Adoniram Judson was one of the first American born overseas missionaries and a pioneer missionary to Burma. He knew very well the dangers to his own life and any who would join him when he wrote a letter to a Mr. Hasseltine asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world ? whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?
Her father consented.
At the end of their first six years, only one man had turned to Christ. But for Judson giving up was not an option. When he received a letter from the Mission Board in America asking after his work, he answered, “The prospects are as bright as the promise of God.”
“I will not leave Burma,” he declared, “until the cross is planted here forever!” It is now estimated that there are 2 million Christians in Burma.
To live is Christ, to die is gain – there is only one life worth living.
So NT Wright (formerly Bishop of Durham and now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College, St Andrews) has declared in the Times newspaper (£) that the argument for women Bishops is to be found in the Bible.
We applaud his rejection of the cries of both media and politicians that the Church must ‘move with the times’ and modernise. CS Lewis was right to reject the myth of moral progress which he described as ‘chronological snobbery’.
So far so good. However Wright’s defence of women Bishops from the text of the Bible is quite something to behold. He writes ‘The other lie to nail is that people who “believe in the Bible” or who “take it literally” will oppose women’s ordination. Rubbish.’
Nathaniel Dimock in his work on the Atonement argues that three tests can be applied to assess the validity of an interpretation of the Bible. A doctrine should be regarded as orthodox if it can be demonstrated from the Scriptures, but further, interpretations should also be weighed against the church’s teaching across the centuries. Dimock as a good evangelical believed in Sola Scriptura and tradition is in no way a final authority but nevertheless we are right to ask whether a view of the Bible is biblical if it is also not also primitive and catholic.
By Biblical we mean it must find clear support in the Bible itself. By primitive Dimock means we should look to see whether such an interpretation has been accepted from the earliest times of the church and catholic meaning it should have widespread support across the ages of the church. Clearly doctrines (such as penal substitutionary atonement which Dimock defends) are not taught with the same frequency and clarity across all ages but Dimock ably demonstrates a form of the doctrine present in the church from the earliest times to the present day. If a doctrine is clearly taught in the Bible, so much so that it should be regarded as the correct interpretation over other views, we should expect to find the church affirming it to some degree at points throughout history.
So what should we think of Wright’s approach, maintaining as he does, that a doctrine held nowhere in the church for the first 2000 of its existence should be accepted as Biblical? Further a doctrine still rejected by the vast majority of Christians across the world? I hope he can at least understand the scepticism of many when his judgement is questioned.
Should we not also be a bit apprehensive when it comes to embracing a novel 21st century interpretation that just so happens fits exactly the mood of our own times. It makes me, at least, think there might be some attempt to make an idea ‘fit’ the text at all costs.
We shouldn’t say that Wright is simply wrong it’s rather that his arguments need to be a great deal more substantial than they are if he wishes to persuade that Christians have failed, for 2000 years, to understand and interpret the text of the Bible correctly.
10ofthose.com have produced a very useful video deconstructing a religious view of God by taking a closer look at Santa. Could be useful this Christmas.
(HT: Caitriona McCartney)
In the last post we thought a little about the danger of a rules-based parenting model as well as the opportunity we have as Christian parents to model grace in the home. In particular we wanted to highlight that in our approach to parenting we have an opportunity to commend the gospel to our children by the very way we live it out as we raise them.
If we adopt a legalistic attitude to parenting we teach our children that love is conditional on performance even as we tell them that God’s love shown to us in Jesus is unconditional. Should we be surprised if our children reject the gospel because they are confused as to the character of God? The first diagram represents a home where the culture of the house contradicts and undermines the message of the gospel we proclaim.
Six marks of a grace-filled home
A grace-filled home will be a place where the grace of God, the love of the Father, will be worked-out in the way we raise our children. I’m sure there are many more things that could be said but here are just six ideas as to what that would look like;
- Fun – Just as our Father in heaven delights in us as his children so we too are to delight in our children. We must find the time to enjoy their company, to take pleasure in what gives them pleasure.
- Forgiveness – Just as our Father is quick to forgive our many failings so we will be quick to forgive our children even as we discipline them.
- Firm but fair discipline –God does discipline his children as a father so must we.
- Family comes first – God is a God of relationships; Father, Son & Spirit who delight to serve and bless each other. So as we reflect his likeness we will raise our children we will sacrifice self-interest as we put their interests ahead of our own.
- Freedom – We will not control our children and impose our will upon them. Our father in heaven gives us freedoms and sometimes we make bad choices but under his watchful eye he let’s us take responsibility for our actions. So too we need to learn to let our children express their personality, gifts, character and also allow them to take appropriate risks.
- Failure – Just as we need to hear from our Father in heaven ‘It’s all right. I forgive you. I’ll help you recover from the mistakes you’ve made with your kids’ so we too need to communicate something of that same ‘permission to fail.’
Becoming a home of grace
Tim Kimmel in his book Grace based parenting which was a kick start to the ideas represented above writes: You wonder, ‘How am I to raise up children to love and serve God?’ The answer is actually not that difficult. You simply need to treat your children the way God treats you. He does it in His grace.
And here’s the good part. If the only thing you get right as parents is His grace, everything else will be just fine.
On Saturday at City Church we gave some time to thinking about how the gospel shapes our approach to parenting. Not just when and how we read the Bible with our kids but to what extent a theology of grace shapes the culture of our homes and our approach to every aspect of raising kids.
What is grace-based parenting?
Tim Kimmel in his excellent and very practical book Grace Based Parenting calls on us as Christians to ‘Treat our children the way God treats us’.
Grace-based parenting means parenting in a way that is consistent with the grace of God revealed in the gospel but more than that it means raising our kids as an overflow of our personal grasp and delight in grace. The goal of such parenting is to do all we can to reflect the character of the God of all grace to our children. As we parent this way we give them the best possible context for understanding and responding to the God of grace as revealed in the gospel.
Why do we need to consider grace-based parenting?
Unless we deliberately pursue a grace-based approach we will slip into a performance-driven, rules-based model. Legalistic parenting is our default method of parenting because self-justification is our default mode of living.
As Kimmel observes – Our parenting is the result of our theology. How we view God determines how we parent our children.
- If we spend our lives trying to keep the rules to make ourselves acceptable to God we will communicate to our children that their lives are about trying to keep the rules to make themselves acceptable to us.
- If we need to prove ourselves to God by our performance in order to be accepted by him our children will feel the need to prove themselves to us by their performance in order to be accepted by us and by extension God.
If your life is a performance in order to gain approval then your children will view their lives as a performance to gain your approval.
How do you spot legalistic-parenting?
Kimmel argues Legalistic parents spend most of their time trying to make sure their family does everything right. They assume that what God demands of them should be their primary business.
Legalistic parents love their kids and very much want the best for them but living up to mum and dad’s standards to feel secure in their love turns childhood experience into one of duty and not joy. It is one of conditional love rather than the unconditional and undeserved love that is grace.
Kids with legalistic parents leave home feeling guilty and one of the overwhelming attitudes that runs through the home is ‘fear’. Fear of failure, fear of being a disappointment to our parents, etc.
Where does rule-based parenting lead?
Let’s look at two passages in scripture in which the Apostle Paul warns Christian parents against it.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:4 NIV) lit. word exasperate means ‘make angry’. Two commentaries draw out the meaning here;
Effectively, the apostle is ruling out ‘excessively severe discipline, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, arbitrariness, unfairness, constant nagging and condemnation, subjecting a child to humiliation, and to all forms of gross insensitivity to a child’s needs and sensibilities.’ – Andrew Lincoln
Behind this curbing of a father’s authority is the clear recognition that children, while they are expected to obey their parents in the Lord, are persons in their own right who are not to be manipulated, exploited, or crushed – Peter T. O’Brien
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Col 3:21 NIV)
Embitter ‘signifies to ‘irritate’ either by nagging at them or by deriding their efforts. Fathers are to obey the injunction so that their children do not become discouraged or think that it is useless trying to please them within the common life of the home. – Peter T. O’Brien
If we are to treat our children as God treats us then we will need to parent with the gospel and from the gospel that we might make the gospel attractive to them.
What happens when we parent our children out of grace?
The three-fold definition of grace: parenting to produce love, significance and hope
Six marks of a grace-filled house
Very helpful stuff from Tim Chester on competing definitions of what it means to be a man…
(HT: Andrew Evans)
Movements are marked by a compelling vision says Tim Keller in Center Church and that is what we are discovering in Birmingham. 2020birmingham is a church-planting movement for the UK’s second largest city. We’ve been building the work for the past 3 years.
So what’s our compelling vision? 20 church-planting churches by 2020. It’s as simple as that and maybe that’s why there is momentum for 2020birmingham. In three years we’ve seen 6 new churches started – 3 new churches, 2 new congregations and 1 replant.
We are not a denomination, we have no staff (apart from a terrific part-time administrator who’s been with us 3 months) and so far we’ve had no money to invest in planters or plants.
What we do have is a team of 8 planters who are committed to the gospel, to the city, to their congregations, to the lost and to each other.
This last Saturday we held our third conference and we were amazed to find we were going to be 100 people from 29 different churches and organisations. I counted just six who came from outside the city to look at what we were doing and three of those used to live in the city and are planning to come back to plant.Tim Keller again A movement says ‘If this is where you want to go, come along with us’ and so at our conference this year we made our theme partnership. Our message was come join us – because we can do far more together than we ever could on our own.
We reminded ourselves why our city needed a church-planting movement. Birmingham is Europe’s youngest city with 37% of the population under 25. That’s a lot of people who are highly secularised, highly diverse, and pretty suspicious about the church.
We celebrated what God had done in planting the six churches and seeing them established and growing.
We were inspired through stories of church planting movements in cities of the world from Al Barth & Martin de Jong.
We were challenged by the need to reach new communities in our cities and the complexity of third culture communities growing up around us. How do we plant highly contextualised churches to reach every community?But most of all we wanted to be generous. We wanted to invite others to join us. We said you don’t need to be a church-planting church to join a church-planting movement – although be careful because that’s just maybe what you’ll become. We said why not become a 2020 Partner Church? Partner churches are established churches in our city willing and available to partner with a new church plant in their area; ready to pray, share wisdom, coach, mentor and train core-team members. The synergy created between plant and partner church ensures that the partner in turn is blessed not least in being motivated to keep an outward focus for themselves too. Who knows how many partner churches may in turn plant for themselves inspired by the example of the new churches they have partnered to create.
We also let the gospel of our God motivate this movement.
A church-planting Bishop from the Church of England shared his experience of planting in London (Rev. Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Aston). He described the powerful synergy only experienced when we choose to work together in planting and he reminded us that the God who is trinity is a God of partnership in his very being. It was something special to be reminded by the Bishop that we are at our most god-like when we are in partnership too.
The apostle Paul told us from Romans 13:12 that we have an on-going obligation to love each other. There is never a time when I can say ‘I have loved you enough.’ The church may have a mission, a mandate, and a motivation that forms a movement but more than anything else it needs the love of Christ pulsing through its veins.
On Saturday 100 people from across the city of Birmingham are gathering together to think, pray and plan to reach our city for Christ. It’s the third time we have done this in the past 3 years. Our conference is called How to win a million.
We represent a variety of evangelicals (Anglican, FIEC, Independent, New Frontiers, etc.) and the reason we keep meeting is that we recognise that it will take many more new churches to reach our city for Christ and that collaboration in planting is the way to best achieve this.
Let me offer you five reasons why our city, and almost certainly yours, needs not just for your church to plant but churches to work together to plant so that we can reach a city more quickly and more effectively for Christ.
1. We need new churches to reach a growing population
The population of England and Wales has grown by 3.7 million people in just the past 10 years. Such a population increase, at 7.1%, represents the greatest increase in a single 10 year period in over one hundred years.
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 37% of the population under the age of 25.
2. We need new churches to replace the many churches that are closing
The total number of churches in the UK fell from 50,231 in 1980 to 47,635 in 2005 a drop of 5.16%, when in the same period the UK population grew from 56.3 Million to 60.2 Million a rise of 6.7%.
3. We need new churches to reach out to our ever more secular cities
A recent study of 64,303 adults in the UK found that of the younger generation: only 38% of the 18-34’s defined themselves as being Christian whilst 53% preferred to describe themselves as having no religion. Whilst the gospel doesn’t change and the message of Christ crucified is our only message we need to find innovative, creative and flexible models of church that best reach a secular culture. New churches have always led the way.
4. We need new churches to reach our religiously diverse cities
In the 2001 census 16.8% of the Birmingham population identified themselves as Muslim. The average for England and Wales is 3.0%. The challenge is obvious and the statistics demonstrate the direction of travel: ever-more diversity! Birmingham had a 30% ethnic minorities population in 2001 and that figure is set to grow.
New communities have entered our cities and reaching them for Christ presents fantastic opportunities!
5. We need new churches that will love and serve our cities rather than retreat from them
In that same study of over 60,000 UK adults
- 79% agreed that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today
- 72% agreed that religion is used as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance
- 78% agreed that religion should be a private matter
When 4 in 5 people are deeply suspicious of the presence of religion in their society there is much that the church must do to demonstrate a commitment to serve and bless our cities.
The challenges are so great and the need so urgent that it compels us to work together under Christ to make his name known.
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