Friday, 22 September 2017

The Reformation then and today


It's almost 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door in Wittenburg which began the process of reformation. The advantage of his reformation over the Wycliffe one, or the Huss one was the invention of the printing press.  Within two weeks the whole of Northern Europe had printed copies of Luther's protest. Thus began the necessary break from the Roman Church. 

However the Roman Church in 1517 was very different than the Roman Catholic Church of today.
Over the last week I have been at two different churches, from two different denominations were both speakers have spoken approvingly of the relationship between themselves and the Roman Church, both affirming that the Roman Catholic Church has changed. 
It has changed in 1517 it hadn't approved the Immaculate Conception and sinlessness of Mary, this didn't come until the C19th. In the same Century the Roman Catholic Church dogmatically asserted Papal Authority. More than these though it wasn't until the Counter Reformation that the Catholic Church anathematised Sola Fide and in many respects placed an anathema on the Catholic System itself.  This is from the Counter Reformation:

CANON 9:  "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

As Martin Luther rightly said, the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the Doctrine by which a Church stands or falls.

It's seems Protestants have also changed, at the Reformation, Ad fontes was important- 2back to the sources" was one of the cries- back to the text of scripture, what does the Bible say. Martin Luther again said, 'unless I am convinced by scripture and sound reason- I do not accept the authority of the Popes or councils for they have contradicted each other, my conscience remains captive to the word of God.'

However at one of these meetings a speaker informed the gathering that Catholics and Protestants agree because they share a common experience in the Charismatic renewal, which has affected both Protestants and Catholics despite the vast difference in doctrine held by them both. It seems that now experience validates experience rather than being tested by the Scriptures themselves. As well as that the Catholic Church has changed because Catholics embrace the Alpha Course. However if you read Chris Hand's Alpha course, Falling Short or examined the material for you will find that rather than Alpha being a Protestant course it is very ambiguous on Sola Fide, presenting Justification as a work of Faith. Of course Rome is ok with that, but add the word Alone and then there is an issue. 

One of the big differences between Rome and Evangelicals centres around their different understanding of how one is saved. Evangelicals affirm that the way to heaven is only through Christ's atoning sacrifice, when the sinner repents of their sins, like the thief on the cross they are assured that 'you will be with me in paradise'. Rome however has several steps, baptismal regeneration, extreme unction and even then purgatory maybe for eons and eons, to complete the work of atonement for that one person, the work of the Cross is not enough. Jesus' cry from the Cross, it is accomplished is done away as works are added to the completed work of Christ.

If we don't agree on the Gospel we cannot have a relationship where we treat them as fellow believers. The Reformation was necessary and in many ways is still necessary.

Shalom
Stephen <><


Friday, 8 September 2017

How amazing is Grace- a short article I wrote for a local magazine.

How amazing is Grace?

If you only know one Hymn I would guess that it would be Amazing Grace, so much so that you’ll know the words. ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me’.  I wonder do you know anything of the author and that it is in many ways his autobiography?  It may not sound like an autobiography when you know that he was a vicar and worked to end the slave trade in his latter years. However Newton’s early life was a long way from where it ended, he was the son of a successful and well connected ship’s captain. His mother a godly woman gave Newton a good education but died when he was 7 years old. He rebelled against this teaching from his pious mother, his well connected father got Newton a job as a midship-man, a junior officer with the promise of promotion. However Newton who had disregarded the education his mother had given him, disregarded the Faith she held  also disregarded this opportunity his father had found for him. He was disrespectful and up to no good from the beginning.  His behaviour was so bad that he found himself demoted before leaving the ship altogether. Nonetheless opportunities kept coming his way but Newton wasn’t able to learn from them. His behaviour and poor choices got this well to do officer’s son into a lot of scrapes. At one point he was almost a slave in North Africa, mistreated and poorly fed; he was stealing raw vegetables at night to keep himself alive. At times he modified his behaviour becoming outwardly religious, but he soon went back to his cursing, blaspheming and general bad behaviour. Each time the downward spiral after made him worse than he was before.  His language was so bad that he often made other roguish sailors blush.
Newton at this time would be the last person you would think of as someone who would be a Christian minister; he was a vile excuse for a human being. He recognised this in himself as did others. He truly was a wretch and he knew it.
‘Through many dangers’ Newton diced with death  on a regular basis  on one occasion following a drinking game out at sea.  He had to be pulled by the legs as he went overboard, it was dark, he was drunk and he couldn’t swim. Literally rescued by the seat of his pants.

This wayward young man he rarely gave a second thought to his soul was given amazing opportunity; On one occasion you see the ship was battered in a storm, so much so that it was sinking. For several days he and the sailors tried to rescue it by bailing out water but it was taking on more and more water, the situation seemed hopeless, the holes were filled with their clothing and the food had almost all been washed away. Everyone on board was convinced that they were only putting off the inevitable, mere days away from death. It was at this point Newton began to contemplating his lifestyle and his sin and this led to Newtown the wretch cried out to God for mercy. He said that he was not sure that someone like him would have any hope of finding mercy with God.  Yet Newton did find mercy, he no longer had to try to reform his life and fail as he had done numerous times before, now the work of God had begun in his life, Newton was transformed.
Like Newton, Saul of Tarsus wasn’t thinking of finding grace on the road to Damascus, as he headed over to Syria the last thing on his mind was becoming a follower of Jesus. In fact he was heading there with the same sort of Ambitions that young Jihadists head to Syria today, he wanted to kill for his God. He was set on wiping out the church, on that road you’ll know he was confronted by the risen Jesus, instead of the judgement that he now knew he deserved he was called to be Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, to reach out and share with them the Good news of Jesus, Newton and Paul were both trophies of Grace. Paul said of himself that he was the chief of sinners, yet God saved him. God used the conversion of Saul the persecutor of the church to glorify Himself.

You might be one of those people who have said, ‘I am beyond saving’, yet God could take Newton, who truly was a wretch, and Saul who wanted to wipe out the church and bring them to Him. You might be one of those people who have said, ‘I am beyond saving’, yet God could take Newton, who truly was a wretch, and Saul who wanted to wipe out the church and bring them to Him. You see grace means undeserved kindness, the grace of this God is not only amazing it is glorious. 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Unbelievable- Justin Brierley

I love the unbelievable radio show on Premier Christian Radio show so I have been looking forward to reading Justin's book. Justin hosts the show and acts as moderator either between a Christian and a non-Christian or a inter Christian debate (often I disagree that it is an inter Christian debate but that's another story) . In this book Justin reflects on the 10 years of the show and why he is still a Christian after having some of the best arguments for atheism thrown at him.

Justin always comes across as winsome and a genuinely nice guy trying to be fair to both sides. 
I've listened to the show for a long time and in the book he reflects on various discussions and I remember the episode it's like we are reminiscing together.  If that was all there was to this book I'd love it, yet this is a book that also claims to be an apologetics book. It is to some extent but as it covers such a large area it's just bite size apologetics, not getting into the nitty gritty.

Justin is (now) an Anglican married to a vicar, so for me as a complimentarian and a non conformist you can see we have a different understand of the authority of Scripture and a different eccelesiology (understand of the church). As in this book his moderator's hat is off we get to see his own views, I was disappointed to see him defend annilationism, although the show has had a few inter-christian dialogue conversations on this issue, so I did wonder if it reflected his own views. Annilationism might have been the view of John Stott a leading British Evangelical of the C20th but it is still on the fringes as a belief and certainly not an evangelical belief. Justin said that 'he felt there is more support in scripture for this view. I have to disagree, the biblical position is for conscious eternal punishment, however much that idea repulses us it is the one presented. We perhaps have a different understand of the importance of the Holiness of God and the seriousness of sin.

This also comes out in Justin's theodicy chapter, he presents an argument that appeared on the show, how a mom came to terms with the death of her child by seeing God involved in a war and sometimes He loses the battle. He rightly points out that this argument isn't very popular with reformed people, well of course it isn't. The argument that God is either not or powerful or not all good, common in theodicies is an emotive one. I like that Revelation ends with God wiping away all the tears, all the sorrow and death being defeated that ends this broken stage we live on. I take comfort in a God who is all powerful and all loving knowing that a day is coming when He will right all wrongs.

As an apologetic book Unbelievable didn't work for me as Justin covered too much ground in a short space of time. I'm glad I've read it and I am thankful for the show.


God Bless
Stephen Barton 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Gospel Fluency -Jeff Vanderstelt

I received this ebook from Crossway to review; I do not have to give a positive review.

Highlights

Jeff is honest, sharing problems that he had in his own life where he would find that he needed to speak the Gospel into his own life, both as a young man and as a young pastor, that's appealing.
He also shared a story about a disconnect in his own wife's heart and head towards the Gospel, its a very moving yet sensitive story- hopefully he got her permission to share, although I am sure he did. 

Show and Tell, in this section he talked about Displaying the Gospel, if this section was earlier in the book I might have been worried that it was ‘always share the gospel sometimes use words’, but coming towards the close it was clear where this section was going yet also proved the point how slow we are to get it. Vanderstelt says we should be different in living out the gospel as a metaphor, redeemed, rescued, advocate etc.  He tells us he shared this concept in a church and a lady came up after and said how her cul-de-sac was such that no-one spoke to each other and she and her husband spoke to everyone including the man who no-one liked. After hearing Vanderstelt share on Displaying the Gospel and our needing then to share the Gospel she came up to him and said when she has been asked why she was kind to the grumpy old man she said, “it doesn’t take much to be kind” this was a twist I didn’t see coming.  She didn’t get it, he shocked me I thought she was going to give her testimony of how she ‘displayed the gospel and then shared the gospel’.  This for me proved the necessity of another book on this vital subject. It was also a highlight of the book that where I found it predictable in places there were some definite curve balls.
I liked that he was honest, he shares about a friend of his who wasn’t a believer but comes along to the group. He mentioned her again, and still not a believer. I like that, because in spite of the title of the book he isn’t trying to sell us a brand, or a formula he is trying to get us to love Jesus and through that love be able and willing to share it.
What I really like about this book is that it is centred on how to live out the Gospel in our daily lives. Whilst there are quite a few books out there on this type of subject the narrative sections reveal that it is often the case that many people in churches, and many churches don’t get this, even evangelical churches. The Gospel is as much for Christians as it is for non-Christians.

Lowlights


It took me awhile to get into this book, the title was a bit gimmicky and even though I liked where he was going I struggled with Vanderstelt’s trying to sell what I believe to be biblical Christianity as ‘Gospel Fluency’. Also in places it was a bit repetitive but I suppose if something is worth saying once its worthy saying again and it definitely is worth saying . The book is aimed at an American audience and I wondered how some of the ideas he suggests for within a group setting would pan out in a home group in the UK. 

Conclusion

If you're not filled with a desire to live with the Gospel as the centre of all you do, or if you are but are wondering how to impact people around you with the Good News of Jesus this book might be a big help.

God Bless
Stephen 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

On the Brink

I am in eternity — and you are on the brink!

Passing through a country graveyard the other day, an inscription on a head-stone struck my eye. The stone was by the side of the path, where everyone could see it, and it was placed there in memory of a young man who died at the age of seventeen. It was —
   "Reader, one moment,
    Stop, and think:
    That I am in eternity!
    And you are on the brink!"
In eternity! A young man, only seventeen years of age, in eternity!
In a fixed, a changeless, an eternal state!
In Heaven — or in Hell!
Saved with an everlasting salvation — or damned forever!
If it should be the latter — what a fearful supposition! And yet many have gone to Hell — before they have been seventeen years of age!
"I am in eternity — and you are on the brink!" Yes, though you may be young, apparently healthy, full of life and vigor — you are on the brink of eternity! A slight accident, or a few days illness — and you are in eternity! What a solemn thought!
What will eternity be to you?
Where will you be in eternity?
Are your sins pardoned?
Are you reconciled to God by the death of His Son?
Are you sanctified by the Holy Spirit — and thus made fit for Heaven?
If not, remember that in Hell, there is . . .
  no gospel,
  no means of grace,
  no way of escape from the wrath of God!
Once there — and your doom is fixed forever!
Think, O think . . .
  Of the dreadful consequences of dying in your sins!
  Of going down to the grave in an unconverted state!
  Of dying under the curse of God!
"Behold, now is the accepted time!
 Behold, now is the day of salvation!"

  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Reader! The above was written over 150 years ago.
All who then read this little piece — are now in eternity! 
All who now read this little piece — are on the brink!
   "Reader, one moment,
    Stop, and think:
    That I am in eternity!
    And you are on the brink.

James Smith, predecessor of Spurgeon. Taken from Grace Gems. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sam Allberry, RZIM on Transgender

It was a privilege to be present to hear Sam Allberry from RZIM ministries on Transgender at Smithton Free this evening. Sam is a Christian pastor from Berkshire , England who has a same sex attraction. He works for RZIM and remains a Parish minister who  has to respond to difficult questions from  hurting people as part of his pastoral ministry. 

He described Gender Dysphoria as; when someone's mind is convinced that their gender is different to their God given identity in their body. Its a much bigger issue now than it was 10 years ago, the BBC website carries a story on transgender on a daily basis. In the West it seems to be a matter of social justice, 'who do we think we are not to accept how someone identifies themselves' increasingly it is a matter Christians will have to deal with. 

There is a false response/ things to avoid.

1) ignorance- we cannot ignore the issue it is becoming more widespread we need to ask ourselves are we ready and willing to engage the issue and more importantly the people.
2) Mock it, we can't react like that our response as Christians is to come alongside.
3) Outrage- culture war/them v us- or to condemn it outright- we are called to love. 
4) Panic- Jesus is still LORD and the Gospel is still good news.

Then how do we respond with the Gospel? 

There are at least three areas where we as Christians should have a unique understanding.

1) We have a unique understanding of Human brokenness, we know that the creation is fallen because of the fall. No-one has an entirely straight forward view of their own body. Also we are all out of sync, with God, with each other and even with ourselves.We know that life since the fall is messy and painful and we of all people should be able to talk about messiness.We of all people should be compassionate.

2) Identity, our Christian worldview tells us that are confused, that the noetic effects of the fall means that our thinking is dark and futile. Not just transgender people, all of us are confused. We don't know ourselves well enough, it is only as we know God and He reveals who we are that we can see anything of our real selves, Sam made a very interesting point for our culture, A girl in his congregation suffers with anorexia, she is painfully thin but her mind tells us that she is obese. It would not be loving to tell her that if you think like that it must be true'. 

3) We have a unique hope- We all have problems we see in our bodies, pain for example we must realise though that the issues we have with our bodies will not be solved by them. Indeed most gender reassignments do not bring lasting satisfaction. This is merely the groaning of our bodies because they are in need of redemption. If you are hoping that your body will bring you fulfillment you are heading for disappointments 
Our only hope of wholeness lies in the broken body of Jesus. There has never been a greater body dysphoria than the one in Jesus on the cross when the One without Sin became Sin for us. 

Sam also said during the Q and A time, 'Our first responsibility when we are confronted with someone's brokenness that is not our own is to listen really, really well. 

I am thankful for Sam's ministry to reach out with the Gospel as a broken person to broken people.

God Bless
Stephen 


Sunday, 26 February 2017

The SBC and the 21st Century

I should begin by admitting two things, firstly I got this book for free from B and H academics, I don't have to give a positive review. Secondly, I got this by mistake I thought it was a book about Southern Seminary. The picture on the cover looked to be like Southern, I was initially somewhat disappointed, especially when  I started reading Thom Rainer's chapter dealing with statistics about parts of the Southern Baptist Church that I had never heard of. Yet even in this chapter Rainer hits home hard, 'While programmatic evangelism may have lost its luster in our churches, we must find ways for our members to be intentionally involved in sharing their faith in today's culture'. This isn't just an issue in the SBC or even in the wider American evangelical culture, it seems it is a western problem. As Baptists we often argue for the priesthood of all believers but then expect the minister to do the work for us. 

My father in law loves Billy Graham and people of that generation, I found the history of how Billy Graham was involved in Al Mohler's call to Southern encouraging. In a similar way I was surprised to find Carl Henry being a driving force in getting Mark Dever to Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Two ministries I have been greatly blessed by, it is true that one generation commends the work

David Platt's chapter on mission was passionate and heart warming, reminding us that 'mission must not be our life. Instead, Christ must be our life and missions must be the overflow of lives that exist to exalt him'. He goes on to say with the same passion that the call to mission isn't for the select few it is for every Christian, it isn't an extra option but a command that must be obeyed. However this flows out of a heart that is devoted to Christ. Again this isn't just an issue for the Southern Baptists but for every denomination we are far to comfortable with our vast resources that God has given us to fuel mission rather than keep buying stuff. A big challenge! 

As a non American,  I have heard of the SBC for years and as a Baptist it's always been interesting to hear about this large Baptist denomination. This interest has grown as my in laws are part of a SBC church and I've gotten to preach in one, albeit in the basement.

This book is well worth a read for anyone interested in the history, present and future direction of this great denomination.


God Bless
Stephen