Monday, 13 January 2014

Creeds and Confessions

What, then, of creeds and confessions? As to form, they bind only those who voluntarily profess or subscribe them. As to content, “they bind only so far as they affirm what the Bible teaches, and because the Bible does so teach.”[1] Where they depart in any respect from Scripture, we must follow Scripture and suspend our allegiance to that subordinate standard or to that ‘errant’ section within it. In other words, we follow a man or a confessional document only insofar as they unambiguously follow Christ speaking in the Scriptures. DML-J encouraged Christians to do their own thinking and to work things out for themselves. “We must not swallow automatically everything we read in books, even from the greatest men. We must examine everything.”[2]
This raises then interesting point that has bedevilled many churches over the centuries and that it its mere possession of theologically orthodox confessional statements. While the Doctor referred to these as mere “paper confessions” which found no reflection in what the churches were actually preaching, he had little time for them. Dr Harry Uprichard, a staunch Westminster Confession theologian, wrote, “Mere possession of a confessional basis does not ensure that a Christian body is characterised by the preaching of the Word. It must actively preach the same.”[3] If the Gospel is not being preached in churches where confessional correctness is demanded, then possession of such a confession becomes a liability and a hindrance to true Gospel preaching. It becomes purely academic whether or not the confession is biblical. Macleod who is also an avid Westminster theologian, contends that “it is not the official teaching of any given church that determines its soundness or otherwise, but its actual preaching.”[4] Churches would be better served if they altered their confessions to reflect what is actually being preached in their churches instead of maintaining their confessions and pretending that all its ministers preach according to its dogmas. Machen is right on the money here when he describes such inexcusable anomalies in terms of dishonesty.
According to Reformed theologian, Prof. John M. Frame, churches ought to be free to alter their confessions, and allow elders, whether teaching or ruling, to dissent from their confession of faith within some limits. This safeguards the position of supremacy for Scripture, and removes the possibility of Confessions becoming, not merely on a par with Scripture, but in actual practice, superior to Scripture in authority.  He writes
Confessions are not Scripture, and they should not be treated as infallible or as ultimately normative. Indeed, I believe it is important that in a church fellowship it be possible to revise the creeds, and for that purpose, it must also be possible for members and officers to dissent from the creed within some limits. Otherwise, the creed will, practically speaking, be elevated to a position of authority equivalent to Scripture. A “strict” view of subscription in which ministers are never permitted to teach contrary to any detail of the creed might be seen as a way to protect the orthodoxy of the church. However, in my view, such a view is actually subversive of orthodoxy, because it is subversive of biblical authority and sufficiency. Under such a form of subscription, Scripture is not given the freedom to reform the church according to God’s will.[5]
Frame’s position is reasonable and most commendable, and while it possesses the potential to loosen the hold that confessions have on its office-holders, it also frees those office-holders to demonstrate that Scripture is de facto the supreme standard of the church and the basis of their faith. It is the Christian duty of everyone who subscribes such confessions to do so in the knowledge that where they differ from Scripture in any regard, they must be free to go with Scripture, and not the creedal standard of the church, without ecclesiastical penalty being imposed. It is very easy to agree with Frame’s position in theory but then to invalidate it by saying that the confession of any particular church is so correct that it does not need to be altered. If confessions can be altered to bring them into line with the clear statements of Scripture, especially where the Gospel is concerned, then they ought to be.
DML-J held a similar position to that articulated by Frame. The Presbyterian Church in Wales, into whose ministry he was ordained in 1927, altered its 1823 Confession of Faith in 1875 to include the universal aspect in the Atonement. Then in 1933, the Welsh Presbyterian church adopted a looser attitude to its own Confession of Faith, yet DML-J, who was minister in Sandfields at that time, showed no concern whatever about this. Despite the fact that the Welsh Presbyterian church did this for purely liberal reasons, the Doctor found it liberating and also gave him the freedom to follow where Scripture leads. His evangelistic sermons in Sandfields demonstrate that he too enjoyed a looser adherence to his church’s confessional standards that energised his Gospel preaching, and meant that he was preaching sermons that were in keeping with those confessional standards.
DML-J believed that if a church claims to be ‘Reformed,’ it must demonstrate the authenticity of that claim by continually reforming its affairs,[6] its practice and, where necessary, its confessional standards,[7] according to Scripture. 
The Church is always to be under the Word, ... You must not assume that because the Church started correctly she must continue so. She did not do so in New Testament times; she has not done so since.[8]
Baptist professor of New Testament, Ralph P. Martin, makes a similar point to Frame when he says,
Nevertheless, our confessions are not inherently sacrosanct or beyond revision and improvement; and, of course, church history did not stop in the seventeenth century. We are faced with errors today which those who drew up the great confessions were not faced with and which they did not explicitly address in the confessions, but it is a task to be undertaken with extreme caution. ...[9]
Martin went on to say that “a confession is a useful means for the public affirmation and defence of truth...(it) serves as a public standard of fellowship and discipline...(and it) serves as a concise standard by which to evaluate ministers of the Word.”

[1]   Hodge?????
[2]   DML-J, Puritans, 1987:x.
[3]   Uprichard, H. in Evangel, Vol.3:4, 1985:2.
[4]   Macleod, D. in Evangel, Vol.4:1, 1986:11.

[6]    Latin: Ecclesia semper reformanda est.

[8]    Evangelical?, 1992:30.
[9]    Martin in Waldron, 1989:9-23.

Sunday, 22 December 2013


The church of Jesus Christ is presented in Scripture as God's new society in the world. She is described as that body of people who form a new humanity, distinct from the old humanity, yet having its origin in it. The Christian Church is the ’ecclesia,’ the 'called-out ones'; they are those who have been separated from the world, that is, from life
organised apart from any consideration of God or His Word of truth, to be a peculiar people chosen by the Sovereign God. As such,these 'called-out' people are different from those who have not been ’called-out’ from the world. They have a different outlook in life, observe different principles, serve a different Master, and are going to a different destiny. They are the people of God, the elect.

Now since it is impossible, in this life,to detect exactly who the elect of God are, our Lord teaches us that it is "by their fruits" that they are to be known,(Mt.7:16,20). What they are on the inside will be revealed by what they do outwardly. It may take a long time, even a life-time, for this to appear, but appear it assuredly will. But until that time comes, it is almost impossible to tell among those who make a public  profession of faith just who are the true children of God, and who are not. So great care has to be taken so that mistaken judgments are not made before the time, (1 Cor.4:5a; cf.Mt.13:30a).

It seems to be here that the problem of conflict occurs. There are those who claim to be Christians, who believe and say the right things, go to the right places and meetings, and associate with the right people, but who may not be Christians at all. They have all the appearances of being true believers, but alas they are from a different family altogether. And within the church of Christ, these people are accepted as members on a profession of faith. In the church, the wheat and the weeds grow and develop together until harvest, (Mt.13:25); within her bounds, the children of the flesh and those of the Spirit co-habitate, (Gal.4:22,23,29,30).

Further, there is the fact that in the world, there are those who are not God's people just as there are those who are. They share the same planet together, work in the same places, travel on the same roads, live on the same streets, attend the same churches, and do so together. These two distinct groups of people belong to different kingdoms whose rulers are utterly opposed to each other. Therefore the respective members of these kingdoms are automatically involved in a spiritual battle, or conflict, with those who serve the other master. There is a given-ness about this state of affairs that cannot be gainsaid. This is the true situation in which the Christian believer finds himself. God and Satan are at war; and their respective followers are called into and are actively engaged in the battle as well.

Given this scenario, it is but inevitable, though surprising, that conflict should arise within the body of Christ on earth. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon," (Mt.6:24). The sheer impossibility of this ever happening is denied categorically by our Lord. Any man can but serve one master at any one time. The Christian Church is set apart for the exclusive service of the Living God; but when there are those within the church who even hold positions of authority and leadership over God's people, yet who are in the service of another master, conflict will inevitably arise.

Conflict, then, within the church as visible must be recognised as normal, and not in anyway abnormal or strange. There should be great concern in the hearts of all true believers when the church is at peace with God's enemy. Christians should engage in deep and thorough examination of their hearts when they can get on well with those who hate their Saviour, and blaspheme His holy name. That is not to say that Christians ought to go out looking for trouble and conflict, for they ought to live at peace with all men, as much as it depends upon them, (Rom.12:18).

However, that being said, Christians often compromise their own testimony when they refuse to take their stand for Christ, when He is being ridiculed. And in so doing, they display a disregard for their Lord's honour in the world that is nothing short of disgraceful.

In trying to serve two mutually exclusive masters, they end up serving only the one, Satan. When a survey of the teaching of the entire Old and New Testaments is carried out, it will be observed that the first record of conflict is found in Gen.3, where the serpent confronts the woman, Eve, and makes suggestions to her of the harshness of God in not allowing her and her husband free scope in the Garden of Eden, and then,having gained her ear, proceeds to deny outright the doctrine of divine judgement which was pronounced by God upon Adam in the event of his disobeying His Word. This having been done, enmity was established between God and humankind, Gen.3:8, 13,16, and between God and the devil, Gen.3:14, 15. This conflict between heaven and earth had its ramifications between men, for in Gen.4:1,8, the account of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain is given in a simple,unadorned and factual manner. Separation of man from God resulted in separation between people in the one family, a separation that was evidenced in death, the basic meaning of which is 'separation, not termination.' The remainder of the Old Testament is full of the same sin which manifested itself in various ways.

When the New Testament is studied, the motif of conflict introduces the Gospel record. When the Christ-child's birth is announced by the angels of God, the enmity of men's heart was brought out in a terrible manner, with the decision of the government to kill all baby boys two years old and younger to ensure that the rival King to Herod might also be destroyed, Mt.2:1 -18. The entrance of the Messiah into the world which He came to redeem was bathed in conflict that issued in blood.

The earthly ministry of the Lord exhibits the same conflict principle. First with the religious leaders of His day, then with the political leaders, Jesus Christ found Himself regularly in confrontational situations which sought to compromise Him in some way or other. Traps were laid for Him by the lawyers, by Pharisees, by Sadducees, and by Scribes. Often the trouble arose because of the very presence of Jesus with them; what He said and did stirred up an unbelievable level of opposition against Him. No legitimate reason can be given to justify such opposition against the Son of God. It could not be said that His attitude towards those with whom He differed was sinful. Nor could it be argued that He set out deliberately to get people's backs up against Him and His cause and kingdom. Nor could it be alleged that He treated people badly, cared nothing for their feelings, forgot that they were people made in God's image, or simply tried to discourage them for the sheer sake of it. Who and what He was, was sufficient to guarantee a hostile reception from those who saw Him as a threat to their lives and religion. The pure and sinless Son of God coming into a wicked world that had already proved the depth of it's opposition to any intrusion into its affairs by the mal-treatment and killing of God's servants the prophets, was designed to provoke a strong uprising in men's hearts. And it did just that! When perfect holiness meets guilty sinfulness, something must give; and it won't be God's perfect holiness!

Throughout His earthly ministry, every step that God's Son took was contested strongly both by His enemies and by those called to be His disciples. Even they did not understand as they should the reason for His coming into the world. They imagined that He too would follow the ways of the world in order to establish His Kingdom in the world; that He too would attract followers by doing sensational dramatics, like being a 'temple-jumper,' Mt.4:5-7. But His Kingdom was not of this world, nor were His methods of establishing it. This lesson had to be learnt by His closest followers.

The death of the Messiah by crucifixion was the epitome of the wickedness of the human heart. At Calvary, the iniquity came to the fore for all to see. What men did to God's innocent Son was and is inexcusable, and is punishable by eternal death. Yet it was in precisely this way that God would redeem His people, and bring them into fellowship with Himself by reconciling them to God; for ”without the shedding of blood” there could be no forgiveness of sin for anyone. Christ was tortured, He suffered, and eventually died on that Roman gibbet.

Yet that was not the end of the matter, for on the third day, God wrought the greatest miracle that could ever be wrought when He raised His Son from death. The risen Christ appeared to the Eleven, to the wider group of followers, and last of all to Saul on the Damascus road, (1 Cor.15:1-8).

The fact of the resurrection of Christ, attested by many reliable witnesses, became a focal point in the kerugma of the early church. On occasions, the apostles were forbidden to preach in the Name of the risen Christ. Their message was a ridiculous one in the extreme; yet it was the crowning event of God's mighty acts. This event provided the proof that God had accepted the sacrifice that Christ made on the Cross for sin, thus opening up the way for the salvation or the world. When the early church commenced preaching this message, again conflict was provoked, and the disciples and apostles bore the brunt of it. The church was persecuted, scattered far and wide, and left as dead. But the believers of the Diaspora did not cease to be Christians when this happened, but saw this as God's mysterious way of sending out His people with the message of the Gospel that would enlighten men's natural darkness. One would have imagined that such a message would be welcome to men in sin, but such was not the case. Persecution intensified against the infant church, and this went on for many centuries until the life of the church was almost snuffed out.

Conflict commenced in time at a very early stage of man's existence in this world, and will continue unabated throughout history to the end of time, and this too will be marked by conflict. The forces of light and darkness will confront each other at the end, but the outcome will be in no more doubt then than it ever was during the years of history. God's truth, Kingdom, cause, and people will be vindicated publicly, and God's great eternal purpose which He wrought out in time through His despised servants, against all odds, will be seen for the glorious purpose that it is.

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Happy Christmas Possible Only In Christ

May I be permitted to share a brief word or two at this time of year when traditionally we remember the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came into the world to be its Saviour? I want you to hear the words of a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit and who rejoiced in the birth of the Saviour. His name is Zacharias (Lk.1:67), the father of John the Baptist and whose wife, Elizabeth, was the cousin of Jesus' mother, Mary. Zacharias was struck dumb because of his refusal to believe the words that Gabriel had spoken (vvs.19, 20). His mouth was opened and he began to praise God; and in his worship of the living God, he prophesied and said, "Blessed is the Lord God of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed His people..." (Lk.1:68).

Allowing for the fact that Zacharias was a Jew, a Hebrew, his prayer related to the Lord's chosen and ancient people, Israel, (v.68). He thanks God that He has visited and redeemed His people - the Jews. Whilst he ought to have known that God demanded that Israel show mercy to the outsider, the Gentiles or non-Jews, quite clearly he had forgotten this fact. Yet God accepted his worship and had it recorded for posterity in the pages of Scripture.
But did God visit and redeem His people Israel only? Clearly that is not the case. Yes, He visited them in the Person of His Son at that time, and through His death on Calvary He purchased their redemption. But He has also visited and redeemed us. How? Well, in addition to what happened in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago, when the Gospel is preached in our hearing, God is visiting us. Oh, how careful we ought to be when we hear the Gospel? This is God visiting us with a personal message of salvation. You have heard Him and so have I. But what have you done about it? Have you opened your heart and received it? Or, have you gone on rejecting it?
God has visited His people. But He has also redeemed the world through the death of Christ. Redemption for all has been purchased by the blood of Christ. God has shown His marvellous grace to a guilty human race in providing redemption for it. Does the world deserve redemption? Not at all. It deserves the very opposite. Does the God Who purchased that redemption at such colossal cost want all men everywhere to receive the benefits of that redemption? Yes, and a million times yes. He now reaches out His hand of grace to draw into His family and fold all who receive His Son, Jesus Christ. Have you? There is no need for you to perish forever for God has provided the only way of escape - and it becomes yours through trusting in the blood of God's only Son, "Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour of mankind," to quote Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones as he finished a sermon I heard him preach in Leeds in 1973.
Is Christmas about cards and gifts and trees and turkey and trifle and tinsel? Not a bit. It is what was necessary for the Saviour of the lost to die on Calvary. When you commemorate the Saviour's birth this year, remember why it was that He came all those years ago. He came so that He could visit and redeem you for Himself. He has visited you in the Gospel and through those godly lives that have come into contact with you and through that Gospel tract that you've received - and you know it! On Calvary He has redeemed you, but do you know that? Have you bowed the knee and received this glorious salvation, this redemption, that cost God His Son and the Son His life? And if you are to receive its benefits, it is going to cost you as well - it will cost you your sin. Are you prepared to give up what you cannot keep in order to have what you cannot lose? Think on these things.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


It is often wrongly assumed that conflict is aroused when someone says or does something that irritates another. Either he is abrupt or otherwise nasty, or he behaves in a particularly unacceptable manner. In each case, the other person is offended, and conflict is provoked. This is not true in principle, however. In practice, it often is the case, given the fallenness of human nature. Yet, care must be taken when applying this principle to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the accounts of the incarnation of Jesus Christ are examined in Matthew, Luke and John, a recurring trend may be discerned. At the time of His birth in Bethlehem of Judea, a tremendous uproar was created in neighbouring Jerusalem when King Herod heard of the arrival of a new "King". The royal Baby had just been born, had neither said nor done anything, yet His very presence in the nation caused intense opposition against Him. Herod knew that a new King being born in his jurisdiction heralded the end of his own sinful reign over the Jews. This amounted to nothing less than a massive threat to his throne and to his personal sovereignty. His security had now been undermined and his position of leadership on the verge of toppling. The king's wicked lifestyle was challenged by the arrival this Child's presence in Bethlehem. And what made matters worse was the fact that King Herod had not even known of the birth, nor that such a birth was to have taken place! The very secrecy of the birth of God's Son threw him into mental turmoil and anguish. What was happening? Matthew makes it abundantly clear that Herod's nerves were seriously frayed,(2:13).

But not only was Herod, and no doubt his political advisers, greatly alarmed at the news of the Saviour's birth, so also was all Jerusalem,(v.3). The entire city was thrown into turmoil at the news. The inhabitants of Jerusalem was in the main Jewish, and of all people they ought to have rejoiced at the word of the Messiah's birth. But they did not! They too were disturbed, very upset, troubled. The verb, ϵταραχθη, is aorist, and is in the passive voice, indicating that this was something that had happened to them. The root verb, ταρασσω, is a Homeric term, means that "to shake something out of inertia and throw it into confusion, i.e, to disturb, to upset, to confound, to agitate.[1] The Old Testament (LXX) on the whole uses this word in the usual Greek sense. The word is used in the New Testament of troubling the waters, (Jn.5:4,7), and in the passive sense, is always used negatively, connoting emotional disturbance: to become terrified, afraid, overawed. The Synoptics use the infinitive, ταρασσομαι, only five times, always with this meaning, and that two of the five are found in the nativity narratives, (Mt.2:3; 14:26; Mk.6:50; Lk.1:12; 24:38).In every case the reference is to an emotional shock which is brought about not by human action, but by the action of God. This is important, because the birth of the Messiah was nothing if not divine action, divine intervention. Herod's heart, and the heart's of the people of Jerusalem experienced the reality of internal commotion when God became flesh in the Person of His Son. And when a person is churned up inside, there arises a bitterness that issues in the desire for revenge, leading in turn in the lust for murder; thus conflict is born.

In Herod's case, the conflict came about because his own sinfulness was being exposed by the presence of God's holy Son. His was primarily an inner conflict. He was not at peace with himself, therefore he could not be at peace with others, especially rivals. The absence of inner peace and the disunity of heart that he experienced are explicable only in terms of his being a rebel against Almighty God. His own personal history, coupled as it necessarily was with that of his forebears, did not make for pleasant thinking. His guilt stared him in the face. Sin was alive and well in Herod's life.

Here we can draw the conclusion that our Lord did not have to say or do anything to have a far–reaching effect upon those around him. His presence alone stirred up conflict. He was different to those around him, and this difference exerted its own influence upon their thinking. His presence in Bethlehem was a mighty challenge to all who lived there, and to everything they did. Most of all, perhaps, it launched the greatest challenge to the religion which they had embraced, or had not embraced as the case may be. The Jewish religion spoke of the coming of the Messiah, God's Anointed One, to Bethlehem in Judea. That entire religious system was a pointer to its fulfilment in the Person of the promised Messiah. Consequently, the Jews ought to have been awaiting the Messiah, and to have expected His arrival amongst them at any time. But alas, they themselves did not know the time of His appearing, nor receive Him when He did in fact come, Jn.1:11,12. He was rejected by His own people. And where there is rejection of God's Son and Gospel, there necessarily will be conflict.

[1]   NIDNTT, Ed. Colin Brown, Exeter, 1978, Vol.3, p.709. The noun, ταραχος, connotes agitation, confusion, tumult.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Marriage and Society and the Church's Failure

The well-being of society is bound up with the holding in honour of the marriage bond.  The context of this is the marriage ceremony where one man and one woman are united before God in matrimony.  Mr Ford's stance, as a Presbyterian elder, is calculated to further society's ills, and to promote that which is offensive to a holy God, namely, the establishment of sodomy on equal terms with the biblical understanding of marriage. 

I am interested in ascertaining what PCI's position now is on marriage, and if it has changed when that change occurred and who initiated it.  If it has not changed, what actions does it propose to take against a publicly offending church elder and also against those who are in membership of that denomination and who voted against marriage as understood in the Scriptures.

Mr Ford's denial of Christian marriage had been discussed at a Templepatrick Presbytery meeting in November 2012, and it decided to follow the Biblical mandate and also the church's Code as an initial stage in the disciplinary process.  Consequently, the Moderator and Clerk of the Presbytery, along with a former Moderator of the church's General Assembly, were to meet with a view to ascertaining the facts of the case, and also to discover what the offending elder's position is on Christian marriage.

Now, while this is the correct biblical follow, two things strike me as odd.  First, why wasn't Mr Ford suspended as a ruling elder while investigations were proceeding, thus allowing him, in theory, to influence young adults to his way of thinking as a ruling elder within his church in good and regular standing? Second, had the Presbyters kept abreast of the situation, they would see that the facts are perfectly clear: Mr Ford voted in favour of same-sex marriages for Northern Ireland, and based this opinion, not on the teaching of the Scriptures as would be expected of a Christian church elder, but on European law and equality legislation.  Mr Ford, by his public stance, has set himself against the plain teaching of Scripture, therefore ought to have been suspended immediately, pending investigations.  

Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

Over the past months, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has been silent and inactive over its virtual acceptance by default of same sex marriages.  Indeed, what has been even sadder is the fact that evangelical ministers within that denomination have been deafeningly silent about this situation.  It is also of concern that the only men who have taken up this issue with PCI were from outside that denomination; which raises very serious questions about where PCI ministers stand on this important matter.  It is of utter irrelevance for ministers to say that they still hold to the traditional biblical meaning of marriage while they are ministers in a connexional church that tolerates an opposite viewpoint.  They cannot 'wash their hands' off this situation Pilate-like, and while they remain silent on this denial of a Christian truth, they are complicit in this sin.

In the Stormont Assembly, Mr Ford, who is also Justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, said, ""Alliance [the political party which he leads] believes that, in terms of equality, it is correct to extend the provisions of civil marriage to same sex couples. At present civil partnerships are not equal to marriage. For instance, those in a civil partnership currently have to declare their sexual orientation on official forms."

Mr Ford's policies are not driven by Scriptural principle but by liberal legislation passed in godless parliaments.  His concern is for "equality," regardless of what equality is being discussed or legislated for.  What the Bible teaches - and it is very clear on marriage and the closely related issue of sodomy - Mr Ford deems to be irrelevant so far as the government of the land is concerned.  Equality issues drive this man, not faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel.  At his ordination to the ruling eldership, Mr Ford would have agreed to be governed by the Word of God and not by acts of parliament.  Obviously he has forgotten his ordination vows, or as is usually the case with liberals, they take them with their proverbial fingers crossed behind their backs.

He continues, "This is obviously still a highly sensitive issue for many people across Northern Ireland. I respect the deeply held personal opinions of those who are opposed to same sex marriage."  Rather than merely respecting the views of those who differ with him on who should be married, Mr Ford, as a church elder, should be heading up all opposition to the institution of marriage and from every quarter.  He ought to have been in the vanguard of resistance to such an immoral thing.

His position on marriage as re-defined by people like him, accepted by PCI's deafening silence, will be supported by his church and he will be retained as a church elder in good and regular standing.  Further, he will be allowed to 'rule' within that church, and as an elder, provide leadership and spiritual guidance not just within the congregation but within the wider church.  Imagine a situation where two men or two women want to marry in the church. Mr Ford, as a ruling elder, will have to object to such a ceremony being conducted on church premises, and also to his minister conducting such a service. But Mr Ford, as Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, will have to insist that the law of the land be upheld, despite it being a godless and God-defying law.

At the time this was very much in the public domain, I wrote to the then Moderator of the General assembly of PCI, Dr Roy Patten, and put it to him, "In light of the recent vote in the Stormont Assembly in which members of your church and also a church official voted against the institution [of marriage] as understood biblically and in favour of same sex marriage, what is the current position of your church on marriage...?" I considered this to be a reasonable question and concern and one that most decent people would like to have an answer to.  He told me in an email that PCI's position on marriage has not changed.  He said, "church position has not changed."  That is a most welcome response, because theologically liberal denominations are quite capable of doing anything, including the most bizarre things.  What position is precisely is, he did not explain.

However, actions speaks louder than mere words, and whether or not this is the case will be seen in what action the church will take against the offending official. Mr Ford has now voluntarily stepped down from the duties of a ruling elder, but he is still an elder in good and regular standing within the church.

On the matter of any potential discipline that the church will or will not take, I asked Moderator Patten, "What steps do you  propose to take against those within your membership who have voted to undermine and even deny Christian marriage?"  He said, "if people wish there is process people can use." So unless someone feels strongly enough about official to marriage as understood biblically, the church will accept this deviant understanding of marriage and it correlative practice.

This was a response that one would expect from a theological liberal, not from someone who professes to be an evangelical, which is what Dr Patten was when I knew him some 24 years ago.  He made no comment one way or the other, thus raising the question as to what he actually believed about this critically important moral and societal issue. It is truly amazing the dumbing down effect a liberal denomination can have on even its best ministers!

Sadly I am no better informed about what that church actually believes about marriage than I was before I contacted the Moderator.  His evasiveness suggests that perhaps I do not know what that church now believes about marriage.

The silence of evangelicals is palpable.  The Christian members of that denomination have no one to stand up for the sanctity of Christian marriage as understood in the Bible.  They feel badly let down and undermined by their church because they have tried to teach their children that marriage is an honourable estate and most commendable.  Now the church's guilty silence has been a proverbial 'slap in the face' for good Christian members who have sought to teach their children the right way.

Mr Ford continued, "Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives solid protection on the grounds of religious freedom, so I do not believe that faith groups have any reason for concern that they could be forced to carry out same sex marriages, any more than they can be forced to marry those previously divorced."

So for him, the supreme guarantee of religious freedom is the European Convention on Human Rights, not Scripture, an inconsistent position for a church elder to hold.  What he therefore believes is of little value, since Scripture is not his final and sole court of appeal in all matters of faith and practice.  His 'belief' that ministers will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages is very thin and does not accord with the facts.  Why are Christian B&B owners being taken to court for not allowing same-sex or even unmarried couples to rent a room for the night?  Why are Christians being prosecuted for wearing Christian symbols at work?  Why can advertising people be prosecuted for refusing to accept advertising from the LGBT community?  If Mr Ford believes that church ministers, and especially Gospel ministers, will be protected from prosecution for sexual discrimination or homophobia, then he is clearly not living in the real world. Indeed, Gospel ministers are not even protected from  persecution within and by the church herself.

The Urge to Pray

Praying is a difficult task for many believers, due to the weakness of the flesh and the sinfulness of our hearts.  

But what a re-assurance it is to know that many others having been ‘holding the ropes’ of prayer for us. It is in this way that we battle successfully against the powers of darkness and their evil onslaughts against us.  That's why, and for many genuine believers, praying is so difficult, a struggle.  

Yet, the truly amazing thing is that God, by His Spirit, gives us the urge to pray at different times, and when this happens, we must follow this urge and come before the Throne of Grace in prayer.  At such times, I have found myself having greater liberty in prayer. When you feel the urge to pray, then pray; for this is God’s Spirit at work prompting you to bring whatever is in your heart to Him.

Never postpone the urge to pray when God sends it.  Who knows just what God is intending to do through His servants and children when He urges them to pray. When the urge comes, whatever else you may be doing, pray. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY - and especially when our loving Father urges us to do so.