Monday, 27 January 2014

An Act of Providence and an Act of Mercy

During the Winter War of 1939 a Russian soldier ventured into the Finnish forest, armed and ready to kill Finns.

The troops in the small Finnish army were well trained, and well equipped with white camouflaged  clothing and deeply embedded in the forests waiting for the invaders.

A Finnish soldier emerged from his hideout to shoot the Russian, who taken by surprise, and  fearing it was his last moment on earth, made the sign of the cross.

The Finnish soldier did not shoot the Russian.  They nodded to each other, the Russian walked on, and the Finn completely disappeared into the familiar white winter wilderness.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Double Righteousness etc. (continued)

I wish to continue yesterday's post, which was concerned with the issues of tithing and blasphemy, and then eventually move on to an exposition of the doctrine of double righteousness.  I propose to do this by looking at Ephesians 2:8-10 in order to establish that tithing and other good works in no way contribute anything to salvation.

For by grace are you saved through faith, and this is not by yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works lest anyone should boast. His workmanship are we, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
τη γαρ χαριτι εστε σεσωσμενοι δια πιστεως και τουτο ουκ εξ υμων θεου το δωρον
ουκ εξ εργων ινα μη τις καυχησηται
10 αυτου γαρ εσμεν ποιημα κτισθεντες εν χριστω ιησου επι εργοις αγαθοις οις προητοιμασεν ο θεος ινα εν αυτοις περιπατησωμεν



I would maintain that salvation is by grace, the unmerited loving kindness of God, through faith, which is God given. No good work or act of kindness, or any offerings (including tithes) can earn salvation. Human righteousness, even at its very best, is simply not good enough. It never has been, never is and never will be sufficient to save us.  We are sinners. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are rebels who have no claim or right to be with God, whatever man may say, do or think.

God brings us to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. He calls us, convicts us and converts us. By faith we receive eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. We receive His righteousness, for our own is but filthy rags, vile in God's holy sight. Salvation is a work of God's grace, and it has nothing to do with tithing or good works, lest we should boast.

Now we may tithe and give generously to God's work, to the extension of His Kingdom, to the spreading of the Gospel and Gospel values. But, as I hope I have made clear, this does not contribute to our salvation at all. 

Having been saved, we are then in a position of grace that enables us to experience the providence of God in our walk with our Lord and Saviour. God has richly provided us with the opportunity to do good works, which may include tithing.  Our LORD God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, guides, comforts and counsels us so that we can discover the good works which He has prepared for us. 

This is the important point. Through grace alone we are crowned with the gift of salvation. And then God, in His grace, crowns our lives by helping us to perform good works. We are therefore doubly righteous. To God be the glory. Amen.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Tithing and Double Righteousness? Saved by grace through faith unto good works

I like to look at all sorts of videos on YouTube.  Some are very helpful and others clearly are not, but I get to see wonderful images, lovely landscapes and fabulous photography. I hear wise words and see crass comments.

I came across these comments by Robert Skynner on a YouTube video featuring Pastor E.A. Adeboye:
To tithe today is blasphemy, as that would deny the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone and make salvation mostly grace but partly also works (paying the tithe).
This statement should be challenged and refuted.

First of all, to tithe should not be considered blasphemy. And we must define blasphemy before we proceed. According to the Oxford dictionaries,  the definition of blasphemy in English is the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.

I have found ten passages in the New Testament where the term blasphemy βλασφημια
 or blasphemies βλασφημιαι is used:
Matt. 12:31, 26:65, Mark 3:28, 7:22. 14:64, Luke 5:21, John 10:31-36, Acts 6:11-13, Colossians 3:8, and Revelation 13:5-6.

Mark 3:28 is a good example.
αμην λεγω υμιν οτι παντα αφεθησεται τοις υιοις των ανθρωπων τα αμαρτηματα και αι βλασφημιαι οσα εαν βλασφημησωσιν
I tell you in truth, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men and whatever blasphemies they utter. 

After reading through these passages it seems completely wrong to apply the word blasphemy to the act of tithing. How can an act of generosity, arguably an act of worship, be construed by man or God as blasphemous? What is meant by tithing? And why should it be seen in such a bad light?  The above comment by Robert Skynner (RS) raises such questions.


We ought to have a good understanding of what it means to tithe. In Oxford dictionaries the word tithe in English is: one tenth of annual produce or earnings, formerly taken as a tax for the support of the Church and clergy.

To tithe for many Christians today means to set aside a tenth of their income to support the Church, assembly, evangelistic enterprise, ministry or some such Christian cause. It may be paid directly to one institution or to many churches or para-church organizations. Some give to missionaries, mission funds and ministers. Some churches put pressure on members to tithe, and these churches often expect all the tithe to go directly to the local church,  which means them!  RS, based on various videos, has obviously seen coercion on people to give more and show a greater financial commitment to the church or ministry. In some cases the flock have been fleeced by ravenous wolves, hirelings and greedy shepherds who have fed only themselves and made themselves fat by the hard work of others, living as parasites. They are pseudo pastors, who have neglected or harmed God's flock.  I have not come across them in Baptist churches in my area, but RS has evidently had some bad experiences.

The practice of tithing may have been abused and misused to gain money etc., but that does not mean we should condemn earnest and honest Christians who seek to see the Gospel preached and God's work maintained through tithing and disciplined giving. To accuse such Christians of blasphemy is wrong. There is no justification for it, especially when they are seeking to live obediently and sacrificially for Christ and His Kingdom.

To be continued.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Baptists responding to needs in Syria and Syrian communities

In the Spring 2014 issue of Baptists Together there is an article by Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society (LSLESD).

In this article Nabil Costa describes the Syrian refugee problems facing Syria and Lebanon as a result of the war. There are evident tensions that have arisen. He writes:

         Many towns are not big enough to host the numbers of Syrians who are coming to reside in them.
         In some towns the number of Syrians entering outnumber the Lebanese.
Churches and community organizations are now providing food, medical equipment, "winterisation items" and education in Lebanon. In Syria, food rations with medical assistance plus winterisation items ( i.e. blankets, stoves, bedding etc.) are provided.

Churches have responded positively and dynamically to the desperately grave difficulties. The challenging circumstances have prompted "the Church to wake up, join hands together, and fulfil its mission".

Nabil Costa clearly wishes to bless others and find blessing in that, but his advice to "turn a deaf ear to political agendas" should be questioned.

We need to listen to political agendas, especially when they are concerned with justice, freedom, human rights, eliminating torture, oppression and war crimes etc.  The Lord is not deaf to the cries of the widow, the orphan, the sick, the sorrowful, the poor and the persecuted.

There are those who say that the Church should never be involved in politics. Well, that is a very political statement and has all sorts of political ramifications.  Christians with the support of the Church have through
political means changed society, opposed injustice and made this world a better place to live in. An apolitical position can easily maintain the status quo, and that's bad news for suffering Syrians.

For a full version of the article by Nabil Costa please see
www.baptist.org.uk/syria



Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Evidence from Syria of deaths in detention

Today I bought a copy of The Guardian when I saw the front page bottom headline, Evidence of killings in Syria could be 'tip of iceberg' by Martin Chulov.  It is no surprise to me that there is compelling evidence of war crimes in Syrian jails. At least 11,000 people have been killed while in detention. And it is estimated that 50,000 detainees are missing.

Yesterday there were images on our television screens of starvation and torture as a result of a brutal regime. These images on the BBC News were reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of the Second World War. There is no doubt in my mind that crimes against humanity on a staggering scale have been committed.

Christian communities are suffering severely from both sides in the conflict. They have been driven out of their homes and deprived of their possessions, jobs and access to churches; some religious buildings have been destroyed and desecrated. The Christians presence in Syria goes back to the time of the early church and the Apostle Paul in Strait Street, Damascus. Many Christians have fled to refugees camps and to safe havens.  The Barnabas Fund is trying desperately to help them, believing that the future of the Syrian church is under threat. Syrian Christians are persecuted and are dying for their faith. In the past they were well treated and lived harmoniously with their Muslim neighbours in certain areas. They fear living in a harsh and oppressive Islamic state. Currently the future looks extremely bleak for them and the whole country.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Baptists together in trouble???

Today I looked at the Spring issue of Baptists Together, the magazine for the Baptist Union of Great Britain. On page 26 in a response by Gavin Calver on how local churches can best support their young people, the following words are highlighted in blue:

the greatest thing we can do is provide a committed listening ear


What?  Is this really the greatest thing?  Yes, being good listeners must be very important, but come on, it's not the greatest thing!  If it is, then we Baptists are in serious trouble.

My sons, who are now outside of the fellowship of the church and kingdom of God, did have tremendous support and committed listening ears.  They appreciated their youth leaders, Dave and Glen, and Pete during the 1990s. But in no way were these committed listening ears the greatest thing that Hornchurch Baptist Church provided.

When I was at Regent's Park College, Oxford, there were a number of Korean post-graduate students that I got to know well.  They were lovely Christians studying theology.  We spoke about the difference between Christianity and church life in England and South Korea.  One response was, " In England you talk a lot and like to discuss things, but in Korea we pray a lot and seek to experience the power of God."

This verse came to mind.

  The Kingdom of God is not talk, but power

ου γαρ εν λογω η βασιλεια του θεου αλλ εν δυναμει

1 Corinthians 4:20

There is no power in some Baptist churches because they are sterile and impotent, having lost the means of reproduction. But the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We need to provide people with the good news of Jesus Christ and help them with listening ears to find faith in Him.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Remarkable Providential Event

My late mother-in-law, who sadly died in her early sixties, worked as a district nurse and midwife during WW2. Megan came from West Wales and did not speak English until she was six years old. Welsh was her mother tongue.

One day on a train in West Wales, Megan arrived at a station where she needed to alight. The carriages had doors on both sides and could be opened by releasing the lock mechanism.  Sometimes, as I well know, these doors were quite difficult to open. Megan moved quickly to the door and was releasing the lock when something quite remarkable happened.

Megan felt a hand on her shoulder. No doubt about it. Megan looked around and she saw  no one at all in the carriage. But at that very moment an express passed the door on the side she was about to open.  In her haste to leave the train Megan had chosen the door on the track side and not on the platform side.

Had she not turned but continued, when she felt the hand on her shoulder, she would have been hit by the express train and killed.

Megan believed in guardian angels.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Unable to stop the abominable suffering in Syria?

In the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Daniel Hannan (Conservative MEP for South East England) wrote a moving and perceptive personal view of the suffering in Syria. It was a fine piece of writing, showing he has a heart and his head around the complexity of the situation. "The horrors of Syria are literally unthinkable."  He concludes that it is not in the West's power "to halt this abomination". "And accepting that is perhaps the hardest thing of all."

Daniel Hannan is right in saying that commentators had predicted the imminent fall of Assad a year ago, but "almost no one thinks that way now."

The sheer scale of the refugee problem, the deaths and injuries are truly alarming. These problems seem, humanly speaking, without solutions at the beginning of 2014.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

12 Years a Slave: a review

Yesterday I happened to be passing the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.  12 Years a Slave was showing, so I paid £6 for admission, bought a fruit juice from the trendy cafe/snack bar, and went into one of my favourite cinemas in the world. (The Phoenix has a very interesting history.)

It was a very worthy film, but the experience was not enjoyable because it is uncomfortable viewing. There are harrowing scenes. Brutality, cruelty and vicious racism are clearly portrayed. This is not a film for those of a nervous disposition. If my sister watches it then she will, no doubt, be fast forwarding some scenes on the DVD player.

The acting in this film, which won the Golden Globe 2014 for best picture (drama), was brilliant with a strong cast.  There are notable performances by Benedict Cumberbatch (as a compassionate but morally weak slave owner), Michael Fassbender (as a sadistic slave owner), Brad Pitt (as a righteous Canadian carpenter) and Paul Giamatti (as a worldy wise slave trader).  Of course, Chiwetel Ejiofor was exceptional as Solomon Northup.  He is expected by some critics to win this year's Oscar for best actor, (but the favourite Matthew McConaughey may win). We shall see on Sunday, 2 March. It was directed by Steve McQueen. (No, not the actor who was in The Great Escape.)

The film is based on the memoir by Solomon Northup, published in 1853, and used locations in Louisiana on antebellum (pre-American Civil War, 1861-1865) plantations. Solomon Northup was kidnapped in 1841 in Washington D.C. and sold into slavery to work on plantations in Louisiana, USA.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Ending Domestic Abuse and Violence Against Women

Yesterday I went to the Salvation Army headquarters and had lunch in the canteen. In this basement area there was a exhibition, Look Again, with some large photographs, images, Bible texts and words about positive relationships and respect for women around the world. The exhibition was from 24 October to 9 December, but the display was still there.

While I was looking around the exhibition I picked up a sheet with prompts for prayer.

Pray for women facing violence

Pray for organizations who are working to end violence against women

  • For courage and wisdom in knowing what to do
  • For God to draw in people and resources to do the work
  • For protection in the face of evil
Pray for Restored

  • For our work with churches to help people see the problem and know how to respond
  • For work with men so that prevailing attitudes and behaviour are challenged and changed
  • For our international work
  • For the ability to co-ordinate and make things happen
  • For implementing the many ideas that are part of the vision God has given.
Yesterday the international media reported on another brutal gang rape and murder in India.

In the UK it is estimated that a woman is assaulted in her own home every six seconds.
Eighty per cent of teenage mums experience abuse.


For more information please click on:

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel is one of my favourite books and it is only a click away.  If you click on the link here then you can read it now.

http://www.eternallifeministries.org/jf_prov2.htm

Friday, 3 January 2014

The gift of prophecy for today?

In my New Testament it says that we should desire spiritual gifts, especially the ability to prophesy. In the original it states:

διωκετε την αγαπην ζηλουτε δε τα πνευματικα μαλλον δε ινα προφητευητε

I would translate these words as:
Follow the way of love earnestly desiring spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
See I Corinthians 14:1.

If you read the passages on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, there is nothing in these verses to indicate in any way that these spiritual gifts had a shelf life of less than 100 years or a  few hundred years.
There is no teaching in the New Testament that explicitly says these gifts would die out or that they were time limited to the apostolic age. There is no indication that once all the New Testament writings were set in a canon and the apostles had passed away that then the spiritual gifts will no longer be available. I see no reason to believe that these gifts are not for today and should not be desired for the church and the greater glory of God. We certainly need these gifts. 

Some object to the gift of prophecy in contemporary times on the grounds that such prophecies are different from biblical prophecies as biblical prophecies are perfect, infallible and divine utterances.  It is claimed that modern prophecies are quite different from those mentioned in the New Testament and that there is no such thing as fallible prophecies. According to the cessationist view, we no longer need prophecy any more because we have a complete Bible and therefore we have all the necessary words and teaching to live the Christian life. This view would hold that we have no need of extra biblical utterances or words from God.

However, those who hold the cessationist view would concede that we should have preaching and teaching, and that we need to have clarification on certain difficult passages and help with interpretation and the meaning of the Scriptures.  Such preaching would never be regarded as infallible but it could be a means of God speaking directly and powerfully to individuals and congregations.  Some preachers have spoken in ways that have been prophetic and truly inspired, one might say God breathed.  Of course it is not to be construed as scripture or on a par with the Bible. Such preaching can contain the truth and be free from error. God's word is truth (John 17:17).

Now cessationists have a problem with contemporary prophecies because they are fallible and, it is argued, not the same as those in the Bible.  I would contend that some prophecies in the New Testament period were fallible because they needed to be weighed, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:29.  Philip the evangelist  had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  When they spoke it was not infallible and not on a par with scripture.  Their prophecies were not always recorded, but in the case of Agabus, who had a prophetic ministry, only two prophecies are mentioned. Doctrine was not built on such utterances and the response to his last prophecy was not as many would have expected.  New Testament prophecies were inspired, direct words from God, and on some occasions were provisional and were of local relevance.  I see no reason why God should never inspire His servants to speak words that are provisional, edifying and providential; such utterances would not contain novel doctrines and messages that go beyond scriptural teaching.  They would be for edification, encouragement and exhortation. Prophecy is therefore very close to inspired preaching, which is fallible and needs to be evaluated in the light of biblical truth. Preachers under the anointing of the Holy Spirit could speak prophetically and could bring words of knowledge, or in the case of Agabus, a word in season that has a future dimension. Prophecy can be both telling forth the message of God and foretelling an event. Caution is needed here because sometimes a well meaning Christian may deliver a fallible, inaccurate and presumptuous word. It is dangerous when people build doctrines, make significant decisions and bring novel teaching based on visions, dreams, prophecies, and alleged "downloads from God". Discernment, the gift of discernment, is vitally important in today's church. 

  Most cessationists who hold to the faith once delivered to the saints, those in mainstream Christian denominations, would hold to the doctrine of the Trinity. Now we have arrived at a clear understanding of the Trinity, I would argue, through a prophetic process.  We cannot deny church history and historical theological developments.  The Lord has clearly spoken to the body of Christ, His church, words of wisdom and knowledge, and so we have the word Trinity (which is not found in the Bible anywhere) to explain the mystery of the Godhead. What we have established is that this truth of the Trinity is completely scriptural, faithful to the Bible, yet it has come through, I would argue, the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Those who formulated the Nicene Creed and the early orthodox creeds were prophetic. Their words, writings and witness were weighed and evaluated in the light of the Bible. Such creeds were explicitly revealing and clarifying what the Bible teaches implicitly.

Just because there have been bad prophecies, inaccurate predictions, abuses and counterfeit healings, it does not mean that we should rule out and forbid all such activities, all spiritual gifts.  Correct use and good ministry of these gifts should be the way forward.

It seems that those in the cessationist camp are not prepared to look at all the evidence.  They seem to be aguing as follows:

We have seen many swans.  They are white.  We have seen only white swans, so therefore all swans are white. If they are not always white then we would know about them and see them.

To many people this seems perfectly reasonable and correct.  But it is false! Completely and utterly false.
There are rare black swans and they can be seen at Leeds Castle in Kent, England.
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g187056-d2205054-i46882634-Leeds_Castle_Stable_Courtyard_Bed_Breakfast-Maidstone_Kent_England.html

The cessationists are arguing as follows.

We do not see any spiritual gifts.  We have never experienced prophecy, tongues and healing.  Therefore these spiritual gifts do not exist today.  If they existed then we would know about them and see them in our church.

While writing this post I originally made mistakes over prophecy the noun and prophesy the verb. Apologies for earlier errors.
.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

On the threshold of a great awakening???

Today I read a new year message by a prominent and much respected Christian leader, theologian, preacher and author. It mentioned a great move of God's Spirit. I note that he does not use the word revival. I have heard similar words, usually about revival, since the 1960s and while I believe that we really do need a revival or a great awakening, I am rather concerned and cautious about such predictions.  You may have read some of my previous posts which are highly critical of those who predicted revival in certain years and in certain countries, yet the conditions and situations were far from revival in any shape or form. Nothing even close. A falling away rather than revival seemed to have taken place. These predictions/prophecies simply did not come to pass!  Christian values have lost ground in a increasingly secular and godless UK.

The following predictions by this Christian minister were published on 1 January 2014:

I have largely avoided eschatology throughout my ministry. But now I am old. So I am prepared to say that we are on the brink of the greatest move of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost. There is coming a huge wake up call to the church that will go around the world – when it comes – in hours. In the Egyptian crisis this year nearly one million people flooded the square in Cairo an hour. How? By modern communications that nearly everyone has access to. Wait and see. This tool will do this with regard to a message coming down the road. Get ready for it. It will wake up the church....

 It is (in my humble opinion) the next thing on God’s calendar. It will result in the church being awakened, the lifting of the blindness on Israel and millions of Muslims converted. But all this will be paralleled by great persecution. It won’t be all fun. The “wise” virgins – those who have pursued their inheritance – will be right in the middle of this great outpouring. The “foolish” virgins – those who have not pursued their inheritance – will be on the side lines; they will plead for help from those who pursued their inheritance. But it will be too late for them.
Yes, I thought this would have come by now. But I expect it soon. I expect to see it in my lifetime (I am 78). 


I hope and pray that he is right, but I honestly do not see any signs of this awakening, the next thing on God's calendar. I think greater persecution is most probable. But this is said to be " the greatest move of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost." That is some prediction!

Dedham

Dedham
River Stour