John Chapman’s memorial service
There's a UK based memorial service for John Chapman (Chappo) coming up soon. It's St Helen's Bishopsgate on Friday 1 March at 3pm and is a good opportunity for those who have been grateful to God for this man of God to acknowledge that together.
The truth, but not the whole truth
As a local church pastor, I was constantly asked why our church was not in Churches Together (which in our large village consisted of a middle-of-the-road Anglican church and a large Catholic church). The answer is simple – because we do not share the essential truths of the gospel. That's not to say there is not orthodoxy in those other places. There is truth, but there is not the whole truth. The same issue came up recently with Sister Wendy explaining some piece of artwork: 'isn't it wonderful how she tells the gospel?' Er, no.
Here's the principle explained mathematically:
some orthodoxy plus some orthodoxy does not equal orthodoxy
In other words, you can say some true things about God (and Sister Wendy did) but that is not the gospel. It is not the full truth. We need to rejoice when any truth is affirmed, but we need to be cautious about acclaiming it as full truth. We are so desperate to hear Christian truth that we tend to get carried away, whether it is a Christian reference in a political speech, or a bishop's sermon at a royal wedding, or even a Monarch's Christmas speech.
And it's important because when we endorse anything less than the full gospel as if it were the full gospel we dilute the truth and lead people astray. It's that serious. I don't just teach the flock by my active instruction, I do so by my indirect (and sometimes silent) endorsement.
A Cornhiller remembered
Today is the thanksgiving service for Phil Nicolls, a Cornhiller from 2007 to 2009. This young father and husband was taken home to glory by our Sovereign Lord just recently, after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. He had been serving at Banstead Baptist Church and was due to take up a position with CWR shortly. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Josie and their daughters, Sophie, Faith & Isabel. We praise God for a loving church which will support them and care for them in this terribly difficult time. Paul Adams, the senior pastor at Banstead, writes "His ministry, supported and shared by Josia, has touched so many lives and we thank God for the life and service of our dear brother."
But it's also a reminder that we are mortal. Pastors often have a tendency to a Messiah-complex and part of that is to see this great trajectory of ministry laid out before us where countless people are saved under our ministry and many others built up. In fact we are no more or less than God makes us and that includes, soberingly, for how long we may minister in this life. Who knows for how long the Lord will graciously spare us? But it does bring Paul's pastoral words into focus. He knows his time is nearing an end (2 Tim 4.6). Yet he links this clear sense of demise to his charge to Timothy to 'Preach the word.' Verse 6 begins with a 'for….'
And who knows the effect that even a short faithful ministry might have had? What if, even in those few short years, the word that was sown through Phil's work and life reaped a harvest 30, 60 or even 100 times that which was sown? What a harvest that would be!
So brothers, give yourself to this exacting and God-glorifying task. We long to help you to do this well and keep going – that is our raison d'etre. And surely the untimely death of a brother servant is a reminder that we must make the most of the opportunities that God graciously gives us.
Well, I never saw that before
Isn't the great thing about reading the Bible, preaching the Bible, preparing sermon and Bible studies, the discovery of something you have read countless times over and over but which sinks in with renewed freshness, or even turns out to be something you've never seen before? Of course, it's wonderful when this is a great theme or application you missed; but with experienced preachers very often it's just a little detail here or a word/phrase there. I had that kind of experience this last weekend. I was listening to a sermon on Matthew 26. Here are the verses in question:
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the High Priest, whose name was Caiaphas and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 'But not during the festival,' they said, 'or there may be a riot among the people.'
And the detail? The enemies of Jesus were determined to kill him, only not during the festival. Jesus knew he was going to Jerusalem to die during the festival. His agenda. His timing. His plan.
OK, OK, you've seen that before, you clever thing. Perhaps I had too – but I had forgotten. Isn't the detail wonderful? There's a danger we lose our sense of awe and wonder at the Bible story – not just the grand sweep of what God is doing, but the intricate detail with which he plans all things. I feel suitably chastened and wonderfully uplifted, all at the same time.
Book review: Capital
I've just finished reading Capital by John Lanchester. It's not a Christian book, but it's the kind of book you might read in a book group. And it was only 20p (that's right 20p) on the kindle. Which is a bargain, whichever way you look at it. The book's premise is not particularly original. It follows the story of a group of people who live on the same street in London. Because the street is gentrified, there is a real mix of people who live there – from old EastEnders to city workers. It provides for a nice collection of interwoven stories. It's well written and pretty enjoyable (though not, as the Tube poster promised "outrageously funny" – were they reading the same book?). Partly because it described the kind of street I live in (though ours is not quite so upmarket), I devoured this book.
But here's my overall assessment. It's a sad book. Ultimately, even though some of the stories end well, most end unsatisfactorily. That feels appropriate because that's life. People lose jobs. People die. People get in trouble with the police. People get unfairly treated. People are unhappy. Essentially, even though, one or two stories end well, the overall feel is one of sad and unhappy life.
AS I said, it's not a Christian book, indeed there's very little that's Christian about it. But it reminded me of how good the good news is. The book portrays the people who live and work around us, even if you don't live in a city. Life is hard, sad and ultimately unrewarding. Christ is the only answer and a biblical view of life after death is the only hope. So here's the thing – this non Christian book made me want to go and talk to my neighbours about Jesus.
Lost: to do list. And there’s a reason.
Last week I lost my to-do list. I don't know where I put it, but it's gone. I feel strangely liberated – nothing to do! But then I also feel ever so slightly scared. What if I forget something that was absolutely critical. My colleague Mr Ash reminded me that I'll get reminders about anything important, so not to worry. He's probably right – I'll just enjoy the moment. My PA, however, expressed surprise that my to-do list wasn't on my iPad or computer, given that I'm such a techy "geek" (nice to have have respect).
However, there's a reason I don't have an electronic to-do list and hence a reason why I was able to lose the paper one I use. I learnt long ago that if I carry around an electronic to-do list with me I'm always looking at it and thinking about what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, what order things need to be done in, – even on days off, evenings in and so on. You can see how unhelpful that would be.
A few years ago I went to a pastors seminar where I heard Andy Paterson (previously pastor of Kensington Baptist Church in Bristol, now Missions Director for the FIEC) speaking. He said that pastors tended towards one of two sins: either overwork or laziness. We would do well, he suggested, to work out our temperament and likely sin and fight it hard. I remember the talk clearly even though it was some time ago. My predilection is overwork and carrying round a to-do list – always looking at it, thinking about it, working on it. It's all really very unhelpful.
So that's why I have a paper to-do list and hence, why it was lose-able.
What's your natural inclination? To overwork. Or to underwork? And how, under God, are you fighting that pastoral sin? Perhaps you need to go pen and paper?
Oh, and by the way, if you're expecting me to do something and it's important, would you mind sending me a gentle reminder?
Hearing her voice?
Adrian posted about the short and carefully reasoned booklet by Sydney evangelical John Dickson, in which John argues that, within the context of a complementarian understanding of gender and leadership, women ought to be allowed to give sermons. John argues that when Paul forbids a woman to “teach” in 1 Timothy 2, the activity he is prohibiting is the authoritative passing on of the apostolic traditions about Jesus, in the age before the canon of the New Testament was completed, and the New Testament was available as a written authority for churches. It is not the same as the preaching of sermons in our churches today.
John is a brother in Christ, a friend to many of us, and has been a blessing to many more through his writing and preaching ministry. He is also a careful and meticulous scholar. So when I downloaded this booklet, I hope I did so prepared to have my mind changed by the arguments in it. Lionel Windsor has given a response and John Dickson has responded to this.
I am not persuaded by John’s arguments, and I want here to offer two very brief comments. These are not based on a thorough and detailed study of the arguments. Nonetheless, I hope they may contribute to the discussions.
- My first observation is that it seems to me that, if Paul forbids women to do just this very specific, and time-limited activity, we need to come up with some theologically persuasive understanding of his reason. Why are women forbidden from this particular activity, but not from the other speaking ministries then or now? John says that, ‘When Paul refers to teaching in the technical and authoritative sense, he means not Bible exposition but preserving and repeating the apostolic deposit. While Paul was happy for women to engage in a range of public speaking activities, in 1 Timothy 2:12 he makes clear that “teaching” is a role only for certain handpicked men.’ In an endnote, John agrees that Paul’s reason for this is rooted in ‘the principle of male responsibility established at creation’. I may have missed something in John’s argument (and I hope he will forgive me if I have), but I don’t think he has given us a persuasive understanding of why Paul’s prohibition should be restricted to just this activity. The usual complementarian understanding, that Paul’s creation principle is one of male teaching responsibility and leadership in the churches of every age, seems to me to make more sense of this.
- My second point concerns John’s precision in distinguishing “teaching” (in this limited sense) from the other New Testament speaking ministries. John refers to ‘numerous public speaking ministries mentioned in the New Testament – teaching, exhorting, evangelizing, prophesying, reading, and so on’. He goes on to say that ‘Paul restricts just one of them to qualified males’. My question is whether the speaking ministries are really so clearly distinguishable. I agree with John that when Paul allows women to prophesy (1 Corinthians 11), he must be referring either to a different activity, or at least to a different context, from the teaching activity of 1 Timothy 2. Even if we do not know exactly what prophesying meant in first-century Corinth, 1 Corinthians 11 does suggest that there are circumstances in which it is a good thing for women to speak to men and women in the church ‘for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort’ (1 Corinthians 14:3). I agree with John that it would be good if this happened more than it does in some of our churches. But I doubt that each of the different speaking words refers to a precisely-definable activity, as if a speaker could say, “Now I am teaching. In the next sentence I shall be exhorting. In five minutes time I shall be evangelizing.” (I hope I am not being too mischievous in parodying it like this.) If most of the speaking words refer to different aspects of essentially the same activity, then the semantic arguments would seem to carry a lot less weight.
I remain persuaded that what we try to do in our sermons is essentially the exercise of pastoral teaching authority in our churches, and that it is consonant with Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2 that this responsibility be entrusted to male pastor-teachers in our churches.
Confidence in the ordinary
Very struck last weekend by Julian Hardyman's ministry at the FIEC Hub conference from Acts 20. There's lots I could say about it, but one thought – mentioned almost in passing – struck home with me. "We mustn't be overawed by great stuff on the internet. What people need is a local church pastor involved in their lives." It's an important calling to the ordinariness of ministry captured well by Don Carson's assessment of his father's ministry. Another man I interviewed over the weekend told me that he didn't want to be a mega church pastor or an internet sensation, he simply wanted to shepherd a local church. That was the limit (!) of his ambition. My heart leapt for joy. That's the kind of "ordinary" ministry that every pastor-teacher is called to – preaching to his people, involved in their lives, serving them with a loving shepherding heart. It's precisely the kind of "ordinary" ministry that we need to have confidence in.
Only it's not so ordinary, is it? It's glorious joy. It's precious delight. It's amazing privilege.
What's your ambition, would you say?
Where are all the seniors workers?
Youth workers are invaluable. They are also a very common concept. Churches that don't have paid youth workers generally have unpaid volunteers doing the same role. Churches that have no youth workers often wish they did. There's training available. There are courses. Books. Resources. All good.
But I wish the same could be said for seniors workers. The church has thought very little, it seems to me, about reaching and pastoring an increasingly elderly population. There are theological issues to grapple with – how do I pastor a church member with dementia? There are practical issues to deal with – how do we physically arrange things to make church accessible? There are urgent evangelism issues to deal with – not least, statistically speaking, older folk are closer to the Day than those who are younger (though I recognise there is a common urgency).
Given all of this, it is surprising there are so few (any?) seniors workers. Why? It's tempting to think that your next church appointment must be a youth worker. You see that as intrinsic to the survival of the church. Perhaps you're right. But have you even thought of appointing a seniors worker? It need not be expensive – perhaps a newly retired man or woman; they may have a pension and even some housing. But think of the benefits it could bring…..
Woah, slow down Tiger!
We have long espoused the practise of looking at the text carefully and working out what the teaching units are and using those as a basis for preaching. That is especially important when it comes to preaching narrative – old or new testament. It works well for prophecy too. But it is often the case that preachers in our constituency can be tempted to go too fast through a book. True, there is often value in stepping back and taking in the big picture – it's something we commend. But there are times when it does well to slow down. Even take one verse.
In those situations, carefully working out the context and making sure it informs the text is even more critical. A stupid example suffices: 1 Corinthians 7.1 needs the verses that follow otherwise you would miss the point or get completely the wrong point. There are some texts that will sustain a slower approach and some that won't and we mustn't try to force those that won't.
But some slowing is useful and helpful. I thought about this morning. I'm studying through Romans in my devotions and spent all my time this morning on one particular aspect of 1.16-17. It was an immensely rewarding time. It made me want to preach 1.16-17 as a little unit, without speeding off into the distance. That would be of great benefit to the congregation. Of course, to go through the whole of Romans at that speed would take years and years (hasn't someone done that?). But there is surely a case for, every now and again, pausing, stopping, slowing, reflecting.
Slow down Tiger!