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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Attenborough's Anthropology

"Sir David Attenborough wants more women to lead like in the animal kingdom."

A household name, a national treasurer
For as long as I have been watching TV, I have enjoyed the wildlife programmes written and narrated by David Attenborough. He has a deep understanding of the natural world and a winsome way about him.

I encouraged my sons to watch his nature programmes as they were growing up (though always with their "baloney" filters turned on: they learned to temporarily tune out when he mentioned evolutionary theory, the present creation myth.)

But now Attenborough, at the ripe and grand old age of 92, has turned from wildlife to anthropology and boldly declared his wish that more women become leaders in the world of human beings. 

Pourquoi?  because females are often leaders in the animal kingdom.

Using the world of elephants as his example he notes how  the lead females have all the wisdom, bring up all the "kids" and deal with the problems of drought. Bull elephants by contrast don’t stick with the family, and, he says, dash around, trumpeting and copulating whenever they get the chance.

As in the animal kingdom so is (irresponsible men) and should be (wise women leaders) the human kingdom.

Dear Dave
Where has Attenborough gone wrong?

First, because he is wedded to the theory of evolution, he thinks that there is a straight line between the animal kingdom and the human world: Animals 'R' Us. Since human beings have arisen from the animal kingdom by the process of evolution we are to expect continuity between the animal kingdom and the world of human beings. And more than continuity - lessons about how we should order our human world.

Suppose however that evolution is a myth of the first order? Suppose it is just the latest in a long line of creation myths - this one generated by a scientific culture? Suppose the measure of continuity between the animal kingdom and the world of human beings is not account of common descent, but common Creator? Suppose that examined in any detail, there is actually a step discontinuity between the animal kingdom and human beings? And that this discontinuity is on account of humans being made in the image of God, rather than being made in the image of animals? Why then should we look to elephant communities as our guides?

For those with their eyes open, nothing is clearer than that humankind is radically and step-wise different from all the animal kingdom. Humans are made in the image of God, with minds and emotions and creativity totally and completely unmatched in the animal kingdom. When an animal thinks of food, it means an immediate digestion of the meal, for example. When a human being thinks of a meal, she thinks, what shall I eat today? Perhaps, I want to eat this meal with a friend. I will find out what my friend likes. Text friend. I will go to the shop and buy the ingredients. Come home and cook it. Text friend to tell them it is ready.  Lay the table with tablecloth knife and fork. Light scented candle - of the fragrance liked by friend. Buy some wine to go with the dish: one kind out of thousands of kinds, choose carefully and wisely. Welcome the friend into the house. Ask them to sit at the table. Perhaps say thanks for the food. Share it out - offering the guest the first portion. Talk between mouth fulls and so on. An infinitely more complex process than "feeding behaviour" at the zoo. What goes for food goes for every other comparison - the points of discontinuity far outweigh the tiny points of continuity.

So we should never look to the world of animals for our behaviour, because animals are not us. We rise infinitely and gloriously above them in every way imaginable.

Second, "Dave" is wrong to suggest that the parallels between the behaviour of some men and all bulls is inevitable.  Men are fallen creatures. Perhaps there is now, in our fallen world, an all-too-common superficial parallel between some men and the self-centred bull. But that is not the way God made men. God made Adam to love Eve, to protect her and cherish her and put her needs first. The likeness of some men to an elephant bull is not how things should be. To draw the parallel is to reinforce a false stereotype and to discourage men from rising any higher.

Shall we now follow the lead of all animal behaviour? Eat like pigs? Copulate and defecate in public? Why not? Why not?

Third, Mr Attenborough is wrong, because he is reasoning without Revelation. If we were left to our own poor intellects and certain examples of the animal kingdom, "women should lead" may be a conclusion we draw. But since we have God's Word on the matter, we know that women leading is not the way it should be nor the way it was meant to be.

God made Adam to lovingly lead his wife, not to be led by her. By leading we mean primarily loving Eve in a sacrificial way, so that she naturally wants his lead. This is the way all women uncontaminated by feminism or the dreadful example of bull-headed males think, it's what they would ideally want. Their psychology and biology desires the lead of a  kind and loving man. 

If men were what they ought to be, then the anthropological ramblings of Attenborough would gain no traction.

This kind of reasoning will be more and more common. Our children must be inoculated against it. There is no sign that the discredited theory of evolution will be replaced by something more sensible and truthful, and so we can expect more animalistic anthropology to enter the mainstream of received wisdom in our western culture.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

What does Jesus Christ expect of Church Leaders?

Again, very different
Everything about the Gospel is different from religion and everything about the way church is to be run is different from the way the world is run. And everything that Jesus Christ is looking for in a church leader is different from the criteria used by companies, political parties and organisations.

1. He must be a man
First of all, a church leader (I am thinking of overall church leadership, not specific leadership of say a children's ministry or a woman's ministry) must be a man. There is no hint in the New Testament that God's creation order, man first and woman second (nothing to do with hierarchy, everything to do with order) is done away with by the gospel. Men and women are equally made in the image of God. They are equal partners in salvation. They both are called to serve Christ, but just as in marriage where the husband is the head of the wife, so in the church men and men alone must be pastors and elders.

2. He must fit the criteria of Scripture
In Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 there are around 21 qualities required of these men elders. All of them with the exception of one are about character. He must be a godly man. Jesus Christ does not expect leaders to be clever, educated, wealthy or succssful in the eyes of the world.

3. He must lead his family and his wife
One of the qualities is his ability to lead his own home. The logic is that if he cannot lead in the smaller sphere, how will he be able to lead in the large sphere?

Leading his wife lovingly is central to his domestic leadership. Most men, in the history of the world, from the moment of Genesis 3 onwards have been led by their wives. I have known men who are about as He-Man as Tarzan in the outside world, but who cower before their wife in the private of their own homes.

So it is right for the congregation to consider the elder's wife. Is she led by her husband? Does she support the church? Serve faithfully in the church? Is she happy in the church?

4. He must be a strong man
The characteristics required by Christ amount up to a strong man who knows and loves God and is not easily led astray by false teachers and false leaders who will one day threaten every church. Christian strong men are also gentle men, loving men, sensitive men, caring men. By "strong" we are not thinking "Putin-strong", but caring, sensitive and prayerful and gentle men. 

5. He must know truth well enough to spot heretics and encourage the sheep
An elder does not need to be a top-theologian (whatever one of those is). Only one of the 21 qualities is about his knowledge ("able to teach"). When we talk about knowing truth, the very last thing we mean is academic truth. The knowledge of God is very different from the knowledge of geography/astronomy/etc. It's experiential and personal and life-transforming, not encyclopedic. One day a sheep will come to him with a personal problem - the shepherd must be able to lead them in the ways of God.

6. He must be a supporter of the existing leaders and ethos of the church
It would be foolish to appoint a man who was hostile to the present shepherds who have been appointed by the Holy Spirit. If he is unsupportive outside of the leadership team, he is likely to be contentious inside. Does this man support the direction of the church? The DNA, the ethos? If not, two cannot walk together, since they disagree.

7. He must be a worker, not a shirker
No-one respects a lazy leader. And there is no such thing in the church as an executive elder, a button-pusher; someone who wants the authority, wants to make decisions, but does not want to dirty his hands in the grime and dirt and blood of ministry.

All in all an elder, a shepherd, a pastor is a strong and godly man, who cannot be led astray, either by his wife, or by false leaders who like foxes probe the chicken-coop regularly for weaknesses.

May God raise up such men in perilous days.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Church is (very) different from the World

Image result for worldliness
"Worldliness" is an old-fashioned word, but a Biblical and healthy one. Worldliness can be simply loving the present world.  The apostle John says "love not the world, neither the things in the world" (1 John 2:15). Demas went astray because he "loved this present world." 

But worldliness can also be the way Christian churches "ape the world" in the way they go about their business.

Here are four ways we can "do church" in a worldly way.....

(1) We can be worldly in the way we choose leaders
It is tempting for churches to choose their leaders because they are rich, educated or influential in the eyes of the world. Jesus deliberately chose Twelve Zeros as his disciples - despised fishermen, dodgy tax collectors, zealots and the like: and these men turned the world upside down. When the apostles were looking for men who could administrate gifts to poor widows, they passed by the good folks with degrees in administration and chose men filled with faith, the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6). When elders are to be appointed by Titus, nothing is said of their wealth, education or worldy success - those things matter not one jot in the Kingdom of Christ. Godliness is everything (Titus 1).

(2) We can be worldly in the way we run our church finances
A worldly church will only step out into some new venture, if there are sufficient funds - and more than sufficient -  in the bank. God may be calling a church to great steps of faith, but they shrink back if it means spending more money than they now have. No missionary work would ever have been accomplished in the history of the world on that basis: missionaries are in the constant business of stepping out without any human resources and depending instead on God alone - the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

Influenced by the "insure everything that moves" culture we live in, we are prepared to take no personal or collective risks of faith. 

(3) We can be worldly in the way we run our church meetings
"Going Through the Chair!"
In my past, I have been to one too many "church" meeting that was run just like secular business meetings or share-holders meetings. Hardly a prayer or Scripture, just loud voices, vying for attention, trying to influence, deliberately sowing seeds of strife and division. And while the wannabees vie for control, the precious humble true sheep are stumbled. There is simply no comparison between the spiritually minded, prayerful, united, Gospel-centred, rejoicing, meetings we find in the New Testament book of Acts (Chapter 15 for example) and the business meetings of the world with all their worldly names ("Annual General Business Meeting") and daft procedures ("going through the chair!").

(4) We can be worldly in the way we train
The church is encouraged to equip God's people for works of service (Ephesians 4). How do we do this? We ape the world and institutionalise people in "Bible Colleges." This teaching environment, poached from the academy, is contrary to the Scriptures. The only proper Biblical method of  training is to take someone with potential on an apprenticeship-style journey, and allow them to learn and work alongside someone who has done evangelism/preaching/teaching/pastoring before. The Jesus and Paul method is the right method - and it is always in the immediate setting of a local church - not the impersonal environment and atmosphere of a distant college. 

In these and in many other ways, worldliness seeps into the church, ties the hands of godly workers and grieves and hinders the work of the Holy Spirit.

We need constantly to be reviewing the way we "do church" and led by the Spirit and the Word we must constantly throw out first worldly thinking and then throw out worldly procedures.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

How Will History End?

Theories of the end
Depending on who you are listening to, the world will end like this: perhaps it will end in a global nuclear war; perhaps it will end when the sun's fuel runs out and the sun expands engulfing and burning up the earth in its outward path; perhaps some other natural catastrophe - such as an asteroid impact - will kill every living thing.

The Bible's Vision
The Bible teaches something very gloriously different. It teaches that the end will not come about naturalistically, but supernaturalistically. Just as God opened history when he brought everything into existence, so he himself will draw the final curtain on time.

The Bible teaches that the return of Jesus Christ will end the history of the world.

The fine details are a little obscure
The precise details of Christ's return are open to discussion among true believers. The two areas of disagreement are:

(i) "The Millenium." There are three schools of thought, all connected to what is called "The Millennium." Some Christians believe Jesus will return before a 1000-year period in which Jesus will then reign on the earth (they are called pre-milleniests). Some believe Jesus will come after the millennium (they are post-millenniests). Yet others believe that there is no such thing as a literal 1000 year millennium but that this is figurative language describing the age between the first and second coming of Jesus.

(ii) The signs of his coming. Then there are many signs of his coming given in the New Testaments. This leads some believers to think that Jesus could not return at any moment - because those signs need to take place first. But other believers - and I am among them - believe that all of those signs could be fulfilled in such a short span of time that in effect Jesus could return at any moment.

What all believers are agreed upon is that Jesus will return in power and glory - and this central truth is what the Apostle's Creed focuses on, and this truth is the Gospel Truth all believers need to focus on. It is a great tragedy when Christians (often in the comfortable west) spend and waste time in endless speculation, and thereby ignore the real practical life-changing applications of this glorious truth.

The implications are both serious and glorious
Nowhere in the New Testament is the return of Jesus spoken of for the purpose of idle speculation. Everywhere, the truth is shared so that it makes an impact on our lives here and now. And here are seven glorious implications of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.....

(1) Believing that Jesus is going to return is the mark of a true local church. It is according to Paul, a Gospel truth (Romans 2:16, Acts 17:31). A church that does not believe in the return of Jesus is not a Christian church.

(2) Longing for his return is the mark of a healthy church or Christian. Throughout the letters of the New Testament we find the writers talking about this eagerness (see 1 Thess 1:9-10, Phil 3:20 - even 1 Cor 1:7!)  Healthy Christians eagerly await.

(3) The Return of Jesus is meant to give comfort to Christians who are suffering unjust treatment on account of Christ (2 Thess 1:5-9). Their persecutors will be punished one day - when Jesus returns.

(4) The Return of Jesus Christ is meant to give  hope and comfort to grieving Christians who have lost believing friends or loved ones. That's the comfort of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. Believers who have fallen asleep before us will come with Christ and we will all be caught up together, forever.

(5) The Return of Jesus Christ is meant to keep us on our spiritual toes. Like a parent who does not tell the child when he or she will return - and therefore keeps the child behaving the whole time, so the Lord Jesus will return at a time no-one knows, like a thief in the night - and we are called to be ready everyday (Matt 25).

(6) The Return of Jesus Christ spurs us on to use our spiritual gifts. Because one day the Master will return and ask us how we used them (Matt 25) - and we want to hear his "well done."

(7) The Return of the Lord is to become our ultimate future hope. It is called "the Blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). Not "a" blessed hope, a hope among many others, but "the" blessed hope. Of all the things we look forward to in the future, the return of Jesus should be tops. Why? Because all earthly hopes are just that - hopes, they may or may not happen; they may or may not resolve; they may or may not make better.

But the return of Jesus Christ is our blessed hope because it is certain and because his return will make all wrongs right,  remove all sorrows, satisfy all longings and heal all diseases. With a new resurrected body we will spend forever in the glorious presence of the Lord in a new heavens and earth.

 Every day we ought to wake with the thought "Jesus could come today! I want to live a life that honours him who loved me and gave himself for me."

It may be at morn, when the day is awaking,
When sunlight through darkness and shadow is breaking,
That Jesus will come in the fullness of glory,
To receive from the world His own.

O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Ere we shout the glad song,
Christ returneth!
Hallelujah! hallelujah!
Amen. Hallelujah! Amen.

It may be at midday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus receives His own.

While its hosts cry Hosanna, from heaven descending,
With glorified saints and the angels attending,
With grace on His brow, like a halo of glory,
Will Jesus receive His own.

O joy! O delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying.
Caught up through the clouds with our Lord into glory,
When Jesus receives His own.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Primary Truth

Primary, secondary, tertiary or quaternary?
More mischief is done in the church by a failure to understand the difference between primary and secondary doctrine than by almost every other source of trouble.

I say this as I prepare for a new series of teaching seminars on the End Times. What a bewildering array of end-times doctrinal systems and programs there are! 

"Postmil", "Premil" and "Amil" are just the starters! And variations of all three abound. 

I shall start the whole talk by asking my brothers and sisters to talk together about what is primary doctrine and what is secondary doctrine. (We'll leave out tertiary and quarternary categories!)

How do we discern what is primary?
There are three tests for primary doctrines:

(1) Is it mentioned so often in the Bible that to deny the doctrine is to deny the Scriptures? For example, if someone says that God is not the Creator they deny the Scriptures which teach this truth hundreds of times. Whether sisters wear hats or not is mentioned once - and believers disgaree over the interprtation of that one reference, so the doctrine of hats is not a primary doctrine. 

(2) Is it spoken of as being primary? Some truths are said to be primary explicitly. So for example, Paul says that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is of "first importance" (1 Cor 15). This makes it a primary doctrine. Nowhere does the Bible refer to the millennium as a primary doctrine - so whatever you believe on the millennium - real or metaphorical age - is not all that important. 

(3) Is the doctrine spoken of as a Gospel truth? Something that is so central to the Gospel that to deny it is to deny the Gospel? If so, it is a primary truth. Justification by faith alone is a primary truth because Paul says that without it there is no Gospel (Galatians 1). Exactly what we believe about the gifts of the Spirit is nowhere spoken of as a primary truth.  

We might add as a fourth test, the test of church history, and especially the creeds. One purpose of the creeds - especially the earlier ones - was to establish what truths were of first importance. If the doctrine is in the creed it's likely to be primary. 

When we understand the difference between primary and secondary, lots of other things click into place:
  • We learn to concentrate on the main things, not the secondary things
  • We humbly acknowledge that we may have many secondary things wrong
  • We love brothers and sisters who disagree over secondary issues
Where we fail to differentiate between primary and secondary we end up thinking that everything we believe is primary! The consequence is that we draw a hallowed circle around ourselves and judge everyone else by those (our) beliefs. Taken to extremes we end up in a church (cult?) of one person!

We have all met Christians who cannot live in any church because every church is "wrong" according to their personal doctrinal code.

The Return of Jesus Christ
Returning to where I started.....

...the most important truth about the future is not whether or not there will be a literal millennium; it is not what is happening or will happen to Israel, it is not seeking to fit every contemporary global event to a Biblical text, it is not whether there will be a rapture. The most important, the primary truth about the future is that Jesus Christ is returning and we are to live lives of great hope in the light of that glorious event.

                 "and he will come to judge the living and the dead" 

says the Apostles Creed, focusing as it does on primary truths. 

All other timetables and doctrines that surround the end times are secondary, many are tertiary, some are even quaternary.

"We wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour" is how Paul summarises the church's future hope in Titus. That is enough for us.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Gospel or Religion - a simple Test

The Default Religious Setting of the Human Heart
Before you sell your old mobile phone you normally reset the device to its "default" or "factory" settings. These are the settings of the phone when it came from the factory, where it was "born."

The default religious or spiritual settings of every human heart are the same - and we call it religion. Religion says in brief, "if you do this, God will do that." The fallen self-righteous human heart loves this kind of arrangement because it means that I am contributing to my "salvation" in some way.

The Gospel is radically different!
The Gospel is radically different from religion, because it says that we can contribute, not something, not a little, we can contribute zero to our salvation. If God is to save us it must be from first to last his doing, a gift from him with no strings attached - a gift, in other words, of Grace.

The Gospel teaches that so deep and wide is our sin and our sinful nature that we can do nothing to please God. And then it teaches that so deep and wide is the love of God for people like us that God, through the life and death and Resurrection of his Son has done everything for our salvation: all we must do is to receive the gift freely! And even that receiving (which is through simple believing) comes to us as a gift from God!

Out of this radical grace, we find ourselves responding in love and obedience.

True Christians all too easily revert to default!
If only it was that simple! The problem is that we so easily revert back to default mode. True believers, Gospel believers, easily and quickly revert back to salvation by works. So here is a test to see where we are today.

In what logical order would we place the following three items, WORKS, SALVATION and FAITH?

Religion -even evangelical religion - does this:
  1. FAITH in Christ first (of course!)
  2. WORKS
Very subtle error. Yes we need faith in Christ, but then don't we have to do works after that in order to be saved?

True Gospel is this:
  1. FAITH in Christ
  3. WORKS
True Gospel says that salvation full and free is the first consequence of faith in Christ, full stop, no ifs, no buts, no additions, no subtractions: "The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives." Works are then a certain (and inevitable) outworking of salvation, but they in no way contribute or affect salvation.

This true Gospel is liberating in every way! My weaknesses and failures don't "ruin" my salvation, for safe in Christ there is now no condemnation.  I am a son or daughter no matter what. I do not need to look for identity or worth anywhere else but in the Gospel. Here I am unconditionally loved.

And this overwhelming mercy and love causes my heart and will to move out with love and obedience to Christ. It leads me to works, naturally.

We need to hear the Gospel again and again, for we all too easily drift from grace to religion.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Discipleship in the Modern World

I will never forget the conversation.

A pastor I greatly admire was "complaining" to me that a young convert was wanting to spend time with him. That pastor had more important things to do with his time than hanging out with a young convert!

This good pastor believed that what a young Christian needed was to "come to the meetings." Twice on Sunday and once midweek - and this was all that was required of a young believer to grow into spiritual maturity.

Where on earth did this strange - and profoundly misguided -  idea come from?

From the Academy - the secular learning institution which dominates and shapes all modes of training and thinking in the evangelical church.

The "Academic Model"
Image result for university class roomIn just the same way that we might train a historian or philosopher - stick them in a classroom and lecture to them, so we train our young believers - we expect them to come to "lectures" each week.

The Academic Model has affected the church for centuries. How was the pastor trained? Aping the world, he spent endless hours in a classroom, listening to "experts" give him lectures on "Church History", "Hermeneutics" and "Systematic Theology" and he thinks that this is what all young converts need.

The pastor then becomes the classroom teacher and the people are the students. That's it.

This "Academic Model" often extends its influence to the rest of the week. Pastors who adopt it tend to hold "surgeries" where their "clients" / "students" can come and chat to them about their problems for an hour or so. Inviting a fellow believer into your home just for a chat or a coffee or a meal would be unthinkable: much too informal, too equal, too relaxed, too personal.

How very different, the example and model of Jesus and his disciples!

The Jesus Model
The  model Jesus set could not be more different. Jesus did life with his twelve disciples, day in and day out, outside life, inside life, eating, walking - the whole of life.

He taught them sometimes formally - sermon on the mount / sermon on the plain - and many times informally when an issue came up. When they lacked faith - best time to teach them about faith; when they lacked humility - best time to teach them about humility; when they lacked forgiveness - best time to teach them about forgiveness, and so on.

They not only learnt from his words, they learnt from his life. He was close enough to them so they could see how he dealt with arrogant Pharisees, seeking Pharisees, the bereaved, idol-worshippers, errant women, and so on.

Why the Academic Model doesn't work - especially today
Perhaps - just perhaps - back in the 50s in the UK, when most folk knew what was wrong and what was right because of the heritage of Christianity in the culture - churches could get away with the Academic model. Perhaps.

No longer. Today, folk coming in from the world have no idea how to live for Christ. A couple of lectures a week will never ever suffice. What they need is the virtually-daily contact with more mature believers who can show by life as much as word what it means to follow Christ.

How many hours did Jesus spend with his disciples per week? 20? 30? And we wonder why we have so little impact on the world? 

The implications of the Jesus Discipleship Model
The implications of the discipleship model are far-reaching: Those who wish to disciple the world must be prepared to spend much time with new followers of Jesus. Sunday and Midweek is just not enough.

They must be self-sacrificing about Sundays and Midweeks, though. After saying that Sunday and Midweek Home Groups are not enough, I now say they are vital. Young believers understand so little of divine truth. They must spend as much time as they can listening to the Word. So we who disciple must be prepared to be sacrificial about Sundays and Midweeks if we want young believers to come along.

We live in a culture where evenings and weekends are regarded as playtime. If older Christians are away every other Sunday or every other homegroup so will the baby Christians (by example) and they will therefore not receive the teaching they need.

Jesus' last command needs our first attention. When Jesus said "Make disciples of all nations" he did not mean tell them to come to church. He meant spend lots and lots and lots of time with them, teaching and exampling Christ to them - just as he had done.

Only in this way will the world be won for Christ and true disciples formed.