The ministry of the Proclamation Trust, of which this blog is a (very) small part is dependent on generous donors and the peculiar situation we find ourselves in with our building. Located, as many of you will know, in Central London, just south of London Bridge Station, Willcox House is named after a generous sponsor who, very early on, grasped the vision we had for equipping and encouraging Bible preachers and teachers. He left us the building as a generous legacy. And what a legacy it has been! It has six floors, we use three of them for dedicated office and teaching space. We are also able to host one or two others.
But we have three floors that we rent out and this rental income is an important part of our charitable income which we can then use to serve the church. For over 12 months now, we've had no tenants in two of our three rental floors. That means we're paying rates and expenses on empty floors and lacking the income they normally provide.
So, please, can we ask you to pray. We would love you to join us praying very specifically for suitable tenants for two floors of Willcox House.
You don't have to be a pastor for very long to know that there are certain issues that arise time and time again. Pastoring into these situations is very difficult unless people have a fundamental understanding of the basic building blocks of the Christian faith. Preparing this week for a series of marriage seminars that Mrs R and I have been delivering has reminded me of this once again. These truths are so foundational that they arise time and time again in Scripture, but I'm convinced that a preacher who loves his people and is pastoral at heart will make the effort to connect the dots for people. And, I believe that means giving people first principles. For example,
- if we are to have healthy marriages we need people to have healthy ecclesiologies (Eph 5), some knowledge of what it means to be united with Christ (Eph 5 again) and a deep appreciation of the Trinity (1 Cor 11). Marriage prep built on the niceties of whether you have a joint back account is useless without these. These are truths that occur again and again in Scripture. Obviously. Perhaps we need to draw the lines more clearly?
- if people are to cope with crises they need to see how the sovereignty of God works itself out and be confident in it. You can't tell people about God's sovereignty for the first time as they are grieving the loss of a child or going through some other trauma.
In other words, our preaching needs to have an end in mind which is not just the proclamation of truth (though preaching is not less than this). It needs to be warmly and appropriately and faithfully applied to hearts and lives so that people are equipped to worship Christ with all of their lives. Preaching that does less than this hardly deserves the name.
John Dickson on women teaching
John Dickson (whose work on history and evangelism we very much like here) has written a booklet explaining his views on women and teaching. It's available here. It needs a carefully measured response and, thankfully, Lionel Windsor has provided one here. Worth a bit of your time because John's is not a crackpot feminist approach to Scripture but a more thoughtful one. It is worth engaging with.
H/T Rev'd Dr Professor Sir Lee Gatiss
Why the fault line isn’t sex
This article in last week's Independent is alarming if not surprising. I was pointed towards it by a friend who was similarly alarmed. It reflects a two pronged challenge to orthodoxy:
- the challenge to the moniker evangelical which we all know is understood more broadly in the world than it deserves to be. Clearly the breadth is growing.
- the challenge to biblical standards on sexuality. Again, no surprise. Those who have been watching the scene carefully will know that Tony Campolo, once doyen of evangelicals, is leading the charge.
As I say, alarming, but not surprising. The danger of course is that people think we conservatives have become a one issue party. Evangelicals are obsessed with sex. There's a danger that might become true. But of course, that is not the fault line. The fault line is the Bible, properly understood. It so happens that in the hedonistic world in which we live, this fault line is seen most obviously in the church's position on sexuality, but it could equally be seen in a number of different areas. Preachers need to work hard in their preaching to communicate this important truth – our fault lines are drawn for us because our primary fault line is Scripture itself.
There will always be a danger of being misheard on this. But if there must be an error, let it be with those who mishear rather than with those of us who speak.
Sometimes major series replace volumes in their commentaries for excellent reasons. Sometimes this is because the original volumes were not up to the same standard as the rest of the series. More often, scholarship has moved on and in order to reflect modern discovery and insight, a new volume is required. This is certainly the case with Eerdmans New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (NICOT and NICNT). Some of these volumes are simply superb.
But it is also the case that the new volumes sometimes replace very good volumes indeed. The NICNT series updates an older series known as The New London Commentary on… These are often worth searching out. Two examples will suffice:
- John Murray wrote the volume of Romans and this has some real insight. You might think that everything that needs to be said about Romans has been said. Perhaps. But I enjoyed working with Murray. The volume has been replaced by Doug Moo's enormous work (RRP £35). Murray's work was first penned in 1960.
- Philip Edgcumbe Hughes volume on 2 Corinthians is likewise great value. It was originally written in 1961 but still seems pastorally very fresh. It has been replaced by Paul Barnett's work (RRP £32).
In both cases the replacements are obviously very good. But the lost commentaries are worthy too. Hunt around for second hand copies. At the time of writing you will find Murray for £12.50 (abebooks) and Hughes for £5.42 (also abebooks). Murray's was originally published as two volumes and you may find them separately. It's also, of course, a very reasonable way of building up a theological library.
Happy new year
Banner of Truth have put all the Valley of Vision prayers online – a great resource here. It seems appropriate to start the new year with the preacher's prayer:
My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task; Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for thee; Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction. Present to my view things pertinent to my subject, with fullness of matter and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a feeling sense of the things I preach, and grace to apply them to men’s consciences. Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself, and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy. Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people, and to set before them comforting considerations. Attend with power the truth preached, and awaken the attention of my slothful audience. May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted, and help me to use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings, that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness, that I might be a pure channel of thy grace, and be able to do something for thee; Give me then refreshment among thy people, and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end, from lack of warmth and fervency. And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.
We wish you….
The PT office will be closed over Christmas, so this is it for now. We should not be writing blog posts over that time…and you should not be reading them. Enjoy church time together. Enjoy family time together. Enjoy a break from the regular pattern of ministry, even if you're going to be serving and working hard, your work pattern will almost certainly be different from usual.
We count it a privilege to serve you in ministry and trust that as you faithfully proclaim Christ this Christmas time, your own heart will be stirred once again with the good news of the gospel – and we pray that your preaching will be used by God to bless others. We're closed up here until 7th January.
A Christmas prayer
Can I commend the English prayer book available on the Church Society website ? I'm far from being Mr Liturgy (possibly as far as it is possible to be) and yet I still love this helpful little book. And some of the short prayers are simply delightful. Here is the collect for Christmas Day:
Almighty God, who gave us your only Son to take our nature upon him and to be born of a pure virgin, grant that we, who are born again in him and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
It might seem a bit odd to be talking about away days the week before Christmas, but they're in my head. We've got a PT staff away day early in Jan and we're also planning an elders' away day at church. So, even though we're drowning in festive yuletide tat, awaydays are in my head. I want to commend them. Take the question of church leadership, for that is the sharp end of church life. I don't know how your church works, but my guess is that a large part of your leadership time is spent firefighting or carrying over items to the next meeting. Prayer time is squeezed – especially praying together for those big ticket items. You spend so much time thinking about the next preaching series, for example (and please hear me, that is Very Important), that you never have time to read the Scriptures together in a meaningful way and measure up the church against biblical values and visions. Training is relegated to a quick agenda item. And as for pastoring one another….
This is the value of time together away. We've asked our working elders to take a day's annual leave to make it happen (it's unrealistic to just add another Saturday to the mix for most). We aim to pray, read the Scriptures and try to not have just another elders' meeting. We want to think ahead and look at the church critically and thankfully as we see what God plans and purposes for his people in the Bible. Have a think about planning such a day. It may just be the best Christmas present you can give your church.
Sending wives away – Ezra 10
I'm getting to the end of prep for teaching Ezra at Cornhill and must deal with one of the most perplexing parts of the book – what is going on when the foreign wives (and their children) are sent away in Ezra 10. Some of the most helpful comments I have read on this come from Carson in his For the love of God volume 2. This two volume devotional commentary is often a good go-to place for initial thoughts and it is now available online for free through the Gospel Coalition website. Basically he outlines two views:
- that the sending away is akin to a revival. Serious steps are taken to maintain purity.
- that the sending away is a wrong response to a rightly discerned problem and the Law does not sanction such inhumane treatment.
His conclusion is worth repeating in full. Note the last line which is full of pastoral wisdom for anyone ministering in a local church context.
Without meaning to avoid the issue, I suspect that in large measure both views are correct. There is something noble and courageous about the action taken; there is also something heartless and reductionistic. One suspects that this is one of those mixed results in which the Bible frankly abounds, like the account of Gideon, or of Jephthah, or of Samson. Some sins have such complex tentacles that it is not surprising if solutions undertaken by repentant sinners are messy as well.