Thursday, 23 July 2015

On Falling From Grace (Part 4): Some More Texts on What it Actually Means to Fall From Grace

In the last installment we were looking at some Scriptures to see what it actually means to fall from grace. And today we’re going to do a bit more of that. (For the previous posts in the series so far, see: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

The writer to the Hebrews takes up the topic again in Hebrews 10. There we’re encouraged to ‘hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful’ (Heb. 10:23). Our hope doesn’t need to be shaken, for our God is the faithful God. At the end of the chapter the writer quotes from the LXX of Habakkuk: ‘Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him,’ followed by the assurance: ‘But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul’ (Heb. 10:38-39). In both the OT quotation and the assurance, the contrast is between faith and drawing back. Faith leads to life and salvation, but drawing back to perdition and God’s displeasure. Again, then, here we see that falling away is associated with unbelief, the opposite of faith.

But, in-between the two sections of Hebrews 10 I’ve quoted above, comes one of the strongest warnings in the NT about falling away:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
Now, you might be thinking that this seems to immediately go against all that we’ve been saying about unbelief, rather than bad things we do – sins we commit, being the cause of falling from grace. After all, this passage starts off by warning what will happen ‘if we sin wilfully.’ But what does it mean to sin wilfully? If it simply means having willingly sinned, then that would cast us all out into this ‘fearful expectation of judgment’, for ‘if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8). Thankfully for us all, sinning after we become a Christian doesn’t cause us to lose our salvation, but instead we have a remedy for our post-conversion sin for ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). So Hebrews 10:26 can’t in any way be suggesting that we need to lead sinless lives to avoid falling.

What then does it mean? Well, let’s have a look at Numbers 15:22-31 to find out. There we find a distinction between presumptuous sins (or sins committed with a high hand) and unintentional sins (or sins of ignorance). The Greek word used sinning ‘wilfully’ in Heb. 10:26 is the opposite of the Greek words used for sins of ignorance in the LXX of the OT. The sinner wasn’t necessarily ignorant of his sins of ignorance, but rather they were essentially sins which flowed from weakness – for in this life the saved are always simil iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and sinful) – but from which the sinner would want to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. The presumptuous sins on the other hand were sins committed with a high hand raised against God – just imagine someone shaking their fist against the Almighty. These were sins committed in arrogance, defiance and unbelief: sins committed with a disdain for God and His Word. So, ultimately, to sin with a high hand was an act of apostasy. There was no sacrifice for sin committed with a high hand.

So, coming back to Hebrews 10 we can see how that fits in. The writer to the Hebrews is talking about Christians: those who have ‘received the knowledge of the truth’ and were ‘sanctified’ by ‘the blood of the covenant.’ But now they sin by ‘trampl[ing] the Son of God underfoot,’ counting His blood ‘a common thing, and ‘insult[ing] the Spirit of grace.’ So, even the way their sin is described here in Hebrews isn’t in terms of bad stuff they’ve done, but rather in terms of apostasy in turning away from the Lord Jesus and His saving work, rejecting the grace of God. Their wilful sin is the sin of the high hand against the Lord: apostasy from gospel.

The result of this unbelief is the Lord’s vengeance, for ‘there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins’ for those who have rejected the only sacrifice that can avail for sin. Instead, they are once again God’s ‘adversaries’ who will be devoured by ‘judgment and fiery indignation.’ For, ‘it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’

Peter also warns of the perils awaiting those who fall away:
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:20-21)
Again, we might be tempted to think in terms of doing bad things here, when we read the warning against ‘turn[ing] from the holy commandment.’ But is that what Peter’s talking about? Well, what’s ‘the way of righteousness’? It’s not a life of our own righteousness, but rather trust in Christ for righteousness. Salvation is not found in obeying a legal commandment, so then how could falling from salvation come about by turning away from a legal commandment? I’d suggest that, in line with what all the other passages about falling away have taught us, Peter’s not writing about keeping a legal commandment, but rather he’s writing about the gospel command to repent and believe in Christ (see Peter’s words in Acts 2:38 and compare what Paul has to say in Acts 17:30-31). The holy commandment which they had received was the commandment to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and so to turn from that commandment would be to turn away from faith in Christ.

James encourages us to bring back those who wander from the faith:
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
The one who wanders here is a brother from ‘among you’. He was in the truth and wanders from it. So this is a Christian that James is talking about. Yet the one who turns him back from his wandering saves ‘a soul from death’! So this is someone who was saved, but has fallen away from eternal life to death. And how does he do that? By wandering from the Truth: turning away from Christ the Truth to unbelief. (John has a similar encouragement for us to pray for those ‘sinning a sin which does not lead to death’ so that God will ‘give life’ in 1 John 5:16-17).

John writes in his first epistle of how we persevere. ‘Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father’ (1 John 2:24). We continue in our fellowship with the Father and the Son by abiding in what we have ‘heard from the beginning.’ And in case it isn’t clear what that is, John’s already told us in the opening verses of the letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
We abide in the eternal life which is knowing the Father and the Son, by abiding in the Word of Christ – the gospel which we have heard. For faith comes by hearing.

This fits in well with the words of Jesus which John records in his Gospel about the vine and the branches:
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:5-8)
The branches which don’t abide in Christ are cast out and thrown in the fire. But not only that, we also see there that abiding in Christ goes together with having Christ’s Word abiding in us. As we receive the Gospel word in faith, we entrust ourselves to Christ in whom is salvation. Those who no longer abide in Christ, and so are cast out of the Vine, then, are those who no longer have His Word abiding in them – those who have turned away in unbelief.

So, then, we’ve seen that, not only are the Scriptures rather clear about the possibility of falling from grace, but they’re also rather clear about how that happens. Falling from grace is just that – falling from grace. So it’s a rejection of God’s grace in Christ by turning away from faith in him and back to relying on something we can do for ourselves. Which brings us right back, full circle, to Gal. 5:4: ‘You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.’

Right, now that we’ve looked at the Scriptural texts, next time we’ll look at some questions and issues that arise from that. Stay tuned!
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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

'Thy Loving Kindness is Better Than Life' (A little tribute to Ps Hugh Mitchell)

We're going to have a wee break from our current series today for a wee tribute. Today's the funeral of Pastor Hugh Mitchell, who died at the age of 100. If Apostolic pastors were the House of Commons, Hugh Mitchell would have been the Father of the House. But he wasn't simply the eldest pastor in the church. He was a faithful servant of God who had a significant impact on the life of the Apostolic Church, not only in the UK, but also around the world as Missionary Secretary. And his impact went far beyond the Apostolic Church as well.

These last two Sundays we've been singing one of his best-known choruses, Thy Loving-Kindness is Better than Life, in church (as well as using the patten he and the other members of the Gospel Quintet gave to the church at Easter 75 years ago). And when I went on the internet to see if I could find the song anywhere, I found it everywhere: from Lutheran hymnbooks, to recordings by the Maranatha Singers. From renditions by black gospel choirs to translations into Spanish and Chinese. A friend who used to pastor in the Highlands told me of his amazement when he went to a meeting in a little Presbyterian church up there and the launched into Thy Loving-Kindness is Better than Life. It seems Hugh Mitchell's paraphrase of Psalm 63:3-6 has managed to belt the globe.

Pastor Mitchell was born in 1914 in Bradford, and ordained to the ministry in the early 1940s. He was called as an Apostle in the Body of Christ, and served the Apostolic Church as Missionary Secretary from 1942-1949. In his Annual Report of the Apostolic Church Missionary Movement at the beginning of 1945, Ps Mitchell reported that, from the beginning of the Missionary Movement in 1922 until then, the Apostolic Church had sent out over 100 missionaries to foreign fields, with 25 new missionaries preparing to go (which is all the more astonishing as WW2 was still going on as he was writing!).

In that report Ps Mitchell wrote of our overseas work:
It should not be thought that the Apostolic Church Missionary Movement is yet another society seeking to add a contribution to the already vast missionary enterprise undertaken by the Christian Church. Neither should its merit be judged by income or expenditure. Such would only tend to underestimate its value and importance, and would certainly misconstrue its mission. Those acquainted with the vision of the Apostolic Church and its mission throughout the world will recognise the fact that its missionary work is not regarded as a sideline. It is more than that. It is a vital life-line. For the very nature of the church's vision permits no local or national interpretation to the evangel committed to her. And certainly no less its doctrines concerning the Church of Christ.
Up here in the Bradford Area, Hugh Mitchell was as well known for mission at home as for mission abroad. He and the other members of the Gospel Quintet had a dynamic (and for the time, cutting-edge) evangelistic ministry in Yorkshire and were responsible for the opening of several new assemblies (what we'd call church planting today).

Hugh Mitchell in 1962.
Ps Mitchell was also a pioneer when it came to the church's attitude to theological education. (Now, I should note that in the beginning the Apostolic Church seems to have had a rather positive attitude to theological study, with the desire from very early on to have our own Bible College with a robust curriculum, including biblical languages, and some well-trained lecturers being brought in from outside the Apostolic Church to teach in it alongside our own teachers. But somewhere along the way, during the middle of the twentieth century, a suspicion seems to have crept in about theological training.) In 1969 Hugh Mitchell (along with a confirmation through one of the prophets) was responsible for Council reversing the position it had taken 18 years earlier, and finally agreeing that 'theological degrees can be of advantage with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.'

Hugh Mitchell also served as a pastor in Bradford, Newport, Glasgow, London, and Eastbourne. He retired in 1979, but until just a few years ago would drive down from his home in London to Eastbourne every Sunday to help the pastor there!

Despite all that varied service over so many years in the ministry, he's probably best remembered for the songs he started writing and singing up here in Yorkshire. Even if you've never heard of Hugh Mitchell, you probably know some of his songs. Most of the songs in the 16 Gospel Quintet Choruses books, used by Pentecostals in Britain and around the world, were written by him. The same was true of the subsequent series Gates of Praise. He also produced 5 children's chorus books here in the UK, and a few in America (published by Zondervan). He also composed some hymns, including the hymn for the opening of the new Convention Hall in Penygroes in 1962.

While Thy Loving-Kindness is Better than Life is probably his most widely known chorus, you might also know some of his children's songs, like How Did Moses Cross the Red Sea or Whisper a Prayer in the Morning or (as I've just discovered, despite singing it with the kids in church all the time!) I believe the Bible (surely one of the greatest children's songs of all time!) from Good News Clubs or Sunday School growing up.

Anyway, here is a fantastic piano rendition of Thy Loving-Kindness. (I've put the words further down this post, so scroll down here for them.):



And here is a little boy who can sing the first verse:



Thy loving-kindness is better than life,
Thy loving-kindness is better than life:
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

I lift my hands, Lord, unto Thy name,
I lift my hands, Lord, unto Thy name:
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

Rememb'ring thee, Lord, I'm satisfied,
Rememb'ring The, Lord, I'm satisfied:
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

Safe in Thy shadow I will rejoice,
Safe in Thy shadow I will rejoice,
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

And here's Whisper a Prayer (the words are on the video, although I've never heard the third verse before, and it's not in the the 1944 version printed in Gospel Quintet Choruses 3, so I'm not sure if it's been added by someone else or not.):


How Did Moses Cross the Red Sea:


I can't find a video of I believe the Bible, but come to Leeds and we'll sing it for you ;)

Ps Hugh Mitchell retired several years before I was born, and I never met him. Yet, through his songs he taught me, and thousands of other children around the world, about Jesus, the Son of God who died for our sins, rose again from the dead, and is coming back again. And that evangelism continues today in my church, and many others, where children are still learning about Jesus by singing Hugh Mitchell songs.

Jesus died for sinners,
Jesus died for sinners, 
Jesus died for sinners, 
Jesus died for me.

So let me just finish with some advice for evangelism from Hugh Mitchell's pen, back in 1941:
The evangelist should, to the utmost of his ability, portray the Lord Jesus as a Saviour on the cross, and the vision of Him there will bring forth an answer from the most stubborn of silent, hardened souls. (Art Thou in Health My Brother, p.18)
With thankfulness to God for such a faithful gospel servant.
And with prayer for his family.

Thy Loving-Kindness is better than life. (Ps. 63:3)
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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

On Falling From Grace (Part 3): What does it Actually Mean to Fall From Grace?

Let’s have a closer look at some Scriptures to see what it actually means to fall from grace. A good place to start would be the text the expression comes from – Galatians 5:4: ‘You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.’

Here we see what we’re talking about and what we’re not, which will help clear up a few misconceptions about the possibility of falling from grace. For a start, Paul’s writing about Christians who go back to relying on attempts to keep the law for salvation. (Specifically here, it’s about Christians who decide they need to get circumcised.) Now, the whole point here is that he’s writing to Christians. These aren’t unbelievers. These aren’t just people associated with the Church. They can only become estranged from Christ because they were united to Christ. They can only fall from grace because they were in grace. So this is a warning about true Christians losing their salvation.

But how? By attempting ‘to be justified by law’. It’s a case of people stopping relying on Christ and starting to rely on something they do instead. There’s no mention of doing bad things here; it’s not through committing certain sinful actions that these people fall from grace. Instead it’s all a question of faith. Once their faith was in Christ alone; now their faith is in Christ plus their own attempts at keeping the law. Ironically, they’re looking for assurance of salvation and that’s what causes them to lose their salvation, because they’re looking in the wrong place: in to themselves instead of out to Christ and Him crucified!

So, the very place where the expression ‘fallen from grace’ occurs in the Bible teaches us that falling from grace isn’t a matter of what you do, but rather a matter of where your confidence lies. Is your confidence in something else other than Jesus? Have you stopped relying on Christ alone for salvation? So, it’s not a case of being saved by faith but falling by (bad) works. No, we’re saved by faith, and those who fall, fall through ‘unfaith’.

We can see this connection between unbelief and falling very clearly in Romans 11 as well. There Paul’s writing about the Gentiles being grafted into the good olive tree. But he warns them about what happened to the natural branches:
Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Romans 11:20-23)
Those who stand, stand by faith. Those who are broken off are broken off by unbelief. Those who continue in God’s goodness remain in the tree. Those who don’t continue in unbelief are grafted into the tree. So, the difference between being in the olive tree and out of the olive tree is the difference between faith and unbelief. Faith is the way into the tree. Unbelief is the way out.

In Colossians we see that its faith in the Gospel which keeps us in salvation:
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard (Col. 1:21-23).
We have been reconciled through the death of Christ, and we will be presented holy, blameless and above reproach, but there is a condition here in the text: ‘if indeed [we] continue in the faith.’ Salvation and faith go together. We’re not to be moved away from the hope of the gospel. Our confidence is to remain in Christ and Him Crucified for us. Salvation continues as faith continues. But to move away from faith, to move away from the hope of the gospel, is to move away from the salvation proclaimed in the gospel. In 1 Cor. 15:1-3 Paul similarly tells us that we’re saved ‘if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain’, that word being the gospel word of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

In Hebrews again we’re warned of unbelief.
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end. (Hebrews 3:12-14)
Again, it’s unbelief that causes one to depart from the living God. (And notice, it’s not sinful actions on the outside that make a heart ‘evil’, but what’s on the inside – unbelief!) We partake of Christ as we ‘hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.’ In other words, we partake of Christ through faith. But we depart from Christ through unbelief. We are Christ’s dwelling, not if we’re really good all the time and avoid sinning, but rather ‘if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end’ (Heb. 3:6). It’s not what we do that keeps us in the faith, but rather it’s the One in whom we trust.

Hebrews goes on to give a very strong warning about falling away in chapter six:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
The people in view here were believers. How do we know? Well, they were ‘enlightened’, whereas unbelievers are in ‘darkness’ (John 12:46; Acts 26:18; Rom. 1:21; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13;1 Thess. 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:6). They’ve ‘tasted the heavenly gift’, which could either be a figurative reference to experiencing salvation or a reference to partaking of the Lord’s Supper (which is only a heavenly gift to those who eat with faith; for those who eat without faith, to partake of the Supper means condemnation and judgment – 1 Cor. 11:29-32). In either case, those who have ‘tasted the heavenly gift’ are Christians. As Hohenstein puts it:
To “taste the gift from heaven” is to possess it and to experience it in the fullness of its sweet and saving power … [It] involves much more than a passing touch of its blessing. It involves much more than just “catching the crumbs” which happen to “fall from the Master’s table,” the “leftovers” of His meat of mercy and love. Tasting the gift implies a happy and hearty feast upon that “living Bread which has come down from heaven.” Cf. John 6:50-55. This is a keenly conscious tasting of the sweetness of the Lord’s grace (1 Peter 2:3). (Hohenstein, ‘A Study of Hebrews 6:4-8’, Concordia Theological Monthly, xxvii.6, p.438)
The same is true for those who ‘have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.’ Those who do not have the Spirit do not belong to Christ; conversely those who partake of the Spirit belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). These people have tasted of God’s Word and found it to be good. The Greek phrase translated ‘the good word of God’ here is used in the LXX in Joshua 21:45 and Zechariah 1:13 for comforting words from the LORD (rather than words of judgment). So what they’ve received is the goodness and comfort of God’s Gospel Word. And, in the Holy Spirit, they have experienced the in-breaking of ‘the powers of the age to come.’ (Also, they had previously repented – otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense to talk about renewing them ‘again’ to repentance in v.6.) So, there can be no doubt that this passage is speaking of Christians.

And yet, we’re told, that it’s possible for them to ‘fall away’. And this falling away is not light matter. It’s a crucifying again of the Son of God, putting Him to an open shame. In fact, it’s impossible to renew these people to repentance, and their ‘end is to be burned’ (Heb. 6:8).

In the context here, to ‘fall away’ can mean nothing other than apostasy. This is the only time the word is used in the New Testament, but in the LXX it’s used for people falling away from trust in the LORD or from worshipping the LORD. But what does it mean that they ‘crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame’? These are the reasons they can’t be renewed again to repentance, but what do they actually mean?

Well, remember, a huge focus in the letter to the Hebrews is the uniqueness of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. So a re-crucifixion is just unthinkable! As O’Brien explains it: ‘They totally reject the saving work of the Son, and show their contempt for him … putting themselves in the position of those who had him crucified.’ Or as Hohenstein paints the picture:
Through the medium of faith, or lack of it, men transcend the boundaries of space and time and still stand before the Crucified. To that cross men may react in one of two ways. Either they will confess [Jesus is Lord] or say [Jesus is Anathema]. The first is faith, the second unbelief. And even as the believer benefits from the blessings bestowed in that redemption, so the unbeliever, by his rejection, actually repeats the same crime of [those who crucified Christ] and with them brands Christ as a cursed criminal and pseudo-Messiah. In this sense an unbeliever, a fallen Christian, can be said to “recrucify the Son of God.” To recrucify Christ is to deny His claim as God’s Messiah sent from above to reveal God and to rescue men from this present, perishable creation to that new world which knows no slavery to pain and death. To recrucify Christ is to say “No!” to the “Yes!” of God’s Son. It is to attempt to enter life by another door, another way, another truth, apart from Christ. It is the futile effort to find salvation in a name other than Jesus. (Hohenstein, ‘A Study of Hebrews 6:4-8 (Concluded)’, Concordia Theological Monthly, xxvii.7, p.541)
(I wish all technical exegetical papers were written like that!)

But not only do they crucify Christ again, they also ‘put Him to an open shame.’ So their recrucifixion is not just a private thing, but it publicly brings dishonour to Christ. When people fall away from the Gospel, the church sees it and the world sees it (and the principalities and powers as well).

So how do these people fall from grace? They fall from grace by going from clinging to the Crucified to crucifying Him all over again; by going from trust in Jesus who shed His blood for us to contempt for Jesus and His precious blood. In other words, by abandoning their faith in Christ and returning to unbelief. And that’s just what we’ve seen in all the other texts we’ve looked at so far.

Now, I think that’s enough for today. So next time we’ll continue with a closer look at a few more Scriptures.

Previous posts in this series: 
Part 1: Scriptural Assurance and Scriptural Warning
Part 2: Holding the Assurance and the Warnings Together
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Monday, 20 July 2015

On Falling From Grace (Part 2): Holding the Assurance and the Warnings Together

But how can we have such strong true assurance if the warnings are true warnings? Or how could the warnings be true warnings if our assurance is so certain? Surely the two can’t stand together! Well, that’s the way many evangelicals approach these texts. On the one hand Calvinists will hold onto the assurances and explain the warnings. On the other hand Arminians will hold onto the warnings and explain the assurances. Some Calvinists argue that the warnings are hypothetical; others that they’re aimed at people who’re in the church but aren’t really Christians. Some Arminians argue that the assurances are misread (either they’re prayers/hopes/rhetorical expressions of confidence in God, or not actually speaking to the subject); others that they’re to be taken conditionally.

But, although those are the common alternatives for reading these texts among British evangelicals, they aren’t the only ways they’ve historically been read by Protestants with a high view of Scripture. For, even back in the days when the Calvinists and Arminians started debating these things, there was another voice calling them to take both sets of texts at face value. And that voice was the Lutheran voice.

Now, Lutherans are almost non-existent in Britain. We’ve never had a strong Lutheran presence here. And so the Lutheran contribution is easily forgotten. Historically, British evangelicalism has been moulded by Calvinism, and so even the questions we traditionally ask are moulded by that Calvinistic outlook. So we set up dichotomies like true assurance or true warnings and a Lutheran just looks at us as if we’re mad, scratches his head, and says, ‘But the Bible gives both!’ (Incidentally, that explains why Lutherans often lump Calvinists and Arminians in together as ‘the Reformed’ even though we tend to think of Arminianism as the opposite of Reformed theology – for both work on the same set of questions. The fact that they both ask the same questions puts them closer together than you’d imagine.)

Now, you see, a Lutheran finds no problem with seeing both true assurance – you have been saved from your sins, justified, have eternal life, and will be raised up with Christ in glory on the last day, because Christ has died for you – and true warnings – beware of ‘an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God’ – because Lutherans tend to remember much better that God has spoken two words: His word of Law and His word of Gospel. So the Gospel says you have been saved, nothing can separate you from the love of Christ, nothing can take you out of His hand; while the Law reminds us that we can have no confidence or security in ourselves, and so sends us to flee to Christ our Saviour, in whom alone we can have true security.

The Law/Gospel distinction allows us to hold both sets of texts together and to believe with equal seriousness both the assurances and the warnings. Mueller puts it like this:
The warnings set forth in Holy Scripture against defection …, enforced by examples of temporary believers (Saul, Demas) do not militate against the blessed assurance of the Gospel that God will graciously keep the believer in faith to the end … but rather sustain it. These warnings belong to the Law and must not be used to nullify the Gospel promises. St Paul, though aware of the possibility of his becoming a castaway, 1 Cor. 9:27, was nevertheless fully persuaded of his perseverance, Rom. 8:38,39; 2 Tim. 4:7. God warns us against defection through the Law in order that we may beware of carnal security, which destroys the certainty of salvation, and cling to the Gospel, which bestows and nourishes the assurance of salvation. (John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics,p.439)
We’ll come back to the matter of assurance later in the series, but next we’re going to have a closer look at some of the warning texts and see what it actually means to fall from grace.

[To read Part 1 (Scriptural Assurance and Scriptural Warning) click here.]
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Friday, 17 July 2015

On Falling From Grace (Part 1): Scriptural Assurance and Scriptural Warning

The Bible is explicit in the assurances it gives of salvation. Jesus Himself said that no one could ever snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28-30). Paul gives thanks to God, ‘being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). God ‘will also confirm [us] to the end, that [we] may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:8). Peter writes that we’re ‘kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Peter 1:5). In fact, Paul even goes so far as to say:
I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)
Now that’s assurance!

The Bible is also explicit in the warnings it gives about falling away from salvation. Jesus Himself tells us that it is ‘he who endures to the end [who] will be saved’ (Matthew 10:22; 24:13). Paul likewise gives us warnings: ‘Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor. 10:12).
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard (Col. 1:21-23).
(For a few more warnings from Paul’s pen, have a look at Rom. 11:20-23; 1 Cor. 9:27; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Gal.5:4; Gal. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 1 Tim. 4:1.)

John not only tells us of the branch that doesn’t abide in Christ being cast out of the vine (John 15:6) and of names blotted out of the Book of Life (Rev. 3:5; 22:18-19), but also warns of a ‘sin leading to death’ (1 John 5:16-17).

James encourages us to go after those who ‘wander from the truth’ to turn them back, for ‘he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins’ (James 5:19-20). That sinner whose soul will be saved from death is one from ‘among’ us – a brother or sister in Christ.

Peter’s warning is very strong:
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:20-21)
He’s talking about people who knew ‘the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, people who had been saved from the ‘pollutions of the world’ and have gone back to it, turning away from the righteousness they had in Christ.

It’s probably the writer to the Hebrews who gives us the most explicit, and well-known, warnings. We are to ‘beware … lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God’ (Heb. 3:12). You can’t depart from the living God unless you were with Him in the first place. We’re to ‘fear lest any of you seem to have come short of [His rest]’ (Heb. 4:1). Those who ‘have tasted the heavenly gift’ but ‘fall away … crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame’ (Heb. 6:4-6). And ‘if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment’ for such sin would mean one had ‘trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace’ (Heb. 10:26-29).

Now that’s a warning!

So, if we’ve got these strong assurances and we’ve also got these strong warnings, how do they fit together? Does one set of passages cancel the other out? – Surely not! For this is the Word of God. It is the Lord Himself who speaks each of these assurances, as well as each of these warnings, to us. So we have to take both sets of passages equally seriously. And to truly take them seriously, that means taking the assurances as true assurances, and taking the warnings as true warnings. We don’t try to explain either away; both are true.

Over the next several posts (D.V.) we’ll have a look at some of these Scriptures more closely and think about how and what it means to hold both hold both together: the true assurance and the true warnings.
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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Some Early Pentecostal Communion Choruses

Scattered throughout the pages of the Riches of Grace can be found examples of the choruses (and hymns) that were sung in the early years of Pentecostalism in Britain, and of the Apostolic Church in particular. So I've gathered together some of the choruses that were sung at Breaking of Bread services here. Some are specifically for the sacrament; some take up broader themes like the blood of Jesus or communion with Christ.

Come and gather round the Table spread,
Come and drink the wine and break the bread.
Here we shall meet our risen Lord,
Here we shall feast upon the Word.
   (George Perfect)


Keep me under the Blood, dear Lord,
Calvary's crimson flood.
Not mine own, but Thine alone,
Keep me under the Blood.


Jesus is Victor! The battle is won.
We can do nothing, for all has been done;
Jesus is Victor! The foe from the dust
Never can rise again, if we but trust.


Wonderful Jesus, wonderful Jesus!
Filling my soul with heavenly power;
Wonderful Jesus, wonderful Jesus!
Cleansing and healing this very hour.


One in heart, in true devotion,
'Round Thy Table gathered near,
We can bathe in love's full ocean,
'Till Thy coming doth appear.
   (W.G. Sercombe)


In faith we eat, for God has given
To mortal men the Bread of Heaven.
We drink the wine and know again
His blood doth cleanse from every stain.
   (George Perfect)


Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine Agony,
Lest I forget Thy Love to me,
Lead me to Calvary.


Jesus, Jesus, wonderful Name,
I whisper it now, and my heart is aflame;
With love for the Saviour, Who bore all my shame,
Jesus, O wonderful Jesus.
   (A.L. Greenway)


Deeper in Thee, yes deeper in Thee,
Saviour Divine, attend to my plea;
Still on the shore, Lord, I seem to be,
Grant me a life that is deeper in Thee.
   (A.L. Greenway)


Come and dine! Come and dine!
You may feast at Jesu's Table all the time;
He who fed the multitude,
Turned the water into wine,
The Hungry now He calleth:
Come and dine!


(P.S. Although most of these songs are anonymous, there are three writers named, so let me just briefly tell you about them.

Pastor George Perfect was ordained as a Teacher and later as an Apostle in the Apostolic Church. He came from Bradford, served on the Apostolic Church's first Missionary Council, edited the Apostolic Missionary Herald, and would later be sent as a missionary to Nigeria.

Pastor Alfred Greenway was an early principal of the Apostolic Church Bible College in Penygroes. However, he found it difficult to work under a system where graduates of the Bible College could be by-passed when it came to ministerial appointments, and so ended up returning to New Zealand where he had a pioneering ministry and also set up the Apostolic Church's Bible Training Centre in Hamilton. He was the first Apostolic missionary to the Maori in New Zealand in 1934 and would also serve for a time as a missionary in Japan. Dr Greenway was also a pioneer in encouraging pastors to undergo formal, higher theological study, although Council came out against such study at the time: 'This Council deplores its ministers seeking degrees and feels that general Bible study mixed with prayer and devotion and crowned with the power of the Spirit of God is absolutely indispensable for the ministry.'! That was 1951, and it would be another 18 years until Council changed its position – in response to prophecy – and decided that 'theological degrees can be of advantage with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.' Although even then, there were still several restrictions surrounding pastors taking degrees. Those of us who know the advantage of a theological education today should be grateful for pioneers like Alfred Greenway.

As for W.G. Sercombe, all I can tell you is that the Sercombes were an Apostolic family, one of whose members was at one time the Missionary Secretary.)

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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Fantastic Book on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

William P. Atkinson, Baptism in the Spirit: Luke-Acts and the Dunn Debate (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick, 2011)

William Atkinson has done the Pentecostal world a great service with his short, clear, and readible book on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. As the subtitle points out, the focus is on the debate started by James Dunn 45 years ago with his book Baptism in the Holy Spirit which argued strongly against the Pentecostal position.

For anyone outside the Pentecostal academy it might seem strange to focus on a book from 45 years ago, but that’s just how influential Dunn’s book has been; it has largely set the agenda for Pentecostal scholars’ work on the baptism of the Spirit from its publication in 1970 until now.

And this is where Atkinson’s book is so useful. You see, many of the Pentecostal books interacting with Dunn have been very long and dense, and they all make different arguments. But Atkinson manages to sum up and sift the main lines of argument over these last 45 years. He’s willing to reject Pentecostal arguments where they’ve been weak, and in so doing actually strengthens the case of the Pentecostal perspective.

Although the subtitle refers to Luke-Acts (for that’s where most of the debate has taken place), unlike some other Pentecostal scholars, Atkinson sees the importance of setting Luke’s contribution in the wider context of Scripture, and so in a chapter on the canonical context, he takes a brief foray into Paul and John to see how they relate to what we learn from Luke-Acts.

Finally, Atkinson also considers some practical and pastoral lessons in his last chapter. Thus, unlike many books and journal articles on the topic which leave you wondering how the contribution relates in practical terms to church life, Atkinson’s contribution speaks not only apologetically in defense of the Pentecostal position, but also practically to the life of the Pentecostal church.

This is the first book I would now recommend to Pentecostal pastors and theological students as a defence of the Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And I’m not only talking about pastors with theological training. Every Pentecostal pastor needs to be able to defend this distinctive Pentecostal doctrine – for even if you somehow never encounter the objections of non-Pentecostal Christians, people in your congregation will. Atkinson provides a fantastic starting place, so get a copy quickly and read it!
(P.S. I’ve reviewed another book by William Atkinson before – Trinity Before Pentecost – also with great enthusiasm!)
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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Four Things Good Apostolics Can’t do with Left-over Bread and Wine after Communion

‘After the close of the meeting when the Breaking of Bread service has been held, anything left of the emblems (bread and wine) should be destroyed, so as to avoid desecration ... (Ex. 12:10).’ The Apostolic Church: Its Principles and Practices, p.216.

‘The Breaking of Bread ... is administered by the Presbytery to set forth the dignity and holiness which should be associated with this [sacrament] and to preserve it from any abuse ... At the conclusion of the service emblems remaining should be destroyed for the same reason.’ Introducing the Apostolic Church: A Manual of Belief, Practice and History, p.44.
  1. Can’t Reserve them for Adoration
  2. Can’t Keep them to distribute another time, at another service
  3. Can’t throw them out with the rubbish
  4. Can’t keep them to reconsecrate again at next Sunday’s communion
So eat up (or otherwise you'll have to burn them!).
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Monday, 13 July 2015

Here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?: On delayed baptism and theological presuppositions

Baptism’s been on my mind a lot of late, for a variety of reasons. So that means I’ve found the discussions going on between Jonathan Leeman, Mark Jones, Andrew Wilson and Joe Rigney regarding children and baptism somewhat interesting (at times, also frustrating, but nevertheless interesting). My rather superficial and completely un-nuanced overview of the views expressed so far is that Leeman advocates neither baptising nor affirming a child’s profession of faith until adulthood (or thereabouts); Jones is a paedobaptist who worries that Leeman’s approach runs the risk of effectively telling true believers that they may well not be believers and so causing them to doubt their salvation; Rigney says go ahead and affirm their profession of faith, but don’t baptise until they’re ready to assume the responsibilities of adulthood; Wilson finds merit in Rigney’s position. (Rigney gives links to most of the relevant posts at the bottom of this article, except Wilson’s last post which came later.) (UPDATE: Here's Patrick Schreiner's different view to all of the above.)

Anyway, Rigney’s argument demonstrates the close connection between baptismal practice and wider theological concerns. In his case it’s ecclesiology. He’s a Baptist, and so a congregationalist. Among Baptists in the United States, baptism and church membership go together, but as congregationalists, church membership involves voting and decision making in the congregational meeting. So Rigney argues:
Baptized members, in a congregational polity, must be qualified to rule the church. They must be able to stand in the assembly of saints on their own two feet. This means that they must be ready to both submit to and administer church discipline. That is why maturity is required for baptized members. They must be able to judge and be judged.
Now, Wilson rightly recognises that non-Baptist credobaptists can’t just adopt all of Rigney’s reasoning . In a church governed by elders rather than the congregation (like a Newfrontiers church – the perspective Wilson writes from – or an Apostolic Church) being baptised doesn’t mean being qualified to rule the church. But Wilson can adopt the second part of Rigney’s argument – ‘they must be able to … be judged.’ As Wilson puts it:
We could express the principle this way: if you wouldn’t exercise church discipline over a person directly, but instead would go through their parents, then you shouldn’t baptise them. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.
So, differing theological presuppositions change the argument. Newfrontiers and Apostolic churches can’t simply borrow a Baptist approach to baptism, because our theology is different.

But it’s not just ecclesiology that shapes these arguments surrounding baptismal practice. It’s worth noting that the arguments for delaying baptism until adulthood come from outspokenly Calvinistic Baptists. Mark Dever, for example, advocates delaying baptism until a child has left home and/or assumed ‘adult responsibilities … with driving, employment, non-Christian friends [clearly Washington D.C. is in another world entirely!], voting, legality of marriage’ (in Schreiner and Wright, ed., Believer’s Baptism, p.348). Dever’s driving concern seems to be that of false professions of faith and a corresponding false assurance of salvation (p.347). Of course it has to be remembered that Dever lives in a very different culture to the UK; in the United States believer’s baptism is much more common and socially acceptable than here, so undoubtedly that leads to a different set of pastoral challenges. However, I suspect that both Dever’s Calvinism and his Southern Baptist approach to baptism as a mere ordinance significantly influence both his concern and his approach.

For a Calvinist, true believers always persevere in the faith. So if someone has been baptised and then falls away, they must never have been a true believer in the first place, and so the church shouldn’t have baptised them in the first place.

For a typical Southern Baptist, baptism ‘is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith’ (Baptist Faith and Message, VII). Dever himself defines baptism as an act of obedience ‘as a confession of sin, a profession of faith in Christ, and a display of hope in the resurrection of the body’ (Dever, The Church, p.30) and argues that ‘among Baptists, baptism has never been treated as an essential conduit of God’s grace. Rather, they have regarded it as a command given to new believers and therefore the normal means for marking and celebrating their salvation’ (p.107).

A view of baptism as merely our act of obedience and public expression of our faith and a celebration of our salvation, makes baptism less than necessary. Coupled with a Calvinistic aversion to baptising someone who might later fall away, the ‘wait and see’ approach of Dever (and Leeman) makes logical sense.

But from an Apostolic perspective things look different. For we believe in ‘the possibility of falling from grace.’ Therefore, someone who’s been baptised later falling away, while still a very sad thing indeed, is less of a theological problem for our baptismal practice. Also, we confess that baptism is a ‘sacrament’, not an ordinance (Tenet 7). Baptism is ‘the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual experience’ (Guiding Principles, p.215). Any believer who hasn’t been baptised is ‘expected to be baptised at the first opportunity (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 19:5)’ (Guiding Principles, p.214).

Does that mean I’m advocating baptising children at a young age? No, it doesn’t. I’m simply pointing out how the baptismal practices of different churches aren’t arbitrary, but are moulded by several other theological concerns.

As for the age of baptism, I have nothing to say, nor can I. For you see, this is a debate that just doesn’t have any place within the theological framework of an Apostolic pastor. ‘But, you’re a credo-baptist,’ you say, ‘so surely this is an issue!’ Well, no. Because, not only am I a credo-baptist, but I’m also not a congregationalist. So questions like that aren’t questions for the local church or the local pastor and elders to decide, they’re matters for the whole church.

At his ordination, every Apostolic pastor promises to uphold the ‘worship, discipline and government of the Church, promising always directly and indirectly to support and enhance these doctrines.’ Every elder promises that he will ‘uphold all decisions of the Church Council for the guidance, safety and future of the Church.’ So, when the government of the Church (through the May Council) has set an appropriate age below which baptisms should not take place (which, I think, is currently thirteen), it is the promised duty of every Apostolic pastor and elder to adhere to that decision. Otherwise we wouldn’t be men of our word. Over that age, we can discuss all we like (for the church doesn’t say baptism MUST take place at a particular age, only that they MUST NOT take place under a certain age). Under that age, all we can say is that the church has spoken. To say anything else would be to deny our ecclesiology, act as congregationalists, and break our ordination vows.

The whole discussion about baptism and young children makes perfect sense from a Baptist perspective. But the whole conversation is alien to an Apostolic approach. For, you see, there are all sorts of theological presuppositions which mould our varying baptismal practices.
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Friday, 10 July 2015

Liturgical and Pentecostal (and why that’s a good thing!)

Sitting in a pew in the medieval church at the heart of a city where medieval and modern still sit comfortably side by side waiting for Holy Communion to commence on a pleasant spring evening a year or so ago, one might have been forgiven for expecting the pipes of the organ to spring to life or the minister to stand up to say the Lord’s Prayer and the Collect for Purity. Instead, as in so many English evangelical churches, irrespective of architecture, denomination or theology, it was the band that sprang into life with the sound of Hillsong stretching to the vaulted ceilings. Then, when the service did reach the communion, the minister made a long apology for the being liturgical, before asking people to pass the peace and then continuing on without much discernible liturgy at all. At that point the friends whose church I was visiting turned to me and said, ‘You’ll have had much more liturgy in your Pentecostal church this morning that we’re having in our Anglican one tonight.’ We smiled and laughted, and all knew it was true.

Thinking back, it reminds me slightly of another Communion in another historic Anglican church 150 yards away (it’s that sort of city!) about a decade earlier (only that time without the Hillsongs). It was my first full day in town. I had arrived with my parents the night before, and the three of us set off to go to church. Dad had found a Newfrontiers church on the internet, but it met in a school and we couldn’t find the right door to get in. So instead we set off for the Anglican church a fellow-Apostolic (along with most of the Christian students in town) attended.

It just so happened that that Sunday was Holy Communion (which I was soon to discover wasn’t every Sunday morning in non-Pentecostal churches!). It was a good church with good preaching, but I still remember one comment my mother made on the way to lunch: ‘Are you sure that was a Church of England church? It seemed much more like a Presbyterian service than a Church of Ireland service!’ She had a point; there wasn’t a Prayer Book in sight and, apart from one short prayer projected on the screen for the congregation to say together before Communion, the whole thing was about as liturgy-less as the hymn-prayer sandwich of traditional Ulster Presbyterianism.

But that one prayer that came up on the screen I still remember. Why? Well, because now I say it every Sunday at the Table. My assembly have got used to hearing me say it over the last 5 years that I’ve been here too, and now, for the last four or five months, we’ve been singing it together each Sunday morning. It’s the Prayer of Humble Access.

As Gregory Dix famously expressed it, Cranmer’s Order for Holy Communion was ‘the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone’.

I’m not sure exactly why Dix said that (I don’t have a copy of his book and it seems to be the one page that’s not included in Google Books!). I know some of it is to do with certain changes from the Roman Mass. But I imagine that some of it’s to do with what Cranmer introduced as well, and especially ‘The Prayer of Humble Access’.

I love the Prayer of Humble Access, and, as I’ve said, you’d hear some form of it in my assembly nearly every week at the Breaking of Bread. Why? Well, one of the reasons is because the Prayer of Humble access makes clear that it’s not by our goodness but by God’s grace toward us in Christ that He feeds us at the Table. Here it is in modern language form (from An English Prayer Book):
We do not presume to come to this your table,
merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not even worthy
to gather up the crumbs under your table.
But you are the same Lord,
who delights in showing mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat this bread and drink this wine
that our bodies and souls
may be cleansed by Christ's body and blood
and that we may evermore dwell in him,
and he in us. Amen
.
And here’s the version we sing in Leeds:


This isn’t the entirety of our liturgy in Leeds, for the liturgy is as much to do with the shape of the service (Gathering in God’s Presence à Hearing God’s Word à Feeding on Christ at the Table à Being sent back out into the world in the power of the Spirit) as it is about particular forms of words. Maybe another time I’ll write about the shape of our service or the other forms we use each week, like the Lord’s Prayer, Memorial Acclamation (Dying You Destroyed Our Death, Rising You Restored Our Life, Lord Jesus come in glory!) and Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts; Heaven and Earth are full of Your Glory; Glory be to You, O Lord Most High).

But as I look out from the Communion Table on a Sunday as the congregation sings this prayer, I grow more and more convinced of the advantages of liturgy. So let me briefly elaborate on just three of the great things about the liturgy.

1) WORSHIP. When people don’t have to worry about unfamiliar words or how to fit the words to the music, it’s much easier to make those words their own prayer. And so, rather than being a limiting constriction, singing the liturgy actually allows a freedom in worship. Looking out from the Communion Table I’ve noticed more and more that, as people have become more and more familiar with this simple song over the last few months, the assembly has been filled with a freedom and joy in worship around the Table. And the joy is coming from the Gospel, as we sing of God giving us what we could never earn or deserve by His grace in Jesus.

2) CATECHESIS. When we repeat the same Gospel-words over and over again each week, that Gospel truth is more and more rooted in our thinking. We live in a transient age. Fewer and fewer people work Monday to Friday, nine to five, and so it’s harder to get people together during the week to teach the faith. It’s even hard to get people together every Sunday for systematic Bible teaching. (In my church 80% of the working adults regularly have to work shifts on Sundays.) Yet, the culture around us is constantly catechising us all with its own values, even through such ubiquitous things as the songs we hear over and over again on the radio. 

But the liturgy fights back because it not only helps us to praise, but also helps to teach us the faith. I reckon it’s quite hard to repeat ‘Dying, You destroyed our death; Rising, You restored our life; Lord Jesus come in glory!’ Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, month after month, year after year, without the centrality of Christ’s death and resurrection and the hope of His return being rooted in your thinking. Singing the Prayer of Humble access over and over again reminds us again and again that salvation is not of anything in us, but purely of God’s grace to us in Jesus. As we regularly recite the Creed together, it reinforces our understanding of who God is, freeing us from worldly ideas of God by pointing us again and again to the Triune God of Scripture, and freeing us from worldly and unscriptural views of salvation (things like prosperity theology, which alas, are all too common in the evangelical/Pentecostal world) by pointing us again and again to a faith which is rooted in the Incarnation of Christ. 

3) EVANGELISM. When non-Christians come to church we want them to hear the Gospel. And hopefully they will in the preaching. But I’m sure anyone who’s spent a lot of time in a Pentecostal church will have to admit that that’s not always the case. Once I was involved in a discussion group on what would put you off inviting your friends to church. Although it came as a surprise to some of the older members of the group, I ventured the suggestion that uncertainty that people would hear the gospel on any given week would be a major factor. The other younger members of the group all agreed – we’d all just experienced too many Sundays of not knowing what was coming next, and not in a good way. If the Gospel isn’t always central, it gets to a point where you’re convinced that the Sunday you bring your friends the sermon’s going to be about marching on to victory, or taking the land, or spiritual warfare against territorial spirits (yes, I did indeed grow up in the 90s, and no, my church wasn’t actually that bad, and thankfully most of that’s long been left behind, but I’m sure there are modern day equivalent Pentecostal/charismatic hobby horses out there).

And the same thing’s true more often than you might expect in evangelical churches too – I’ll never forget one Sunday morning at university when the church was packed with non-Christians for a baptismal service, only for them to be treated to a sermon on the qualifications of deacons! We want non-Christians to hear the gospel in church, but sadly, sometimes our preaching lets us down.

But, the liturgy should proclaim the gospel even when we somehow forget to in our sermons. Even if I go off the rails on Sunday morning, my congregation will still hear of the death and resurrection of Jesus and of the great grace of God, because we’ll speak of them to one another in the liturgy. And they’ll hear of sin, repentance, and forgiveness as we examine ourselves and confess before the Lord’s Supper. And they’ll hear of salvation through the broken body and shed blood of Christ as the minister pronounces Christ’s own words at the Table.

And, any non-believers who come along regularly, regularly hear the gospel, not only in the sermon, but also in a short, sharp, memorable form that they repeat along with the rest of us week after week: Dying, You destroyed our death; Rising, You restored our life; Lord Jesus, come in glory!

So, there you go, liturgy isn’t something bad and scary. The liturgy’s there to point us to the Good News of Jesus Christ. It helps free us in worship. It helps teach us the fundamentals of the faith. And it helps us evangelise our friends and neighbours as we bring them along to church.
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