Monday, 28 December 2009

Is the Offering an Act of Worship?

Really, for a minister to state and suggest that the taking up of the offering and tithes of worshippers was an act of worship, is ridiculous! This is how we get money from attendees to run the church and its programmes! Yet, Sunday by Sunday, congregations are bombarded with the words, or similar, "Let us worship God with our tithes and offerings. Your offering will now be received."

Now, when the minister calls the congregation to worship God, I take it that that is what he expects the congregation to do. When the living God is being worshipped, one would expect that their hearts and minds would be focused on that activity, and on nothing else! When they are called to pray, their souls are to be engaged in speaking to Almighty God. When they are called to sing praise to the Lord, again, the expectation is that hearts and minds are zoomed in on worshipping God. This is all they are supposed to be doing at that particular time!

But when they are equally sincerely called to worship as they make their offering for His work, the situation is totally changed. Indeed, it is not just changed, it is the very opposite of what the minister called the people to do!

Why do I say that? Because in my experience, when the minister calls for an act of worship when the offering is being made, this call is re-interpreted as permission to enter into a trivial chat with your nearest neighbour. Its an interlude, the short period after the commercial break, or announcements. Its a chance to catch up on the latest evangelical gossip. Its time for a break from concentrating on God.

And even when some worshippers want to use that time to worship the Lord and to reflect on Him and His gospel, a pew-sharer prefers to enter into an irrelevant conversation about something of interest to them. Such unspiritual behaviour is unacceptable.

When a duly ordained minister calls the congregation to worship God as it makes its offering, it is that precise thing that he expects the worshippers to do. In this act of worship, the worshippers are to give their hearts and lives to God as an offering, just as they give their money to support the work of the gospel. Their offering is a token of what is really in their hearts towards God. It is them giving themselves freely and willingly to the Lord. They are saying to the Lord, 'Use me in your service just as you would use my money.' And just as the money has no say in how it is to be used, so the submissive Christian has no say as to how God will choose to use him/her in His holy service. It is a giving of ourselves to the gracious Lord for His use, a handing over of our lives to Him.

What puzzles me is how Christian worshippers can do all this when they are engaging in meaningless chit-chat with their neighbour, while disobeying the call to worship God! Why do ministers not teach their congregations about the nature of worship, or indeed, the true nature of the God Who is to be worshipped? Or, if the 'offering' is not an integral element of the service of holy worship of the living God, then let us be honest enough to say just that! But let's stop the pretense, and say it as it is practised in today's diluted church!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Oy Vey in a Manger!

This excellent article is printed here on 24th December 2009 to help you read the NT accounts of Jesus' birth much more accurately, thus exposing some of the mythology that surrounds the Saviour's birth.

Mike Moore casts a sideways look at some assumptions about the birth of Messiah and concludes that they ain’t necessarily so.

The most enduring images of the birth of Jesus, perpetuated through paintings, literature, Christmas carols, nativity plays and sermons, is that the Lord of glory was born in a stable because there was “no room in the inn”. Even though the carols and some of our English Bible versions call Bethlehem a “town” or a “city,” in New Testament times, it would have been a village too small to support an inn. Also, inns were normally found only on major roads, especially the Roman ones, but Bethlehem was not on a major road.

Lost in translation
The misunderstanding is due to our English Bibles. The Greek word, katalyma, should never have been translated “inn”, as it is in Luke 2:7. The 1395 edition of John Wycliffe’s translation of Luke 2:7 reads: “And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wlappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir.” For reasons known only to themselves, William Tyndale and the translators of the Geneva Bible and the Authorised Version opted for “inn” rather than “chaumber”. And so it has continued. The two exceptions to this translational custom are The New English Bible and David Stern’s The Jewish New Testament. The NEB translates Luke 2:7 as: “She wrapped him in his swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them to lodge in the house.” The JNT renders Luke 2:7 as: “She wrapped him in cloth and laid him down in a feeding trough, because there was no space for them in the living quarters.

In Luke 22:11 and Mark 14:14 (the only other places in the New Testament where the word appears), katalyma clearly does not mean an inn: “Then he shall show you a large, furnished upper room [katalyma] ...” (Luke 22:11.). If Luke had intended to refer to a commercial hostelry in chapter 2, he would have used pandocheion, the very word he uses in the parable of the Good Samaritan in 10:25-37: “... he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn [pandocheion], and took care of him.” The 1915 edition of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia observes that “Luke with his usual care distinguishes between [katalyma] and pandocheion, and his use of the verb katalúō (Luke 9:12; Luke19:7) makes his meaning clear... It is the word used of the ‘upper room’ where the Last Supper was held (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11, ‘guest-chamber’), and of the place of reception in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary failed to find quarters (Luke 2:7). It thus corresponds to the spare or upper room in a private house or in a village...” (available online at com/isbe/I/INN). a lowly cattle shed?
In Luke’s birth narrative, the Messiah was laid in a manger from which animals ate. Does that not strongly suggest a birth in a stable? According to the Biblical and Middle Eastern scholar, Kenneth Bailey, from the time of King David until the mid-twentieth century, most village homes in Israel and the Middle East consisted of two rooms; one for the family and the other for guests. The family room had an area, usually about four feet lower than the living space, in which the family donkey, cow and two or three sheep spent the night. The animals were brought into the house last thing at night and taken outside first thing in the morning. In the house they ate from mangers dug out of the stone floor of the raised family living area. The katalyma was the room reserved for guests and visitors. Contrary to the traditional Christmas story, Mary was not in labour when she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem. Luke 2:6 records, “So it was, that while they were there [not upon arrival], the days were completed for her to be delivered.” The ESV reads, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” How could we have ever concluded from the biblical text that Mary was in labour at the time she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem? The idea may have originated with a second-century apocryphal work of fiction, The Protevangelium of James: “And they came to the midst of the way, and Mary said unto him: Take me down from the ass, for that which is within me presseth me, to come forth. And he took her down from the ass and said unto her: Whither shall I take thee to hide thy shame? for the place is desert.” (Protevangelium of James 17:8, available online at

No crib for a bed
Matthew records that when the magi arrived in Bethlehem they entered “the house,” not “the stable”, and there they “fell down and worshipped Him” (Mt. 2:11). Jews and Arabs have traditionally placed a high value on family and hospitality, so when Caesar Augustus decreed that the Jewish population of ancient Israel had to return to their home towns to register for the census, Joseph went to Bethlehem “because he belonged to the house and line of David”(Luke 2:4). “To turn away a descendant of David in ‘the City of David’ would be an unspeakable shame on the entire village,” writes Kenneth Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (p. 26). Even if there had been no room to stay with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem, no village in the hill country of Judea was more than an hours ride on donkey from Bethlehem, so Joseph could easily have taken his betrothed to her relatives, Elizabeth and Zechariah.

From these considerations, we can construct a more accurate scenario of the events surrounding the birth of Messiah. Joseph and his pregnant fiancĂ©e Mary made their way to this ancestral village of Bethlehem for the census decreed by Caesar. There, he and Mary stayed with Joseph’s relatives for the remainder of her pregnancy in a home which was crowded due to the census being taken and where there was no longer any space in “the guest room”. Consequently, Mary gave birth to her child in the family room and the baby was placed on clean straw in one of the stone mangers. The birth of the Lord of glory was indeed humble but the manger in which he was laid was in a warm, friendly family home, not in a cold, dirty and lonely stable.

This is not a call to preachers to devote their Christmas sermons to denouncing the traditional misunderstandings of the birth of Messiah. Still less is it an encouragement to ministers to ignore the festive season and to steer clear of preaching on the nativity. It is a plea for more careful reading, exegesis and exposition of Scripture in order to draw out better and more appropriate applications from the text of the Bible.

Mike Moore
This article was first published in the Herald, the official organ of Christian Witness to Israel, in December 2009.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Going with the flow - a sign of maturity.

Just go with the flow! That's what makes a good minister! It is also a sign of ministerial and spiritual maturity, and something that only comes with age. This is the way a river flows, following the path of least resistance. It is a sure-fire way of avoiding rows in the congregation, and keeps everyone on board, regardless of whether they are Christians or not. It raises the minister in the church popularity stakes, and ensures that he is well looked after by the congregation. If he were to enter the popular Saturday evening entertainment show, X-factor, he would be sure to win.

It's a pity that I was not given the pastoral advice that a former colleague of mine was given by a theological professor: "do what the people want you to do, and say what they want you to say." Be "all things to all men" in this sense.

Maybe this is how the politicians persuaded voters in Northern Ireland to support the Belfast Agreement of 1998 - say enough to please everyone, even those who hold fundamentally different views. They worded the agreement in such a way that everyone got something out of it. The unionists were assured that the union was copper-fastened, and republicans were also sure that it was a transition to their desired united Ireland. 72% of the people were kept happy, and on side.

The 'go with the flow' ministerial philosophy is exactly the same. It tells ministers to use words so carefully that both Christians and Gospel-rejecters alike are kept happy, and cause them to believe that the minister is agreeing with them, regardless of what they believe personally. If they want their young people to become full communicant church members, accept them so long as they say they are Christians; and if they want their babies baptised, or christened (in their language), do it, and so long as you ask them the orthodox questions and they answer appropriately, go with it. Ask no deeply personal questions. Don't worry about the well-being of their souls, or of the church of Jesus Christ.

Such ministers get on very well with their congregations, but what is unbelievably distressing is that those who hold this viewpoint care nothing about the souls of those who listen to them on a weekly basis. They are happy for their members to go to hell without Christ. Their defense is that all that God requires of ministers is for them to be faithful. He does not want them to win souls to Christ. He does not want them to annoy or disturb their members. He wants them to enjoy peace - such as is found in a cemetery. He calls them to lull them to sleep spiritually, so that they can remain "at ease in Zion." He does not want church members to come under conviction of sin - a reality that no longer exists, or if it does, is not that serious a thing. Nor do these modern ministers want the Holy Spirit to start working in the lives of church members - that would never do! Think of the trouble that would cause and the contradictions such a situation would create! The elders had already accepted them as Christians, and now they are talking about wanting to become Christians! How embarrassing! How unPresbyterian!

It is very sad to read this kind of material. But what makes it even more disillusioning is the fact that this kind of viewpoint is held by evangelical Christians. This is the attitude that desires peace at any price, or more accurately, peace at no price whatever.

The need for solid, ongoing and systematic teaching of the message of the Scriptures, the historical context of the theological controversies surrounding these issues, is apparent. And, the equal need for church discipline, properly administered, must go alongside the true proclamation of the Word/Gospel. These are the marks of a true church.

But where the 'go with the flow' philosophy rules in any congregation or is the controlling principle of any ministry, there you can be sure that no true church of Christ exists. While this attitude wins friends and influences people in your favour, it falls far short of the true calling of the minister of the Gospel.

Surely someone must be raised up by God to re-call the church to her God-given responsibility to form true churches of Christ, not cheap replicas of the real thing. But this is very, very costly. No self-respecting congregation will tolerate any minister who wants to do what God had called him to do! Yet, this is precisely the type of minister most congregations need, and need urgently. But churches do not want men whose aim in their ministry is to please God. They want a minister who will please them!

May God have mercy on His church which He purchased with the blood of His Son.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

When God answers prayer!

Ecclesiastical democracy is a most wonderful thing - more wonderful, indeed, than Northern Ireland's pretended democracy! Especially when that democracy is "bathed in prayer." Discovering God's will in a complex situation within a mixed congregation is not that easy, not if you have already made up your mind what God's will is in any given situation.

Then when God answers your prayer in a way that you did not expect, where does that leave you? More importantly, where does that leave your discernment, and your faith? Is strong spiritual conviction really a sanctified term for fleshly stubbornness? Or, is it nothing but selfish ambition, a worldly desire to 'keep up with the Jones's,' wanting to have as nice a place as someone else? Is it a form of thinly disguised pride?

But what about God answering prayer? Is answered prayer that which agrees with the pray-er's asking? Is prayer not answered when it goes against my asking? What do we make of it all?

I think the lesson here is that God's ways are not our ways, and we are very foolish when we think that we can demand from Him what we want! Christians must learn to say, "Let God be true, and every man a liar." God is sovereign in Himself and in everything He does, or does not do. We might try to restrict Him and the outworking of His sovereign purposes. But we cannot. He will crush our desires to dust, if we persist in our stubbornness. God is God, and we are but mere men, and sinful men at that.

But when a church leader gives the impression that he knows God's will or has had a secret, private and personal revelation of what He intends to do, and calls the people of God to prayer, and it still does not work out the way he wants, where does that leave his leadership? He has some very deep thinking and reflecting to do - not least about his own spiritual maturity.

Truth is that church leaders often do get it all wrong at times. And when they get it wrong, it can and often does have a fundamental effect on the unity of the congregation. Divisions are created, and disharmony becomes visible. Those who were once fellowship partners can be driven apart. Disunity becomes the norm, and when that occurs, the spirit of prayer is seriously damaged. The result is that that leader's ministry may be damaged beyond repair in that congregation. It may be time for a move.

But if he goes, he will then be accused of running away from a situation which might well be of his own making. Either way, the minister cannot win.

However, in some minds, there will be devastation and disappointment, while in others, glee and the semblance of spiritual pride. God answered our prayers, but He didn't answer yours! While that might be factually true, the end result is a worse situation than before. One section of the congregation feels humiliated and the other is full of pride. Not a good situation for any evangelical church to be in! Maybe that's why God does not give us as many answers to prayer as we would like! Perhaps there are lessons that we need to learn here too!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Majoring on Minors

I had the privilege of preaching at the Tenth Anniversary Thanksgiving Service for the decade of service to the innocent victims of terrorism held on 22nd November 2009 when more than 200 worshippers attended the service on what was a very wet autumnal Sabbath.

But the single most important Person to be present at the service was the risen Lord Jesus Christ. His presence with us was evident from the rapt attention that was paid to the Gospel. The stillness and hush throughout the service were real, and the closeness of eternity was apparent to all.

The theme of the service and sermon was "Reconciliation." This was developed from Rom.5:10, 11, and the teaching of the Apostle Paul was developed and also contrasted with the perverted understanding that abounds within the 'peace and reconciliation industry' that has been created for the civil servants in Northern Ireland. The entire message had an evangelistic thrust, and the congregation was urged to be reconciled to God, thus demonstrating true biblical reconciliation.

Given the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ at the service, I am sure that readers will be amazed to learn that the comments from professing Christians were strange - to say the least. "You looked well, you did well, your voice kept up, there was a good attendance, the church building looked beautiful, it was very warm in the church, it was too long;" then the more 'spiritual' commented very negatively on that fact I wore my Geneva gowns, and used of both Psalms and hymns in the service.

The former comments were easily enough taken when expressed by non-Christians; but when Christians, from the reformed churches, criticised the wearing of the Geneva gown in a service of reformed worship, one was left wondering what historical awareness these people possessed. The critic did not seem to know that the Reformers, Huguenots, Puritans, Covenanters and other reformed ministers all wore their Geneva gowns, thus distinguishing them from 'preachers' from Roman-type churches.

The criticism of non-exclusive Psalm-singing was also a bit rich, especially when these criticisms were accompanied by the authoritative historical statement that hymns were only about 100 years old! Amazing! Even Calvin, whom the reformed churches revere, is believed to have written the hymn, "We greet Thee who my great Redeemer art." He also used the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed which were put into verse and set to music. Hymns stretch back to that time, as a quick and cursory glance through any good church hymn book will reveal. It is very sad that those who purport to promote a certain type of reformed worship do not even know the facts of the matter, and use historical inaccuracies to promote, what in their view, is biblical truth!

These criticisms were the only things that these people could say about the service, and the 'sectarian' nature of the comments is nauseating. It appears that they do not have any deep spiritual discernment when these were the only things they could say about that God-honouring service. When minor issues become the dominant issues, and take on major importance, there is a serious problem within the churches, and the need for reformation is a crying and increasingly necessity.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Psalms in Worship - a 'no-go' area

As I visit different churches of various denominations, I discover a variety of worship types, as if all these churches were reading different Bibles. Most, if not all, have adopted the practice of conditioning the worshippers before the service with either live music, or by the use of piped music. Most, if not all, now use modern worship songs. Most, if not all, no longer sing the Psalms, nor do they sing the Paraphrases with any degree of regularity.

But what is perhaps most perplexing is the cessation in many 'reformed' congregations of Psalm singing. Indeed, some 'reformed' churches do not even know the Psalms, and find singing them a real challenge. Some elders within these 'reformed' churches hardly recognise the Psalms as part of God's Word.

What a move away from the rich reformation tradition that these churches once embraced in their better days! I am not advocating exclusive Psalmody, since this practice has neither biblical nor historical warrant. But I am advocating the singing of Psalms as an integral part of the diet of weekly worship. As Calvin himself preached, there is nothing better than the Psalms in the worship of God - not meaning that there is nothing but the Psalms to be used in the worship of Almighty God.

Congregations in the reformed, or biblical, tradition are being weaned away from a solid theological understanding of worship, and are being subjected to modernism gone wild. Yes, there are some excellent modern hymns that we can use in the reverent worship of the Lord; but there is much spiritual gush and slush that is being introduced, why? To attract the young people.

Yet, and here's the interesting bit, I have heard young Christians who belong to a church that I know, and whom I would have said were into this modern stuff, complaining that they get nothing out of the services. The preaching is excellent, but the context in which that preaching is done is counter-productive. We hear the Cross of Jesus Christ preached in the context of virtual rock rhythm, accompanied by a heavy drum beat and African drums.

We need to get back to basics again - for the glory of God and the good of future generations. We need hymns that are biblically faithful and that teach sound doctrine. What we don't need is endlessly repeating verses of choruses, and all that stuff that goes with it.

May God teach the church before it is too late that reverence adorns His House!

Friday, 27 November 2009

More Romanising Trends Within Mainstream Evangelicalism

It's sad, but true! Evangelicals within the mainstream denominations are leading the way to Rome! Not only is this trend seen in the way 'reformed' ministers, in administering the sacrament of baptism to covenant infants, actually take these infants away from the father into his own arms, thus sending out the message that it is the church that is ultimately responsible for the child's salvation, and is essentially a priestly action, it is also seen in another sphere.

Now, the other New Testament sacrament, the Lord's Supper, is being treated in the same Romanising manner. Just recently, I witnessed this with my own eyes. Not that many, or any, others noticed this, but I certainly did. At the normal Sunday services, you will see elders coming to the worship of Almighty God dressed like 'tramps,' the evangelical type, of course, in denim jeans, open necked shirts, trainers, sportsy dress; but when it comes to the observance of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, my, they present themselves appropriately - their good suits on, shirt and tie, and every bit the Christian leader. Indeed, they would never dream of presenting at school in such a tawdry fashion. These professionals obviously have a higher respect for their employers and professions than they do for God and His house!

Now why do they do this sort of thing? True, its not what is on the outside, but what's in the heart, that matters. That point is willingly granted. But what does it say about the elevated position these men give to the Lord's Supper? It says that they believe that Sacrament Sunday is different from the other Sundays because the Lord's Supper is being taken. In their minds, there is an elevation of this sacrament above the preaching of the Gospel which is the focus of every other service. It might even be the Presbyterian's way of "elevating the host" as is done within Romanism in all its forms. But thankfully not all Presbyterians do this - they are much better taught than that!

It is high time for the reformed church in this decadent age, to take a long hard look at what it is doing. In fact, it must take a long hard look through the lens of Scripture, at what the Church of Jesus Christ really is, for that knowledge has long since been lost within the churches. Because she does not know accurately what she is, anything goes. Because her true nature is misunderstood, her practice follows as does the night the day. What is believed by the church about the church cannot be divorced from how the church conducts her affairs. If she is viewed as a fun-fair, then she will run her entire life trying her best to attract the world into her midst using worldly means. If she sees herself as a museum, then nothing will be changed over the rolling centuries. But if she sees herself as the Body of Christ in this world, then everything about her will reflect this exalted position. If she orders her life according to the teaching of the Scriptures, then she will be transformed, becoming what God intended her to be, and very different from what she has become in the 21st century.

There are lessons to be learned, and learned urgently, if she is to hear that "Well done, good and faithful servant," from the Lord she professes to serve.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Church and Mission.

Evangelical churches are supposed to be the most missionary-minded of all churches. They give well to missionary endeavour, send out workers to work in the harvest field of the world, pray for missionaries and support their work.

But charity begins at home – at least that’s what we have been told! Why is it then that evangelical churches prefer the foreign mission work to the mission field that is right on their doorsteps? Is it because there is more kudos, more romance, more spiritual brownie points, with the overseas work than there is with more locally-based mission?

Let me give an example of what I mean. Suppose there are two really thriving evangelical congregations with an admirable missionary interest and track record that are located beside two small struggling congregations within the same denomination. Imagine the prestige associated with the bigger congregations, and the spiritual poverty of the two smaller ones. This is nothing other than a mission-field on the very doorstep, but no one wants to even admit it is there! They send their money and their personnel to fields far away, but would never even consider sending their best people to join these two struggling and neighbouring congregations, or even re-aligning the congregational unions so that the stronger could help the weaker – a Presbyterian principle.

Why this neglect? Is it because there are too many exaggerated egos in the big churches to care for the smaller ones? Do the bigger churches prefer to be “as ease in Zion,” as Amos put it, rather than get their hands dirty trying to build up and strengthen the weaker churches? Is personal comfort to be preferred to the arduous task of spreading the everlasting Gospel amongst needy people? Or is the spread of the Gospel not that important after all?

That Abusive Mother Church!

Augustine rightly said that “no one can have God as his Father who does not also have the church as his mother.” The principle is sound. The Church, which He purchased with the blood of Christ, is His treasured possession. Christ loves her, and gave Himself for her. His purpose: to present her as a spotless Bride to the Father. And her role on earth: to bring glory to her Husband, to nurture, feed, encourage, strengthen, discipline, care for, those to whom the Father has given new life. She is to be tender with her children, discipline them when necessary, always love and care for them, and act for their best interests.

So far so good. But when that ‘mother’ turns out to be abusive, uncaring, unloving; when she becomes unfaithful to her Husband and flirts with other gods, when she becomes drunk with notions of her own self-importance, blinded by power and pounds, when she becomes the end of all things, she then has departed from her high calling – to be the Bride of Christ, and to submit to His will in all things. When that mother turns from and against the very children her Husband gave to her, and treats them in a most abusive manner, the entire scenario has changed drastically. The sad reality is that it is the blood-bought church of Christ that behaves in this despicable way!

Yet when preachers, who are big on ‘theory,’ tell their congregations that it is their Christian duty to commit to ‘mother church’ as a covenant obligation, regardless of her track record, then they have gone too far. (I wonder how this approach differs from that used by the Baptists to convince new converts to undergo their particular form of baptism? If they are to demonstrate their obedience to Christ, then they have to be baptised in our way). In the outside world, if anyone suggested that children commit to a mother who has proved to be abusive towards her children, they would be roundly turned upon, and let know what reasonable people think about such a suggestion.

Further, before they agree to becoming church members, Christians must be told who and what the leaders, the elders, are. Before they join such a church, they must make it their business to discover what example the leaders set, how diligent they are at church services, prayer meetings, etc, whether or not they are truly spiritually men who are well-versed in the theology of the Scriptures and of the church, whether or not they have true pastoral hearts, what their record on church discipline is, whether they do lead in the affairs of the church or is their leadership a form of laisez faire leadership (if it brings the people in and keeps the church coffers filled, then who cares what God expects of His church), whether they are first and foremost ‘firm’s men,’ whether they possess the discernment that is desired in holders of this office; and so on. These and related questions must be asked and answered satisfactorily before any commitment is given to any church.

Christians must also be told in great detail what submission to the leadership in the local church entails. Do the leaders (elders) to which submission is to be given have the confidence of the people who are expected to submit to them? Are the elders worthy of the submission of thinking Christian people? Are they true to traditional theological values and modes of worship, or have they ‘sold the pass’ and gone the way of almost all flesh within evangelicalism in all its forms?

It has been said that one of the reasons for membership of local fellowships is to show who the true Christians are. And church members and other Christians are expected to take this seriously! The truth is that all who are members of churches are not Christians, and many who attend worship regularly but who are Christians are not members. In my experience, my best Christian people were not officially church members – best attendees at worship, Bible studies, prayer meetings, etc, the best givers to church funds, and the most supportive of my ministry. On the other hand, the people who gave me least support, the worst attendees at ordinances – except the Lord’s Supper and insistent on the baptism of unbeliever’s infants – the poorest givers to church work, the people who made most demands, were most critical of my ministry, and yet who had a say in the direction of the church, were full unconverted members. Even some of the elders were not Christians, and some of those who were did not possess the qualifications for this high office.

Given that type of ‘mother’ church, plus her track record as an unrepentant abusive mother towards her children – a track record that is current, is it unreasonable to expect, especially those who have been abused by her, to commit to being members? Add to this the fact that she is truculently unrepentant of her evil actions, and committing to her is out of the question. Indeed, her ‘faithful servants’ give their tacit support to church abuse, by refusing to identify the problem and deal Christianly with it.

These ‘firm’s men’ are not good for the church or the Kingdom of God, and are, at the end of the day, merely playing at church. As for motherly care of her children? Well, that’s the biggest joke of all!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Standing for truth!

It is quite interesting to note, even though few note it, that when truth is really promoted, whether in church or in society, it always provokes a reaction from the ungodly world. Take the preaching ministry, for example. When the Gospel is truly and relevantly preached, it stirs the ire of the ungodly. Indeed, it tackles the 'sacred cows' within that congregation or community. When 'sacred cows' are attacked by faithful preachers, they will know about it.

When a similar stand for truth and righteousness is taken in wider society, then we can but expect the self-same reaction. Truth always hurts! It irritates! It antagonises! If it doesn't, then one must ask if it is truth that is being promoted, or is it mere personal preferences that are being set forward, and not the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Martin Luther famously said that if a man preaches on every subject in the Bible, and refuses to deal with the openly defiant issues of the day, then he can hardly be said to be preaching the Gospel.

If Luther is correct, then much of what passes for Gospel preaching is nothing of the sort. The truth always hits home, even when it is preached or witnessed to in a manner that is less than perfect. It always provokes a reaction from the world; it never fails to stir Satan, the accuser of the brethren.

It is said of John Wesley that when he preached, there was either a revival or a riot! Sad that today, even amongst Wesley's adherents, there is little evidence of his spirit in those who love his name!

We must ask if it is possible for the Gospel to be preached when unbelievers love the preacher! When the world within the church says that the minister is very nice, then he most probably is not proclaiming Christ in all His fulness. If unbelievers can sit comfortably under his ministry, being "at ease in Zion," as Amos said, then something is tragically wrong.

Also, in society, when truth is treasured and precious, and this truth is promoted, then Satan is aroused and bears his evil teeth at those who stand for it.

What is important to know is that when the same truth is promoted, whether in the church or outside of it, the same Satan is provoked, and sets out to take action against those who are men and women of truth.

Christians must ask themselves if they are, in fact, living the truth, or are they just playing at being Christians? Do they know what true truth is (Schaeffer's phrase)? Are their lives based on true truth, or are they 'fly by nights' who have made a 'decision' about something religious, even evangelical, but are not quite sure what it was they decided?

Christians who have lost their saltiness are fit for nothing but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men. Beware the judgement of God!

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Sentence of Death

Paul speaks about "the sentence of death" having been passed on him, and his fellow preachers. This was a reality with which he lived on a daily basis, and experienced several attempts to make this reality materialise.

When this happens to the modern day Christian, it is amazing how the amazing grace of God comes to his aid. To know the real presence of the Spirit of God in his heart, is an all too rare felt experience, but at times of extreme challenge, this becomes a reality. To be filled with a conscious sense of the peace of God, amidst hostile external circumstances, is proof of the nearness of God to His people at all times. To have his mind filled with the comforting words of Scripture, puts iron into his faith, and enables him to stand resolute and firm whatever the circumstances.

Then in the midst of disturbing circumstances, to have Ps.46 as the daily reading, with God saying to him through His word that "[He ]was/is their refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble," well, that crowns it, does it not? Even though the entire physical world goes into convulsions, yet God is still the same, and can comfort His people. To "be still and know that [He] is God," is a tonic that cures all spiritual doubts.

"How good is the God we adore! Our faithful, unchangeable Friend. His love is as great as His power, and knows neither measure nor end." That's our God! How truly wonderful He is! He's our Father, in Christ. He loves us with an everlasting love. He is still the Father Who cares.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Why Reformation Tarries!

This is my 83rd posting on this blog, and as a result certain themes have appeared. The one over-arching theme to rise to the top is the critical need for another reformation within the church of Jesus Christ. The identification of this issue will be well received by those who look on the unreformed churches as less than they ought to be, and will give this a warm welcome.

But within the reformed churches, there might appear a very different response. As Reformed churches, they have made it! They are OK, and do not need reformation, and woe betide anyone who even suggests that the reformed churches, especially the purest forms of reformed ecclesiology, need to get back to the Scriptures, and reform their church life and practice according to the supreme rule of faith and worship.

However, the fact remains that all the reformed churches need to take a long and hard look at where they are, how they got there, and how they can return to the biblical position.

Hence, my decision to carry out a piece of research into this very issue. The following matters inter alia need to be addressed, for a start to be made in getting answers to the God-defying situation in many reformed churches today.

When this research has been written up, nothing you have written will be attributed to you - the default position - unless you have given specific instructions about this matter.

1. Name the top five reasons why the church of Jesus Christ needs to be reformed according to the Scriptures. Given reasons for your response.

2. Name the top five reasons why you think the church has got into its present position/condition. Give reasons...

3. What are the top five things/actions that need to be taken in order to initiate reform within the churches. Give reasons....

4. Who must take these actions? Give reasons...

5. Any other points you might want to make will be most welcome.

Please share this website with your sympathetic contacts, and ask for their participation in this research project.

Your assistance will be much appreciated.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Evangelical Romanism and Baptism

The Christian church observes the two sacraments as set out in the Scriptures - Covenant Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These precious means of grace bring encouragement to God's people concerning His sovereign saving grace. The biblical sacrament of Covenant Baptism is especially precious, not only to Christian believers, but also to their children, who are also members of the covenant of grace, and who ought therefore to receive the sign and seal of that covenant.

Over the rolling centuries, these sacraments have been prostituted by the church, her officials and her members, turning them into saving ordinances. In other words, if a child is to be saved, it must, of necessity, be baptised, or christened as they prefer to put it. The child will only start to thrive after it has been 'done,' and baptism will keep it safe from harm and danger; indeed, only after it has been 'done' can it be called its name, for christening is essentially a naming ceremony carried out in a religious context by some kind of official religious priest.

The unreformed churches have a novel way of observing or administrating this sacrament. Because they see the church as being essential to salvation, the child is handed over to the officiating priest, who then 'does the business.' This unreformed practice evokes compliments towards the officiating priest, and gasps of 'awwwwwe' towards the young infant. It is a 'nice' ceremony, and one that courts popularity.

This obnoxious practice has also become part and parcel to the professing reformed churches, especially where liberal ministers minister. One liberal and ecumenical minister known to me used to take the child in his arms to perform the sacrament, then go for a walk up and down the aisles of the meetinghouse, displaying the little infant, to the obvious delight of those present.

Now one can understand such a minister carrying on like this, but one finds it even more baffling when a reformed evangelical minister carries on in this manner. I have witnessed this at church, when the priestly practice of the minister taking the child to be baptised from the father's arms, baptising the infant, then returning it to the father. The symbolism of this is the centrality of the church in the child's salvation, the priestly nature of this sacrament, the robbing the father of the privilege of presenting his child for covenant baptism, all in all making a theological switch away from the reformed and biblical understanding of this sacrament to a clearly Roman Catholic one.

The reformers would be horrified if they were here to see such a travesty of the sacrament. The Huguenot ministers did not take the children of believers in their arms, and in fact, did not touch them, because they believed that the rightness of 'sprinkling' of infants was a correct way of administering this sacrament. In addition, they did not want to give even the slightest impression or hint of priestly activity on his part.

But in today's decadent church, ministers wish to practice as unreformed priests, and this practice is becoming accepted and is increasingly prevalent in the evangelical and reformed churches.

Ministers who do this kind of thing must answer the following questions:
1. Where is the biblical mandate for this unreformed practice?
2. Who authorised this unreformed practice?
3. What is the theological significance of this unreformed practice?
4. What message is being conveyed to unthinking congregations and elders when such
an unreformed practice is being used?
5. How can this unreformed practice be justified from the practices of the true
reformed churches down through the centuries?
6. If this unreformed practice is allowed to go on, what will be the next
development of this sacrament?

These questions, amongst others, must not only be asked, but answered by those who not only use this unreformed practice, but support those who do. And the really subtle danger of this is that the church is being taken straight down the ecumenical road BY EVANGELICAL MINISTERS! Evangelical ministers are the vehicles that the church of Antichrist is using to do his nefarious work.

Oh, it is time for evangelicals to awake; they must shake themselves, and become wide-eyed and not miss what is going on under their noses. How will these men answer before Almighty God for the Romanisation of their churches? Ignorance of the law is no appeal in any court, nor is ignorance of what God requires of His church's ordained servants.

Evangelicalism is a convenient cloak under which this may be done. Yes, Eve was deceived by the serpent, but Adam sinned with his eyes wide open. Elders, if you permit this unreformed practice to continue, you are sinning with your eyes wide open. What will be your answer on that dread day? You cannot say you did not know, because it is your responsibility as elders to become conversant with what your Lord wants for His church.

But evangelicals doing the work of the ecumenicals in Romanising the Protestant churches is perhaps the Satan's most crafty and efficient move. Who will suspect a good evangelical minister of Romanising the church? The church establishment will be delighted at an evangelical doing this work, because that will keep the reformers within the churches - if there are any left - at bay.

But the very thought of this happening, the very thought of Christian people being taken for a ride, being deceived by the clever use of language, is most disturbing. Oh church of Christ, AWAKE!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Proposed Papal Visit to the UK

News has broken that the Pope is planning to visit the UK on the invitation of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The visit it also expected to include Northern Ireland.

Gordon Brown was brought up in a Presbyterian Manse in Scotland, where officially at least, he would have known what his church taught about Antichrist's representative on earth, the Pope. He would have known what his Huguenot ancestors suffered at the hands of the Roman Catholic 'church' in the 17th and 18th centuries. He ought also to have known that what his church teaches and what the RC church teaches is very different, and indeed is directly contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures.

The invitation that Brown extended to the Pope will serve only to reinforce false doctrine, and keep millions of poor needy sinners away from the true Gospel as taught by reformers like John Calvin and his Huguenot sons Moise Amyraut, Jean Daille, and Richard Baxter, and in spiritual darkness.

He will know that the Roman Catholic religion is believed to have been the motivation for the vicious IRA campaign of terrorism, mainly in Northern Ireland, and also in GB, with devastating effects.

The very presence of the Roman Catholic church and its false religion is evidence of the failure of the Reformation, and is also a call for evangelistic effort to convert the millions of adherents of that religion. It is also evidence of the decadence of the Protestant churches which have lost sight of the transforming truths of the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Roman Catholicism is also a call to reformed evangelicals to busy themselves in trying to win these poor deluded sinners to Christ.

Had Mr Brown learned his church and secular history, he would not have invited the head of error to visit our country. By doing this, he is endangering our democracy, and fostering a spirit of deepening falsehood among our peoples. If the church stood in need of reform in 1517, how much more does it need it today, with Rome's additional detestable errors that it has added to its religious inventory.

Our nation does not need to be further weakened by such a visit. Our spiritual needs are enormous, but few seem to care. Morally, we are approaching melt-down, but few see it. The challenge of Islam, with its proposal to take over every democratic country in the world, falls into this same category.

We neither want nor do we need a visit from the Pope; but what we do need most urgently is for God to raise up a man who will herald forth His saving Gospel with mighty Holy Spirit power. We need another Cranmer, another Ridley, another Baxter, another Ryle, men who know God and who proclaim His saving Word.

Of course, such men are despised by the world, and by large tracts of the visible church. But a man despised by the world and the worldly churches is precisely what this country needs at present.

May God's people plead with the Sovereign God to raise up such a man. No need is greater, and none more urgent.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Re-Writing History

The re-writing of history is the chosen past-time of the idle. We see it in the revisionism of the pure teaching of Calvin regarding God's way of reconciliation; in the refusal of reformed and Calvinistic ministers to wear their Geneva preaching gowns; and in the insistence of some churches on the necessity of Episcopalianisn as God's way of governing His church.

We also see it in NI where men are prepared "to call good evil, and evil good," and where the indescribable barbarity of the various terrorist organisations is now being airbrushed out of existence, with a view to presenting both convicted and unconvicted terrorists in a much better light. Engaging in this past-time are very senior churchmen and the religious class, as well as the political class in Northern Ireland.

This "chosen past-time of the idle" has already created unnecessary disruption within the Reformed churches. Those churches that profess to follow Calvin depart from his teaching on the sacraments, e.g, our Baptist brethren, on church government, e.g, our independents and the episcopalians, on Calvin's understanding of the atonement, or reconciliation, the hyper-calvinists and high orthodox denying Calvin's universal emphasis, e.g, the Congregationalists and Episcopalians. If Roman Catholicism had been a Christian church, it would have been included in the later category.

On the matter of ministerial dress, there has also been an almost universal departure from Calvin's practice, and that of his worthy Huguenot sons. The ministers most likely to follow this practice are the liberals and ecumenicals within the professing reformed churches, the very people who ought not to desecrate this noble and respected reformed symbolism.

The wearing of Geneva gowns by reformed preachers was a clear theological statement, that they were 'reformed' men, and not Romanists. This distinction is not proper in today's decadent and 'politically correct' churches who worship and bow down at the shrine of modernity. They were used to cover the man, so that only the pure Word of God was heard. It disallowed the parading of man's self-importance, and prevented every semblance of fashion displays by preachers. It was also a mark of the preacher's educational achievement, though academic hoods were not worn by Calvin and his Huguenot sons. These simple and plain gowns also gave the impression of authority in the preacher, though, of course, these, of themselves, cannot convey authority; only the Word of God taken by the Spirit of God can give the Word of God divine authority.

Whilst it is unacceptable that men who do not embrace the teaching of Calvin should wear these gowns, it is equally unacceptable that those who follow Calvin because he follows Scripture, do not. There has been a loss of historical perspective on the part of many reformed ministers, and their refusal to wear the insignia of Calvin's orthodoxy, are doing themselves, their congregations, and their denominations, and generations yet unborn, a great disservice. They are trying to re-write reformed history!

When men lose the preciousness of God's dealings with them in the past, they are destined to cheapening His dealings with them in the present and in the future!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

"There was no man!"

I am a bit surprised when ministers say that getting ministerial colleagues to stay closer to the WCF was the way to reform the church.

My view was, and still is, that the church has to be reformed according to the Scriptures, the church's supreme standard, NOT any manmade document, no matter how good it might be. The 'rule of faith' requires this, does it not?

Ministers and elders are to submit conscience to no other authority than the Word of God, revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

I think you will agree with me when I say that the reason the church is in such a decadent condition is because she has departed from the truth, the Scriptures, the Word of God. There is no way that any Christian and Reformed church body can substitute anything for the supreme place the Scriptures ought to have, for anything else!

It is my conviction that our country, and indeed the whole world, is as they are today because of the state of the church. Society reflects accurately the spiritual condition of the church.

Yet there is no one to "stand in the gap," no one to bring the living Word of the living God to a faithless church and a perishing nation. Where are the true prophets of God who bring His message to the decadent church and nation? Is there no one who sees what is happening, or are there too many 'time servers' - as a former colleague of ours from the ... Presbytery described them? We are getting too many sermons, but precious few messages from God!

How often do we celebrate great men like Calvin and his true sons and successors, Baxter, the Wesley's, Whitefield, Edwards, Brainard, Chalmers, Ryle, yet we all tend to run a mile from doing what they did! We praise them for their sacrifice in the cause of God, but we will be sure to protect ourselves when it comes to standing for God and His truth.

What does it say about a church that encourages men, and women, who are liberals, ecumenists, modernisers, Arminians, and Gospel haters, to subscribe the WCF at the various milestones, yet it hounds out true evangelical reformed ministers, and no one cares a toss! As someone once famously said, "You cannot criticise what you are prepared to tolerate."

If we can stir one another up to greater faithfulness to the Lord and His Gospel, then there is hope for the reformation of His church. But if we insist on being "firm's men" to the core, then we care nothing for the well-being of Christ's body on earth, and she will never be reformed according to the Word of God, or transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

WCF now the Supreme Standard in the Presbyterian Church

It is with quite some dismay that I learned in conversation with a former ministerial colleague that the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) has now replaced Scripture as the supreme standard of that church, in effect if not on paper. Dismay, I say, but not surprise, because churches that claim to be "reformed" tend to move towards the hyper end of things while the truly reformed churches that followed Calvin and his worthy sons and successors maintained Scriptures supreme position within the churches.

It was claimed that insisting that ministers adhere to the WCF was easier and more productive of orthodoxy than desiring them to stay close to Scripture. I asked him if this new position was not a denial of the rule of faith, and a lowering of the supreme position that the Scriptures have always had within the Calvinistic churches. He disagreed that there was any change to the position of Scripture as the supreme standard of his denomination, but insisted that the WCF was less capable of spurious interpretation than were the Scriptures. I disagreed with him on this point.

If the WCF is so watertight when it comes to matters of orthodoxy, why then is it possible to be a fully fledged liberal and ecumenist within the church to subscribe that Confession as the confession of his/her faith? Indeed, why are there so many different interpretations on what the Scriptures really are, and their meaning, the identity of the Antichrist, on the issue of sacramental discipline, on the matter of what constitutes the Gospel, on inter-church relations and inter-faith activities, etc. These matters are important, yet within his church, the understanding and practices are diverse, a point that does not appear to be of any great concern to evangelical and reformed ministers within that denomination. Every elder, both teaching and ruling, subscribes the WCF as the confession of his, or her, faith, and accepts it as a true summary of what the Scriptures teach.

This departure from John Calvin's orthodoxy is inevitable when Scripture is deposed in practice from its supreme and authoritative position within any ecclesiastical body. Confidence in the final authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice is diminished, and recourse is had to man-made compilations that are more or less faithful to Scriptures own teaching.

Indeed, there is an argument that the compilers of the WCF had already succumbed to the high Calvinism of Owen et al as seen most clearly in its chapter on the Mediator. It is true, moreover, that there were ministers present who did not agree with the high orthodox stand of the majority, but were convinced that they too could subscribe this document in all good conscience.

When compared with Calvin's teaching on the atonement, WCF is very wide of the mark. Yet what other doctrine is of such great importance than that which sets out its understanding of Who the Mediator is, and What it was He came to do for the salvation of the world. The WCF is very faulty here, yet this minister would insist that evangelical and reformed ministers within his denomination adhere strictly to the confession's teaching that Christ died only and exclusively for the elect. This an informed preacher or elder could not possibly do!


Norwich Reformed Church
Little Children

The accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke of Jesus blessing the children rather suggests that the children—their number unspecified—were quite young. Luke alone indicates they were ‘infants’. In which case, they could hardly have ‘met’ Jesus consciously. That said, they felt the Saviour’s touch and embrace even if they were too young either to be aware of or to remember the encounter. Nonetheless, this important incident is given considerable significance by all three gospel writers (see Matt. 19: 13-15; Mk. 10: 13-16; Lk. 18: 15-17).

For all its brevity, John Calvin is surely correct to comment tenderly that ‘This story is very useful’. Indeed, ‘it teaches us that Christ does not receive only those who voluntarily come to Him of a holy desire and moved by faith, but also those who may not yet be old enough to realize how much they need His grace. These small children still have no understanding that they should seek His blessing. Yet when they are brought He receives them kindly and lovingly and consecrates them to His Father in a solemn ceremony of blessing’ (A Harmony of the Gospels).

Concentrating on Mark’s account (the fullest of the three), we note the deep desire of the parents to bring their offspring to Christ. Highly critical of the ungracious reaction of the disciples (for reasons not mentioned), the ‘greatly displeased’ Lord rebuked them, responding warmly to the devoted parents. Jesus then insisted on two things. First, little children are to be welcomed into God’s kingdom, however small (v. 14). Second, a childlike spirit is necessary for all who are saved whatever their age (v. 15).

Whatever reasons explain the disapproval of the disciples, they clearly thought it was ‘beneath Christ’s dignity to receive children’ (Calvin). Dr Philip Doddridge makes some equally tender and challenging observations on this passage:

(a) Christ’s regard [for the children] must have been exceedingly pleasing to the parents; but the memory of this condescension might make tender and lasting impressions on the children themselves.

(b) The sight must be very edifying and encouraging to other young persons who might happen to be present; not to say how instructive this gentleness may be to ministers, and how much their usefulness may, or might have been, promoted by a due regard to it.

(c) Our Lord might reasonably be the more displeased with his disciples for endeavouring to prevent their being brought, as He had so lately set a child among them, and insisted on the necessity of their being made conformable to it (see Matt. 18: 2-4) (The Family Expositor).

Doddridge also refers to an early tradition that ‘the celebrated Ignatius, afterwards [pastor] at Antioch, was one of [the] infants’ blessed by Jesus. It was also claimed that Ignatius—martyred at Rome by the Emperor Trajan in 107 AD—grew up to become a disciple of the Apostle John.

In the tender picture described in v. 16, three specific details should be noted. First, Jesus took the children up in His arms. Second, he put His hands on them, and Third, he ‘blessed them’. Was this a merely sentimental gesture or something of spiritual substance? Doddridge rightly comments that ‘the blessing’ was ‘a rite very early used’ among Jews. Calvin strongly states that ‘the laying on of hands was certainly no frivolous or empty symbol, nor did Christ pour forth His prayers into the empty air. But He could not solemnly present them to God without giving them purity’. In short, the whole incident had spiritual significance, however it might be understood, since it was performed by Christ Himself, the King of the kingdom!

Before we look at this episode in relation to Baptism, we should note the all-important consideration of God’s disposition towards children in general. On this matter, the Scriptures leave us in no doubt.

1. See Deuteronomy 1: 39.
(a) Clearly, the children of the rebellious Israelites were not penalised on account of their parents’ sin. They were too young to have knowledge of good and evil and, unlike their parents, would be permitted to enter the Promised Land. (b) The Promised Land which the children would inherit was typical of God’s eternal kingdom (see Hebrews 11: 13-16).

2. See 2 Samuel 12: 23. Since David believed in the reality of the heavenly afterlife, his words would make no sense if the dead child was not safe in heaven. Compare this with David’s despairing cry over his rebellious son Absalom’s death in 2 Samuel 18: 33. The Cushite’s report of Absalom's death offers no hope for the dead rebel (see v. 32).

3. See 2 Kings 4: 26. Concerning the dead child of the Shunammite woman, the mother affirmed - in answer to Gehazi’s question, “Is it well with the child?” - that ‘it is well’. The inference is obvious. In its dead condition, there was nothing to fear in respect of the child’s eternal welfare. Interestingly, no mention is made of the child’s circumcision, the sign of its Israelite status and gracious acceptance by God.

4. See Ezekiel 16: 21. During Israel’s wicked and idolatrous apostasy, children were sacrificed by fire to the ancient pagan Canaanite deity Moloch. God calls the sacrificed little ones ‘my children’. They were evidently safe with Him despite the sins of the parents.

5. See Jonah 4: 11. God showed particular compassion towards the little ones of wicked Nineveh. Significantly, God was ‘gracious and merciful..., slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness’ (v. 2) towards Gentile children. Being outside the covenant circumcised people of Israel was no barrier to their salvation.

6. See Jeremiah 31: 15-17 and Matthew 2: 18. There is every reason to believe that the children killed by Herod’s men were as eternally safe as those sacrificed to Moloch (see #4 above). We may surely say of such victims that ‘the children shall come back’, as Jeremiah was careful to say (see Jer. 31: 17). Notwithstanding the parents’ grief, their children’s position was not hopeless however horrific their death was.

In view of this Old Testament background, the loving view of little children expressed by our Lord Jesus Christ is beautifully consistent with the Old Testament - as one would expect! They are eternally safe in the Saviour’s loving arms.

Both Calvin and Doddridge link the blessing of the children to the sacrament of baptism (despite the fact that these and other Reformed theologians were opposed to the notion of ‘baptismal regeneration’). Were they right to do so? Furthermore, it is proper then to ask that, if Christ did something of spiritual significance to the children, why did He not baptize them also? We may further ask why Jesus did not baptize adults when He invited them to come to Him (see Matt. 11: 28)?

The simple answer to both questions is that Christian baptism was only instituted after Christ’s resurrection, in the ‘Great Commission’ (see Matt. 28: 18-20). Thus the baptism of infants has an honourable and biblical basis, in view of all we have considered. Without believing in any superstitious magic in the water of baptism, or some ‘priestly power’ in pastors, children may receive the sign of covenant blessing however eventually the renewal of God’s Holy Spirit ‘hidden within them increases and shines forth openly’ (Calvin). Since the blessing bestowed by Christ must relate to the gospel gifts of forgiveness of sin, divine adoption and spiritual renewal, the sign of gospel grace must not be withheld from children brought by their parents to our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, it must always be emphasised that no one should trust in their baptism, but in Christ alone. The blessing signified by baptism must be an ever-present reality in our lives. The blessing is meaningless if real piety (faith, obedience, Bible reading, prayer and resisting temptation) is not evident. Only if these realities exist may we be sure that we are ‘in God’s kingdom’.

In conclusion, it is interesting to recall that, on the basis of the Old Testament background cited above, the strong opponent of infant baptism—C. H. Spurgeon—rightly (in my view) taught that all children dying in infancy are saved. While Spurgeon thought that this evidence had nothing to do with baptism, others have thought differently. Interestingly, in his Commenting and Commentaries, Spurgeon commends the works of covenant paedobaptists, including Doddridge, but pre-eminently Matthew Henry first and John Calvin second! Let Matthew Henry bring our study to a close. His words speak for themselves:

I cannot but take occasion to express my gratitude to God for my infant baptism; not only as it was an early admission into the visible body of Christ, but as it furnished my pious parents with a good argument (and I trust, through grace a prevailing argument) for an early dedication of my own self to God in my childhood. If God has wrought any good work upon my soul, I desire, with humble thankfulness, to acknowledge the moral influence of my infant baptism upon it.
Dr Alan C. Clifford


"When men forsake truth to advance themselves, they are asking for
disappointment" - Wm Gurnell, The Christian in Complete Armour, Vol. 2,
Edinburgh 1655, 1988:44.

Application to:
Personal life, Home, Work, Politics, Church.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Evangelicals Neglect Church

That evangelicals ought to love and care for the church of Jesus Christ in contradistinction to the liberals and the "firm's men" within the churches, should be obvious, and not need to be stated.

However, the reality is otherwise. Evangelicals, of all people, simply do not care about the health and well-being of the church!

Why do I say that? For this reason. Evangelicals are so inward-looking that they cease to be like Christ. Their outlook is so parochial that they could not care less what is happening throughout the church of which they are proud members.

This is happening because they refuse to think through the issues that their church publicly believes, turning a proverbial 'blind eye' to the evil that is hammering at their door. Theologically, they do not want to know or understand the real issues that are facing the church, thus rendering the church incapable of withstanding in the evil day when Satan attacks.

On moral issues, they are culpably blinded. Their church believes that homosexual sin and partnerships are OK, and are not a sin at all. But what do the evangelicals do? They just turn off, and live as if there were no moral challenges within the church at all.let alone to the church.

Do they really care about the spiritual health of their church? Not at all. But they have succeeded in convincing themselves that they do! And self-deception is a dreadful condition to be in!

Monday, 3 August 2009


Obviously, the great need of the hour, so far as some church people are concerned. A man, or a women!, who will tell us nice things about God and about ourselves, who will tell us stories every Sunday, and tickle our ears with more amusing stories. Someone who will turn both blind eyes to what is really going on within the church, or even within his/her own congregation, and all for the sake of peace. He/she needs to be someone who is good with a brush - to sweep as much religious and theological nonsense under the carpet as possible. Ideally, s/he must be the 'pet lamb' of the flock - nice and warm and cuddly, to be admired and gocked at by all and sundry.

Perish the thought if he were to be a man like Luther or Calvin - look at the 'mess' they made of the church 500+ years ago in Europe, both of whom were either put out of the church or had to leave it. These men brought embarrassment to their families and friends, and lost a good, safe, lucrative career in the church. We don't want men like these. They caused big splits in the united church of that time, and now it is broken up into all kinds of, what they call, denominations. They criticised other clergy, condemned what was happening within the visible church, set about changing things that had been going on for generations, even centuries. They said the church was wrong in the way it was organised, and the clergy were wrong in what they preached to the poor people. Even the sacraments were not even being administered properly, accordingly to Calvin. What a cheek he had! And Luther overturned the way people became Christians - no longer by their own supposed 'good' works, but by faith in Christ alone! And as for paying your way to heaven, well, Luther put a spanner in the works here too. These men went to town on the church in their own day, and brought the Bible into centre place, making it the supreme standard of the church.

Had the 17th century Huguenots been the pathetic weaklings that many want in today's church, the cause of Christ in Europe would have all but disappeared. These gallant saints of God preserved the flame of reformed Christianity in a land that hated it with a perfect hatred. Thank God for their consistency in their Christian witness both within and without the churches in France, etc.

Nor do we want men like Whitefield or the Wesleys as our ministers, why? Because in many places where they went, they caused riots by their preaching, and in other places there were outbreaks of revival. These men, by their preaching got up peoples' noses, and told the people they were sinners and needed to be saved. Even Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, USA, caused all kinds of unusual happenings under his preaching, and people collapsed as he preached the Gospel. He even told them about HELL! He told them that all that was keeping these good church members out of hell was the slender thread of God's mercy, and that at any moment they could drop under the weight of their own corruption into a Christless hell forever. Scary stuff! Now, we cannot have ministers like that in our churches today, because they only upset people who otherwise were fast asleep in their sin.

Or come on a few more years, to Dundee in Scotland where Rev Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) ministered for six short years (1837-1843), dying at age 29. Now, we like to hear quotations from McCheyne, but we don't want a man like him in our churches. He was too holy, too given over to God and His glory, far too straight as a preacher, convicted his hearers of their sin and guilt every time he preached, and brought them to see their abominable condition before Almighty God. He actually told them that they were unconverted, and were hell-deserving sinners! No, we don't want a man like that in the church today. That kind of preaching only turns people off and empties the churches because it shows a lack of grace and love. He only had about 1100 in his!

He even criticised other ministers, and what they preached! Could you believe it? He brought the state of the church and the nation under the microscope of the Word of God - and he was only in his mid-twenties! How dare him criticise the church or her ministers. But he did! Why? Because he loved the Lord and His Gospel much more than he loved the praise of sinful men. He loved Christ far above all others. No, men like McCheyne would not go down well in the church today.

Yet, and here's the rub, while the church might not 'want' ministers like these, she certainly 'needs' such ministers. The reformation would not have happened had the reformers not obeyed the call of God and recognised so precisely the dire needs of the church. Indeed, without the great men of courage, there would not be a reformed church anywhere in the world. Had they been 'cissies' or 'pansies,' they could not have accomplished under God what they did.

It appears that the men the church does not want today are exactly the men that she needs so sorely. The church, alone of all organisations, is of divine origin, so she of all organisations ought to be the focus of those who claim to be of a reforming spirit. Indeed, had the men within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in the seventies and eighties been the spineless males that are lauded today, that church would still be in the WCC, and would have joined the newly formed Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland in the early 1980s. Had there not been men of theological conviction, there would be no sacramental discipline in as many congregations today - Romanism would have prevailed in many of them, as it is in probably the majority of congregations within that denomination.

The sad and disappointing thing about the modern church is that there are no signs of any reformers within any of the churches today, save perhaps among the smaller denominations; but even here, the 'reformers' are frowned upon, and told not to speak about spiritual things within that denomination.

My prayer is that God would raise up a man or men who would champion the reformation of the churches in this age, and bring them back to His holy Word and Gospel. But now, as then, the reformers have always been the targets of ecclesiastical persecution.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Orange Reformation

The Orange Order, unlike the church, is NOT a divine institution. Christians, therefore, and ministers in particular, ought to give their very best efforts to reforming the church, which is divinely ordained, rather than seeking to reform a man-made institution that clearly is not.

That said, I must add a few other points. The twelve qualifications of an orangeman demand that only genuine Christians are admitted to membership. What we have instead is a professedly evangelical and reformed institution that has in its membership many who hold to the teachings of Roman Catholicism, especially with regard to the way of salvation.

Ask your average Orangeman what a Christian is, and how does one become a Christian, and you'll get a variety of answers: be a good neighbour, keep the law, do good, go to your church, support your church, give to the needy, attend the sacraments, be religious in your observances, etc. Becoming a Christian, for many Orangemen, happens when you are baptised (they probably use the Roman Catholic term 'christened'), and becoming a Christian continued when you take 'holy communion.' Being a good Protestant means submission to the Bishop, believing whatever the church tells you, going to the Twelfth each year, flying your union flag, and joining the Orange Order.

I ask you: Is that biblical Protestantism or unadulterated Romanism? Well taught Christians will answer that it is the latter.

What is a Christian in the biblical sense? He is someone, who having a true sense of his lostness in sin before a holy God, flees in faith and repentance to Christ, just as he is, to the only Saviour of mankind, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is someone who loves Christ before and above all others, and seeks to glorify Him by the way he lives his life. He is a dedicated member of his local reformed and biblical church, and who is in regular attendance at its ordinances. He seeks to bear witness to God's saving grace in Christ Jesus, has a zeal for evangelism and world mission, and lives as holy a life that it is possible for a redeemed sinner to live. He is a gracious and kindly man who is not afraid to shout when his Master and His cause are attacked. He has been born again from above, converted, delivered from darkness and death and brought into light and newness of life, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, having been raised together with Christ. His love for Christ is real, and not just mere empty words.

That's what a true Christian really is. It is also what a true Orangeman really is.

The authentically Calvinistic, or Amyraldian, qualifications are to be welcomed, and they look good on paper. Jesus Christ is described as "the Saviour of mankind," which salvation is received by faith in the "only Mediator" there is between God and men. This begs the obvious question: why aren't only those who have received Jesus Christ by faith received into the Order's membership? If men who manifestly do not meet the membership qualifications are admitted into membership of this institution, then it ought not to surprise anyone that the trends within the Order are towards a weakening of its Christian witness. Indeed, why should we expect Christian behaviour from unregenerate people? To do so is to ask the impossible and is a denial of the Christian faith.

As a fraternal institution that carries no biblical mandate, I believe that genuinely concerned Reformed evangelical ministers within that body and who minister in seriously compromised, even apostate, denominations, ought to give their efforts to reforming what is biblically warranted, rather than dissipating their efforts on reforming something that is of no consequence one way or the other?

That the churches need urgent and radical reformation is an issue that hardly needs to be raised. Indeed, those more objective observers can see only too clearly that this is the case. Few within the churches see this in such a way that motivates them to commence the work of reformation within their own ecclesiastical bodies.

The sceptic within me will explain this as follows: to seek the reform of the Orange Order will not cost them their jobs, salaries, homes or pensions, if the reform does not work. However, if they are of truly reforming spirits and are employed by a church body, which has 'the power of life and death' over its employees, if the reform goes wrong, they will be left out in the street without home or income, not to mention the pension?  The answer is YES; and that is too great a price to pay for faithfulness to Christ's Gospel.

So I believe that these good Christian brothers are taking the safe option, showing that they care more for what God has not ordained than they do for what he has ordained. This is surely a very sad situation to be in.

But if the church as visible is not in conformity to the Word of God in its organisation and doctrine - both of which must go together - then trying to conform an organisation that professes to be Protestant but has within it, and right at the very top, people who hold to the beliefs of Roman Catholicism, then the task is futile. I know some might object that that was the situation at the REFORMATION, and God is the same God today as He was in the 16th century. Granted. But there is a most significant difference! The men of that time - Luther, Calvin, Farel, Bucer, Melancthon, and their Huguenot followers such as Amyraut, Jean Dialle, Claude Brousson, young Fulchran Rey, etc, - were men of true grit, men of courage, men of determination, men utterly committed to the reforming cause, whereas today, like our greedy politicians, many ministers really do count the cost of reform within the church, could not bear it financially and would dislike the lack of prestige and position that being a 'minister of religion' gives, and they decide not to go down that road.

And who suffers? The church of Jesus Christ on earth. No, we do not have the men of conviction and courage that mainland Europe had 500 years ago.

I ask again, as I did before, where are the men of truly reforming zeal, who care about Christ's body on earth, and who desire her to be perfected, that is, mature Bible-believing, Gospel preaching churches? Where are the reformers who have a greater eye to the final Judgement of the last day, than they do to temporal comforts? Is there anyone out there who cares about the theological and spiritual health of the church? Where are they? And why won't they come forward?

I know how costly being a reformer within a mixed and compromised denomination is, not only for myself but for my family also. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, given the track record of the church authorities (but there again, they are no different from how their predecessors behaved in the 16th century).

Let the reform of the Protestant churches begin!

Amazing GRACE!

Dr Bob Flayhart, a Presbyterian minister from the USA, speaking at the Keswick Convention at Portstewart in July 2009, made two very important points that I think bear repeating.
1. Grace does not fix! It enables us to live above our personal brokenness, but grace does not fix.
2. Why do we so often expect godly living from unregenerate sinners? They can live in no other way. Unless and until they are converted to Christ by the amazing grace of God, they will go on living as they do, and Christians ought never to be surprised at that!

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Destructive Modernisers

The oft-repeated mantra used by unthinking Christians is that the church has to be contemporary, and must go with the times - an admission that the Gospel is no longer relevant to the contemporary world. These unthinking Christians are to be found in virtually every church, but saddest of all, they are to be found in abundance in the REFORMED CHURCHES.

Let me explain what this modernising trend has done. Take the modernisers within the political world, for example. New Labour had its modernisers, and, my, what electoral success it enjoyed - for a relatively short time. That time is running out, and an enormous mess has been left in its wake. The Conservative Party, which historically stood for traditional values, has also embarked on the modernising road. It, too, will be successful for a while, but its fortunes will also decay. The DUP in Northern Ireland has succumbed to the modernising lobby, has enjoyed a term of success, but its fortunes are now also on the wane. The UP is trying the same ploy, and will follow the inevitable pattern.

The police service in Northern Ireland has undergone a modernisation job, and we are now left without anyone who can provide the policing and security and protection that a country under very high terrorist threat from the republican IRA, requires. What we have instead are officers who have no experience of policing in a terrorist context, have no awareness of the cost in human lives that was paid by RUC officers and their wives and families; officers, too many of whom have a soft spot for republicanism and its attendant terrorism.

The Orange Order in Ireland has gone down a similar road, with its resultant dilution of what the Order stood for originally, namely, the propagation and defense of true biblical reformed Protestantism. This, crucial aspect of Orangism has been diluted to make way for an increase of Orangefest events, and the attendance of Santa at the demonstration in Ballymena 2009. Gimmicks have pushed out the centrality of the truth, and few there are who really care!

Ecclesiastically, the churches have also been bitten by this worldly bug, and those that have surrendered to the modernisers are enjoying a time of great success. They are attracting people of all ages inside their doors, mainly the young people - and often to the exclusion of the older members. They have become clap-happy junkies, unthinking automatons who just enjoy playing the childish game, "Follow the leader," and do whatever the leader does. The spectacle of mature Christians engaging in such infantile behaviour that is supposed to pass for 'worship,' is grossly disappointing. But the modernisers are now in the ascendancy in almost all churches.

If what is happening in the political world after the modernisers have had their day, is anything to go by, then we can predict very accurately what will happen within those churches that have moved away from their theological and historical moorings. These churches will flourish for a time, and win the applause of the world within the church, the establishment, but when the religious dust has settled down, what will be left? A cohort of very disillusioned Christians who have been 'sold a pup' by their spiritual leaders, been treated to the theological equivalent of crisps and candy floss, have had their theological umbilical cord unceremoniously cut by the modernisers, and left at the mercy of whatever new trends will follow in their wake. A generation of infantile church members will have been created - by evangelicals - from whom it will be impossible to find anyone qualified to lead the church in a Godward direction in the years to come. They will have no historical or theological perspective against which to assess new fads, which seem to have a fatal attraction to every moderniser in all the churches.

In the past, when the modernists ruled, the church suffered an enormous blow; similarly, now that a new wave of modernisers are controlling the life of the church, a similar fate awaits it and them.

Who would want to be in their shoes when the stour hits the fan! How will they answer to the Almighty Judge for their stewardship? They will be left without excuse and defense (Rom.1).

It is time that Christians awoke to what is happening under their noses. The church is not about short-timism; it is about having a clear eschatological perspective, and living to the glory of God; and this can only be done when we offer back to Him what He was asked and demanded. Those who offer 'strange fire' to the God who saved them, will be in for a real shock on that day.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

PCI, PMS and Sectarianism

The responses I have received from people associated with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) concerning the previous post (published in the Newsletter, 26/06/09), have been most encouraging. Readers have said that in this letter, I have hit the nail right on the head, and encouraged me to send in more letters.

But given the Clerk of the Assembly's position on the connection between these two bodies, namely, that there is no legal connection between it and the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS), no one can criticise me for writing critically about the PMS. What is surprising is that ONLY members of PCI can avail of the financial services of that private club!

Now, if there is no connection between these two distinct bodies, how did so many members of PCI get to know about it? Was it promoted by the Methodist church in Ireland, or the CoI, or the Baptist and Congregational churches? Did the Plymouth Brethren, the Pentecostalists, the Roman Catholics and the Free Presbyterians, the Reformed Presbyterians and any other kind of Presbyterian body encourage their members to save and invest in this money club? It's very unlikely indeed.

As well as the official organ of that church advertising the PMS, PCI ministers were a chief means of gathering investors and savers (for they had both kinds availing of their services, as a cursory look at the paying-in frequency will disclose) for this private and exclusive society. Perhaps it is now time for PCI investors/savers in the PMS to pay these ministers a visit and ask them what they think they were doing? They knew this was a closed shop, hence a sectarian, society that disallowed EVERY other potential investor/saver using its services. While a minister within this denomination, at no time did I ever promote this club, or encourage anyone to save or invest their money in it, a policy decision of which I am particularly glad at this time.

Now they want EVERY tax payer to bail out this private club, while denying EVERY tax-payer the right to join it. Only when the PMS, if it survives this crash, allows people from any and every background to invest in, save with, and borrow from it, ought taxpayers to expected to help it at this time.

Of course I feel deeply for all those good people who, in faith, put their savings into this society, many of them for their retirement, many for weddings, and many for the education of their children. My heart goes out especially to those who genuinely cannot afford to lose such sums of money. They believed, until the fall of PMS, that it was a part of their church/denomination, that is, until the Assembly Clerk informed them otherwise. Were the ministers who encouraged saving in PMS also deceived by the senior managers of their church? Did they know exactly what the relationship was, and refused to tell their members the whole truth? Was the fact that it claimed the name PRESBYTERIAN sufficient for them to trust it? Is 'Presbyterian' synonymous with honesty, truthfulness and integrity? How quick otherwise discerning PCI members and elders were to trust that Presbyterian financial club, while they distrusted virtually everything else their own church stood for!

In Northern Ireland, sectarianism has blighted our society for many decades, and still does. The PEACE III programme has as its focal point addressing sectarianism and racism. While the PMS could not be described as racist, it can most certainly be described as sectarian. Will the government now help reinforce what is a sectarian society, on the one hand, while requiring the rest of us to create a project that actually paralyses the onward march of sectarianism, on the other?

It is really ironic and hypocritical that a financial organisation that is inextricably linked to a 'Christian' denomination can be the means of concretising sectarianism, while many of that church's ministers are to be found among those who decry sectarianism! As is usually the case, PCI is continuing to send our very confusing messages to a lost and bewildered world, the trumpet making an uncertain sound. PCI and its associated organisations would need to take a long hard look at themselves in the light of Scripture, and embark on a radical reformation of that denomination, now that Reformed Christians are celebrating the birth of John Calvin on 10th July 1509.

PMS, the Government and Sectarianism

If sectarianism may be defined as ‘a rigid adherence to a particular sect, party or denomination, in such a way as to exclude all others,’ then the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) is an example of a sectarian organisation. I say this because (1) only members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) can save in it; (2) only members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland can invest their money in it; (3) only members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland can borrow from it; (4) only members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland can be involved in the running of it.

I am Presbyterian by upbringing and conviction, but because I am not a member of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland , I could not, if I wanted to, avail of any of the financial services that PMS offered. That makes the society exclusivist, and perhaps even sectarian, adopting an “ourselves alone” attitude. No one outside this religious grouping can have any part in its operations.

This is not to say that I have no feelings for the sense of betrayal that many PCI members feel, or even for the hurt caused by Dr Donald Watts, Clerk of Assembly, when he publicly distanced himself and the denomination from the PMS in its difficulties. The deception by their church has caused them much hurt.

But if the UK government is going to find ways of bailing out this exclusivist and private club, then it must do the same for all other exclusivist and private clubs. Equality of treatment demands no less.

Indeed, given that the entire PEACE III funding scheme is designed to combat sectarianism, and applicant groups must adhere to this aspiration, the government, if it bails out the PMS, is again sending out mixed messages that cause confusion. It supports anti-sectarianism through the PEACE III programme, on the one hand, and it funds an essentially sectarian organisation/club, on the other.

Just what is the government’s true position on sectarianism, in light of the above points? Answers please...