I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. – 1 Tim. 2:1-4
Have you ever thought what extraordinary words those are? When Paul wrote them there was not one King anywhere in the world who was a Christian ruler. For Paul then there is no secular government and that means for the Christian there cannot be secular government.
What is even more extraordinary is that Paul’s prayer focuses on the fact that God has put secular rulers in place not just for the common good of man but God calls upon the state to serve the church by upholding freedom and justice and thereby allowing Christians to get on with their lives and their evangelism!
We find other early church leaders calling on Christians to pray in the same way.
Clement writes in the second century:
Grant them Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, so that they may give no offence in administering the government you have given them.
Tertullian writes in his Apology:
We pray also for the emperors, for their ministers and those in power, that their reign may continue, that the state may be at peace, and that the end of the world may be postponed.
If we are to learn how to pray for the state the heart of all of these prayers is the recognition that rulers are appointed by God to rule in such a way as to enable Christians to ‘live peaceful and quiet lives’ and by so doing enable the church to be God’s agent in the world bringing salvation as it preaches and lives out the gospel.
John Stott writes:
Here is important apostolic teaching about church and state, and about the porper relations between them, even when the state is not Christian. It is the duty of the state to keep the peace, to protect its citizens from whatever would disturn it, to preserve law and order and to punish evil and promote god (as Paul teaches in Rom. 13:4), so that within such a stable society the church may be free to worship God, obey his laws and spread his gospel.
There is therefore a great deal at stake in how a government governs. Paul’s prayer implies that when a government fails to uphold the freedom of the Christian it is actually failing in its God-given duty! For many Christians around the world this failure of the state to live up to it’s calling is all too apparent. In recent months in the middle-east in particular the state has failed in its role of protecting the church from harm. Witness recent bomb attacks on churches in Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt.
Whilst the church should and must turn to God in prayer at such times the leaders of other nations do have the opportunity to challenge government that is failing to protect it’s people, including Christians.
The article reports:
A meeting of EU foreign ministers failed to agree on a condemnation of sectarian attacks over the Christmas period that targeted Christians in Egypt and Iraq.
Talks ended angrily when Italy accused Lady Ashton, the EU’s foreign minister, of “excessive” political correctness because she refused to name any specific religious group as a victim of attacks.
Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, demanded an EU response on the persecution of Christians after a New Year suicide bombing at a Coptic church in northern Egypt in which 23 people were killed.
The Egyptian bombing followed attacks in Baghdad and fears, expressed by the Vatican, of persecution leading to a Christian exodus from the Middle East.
Mr Frattini, backed by France, said it pointless to issue statements defending religious tolerance without any references to the specific minority, Christians, that was under attack.
Ambition! We must be careful what we mean by it. If it means the desire to get ahead of other people . . .then it is bad. If it means simply wanting to do a thing well, then it is good. It isn’t wrong for an actor to want to act his part as well as it can possibly be acted, but the wish to gave his name in bigger type than the other actors is a bad one . . .What we call “ambition” usually means the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad. It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or to look nice. But when the dominant wish to dance better or look nicer than the others – when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that would take all the fun out of it – then you are going wrong.
Dreaming big for God
Expect great things from God attempt great things for God so said William Carey the founder of the modern missionary movement.
I guess like me you find the quote inspiring but what does such trust in God along with such godly ambition begin to look like in your life and in mine?
In a book I’m reading called Exponential, Dave and Jon Ferguson, lead Pastors of Commnuity Church, Naperville, Iiinois made some very helpful observations of the need to dream big and how big dreams begin to change things not least your own life:
I have found that when you dream big, it changes how you think, how you act, and it can even change those around you.
Not least because ‘allowing your heart and mind to pursue a vision that is bigger than you can handle will change you in some very significant ways.’
1. Big dreams change your questions
The bigger your dream, the more you challenge and stretch your mind with tough questions. The size of your dream will often determine the types of questions you ask. Small dreams that are within your grasp and easily managed require one set of questions. Big dreams lead you to ask an entirely different set of questions, questions you would probably never ask otherwise.
At City Church Birmingham we’ve asked the question ‘how can we plant a daughter church?’ now we’re asking a different kind of question ‘how can we see 20 churches planted by the year 2020?’ Only when we started to ask that question did we realise that the only way we could ever see that happen was through seeking working partnerships with other church-planting churches in the city of Birmingham, churches we hardly new and churches of whom we had previously felt no real need to connect with. All because our ambitions were too small.
2. Big dreams change your prayers
Big questions also force you to ask questions to which you do not know the answer. When you have questions and you don’t know how to answer them, who do you turn to? God! Big dreams force us to ask the types of questions that lead to greater dependence on God.
As we start to form new partnerships in the city we pray that God would protect our unity. As we look at church-planting with no resources to fund or
support planting so we pray that God would provide. As we ask questions of strategy such as ‘how do we reach a city of a million?’, ‘how do we practically work together?’ so we find perhaps more than ever we need wisdom from God and so we ask him knowing that he gives generously (James 1:3).
3. Big dreams change others
Big dreams are also contagious. They are infectious. They not only change you, but they can also slowly begin to change your friends and those around you!
We’re thrilled to find that in the first year of running the ‘2020 Planters Programme’ that six church-planters, all committed to planting in the city, are gathering to meet every couple of weeks, pray for one another, share ideas, vision and resources. As we listen to each other, share and pray so we are inspired and urged on in the task. It all seems so much more possible at the end of a Wednesday morning than it did at the start.
4. Big dreams change you
As our dreams get bigger, our doubts will inevitably grow.
That’s certainly been my experience too. The bigger the dream the more you are constantly reminded that it is beyond your ability to deliver it. Wherever there is faith doubt will be right there along side.
At present we are planning a second conference for 2020 birmingham this time the conference will be jointly hosted by Acts29 Western Europe (5-6th May). Mark Driscoll will be speaking and 2020 will have an opportunity to share something of the vision we believe God has given us for this city. As the conference approaches so we feel ever more unworthy because of our sin, unable because of the size of the task and unprepared to answer the questions raised by the task before us. But each times those feelings rise there is a fresh opportunity for faith to grow as we remember that we only attempt great things for God because we expect great things from God.
So what stops us dreaming big dreams?
I find that there are two common fears that keep us and our churches from taking risks for the sake of mission. The first is our fear of failure. We say to ourselves. ‘I’m afraid it just won’t work…and I can’t accept the possibility of failure.’ The second fear that keeps us from taking risks is closely related – it’s the fear of loss. We work for years to build a large church or successful career, and our ‘success’ can become the very thing that gets in the way of our taking more significant risks. We tell ourselves, ‘I’ve accomplished too much to lose it all.’ If it is a fear of failure or loss that is holding you back, let me remind you of the grace of God. Walking faithfully in obedience to God is what matters, not your success or failure in the eyes of the world.
When it comes to taking risks, the important question you need to ask is when was the last time you took a risk and trusted God? When was the last time your courageously followed Jesus and did something that was clearly beyond your own abilities? When was the last time you followed Jesus so closely that it was uncomfortable, maybe even a bit scary?
What might this mean for you?
Dave Harvey author of Resucing Ambition wants us to keep asking this question:
What is the Spirit-constrained ambition that God wants us to indulge for his glory right where we are?
And we could also ask:
- Is there a ministry opportunity I’ve simply been too scared to take?
- What is stopping me from going for it? Is it fear of failure? Fear of loss?
- Who can I talk and pray through this dream with?
- Who can help me shape and realise this dream?
- How deliberate I have been in praying for guidance or in asking God to enable this dream?
- Am I being held back by small ambitions that must give way to something out of my reach?
We carry the same gospel Paul carried, and it requires us to have a similar ambition – Dave Harvey
I posted a few weeks ago an interview featuring the man Richard Dawkins has refused to debate: William Lane Craig. Thanks to Tony Watkins for pointing me in the direction of this youtube post that shows Craig in action against the other self-publicist Christopher Hitchens. Dr. Craig graciously but masterfully exposes the holes in Christopher Hitchens logic as well as his views. I can’t see Dawkins wanting to put himself through that same experience anytime soon.
And for any seeking the statement where Dawkins gives his reasons for refusing to debate Craig you can see it here.
Piers Morgan has taken over from Larry King on CNN and in his first week conducted an hour long interview with Ricky Gervais just a day or two after he ruffled feathers hosting the Golden Globe Awards show.
The interview is well worth watching not least for Ricky’s take on God. As Ricky brought the 68th Golden Globes Award show to an end he said “Thank you to God for making me an atheist,” something Piers was keen to follow up in his interview.
I guess we’ve all heard comments like this when we’ve talked about matters of faith over a pint. I thought I might make a few observations on some of Ricky’s arguments for atheism to help us to meet such comments as we come across them in our conversations.
So let’s look at three statements that Ricky makes in the interview:
1. ’Unlike religious people I look at all religions equally’
Because it’s a throw away line in an interview it’s not altogether apparent what Ricky meant by this but what seems clear is that as far as he is concerned atheism is tolerant where religion is not and one assumes by virtue of that fact a better worldview to hold.
But take a closer look and I’m not too sure how a position that says ‘all religion is wrong’ is more tolerant than the position put forward by Christians. It seems to me that both the atheist and the Christian are making exactly the same claim to exclusive truth. Christianity says there is only one truth and that is found in Christ. Atheism says tehre is only one truth and that is found in rejecting all religion as wrong. Is one position more tolerent than the other? I don’t see how.
2. ‘Christians haven’t got a monopoly on good’
I’m not aware of Christians ever claiming that they did! The crucial point I would wish to make to Ricky over our pint is not that its only Christians who can choose to be good but it is Christianity and not atheism that makes a compelling case for why we must be good.
The difference I’d seek to highlight is that the Christian has a reason – more than that an obligation – to be good because of the demands of God. The atheist may choose to be good but can equally well choose to be bad. In fact good and bad are just arbitrary labels – badges of convenience – without any reference point to ground them.
The atheist philosopher Kai Nielson once said:
We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational beings unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason does not decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. Pure practical reason even with a good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality.
So I think I would seek to persuade Ricky that atheism frees people to be as bad as they wish. Whereas Christianity has a monopoly over reasons to be good rather than being bad.
3) ‘Of course I believe in love…of course I believe in the beauty of nature’
Ricky is pretty put out by the thought that Christians claim that only they can love and once again I’d be seeking to help him understand that, as with the argument for goodness, Christians are not suggesting that only they can love or live a moral life.
The big issue though is who decides what love is and is there any rational foundation for love if we beleive that the universe is ultimately a dark and loveless place.
Richad Dawkins acknowleges;
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice. The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence. DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.
But more than anything else the purpose of apologetics is not winning arguments but seeking to win hearts and minds for Christ. More than anything I’d want to help Ricky to see that his very concern for goodness, beauty, love (and no doubt truth?) are pointers away from atheism (which explains them all away) and pointers to the God who is good and beautiful, love and truth.
Slate has posted a great article called facebook is making us sad reporting on a study which reveals the sub-conscious impact that social networking sites can have on our sense of well-being. The article is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The conclusion of the study is that we feel anxious and even depressed whenever we compare ourselves with others because we almost always think that our facebook friends are doing better in life than we are. There is nothing new in those feelings but maybe Facebook exacerbates the problem because it suggests that everyone else out there is leading the perfect life.
Brian Houston makes us sad
Houston’s book You need more money: Discovering God’s amazing financial plan for your life could only be written by a rich Western Christian. I would love to hear him try to persuade the persecuted Christians in various Islamic countries that God has a purpose to bless them financially and make them rich in this life!
Here’s a taster:
If you are applying the Word to your life, God will bless you with prosperity and good success.
And then again:
Take a bit of time to think this through and if you still aren’t sure that God wants you to prosper, ask yourself these questions:
If God didn’t want you to get wealth, why would he give you the power to get it?
If He didn’t want you to be wealthy, why would He take pleasure when His people prosper?
And why would He promise prosperity and success if He preferred us to remain poor? Continue reading »
If you’re anything like me you probably think that the history of the church in the last 150 years or so has been one in which Christians have made a strong and concerted case against Darwin’s theory of evolution only to find that in recent years a number of Christians have perhaps lost their nerve and jumped ship – much to the dismay and confusion of the general Christian public.
What I’m discovering is that church history tells quite a different story. As we will see below the picture is one in which a number of intelligent, in fact brilliant, godly, prominent Christian leaders from the middle to late 19th century have found a place for evolution within a Christian worldview.
Why does any of this matter?
Well quite simply because if it can be shown that there have always been evangelicals able to accommodate evolutionary ideas then why should we be surprised or even shocked to find the same today?
And if it is the case that significant voices in the church have from Darwin’s day through to the present been able to reconcile evolution with the Bible why do some insist that it is THE issue on which to test the orthodoxy of Christian faith?
And importantly what arguments have been presented in the past 150 years by these believers and have they remained consistent or changed over time?
In an earlier post we briefly considered three leading scientists who believe exactly that and three leading theologians (Stott, Keller, and Packer).
Today I want to take a look at three leading evangelical thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century who defended the idea of evolution as compatible with the Bible. We start with the most important and influential theologian of the period.
B.B. Warfield (1851-1921)
Warfield was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921. So great is his reputation that JI Packer lists him along with John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Abraham Kuyper, as the fourth member of ‘Reformed theology’s Fabulous Four’.
In a journal article Mark Noll and David N. Livingstone begin:
One of the best-kept secrets in American intellectual history is that B.B. Warfield, the foremost modern defenders of the theologically conservative doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible, was also an evolutionist.
Early on in his career Warfield decribed himself as a ‘darwinian of the purest water’ and in 1888 in his Lectures on Anthropology at Princeton University he wrote;
The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law & which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual outpur of creative force, producing something new we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.
In a new book The Theology of BB Warfield Fred Zaspel and Sinclair Ferguson question whether it is a fair conclusion to draw that Warfield was a dyed-in-the-wool evolutionist. Zaspel argues against that view in a recent themelios article but he does concede that David N. Livingstone is surely right when he comments:
It is clear that Warfield believed he was perpetuating orthodox Calvinism even while conceding the possibility of a human evolutionary history.
James McCosh (1811-1894)
McCosh was a Scot who was appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Queen’s College, Belfast (now Queen’s University Belfast)before becoming President of Princeton University between 1866-1888. He was a mentor of BB Warfield’s and was the first leading evangelical thinker to endorse an evangelical Christianity compatible with evolution.
Writing in 1871 he comments:
There is proof of Plan in the Organic Unity and Growth of the World. As there is evidence of purpose, not only in every organ of the plant, but in the whole plant…so there are proofs of design, not merely in the individual plant and individual animal, but in the whole structure of the Cosmos and in the manner in which it makes progress from age to age. The persistence of force may be one of the elements conspiring to this end; the law of Natural Selection may be another; or it may be a modification of the same.
For our third example we turn to the Baptist tradition where we too find voices in support of evolution.
AH Strong (1836-1921)
Strong was president of Rochester Theological Seminary between 1872 and 1912 where he served as professor of systematic theology. In discussing the possibility of evolution as God’s means of creation he writes;
It has to do with the how not the why of the phenomena, and therefore is not inconsistent with design, but rather is a new and higher illustration of design.
In his Systematic Theology Strong writes:
Since we believe in a dynamic universe, of which the personal and living God is the inner source of energy, evolution is but the basis, foundation and background of Christianity, the silent and regular working of him who, in the fullness of time, utters his voice in Christ and the cross.
We’ve taken just three examples from the time of Darwin and haven’t even considered the leading scientists of the day who were firm believers in the Bible whilst adopting the new scientific views such as Asa Gray, George Frederick Wright and james Dwight Dana.
What difference does any of this make?
If men such as Wayne Grudem insist that ‘Christians cannot accept modern evolutionary theory without also compromising essential teachings of the Bible‘ then one has to wonder why (as we saw in the previous post)
1) Leading theologians such as JI Packer, John Stott and Tim Keller disagree
2) Leading scientists such as Francis Collins, Denis Alexander and R. Berry come to a different conclusion
And now we add a third historical argument
3) why eminent theologians living at the time of Darwin, and having to deal with the fall-out of his ideas, were willing to accept some form of evolutionary theory as compatible with evangelical belief.
None of this makes evolution true and I for one find a whole host of questions for which I have yet to find a satisfactory answer but as David N. Livingstone concludes:
There was no clear consensus about what constituted the orthodox Calvinist line. Some such as McCosh, Warfield and Strong, were willing supporters; others such as A.A. Hodge, Patton, and Shedd, were more tentative; still others, including Dabney and Charles Hodge, remained unconvinced if not hostile…Nevertheless, a general picture clearly emerges: American evangelicals in the Reformed mold absorbed the Darwinian shock waves fairly easily.
Our lives are under constant scrutiny at work. We spend more time there than anywhere else. We spend more time with co-workers than anyone else. They see when we succeed, when we fail, when we remain joyful in tough circumstances, when we cancel social engagements, when we are asked to work on Sundays, when we are promoted, when we are tired and hungry. Our lives preach all the week.
This last Sunday at City Church we thought what it might means for our lives to preach through our character, deeds and words at work. Let’s look at two key texts in the Pastoral epistles as we look at how the way we work can make all the difference to how Christ is received.
1. Integrity in the way we work
In 1 Timothy 6:1 Paul writes;
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered (lit. blasphemed).
In Titus 2:9-10 he also says;
Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.
By working in a godly we can help make the gospel of Jesus appealing. The word for attractive means to adorn, it’s the Greek word kosmeo from which we get the word cosmetics meaning to enhance or make something more beautiful.
It’s slightly scary to think that our lives can either slander the name of God (1Tim.6v1) or make the gospel something more attractive (Titus 2:9-10).
There is far more at stake in how we do our work than our own sense of well-being or even our own relationship with God. We have a choice to make as to what our working lives say about the gospel.
I want to take a quick look at the 5 ways in which Paul encourages us from Titus to show the integrity of the Christian as we work.
Five ways to demonstrate integrity in the way we work
- Be subject to our bosses. When we take a job we’re agreeing to work under the leadership of our boss. We’re given a job so do we go and do it? Even if we think they’re getting it all wrong will we respect their authority.
- Try to please them. Are we ready to do more than the minimum? Are we looking for ways to make work better? Are we ready to work in ways that we might not gain us any reward simply because it’s best practice?
- Don’t talk back to them. How much work-place conversation is character assassination of the boss. Can anyone explain to me why football players think shouting abuse in the face of the ref. is appropriate behaviour.
- Don’t steal from them. On the day Lord Taylor has been found guilty of fraud for fiddling his expenses we’re reminded of why honesty matters when it comes to money. It’s not just money but time too. So we need to respect the company policy on Facebook. We should be careful of too much time in protracted conversations designed to avoid getting on with work. How about punctuality? Turning up on time, not clocking off early or extending the lunch-break.
- Show we can be fully trusted. The greatest advert for the gospel is that we should earn the respect of our colleagues and bosses.If by our lives it becomes clear that we are true to our word and that we do what we say and that we are the same person doing the same work whether our boss is around or not then as and when we get an opportunity to speak of Christ our words will be accompanied by the power of the gospel that counters the culture.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
CS Lewis – The Four Loves
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:9-12
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