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Archive for June, 2008

I’m about to be ordained presbyter in the Anglican Church (in about 90 minutes!)  It’s heartening to know I’m joining guys like these

Here’s the final statement of the GAFCON conference.

Some extracts:

We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, are a fellowship of confessing Anglicans for the benefit of the Church and the furtherance of its mission. We are a fellowship of people united in the communion (koinonia) of the one Spirit and committed to work and pray together in the common mission of Christ. It is a confessing fellowship in that its members confess the faith of Christ crucified, stand firm for the gospel in the global and Anglican context, and affirm a contemporary rule, the Jerusalem Declaration, to guide the movement for the future. We are a fellowship of Anglicans, including provinces, dioceses, churches, missionary jurisdictions, para-church organisations and individual Anglican Christians whose goal is to reform, heal and revitalise the Anglican Communion and expand its mission to the world.

Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it. While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Building on the above doctrinal foundation of Anglican identity, we hereby publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of our fellowship.

I like this conclusion too:

The meeting in Jerusalem this week was called in a sense of urgency that a false gospel has so paralysed the Anglican Communion that this crisis must be addressed. The chief threat of this dispute involves the compromising of the integrity of the church’s worldwide mission. The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ.

If there’s a bee in our bonnet – it’s that Christ is not being proclaimed clearly and distinctly enough.  Everything else that’s objectionable in these controversies flows from this crucial point.

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Looking Unto Jesus

Continuing on the Spurgeon quotes…  Here is today’s devotional from morning and evening and it’s a doozy!  It’s very reminiscent of a recent post on faith as looking outside ourselves to Christ.  But, as ever, Spurgeon says it best.  Drink it in!

“Looking unto Jesus.” –Hebrews 12:2

It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of His children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.” All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: He tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee–it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument–it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on Him; let His death, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to Him; when thou liest down at night look to Him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after Him, and He will never fail thee.

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesu’s blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesu’s name.”

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Lest anyone feel left out by my last post on ordination vows, this was today’s reading from Spurgeon’s Evening and Morning – we all have a holy calling!

 “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”—1 Corinthians 7:20.

Some persons have the foolish notion that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries, or Bible women. Alas! how many would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God. God is most surely glorified in that cobbler’s stall, where the godly worker, as he plies the awl, sings of the Saviour’s love, ay, glorified far more than in many a prebendal stall where official religiousness performs its scanty duties. The name of Jesus is glorified by the poor unlearned carter as he drives his horse, and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow labourer by the roadside, as much as by the popular divine who, throughout the country, like Boanerges, is thundering out the gospel. God is glorified by our serving Him in our proper vocations. Take care, dear reader, that you do not forsake the path of duty by leaving your occupation, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it. Think little of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. Every lawful trade may be sanctified by the gospel to noblest ends. Turn to the Bible, and you will find the most menial forms of labour connected either with most daring deeds of faith, or with persons whose lives have been illustrious for holiness. Therefore be not discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position, or your work, abide in that, unless you are quite sure that he calls you to something else. Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to His praise, and if He needs you in another He will show it you. This evening lay aside vexatious ambition, and embrace peaceful content.

Many, unhelpfully, reserve the word ‘calling’ for a particular burden felt for ordained ministry.  This is not the sense of the word in the bible.  1 Corinthians begins with the one calling which embraces us all:

God… has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor 1:9)

Chapter 7 embellishes upon this – some were called when single, some when married, some when slaves, some when free, some when circumcised, some when uncircumcised.  Our call was not to these positions. Rather, in these positions we are called to Christ.  And Paul is keen that we live out our calling in the position we find ourselves.

So remember – whether paid by the church or by your firm, whether working in the home or at school, you are called.  Called to fellowship with Christ.  Called to live out this fellowship in the place where you are.  The church pastor could prove a total failure in living out this calling.  The Christian dentist could witness to hundreds in their “secular” job.  There’s one calling – a call to fellowship with Jesus. So “Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to His praise.”

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Ordination Vows

Right now you can read live blogging of GAFCON and the EMA.  I give you live blogging of the Chichester diocese ordination retreat 2008!  

On Sunday I’m being ordained into the presbyterate. In the Anglican church we’re ordained first as Deacons and then, usually the following year, as Presbyters (or “Priests”).  I’ve been reflecting on my ordination vows – which are weighty indeed.  Here is an extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (this is right at the heart of the Church of England’s doctrinal basis which consists of the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty Nine Articles and the Ordinal). 

The bishop says this: 

“Now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.
    “Have always therefore printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve, is his Spouse, and his Body. And if it shall happen that the same Church, or any Member thereof, do take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue. Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of the Ministry towards the children of God, towards the Spouse and Body of Christ; and see that ye never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life.
    “Forasmuch then as your Office is both of so great excellency, and of so great difficulty, ye see with how great care and study ye ought to apply yourselves, as well to show yourselves dutiful and thankful unto that Lord, who hath placed you in so high a dignity; as also to beware that neither you yourselves offend, nor be occasion that others offend. Howbeit, ye cannot have a mind and will thereto of yourselves; for that will and ability is given of God alone: therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit. And seeing that ye cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves, and of them that specially pertain unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures; and for this self-same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly cares and studies.
    “We have good hope that ye have well weighed these things with yourselves, long before this time; and that ye have clearly determined, by God’s grace, to give yourselves wholly to this Office, whereunto it hath pleased God to call you: so that, as much as lieth in you, ye will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way; and that ye will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry; and that ye may so endeavour yourselves, from time to time, to sanctify the lives of you and yours, and to fashion them after the Rule and Doctrine of Christ, that ye may be wholesome and godly examples and patterns for the people to follow.”

 

And here are some of the vows we will take regarding the Bible – this time taken from the Common Worship ordination service which we’ll be using…

Bishop: Do you accept the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?

Ordinands: I do so accept them.

Bishop: Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?

Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Bishop: Will you lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?

Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

Bishop: Will you faithfully minister the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them, so that the people committed to your charge may be defended against error and flourish in the faith?

Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.

 

It’s pause for thought to consider that those bishops about to meet at the Lambeth Conference have at least three times publicly signed up to this understanding of ministry and the bible.  They’ve made vows just like this before God and man – once as Deacon, once as Priest, once as Bishop.  Anglicans may not always live true to their calling – but this missional, gospel-centred, word-based ministry is the essence of true Anglicanism.

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We’ve looked at Preaching and Grace, now we examine Faith through the lens of David and Goliath.

One of the most significant ‘light-bulb’ moments for me in the last couple of years has been to hear Alan Torrance and Mike Reeves say in different contexts basically the same thing.  Namely this: the reformers did not speak of salvation by ‘faith alone’ so much as they spoke of salvation by ‘Christ alone.’  So Torrance maintains that John Knox, when he used the word ‘alone’ would attach it most often to ‘the blood of Christ’ rather than ‘faith’.  Reeves says something similar about Luther – he would speak of salvation by ‘God’s Word alone’, more than by ‘faith alone’.  Did both reformers both believe in ‘faith alone’??  They staked their lives on it.  So why make the distinction?

Well think about these two ways of answering this question:  Are we saved by our works?

Answer 1: No, we’re saved by our faith

Answer 2: No, we’re saved by Christ’s work

Now which answer better refutes works salvation?

The trouble with answer 1 is that is readily gives the impression that faith is the one work that merits salvation.  It seems to privilege ‘faith’ as the one property we must possess over and above those other properties called ‘works’.  So we say, “It’s not my works that save, it’s my faith.”  Faith becomes a thing.  But as Matt Jenson reminds us Faith is Nothing.  (If you haven’t read Jenson’s short little article, stop wasting your time on this post and get over there).

Far better to say Answer 2: “It’s not my works that save me, it’s Christ’s work.”  Our salvation lies outside us, in Jesus.

On a related note, this has some bearing on that little question we ask in evangelism: Why should God allow you into His heaven?  The standard wrong answer is ‘Because I did good things.’  But all too often the standard ‘right answer’ is, ‘Because I believed in your Son.’  I much prefer the answer I read at De Regno Christi:

I’ll bow and be silent. Then I’ll hear a voice,
“Father, he’s mine.”

 H/T Tim

Our salvation lies outside of ourselves.  Therefore if we trumpet ‘faith alone’ as a way of elevating this saving property called ‘faith’ which is my own meritorious possession… well, that’s pretty yuck.  It makes faith into a work – the one truly saving work.

Now if you buy into that kind of understanding, what view of faith and works will you have?  You’ll say ‘works are external, physical acts’ and ‘faith is an internal, mental act.’  And you’ll say, God has rejected external, physical acts (works) but desires internal, mental acts (faith).  But let’s ask, Is it possible that my external, physical acts are instances of faith in the world?  Surely yes!  On the other hand, Is it possible that my internal, mental acts can betray exactly the kind of works righteousness condemned in the Scriptures?  Absolutely.

So how does David and Goliath help?

Well the Israelites were full of internal mental acts prior to David’s victory.  They might range from things like “Yikes, what’s the quickest way to go AWOL” to the much more respectable sounding, “Bring Goliath over here, I’ll win the day.”  (No-one did seem to think this, but it was a possibility). Now both those mental acts would have been faithless.  Even if someone thought “I’ll defeat Goliath in the Name of the LORD” it would be faithless, for to do so would be to step into shoes that only the Anointed King can fill.  Such mental acts are still works since they displace the Champion with something else.

On the other hand, once David has defeated Goliath, there are some very concrete external acts going on (v52).  They shout aloud and chase down the defeated Philistines.  Yet for all their physicality, these acts are simply expressions of faith.  In fact the person who remains physically unmoved by David’s victory is almost sure to be the person who has not seen the victory, or has not understood the connection between David and them.  Such a person has no faith.

‘Internal’ does not equal ‘faith’ and ‘external’ does not equal ‘works’.  What counts is the victory of David.  Has David’s victory for me been understood and received?  That’s the question that lies at the fault-line between faith and works.  Any expression of a ‘yes’ to that question (whether internal or external) equals faith.  Any expression of a ‘no’ to that question (whether internal or external) equals works.

Let’s put it one more way:  ‘Faith alone’ is really another way of saying, ‘I did not help David one little bit, but I get all the benefits.’  ‘Faith’ does not put the spotlight on me (and my emotional/spiritual state).  ‘Faith’ is all about putting the spotlight on Christ.  ‘Faith alone’ is an expression that secures ‘Christ alone’ in my subjective appropriation of salvation.  Just as ‘Grace alone’ is an expression that secures ‘Christ alone’ in God’s objective offer of salvation. 

Ok, I’m repeating myself lots now.  Why hammer on at this?  Well here’s one pay-off.  The quest for more faith is not an inward journey!  I don’t find faith in me.  I find faith when I forget all about faith and simply focus on my Champion.  I find myself in the state of believing not by trying to believe but by simply seeing and appreciating the work of Christ.  And from this the emotions (shouting!) and the works (plundering!) will flow as true expressions of faith.  As Robert Murray McCheyne once said to a woman he counselled, “You don’t need more faith, you need more Christ.”

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Five Smooth Stones – Grace

I’ve begun looking at the story of David and Goliath as a lens through which to view five different doctrines:

  1. Preaching
  2. Grace
  3. Faith
  4. Election
  5. Reward

In my last post we saw that preaching is not like a military briefing to troops on the front line.  It’s the war correspondent heralding the victory of Another to an otherwise hopeless people.  It’s about His victory for us, not ours for Him – this should be the heart-beat of our preaching.

Now I want to think a little bit about grace.

It’s interesting in 1 Samuel 17 that David brings bread to his brothers from his father’s house, Bethlehem – the house of bread (v17).  Now if this constituted our whole conception of grace then what would we have?  We’d have, typologically, Christ bringing His people heavenly provisions so that they can win their battles.  Grace would be construed as the sovereign gift that empowers our efforts to achieve the victory.  Yet, this conception of ‘grace’ is seriously deficient:

  • it makes David’s victory at best incidental
  • it throws all the emphasis onto our battles (no matter how much David’s bread is praised!)
  • without David’s victory, David’s bread may as well have been poison.

David’s bread only makes any difference in the light of David’s victory.  Once their Champion has won, then the bread is useful, empowering them to plunder the Philistines.  But grace is first and foremost the victory of David on behalf of his people.  His provision is a secondary grace that only gains efficacy from his vicarious triumph.

Yet how often do we operate with a basic conception of ‘grace’ as, effectively, providence that empowers our efforts.  I remember when I first became a Christian writing out a short gospel presentation on a sheet of A5.  It ran something like this:

  • God is sovereign and all sufficient
  • Therefore no one can give Him anything
  • Therefore we can’t earn our salvation
  • Therefore He must give it to us
  • Therefore what God requires of us He also provides in us
  • In this way He sovereignly works salvation in us
  • This is what we mean by ‘grace’

Is it?

What’s missing from my presentation?  How about Jesus?  How about the whole darned gospel? 

If this presentation were true then God could save us by working anything in us . As long as He empowered it, salvation could be a matter of pilgrimmages to Bognor Regis, life-long abstinence from toast and self-flagellation with rancid eels.  So long as you claimed that such acts were ’empowered from on high’, it would still be ‘all of grace.’ Apparently.  Even if the pilgrimmages were required daily – you could still claim that such activities were the work of God in us to achieve what He also required. 

But I hope we can recognize that this is far from what the bible means by ‘grace.’  ‘Grace’ is not simply another way of describing some abstract ‘sovereignty’.  Grace is another way of declaring the victory of Christ to which we contribute nothing.  The two are very different.

How about we fix the last three bullet points from the above presentation:

  • Therefore what God requires of us He also provides in Christ
  • In this way He sovereignly works salvation in Christ
  • This is what we mean by ‘grace’
  • Grace is the victory of our Anointed King on behalf of a people who are fainting with fear and about to desert.  It’s not bread to help you win the day.  Not first and foremost.  It’s something entirely outside yourself and it happened on a hill called Golgotha.  Living by grace is not first and foremost looking to sovereign provisions.  First and foremost it’s looking to the cross.

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    Revelation 21 sermon

    Here’s the sermon from last week.  Where I say stuff like this…

    Does your heart long for marriage?  Verse 2 and verse 9 tell us, we, the people of God, will enjoy the ultimate marriage.  We will share a relationship with Jesus that will make current experiences of marriage seem like the pale imitations that they are.  Do you long for intimacy?  How about v4: God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.  We say cruelly to each other: “Dry your eyes mate.”  The living God says to us – ‘Bring your tears to Me, I will wipe them away.’  Who in your life has wiped away your tears – I guarantee they’ve been very close to you.  Our relationship to the Father will be that close.  Do you long for good health?  Verse 4 again:  No more death, crying, mourning or pain.  Do you long for satisfaction?  How about verse 6: Drinking without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Do you long for a sense of achievement?  Verse 26 speaks of bringing glory and honour from the nations into the city.  There will be industry and creativity and success and achievements in the new creation and we will bring that great stuff into the city for the glory of Jesus and He will love to receive it. 

    Whatever you’re looking for, marriage, intimacy, health, satisfaction, achievement, if you’re a Christian you won’t miss out. Let your heart rest in that.

     

    Do you want to travel the world, do you want to see the sites?  You can wait you know.  We’ll go together if you like, we can take our time about it.  Do you feel like you need to get every experience you can out of life, because it’s so short.  You have time you know.  Let your heart rest in this future hope. It is the spirit of Babylon that says ‘Get all you can now.  Build your city here.  Beg, borrow and steal for the present.’  The Spirit of Christ says ‘Wait for God’s city, it will be worth it.’ …

     

    Preaching on the final chapter tomorrow.  Just need to write it.  The sermon that is.  Not keen on adding to ‘the words of this prophesy’ (Rev 22:18)!

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