to write to you as a “cross-bench” peer to appeal for you to raise a voice of concern regarding this bill. The historic definition of marriage has been foundational to the society in which we live. Any democracy should protect vulnerable individuals, which includes those who differ on the general consensus, in this case that marriage is a union between a man and a woman as instituted by God. Though we live in a strongly secular society, marriage will always remain a cornerstone institution for the satisfaction of mankind, for procreation, and stability within communities.

The agenda for the redefinition of marriage appears to be under-girded by a much wider motive by groups such as Stonewall, as well as our politicians. The desire appears to be to bring about a wholesale change in the British mindset, including the active promotion of “same-sex” relationships in every sphere of society, especially among children; in schools this will often be against the desires of existing families. This legislation is not just another “white paper”. This legislation crosses a line into endless future disputes where our government’s are going to be at constant odds with the society that they are supposed to responsibly govern. Please vote against this bill.


Dr Kevin J. Bidwell

I urge people to write to one of the peers in the House of Lords to register your dissent on this matter. For more information contact the Christian Institute: If you are not sure who to write to, then why not write to Lord Krebs using the address above.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Puritans on Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

Of all the chapters in the Westminster Confession, chapter 20 is probably one of the least written and spoken about. And yet, it is so crucial to the health of the church in every generation. What is the title of this chapter? It is "Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience". It contains four headings to guard the church, individual members, and elders, from spiritual abuses that can occur so easily.

Paul the apostle writes in Romans 10:4 "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge". We all know where the Jewish zeal led them to. They sought and worked towards the crucifixion of Christ, the imprisonment of Peter and John and the persecution against Paul's ministry to the gentiles. It is so easy for zeal without true biblical knowledge and balance to slide into wrong actions. All of us need to be aware of this danger.

The manipulative argument of trying to bind people to the commandments of men is to insist on obedience because failing to do so would be to disobey God. This often preys upon the weak, the undiscerning or the young Christian, who of course want to please the Lord. Fear, pressure and the threat of alienation are often used against those who disagree. Paul taught: "But test everything; hold fast what is good" 1 Thess. 5:21.

Why was this chapter important to the puritans? Remember that Europe had faced the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church who wanted to dictate to everyone, every detail of what they should do, believe, think or act. Even today the RCC try to legislate for every moral action as they claim to be the sole interpreters of the Christian Faith, which of course is not true. The Westminster Confession outlines four main points on this subject.

20:1 Christians under the gospel enjoy freedom from the guilt of sin ... and they are no longer under the yoke of the ceremonial law.

20:2 God alone is Lord of the conscience, such that blind obedience is to destroy liberty of conscience. This heading strikes at 'the doctrines and commandments of men' which can so quickly creep into church life, even subliminally.

20:3 They who practice sin or lust under the pretence of Christian liberty destroy the end of Christian liberty. This is another vital point for the many anti-nomians today. Freedom of conscience is not to be used as an excuse to commit sin.

20:4 There is a distinction between church and state and neither should destroy Christian liberty.

It is very helpful to revisit this chapter on Christian liberty and liberty of conscience to ensure that we walk in the joy and freedom that have been purchased for the church through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water, Hebrews 10:19-22".

Monday, 13 May 2013

Praying like the Puritans: Praying for Conversions!

It is surprising how little prayer there can be in the Western church for conversions. Has unbelief entered our minds due to difficult circumstances? Is it a theological reason that causes such little heartfelt prayer for conversions of people in our own day? I am not sure exactly as to the reason, but I am sure that the puritans can stimulate us to pray for the conversion of sinners. Let us look briefly at the "Westminster Directory of Public Worship", the Larger and Shorter Catechisms" which both expound on prayer using the Lord's prayer as a skeleton outline.

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship

There is a section called "Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon" which was to be conducted by the minister. It includes a confession of our great sinfulness, a bewailing our spiritual blindness, an acknowledgment that our Great high priest hears our request for the remission of sins and then, prayer for the propagation of the gospel. This is to include prayer for the conversion of the Jews, the bringing in of the fulness of the gentiles (Romans 11:25-27), the deliverance of distressed churches, and the blessing of God upon reformed churches. There are of course other aspects of prayer also covered but praying for conversions is included.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Prayer is a means of grace (question 88) and questions 98-107 focus entirely upon prayer. Listen to question and answer from Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

The second petition of the Lord's Prayer is: "Your kingdom come" Matthew 6:10 and this includes praying for advancement in the kingdom of God, so that ourselves and others are brought into it. Is this how you pray in your churches prayer meetings, and personally? We should!

The Westminster Larger Catechism

This fine document expounds the second petition of the Lord's Prayer in more detail. Here is question 191 "What do we pray for in the second petition?".

Answer: In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

Let us pray fervently for the bringing in of the spiritual harvest and in accordance with Psalm 126:1-3.

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3  The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Catechising was a Puritan Passion; is it ours today?

Catechising, you may say, what is that? The very word catechise and what it entails in its most basic form is a forgotten art in many parts of evangelicalism. In the history of the church, Christian ministers have sought to wisely pass on the content of the faith using set forms such as the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. The puritan movement not only continued this pattern but excelled. Why? It was because the British puritans lamented the lack of Christian knowledge in their own day and they took Christian discipleship very seriously.

Catechising was fundamental to the wider reformed movement across Europe. Luther and Calvin had their catechisms, the production of reformed confessions laid down the content of the faith to be passed on to Christians and at the time of the Westminster Assembly in England there were dozens of catechisms in use across England. Every was catechising their children and congregations, it seemed. Could the same be said today?

One minister was a "prince of catechisers" among the puritans, it was Thomas Watson. His three books entitled: The Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments and The Lord's Prayer are an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. However, these books did not emerge out of desire for an author to simply write books. Watson writes: "I intend every other Sabbath, in the afternoon, to make it my whole work to lay down the grounds and fundamentals of religion in a catechistical way" (Body of Divinity, p 5). Watson also believed: "Catechising is the best expedient for the grounding and settling of people ... to preach and not to catechise is to build without foundation. The way of catechising is not novel, it is apostolic" (Body of Divinity, p 5).

We need to recover the lost art of catechising adults and children. We have the materials already in the Westminster Larger and Smaller Catechisms, we just need ministers to teach them and heads of households to use them in family worship. Let us allow the apostle Paul to have the last word. Paul wrote to Timothy: "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

Monday, 29 April 2013

Did the Puritans produce Systematic Theologies?

This was the question that a young theology student asked me recently. It set me thinking and the answer is a resounding yes. The British puritans became renowned across Europe for their development, par excellence, of experimental and devotional theology. Much of their works were intensely practical on a personal level as they struggled also to reform the Church of England and Wales especially, and to continue the work of reform in Ireland and Scotland. However, in answer to the specific question that this blog is directed, there are two works for which I would give an answer.

Thomas Watson [produced an outstanding systematic theology which today is published by the Banner of Truth under three separate titles. These are Thomas Watson's "Body of Divinity", "The Ten Commandments" and "The Lord's Prayer". These form a trilogy of expositions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism but it is a Systematic theology as well. They were borne from his catechetical classes for adults in his Sabbath Sunday School at Crosby Hall near Bishopsgate Street, London, I believe, while Stephen Charnock was joint pastor. While they form an exposition of the Westminster Catechism they also systematise Christian doctrine, obviously along the same lines as the Westminster Standards. Watson wrote that "to preach and not to catechise is to build without foundation" (p 5 "Body of Divinity") and by this he meant to adults and to children, not just to children as often happens today.

The Westminster Standards comprise the Confession of Faith with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms and these form a systematic theology also. The three documents are complimentary while adopting a similar structure founded broadly upon the Apostles' Creed the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer, though they deal with a range of other subjects as well. So in conclusion, for Christians committed to sound doctrtinal orthodoxy, I recommend the purchase, reading and study of the Westminster Standards, and the three books by Thomas Watson.

The teaching of Thomas Watson is summarised in my view by the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:9-10: Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Puritan Reading Minus Ecclesiology = Selective Puritanism

The puritan movement had and still has the doctrine of the church at its very core. Sometimes over the years, I have encountered a certain interest in the puritans, and puritan writings but somehow it seemed disconnected from their passion for the doctrine of the church. The purity of the church's doctrine, and purity of worship is a biblical mandate. It is refreshing in the new book by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones "A Puritan Theology" (Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) that as they systematise puritan thought, that include a whole sub-section to ecclesiology. The puritans then and the heirs of the puritans today rightly contend for a biblical church government, a regulative principle for worship and the use of sound reformed confessions to clarify what a church believes.

This is why the heading of this blog post is: Doctrine minus Ecclesiology = Selective Puritanism. I have met some people over the years who love reading the puritans but who are completely unaware that the doctrine of the church was the lifeblood of the puritan movement. It is entirely possible to read the puritans in devotional fashion, which is undoubtedly beneficial, but to miss one of their main priorities: Ecclesiology. This is no surprise though because the British puritan movement was essentially an exegetical movement and considering all the books of the Bible were written for the people of God, then the church has to be important. This is what Christ promised to build: 'And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” ' Matthew 16:17-19.

The church has to be organised, ordered, gathered and built up. The church is not a loose collection of stones. Some people mis-interpret Matthew 18:19 and seem to think that a casual meeting with other fellow believers represents the church but this is not the teaching of Holy Scripture. The church is to be governed by elders, appointed to worship on the Lord's Day, and committed to preaching and the hearing of sound doctrine. Listen also to Paul's introduction to three epistles to grasp the biblical emphasis on Christians being part of a local church.

"To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7)".

"To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia (2 Cor. 1:1)".

"To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons (Phil. 1:1)".

For those reading this blog, but are not regularly worshipping in a church which preaches sound doctrine, then I urge you to become rooted in a church. Listen to the writer of Hebrews: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25)".

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Purity + Simplicity = Puritanism

The New Testament pattern of worship was marked by simplicity, purity and reverence. This is the whole theme of the Book of Hebrews. It seems that church history, in my opinion, records constant attempts by man to move away from this apostolic pattern, followed by the work of the Holy Spirit to recover this worship pattern of simplicity—purity—reverence. This was what the puritans strove for, it was a biblical pattern and yet fallen man always finds simplicity hard to live with. Why? It is the result of sin.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his Second letter: "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" 2 Cor. 11:3, ESV. The NKJV translation illuminates this passage further: "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ". Paul's concern was that the church may be deceived and led astray, as Eve was, from God's principle for sincerity, purity and simplicity. We are not to be unaware of Satan's schemes therefore as Paul also warned the Corinthians in his second letter to them, 2:11 "so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs".

The Fall of man precipitated by the serpent undermining the authority of God's command, followed by a direct contradiction of God's threat upon disobedience, as recorded in Genesis Chapter 3. The serpent said to Eve:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 3:1.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 3:4-5.

Satan undermined the authority of God's command, the threat of disobedience, he inserted doubt and unbelief, and yet there were no arguments, it was subtle. His tactics were subtle, they were deceptive, they were cunning. Listen to how Eve responded in Genesis 3:6 "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate".

A visual appeal to the forbidden fruit is an important aspect of the Fall for us to bear in mind: "The woman saw that the tree was good ... it was a delight to the eyes". Mankind ever since the Fall has easily been misled to a visual religion and this has also affected Christianity. The Puritans recovered a biblical vision of simplicity in public worship, public worship without gimmicks, without our visual senses being pandered to, a worship focussed on the invisible God. This is a vision to be contended for in every generation.

The Westminster Confession of Faith summarises these elements of worship which are: "The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God" 21:5.