Thursday, 24 July 2014

Total Recovery: The Eternal Purpose and the Apostolic Vision (Part 2)

Part 2 – Total Recovery for the Creation

Just in case you missed it yesterday, God’s Plan for Total Recovery is Jesus. In Ephesians 1:7-10 we read about God’s plan for ‘all things … both which are on heaven and which are on earth’. And what’s the goal of this plan? Well, it’s to gather all things together under Christ as Head. And this plan is for all things in heaven and earth. Ultimately this plan is for both redeemed, resurrected believers and the holy angels. Ultimately this plan is for the new heaven and the new earth. It involves a radical redemption and renewal of creation, ‘because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ (Rom. 8:21) So the effects of sin and the curse will be undone. It’s a total recovery of how the world was created to be.

That means God’s plan isn’t a plan to save our souls out of the world. Nor is it a plan to give us the things of this fallen world. Rather it’s a plan to redeem and renew the whole of creation in Christ. And when it comes to us, this is a plan for union with Christ and the fullness of Christ.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Total Recovery: The Eternal Purpose & the Apostolic Vision (Part 1)

Well, I sort of gave up blogging from AblazeUK about half way through last year (and don’t think I’ll even attempt to do it this year). But there was one more thing from Ablaze I had wanted to write about and just have never got round to, and that was my message on the last morning. I can’t give you any audio (as if you want recordings of any of the sessions from Ablaze you have to buy the CDs), but I can summarise what I spoke about. And I’m going to summarise it, not because I think particularly highly of my sermons, but because I was speaking about the very heart of Apostolic theology (which is sort of what this blog is supposed to be about). So here’s just a wee introduction, and I’ll get to the heart of the matter in the next couple of posts.

Part 1: Total Recovery - That's God's Plan

Last year’s convention theme was ‘Total Recovery’, which rather resonates with us all, because we know that we need it. We know that things in this world aren’t as they’re supposed to be. We know that our lives aren’t as they’re supposed to be. We know that our church isn’t as it’s supposed to be. In fact, the whole world isn’t as it’s supposed to be. And somehow, we long for a recovery. And not just a temporary one or a partial one, but a full one – a total recovery. And so it sounds really good to be able to say that that is God’s plan!

But what exactly is God’s plan for total recovery? And is it anything like what we’re thinking of? Is it anything like what we’re expecting? Well, maybe not. You see, in the Bible we see all sorts of people who got the wrong idea about God’s plan of total recovery.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Eve was a Christian

Have you ever wondered about Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit? We know what happened next. We know about the curse, but we also know about the promise of the Saviour. Adam and Eve not only heard the bad news of the punishment they deserved for their sin, but they also heard the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The LORD God (the Lord Jesus) proclaimed His gospel Word of the Seed of the Woman who would come and, through His sufferings, crush the Serprents head, saving them from sin, death and the devil. The LORD God showed them that their own attempts to deal with their sin through the filthy rags of their fig-leaf clothes did nothing more than to add to their alienation from Him, and that instead of that, they needed Him to provide a substitute to die their death and in whom they could be clothed. Through Word and Sacrament, the Lord Jesus proclaimed the Gospel to our first parents.

But did they believe it? Did they have faith? Were they saved? Well, Eve certainly was. How do I know that? Because she tells us herself.

There’s a verse about Eve – in fact, a verse where Eve speaks – that we can easily overlook. You see, we can easily just think of it as the transition from one story to another and so miss out on the import of what Eve has to say.

Monday, 21 July 2014

A Walk in the Vineyards

The sunlight was beautiful. After hours of driving – through France and into Italy, back to France then back to Italy – a walk in the evening sunlight was the perfect way to end the afternoon. The Italian lady spoke of a ‘big bench’, but more importantly she spoke of a fantastic view over the vineyards. The English of the Italian gentleman was as limited as our Italian, yet still, without words, he managed to show us the way to go.

The sun shone on our faces. The dogs barked as we walked past the lemon trees. And then we were off. Down a country lane between rustic farm buildings. Up a hill between the shining green vineyards.

We stopped to look at the vines. We stopped to look at the grapes. Not the grapes you find on the shelves of Asda or Waitrose, but tiny green balls. Baby grapes. Now, I suppose all grapes must start this way, but we’d never seen grapes like this before.

And as we looked at the grapes, my friend started to sing. He did not sing an Italian song. Nor did he sing a pop song. Instead, upon that Lord’s Day evening, he sang a song of praise.

Now, when I tell you that my friend started to sing a song of praise, perhaps what you imagine in your mind is the latest ditty from the latest album. Or perhaps you imagine one of those songs which has managed to pass the test of time and endure for a year or two. But, no, that’s not what he sang.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Big Cup, Little Cups or Mix it Up: 'Drink ye all of it'

Here's a post I started writing rather a long time ago, but have always avoided finishing or posting, up until now. So, with a deep breath, here goes...

Recently I was reflecting on how I'd been (mistakenly) called 'high church' after a Breaking of Bread. And that has drawn me on today to think about another possible reason for such thinking: the administration of the Cup.

What on earth am I on about? Well, how do you drink at Communion? That may well seem like a very strange question, after all, most of us have probably always taken communion the same way. But different churches drink in different ways. And in Leeds (keeping with the tradition of the Apostolic Church) we drink out of a chalice: one common cup for the whole assembly. Now, in big meetings you might need a few chalices, but the principle remains of sharing in a common cup.

Not every church drinks from a common cup though. Many evangelical churches have little individual glasses, so everyone drinks from their own cup. And still others (something which is becoming increasingly common) have a common cup, but no one drinks from it; instead everyone's piece of bread is dipped in the wine and so each communicant takes the two emblems together (this is called intinction).

Now, at this point, you're probably wondering, does this matter at all? Well, it seems to, because people often make "helpful comments" when they realise we still use a chalice in our church. You know what I mean by helpful comments - things along the lines of 'You know you can get little individual cups nowadays; it's much easier!' (Translation: Why on earth are you so old-fashioned and out-of-touch as to use a chalice?! Change it at once!)

Friday, 18 July 2014

Charismatics and the Ninth Anathema

Have you ever heard a sermon or read a book where Jesus seems to function as nothing more than an example for us? You know, Jesus as an example of the perfect Christian life – with the implication that, if Jesus could do it, we should be able to do it too. I have encountered such talk a few times of late, and each time it leaves me dumbfounded. ‘Don’t you know who Jesus is? Don’t you realise that there’s a major difference between Him and us?’, I want to ask.

Now, maybe you think I’ve suddenly been listening to a lot of liberals who outright deny the authority of Scripture and the deity of Christ. But that’s far from the case. I’ve been hearing this sort of talk among pentecostals and charismatics, not old-fashioned liberals. Yet that also helps me see where this talk is coming from.

You see, there has long been a strand of thinking among some pentecostals and charismatics that looks to Jesus as the model of a man perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit. His miracles and healings are then seen, not as evidence of His deity, but as what can be done by a man perfectly filled with the Spirit. Even the descent of the Spirit upon Him at His baptism is sometimes seen as no more than a model of how we are to be filled with the Spirit. (I’ve even heard a few people speculate that Jesus must have spoken in tongues when the dove descended upon Him, even though the Bible says no such thing, for this very reason.)

Now, if you were to ask any of the people who have taught this if Jesus was God, I’m sure they’d say yes. Their goal was never to deny His deity, but simply to highlight His Spirit-filled humanity. Yet, it’s led some in the next generation to point to Jesus almost exclusively as an example that we’re to follow. Somehow this focus on Jesus receiving the Spirit from outside of Himself to cast out unclean spirits and accomplish divine signs as a perfect man in the power of the Spirit has led to an almost Pelagian-like focus on what we must do to please God (i.e. save ourselves) by following Jesus’ example.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Trinity and the Divine Attributes: Athanasius on Omnipresence

When I was a teenager I first tried to read a Systematic Theology. I got bogged down in a seemingly never ending few chapters on the divine attributes and paused my reading attempt until the next summer. Ever since then I suppose I’ve had a ‘complicated’ relationship with this one particular area of theology. It’s not that the attributes are unimportant or that the character of God is uninteresting. It’s more that we have a terrible tendency to take what should be interesting and exciting and make it, well, not.

You see, as Dorothy Sayers famously pointed out, ‘the dogma is the drama.’ In other words, Christian doctrine isn’t a series of abstractions or ‘timeless truths’, but rather it is the drama of redemption. We, on the other hand, have a wonderful propensity to turn this thrilling story into a series of dull bullet points and impenetrable philosophical discussions. And perhaps this is seen nowhere so clearly as in the doctrine of the divine attributes, for this is where we have a terrible tendency to lose sight not only of the drama but also of the very identity of the God of whom we speak.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Where do you pray?: A Malawian Question with competing answers from this week’s No. 1 single and the Trinity

'Where do you pray?’ probably seems a rather odd question. It isn’t the sort of thing polite British people go round asking. In Malawi though it’s quite a common question; it probably just means something a bit different from what we might expect. In our Western individualist mind-set, ‘where do you pray?’ probably sounds like a question about the location where you, as a private individual, privately and individually pray. But in Malawi when someone asks ‘where do you pray?’ they’re not thinking in quite the same way. Instead, roughly translated to the way we speak in the West, they mean ‘what church do you go to?’ The question about prayer is answered first and foremost in a corporate way. After all, Jesus did teach us to pray ‘OUR Father’.

But today I’m not really thinking in either the western or the Malawian way about the question. This week’s number one is Ella Henderson’s ‘Ghost’ and, perhaps unusually for a UK No. 1, prayer is a key theme in the song. ‘I keep going to the river to pray / ‘Cos I need something that can wash out the pain’. So ‘where do you pray?’: Ghost’s answer is at the river. Well a river’s as good a place as any to pray, I suppose. It’s even a place with some biblical precedent, you could say. Yet despite that, Ghost’s answer is the wrong answer!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Some Things on the Trinity (Because it's Trinity Sunday tomorrow)

It's probably a bit late for this, but, as it's Trinity Sunday tomorrow (and as 'Trinity Sunday' seems to be the popular search term on the blog for the last few days), I thought I'd post a few links to some previous posts on the Trinity. (There are a whole lot more if you click on the Trinity tab at the side.)

So first, some writing about the Trinity:

And then, two posts on Trinitarian worship songs (which are consistently the most popular posts on this site):

And then, on that note, a bit more recently than the songs above, here's a video of Olly Knight and Mike Reeves' great song Fountain of Goodness.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Who will deliver us from 1994? (On Toronto and its lingering influence)

Matthew Hosier has written a fascinating piece looking back twenty years to 1994 and the ‘Toronto Blessing’ in the UK. I’m too young to know first-hand what was going on in 1994. At the time I was a child living in America. But ‘Toronto’ must have been a big thing at the time, for even as a child I was aware of it being out there. Yet, even though it didn’t have an impact on me in 1994, the influence of 1994 is so enduring that I haven’t been able to escape it ever since.

There are few statements that I remember from twenty years ago. Even major events like visits to the Grand Canyon , Niagara Falls, or Disney World from roughly twenty years ago have rather faded with time. Yet one statement from 1994 I have always remembered very well. A friend from church had invited my mother to go to a meeting with her. ‘Toronto’ had just broken out, and there were these meetings in a barn (I can’t remember if it was actually a barn, or just a place called ‘the Barn’ – I’m sure my childhood self had much more interesting concerns than the precise barniness of the place!) where they had this ‘Toronto Blessing’. Mum’s friend had been going along, and persuaded Mum to come once and see what it was like. Once was enough. I don’t really remember much about what Mum said about the meeting, or I might not even have heard (I might have been building Lego or something), but I do remember one statement she made: ‘They never mentioned Jesus.’ Apparently they liked to talk about God by using titles like the Ancient of Days, but didn’t talk about Christ.