Help to pray
I'm having a tough old time at the moment. I won't bore you with the reasons. But have you noticed that during those tough times the discipline of personal prayer – especially praying for others – is even more difficult? I can pray about myself and the struggles I face. That comes naturally. But praying regularly for others seems to be the thing that disappears quickly. I'm easily distracted. I have less time in the day – and various other excuses.
I've been using an iPhone app – Prayermate – for some time, but it's during this sticky patch that it really has come into its own. It's been developed by our former IT guru Andy Geers and is well worth (if you have an iOS device) two of your English pounds.
Susie in The Times
Not surprisingly, The Times took a very pro stance on the vote on women bishops in their edition last Monday. But, to their credit, they also gave Susie Leafe from Fowey an op-ed column. Here it is:
The question of whether women should become bishops can be boiled down to one word: equality. And it is because I believe in equality that I am against women becoming bishops. Opponents of women bishops in the Church of England are often dismissed as being incurably dusty and out of date. That in 2012 — 12 years into the third millennium — this issue is being argued about is taken as proof that the Church is hopelessly behind the curve. But if you listen more carefully to the debate, you will find that opponents of women bishops are asking some very urgently modern questions — how, for instance, can equality ever really allow diversity?
I consider myself to be a radical feminist. It is not the feminism of my grandmother, who was a doctor in the 1930s, nor that of my mother; it is the radical feminism of my generation. But my idea of equality is very different from the conventional, secular version. Over recent decades we have grown used to seeing equality in terms of the State legislating to protect individual rights. The State, we are told, is there to ensure that everyone is treated in the same way. Individuals are considered equal when they are offered the same job or pay. Quotas are encouraged in our workplaces and universities and when they are fulfilled we are told that “equality” has been achieved.
This “outcome” view of equality is so prevalent that to question it is heresy. That is surely a mistake: 65 years ago, George Orwell recognised that often when the authorities claim that they are acting in the interests of “equality” it is usually little more than a thinly veiled attempt to establish the supremacy of one factional interest over all others. So we need a healthy dose of Orwellian scepticism, and toleration of dissenting opinions, when we debate tomorrow the issue of women bishops.
The “outcome” view of equality is at odds with how the Bible and the Church have traditionally regarded equality. This Christian equality stems not from what we do but from what God has done for us; God created each one of us and Christ paid the same price for each one of us, without regard to our status. The consequence is that we are freed for a life of discipleship patterned after the example of Christ, in which we regard each other as equally precious and exist to serve one another. In this context of mutual servant-heartedness, to describe one human being as more or less equal than any other is absurd. Our value is found in Christ, not in our role within the church or world.
This kind of equality allows us truly to celebrate diversity — to acknowledge, for example, that men and women are different and that those differences are good and a matter of divine design, not merely a social construct. The Bible teaches men and women are equal but not interchangeable. They complement one another because they are different and should be valued accordingly.
In marriage, the family and in God’s family, the Church, men and women are called to serve alongside one another, sacrificing themselves for the good of the other. For men this self-sacrifice shows itself in being prepared to take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his wife, family and church. That is why I believe that only men can serve as bishops, shouldering the greatest responsibility for the direction of the Church. And it is also why I believe that women’s role at church and in the family is to offer loving, self-sacrificial support.
That does not mean that I think compliant “little women” should be kept out of the office or politics. Of course, women of talent should become CEOs or politicians, but in the sphere of church and the family, our role is different from that of men. I am not alone in thinking this. In May, I and 12 other women members of the Synod started a petition to ensure that our voice was not smothered by the blanket assumption that all women think the same; 2,228 women churchgoers joined us in signing it.
I pray the Church of England does not vote for female bishops tomorrow. I hope that it will not dismiss one view of equality that truly allows diversity to thrive. If the Church tries to legislate its way to equality, I fear some will end up being more equal than others.
This is priceless
Dick still on form.
Great hymn, shame about the tune…
One of the best all time hymns on meeting together and gathering around the word is without doubt Leonardt Clock's great hymn from 1590. Christopher Idle, writing about this hymn, identifies that it has only ever appeared in one non-baptist hymnal which is a great loss to many Christians. It doesn't have a great tune, though. I tried writing a new one a few years back which we sung at church last week. It needs a bit of work, but the hymn deserves a place in our repertoire:
Our Father God, your name we praise,
to you our hymns addressing,
and joyfully our voices raise,
your faithfulness confessing.
Assembled by your grace, O Lord,
we seek fresh guidance from your word:
now grant anew your blessing.
2. Touch, Lord, the lips that speak for you;
by Scripture’s wisdom train us:
revive our hearts by what is true;
from every wrong restrain us.
Give us each day our daily bread;
may hungry souls again be fed;
may heavenly food sustain us.
3. Lord, make your pilgrim people wise,
the gospel message knowing,
that we may walk with lightened eyes
in grace and goodness growing:
your word supplies your people’s need,
one holy law for us to heed,
from heaven your wisdom flowing.
4. As with your people here we meet
your grace alone can feed us:
as here we gather at your feet
we pray that you will heed us.
O Lord divine, the kingdom’s powers,
the praise, the glory, all are yours:
may Jesus Christ still lead us!
The metre is 87 87 887 if anyone wants a go….
Whose gospel is it anyway?
Off to an EA day tomorrow entitled 'What is the gospel?' Hope it will be good. One of most alarming things for me is that we redefine the gospel from something that God does for us in Christ to something we do for him or with him. Whatever that is it cannot be the gospel.
Job opportunity at Evangelicals Now
Our friends at EN need a new Distribution Administrator. An exciting opportunity to join the team that makes en happen!
We are looking for a Distribution Administrator to work at our office in Thornton Heath for four days per week. If you are accurate, comfortable with IT, flexible, willing to learn new skills, able to work individually and as part of a small team then we would like to hear from you. Call Rob Clarke on 0845 225 0055 as soon as you can to discuss the role informally and to request the full job description. Formal applications by December 7.
“Secondary” is so unhelpful…
Interesting back and forth between Paul Levy (always mischievous, often thoughtful) and John Stevens (never mischievous, often thoughtful) on baptism and church practice. I just want to step one pace backwards though because I get to hear about a lot (well, a fair few, anyway) of ministers who don't know what they think about baptism. In fairness, I get this from wives rather than the ministers – the conversation goes something like this "Can you recommend anything on baptism, my Bobby doesn't know what he thinks" – this is Bobby who is 6 or 7 years into ministry!
I hope you're not Bobby! Baptism is, I believe, a secondary issue insomuch as Christians can disagree on it and still be friends – in fact, be more than friends (I once made Paul a cup of coffee from my coffee maker) – they can work together and – as Paul and John have been exploring – possibly even be in church together. But secondary, as I never tire of saying, does not mean unimportant. And ministers of churches should certainly know what they believe about this issue. It is scandalous that they don't given that it is a defining issue of the church. Now, I don't mean that every minister has to have every i dotted and every t crossed. And perhaps at any given point, a minister might be on a trajectory to changing his opinion on something. But it should never be something that is relegated to the level of "unimportant."
Here are two books I've found helpful. Both are well written and argued but both come to different conclusions. If you're in the "don't know" camp – these are worth your time. First, Greg Strawbidge's The Case for Covenantal Baptism includes contributions from Bryan Chappell and Richard Pratt. It was recommended to me some time ago and I commend it for a coherent and well argued case for infant baptism. For believers' baptism, I commend Tom Schreiner's book Believers' Baptism with contributions from Andreas Kostenberger and Mark Dever, amongst others.
Helpfully, both are about the same length and technical standard – so you will be comparing like with like. A good £20 invested (which will buy you both volumes).
And speaking of John and Paul – when are they getting back together….? The songs that would flow…..
An unpreached sermon part 2
If it is true that Jeremiah 17 encourages us to be realistic about the heart (our hearers and our own), it is also true that it contains a glorious picture of the regenerate heart which allows us to be optimistic as well. In a classic chiasm (I know, I know, but this one really is) Jeremiah sandwiches verses 7 and 8 with the bleak assessment we saw yesterday in 5-6 and 9-10. And what a glorious glimmer of hope. The regenerate heart is bountiful, beautiful even. It's an extended metaphor which describes the man who trusts in the Lord – drawing on language from Psalm 1 and elsewhere, The Lord, through Jeremiah, describes a tree which survives every onslaught and continues to bear fruit in every condition.
And we can thus be optimistic about the heart because one came to earth whose heart was exactly like this! Supremely, verses 7 and 8 describe the heart of Jesus. And we can be optimistic because his heart can be our heart as he forgives, restores and fills us with his transforming Spirit. So we can be optimistic about the hearts of those we preach to (yay!) and optimistic about our own hearts (double yay!). We do not have to live with that besetting sin all our lives. We can kick that habit and transform our speech. Or rather, the Spirit working in us bringing us from glory to glory can do it. This is the victory the Bible speaks about.
What an encouragement for preachers! Our work is not in vain because the mighty Spirit of the living God applies the preached word to our own hearts and those of our hearers and makes us more like our Saviour Christ and his perfect heart.
Preachers of the gospel of grace have every reason to be optimistic about the heart.
An unpreached sermon part 1
Sometimes circumstances dictate that you do all the prep and hard work but the sermon never sees the light of day. So it was for two messages that I was supposed to be preaching this week but which, for complicated reasons, have been consigned to the holding tray. One was on Jeremiah 17 and seeing as it was written for a ministers' conference, I thought I might share a little.
Jeremiah 17 is, of course, the holding place of one of Jeremiah's most pithy statements about the heart – Jer 17.9. And Jeremiah is the prophet, above all others, that speaks so directly about the heart. The heart, as you know, is the real you: the place where you think, doubt, fear, rejoice, believe, bear fruit etc etc. And Jeremiah 17 teaches us two fundamental truths about the heart which every preacher needs to bear in mind. He needs to bear them in mind not only for his own ministry (where we're on pretty safe ground), but also for our own hearts. The state of our own hearts is intimately and closely connected with the success of our ministry (this is not too strong – see 1 Tim 4.16).
Today, part 1, we need to see that to be a minister we need to be realistic about the state of hearts and our own heart. The first few verses paint a bleak and sobering picture of the heart. The problem of rebellion is:
- deep-seated. The sin of Judah is engraved with an iron tool, a point of flint. The idea is of permanence (though I have not used that word because the rebellious heart can be changed). Heart problems are deep-seated problems. They cannot wash off with a quick rinse. There are no easy fixes. [Interestingly, God has been dealing with my own heart recently and I can testify that it is, at times, a painful process – much like I imagine having a tattoo removed is.] We underestimate the rebellion of the heart at our own peril.
- comprehensive. (1) in its effect – it is a problem on the tablet of the heart and the horns of the altar. What is internal always becomes external. We may hide it for a while but, to paraphrase the Reformers, we become what we worship. But it is also comprehensive in its (2) reach. Even the children (v2) are affected. This is describing a covenant community – obviously – but the sign that heart problems are deep and real is when even the kids are joining in.
- devastating. Both corporately (v3-4) and individually (v5-6), such rebellion and deep seated heart problems can only lead to judgement. I love Calvin's translation of verse 4 – "I've put a fire in your face" – there are lots of forevers in the Bible but this is one of the most sobering: a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.
Verses 9-10 come into sharp focus. There we find the diagnostic double whammy – the heart is deceitful above all things AND I the Lord search the heart. It is the combination of these two together which spells deserved disaster.
Now, how does this help the preacher?
- First, it gives him realism about unregenerate hearts. It is important to say that Jeremiah is describing uncircumcised hearts. Too many preachers use verse 9 to describe regenerate hearts and that is simply not right (or at least things are more nuanced). Any conversion must be a supernatural work of God. We cannot change hearts. We haven't a hope in hell. Only God's word faithfully taught can do the job. So the preacher who is either prayerless or prepared-less (or both) is a disaster and to be pitied above all things.
- Second, it gives him realism about regenerate hearts. As we shall see tomorrow, there is great cause in Jeremiah 17 to be optimistic about the heart. But the heart is not totally transformed yet. It is a work in progress. And so, even though the descriptions above do not apply to regenerate hearts in totality, they contain some grain of truth. Here we see into the darkest recesses of both the hearts of those we minister to and our own hearts.
Where have you deluded yourself about the goodness of your heart when in fact it is black and needs transforming work?
Afterword on the covenants
Following on from my post on Monday, one of my Cornhill Scotland friends helpfully pointed out a different way of looking at Hebrews 8 and that it does not necessarily teach discontinuty:
- in Heb 8.8 God says he finds fault with the people of the old covenant, not the covenant itself.
- in Heb 8.13 it is possible that the term "obsolete" refers to the regulations of 9.1-10 not that the nature of the covenant has fundamentally changed.
This, of course, would lead you to a fundamental position of continuity not discontinuity.