Preaching the psalms
This Sunday evening I'm taking our evening service where we have a little section on "how to read…." for different genres of the Bible, followed by Q&A and a short sermon from that particular genre – all designed to help people make the most of reading their bibles. It's an exciting idea – not original to us, but gratefully pinched from Mr David Cook in Australia.
The psalms are an interesting part of Scripture. Here's the thing: ask people what their favourite part of the Bible is and they will often say the psalms. Ask an occasional preacher to take a service while you are away, and he may well preach a psalm. And that's not surprising. To paraphrase Luther, they contain all the theology of Christianity and all the experience of life – no wonder these honest songs resonate.
But they're not easy to understand. For one thing they are Old Covenant songs, and if I had a pound for every time I've heard a sermon or talk that ignores that fact I'd be a rich man (or, at least, I'd have £34 extra). And how to they preach Christ (which we believe they do, of course)? How do you preach them as Christian literature rather than Rabbinic song?
I think the answer is to see the psalms as the kingdom songbook and to see, therefore messianic fulfillment in terms of the anointed king. This is how we teach the psalms at Cornhill (and how Christopher preached them at 2012 EMA). So, for example, I think all the psalms fall into one of four categories:
- songs about the anointed King – what we sometimes call messianic psalms
- songs sung by the anointed King – e.g. Psalm 22
- songs about the anointed King's city – Jerusalem features heavily in the psalmody
- songs sung by us only because we're in the anointed King – Christopher has a way of putting this which I like – Jesus is the soloist and we're the backing singers. This is a great way to see Jesus in the psalms.
Think back to when you last preached a psalm. How much of Christ was there? Did you remember that these are Old Covenant songs? If you're free you're welcome to come along on Sunday…!!!!
Who are we, exactly?
From time to time it's useful to say who the Proclamation Trust is – not because we're in any doubt ourselves (!) but because it's quite incredible just how many people don't get it. For example, just last week I was reading an article by a well known evangelical leader in the UK who described Tim Keller as someone who has been invited to speak "at three Anglican Evangelical Ministry Assemblies." So for the record, here goes.
Our aim is to serve faithful Bible preachers and teachers wherever they may be found. Mostly, they will be in evangelical churches (though this is not always the case). We don't have a denominational affiliation. We're not ashamed of our past though – which is that we grew out of the ministry of Dick Lucas, rector of St Helen's. But we don't have any formal links with St Helen's (though are proud to count them as friends). Our trustees are both from free churches and anglican churches. As are our staff. In fact, our staff belong to Anglican churches (both in the system and on the fringe), a well known church planting network, FIEC churches, we've had presbyterians, someone from a Calvary Chapel and so on and so on. I myself served a Grace Baptist Church for 9 years. We're all sorts – intentionally so.
That's not to say that we don't all have convictions about ecclesiology. We do. We know it's important and too important not to form opinions on. But it's not what defines us as we seek to serve the local church.
And whatever your background, if you want to preach and teach the Bible faithfully, we're happy to serve you. Come to our conferences, use our books, send your girls and guys to Cornhill. We'd love to see you.
How your preaching reveals your bias
An interesting conversation with a colleague today about preaching bias. None of us, of course, would say that we don't attempt to preach a particular passage faithfully. We study it, we think about context, big ideas, outlines, aims and so on. And in any short period of time, we would probably expect to see preaching that reflected the weight of, say, Hebrews, were we to preach through Hebrews.
But what about in the longer term. What about if you were to, let's say, stand back and examine 5 years worth of preaching? What then? I think an evaluation of your preaching over that time would reveal your bias. Measure it up against the weight of Scripture. It's an interesting idea. Too often we measure our faithfulness in terms of the short term – was that sermon I preached faithful to the passage? We nedd that, of course. But we also need the kind of assessment which looks at preaching in the longer term.
If someone attended my church for five years would they hear the whole counsel of God in the same weight as the Scriptures teach. Would they only ever hear about grace and never about the obedience that comes from faith? Would they hear too much on the sovereignty and character of God and not much on the loving relationship he longs to have with his children?
I find that a particularly examining question. Because, standing back (and even with the difficulty of being objective in assessing oneself) I can see that my preaching reveals my bias. What is yours? And how are you going to correct it?
We're looking for a part time Internationals Administrator to come and work with our PT Cornhill team here at our London office. We enjoy and benefit from welcoming international students to Cornhill, but as you will know if you follow the news, sponsoring visa students is neither straightforward nor painless. We think it's worth doing and the Internationals Administrator who works three days a week plays an important part in that provision. Perhaps you have someone in your church or know of someone who may be interested. Please ask them to email firstname.lastname@example.org for an information pack.
On an associated note, next week we have not one but two inspections relating to our international visa status. We think we've got everything ship shape and in order, but please do pray that we will pass these inspections with flying colours so we can continue to serve the church of Jesus Christ in this constructive way. Thank you for praying.
Would it have mattered if Jesus was married?
The BBC have been reporting that Jesus may have had a wife. Their headlines and intro are written with some licence, however, given that even the professor who is hawking the 4th Century coptic manuscript says, "It is not evidence, for us, historically, that Jesus had a wife. It's quite clear evidence, in fact, that some Christians, probably in the second half of the 2nd Century, thought that Jesus had a wife." Not quite what the headlines are saying. But does it matter? (Since I wrote this blog post, the BBC have sensibly changed their online headline).
Simon Gathercole has written an excellent piece out of Tyndale House (see here). But here's a slightly different question, and one I challenge you to think about. Every now and again these issues come around and I think it is helpful to think about them constructively. We all agree that Jesus the Son of God is at the heart of our faith. So here is my question. It will test your Christology. It will help you see how robust your Christology is. Discuss it at next week's elders meeting or Monday morning staff meeting.
Would it have mattered if Jesus was married?
Here's the standard Catholic answer: Yes. Catholics argue that as Christ gives us his whole body in communion, then had he been married there would have been someone else to whom he gave his whole body and the eucharist would have been diminished. What do you think?
Perhaps your answer (or lack of it) may make you think you're going to put down all those self help and biblical counselling books and read something worthy on Christology. That would be no bad thing.
Secondary issues are not non-issues
We often talk about secondary issues. That's sometimes helpful terminology when we're talking about gospel partnership and evangelical distinctives. It's not entirely unbiblical either – "Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters" – disputable translating the word dialogismos. But it's very easy to make a fundamental mistake about these issues – that they are unimportant. Paul's teaching in Romans 14-15 should set us straight on that. For a start, there is a clear understanding that these issues have a right and wrong about them (that, surely is partly the point about being weak and strong in faith).
For a start, some disputable matters become points of identity for a church. Take baptism. I'm ready and willing to argue the case for baptism as I see it in Scripture. But I understand that some of my brothers hold equally convinced differing positions. One of us is weak. One is strong. I'm not going to let that break fellowship, but equally, a church of which I'm a minister must have a position to which it holds. There are numerous other examples. And for those of us in ministry, we must know with some conviction at least, what we think about women's ministry, baptism, ecclesiology and church government – and here's one we ignore at our peril – the place of Israel in the purposes of God.
I think that could increasingly be a point of disagreement amongst Christians. It is often an emotive one. I want to believe that we can differ on what we think and not fall out. But it's naive to think that a secondary issue is a non-issue. Not so.
Furnishing your heart
I see the boy Lewis has been blogging some Flavel. Good. He's always worth reading. For what it's worth, here is a dose from a book I've been sent – although it is actually a quote, I believe, from 'Saints indeed' also published as 'Keeping the heart' by Christian Focus.
If you would thus keep your hearts as hath been persuaded, then furnish your hearts richly with the word of God, which is their best preservative against sin. Keep the word and the word will keep you. As the first receiving of the word regenerated your hearts, so the keeping of the word within you will preserve your hearts. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let it dwell, not tarry with you for a night, and let it dwell richly or plentifully, in all that is of it, in its commands, promises, threats, in all that is in you, in your understandings, memories, consciences, affections, then it will preserve your hearts.
This morning is our big EMA 2013 planning day. It's exciting and nerve racking all at the same time. In the last five years, nearly 2,500 different people have attended the EMA (2,390 to be exact). Our move to the Barbican is, in many ways, a step of faith, but the extra capacity means that we will, for the first time in a long time, be able to accommodate everybody who wants to come.
Here are some other interesting stats: In the last 22 years our database goes back, one person has come every single year, 4 have come every year but one, 12 have come every year but two and 10 have come every year but three.
In terms of denomination, no church group has dominated proceedings. In the last ten years, free church atendance has peaked at 46%, Anglican at 51%. Most years, the figures hover around those levels. Increasingly, we see visitors from overseas, whom we're delighted to welcome. Churches bring mission partners home for a break and the EMA proves a great chance to refresh. Last year 10% of our delegates were serving in overseas contexts.
We hope and pray for more of the same at our new venue. See you there. And why not start thinking now about whom you could come along with? Attending a conference with someone who lives close by is a great way of encouraging and building gospel partnerships. There's probably a minister serving near you who needs that kind of encouragement.
Christianity Explored evangelistic tract
Last Sunday I had the joy of baptising a man who had been converted after reading a Two Ways to Live tract. There are plenty of us who have every reason to be thankful for that resource. I still keep a stack in the car to give to people – especially the little pocket ones. But here's an evangelistic tract that's a little different and I love it – let me tell you why.
It's new from the guys at Christianity explored – A6 landscape – five simple pictures and accompanying text. The text is clear and unambiguous. And here's why I like it a lot – it works through (at a high level, of course) Mark's gospel. I think that gives it a biblical flow and consistency that other tracts don't always have. You can explain the gospel lots of ways, of course. But I really like the idea of explaining the gospel the way the gospels explain the gospel. Mark knew what he was doing when he wrote his gospel down.
The back pages offer the reader the chance to read through Mark's gospel online for free "It takes about two hours." Good idea. There's no prayer to pray at the end that many tracts have. I understand why that is, though, interestingly, in the case of my friend last Sunday, praying that prayer meant an awful lot to him. However, the booklet tells you how to pray so the omission doesn't matter. So presentation – excellent. Content – superb. I love this little tract. It focuses on Jesus, explains who he is, what sin and hell are, how his death saves and what place the resurrection plays. It's Mark in miniature.
My only minor gripe is that the online Mark text is from the ESV whereas the text in the booklet is NIV. I guess this is for copyright reasons. And I suppose the ESV gospel text isn't too clunky, but for someone new to the Bible, I wonder whether the NIV might be better?
Duplicity (4) – some remedies
What is the answer to duplicity? First some truths:
- God does not want us to be like this. He loves as individuals before he loves us as preachers. He wants us to know him and walk closely to him. He wants his Spirit to transform us into the likeness of Christ.
- It is not sustainable to be ministering to a congregation if we are dry and barren. In the short term, perhaps it will. But in the long term, it will not work. And so, we mustn't think we are doing the congregation any favours if we hide the truth from them.
- The pastorals are clear that, in the long term, the kind of duplicity I have described, is a bar to ministry. I say that not to frighten, but to elevate the issue to one of the utmost seriousness.
But here are some more gospel truths:
- Jesus has died for sins, including the sins of self-deception, lying, being cold towards him. He nailed these to the cross.
- Though we may quench the Spirit, I don't believe that we can throw out the Spirit who dwells within us. We are his, joined to Christ
- Jesus is not just interested in our salvation, but in our sanctification. Unlike the church (!) he is not simply interested in numbers through the door, but in a people whom he makes holy, a "radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish."
Practically, here is my wisdom, for what it's worth. Preachers need others around them. I think this works best with fellow elders, but if your ecclesiology prohibits this, then find ways to deliver the same accountability structures. These men – let's call them elders for the sake of it – need to be pastoring you. You need to be honest with them. They need to be caring, compassionate, direct, clear, godly – all of this themselves. They need to understand when you're struggling and help you through. They need to be discreet – not telling the rest of the church you are struggling. They need to commit themselves to pray for you – every day, I think, if they really believe the value of local church ministry.
You have such a Saviour. Do you have such people?