YIKES!

There are many things I would rather write about, the wonders of Jesus, the depths of what it means to follow Him, however, pastors—in every age— often spend a great deal of their time speaking into the particular issues of the day, which morally speaking centre right now around the LGBTI and gender inclusive agenda. Like I said, this is not a hobby horse but something I feel I must address.

Many Christians have reluctantly acknowledged that until a move of the Holy Spirit comes upon our land to awaken us to the truth and reveal our sin and need for Jesus, there is a very small likelihood that the recent tide of laws against marriage will be reversed. And that we can very comfortably sit behind a belief that while these things may exist in society (and even grow as they are promoted as a choice) that we are safe because of our “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech.” If you read the fine print of the Article 9 of the 1998 UK Human Rights Act[1] you’ll see there are loopholes that permit a way to circumvent these “freedoms.” This, however, is not the news that concerns me today.

You may have seen a recent news article where the European country of Malta passed legislation banning “gay cure conversion therapy.” Click here to read the BBC article. There are a number of things that I think are disconcerting about this law:

  • That the law “enshrines” that sexual orientation or gender identity is not wrong or a “short coming of any sort”
  • That others who disagree for religious or non-religious reasons are therefore legally “wrong.”
  • That religious freedom is outweighed by others “rights.”
  • That if you believe such things are not acceptable and seek to help change someone you will face up to £8,450 in fines and a year in prison (sending a clear message that freedom of religion is really freedom from religion and that this freedom is at best secondary).
  • That if it has gained a foothold in Europe, how much longer until such laws are advanced in the UK?
  • Lastly, that it strikes hard against two Biblical truths, the first is that what the Bible describes as right and wrong is the standard, there is no other; and the second, the Gospel itself.

While the law targets professionals such as psychiatrists who offer various forms of gay conversion therapy, it also would apply to Christian leaders, preachers and teachers who preach the life transforming message of the Gospel. While physical and psychological routes for gay conversion may assist they ultimately fall short of offering true hope to the individual because the issue is ultimately about sin and requires a spiritual solution.

This is what we read of in 1 Cor 6: 9–11 (emphasis added):

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This passage identifies a representative list of various sins (which includes but is not limited to homosexuality) that separate us from God. Paul then reminds the Corinthians “and such were some of you” meaning they had been CHANGED by believing in the Gospel (that’s the “but”). They once were and were now no longer. The hope of change from homosexuality is possible (though many prefer to continue to walk in darkness). However, it comes not through gay conversion therapy but by trusting in Jesus.

May we never lose sight of the wonder and power of the Gospel which can transform any sinner and make them a new creation in Christ Jesus, regardless of the consequences. May we never cease to be defined by the message of the Gospel that sets us apart as Christ’s.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Article 9 Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

<http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/schedule/1/part/I/chapter/8&gt;

Election Musings

Donald J. Trump has won the American presidential election. Regardless of which candidate won this election it marks a sad day for America and the world, as either candidate (in their own ways) do not come close to espousing Christian Kingdom values. This is part of the reason so many American Christians found it difficult in good conscience to vote for either. But now Trump is president elect and we must trust a sovereign God who “changes times and seasons, removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan 2:21). While it may be hard for us to humanly comprehend our times, the Lord is still on the throne, working all things for good and for His glory. That is a helpful reminder in the times in which we find ourselves.

In light of election results it is also helpful to reflect on Paul’s political creed. Paul was actually very a-political with his primary interest in a different kingdom, the Kingdom of God. He was not, however, afraid to use his earthly citizenship when it favoured the Kingdom of God. He followed Jesus words to render to Caesar and to God respectfully (Ro 13). He lived under Caesar but called only Jesus Lord. Paul lived in the Roman Empire that stood against almost everything that Christ and His followers stood for. It was Rome which killed Christ, it was Rome that killed Paul. With that in view, Paul could still urge Christians to pray for “kings [those persecuting him] and all who are in high positions, that we [Christians] may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:2–4). Pray for your leaders, primarily that peace might reign so that the Gospel may be proclaimed.

So in light of the culmination of the recent and hotly contested US election remember, God is good, God reigns, and remember to pray for those in leadership.

Some musings from election morning.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Clinton and Jesus

In the other night’s third US presidential debate, Clinton and Trump were at it again. If you didn’t listen in, you didn’t miss much mud that hadn’t already been slung. Lord have mercy on America.

In my last post I focused on previous comments made by Trump and compared those to the Sermon on the Mount. I do something similar in this post, this time focusing attention, not on Clinton’s horrifying comments about matters of sexuality, gender and life[1], but on something small Clinton said that was actually [falsely] profound:

I think it’s really up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is, and to stand up and be very clear about what we expect from our next president, how we want to bring our country together, where we don’t want to have the kind of pitting of people one against the other, where instead we celebrate our diversity, we lift people up, and we make our country even greater.

America is great, because America is good. And it really is up to all of us to make that true, now and in the future, and particularly for our children and our grandchildren.[2]

Now if Clinton meant by “good” Americans are nice people, in many cases I’d agree, I know a lot of amiable Americans. However, what she really meant (which is the naive and optimistic view of humanists) is that humans (in this case Americans) are intrinsically good and that given the right conditions they would truly flourish as good moral beings. Yet, if this were the case [which it is not] America would be much better than it is by now surely, given the time, resources, etc, it has had at its disposal. America is not “one nation under God” nor do they in their totality act on their slogan “in God we trust”; therefore how can it be said “American is good”?

In contrast to Clinton Jesus said, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Why would he say that if humans were already essentially good or perfect? It is because Jesus acknowledged elsewhere, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mk 10:18). We are not morally good from the outset and can only become so by receiving Christ’s imputed righteousness (2 Cor 5:21) and so receive the sanctifying gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 5:23). It is only then that by God’s grace we can be viewed with favour in His sight, and be so transformed so that when we meet Him He may have mercy upon us and say, “well done good and faithful servant.”

Let’s not be spiritually naive and keep pretending; but spiritually wise in accepting God’s solution for our evident sin.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Clinton is a huge supporter of the LGBTI agenda and pro-choice.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/20/us/politics/third-debate-transcript.html?_r=0

Donald J. Trump and the Sermon on the Mount

I must confess, that because of its importance to not only the United States, but the world, I have been following the American presidential election. Like many Christian voters I could not in good conscience root for either candidate. If they are weighed in the balances of the Bible they both come out wanting (c.f. Dan 5:27). Mrs. Hillary is a sly fox, whereas Mr. Trump is an arrogant bear, which is likely why many are bewildered by him but forgot about Hillary. We ought to pray for America, and pray that Christians in that land would look to the Lord for their salvation and not their government (Prov 29:26).

When I was watching the last presidential debate I was struck by how blatantly Trump spoke against Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. When replying to a question about his lewd comments about women he went on the offensive:

TRUMP: It was locker room talk, as I told you. That was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I am a person who has great respect for people, for my family, for the people of this country. And certainly, I’m not proud of it. But that was something that happened.

If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words, and his was action. His was what he’s done to women. There’s never been anybody in the history politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women. So you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women.[1]

I have underlined the bit that stood out to me, the words that contrast with what Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30 ESV)

This also reflects the same principle put forward under a different teaching regarding hatred and violence (Mt 5:21–26).

What Jesus is getting at is that sin is ultimately a heart issue. It doesn’t matter if you don’t act but only think, for “from the heart comes all kinds of evil” (Mt 15:19). This is where Trump is dead wrong, falsely believing that because he only used words (one step further than thoughts) and Clinton acted, that somehow makes him better. According to Jesus that doesn’t cut it.

The solution? How are we to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mt 5:48) even in one’s heart? Part of the intent of the lofty ideals laid down in the Sermon on the Mount is to impress upon us just how imperfect we are, how unrighteous, how sinful, and just how much we need the perfection and the righteousness that only Jesus can give to the one who shows a contrite heart. To that person Jesus promises to transform our hearts by giving us completely new ones! (Ezk 36:26). So let’s stop blaming others and own up for our sinful hearts and seek the Lord.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/us/politics/transcript-second-debate.html?_r=0

Praying for Nice

If you began your day like me today, you will have got up and then at some point seen or heard of the news flash that 84 people had been killed by a lorry driver in the French city of Nice during celebrations for Bastille Day.[1]

Heureux les affligés, car ils seront consolés! (Matthew 5:4)

Firstly, let us all stop right now (if you haven’t done so already) and pray for the victims, the citizens of Nice and the French Republic. Let us pray—holding this situation up before the throne of grace—out of our deep compassion and love and because it is our Christian duty (1 Tim 2:1). May we also mourn over this great evil (Ro 12:9).

Most people will be asking two questions: why and what’s going on? Both of those are difficult and yet straightforward to answer, and in my attempt to do just that I therefore proceed with great humility.

WHY?

Many Christians will look at these events through one of two lenses: the sovereignty of God or eschatology (end times belief). Since I am no seer other than some basic things Jesus has told me will happen (He is coming, to live as if His return is imminent, and that we do not know the day or the hour) let me seek to find the answer to WHY? in what the Bible says about the sovereignty of God.

First, if God is not sovereign, the things that happen are either by pure chance or happen because God is not sovereign or almighty or all wise enough to stay the hand of evil. As we will see the Bible clearly tells us this is not who God is.

Secondly, we need to resist the temptation to attribute every evil act to a karma like belief that the 1st century Jews held. That if you sinned you would not prosper, you would be judged. Jesus challenged this belief (Luke 13:1-5 ESV):

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

 But with that tempering truth in view, if God is sovereign then evil is part of his will (at least indirectly). This is a truth we cannot faithfully shy away from, even if we ought to be slow to attribute all evil acts definitively as judgement.

WHAT’S GOING ON?

Every age has its troubles. In every age some Christian has cried “the end of the world.” Like I said earlier I’ll leave that with the Lord. However, that does not mean we cannot look around today and notice that the Lord is shaking the nations. This is but one instance of that.

A verse from our passage this coming Lord’s Day from Isaiah 22:11b helpfully reminds us:

But you did not look to Him who did it, or see Him who planned it long ago.

While God cannot do evil, in accordance with his will evil men and women can do evil things, and that can be used by and accomplish his greater purposes. So while God cannot do evil, we must acknowledge that in accordance with His sovereignty, nothing can come to us by chance but by His fatherly hand. Hard to swallow at times, perplexing to fathom, but encouraging to know we serve an almighty God. These wake up calls ought to cause us to look to the Lord and not to continue a life without Him.

Islamic Movements[2]

It would seem that with the rise of Islamic extremism the Lord has been using this to cause many Muslims to become disenchanted with Islam and consider Christ. Indeed, in the last 15 centuries there have been 88 movements of Muslims to Christ (a movement being 1000 Muslims becoming Christians in an area). 72 of those have been in the last century with most in the last 15 years since 9/11. The Lord is doing something amongst the nations.

Shaking Self-reliance and godlessness

The average person, let alone the average French citizen, devoid of trust in God, is fearful. We live in an increasingly uncertain world. Though major international leaders seek to calm these fears, there words are often a smokescreen. Increasingly, as the Lord is at work shaking the nations we are being forced to trust Him or self, divine government or the ruler(s) of this world.

The French president said they had been “badly hit” but was strong, adding “we need to do everything we can to fight against” such attacks…”All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism.” Here is a secular state fighting a deeply religious phenomenon and trying to do so temporally! They are trying to do “all they can” ignoring the one thing that is needed. While there are many causes behind Islamic terrorism the spiritual reasons and solutions are discounted as naïve (are the other explanations and tactics working…?). Instead of viewing these events as from the Lord and issuing a call to repent and seek him, the West continues to discount religion and fail to return to the quarry from which they were dug [Christianity; Jesus!] (Isa 51:1).

If the Church in the UK is very small (estimates ranging from 1–4% of the population) then the Church in France is even smaller. Friends of ours recently vacationed in France. They tried to find a church—any church— to worship in. They searched for “evangelical church,” “Protestant church” and finally “Catholic church.” The nearest Mass was 28 miles away. Nominal Christianity aside, figures for the size of the Church [born again] in France estimate it to be around 0.9% of the population.[3] Much of this represents recent growth and immigration of believers from former colonies.

Pray that the people of France would look not to themselves or their government or to hatred for explanations or solutions to resolve these issues, but to Christ! Pray the Church there would be ready. Pray that the French may “return to the Lord,” “look to Him who did it,” and “repent…lest they perish.”

Pray the Lord will continue to shake all nations, as He sees fit, until His will is accomplished and His glory revealed.

Cherchez-moi, et vous vivrez! (Amos 5:4b)

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Bastille Day 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution: an age of “liberty” and a quarter century of political turmoil, terror and international conflict (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/french-revolutionaries-storm-bastille).

[2] http://www.30daysprayer.org.uk/

[3] Gospel centred and evangelical, reformed and Lutheran churches and faithful minorities from mainline churches (most studies also . For some introductory reading on Christianity in France see: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/evangelical.churches.in.france.facts.figures.and.home.truths/51674.htm; http://impactfrance.org/evangelical-france/

 

6 Things for UK Christians to Consider Post-Referendum

While as a Christian I voted in the referendum through a Christian worldview, other Christians who hold to that same worldview may have voted the opposite to me because they prioritised and weighed things differently to me. May we be generous towards other Christians who voted differently assuming that they worked through the issues in a Christ honouring way because love believes the best of others (1 Cor 13:7). For Christians and non-Christians alike the referendum results proved to be disheartening for some and a cause for rejoicing for others. Regardless the task of exiting the EU and building a non-EU United Kingdom will prove a task that requires great care and diligence and the utmost attention to detail and hard work. We can also be thankful that the decision was made peaceably and not through a violent uprising or coup d’etat. In the midst of all of this what should a Christian response be post-June 23? I offer 6 suggestions and a closing thought:

  1. Remember that we serve a sovereign God. Many Christians have sought the face of a ruler for salvation but we need to remember that justice comes from the Lord (Prov 29:26). Despite what happens we can be confident that in the Lord’s wise providence He works “all things for good” for those who love Him (Ro 8:28). That is good news for us and it can be good news for others. May our uncertainties cause us and the UK to be driven to seek the Lord, lest we in our pride boast in our own accomplishments as Nebuchadnezzar did and end up eating grass (Dan 4:28–33).
  2. Remember that if you are in Christ your citizenship is in heaven: But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:20). As much as it is good and right to be patriotic towards our earthly nation, nationalism has no place in the Christian’s heart as our first priority and allegiance is to Christ and His Church.
  3. Remember to pray for our nation, not only for its salvation, but for its leaders:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:1-5).

  1. The closeness of the vote, being 52% to 48%, shows that our country is divided even if the majority voted to leave. Here we need to hear and apply Jesus words from Matthew 5:9, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. If we have been reconciled to Christ then we can have a ministry of reconciliation reconciling countrymen and women to one another and ultimately to God through Jesus Christ.
  2. We can busy ourselves with lots of things as believers but may we busy ourselves with the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20), that is if our desire and prayer to God for our country is truly that they may be saved (c.f. Ro 10:1). What Good News we have that is alone capable of ministering to the needs, concerns and anxieties of our nation at such a time as this! The greatest decision of our lifetime was not the in or out vote but whether our nation will choose Christ. May we seize hold of this opportunity to make Christ known!
  3. Fast for our nation. As fasting is unfamiliar to many Christians these days I’ll likely write a blog post on this subject alone. On national prayer and fasting Joel 2:12 says, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” We can pray and that is nice, but fasting reveals the inner desire that Paul spoke of above. Throughout history, in our greatest times of need, our leaders used to call the nation to fast and pray. During the Napoleonic Wars there were national fast days and churches held prayer services on these days. Similar things happened during WWI and WWII when our nation’s very survival hung in the balance. Leaving the EU may not be at the same level as this, but for this generation we should not underestimate its perceived and real importance. Even more is the reality that only 1% of the nation is Christian. We ought to pray and fast for the other 99% if our nation is to truly thrive. We cannot expect such a call to be offered by our leaders anymore, and so this means then that we as Christians need to take this upon ourselves for the spiritual welfare of our country.

Never in recent history has the Church in the UK been afforded such an awesome opportunity to share the Gospel with a nation that needs it. In our time of uncertainty it is my personal belief that the nation will become ripe for a Gospel harvest. Will we be ready for what the Lord might do? Will you join me in seeking the Lord to renew us as Christians, our chapel and bring a revival throughout the land?

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

The Greatest Decision

On February 20, 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron announced the referendum to decide whether we are to remain within the EU or not. He described the vote as one of the “greatest decisions of our lifetime.” It is a colossal decision. I have weighed the evidence, and of primary importance, tried to filter it through the lens of biblical values. I know how I intend to vote (yes, Canadian residents are permitted to vote!). I fundamentally disagree, however, with Mr. Cameron’s statement that this worldly decision—while important—is the greatest in our lifetime. That decision is who we profess Jesus to be! (Mt 15:16).

As we enter into this post-Christian era I am becoming increasingly a-political with the substance of my political creed simply being the Lord reigns (c.f. Prov 29:26). This whole debate got me thinking about the saying taken from John 17:14-18, “to be in the world but not of the world.” The Bible does not actually use those words but rather they are a summary of:

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. [emphasis added].

 Working out the tension in Jesus’ command has been the subject of debate for faithful believers for centuries. In a nutshell allow me to attempt to provide the interpretive key necessary for solving the application of this tension. World (cosmos) refers to the world system ruled by Satan. The Christian is to remain in the physical world (play on words here) while not to be of the world because we have been made citizens of the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus. This is a Kingdom with a different government, set of laws, values and vision than that of the world. Until Christ comes again we are aliens in a world in which we are not citizens, wherein we are called to live as ambassadors of Christ. May the Lord give us the wisdom and grace needed for this, while we earnestly pray “come Lord Jesus!”

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Mary Jones Training Walk

Mary Jones Walk

On Saturday eight of us walked 13.2 miles in preparation for our coming chapel Mary Jones Mary Jones“pilgrimage” in Wales on April 1. As we live in South Gloucestershire (William Tyndale country) we took the opportunity to use two locations as natural bookends. We began at St. Adeline’s Church where Tyndale pastored from 1521-23 and closed our walk at the Tyndale monument which stands above the community in which he was born in 1494. The monument also commemorates his martyrdom on October 6, 1536, outside Brussels where he was burned alive so that the English plough boy might find salvation through the Word of God.

IMG_2827 (1)

Over the course of our walk we reflected upon these words from Psalm 19:

[7] The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
[8] the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
[9] the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
[10] More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
[11] Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Verse 10 helpfully captures how Tyndale and Mary Jones valued God’s word. They were both willing to go to great lengths to obtain something beyond value. Our physical perseverance helped focus our attention on that lesson.

Once at the monument we concluded with a short, albeit windy, service. We read Matthew 7:24-29 from Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament and concluded with this prayer:

Give to your people, O God, grace to hear and keep your word, that, after the example of your servant, William Tyndale, we may not only profess your gospel, but also be ready to suffer and die for it, to the honour of your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN!

20160220_140145

We had some other chapel folk join us for the end.

On our coming Mary Jones walk we will be reflecting upon Psalm 119.

Have we not been here before?

Have we not been here before? Comparing 17th Century Persecution of Protestant Dissenters and the Looming Ofsted Debacle Facing 21st Century British Christianity

I recently had a conversation with a fellow brother in Christ about my concerns surrounding new and proposed powers for Ofsted regarding Fundamental British Values and the Prevent Duty (extremism). In response to a comment I made about this he asked, “I am interested to know what parallels you see between government response to extremism between 1662 and 1689 and our own times [i.e. Ofsted].” In answering this I will primarily be focusing on Christians but will seek to engage with other worldviews as far as I am able. This is a huge issue and I apologize in advance to anyone who recognizes I have not perhaps covered everything.

*To adequately respond to this I had to break my own rule of blogging brevity.

Let us take a journey back in time to 17th Century England. Beginning with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 came an aim, driven by the partnership of both the church (the Church of England) and the State, to root out all “radicals” who had upset the country during the civil war and Commonwealth period. Similarly in the 18th Century when the Evangelical Revival began (which was really a revived attempt at reformation and spiritual renewal begun the previous century) Bishop Warburton (1698-1779) critiqued the movement labelling it that “old puritan fanaticism revived.”[1]

Churchmen and traditionalists viewed the Puritan aims to reform the state, church and society to be more in line with God’s word as fanatics, and Puritans viewed the traditionalists as traitors for having moved so far away from what God’s Word said regarding a Christian England. The seventeenth century is best understood as a clash of worldviews.

Speaking of the restoration of the monarchy, the puritan Richard Baxter (1615-91) lamented in 1665 that, “Never were such fair opportunities to sanctifie a Nation, lost and trodden underfoot, as have been in this Land of Late!” He continued that had it not “been for these Impediments, England had been like in a quarter of an Age to have become a Land of Saints, and a Pattern of Holiness to all the World, and the unmatchable Paradise of the Earth.” [2] Under the influence of Puritanism England had witnessed not only spiritual benefits but also other society advancements as well in areas such as literature, science, economics, education, etc.

Beginning in 1662, however, Parliament passed a series of laws known as the Conventicle Acts meant to supress Puritan views and enforce conformity to the religious and societal values of traditionalists. The laws were meant to crush dissent to a view that was at its centre informed by human wisdom rather than godly wisdom (Prov 3:5-8).[3] These acts sought to set the Book of Common Prayer (and its theology and forms of worship and church) as the national Christian standard. All ministers and public officials had to subscribe to them or face being ousted from their positions- in fact nearly 2000 ministers were ejected from their posts because of it, some of the ablest, most highly educated and most spiritual, to the detriment of society to be sure. Restrictions were also placed on how close these ministers could go to their old parishes. If one did not attend worship at the local parish church you would be fined. If you taught contrary to official church teaching you would be fined or imprisoned. To be able to worship outside of this regiment required a licence granted by the bishop (if it was indeed granted). Those who dissented were also barred from holding public office which in extreme instances went so far as to those whom government office bought their milk and firewood from.

Dissenters were systematically persecuted and driven to the edges of society, which meant the loss of some of the leading, brightest and loyal citizens of the realm. The end result? Far from ridding the country of such conscientious and Biblical examples the number of Dissenters (now organized as Independents or Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc) actually grew! Thankfully the government came to realize that conformity over man’s heart through power is impossible and was in fact counterproductive to their aims. The Dissenters fought for toleration so that we might have the freedom of religion we have today (we will come back to their understanding of that tolerance in a moment).

First, fast forward to the 21st Century and it doesn’t take much to realize that things have changed, but also to see that there is nothing new under the sun. Have we not been here before? We no longer live in the England of 350 years ago, however, there are some similarities. Through the state control of education (instead of by means of the church) the government is seeking to enforce conformity to a secular pluralistic [traditionalist] post-modern worldview to the exclusion of other views that oppose it. It is seeking to force opposing views (particularly religious) to conform to its agenda or face punishment. It is a clash of worldviews, but with one difference- the undoing of the hard won freedom of religious liberty. Historically the clash was regarding doctrine and matters of worship. Today it will often be ethical and surround truth claims.

Then and Now Parallels
Issue Then Now
Societal Shift Reformation/Puritanism-Restoration A Christian UK- post-modern multi-faith, multi-cultural secular pluralism
Clash of worldviews Puritan-Traditionalist Secular Pluralism- Christianity and other Dissenting Voices
Alliance (the winners) State-Established Church State- Secularism
Driving Force The intolerance of a State Church The intolerance of tolerance
The losers Dissenting Protestant Christians Authentic Christians and other Dissenting Voices
Those targeted Everyone but especially pastors and civil officials (Thinking primarily of Christians) Everyone but especially Christian pastors and leaders, civil servants (nurses, teachers, registrars), parents
Options Conform or else Conform or else
Outcome Persecution Persecution

 

From here on out I want to address a couple of matters like what is tolerance?, what is extremism?, how can societal freedoms be protected?, how can an increasingly polarized society coexist?, and what Christians should be preparing for if it is not.

But first I want to expose you to the reality of what Ofsted is being asked to promote in regards to Fundamental British Values and Extremism. The following examples come from Christian teachers who have sat in on Ofsted training.

  • In terms of Religious Education (that is to say religious schools):
    • Even if we ourselves have personal faith/beliefs that are contrary to what we have to teach we must remain neutral
      • E.g. Catholic schools must teach about homosexuality being an orientation and normal although Catholic schools put up a fuss that this goes against their beliefs—they are not being respectful or tolerant
  • To be on the lookout because extremism comes in many different forms:
    • Ex. Need to look out for/ be aware of not just extremist/fundamentalist Muslims but also fundamentalist Christians
    • Watch out for “my God is better than your God.”[4]
  • Statement: Although Christianity may have traditionally been the religion of the state we are a multi-cultural, multi-faith country who need to accept and include people of all faiths and cultures
  • Religious Education classes in Church of England Schools may still be held as normal but must present the “norms” without being prejudicial (e.g. on matters pertaining to abortion, homosexuality as they are part of the “rule of law” and “individual liberty” so therefore cannot be presented negatively).[5]

There is a lot in these short examples. I will do my best to address many of the matters raised as we look at the following questions:

What is tolerance?

Tolerance has come to mean something much different than the word originally meant. Today tolerance means accepting what others believe as equally valid and even embracing and celebrating them as one’s own. The change in meaning of this word must be seen within the wider cultural shift to post-modernity that sceptically denies that there is one grand meta-narrative that explains life.

Historically tolerance arose (largely as a concept championed by the Baptist and Mennonite traditions) by recognizing that while two people (or groups) may fundamentally disagree or be diametrically opposed to one another, it is not in either sides interest to kill one another, and so out of respect for the other grounded in the Christian teaching that we are all created in the image of God, it pledged to respect the other though they may fundamentally disagree; this was to be reciprocal.

To put it another way: I disagree with you (and believe that without faith in Christ you are eternally lost), but I respect your right to worship whatever god or non-god you choose. Increasingly, however, tolerance is taking on a slightly different connotation in the 21st century. Pluralists want to say that there is no correct position (of course, the irony is that pluralists won’t tolerate those who disagree!, thus making it self-evident that they in fact do believe in a meta-narrative—their own).

That brings up the intolerance of the modern usage of the word because the “tolerant” will not tolerate any competing, let alone exclusive, truth claims. This is what Timothy Keller writes of in his book The Intolerance of Tolerance.

If an historic usage of the word tolerance is not recovered than those who hold exclusivist views other than the majority can reasonably expect to be persecuted. Will common sense be restored?

What is extremism and fundamentalism?

Extremism is measured from ones distance from an accepted norm. It is therefore a relative term. It also has different usages ranging from radical, unusual, or even trendy or intense (think of a teenager saying, “that’s extreme!).”

Christianity didn’t used to be extreme when it was the norm. Now that it is not the norm and is not seen as fitting within the norm (because of its exclusive truth claims) it is seen as extreme. However, one needs to recognize that it is society that has moved, not Christianity. So from a Christian point of view Christianity is normal and secular pluralists are extreme (here I cannot see some humour in the term fundamental British values). Each group could also easily see the other as fundamentalist, ardently holding onto their convictions.

I suppose the true sense of a fundamentalist is when they cease to be people of ardent conviction and become militant and angry and attempt to force others to adhere to their beliefs and worldview.

Here we need to distinguish between lumping Islam and Christianity together. While Christians may disagree with someone because it is a religion seasoned with grace, love and respect there is a reason why authentic Christianity does not have militant versions. We need to seriously ask why “fundamentalist” [read authentic] Christianity does not breed the sort of radicalism we see in Islam? While Christianity may hold differing views than society and perhaps be viewed as extreme in this regard Christianity is not a fundamentalist or militant threat to the state or society but represents some of its most loyal, honest and faithful citizens (Ro 13:1-7, 1 Pet 2:13).

Praise item: It is encouraging to know that some Christian teachers are being chosen to teach about Ofsted’s Fundamental British Values and Prevent Duty by their schools because they are sensible, loving, and all round good people. May they add sobriety to this debacle! Indeed many Christians find themselves placed by the Lord in positions in which they can advocate for the Church as ambassadors of Christ.

How can societal freedoms be protected?

*In the next two sections I hope to reasonably convince, however, even more so to stir us to further reflection upon these points.

Western society was built on Christianity. From this came principles of liberty such as the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech and numerous individual liberties. Within a Christian context I can think of few Christians who would not have affirmed these as anything but positive. But religious liberty when not used to protect God given laws becomes a licentious means through which the chief sin of pride rears its ugly head. Many modern [and good] freedoms have been perverted along these lines.[6]

It has to be recognized that these freedoms were established at a time when most people were Judeo-Christian, and even if they were not societal values and norms were based around a Judeo-Christian framework. The Judeo-Christian tradition formed the lowest common denominator fabric of society. Even if not all people worshipped, the moral fibre of society was jointly affirmed. In a post-Christian Britain we have lowered the lowest common denominator to such a point (and based on a faulty post-modern worldview) that we are not sure what it is. What is it that holds us together socially? What knits us together? We say it is “freedom” and that every view is equal but then become afraid of Islam (and other exclusivist claims) but do not really have any right to say they, or any other view, are wrong if we hold to a post-modern pluralist view.

In this setting as a Christian I want, for example, to affirm the right to worship freely (because I would want the same and know an atheist cannot be forced to worship) but immediately find the contradiction in this affirmation in that I’m not overly found of Satanists believing them to be less than helpful to society (acknowledging too that 20th century atheism was a destructive force as well). I am also not in favour of giving religions freedom whose central tenant is animal or human sacrifice. So “freedom” historically had its limits. What about today? Still today we have laws that exclude murder and polygamy and bestiality. Still today, though our pluralism denies it, there are things we know to be right and wrong (in part because God has given us consciences, Ro 2:15, though even they can become tainted). But what if these things you or I found to be wrong were found to infringe upon someone’s secular-pluralist rights? Rights either must have some limits or it is a free for all (which is the trajectory we have largely set for ourselves), we must ask ourselves how freedoms developed in a different era be adequately applied in a new one that may not easily mix with them.

As society becomes polarized [“multi”] how can I affirm the right to the freedom of worship, practice, etc, of someone I do not view as helpful (for example I want to affirm a militant Muslim’s freedom of speech but sense that such belief and promotion of it may lead to behaviour that causes bodily harm). Post-Christendom no longer has the parameters to adequately address many of the issue we are facing. So, much like the communist who realizes communism does work but still celebrates communism anyway, secular pluralism that championed diversity and freedom is now realizing just how difficult that is realistically to maintain. So it has begun to impose its views while still propagandizing that it is about diversity.

How can an increasingly polarized society coexist peaceably?

There is great difficulty in the government protecting people’s rights of freedom and balancing matters of justice, when society is made up of various truth claims and value systems. How can these coexist peaceably? How can fair treatment be maintained in a society that is now post-Christian and in many respects so multi it is no longer cohesive?

Aside from a revival that would see us return to the sensibilities of our Christian heritage I can only see one option that would avoid conflict and protect “freedom” and preserve societal cohesiveness that would see us avoid total anarchy. In a free for all society, to govern fairly within the historic notion of freedom, the government would have to (even if subscribing to or promoting a secular-pluralist worldview) allow dissenting views so long as they do not harm anyone, but not only allow them but protect them (much as many governments did with conscientious objectors [pacifists] during WWI and WWII). Where an individual or group found to be dissenting from the prevailing secular-pluralist society such dissent would need to be permitted to opt out of the prevailing worldview so long as this did not cause serious bodily harm. This is truly the lowest common denominator I can foresee.

Even if different expressions of worldview and religion may appear extreme, while we may not agree with them, we must respect that them if we are to subsist in a society in which “freedom” in a post-Christian sense is still heralded though I personally do not believe this is the best vision for society because I believe that reason behoves us to have a society (and for the government in performing its God given responsibility to enact just God fearing laws) built around the acknowledgement of the supremacy of God and his ways rather than to foolishly oppose Him and them (righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people, Prov 14:34).

What Christians should be preparing for if the above is not possible (i.e. that persecution finds us)?

First, regardless what happens, we must show our highest allegiance to Christ by considering not what others will think of us but in honouring Him (Jn 12:42-43). That Jesus is Lord is the central confession of the Church.

Second, we need to have a hearty trust in the sovereignty of God, regardless of what happens (Mt 6:25-34). May this spur us on to be better and bolder ambassadors (Eph 6:18-19).

Thirdly, Christians need to be praying for sense to prevail. We need to pray for our governments that they might recognize the heritage of this land and protect Christians so that they can live and worship in peace, recognizing us as trustworthy citizens who simply want to enjoy the freedom to live and worship.

Pray for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life. (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Fourthly, we must always remember to love our persecutors (Mt 5:43-47), showing them compassion (Mt 9:36) for having no saving knowledge of the truth in order that they may indeed be lead to the truth.

Fifthly, we need to be prepared (1 Pet 3:15b). How well do we know the reason for the hope that we have? Could we defend the faith, do we know what we believe and why? Today there is no room for uninformed Christians. The Puritans and Dissenters give us an example of not only how to live out one’s faith under fire but they also serve as a source of developing theological robustness, so like Paul before Agrippa (Acts 25:13-27) we might give our defence to Christ’ honour and for others benefit. In so doing we will have the delight to know our God better!

Sixthly, as persecution mounts we will soon discover whose faith is genuine and whose is fickle. Many so called Christians will continue to conform to societal pressures and disgrace their profession. Soon we will see any remaining distinctions made clear between the wheat and the tares (Mt 13:36-43). I believe the Lord is finishing pruning His Church in the UK of dead and unhelpful branches (Job 14:7-9). We may indeed be entering upon this final phase, after which I believe we shall see what many have been longing for, genuine revival in the face of godlessness and the Church bearing much fruit. The blood [or suffering] of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Seventhly, we need to recognize the spiritual nature of our present struggle (Eph 6:12)

Lastly we need to remember the privilege and blessing in Jesus words: Blessed [happy] are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Mt 5:11). Those NT passages on persecution that were so relevant for the early Church will become life giving promises for the Church of today once again.

Possible Scenarios

Let me paint a possible picture of what the future could look like for Christians in the UK…

Imagine the following scenario. (If you don’t think it could happen, let me remind you that neither would many other Christians who have found themselves in similar societal situations in recent years or throughout history more generally).

Secular pluralism continues to grow as a worldview and as a force within society. Gradually the intolerance of the “tolerant” reaches a breaking point where exclusivist claims rub their own exclusivist claim the wrong way and there is backlash.

Now, Western society prides itself too much in liberty and freedom to openly persecute as such. Open persecution is what intolerant non-Western countries do. Yes, we are too priggish for that so it will come in more subtle ways, but come it will. Laws that seek to entrench secular pluralism and re-write societal norms and values like we are already seeing in OFSTED will by their very nature exclude and target those who do not conform (i.e. Christians).

Already with Ofsted, and given more time, Christian teachers who do not conform will be faced with losing their jobs (or worse, fines). Christian schools that do not conform may be shut down. Christian parents may be reprimanded for teaching or handling their children in a Christian manner, and in the worst case scenario have them taken by the co-parenting mentality of the state, viewing their parents as harmful to the child’s development. Christian employees may face discrimination and job loss. Christian businesses or employers (we have already seen this, i.e. the Christian baker and hotel owners who were shut down re: their views on marriage). Christian civil servants (especially thinking of registrars or those tasked with the responsibility of enforcing new norms) will lose their jobs or be forced to conscientiously step down. Worse of all would be the government requiring of employees to sign documents subscribing to “Fundamental British Values” to gain or maintain work. Loyal Christians with half a conscience would be forced to go elsewhere (maybe even moving internationally). While at this point much government control is seeking to use education and the safeguarding of children to filter extremism and promote the new norm, there may come a time when such censorship targets churches. A preacher who teaches contrary to a state law (i.e. sexual orientation), even in a non-hateful compassionate way (which is how sinners should be treated, remembering that it is by grace we were saved,1 Cor 6:11), could risk fines, rehabilitation or imprisonment. A church that puts up a fuss to such intervention robbed of its charitable status, taxed, or forced to close and move underground because of its “extremist” threat. God forbid that these should happen, and thank the Lord for where sense has prevailed, but it doesn’t take much of a stretch to see these warnings realized, as indeed some already have been.

Choose this day whom you will serve!

But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Jos 24:15)

May we remain steadfast in the Lord,

In His strength

 

Pastor Chris

[1] Watts, Dissenters, I, 436.

[2] Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed M. Sylvester (London, 1696), first pagination 96f.

[3] These are all of course generalization and argued from a view that is unsympathetic to the traditionalist agenda of the period.

[4] While Christianity is exclusivist by nature of God’s own claims, and therefore I agree with this sentiment, as a statement (assuming how it could be said in pride), I disagree as while Christians hold our God to be the only true God and Jesus as the only way to Him, we must do so in humble confidence and not arrogant pride.

[5] While Christians ardently support the rule of law (1 Pet 2:13) we cannot in good conscience do so when earthly laws violate God’s laws (Mark 12:13-17; Acts 5:29).

[6] We fail to realize that we are slaves to sin and sin finds its greatest expression in our pride. Liberty comes when we cease to be slaves to sin and becomes slaves to Christ (Ro 6:18).

Open letter to our MP regarding extremism, British values, and concerns about religious freedom

Below is a letter the elders submitted to our local MP Luke Hall expressing our concern about current proposed legislation that we, along with many other UK Christians, believe will be harmful to the freedom of religion in the UK and may put Christians under great pressure. To read more information posted by the Christian Institute click here.

Luke Hall MP,

30 High Street,

Thornbury,

South Gloucestershire,

BS35 2AJ

Dear Mr. Luke Hall (MP for Thornbury and Yate)

As a local Christian chapel, concerned with the affairs of this nation, especially when discussing laws that will have a direct impact upon faith communities, we wanted to write to you, our MP, to express some concerns over proposed legislation dealing with granting OFSTED powers to censure faith communities for extremism and adherence to British values. While we support the need to deal with Islamic extremism, we wish to express some concerns as to this legislation that we hope you will take into consideration on our behalf as Parliament debates it. We are supportive of addressing root issues but not of seeking to combat them at superficial levels where the religious freedom that may be jeopardized may not be equal to the limited gains achieved.

Our first concern centres around the term “extremism” which is very subjective. Without a clearer definition, yourself or even ourselves, could easily be classed as an extremist if there is no objective standard by which to measure this. We are concerned that loyal Christian citizens may in time be targeted under this legislation as extremists, holding beliefs and values that are different from secular society when in fact respect for government lies at the heart of the Christian faith (Rom 13:1-7).

Our second concern is similar to the first and centres around the subjective nature of “British values.” The values that schools are being urged to promote as fundamental to British society include the value of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. All these values and the many more that could have been included in such a list find their roots in our common Christian heritage as a country. While we support these at face value, because of the subjective nature of some of these terms and their changing definitions we have concerns that the very things we stand in favour of may be used against us as Christians. For example, Christians ardently support the rule of law (1 Pet 2:13) but cannot in good conscience do so when earthly laws violate God’s laws (Mark 12:13-17; Acts 5:29). Likewise we would want to affirm any wholesome rights of the individual but have reservations when individuals come to have rights above the group and also when so called “ individual rights” simply represent a justification for licentiousness rather than that which is good for the individual or society as a whole. Lastly, we recognize the wisdom in freedom of religion and stress that Christians seek to live in peace with their neighbours who may hold very different views (Matt 5:43-47). That said, Christians also believe that the claims of Jesus are exclusive, representing “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). While we value tolerance in the traditional sense, we would not do so in the Post-Modern inclusivist sense, and would hope this would not jeopardize our support for British values.

Lastly is the matter of freedom of religion that seems to be at stake in this legislation. Is it necessary or even wise to police the religious beliefs of society through the means of government agents? We have peaceably existed as a chapel since 1813 and as Christians have been amongst successive governments most loyal citizens. We are all too aware of the State organized religious intolerance against Dissenters during the years 1662- 89. We pray the government will be discerning in bringing in new legislation so the State and Secularism do not enact similar laws to that of the seventeenth century.

Please be assured that we regularly keep her Majesty, Prime Minister David Cameron, his cabinet, this Parliament, and yourself in our chapel prayers (2 Tim 2:1-2).

Do not hesitate to contact us if you wish to dialogue further on this point.

Sincerely and with the warmest Christian blessings,

 

Mr. David Shawe,

on behalf of the Elders of the Cromhall Chapel:

 

Rev. Christopher W. Crocker

Gordon James

Eric Scolding

Tim Scolding

David Shawe