Saturday, 9 January 2010

"Judge not, that ye be not judged!"

"Judge not, that ye be not judged!" These are the challenging words of our Lord Jesus Christ. What did he mean by these words? Well, he did not prohibit the use of our critical faculties otherwise assessing situations would then be impossible for Christians. We have to be able to judge between this and that in order to come to a decision as to which we prefer, or which is right.

What Christ was teaching is that we, as Christians, are not to judge in a way that is censorious, and comes from a self-righteous heart. Neither are we to judge harshly, nor must we make much more of the sins we see in others than we do of our own sins. For if we judge others harshly and without mercy, compassion or love, then we can but expect the selfsame judgment from others when we sin.

I am sure we all know people who have been so destructive, so negative, so ruthless and merciless in their judgment of others; such self-righteous 'judges' cannot expect anything different from those who judge them when they transgress. Indeed, self-righteous judges of others can only expect severe and merciless judgment from God on the last day. Such forthcoming judgment is evidence of a horribly wrong heart, one that is callous, cold, unfeeling.

The Robinsons - Peter is the First Minister of the Executive in Northern Ireland, and his wife is Iris - are a case in point. Perhaps no more censorious couple can be imagined anywhere. The intemperate language they employed to destroy their political enemies was thought to be unacceptable by decent people, although their followers enjoyed it immensely. The party of which he is the leader - at the moment, at least - has been trained by its founder, Dr Ian Paisley, to destroy everyone and everything that stood in the way of political success. Truthfulness did not seem to matter because winning at the polls was all that mattered. This party, the DUP, has destroyed every unionist leader in Northern Ireland since the 1960s - O'Neill, Chicester-Clark, West, Faulkner, and laterally Trimble. They set out to judge these civic leaders with a view to their destruction and failure, and succeeded, believing themselves to be impervious to negative circumstances, impregnable, un-defeatable.

But God had to teach these arrogant and self-righteous people that He is not mocked, and that whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. If you sow to the wind, you will reap the whirlwind. If you judge others harshly, you will be judged in exactly the same manner.

The arrogant criticism of other 'good' men appeared to be the stock in trade of these two politicians - Peter and Iris Robinson. Their entire political careers were predicated, it was believed, on winning at all costs. Many a good man was totally destroyed by this party, and it was believed, by this couple! Isn't it salutary that those who build their careers of such a sandy foundation cannot expect to survive when the real storms arrive?

But the hypocrisy of their behaviour was and is evident to all. This is perhaps the hardest aspect of the situation to accept. While Iris was forthright and clear in her public condemnation of homosexuality, a position that many Christians would also accept, the time-line suggests that as she made this pronouncement, she may have been 'grooming' the teenager for a sexual liaison some short time in the future. However, this will all come out in the near future.

This should not come as any great surprise, of course. This same party went out of its way to criticise its political opponents in the Ulster Unionist Party for what they regarded as the disastrous Belfast Agreement, which, they claimed, was a staging post for a united Ireland, and totally opposed to what unionists traditionally stood for. The criticism and condemnation was piled on, on a daily basis, causing division not only within other parties, but within families and churches.

Yet, what Peter Robinson and his party, the DUP, accepted at St Andrews was significantly worse for unionism than that negotiated by Trimble. On Trimble's watch, there were only two politicians linked with the IRA terrorist machine, whereas under Paisley's watch, this had increased to five! Yet, they condemned Trimble for doing what he did, and laid it on him and his party with not even a smell of mercy or understanding. But the birds come home to roost, do they not?

Yes, Trimble's political career in Northern Ireland came to an end, as all political careers do, some in ignominy; but it came as a result of politics working itself out at the polls. In the Robinsons' case, their political careers will end differently - Iris's in ignominy and disgrace, and Peter's not far behind hers.

It is extremely sad that these politicians were unable to see that it is not how men judge others that really counts, but how God judges them, the only One Who can judge righteous judgment. When the Robinsons judged so harshly their political rivals, or even people they did not like or were viewed as a threat to their progress, they did not see into the hearts of those criticised. They did not know their hearts, nor could they.

I remember being present, with my wife and young family, at a loyalist event in Magherafelt almost 20 years ago, and at which the main speakers were senior members of the DUP; the personality assassination of political and religious opponents, the mimicking that went on, the mocking of those who had speech impediments, the taking down of the 'dress sense' of those they criticised, and the resultant jubilation of the supportive crowd that attended, is storing up an awful day of judgment for themselves, a judgment that might come long before the last Day, as it has done for the Robinsons and the entire DUP, and has thrown into question the entire political scenario in Northern Ireland.

Yet, it is extremely sad that any family should end up in this undesirable position, one that no decent person would wish on their worst enemies. The hurt they must be feeling, the sense of shame and betrayal, the disappointment, the future careers of the present and next generation, these are all painfully real. Peter had worked all his life to become the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland; now this is collapsing in tatters around his feet. His predecessor's political career, Dr Paisley, came to an abrupt end, and people still ask, "Did he jump, or was he pushed," a question still not answered. Now Peter will, in all likelihood, follow Iris into the political wilderness.

If there is anything good to come out of this, it is the fact that they belong to what seems to be a caring Christian church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast. The pastor has said repeatedly that the church will help and support them, and love them, and work to see them through this terrible personal tragedy. Had they belonged to any other Christian church in Northern Ireland, they would have been ostracised, ignored, condemned, rejected, alienated, tramped upon, ministers and members told to have nothing to do with them, criticised, talked about behind backs, shown pretend love and consideration, and so on, ad infinitum. But their church family at the Metropolitan Tabernacle will be there for them at this extremely difficult time for the entire Robinson family. They will need that pastoral support more now than at any time in the past, and their church has promised to give it. To be surrounded by such caring, non-judgmental, supportive Christian friends is a rare privilege, not seen in too many churches in Northern Ireland today. Their church will love the sinner without condoning their sin.

Had they belonged elsewhere, the pastoral support would not have been forthcoming, at least not in many churches. But while many of their political colleagues will be very worried about their seats in Stormont and at Westminster, Peter might not have many friends left within the DUP! They will need, and will receive, pastoral support from their church.

To be shown God's amazing grace through the church is simply what the church is there to do, amongst other things. To be taken into the very bosom of their heavenly Father will convey the spiritual healing they will need. Grace is always shown to the undeserving, indeed to those who deserve the very opposite. Grace does not fix anything, but it does empower people to live above their circumstances. And it takes grace to show grace.

Perhaps the reason why this needy family will be shown grace from their church is because grace reigns in that church. Those churches that have a track record of refusing to show grace to the erring, to those in difficulties or trouble, demonstrate that grace is absent from their church and from the lives of their members and ministers, despite their claim to hold to the doctrines of grace. A caring church cannot be created by men, however hard they try; it is something created by God. It would appear that God is not at work in many churches today, nor in too many church members, despite their confident claim that God is in their church!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Presbyterian Moderator would have attended Funeral Mass

An overnight illness prevented Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Stafford Carson, attending the funeral of Cardinal Daly on Tuesday 5th January 2010. From this press report, it is clear that this leading reformed, evangelical and Presbyterian minister was fully intending to attend this funeral Mass for one of the Pope's official representatives in Ireland.

Dr Carson, quite clearly, saw no contradiction in being a reformed evangelical minister, and attending the funeral mass for the late Cardinal. Having subscribed the Westminster Confession of Faith as the confession of his faith, he, in effect, and by his actions, stated that he no longer believed what the official faith of his church is. Perhaps as Moderator of his church's General Assembly - Presbyterianism's fancy name for 'chairman' - he has also called a truce on his earlier Gospel position, to enable him to attend this blasphemous ceremony.

When he was appointed to this position, Dr Carson, who used to be a firm critic of the ordination of women to the Christian ministry, and refused to exchange pulpits with his neighbouring female minister who belonged to the same denomination and ministered in the same town, as was customary at Christmas time, called a truce on the women's ordination issue for the duration of his year of office.

Now, another truce has been called, this time on the blasphemous nature of Roman Catholicism's Mass. This denial of the Christian Gospel that the Mass is, states that what Christ did on Calvary was not finished, and has to be repeated continually by the church. The Roman Mass is what does this.

For Dr Carson to have been present at this blasphemous celebration would have constituted a denial of the Gospel.

This raises the further issue of what exactly it is that Dr Carson preaches to his congregation week by week! His current practice will mean that he will no longer teach the wrongness of the ordination of women to the Christian eldership, or even that the Mass is a blasphemous act that really denies the Christian Gospel.

To give official recognition to the representative of AntiChrist in Ireland is what could be expected of a 'clergyman' from any other church; but for a reformed, evangelical, Presbyterian minister to do so is inexplicable. It also represents a further humiliation of the church's good Christian people, if not another form of abuse used by this denomination.

What is happening within reformed evangelicalism? Earlier in these posts, I highlighted the romanising tendencies within, and spear-headed by, evangelicals! These also have to do with the sacraments! How is it that covert romanising surfaces in relation to the sacraments! What is happening within evangelicalism? Is there a lack of sound biblical instruction? Is the church's failure to root its teaching in historical and theological ideas part of the reason why many Christians have no historical perspective for their faith? Is this a real problem, or an imaginary one? Why has ecumenism been so successful that it has now conquered large swathes of reformed evangelicalism? It has done this, and been promoted by, liberal churches, but even now the evangelicals within these liberal churches have succumbed to militant ecumenism!

The only good thing is that there are still some reformed Christians who do not embrace this anti-Christian teaching. These have remained outside the camp, and have maintained their spiritual and theological integrity. Even the "purest forms" of reformed Christianity have no difficulty in inviting ministers like Dr Carson to address their conventions! Do they not know? Are they not aware of what is going on? Has ignorance gripped even the 'purest' forms of reformed Christianity?

Dr Carson would have been there at that funeral mass for the representative of antiChrist in Ireland, had God not intervened and brought illness his way. Or, to be really naughty and cynical, did he really have an illness, and was this a believable ploy that he used to get himself out of a tricky and embarrassing situation? Only Dr Carson can answer these questions.

Thank God for those who are still holding the line and maintaining the faith. May God bless their faithfulness and their witness to the Gospel.