Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Walking with God

February 15, 2018

We read twice in Genesis that Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:22, 24), as also did Noah (Gen. 6:9).

The concept of walking with Almighty God is awe-inspiring.  Here are seven things about it that come to mind.

  1. Walking with God implies companionship.  When a young man and a young lady began to get acquainted it used to be referred to as “walking out.”  That God should deign to be our Friend and acquaintance is staggering.
  2. Walking with God implies conversation.  You do not usually walk out with someone in total silence.  But conversation is by definition a two-way communication.  This means we must learn to listen to God  as well as talk to him in prayer.  It also greatly influences the topics of our conversation.                                                        “Talk with us, Lord, Thyself reveal, While here on earth we rove; Speak to our hearts, and let us feel The kindling of Thy Love.  With Thee conversing, we forget All time and toil and care; Labour is rest, and pain is sweet, If Thou, my God, art here.” [Charles Wesley].
  3. Walking is exercise, and exercise is essential to health.  So walking with God is spiritual exercise and is essential to our spiritual health.
  4. Walking implies a goal or destination, either a location some other aim such as pleasure or deeper acquaintance.  If we want to know God we must walk with Him.
  5. Walking implies progress.  It is no good marching on the spot.  When we walk with God we shall inevitably get somewhere.  We shall make progress.
  6. Walking with God is hugely different from walking with anyone else.  It makes a difference whom you walk with.  When I walk with my wife I can talk about things and say things I would say to no other.  When I was at college I developed a friendship with another brother largely because we had a similar sense of humour, as well as both loving the Lord.  This was a life-long friendship, shared by our wives as well.  He went to be with the Lord s few years ago, and I know no one with whom I could talk in quite the same way.  To walk with the Almighty, Holy, glorious God who is our Saviour and Lord is one of the greatest possible privileges we could ever have in this world.
  7. Walking with God implies guidance.  We must go His way or we walk alone.  ‘Where He leads me I will follow.’  Having been saved from the punishment of sin (EPH. 2:8, 9), we are being saved (I Cor. 1:18) from the power of sin by walking with Him.  And one day we shall be saved (Rom. 5:9) from the very presence of sin when we walk with Him into our heavenly home.

Forgive us our denominations

January 10, 2018


I confess that I am amused at the length to which some go in order to argue that their particular grouping or ‘stream’ is not a denomination. In order to do so they invent a definition of ‘denomination’ which does not apply to their association! Of course if a church is actually and in reality independent (though perhaps not isolated; the two states are not identical), then it is not in a denomination. But to ‘denominate’ simply means ‘to give a name to,’ and the word ‘denomination’ means ‘the act of naming; a name or title; a class or group.’ [Chambers Dictionary]. In other words, if a group of churches is known by a distinctive name, in order to distinguish them from other churches, they are a denomination, whether they like it or not.


In order to clarify whether a particular association, group of churches or ‘stream’ is a denomination I simply ask these questions: Does the group of churches have a distinctive name? Is there a definite membership? In other words, is it clear which churches belong and which do not? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, that is a denomination. Other questions, such as the following, may make that designation even clearer. Is there a common acknowledged doctrinal standard or confession? Are there recognized leaders of that group? If an individual church departs from the doctrinal standards or recognized practices of the group, can they be removed from fellowship or side-lined in some way? There are, of course, different levels of commitment in the various denominations. Some groups, associations or ‘streams’ are more loosely affiliated, while others are more closely related.


In the early stages, denominations often form around one particular leader. John Wesley and William Booth are typical examples from the past, though modern examples could be supplied. This leadership may be authoritarian, or quite benign. In either case the grouping is often identified by association with the man. Sometimes, when the leader passes from the scene, the group dissolves. In other cases the organization has a structure and is carried forward by its own momentum. Again, modern examples could be mentioned.


With regard to joining a church, or coming into membership of a church, there is no perfect church. Even churches with a sound doctrinal basis are composed of sinners saved by grace but still far from perfect. However, most sincere and biblically taught Christians will want to belong to a church which, in their judgment, most closely adheres to biblical teaching and practice. The state of things in the UK is such that it may be hard to find a biblical church in one’s area. But if we are honest in our endeavour to obey all that the Holy Spirit enjoins in the New Testament, then we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some (Heb. 10:25).


Years ago I came to see that every local church is like a tree in God’s forest. Every tree in a forest is different, and every church is different. Men sometimes plant trees of one kind, say pine trees, in rows to form a plantation. That is like a denomination. But even in a plantation, every tree is unique.


More recently I have come to use the illustration of every church being like a family. When you visit a family you do not normally criticize their décor, their choice of music, or their diet, etc. But if we are invited to join that family then we look carefully at these things before committing ourselves. We need to know that the diet is healthy and whether we can accept, or just tolerate, other things which may not be to our liking.


Denominations are a matter of convenience and are almost inevitable, at least, associations are. Any attempt to bring all denominations together must of necessity result in compromise of doctrine or practice or both. One day all our denominations and associations will be dissolved and all the elect will be gathered for the marriage supper of the Lamb. Our doctrinal errors will be corrected, our mistaken practices forgotten, and we shall all worship the glorious One who redeemed us and be together with Father, Son and Holy Spirit for evermore.

Why has the church in the West declined?

December 20, 2017

The church is prospering in many parts of the world, but in the West in general, and in the UK in particular, the church seems to be in decline. In fact there has been a steady decline over the last one hundred years. Apart from a few bright spots, and a certain amount of ‘whistling in the dark’, the prospects for the visible church in Britain seem, humanly speaking, rather bleak.

Why has this happened? There may be a variety of reasons, but three stand out to me.

  1. The church has become too worldly, and individual Christians seem almost indistinguishable from their non-Christian neighbours. They follow the same fashions, often even when such fashions border on immodesty, they listen to the same music, even when the lyrics are, to say the least, risqué; they enjoy the same entertainments, even though the New Testament warns against enjoying the portrayal of sin (Romans 1:32); they read the same books, even though some books describe evil deeds in detail; they unthinkingly follow the current fashion for disfiguring their bodies with piercings and tattoos, and they are often vague or unsure of their beliefs. That they go to church perhaps once a week seems to be the only outward evidence of their Christian belief. Non-Christians often match or exceed some Christians in their friendliness, kindness and compassion. Sometimes workmates and neighbours do not realize that those close to them are even professing Christians.

Yet the Bible is very clear that Christians should stand out in society. They are to be in the world but not of it. (e.g. Matt. 5:13-16; Ephesians 5; Philippians 2:14, 15; II Corinthians 6:14-18; I John 2:15-17).

Apart from some, often vague, beliefs about God and a future life, there is sometimes little to distinguish Christians from unbelievers.

  1. A second reason for the decline of the church is academic compromise in order to be thought ‘scholarly’. This includes not only accepting critical and rationalistic views of Scripture, but also surrender to the atheistic beliefs of evolutionary so-called science. Macro-evolution has enormous implications for our Lord’s teaching and indeed the teaching of the whole New Testament. This compromise has been going on for over one hundred years, steadily increasing year by year.
  2. A third reason is failure to obey the command to ‘go on being filled with the Spirit’. (Eph. 5:18). The denial of any work of grace beyond conversion is understandable for at least two reasons. First, the dislike of any idea of two classes of Christians. Second, the heretical views and ungodly behaviour of some who claim to have been ‘baptized in the Spirit’. But to react against the biblical teaching of progress in the Christian life is to leave the church powerless. While we must acknowledge that every Christian born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5) has the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9; I Cor. 6:19), nevertheless we must not ignore the command of Ephesians 5:18, nor the promise of Christ in Luke 11:13. It is quite undeniable that the early Christians, though filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, were filled again, and again (Acts 2:4; 4:31; cf.6:3; 7:55,etc).

This point is well expressed by George Smeaton: “[N]o more mischievous and misleading theory could be propounded, nor any one more dishonouring to the Holy Spirit, than the principle that because the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the Church has no need, and no warrant, to pray any more for the effusion of the Spirit of God. On the contrary, the more the church asks (for) the Spirit and waits for his communications, the more she receives.” [The Holy Spirit, Banner of Truth, p. 255].

I believe that these three failures, worldliness, compromise with unbelief, and lack of Holy Spirit power, are some of the main reasons foe the weakness of the church in the West.

What many Christians do not know about alcohol

September 8, 2017

Probably not one in a thousand Christians knows what the Bible actually says about fermented grape juice, or ‘wine’. One reason is because in the Old Testament there are two main Hebrew words translated ‘wine.’ One means either fermented or unfermented grape juice, the other only means unfermented juice. This will be explained in detail below.

Another point that most Christians never seem to notice is that the actual word ‘wine’ is never used in any of the narratives about the Lord’s Supper! Of course we know that ‘wine’ was used, but what sort of wine was it? And could we guess why the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture, never used the Greek word oinos, translated ‘wine,’ in the Lord’s Table narratives? This point is also discussed below.

Should a Christian drink alcohol? For Christians living in Muslim countries the answer is clear. Alcohol is forbidden in those lands. A superficial reading of the Bible may seem not to give a clear answer. But deeper study throws more light upon the subject, and there are principles taught in the Bible which are meant to influence our behaviour.

However, before we examine the Scriptures let us take into account the modern situation, for it is very different from Bible times in several respects.

In the first place, as far as beverages containing alcohol are concerned, in Bible times there was basically just fermented wine and a form of beer, though there was also unfermented wine. Today there are many alcoholic beverages including very strong spirits and for many young people a tempting step down to the abuse of other substances, in other words, drugs. The possibilities of becoming seriously inebriated are very much greater.

Second, modern civilization has produced many potentially dangerous situations, such as driving motor vehicles and planes, etc. In Bible times if a man got drunk and mounted his donkey he would be unlikely to cause a serious accident, but a driver of any motorized vehicle today who is under the influence of alcohol can become guilty of manslaughter within seconds of starting to drive. This is also why airline pilots are forbidden to drink while on duty, and are we not glad to know that? The modern situation is therefore much more complicated.

Third, modern science has discovered much more about alcohol and the human body than could have been known in Bible times. In a programme shown on BBC television doctors stated that alcohol can cause many diseases. It is now classified as a drug, and affects the brain and bodily functions in a variety of ways.

Again, before we look at the Bible evidence, let us remember that in Bible times, apart from water, milk and freshly squeezed fruit juice, wine was about the only common beverage available. Water would not always be safe, hence Paul’s advice to Timothy, who was having stomach trouble, in 1 Timothy 5:23. But what kind of wine was Paul recommending? Many people just do not give consideration to this matter. So we have the careless and inaccurate statement that ‘red wine is good for the heart.’ But it is not the alcohol that is of benefit, but an element in the redness of the grapes. So red grape juice has exactly the same benefit. Some people might remark that the juice of grapes begins quite quickly to ferment. So it does.

When I was at Bible college some of us students, in order to supplement the rather limited diet, made a fruit salad, put plenty of sugar on it and left it in a spare bedroom overnight for consumption the next day. When we went in the next day a distinctive aroma alerted us to the fact that it had begun to ferment!

Therefore it is very important to remember that throughout history, and (for our purpose in this article) in Bible times, several ways of preventing grape juice from fermenting were known (see Columella, On Agriculture, 12.29; cf. Cato, On Agriculture; and Pliny, Natural History, 14.11.83). The simplest and most common was simply to boil it. This killed the yeast. If the resulting thickened liquid was then stored in a new wineskin, i.e. one not tainted with yeast cells, it would remain unfermented for a long time. To use it people would squeeze a portion into a cup and dilute it with water.

Now when we turn to the Bible we must consider the various words used.

  1. Old Testament.

There are mainly two Hebrew words translated ‘wine’ in the Old Testament, and another translated ‘strong drink’ or ‘beer’. There are two or three other words used once or twice with various meanings that do not affect our discussion.

(1) The most common word is yayin. This is a generic term used about 140 times to indicate both fermented and unfermented wine. It is used of fermented wine in such passages as Genesis 9:20-21; 19:32-33; 1 Samuel 25:36-37; Prov. 23:30-31. On the other hand the same word is used for the sweet unfermented juice of the grape. It is even used of the juice as it is pressed from the grape, as for example in Isaiah 16:10 and Jeremiah 48:33. In fact Jeremiah even refers to juice still in the grape as yayin. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) states: “Fresh wine before fermentation was called yayin-mi-gat [wine of the vat] (Sanh. 70a).” The Encyclopedia Judaica (1971) states that the term yayin was used to refer to the juice of the grape in various stages including “the newly pressed wine prior to fermentation.”

(2) The other Hebrew word translated “wine” is tirosh, a word meaning “new wine” or “harvest wine”. Tirosh occurs 38 times in the OT. It never refers to fermented wine, but always to the unfermented juice of the grape, such as the juice that is still in the grape cluster (Isaiah 65:8) or sweet juice from newly harvested grapes (Deut. 11:14; Prov. 3:10; Joel 2:24). Brown, Driver, Briggs (A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament) states that tirosh means “must, fresh or new wine”. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) states that “‘tirosh’ includes all kinds of sweet juices and must, and does not include fermented wine.”

(3) In addition to these two words for wine there is another Hebrew word that occurs 23 times in the Old Testament. This is the word shekar, usually translated as “beer” (e.g. 1Samuel 1:15) or “fermented drink” (Numbers 6:3). This word seems to refer most often to a fermented beverage perhaps made from palm juice, pomegranates, apples or dates.

  1. New Testament

The main Greek word for wine is oinos. This can refer both to fermented and to unfermented grape juice. The use of this word to refer to unfermented grape juice is testified to in various pre-Christian and early Christian writers. But this fact can be seen within the Bible itself, because in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) oinos is used to translate both yayin (a generic term referring to both fermented and unfermented grape juice) and tirosh (unfermented juice). The context normally indicates which is intended. But this is not always the case. So, for example, the oft quoted “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake” (1 Timothy 5:23) may refer to either.

What about the Lord’s Supper? One fact that surprises many people who assume that fermented wine was used in the institution of the Lord’s Supper is that nowhere in the New Testament is the term “wine” used in connection with the Lord’s Table! Nowhere! Consistently, when the contents of the cup are referred to, the phrase “fruit of the vine” is used. Otherwise, the word “cup” is employed. That could leave the matter undetermined.  Could we surmise why the Holy Spirit did not use the word ‘wine’?  May it be because people would automatically assume that it was fermented?  The words used are ‘fruit of the vine’ and the Lord says he will drink it ‘new’ in the kingdom. However, there are other considerations.

It has been suggested that since in I Corinthians 11:21 some of the Corinthians got drunk, they must have become inebriated on communion wine! But that is a gratuitous assumption. For verse 20 plainly says that “when you come together in one place it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating each one takes his own supper…” {emphasis added]. Did their supper consist of unleavened bread? Were their stomach’s filled with communion bread? I think not. Neither should we assume that what they drank was communion wine. It was their “own supper.” There is no proof that the wine they drank was communion wine, nor that the food they ate was unleavened bread. In any case, since when have the Corinthians been our example and pattern of behaviour? Our Lord’s example in the context of the Passover meal is the benchmark for our observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The Full Life Study Bible contains these notes:

“(2) The Lord’s Supper was instituted when Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover. The Passover law in Ex 12:14-20 prohibited, during Passover week, the presence and use of seor (Ex 12:15), a word referring to yeast or any agent of fermentation. Seor in the ancient world was often obtained from the thick scum on top of fermenting wine. Furthermore, all hametz (i.e., anything that contained any type of fermentation) was forbidden (Ex 12:19; 13:7). God had given these laws because fermentation symbolized corruption and sin (cf. Mt 16:6,12; l Co 5:7-8). Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled the law in every requirement (Mt 5:17). Thus, he would have followed God’s law for the Passover and not used fermented wine.

(4) Some Jewish sources affirm that the use of unfermented wine at the Passover was common in NT times. For example, “According to the Synoptic Gospels, it would appear that on the Thursday evening of the last week of his life Jesus with his disciples entered Jerusalem in order to eat the Passover meal with them in the sacred city; if so, the wafer and the wine of … the communion service then instituted by him as a memorial would be the unleavened bread and the unfermented wine of the Seder service” (see “Jesus,” The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1904 edition, V.165).

(5) In the OT, fermented drink was never to be used in the house of God, nor were the priests allowed to draw near to God in worship while drinking intoxicating beverages (Lev 10:9-11). Jesus Christ was God’s high priest of the new covenant, drawing near to God for the sake of his people (Heb 3:1; 5:1-10).

(6) The value of a symbol is determined by its capacity to conceptualize the spiritual reality. Therefore, just as the bread represented Christ’s pure body and had to be unleavened (i.e., uncorrupted with fermentation), the fruit of the vine, representing the incorruptible blood of Christ, would have been best represented by juice that was unfermented (cf. 1Pe 1:18-19). Since Scripture states explicitly that the process of corruption was not allowed to work in either the body or blood of Christ (Ps 16:10; Ac 2:27; 13:37), both Christ’s body and blood are properly symbolized by that which is uncorrupted and unfermented.

(7) Paul instructed the Corinthians to put away spiritual yeast, i.e., the fermenting agent of “malice and wickedness,” because Christ is our Passover (l Cor. 5:6-8). It would be inconsistent with the goal and spiritual requirement of the Lord’s Supper to use something that was a symbol of evil, i.e., something with yeast.

(8) In Proverbs 23:29-35 God prohibited gazing at wine that has been fermented and makes one drunk. Christ would not sanction conduct that God had previously condemned. He came “to fulfill” the law (Mt 5:17).”

[Cited from The Full Life Study Bible, published by Life publishers International, Springfield, MO, copyright 1992]

Having established that in the Bible the term “wine” refers to both fermented and unfermented juice, and that only the context can (normally) tell the reader which is meant, we can now examine some of those passages which clearly refer to fermented drink.

In Genesis 6:9 Noah was noted as a righteous and blameless man, yet by chapter 9:21 he was drunk, incapable, and manifesting uninhibited behaviour.

Genesis 19:30-38 tells of the shameful incident in which Lot’s daughters got him drunk and then committed incest with him.

In Genesis 27:25 Jacob was able to deceive Isaac into blessing him instead of Esau, and it seems that wine was involved to help in the deceit.

In Leviticus 10:9 priests were forbidden to drink when on duty and this was a perpetual statute for all generations.

The Nazirites were to abstain from wine and strong drink (Numbers 6).

In Deuteronomy 21:20 rebellion is expressed in gluttony and drunkenness.

In preparation for the birth of her extraordinary son, Samson’s mother was commanded not to drink wine (Judges 13:4, 7, 14).

The first chapter of Esther tells how the king wanted to show off his queen to the assembled nobles. He called for her to come and exhibit herself, but she refused, so he dismissed her. He had been drinking for seven days (Esther 1:10).

The book of Proverbs, a book of wisdom, has many warnings about drinking. In 4:17 it is related to violence (don’t we know about that in our modern age!); in 20:1 it mocks and brawls and those who get intoxicated lack wisdom. Chapter 23:21 warns that drinking leads to poverty. Verses 29 to 35 of the same chapter are an extended warning about the sorrow, contentions, complaining, wounds, red eyes, unsteadiness caused by drinking fermented wine, adding that it harms all who drink and is addictive. Proverbs 31:4, 5 give a warning: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” It may, however, be used as an anodyne for thse dying or suffering (verses 6, 7).

The Prophets issue many warnings about strong drink. Isaiah utters woes against those who pursue it (5:11), and against those who boast in their ability to drink (5:22). The prophet warns those who, instead of repenting, are careless and dissolute, that judgment will be inevitable (22:12-14), and exclaims that “strong drink is bitter to those who drink it” (24:9). It produces reeling, staggering, confusion, false spirituality and vomit! (28:7). Spiritual blindness, sleepiness, and lack of understanding come on those who drink (56:10-12). Daniel and his companions refused the king’s wine and drank water instead, and were blessed in their stand (Daniel 1:8-17). Hosea warns that wine takes away the understanding (4:11), and produces sickness (7:5). Joel links wine with injustice and immorality (Joel 3:3), while Amos links it with the oppression of the poor and needy (Amos 4:1) and lack of concern for God’s people (6:6). Habakkuk declared that wine produces proud and haughty behaviour (Hab. 2:5). There is no doubt at all that the consistent testimony of the Old Testament is that fermented wine is bad news.

In the New Testament, there are various warnings. In Romans 13:13 drunkenness is linked with sexual immorality. The whole of Romans 14 is very pertinent to this matter, but two verses may encapsulate what our attitude should be. Romans 14:13 reads:

“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”

Romans 14:21 continues the exhortation:

“It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.”

Our example is important. Putting this matter in the form of a question, we may ask, “Does drinking alcohol cause some to stumble or be made weak?” It certainly does. Also in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul warns against using our freedom in a way that causes others to stumble.

1 Cor. 8:9 warns:

“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.”

1 Cor. 8:11‑12 goes on to explain:

“And through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? [12] But when you sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”

If I just took a tiny drink of wine at a wedding or at Christmas, young people, or others, observing would not say, “the pastor only drinks a tiny amount occasionally,” but would simply conclude, “the pastor drinks”. Thus I could become the ruin of someone else. For this reason alone I have been a life-long teetotaler.

But there are other considerations. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 6:19,20). We should do our utmost to keep them pure, and that surely includes doing nothing that would ruin their health. Alcohol is notorious for the many health problems it causes. So the best plan, because of the many warnings of Scripture, because of the importance of our example, because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, is to avoid it altogether. As stated above, perhaps not one Christian in a thousand knows these facts.

When I was a pastor in Bristol in the 1960s I came across a nursing sister who worked in Southmead hospital. At a hospital function a Hindu brain surgeon observed that she did not partake of the alcoholic drinks but only soft drinks. He asked her why? She gave her testimony and added that as her body was a temple of the Holy Spirit she did not want to defile it. Knowing the devastating effect alcohol has on the brain this doctor was intrigued, went to her church, was converted and, to cut a long story short, went back to India as a missionary and founded a hospital and a Christian medical work. The power of example!

Taken as a whole, the overwhelming evidence of the Bible is against drinking fermented wine, or indeed, any alcoholic beverages. The tragedy is that alcohol is addictive, and some people are so gripped by it that it destroys them. Some Christians defend their drinking of alcohol, not on any sure biblical grounds, but because they like it. In other words, they are mildly addicted to it.

When I was in my first pastorate, the elderly church secretary, had worked at the Fry’s chocolate factory, but had retired some time before. He told me that he had a discussion with a colleague at work who drank. The latter claimed that my friend was as addicted to tea as he was to alcohol. So my friend challenged him to abstain for a week and he would also from tea. But the alcohol drinker could not last the week out and had to admit that his addiction to alcohol was much stronger than my friends fondness for tea.

Let us aim for the highest level of commitment.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1, 2, ESV).

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.