Friday, 25 March 2016

When I was a boy I asked, what is good about Good Friday? I asked a lot of people and got a lot of different answers. I also asked  why did Jesus die, on the day I heard the answer, that its Good because the Holy God, in the person of His Son died in your place I was made new. O Happy Day! If you ask me now when I was saved I'll tell you it was one dark Friday when Christ bowed His dead and declared with triumph "It is Finished".

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Answering Jihad- Nabeel Qureshi

I first encountered Muslims at school, but like my Christianity at the time it was in name only, they were not practising Muslims but had names like Ali, Mohammad and I was called Stephen. My first real encounter with a Muslim as a Christian was at college. A friend of mine Salma,  who I met whilest we were both on the same course at college. She was warm and caring and I was interested to learn about her faith. I remember that I was surprised that Jesus was a leading figure in the Qu'ran, our conversations were always respectful and cordial. Part way through the college year Salma left to get married and I didn't see her again for a few years when she shouted me from across the street, she said hello but advised me she couldn't speak otherwise she might get into trouble with her dad who was walking in front. For me it represented a clash of cultures, not mine and hers, but  hers a British Muslim woman,  practicing her faith in her country.

In the same town as Salma and I come from, 4 people have recently been arrested for Syria related terror plotting.
During my theology degree as part of the Exploring Other Faiths Module I read the Qu'ran and I did find that at its source it was violent. It didn't make me wonder why Islamic terrorism exists but why people like my friend Salma are peace loving and why various world leaders after terrible acts of violence could turn around and say Islam is a religion of peace.
In his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel  Qureshi answered that for me. He discovered as a Muslim that Mohammad had been sanitised. For him it was a very tumultuous event that he had to work through emotionally, weighing up the cost of everything he knew.

In this book Nabeel  explores that a little further, one of the things he points out is that most Muslims are not Arabs and therefore whilst they can recite the Qu'ran they cannot understand it. Instead they have been taught by scholars from their traditions to trust them in what the Qu'ran and the Hadiths say and mean,  Muslim scholars have for centuries reworked these difficult passages to make them say something else.
Nabeel compares what is happening currently in Islam to what happened at the Reformation, rather than trusting in the scholars to interpret passages for them people are now going back to the sources, they are readily available online and in their native languages. Unlike the Reformation though as the sources are violent it leaves people with a dilemma, apostasy from Islam, apathy or radicalisation. If we are to help them avoid radicalisation as Christians we are called to love our Muslim neighbours, to build relationships with them and to show them a radical alternative which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This will be hard for them as it was for Nabeel but we have a Gospel and a Lord who loves at great cost.

I was shocked how up to date this book is, I got the Kindle version on the 8th of March and at the beginning of the book it is mentioning events that happened up to the start of this year. In spite of that it doesn't seem rushed but it feels urgent. It's not about a political response its about a loving response to people who have a zeal for (a) god but need to know the real God.

I've read a few books on Islam but they have been clinical this is a book written by someone who was loved and reasoned from Islam to Christ and so it is engaging revealing not only a love for Christ and his Gospel but a genuine love for Muslims, even for those radical ones.

God Bless
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Jonathan Leeman- Don't Fire Your Church Member

Jonathan Leeman's book has two objectives, the first is to provide a defence of Congregationalism and the second is to argue the case for a practical congregationalism to those of us Congregationalists who haven't seen it modelled like this.

Firstly then, the defense of Congregationalism, he does this by interacting with some of its critics, showing there is a biblical case for congregationalism. I wonder if this book comes out of a phd thesis as that's how it reads, he starts with Adam, who created in God's image is God's representative, who failed in the duty that God had given him. Recognising the covenantal relationship between the first Adam and those who are lost and the Last Adam and the redeemed, he argues that what was lost in Adam, isn't the image of God,  which we all possess (though marred by the fall) but our right to be God's representatives. In the Last Adam, the church via its members are all given this right. As you would expect he goes on to present the priesthood of all believers. Whilst I wasn't completely convinced by some of his early arguments, he took several passages from Acts and showed convincingly that if they reveal anything about polity it's a congregational model that they display.
He takes on Robert Reymond showing that for the Presbyterian model you have to read a lot into the text.  I especially liked that he took some Presbyterian authors and showed that they argue against the idea of a synod or a Presbytery in Acts 15. Instead Jonathan argues that it is a gathered local church responding to an issue elsewhere because the trouble makers arose from that church.

 He goes on to show that the reason Acts 15 is binding is not because it was a council of the church but because the letter sent out by the Apostles was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and as such placed in Scripture and is therefore binding like the rest of the New Testament Letters.

His second aim and more important as its the whole point of the book, Don't Fire Your Church Member, a Congregationalist church is an elder led, not elder ruled church. Where the members are able to function as participants rather than spectators. This is where we get to the nitty gritty, as every congregation I have been a part of has in theory believed in the "priesthood of all believers" and yet in practice the congregation expects the lead (most often sole) pastor to do the evangelism, preaching, pastoral visits and operate for them, some times with the help of Elders and/or Deacons.

Leeman argues that the keys of the kingdom are not just given to Peter and his successor, nor are they given to the Apostles and their successors but the power of the keys is given to every church member.

I can see how the model Leeman presents would work and should work but it would be difficult to get there. Indeed I remember the IX Marks journal itself told a story of a church where a church congregation was known as a church that killed its pastors. A wealthy church where leaders were appointed because they were successful in business rather than because of their standing spiritually and the difficulty came if anyone challenged them, they would take their money and resources elsewhere. The article told the story of how the newly appointed pastor struggled through and nearly lost it trying to transform the church to a healthy church model. This is the weakness of this book, it does acknowledge Congregationalism can be abused and misused but if we trust the Holy Spirit to guide the congregation, we can trust them with the keys, this isn't always the case, I've seen congregations vote for very unwise even unbiblical things, supported and encouraged by elders. However the church is made up of sinners who sin against each other and as Leeman himself points out churches with a different model of government (Episcopal and Presbyterian) have hardly been able to protect orthodoxy themselves.

To avoid those difficulties a church needs to move to meaningful membership, Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Capitol Baptist Church and as such he argues for meaningful membership, as outlined by Mark Dever in his fantastic book,  The Deliberate Church. Meaningful membership means you guard the front door, making sure (as much as you can) your church members are regenerate by having them share the gospel with an elder at a membership interview, opening the back door, by using a biblical pattern of church discipline. If you have this in place then you can trust your regenerate church membership to operate 'the power of the keys'.

He shared a story from his own church of how he was approached by one member of the church concerning an incident involving another member. Leeman said it was obvious that he was approached as an elder so that he as an elder should deal with it, Leeman referred it back to the member to deal with for his own growth and maturing. A healthy church has members visiting each other and pastorally supporting each other and disciplining each other.

He points out that a healthy church points members who live a great distance away from the church are encouraged to join a local healthy church nearby. Of course that assumes that there are healthy churches nearby which isn't always the case.

A congregational church should make sure you have spiritual elders, who have the gift of teaching, not so they can stand at the pulpit but so as they can guide and guard, train and rebuke, having a well developed understanding of the Gospel and the Word. If you have these in place then Leeman's model works well. However it seems to me most churches have a practise of appointing people successful in their chosen field rather than appointing those who are biblically qualified.

Overall I gained from this book as a Congregationalist a greater confidence in Congregationalism both historically and more importantly biblically. Not as sure my Presbyterian friends would be convinced but that wasn't his target audience.