Sunday, 28 December 2008

Unconverted members rule in congregations

A professed Christian church that is ruled by unconverted members! A funny (strange) phenomenon, it if were not so serious! But its true! In many, if not most, mainline congregations, church membership is largely unconverted.

That means that so long as they profess the faith that they are true believers, they must be accepted as such for ever and a day. They must be admitted without question to the sacraments, and given their say in the major decisions of church life - the calling of a new minister, the election of elders and deacons (committee members), how congregational money is to be spent, etc.

These 'members' have a full say in all such matters. They have gone through the ecclesiastical conveyor-belt system, and have now 'made it.' Being regarded as Christians by the church, they hold the control over what happens.

Let's say, for example, that a group of these false professors take exception to the preaching of the minister, because they have the power, and the backing of the establishment, they can work to secure his removal from the ministry. The establishment, whether at local level or nationally, also accepts these false professors as Christians, and will always do their bidding, especially if they include the 'people who count' within the congregation.

This is sadly true in many congregations. And the true Christians who have refused to become communicant members, are ostracised by the church, because they do not count. They might do those things that are required of Christians, namely, they might attend the prayer meeting and bible study with regularity, give generously to the church, help in whatever way they can, give constant support to the beleaguered minister, and have an excellent witness in the wider community. But they just do not count when it comes to church officialdom.

May I be permitted to throw out a challenge to any who might be reading this post. While this unfortunate situation pertains within many congregations, individual ministers, and where the kirk session agrees, could adopt an open membership policy that will include those good Christian attendees in church life and decision-making, and dilute the influence of those false professors. This could continue until the spiritual state of the congregation has changed sufficiently when a return to a more normal policy can be re-adopted.

This will take courage on the part of ministers who are disturbed by the current situation in their churches. It will not be a popular policy to adopt, in the short term, but in the longer term, it will bring about the results that will change the spiritual state of the church into what it is supposed to be.

A Balanced Ministry

Just as a balanced diet is essential to proper development and health, so in the spiritual realm, a balanced diet is needed.

In denominations and congregations where the Gospel has not been made welcome, there is an urgent need for evangelistic preaching that is tailored to the spiritual needs of the hearers. God's mighty Gospel must be heralded faithfully, without cognisance being taken of those congregations who like a 'cool' Gospel, as opposed to a 'hot' one. A 'cool' Gospel very soon degenerates into a non-Gospel.

But when, under the blessing of Almighty God, the preaching of the Gospel of God knows success, and sinners are converted to the Saviour, these new converts need to be taught the solid meat of the Gospel. This is where the balance is needed. Yes, there can be a ministry which might be called 'teaching evangelism,' in which the Gospel is taught to the newly saved, and the challenge to the unsaved is unclouded. This is a step forward, and is to be encouraged.

At the other end, some ministers accept that all those who have made a profession of faith are Christians, and need only to be taught; so they prepare good solid and nourishing food for their souls, and present this to them on a weekly basis. Some of these refuse to evangelise the communicant members, because, firstly, the church has already accepted them as Christians, and, secondly, if the church accepted them as Christians, how dare any minister to think or say otherwise. If the church says they are Christians, then evangelising them is singularly inappropriate.

Here again, there is an imbalance in approach. Cognisance is not taken of false professors within the fold of the church, the "wolves in sheep's clothing," who have come in to devour the flock. They need to be fended off by the clinical application of the Gospel to their lives, and by the faithful discipline of the eldership.

Neither of these is likely to occur because this would have a negative effect on the financial state of the congregation. Thus the true spirituality of the church suffers by unfaithfulness to the office of eldership as set out in the New Testament and in the church's confessional standards.

Imbalance in the preaching/teaching/pastoral ministry of the church is most likely to create an imbalanced membership.

Irreverent Worship

I mentioned in an earlier post that theological liberalism has infiltrated the evangelical church, and possesses the tendency the completely overcome it, turning it into something quite different from what the biblical Gospel describes.

In this post I wish to discover an application of this principle to another area of Christian worship. It is quite noteworthy that in today's church there is an over-familiarity with things divine. In fact, it might even be worse than than because it seems that, here again, pressure is brought to bear on ministers to accommodate rebellious youth culture in services of divine worship.

What I mean is that young people have sent out a message to churches that if they are not allowed to attend church in whatever way they want, behave how they want, and sing those songs that they appreciate, they will not attend. This implied threat by rebellious youth has been surrendered to by the churches who have said that it now does not matter how they present themselves before the sovereign Lord for the worship of His holy Name.

Time was when worshippers presented themselves before God for worship, they actually believed that He was there, that they were actually worshipping the King Who was present, and that it did matter how they turned up for worship. They believed that they were in the House of the Lord, and not a concert theatre, or flea market. They knew they were presenting themselves before the living and true God, and that they had to do so appropriately, because He was present with them, though invisible.

Now, the malignant influence of theological liberalism has robbed the church, including evangelicals, of the attitude of reverence when approaching God, Who is a consuming fire, to worship Him. Because large tracts of the church today have lost any convincing sense of God's presence in the services, anything goes.

Further, the people who refuse to prepare themselves holistically for the worship of the Triune God, are saying much about their own attitude to the Lord, and among the statements they are making is that they can worship Him any old how, and they can present themselves any old how. Not only is this true of young people, but mature adult Christians believe that have to play the same irreverent religious game, and present themselves before the Lord as casually as they can, just to fit in with the mores of rebellious youth culture.

Can you imagine a professional teacher, or lawyer, or accountant, or businessman turning up to work in the most casual attire they can put on? Can you further imagine what the boss might say, were such to happen? Or imagine someone from an evangelical church being presented to the Queen for some award or other, presenting themselves in trainers, shabby denim jeans and tee-shirt?

But then again, people like these have a much higher and more exalted view of the Queen and their professional bosses, than they do of the God they are seeking to worship!

Now what does this say about these poor disrespectful people? An awful lot, and much of which is not becoming of the Lord they claim to love and serve!

Let me make one point very clear. I am not suggesting a return to the old days of outward correctness and inner spiritual bankruptcy. Far from it! Perish the thought! But I am concerned to recover the good traditions of the Huguenots who believed that both the inward spiritual condition and outward order must go hand in hand together. Both are important, they believed, and one must not be made subservient to the other. God is the God of order, and wants everything in His church done "decently and in order."

How can this be applied to today's church? In this way: those who are spiritually alive to Christ and are walking in a right relationship with Him must be the standard setters, and demonstrate to other younger Christians how to present themselves outwardly to God when they come to worship Him. In the case of the Christian, the outward is a reflection of the inward. But in the case of the non-Christian, no matter how outwardly correct they might be, this is not a reflection of inner spiritual correctness.

Sad to say that many evangelicals do not even know who the Huguenots were, and have lost a enormous amount by such ignorance. They were the most biblically balanced theologians and ministers the world ever knew, and their balance permeated its way into every aspect of their lives and witness.

Let us get back to what these noble Christians believed and practised, and the church will be the better of such a return.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Word of God NOT rule of Faith

Contemporary understanding of worship in much of today's church is taken more from modern debauched culture, and is informed by man-centred psychology. It is not informed by Scripture, nor does it draw on the highest and best periods of the history of the Christian Church.

Humanistic relativism is the guiding principle for the worship of the Almighty, not the Word of God. It's what is fashionable and acceptable to youth culture that is allowed in God's house, not what's glorifying to God. Worship in the contemporary church is driven powerfully by youth cravings, and by a desire to please people.

It is becoming increasingly clear that what is influencing worship in today's church is the predominant philosophy such as was given expression in the 'rock and roll' period of the 1960s, with its bare-faced rejection of authority - ALL authority. Only in a church as decadent as the modern church would such a motivation be found. Youth rebellion is accommodated, not challenged and addressed, in the modern church. Every musical guru does what is right in his own eyes.

This man-centredness is designed to facilitate worldly gratification. Worship songs, as they are affectionately called, are deliberately man-centred.

So who really is being worshipped in today's church - man or God? Irreverence is accepted when they claim to be in the awesome presence of the all-consuming and Almighty God, when in reality it resembles more an American musical.

But why is today's worship like this? It is like this because Christians in the church do not know Who God is. They do not know the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as He revealed Himself in Scripture.

So where does this leave subscription to the Westminster Standards within Presbyterian churches? It leaves it as the farce it is! Much more reverence and respect are given to our professions and to Queen Elizabeth II, than are given to King Jesus. Indeed, the comparison is inappropriate for many professing Christians today, because Jesus Christ is dismissed from His rightful place as Head of the Church as a persona non grata, mainly because He cannot be seen. For a materialistic generation like ours, what cannot be seen simply does not exist!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Pilgrim's Progress

I am currently reading a version of John Bunyan's masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress, and am re-discovering some very profound, yet simple, truths.

One of the simplest, yet often missed, truths is the fact that when we became Christians, we started on a journey whose destination is Heaven, the Celestial City, where the King lives and reigns. Sadly many believers forget this important truth, and substitute for it their advancement in this world and in this world's wealth. But this is where we are heading to, and everything that happens to us on the way either helps or hinders our journey; but nothing can stop us reaching our destination.

Like Christian in Bunyan's book, we too will meet all kinds of challenges. We will meet attempts to distract us from the Way of the King, attempts to divert us from the right pathway and lead us into all kinds of trouble. But we will also meet some good people who are also on the Way of the King, and going to the Celestial City. These are the encouragers, the helpers, the fellow-pilgrims who take us by the hand and help us through the times of danger. There will be fierce animals out to devour us, but because we are under the almighty protection of the King, they cannot harm us - they are held by chains that will not break.

One of the sad sights we will see on the Way of the King, is the sight of those who started on the Way, but who grew weary and did not finish. What a warning to us! They found the Way of the King which goes to the Celestial City just too difficult for them, and they gave up. They forgot just how much the King loved them, and that they were to trust Him in all things.

If you have not read Pilgrims Progress, perhaps now is the time to start reading it, and your soul will be 'strangely warmed' by the truths in it. Get to know it well, and teach it to your children, and to any Christian you might know.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Evangelical Ministers in Abundance!

It is quite amazing, and a little amusing, to hear students for the ministry delighting in the fact that all the students for the ministry within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland are sound evangelicals - a very welcome fact indeed. It is a sign that God is blessing His church when He gives Gospel ministers to her.

The obverse is also true; when He gives only liberals to the ministry, that is a sign that He has placed the church under His judgement. When there is a bit of each, then it is difficult to assess what exactly it is that God is doing.

But when all the students for the ministry are 'sound evangelical men,' there is cause for great rejoicing amongst the people of God. When young ministerial students report this wonderful fact, they do so with an air of superiority at times, and with a sense of gratitude to God at others.

I started formal training for the Christian ministry in the Presbyterian college, Belfast in 1975, and I can remember saying to a senior minister how great the future for the church really was, now that God has called all these good young men into the ministry.

He, also an evangelical man, took the wind out of my sails when he told me that when he entered the ministry within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland some 35 years earlier, that all the students in his day were also evangelicals.

What had happened in the meantime? To my recollection, most of the men of my friend's generation were not noted evangelicals, as we both admitted. So what happened?

Several things come to mind. First, it is possible for men to lose their 'first love' for Christ and the Gospel, and these are then forced into second place, if even that, in the affections of these men. A love for Christ and the Gospel that has run cold, is no love at all. They have lost the reason for their entering the ministry.

Decency would demand that they resign, or are removed, but pride and security, tempered with the desire for popularity, demand otherwise.

Second, the denomination sucks them in. While officially within the Presbyterian system of church government, there are no preferments, as in Anglicanism, for example, those at the top of this system do exert a certain 'benign' influence on them, offering them inducements. Young evangelical ministers of promise are promoted to positions of leadership within the wider church, promised foreign travel opportunities, lured by the potential of a bigger congregation in which to minister, told who best to associate with, and whom to stay away from at all costs - those men who would not do your promotion chances any favours - even have held out to them the possibility of the Moderator's Chair.

Now these inducements are there for the 'good churchmen' of the denomination, and the younger evangelicals, having taken their eye of the ball, are deluded into following this evil advice. A senior churchman of any credibility or standing cannot and does not hold to this simple Gospel that they preached in their earlier years of their ministry, so they tone down their preaching, and make it a real struggle for their hearers to discern any clear message. So they give up the Gospel in order to hold on to their chosen careers for life!

A third reason why men depart from the evangelical message is the love of this world and all its attractions. How many have sold the pass in order to have more of this world's goods! Here again, toning down the Gospel so that it becomes palatable to "the people that matter" within the church, the good payers, the people of standing in the community, the people who can decide your destiny, yes even within the Presbyterian system!, the people who 'count,' is resorted to. These worldly thought patterns draw good men away from the Gospel that may have once burned in their hearts and souls, thus ending their evangelical credentials.

Fourth, there is unbelievable pressure in congregations for men to conform to the way things have always been done there. If every young person reaching the age of 15 or 16 has been admitted to church membership and privileges, then the new man must not change this practice. If every new born thing that moves has been 'christened' by the previous minister, and/or the one before that, then the new man must conform. If having a Bible Study and Prayer Meeting has not been there in the past, then he will be allowed to hold these, but must not insist that these are attended by elders, deacons, Sunday schools teachers, youth leaders, and all new communicants. Why? Because they might not be into such things. And in any case, you don't want to lose members from the church!

And the result? Ministers have three choices: they either relinquish their precious privileges and 'go with the flow,' or they will have to move to another church, or they will be removed from their present charge by Presbytery on the grounds of incompatibility of minister and congregation.

So a few men were still clear-cut evangelicals when I left the church, but only a few. Young zealous evangelicals need to know that the situation that they are today reporting was virtually identical with the case 65 years ago, and 30 years ago.

Yet where is the church today? In theological bankruptcy, and in the spiritual wilderness, having no saving message for a lost and dying humanity, and therefore incapable of criticising what is now tolerated within her ranks.

I dare say that this pattern will repeat itself for generations to come, and young zealous evangelicals who train to minister in the big liberal and ecumenical churches, and sadly also in some of the smaller evangelical churches, will express delight in the influx of godly evangelical men to serve in the ministry.

Christians must pray for these good young men who offer themselves for the Christian ministry. But they must also take them under their more experienced wings, and be mentors for them.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Worshipping GOD

When you look at the issue of worship within the church, where do you say the emphasis really lies? On the worship? Or, on God?

Without hesitation, I aver that the emphasis, almost universally within the professing church today, is on the worship.

That's why we have worship bands/groups, worship leaders, worship songs, worship services, etc.

What is forgotten in all this is Who it is we are worshipping! Our worship tends to be directed towards the worship of worship, not the worship of God. It is better to focus on getting the worship right, than Who is being worshipped. Problems arise in many churches when God is brought into the idea of worship, because what He sees as being acceptable worship is decidedly NOT what the modern church believes and practices today.

Unless and until the church returns to what is the acceptable worship of God, she is erring greatly. To do this, she must denounce her current idolatrous worship, and get back to Who God is, and what He wants. He has told us Who He is, and He has told us how He is to be worshipped. And the one thing that is prohibited here is innovation!

May God teach the church this lesson before it is too late.

Meetings more abundantly

Listening to the contemporary church, you could be excused for believing that Jesus said, "I have come that they might have numerous committee meetings to attend, and committee meetings more abundantly."

This attitude has found its way into the outside world. Visit any government department or agency, and you will see not a few people walking about carrying a folder, and looking as if they are very important people. Try to speak to a particular person in some big corporate organisation, and more than likely they will be at a meeting or seminar somewhere.

Examine some organisations, and you will discover hat most committees are manned by a small number of people - the professional committee people, the people without whom the organisation would collapse, the really important people.

Why do people join so many committees? And why do they attend so many meetings? More fundamentally, is this why they were called into the Gospel ministry? Are committee meetings to take precedence over the real work of the ministry?

Ask yourself, Is this why were called into the Christian ministry?

On reflection, I consider that those ministers who are habitual committee people have a spiritual problem - they have egos that are going quickly, because they see themselves as those who cannot be done without.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Discovering God's Will

New Christians are taxed greatly about this matter. "I want to do God's will, but how do I know what it is?" They have yearned and prayed, worried and lamented, discussed and argued, about this solemn matter, and have got nowhere as a result. They are as confused as ever!

What we have to realise is that God has two wills: there is His sovereign will by which He orders everything that comes to pass for His own glory; and there is His moral will that He has revealed in the Scriptures, and summarised in the Ten Commandments.

But the young Christian will ask, "Is there an individual of God for my life?" A good question, and a sign that the believer is keen to do God's will in his life.

Now this provokes an important question: does God have an individual will for all His children? Is there such a thing as being "in the very centre of God's will" for my life? Can I know "God's perfect will for me?"

First, I want you to tell me where these phrases are found in the Bible. Answer: Nowhere. They are not biblical categories. This explain why it is so difficult to discover God's perfect will for your life - it does not exist!

Second, God's Word describes God as a Father, a Shepherd and a Guide for His people.

(a) As a Father, He surrounds us with everything we need in the days of spiritual infancy, and as we grow into maturity, He gives us increasing personal responsibility to make our own decisions that must be within His moral will/law. The more mature we become, the more spiritual freedom we enjoy in life. So we can make our decisions on the basis of God's moral will - as revealed in Scripture - allowing us to serve Him within that broad field.

(b) As a Shepherd, He tends and provides for us, and so long as we stay within the area He has given us, we can do very much as we please. He does not come to us and tell us what blade of grass we should eat, or how much water we should drink. So long as we stay within the boundaries He has set, we can do as we please.

(c) As a Guide, He directs our steps along life's way, more so in the early days of our Christian pilgrimage, but less so as we mature in our faith. The children of Israel were guided by "a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night." In the Christian era, after the initial stages of the establishment of the church, He again allowed His people certain freedoms to decide what they wanted to do, so long as it remained within His moral will/law.

So what is God's will for my life? To grow in holiness and godliness and in likeness to Jesus Christ. To live life so that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Redeemed people are to be 'good' people. What college ought you to go to, and what career ought you to take up? Well, that's up to you, and will be in accordance with your interests and abilities. Where should you live, and in what way should you serve God? Again, you decide where to live, and as a Christian, you are already in the full-time service of the Lord. You are to "shine as lights" wherever you are, and to be "His witnesses ... to the ends of earth."

So discovering God's will is not the big problem that some make it out to be. God's will for you personally is that you might be holy in all you do, and where you do it is quite immaterial.

Contemporary Worship - a Great Crowd-puller

"Contemporary worship" - what on earth is that? "Worship in today's church must be modern if we are to attract and hold the young people." Oh yes?

This is true in every church or Christian grouping that has knowingly or unknowingly swallowed theological liberalism. This has been "drip-fed" to the churches, and to ministerial students in training for the most exalted calling there is. And they, in turn have "drip-fed" this liberalism to their congregations. You might protest with, "But my church and my minister preach the Gospel; they are not liberals!"

But this begs two basic questions: what is liberalism, and what is the Gospel?

Put simply, liberalism is that attitude of mind and heart that believes that Scripture is not "the only infallible rule of faith and practice," including worship. It is the attitude that says, "We know better than God does about how He is to be worshipped." It is that frame of mind that plays fast and loose with the Scriptures, and substitutes all sorts of human and worldly innovations into the worship of God that He never required.

Liberalism is essentially 'arrogance dressed in theological garb.' It is the refusal to be governed by God's Word in all aspects of life.

And it stands in direct opposition to conservatism, especially of the evangelical and reformed type which seeks honestly to honour the Scriptures in these matters. Now this is not about getting into the exclusive psalmody debate, because, like the baptism and church government debates, it, too, is deeply divisive.

However, the teaching of Scripture says that innovation in worship is prohibited, and that God Himself has laid down how He is to be worshipped, a position taken historically especially in the reformed churches. But the churches depart from this faithful and tested position when they embraced the spiritually bankrupt system called theological liberalism. So now we have a plethora of 'liberal evangelical' churches, as opposed to 'conservative evangelical' churches. This bodes badly for the future of Gospel witness that goes on in these very churches.

This brings me to the next issue: What is the Gospel? Another massive question, but put simply, it is the message that God Himself has delivered to His apostles and prophets to preach to the human race, telling what He has done in grace to redeem the world, and which centres on the Person and Work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the only saving message in the world and the one which the world urgently needs.

Now where God's Word is disparaged regarding how He is to be worshipped (and what is today called worship has been adulterated by all kinds of human crowd-pulling innovations), it is but a small step to a change in thinking that says that because we are not 'pulling the crowds' with the old Gospel, we must now subject it to similar fundamental changes that will attract and hold the young people within the churches.

But where is this all going to end? Exactly where a writer of old said it would when he talked about the church preaching "A Christ without a Cross, faith without repentance, conversion without commitment, hope without holiness, love without wrath, heaven without hell..." and so on. Why? Because this will be a nicer Gospel for the twenty-first century sophisticates who do not wish to be challenged, or even have it suggested that they are not on the Way of the King, and going to the Celestial City.

This new gospel and the contemporary worship services might well 'do the deal' in the short term, but the longer term prognosis is bad. Why do I say that? Because the church will have to keep reinventing itself, Madonna-like, in order to draw and keep the crowds.

And what about God? What God? We have dispensed with Him many years ago, and we have now become even more biblical, because "every man does that which is right in his own eyes." When and where will this man-pleasing end? And who's to stop it?

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Deceit and Dishonesty Endemic in Church Life

Many poor Presbyterians have been left with little more than 'egg on their faces' as a result of the Presbyterian Mutual Society having to go into administration, brought about by its inability to repay monies that Presbyterians had invested in it.

This is bad and most unfortunate, but what has exasperated matters is the Pontius Pilate act of the church's senior administrator, and Clerk, Dr Donald Watts. On several occasions, he simply washed his hands of the entire affair, claiming that PCI had no legal ties with PMS. This cold and calculating performance by Dr Watts left many Presbyterians reeling, and speaking to a small group of PCI members this past week, found his public performances insulting and so easily seen through.

Now it might be true, and probably is, that PCI and PMS are separate legal entities, but since the formation of the PMS in 1986, no attempt was ever made to highlight this fact. On the contrary, the linkage between PMS and PCI was such that PCI members viewed them as being one and the same thing, and indivisible. At no time in the early years of PMS did I hear PCI say that these are two distinct organisations; on the contrary, up until this financial fiasco broke, most, if not all, PCI members saw these as two parts of the same whole. Indeed, just recently, at least one minister, and probably many more following the resolution passed at the 2008 General Assembly reaffirming the 'linkage' between these two entities, urged his members to invest their savings in the PMS.

PCI members genuinely believed that PMS was an integral part of PCI, and what reinforced their viewpoint was that fact that only Presbyterians could either invest in or borrow from the PMS (Presbyterians meaning only PCI members and not Christians who are Presbyterians by conviction). The fact that both shared the same website added to the belief, and, I think, in the early days, both were housed in Church House, Belfast.

What is so revolting is that the church deceived its own membership regarding the relationship between these two entities, and did nothing to disabuse them of this mis-belief. Even to this day, PCI members have told me that they believed these two organisations to be one.

Such corporate dishonesty and deception must be acknowledged publically, and perhaps those most closely involved in this deception made examples of. PCI members will now be left wondering what other things have been going on within the hallowed corridors of Church House, that they knew nothing about either. Where in reality is their hard-earned money going to which they pay in every week? When they support the missionary work of the church, are they really supporting the work of the Gospel, or is it ecumenical and even terrorist and communistic activities that they are supporting? Where does the United Appeal money go to, what is it supporting, and are Christian Presbyterians happy that their money is going in this way? Is the church being as dishonest in this as it was in the PMS situation?

Perhaps church members need to be asking some very pointed questions of their denomination, and not resting until they get satisfactory answers.

Taking risks for Christ and the Gospel

It is eminently satisfying to hear a minister return, in his preaching, to an emphasis of an earlier period where Christians were encouraged to be "all out for Christ." Too often, the church is content to stay within her 'comfort zone' and not push the boundaries for the Gospel. (I will not touch on the irresponsible risks taken by senior managers of the Presbyterian Mutual Society, yet strangely, were able to warn off their friends to withdraw their funds from the PMS, so that they did not lose out - and to pot with the rest!)

But taking risks for Christ and the Gospel is a fine-sounding thing to do. It shows to our congregations our zeal for the Gospel, and our determined-ness to break the frontiers in our service for Christ. We will climb any mountain, overcome every obstacle, cross any river, take on any enemy in a bid to demonstrate our keen-ness for the Gospel.

These are exalted ambitions, and worthy of imitation. What an inspiration they are to young believers, and what a challenge to believers of more mature years.

But is this a genuine call to the church, or is it yet another display of dishonesty on the part of the church's ministers? While I do not wish to impute impure motives to any preacher who makes such a call, like most other things, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating!" Once digested, one will know exactly the extent to which this was/is an honest call to the church.

If it is a Gospel requirement for Christians to get out of their 'comfort zone,' then it is also a Gospel requirement for Gospel ministers to get out of their 'comfort zone.' If their call to their hearers is genuine, then they will be the trail-blazers for their congregations. Once their people see them taking risks for the Gospel - genuine risks that could mean them becoming unpopular with the church authorities or even disciplined or sacked by them - then they will be encouraged to follow this noble example.

Especially is this the case in denominations where the true Gospel is not preached by every minister, and where anti-Christian policies are in place that authorise the victimisation of Gospel ministers, and linkages that are not for the furtherance of the Gospel.

But to take such risks, especially at institutional level, may not be what preachers have in mind. Such risks are just 'too risky,' and could prove a bit 'tricky.' After all, while no churches, except the Roman Catholic and its cognates, subscribe to the doctrine of ecclesiastical infallibility, they act as if they do! And they act in this way because they believe in their hearts, with Pilate when he averred, "What I have written I have written," that the church is infallible in all it says and does. The church to which such cowardly minsters belong is also a close relation of the Roman Catholic religion.

So we have arrived at the place where ministers 'talk a good talk,' but do not 'walk a good walk.' They say one thing, but do something quite different. Not only is there lack of courage present, there is also, much more worryingly, an absence of integrity and honesty. How great an encouragement it would prove to be to many church members if they saw their ministers acting out what they preach to them, and giving the lead that many might just be waiting for. But this is too much to ask in today's decadent church.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Commitment to the Church?

It is true that commitment, or the lack of it, is one of the major concerns facing the evangelical church today. Christians find it relatively easy to commit to that which really interests them, and the church does not always appear far up their list.

Now this situation begs a very important question: Why do evangelical Christians find it so difficult, or even unnecessary, to commit to their local congregation? Why is their local church not as attractive to them as is the local football club? What is there about the local church that is a real 'turn-off' for Christians?

Situations differ, as do the personalities involved in these disparate settings, and while personality ought never to be the deciding factor in whether or not a believer is to commit to the church, it often is. Christians, according to Jesus, are to be 'salt' and 'light' in the world, and in the church they are also to shine as lights.

It must be stated at the outset that belonging to the local Christian (evangelical) church is not an option for the believer. At conversion, he has been united to Christ, and by necessary extension, to other Christians, who form the local congregation of believers. So that is axiomatic.

Now, why do many Christians not commit to their local congregation? Given the wide-scale departure of many congregations and denominations from the biblical faith, it is wrong biblically and totally unjustified for ministers to insist that believers commit to the local church. What exactly are they committing to, and do they not have the right under God to assess what goes on in the church against the Scriptures, and if these do not square up, then the Christian is under no obligation to commit to the local church. To do so would be a sign of disobedience to God's Word. Certainly within Presbyterian circles, every elder (teaching and ruling), and by extension every church member, ought also to bring every conviction under the word of God. If a believer is not convinced from Scripture that a certain course of action, belief or practice is "founded on and agreeable to the word of God," then He is being disobedient to God if he proceeds - just to keep the peace in the church.

If the worship of God in any given congregation is not according to the Scriptures - and this is NOT a discussion on the place of exclusive psalmody in the public worship of God - then every believer is obliged NOT to commit to that form of base worship. If the worship is all about meeting my needs, my experiences, my feelings, ME, then it is not the worship of God. How can any enlightened believer commit to that? If worship is more about drawing attention to the talent that exists within a congregation, then it cannot, at the same time, be directed exclusively to God. If the form of worship is determined by what will appeal to young people, then it is idolatrous worship. If it is merely the evangelical equivalent of 1960's rebellion against all authority - as in the Christian rock culture - then no learned believer is under any obligation to commit to that!

If the church is committed to unbiblical ecumenism, sees all religions as leading to the one living and true God, and treats with contempt the plain teaching of the Scriptures, again no evangelical believer is under any obligation to commit to that local church or denomination. Indeed, it is difficult to see how evangelicals can give any commitment to any ecumenical denomination, regardless of how 'biblical' any local expression of evangelicalism may be!

Again, if a church engages in the deliberate twisting of the plain teaching of Scripture, it is to be abhorred.

What then must evangelical believers commit to? Their first commitment must be to Christ, and to Christ alone as the Saviour of the world. Of course, they cannot commit to Jesus Christ as Saviour without at the same time committing to Him as Lord. This goes without saying. But the Christian's first commitment is to the Lord.

Following on from that, the Christian is to be committed totally to the Gospel that heralded the glorious message of salvation for a lost and dying world. Missionary endeavour must be uppermost in their minds, and support given to that necessary work. Evangelicals must contend for the faith as they speak the truth in love. They are to challenge the church when she fails in her God-given task of preaching that saving Gospel. This will inevitably mean that they make themselves slightly obnoxious at times, and bring upon them the wrath of the church. But so be it.

Then s/he is to be committed to living a life worthy of his Saviour, living as 'salt' and 'light' in a corrupt, putrefying and dark world. Evangelicals must also ensure that the money they give to the church is only going to support the truth. This is a conscience-stirring point especially for Christians within connexional churches that are dominated by theological liberalism, and its illegitimate offspring, ecumenism.

The Lord and the Gospel that reveals His saving grace to lost mankind is to be the highest commitment of every believer. Other things must be secondary to that!


How I came to Christ.

I was brought up in a Christian family, and my father was a minister of the Gospel. What a privilege this was for me! Since I was two weeks old, I attended church morning and evening. We lived in Keady, Co. Armagh for 8½ years, and we then moved to Tobermore Presbyterian Church, and lived there for 3½ years. Over these years, we attended many children’s meetings, and heard the Gospel at these meetings, at church services, and at home.

When I reached 12, things became difficult for my father in the Tobermore church. I started to see that the so-called Christian elders in Tobermore were saying bad stuff about my dad, and I knew in my heart the way Christian people should walk, and what they were saying about my dad was wrong.

That was the start of my downfall towards church and Christians. I hated going out to church there even though we had to. My dad was sacked by the church, and we moved to Magherafelt. I was in second year at the High School and things went well at first. I enjoyed school with my class mates, and we had good craic.

When it came to third year, I started to smoke, thinking I was in with the crowd, doing what they were doing. Things went from one thing to the next. When I left school, I got a job, and started out in the big bad world. I had to work to keep my car on the road. That’s when I started living for the weekends, and going out to night clubs, where my life got worse. I’m so ashamed of my past, but I knew somehow that God still loved me. He knew what was ahead of me, even though I didn’t want to know the Lord. He was the last Person on my mind.

I used to head up to my granny’s house, where she was like a second mummy to me. I was very close to both grandparents. My granny was a very godly woman who loved her Saviour. She would have always asked me, “What would happen to you, son, if you were to die? Where would you go?” I knew what I had to do, but I still was not interested in God, because I was really hurt and angry with the way the Tobermore elders treated my dad. I just did not want to be a part of that!

After a few years, I was still up to no good, and fell in with a crowd of people, and we booked a holiday in Ibiza. When the time came for my holiday, my granny was up at our home for two weeks. Little did I know that it would be her last time to be with me. The morning I was going on my holiday, I got the first sign that God was talking to me. He told me to get up and go and get saved, but I chose to go partying with my friends instead. What a big mistake that could have been! It was only God and the prayers of my parents and granny that kept me from terrible sin, and kept me alive!

When I came back from my holiday, it was only two days when I got a phone call to say that my granny had got a stroke, and that there was nothing the doctors could do. We watched for two days as my granny lay dying. This was really hard to watch. My mum said that when my granny died, there was the presence and peace of God in the room with her and my dad and my granny’s friend when granny went to be with the Lord in heaven.

Even knowing my granny was in heaven didn’t stop my rebellion. About a year after she went to heaven, I was unable to sleep because the fear of dying came over me, and this went on for many nights. I now know that this was God dealing with me, but I didn’t know it at the time. I can remember lying in bed thinking, “If I died now, I would never see my granny or my parents ever again.” That really scared me; but I still didn’t do anything about it. When I was at work, I used to think about my granny a lot, and the song that was sung at her funeral, the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord’s my shepherd,” used to keep going round in my head. Yet, I didn’t do anything about it, except ask my parents some very deep questions about spiritual things.

At this stage, I hadn’t been at church for some eight years, except for weddings and funerals. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to church – it was a waste of time in my eyes, knowing what these Christians and so-called Christian elders nearly left my brother, David, and my mum and me with no dad; even all that they did to my dad and mum, the interesting thing is that they never stopped loving God. This amazed me, and I could not see why they still loved the Lord after what happened. But it left me that I didn’t care what happened to me.

I started taking an interest in weight training and running, and one day when I was out running, I met a friend who had been to school with me. I hadn’t been speaking to her for years, and she was a Christian. We kept meeting each other when I was out running. The friendship only lasted a short time, and I hadn’t seen her until about a year later.

Then one night, my parents caught me drunk, and this made my mum very upset. I then said to her, “Mum, I am going to get saved at Christmas, because I can’t go on much longer living this kind of life.” It didn’t matter what I tried to do to get some kind of happiness – it just didn’t work.

This shows how much the devil was getting me into worldly things. I can tell you that the only way to find happiness in your life is to ask Jesus into your life, no matter how bad you think you are! Jesus loves you!

I used to say there is more to life than partying and living for the weekend. I told my friend what I said that he was into worldly things too. We went down the town one Saturday night, and we were rather away with it. I spotted the outreach team, so I went over to them and asked them a lot of questions. I knew that God was talking to me and my friend. When we were heading home to my friend’s house, I spotted the outreach workers so we went over to them again. We really were concerned about the way we were living our lives. A couple of months after that, I met my friend again – the one I met when I was out running – and we started out walking again, when I started talking to her about God. I told her what happened before I went to Ibiza, and that I was really scared of dying during the night-time. She told me that this was God talking to me, and that ‘God’s Spirit may not always strive with man.’ That really scared me! I told her that when God calls me again, I won’t be rejecting Him this time. I told her that I wanted to go to church. I also told my mum and dad, so I went out to church with mum and my friend, Cheryl. I was so nervous about going, and my hands were sweating like mad. I believe that I was under conviction of sin that morning. I loved it so much that I had to get going to church that night. At the end of the service, the minister said that if you want to get saved to just slip up your hand. It was like God was moving my hand to put it up, so I put my hands under my legs to keep them from going up. Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” was going around in my head that day. Come the morning at my work, all I could think about was Jesus, and nothing else. And the more I thought of Jesus, the more the tears came down my face. I told Cheryl I was going to get saved that night.

I texted my dad from work, and told him I wanted to get saved that night. He told me that I could get saved right now, where I was. The more I thought about getting saved, the more the tears ran down my face. What I was feeling was like making me very tense, so I sent my dad a text saying that I wanted to get saved tonight. My dad told me that I did not have to wait until tonight. There was no way I could have waited until I got home to get saved at this time.

It was coming up to my first tea break of the day, and the bell went off. I was trying not to cry, but I couldn’t hide it. My work mates were wondering why I was crying. I went into the gents, and by that time my dad had sent me a message. The date was Tuesday 5th June 2007.

The following is the conversation by phone 'text' that I had with my Dad:

SL: I can’t stop thinking about being saved. I feel like crying. I need to get saved the nite.

Dad: Stephen, just to hear you saying that makes me feel like crying, too. You talk to Christ and admit that you are a sinner who deserves nothing but hell. You tell the LORD you are deeply sorry for your sin, and ask to be forgiven and to be made God’s child. Thank him for dying for you, and trust him to save you. You can do that right now in your heart.

A few minutes later, I said to my dad:

SL: I have done that. I had to get up and head to the toilet as I was saying that tears were running down my face, and then the tears stopped.

Dad: May God bless you, my precious son.

SL: I want to buy a Bible. What one should I go for, one with the big print?

Dad: I’ll let you see mine when I get home.

SL: That will do. Have you told mum yet?

Dad: Not yet. It would be nice if you told her.

SL: I will do the nite. I still feel tears when I think of what I’ve become.

Dad: That shows how deeply God’s grace has touched you.

In the toilet that Tuesday, I experienced something that I had never experienced before. I knew that Jesus had come into my heart, and that I was now a child of God.

I texted all my friends and told them that I had become a Christian.

Now I love going to church, I love hearing the Gospel, I love listening to Christian music and to sermons on my phone, I love to read and study the Bible, and I love going to the prayer meeting.

My dad told me that for the months before I got saved, he and mum prayed for my salvation, and they reminded God of the promises He made when I was baptised, and they held Him to those promises. I am a Christian today, because God keeps His promises to save His covenant children. Now I want to live for Him, not for myself.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Challenge to Paedo-baptists

The re-baptism of young believers who have already been baptised as covenant children is something that is becoming increasingly important for those of us who believe in and practice paedo-baptism.

A young member of ours in one of my former congregations, and whom I led to Christ in our home after I was sacked, was 'baptised' very recently in the Vineyard church at UUC.

Whilst we do not want to be sacramentalists, we have neglected the instruction of our people in this precious doctrine, and left them to the mercy of the Baptists whose simplistic doctrine and practice is all too appealing to the young Christian who wants to be obedient to Christ in all things.

In the presence of awesome majesty

Following is a paragraph from this initial draft of my Abbadie paper, which I hope you will find stimulating and refreshing. Hope you know God's blessing as you preach tomorrow, and that your time together is really blessed with God's special presence.

Here it is:

I must ask you, and myself, “When did I last truly acknowledge God and His wisdom when I reflected upon what I know about Him? When was my heart last moved to worship and praise when I thought about the little I already know about Him? When was my proud heart last slain by my tiny knowledge of God?"

I’m not going to answer these questions audibly, and neither are you; but what I am doing, and I hope you are going to do, is answering them silently as we stand before this awesome God. But answer them we must if ever God’s church is to re-discover that relationship with God, which is, ironically, proof that we believe that He exists. He’s there, but we know that if we come too close to Him, He will mess with our lives! He will search us, and show us what we really are like – and we couldn’t stand that! We have never really been intimate with God, and so used are we to this lukewarm relationship with Him that we imagine this is normal! And if this is normal, then there is no need to get closer to Him – that’s to be too extreme. So we all walk at a safe distance away from this “consuming fire,” and fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing pretty well.

Morbid introspection is self-destructive

I have been thinking about things and I think that to concentrate too much on our sinfulness will result in our feeling guilty and bad about ourselves, but will not bring us closer to God.

However, if we focus on getting intimate with God, and see ourselves as He sees us, then we will be drawn closer to the Lord, and in His light, will know how abhorrent we are by nature. But we also need to see how acceptable we are by grace.

I think the 'secret' - if there is one - is to get close to God. Now this is scary, for by nature none of us wants to get that close to His holiness. We must progress steadily in this direction, because "no man can see God and live."

I was working for about two hours on James Abbadie last night, and what a profound spiritual experience this was for me. So impressed was I with what this Huguenot saint of God was saying that I just had to stop and worship Him. His work on apologetics evoked praise from my heart, something that I ought to have expected to happen, but never thought would - not with a work on apologetics. I have not read Van Til's work on apologetics, but I wonder if he could have evoked worship from my heart as Abbadie did.

This is a superb work, and one that deserves to be much better known than it is in reformed circles.

Just a few more thoughts.

Onward and upward? No way!

The news you broke to me last night was most distressing and disappointing. I feel sick even as I write this. It is so difficult to believe that reformed Christian ministers could be so tunnel-visioned when the church at large is dying. I recall how Nero mused while Rome burnt!

What is happening within our reformed constituency? I am tempted to see traces of Romanism emerging where it was effectively thrown down. Is this the old Phoenix of Rome rising from the ashes of your church?

It seems that if you had done something very wrong, you would not have been treated in a more unchristian manner. Why do Christian ministers not want to move on spiritually? Why is it assumed that so long as we are theologically correct, that is all there is? Men who assume this position are also those who do not see that anything is missing from church life today. They are like those self-righteous men who need no repentance. How sad!

Why is it that those who oppose spiritual advance are not the liberals and ecumenicals, but the men of our own ilk? I suppose Christ was wounded in the house of His friends. How much more will we find it so.

What a commentary! What a judgement! I am tempted to ask how God can bless and use such a church, but then again I think that it is churches like this that need His blessing most. Then I wonder how they would react if God were to visit them as they worship Him so correctly. These are my reflections on the situation.

Whatever you do, do not give up. Like you, I too am convinced that you are on the right track. You will find this a very lonely pathway - indeed anyone who goes ahead of the crowd will leave themselves vulnerable to attack from every quarter. Tozer: "It is hard to draw a crowd where the only attraction is God." The crowd, spiritual and otherwise, will stay far away when God starts to work. They do not want to get too close to Him, for He has the habit of messing things up, just when we thought we had got it all sorted out. He is an uncontrollable God - sovereign, almighty, surprisingly gracious, the God who does those who-would-have-thought things amongst His people.

You have put your hand to the plough - you cannot turn or look back. Keep going forward - onward and upward. It is through much tribulation that we will enter the Kingdom of God. 'Going through with God' as the old preachers talked about is uncommon in much of today's preaching. We tend to shy away from the cross, because it is too painful - in fact, rather than being something that evangelicals admire and wear as a badge, it is in reality an instrument of death.

Do you feel yourself to be on it, my dear brother? Do you feel as if you are being crucified? The way of the cross leads home; it is the way to glory. It is even a prerequisite of blessing, for after the cross comes resurrection life and power.

State of land reflects state of church

I was thinking that perhaps the state of our land is an accurate reflection of the state of the church at present, and for decades. When the real spiritual life of the church 'waxes and wanes,' it is only to be expected that that of the state will follow. If this is a true observation, then God's people have much for which they will have to give answer; and on top of this, those church leaders who see no problems within their churches will have significantly more for which to give an account, because they are best placed and responsible to give the lead that is required to bring the church back to her roots, indeed to her raison d'etre.

It is most depressing that genuinely good men do not see the real spiritual challenges that are facing the church today. What is perhaps even more alarming is that those who do see it, prefer NOT to do anything to address it! I kept thinking of the righteous man who needs no repentance! How many there are of such good men.

I told you before that when I was a minister in PCI, the outgoing Moderator's address on the opening night of the General Assembly usually always reported on how great the church was. Our congregations are in good heart, faithful in service, good attendance at the ordinances, so many new communicants, good witness in the community, and so on. Yet in these very same churches, ministers were being 'crucified' by rogue elders and church members, supported by the church authorities! How strange!

We spoke about the lack of spiritual power and life that is evident in much church life. I have come to the conclusion that whatever system of doctrine we have embraced influences the spiritual temperature of the church. I think that Westminster theology as it stands may well have contributed to this unfortunate situation. Its insistence on the divine sovereignty in salvation and in everything else are truths in which Bible believing Christians rejoice, and hardly anything else gives us our moorings, especially when "things go against us to drive us to despair."

However, when the precious and twin doctrines of predestination and election are placed in the central or pivotal place in the theological vortex - if that makes sense - its cuts the nerve of evangelism and of holy living. Why get too concerned about evangelism when God will save those He wants, and when and how, anyhow! God's mysterious providence has been turned into virtual acceptance of the status quo - whatever comes to pass is God's doing, therefore we just accept it and go on, be it right or wrong (it can't be wrong because it was God's doing!). So because God allowed the Gay pride parade in Belfast means that it must have been His will for it to take place! No cognisance is taken of His moral law, nor of the fact that this was evidence of His permissive will. It we accept His permissive will as proof of what He is pleased with, then we really are down the Swanny!

And sadly, not one of our church leaders made any statement on this debauchery, the implication being that Sodomy is outside our remit as Christian Ministers. So the land is left, and has been left, without any moral leadership, thus sending out a very clear message that undermines morality and decency, and offends the living God.

I also wonder what the connection is between our (orthodox) theology and our (lack of) spirituality, and what impact the one has on the other. If our spirituality is such a matter of concern, ought we not to look at the 'cradle' out of which it was born, and in which it is being nurtured? If adherence to our theological standards is producing a spiritual coldness that few want to acknowledge, then, in order to improve the spiritual temperature/condition, might we have to re-examine our theological roots?

I think we might need to take a cold, hard, dispassionate look at the effect of Westminster-type theology on the spiritual condition of our churches. Is it the system itself that is at fault, or is it the uncritical acceptance of the system by its adherents that is the problem? Or, is it the over-riding desire to be regarded as good churchmen that is the problem? Such a desire accepts everything the church teaches and does without critically examining these activities, and leads the ecclesiastically ambitious to the place where they will not rock the ecclesiastical boat under any circumstances. If our respected church leaders claim that 'we are alright the way we are,' then we are alright! This magisterium sounds the death knell to spiritual vitality, and to any attempt to analyse what the older churchmen called "the state of religion" within the church and land. Perhaps, churches need a return to the annual "state of religion" report to its Assemblies and Synods, carried out by men of spiritual perception and discernment. If the denominations will not undertake this, then concerned Christians should undertake such a survey. Remember, the results are inextricably linked to the questions asked: ask the right questions, and you will get the rights answers! If you want a pre-determined result, ask the appropriate questions; but you will fool no one but yourself. The best questions to ask in any such survey are those very questions that the churches are heart scared of asking - the ones we have talked about for years.

Ministers have the most natural opportunity to 'go native' in carrying out such research - they see the spiritual condition of the church at close range, and as it really is. I could go on, now that I have started, but I must resist such an urge at this time.

These are just a few thoughts for your consideration. We will recommence our electronic conversations again, and hopefully between us all, bring some light to our current spiritual morass.


Read this review of Packer's "Among the Giants" by Dr Alan C. Clifford. One interesting point that Clifford makes is Packer's ambivalence about fully reforming the church order of Anglicanism - in light of the attitude of some of the Crieff ministers from the Church of Scotland.

Dr Alan C. Clifford: A review first published in the Evangelical Quarterly (EQ 65.3, 1993).
AMONG GOD'S GIANTS, J. I. Packer; Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications, 447pp., £9.99

This fine volume is a distillation of the author's life-long pursuit of Puritanism. The bulk of the material consists of papers originally given between 1956 and 1969 at the Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference (held at Westminster Chapel in London under the chairmanship of Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). The present reviewer had the great privilege of hearing most of them. Indeed, together with the chairman's concluding addresses (see D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Banner of Truth, 1987), Dr Packer's papers were always an annual highlight. Apart from the introduction, the other items are also republished pieces, the most recent dating from 1986. Among God's Giants must represent a pinnacle of popular scholarly publishing on practical puritan themes. It will surely establish itself as an indispensable starting point for all would-be researchers in the subject. The Puritans are presented as those 'Englishmen (some of whom eventually went to America) who embraced whole-heartedly a version of Christianity that paraded a particular blend of biblicist, pietist, churchly and worldly concerns' (p. 433). For all his scholarship, Dr Packer's concerns are far from being merely academic and antiquarian. This book has a timely, compelling and prophetic ring about it. In a scintillating and now famous typically graphic Packerian fashion, and inspired by the vivid picture of the giant Redwood trees of California, we are told that 'the mature holiness and seasoned fortitude of the great Puritans' tower over 'the stature of the majority of Christians in most eras, and certainly so in this age of crushing urban collectivism, when Western Christians sometimes feel and often look like ants in an anthill and puppets on a string' (p.11). The author demonstrates this thesis with consummate ease from puritan to puritan. Thus we are introduced to John Owen, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards (yes, the American colossus was essentially 'puritan') and a host of other giants in the puritan brotherhood from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

For all his obvious relish for the Puritans, the author's treatment is far from being merely hagiographical. We see their feats and failures, excellences and excesses, intensities and idiosyncrasies in the context of the times. The variety and range of puritan thought cannot be missed either. Indeed, while Puritanism was virtually synonymous with biblicism, so there are as many differing perspectives in puritan studies as there are schools of biblical interpretation. Thus, within certain broad biblical parameters, one can almost make Puritanism say what you like! Dr Packer does not hide his preferences: for doctrinal orthodoxy he opts for Owen rather than Baxter on that 17th century hot-potato, the nature and extent of the atonement; for pastoral practice and evangelistic zeal, Baxter is his hero; for churchmanship, Greenham rather than Cartwright is his model. For all his general enthusiasm for the book's spiritual, pastoral and practical emphases, the reviewer remains unconvinced at certain key points of scholarly doctrinal interpretation.

First, Owen and limited atonement. Packer's introductory essay to the first Banner of Truth edition of Owen's Death of Death appeared in 1958. It now reappears as 'Saved by His precious blood' (pp. 163-95). In view of the later scholarly contributions of Basil Hall, Brian Armstrong, R. T. Kendall, Tony Lane, Curt Daniel and others, one might have expected an author's 'update' in response to the well-argued thesis that later Calvinists went beyond Calvin on the extent of the atonement, especially in the Bezan and post-Dort eras. Perhaps Dr Packer's simple reissue of his original essay indicates his continuing belief that Calvin and Owen said essentially the same thing (p. 175) and that Owen's case remains impeccably sound (p. 190). However, on a historical note arising from the author's churchmanship (p. 15), Bishop J. C. Ryle - rightly styled by Packer as 'the nineteenth-century colossus' (ibid.) - opposed exaggerated Owenite Calvinism in line with Calvin's teaching and the formularies of the Church of England. The same goes for earlier Anglican Calvinists like John Newton and Charles Simeon. While shunning Arminianism, they would surely judge Packer's passion for particular redemption as somewhat anomalous. On these and other points, the present reviewer takes issue with both Owen and the author in Atonement and Justification, English evangelical theology 1640-1790 - an evaluation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). He leaves it to the reader to judge the validity of his contention that Packer's unmodified 1958 claim for Owen (p. 178) is simply dated. In short, Owen has now been answered.

Second, Baxter and justification. In 'The Doctrine of Justification in Development and Decline among the Puritans' (pp. 196-232), there are a number of misleading observations. Indeed, several of Packer's detailed criticisms of Baxter's views are simply wide of the mark (pp. 208-10). Again, I refer the reader to my Atonement and Justification, pp. 191-4, 199, for details. One may add here that to blame Baxter for having 'sowed the seeds' of several subsequent doctrinal errors (p. 210) when he vigorously opposed them during his lifetime, is like blaming Calvin for hypercalvinism, and William Wilberforce for the American civil war! Surely, Baxter was somewhat over-reactionary, his theological grasp was not infallible; it could also be said, with equal justice, that Owen's doctrines of limited atonement and imputation had a formative influence on the growth of antinomian hypercalvinism. It is my belief that had the contending parties studied Calvin's precise statements on justification more carefully (a biblical via media between the embattled alternatives, in fact), English puritan theology would not have resembled the disarray of a civil war battlefield. Compared with the clarity of Calvin, Owen was, in some respects, as muddled as Baxter was in others.

One also questions Dr Packer's dichotomy between Baxter's 'disastrous' theological utterances and his 'praiseworthy' practical works (pp. 208-9). For Baxter, his work was all of a piece; hence the theological features lamented by Packer are clearly visible in the practical works. In view of this, one must ask just how disastrous Baxter's theology was? After all, his preaching of universal gospel grace turned Kidderminster upside down, and his stress on a loving, working godliness produced a sanctified society. Indeed, Baxter's ministry was unique, as Dr Packer readily admits with justified enthusiasm (pp. 53ff). So, could it be that the marginalising of Baxter's theology in favour of Owen's in the 'reformed camp' partly explains the general lack of popular impact of neo-puritanism today? A much desired Baxterian revival probably demands a far greater rehabilitation of Baxterian theology than Dr Packer is prepared to accept.

Third, Greenham and churchmanship. Dr Packer's book is something of a personal manifesto. For all its inspirational virtues, it inevitably raises the question of how he could ever be party to such an anti-puritan treatise as Growing into Union (1970). Indeed, the book precipitated a crisis and the cancellation of the Puritan Conference of that year. If this anomaly remains a mystery, the present work surely explains the author's continuing allegiance to 'conservative Anglicanism' (p. 15) and why secession was never an option, despite his obvious admiration for nonconformists like Baxter.

Here the model is evidently Richard Greenham rather than Richard Baxter (pp. 72-4). Greenham was a peace-loving parochial pietist of moderate puritan convictions, little interested in the more thorough reforming zeal of Thomas Cartwright and his fellow presbyterians. In fact he was sharply critical of them (p. 72). In his view, the primary need was a sound parochial ministry rather than a more reformed church order.

Doubtless Greenham's priorities were correct, but arguably, 'this ought he to have done and not to leave the other undone' (Mt.23:23). Indeed, a consistent Puritan would ask, had he not yielded on the essential puritan point of scriptural authority in the typical English spirit of Cranmerian compromise and procrastination? Likewise, Packer dismisses these 'presbyterian agitators' as 'doctrinaire' (p. 70), despite the scriptural soundness of their case (ibid.) and a willingness to suffer for it. The simple fact remains that men like Greenham helped consolidate a largely unreformed diocesan and parochial system by default. They simply 'did their own thing' like independents, oblivious to the wider demands of unfinished reformation business.

Besides, had Greenham done his duty, some of the more hot-headed 'Marprelate' Presbyterians might have been restrained. So, according to evidence supplied by Dr Packer himself, a rising torrent of frustrated puritan preachers had to resort to lectureships, there being no biblically constituted churches to call them (p. 75). Had Greenham and his friends shared Cartwright's conviction that 'the ministry of the Church of England was out of square' and acted accordingly, the progress of the gospel and the history of the next century and beyond - with its tragic sectarian proliferation - might have been different. Admittedly Queen Elizabeth was the chief obstacle, before whom Grindal and even Cartwright himself had to bow. Alas, England never had a reforming leader with the energy of Knox and the statesmanship of Calvin, and too few were ready to risk all for the glory of God like the Huguenots in France who, always faced by more formidable foes, were blessed from the start with a better churchmanship and a more balanced Calvinism.

My response to Dr Packer's book therefore parallels his own ambivalence about Baxter. As a presentation of practical puritanism, no praise for it can be too high.

While the style is brilliant, on certain detailed theological and ecclesiological themes, I beg to differ.

Amyraldianism is Authentic Calvinism

My friend, Dr Alan C Clifford, sent me this article which I thought was well worth sharing with you.

See what you think of it, and come back to me. Amyraldianism is a contextualised historical term for authentic Calvinism, and highlights our noble and blessed Huguenot heritage.

The Amyraldian position possesses five advantages. First, it provides an object lesson on how to avoid extreme reductionist hermeneutics. Theory is ever to be the servant not the master of the textual data. Second, it enables us to accept plain statements of Scripture as they are without forcing them into a theological mould, e. g. 'world' = 'the world of the elect' (as Owen maintains). How can Owenites criticise Roman Catholics and the cults for tampering with the text when they do likewise? Third, in keeping with God's plain declarations, it proclaims a universal compassion for the world without unwarranted restrictions. Thus the Owenite tendency to produce clinically-clear heads and callously-critical hearts is reduced. Sadly, not all Owenites are like Whitefield and Spurgeon whose compassion exceeded their creed. Fourth, it is, in the best biblical sense, conciliatory. Ralph Wardlaw considered that High Calvinism provided too easy an excuse for the Arminians to reject true Calvinism. Fifth, without prying into the profundities and complexities of God's inscrutable sovereign purposes, it enables us to pursue an uninhibited mission of mercy to a lost world. We leave the results to God. While faith is evidence of election, present unbelief is not necessarily proof of non-election. There is always hope for everyone we proclaim Christ to.
Amyraut's 'friends'
'For it is good for all men to hear [Christ's] voice and live, by passing to the life of godliness from the death of ungodliness. Of this death the Apostle Paul says, "Therefore all are dead, and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again." (2 Cor. 5: 14-15). Thus all, without one exception, were dead in sins, whether original or voluntary sins, sins of ignorance, or sins committed against knowledge; and for all the dead there died the only one person who lived, that is, who had no sin whatever, in order that they who live by the remission of their sins should live, not to themselves, but to Him who died for all, for our sins, and rose again for our justification…' (The City of God).
'Christ … suffered bitter death upon a tree, and bought man again with his precious blood, and after that returned again to his Father, for the salvation of mankind. … And thus Christ was without blemish, and was offered on the cross for the sin of all this world. … Other lambs in a manner put away the sin of one country; but this Lamb properly put away the sin of all this world' (On the Lord's Prayer and Sermons).
'It is certain that you are a part of the world. Do not let your heart deceive you by saying: "The Lord died for Peter and Paul; He rendered satisfaction for them, not for me." Therefore let every one who has sin be summoned here, for He has made the expiation for the sins of the whole world and bore the sins of the whole world' (Comment on 1 John 2: 2).
'True it is that the effect of [Christ's] death comes not to the whole world. Nevertheless, forasmuch as it is not in us to discern between the righteous and the sinners that go to destruction, but that Jesus Christ has suffered his death and passion as well for them as for us, therefore it behoves us to labour to bring every man to salvation, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be available to them' (Sermons on Job).
'Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive him' (Comment on Romans 5: 18).
'God commends to us the salvation of all men without exception, even as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world' (Comment on Galatians 5: 12).
'This is His wondrous love towards the human race, that He desires all men to be saved, and is prepared to bring even the perishing to safety...It could be asked here, if God does not want any to perish, why do so many in fact perish? My reply is that no mention is made here of the secret decree of God by which the wicked are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His loving-kindness as it is made known to us in the Gospel. There God stretches out His hand to all alike, but He only grasps those (in such a way as to lead to Himself) whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world' (Comment on 2 Peter 3: 9).
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer stated that Christ 'by His own oblation ... satisfied His Father for all men's sins and reconciled mankind unto His grace and favour'. Bishop John Hooper affirmed that Christ died 'for the love of us poor and miserable sinners, whose place he occupied upon the cross, as a pledge, or one that represented the person of all the sinners that ever were, be now, or shall be unto the world's end'. Bishop Nicholas Ridley declared that the sacrifice of Christ 'was, is, and shall be forever the propitiation for the sins of the whole world'. Bishop Hugh Latimer preached that 'Christ shed as much blood for Judas, as he did for Peter: Peter believed it, and therefore he was saved; Judas would not believe, and therefore he was condemned'. Even particularist John Bradford admitted that 'Christ's death is sufficient for all, but effectual for the elect only'. The Elizabethan Anglicans were no different in their understanding. Bishop John Jewel wrote that, on the cross, Christ declared "It is finished" to signify 'that the price and ransom was now full paid for the sin of all mankind'. Elsewhere, he made clear that 'The death of Christ is available for the redemption of all the world'. Richard Hooker stated an identical view when he said that Christ's 'precious and propitiatory sacrifice' was 'offered for the sins of all the world' (All extracts from the Parker Society Volumes).
'The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. ... That, however, many who have been called by the gospel neither repent nor believe in Christ but perish in unbelief does not happen because of any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross, but through their own fault. ... [This] was the most free counsel of God the Father, that the life-giving and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect' (The Second Canon).
'I am ready to profess ... that every one who hears the gospel, (without distinction between elect or reprobate) is bound to believe that Christ died for him, so far as to procure both the pardon of his sins and the salvation of his soul, in case he believes and repent' (Works).
'I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense; but that that I hold is in the sense of our divines (e.g. Bishop Davenant) in the Synod of Dordt, that Christ did pay a price for all ... that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving Christ, and Christ in giving himself, did intend to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe' (Minutes of the Westminster Assembly).
'When God saith so expressly that Christ died for all [2 Cor. 5: 14-15], and tasted death for every man [Heb. 2: 9], and is the ransom for all [1 Tim. 2: 6], and the propitiation for the sins of the whole world [1 Jn. 2: 2], it beseems every Christian rather to explain in what sense Christ died for all, than flatly to deny it' (Universal Redemption).
'It is plain … that there is a sense, in which Christ may be said to have died for all, i.e. as he has procured an offer of pardon to all, provided they sincerely embrace the Gospel. Cf. John 3: 16, 6: 50, 51, Romans 5: 18, 8: 32, 1 Corinthians 8: 11, 2 Corinthians 5: 14, 15, 19, 1 Timothy 2: 4, 6, Hebrews 2: 9, 1 John 2: 2' (Lectures on Divinity).
When asserting the 'particular' efficacious redemption of the elect, Edwards still grants that 'Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death; ...' (Freedom of the Will).
'Because the door of mercy is thus opened to the whole world by the blood of Christ, therefore, in scripture, he is called, the Saviour of the WORLD (1 John 4: 14); the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the WORLD (John 1: 29); a propitiation for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2: 2); that gave himself a ransom for ALL (1 Timothy 2: 6); and tasted death for EVERYMAN (Hebrews 2: 9)' (True Religion Delineated, Preface by Jonathan Edwards).
When he published The Marrow of Modern Divinity (1726), he was clearly happy to endorse the words (of John Preston): 'Go and tell everyman without exception that here is good news for him, Christ is dead for him'. In his own book A View of the Covenant of Grace (1734), Boston himself stated, '... the extent of the administration [of the covenant] is not founded on election, but on the sufficiency of Christ's obedience and death for the salvation of all'.
'If Christ died only for the elect, and not for all', then ministers 'are puzzled to understand how they should proceed with the calls and invitations of the gospel. ... Now for the specific end of conversion, the available scripture is not that Christ laid down His life for the sheep, but that Christ is set forth a propitiation for the sins of the world. It is not because I know myself to be one of the sheep, or one of the elect, but because I know myself to be one of the world, that I take to myself the calls and promises of the New Testament' (Institutes of Theology).
Commenting on John 1: 29, he wrote that 'Christ's death is profitable to none but to the elect who believe on His name. ... But ... I dare not say that no atonement has been made, in any sense, except for the elect. ... When I read that the wicked who are lost, "deny the Lord that bought them," (2 Pet. 2: 1) and that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself," (2 Cor. 5: 19), I dare not confine the intention of redemption to the saints alone. Christ is for every man'. Commenting on John 3: 16 and appealing to Bishop John Davenant, Calvin and others, he concludes: 'Those who confine God's love exclusively to the elect appear to me to take a narrow and contracted view of God's character and attributes. ... I have long come to the conclusion that men may be more systematic in their statements than the Bible, and may be led into grave error by idolatrous veneration of a system' (Expository Thoughts on John's Gospel, Vol. 1).
'There is a sense ... in which Christ did die for all men. His death had the effect of justifying the offer of salvation to everyman; and of course was designed to have that effect. He therefore died sufficiently for all' (Systematic Theology).
He criticised Scottish theologian William Cunningham for taking a narrow view of the atonement's design. Dabney also distanced himself from John Owen's particularism: 'I have already stated one ground for rejecting that interpretation of John 3: 16, which makes 'the world' which God so loved, the elect world. ... Christ's mission to make expiation for sin is a manifestation of unspeakable benevolence to the whole world' (Systematic Theology).
For all his particularism, he still concedes that the 'Non-elect are said to have been sanctified in the blood of Christ, to have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, to have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour, and to have known the way of righteousness (cf. Heb. 6: 3, 5; 10: 29; 2 Pet. 2: 20, 21). In this sense, therefore, we may say that Christ died for non-elect persons' (The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel).
'But look at [Christ's] death for a moment and consider it as an expiation for the sin of the whole world. What are we told about it? Well, those sufferings were enough, according to John, for all. Listen! 'He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world' (1 Jn. 2: 2). The whole world! ... The sins of the whole world he had borne upon Himself'.
'[If] ever you feel utterly helpless and hopeless, then turn back to Him, the Christ of the cross, with His arms outstretched, who still says: 'Look unto me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth'. It is there that the whole of humanity is focused. He is the representative of the whole of mankind. He died for all' (Aberavon Sermons).