There’s a profound thing going on in Genesis 1.27. When God makes mankind, male and female he creates a kind of divine balance between equality (both made equally in the image of God) and diversity (male and female he created them). The Fall, at one level, corrupts this delicate balance. As the wife desires her husband she craves equality over diversity. As the husband rules over his wife he craves diversity at the expense of equality. It’s no wonder that in our broken world, people try to address this Curse (even if they don’t know it’s called that). At one level, many of the wrong views we see in terms of the roles of men and women are a descending spiral of correction – the more men rule or dominate women in sin, the more a woman wants to stress equality to undo the effects.
The Bible Christian, it seems to me, has to work hard to recreate the balance. This is a tricky job. In times past, Christians have (wrongly) taken an easier route of misogyny or feminism as correctives. As is often the way, the godly and biblical path is harder and more challenging, but – by definition – more beautiful. It’s worth time, effort, pain and stretch to see God’s pattern and work, under him, for its restoration.
... against exclusive Psalmody:
Are we really forbidden to sing the name of Jesus?
I was reminded recently that Handley Moule’s book To my younger brethren is a really useful classic on pastoral ministry. It has a context, naturally, which is ministry in an Anglican context (Moule was Bishop of Durham). Read it with that in mind. But even for the most rabid of non-conformist, there is pastoral wisdom and challenge here that, even 100 years on is necessary. It’s free online and Project Gutenberg helpfully supplies it ready formatted for kindles or other e-readers.
I’ve been very moved in the last few days reading Diarmaid MacCulloch’s account of the last few weeks of the life of Thomas Cranmer, in his biography of the great man (Thomas Cranmer, Yale University Press, 1996). It’s a well known story, of course, of Cranmer’s apparent recantation of his Protestant convictions and then his dramatic recantation of the recantation.
What struck me was one of the primary reasons MacCulloch suggests for Cranmer’s apparent capitulation back into the Catholicism out of which he had expended so much energy dragging himself and his country.
The reason was friendship. Towards the end, in his confinement, he was very isolated from his Protestant friends. They had mostly either fled to the Continent or been jailed. Indeed two of the most prominent, Latimer and Ridley, had been burned at the stake and he had been forced watch their sufferings.
At this point, says MacCulloch: ‘In isolation which was spiritual rather than physical, he cast in the role of friend and confidant the attendant who was guarding him, a simple but devout traditionalist Catholic called Nicholas Woodson. Woodson’s friendship came to be his only support, and to please Woodson he began giving way to everything that he had fought for twenty years and more’ (pp.588-89).
Some very sharp Catholic minds had turned up during his imprisonment to try to argue him out of his Protestantism, but he held firm. Yet put him in a position where his only possible friend in all the world was a simple-minded Catholic and he weakened. I think it is only the most foolhardy of us who conclude that Cranmer was just one of life’s pushovers and that we would have been stronger.
What do I conclude?
I conclude that a desire to please my friends may well be deeper in me than I imagine it is.
I conclude that therefore those deep friendships that I do have with brothers in the Lord are likely to be a far more powerful means by which the Lord keeps me true to him than I imagine they are.
I conclude, finally, that choosing to sacrifice some other things in order to invest in those friendships is a very wise thing to do. According to MacCulloch it was spiritual isolation that did for Cranmer – although mercifully not permanently so. We are fools, I think, if we imagine that we are different.
My PT colleague, Adrian Reynolds, might well add at this point: so when, Mr Pastor, did you last go to a conference where you knew you would be spending time with like-minded brothers? He puts on some pretty good ones, you know.
After his death, someone asked J. D. Rockefeller’s accountant, “How much money did he leave?”
The answer, of course, was all of it!
It always is.
(Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, p17)Marc Lloyd
From The Rectory
On the whole, I think there is no doubt that we should regard the internet as a great blessing. And social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) has its uses and can be lots of fun. It helps people stay in touch or be informed. All that’s is good. But we all know there is a darker side to the internet. Like anything, it can be misused. And the same goes for social media.
You probably will have heard on teenagers being bullied terribly on-line, and sometimes being suicidal as a result. There was a time when someone who was bullied at school might at least be safe at home and close the door on the abuse they face. But today, wherever your smart phone goes, malevolent messages can follow. And once something is posted online, it’s tricky to remove. A quote or an image could potentially be seen by millions all around the world in a few quick clicks. Teenage mistakes are not so easily forgotten in the internet age.
One especially worrying possible new app which was said by the BBC to be due to launch this month is Peeple. Extending the idea of review sites such as Trip Advisor or Yelp, Peeple, it was reported, will allow users to review people and give them star ratings.
If people are sometimes anxious about how many likes or “friends” they have on Facebook, it’s easy to imagine the distress which such a website might cause. Who wants to receive one star? And I guess some people will be disappointed not to be talked about. Some might prefer negative reviews to being ignored.
The Christian faith offers an increasingly counter cultural view of human worth and dignity. We are created in the image of God – and you can’t get much better than that. Whatever others might think about us, we are thoroughly known and loved by God. Our value does not depend on our performance or achievements, or how we manage to present ourselves in the real or virtual world.
Yet, if we’re honest, we know that there are times when we don’t measure up to our own standards, let alone God’s. None of us could expect a perfect review. It’s a worrying thought to consider how an all-knowing God would rate our integrity, or kindness, or patience, or honesty or …. You could probably fill in the blanks of ways in which you are not the person you know you ought to be.
The good news of the Christian faith is forgiveness and grace – the undeserved love of God which we can’t earn and don’t have to pay for. The Christian life is not about notching up points with God or trying to work our way into his good books. Jesus took the punishment for his people, so that their relationship with a holy God might be restored.
If we put our trust in Christ, we are united to him by faith. His righteousness, his record, his performance, his rating with God his Father, is credited to us. When God looks at a believer, he sees his perfect beloved Son whom he loves. We are counted righteous in him, despite the bad things we’ve done and the good things we’ve failed to do.
The believer in his or her right mind, ought to care above all else what God makes of him or her. He is the one we seek to please. Of course we like to be liked, but the assurance of the love of God can free us from what the Bible would call an insatiable people-pleasing. What others might think of me matters less when I remember that my loving heavenly Father cares for me, warts and all. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-34415382
but see also
As Andy Byfield was teaching at the Cornhill + conference, I thought about suffering again. We generally (and our people in particularly) have a poor theology of suffering. That’s because we’ve many of us been raised in a culture where it’s been relatively easy to be a believer. You see this worked out in the way we pray our prayers of petition, which are often a kind of prosperity-lite (‘Lord make n better. Amen’).
I don’t think you can minister in a church unless you have a more developed theology of suffering – both personally (i.e. in your own life) and in how it works out corporately. It is such a key theme of the New Testament that a pastor who says ‘Hmm, I’ve never really thought that through’ makes you wonder if he’s actually ever read the Bible and wrestled with the difficult things (‘filling up the afflictions of Christ’ anyone?).
For the record, I think Christopher Ash’s commentary on Job (the longer one, from Crossway) is superb in this. Job, of course, is the go-to book for this issue, but many commentaries just treat Job as go-to rather than go-to-from, for unless you see suffering in the context of the cross, resurrection and ascension, you cannot possibly hope to develop a theology of suffering which will equip you for service in the church.
You will need some objects in a bag (one the colour of each of the colours of the rainbow). I used foods. Get people to pull them out, say what they are, hold them up for everyone to see, and try to guess the connection between them.
If no one guesses, get the people with the objects up the front. Put them in rainbow colour order.
The readings we had were:
Genesis 8:15-end - this obviously calls for a reminder of the story so far
2 Peter 3:3-15a, 17-end - this reading is a bit long and complicated but it does allow for a contemporary application and some discussion of what it means today to live in the light of God's judgement and mercy and the hope of the New Creation.
Talk about the meaning of the rainbow according to Genesis 8. God has hung up his war bow.
Every day and all God's good gifts to us are a sign of his mercy and his faithfulness to his promises. The rainbow reminds us of God's kindness but so does everything around us. Life and breathe and food and the world are all good and gracious gifts of God which we don't deserve.
It is possible in a church of 200 to pray for every member of the church by name once a week and every member by name early on each Sunday morning. That’s certainly Alec Motyer’s practice which he outlines in his excellent little book on preaching.
I wonder how that makes you feel? Perhaps you feel convicted? It may be an ideal to which you would like to aspire but you’ve never quite made the grade. Perhaps you feel a bit aggrieved? That sounds to you like a rather legalistic, worksy kind of approach to prayer. Perhaps you feel self-righteous? Only once a week, Alec….?
There’s surely no doubt that a preacher should be a man of prayer (Acts 6 anyone). But what kind of prayer? All kinds, surely, but at the very least, a preacher is a pastor, he is concerned to connect the ministry of the word to those to whom he is called to minister and so a preacher who never prays for his people would be a very odd preacher indeed. Sub-standard, in fact.
So the question is not so much whether one ought to pray for one’s people, but how and how much. In terms of ‘how’ I happen to believe and have experienced that praying in your sermon – both before and after the event – is the best way to ensure you are thinking pastorally in your preparation.
But it surely goes deeper than this, does it not? I don’t pray to make my preaching better, as though that were an end in itself. I pray because I want to see my people built up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus. Which, of course, leads to ‘how much?’ Alec’s strategy may be out of reach at present for all kinds of reasons, but it should surely be the heart’s desire of every pastor-teacher.
Faith by its very nature glorifies God because it confesses that God’s word is true and that his character is trustworthy; it confesses that God is sovereign, since he is able to do what he has promised; it constitutes not merely relational contact with God, but relational dependence upon him; and it honours God as the Creator by acknowledging the world as it truly is, that is, dependent upon the Creator for its existence.
A wonderful book by Matt Fuller on work, life, leisure, stress, family, rest, and time. Easy to read, thought-provoking, insightful. Buy it here.
The relationship between justification by the free grace of God and the necessity of good works to Christian salvation continues to be a talking point among evangelical and Reformed Christians. As just one example of this, consider this article by Rick Phillips, written in the aftermath of a bit of transatlantic fuss over John's Piper's foreword to a book by Tom Schreiner.
Here's the opening paragraph from Rick Phillips' article:A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was discussing the necessity of works to salvation when a fellow Reformed minister accused him of legalism. This pastor, noted for promoting a radical version of Lutheran soteriology, cut him down with a slashing riposte. "You sound like a follower of James!" he stabbed. Unbloodied by this thrust, my friend answered, "James is, you know, in the Bible." - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/09/james-is-you-know-in-the-bible.php?utm_content=bufferde88f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer#sthash.POCLhvBu.dpuf A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was discussing the necessity of works to salvation when a fellow Reformed minister accused him of legalism. This pastor, noted for promoting a radical version of Lutheran soteriology, cut him down with a slashing riposte. "You sound like a follower of James!" he stabbed. Unbloodied by this thrust, my friend answered, "James is, you know, in the Bible." - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/09/james-is-you-know-in-the-bible.php?utm_content=bufferde88f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer#sthash.POCLhvBu.dpuf
"A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was discussing the necessity of works to salvation when a fellow Reformed minister accused him of legalism. This pastor, noted for promoting a radical version of Lutheran soteriology, cut him down with a slashing riposte. 'You sound like a follower of James!' he stabbed. Unbloodied by this thrust, my friend answered, 'James is, you know, in the Bible.'"
What's most surprising, of course, is that this sort of debate should need to take place at all among Bible-believing Christians. The mere fact that someone who insists that the Bible teaches the necessity of good works as a necessary aspect of the life of a believer saved by the grace of God could be charged with "legalism" by a Reformed Minister shows just how far the Reformed mainstream has drifted both from our historical roots and from the teaching of the Bible.
Here are a couple of thoughts for anyone wanting to recover the historic Reformed and biblical stance on this issue.
On the historic Reformed view, include Calvin, Institutes; Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, and Edwards, Justification by Faith Alone would be good places to start.
For the biblical material, the Gospels, Galatians, and Romans are the obvious building-blocks. (And James, of course, though I'm beginning to wonder whether some people's Bible even include that particular book.) We might start by reminding ourselves that
- salvation and justification are not equivalent;
- Galatians is not about "legalism" (whatever that is), but rather about the failure to take seriously the implications of Christ's coming for the transformation of the older covenants;
- "works of the law" certainly does not mean "good deeds" in general, but rather works of the Law specifically, and they're a bad idea now because they were always bad, but because with the coming of Christ they no longer form a part of the way in which God's people live out their faith;
- "sanctification" is rarely (at most) used in the NT to describe a process of growth in godliness;
- it is (tragically) perfectly possible for a Christian to grieve the Spirit of God;
- it is (tragically) perfectly possible for a person to trust Christ and subsequently turn from him and be lost ("they believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away," Luke 8:13);
- and finally it is a jolly good thing to seek God's approval ("well done, good and faithful servant"), but this does not mean that the attempt to do so constitutes an attempt on our part to "merit" salvation.
Once these basic aspects of Christian teaching are in place, we'll at least be able to have a sensible conversation. But even then, I doubt whether it'd be appropriate to level charges of heresy against John Piper.
More on prayer. I’ve recently preached on Acts 4. I found it very personally convicting to look at one of the first recorded prayer meetings and learn about prayer. We have to be just a little cautious with Acts, of course. We can’t say that because they did this, we must to do it too. Although, in that tension between descriptive and prescriptive (which everyone accepts at some level), I think the safest road is to say that Acts is prescriptive when read in light of rest of NT, i.e. the default position should be that Acts is describing normality, unless the rest of the NT encourages us to think otherwise (and there are some clear areas where this is so). Back to chapter 4. The prayer meeting does therefore provide a helpful model.
Prayer is responsive. Prayer is an automatic response to what has happened and been reported. Not only does this challenge us to pray in an informed way (a very middle class application!) it also (and primarily) encourages a culture of spontaneous praying where a prayer is a natural response to events. We should expect and encourage people to be praying together at all sorts of moments, both those formally organised, and the ad hoc ones too.
Prayer is corporate. ‘Together’ is a key Acts word, as I’m sure you know. This is not to denigrate private prayer (see Matthew 5, for example!). But prayer in Acts is mostly a corporate activity and there is a power and significance about the church being together to pray. Shame, then, that most UK churches are reducing this opportunity. Once a month? Really?
Prayer is Scripture based. Notice how the believers pray Psalm 2 back to God.
Prayer is ambitious.
Lord, stir up in me a spirit of supplication.
Picking up on one of Andy’s points from yesterday, we watched a brief clip of Piper on James 4.2, it’s worth a few moments of your time. Here is a great challenge for me and for every church leader.