The glorious church
Here's an excerpt from PT's latest title (publication expected in the summer) – Teaching Ephesians by Simon Austen. It's strong, as you would expect, on the doctrine of the church and my heart was really stirred just by editing it!
It is both humbling and exhilarating to think that the local fellowships of believers, of which we are all a part, are pictures of what God is going to do in eternity. Until that day when the new heavens and earth are created and the visible unity God purposes are seen in their fullness and glory, the only visual point of contact between the heavenly realms and the earthly realms is the church. That is why church is so important and why church is so difficult. Satan does not want the church to be what we are – for when we live rightly, then it becomes apparent to Satan that his days are numbered, and to the world that the power and purposes of God are in operation. As we love one another and live as the church, the world sees that we are disciples and the principalities and powers get a foretaste of their future destruction.
The third minority
Bible preachers have probably always been in a minority. In fact, for a long time they've been in a second minority. Christians (in the most general sense) are themselves a minority in the UK and evangelicals (those who believe in an evangel, a message), a minority within this minority – a second minority, if you like. That has always been hard.
But times are changing and those who hold Bible preaching dear now find themselves in a third minority. This was brought home to me by an account of an evangelical ministers fraternal locally where a paper was presented on the nature of Christian ministry, i.e. what does a minister of the gospel do. The paper's thesis was that a gospel minister "incarnates the presence of Christ in the community" (or something very similar to that). One good man said, "whatever happened to preaching Christ crucified, proclaiming the word of God?" He was shouted down by every other minister except one (leader of the local charismatic church).
It's not that these others churches were not evangelical. If you went to them they would be able to articulate and explain the gospel to you. But they simply didn't see Bible preaching/teaching (in all sorts of contexts) as the core role of the minister. It's not just a UK phenomenon:
American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right at an alarming rate. They are not leaving churches and getting other jobs.Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sunday mornings. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of twenty centuries….The pastors of America have transformed into a company of shopkeepers and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with a shopkeeper's concerns – how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money. Some of them are very good shopkeepers…yet it is still shopkeeping. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles)
Increasingly, if you believe in proclamation, in preaching, you will not just be a minority in the country, nor even in the church, but a minority within evangelicalism. A third minority. Beware:
It is to feed the sheep on such truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and mode godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly clap-trap and thinking you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to be an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats and let them do it out in goatland. (William Still, The work of the pastor).
Being in a minority is hard. There is always pressure to conform. Being in a minority within a minority has been hard enough for the last few generations. Now, Bible preachers find themselves in a minority within a minority within a minority. Harder still. Be realistic. Be sure. Be certain.
And preach the word of God. Our key text here at the Proclamation Trust has never been so apposite:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim 2.15)
We're closing down for the Christmas season. Too many parties to attend. Sorry, that should read, too many Christmas sermons to prepare/give. So, we'll be back in the new year. With all our prayers for your gospel ministry this Christmas time and for relaxing and happy times with church families.
From the Proclamation Trust team,
Preaching into the wind
It's been a long while – too long I hear you cry! – since Cycling Confucius had anything to say, so by popular request, he is back:
Cycling Confucius, he say
If you're cycling into the wind, don't give up, just drop a gear or two
This morning was hard. Cold. Wet. Windy. Head-windy. Couldn't get into 6th/7th (my normal cycling gear) and with a touch of la grippe du mec (man flu sounds better in French, more serious somehow), getting to the office was hard, hard work. Every turn of the pedal made something ache. Sometimes, it's just like that. Everything is harder. Slower. More draining. Not unlike ministry. Preaching, even. Sometimes, it seems the wind is behind us and the sun is shining. We get right into passages. We see the theme straight away. We know instinctively what the application is going to be. We don't get any distractions when we're trying to pray.
Other times we're definitely into the wind. We wrestle with the text like a dog with a bone. We lie away mulling it over. When we have worked it out, we can't for the life of us think about how we relate it to the hearts and minds of our hearers. There are times like this.
The answer is, don't give up, just drop a gear or two. Slow down. Pray. Take things one step at a time. Just get to the next stage. You'll get there. Experience tells you that you always do. Cycling Confucius, you see, he rarely wrong.
Time for the Messiah
Literally. Off to Christchurch Spitalfields for a production of the Messiah, that perennial seasonal favourite, and rightly so. It's biblical theology in musical form. If you've never heard it you can download the London Philharmonic version (all right, not the best, but all right) for just £3.99 from amazon. Come on, what's not to like? I'll probably take my minitaure score along (sad, I know, but I'll resist the temptation to take my conductor's baton too). There's also an excellent Christian book by Calvin Stapert (great name!) which will take you through the music and text. I found it really helpful. And here are all the Bible texts along with references that Handel uses.
There are, of course, lots of myths and legends surrounding the piece, though it's also true that he wrote SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) at the end of the score which he completed in a very short time. However, the King George story is probably apocpryhal. If you don't know it, the story goes that Georgy was incredibly bored so he stood up to leave before the end. Everyone saw him and assumed he was standing for the hallelujah chorus, overcome by the majesty and praise of the moment. And so today people stand for the chorus. Sadly, more likely he was just bored!
We’re with Cromwell, fun at Christmas
The senior staff are all with Cromwell on Christmas. Sort of. 'Midst all the frivolity, it's important to be serious. Here's our effort for the students. I doubt this will go viral….
It's almost Easter (!). As little Isabel reminded us at breakfast today. "Daddy, when's Easter?" "Isabel, it changes every year." "Why?"
How to explain this to a seven year old:
This table contains so much of the Calendar as is necessary for the determining of Easter; to find which, look for the Golden Number of the year in the first Column of the Table, against which stands the day of the Pascal Full Moon; then look in the third Column for the Sunday Letter, next after the day of the Full Moon, and the day of the Month standing against that Sunday Letter is Easter Day. If the Full Moon happens upon a Sunday, then (according to the first rule) the next Sunday after is Easter-Day. To find the Golden Number, or Prime, add one to the Year of our Lord, and then divide by 19; the remainder, if any, is the Golden Number; but if nothing remaineth, then 19 is the Golden Number. To find the Dominical or Sunday Letter, according to the Calendar, until the Year 2099 inclusive, add to the Year of our Lord its Fourth Part, omitting Fractions; and also the Number 6: Divide the sum by 7; and if there is no remainder, the A is the Sunday Letter: But if any number remaineth, then the Letter standing against that number in the small annexed Table is the Sunday Letter. For the next Century, that is, from the year 2100 till the year 2199 inclusive, add to the current year its fourth part, and also the number 5, and then divide by 7, and proceed as in the last Rule. Note, that in all Bissextile or Leap-Years, the Letter found as above will be the Sunday Letter, from the intercalated day exclusive to the end of the year.
[BTW, I'm all for fixed Easter days!]
So, deep breath. "Well, Isabel, it's all to do with a full moon……." (I thought that was the easiest approach)
Interruption: "Daddy, what's it full of?"
What are our spiritual weapons?
I'm preaching soon on 2 Corinthians 10 and this morning I've been wrestling with one question from verse 3.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds (NIV2011)
My question? What are these weapons? Traditionally, commentators have gone to Eph 6. So, for example, Philip Edgcombe Hughes
They are the weapons scorned by the world and yet most feared by the powers of darkness, of truth, righteousness, evangelism, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer, enumerated by Paul in Eph 6.14ff
There are similar comments in Richard Pratt (Holman NT Commentary), Simon Kistemaker (Baker NT Commentary), Murray Harris (Expositors Bible Commentary), Linda Belville (IVP NTC) and many others. Calvin takes a slighty different tack:
But by what weapons is he to be repelled? It is only by spiritual weapons that he can be repelled. Whoever, therefore, is unarmed with the influence of the Holy Spirit, however he may boast that he is a minister of Christ, will nevertheless, not prove himself to be such. At the same time, if you would have a full enumeration of spiritual weapons, doctrine must be conjoined with zeal, and a good conscience with the efficacy of the Spirit, and with other necessary graces.
But it still doesn't feel quite right because the context does not support it. In the first part of chapter 10, Paul is defending his ministry against the accusation of being two-faced – he is one thing when he is with them, say his detractors, and another when he is away (in writing). Paul's answer is that he wages war (an idea already in 2 Cor) in a different way from the world, and therefore what they would expect. In this context, waging war is about fighting the falsehood in Corinth. It is their strongholds, pretensions and arguments he must do battle with, and he is longing for them to toe the line – hence, the end of this short section:
And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete (v6)
In this context, the weapons must be something different (which is not to say that prayer etc are not weapons to be used). Colin Kruse (Tyndale NTC) is helpful here:
Paul does not in this passage identify his weapons, but statements elsewhere in the Corinthian correspondence suggest they consist in the proclamation of the gospel, through which divine power is released (1 Cor. 1:17–25; 2:1–5; 2 Cor. 4:1–6; cf. Rom. 1:16).
Or, Paul Barnett in his huge Eerdmans NICNT:
But what are these weapons about which Paul seems defensive? We infer from the context that Paul is referring to his disciplinary ministry to them at the time of the second visit and through the 'severe letter' in regard to whose effectiveness, however, he and his detractors have different opinions.
'Does it all really matter?' you may ask. I think so. Not only do we want to correctly handle the word of truth, but the correct answer to such a question as this is almost certain to shape the direction, application and thrust of a faithful message. If Paul is making a general point about spiritual warfare and the weapons we use, then you would have a very different sermon to one where Paul is defending his ministry and his disciplinary record. On such niceties, faithful preaching turns.
Preaching is often like this. You have a passage (in my case 2 Cor 10) which you work at, but it is one or two key details which require wrestling with and once you have them sorted, all the pieces fall into place. The sermon hack just glances at a commentary and takes the easy line (and oh my, am I tempted here!). The careful preacher breaks down the small chunks and ensures he understands them in context, then reassembles before moving onto the next stage. I know which I ought to be, just as I know what I am tempted to be!
Old EMA, back to 1988…
Thinking about the 30th anniversary of the EMA (2013) we've been doing some research on old EMAs. Here's the cover publicity for the 5th EMA (1988) called "Into the World". Speakers included Dick Lucas, Philip Jensen, Roy Clements, Peter Cotterell & Jim Packer. We've got some (sadly, not all) of the audio online here. Enjoy these blasts from the past! Oh, and by the way, nice to see that our conference design has come on a bit (well, just a little bit).
An interesting BBC News article here about What Would Jesus Do? in the light of the Occupy movement outside St Paul's. Generally, a very informative article. Interesting too that the original book was never copyrighted (though that is surely a typical journalist line? All books are protected by copyright by virtue of what they are, there is no magic thing which is "copyrighting a book."). Anyhow, towards the end of the article, there is some discussion about whether this is a valid slogan anyway.
Conrad Gempf from the London School of Theology, rightly points out that WWJD is the wrong question. Rather, it should be WDGCMTD? What Does God Create Me To Do. Hmm. Better, but still not right. Still me-centred. Surely, and this seems very apposite to Christmas, the real question is WDJD?
What Did Jesus Do?
Everything else flows from that. What I am. What I should be. What Jesus has done is what both makes me what I am and informs how I live. So, I'm thinking of getting some bracelets done, and even Levy has agreed to wear one.