Sunday, January 23, 2011

Grace-Based Purity in the Church

I am really pleased that Matt Hosier from Poole wrote this article in the most recent Newfrontiers magazine - because it addresses an issue I've been worrying about and thinking about for some time. My church background (Dunstable and Sovereign Grace Ministries) has been pretty much obsessed with sin. Particularly in SGM, sin was talked about regularly and discussions on how to mortify it usually in "accountability groups". But what concerned me was that although these churches were admirably passionate about defeating sin if they could - both were harsh when it came to dealing with sinners who confessed. I witnessed people being disciplined publicly in Dunstable and of course was excommunicated myself from SGM (although the pastors have explained why this was done - an instruction from above).

My question was always - how on earth do the church expect Christian sinners to confess particularly what they see as "big" or "bad" sins such as sexual promiscuity when they are treated as such? It is perfectly okay to confess to sins such as "pride" or "lying" (sins, Jerry Bridges calls; "Respectable" and sins God hates by the way!) - but if you confess you struggle with pornography or homosexuality for example, then you are treated with mistrust and at times panic on how to deal with you.

So I am glad that Matt has addressed the issue (even though I don't think he goes far enough with his understanding of the gift of righteousness we are given in Christ Jesus). He says;

"The apostles were radically serious about sin, yet at the same time radically gracious towards sinners. This is a difficult line for us to tread. Typically we tend to fall into one of two traps. Either there is a seriousness about sin that leads to intolerance, or there is a compassion towards sinners that leads to complacency about sin. Both of these traps create serious problems in the life of a local church".

And this is so true. Churches either seem to reflect my Dunstable church or SGM - or do indeed act as though they are complacent about sin. The very serious problem of harshness towards sinners that I have experienced brings problems for non-believers - Matt says;

"If our church culture is one of intolerance, then sinners will walk in and feel they cannot possibly find a place among us – ‘Everyone here seems to have their life sorted, no problems. How could I possibly fit?’ In this kind of church no one ever confesses their sin because they fear that if they do so they will be treated like lepers and ostracised by everyone else. Inevitably this leads to hypocrisy, as all kinds of things are kept hidden which should be brought to the light. This kind of church becomes like a whitewashed tomb – outwardly respectable but inwardly full of worms".

And this was very much the case in my Dunstable church and in SGM. We heard of divorces and of child abuse at times in Dunstable - and I have friends in SGM in the USA who also have reported of shocking child abuse, affairs, addiction to pornography - all while these individuals are going to their "accountability groups". As Matt says; "outwardly respectable but inwardly full of worms".

I love the way that he uses the churches in Corinth and Galatia to highlight the point;

"It is helpful for us to consider the very different contexts of the churches in Galatia and Corinth. In the Galatian churches the problem was one of heavy-handed legalism, while in Corinth it was one of shocking immorality. Yet the solution Paul offers to both settings is the same: Grace!".

And the answer to the problem?

"For the Galatians this meant a fresh revelation of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, a sacrifice that brings us into freedom. In their desire to live in moral purity, the Galatians were taking their eyes off the grace that was theirs in Christ and relying on strictures of the law – and by so doing were failing to act in love towards one another.

By contrast, the Corinthians were letting pretty much anything go and had lost sight of the fact that a true response to Christ’s sacrifice results in holy living – and as a consequence they too were failing to display love towards one another. In both cases, the solution Paul offers is a deeper understanding of the work of Christ and a deeper response to his grace".

He says quite rightly that it is fear of sin that can lead to many of the problems faced here in so many churches;

"Often what can drive us to look more like Corinth or Galatia than like a people of grace is fear. Fear of immorality and the corrupting nature of the society around us can lead us into legalism and the errors of Galatia. But fear of legalism and a desire to be relevant to the society around us can lead us into immorality and the errors of Corinth. We are forever in danger of crashing into the twin rocks of legalism or license. The only safe course is not to keep veering between the two, but to sail in the clear deep waters of the grace of God. It is grace that frees us from fear and it is grace that keeps us secure".

My problem of course with this article is that rather than going into what the "deep waters of the grace of God" are - he doesn't. But as I said, I am really glad the issue of how sin is dealt with in church has been brought to the table. I hope it at least causes some church leaders to honestly assess how safe it is for their church members to feel able to be honest and loved for being human.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Judge by the Law? Live by the Law!

Rob Rufus - speaking on Hebrews at the "Grace and Glory Conference 2010" said;

"Under the law if you have broken one part of the law, then you have broken all of it. If you lie once - according to the law - you are guilty of adultery, stealing, murder, hating God - you have broken ALL the law! How Christians can look at homosexuals with disgust and those same Christians have just put themselves under the law! Whenever you judge someone else for their behaviour you only can judge them through the lenses of the law, so you have put yourself back under the law.

So to disgustedly condemn homosexuals - under the law YOU are a homosexual. YOU are an adulterer. YOU are a liar and a pervert.

That's why it says in Revelation 21 the lake of fire is reserved for perverts, sexually immoral people and people who work magic. Who are those people? Those are people UNDER the law. Where there is no law - sin is NOT imputed to you! Where there is no law - YOU are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. When we die even though there may be things in our life that are sinful, we are not perverts or magicians or cowards or the fearful or immoral - we are the perfect ones in our great High Priest! We are perfect forever!"

Farewell Apostles!

I remember a group of us young man talking to Terry Virgo at Stoneleigh Bible Week 1999 about the changes in doctrine regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit. One of us asked "just how important" the baptism of the Holy Spirit was. Terry made a profound comment that I've never forgotten. He said that in his experience once the change is made on the baptism of the Holy Spirit - many other doctrines and church practices tend to follow suit. He quoted; "Worship, Ephesians 4 Ministries, spiritual gifts and spiritual warfare".

What was interesting was that we saw exactly this happen in my home church in Dunstable. The worship changed from being Spirit-led, sensitive use of hymns and choruses to a "hymn-prayer sandwich". The ministries of apostles and prophets were actively preached as ceasing with the New Testament canon (I still have the sermon notes). The gift of tongues was banned in public use and prophecies "may" be accepted but had to be written for viewing by the elders.

When Jeff Purswell published his "amendment" to the doctrines of faith for Sovereign Grace Ministries in 2003, I was intrigued. The paper was called; "Empowered by the Spirit: Room for Differing Views". I heard the accompanying tape - C J Mahaney launched the paper at a Leadership Conference to great applause and explained what it effectively meant - that cessationist churches who did not believe in a distinct experience of the Holy Spirit could happily and safely join Sovereign Grace.

I commented on the paper on my blog and wondered whether Terry Virgo's comment would come true of Sovereign Grace as it did my home church. And in watching from afar with interest (my family are still in SGM) - I've seen similar paths.

Until today this blog post was published; "What happened to the apostolic team?". Someone in the SGM family asked the question and then answer was given in this blog post. Essentially this is why SGM will no longer be using the phrase "apostle" (although I suggest they haven't properly used the ministry of an apostle for years).

"But over time, we discovered the name confused more people than it helped, so now we’re considering alternatives. We’ve also gained a better understanding of the term "apostolic," which makes us even more careful in how we apply it".

So if I understand this properly SGM have abandoned the use of the phrase and ministry because it "confuses" people. And then secondly (and I think this is the real reason) because they are travelling the same road my home church walked decades ago - and simply do not see it theologically anymore.

Interesting that a group so allegedly committed to "reformed doctrine" are more comfortable with the label; "Regional leadership team" that does not appear in the New Testament, than the label/ministry; "apostle" which most certainly does - and indeed is given as a gift from the ascended Christ.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Review of "Joy Unspeakable" (Martyn Lloyd-Jones) by Mark Heath

My old Dunstable friend Mark Heath has written an excellent review of one of my favourite books; "Joy Unspeakable" by Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones. It's really fitting that I read this review so early in 2011 as I have been reflecting on my deep need for a new filling of the Spirit of God and a desire - a desperate desire - for a year of encounters with Him.

It's so good I am going to reprint in
full so here it is;

"This book contains 24 sermons from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones is of course well known and highly regarded in evangelical circles for his outstanding preaching gift. However, the position he argues for in this book is a controversial one, particularly amongst those who otherwise would agree with his every word.

In this book, Lloyd-Jones builds a biblical case that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience from conversion. He sees it as the most urgent need for the church of the present day to be baptised in the Spirit, which he believes is the same thing as saying that we need revival.

The first chapter establishes his conviction that the baptism or “sealing” with the Spirit is distinct from conversion. Amongst many examples he gives, he points to Jesus’ own experience of being baptised with the Spirit. He is keen to emphasise the experiential nature of the baptism – it is a kind of “drenching” with the Spirit.

The chief marks of the baptism he highlights are a great joy, a real assurance, and power for witness. He does not believe that it is directly related to sanctification, although it is of course a great encouragement to growth in holiness. He urges those who do not have “joy inexpressible” to seek the baptism. He does not believe that the baptism can only be received once.

Pentecostals and charismatics however should not assume he is uncritically “on their side” in this debate. Though he rigorously refutes cessationism, he also critiques certain charismatic ideas as well. Perhaps most notable is his stress on the sovereignty of God in giving the baptism and gifts. He rejects any assumption that you simply have to follow certain steps to receive them, or that they can be “claimed”. He is highly suspicious of anything that could be interpreted as psychological manipulation or the power of suggestion. Instead he urges people to earnestly seek to receive the baptism, but at the same time indicates that we cannot force God’s hand.

He manages to show tremendous balance throughout. He is aware of the danger of quenching the Spirit on the one hand, and of gullibly being led into error on the other, and is equally forceful in warning against both. Perhaps most impressive is his determination to follow the Scriptures wherever they lead, even if that put him at odds with many of those who moved in the same reformed evangelical circles. He was determined not to interpret Scripture in light of our experience, but to evaluate our experience (or lack of it) in the light of Scripture.

Throughout the book, he illustrates his points with stories of people throughout history who have met with God in remarkable ways. Some have criticised him for making the baptism seem “out of reach” to ordinary people by focussing on these particularly exceptional examples. But that would be slightly unfair, since he takes pains to point out that this experience is available to all kinds of people, even those with the most level-headed of dispositions. Others criticise his emphasis on the sovereignty of God by appealing to Luke 11:13 as a promise that we will receive when we ask. However, he does address this concern, and again it is his determination that we settle for nothing less than the real thing that prevents him from endorsing various charismatic attempts to guide people into receiving the experience.

Although this is quite a long book, I would say it remains essential reading for those wanting to fully examine the biblical evidence on the matter of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He shows how almost all the evidence in the gospels and Acts points in this direction, and is willing to interact with all the counter-arguments that are usually raised (including 1 Cor 12:13). Most importantly though, it stirs up a hunger to personally receive more of the Spirit, and calls us to earnest prayer for our churches to experience true revival".

Friday, January 07, 2011

"Off-the-Peg Theology" - by Dr Stanley Jebb

Dr Stanley Jebb has written an excellent blog article today called; "Off-the-Peg Theology" which demonstrates his amazing academic insight. He critiques the assumption that so often we accept without question theological statements;

"The trouble is many young men go to theological college and accept without question the ready-made theology that is handed down to them. That is what I call “off-the-peg theology”. Rather I use the term to highlight the fact that so often statements of theology are accepted without question as long as they come from within out own circle".

Rather than;

"Unlike the Bereans, we do not search the Scriptures to see whether those things are so (Acts 17:11)".

Dr Jebb calls this theology an alternative phrase;

"Perhaps “hand-me-down theology” would be a better description. It is only too easy to accept, and even vigorously defend, a theology which we have never carefully compared with Scripture".

Stanley Jebb is correct - many theological phrases have become popular and indeed trendy in these days. Particularly phrases like; "Reformed" or "Evangelical" and sometimes "Charismatic" (although Dr Jebb didn't include the last!). But what do they really mean?

"In these days we have become rather careless in our use of such terms as ‘Reformed’ and ‘Calvinistic’. The word ‘Reformed’ is bandied about almost as though it were a synonym of ‘orthodox’, or a shorthand term for “really, really sound.”

Do we really know what John Calvin wrote in his massive Institutes? Or have we merely read John Piper or Mark Driscoll's popularized If we do not, then why are we so eager to adopt the label for ourselves? The message is excellent and clear - SCRIPTURE is our final authority and we should make every effort to search it Berean-like and see "if these things are so". If aspects of our cultural heritage do not tie up with Scripture then we should be asking why are we holding to them?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy New Year - 2011!!

A massive Happy New Year to everyone reading this!

It seems like a lot of people I have the honour of emailing and keeping in touch with found 2010 to be an incredibly difficult year. So I do love the fresh start of a New Year - the blank slate. Untread territory - no well worn paths ahead.

Blogging so last decade?

I read somewhere that someone has started blogging and referred to themselves as being "out of date". Frankly I didn't realise that blogs are now out of date! If I ran this blog purely to be trendy then I guess this New Year would be the right time to close it down - but I've always tried to make it clear that this blog isn't about building a following or seeking to become a "voice" but this is for my own spiritual tracking and gain - and secondarily to chart, map and log great heroes of the Christian faith who's voices must not and cannot be forgotten.

So I am freshly excited about another New Year and I am so hopeful (still) that the unfulfilled promises of God will see some coming to pass this year. They are long overdue and above all I am eager to see God move and do something. Let's keep hoping! I am still so challenged by Rob Rufus and his warning about the danger of cynicism. It's very timely that my good friend and fellow blogger Julie Morris posted this reminder on her Facebook;

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" - Jesus