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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Internet filters out Good Stuff

The Internet Age
You might have thought in our Internet age, that information on anything would be freely available to the world. Wikipedia and the like have done us a service in that regard.

But apart from the bias of the present (there is much more information available on the people of the last few decades than those of the past), there is also the bias of belief.

The Bias of Belief
The bias of belief is a bias which acts as a filter to what facts are regarded as worthwhile sharing and which are not. So, for example, if you lived under an atheistic regime, blogs and books about God would be suppressed.
 
An excellent explanation of  some of the differences between humans and animals

The filter of evolutionary theory
What many people in the west do not realise is that a widely held belief system such as the theory of evolution, imposes a very fine filter on some areas of knowledge: some really interesting stuff is simply not available to the general public.

Example: the infinite differences between human and animals
One example of this bias is a lack of information explaining the infinite differences between human beings and animals (notice, I did not say between human animals and other animals, for humans are not animals, they are in a wondeful category all on their own, a sui generis).

Try to find a book that spells out the infinite differences and you'll be hard pressed.

A scholarly explanation of the differences between humans and animals by an atheist-prophet (a man who is willing to speak up against his community)
Why? Because the world is blinded by the paradigm or world-view of evolutionary theory which says that we all come from the same source and therefore similarities are looked for only, not differences.

It takes very rare atheist-prophets like Raymond Tallis and very rare believing-authors like Stuart Burgess to point out these differences.

(But only the believing author can explain the reason for these differences- the image of God in mankind.) 

We must not think that the Internet gives us the balance of truth; all we get is filtered truth. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

One more reason to question Bible College training

In other blogs, I have argued against the usefulness of Bible Colleges for training the next generation of Christian workers. Here I focus on one additional argument against the practise: it creates minds that can't think simply.

The college trained mind
Whatever subject you train for in a college setting (with the exception perhaps of the excellent apprentice schemes for practical skills), your mind gets trained in a certain way; can't be helped.

You are encouarged to analyse, systematise, rationalise, and so on. The end product of university training on the mind, including the requirement to write essays and revise for exams is a mind that uses big words and complicated words and sentences, and often thinks conceptually.

Part of the reason for the college kind of reasoning, writing and speaking is that the people we are writing for, examined by and speak to at College have the same kinds of minds: mind reproduces mind.

Part of the reason for big words is that they are shorthand for what would be longer descriptions.

For example
So, if a College trained mind is talking about the wonderful truth that Jesus died in my place, he would refer to the "Penal Substitution of Christ."

The problem
The problem is not only that such a sentence sounds weird, it is also profoundly uninteresting and boring, because the wonderful death of Jesus Christ for me has been translated into  third party College-speak. If I was a fisherman, I'd miss this chapter out because I wouldn't have a clue what it meant. What does Penal mean for a starter? I have never once used that word in any conversation in my whole life. And I have never read it in the Bible.

The problem is that the ordinary Christian - and that's most of us - either thinks they have to become College trained to grow as a believer, or ends up not growing at all because they are choked with unintelligible college-ese.

The problem is that these guys and gals come out of College producing not sermons but lectures that pass over the heads of most. Or their preaching week by week just filters out most of society, so they are preaching to people who understand, but not people who represent society. Perhaps a few of them unlearn everything they had learnt in college, and thus become useful again.

The tragedy with 'collegese' is that because it is respected,  it's kept alive by pastors. I have been in a pastors' fraternal where they give "papers"! What? They take turns giving "papers"? No, they don't write a newspaper and share it on powerpoint, they do what researchers at universities do - give each other papers - write a talk abouts a subject and read it out to each other, and then it is often published. Why can't pastors say, "I'm gonna talk to you guys next month about the book of Job / abortion / Hudson Taylor / whatever", why does it have to be "Next month, brother X will be giving a paper entitled "The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor" (serious, that was the title of a 'paper' in a Christian theological journal in the 1980s. Can you work out what it means? Five points.).

We must train the next generation of workers in ordinary language so that the Gospel is not veiled. And that means keeping them as far away as possible from College.

Should I go to Bible College?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Women bishops and the end of the Anglican Church

The main news
Normally the atheistic BBC pays no attention to the CofE except a begrudging acknowledgement that somehow they belong to English-establishment-culture and so, like the Queen and the Proms, deserve a little air time (Editor to Junior, "I dislike it too, but it's just got to be done.")

Last night however, the BBC's main news was the vote by the ruling bodies of the Anglican Church to allow women bishops: they realised the importance, even if others didn't.

The main reason for the vote
The most important reason put forward for women bishops was that (of course not a Biblical one) the general public at large think men-only bishops an "incomprehensible" stance to take. So said archbishop Justin Welby. The general public think the church is nutters over this issue, so we must change our policy to be accepted by the world.  

Now they have changed, presumably, the world won't think they are barking mad and  will start joining them in droves. Actually, exactly the opposite will happen: watch and see.

Other ways to make yourself more relevant
There are of course other, far easier ways for Anglicans to make themselves more relevant to the general public, and all of them are connected to being a little, or a lot, more like their Founder. Get rid of those  dresses, dog collars and hats and smoke and ceremonies and flashy buildings and start looking more like ordinary human beings; that would be a good start. 

The new direction for Anglicans
Anyway, from now on, the precedent has been set - whenever the general public finds an issue "incomprehensible" according to the general public the Anglican church will seek to remove it:
  • "Virgin Birth" - incomprehensible, so it must go
  • "Divinity of Jesus Christ" - incomprehensible, gone
  • "Trinity" - incomprehensible, gone
  • "Mankind are sinners" - incomprehensible - and offensive to boot, be gone
  • "Jesus died for sinners" - incomprehensible, gone 
  • "Jesus is returning in power and glory" - Joking aren't you? the world is ending with the death of the sun, gone
  • "Repent of my sins" - But I'm not a sinner, gone
  • "Adultery wrong" - what's wrong with an innocent fling if it hurts no-one?, gone
  • "Stealing wrong" - why?, gone

The point is, if the church is following the world, where will it stop?It will stop where the world is.

In her desperate attempt to attract the world, instead of preaching the Gospel of Jesus, the water of life, the Anglican Church is using likeness to the world. 

Why it's wrong
The move is wrong, just as its predecessor - the decision to appoint women vicars was wrong some years ago - and for the same reasons. The synod doesn't like to hear these reasons because they all flow out of the Bible, and getting stuff from That Book is another image the church would like to shed.

It's wrong for the reasons outlined in my article (below). The reasons are so elementary a child could understand them. From their biology upwards, men and women are radically different. Both are made in the image of God, both are equal in dignity, but just as they have different roles biologically, so they have different roles in marriage and church, according to the Scriptures. Biology gives a clue to the fact that they have different roles: men can't be mothers biologically ("that's so sexist: we men demand equality of role in pregnancy, please"), women can't make sperm ("more sexism: we women want equal roles in pregnancy"). But it is revelation that shows us how different they really are.

The only way to make the sexes 'equal' is to remove these God-given differences (from biology upwards) and end up with a boring single gender "The androgyne".

While men are men and women are women they are different from biology to make-up to society.

And these wonderful God-given  differences have been recognised for 2000 years. As Robert Pigott, the BBC's religious affairs correspondent pointed out, men leading the church has been Christian orthodoxy since Jesus chose the 12  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28299395).

See: Biblical Roles of Men and Women

Why it won't work
This move won't work, because the power of the Gospel lies in truth and truth is always different from what the General Public think. It will also further feminise the church - plenty of blokes already struggle with the feminization of the church in other ways, so rather than bringing them in, it is likely to alienate them even further.

Wise pagans will see the move for what it is - a cynical sweetener designed to pull them in - and they won't be fooled.

Soon there will be no difference between the Anglican church and the world, at which time there will be no need for the Anglican church. 

The future of God's Church
Fortunately when God looks down from heaven he does not see man-made structures like the CofE. All he sees are individual congregations, some true, some not. And fortunately the cause of the kingdom in the UK is not dependent on the CofE or any other human organisation.

As the CofE becomes less and less relevant to the Kingdom of Christ (that is, as it apes the world more and more) may God raise up an army of church planters who will take the Gospel into the world and plant churches made up of new people in Christ, carrying with them the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone is the hope of the world.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Needed: a new UK pastors' conference for ordinary evangelical leaders?

A lot of benefit
For many years now I have been going to an annual Pastors'/Leaders' conference in London and each year I have come home refreshed, having heard the Lord speak to me, sometimes to encourage, sometimes to rebuke, always to bless.

I can remember in the first few years as a pastor wondering if someone had given the conference organisers a tip off about my last year, so relevant and encouraging were the talks to my situation. One older speaker  was a particular blessing because he had worked so hard to walk a mile in the moccasins of us young ministers.

And today, Day 1, in line with the past, has been a real blessing.

The turning point
But eight years ago something happened which made me 'wake up'. I took with me an ordinary church pastor with no formal training, no prior university education - but a very very fine pastor and preacher. I thought he would benefit, as I had. But to my astonishment he gained very little from the whole three days. He liked the people, he was in no way being critical or judgemental of the brothers he met; he simply did not know what they were on about. Their use of language, their illustrations, their style, their logic all came from another world: the university world and it completely failed to touch him.

From that moment onwards I began to put myself each year in his shoes (which ironically are also my shoes) and sure enough over the last 8 years I can see where he is coming from. Why hadn't I spotted it before? (See the end for one possible answer...)

This conference and others like it are run by highly educated pastors who preach in large and influential churches around the world. The illustrations they use are from Universities, from Law and from Cricket. In the years I have attended (well over 20) no-one has ever illustrated a talk with the pain of coming off methadone abuse or the struggle of making ends meet, or what's happening in Eastenders.

And the golden rule is this: who is on the stage reflects who comes to the conference. If it's all middle class blokes on the stage eventually it'll be all middle class in the congregation.  The problem of class has seemingly got worse over the years. For example they used to have ordinary musical instruments in the band [you know, guitar, bass, drums] but now it's just grand piano and good but rather posh singers. This means that the conference is made up of leaders/pastors who reflect a tiny segment of the UK population. There seem to be few fishermen among the throngs.

This segment of the UK population - the educated middle and upper classes  - need the Gospel to be sure, and their pastors need equipping, but now I am asking, where is there in the UK a conference for the bigger rank of ordinary pastors who have drug addicts and plumbers and mechanics and shop workers in their congregations? Whose sermons are not analytical Biblical expositions? Whose musicians include drummers and guitarists?

It's not that the conference I have been attending should come to an end. It's not that it should accommodate ordinary pastors - my guess is that the accommodation would be impossible (it ought to be possible, but I cannot see a fisherman being invited to speak, though an-almost fisherman made a guest appearance for one talk last year).

Time for change - or a new conference
It is time there was a conference for pastors who work in ordinary churches, who come from ordinary backgrounds, who serve ordinary folk, who like Wesley and Whitfield work hard at preaching to the man in the street, but unlike them, haven't got a posh education (but have been taught in the far higher and more prestigious school of Jesus Christ).

Is there such a conference already?

Would the existing conferences be willing to change (very significantly) to make their conferences attractive to ordinary pastors?

Why didn't I spot this 20 years ago?
Perhaps the problem is even more disturbing. Perhaps pastors, even though they feel the tension between what happens at Conference and what will happen next Sunday, are quite happy to go to a conference where Dr A and Dr B are speaking because it is their only link to some kind of "higher institution", "higher event", "academic institution", which gives them, in their minds, some kind of qdos in the church or world ("I'm going to a conference this week, so there, I am not just an ordinary despised pastor!")

Perhaps that's why I never realised all of this until 8 years ago, perhaps this is the reason I have been going all these years.....(ouch!)

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The marks of true greatness

Famous by numbers
In the world of the internet, it is possible to be famous without being great.

Of course it is you say.

It is also possible to seem great in the kingdom of God because you have vast numbers of followers on Twitter or your blog, or tons of friends on Facebook, or when googled your name appears as the first return.

In other words to be famous by numbers.

It is easy for Christians to fall into the trap of assessing greatness in exactly the way the world does. We ask how many downloads or how many books such and such has to his name and rank them greatest who has the mostest.

But numbers are deceitful
First, because numbers are no test of godliness. As we now know from numerous celebrities of the last few decades, fame in the world can go hand in hand with private sin in the home. Many people who grew up in the 70s and 80s watching family shows on a Saturday evening have now discovered that the hosts of these programs - men as famous as they come - harboured secret sexual sins.

Numbers don't reveal anything about righteousness, except perhaps inversely (out there in the world where sin is prized, fame may in fact be a sign of sinfulness).

In the second place, numbers are transient. Numbers only tell you who is famous today, in this existential slice of now. For all we know tomorrow their numbers may fall, so that someone we esteemed because of numbers yesterday is no longer to be esteemed by numbers today.

Thirdly, numbers, if they mean popularity, probably should be regarded as suspicious. The prophets weren't popular, the apostles weren't popular, especially the greatest ones like Paul. In their day they were hated and despised. And Jesus was not popular. Why? Because truth and popularity are inversely proportional in a fallen world: the more truthful, the less popular, the least truthful, the more popular. As a general rule, those who are prepared to speak the truth are hated in this world.

Fourthly, numbers don't reflect suffering. Those who walk in the footsteps of the despised Jesus, who take up his cross, whose lives are marked by suffering are those who walk closest to the Saviour and who are the greatest in the kingdom of Christ.

     And how many hits you get can't possibly reflect how many hits you get.

Suffering and sacrifice the real mark of greatness
The real mark of greatness in the kingdom is sacrifice and suffering, i.e. likeness unto the Saviour. These saints don't walk through the world - or, note, the church - doing what they want to do, acting how they please, but live submissive, sacrificial, Christ and others-pleasing lives.They often sacrifice what they want to the needs and well-being of others.

The ones we are to follow are those who can say like Paul:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil 3:10)

They want to know not only the power of Jesus, but the sufferings of Jesus, and actually, they know a trick: that the cross always comes before the glory, and indeed is the route to glory.

Amy Carmichael, a great missionary to India, at least one point in her life wondered why someone who was regarded as great in the Christian world was being regarded as great (woudn't we like to know who this was?!).  Amy was not having a pity-party.

As she considered this person, she saw no scar, no self-sacrifice, no personal cost, just a life of "doing what I want" (sometimes, of course, wrapped up in high religious lingo). She wrote a famous poem about this so-called-great man (or was it a woman?):

Hast Thou No Scar 
by Amy Carmichael

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?
Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?

Don't worry or bother about numbers
So if you are a blogger don't worry one hoot if very few follow you. Rejoice in low numbers. For then you can have some confidence that instead of tickling itching ears you are probably speaking the truth.