Resources from Revelation

Yesterday we finished off our summer People’s Choice series with a question about Revelation: My understanding of the book with the blessing, Revelation! (Rev 1:1–3 & 22:19–21).

Whilst I recognise many Christians whom I agree with on many other primary and secondary matters differ on our more detailed understandings of the end (and Revelation), and I therefore approach the subject as a whole with humility, I nevertheless believe my views to be robust and commend two resources that approach it similarly.

The first is an easy to read and accessible commentary (a series of sermons) on Wilsmhurst RevelationRevelation (there is only one chapter where I would depart from the author who is a classic pre-millennialist):

If reading isn’t your thing then check out a second, a two part video survey (11 min each) of the Book or Revelation (I firmly believe the book was written by the Apostle John, though the authors introduce another possibility at the beginning):


The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

What does the Bible say about the Death Penalty?

This was not a question raised in this summer’s People’s Choice sermon series but one that a news article I read about the Pope sparked. Pope Francis, a progressive and liberal pope, changed Catholicism’s official teaching on the death penalty to hold that it is now “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the “inherent dignity of all humans.”[1] This has caused praise from some RC’s and criticism from others.

Yet any Pope, who RC’s believe has “papal infallibility” in his pronouncements (1870) should not be our guide to this subject, nor should subjective contemporary feelings about justice, but rather what God has to say about the matter.

Before we turn to that, it is interesting that 2015 was the first year more people in the UK were against capital punishment than for it. Interestingly, when it was officially struck off the books by MP’s in 1998 the popular support for it was much higher than 50% (higher still when MP’s ended the practice in the 1965).[2]

Many Christians have bought into a faulty view of God’s love and justice and divine order for human affairs that would see them heartily agree with the Pope’s decision (forgetting government authorities are appointed by God and “do not bear the sword in vain” [Ro 13:4]). One can interestingly note a corresponding tie between the decline of Christianity and Christian values in the UK and the corresponding decline in support for the death penalty.

Much of our British legal heritage stems from the wisdom of the Law of Moses. Though this was intended for the theocracy of Israel it was applied to national legal systems across the West. It was the bedrock upon which Western civilization was built. Those Christians who oppose capital punishment, however, often cite that Christians are no longer under the Law of Moses, particularly its legal provisions. In this, aside from moral obligations, I would agree as they were fulfilled in Christ. HOWEVER, the biblical mandate FOR the death penalty precedes the Law of Moses, meaning that its application is universal. God instituted the just practice in Genesis 9:6:

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God has made man in his own image.

There is obviously much more that could be said about the Biblical parametres around and wisdom for the practice of capital punishment, but what is ultimately ‘inadmissible’ and something which attacks the ‘inherent dignity of all humans’ is when governments fail to fulfil their God given mandate of bearing the sword as He instructs and thus be His instruments for justice and for the punishment and curtailing of evil.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-45042130

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32061822

Is it appropriate for a Christian to attend a Christening?

Is it appropriate for a Christian, convinced of credo-baptism (believer’s baptism by immersion), to attend a Christening (a so called ‘infant baptism’ or what I term ‘anti-credobaptism’)? This question is much different than ‘is it appropriate for a Christian, of any secondary conviction, to attend a same-sex marriage (the answer to which must be a resounding no for even an evangelistic desire to befriend such individuals can in no way trump that God pronounces it as an abomination and therefore to attend is to celebrate what God does not).

This is an important question for if one is convinced that the anti-credobaptist stance is completely unscriptural, then to attend it is to condone what is misguided or nominal. (*This dilemma doesn’t pertain to anti-credobaptists attending a credo-baptist service because they still occasionally practice credo-baptism).

On the one hand I would be inclined not to attend on these grounds, for your attendance would be in one sense false given your disbelief in any form of Biblical meaning in the ceremony itself. Consider the following words so often recited from the Book of Common Prayer on such occasions (after the priest has ‘baptized’ the child):

Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this Child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this Child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning.[1]

A credo-baptist, or a Scripturally discerning anti-credobaptist, could not in good faith affirm words that speak of baptismal regeneration and justification, that we are born again not by the work of the Spirit, nor adopted into the body of Christ by faith, but because of an act of works. Other wording in the order of service is also deeply disturbing or misguided, not to mention the nominalism that is often (though not always) present in those performing the vows.

So on the one hand it would be completely appropriate not to attend such a ceremony so long as you voiced this reservation with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15b) and still sought to preserve the actual relationship (*this could perhaps be done by agreeing to come to the family gathering afterwards to show your love of the family, if not your approval of the ceremony).

On the other hand, if one intentionally took the opportunity to share with the family your reservations at the outset and that you’d be attending for their sake and not the ceremonies, then this could likewise be an important Biblical talking point.

Wherever a credo-baptist comes down, it is important to uphold Biblical convictions, both of the unScripturalness of anti-credobaptism but also of engaging with anti-credobaptists evangelistically or apologetically and in a meek spirit. What should be a no go is to fail to do either.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/book-common-prayer/public-baptism-infants

Firstfruits

Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. (Proverbs 3:9–10)

September is here and so Harvest will soon be upon us, even though many crops we remember that the Lord has blessed us with have already been gathered in. Such was the case with my honey harvest, which is collected in early August and harvested soon after. Despite the drought, because bees like warm weather, one hive produced a whopping 170lbs! At Harvestime the ancient Israelites were commanded in Leviticus to bring the firstfruits of their crop (or wealth if a merchant)—the very best devoted to the LORD—as a sign of their thankfulness to God and in conjunction with their tithes and offerings, a recognition and sign of their dependence upon Him. Whilst our worship no longer operates in quite the same way under the New Covenant, the principle of firstfruits, and the wisdom of the proverb, is still worthy of our acceptance. Do we bring Him our best (a sign of God’s worth), the first (an act of faith and expression of His priority in our life) or anything at all (an act that worship’s God, or fails to, as the great provider). Bringing our firstfruits in time, giftings, service and monetary gifts is a very important spiritual discipline to cultivate. When we honour the Lord He will in turn honour us. We can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving.

 

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

 

Wixing up our Mords

[Jesus] said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,[1] and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’ (Luke 24:46–7)

These words are spoken near the very end of Luke’s Gospel of the Gospel message, yet when many Christians speak of the Gospel it doesn’t mound such like Jesus’ words. Often the Gospel of love is referenced, though those words are never used in Scripture, but rather that God is a loving God whose general love was displayed in the sending of His Son and who pours out His special love to those redeemed through faith in His name; in fact His love being an encouragement to seek Him with the promise that He by no means casts away those who come to Him (Jn 6:37b).

You also often here ‘Gospel’ phrases like, ‘Jesus died for everyone, all you have to do is believe’; or ‘on the cross Jesus paid for the sin of the whole world, do you believe this?,’ or, ‘Jesus loves you and died for you, all you need to do is receive His love’; etc, etc, etc. Yet if He died for all than He His blood cannot be all sufficient, or He must not be all powerful, for He doesn’t follow through and save all those ‘He’s died for.’

I used to speak this way, but I’ve learned to be more discerning with my words because words matter. Words express truth and lead people to a fuller or lesser knowledge of the truth. What Jesus says at the end of Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel. It is a message to repent and ask Christ, on the basis of his work on the Cross, to forgiven your sins, the love of God being an encouragement to believe (vs. Him being an angry or vindictive god). We would more rightly speak of Jesus dying so that all who believe (i.e. the elect) on His name might be saved through repentance and faith (Jn 1:12).

What Christians often confuse here, sometimes through a simple lack of discernment caused by want of discipleship or sometimes a result of misguided teaching, is the universal call of the Gospel message and the limited nature of the atonement.

The Gospel invitation is open to all, it is universal, to be proclaimed to all nations. Countless Bible verses express this such as, “anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) Thus, anyone might be saved if they approach Christ in faith. What a gracious message to undeserving sinners!

Yet, the Bible is also very specific that Jesus death on the cross was specific, particular, limited, especially for those the Father had given Him (Jn 6:37a). Jesus died to save His own! (c.f. Jn 10:3). Ephesians 1 says that he chose to redeem from sin this unworthy elect group “to the praise of His glory,” mentioned three times to emphasis salvations focus is God.

The universal Gospel call is glorious, still more the specific love of God shown to His elect people through faith in Jesus Christ (Ro 8:28–39, the favourite v.28 is often cherry picked out of its wider context). God didn’t have to save anyone, that He chose to do so is utter grace.

So, as Christians, let’s not wix up our mords about the Gospel, it’s far too precious for that. Let’s know it, share it clearly and do so with conviction, just as Jesus at the end of Luke’s Gospel commands us.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Jesus’ Death and Resurrection not only accomplished salvation but they also testify that He is God’s Son and can be trusted. Belief in these historic events is a prerequisite, or bound up in, believing the Gospel.

The Miracle of Life

Yesterday in our People’s Choice series we dealt with one of the most important social and moral issues of our day, abortion. Here is a helpful little video followed by a resource link to the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. You may also want to listen to the sermon on our sermons’ page.

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children:

SPUC-Logo

A Painful Preacher of the Truth

If you venture to beautiful Worcester and pay a visit to the cathedral there is a tomb with an epitaph on it that is well worth seeing on your visit. As you enter the cathedral from the north turn left down the side aisle. Just before the north transept you’ll find the tomb of Nicolas Bullingham (1511?–76).[1]

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Heb 13:7).

Bullingham is worthy of remembrance, consideration and imitation for a number of 20180804_125714_Richtone(HDR)reasons. He was an early English Protestant Reformer. Appointed chaplain of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, he soon developed ministerial interests in Lincoln. During the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary, he sought refuge in exile on the continent, returning in 1559 to become Bishop of Lincoln. Here he continued his work of reform, appointed priests “well versed in the scripture” and also serving actively in the House of Lords. In 1570 he became Bishop of Worcester. His epitaph in the cathedral reads:

Here born, here bishop, buried here,

A Bullyngham by name and stock,

A man twise maried in Gode’s feare,

Chief pastor late of Lycolne flock,

Whom Oxford trained up in youthe,

Whom Cambridge doctor did create,

A painful preacher of the truthe,

He changed this life for happie state.

He was Bishop of Lincoln and then Worcester.

The third last line is what I was personally most interested in, “a painful preacher of the truth.” Here ‘painful’ should not be understood as boring or even excessive, but rather as earnest. He was earnest concerning the Truth (Jesus) and His truth (God’s Word). He no doubt laboured deeply for his listeners to hear and understand and believe the truth of God themselves and so be saved and changed. What that this would be a label applied to all preachers (and indeed Christians) today, that they’d be “earnest preachers of the truth,” not giving in to the world, rightly handling the word of truth and preaching, perhaps not entertainingly, but plainly with such pain over the souls under their care, striving to be a means used by the spirit to cause godly pain or grief in their hearers’ hearts (2 Cor 7:10). Ah, yes, that God would raise up Christians who would be on fire for the Lord Jesus and His Word (Jer 20:9b).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Julian Lock, “Nicholas Bullingham,” Oxford DNB <oxforddnb.com> (August 2018).

Children, a blessing

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3–5).

Rebekah and I continue to give thanks for our new son. We are very grateful for the flood of cards and small gifts we’ve received from family, friends, Chapel and community (in fact we have never received so many cards!). We also gave thanks for him in the presence of the Lord recently with a special service of dedication on the Lord’s Day (NB-not infant baptism).

The most basic view of children in the Bible is that they are a gift, a blessing and a delight. Indeed, having children is one of the great callings of a husband and wife in the creation mandate (Gen 1:28, “be fruitful and multiply” [sexuality is not only about pleasure but procreation and the calling and joy God intends in this]). If someone jadedly or sarcastically thinks contrary they have a wrong way of thinking and need to renew their mind to conform with God’s will on the subject (Ro 12:1). Many people today think children a drudge, something that is the unwanted fruit of lust, something that gets in the way of having the newest car or biggest house (itself an indicator that marketers have done a fabulous job duping many parents so that they think they have to have everything for their children and so they become expensive and so is generated the myth that children need to be costly). Many people have children as the last item in their checklist because it is the done thing (and their life checklist is also often out of whack in terms of order and priorities). Ironically, there would be no immigration crisis in most Western nations today if people had retained a biblical view of children because the birth-death ration would be stable and allow the welfare states that have been created to sustain themselves, and thus we’d have no need of mass immigration. I digress. Now, getting back on track, to be sure there are many parents who do have children because of that innate desire to fulfil Gen 1:28, but I am especially drawing attention to extremes. For some parents children are a burden, and yet for others they become a burden because they pander to them excessively—creating little devils—all under the false cultural teaching that a parents job is to ‘make them happy’ (which is foolish because we all know that is a mirage we can never arrive at).

The Bible balances these two extremes. It counters the first example by teaching children are a blessing from the Lord, and the second by stipulating that parents spiritual commission is to raise their child to love and fear the Lord and walk in His ways (Deut 6:1–10).

Further reflection on text: Behold, listen, says the Bible. Children are a heritage, a gift, from God. It commends having 7 of them (the traditional number of arrows in a quiver and the number of perfection, but which ultimately means many, i.e. more than one or two [if possible]!). And here also is parental responsibility and investment (any fool can make a baby, it takes a man to raise a child), for these are needed to turn children into mature and useful godly adults (children of one’s youth). When you stand with your grown children at the gate, the place of justice and community decision making in the ancient world, you will have no shame in your children. You will love and respect them and they you, and as their father (or mother), you’ll stand at the front of a unified and respectful family, united against any enemies and held in honour and respect.

This is the Biblical vision for parenting and may it be wonderful in our eyes!

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

What does it mean to preach the Gospel? (part 3 of 3)

Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel (1 Cor 9:16b)

Woe (great troubles) to the preacher (or Christian) who does not preach or share the Gospel. Why? Because this is the essence or heart of Christianity. To not preach it is to miss the whole lot. To not preach it robs people of the opportunity to be saved. To not preach it means you are not a faithful preacher (and therefore under God’s judgement) and to not preach it makes one wonder whether the preacher himself has responded to its message. If we have, there is no better news (2 Cor 9:17), and as C.S. Lewis said good news is not good news until it is shared. The preacher ought to burn within until they release the good news that saved their soul, the good news that can save others, and all of its wondrous glories. It is too marvellous to contain.

But what does it mean to preach the Gospel? This can be challenging for the evaluation of sermons can be highly subjective. Even if two sermons by two different preachers were faithful and theologically correct, because of delivery (or preference of delivery), styles in personality (the preacher and hearer), circumstances, mood, etc, two people might have two different views of two Gospel sermons, each coming away and saying ‘what a good Gospel sermon’ or ‘I wish he’d preached more of the Gospel.’ Funny isn’t it? This alone reminds us we need to be “open to reason” (Jas 3:17), alert and attentive to what actually is being spoken, recognising that if God can speak through a donkey he could speak through a faithful yet different preacher. After all, we wouldn’t want to miss the Gospel! Do we have a will to hear the Gospel?

Not only are there different preachers there are also different styles or ways of delivering sermons (expository, thematic, creative, induction, deduction, narrative, analogy, etc, etc). The Gospel could be conveyed through any one of those. A sermon also need not be evangelistic (usually a style reserved for sermons where a large segment of the listeners will be non-Christian) to still faithfully present the Gospel. Instead of being very fun, lively, interactive, straightforward, it could nonetheless clearly state the Gospel, say in an exposition of a passage in Romans. Whilst more thorough and robust, both an exposition of Romans and an evangelistic sermon to a crowd of youth are both Gospel sermons, even if they’re different types of sermons (it is interesting to see how robust Paul’s [Gospel] sermons in Acts were, even to pagans who knew nothing of the Hebrew Scriptures).

But can a sermon not ‘be a Gospel sermon” (i.e. touch on other areas of the Bible) and still preach the Gospel? Absolutely!

In the Great Commission (Matthew 2818–20) Jesus said to “make disciples.” Initial disciples can only be made by preaching the Gospel. So we must preach the Gospel. Yet, He also commands “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (growing disciples). So whilst the preacher must preach the Gospel, he also has the calling to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), that is all that God has spoke or revealed on any subject in the entirety of His word (this also often involves explaining contexts so the meaning can become clear and grasped). So the preacher has a calling to preach the Gospel but also to teach other related truths. Can these two commands be reconciled? Absolutely!

The Gospel is like an accordion. Compressed it is in its simplest form, “repent and believe.” In 1 of 3 we saw that some Christians have used the 3 R’s to share the Gospel. So you could preach a Gospel sermon, or even an evangelistic sermon, on simply the 3 R’s. Yet then if you stretch out the accordion and only preached on one portion of it, say the Exodus, you could still faithfully preach the Gospel by bringing the truths of the Exodus story, and indeed the foreshadowing’s of Christ, back to the Gospel. It is about Gospel-centric preaching so that even as you preach the whole counsel of God it is rooted, centred and grounded in the Gospel. This is how you balance these two things. So for example, I could preach a sermon with a moral emphasis on homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. And whilst we might learn about the subject, a faithful Gospel preacher would still bring the sermon back to the Gospel in that it is sinful (1st R), and sinners are called to repent (2nd R) and, bearing 1 Cor 6:9­–11 in mind, all with the transformative hope of the work the Holy Spirit can do in a sinners life, liberating them, making them whole and giving them life generally. Therefore it is completely consistent to preach on any subject in Scripture and also to preach the Gospel (that is, for it still to be a Gospel sermon, as indeed every sermon should be). How? Because, the sacred writings,…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15) , both in becoming a disciple and in growing as a disciple. Amen!

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

The Gospel: Simple but not simplistic! (part 2 of 3)

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45–6).

In this parable about the kingdom of heaven, or Gospel, we can learn many things. One truth, affirmed by many other passages of Scripture, is that the Gospel is simple but not simplistic. The Gospel, that Jesus came and died for sinners so our sins might be forgiven, and rose victorious from the grave so we might have life eternal—this message— is fit for the simplest peasant and the wisest king. Like Mary pondering Jesus’s birth, it is a sufficient but also an inexhaustible treasure. It is simple (that is straightforward) so that anyone can believe, yet it is also grand and mysterious enough that the humblest theological enquirer will never exhaust or mine completely all of its treasurers. There is enough to drink and be saved, but a deep well that will never run dry as our faith grows and we come to learn more of Jesus, His Gospel and His word.

It is basic yet robust, uncomplicated yet deeply meaningful, etc, etc. It is simple but not simplistic. This is a phrase I use to combat people who err on the extreme either to the left or to the right, and those who want to remain immature in the faith.

There are those who, in seeking a lowest common denominator Christianity, take away from the Gospel, reducing it and by so doing rob it of its inherent glory. These are those who say Jesus died for all (universalism) or that the Gospel is merely that God is love, or that Jesus came simply to teach humans to be good. These are not the Gospel.

Then there are those who correctly believe the Gospel (part 1 or 3) but then go on to add to it denying their correct view, not seeing it is sufficient or wonderful enough. They say ‘yes, but’ and add works to faith, thus nullifying faith. They add to the Gospel and so mar its image.

Whether you take away from it or add to it you distort it so its glory cannot shine and people cannot be saved.

Then even more subtly, but not as destructively, are those who childishly refuse Gospel maturity and cry, ‘just give me the plain and simple Gospel.’ This appears wise, the Gospel is central, it is paramount, it is the core of Biblical Christianity, what could be wrong with such a sentiment? It is this. Such people decry sound teaching and doctrine, they cling to the elementary teachings not wanting to go on to maturity, and are ignorant and void of a desire for the deep things of God (even if easily conveyed). It is a simplistic ignorance that confuses simple and simplistic.

Peter challenges such immature Christians by saying: Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation. (1 Peter 2:2)

Paul likewise told the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:1–3a): But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it, And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.

And the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:12–16): 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[a] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The writer to the Hebrew’s similarly challenged his listeners (Hebrews 5:12–14): For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Our call as Gospel people is to mature in the Gospel, to put down deep roots in Christ (Eph 3:17), to be built up in the holy faith (Jude 20). This is not a call to go beyond the Gospel or forget our great need of it but to mature in it, to learn more of the truth of God in a Gospel-centric way so we stand in even greater wonder of the glorious Gospel! It is to hunger after a deeper knowledge of God’s character, for more of His word, more knowledge of sound doctrine, more of what it means to love and serve Him, all of which can be done in a Gospel-centric way that is simple but not simplistic.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris