Friday, 6 March 2009

Poor God!

The passage of the years never ceases to amaze me when I observe what Christians think about God. It is not an uncommon thing for ministerial students in fundamentalist churches to be asked NOT to pray for any Christian work outside their denomination. I know of two such Christian men who were forced to leave the theological college of one church, and candidate for acceptance as a student for the ministry in another. Obviously, in some fundamentalist churches, God is not big enough or gracious enough to bless a church that might differ from us in a few things!

I hear ministers pray almost exclusively for the blessing of God upon their own labours. To ask for the blessing of God upon neighbouring congregations, even if they belong to the same denomination, would be frowned upon.

In this year when Christians remember the 1859 Revival in Ulster and in other parts of the British Isles, it is instructive to hear ministers yearn for the blessing of God, not upon His church in these islands, but upon his own pastures where he labours. Clearly, God is incapable of blessing other churches, only ours!

How distressing it must be for a Christian minister to have such a low view of Who God really is. It must bring him into bouts of near despair when he sees the enormity of the task that lies ahead, with resources available from a god who can only manage to bless one or two congregations. Poor God! Poor minister!

Church history provides us with a tremendous warning in this respect: In England 260 years, Christian people in the free churches prayed and longed for God to bless His church with revival. He did; but He largely by-passed those churches that prayed most for it! His reviving Spirit descended upon the episcopalian churches in that land - to the general uplift of religion and morals throughout the Kingdom.

The god of many evangelicals is only big enough to handle their concerns and their work activity. To ask more would be to ask too much. We mustn't place too many demands on our god, for he has only so much blessing to go around - and we want most of it for ourselves.

Now, I am not a raving ecumenical or liberal theologian; but I almost despair of any real blessing from God upon a church that is so limited in its understanding of the God of Heaven. What does it say about their beliefs! Nay, more, what does it say about their faith!

Let me ask this: is such a petty deity worthy of thinking, worshipping men? Because so many believe like this, they are bowing down before, and worshipping, a false god - for he is not the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians need to get their eyes off any idea of God that limits him to their beliefs! But once they see "how great Thou art!, then, and only then, will they see their faith rising to match the concept they have of this great sovereign God of the Universe. Only then will they dare to ask for the blessing of God upon the churches. And only then will we see this great Almighty God at work in a special way in His thoroughly decadent and almost dead church.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Follow only those who follow Christ!

I was reflecting on Calvin and the possibility of his being elevated to too high a position in the minds of those who revere him - I think this is a real possibility amongst those who revere him. Great and all that he was, he was still a man!

But when it comes to his faithfulness to the central and fundamental doctrines of the faith - and by these I mean all those inter-related doctrines that bear on His glory and our salvation, I consider him to be unsurpassed. While he may not have got absolutely everything right, there can be no doubt about the balanced nature of his theology.

I have discovered that the only people who try to discredit Calvin are his critics - overt or covert. Take the liberals, for example. They tell us how much they revere the Reformer, yet for their own menacing reasons, distort his teaching so that it suits and promotes their evil agenda. Take the ecumenicals as another, and you'll see them speaking about Calvin in a way that makes him contradict himself. Even some charismatics claim that Calvin is their hero, and whilst they might adhere to some of Calvin's teaching, they depart from it in other places, not least in the gifts of the Spirit. The hypercalvinistic Owenites likewise do violence to the plain teaching of the Bible when they resort to all kinds of theological gymnastics and medieval scholasticism for their interpretation of the Gospel. I these matters, these groups are so unlike Master John!

"There is none righteous, no not one" - and that includes Calvin in his natural state. We only follow any man so far as that man follows Christ in all the Scriptures. We follow Calvin and his true sons, for there is plenty of evidence that they believed in the perspicuity of the biblical text, and did not feel any need to squeeze it into any man-made mould, or system. Calvin allowed the Scripture to speak for itself, for therein alone do we hear the authentic voice of God.

It is strange and insightful that when criticism is levelled against Calvin, the same criticism is not levelled against the theological favourites of those who criticise him.

We must not become enslaved to any man or system, unless we are convinced that that man or system conforms to the clear teaching of the Word of God.

I have come to the conviction that the most faithful biblical hermeneutic is that developed by Calvin so far as the central doctrines of the faith are concerned.

Even the reformer himself would be the first to acknowledge his imperfections. No man castigates himself more than Calvin does. But he was singularly used of God to do a work that has stood the test of time and change. He organised the reformation of the church, and sadly, there are no reformers in the churches today!

By the way, did you ever come across the testimonies of the converts of Owen? When you do, let me know for I would very much like to read how God used Owen in their conversion.

I remember speaking to Eric Alexander many years ago. I was troubled about the place of logic in theology. His wise answer has been a mainstay of my thinking ever since. He said, "Biblical doctrines must lead to biblical conclusion, not logical ones." I think that too many reformed theologians have substituted cold logic for the clear teaching of the Bible, thus ending up with theological aberrations.

I talked over this matter of Calvin being to highly exalted in men's thinking with Alan Clifford a good few years ago, and we both come to the same conclusion, which is very similar to that discussed above. Man-worship is not just within the domain of the Arminians and secular humanists - we in the reformed constituency are very liable to fall into this same pit. That may be part of the problem with the reformed churches - they test everything against the Westminster standards (and their derivatives). Unthinking and uncritical devotion to this man-made document that may conceal a dangerous man-centredness - rather than to the Scriptures.

Reformed Christians, of all believers, must be clear about what they believe about the Scriptures, and they follow this on by demonstrating that what they profess, they do in handling the Word of Life.

Are we up to that challenge?