Monday, 31 March 2014

Our First Services at Hill Top Chapel: Sheffield Presbyterian Church

Last Sunday, Sheffield Presbyterian Church held their first Lord's Day services at Hill Top Chapel. For more details please check out the website for our service times or sermons:

At 7.20am last Sunday morning BBC radio Sheffield interviewed me live and it will be on the BBC i player for one week. The link is and scroll to 20.00 minutes:


Kevin Bidwell

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

My Journey to the Reformed Faith (part 3, "The Sermon on the Mount" opened up new horizons)

I think that for me, an important stage in my reformed pilgrimage, was to realise that there was much more to be gleaned from the Scriptures than I had encountered. This came a good number of years ago while I was wrestling through the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-11. Somehow in the providence of God, I got hold of a copy of a book by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones: "Studies on the Sermon on the Mount". This was another of many life-changing steps in my journey to the reformed faith.

Why was it such an important book for me? My eyes were opened to whole new vista of spiritual truth. It was like discovering the beauty of the Swiss Alps with its extensive range of panoramas and mountain ranges. In sum, I realised that I had been paddling around in "ankle deep water" and this book exposed me to thorough-going exegesis of the biblical text. I did get my answers regarding the Beatitudes, but I got much more. My appetite had been whetted and though I did not fully realise it at the time, this book became a "hinge upon which my own reformation began". However, there is rarely a single event that gives us all the answers to our spiritual questions.

There are no short-cuts to spiritual truth and spiritual progress in the Christian life. Though we try them, sometimes in our impatience. There are no downloading of MP3's into our soul, to shortcut our development. Proverbs teaches us an important principle: "Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding (Proverbs 23:23). Truth, though it is free, it does come with a cost. I have always been impressed by the lives of Joshua and Caleb in that they "wholly followed the Lord". Numbers 32:10-12 records: "And the LORD’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD’ ".

The Scripture searches our hearts and minds and we are often left with questions to answer. Do we desire to buy the truth and then not to sell it once it has been acquired? Do we wholly follow the LORD? Wholly following the Lord is a vital ingredient to being reformed, because the Scriptures have to be sought all of our earthly lives; not just on a personal level, but also for the church as well. My next blog post will explain where the next step lay for me was in my journey to the reformed faith. I hope these blogposts will benefit some people and perhaps lay down some helps and signposts for others who saying to themselves "there must be more to Christianity that what I have encountered so far".

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My Journey to the Reformed Faith (part 2, realising that repentance is a gift of God)

For many people, the sovereignty of God is the first step in having a changed view of God and also of their doctrine. Many people have spoken to me, to testify that the first step in their discovering the joy of the reformed understanding of the gospel was the truth concerning the sovereignty of God. This was true for me also. However, by the grace of God, my discovery of this was related to a new understanding that I had regarding the gift of repentance. It was that repentance is given as gift being given to sinners. I was persuaded of this through my reading of the Scriptures, rather than simply reading a book such as Arthur Pink's "The Sovereignty of God".

As a younger Christian, I was actively involved in outreach to the lost. This desire was fuelled by a genuine desire to see the lost converted, but it also was fuelled by a default Arminian understanding of salvation. I had not come across the word Arminian when I was a new Christian, but Arminianism is the religious understanding of the natural man. This teaches that man can choose salvation or reject it and that man has the final decision on whether he goes to heaven or hell. This is a false understanding of salvation, because if that was true, no one would ever choose Christ and the gospel. After being involved in much good evangelistic outreach and the preaching of the gospel to non-Christians, the fruit that was produced was minimal. I was thankful for the the occasional conversions that happened, but I had to admit to myself that they were the work of God's sovereign grace. In reading Acts, a shaft of light pierced my soul. What was it?

Acts 5:30-31 "The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins".
Acts 11:18 "When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life”.

These verses persuaded me that repentance was a gift from God and not something that man can conjure up for himself. This understanding of the gift of repentance was a key turning point upon which the hinge of the door of Calvinism began to open for me. A true understanding of the gospel, the church, and of God as presented by the reformed church, turned out to be a joyous discovery of spiritual truth. At that time, I thought that I had logically deduced this truth from the Scriptures and my own personal experience in evangelism. This may have been true, but it was the Holy Spirit who was leading me on a journey of discovery.

How about you? How do you understand the gift of repentance? Do you believe that salvation is of God, from beginning to end? If you would like further reading, I recommend Thomas Watson's "The Doctrine of Repentance" or a good commentary on John's Gospel by someone like William Hendriksen.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A New Meeting Place for Sheffield Presbyterian Church

For many months, the elders who oversee the work of Sheffield Presbyterian Church have been praying for guidance regarding a new suitable meeting place. As of Sunday 30th March, the church will be holding all of its regular services at Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe Common, Sheffield, S9 2AD (the post code is for the police station opposite because the chapel does not currently have its own postcode).

This chapel was built in 1629 and its founding minister was Stanley Gower who became one of the Westminster divines in the Westminster Assembly. Gower grew to become a prominent presbyterian pastor and theologian by his death in 1660 and he finished his ministry in Dorchester, England. The chapel has gone through various stages in its almost 400 year history, including being derelict in the 1930's. However, today it has been restored in a measure and it will be the new home of Sheffield Presbyterian Church. Our services will be at 11.00am and 5.00pm on the Lord's Day with a Sunday School teaching the Westminster confession and catechisms at 10.00am. Our midweek meeting from the beginning of April will be held there at 7.30pm on Wednesdays.

Please check our website for more details and we look forward to you joining with us to worship the Triune God, in the name of our mediator the Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 126:1-3 'When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. 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.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad'.

Friday, 7 March 2014

My Journey to the Reformed Faith (a commitment to holy Scripture)

Over the years, when I talk to people who have come to an understanding of reformed doctrines, they often share similar traits in their pilgrimage to my own. I want to outline certain key junctures in my own pilgrimage to the reformed faith and make certain book recommendations along the way.

Since conversion, I have been committed to the Bible. The church I was converted in was not reformed but it was committed to preaching and to preaching out of the Scriptures. I assumed that such an approach was common in every church, but sadly over the years I have grown disappointed with a lack of attention to these two things. These two things are an attention to firstly preaching and secondly preaching that is "out of the Scriptures". As a young Christian nothing else really satisfied me other than further explanations of God out of the Bible. This step is perhaps fundamental to any person interested in or moving in a reformed direction or indeed in simply growing in the Lord.

Reformed Christianity is not some special branch of the church, but its desire, if it is true to itself, is to restore a biblical and apostolic pattern for the church's doctrine, worship and church government. I often think of the parable of the yeast that our Lord taught in connection to my own journey. Jesus said: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened" (Matthew 13:33). Once the leaven of biblical doctrine gets worked into a part of your life, it begins to work and change one's whole life.

Three questions have guided and continue to guide my own reformed pilgrimage. These are "what does the Scripture say" (Romans 4:3) and “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26). These last two questions are from the parable of the Good Samaritan and they guide our interpretation of matters in life and the church, to ensure that our primary source for answers is guided by the message of the Bible. Furthermore, they ensure that our understanding of the doctrines of the Scriptures are correct. One scripture that has guided me constantly for over 20 years is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work".

So, the first step in my own reformed pilgrimage has been a "dogged" determination to be driven constantly back to Scripture. Many times my understanding of it was wrong, but at least the source of my knowledge was placed in the right place. How about you? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do you submit to the teaching of holy Scripture, even though your opinions may have to change? And lastly, are you teachable? I intend to continue this blog series on many different steps in my own journey and I hope that it will help you.

For further reading I recommend Psalm 119 and 2 Timothy.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

"The New Calvinism Considered" by Jeremy Walker

For those who keep up to date with the latest trends in the reformed and evangelical world you will be aware of a growing Calvinistic movement. It is labelled The "New Calvinism" by Jeremy Walker, but Collin Hansen wrote a book in 2008 which coined the phrase "Young, Restless and Reformed" and it was the title of his book. Though this book captures something of this growing movement, the word "restless" indicates some potential problems with the movement as well.

Jeremy Walker assesses this broad and rather fluid movement in his book published by Evangelical Press in 2013. Jeremy himself is young (in his 30's) and a conservative reformed baptist. His congregation where he ministers in Crawley, England, upholds the 1689 Baptist Confession with a conservative view of worship. The book did not take me long to read and I was thankful for it, in that it gave me a broad sweep of this developing group of people and churches, mainly, but not exclusively in the USA.

Jeremy identifies that many well known figures such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and many others have come to an understanding of the sovereignty of God and the five points of Calvinism which is their main unifying platform. However, after that it can be worked out in a plethora of ways in terms of worship, varieties of eschatology's, belief in the continuation of charismatic gifts (or not) and so forth. The book is brief, it paints with "broad brush strokes", but it is helpful to make us all think through critically the direction of this movement. However, other authors need to follow up with books with "more beef" to give more detailed theological critiques of some of the inherent problems of a Calvinism that is not well-grounded in a biblical and historic doctrine of the church.

For myself, my pilgrimage to the reformed faith began with an understanding of the book of Romans, by reading the series on Romans by Lloyd-Jones. However, it has been painful to allow the word of God act as a plough to turn over my thoughts in every arena of my thinking, so that every aspect of my understanding of the church has had to be reshaped and re-formed as well. It is a contradiction to hold to Calvinistic ideas of salvation and then to vigorously pursue Arminian methods in worship and evangelism. This does not mean that being reformed cannot also mean to be vigorously committed to missions, far from it.

If you read this book by Jeremy Walker, then I hope that it will lead readers to further study. For the serious minded, I recommend Book Four of the "Institutes" by John Calvin or "The Glorious Body of Christ" by R. B. Kuiper.