Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Glory of the Lord

'And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid' (Luke 2:8)

The story of our Lord's incarnation is so familiar to us that it can be very easy to lose the wonder of it all. In the run up to Christmas we are surrounded by nativity scenes, cards, carols and many other reminders of Christ's birth. Shepherds, wise men, angels, a star in the east, a manger and the town of Bethlehem are so well known that we can quickly forget the miraculous nature of what happened 2000 years ago. One such element of the story of our Lord's birth which we can take for granted is that instance where the angel of the Lord appeared unto the shepherds. It is something which does not surprise us for we are so familiar with it, yet for the shepherds in the hills outside Bethlehem that night it would have been the most unexpected and awe inspiring moment of their lives. Never would they forget the night that the heavens were filled with a heavenly host of angels praising the name of God. It is in Luke 2, where we read of this event, that we find a little phrase which sums up all that is concerned with the birth of our Saviour; 'the glory of the Lord'. There are three things to consider about his phrase:

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Heresy of Hillsong

There is probably no better known name within contemporary Christian music than that of Hillsong. Since 1992 they had released more than forty albums with many of them reaching top positions in both the Christian and mainstream music charts. In twenty years they have sold more than twelve million records around the world and have signed marketing deals with Warner and Sony, bringing Hillsong worldwide popularity and recognition. However Hillsong is not simply a music ministry, but principally a network of large churches, commencing in Sydney Australia were it is pastored by Brian and Bobbie Houston, now with congregations in major cities around the world including London, New York, Kiev and Cape Town. The popularity of Hillsong's music means that many Christians are also attracted to their churches and to the personalities and teachings associated with them, and this is a matter of grave concern. Behind their popular music packed concerts we find such serious issues that we are led to say that Hillsong is not so much a promoter of scriptural truth, but rather of unscriptural heresy.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The danger of sinful imitation

In Deuteronomy chapter 18, as the law of God is presented to a new generation of Israelites prior to their entrance into Canaan, various instructions are given on how they were to conduct themselves once they came in to that promised land. In verses 9 to 15 they are told that 'when thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations'. Various pagan practices such as divination, witchcraft and necromancy as practiced by the Canaanites are then prohibited. These sinful practices were forbidden to the children of Israel and are described as being an abomination to God, showing them to be loathsome and offensive to his holy name. Indeed it was for the practice of these things that the Lord would drive the Canaanites out of the land (verse 12).

Among these sins here listed there are many practices and which are linked with and familiar to the celebration of Halloween. The satanic practices of sorcery and witchcraft, of human sacrifice and communicating with the dead, condemned by God as being among the vilest of sins, are found at the very root and origin of Halloween. Behind every Halloween custom, when it is traced back far enough, the hand of Satan can be found. Halloween customs such as trick or treat, jack-o-lanterns and bobbing for apples, things which on the surface are fun and harmless, all have their beginnings in ancient pagan druid practices, rituals which can themselves be traced back to Babylonish idolatry and the very things which we find condemned in Deuteronomy 18.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Is your pastor just a life coach?

Listen to any message by Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer and there will be plenty to make you feel good about yourself. Guidance on how you can live your best life now, how you can have a balanced life, how to build relationships and have a more healthy lifestyle. An ultra positive message designed to help you fulfil your potential and empower the inner you. If you are to look to any of the other proponents of the prosperity gospel you will find that the message will be the same; positive confession and the promise of financial and personal success. Yet although their words are dressed up in Christian terminology in truth they differ little from the message that is provided by a secular life coach or motivational speaker. Their message is simply a Christianised psychology. They talk of what God can do for you in your life, yet not what Christ has done to give you new life.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Taking your bible to church

It has always been my normal practice to take my bible to church. Growing up in Sunday School you always took your bible with you. Going to Youth Fellowship meetings you took your bible. At the regular church services and at prayer meetings you likewise had your bible. The very idea of going to church meetings, where you would hear the word of God, without having your own copy of the scriptures was completely foreign. Yet today there does not seem to be the same habit of taking your bible to church as there would have been just a few years ago. A Christian radio show in America recently commented on how they had surveyed the thousands of people going to a US mega church, yet found that literally only a handful were carrying a copy of the Word of God. Why is this becoming so common today among Christians and why is it always important that we take our bible with us when we go to worship God?

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 8 Responding to the Charismatic Movement

Previous posts in this series:

In light of all that we have considered about the Charismatic Movement, given that there is so much within that movement which draws Christianity back to the darkness of Romanism, the question then arises as to what should our response be to the Charismatic Movement and to its teachers. Since it is one of the most potent forces today in undermining the work of the Protestant Reformation we clearly cannot embrace it. What then will we do? When the Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians he did so in response to error having crept into that church through the influence of those described as ‘false brethren unawares brought in ... that they might bring us into bondage’. Paul denounced in the strongest terms those who had brought false teaching into the church, yet to those who had been deceived his approach was somewhat different. Although Paul did rebuke those Galatians who had followed after false teachers, and indeed marvelled that they had done so, he did it in love and with the desire that they would return again to the purity of the gospel. Our response to those who teach false doctrine and our response to those who are deceived by it will be different. The promoters of false doctrine are to be denounced and opposed with all of our strength, yet although we are to seperate from those who espouse error that does not mean that we are to abandon people and leave them to be deceived by false teaching. Instead we must seek to show them their error that they might turn to the truth. Whether they are following the errors of the Charismatic Movement, the errors of Rome, of Mormonism, of Islam or of any other false religion, we are to seek to turn people away from those who would deceive them. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 7 An Ecumenical Spirit

Previous posts in this series:

It would be wrong to say that everyone within the Charismatic Movement desires union with the Roman Catholic Church. There are preachers within charismatic and Pentecostal churches who are opposed to any form of ecumenical unity with Rome, as are many believers within those churches. Indeed many of the early Pentecostals were vigorously opposed to the teaching and doctrines of Roman Catholicism. Yet today there are a large number of prominent charismatic teachers who consider the Roman Catholic Church to be another equally valid branch of Christianity. And once again we find that it is the most prominent figures within the Charismatic Movement who are guilty, it is those preachers who are followed by millions and who are the most influential, who indeed are the true mainstream of the Charismatic Movement. It is those whom we find are most keen to promote an ecumenical agenda. The spirit of ecumenism in the Charismatic Movement is extremely clear to see and indeed we find that the very nature and focus of the Charismatic Movement makes the ecumenical goal more attainable than it ever was before.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 6 A Return to Mysticism

Previous posts in this series:

What is mysticism? In his Dictionary of Theological Terms Dr Alan Cairns describes mysticism as ‘The search for a higher initiation into spiritual mysteries, or a higher consecration to spiritual realities, or a union with deity, by a withdrawal from the external world and by means of contemplation. In this way mystics profess to apprehend truths which are beyond the understanding’a. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes it as ‘a constellation of distinctive practices, discourses, texts, institutions, traditions, and experiences aimed at human transformation, variously defined in different tradition’b. Mysticism has existed within the broad sweep of Christianity for centuries, as well as being found in many other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Taosim. Within Christianity mysticism finds its greatest prominence during the period of the Middle Ages, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church, and also in the Orthodox Church, in both cases often being closely linked to Gnosticism. People such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and Ignatius Loyala, all active in the Church of Rome during this period were mystics, and promoted mystical practices. Mysticism in the Roman Catholic Church has continued through to the modern era with men such as Padre Pio. The ideas of trances, visions, meditation, ecstatic experiences, contemplative prayer and the professed miraculous ability to survive without food for long periods of time can all be found within the realm of ‘christian' mysticism. The reformers of the 16th century by and large turned away from such ideas and were sceptical of the claims of the Roman Catholic mystics. Yet mysticism has remained prominent within Roman Catholicism, and its practices and teachings are also increasingly found within the Charismatic Movement. One area where this has come to light in recent years is in the practice of a form of contemplative prayer known as Lectio Divina. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 5 Demons, demons and more demons

Previous posts in this series:

The famous Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon once made the following remark in relation to demon possession; ‘Satan is not inside our heart now, he entered into Judas, but he cannot enter into us; for our soul is filled by another who is well able to hold his own’a. The true believer cannot be possessed by the devil nor any of his demons. When Christ was accused of casting out devils through the power of the devil in Matthew 12, he responded by saying ‘how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house’. The devil cannot take control of one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as every believer is, having received the Holy Spirit at their conversion, for he is the ‘strong man’ that cannot be bound by any demon. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell alongside a demon within a believer for ‘what concord hath Christ with Belial?’ Indeed no example can be found in Scripture where a demonic spirit has ever inhabited a true believer. Also it is not the norm today for people in general to be possessed by demons. Only where they voluntarily and purposefully invite demons into their lives by involvement in occult practices can people today be demon possessed. When Christ ministered upon the earth he invaded the domain of Satan, confronted demons and demonstrated his power over them. Yet this was a unique period. Satan himself realised that his ability to deceive the world would soon be greatly restrained and so was in a heightened state of activity. The ushering in of the gospel age that followed Christ’s atoning death and resurrection has resulted in Satan being bound and greatly restricted in his ability to deceive the nations.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 4 Unquestionable Authority

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At the 1st Vatican Council on 18th July 1870, the Roman Catholic Church passed one of its most absurd doctrines, that of Papal Infallibility. The decree passed at that council stated that ‘when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, 1) in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, 2) in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, 3) he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable’a.

Although this was the first time that the infallibility of the Pope had been officially declared by the Vatican, the idea that the Pope and indeed the Roman Catholic Church could not err had long been a part of Roman Catholic church history. In 1075 Pope Gregory VII stated that ‘the Roman Church has never erred and will never err to all eternity, according to the testimony of the holy scriptures’b. Even though the doctrine of Papal Infallibility only teaches that the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra, it still teaches that a mere man can infallibly define a doctrine, without rebuke from any other man. More importantly, it means that no-one can bring the teaching of that person or church to the bar of scripture to challenge whether they are true or not. 

Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 3 Counterfeit Miracles

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On Sunday 27th April Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were declared saints in a ceremony at the Vatican. Necessary for their canonisation were two authenticated miracles. In the case of John Paul II a woman in Costa Rica was supposedly cured from an inoperable brain aneurysm after the pontiff appeared to her in a vision, and a Polish nun was cured from Parkinson’s disease after praying to the deceased Pope. These claimed miracles are no new development in the Roman Catholic Church; from appearances of the Virgin Mary, to bleeding and weeping statues, to the healing of incurable diseases, miracles are an extremely important part of the Roman Catholic faith. Many pilgrimages are made by Roman Catholics to locations where miracles are reported to have occurred; one of the most famous examples being Lourdes, a place regularly visited by millions of Roman Catholics in the hope of being cured by the water there. Yet with every miracle which it claims, the Church of Rome faces the same problem – a lack of authentication. Even as the Vatican was seeking to canonize John Paul II, reports were abounding that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, the Polish nun supposedly cured of Parkinson’s, had fallen ill again.a Time and again this same issue arises with miracles in the Roman Catholic Church, they are either proven to be false, or they are authenticated only on the most tentative of evidence, and rarely if ever supported by medical verification. Yet in spite of this, Roman Catholics continue to enthusiastically seek after miracles. Since the time of the Reformation mainstream evangelical Protestantism has rejected the belief that the supernatural sign gifts of the New Testament such as healing are still available today, and has been highly sceptical of the claimed miracles of Rome. Yet with the advance of the Charismatic Movement many Christians have turned once again to seeking after miracles, and to a belief that the power of healing which was bestowed on the apostles is still available today. Here once again we see the common ground between Roman Catholicism and the Charismatic Movement; a seeking after miracles that, when they are examined, are shown to be at best exaggerated, and at worst counterfeited.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 2 A Rejection of Sola Scriptura

Previous posts in this series:

The gospel message which was rediscovered in the 16th century has often been summed up in what is known as the Five Solas of the Reformation. Although they were not articulated in this form until the 20th century, the writings of the reformers clearly teach that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, as revealed in scripture alone. These Five Solas are a direct response to the errors of Roman Catholicism, and mark out the differences between the reformed church and the Church of Rome. Where the Roman Catholic Church teaches that were are saved by a combination of God’s grace and our own good works, the reformers responded that it is by grace alone. Where they teach that we approach God through Christ, Mary and the saints, the response is that it is through Christ alone. To turn away from any of these biblical truths is to depart from the faith and begin the journey back into Roman apostasy. Of the Five Solas it is surely that of ‘sola scriptura’, or scripture alone, where Rome's difference with Protestantism has its root, for it is by appealing to scripture plus tradition that they are then able to support all of their other erroneous doctrines. This rejection of scripture as God’s complete and final revelation to man, and his only rule for faith and practice, is something of which the Charismatic Movement is also guilty, and by so doing it turns away from the biblical principles of the Reformation, back to the error of Rome.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Charismatic Reversal of the Reformation: 1 Background

The Charismatic Movement; what’s the big deal? Surely it is just another manner in which some Christians worship, as acceptable as any reformed, more conservative style of worship? Why is there such a strong reaction against the Charismatic Movement from many evangelical preachers today? Is it really that big an issue? On one occasion John MacArthur described the Charismatic Movement in the following terms; 'It's a kind of Spiritual AIDS. AIDS is a deficient immune system, and this kills the Church's immune system! The Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement kills the immune system, because it makes it a sin to question their theology'a. To many people this statement will be a great exaggeration of the issues in the Charismatic Movement and an outrageous thing to say. To compare a particular form of Christianity to a deadly disease is surely too much. Yet when we examine the Charismatic Movement closely, when we understand what the Charismatic Movement actually is, and consider what is actually taught within it, then we will find that it is very difficult to argue with that statement. As we look at the serious errors, and indeed heresies, that are found within that movement, we believe that an honest analysis of the facts can lead to only one conclusion; that the Charismatic Movement is indeed a form of ‘spiritual AIDS’, and that it leads Christianity in only one direction; back to the darkness of Rome.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Who should we quote?

How can we determine which preachers we will quote? Whether it be from the pulpit, on social media, or in some other way, discretion and discernment are required in choosing which preachers and teachers we will quote. Whether the quote is in itself scriptural is not sufficient reason for it to be used but consideration must also be given to the one to whom it is attributed. If that person has seriously erred on some major point of doctrine then consideration must be given as to how freely, if at all, we can quote them. Whilst it is not necessary to agree with someone on every absolutely everything, we cannot justifiably quote someone with whom we disagree on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. What should we consider when choosing which Christian preachers we will quote?

1. Adding a caveat to the quote
There are some preachers whom we can quote without the slightest hesitation, men such as Spurgeon and Calvin. Any differences which we may have with these men are of such small issue that we can quote them freely. Yet what of those with whom we disagree on more significant matters. On these occasions it will be necessary to state clearly that we we do not recommend all that they teach, in order that we would prevent others from following their errors. When it comes to essential doctrines however, we must look elsewhere, for we cannot in good conscience quote those with whom we are at serious and fundamental disagreement.

2. The unquoteable
Heretics and apostates. When the major doctrines of the gospel are abandoned and serious error and compromise takes place then those involved should not be the ones whom we would seek to quote in a Christian context. Likewise those who have evidenced an openly immoral lifestyle during their ministry, women who have usurped the position of pastor and those who have advanced the cause of ecumenism. The difference between these and others whom we might quote under some caveat, is that of erring on fundamentals, compared with specifics.

3. Our audience
If we quote a particular preacher will it result in others following that preacher? This is not a concern where we are in agreement with a sufficient amount of their teaching, but does become a greater issue the more we disagree with them. Do those who will read or hear the quote have the necessary discernment to recognise any doctrinal failings which that preacher may have. Who we quote may depend not only on their theology of that person, but also on those who will read or hear the quote.

4. Living and dead preachers
It is easier to quote the preachers of years gone by for we can already see how they have finished. If they have erred on some issues we can see the full extent of their error, and can easier evaluate whether it is appropriate to quote them or not. With those however who are still living we may wonder if, having deviated on 'minor' issues, they might also do so in the future on major issues. This is not to suggest that we should only quote preachers from the past, only that it is easier to do so.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Dilemma of a Young Adult

There comes a time when young believers in the church, often in their mid to late 20's, feel that they have now outgrown the traditional Youth Fellowship environment. They become what we often term the 'young adults' of the congregation; a group which consists of a mixture of young married couples and unmarried persons aged approximately 20 to 40. Some churches will organise specific meetings and events for their young adults, effectively as a follow on from their Youth Fellowship days. This period in a believer's life is a pivotal one; they have come through the difficult and testing years of secondary school and university and are still part of the church, yet there seems to be the question of where they go from here. What should be the position of the young adult in the church?

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Calling the Sabbath a delight

'If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it'. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

When the subject of the Sabbath is considered it is very often done from the negative point of view. The focus will be on what we ought not to do, those things which we should refrain from on the Lord's day. And it is true that observing the Sabbath does require us to cease from particular activities. In Exodus 20:10 the fourth commandment says of the Sabbath that 'in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:' Question number sixty one in the Shorter Catechism says that 'The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.' Clearly a right observance of the Sabbath includes ceasing from particular activities, yet if we only focus on the 'negative' commandments regarding the Sabbath then there is the danger that we will consider the Lord's Day in a negative light, and even regard it as an inconvenience. The prophet Isaiah says that we are to 'call the sabbath a delight'; it is a day which should be viewed positively by the Christian because of the great benefits which it holds.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Should an increasing Muslim population cause concern?

As the result of a sermon preached by Pastor James McConnell the Northern Ireland headlines over the last couple of weeks have been dominated by the issue of Islam. In the sermon preached at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Pastor McConnell described Islam as heathen, satanic and 'a doctrine spawned in hell'. Pastor McConnell also made the comment that he did not trust Muslims because of their devotion to Sharia Law. Many hours of news, television and radio debate have focused on this controversy, with politicians and church leaders giving views both for and against Pastor McConnell's statements, some defending the right to free speech and the exposure of false doctrine, others denouncing it as a hate crime. The greatest debate and outcry has been caused by the references to whether Muslims can be trusted, comments which some have construed as inciting religious and racial hatred. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Divine Healing Service at St Anne's Cathedral: That would be an ecumenical matter

On the 17th May the Annual Day of Prayer for Renewal and Revival will be held at St Annes Cathedral, Belfast. This event is organised by Divine Healing Ministries and is now in its sixth year. The theme for this year's event is 'Moving Forward Together', and when the list of speakers at the event is examined it becomes evident exactly what is meant by 'Moving Forward Together'. The line up is as ecumenical as it gets with a Church of Ireland Canon, two Presbyterian ministers and two Roman Catholic priests taking part. Add to this a speaker from the Roman Catholic ministry of Koinonia John the Baptist and speakers from Transformations Ireland and 24/7 Prayer Ireland, both ecumenical organisations, all organised by Divine Healing Ministries, an organisation which is itself deeply ecumenical. Such a cross community array of speakers makes it clear that their desire to move forward together does not simply mean Roman Catholic and Protestant living peaceably together side by side, but the two communities united together in one Christian faith.

Full details of those taking part in the service can be found here

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Sunday morning only?

The Bermuda Triangle is well known as bring that triangular region of the sea between Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico where aircraft and ships have been reported to have mysteriously disappeared. Many reasons have been given in an effort to explain their disappearance, from human error, violent weather and the gulf stream, to the more outlandish claims of supernatural and extra-terrestrial activity. At the end of the day however the answer to many of the disappearances is that we do not know the reason. What is not in doubt however is the infamy that is associated with that particular region of the Atlantic Ocean. The name of the Bermuda Triangle is instantly connected with unexplained disappearances.

Within the church today there is also a 'Bermuda Triangle' to be found, where instead of planes and boats, people go mysteriously missing. Likewise little explanation can be found for their disappearance. What is this 'Bermuda Triangle' within the church that we are talking about? It is the Sunday evening service. Between the morning and evening services a mysterious disappearance takes place and great multitudes cannot be found at the latter meeting who were present in the morning. Even when considering legitimate reasons why some people cannot be present very often the mystery still remains. Where have they gone? Are they at another church, are they at home, perhaps they are visiting friends or family, or maybe they are asleep. Perhaps the weather is favourable and they are at the beach or spending the time in some pursuit of leisure. Yet really the answer is that we simply do not know.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Should a church be seeker sensitive?

A popular model for many churches today is the 'seeker sensitive' approach to evangelism and conducting church services. One of the most high profile exponents of this is Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Church was released almost 20 years ago. The seeker sensitive advocated by Warren and many other involves changing church to something which is more friendly, culturally sensitive and appealing to the unchurched, a church experience which is non threatening and which will give them what they want from church. Old style hymns and worship will be replaced with a more modern worldly style of music, including pop, rock and rap. Long expository sermons will be diluted down into a shorter story based talk that meets the perceived needs of the hearers, with biblical doctrines such as sin and repentance being rarely mentioned. The focus of the message will instead be light on doctrine, centred on man and with the Lord Jesus Christ presented as the means of you improving yourself and filling that void in your life. Essentially it is church done the way the unsaved want it to be done, a way that does not cause them to feel uncomfortable or threatened. The seeker sensitive church will also provide for the social needs of the area with numerous programs aimed at improving the lives of those living in the community. These churches have been very successful in seeing large congregations built up very quickly, with thousands of people in attendance and multi-million pound programs being run by the congregation. The question is whether the seeker sensitive approach to doing church is one that we should adopt, and whether it can be supported by scripture.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Calvinistic motivation for evangelism

The teaching of John Calvin is often summed up in what is described as the five points of Calvinism. Most commonly this is known by the acronym of TULIP. Whilst these five doctrines are not all that Calvinists believe, it is what marks them out from Arminians, from Lutherans and from other branches of Christianity. These beliefs have come under many attacks from the opponents of Calvinism, one of those attacks being that some of them are a hindrance and a discouragement to evangelism. This view is encouraged by those who are hyper-Calvinist in their doctrine, and who do refrain from engaging in active evangelism. Yet in truth it is an accusation without any support; indeed far from discouraging evangelism, all five points should be an encouragement and a motivation to the Christian to evangelise the lost. In each one we do not simply have a dull theological concept, but a scriptural encouragement to spread the good news of the gospel, sure and certain that our work is not in vain.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Should Northern Ireland welcome the Pope?

It has recently been reported in the Northern Ireland media that Belfast City Council is to discuss the matter of inviting Pope Francis to Belfast. SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy has tabled a motion stating that 'A papal visit to Belfast, endorsed by everyone, would send out a strong message to the rest of the world about how we are progressing, especially after the failure of the Haass talks.'This motion is to be debated by the council on (appropriately) the 1st of April.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The cure for church hopping

In our last post we considered the issue of Church hopping. Four observations were made on this matter. Firstly that it is a sign of theological shallowness; we have surely little depth to our faith if we are able and content to regularly move from church to church. Secondly, it does not produce useful Christians; those who cannot settle in a church are rarely of much use in the churches they frequent. Thirdly, it is discouraging to other believers; the constant to-ing and fro-ing benefits no-one. Finally it is detrimental to the children of believing parents who need stability in spiritual matters as much as anything else. Having considered these things it would be wrong not to consider what can be done to cure the problem of church hopping. For those who are guilty of it, what can they do to stop themselves continuing in this course, and for those who have never done it how can they prevent themselves from falling into this fault.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Church hopping

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the greatest and most popular preacher of his generation. Many would argue that he was the greatest preacher of any generation since the time of the apostles. People came from all over London and further afield to hear him preach, with over 5,000 people regularly hearing him preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle every Sunday. Yet on one occasion, having seen those from other congregations in his church, he made the following statement:
By the way, looking round here, I think I know some of the persons present who belong to neighbouring chapels. What business have you here? Why did you leave your own minister? If I see one come into my place from the congregation of another brother in the ministry, I would like to give him just a flea in his ear such as he may never forget. What business have you to leave your minister? If everyone were to do so, how discouraged the poor man would be. Just because somebody happens to come into this neighbourhood, you will be leaving your seats. A compliment to me, you say. I thank you for it; but now, in return, let me give you this advice: those who are going from place to place are of no use to anybody.
The fault which Spurgeon had identified in many believers in his day is one which is still prevalent today; that of church hopping. Church hopping essentially exists in two forms. Firstly there are those who associate themselves with a particular congregation, have done so for years, and who faithfully attend the Sunday morning services there every week. Yet on Sunday evenings they might be found anywhere, depending on what has taken their fancy that week. Then there are those believers who will attend a particular church for several years, get involved in the work to some extent, then become disillusioned with that church and go elsewhere, only for the cycle to repeat itself again at another church in three or four years time. Occasionally they may return to a church they had previously attended, but over their lifetime they never settle in one place, but are continually moving from church to church.

Church hopping is not something that is to be approved of, or considered as acceptable behaviour for a Christian. There are of course occasions where it is right to leave a church, for example where that church has compromised on the truth of God's word and departed from the truth of the gospel. It is also natural to change churches if you move house, as it may no longer be practical to attend your current place of worship. This however is the exception; changing church should not be a regular occurrence, nor should it be a habit to be absent from your own Sunday evening services simply for the purpose of going somewhere else. There are four observations that we would make on church hopping.

1. It is a sign of theological shallowness
What church do you currently attend? Let us say that it is of some Presbyterian persuasion. You have chosen to attend that church because you believe in what it teaches about the word of God. The reason you do not attend a Methodist or Anglican church is because you do not agree with their teaching to the same extent. Yet with church hopping denominational distinctives are often meaningless. People can go from Presbyterian to Baptist to Brethren to Elim to Methodist and back again without any thought or concern for what theological differences may exist between them. From reformed to charismatic to dispensational, church hopping often involves a very big hop! We are not implying that there are not believers in all of these groups, for clearly there are, yet the differences between them are still significant. If you can jump from one to the other, attend one place in the morning and another in the evening, then the question does need to be ask; what do you believe? The theology of a church seems to be of so little importance today when choosing where to go, yet in truth this is the most important factor to be considered when choosing a church. If we move from church to church based on the activities that the church provides, or because of it's current popularity, without any thought for what it actually teaches, then it is difficult to say that we are not shallow in our theology. We must know what we believe and be convicted of it.

2. It does not produce useful Christians
In the words of Spurgeon which we quoted earlier he finishes with this line; 'those who are going from place to place are of no use to anybody'. He also made the following statement in relation to church hopping; 'To be driven from church to church, as some are, is a wretched business. To be like others, changing their views as often as the moon; happy nowhere, miserable everywhere, agreeing with nobody, not even with themselves, is a poor business'. If we are no sooner settled in a place than we are going somewhere else then we will never be of any use in the work. To only be in attendance on Sunday mornings, and always traveling the country going to other meetings on a Sunday evening is not a sign of usefulness, but of unreliability. Such an attitude will not encourage the leadership of the church to give that person any responsibility for if we cannot commit ourselves to being at two Sunday services in our church, how can anyone believe we would be any different if we were to lead some aspect of the work. To be moving from church to church belies an attitude that the church exists to give us what we want, and when we do not feel that it is doing that then we will go elsewhere. Yet the responsibility lies of the shoulders of every Christian to contribute to the work of the church themselves. If we cannot settle in a church then it is unlikely we will ever be of any great use to the Lord. 

3. It is discouraging to other believers
The desire of every church pastor, elder, leader and member is that the work in which they are engaged would be built up. It is a great encouragement to them when new people start to attend the church and get involved in the work. It is however a great discouragement when those same people leave within a couple of years. It may be of brief encouragement to that new church where they started to attend, however if they continue in this cycle (as is so often the case) they achieve little more than discouraging people in every church they attend, rather than just one. God's kingdom is not advanced constant uprooting, Christians are merely recycled. The same is true of those who attend their home church in the mornings yet always find somewhere else to go at night. For those who are faithful in their attendance at church it is discouraging when they see that others are not so, and for the leaders of the work such people provide little more than a temporary hope. Hebrews 10:25 states calls us to not forsake 'the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another'. To move from church to church, here in the morning, elsewhere in the evening does not do this, but is rather detrimental to all concerned.

4. Its is detrimental to the children of believing parents
How many parents believe that it would be beneficial for their children to change schools every couple of years? It is unlikely that any would see this as being a good thing, for it would be disruptive, and have the risk of a negative impact on their education. Can we then believe that it is any different spiritually? Certainly it is likely to result in the children following that same pattern as their parents when they are older. If their learning in school is important how much more so is their spiritual education. The difficulties which face young people in today's world are immense, and are not made any easier by a regular movement from one church to another. They will know little of what they believe and even less of why they believe it. If a child, at the age when it is most impressionable, is exposed to such a lax approach to choosing a church, then it is likely that they will worship anywhere, everywhere, or nowhere! Just as a fountain cannot rise above its source, so it is unlikely that the next generation will fare any better than the previous where people are in the habit of church hopping.

Are you guilty of church hopping? Has your Christian life been one of constant movement from this church to that, or of regularly being elsewhere on a Sunday evening? Consider these thoughts and pray that you would have done it for the last time. Commit yourself to the work where you are and know why you are there.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Northern Ireland's Lottery funded churches

At the beginning of last year we highlighted the fact that a number of churches in Northern Ireland had received funding from the National Lottery as a means of carrying out work on their buildings, or funding events that they were running. (That article can be read here) The funding received by those churches totaled over £570,000.

In 2013 the number of churches seeking funding from the National Lottery, and the amount of money received by churches was greatly diminished. That said, it is evident that there are still a number of churches which are prepared to use this avenue of funding their work.

The Church of Ireland
Once again the Church of Ireland was the greatest beneficiary of lottery funding, with almost £80,000 obtained by various congreagations:
1. Billy Parish Church received £7,176 from the Big Lottery Fund to purchase equipmemt for their church hall. This was the second year in a row that they looked to the National Lottery for funding.
2. Trory Parish Church received £6,779 from the Big Lottery Fund for their youth club to run a number of activities.
3. Holy Trinity Parish Church Lisnaskea received £9,890 from the Big Lottery Fund in order to purchase tables and chairs for their building.
4. Derryvolgie Parish Church received £50,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to carry out a number of repair and improvement works to their church building.
5. The Church of Ireland's Board for Social Responsibility received £5,006 from the Big Lottery Fund to deliver a seminar training and counseling services.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Presbyterian Church officially is opposed to the use of Lottery money, yet for the fourth year in a row Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church obtained a lottery grant. This was received from the Arts Council in order to host the Portaferry Proms. The sum obtained was £5355. Any claim that it is not the church itself which applies for the funding does not wash, particularly as they are in the process of the applying for further funding for the restoration of the building. Since 2010 Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church has received a total of £1,019,690 of lottery funding.

Independent Churches
Redeemer Central Church in Belfast received £8,447 from the Big Lottery Fund to establish a open cinema club.
Addullum Christian Ministries in Larne received £8748 from the Big Lottery Fund to carry out a study into the development of a rehabilitation.

The most ironic of the above applications must be that of the Church of Ireland's Board for Social Responsibility. Gambling is one of the great causes of social problems today and to be looking to the National Lottery for funding Christian projects is surely a matter of social irresponsibility! 

When Abraham met the King of Sodom the king offered him goods as payment for what he had done in rescuing Lot and other inhabitants of Sodom. Abraham refused to take them, saying 'I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich'. If only those churches listed above had the same conviction as Abraham. The Lord's work cannot be supported by that which has been received from immoral sources, and hope to receive his blessing.

A list of all Lottery grants relating to Northern Ireland can be found here.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Lessons from Nehemiah on doing God's work: Part 3

Previous posts:

13. God's people are to support the work financially
'And some of the chief of the fathers gave to the treasure of the work twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand and two hundred pound of silver. And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand pound of silver, and threescore and seven priests' garments.' (Nehemiah 7:71-72)
How did Nehemiah meet the great cost of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem? In the same way that Moses was able to meet the cost of building the tabernacle; it was achieved by the sacrificial giving of the people. Both small and great gave to the work as the Lord had blessed them. Nehemiah did not have to organise a car boot sale or a cake sale in order to finance the work. Nor did he go out among the heathen and take up a street collection to support the work. The methods that may be appropriate for charities seeking to raise funds should not be copied by the church. The responsiblity and duty for supporting the financial requirements of God's work lies with the believer. 

14. God's work can be infiltrated by false teachers
'And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah' (Nehemiah 13:4)
Tobiah was of notorious reputation among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for he was one of the principal opponents of the work to rebuild the walls of the city. Yet within a short time, Nehemiah being temporarily absent from Jerusalem, Tobiah had formed an alliance with Eliashib the priest, and had even obtained lodging within the house of God. No matter how faithful a church may be to the gospel, it can still be infiltrated by those who teach another gospel, leading God's people astray. Every Christian must be on their guard against the subtle heresies of the devil, and where they are detected in the church they must be dealt with. Nehemiah on his return did not seek to negotiate with Tobiah, or tolerate his presence, but he immediately cast him out and had the chambers cleansed.

15. There will be those who refuse to help in the work
'And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.' (Nehemiah 3:5)
Although there is a work for everyone to do in the church, that does not mean that everyone will work. The reason that the nobles did not help with the rebuilding of the wall is not given, yet for whatever reason it may be they refused to help, even though others were toiling hard in the work. It is often said that 80% of the work in a church is done by 20% of the people; not because they monopolise it, but because so many are unwilling to help. Such an attitude is discouraging to those who willingly give of their time and effort. Often we will consider how much more could be done, if only there were more of God's people involved in the work. Yet even the few can do a great work for the Lord, 'for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few'.

16. The leaders of the work are to be an example
'Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day. So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.' (Nehemiah 4:22-23)
Nehemiah was a leader who led by example. He did not ask the people to do anything which he was not prepared to do himself, indeed he was the first to do whatever task there was to be done. No work can expect to prosper if the leaders do not set an example to the people in labouring for God. 'Do as I say but not as I do' will inspire no-one. The leaders should be found to be those who work the hardest; who are there before others arrive and after they leave.

17. The work is not ours but the Lords
'And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.' (Nehemiah 6:16)
The great assurance which we have in the Lord's work, is that it is his work. It is not our work, nor that of our church or denomination, but it is the Lord's. If the work were of man, then it would fail, yet because it is of God then it cannot fail. So evident was it that the building of the wall of Jerusalem was a work wrought of God, that even their enemies could do nothing but acknowledge that fact themselves. Let us never imagine that the work is about us, it is only about God, and the glorification of his name.

18. The work of the Lord is not about individualism
'And next unto them repaired Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz. And next unto them repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabeel. And next unto them repaired Zadok the son of Baana.' (Nehemiah 3:4)
Everyone involved in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem had a place and a task given to them by Nehemiah. They worked together as part of the same team. There was no place for anyone to go and build their own little wall, but they worked together under the authority of the the leaders in Jerusalem. Whilst we all have individual responsibility, there is no biblical mandate for us to reject the leadership of the church and work without any authority over us. C.H. Spurgeon said that 'Christian labours, disconnected from the church, are like sowing and reaping without having any barn in which to store the fruits of the harvest; they are useful but incomplete.'

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Lessons from Nehemiah on doing God's work: Part 2

Lessons one to six on doing God's work can be found at the previous post in this series on Nehemiah which is located here.

7. God's work requires the people to be of a common purpose
'So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.' (Nehemiah 4:6)
Inspired by the vision of Nehemiah the people of Jerusalem had one clear goal; to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. They had a mind to work; they had that common purpose and desire to see the city restored to its former glory. Their 'mind to work' was not merely some vague aspiration, but it was a burden and desire which they had in common, and which evidenced itself in action. The had a mind to work and so they did work. For the Lord's work to advance the people need to be of a common purpose. Personal disagreements and differences (where not of major theological nature) must be set aside and the people must unite in that common desire of seeing the work built up. Pray God would give us all a mind to work.

8. Discouragement will come in the Lord's work
'The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall. And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.' (Nehemiah 4:10-11)
The wall of Jersualem was in a poor state of repair. The effort that would be required to rebuild it was aggravated by the amount of rubbish that needed cleared from around it. On top of that there was the constant threat of attack from their enemies. Is it not understandable that their initial enthusiasm would give way to discouragement when they realised all that was arrayed against them. So we too must expect to meet with discouragement, in various forms, as we engage in the work of the Lord. As we seek to serve God we can be sure that discouragement will come, but if we look to the Lord he will bring us through and do 'exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.'

9. There is a work for everyone to do
'the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; ... They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon' (Nehemiah 4:16-17)
The talents and abilities allotted to the people of God are varied and necessarily so, for there are many different tasks to be done. As some were involved in building up the wall itself, so others stood guard, whilst there were also those who bare burdens. No-one was without a task to perform. As the hymn-writer said 'let none hear you idly saying, There is nothing I can do, While the lost of earth are dying, And the Master calls for you; Take the task He gives you gladly; Let His work your pleasure be'. There is a role for everyone in the work of God. Pursue the talent that God has given you to work for him, doing all to the glory of God.

10. The Lord's work requires commitment
'So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared.' (Nehemiah 4:21)
There are no quick fixes in the Lord's work. What is required is commitment; that ability to persevere, to stick with the work and labour on despite the circumstances. From the time that the sun rose in the morning until it set again at night the people laboured in the work of rebuilding the wall. There are many who will make a start in serving the Lord, yet like Demas will soon forsake it. What is needed is the infilling of the Holy Spirit so that we would be committed to the work, not only in the times of blessing, but also when things seem to be barren. We cannot expect to have it easy all the time when we are serving God, but we must commit ourselves to the work even when things are difficult. This is only possible by having a burden for the work, and realising that the work is of God.

11. God's work requires courage
'And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.' (Nehemiah 6:11)
Closely aligned to the need for commitment, is the need for courage. They were no idle threats which were made against Nehemiah by the enemies of God. Yet he would not be swayed or put off by them. He could easily have returned to his service in the court of the king, or hidden in the temple as was suggested to him, yet he did not do so. To serve the Lord will require courage for there is nothing easy about speaking to a soul about their need of salvation. It is not easy to knock a door and invite someone to a gospel service. To stand up for the cause of God requires courage. Where do we get that courage? We do not find it in ourself, but it is given to us by the Lord. 'Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart'.

12. God will finish his work
'So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.' (Nehemiah 6:15)
Despite the difficulties that they faced and  the discouragements that they suffered, the people of Jerusalem saw the work that they set out to do accomplished, and in the remarkable time of fifty two days. The efforts of Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem to hinder the work were in vain. Often we can look at the church and fear for the future, yet those fears have no foundation. God has promised that he will build his work, and we can be certain that every one of God's elect will be brought into his kingdom. The gates of hell are unable to slow the onward advance of God's kingdom, but all that he has purposed he will accomplish. The wall will be built up and finished, regardless of the difficulties we may encounter as we engage in the work.