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The Tragedy of the Downward Drift

January 2, 2017
A week or so ago a shocking statistic was mentioned in a TV programme. In 1950 70% of the UK population attended church on Christmas Day; in 2013, only 4% went to church on Christmas Day. Oh, I know, all sorts of excuses and mitigating factors might be advanced, such as, many of those attending in 1950 only went to church on Christmas Day. But that is probably true of the 4% in 2013 as well.

 

Whatever we may say or think, there has undoubtedly been a astonishing downward drift ever since the Second World War, and even earlier. This is evident not only in church attendance figures, which are simply one significant indicator, but also in morality, attitude to sexuality, Christian practice and also doctrine. Think of the millions of babies slaughtered in the womb, the negative changes in certain laws, the promotion of homosexuality and now even transgenderism. Consider also the emphasis upon toleration, which produces an attitude of toleration of every aberration but is militantly intolerant of biblical and Christians views and standards.

 

Sadly, there has also been a downward slide in the Christian church as a whole and in individual Christian beliefs and behaviour also. False doctrines are ignored and erroneous religious practices meekly tolerated, heresies and practices, which, for opposition to, our forefathers suffered fines, imprisonment and even death. What our ancestors died to oppose, many Christians meekly accept or ignore today. Even some churches that profess to be ‘Reformed’ are filled with heresies and ungodly behaviour. Worldliness is endemic among many churches and holiness is rarely mentioned and even more rarely taught.

 

We all know that there are sparks of fire and gleams of light here and there in this now pagan land of ours. But unless we bury our heads in the proverbial sand the wider outlook is very bleak. It is only too easy, if we find a ‘good’ church, to settle in comfortably and more or less ignore what goes on elsewhere. But even if we are aware and concerned about the situation in the land, it is not enough to “tut, tut”, shake our heads, point the finger at others and bury our heads in a ‘sound’ book, and listen to ‘good’ preaching. Much, much more is needed of true, faithful, obedient, sensitive Christians. Obviously what is needed is a mighty outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, in other words a revival. But what can we do? We can repent for a start.

 

One of the biggest mistakes that Christians can make is to imagine that repentance is something only unbelievers need to do. In the Book of Revelation, chapters two and three, seven letters are written by the glorified Christ to seven real churches existing at the time the apostle John recorded his visions. Five of those churches are urged, no commanded, to repent. Repentance is not just to be sorry or feel remorse, though sorrow is undoubtedly included (See 2 Cor. 7:8-11). Repentance means a turn around. It means stopping what we have been doing wrong and starting to do what is right. It means also being very sorry that we have failed to do the right things and to start doing them zealously. It means abandoning false doctrines and unbiblical practices and beginning to obey the Scriptures fully, and not only the bits that are convenient. So many Christians practise a ‘pick and mix’ procedure with the New Testament. We must study the Word of God as revealed in the New Covenant and put it into practice.

 

The other thing desperately needed is earnest, zealous, faithful, prolonged prayer. This is not just saying prayers. It is not repeating a liturgy. It is crying to God in sincerity and truth and earnestness and compassion and love for God and for the honour of Christ.

 

Is it not amazing that some of the most uplifting and inspiring parts of Scripture were written by a Christian suffering imprisonment for his faith (the Prison Epistles of Paul). It is perhaps no accident that some of the most inspiring non-biblical writings were also written by a Christian suffering imprisonment for his faith (John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, etc). Yet so often today we want to stay comfortable, and in order to do so, tolerate unbiblical practices and doctrines. We ignore them or label them ‘peripheral,’ ‘unimportant,’ or ‘non-essential.’ No wonder the world does not take many of us seriously.

 

Two books to stir and challenge: Battle for the Church, by David Gay (Amazon), and Revival Sent from God, by Raymond C. Ortland (IVP).

Which worldview is your child absorbing?

December 1, 2016

There are, no doubt, many world views, but I am concerned with only two at present: the Christian, biblical worldview, on the one hand, and the naturalistic, atheistic, humanist worldview on the other.  These two are mutually exclusive.

When I was a child over seventy years ago, a Christian act of worship began every school day. Homosexuality was illegal, as was abortion.  Evolution was mentioned as a theory, and then only in the science class of the upper forms.  Religious instruction was almost always basically Christian.  I never heard a teacher swear or blaspheme.

While outward morality may have been shallow, it was based upon a Christian foundation. That Christian heritage has now almost gone in the UK.  Education and the media are now almost entirely secular and anti-Christian.  Naturalism (evolution) pervades practically every subject.  Humanism, evolution, and sexual confusion are dominant forces in schools and colleges today.

We need strong, well-taught Christians in every walk of life, including, and especially, in education.  We need Christian teachers. That is a very different thing from assuming that sending unconverted, untaught, untrained children from Christian homes into these secularized State schools in the vague hope that ‘they will be a witness,’ is effective evangelism.  In fact the opposite is so often the case.  Under the onslaught of humanistic brain-washing, many children from Christian homes become confused, and some reject their parents’ faith.  This is, of course, what the humanists want.  As Dr. Voddie Baucham writes in his book, Family Driven Faith, ‘We cannot continue to send our children to Caesar for their education and be surprised when they come home as Romans.’  This is why more and more thinking Christians are beginning to educate their children at home, or in a truly Christian school.

Gathering a crowd or building a church

September 13, 2016

In the last few decades there have been a number of fine preachers who have gathered significant congregations and, having gained a reputation as preachers, they have received many invitations to preach and even have become regular speakers at conferences and conventions.

Unfortunately, some of these men, though they have gained a reputation as conference speakers, have failed to build a strong church.  After they have moved on, unless an equally competent preacher has succeeded them, the church they pastored for some years has gradually dwindled and become small and weak.

What has gone wrong?  The answer is that they have gathered a crowd but failed to build a church.  Now while it is true that ultimately only Christ can build his church (Matt. 16:18), nevertheless he does use men as co-workers with himself (see I Cor. 3:10-15 for example). We do not need extra-biblical gimmicks in order to build a church; all the principles required are found in the Word of God.

Before we look at these principles let us attempt to diagnose the disease.  Basically there are generally two or three problems that have led to the decline.  First, the sound teaching which they enjoyed and appreciated was the preacher’s but it never actually became the possession many of the hearers.  It was never their deep conviction.  Some may not even have fully understood it.  Secondly, several of the metaphors describing the church have been enjoyed as ‘pictures’ but have never been worked out in practice.  Thirdly, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has never been thoroughly understood and put into practice.

What are some of these principles?  First there is the principle of following the practice of the Lord Jesus Christ who not only preached but he also taught.  The Gospels frequently tell us that the Saviour went about preaching and teaching.  This is not mere tautology.  Though there is obviously some overlap in content, the methods of preaching and teaching are different.  Preaching is declaration without any necessary interaction.  The preacher is a herald who announces the good news.  But teaching is different.  Here I am talking about method not content.  Every good teacher knows that unless the pupils or students can express what is taught in their own words they have not grasped the lesson.  What did Jesus do?  He asked questions.  He answered questions.  He gathered small groups; sometimes the twelve, sometimes only three, sometimes he dealt with individuals.  Only if a teacher has some form of interaction will he know whether the pupils have understood and grasped what is being taught. Unfortunately many young ministers have been taught almost entirely by lectures.  A lecture has been cynically described as the process by which the notes of the lecturer become the notes of the student without passing through the minds of either!  This sometimes means that a new minister thinks that he must work hard at lecturing his congregation.  And many faithful men do just that.  They lecture (preach) twice on Sunday and again in the mid-week meeting.  And they are often grieved and frustrated that some of their church members do not seem to grow spiritually.  They must learn to teach and disciple people.  Teaching is best done in small groups.  Every educationalist seems to know, at least in theory, that small classes are better than large classes.

There are various ways this may be done in a church.  In our own church we practised this in two ways.  First we had All-Age Bible School on Sunday mornings before the main service.  The adult section was divided into small groups, each taught by a trained leader.  They did not lecture or preach.  They led discussion based upon prepared study.  The other channel of teaching was in the Home Groups, again led by a trained house group leader.  In addition to that I met with the elders both individually and as a group for training, fellowship and discipleship.  In these ways church members are much more likely to grasp the teaching and make it their own than if their instruction was limited to hearing the sermons on Sunday, no matter how good the preaching.

The second principle is the realisation in practice some of the metaphors for the church.  For example, the church is described as a body, the body of Christ.  A body has life flowing through it.  The limbs are closely and firmly attached to one another.  It is through these joints that life and blessing flows (Eph. 4:16).  If you were walking along  and saw a severed hand  on the pavement you would recoil in horror.  But when someone extends their hand to shake yours you do not react in that way, I trust.  Remember that the word ‘member’ in I Corinthians twelve and elsewhere in the New Testament does not mean someone who belongs to a society or club; it means a limb of a body.  We use that word when we speak of a corpse being ‘dismembered’, i.e. cut up.  The teaching of I Corinthians twelve on the various limbs of the body should be carefully studied and applied.

Another metaphor is the church as a building (I Cor. 3:10-15; Eph. 2:20, etc).  There is a huge difference between a pile of bricks and a building.  Anyone can steal a loose brick.  A brick on its own has five of its sides exposed to the elements; but built into a wall only one side is exposed.  Individual bricks or stones in a building are supported and in turn support others, and so on.

The third principle is the application of the truth of the priesthood of all believers (I Peter 2:4, 9).  All members are to be active in prayer, worship and witness, though not all in the same way.  Every one has a gift and needs to be encouraged to exercise that gift.

These are some of the ways in which a church may be built.  All such methods must be accompanied by earnest, fervent, continued prayer.

What is New Covenant Theology?

June 18, 2016

What is New Covenant Theology?

New Covenant Theology is simply a biblical, systematic presentation of the old gospel. The New Covenant was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34), proclaimed by Christ (Luke 22:20), and preached by the apostles (I Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3; Gal. 4:21-31; Heb. 7 – 10). Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism are deviations from the gospel. Covenant Theology was invented by Ulrich Zwingli in the sixteenth century to try to justify infant baptism. Dispensationalism was conceived by J. N. Darby and systematized by C. I Scofield, and is a deviation from the gospel.  There are many sincere and godly Christians who hold to these deviations, but in this matter they have been led astray.

New Covenant Theology simply presents what Christ and the Apostles taught, namely that Christ is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament prophecies, and the New Covenant which the Lord proclaimed is quite distinct from and replaces the Old Covenant made with Israel through Moses.

When Jesus challenged the rich young ruler about the old covenant law, the latter was able to claim that he had kept all the commandments. But when Christ challenged him to forsake all and follow him, he would not (Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22).

Christ’s standard is much higher than that of the old covenant.

The Lord could have said to the young man, “Good! You have kept the old covenant law, but my standards are higher. Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). It is not just adultery that is wrong, but also lust. It is not only murder that is forbidden but hatred. Moses allowed divorce for any reason, but I say that the only valid reason is sexual immorality. The old covenant said that you should love your neighbour and hate your enemy, but my command is that you must love your enemy also. There are other commands that I shall give you which are not in the Mosaic covenant. You must obey these also.” Yes, Jesus could have said that, but he summarized it all by saying, in effect, “Surrender all to me and follow me.”

The Mosaic Law was good, but Christ’s law is higher. We are not now under the old covenant law (see Galatians and many New Testament passages) but we are ‘in-lawed’ to Christ (I Cor. 9:21). But there is a huge difference. The old covenant law said, “Do this and you will live.” The new covenant says, “Live (be born again) and you will be able to do this.” (John 3:1-7; Romans 8:1-11).

 

Rosaria Butterfield and ‘man-made hymns’

May 31, 2016

In recent months I have read two excellent books by Rosaria Butterfield.  The first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, tells the truly remarkable story of the author’s conversion from an atheistic lesbian lifestyle, and her subsequent marriage to a Presbyterian minister.  This is a gripping read and is highly recommended.  The second book, Openness Unhindered, discusses sexual identity and union with Christ.  This also is an impressive work and could be of great help to someone struggling in these areas, though some parts of the book may seem rather ‘opaque’ to ‘straight’ people.

In reading these books, however, a phrase the author uses raised questions in my mind.  The phrase is, ‘man-made hymns,’ and to me it seemed to imply a negative, critical or even derogatory tone.  Ms Butterfield’s husband is obviously of the exclusive Psalmody persuasion, so one can understand why she uses that phrase.

Here, in Scotland, there are at least nine separate Presbyterian denominations, some of which sing only metrical Psalms in their services.  I have preached in churches belonging to several of these denominations so I am familiar with the content of the services.

That phrase Rosaria Butterfield uses caused me to ask such questions as these: Does the author’s husband pray man-made (extempore) prayers in the services?  Does he preach man-made sermons?  Are the tunes to which they sing the metrical Psalms man-made?  Are not the metrical Psalms a man-made paraphrase of a man-made English translation from the original Hebrew?  Even the Scripture reading will be from a man-made English translation of the original.

The fact is that there is no part of the services led by the author’s husband which is not, in some way, man-made.  And the same goes for any church, unless they read from the original Hebrew and Greek, pray only Scripture prayers and preach sermons found in the Bible.  To single out hymns only as ‘man-made’ is myopic at best and perverse at worst.

Do You Hold to Covenant Theology?

February 17, 2016

If I were asked that question, I would have to answer with another question, namely, ‘What kind of Covenant Theology are you referring to?’
Some years ago a lady came to the church in Truro in which I was an elder, and she asked me, ‘Are you a Calvinist?’ Without pausing to think I replied, ‘Yes.’ When a look of disappointment appeared on her face I realized my mistake. I should have said, ‘What kind of Calvinism are you referring to?’ or perhaps, ‘What do you mean by Calvinism?’
A well-known pastor, Bible teacher and author recalls that when he was a Free Church Chaplain in the RAF, after the Roman Catholic and the Anglican chaplains had taken charge of their adherents, he was left to look after the rest, which included not only the Free Church Christians but also those who claimed to be atheists. When he got a chance to talk to an atheist he would ask him, ‘Tell me about the god you don’t believe in.’ When they had finished describing God as they understood him, this chaplain would respond, ‘Well, you have just made me an atheist, too, for I don’t believe in that kind of God either!’ Definition is so important.
To return to the subject of Covenant Theology, there are two entirely different types that could claim that designation.
First of all, there is a covenant theology that is based upon clear biblical teaching, defined through the careful exegesis of specific Scripture texts. This teaching understands a divine covenant to be a promise confirmed by an oath so that it is unchangeable. In this it differs from other divine promises which may be withdrawn, or which have to be inherited by faith and patience. (Deut. 28:68; Jonah 3:10; Heb. 6:12-18).
In the Old Testament the word for covenant is berith, which has three implications. First, it implies an inviolable word of God, a declaration that cannot be broken. Second, it is usually associated with a sacrifice; the shedding of blood is involved. It is interesting that the Hebrew for making a covenant is literally, ‘to cut a covenant.’ When God made a covenant with Abraham, Abraham prepared a sacrifice and cut the animals in two, intending to walk between them, as if to say, ‘If I break this covenant may this happen to me.’ But God pre-empted that by putting Abraham into a deep sleep, and something like a burning lamp, representing God’s presence, passed between the pieces, as though God were saying, ‘No, Abraham, you cannot keep this covenant; I will keep it.’ The third element of the word berith is that frequently the participants in a covenant ate together (Gen. 26:28-30; Ex. 24:11). It is easy to see how these three elements come together in the Lord’s Supper, an inerrant word, the shedding of blood and eating together.
This type of Covenant Theology stresses the importance of careful exegesis of the passages describing the various God-given covenants. In the Old Testament there are also covenants made between individuals, such as David and Jonathan (I Sam. 18:3), but we will leave those aside as we are considering only the covenants God made with man.
The covenant made with Noah was universal in its scope, and the sign, as is always the case, was related to the subject matter of the covenant; when there was rain there was the rainbow, the sign of the covenant God had made (Gen. 8:20-9:17).
The covenant made with Abraham was God’s sworn promise that Abraham would have a multitude of descendants, and that they would inherit the land. The sign of this covenant was circumcision, again related to the content of the covenant, as a small operation upon the male organ of reproduction would always remind Abraham’ descendants of God’s promise to give a multitude of descendants to Abraham. The scope of this covenant was racial, in that it applied only to Abraham’s seed. Notice that these two covenants are quite distinct and unrelated.
The third God-given covenant was that made with Israel at Sinai. When Jacob’s family went down into Egypt they were just that, a family. But over the next 400 years they multiplied so greatly that the Egyptians became concerned about their growing power (Exod. 1:7-10). Hence when they eventually emerged from Egypt they were no longer just a family; they were a nation, and a nation needs laws. God gave them laws and made a covenant with them, promising to be their God. The condition on man’s part was that they should obey God’s laws (Exod. 19:5-7). The scope of this covenant was national, and the sign of the covenant was the Sabbath (Exod. 31:12-17). For over 400 years they had lived as slaves, and were about to wander for forty years in the desert. But God in this covenant now promised to give them rest and the covenant sign was the weekly rest of the Sabbath. This sign has marked out the descendants of Israel ever since (Ex. 31:15; 35:2; Lev. 16:31; Deut. 12:9, etc.).
it is important to notice that Moses expressly stated that this covenant was quite distinct from the covenant made with their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but was made particularly with the newly formed nation of Israel.
‘The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day (Deut. 5:2,3).
Next we read a prophecy in Jeremiah which tells of a ‘new covenant’ which will be unlike the covenant made with Israel when they came out of Egypt. Instead of laws engraved on stones, God’s requirements will be written on the participants’ hearts. Instead of priestly intermediaries, all in the new covenant will know the Lord themselves. Instead of continually offering sacrifices their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more.
This prophecy finds its fulfilment in the Person and Work of Christ, who announced, when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, ‘This is my blood of the New Covenant,’ words repeated by Paul in First Corinthians chapter 11. Later the apostle goes to great lengths to distinguish this new covenant from the covenant made with Israel at Sinai, now referred to as the old covenant.
In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter three, he contrasts tables of stone with the ‘fleshy tables of the heart’, and speaks of himself and his colleagues as ‘ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.’ He refers to the old covenant as ‘the ministration of death,’ which had a limited glory, which was to be done away. But the ministration of the spirit has much more glory. The old covenant is a ministration of condemnation, but the new covenant is a ministration of righteousness. Those who stand by the old covenant have a veil on their faces which prevents them seeing the new covenant, but in Christ the veil is taken away.
In Galatians chapter four Paul again takes up this contrast, using the illustration of Sarah and Hagar. Hagar represents the old covenant whose children are in bondage. Sarah represents the Jerusalem from above whose children are free.
The Epistle to the Hebrews likewise stresses the clear distinction between the Old Covenant, made with Israel, and the New Covenant made with the new nation of believers from every tribe and tongue and nation. It is important to read the whole epistle, but for the sake of space I will just mention a few verses. First, in chapter seven we read that there is a change in the law (v. 12, cf. vv. 18, 19), and also that Jesus is ‘the guarantor of a better covenant.’ In chapter eight we learn that ‘Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.’ (vv.6, 7). Then the writer quotes the prophecy of Jeremiah, 31:31-34, in full. The chapter closes with these words, ‘In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.’ (v. 13). It is significant that within about four years of the writing of this epistle, the Jewish ritual and temple had vanished. Chapters nine and ten follow up these statements. This type of covenant theology, because it is firmly based upon Scriptures which clearly teach about the New Covenant, is called New Covenant Theology.
The other type of covenant theology first appeared at the time of the Reformation. It was first proposed by Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss Reformer (1484-1531). Zwingli came to a position where he realized that infant baptism was wrong, and that believer’s baptism was the correct form according to the New Testament. This was the view held by certain other groups in Switzerland and Germany who were nicknamed “Anabaptist.” Zwingli said, “Nothing grieves me more than that at the present I have to baptize children, for I know it ought not to be done.” Zwingli headed up a small group of earnest reformers, priests, university lecturers, etc, who were seeking to understand the Scriptures and reform the church. One by one they rejected Roman errors. Then they came to baptism. Zwingli was cautious. A debate was held between Zwingli and his fellow reformers. The City Council ruled that Infant baptism was right and these Swiss reformers were wrong. Zwingli accepted their ruling because he was wedded to the union of church and state.
However, his fellow Anabaptists also believed in the separation of Church and State. The union of Church and State was a fact of life at that time. The pope dominated all kings and emperors in ‘Christian’ states. Nearly all the Reformers held to that status quo, the idea of a ‘sacral society.’ To reject the link between Church and State was to reject the established political arrangement existing at that time. Moreover it was highly dangerous, for in the eyes of many it amounted to treason.
Zwingli feared that the Reformation in Switzerland might be shipwrecked if this teaching of the Anabaptists succeeded. So he withdrew his support for believer’s baptism and fell back to the then current practice of infant baptism. However, he realized that there was no biblical support for infant baptism, and he rejected the old superstition that baptism washed away sin. So he looked around for a justification for baptizing infants. He hit upon the idea of a covenantal explanation. He began to argue that there was only one covenant, an overarching covenant of which the various covenants in Scripture were but different aspects. This meant that just as (male) babied were circumcised in the Old Covenant, so they could be baptized in the New Covenant. The analogy between circumcision and baptism had been employed before, but Zwingli now brought in the idea of a covenantal foundation for it.
This idea was further developed by Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) and then John Calvin. Other Reformers added their contributions and so Covenantal Theology was born. This is the view held by most Presbyterians and some other Reformed groups. It is based, as has been mentioned, upon a hypothetical covenant, not specifically mentioned in the Bible. This idea also leads to proposing other hypothetical covenants which are not mentioned in Scripture, such as a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, and so on. In fact all of God’s covenants are covenants of grace.
Proponents of this type of covenant theology are also prone to make other unbiblical assumptions. For example, God’s words to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 are called a ‘covenant promise.’ Certainly all down the centuries believers have seen in this verse the first hint that the seed who would bruise the serpents head is in fact Christ. That is a valid interpretation. But these words were spoken to the serpent (Satan), not Adam, and God does not make covenant promises through the enemy! These words were not so much a promise as a prediction, a warning, a threat. The context is not covenant but curse. The word ‘covenant’ is nowhere mentioned in the context.
Once this idea of a hypothetical overarching covenant is swallowed, the door is opened to other similar presumptions. For example, here is a quotation from a commentary on Esther written by someone wedded to covenant theology.
Describing the relationship between Mordecai and Esther in the book of Esther, the author wrote: “It is a story of a teacher of grace who confronted his student with the crown rights of Jehovah and with the covenant of grace to redeem His people… He taught the content of the covenant in the context of covenant love … he reminded her of her identity as a child of the covenant.” (Heirs of the Covenant by Susan Hunt, Crossway Books, pp. 218-222).
Which type of covenant theology do you hold to? One based upon solid exegesis, or one based upon a hypothetical overarching covenant? Read the passages carefully, especially the Epistle to the Hebrews, and make your decision.

Ideas Have Consequences

February 4, 2016

A week ago last Monday I attended the Reformed Ministers Fraternal in Glasgow. The address given was inconsequential, explaining how the Edinburgh School of Theology (formerly the Free Church College) trains ministers.

Much more important as far as I was concerned, was the announcement that we could purchase a copy of an important new book for a nominal sum. The book was A Sad Departure by David J. Randall, a retired Church of Scotland minister (Banner of Truth, 2015). Reporting the fact that about forty ministers and many members, including a number of complete congregations, have left the Church of Scotland in recent months, the author clearly attributes this sad departure to the grievously sad departure of the Church of Scotland from its biblical foundations. The reason these ministers and congregations have left the Church of Scotland is because the denomination no longer affirms the Bible to be the Word of God, and no longer regards it as the infallible standard for doctrine and practice. A whole series of catastrophic decisions by the Church Assembly, from ordaining women, through recognizing same-sex marriages, to the latest act of ordaining practising homosexuals, has forced many to leave the denomination.

I am reminded of a cartoon I personally did not see but which was described to me. It portrayed an Anglican procession led by a female Archbishop of Canterbury, arm in arm with her lesbian lover, followed by clergy waving Tibetan prayer flags, etc., etc. At the rear walked two evangelical ministers, muttering to one another, “One more thing, and we’ll leave.”

However, to return to the situation in the Church of Scotland, David Randall lays the blame for this sad departure from the faith at the door of liberal theology, which, over the last century, has eaten away at the foundations of the Church of Scotland.

But I believe there is another factor, not mentioned in the book, and which would, in any case, not be recognized by the author. The other cause of declension is surely the time bomb of infant baptism. In spite of the best efforts of sincere evangelicals in both the C of E and the C of S, multitudes of people grow up with the conviction that, as they were ‘baptized’ as infants, they are Christians.

Nor is this error merely the fault of an uninformed laity. Both denominations, at their roots, foster this belief.

I have on my shelves a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, dated 1842. In the section dealing with the ‘Publick Baptism of Infants,’ we read that after ‘baptizing’ the child, the priest declares, “We receive this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock…” Then he adds, “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks…”

Evangelicals, and perhaps some others, may adopt slightly different wording today, but there is the error right at the root of the church.

Presbyterianism (of which there are nine different denominations so far in Scotland) relies upon Covenant Theology. The idea is that once a child is ‘baptized’ he or she is ‘in the covenant.’ They simply have to continue attending the church, accepting its teaching and practices to be regarded as Christians. More than one Presbyterian theologian has described ‘baptized’ babies as ‘little Christians.’

Therefore, multitudes of churchgoers have grown up with the delusion that, having been baptized, and in the case of Anglicans have also been confirmed, they are Christians.

Inevitably it transpires that over the years some of these unregenerate church members have progressed into positions of leadership, influence and authority, some even becoming ministers. This may help to explain why such devastating decisions can be made at the highest level.

As far as liberal theology is concerned, any church can be affected by it if they let go of their biblical foundations, and so may end up with unregenerate members and even ministers. But evangelical churches that hold to believer’s baptism are much less likely to have unregenerate members because their theology of a regenerate church membership works against it, whereas in churches that practise infant baptism their theology works in favour of this error. These are also some of the reasons why the current interest in New Covenant Theology is so crucial.

The Presentation of Infants in the Christian Assembly

December 30, 2015

Baptists, and many other Free Churches, hold to the biblical principle of a regenerate church membership. In other words, they believe that the church consists only of truly converted people. This is the main reason why such churches do not practise infant baptism. Another reason for this position is the complete lack of evidence for infant baptism, and the Scriptural emphasis upon faith as a prerequisite for baptism.

Some people imagine, wrongly, that such churches neglect children and have no place for them in their church practice. This is, of course, a complete misunderstanding of the biblical teaching and of Baptist practice.

In the first place, the Bible teaches that parents are primarily responsible for the teaching and training of their children.
In the second place, Baptists and other Free Churches run Sunday Schools and other meetings aimed at winning children to Christ and teaching them the Word of God.

In the third place such churches have a very long tradition of presenting children to the Lord in a public service, sometimes called an infant dedication service. Some may jibe at the word ‘tradition’ but it is important to remember that there are good traditions as well as bad ones. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians exhorted them to ‘stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.’ Later he wrote commanding them to ‘withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.’ (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). The tradition of infant dedication is biblically based, theologically sound and historically practised.

This service, of infant dedication or presentation, can be a most impressive and moving service. Of course, like the Lord’s Supper and baptism, or any other service, it can become a mere formality. But this should not happen if the parents’ hearts are right and they are properly prepared for it.

Although the majority of Baptist and similar churches have such services, sometimes parents either through lack of teaching, misunderstanding or a misplaced conviction, neglect or decline to present their children to the Lord in the congregation of the saints.
Lack of teaching or biblical knowledge can be dealt with by instruction, but the objections of others need to be considered. The objections are mainly twofold.

First, some object on the grounds that the infant dedication service may be mistaken as a ‘surrogate baptism.’ This is a very weak argument which does not show either the church or the minister in a very favourable light. How can an infant dedication service be misunderstood as a ‘dry baptism’ if the parents’ hearts are right and the minister has taught the church and explained the service? One might as well object to the Lord’s Supper on the ground that it might be mistaken for a ‘surrogate Mass’! Why is it that the Lord’s Supper held in an evangelical church is not mistaken for a Mass? Surely it is because of the church’s doctrinal position, the understanding and intention of the congregation, and the teaching of the pastor. Similarly, in a well-taught church, if the parents’ intentions are right and the pastor’s explanation clear there will be no possibility that a properly conducted infant dedication could be understood as a ‘surrogate baptism.’

Of course, you will always get some non-Christians, or badly taught Christians, who will wilfully misunderstand the meaning of any church practice. For example, in the days of the early church some pagans charged the Christians with cannibalism because they spoke of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood. However, the early church did not discard the Lord’s Supper for fear of what people might think! This is why, in a properly conducted baptismal service, for example, the person conducting the baptism will explain what believer’s baptism is and what it is not. The objection that a properly conducted infant dedication might be seen as a ‘surrogate baptism’ does not hold water!

A second objection to the historic practice of infant dedication is that there is no New Testament warrant for it. This objection is due to lack of Scripture knowledge and of historic development, for there is New Testament warrant for such a service. Moreover, this argument would apply even more strongly to a Christian Marriage service as there is no example of a Christian wedding service in the Bible. Have you ever attended a Christian burial service? If you were consistent you would not have done so, for there is no precedent for a Christian funeral service in the New Testament.

In fact, there is far less evidence for a Christian wedding service or funeral than there is for an infant dedication as we shall see. All of Scripture is written for our learning (1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
Also we are exhorted to follow Christ’s example (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Peter 2:21; John 13:15).

Now let us turn to Luke 2:22ff. Here we read that Jesus was taken up to Jerusalem to be presented in the temple. This was nothing to do with his circumcision which had taken place previously, eight days after his birth, in his home town (v. 21). The presentation in the temple took place forty days after the birth and was partly a thanksgiving for safe delivery from child birth (See Leviticus 12:1-8).
Notice in this account in Luke the number of references to ‘the law’.

In verse 22 it is the law of Moses, in verse 23 and 24, the law of the Lord, as it is also in verse 29. Notice particularly the phrase in verse 27, ‘the custom of the law’. The very least we can say about this emphasis is that it was obviously the regular custom among God’s people to present a newborn child before the Lord.

They offered a sacrifice of two doves, which the priest took care of. We no longer have to do that as all blood sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ. But we do have to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15, 16). At that stage in redemption history there were no Christian pastors. The priest would have taken care of the sacrifice, but he is not mentioned as that aspect is unimportant under the New Covenant. Instead, the Lord used a Sprit-filled, just and devout man who was obviously in touch with God, and clearly was fulfilling God’s will. He took the child in his arms, blessed God and gave thanks to God. Simeon also prayed for Mary and Joseph. Anna also gave thanks to God for the infant Jesus. As this was in the temple, a public place, there would have been other devout people present. Here is a clear example of a child (Jesus) who is to be our example, being presented publicly to God in the company of God’s people. Is it any wonder that millions of Christians down the centuries have followed Christ’s example, and the example of his parents? The introduction of infant baptism in the second century certainly muddied the waters, but we should not fail to follow biblical precedent because others have gone astray.

Just as churches have developed a communion service, a baptismal service, wedding services and funeral services, so Free churches have followed this biblical precedent and developed a dedication service. Provided that adequate teaching is give beforehand, clear explanation is provided during the service, and the parents’ hearts are right and their understanding clear, there is no danger of misunderstanding this biblical service. It is surely significant that both Baptist and FIEC churches publish a Service Manual which contains an Infant Dedication Service.

Today a properly conducted infant dedication or presentation service usually includes the following elements:

1. Thanksgiving to God for the safe recovery of the mother.
2. Thanksgiving for the safe delivery and the gift of the child.
3. Acknowledgement that the child belongs to God and is given on trust.
4. A consecration of the parents to the sacred task of parenthood.
5. Prayer for child and parents.
6. A recognition of the Christian community of their responsibility in setting a good example and in prayer.
It should not be overlooked that such a service, as with many other special services, affords a very important opportunity to give teaching. As the minister explains the meaning and importance of the service, what it is and what it is not, the church, parents and visitors are informed and instructed. Such a service can also be an evangelistic opportunity if unconverted relatives attend.

Among the many signs of declension in the church and the nation, is the increasing biblical illiteracy, along with the neglect or abandonment of various godly practices and biblical traditions. Among such are the habit of daily devotions or ‘Quiet Times’, the practice of conducting family worship, and the service of infant presentation in the local church.
APPENDIX: A TYPICAL INFANT DEDICATION SERVICE (Where both Parents are Christians. A modified form of service is available for those cases in which one parent is a believer and the other is willing to go through with the service. Where neither is a Christian it is not appropriate to hold such a service).

Reading: Deut. 6:4-7.

Introduction: Before commencing the actual service an explanation is given regarding the following for the sake of any (relatives, friends) who might not understand: First, this is not a baptismal service; secondly, Jesus was presented as a child, even though He was baptized later as an adult; Third, in this service we (a) give thanks to God for the life of the mother and baby, safe delivery, etc., (b) acknowledge God’s interest in the child, (c) seek God’s blessing on the child, (d) recognize the parents’ responsibilities, and give them an opportunity to express their intentions publicly, (e) recognize the local church’s responsibility to aid the parents by prayer and practical help.

(To the Parents) In presenting this child to the Lord, do you recognise that he/she belongs to God and is given you on trust? (Or, Do you acknowledge the claim of God upon this young child whom He has entrusted to your care?)

PARENTS: “We do.”

Is it your desire that he/she should be given wholly to the Lord, and is it your intention to bring him/her up to know and love the Lord?

PARENTS: “It is our desire and intention so to do.”
Do you then promise, that in dependence on divine grace and in partnership with the Body of Christ her, to teach him/her the truths and duties of the Christian faith, and by prayer, precept and example, to bring him/her up in the ways of the Lord?

[Alternative wording: Do you therefore promise that by God’s grace and strength you will surround this child with your love and prayers, that you will endeavour to give him/her all the benefits of a Christian home, that you will instruct him/her in God’s Word and ways, setting forth Christ in your own lives by word and deed, in the hope that by His mercy, God will in due time lead him/her to repentance and faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?]

PARENTS: “We do.”
MINISTER reads one or more of the following Scriptures: Deut. 6:4-7 – “Hear O Israel…”. Psalm 103:17,18 – “The lovingkindness of the Lord…children’s children.” Psalm 127:1,3 – “Unless the Lord builds the house…children are a gift from the Lord.” Matthew 18:1-6, 10,14. – “Except you become as little children…” Matthew 19:13-15 – “The Kingdom of heaven belongs to such.” Mark 10:13-16 – “Permit the children to come to me… and He blessed them.”

MINISTER to the HUSBAND: Will you seek to be the proper head and leader of your home, leading both by your life and by your words? Will you exercise true and proper discipline according to the Scriptures, and be a comfort, shelter, and covering to this child as you are to your wife?

HUSBAND: “I will endeavour so to do, God being my helper.”

Minister to the WIFE: Will you endeavour to make your home a haven of peace, and by your godly example teach the child to submit to their father’s authority, and to follow the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you give full support to your husband in his leadership role, in his exercise of discipline, and in his covering care?

WIFE: “I will endeavour so to do, God being my helper.”
MINISTER takes the child in his arms and, laying his hand upon the child’s head, says, “[NAME], the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

The Minister gives the child to the father, symbolizing the latter’s responsibility for the child.
A Hymn is sung, usually chosen by the parents or the minister.

The Drift Into Paganism

December 7, 2015

The Drift into Paganism

 In 2006 Jonathan Skinner published a book with the scary title, “The Rise of Paganism.” [1] This book is a well-researched exposé of the re-emergence of paganism in society as a whole.  What I am concerned about in this paper is rather the more focused subject of the drift into pagan practices among professing Christians.

 The word ‘drift’ is important.  The gradual adoption of pagan practices among Christians is not usually deliberate.  More often than not it is an unthinking adoption of the ways of society around them. A person may be fishing from a small boat on the sea, intent on trying to get a ‘bite’ but unaware that they are steadily drifting out to sea.  Or someone may be laying peacefully in a boat on a lake, either reading or sleeping, but suddenly they look around them and find that the landmarks have changed; they have drifted away from where they were at first.

 Is there any evidence for this drift among Christians?  I believe there is.

Fifty years ago tattoos were quite rare, at least among civilized people.  As a boy I remember black and white films featuring ‘heathen’ tribesmen dancing round a fire, heavily tattooed.  But very, very few British people sported tattoos then.  Recently, however, a survey was carried out in various large cities in Britain and it revealed a huge increase in the practice of tattooing various parts of the body.  For example, the survey revealed that almost fifty percent of people in Birmingham have a tattoo!

 Similarly, decades ago hardly anyone in Britain had a ‘body piercing’ apart from ladies who had earrings.  Body piercing was generally observed in semi-naked savages in far off uncivilized countries.  Bones and metallic pieces were thrust through, not only ears, but cheeks, noses and lips.

 Today an astonishing number of apparently sane people have studs, and sometimes larger objects, thrust through various parts of their bodies.  What is alarming is that some professing Christians are, seemingly,  unthinkingly following this pagan trend.

 There at least two reasons why this is not only questionable but positively wrong for Christians.  First, Scripture forbids these practices. “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves” (Lev. 19:28, cf. 21:5).  John MacArthur comments: “Tattoos … were connected to names of idols, and were permanent signs of apostasy.”  Also in Deuteronomy 14:1 we read, “…you shall not cut yourselves…”  Again MacArthur comments, “ Though the actions could in themselves appear to be innocent, they were associated with practices and beliefs reprehensible to the Lord.” (cf. I Kings 18:28).

The second reason to avoid such practices is that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit and we should not deface them as First Corinthians 3:16, 17 warns us.

 There are many other signs of the drift into paganism, but one more example may suffice to illustrate this trend.  It used to be considered impolite for men to keep their hats on when entering someone’s house.  Even more so, was it considered irreverent when entering a place of worship.  Yet a well-known songwriter and ‘worship leader’ deliberately wears a hat when he is leading worship.  This is not merely ignoring social convention; it is deliberately going against the Word of God, which states, in the context of worship, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head (i.e. Christ)… for a man ought not to cover his head…” (I Cor. 11:3, 4, 7).

 Why does he do that?  It could be that he is either ignorant of the Scripture (unlikely) or that he considers it unimportant.  How any Christian can consider that a lengthy passage in a major New Testament epistle is unimportant I do not know.  It is worth observing that First Corinthians chapter eleven divides into two more or less equal parts.  Half (sixteen verses) deals with head covering, and the other half (eighteen verses) with the Lord’s Supper. But I rather think that the brother concerned does it because he is strongly influenced by the world of pop music in which instrumentalists often wear hats.  It is well known that he considers that every kind of music can be used to worship God.  In I John 2:15-17 we are warned not to be influenced by the world.

 But why is there this drift into paganism among some Christians?  Apart from general backsliding and coldness of heart there are two related reasons.  First, there is a general ignorance of the word of God.  When we went on holiday in the Lake District this year we found and attended a local ‘evangelical’ church.  Although there were some things to commend, such as warmth of welcome, refreshments after the service and attractive premises, there were serious lacks, the most glaring of which was, there was no Bible reading. The preacher did read four verses when he came to preach, but there was no serious reading of a passage of Scripture.  This is quite common today.  Once in our church in Dunstable a preacher did not read the Scriptures but only read the text he preached from.  I raised the matter at the elders’ meeting and from then on we had two reading, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament in every service.

 But it is not only knowledge of the Bible that is lacking; it is the application.  Many Christians, especially older believers, know their Bibles, but do not put what they know into practice.  Let me put it like this: you may read, hear, study memorise and meditate upon the Scriptures, but if you do not apply them you are doomed!  Jesus made this clear in His parable of the two builders (Matthew 7:24-27).  The two houses may have looked exactly alike, but one lacked true foundation and ultimately collapsed.  Jesus reiterated this truth when He gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.  The Apostles were to teach the new disciples to observe everything that Jesus taught.  That this is an ever present danger is seen in the fact that James in his Epistle warns, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your selves.” (James 1:22).  How many professing Christians look fine outwardly. But are actually deceiving, not only others, but themselves, because they do not carefully obey, practise and observe the Word?

 So we can stem this drift into paganism only by examining ourselves and our practices, being watchful against worldliness, and seeking to   obey the Word from the heart.

 


[1] Skinner, Jonathan, The Rise of Paganism (Darlington, Evangelical Press, 2006).

Crisis Experiences

September 10, 2015

Crisis Experiences

For many years now, in Evangelical and Reformed circles, there has been a reaction against ‘crisis experiences’. The majority of Evangelicals have rejected any idea of a ‘second blessing’. Thus, not only the Pentecostal or Charismatic idea of ‘baptism in the Spirit’ has been rejected but also the old Keswick message of ‘Full Consecration’ has been abandoned, and in most cases, for very good reasons.  But while there were errors and over- emphases in these teachings, it seems to me that evangelicalism has lost much of its power and effectiveness.  There seems to be a lack of emphasis upon prayer, consecration, soul- winning, and even holiness.  When did you last hear anyone preach against worldliness?

The idea that prevails today is that once a person has been converted there is nothing further to seek. That’s it!  Just read your Bible, say your prayers, and attend church regularly.  Even worse, in some ‘Reformed’ circles, christening as a baby is all that is needed.  The infant is then regarded as a Christian.  As they grow up they are simply instructed that they are ‘in the covenant.’

Very often the result is formal Christianity and unconverted church members. Such professing Christians are hardly distinguishable from the world, apart from formal church affiliation.  But this is hardly distinguishable, in practice, from Roman Catholicism.

How are we to address this situation?  First, let us observe that throughout the Bible prominent servants of God experienced steps and stages in their Spiritual experience.  Abraham had a number of encounters with God, and so did Jacob.  Moses, too, had various encounters with the Almighty, and one could add the experiences of David, Solomon, and some of the prophets.  In the New Testament the Lord’s disciples had various experiences or stages in their development even after their first call to follow Christ.  The Mount of Transfiguration, the in-breathing of the Spirit, the Day of Pentecost spring to mind.  The apostle Paul’s experience included several stages.  After his conversion he was discipled, had an ‘out of body experience’ and a dramatic vision directing him to Macedonia.  Even in the life of Christ there were significant stages and experiences.

In reading Christian biography it is significant that very, very many people who were greatly used of God had some sort of crisis experience after conversion.  One thinks of John Wesley, Hudson Taylor, Samuel Logan Brengle, John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, John Hyde, D. L. Moody, Andrew Murray, Samuel Chadwick to name but a few.  In Evangelical and Reformed circles these historical facts are either ignored or downplayed.  In seeking to avoid error are we missing something?

It is a fact that in the New Testament, indeed, even in the Old Testament, there are various exhortations to move on to another stage of experience. “Let us follow on to know the Lord”, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice”, “Let us press on to perfection,” etc.

The danger with crisis experiences is that those who have them are often tempted to make them normative for others.  The experience is given a name such as baptism in the Spirit, second blessing, perfect love, entire consecration, and other Christians are urged to seek this.  But we are not to seek a particular experience but to seek God!  As the hymn expresses it, ” My goal is God Himself.” There is progress to be made.  We need to set aside special times of prayer to seek the Lord.  Surely it is highly significant that throughout the Bible God met each of his saints in a different way.  There is no sameness about God. Nevertheless any experience is to be tested both by scripture and by the resulting fruit.

One aspect of this problem is that in the average Evangelical or Reformed church the members do not have a specific goal to aim at.  They may be urged to grow, but growth is not usually a conscious experience. Many do grow and become godly with radiant lives.  But many do not make progress but simply stagnate.  They need something to aim at.

Errol Hulse has a very helpful book entitled ‘Crisis Experiences‘.  In it, while rejecting ‘second blessing’ type teaching, he indicates that there are several types of legitimate crisis experiences that believers can and do have.

Among the crisis experiences that Mr. Hulse considers legitimate are, a leap forward in holy living, recovery from backsliding, the crisis of discovery, the crisis of empowerment, the crisis of discipleship, a crisis in the realm of assurance, the experience of sealing, the discovery of the beauty of God, and a visitation of the Holy Spirit.  Some might be tempted to remark that ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ and sometimes differences among evangelicals do amount to terminology.  We should never seek experiences for experience sake, but we should certainly seek God.  Any experience should be judged by Scripture, and the ultimate test is the fruit that results.  As a result of any experience we should ask, do we love the Lord more? Do we love our fellow believers more?  Are we more zealous, less worldly, more prayerful?  Are we more obedient, less selfish, more faithful?  Are we more diligent in prayer and more faithful in Bible study?  However, we should not be constantly taking our spiritual pulse, but a measure of old-fashioned self-examination would not come amiss with many of us.