Wednesday, 29 October 2014

SERMON ON THE APOSTLES' CREED

This sermon was preached as part of a series on the Apostles' Creed in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge on Sunday October 26th:

Who am I? I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m an Anglican vicar, I’m a little bit of a film buff, I’m a curry lover. Who are you? You could say a number of things. But the Creeds we say in church, including the Apostles’ Creed, remind us that fundamentally the most important and enduring thing about us is that we are believers in the true God, the maker of heaven and earth, and in his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 

The most important and enduring thing about us is that we are Christians, people who belong to the Lord Jesus. I won’t be a vicar for ever, I won’t be a husband for ever, I won’t be a father for ever, but God willing I will belong to the Lord Jesus for ever, so that is the most important thing about me.

That issue of our Christian identity in the Apostles’ Creed is central as we come to look at the Church – 'I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints'. Our identity as Christians is central here because the Church in which we declare our belief is made up of Christians, of people who believe and trust in the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth, and in his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven. He is seated at the right hand of (God) the Father (Almighty), and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

The Church is made up of people who believe those biblical truths about the one true God and about his Son the Lord Jesus from the heart. It is those people who are the members of the holy catholic Church. The Church is not a collection of curry lovers or small-time film buffs or Anglican vicars – the Church is a gathering of men and women, girls and boys who are believing and trusting in the Lord Jesus for their eternal salvation. So our Christian identity is at the heart of the Church.

We’ll look at the three things the Creed says about the Church in turn. First, it’s holy, secondly it’s catholic, thirdly it is the communion of saints, the fellowship of Christians meeting in local churches.

First, the Church is holy. That does not mean the Church is made up of perfect people. It means the Church is made up of people whom God has set apart, called to belong to him. Holy in the sense of set apart by God for God. Christian people, to use the Apostle’s Paul description in Colossians chapter 1, have been rescued from the dominion of darkness, and brought into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. 

You true Christian person no longer belong to the world of humanity in rebellion against God; you belong to the eternal Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. You’re not perfect, you won’t be until you get to heaven, but you are set apart by God for God. And that is true of us collectively as the Church. We belong to God. The Church is holy. So it’s a very special gathering of people. The Church is the most important collection of people I can belong to here on earth because the Church is made up of people who have been set apart by God for God in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is holy.

Secondly, the Church is catholic. That’s not the name of a denomination as in the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic means universal. I believe in the holy universal Church, a body that is not nationally, socially, racially or culturally restricted. Anybody can be a member of the holy catholic Church whatever their ethnic, cultural or social background, provided they believe and trust in the Lord Jesus. 

So no nation on earth is off limits for the Church. And that makes perfect sense when we consider the Lord Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples after his Resurrection as recorded as Matthew chapter 28: 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.'

Wherever disciples, followers of the Lord Jesus, gather together, there you’ve got the Church and Jesus’ command is that there should be disciples amongst all nations on earth. The Church is catholic, universal. It is commanded by the Lord Jesus to open a branch everywhere on earth, anywhere there are people whom God is setting apart to follow the Lord Jesus. The Church is wonderfully catholic. 

We got a flavour of that wonderful catholicity when Panshak was part of our church family. He loved reminding us that he was only black man in the building. And when I went to St Luke’s Cathedral in Jos on New Year’s Day in 2012 I was only the white man in the building. But that didn’t matter because the most important thing when Panshak was here, when I was in Jos, was our shared faith in our eternal Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. That shared commitment to the Lord Jesus transcends race, culture, social background or it should do in the holy, catholic Church. What a wonderful trans-national, trans-cultural, trans-social body the holy catholic Church is. What a privilege to belong to it and what wonderful relationships can be forged in it. The Church is catholic.

Thirdly, the Church is the communion of saints, the fellowship of Christians meeting in local churches.

The word saints is being used here in the biblical sense of the word, which means that it is talking about God’s Christian people, those he has set apart to believe in him. Saints are thus in this context all true Christian people, not select or famous ones. So when we say we believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, we’re expressing our commitment to Christians being in relationship with one another, being in fellowship together in local churches. The communion of saints, Christians in relationship with one another. That’s why it’s a nonsense to say I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, if I am not a regular, committed, active member of a local church.

God is calling me as a Christian into communion, fellowship with my fellow believers in the Lord Jesus in the family of the local church. And we heard in that reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the kind of attitude and behaviour God is calling Christians to in their church fellowships. Having prayed that God would be glorified in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, Ephesians chapter 4v1-3, words that are to be true of every church family:


As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (NIV).


I’ve got to work at my attitude and my behaviour towards my fellow Christians in the church family. I’ve got to be humble and gentle, patient, loving, careful to maintain our spiritual unity through the bond of peace. That’s what it means to live a life worthy of the calling I have received from God to be a Christian.

And the basis of my spiritual unity, our spiritual unity with our fellow Christians in the church family, a unity in Christ which we are called to maintain – the basis of our unity is the fact that there is, as Paul says in v3-6 of Ephesians 4,


one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.


The body of Christ, made up of all true believers in him, is not divided, the Holy Spirit who indwells all true Christians is not divided, the hope of heaven to which we are called in Christ is not divided, the Lord Jesus is not divided, the true apostolic faith of the gospel is not divided, the Sacrament of Baptism is not divided, God the Father Almighty is not divided, so we in the communion of saints in the local church must not be divided either.

And in order to maintain the unity of the Spirit in our fellowship we need to be humble and gentle, patient, loving towards one another, especially when we find each other annoying.

Whatever our differences in temperament and personality,  the most important and fundamental thing about us is our Christian identity, the fact that we belong to the Lord Jesus, so we need to love another in the church family, in the communion of saints, as God has loved us. Our relationships are very important in the church family, because we are the communion, the fellowship, of saints, we are those God has called to belong to him in the Lord Jesus and in whom he has placed his life-giving Holy Spirit. That’s our identity and it’s the most important thing about us. 

I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the fellowship of believers in the Lord Jesus who are called to love one another in the family of the local church, to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 

Cranmer's Curate is blogging off, back God willing after Christmas. He leaves the youth group with the BCP Collect for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity:
Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Imagine the Church of England with one million disciples of Christ appeared on VirtueOnline.  This piece about the Archbishop of Canterbury's state of the Anglican Communion speech at General Synod also appeared on VOL.

Testing questions for Oxford abortion censors appeared on Anglican Mainstream.

Do not worship false gods, even if they are the flag of St George appeared on The Conservative Woman.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

CLEARING UP MISUNDERSTANDING OF REFORM PIECE

Clarification is needed after some misunderstanding of this piece that originally appeared on VirtueOnline Speaking out for sexual holiness is the responsibility of all Reform members, not just the same-sex attracted.

The article does not say that Reform has been delegating the argument for biblical holiness on sexual conduct to its same-sex attracted (ssa) members. That is manifestly untrue. The Reform leadership has been faithfully arguing for the teaching of God's Word on this issue for years. Only last August Reform director Susie Leafe courageously debated against Vicky Beeching on BBC Radio 4 after the singer broadcast her conversion to the revisionist cause by 'coming out' to the secular media.

So the piece did not in any way denigrate Reform's biblical faithfulness or disparage the great work its leadership has been doing under God.

However, looking ahead now that the Reform leadership has rightly urged its members to stay out of the Church of England's 'facilitated conversations' on sexuality, the article did try to encourage the network to resist the pressure to leave the task of contending for sexual holiness to its ssa members. This pressure is strong because the celibate ssa cannot be accused of making moral demands on homosexual revisionists that they are not fulfilling themselves.

But the heterosexual orthodox Christian does have an answer to the accusation levelled by the revisionist: "You're allowed to have sex in marriage, but you are depriving me of the right to have sex in a loving, faithful relationship."

And it is an answer that strikes at the heart of the gay identity cult. It is the reality that the nature of sexual attraction can and does change in some individuals. It is important of course to stress that this does not happen in every case. It is also important to be realistic about the likelihood of residual feelings of same-sex attraction in former homosexuals who get heterosexually married and have children.

But it is happening and it is very incovenient to the homosexualist movement, which is why there is such strong social and political pressure in the West to ban gay change therapy.

The heterosexual contender can and should point to the faithful witness of celibate Christian ssa's. These heroic brothers and sisters in Christ have a vital role to play in the spiritual battle. But because the homosexual issue is part of the permissive society's broader attack on biblical holiness in the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, the war cannot be waged effectively if they are the exclusive spokespeople and biblically orthodox heterosexuals are shamed into silence.

Monday, 20 October 2014

CONSISTENT HOLINESS TEACHING CALLED FOR IN 'POPOLOGETICS'

Ted Turnau's book, Popologetics - Popular Culture in Christian Perspective (P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, 2012), both reflects and is fuelling a growing interest among younger Reformed evangelicals in engaging positively with popular culture.

Currently, this interest is rooted in a sound biblical worldview, which faces up to the reality of sin and idolotry in contemporary TV output, electronic media, films, music, books and art whilst rightly recognising that God's 'common grace' is also present in human culture.

Here is an example of Dr Turnau's solid biblical persective:
If our rebellion and alienation run deep and distort our hearts so decisively, then these sins will inevitably affect culture as well. Though God established culture as good, we should expect every dynamic of culture to be distorted by sin. And sure enough, if we look at what culture was supposed to be at creation, we can see it twisted and misdirected at every turn (p60).

Such biblical realism provides a confidence-inspiring basis for Dr Turnau's well-argued exhortation to Christians to be salt and light for the Lord Jesus in their attitude to and engagement with popular culture.

But this movement could become victim of what one might call 'second generation complacency'. The strong and deeply thought-through biblical perspective of the first generation of Reformed exponents gets taken for granted, assumed, by the next generation of evangelicals and then eventually compromise with the prevailing culture and sinful worldliness sets in.

The movement's current leaders need to make sure that they continue to highlight God's call to personal holiness and the priority of evangelism. The Apostle Peter's perspective in his first letter is vital if 'popologetics' is to stay fixed to its biblical moorings:
Therefore (in the light of the true saving message from God Christians have been privileged to receive through the Holy Spirit) gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be yourselves holy in all your conduct: since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1v13-16 - RSV).
This piece about how new diversity rules are impacting on church schools appeared on ConservativeHome.

Speaking out for sexual holiness is the responsibility of all Reform members not just the same-sex attracted appeared on VirtueOnline.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

CAN A FALSE TEACHER DELIVER AN UPLIFTING BIBLICAL TALK? YES HE/SHE CAN

Otherwise the false teacher would gain no traction in the visible church of Christ.

So on certain spiritual subjects the Bible addresses the false teacher will be able to impress sincere Christian people with his or her depth of theological learning and ability in expounding a particular biblical passage or topic.

Furthermore, the false teacher's personal charisma, including the image of piety they project, will enhance their spiritual plausibility. In certain cases and indeed necessarily for the false teacher's impact on English audiences, he or she will assume an air of humility, having cultivated the disarming art of self-deprecation.

But for the spiritually discerning they are still recognisable as a false teacher because they do not teach the whole counsel of God and on primary biblical issues, for example the propitiatory nature of Christ's sacrifice for our personal sin, they have flagrantly rejected apostolic authority.

The Apostle Paul's warning to the church of Corinth is critical for developing spiritual discernment in recognising false teachers. Exposing the 'super-apostles' who were so dazzling the Corinthian Christians, Paul wrote:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11v13-15 - RSV). 

That is why those of us with pastoral responsibility for the Lord Jesus' precious flock in local churches must take special care about how we react when a celebrated false teacher delivers a spiritually uplifting speech.

The odd good talk does not a faithful ministry make and indeed is necessary for the projection of an unfaithful one.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

DANGEROUS LACK OF CLARITY IN 'LOVE LETTER TO GAY BISHOPS'

It is dangerously unclear what those Anglicans who have signed the ‘love letter’ to gay bishops - urging them to come out, as reported by The Sunday Telegraph, mean by the terminology they use. It would seem that the signatories have a secular understanding of 'sexual orientation' in mind, which would include active sexual practice.

Certainly, the letter makes no clear distinction between sexual attraction and practice:
We write to assure those bishops who may choose to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual that you will receive our support, prayer, and encouragement...We have no doubt that the vast majority of Anglicans will welcome and embrace those of you who are gay or bisexual for your courage and conviction if you come out: weeping with you for past hurts and rejoicing in God’s call as witnesses to Christ’s transforming love and compassion...If you stand out we will stand beside you.

Apart from appearing to suggest that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is acceptable for Christians, the letter fails to recognise the pastoral situation of married bishops who 'may choose to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual'. For a married bishop to go public about his same-sex attraction, he would surely be duty-bound to exercise the utmost pastoral sensitivity towards his wife and children.

To go public without their consent would be an appalling dereliction of duty towards his own family and would be contrary to the Ordinal, as it would be for an incumbent.

What the letter signally ignores is the biblical fact, clearly set forth in the Ordinal, that ministers of the gospel are called to be an example to Christ's people both in their life and doctrine. In the light of Holy Scripture and the historic Anglican formularies reflecting the Bible, any ordained person who is engaging in sex outside of heterosexual marriage is falling short of the standard that should be expected of an Anglican minister and should therefore resign or face a due process of ecclesiastical discipline.

And in response to this worldly letter the current House of Bishops needs to say so in order to be diligently faithful to the Ordinal's call upon consecrated bishops 'to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word'.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

GROW THE GOSPEL - ARE WE THE RIGHT SUBJECT OF THE VERB?

On two recent occasions, Cranmer's Curate has come across the phrase 'grow the gospel' with Christians in local churches as the subject of the verb. But is it biblical to talk this way?

The book of Acts records that after the Apostles avoided being distracted from their ministry of the word and prayer through the appointment of seven godly men to deal with the fair distribution of food in the Jerusalem church
the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6v7 - RSV).
That is certainly gospel growth and the overcoming of the deployment problem in the church was crucial for enabling such growth. But critically for this question, Acts makes the word of God the subject of the verb, as it does in 19v20.  It does not say the church grew the word.

The Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3 appeals for prayer
that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith (v1-2),
The prayers of the Thessalonian church are thus very important for the progress of the gospel and for the deliverance of Paul and his fellow workers from those who would hinder the proclamation of the gospel. But again the word is the subject of the verb.

This formulation surely makes sense in the light of the New Testament's teaching about the respective divine and human roles in gospel growth, as Paul explains so clearly in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul and his fellow workers preached the gospel faithfully and as they did so God brought about the conversion of human hearts, thus giving 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ' to previously spiritually blinded individuals (v5&6).

So, Christians have a role in God's sovereign plan in proclaiming the message of salvation and praying for its progress but God's unique role is the decisive one in converting individuals and thus 'growing the gospel' in the sense of more people believing it and gospel-proclaiming churches being built up. Thus, making the word of God the subject does not exclude human activity but attributes the lion's share of the growth to the right Person.

In the light of this, is it not arrogant to speak of us in our church taking actions to 'grow the gospel' in our locality? At least, even if those speaking in these terms have the right theological framework in their minds, it sounds arrogant, so is not the phrase best avoided when 'we' are the subject of the verb?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

RENEW LEADERS BID TO RALLY ANGLICAN EVANGELICALS WITH 2014 COMMITMENT

This news report first appeared on VirtueOnline in the US: Leaders of the ReNew movement, a joint initiative between Reform, Church Society, and the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), this week attempted to rally Anglican evangelicals with a new commitment and basis of faith.

The ReNew 2014 Commitment, published at a conference in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, pledged Anglican evangelicals ‘to investigate the opportunities to revitalise’ local Church of England churches and/or plants ‘with or without diocesan approval’. 

Regionally, the Commitment urged Anglican evangelicals to work together ‘to pioneer, establish and secure healthy Anglican churches’. ‘To this end we will work to recruit, train and deploy men and women for Anglican ministry in local churches,’ the Commitment declares.

The Commitment includes a doctrinal statement. ‘Knowing that unity is a work of the Holy Spirit which can only be established through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice in the fellowship of all those who subscribe to the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration.’ it begins.

But the ReNew statement goes further than the Jerusalem Declaration on women’s ordination to the presbyterate and episcopate. It includes an affirmation of the classic evangelical doctrine of male headship in the church and the family: ‘We affirm that men and women are equal as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. We also affirm that God created male and female differently, in order for them to complement one another…Within the church there is a divinely appointed order in which elder/oversight roles are given to men only.’

The ReNew Basis of Faith, to be signed by all conference planning committee members and speakers, also affirmed matrimony as ‘the lifelong union between one man and one woman’ with sexual relations outside that context being ‘sinful in God’s eyes’.

The Commitment pledged the conference delegates who signed it to support Reform, Church Society and AMiE in creating a national database of Anglican evangelical churches, clergy and laity, providing advice and training on political and legal issues and ensuring the provision of authorised episcopal oversight.

There are some reflections on ReNew below the news story on VOL.