Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Minimum Christian

The following article was published by Rev C.H. Spurgeonin the Sword & Trowel in 1876 

The minimum Christian! And who is he? The Christian who is going to heaven at the cheapest rate possible. The Christian who intends to get all of the world he can, and not meet the worlding's doom. The Christian who aims to have as little religion as he may without lacking it altogether.

The minimum Christian goes to worship in the morning; and in the evening also, unless it rains, or is too warm, or cold, or he is sleepy, or has the headache from eating too much at dinner. He listens most respectfully to the preacher, and joins in prayer and praise. He applies the truth very judiciously, sometimes to himself, oftener to his neighbours.

The minimum Christian is very friendly to all good works. He wishes them well, but it is not in his power to do much for them. The Sunday School he looks upon as an admirable institution, especially for the neglected and ignorant. It is not convenient however, for him to take a class: his business engagements are so pressing during the week that he needs the Sabbath as a day of rest; nor does he think himself qualified to act as a teacher. There are so many persons better prepared for this important duty, that he must beg to be excused. He is very friendly to home and foreign missions, and colportage, and gives his mite, but he is quite unable to aid in the management, for his own concerns are so excessively important. He thinks there are 'too many appeals'; but he gives, if not enough to save his reputation, pretty near it, at all events he aims at it, and never overshoots the mark.

The minimum Christian is not clear on a number of points. The opera and dancing, the theatre and card playing and large, fashionable parties give him much trouble. He cannot see the harm in this, or that, or the other popular amusement. There is nothing in the bible against it. He cannot see why a Christian may not dance or go to the opera. He knows several excellent persons who do so; at least, so he says. Why should not he? He stands so close to the dividing line between the people of God and the people of the world, that it is hard to say on which side of it he is actually to be found.

Ah, my brother, are you making this attempt? Beware, lest you find at last that in trying to get to Heaven with a little religion, you miss it altogether; lest without gaining the whole world, you lose your own soul. True godliness demands self denial and cross-bearing, and if you have none of these you are making a false profession.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Christian, Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical: The Need for Labels

For approximately two millennia the followers of Jesus Christ have been known as Christians. Acts 11:26 tell us that 'the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch', the name being given to them as a result of their adherence to the teachings of Christ. Since that time other names have been given to various grouping within the broad spectrum of Christianity. The east/west schism of 1054 divided the Christian church into its Roman and Orthodox branches, both describing themselves as Christian but using more specific terms to distinguish themselves one from another. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 the term Protestant was attributed to princes and rulers who protested against the decisions of the Diet, and since that time those who have opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have generally been known as Protestant. As the centuries have advanced further labels have been added to the various branches of Christian belief; reformed, evangelical, Calvinist, Baptist, Presbyterian and more, highlighting the particular theological viewpoint or denominational affiliation of those concerned, and distinguishing them from other Christians. There are some today who would reject such labels; they do not like the term Protestant, but prefer simply to be known as a Christian. Is this a reasonable view to take, and should believers reject the supposedly divisive denominational and theological labels which set them apart from others who likewise identify as Christian?

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Sunday evening service and why you should attend it

In most churches today it is the case that the Sunday evening service is more sparsely attended than the morning service. In some congregations the difference is minimal, yet in others it is significant; a church which is more than three quarters full in the morning may be less than half full in the evening. Although there can be prevailing circumstances in the lives of some church members which genuinely prohibit them from attending the evening service, with others their absence is harder to explain. There are those who have been associated with the church for decades, have professed the name of Christ, yet have rarely if ever been seen at their local church in the evening. In dealing with this matter we are not taking issue with those who have genuine reasons why they cannot frequently attend the house of God twice on a Sunday. For parents with young children it is understandable that there are occasions where both parents cannot be out twice on a Sunday. Amongst the elderly of the congregation there will be those who through age and infirmity are simply unable to attend two services in the one day. Where church members are employed in the emergency services it is accepted that as a result of their shift patterns, there will be occasions where they cannot attend as many services as they would desire. These are justifiable reasons for why some people may miss church services and we would not seek to condemn them. Our concern is with those who are regularly, and sometimes always, absent from their local church on a Sunday evening.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Prosperity Gospel: A Doctrine of Devils

The Christians should always be healthy, the Christian should always be financially well off, and the Christian should be popular and prosper in all that he does. These are the beliefs held by many people today, and particularly by those within the Word of Faith movement. We are told that it is always God's will for a Christian to be healthy, and if they are sick it is because they have not enough faith. Likewise God desires us to be financially well off and to prosper in everything that we do, as expressed by Joel Osteen who said that 'You were born to win. You were born for greatness. You were created to be a champion in life.' Yet is this truly what the Word of God teaches? Is it true that a Christian should always be healthy and if they are not prospering in life it is because of a lack of faith? Is a child of God supposed to focus on health, wealth and prosperity in this life, and is the message of preachers such as Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar really in accordance with the Word of God? 1st Timothy 4:1 says that 'in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils'. It is my belief that rather than being biblical in origin, the prosperity gospel has its true origins in hell, and is that which is described in 1st Timothy; a doctrine of devils. The notion of 'your best life now' was accurately derided by John MacArthur when he said that the only way this is your best life is if you are going to hell.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Do Christians impose their views?

How many times have we heard the complaint that Christians are guilty of imposing their views on non-believers. When Christians refuse to support same sex marriage we are accused of imposing our views, likewise when we oppose Sunday opening, and even when we seek to carry out public evangelism. Every time a Christian speaks out against unbiblical laws and practices they are met with the accusation that they are forcing their religious views on the rest of the population. Is this accusation true; are Christians really guilty of forcing their beliefs on other people? Is same sex marriage prohibited in Northern Ireland because Christians impose their views on others? Are people in the United Kingdom being forced to accept the views of a minority of Christians?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Can we accept new revelation?

Throughout the two thousand year history of the Christian church it has been widely accepted that God's revelation to man is complete, contained solely within the sixty six books of the Old and New Testaments. However there have always been those at the periphery of 'Christianity' who have held a different viewpoint, believing that God continues to speak to man outside of Scripture. The Church of Rome has in a sense taken this view, partly by adding the authority of church tradition to the authority of Scripture but also by accepting the dreams and visions of its mystics as being a revelation from God. The cults have likewise rejected the sufficiency of Scripture with Joseph Smith claiming divine revelation for the Book of Mormon. Indeed most cults include the belief that their leader has received a new 'revelation' from God. 

Generally the views held by these groups have not posed a significant threat to evangelical Christianity for most believers reject the claims of Roman Catholic mystics as well as cults such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. The danger today in relation to extra biblical revelation and the sufficiency of scripture (and it is a very real danger) is found elsewhere, specifically within the Charismatic Movement. The shelves of most Christian bookstores are filled with the titles of bestselling authors who claim to have received a message from God. Books such as 'Heaven is for Real' have been made into films, and have found great popularity amongst many Christians, yet they are based entirely on the belief that God continues to reveal additional truth outside the Holy Scriptures. The words which emmanate from the mouths of many preachers are no longer preceeded by 'the Word of God says', but more often it is 'God told me' which we hear.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Separation not isolation

In today's ecumenical age it is always important to emphasise the need for believers to separate from those who hold false doctrine. We are not to fellowship with those who profess Christianity, yet deny the fundamental truths of God's Word, but are rather we are instructed to 'come out from among them'. Likewise what is necessary on an ecclesiastical level is also important when it comes to our relationship with the world. This is not to be characterised by integration but instead by separation, for although we live in a sinful world, we are not to be partakers of that sin, but are to come apart from it. Biblical separation is good, it is beneficial and it is to practised by all believers, yet it is important that it is practised properly. Our view of separation must never be taken to the point where we isolate ourselves from everyone who disagrees with us when the points of disagreement concern secondary issues.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Who are Bethel Church?

To most people in Northern Ireland the name of Bethel Church, Redding would have meant very little up until a couple of weeks ago. However since then anyone who has kept abreast of religious news in the province may have heard of them in connection with the split which has developed at St Matthias' Parish Church at Knocknamuckey near Lurgan. Many issues have been raised in relation to this split, but one of the main reasons cited for it has been the hosting of a service involving representatives from Bethel Church, based in northern California. Such has been the difference of opinion that the congregation has now split in two, with the minister at the centre of the controversy, Rev Alan Kilpatrick, holding his services in the Goodyear Sports and Social Club, whilst the remainder of the congregation have continued to worship at Knocknamuckley.

Whatever other issues there might be within the parish of Knocknamuckley, and within the Church of Ireland at large, those who have expressed concern at the teachings of Bethel Church, and the association of their congregation with it are absolutely right in being concerned. The doctrines of Bethel church are both unscriptural and dangerous, and as this ministry has been recently highlighted in our media, it is perhaps beneficial that we expose some of their error, lest anyone be drawn to them. This would be particularly important for any young believers who follow the band 'Jesus Culture', as this band (who recently played in the province) was formed in Bethel Church in 1999 and continues to have a strong association with the church.

In truth the errors associated with Bethel Church are so numerous and far reaching that we cannot possibly deal with them all within the scope of this blog post, nor go into detail on any point. What we will simply seek to do is highlight some of the more serious, dangerous, and indeed bizarre teachings which has emanated from Bethel Church.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

After Ashers - what now?

In the past week two significant events have caused grief to many Christians; the defeat of Ashers Bakery in their court case with the Equality Commission and the yes vote in the gay marriage referendum in the Republic of Ireland. During and shortly after the build up to the Ashers court case Christians across Northern Ireland have voiced their support for the company, attended rallies and pledged to buy their products. So too in the Republic of Ireland there have been those who have campaigned vigorously to maintain the biblical definition of marriage. Yet on both occasions those on the side of truth have suffered defeat. Like the psalmist David we have cried 'let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me' yet as we look around us we see the enemies of the gospel rejoicing in their victories, and declaring their intention to further pursue their anti-God agenda. In the face of an ever militant homosexual lobby we must ask ourselves, what should Christians do now?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Should a pastor be a politician?

With little more than a week to go until polling day, the United Kingdom is in full election mode. In Northern Ireland elections are an almost annual occurrence and politics is more ingrained in the public psyche here than in most other parts of the country. The two fields of religion and politics have often been interlinked, and many questions asked about what relationship they should have with each other. One question which is sometimes raised is whether gospel ministers should also hold political office. This is particularly relevant in Northern Ireland since there has been a long history of ministers also working as politicians. Rev Ian Paisley was an MP, MEP and MLA for many years whilst also moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church. Rev Martin Smyth was also involved in Northern Ireland political life whilst serving as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. Methodist minister Rev Robert Bradford likewise served as MP for South Belfast from 1974 until his tragic murder in 1981. Many others have also entered the field of politics over the years and continued their role as a church pastor. Even today ministers can be found actively involved in Northern Ireland politics. DUP Westminster candidate for South Antrim Rev William McCrea is a Free Presbyterian minister and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister Rev Paul Reid is a councillor in Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. Beyond the shores of Northern Ireland other examples could also be cited of gospel ministers who are also elected politicians. The question to be then asked is whether this should be so; should a gospel minister also take up political office?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A note on anonymous comments

In recent weeks a significant number of anonymous comments have been made on this blog, more so than normal. Whilst the very nature of commenting anonymously means that the author cannot be identified, it has been obvious that a lot of these comments have been posted by the same person. Up until now I have always allowed anonymous comments for a short time, only asking for a name when a longer dialogue is to be entered into.

I feel however that many of the recent anonymous comments have displayed a cowardly and hypocritical attitude by the person involved, challenging others for their view of particular issues, whilst not being prepared to put a name to their own comments and views. Indeed the repetitive theme of the anonymous comments which have been posted across a number of posts raises questions about their motivation and aim, particularly as they choose to remain anonymous. In light of this I will no longer be permitting anonymous comments on the page. Those wishing to make comments should be prepared to leave their name - if we have genuinely held beliefs then we should not have any concern about being publicly associated with those beliefs. If this results in fewer comments being placed on the blog that will reflect more on those who comment, rather than on this policy. Those who cannot identify themselves are in no position to criticise what others may or may not say in a public blog.

I am willing to answer any question placed on the blog and certainly will not prohibit questions which are awkward, inconvenient or critical of my own church. Any of the questions which have been recently submitted anonymously can be re-posted with genuine name attached (not a pseudonym) and they will most certainly be answered.

Needless to say, anonymous comments will not be permitted on this post.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The teaching of the Shorter Catechism on the Fourth Commandment

The following questions and answers are taken from Thomas Vincent's work 'The Shorter Catechism explained from Scripture' and cover questions fifty seven to sixty two in the Shorter Catechism. These questions deal with the fourth commandment and help us to understand what the Word of God teaches on the issue of Sabbath observance. Vincent's work may been produced over 300 years ago, yet it is still has much relevance and is helpful to our understanding of how God's Sabbath is to be sanctified.

LVII. Ques. Which is the fourth commandment?

Ans. The fourth commandment is, "Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day, and hallowed it."

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Northern Ireland v The Lord's Day

On 29th March the Northern Ireland football team will play their first ever home international on a Sunday with a European Championship qualifier against Finland. Whilst there have been several occasions in the past where Northern Ireland have played games abroad on the Lord's Day (including the 1982 World Cup where Glentoran winger Johnny Jameson would not play in the Sunday game against France), this will be the first occasion that international football has taken place at Windsor Park on a Sunday. Although this is a sad development it is hardly a surprising one as respect for the Lord's Day has been in rapid decline for many years, not only among the unsaved, but also among professed believers.

The Irish Football Association have stated that the scheduling of this game is beyond their control as the fixture dates are dictated by UEFA, and this may well be the case, however the lifting of the IFA's ban on Sunday football in 2007 cannot be ignored. Either way it is a matter about which Christians in Ulster should be grieved as it is further evidence of declining biblical standards in our land. The event does however also call us to consider our own attitude to the Lord's Day and contemplate how we have sought to keep it holy. It is clear that Northern Ireland as a whole is more and more rejecting the setting apart of one day in seven as holy to the Lord, the question is whether Christians have actually contributed to this decline.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Matt Redman to headline Catholic youth event

On 7th March the largest event in the United Kingdom for young Roman Catholics will be held at Wembley Arena in London. 'Flame 2' is organised by the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation and is anticipated to attract up to 10, 000 young Roman Catholics. Throughout the day Roman Catholics speakers will bring messages to the young people gathered there, and at the conclusion of the day Cardinal Vincent Nichols will lead everyone in a time of Adoration i.e. the Mass. None of this is unusual, or worthy of special comment for it what we would expect at a Roman Catholic event. This issue which attracts our attention on this occasion is the presence of a leading Contemporary Christian Music artist, Matt Redman.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Lord's Supper: This neglect?

In the late 1630's the religious liberty of Presbyterians in Ireland was so restricted that it was often necessary for them to travel to Scotland in order to receive communion. Rev John Livingstone, then minister at Stranraer, recorded that on one occasion 'over five hundred persons from County Down crossed the sea to receive the sacrament at Stranraer'. What an example that is of the spiritual desire of God's people, that they were prepared to take a boat trip across the Irish Sea for the sole purpose of a communion service. There is no doubt that today the situation has changed dramatically. Whilst there is freedom to worship according to conscience and to remember the Lord's death in a scriptural manner, the Lord's table is neglected by many believers. The attendance at most communion services is but a fraction of the attendence at the preceeding or subsequent Sunday service.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

When the church becomes rich

The generation in which we live enjoys luxury and wealth on a scale only dreamt of by those before us. Whilst we are certainly not all rich, most of the western world lives in previously unknown comfort, with an abundance of possessions far beyond our basic needs. Most of us are not living on the breadline but can afford to eat well and dine out when we desire. A foreign holiday is no longer an extravagance but a routine occurrence for most people, sometimes more than once a year. Clothes are no longer bought out of necessity, but rather putting on our 'Sunday best' has been replaced by choosing which 'Sunday best' we will wear this week. Technology has provided for all our needs, we have gadgets for everything, and the increase in disposable income means that we have more opportunity for leisure than ever before.

This age of plenty is also evident in the church. Most congregations now enjoy the comfort of large, well equipped, multi-purpose buildings. Impressive advertising campaigns can be conducted, with glossy literature just as impressive as anything produced by the world. Multimedia technology assists with every aspect of the church's ministry, via PowerPoint presentations, online streaming of services, social media and more. Bank balances are healthy and ministers are well paid. Just as society has become more affluent, so too has the church. Whilst none of these developments are wrong in themselves, indeed we thank God for the material blessings he has given us, there can be the danger that just as the church becomes richer, so it also becomes poorer.