Saturday, 22 December 2018

Who was Saint Nicholas?

Saint Nicholas is best known for being the inspiration behind the legend of Santa Claus due to his habit of secretly giving gifts, but who was he and what is his importance in Church history? It is easy to dismiss many of the early church figures as Roman Catholic, due to the appendage of 'Saint' to their name by Rome, and also due to the style of illustrations which have been left to depict them. In many cases this view is inaccurate, especially when dealing with the earliest centuries of the Church, and so it is in the case of Nicholas. Born in 270 AD he was appointed bishop of Myra in what is modern day Turkey. Many legends have grown up around him, most of them only appearing centuries after his death and being without historical foundation, however his most significant contribution to the church was at the Council of Nicaea.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Binning the church's musical heritage

What happens when a church isolates itself from history; when in its desire to be uber relevant, it cuts all ties to the history of the Christian church, to its doctrine and worship? These thoughts were prompted by a local church publishing its playlist of worship songs on the streaming service Spotify. Of the twenty four songs that were sung in its services from September to November only one song was more than two years old, with that particular song, 'Sinking Deep' by Hillsong Young and Free, being released just five years ago. At five years old it is hardly outdated, yet in the world of seeker sensitive churches it is likely to be on the verge of becoming so. Of the twenty three other songs on the list eight were released this year, seven last year, and a further eight in 2016. A similar trend was evident in August; of the thirty songs on their playlist at that time, only five had been released more than two years ago (ranging from 2013 to 2015). In both playlists the groups behind the songs would cause great concern, with the like of Hillsong and Bethel Music featuring prominently, however our focus here is rather on the issue of exclusively singing newly released songs in public worship.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Spurgeon's cause to remember the 5th of November

The 5th of November is a famous date in the English calendar. The following entry for this day from C.H. Spurgeon's devotional 'Morning and Evening' reminds of why it is a date of significance and worth remembering by the Protestants of our land.

'No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper' (Isaiah 54:17)

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Bethel Church, Bethel Music and Jesus Culture: A Warning

The city of Redding in California is the source of some of today's most popular Christian music. The non-denominational charismatic megachurch known as Bethel Church, based in Redding and pastured by Bill and Beni Johnson, is the fountain from which two groups, Bethel Music and Jesus Culture, have sprung. Their influence and popularity has grown considerably in recent years and has spread far beyond the confines of northern California, now sitting alongside the likes of Hillsong in terms of popular appeal. Northern Ireland is no exception to this, with either Bethel Music or Jesus Culture having held concerts or other events here over the past few years; Mandela Hall at Queens University, Whitewell Metropolitian Tabernacle and especially Journey Community Church in Antrim among those who have facilitated them. As part of their current UK tour they will be playing once again in Belfast, this time on 9th October at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Christianity: Religion or relationship?

How is genuine Christianity best described; as a religion or a relationship? The phrase 'it's not a religion, it's a relationship' is very popular today; often used as a response to the dead religious formalism that is found in many churches, instead placing an emphasis on the personal nature of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Christianity is not simply a matter of religious observance and participation in certain sacraments, but rather it is a living faith which extends beyond these outward acts and affects every aspect of our lives. It can therefore rightly be described as a relationship. Yet on occasions the rejection of the term 'religion' in favour of 'relationship' is used in ways which are not in keeping with God's Word. Is the description of our faith as a religion to be rejected? How also might the term relationship be abused when describing our faith? 

The use of the word religion is not wrong, and indeed it is found in the Word of God on several occasions. James 1:27 says that 'pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world'. There is then a religion which is described as pure and undefiled in the sight of God, a religion which evidences itself in Christian love and holy living. The word translated religion in this verse (threskeia) is also translated as worship in Colossians 2:18, and true religion can well be described as the worship of God; worship that is an attitude of the heart and not simply an outward act. True religion will be a living faith, and the deadness of much religion today does not negate the suitability of describing biblical Christianity as a religion. It is however true that a person can have religion, yet not have Jesus Christ. The outward acts of religion must be the evidence of an inward reality, and not the sole substance of a person's religion. 

It is in response to dead religion that many define their faith primarily as a relationship, and the use of this term is not wrong either. It is through the work of the cross that we have received 'the adoption of sons' and are now 'joint heirs with Christ'. Jesus Christ is a personal saviour, and is that 'friend that sticketh closer than a brother'. There are however occasions when the phrase 'it's a relationship, not a religion' is wrongly used. It is sometimes cited by professed Christians in repose to being challenged over how their lifestyle conforms to the Word of God, or when there is any insistence upon certain moral and theological standards. This is increasingly common in today's climate of easy believism and non-confessional Christianity. Renowned theologian Louis Berkhof is quoted as saying 'Religion is concerned with man's relation to God, and man has no right to determine the nature of this relation'. The relationship which we have with Jesus Christ is based solely on the Word of God; as with any human relationship there are rules and constraints which define it. In the relationship between a husband and wife there are expectations one to another; expectations of conduct, faithfulness and obedience. Where these are not adhered to the relationship will be strained, and may break down altogether. The personal relationship between Christ and the believer is not one where the obligations set down in God's Word can be rejected as 'religion' in favour of some self defined notion of relationship. To be in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ there are certain truths which we must believe, and certain moral standards to which we must adhere. 'It's not a religion it's a relationship' is not an acceptable response when challenged on any issue of faith or practice, nor it is suitable grounds for the rejection of creeds and confessions. 

Although Jesus Christ is a personal saviour to each of us, the uniqueness of our relationship with Him does not extend to what we are to believe or how we are to conduct ourselves. We do not define the terms of the relationship, but rather God does. What is required of one of God's children is required of all when it concerns what we believe and how we live. In John 14:15 Christ said 'If ye love me, keep my commandments'. It is not legalistic religion, but a true understanding of our relationship with Jesus Christ that causes us to obey his Word. Is true Christianity a religion or a relationship; it is both, a personal, living faith, based on the clear unchangeable truth of God's Word. To attempt to define our faith as a relationship outside the constraints of biblical theology is instead to hold to man-made religion. 

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Healing the Land: Ecumenical, not Evangelical

The level of spiritual illiteracy and ecumenism in Northern Ireland was displayed clearly last month during the Pope's visit to the Republic of Ireland, with it being welcomed across the broad spectrum of Protestantism, including the Presbyterian Moderator and the Evangelical Alliance. That same ecumenical spirit and lack of discernment will be evidenced once again this Saturday at Nutts Corner near Antrim, at a day of prayer organised by Healing the Land. There is no doubt that our land needs prayer, and believers ought to be burdened to pray for a moving of God's Spirit in revival power, however the event organised at Nutts Corner is patently ecumenical, and will deceive many genuine believers who desire to see God work once again, due to the use of evangelical sounding terminology. It is for this reason that we draw attention to it, for it is easy to be misled by that which sounds spiritual, yet has at its heart compromise and apostasy.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Why the evangelical church is losing the battle on homosexuality

The speed at which homosexuality has been publicly accepted and endorsed by society is remarkable; in the generation since homosexual activity has been legalised it has moved from a position of ridicule and contempt, to one of acceptance, and ultimately on to a position of high esteem. The media is replete with LGBT related news items, homosexual storylines pervade most television programmes, and pride parades throughout the country are attended by tens of thousands of people, with children and infants bedecked in the colours of the pride flag. What is evident in all of this is that the evangelical church is losing the battle on the issue of homosexuality. The apostate denominations have long given up the battle and, in many cases, have become active promoters of the homosexual lifestyle. Yet conservative denominations and churches, which continue to oppose homosexuality, and denounce it as sin, are failing to impact society on this matter. I believe that the reason for this is that our response to homosexuality has been lacking in numerous areas. 

Friday, 24 August 2018

Why I have returned to blogging

Almost three years have elapsed since my last blog post in November 2015; what then has prompted me to return to blogging? The reason that my blog ceased was in essence threefold; a lack of issues which I was particularly inspired to write about, a personal dissatisfaction with the quality of what I was writing, and a lack of available time to contribute to the blog. It is not that there was an absence of issues within Christianity and evangelicalism which needed addressed (indeed it has been stated by some that the church today is in a worse state than it was prior to the reformation), but rather that my motivation to write was not there, and I had written on many of the things that were on my mind. However, as is the case in the history of the church, the same issues raise their head again and again, and the church is presented with new challenges and questions. Once again I have a desire to comment on some of these issues, hopefully making some small contribution to biblical clarity on the matters which the Christian church faces today.