Monday, 2 November 2015

Getting Ready for Christmas

I plan to post a series on worship sometime in the future, but this post is a one-off.  I'm a bit of a fan of Keith and Kristyn Getty.  I thought this might help someone while it's a reasonable few weeks before Christmas.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

How Churches become entrenched: Two Insecure Pastors

What usually happens

Pastor McKinley reflects carefully on what the Robinsons are saying.  Inwardly, he is pleased, delighted in fact.  He needs families like this in his congregation.  Everything they have said confirms what he has believed all along.  He has a good few like them in his flock.  They all have similar stories.  It simply proves what his elders and he have suspected about Living Springs and churches like it all along.  False apostles.  False teachers.  False prophets.  He is going to warn his people once again about the dangers of so-called Charismatic churches.

Meanwhile, across town...

Sharon: Well Steve.  What do you think?  That's the third person in the last year who has left Ebenezer, considering coming here.  What's going on?  They all say the same sort of things.  Won't that church ever learn?  
Steve: I agree, Sharon.  Really do.  But I feel uneasy about something.
Sharon:  Uneasy?  What about?
Steve:  Not sure.  Ermmm.  I think it's this.  We haven't seen the Robinsons for a few weeks now have we?
Sharon:  No.  I miss Marie.  And their kids are lovely.  Have they started to go somewhere else do you think?
Steve:  Yep.  I saw Peter in town a couple of days ago talking to one of the families who go to Ebenezer.  Those Irish people who came to our church for a while.  I think they may have joined them at the Tabernacle.
Sharon:  Oh.  If that's the case, I'd feel a little hurt.  Have they ever said to you they were unhappy with us?
Steve:  No, not a thing.  Don't they think they can talk to us?  I always thought I was approachable at least.
Sharon:  So what are you saying, Steve?  Maybe you and Billy McKinley ought to talk to each other as well...
Steve:  I just can't, Sharon.  In all honesty, I find him a bit intimidating...

And so, our two churches stay in their trenches.  Each believes the other church to be in serious error.  Is there a better way?  Can these pastors be a little more grown up?

I have some ideas, see what you think.

Alternative Approaches

1.  Do not permit any transfer growth.  Simply tell people who want to transfer to your church from another in the same town to go back.  I know of one pastor who took precisely this approach and his church did not seem to suffer for it.  They grew.  I just wonder if that approach is a bit of a blunt instrument, an over-reaction, tarring everyone with the same brush.

2.  Check that they have talked.  Tell people who want to move to your church to make sure they have talked their issues through with their previous pastors.

So Pastor McKinley will say, 'You'd be more than welcome to join us, Mr Robinson.  But I must insist that you do one thing.  All the concerns you have mentioned to me, you must raise them with Pastor Brightside.  Have you had this conversation with him?  Have you given them a full opportunity to sort themselves out?  It's only fair.  If you haven't talked through these things with him, especially the issue around the worship band and the man on benefits, then I can't really allow you to come into membership here.'

3.  Pull Ranks.  Tell people that the leader of the other church is a good friend of yours.  It has to be the truth of course!  But if people are moving with for the wrong reasons, perhaps with a critical spirit or because they were confronted about sin in their lives that they don't want to deal with, it puts them on the defensive.  The shepherds in a town or city need to be more grown up than the sheep and, as far as they are able, co-operate and work as a team, even if they disagree over some significant things.

So in this scenario, Steve Brightside would say to 'Oh yes, I talk to Bill McKinley every now and again.  How is his eldest son doing on his Law degree?  Was his wife's operation successful?'

The only problem with this approach would be if one church was doing something seriously wrong.  To know about an issue and not to mention it out of fear or a misplaced desire for unity can result in serious damage to some individuals and the honour due to the Lord.

4.  Get in touch.  In this instance, the Pastors - whoever wants to make the first move - meet each other or speak on the phone about the families in question.  Leaders need to be more mature than their followers.  Perhaps frank discussions should take place where there are deep disagreements and where misunderstandings might have taken place.  Where someone has clear convictions, states them, states his principles but shows grace and integrity, I can have a good relationship with that person, even if I disagree with some of what he believes.

The phone rings.

Pastor M: McKinley Household
Steve (Breathing quite heavily): Is that Pastor McKinley from Ebenezer Church?
Pastor M: It is.  Can I help you?  Who am I speaking to?
Steve: Nice to speak to you, Pastor.  My name is Steve Brightside.  I'm the Pastor of Living Springs Church.  Er, I wondered if we could chat about a few things?
Pastor M (Pausing a little): Oh, er, good evening!  (At this point, a hundred thoughts go through his mind.  How do I relate to this guy?).  Call me Bill!  How are things, Steve?  What can I do for you?
Steve: Well, I've noticed quite a few of people have left us to join your church, and we've recently had a couple of your families joining us.  It doesn't seem right to me to just keep letting this happen without at least touching base with each other.  What do you think?  Can we discuss some of these people, Bill?
Pastor M: Hmmm.  Aye, I think you're right Steve.  But it's better to talk face to face than on the phone, what do you think?
Steve: Agreed!  Should we go somewhere for coffee?  They're on me!!
Pastor M:  Well, why not come to our place?  Bring your wife too, Sharon is it?  My wife will keep her company...

Sunday, 23 August 2015

How Churches become entrenched: Two disgruntled families

I think you get the gist by now.

I could do another post on DL Moody.  Or the Huguenots.  Or some of the early missionaries to the British Isles like St Aidan, St Augustine of Canterbury, St Patrick, St David.  I could quote from the writings of our own son of Jarrow, the Venerable Bede or from the writings of the Church Fathers.

There are plenty of websites that cover these things.  My point would be that if you are prepared to do the research, it is possible to find plenty of instances of phenomena like healing, deliverance from demons, gifts of prophecy, words of knowledge and so on which are verified by people widely respected by evangelical and reformed Christians.

And I will be the first to admit that there are many false prophecies, fake healing, dodgy manifestations of the Spirit out there too, as the New Testament warns us.  Of course there are!  When you have something good, someone will try to counterfeit it.  The existence of the fake suggests that the real thing exists as well.

But I thought I would take you over to Shieldcastlehope to discuss how people become entrenched in their positions.

We have two scenarios.

The Robinsons
When the Robinson family leaves Living Springs for Ebenezer, they meet the pastor.
This is what Jim Robinson says:

"Pastor McKinley, I don't think we can take another week there.  They're shallow.  The songs and the sermons are shallow.  I think the pastor copies most of his sermons from YouTube.  They preach an easy-going 'feel-good' gospel.  And they'll let anyone to the front and speak, and I mean anyone, even people with nothing meaningful to say.
They have a food bank, and that's great.  But it's run by a guy who lives on benefits and refuses to work for a living, but he does all sorts for the church.  It's not right!  If he's fit to serve for his church, isn't he fit to work for a living and come off benefits?  There's a guy in the worship band who's living with his girlfriend.  Everyone knows this but nobody says anything because he's a great drummer.  We're trying to teach our children right from wrong, but the church kids are allowed to watch all sorts of unsavoury stuff on the telly. 
What's the difference between them and the world?  I'm beginning to think they're a false church"

What do you think Pastor McKinley is going to say?  What should he say?

The Johnsons
Now, over to the Johnsons.  They leave ERBT for the LSVF.  What's their story?  Here is a summary of what Frank Johnson says:

"Steve.  We can stand it no longer!  The teaching at Ebenezer's great, but it's so dry!  There's a lack of real faith, real joy. 
Yes, they can be friendly, but you can't talk about deep things.  It's so hard to get beyond 'how's your mother's illness? or how is James doing in his GCSEs?'.  They'll talk about theology, but I'd be embarrassed to discuss our recent marital problems with the pastor and certainly not any of the elders.  They just seem to pretend everything is fine when it isn't. 
And our kids keep being told off for running around after the service.  We're thirsty for God Steve, but I find the approach is so intellectual.  Our kids find it boring and the pews are hard.  When the main service is over, people stay for tea and coffee but it's difficult to make any really meaningful friendships. 
And the women... my wife Jan is so intelligent and would love to develop a ministry like counselling, but there's no way of her developing there.  There's tea making and flower arranging.  But is that what the Kingdom of God is all about?  It's like the Bible says somewhere - a form of godliness but denying the power.  Weren't the Pharisees like this?  Obeying all the rules but not really knowing the Lord in any intimate way?  Perhaps it's a false church."

Should Steve and Sharon welcome this family?  Is there anything else they could or should do?

Monday, 10 August 2015

Well Known Charismatic Christian Leaders: Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones on Demon Possession

The occasion, a conference of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

The year,  1971.

The speaker,  Doctor Martyn Lloyd Jones.

The session,  Questions and Answers on Healing and Demon Possession

The following question is posed:

While not denying that devil possession sometimes occurs, are we not in danger of thinking that phenomena of this sort constitute the chief attack by the Devil upon the church and the work of God, and are forgetting that his main evil work is and always has been to make men (1) to doubt and (2) to disobey God?  May it not be that dramatic phenomena like devil possession are the Devil’s own way of distracting our attention from his main but much more subtle attack?

A good question?  Many would nod at the premise of the question, which almost answers itself does it not?

This audio should be listened to in its entirety, though the question is posed in the 20th minute.  The talk is entitled “Questions and Answers on Healing and Demon Possession

For those who want to read the transcript of the answer, I reproduce it below:

Yes.  That’s very typical if I may say so.  And I won’t say of whom!  But it is very typical!  [laughter].  I’m almost enough of a higher critic to say who sponsored that question originally, but I’m not going to speculate, I don’t believe in this.

Do you see what’s happening?  Are we not in danger?  Well the answer to that is, are we?  Are you people finding devils in everybody?  I don’t think you are.  What this question is saying is this.  Now this has been very wrong in this conference to call so much attention to devil possession.  People will be forgetting the main work of the Devil.  And so, you see, you don’t consider devil possession at all.  And you go on sending people who are devil-possessed into mental hospitals and they get drug treatments and so on and they are no better, and sometimes worse, and the problem goes on.

No, this is a very ill-conceived question.  I pointed out in one of the previous sessions that there are people go to excess about this, as we do with most matters.  But, you see, the answer to excess is not to do anything at all, which is what this question is obviously suggesting.  That we shouldn’t talk about this.  “There’s grave danger here.  Mustn’t do this, otherwise we’ll be doing nothing else and the Devil’s going to get a great advantage.”  No!  I think the Devil’s going to get a great advantage by bringing in devil-possession en masse, and we are not going to face it or consider it because of this kind of attitude.  I think this is very wrong indeed, it is not ‘either or’.

We all know the main business of the Devil.  But does that mean that he doesn’t do this in addition?  Does it mean that he isn’t doing this at this present time in a very particular manner?  For the reason that I give.  That the Christian influence is on the wane.  And in any case we know what happens in other countries abroad.  I commend to the writer of this question that he or she or both [laughter] immediately proceed to buy that booklet to which I referred by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, “Roaring Lion”.  And there they will discover the dangers that confront the missionary or the minister in this country or indeed anybody – a doctor in particular – who is ignorant of this matter of devil or demon possession.  I reject the whole implication of that.

I myself went out of my way to warn against running off, people do, it doesn’t matter what thing is mentioned in the Christian realm, somebody is always going to take it up and rush away with it and run it to an excess and the result is the whole thing is ridiculed.  No, no.  We must take a balanced view of these things and beware of this false antithesis, this ‘either or’ which doesn’t apply here at all.  The Devil does it in both ways, in all ways.  We are not ignorant of his devices, and I feel that attention needs to be called today in this country particularly to this aspect of which we haven’t seen much in the past, but which we are seeing more and more at the present time.

This was followed up by another question, as follows:

The remaining questions are a group of four.  I’m going to read all of them through quickly because they are on the same theme so that the whole subject is covered.

One, can a Christian become demon possessed, are there clear diagnostic signs to differentiate between demon possession and various mental illnesses.

Two, could we have advice regarding guiding rules to distinguish between the areas of mental illness from demon possession.

Three, to what extent may psychotic illness be in fact a sophisticated form of demon possession or influence?  How can a doctor recognise the difference between mental illness and demon possession if there is a difference and the final one which is in three parts,

What are the basic clinical features of demon possession?  Are these fundamental features constant in different countries and cultures although the expression naturally varies, two, what is its treatment and three, what are the results of treatment?

I will not write the answer, but will leave you to listen to this one on the link indicated above.

To me, this is dynamite.  Let me spell this out:

  • Doctor Martyn Lloyd Jones was a medical Doctor before he was a preacher
  • He is of the Reformed Evangelical part of the church and his main calling was expository preaching of the word
  • He was one of the (arguably ‘the’) most respected evangelical leader of the 20th Century
 In other words, he is no ‘lightweight’, not given to jumping on bandwagons or relying on experiences.  And as a doctor by profession, he cannot over-spiritualise every issue by saying that it is demonic.

Being in the rare position of being and experienced pastor as well as a doctor, he has had many difficult cases referred to him.  And he clearly states that he has frequently had to deal with the demonic in his ministry.  Including in Christians.
I possibly need to discuss this subject further for those who are new to this subject.

In the days of Jesus and the early apostles, the New Testament refers to people who experience physical healing.  But it also talks about people who are delivered from demons.  And all of Jesus' disciples were trained in healing and deliverance from demons.

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Mark 16:17-18

In order to (1) bring people to Christ (2) Demonstrate the power of the Gospel (3) Bring in the Kingdom of God on Earth and (4) help people overcome untold suffering, I believe that we can’t bury our heads in the sand!  We need to be equipped to deal with these things, and frankly, we’re not.  It means that if a problem has a demonic root, surely we should be able to deal with it effectively.

I find it interesting that every diocese within the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England has a designated exorcist to deal with phenomena such as people disturbed by demons, hauntings, poltergeists, buildings with creepy presences and so on.  They don’t employ these people, I believe, because they are simply being superstitious and weird.  They do it because there is a constant trickle of people coming forward asking for help with these things.  I once heard a radio interview with a couple of very well-spoken Anglican exorcists who matter-of-factly explained how they successfully dealt with a range of phenomena in the Name of Jesus.  I’d love to have a recording of it, but I haven’t.

But again, nether of these denominations hold any water with a large number of evangelical Christians.

There are evangelical Christians who will not give Pentecostals or Charismatics the time of day.  So anything they say about:
  • Healing miracles
  • Baptism in Holy Spirit
  • Gifts of the Spirit
  • Demonisation*
 …will be instantly dismissed.  But I find it interesting that Doctor Martyn Lloyd Jones brings this issue to the attention of his own constituency.
*It is not my purpose here to expound the biblical teaching on the subject of how demons affect people, including believers in Christ.  It is a big subject that I am not qualified to comment on with much authority.  However, I will say that I prefer the term 'demonised' to 'demon-possessed'.  Traditional translations of the Bible prefer the latter term, yet in modern English it carries the connotation of being possessed by i.e. fully owned and controlled by a demon.  Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones, speaking in the early 1970s and the best known writer at this time on the subject, the Lutheran Pastor Kurt Koch, would say 'Demon-possessed'.  No Christian can be fully controlled by a demon in this way.  And yet, I believe (and Lloyd Jones would concur) that Christians can be affected, oppressed, disturbed, weakened by demons.  Hence, I prefer to used the term 'demonised', which is preferred by many of today's writers on the subject, and in my view it better resembles the New Testament Greek term.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Well Known Charismatic Christian Leaders: Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones on Joy in the Holy Spirit

Older Evangelicals Christians in Britain will need no introduction to Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones.  Originating from South Wales, following Campbell Morgan at Westminster Chapel in London, he was arguably the most influential Christian leader in the 20th Century.

Not only did he write numerous books, for example:
  • A 12 Volume commentry on Romans
  • A 5 Volume commentry on 1John
  • A 2 Volume commentry on the Sermon on the Mount
  • 'Preaching and Preachers', possibly his most influential book
More than this, however, he founded the Publishers 'Banner of Truth'.

A far more adequate introduction can be read in his Wikipedia entry or the introduction in the MLJ Trust website which includes some videos.

His credentials as a preacher from the Reformed tradition who had an uncompromisingly high view of scripture and a great legacythrough his teaching and writing are there for all to see.

I want to mention a few things now in relation to his views on issues of interest to Charismatics.

1. Between the years 1955 and 1968, Lloyd Jones taught through the Book of Romans.  Spanning Chapters 1 to 14, there are 366 sermons on the Epistle.  Due to an illness from which he retired from pastoral ministry, he only reached as far as Chapter 14:17.  I will follow with the Doctor's own words on this:

There is another thing to be said, and I am more concerned about this at present.  The interruption of my ministry had a message for me.  I was at Romans 14:17.  I had dealt with ‘righteousness’, with ‘peace’ on March 1st, and there I was stopped.  I was not allowed to deal with ‘joy in the Holy Ghost’.  I have the feeling that this was not accidental.  God intervened and I could suggest a reason why.  I was able to deal with righteousness and peace (I had fleeting experiences of it), but the third thing is the profoundest of all.  Why was I not allowed to deal with it?  Because I knew something, but not enough about it.  ‘I want you to speak with greater authority on this,’ God said.

"Here is what I would put before you.  For six months, until September, I did not preach at all.  For four months I have had the most valuable experience of being a listener.  My general impression is that most of our services are terribly depressing!  I am amazed people still go to church; most who go are female and over the age of forty.  The note missing is ‘joy in the Holy Ghost’.  There is nothing in these services to make a stranger feel that he is missing something by not being there.  It is as though there is a weight upon us and the minister, feeling this, thinks he must be short.  So the people come together in order to depart!  Speaking generally, I think it is true to say this and there is little difference in this respect in evangelical churches.
It is a great thing to be a listener.  You want something for your soul.  You want help.  I don’t want a ‘great sermon’.  I want to feel the presence of the God I am worshipping and to know that I am considering some great and glorious subject.  If I do get this, I do not care how poor the sermon is.
I suggest to you that our greatest danger is professionalism.  We do not stop sufficiently frequently to ask, ‘What are we really doing?’  There is the danger of just facing a text and treating it as an end in itself with a strange detachment.  It is all intellectual.  Nor should our preaching be just emotional, or only to the conscience.  Far too often it is one or other of these things.  There is no life, no power!  We of all people ought to have it.  Joy and power are intimately related.  One without the other is spurious."

So there we have it.  Britain's foremost Reformed Evangelical leader of the last century admits that there is a lackof joy in the Holy Spirit in his own life and in the churches.  To me, this is an incredible admission.

He later dealt with the subject of joy in the Holy Spirit in his book 'Joy Unspeakable', published posthumously in 1984.

I need to say here that he did not share the Pentecostal understanding of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  He put his views into a more objective and Calvinistic framework.  However, he did say that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate experience from conversion and is something that the church needs in order to experience revival.

I am going to finish here with some fascinating thoughts by John Piper on Lloyd Jones.  If you enjoyed reading this blog post, the following is solid gold, a treat to read, but better still if you listen to the audio version at the top of the page.

I have more to say on Doctor Martyn Lloyd Jones, but I will leave this until next time.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Well known charismatic Christian Leaders: JN Darby on the Continuance of Gifts of the Spirit

The man who led me to Christ was from a Brethren background.

The first missionaries I regularly supported in prayer were from the Brethren.

An old Scottish ex-missionary to India who greeted me every week in my church for many years was from the Brethren.

Some of the most effective evangelists I know in the North East, a couple of whom I count as friends, are from the Christian Brethren.

I have a great respect for these people.  My brothers in Christ, for sure, but I am talking about the Brethren - a loosely linked group of churches with no full time pastors.  Some are more 'exclusive' than others.  They're unfashionable.  Their women still cover their heads in worship.  Some have a pre-occupation with Bible prophecy.  Some say the're in a kind of 'time warp', old fashioned and quaint perhaps?  Dangerous even?  Embarrassing?  Irrelevant?  Personally, I hold these people in high esteem.

How do you get to meet these people?  That's a tricky one.  So here's a guide.  Let's start with the easy bit.

How not to find the Brethren

1. Go to pastors' conferences
2. Go to the local 'Churches Together' meeting in town
3. Go to big conferences like Spring Harvest
4. Wait until they invite you to speak at their churches
5. Go to anything 'charismatic'
6. Visit the grandiose church buildings in your town

How to find the Brethren

1. Get involved in open air evangelism

The above will explain why so few Christians in our mainline churches will ever meet them.  These people keep themselves to themselves.  They do not have a high view of the established church.  Generally, they will not mix on any formal level with other groups of Christians.  They have no paid ministers.  But they do preach the gospel and hand out tracts.  In many towns, they are the only ones left who are really reaching large numbers of unchurched people.  Some have a rather dated or condemning method.  But rather than criticise, we need to get out on the streets as much as they do, and improve on their methods.

If you go to one of their meetings in a traditional Assembly, you will find the men taking it in turns to stand up and introduce hymns, spiritual insights, scriptures and prayers.  Someone will then preach a relatively short prepared sermon towards the end of the meeting.  The women do not publicly contribute.

When I first went to one of these meetings, I found it extraordinary.  In a sense, this was the closest thing I had ever seen to New Testament Christianity.  It came right out of the 1Corinthians 14 textbook:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 1 Corinthians 14:26

But there was one thing missing.  Gifts of the Spirit!  I would have expected charismata to thrive in this type of meeting, yet they were... forbidden!

Why?  Did their founder believe that such things had 'died out'?  What was the view of their founder, John Nelson Darby?

Get this.  John Nelson Darby, the founder of the Brethren, believed passionately in the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.  It is easy to find his collected writings on the internet.  He has written articles entitled,






The above is a lengthy rebuttal of a prominent church leader who believed that such things had ceased.  Here's a quote from Darby's response:

Are we really come to this, that those who think they are pillars of the church give their approval to that which denies the presence of the Comforter, and while denying it, seeks to persuade us that the church enjoys ‘all the primitive blessings’?  The gifts were only ‘the manifestation of the Spirit.’  How much have we lost in this respect, alas is but too evident!  All that was, under the apostolic administration, a public sign of the presence of the Holy Ghost to the world… all this is lost.

In another article, entitled:


Darby writes:

This leads us to see the blessing and importance of these gifts, definitely committed by Christ, as He sees good in grace, for the good and communication of His blessed fullness to the Church; whereby, fed with what is good, it should be preserved and guarded against hankering after the trash of deceivers.  They are gifts to the Church, not to all but for all.  The development of these in full liberty and openness of ministry is most important.  Not can they be really or rightly developed otherwise.

So why have such things been forbidden from their meetings?

Well, according to David Pawson's book, 'Word and Spirit togeher, when these new assemblies first met together, a frequent result was... other languages and healing.  At that time, the leaders of the movement met to decide what to do about this.  And they took the cautious - some would say cowardly - approach.  They forbade the gifts.  Because the movement was already facing opposition from its detractors, they felt that continuing with charismatic gifts was a radical step too far.  And they forbid them to this day.  The precise opposite of Darby's original intention!

The first Brethren Assemblies were charismatic!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Well Known Charismatic Christian Leaders: John Piper on Gifts, Spiritual Warfare and the Prayer of Faith

John Piper is a well known Christian Leader in the United States.  Most of my American friends who read this will know him better than I do.  My main acquaintance with him is over two things.  Firstly, the superb book he co-wrote and edited with Wayne Grudem, entitled Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Secondly, his very, very comprehensive and high quality website Desiring God.

He is from the Reformed, Calvinistic part of the church.  It is well known, I think, that he believes that gifts are for today.

I include him here, along with the clip below because John Piper has a high view of scripture and is widely regarded as holding 'conservative' views on some issues such as the roles of men and women, the need for book by book teaching, expository teaching, taking care over appointing elders, healthy Christian families and so on.  There is nothing frivolous, flippant, flaky or lightweight about him.  Yet he does not just passively accept that 'charisma' could be from God, he actively and firmly advocates that we should 'earnestly desire the greater gifts'.  I find his approach refreshing.

This clip is, to me, an extraordinary one.  Here he basically talks about the importance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in world mission.

1. Firstly, he quotes approvingly an uncompromising statement coming out of the second Lausanne conference on World Mission.

 'We therefore call upon all Christians to pray for such a visitation of the sovereign Spirit of God, that all His fruit will appear in all His people and that all His Gifts may enrich the Body of Christ.  Only then will the whole church become a fit instrument in the hands of God, that the whole earth may hear His voice.'

2. Secondly he talks about the use of spiritual warfare in preparing the way for Christian Mission and church planting, using the prayer of faith.  He relates the story of a group of people who had to exercise authority over spiritual powers of evil over an region in Argentina that had been marked by occult activity by a group of witches.  Once they had done this, church planting flourished.  Before they did it, all attempts to start new churches had failed.

3. Thirdly, he talks about how his father had on occasion had to wrestle with God in prayer and get to a point of praying in faith and authority before seeing evangelistic results.

The second account is an interesting to me.  He refers to spiritual oppression over a particular geographical area and the need to deal with this.  This is something I would have rejected as nonsense not too long ago.

See what you think.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Well known Charismatic Christian Leaders: Charles Spurgeon's ministry of Words of Knowledge and Healing

The next few posts are aimed at my cessationist brethren.  A cessationist, remember, is someone who believes that gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, other languages, physical healing, are not for today.  They were only for the times of the early apostles and those who seek these things are in error.

So (through these slightly provocative titles) I will begin by showing how well known leaders admired by cessationists exercised gifts of the Spirit of various kinds.

I used to dislike Charles Spurgeon.  My antagonistic feelings began many years ago, when a good friend of mine joined a reformed evangelical church, very similar to the Ebenezer Reformed Bible Tabernacle in Shieldcastlehope.  My friend began to grow less friendly towards some of my other Christian friends and started picking arguments with people over predestination and freewill.  At the same time, he became an avid student of Charles Spurgeon sermons and biographies.  He told me once that the Pastor of his church had a large poster of Charles Spurgon in his study.  I was unhappy with the direction my friend's spiritual life was going in and to some extent I blamed CHS himself.

This all changed when I began to read some of his sermons, and his book 'Lectures to my Students'.  Hey!  I really like this guy!

So what has been going on here?

I think that people who limit God and in doing so, quench the Spirit, instinctively look for a champion to further their cause.  CH Spurgeon, who was a Calvinist and huge admirer of the Puritans, fits that bill quite well, not least because he had a hugely fruitful and powerful ministry.  He stood against the liberal theologians of his day, warned against emotionalism, he disliked altar calls, he eschewed more superstitious expressions of Christianity and he therefore became a champion of the Reformed faith.

Most books about Spurgeon are written by cessationists and therefore will not say too much about the miraculous elements of his ministry, and he himself downplayed these things.  But I am going to quote now from some biographies of Spurgeon - firstly his own autobiography via this You Tube clip:

Now a quote from 'Spurgeon A New Biography' by Arnold Dallimore (P140).

In view of Spurgeon's own long sickness and that of his wife, it is difficult to believe that many people thought he posessed a "gift of healing".  The best information on this matter is to be found in Russell Conwell's Life of Spurgeon, particularly in his chapter, "Wonderful Healing."
The idea began during the cholera epidemic.  As we saw, Spurgeon visited numerous homes where the disease raged, and there he prayed that the sick one might be made well.  In many instances, in someone who seemed near death the disease was stopped, and before long health returned.  People were sure this was the result of prayer.
During further years Spurgeon prayed for persons in sicknesses of various kinds, and although in many a case there was no betterment, in others there was improvement that appeared miraculous.  Dr Conwell examined several of these experiences and in 1892, the year of Spurgeon's death, he declared:

There are now living and worshipping in the Metropolitan Tabernacle hundreds of people who ascribe the extension of their life to the effect of Mr Spurgeon's personal prayers.  They have been sick with disease and nigh unto death, he has appeared, kneeled by their beds and prayed for recovery.  Immediately the tide of health returned, the fevered pulse became calm, the temperature was reduced, and all the activities of nature resumed their normal functions within a short and unexpected period.  If a meeting were called of all those who attribute their recovery to the prayer of Mr Spurgeon, it would furnish me with one of the most deserved tributes to his memory that could possibly be made.

Conwell goes on to report seven specific instances of what was considered healing in response to Spurgeon's prayers.  "The belief in Mr Spurgeon's healing power became among some classes a positive superstition, and he was obliged to overcome the very false and extravagant expressions... by mentioning the matter from the pulpit, and rebuking the theories of the extremely enthusiastic.  He felt it was becoming too much like the shrines of Catholic Europe."
Spurgeon declared that the subject of divine healing was very much a mystery to him.  He said he prayed about sickness just as he prayed about anything else, and that in some instances God answered with healing, whereas in others, for reasons beyond our understanding, He allowed suffering to continue.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

On Labels: Pre-Augustinian - Grecian 2000

Thanks to Augustine of Hippo and some others, most of the last 2,000 years have seen the church influenced largely from Athens rather than Jerusalem.  Western Christianity is largely a fusion of Greek philosophy and Biblical thinking.

Here are a couple of examples from our British culture.

Our traditional Universities like Durham, St Andrews, Cambridge and Oxford.  Originally built on a collegiate system with Christian foundations, the idea of a 'University' is a Greek one.  Some would argue that the world's first one was founded by Plato in Athens.

Our school system has an uncanny resemblance to the system of state education described in Plato's Republic.  Children were to be given guardians and separated from their fathers and mothers and taught reading, mathematics, music and physical education from the age of six.  In Hebrew thinking, children were taught in their local community, either in the home or at the local synagogue.  You could argue that a Christian School or a 'Faith School' is a fusion of Biblical and Greek thinking.

I am now going to give you a list of differences between a Greek and a Hebrew thinker.  Which one are you?

Greek Thinkers Hebrew Thinkers
Separate the physical from the spiritual.  Hence, baptism and communion are empty symbols with no spiritual consequence. Integrate the physical from the spiritual.  Hence, as in 1Corinthians 11, some people died by taking the Lord's Supper for the wrong reasons.  In 1Kings 13, Naaman was healed by being 'baptised' seven times in the River Jordan.

Separate clergy (priests, vicars, pastors,
ministers) from the laity using academic degrees, titles etc.
See us as a royal priesthood.  Brothers and sisters.

Send children away from the family into academic institutions with qualified teachers and age segregated classes
Teach from father and mother to son and daughter.

Teach through catechisms and systematic theologies
Teach through parables, stories.

Teach by lecturing an audience through wisdom and oratory
Teach by the power of the Holy Spirit, interacting with an audience
Teach that a disembodied soul goes to a spiritual heaven Teach the resurrection of the dead, the existence of a new body and a new heaven and a new earth

Read the Bible allegorically, looking for the spiritual meaning behind narratives

Read the Bible literally, noting people and places in their most straightforward meaning

See the church as the 'new' Israel

Differentiate Israel and the Church
Limit musical worship to standing up and singing
Extend musical worship to clapping, kneeling, shouting, silence, dancing and other physical expression

Value family and community
Value institutions

Separate 'Christian' service (pastors, evangelists, missionaries) to 'secular' service, like teaching, manual trades, medical professions.
See all work as sacred.

See God as perfect, but impersonal.  Don't expect God to speak through visions, prophecy or other forms of revelation
Listen to God as well as speak to Him in Prayer

Think in terms of social democracy, state power
Think in terms of Kingdom

I want to put it to you that we need to rid ourselves of the Greek thinking and go back to a more Hebrew mindset if we are to recover the power of the early church.  We need the church to be pre-Augustinian.

For a fuller explanation of what I have written here, may I recommend David Pawson's talks on De-Greecing the church.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Election Special: How I am going to vote

I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not going to tell you where I'm going to put that cross.  I haven't even 100% decided myself.  But in case it helps anyone else, this is how I am coming to a decision.

1.  Attempt to meet all of the main candidates.  There are six standing where I live.  There is an independent but I have failed to find any of his details, not even an email address.  And I can't really take the Greens seriously, with copious apologies and all due respect, I couldn't vote for anyone who will legalise hard drugs, membership of terrorist groups, abortion, brothels and all forms of pornography.  So I emailed the other four as soon as I could, asking to meet each of them personally and ask them a few questions.

2.  Work out beforehand what are the 'red lines'.  For me, the biggest issue is abortion.  Personally, I believe it is just about the most grave, serious wrong we do as a society.  So if any of the candidates are prepared to say they oppose abortion, I will probably vote for them, regardless of their party allegiance.  Freedom of speech is another 'biggy' for me.  Even though some people can be very annoying (yes, even some street preachers!), any outlawing of public discourse short of incitement to violence is a serious problem for me.

3.  Draw up a list of questions to ask each candidate.  Each candidate should be asked the same questions in a neutral way without, if possible, giving away my views.  I had six questions including the two issues mentioned above.

4.  Look them in the eye and ask them the questions.  I received two replies to my emails.  The incumbent MP did not reply, but I have her voting record in the House of Commons to guide me in what her answers would be.  Another candidate I wrote to twice but never received any response.  So I was at least able to interview two of them.  Better than nothing!  And it was helpful to meet them personally, too.  The one I agreed with the most admitted to being an atheist.  The other has something of a Christian background even though I was less happy with some of their answers.  Meeting them personally was helpful, though.

5.  Be prepared for the next five years.  I am neither a betting man nor a prophet.  But I suspect we are in for a rough ride over the next five years, both the UK as a whole and the Christian church in particular.  I think it will be some kind of alliance, formal or informal, between Labour and the SNP.  And I think some sincere Christians will end up in prison for their faith.  In a way, that doesn't worry me.  Brave Christians who are prepared to suffer for the Gospel will be instrumental in turning people to Christ.  People are only going to get more disillusioned with politics and more open to the Gospel, so lets pray for boldness and seek a harvest, greater than we have seen for some time.

6.  Remember that politics is not the answer.  The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is!  Nobody is going to legislate for revival.  And Christianity is designed to thrive in hostile environments.  Christ's rule is for the future, not now.  Politics is about what other people should do, mostly.  We should be seeking God for what we should do.

Two scriptures to finish:

 If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

2Chronicles 7:14

 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
  The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
he plans of his heart to all generations.
  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:10-12

Sunday, 19 April 2015

On Labels: Pre-Augustinian

I am now going to invent a term.


I want to suggest to you that Augustine of Hippo, St Augustine the Bishop of Hippo, has caused more damage to the Christian cause than almost anyone else in history.

Why single out this man?

Here are my reasons:

  1. He is very influential on the teaching of the church – both Catholic and Protestant.  To the Catholics, he is their most important theologian.  And he is hugely important to Protestants too!  Calvin’s system of theology is largely drawn from Augustine’s teaching.  In his ‘Institutes’ he is quoted over 400 times.  Martin Luther (originally an Augustinian monk) studied and quoted Augustine more extensively than any other non-Biblical figure in his lifetime.
  2. Augustine taught that Christian heretics should be physically attacked and persecuted.  Because of the churches privileged position, it was able to use secular political powers to use drowning, burning and a host of tortures on those whom the church regarded as heretics over many centuries.  Augustine was frequently cited as an authority for doing this.  In addition, he advocated the use of force to make people attend church.  And Reformed brethren cannot point the finger here.  Protestant leaders presided over these activities as well as Catholic.  Lord, please forgive us!
  3. Much of Augustine’s teaching was thoroughly what we would regard as Roman Catholic.  Examples would be:
  • Prayers for the dead
  • Exaltation of Mary
  • Baptismal regeneration
  • Infant baptism.  Hence it was taught that a baptised baby goes to heaven and an un-baptised baby who dies goes to hell
  • The superiority of singleness.  All sex, including within marriage, is sinful.
  1. Finally, Augustine followed some of his predecessors in merging Greek philosophy (particularly that of Plato in his case) with Christian theology.  The effect of this, among other things, is to separate the physical from the spiritual.  I will list some of the effects of this in the next section, but in essence, the mindset of the average Western Christian is heavily influenced by Greek philosophy.
I believe that the Reformation served to correct some serious errors in the church.  And yet, it did not go far enough.  Many groups of true believers over the years, who have sought to return to a simpler, more biblical model of Christianity, dating from long before Augustine was on the scene, have been heavily persecuted by the state church, including the Reformed part of it.

By the time Augustine was on the scene, the church had detached itself from much of the simple Christianity that thrived in its early years and had picked up a great deal of 'baggage' in its teaching and practice.

It is significant that following Augustine's time we had the 'dark ages' in which little history is recorded, but it is a time of cultural and economic backwardness.  Most people in Christendom were poorly educated.  Groups of Christians that tried to exist outside of church structures were heavily persecuted.  Yet Jewish communities thrived culturally, economically and educationally.  The biblical principal of maintaining home worship and the tradition of passing on literacy and spiritual knowledge from parents to children was a key here - something that the church had long abandoned.  So the Jews suffered their own dose of persecution from a jealous church.

What would Jesus say?

'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.'
Matthew 23:13

In order to find a form of Christianity that is more Christlike, we must of course study scripture - that goes without saying.  It helps also to be aware of the false teaching and practise that has developed when the church became a rich and powerful institution.

So the church in its thinking, actions and methods needs to be pre-Augustinian.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

On Labels: Pre-Augustinian and Why Sinai isn't in... er... Sinai

I don't usually write on archaeology, and this is possibly a one-off.  The purpose of this is twofold.  I'll explain later.  But for now, sit comfortably and hopefully enjoy.

The Egyptian tourist industry won't thank me for this post.

If you have a set of maps at the back of your Bible, they probably look a bit like this:

There will probably be a set of lines showing you the route of the Israelites through this area.  There's Sinai, the triangular wedge of land between Egypt and Israel, right?

A bit of an issue here is that what we call the Red Sea could consist of either the body of water that now forms the Suez Canal on the left half of the map above or it could mean the body of water that ends with Aqaba on the right side.  When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, it could have been either branch.  This is a list of reasons why I believe it was the Gulf of Aqaba, not the Gulf of Suez.

Here are my reasons:
  1. It is accepted that Midian, where Jethro lived is on the right of the above map, where it says 'Saudi Arabia'.  Why did Moses wander 100-200 miles to pasture his sheep, all the way to where it says 'Mount Moses' above?  Would this make any sense?  See Exodus 3:1-12.
  2. Outside of the account of the Israelite crossing, the only other passages in the Bible that refer to the Red Sea, specifically refer to the Gulf of Aqaba.  See 1Kings 7:26, Jeremiah 49:21.
  3. The topography of the narrative suits an Aqaba crossing.  See for Example, Exodus 14:3.
  4. Strong evidence that what we call Sinai was a part of Egypt in the Bible.  Firstly, it is easy to get to.  Much of the water is shallow.  Trading routes to Egypt cross this area.  Why would the Israelites feel safe there, for a full 40 years?  Secondly, the Biblical 'River of Egypt' is in the North of what we call Sinai, near Canaan, suggests Egyptian control.  See Numbers 34:5, Joshua 15:4, 47.
  5. No archaeological evidence for the Israelites having spent any significant time in the area.  No burial sites for the 1 million+ Israelites who died during the 40 years wandering.
  6. The meeting with Jethro in Exodus 18:5-12 suggests they were in or near Midian, east of the Gulf of Aqaba.
  7. Galatians 4:25 specifically states that Sinai is in Arabia.  In scripture, Arabia is always east of Aqaba.
  8. The existence of a land bridge across the Gulf of Aqaba that fits the narrative with the remains of chariot wheels at the bottom of the Gulf.
To me, the scriptural evidence is completely compelling.

So why do our Bible maps put Mount Sinai where they do?  And why is modern Sinai called Sinai?  Tradition tells us that it dates back to a dream the Emperor Constantine had, which became church teaching.  In those days, the institutional church had control over the education system and the training of church leaders.  So it was widely taken that Sinai was where the above map says, in spite of the scriptural and archaeological problems.  There is no evidence, no tradition within Judaism to back the churches claims.  As simple as that really.  And our Bible maps and tourist firms stick to the traditional line to this day.

Let's think through the implication of this.

  • Somebody who has an important position in the church 1,500-1,600 years ago says something incorrect.
  • Everybody listens to them for the following few centuries due to the control the church has over the education system.
  • Believers to this day don't question it, because it is enshrined in church tradition.
  • Unbelievers pour scorn on Christianity because they hold a view that cannot be sustained by the evidence.
The above is not an isolated example.  I'll give you two more.
  1. BC and AD.  A monk called Dennis the Little (should we call him Dennis the Menace?) invented this dating system based on when Christ was born.  The thing is.... he was born a few years earlier than that - maybe 4 BC.  But the dating system (first popularised by Jarrow's most famous son, the Venerable Bede) has stayed.
  2. The dating of Egypt's history is based on 1Kings 19:25 which says that Shishak, king of Egypt attacked and plundered Jerusalem.  It has been assumed since the early 1800s that this was the Pharaoh Shoshenq I.  It has enabled many academics to dismiss the Bible as myth because (for example) it leaves Solomon reigning in Israel during a time of deep poverty rather than prosperity.  A secular British archaeologist, David Rohl (I highly recommend his books and videos) has argued persuasively that the conventional dating is out by over 300 years and that it was actually Rameses II who attacked Jerusalem.  This dating system is far more in line with the Biblical evidence and Rohl has made a number of startling discoveries based on his dating which would confirm the accuracy of scripture (evidence for Joseph in Goshen, the Egyptian palace Solomon built for his wife the daughter of Pharaoh, the thick walls of Jericho destroyed during Joshua's campaign etc).  A simple misreading of names has led to the Bible being dismissed as inaccurate.
So can the kind of situation described above apply to theology too?  Suppose an important church leader teaches something that is incorrect and not backed up by the Bible.  Then it becomes widely accepted, but... wrong.  Can that happen, and can it damage the church for centuries afterwards?

You bet it can!

Watch this space.