Friday, 29 August 2014

A Pentecostal Reflection on Contemporary Worship and Consumerism

Here's a very important reflection on contemporary worship from Pentecostal theologian Simon Chan's latest book. Read and reflect.
Much has been said in recent years about the "dumbing down" of worship and the conspicuous absence of a sense of reverence and awe in so-called contemporary worship. But the underlying problem is a culture of consumerism and self-fulfilment. The church is expected to be a service provider to meet the needs of its consumer members. In this consumerist context, people are not likely to encounter anything like the fascinans et tremendum that humans experience in the presence of the holy God. Traditional words such as "holy", "praise", "honor", and "majesty" are still freely bandied about, but for the modern Christian, worship is largely a personal experience in a celebratory and friendly atmosphere. There will be a lot of acclamations about God's goodness, love and intimacy, but little that suggests the awesome presence that elicits reverence and awe, fear and trembling (Heb 12:28-29; Ps 96:8-9) leading to bowing or prostration (Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 1:17). The inability to understand these qualities has resulted in considerable shrinking of modern worship.
(Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology, pp.88-89)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Basil on Baptism

While we're on the topic of baptism, here's a really interesting excerpt from Basil the Great on the relationship between baptism and faith, and the question of how baptism now saves.
Well, then, if the separation of the Spirit from the Father and the Son in baptism is dangerous for the baptizer and useless for the baptized, how is it safe for us to separate the Spirit from the Father and the Son? Now faith and baptism are two ways of salvation that are naturally united with each other and indivisible. While faith is perfected by baptism, baptism is established by faith, and each is carried out by the same names. For as we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so also we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The confession that brings salvation comes first and there follows baptism which seals our assent.
(Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 12,28)

Now, Basil is not one of the church fathers about whose theology I know a great deal (I think On the Holy Spirit is probably the only work of Basil's that I've read). But this paragraph has always struck me. And here's why:

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Baptism Saves - well, that's what the Bible says!

I was preaching about Noah on Sunday, and while the account of Noah and the flood may be found in Genesis, you can’t think about Noah without wrestling with a Scripture from the other end of the Bible – 1 Peter 3:18-22. Peter specifically writes about Noah and the Ark and makes the connection with us and our salvation, but along the way he perhaps leaves us good evangelicals with a few awkward questions. While one of those questions might be about Christ preaching to the spirits in prison, the more pressing question is probably the one found in verse 21, where Peter tells us that baptism ‘now saves us’!

Why does Peter say that? Why does he say that baptism ‘now saves us’? Well, remember, this is the Word of the LORD. It’s not just Peter’s ideas – it’s God’s very words. So it’s definitely true what he says.

So, what exactly does Peter say now saves us?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Abel was a Christian

A while back I wrote about how Eve was a Christian. Well, her son Abel was a Christian too. We're not told about what happened while Cain and Abel were growing up, but it's clear that their mum and dad must have told them about the Lord Jesus. Undoubtedly Adam and Eve told the boys about what had happened in the Garden before they were born — about the Serpent, the Sin, the Sanction and the Saviour (Gen. 3). So that’s how the boys know about sacrifices.

So when the time came and Cain and Abel brought their own sacrifices, there was a difference between them. But what was the difference between their sacrifices? Well, there are two obvious differences in the text. Firstly, they bring different things (Gen. 4:3-4) and, secondly, the LORD looks on them in different ways. 'And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.' (Gen. 4:4-5)

But why the difference? It doesn’t say directly — so it must be sth obvious! Now, remember, the normal way to read a book is to start at the beginning and keep going. (I know that sounds very obvious – but sometimes we forget that with books of the Bible, and sometimes we know the stories very well outside the context of the biblical book they’re in.) So, normally you’d read Genesis 4 immediately after reading Genesis 3. And, when we see this contrast between plants and animals here in these sacrifices in Gen. 4, we’d have just read of a contrast between plants and animals in Gen. 3 — the contrast between fig leaves and the death of a substitute.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Some Examples of How the Words We Sing Really Do Matter

Okay, so I promised last week that I'd give some examples of song lines that really do matter. I almost hesitate to give any examples, as I really don't want to upset anyone. Yet, if I can't even point out a few concerning song lines in writing, how could I explain the problem to someone face to face? So, please don't be upset if I critique your favourite song, but here goes.

I'll start with an easy one. And it's an old one too (just to prove that I'm an equal opportunities critic). I think I'm already known in certain circles (especially in my church and in my family) as the pastor who doesn't like Away In A Manger! (In my defense, I'd just like to point out that I am not the only pastor in the world who doesn't like it.) How could I possibly object to such a lovely Christmas carol? Because of one line. One line which gives a very false impression of who Jesus is. Which line is this? 'The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.' But the little Lord Jesus did cry. God the Son didn't just come into this world with the appearance of a baby. No! He took to Himself true and full humanity. He was a real baby in Bethlehem. And real babies cry. So the little Lord Jesus didn't just gaze silently around the stable. No. He cried. He relied on His mother to feed Him and change His nappy (or whatever the ancient equivalent was). He took on true humanity and lived as a true human baby.

And that's very important for us and for our salvation. For, as Gregory of Nazianzus helpfully pointed out back in the 4th Century, 'the unassumed is the unhealed' (Letter 101.5). In other words, if Jesus hadn't taken on every aspect of our humanity, then He couldn't have saved every aspect of us. Jesus hasn't just saved our souls - He's saved us a whole people. So the crying baby in the manger is very good news indeed.

But let me move right up to date for another two examples. They both come from Hillsong, from musically interesting, quite catchy songs. The first song is Oceans, which I've heard everywhere lately — from evangelical Anglican churches to Pentecostal ones. And I have to admit, as a song I really like it. There's something about it that makes you not mind at all that it's over 8 minutes long and still want to listen to it again. But, as theology I find it concerning.

Why? It's particularly the first verse that worries me:

Monday, 18 August 2014

Eden, the Spirit and the Goal of Redemption

I’ve been preaching from Genesis of late, which has made me think a lot about the Garden of Eden and man’s estate (to use the old theological term) before the Fall. I’ve also been reading quite a lot from one of my very favourite theologians of all time – Cyril of Alexandria – who has helped me quite a bit in thinking about Eden.

The verse I’m really thinking of here is Genesis 2:7 which tells us that ‘the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.’ I somewhat worry that so often in our concern for defending the historicity and truth of the Scriptural account of creation we can actually end up getting sidelined from the most important aspects of the first few chapters of Genesis. (I’m not at all saying that the historicity and truth of these chapters is unimportant in any way, I’m simply saying that preaching on Genesis 1 and 2 – i.e. proclaiming Christ – is not the same as a lecture on historicity.) And Genesis 2:7 is a hugely important verse from which we wouldn’t want to get distracted.

What does Genesis 2:7 tell us? If our primary concern is merely with defending creationism we may easily get distracted here and see it as no more than a verse that speaks directly against evolution. But I’m convinced that it tells us a lot more than that. Genesis 2:7 isn’t just about the fact that man was created by a special act of God. Firstly, it shows us that man was created in a different way from the animals. The LORD God Himself – that’s the Word of God through whom all things were created (Gen. 1:3; John 1:3; Col. 1:16), who walked in the Garden (Gen. 3:8,10), the Word who is the Son who makes the Father known (John 1:18), i.e. the Lord Jesus – in loving condescension stooped down to the dust of the earth and formed the man. He had simply commanded the earth to bring forth the animals (Gen. 1:24), but He Himself stoops down to mould and fashion the form of the man. And how does the Lord Jesus give life to this man whom He has formed? By ‘breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life.’

Friday, 15 August 2014

"But it's just one line!": The Words We Sing Really Do Matter

In the ancient church they used to sing a chorus. (Well, I say the ancient church, but really it's still sung an awful lot today, especially anywhere east of about Croatia or so.) It went like this:
Holy God,
Holy Mighty,
Holy Immortal,
Have mercy on us.
Now, once upon a time — and by "once upon a time" I mean in the year 511 —  in a land far, far away — by which of course I mean the city of Antioch in Syria — a man named Peter decided to add a line to the chorus. (Peter could get away with that sort of thing as he was the Patriarch of Antioch, which was roughly the fourth most important office in the entire church throughout the world in ancient times.) Peter's new version of the chorus went like this:

Thursday, 14 August 2014

How Not to Pray for People!

I'm sure lots of people are commenting on the article about Vicky Beeching in the independent. I don't want to do that. But what I do want to do is point out a very important lesson that can be learnt from an experience that Vicky describes in the interview - a lesson on praying for people.

Here's the relevant excerpt from the article (go to The Independent to read the full thing):

"I remember sitting in my seat at this big conference, with about 4,000 people. Someone had preached about how God could set you free from anything, and I was desperate, I thought, 'I have to deal with this, it's breaking me.' They invited us to the front." The shy teenager got up. 
"The walk felt like 10 years. The music was very loud. At the altar one of the prayer team said, 'What would you like us to pray for you about?' I said, 'It's really hard for me to say this but I am attracted to people of the same sex and I've been told God hates that and I'm so ashamed and I need Him to take it away because I can't keep living like this. I'm so sad and depressed, I can't carry on.'"

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Declaring, Establishing, the Book of Job, Bad Hermeneutics, and the Gospel

I’ve noticed something rather a lot these last few years, and it’s something that bothers me rather a lot. It’s the practice of declaring things instead of praying for things. I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned it around here before. I’ve definitely had plenty of conversations with people about it, as it seems I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.

Anyway, this declaring often seems to go along with talk of what you declare being established. And the Bible does indeed talk about what a man declares being established. ‘You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you’ – it says it right there in Job 22:28, so why do I get so worked up about all these declarations? Because while the Bible might say it, the Bible in no way teaches it!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Recovering the Glorious Vision (Total Recovery Part 5)

(If you want to read the earlier parts of this series, you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

Part 5 - Total Recovery for the Church

God’s great gracious plan isn’t just an individual plan. It’s not just about me in a perfect world with Jesus. It’s not a case of a plan for me, and another plan for Emmanuel Mbakwe, and another plan for Warren Jones, and another plan for Tim Jack. No. It’s a plan for Jesus Christ. What love and grace that God sweeps us up into His plan for Jesus! This is a plan for Jesus and His Church – and we’re invited!

In the past, in the Apostolic Church we used to talk about ‘the Apostolic Vision.’ And lots of people assume that the Apostolic Vision is about apostles and prophets in the church, but really it isn’t. It’s about something else altogether. The Apostolic Vision is all about God’s Eternal Purpose. It’s all about God’s great plan for Jesus and His Church.