Sunday, 7 April 2013

Gospel Minister Sacked by His Denomination

The utterly disgraceful 'sacking' of Rev. Stephen Dickinson this week from his congregations of Cairnalbana and Glenarm Presbyterian churches in Northern Ireland, is the latest incident to blight that denomination's already chequered history. The church's powerful Judicial Commission was acting true to form with its repugnance towards evangelical Christianity. Mr Dickinson's dismissal came as no surprise to me, as one who was treated in the same despicable way 20 years ago in March by that 'Christian' church. The Dickinsons are devastated by the church's decision, and understandably so, a decision from which there is no appeal, .

The persecution of evangelicals by the church is endemic. Dozens of ministers are off work because of stress-related situations. Bullying of ministers by colleagues and other elders is notorious within the churches.  Perhaps the biggest offenders are those who 'stand by' and allow such situations to go on without challenge.

Mr Dickinson cannot expect any pastoral care or support from the church, despite their granting him leave to live in the Manse for up to 18 months, with a salary promise of the same time period. Since churches have their own 'dirty tricks departments,' Mr Dickinson cannot expect to have any colleagues remain friendly with him - that would be much too dangerous for the colleagues. He will be ostracised and left to his own devices.  Any attempt to find another church will find prospective congregations against him having been poisoned by 'the faceless men in grey suits' wearing or not wearing clerical collars. It will not be easy for him or his dear wife, Sharon, and the family.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland's (PCI) track record of removing ministers from their charge has this very interesting fact - they only remove evangelicals. That theologically liberal and ecumenical denomination has at no time taken the same extreme measures against liberal ministers, and certainly not against the ecumenicals that are in its ministry. Such men will never be removed from their churches because the churches they serve are themselves liberal and ecumenical churches. I do not know of one liberal and ecumenical minister who was ever removed from their congregations in that denomination, but I could name a growing number of Evangelicals, that is, Gospel preaching ministers who have had the treatment from this menacing Commission.

Again, it is factually true that Presbyterian ministers can have Roman priests in their church and taking part in church services and no action will be taken against them. In fact, this also guarantees longevity of ministry within that religious organisation.

But if a minister is a Gospel man, and his message upsets some of "the people that count" (which every congregation has), then his actions will have taken a step towards his removal. You can be a womanising church elder, yet be protected by the church authorities; but if you preach a strong and clear Gospel of grace, your time is limited. An elder can promote same sex marriages and sodomy, and be kept on; the church will not remove him; the most she will do in such situations is to ask them to stand down temporarily; but if an elder (teaching or ruling) dares to take a strong Gospel stand in the church, his card is marked.

What makes it even more disappointing is that, as in days of old, the church's Judicial Commission usually has a token few evangelicals serving on it; so it is today.  But the reality is that those token evangelicals are powerless to do anything to defend their Evangelical colleagues; thus, when the evangelical cause is being 'judged' at this liberal and ecumenical Commission, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Evangelicals just cannot win when their case goes to that body. It seems that evangelicals who serve on this body are eventually neutered so that they cannot be effective members of this evangelical-destroying commission. It's remit seems to be to rid PCI of all clear-cut evangelical ministers, so that it remains an ineffective church in our country.

It is surely wrong for any church body to deal in such a scurrilous way with Gospel ministers. This action of the Judicial Commission of PCI will have the desired effect of pulling those Gospel ministers who want to be faithful to Christ into line, and effectively neutering them. PCI has not been known as a Gospel church for many decades and it will not become such any time soon. Other denominations are following the example set by PCI, and removing Gospel ministers so that congregations can be "at peace in Zion."

In the meantime, those Gospel ministers who serve Christ first, and the church only, and at best, second, will have to watch their steps if they wish to retain their ministries. Long gone are the days when ministers of principle occupied the church's pulpits, men who put their devotion to Christ and His Gospel before anything the church might say, men who were prepared to pay the price of faithfulness to the Saviour. Instead, today the church has many "wicked pragmatists," (Dr Al N. Martin's memorable phrase), men who can tell which way the wind is blowing, and follow its leading. They are sure to keep in with the right people in senior management positions within the churches because they have "the power of life and death" over Gospel ministries.

The church has degenerated into an institution, and as such, has departed from the biblical Gospel it is called upon to proclaim. Sadly, for many ministers, it would appear, such a calling is just too costly. Turkeys still do not vote for Christmas! 

Levered From This World.

Sometimes you think, don’t you?  And sometimes you think it’s necessary in God’s plan that we are levered away from our dependence and attachment to this world.  You’d think that God has to make us decay physically in order to get us to focus our minds and hearts on things eternal.  It is true that the Lord has to take away from us the things we have been engrossed in that we could then give our efforts to meditating on the future life.  He has to take us away from that which is perishing and which will perish so that we concentrate our hearts on that which can never spoil or fade (1 Pet.1:4,5).  He has given to us a living hope by Christ’s resurrection, and has brought us to “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

The very mention of an inheritance suggests that it is concrete, real, actual, something tangible.  Is this the “new earth” wherein righteousness dwells?  Is that our inheritance?  Or is it God Himself?  Perhaps it’s both.  Perhaps our inheritance is God the King of the new earth.  But whichever it is, the tent we live in on this earth will be dissolved and we will be clothed with immortality.

A Christian can be in good form, yet the body decaying.  Isn’t that simply amazing?  A Christian’s spirit can be rejoicing, yet their body shutting down gradually.  A believer can glory in the Lord, yet be wracked with pain. 
Puritan Richard Baxter’s (1615-1691) words ring true:
Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet
Thy blessed face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet,
What will Thy glory be?

These are the great truths that believers hold on to. Or to put it in another way, these are the great truths that hold on to the believer!  These hold us like a buckler, a belt that holds everything else in place.  They give us stability in our lives.  They are the sheet anchor of our souls when the gales blow and the waves engulf us.  These are God’s provision for us as believers.  Oh, “how good is the God we adore!”