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Thursday, 10 November 2022

How to Oppose Error and How Not To - The Book of Concord

  

The Ever-Present danger of Heresy

In our truth-lethargic age, the very idea that heresy exists is unpopular, and the task of unmasking it is viewed as a wholly negative enterprise.

We want to be known as tolerants, and exposing error, I'm afraid, ain't that.

Far better to preach "Jesus loves you!" than to defend the Resurrection or the Incarnation or the Trinity. Heresy-talk is oh so negative.

And of course, on the opposite side, we can don the mantle "prophet of doom." It's quite possible to be so consumed with error that preaching Gospel truth takes a back seat and we become clanging gongs. 

But defending truth is one task of the church, who collectively are called "the pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

To neglect the task of defending truth because the act as become unfashionable is to step away from the practise of the New Testament writers, who are constantly contending for the faith once delivered.

The question is how do we defend truth, how do we refute error?

The New Testament answer is twofold: (a) positively, by the continual preaching of truth (which scatters darkness) and (b) negatively, by the rebuttal of error. 

One might add that there are two additional New Testament aspects to both of these facets: the truth proclaimed or defended should be done personally - by a living person, and locally, addressing the error of that moment or situation.

The defence of the truth then becomes immediate in time to the situation at hand and personal to the people who are actually exposed to the particular error.

Paul, for example, encourages Titus, positively to teach the truth "These, then, are the things you should teach." (Titus 2:15) and negatively, to personally rebuke and refute the false teachers on the island of Crete, "They must be silenced." 

All teaching, whether positive or negative is done personally and addressed to the immediate situation to hand. 

The Lutheran Book of Concord as well-meaning as it was, provides an excellent example of how not to refute error.

The Book of Concord?

In the aftermath of the Reformation a group of churches and their regions in Germany became Lutheran, not then by name, but by following Martin Luther. 

Opposition from heretics of all sorts, not least the Roman Catholic Church, led to bitter and protracted truth battles from 1517ish onwards.

The Augsburg Confession of Faith (1530) was the "Lutherans" chosen way of consolidating the truths that had been recovered by their reformation. This is quite a short document of some 28 "Articles" (XXXVIII Articles if you wish to adopt the academic practice of obfuscation).  

The creation of a new Creed - for that is what it was - is a very subtle departure from the apostolic means of defending truth: a new, but now man-made impersonal and global document, begins to be regarded as the final deposit of truth. 

This subtle shift from Scripture to Confession, though understandable, is  dangerous.

Before long, from 1530 onwards, many opponents along and tear old Augsburg to pieces! So a second tome becomes necessary - Apology of the Augsburg Confession, by Luther's successor Philip Melancthon. Three times the size of the original, this defence, attempts to defend everything that was defended in the hallowed first confession. 

Of course, error doesn't go away and before long this apology is attacked and more documents are necessary.

Some of these opponents argue that the version of The Augsburg Confession the Lutherans are using isn't the original. So now a defence, only previously needed of Scripture, is required of the new holy document - authentication. (The proof of authenticity presented is that the version they use is identical to Latin and German copies that reside in archives). 

None of the controversy is silenced - of course - and so eventually the big shots get together and come up with one big fat book, "The Book of Concord" (this book intended to bring final unity and concord to the Lutheran movement). This enormous Tome is made up of:

  1. Preface to the Book of Concord (1580) - why they had to put it together
  2. The Three Chief Symbols (The Apostles', Nicean and Athanasian Creeds)
  3. The Augsburg Confession
  4. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession
  5.  The Smalcald Articles
  6. Treatise of the Power and Primacy of the Pope
  7. The Small catechism
  8. The Large Catechism
  9. Formula of Concord

In my version, some 600 pages! It remains the official doctrinal standard of the Luther Church today, some 500 years down the line.

This Tome now becomes the final authority for this group of churches, the new bible, the new word. The Preface makes it very clear that this book is final doctrine in the lands, territories, churches and schools of the signatories. The Preface is signed - and here is a big part of the problem - not only by a few pastors but by numerous politicians - dukes, electors, counts, palsgraves, mayors, barons (Daniel 3:2&3?) and the like.

The Dangers of all Man-made Documents

What's wrong with The Book of Concord?

The good part of the Tome is that those who wrote it were eager for truth to be preserved and error to be refuted. All power to them.  

But as well as that plus there are a number of negatives...

1. Control under the disguise of conformity. In the first place, Concord reveals the dark underbelly of the Lutheran Reformation, which like all versions of 1500s Reformations (except for the Anabaptists) was about control. Since none of the Reformers except the Anabaptists (see my booklet here) separated from the state, all of them used the power of politicians to push through - and then defend - their version of the reformation. If you are a politician, you desire peace and to achieve that, you think, everyone in your geographical region must believe exactly the same things. (At least in those days).

The Book of Concord was an attempt by the politicians who signed the book to force unity on their regions.

Since the Gospel has no geographical regions, since there are no Christian cities, towns, villages or nations, only individual Christian churches dotted here and there, the idea of a book which every citizen must obey is flawed from the very start.

But the two even greater flaws, when compared to all of the New Testament defences of truth are: 

2. The Concord is Impersonal. A big man-written book is no way to defend truth. Truth should be addressed and imparted to individuals by living letters. Paul always regarded the written as secondary to the personal (though boy are we glad he had to write letters!)

3. The Concord attempts to produce truth that is global and "eternal". The only place where fully trustworthy eternal and global truth resides is in the Scriptures. No man made document should ever - even unintentionally or unwittingly - take the place of Scripture. Errors come and errors go. The errors of one age are different from the errors of another. The fact that The Concord is still regarded as the formal compendium of the Lutheran churches is to be much regretted for many of the battles of the 1500s have long since gone, and new ones - unknown to Luther - have taken their place.

The New Testament way of defending truth against error is to preach the truth, for light scatters darkness, and to refute error line by line.

This must be done in person and addressed to the particular time-bound situation at hand. 

The moment we develop timeless impersonal tomes, whether The Concord, The Institutes, Systematic Theology, or whatever we risk the possibility that they take the place of Scripture, that they substitute living word for dead letter and transient defence for global truth.

Books of theology are helpful as long as they remain humble time-bound fallible servants, rather than Doctrinal Masters.

Photo: Unsplash, Kostiantyn Li

Monday, 3 October 2022

Glimpses of Heaven? A Review of the fascinating book "After"

 

A Sceptical Doctor

This is a fascinating book written by a sceptical western medical doctor, Bruce Greyson. In the course of his work as a practitioner Greyson came across hundreds of accounts of people who had Near Death Experiences (NDEs) - though many of them were reluctant to speak about them because no-one would believe what they recalled.

In extreme physical conditions, when the brain was all but dead, these people reported the most remarkable "out of body" experiences, where their mind (soul/spirit) separated from their bodies and gained new abilities. 

Being a doctor trained in Western science, Greyson refuses to rubbish such accounts - it is only when science investigates and consider the unusual that it actually grows. It is no part of science to ignore what it cannot understand. "Pretending something didn't happen just because we can't explain it is the exact opposite of science." (page 19)

With a sceptical mind Greyson does everything he can to rule out the possibility that these experiences were generated by drugs, dreams, mental disorders and so on. 

He is convinced that NDEs are real experiences.

Those who reported their experiences spoke of seeing and hearing things and while detached to their bodies that they simply could not have seen or heard through their ordinary bodily physical senses. For example, overhearing a conversation in a room that was far away from their hospital bed. 

A "doctrine" of Near Death Experiences

Before exploring the remarkable nature of these experiences, how might we view the separation of body from soul (Greyson calls it mind) biblically?

Greyson cannot be documenting death, because death is the permanent separation of body and soul. But is it possible, in extremis, that for a few moments in this life a soul - the real "us" -  might be separated from our bodies? 

And if so, could this experience give us an insight into what freedom from this present body might give us? We know that due to the fall of mankind, our present bodies are fallen and as a result we are all restricted and now "groan" along with all of creation (Romans 8:22-23). We eagerly wait for our "adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." 

Paul is saying that a key aspect of future glory is a new body, for this present one is such a drag upon us. 

Is there any Scripture which would preclude the possibility of a temporary separation of body and soul?

Some Unusual Scriptures

There are some unusual Scriptures which may help us here. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthian Christians "even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit." (1 Corinthians 5:3). He says something very similar in Colossians 2:5, "For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit." (Colossians 2:5)

It's possible to spiritualize these verses away, but perhaps there are rare circumstances in which body and soul can separate. 

We can't build a whole doctrine on these verses, but the possibility is there.

Added to these Scriptures, there is little in the reports of those who have had NDEs that runs contrary to what we would expect of a life freed from our present fallen bodies. Our new bodies will be imperishable, powerful, glorious and spiritual (1 Corinthians 15), which makes these, by contrast, perishable (hearing loss, disease, etc.), weak, inglorious and natural.

Glimpses of Heaven?

In any case, here are some of the experiences that we read about in After:

Time seems to run in a very different way. "What I felt in five to ten seconds could not be described in ten times that length of time." "I knew what it was like to experience eternity where there is no time... "there’s nothing progressing from one point to another..." " they felt outside the flow of time..." An extremely rapid review of the whole of life is another common experience.

We would probably expect a shift in the perspective of time from this world to the next.

Extreme clarity of thought. Freed from the restrictions of a fallen body, thought life became clearer, "all my thoughts and ideas were coherent and very clear." "Many of them report that their thoughts became much faster, clearer and more logical than usual." We might expect that freed from the restrictive brain of a fallen body thought would fly.

The ability to see and hear more. Many reported seeing and hearing things more wonderful than they had ever seen or heard before. "Light like no light we've ever seen... flowers that had colours that I'd never seen before... utter glory in colour... light infinitely more beautiful than any light we know..." "I felt as if I had been limited by my physical senses for all these years. Sights that were very far away from me were as clear as sight very close..." One experiencer described the experience as switching on the light in a dark room.

These present bodies, for sure, restrict us in many ways. On the one hand that is a necessary corollary of finitude: a finite body simply cannot process the full spectrum of sounds or the full spectrum of light. However, the restrictions of this fallen body are far greater than our new bodies will possess. Take hearing. The clearest hearing of a child ranges from roughly 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. But by the age of 60, the higher frequencies (especially) have been severely curtailed.

The experience of bliss. Many described the experience of being free from the body as a positive one, "The absence of physical boundary was one of glorious bliss." "No words have been invented to tell this story with adequate beauty... try to draw an odour using crayons..."

A Changed Perspective

Many of those who experience NDEs have been so deeply impacted by them that life is never the same again. Some come to believe in God, most believe that since the mind can work independently of the body they now believe in life beyond the grave. Most appreciate life more and many become less materialistic. For some coming back into a restrictive body was a profound disappointment. Whatever the change, Greyson ruefully comments, "As a psychiatrist I knew well how hard it can be to help people make modest changes in their lives, often requiring weeks, months or years of intensive work. And yet experiencers claimed their NDEs overhauled their lives in a matter of seconds."

 Reflections

Our minds (we would say soul/spirit) are more than our brains. Greyson says that the vast amount of research now available on NDEs has severely challenged the traditional scientific view that the mind is caused by the brain. "The association between mind (we would say soul or spirit) is a fact. But the interpretation that the brain creates the mind is not scientific fact." "If the mind were in fact produced by electrical and chemical changes in the brain then near death experiences that happen when the brain is not functioning should be impossible."

Our fallen brains restrict our minds (souls/spirits). "The brain filters out everything that does not help our thinking but hinders it, slows it down, focusses it." We would expect this. 

A challenge to the materialistic world view. A book like this is helpful apologetic material to aid our discussions with unbelievers who have absorbed the narrow materialistic vision of the west.

A glimpse of heaven? I could not help thinking that this book gives us, if not a glimpse of heaven, an insight into the restrictions of our present fallen bodies, and therefore an idea of what our new resurrection bodies will allow our renewed selves to experience.

According to 1 Corinthians 15, those bodies will be incorruptible, powerful, glorious and spiritual, just like the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus.

Should we not expect those new bodies to experience time in a different way, and enjoy colours we have never seen, as just two examples?

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Reflections on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II

 

A Quiet Day

Monday the 19th of September, 2022, was a silent day. Nature was still, at least in Worcester; the air was calm. The nation ceased from her labours and there was a hush across the whole land. Streets were empty, reminiscent of the strange days of lock-down.

Depending on who you read, some 29 million people in the UK and half the world's population watched the state funeral of the Queen. 

And wow, no-one in the world does pageantry quite like the Brits.

As we reflect on that Monday and the long symbolic reign of the monarch we may learn, in no particular order, but starting with the mundane...

Practice makes Perfect

In the deep dark of night soldiers were practising the route they would follow the next day. The rehearsal, we read, took place before sunrise on Thursday morning, and saw the State Gun Carriage, towed by almost 100 naval personnel and bearing a black coffin, travel from Westminster Hall, on to Westminster Abbey, and then through central London. The procession looked perfect, but behind the scenes much work had been done. 

A time to weep... a time to mourn 

According to the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to weep as well as a time to laugh, a time to mourn as well as a time to dance. A balanced personal life - and a balanced national life too - makes room for both. To collectively pause and mourn is not only cathartic, it helps us to remember that this life is temporary, fleeting, and that death is the certain lot of every son and daughter of Adam.

What must have struck every attentive listener was the way Scripture permeated all the formal ceremonies. (If there was a disappointment, it was that those inspired words were sometimes obscured by an ancient translation, rather than using a modern version in language a ploughboy could grasp). 

And then there was the sermon of Justin Welby. Many had prayed that the only human sermon ever preached to 4 billion people would not be wasted.

The Sermon

"The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death. The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory," said the Archbishop. 

And then he explained the fount of the Queen's lifestyle: "Jesus," he said, "who does not tell his disciples how to follow, but who to follow – said: 'I am the way, the truth and the life'. Her Late Majesty’s example was not set through her position or her ambition, but through whom she followed.'"

Most heart-warming of all, Welby shared the Gospel with the world, "Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity. As the Christmas carol says “where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” 

Prayers were answered in that shortest of sermons.

 Copy My Example (as I copy Jesus Christ)

The archbishop reminded his audience that the Queen's  "service to so many people in this nation, the Commonwealth and the world, had its foundation in her following Christ – God himself."  

The Queen's life is worth copying only in so much as she copied Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul set up this discipleship paradigm when he urged his readers to follow his example, as he followed the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

A Life of Service

It has been said many times in recent days, that though the Queen enjoyed hobbies (horses and dogs) and holidays, she was a tireless worker. The Son of Man, said Jesus, "Came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many..." (Matthew 20:28). A life of service to others is a trademark of every genuine follower of Jesus Christ.

"Don't explain, don't complain" 

Unlike some Royals and others in authority, the Queen did not return fire for fire or seek to justify herself. When misunderstood or criticised she remained silent. This is not only wisdom, for responding simply sets one on a spiral of infinite tit for tat, it is also Christlike for "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23)

 Service to the End

The Queen is a rebuke to our "take it easy in retirement" culture, serving well into her 90s, and just days before her death appointing the latest Prime Minister, Liz Truss. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race" were among Paul's last words, and our Saviour gave his best to the end. 

Retirement as an opportunity to turn selfishly inwards is unknown in Scripture and stands against the example of Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ 

Above all else, the Queen's faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as her Saviour is the supreme facet of her life. To die without fear of death and to die with hope is only possible when we know our sins have been forgiven, and we have peace with God. Only, in other words, when we have faith in Jesus Christ.

"God (please) Save the King"

On the first Sunday after the Queen's death, the Christian brother who led morning worship at our church encouraged us to make the new proclamation "God save the King" into a prayer. For while we are quite sure the late Queen was a believer, we have no present assurance that King Charles is.

May the Lord answer our prayers.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

What do numbers really tell us? A Doctrine of Hits, Likes and Followers

 

 Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

 I was there!

I was there when The Pastor from Mars told a room full of Earthling pastors that Numbers-R-Everything. To prove the point that Big is Beautiful he told us that God had even named one book of his Bible after the god of Quantity. 

Who's to argue with God?

Some church folks over lockdown, I am told, started listening to false teachers on YouTube. When the heterodoxy of the preachers was questioned, the astonished viewers kicked back "but 100,000 subscribers can't be wrong!" 

Someone came running up to me the other day (yes, running)! They had found a faithful preacher on YouTube who only had a few hits and what is more, this sort of lamentable stat had been going on for ages.  My runner was deeply concerned - "What should they do about it? Who could they report it to? How could they help the poor soul?" The idea that a pastor/preacher should languish with just a few hits was cause for great alarm!

The numbers virus has now entered the bloodstream of the church.

Numbers-R-Everything!

In a world which pursues - and trusts - high numbers, whether they refer to hits, followers, sales, likes or bank accounts, how are we to think of numbers?

(Oh by the way, the Pastor from Mars, became so drunk on numbers that he bought a great number of his own books so that it would climb high in the charts. But like all sins, this numerology transgression was found out.)

When it comes to describing the glory of God, Numbers are Important

Everything about God is stupendous and indescribable. Big Numbers count when we're describing the Lord.

"Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array."

God has designed and created some ten million different species of living creatures alive today, to reveal a little of his infinite glory. (And some think this 10 million is a mere fraction of the Designed total number because of extinctions.)

God's promises are out of this world; he promised to Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. He keeps his covenant for a thousand generations. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and when he sets out for battle, enemies beware, for his chariots are thousands and thousands and thousands. 

When it comes to his forgiveness, God has put an infinity of distance between our sins and himself: to be precise, as far as the east is from the west. And so far as his children are concerned, God Almighty is able to do much much more than they can ask or even think. 

God is glorified through numbers which reveal his power, creativity, promises and mercy....

Small Numbers characterize Human Beings

...but when it comes to describing human beings, small and few is the name of the game. 

How tiny we all are in the vast cosmos, "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" 

In an amusing reflection on the tower of Babel, we read that "the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building." The gathered nations thought they were building some ginormous edifice! But it's so diddy to God that he has to go-a-hunting for mankind's little project. 

How incy wincy our minds. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Job is rebuked for trying to understand the ways of God and confesses that he spoke of things he did not understand, things too wonderful for him to know.

But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can speak to a gathered crowd of many thousands, He can feed thousands and cast out enough demons from a man that they enter and drown thousands of pigs. His majestic divinity is revealed in the numeric fact that if every one of his mighty acts were written down, the whole world, supposes the Apostle John, would not have room for the books that would be written.

Big Numbers are Everything when we are talking about God and his divine Son, but little numbers are the humble germane when we're talking about humanity.

Numbers and the Church Age

It is striking that almost nothing is known about church sizes in the New Testament. About the only numbers we have, apart from The Twelve, are the 120 followers who gathered to pray before the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:15), the 3000 converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), which increased in number to 5000 soon afterwards (Acts 4:4) and the claim that many thousands of Jews had believed (Acts 21:20).

Apart from those Acts-ian figures, the New Testament is silent on numbers. Significantly, big numbers only in occur in Acts which records the supernatural founding of the church. Big Numbers therefore confirm the supernatural origin of the church - that's their function and purpose in Acts.

We do not know the size of any church in the New Testament! Wehave no clue or a hint! No church is condemned for being small and none are praised for being large. The pastor from Mars could not have been more wrong. Numbers are utterly irrelevant when describing the churches of the New Testament...

 ...except as we reach the end-times Revelation when the whole Church in glory to come is described and John "hears the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand." And now Church numbers do matter, for John sees the whole redeemed community, "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."

Eight Reasons why Church Numbers are Irrelevant

So why do we know nothing about the sizes of the individual churches in the New Testament, why are numbers of all kinds so irrelevant? 

Here are eight reasons:

(1) Because numbers are the way the world does its business. Worldly people, seeking earthly recognition, want large numbers to know about them and to follow them. Worldly people wanting the security of money, want large amounts of money in their banks. Rulers, wanting power over more people, seek large armies and armouries. Political parties pursuing earthly influence want more voters. Everything in this world revolves around big numbers. 

That is a good reason - all by itself - to be suspicious of numbers.

(2) Because God is jealous for his glory. Time and again in the Old Testament, God was determined to use small numbers of humans to accomplish his purposes - so that instead of men getting the glory they don't deserve he gets the glory that he does deserve. For example, the Lord deliberately whittles the army of Gideon down from some 20,000 to 300 in order that "Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her." 

(3) Because God is pleased to use weakness. This is the flip side of point (2). Twelve men (11+1) turn the world upside down - and the Twelve are themselves weak ordinary unschooled chappies. Jesus commends the church in Philadelphia who have little strength. When we are pathetically weak, only then are we really strong.

(4) Because any human being can get up numbers. Quite literally anyone can build a large church. All you need to do is to lower the standard of holiness, raise the entertainment level, increase the volume of the band, tell folks that God is just about to do something amazing, preach that Jesus is coming back next Thursday lunch time (12:32, not wanting to be too precise) or spend thousands on social media, and quite literally anyone can build a following. 

Churches don't need God to do big. 

(5) Because Jesus only had a small church. What an insult to pastors of small churches to say to them - or to imply of them -  that they are somehow deficient or lacking because they only have twelve people in their congregations?  On the day of Judgement, when our deeds are assessed by the King of all kings, do we really think that pastors who have cared for flocks of a dozen or so, will be condemned by the One who faithfully pastored his little flock of 12 11? 

(6) Because numbers are in the hands of the one who elects. If a church faithfully preaches the Gospel, the number of resultant converts is not in their gift. It is the Lord who elects who is saved and who is not. No amount of tear-jerking or brow-beating will add a single soul to the kingdom of God's sovereign choice. 

(7) Because faith and love are more important than numbers. When the apostle Paul writes to churches he commends them for spiritual graces and he prays for spiritual graces, such as love and faith. Not once does he ask that the church would grow numerically. 

There are more important issues to consider than congregational size.

(8) Because what really really matters is discipleship. This is perhaps the greatest reason numbers do not matter in the Kingdom of Christ. Jesus set the pattern of spending vast amounts of time with a very few people in order to produce depth, not breadth. And that is all that matters. Paul wrote letter after letter to produce, under God, spiritual maturity in the folks who were saved under his preaching. He was not interested in big numbers, he was interested in forming Christ in his converts. 

If numbers do not matter, why, even in the evangelical world, are numbers so highly prized? Have we been totally seduced by worldly thinking? Or is there some small value to numbers?

We could, of course rationalize away all the Bible's teaching on numbers, above, and argue like this: aren't the books, writings and sermons of some preachers better than others - perhaps they have been given 5 talents rather than 2 or a meagre 1? And this explains why their numbers are greater? 

That may be the case, but the proper assessment of talents will only be known on the day of judgement. It is dangerous for us to conclude, "this man has 10 million subscribers, therefore he is worth listening to." 

As we continually witness, the big shots in the evangelical world turn out to be scammers in the background. You and I have no idea whether a present day big shot preacher is a big shot in the eyes of the Lord. Only the end will reveal who the Lord thinks are great - and it is very likely that heaven's OBEs will go to folk no-one heard of in this world.

Again, someone might argue, "But we want to see the Lord do mighty things in our day - we want and long to see thousands saved - are you not limiting God's power and assuming a day of small things?" 

To which we must respond, "Are thousands of converts what the Lord desires or is it just fewer true disciples who then turn the world upside down?" The blunt fact of the matter is that it is quite impossible for any one Christian man or woman to make more than just a few disciples in his or her whole life time, because discipleship, according to the Bible (see HERE) is an arduous time-consuming process and practice.

Or, someone might argue, "You are only saying this because you are the pastor of a small church - it's sour grapes." Only the Lord knows our hearts of course, but the motive for writing this blog is out of concern for sheep tempted to follow preachers only by virtue of subscriber numbers or views, and who could easily be led astray. Saints who in their early spiritual childhood are learning to paint the canvas of their Christian lives by numbers, rather than...

What does matter, then, if not numbers?

If numbers do not matter, what does?

(1) The local church matters. Central to God's plan to make disciples of all nations is the local church. We are to be rooted in and come under the leadership and spiritual guidance and care of one local church. We trust these leaders only because their lives are an open book and they bear the qualities Jesus requires of elders.

We must not rely on YouTube preachers whom we do not know and who do not know us. 

How do you know, dear reader, whether the big shot YouTube preacher is genuine or a fraudster? There are lots of fakes out there.

(2) Truth matters. In the second place, what counts is truth. Faithfulness to apostolic doctrine, not numbers (or worthless academic qualifications either), is what counts. Is the preaching in line with Scripture?

(3) The Life of the teacher matters. Life and teaching are connected - by their fruit you shall know them. And that is the whole point about the local church.

Ravi Zacharius - a highly popular evangelical apologist, for example - was living a wicked secret life. You may have followed him online but because he was 5000 miles away you had no idea what kind of life he was leading.

If we are going to listen to, or pay attention to, the writings of any teacher, make sure that they are personally accountable in the life of their local church, not freelancers or lone wolves. That assessment is much more difficult to do with someone who doesn't live in your city... which is why the LOCAL church and local pastors is God's plan. 

Only follow men whose lives you can observe, close up and personal. 

They will not be perfect, but they had better be holy.

Summing it up

So, do hits, likes and followers mean anything at all? No. On their own they are utterly and totally meaningless. In point of fact they could well be the surest sign of worldly success.

Quality, not quantity is what matters most to the Lord. Anyone can create a congregation of thousands and a following of millions. The world is full of both.

Focus on the local church. 

Focus on local preachers and local leaders whose lives are an open book - that is one of the purposes and outcomes of  the hospitality required of all elders.

Focus on the believers the Lord has given you, disciple and build them up in their holy faith.

Don't listen to or read anyone purely because of numbers. Listen only if they are faithful to the Word and only if their lives are accountably known to be holy.

Never seek to enhance your hits or followers or likes by any scheme, fair or foul, allow the Lord to add numerical blessing - if he so chooses.

Be satisfied the few the Lord has entrusted to you - be faithful in small things and then one day in heaven the Lord may entrust you with greater (not necessarily numerically greater) things.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Book Review - War on the West

 

 

Seeing through Lies

If you have ever sensed that something is out of kilter with the news we are force-fed by outlets such as the BBC, this is a book to read.

Douglas Murray, the author of the equally outstanding The Madness of Crowds, helps us to see through some of the lies made out to be truth and progress. 

Murray looks at Race, China, History, Reparations, Religion, Gratitude and Culture in turn; this review will draw out some highlights of a most fascinating read.

Overall, I found this book helped me understand some aspects of the twisted world of western culture we all swim in. 

The New Hatred of Western Culture

No-one can defend any culture or civilization blindly or wholeheartedly. Western culture today is riven through with major fault lines, not least, for example, the widespread acceptance and defence of murder. [Abortion is murder, except in the case when a doctor tries to save both mother and child and discovers to his deep sorrow that he can only save one.] 

As colonial powers the West did some evil (along with a great deal of good). (My father who lived in Pakistan for 12 years would have Pakistanis secretly confide to him, "We wish the English were still here."  Reason? After the 1947 partition, Empire was replaced by Corruption - and for some Pakistanis, benevolent empire was viewed as the better of two evils).

No-one should defend every aspect of western culture, but we should try to view it objectively, sieving out the bad and rejoicing (with gratitude) at the good.

Murray shows that starting in the 1980s and - you guessed it, starting in the Academy - the study of Western Anything became taboo. 

New fad, come on everyone, jump aboard! 

Mary had lots of little lambs...

Since Everything Western was the product of dead white males, Everything Western became toxic overnight. "Just a couple of decades ago, a course in the history of Western civilization was commonplace. Today it is so disreputable that you can't pay universities to do it." (page 8) 

How then do you go about discrediting everything about the West? Well, first you elevate every other culture, ignoring their numerous patent faults and evils. Then you assault every aspect of western civilization, line by line. 

That is what has been taking place. 

"The culture that gave the world lifesaving advances in science, medicine, and a free market that has raised billions of people around the world out of poverty and offered the greatest flowering of thought anywhere in the world is interrogated through the lens of the deepest hostility and simplicity." (page 10) 

In the place of careful discernment - let's accept this part, let's reject that element - the approach is to attack everything western, wholesale, relentlessly, irrationally. 

Murray helped me see that there is a savage war on the West today. Not being a believer, he cannot discern underneath this assault is most likely a spiritual attack on the truth, since so many of the benefits of the West are a direct consequence of an underlying Judeo-Christian consensus.

Race

Take race for example. Critical Race Theory (CRT - your poor kids or grandkids will have to read about it along with Marx, Freud, Darwin and every other has-been theory) wants us to read the history of the world through the lens of race. Every problem in the world, past, present and future, is the result of racism. Did you not know that? In that case you must be a racist.

Racism is an evil, prevalent around the whole world today, alive in every country, bar none. CRT however, ignores the rampant racism in all other countries and highlights it only - guess where? 

At a time when racism, factually, is at its lowest in the USA, for example, CRTs give the impression that it's at an all-time high. (Well, of course, if every problem in the USA is ultimately caused by race, then racism is a rather big problem.)

CRT advocates want to assign every person into one of two camps. Either you are an anti-racist - by which is meant someone who is actively campaigning for CRT -  or you are a racist.

Murray helped me to see the divisive and distorting effects of CRT on western media. 

Every time a race card is called, we need to check up the facts (something the BBC, for example, would never do on this particular issue.) 

Take the George Floyd case. Terrible and as inexcusable as it was, a worse police killing took place four years earlier in which a white man was held down gasping for air for 13 minutes (page 29; four minutes more than the 9 minutes Floyd was held down). But the world heard nothing about that earlier case and everything about George Floyd. How come? Because American culture had been primed by the mythology of CRT and was waiting for a George Floyd event; America "was ready and primed for a certain interpretation to burst out. That interpretation had been prepared in the academy." (page 30). 

Parents beware what your kids are being taught at school and university - especially in the humanities. 

History

This new attack on western culture necessitates an attack on western history and upon all the great (but, of course, equally flawed) characters of western civilization. 

The statements of every great historical figure are now scrutinized for the presence of 'modern sins', taking no account of historical locatedness - and thereby putting this generation under the risk of damming judgement tomorrow for its present and numerous foibles. 

Old statues are torn down, busts removed from universities. Before long no-one from history (except for today's myth spinners) will be standing. In order to destroy the reputation of Cecil Rhodes, for example, a whole paragraph was concocted out of a patchwork of selective quotations to give an impression totally alien to the actual views of that man. 

Of course colonialism becomes a major focus of this revisionist history. No-one justifies colonialism, no-one denies atrocities were committed under its reign, but was it all evil? Did not the colonialists do at least some good? 

Slavery is another terrible blot on western culture with no redeeming features, but slavery has been practiced across the globe throughout history, and is ubiquitous today, with present day estimates of some 40 million (see here). 

These facts do not justify western slavery, but it does set it in context. 

All the historical sins of the West are raised, while all the historical virtues ignored.  "History becomes the history of Western sins. And ignorance reigns not only over anything good the West ever did but over anything bad that anyone else ever did." (page 132)

Another 'gospel' for the churches

Murray laments on the way churches, such as the Church of England and the Episcopal church in the US, have lamely followed all these agendas uncritically. 

According to one of its own reports, the Church of England must "decolonize theology, ecclesiology and possibly examine official teachings of the church that follows prejudicial theological value systems." (page 186) All the while, a former evangelical bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali, who knows a thing or two about racism, warns against following this bizarre new gospel, since the church has a far better Gospel of our own to tell.

(BTW: Whenever churches preach another gospel, it's a sure-fire sign they have lost the original true one.)

Attack on Reason Itself

We may not be surprised that all this nonsense has run wildfire though the humanities, what needs to concern us is that it is now running through the sciences and engineering. 

Maths, you see, is elitist. Privileged. And so, you've guessed it, maths must be racist. And therefore attempts must be made to "dismantle the culture of white supremacy (meaning, logic, objectivity, written word, etc.) that exists within the math classroom." (page 197) 

Why call it Pythagoras theorem? Wasn't Pythagoras a white male? Let's call it instead "side-length relationships for right-angled triangles." (page 197). 

The idea that 2 + 2 = 4 is a cultural simplification of reality! You guessed it, a Western simplification. 

Gratitude

Murray has an unusual chapter on Gratitude. He believes that resting beneath much of the current animus is deep resentment, leading to anger and a desire for revenge. Destruction is their only (and wholly negative) modus operandi. 

But "To live in the West in this time is to enjoy a piece of historical good fortune unlike almost any good fortune in history." (page 211). And Murray urges us to be grateful.  "A life lived without gratitude is not a life properly lived." (page 212). 

Murray ends his book, pages 260 onwards, with a long list of the blessings of living in the West (recognised, not least, by the fact that the whole world wants to live in the West: "the migrant ships across the Mediterranean go only in one direction - north." (page 263).)

Just listing these wonderful blessings he has to call a "nuclear" action because people polluted by CRT will explode with anger when they read it. Here are some of the many blessings of living in the West:

  • almost every medical advance
  • almost every scientific advancement
  • the oldest and longest-established educational institutions
  • developed the world's most successful means of commerce
  • developed the principle of representative government

Conclusions

I read this book on Holiday a couple of months ago. While I couldn't put the contents down, the book has to be read in small doses to allow reflection. We shan't and shouldn't agree with everything here.

My overriding impression was that the blessings westerners enjoy which are the direct fruit of the Gospel, are now under attack.

As our culture paganises, it will abandon its source streams, the Judeo-Christian consensus.  This book documents some of that fierce rejection of truth. 

Without God, trouble looms.

In so far as the West has been shaped by the Gospel, an attack on the West is also an attack, to some degree, upon the God of Scripture, and throughout my reading, the God who laughs came to mind:

"Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,  “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” Psalm 2