Thursday, March 05, 2015

Parish Magazine Item for April

As of 1st April there are 37 days until the General Election. Some of us may be sick of hearing about it already, but I think it’s important for us to engage with it. And, of course, if we are Christians, we’ll want to think about these issues, like all other issues, Christianly and engage Christianly in the political process.

The Bishops of the Church of England agree and they caused something of a stir with their Pastoral Letter to the People and Parishes of The Church of England on the 2015 General Election (published on 17th February) entitled Who Is My Neighbour? which can be read via:

Since the letter is 56 pages long, I expect few people will bother to read it in full! And you almost certainly won’t agree with it all. But then perhaps the church is too often bland and “nice” in a forgettable kind of way. It’s good, I think, for the Bishops to try to say something definite and specific – even if we might think they get it wrong in places, or that there are important things they leave unsaid.

I can understand that we might not want our church leaders to be party political. I won’t be suggesting from the pulpit or in these pages how I think you should vote. But I do think it would be good to vote. Though I also think there could be a case for a ballot paper that allows voters to opt for “none of the above” or a re-opening of nominations. I wonder how the political class would react if 51% of ballot papers were spoilt? The Bible warns us not to put our trust in princes, and, it seems to me we might quite legitimately extend the admonition to apply to our elected representatives too.

It is all too easy for politicians to have a Messiah complex. One important Christian contribution to political debate is to say that the position of Messiah is already taken! Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world and only he can bring ultimate peace, hope, joy and human flourishing. A Christian view of politics calls for humility in leaders and reminds us that all human beings, Prime Ministers included, are sinners. The latest manifesto can’t hope to transform human hearts.  

But that does not mean that the Christian faith can be entirely apolitical. Jesus’ claims to be king and Messiah were enough to cause the powers that be to have him crucified. He claimed all authority in heaven and on earth and that must include what we’d call political authority. The Bible’s vision is not of a purely private and somehow “spiritual” faith that does not affect Monday mornings or public life. Life is not easily divided into the sacred and the secular and Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbour must surely influence how we vote and apply to how we order our common life.

Even if we can’t agree how Christians should vote, the Bible is clear that we should pray for our political leaders. For example, the Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:1-2: “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 prayer that the duty Bishop leads before House of Lords debates might guide our prayers:

“Almighty God, by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding; we thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian Love and Charity one towards another, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.”

39 Artciles Lent Course Session 2 Part 2: Scripture & The Creeds

Lent Course 2015 – The 39 Articles - Session 2 – Handout 2
Articles 6-8: The Scriptures and The Creeds

Article 6: Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books

And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following: …

All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.

The sufficiency of Scripture – 2 Tim 3:16-17; Prov 30:5-6 - not that the Bible tells us everything we “need to know” about everything – the church therefore has a limited authority

Unlike some Reformation radicals not depending on direct revelation from the Spirit. The Roman Catholic church (probably!) claimed Traditions not recorded in the Bible going back to Christ and the Apostles e.g. purgatory and transubstantiation and later papal infallibility (1870), the immaculate conception of Mary (1854) and her bodily assumption into heaven (1950).

The reference to Jerome (Hieronymus in Latin) is from his Preface to the books of Solomon (NPNF, vol VI, p492)

The 1st & 2nd books of Esdras = Ezra & Nehemiah.

Canon = measuring rod, rule – canonical = authoritative

The RC Council of Trent regarded Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and 1 & 2 Maccabees as part of the canonical OT.

Further reading: Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament canon of the New Testament church (SPCK, 1985)
Bruce Metzger, The canon of the New Testament: Its origin, development and significance (Clarendon, 1987)
Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the living and active Word of God (IVP, 2009)

Article 7: Of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

Continuity and discontinuity between OT & NT - God is consistent so his Word is consistent (but different eras of salvation history) – OT fulfilled not abolished, Mt 5:17-21; 2 Tim 3:16

Salvation is only ever through Jesus – how much Old Testament believers knew about Jesus is debated

All Scripture points to Christ – Lk 24:25-27, 44-47; Jn 5:39

Old Testament hope – Heb 11 esp. vv 10, 13-16, 26; Jn 8:56; 12:41; Rm 4; Gal 3:6-9; 1 Cor 10:1-4; 1 Pt 1:10-12; Heb 12:22 with Rev 21-22 and Is 60 and Ez 47-48; 2 Cor 4:13

Ceremonial, civil and moral law – Can the law be neatly divided like that? New Testament believers are not ancient Israelites living under the Mosaic covenant – do you fence your roof? But you might fence your swimming pool – Jesus is the New Temple and the final sacrifice for sin – Jesus declared all foods clean, Mk 7:14-23  – baptism replaces circumcision

Acts 10:9-16; 15:1-29; Rm 14:14; Gal 2:1-21; 5:1-12; Col 2:16-23; Heb 7:11-10:18

The moral law often thought to be summarised in the 10 commandments (Ex 20 & Dt 5) and 2 greatest commandments (Dt 6:4; Lev 19:18; Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-34)

Article 8: Of the Three Creeds

The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

A creed is a summary of belief. The word “creed” comes from the Latin, “credo”, which means “I believe”.  

The C of E’s pattern of using the Apostles’ Creed at Morning and Evening Prayer and the Nicene Creed at Holy Communion goes back to the time of Charlemagne (d. 841). The BCP requires the Athanasian Creed to be used on 13 feast days.  

Our version of the Nicene Creed perhaps comes from the 1st Council of Constantinople in 381 not the 1st Council of Nicea in 325. More technically it is sometimes called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. The first unequivocal mention of it comes from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 with the filioque clause added in the West in the 6th century.

The Athanasian Creed is generally thought not to be by Athanasius (the great opponent of Arianism, Bishop of Alexandria, lived c. 296 – 373) and probably comes from Southern Gaul in the late 5th or early 6th century.

Forms of Apostles’ Creed appear as early as the year 200 and it had reached an almost fixed form by the 4th Century but there were minor variations until the 7th or 8th Century.  The creed was not actually written by the Apostles, although according to legend, each of the 12 Apostles was responsible for a different clause of the creed.

See earlier in Prayer Book

The authority of the creeds depends on the authority of Scripture

Further reading: J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (Continuum, 2006)

39 Artciles Lent Course Session 2 Part 1: "finishing off God"

Lent Course 2015 – The 39 Articles - Session 2 – Handout 1
Articles 2-5: God (continued)

Article 2: Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

The true divinity and the true humanity of Christ - Cf. the creeds in the Prayer Book & the Chalcedonian Definition (451)

“Son” – 2nd person of the Trinity – not physically, biologically but relationship to the Father – Lk 1:35; Jn 1:34; Rm 1:4; Heb 1:2-5 – the Father could not be Father without his Son

“Word” – John 1:1,14; Rev 19:13 – OT: the Word by which God creates, saves, reveals himself etc.; logos, logic, reason, principle, self-expression, self-communication of God

“very” = Latin “verus” = true, truly God

“begotten from everlasting” – John 1:14; Col 2:9 – The eternal Son is uncreated, “begotten not made” - not physically  – the Son is the heir of all things – Jn 5:26, 6:57; Heb 1:3

“one substance” – sharing the same divine nature, both equally God – cf. homousious (same) and homoiousios (like) – one iota’s difference

The virgin birth - Is 7:14; Mt 1:18-25; Lk 1:34-35 see also Mk 6:3; Jn 1:13, 6:41-42; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:7 – not especially unbelievable, cf. creation, miracles, resurrection. Jesus had a sinless humanity (Heb 4:15; Rom 8:3). It may be that by his virgin birth he avoided inheriting Adam’s guilt and sinful nature (Lk 1:35). Highlights human inability – salvation is the work of God alone which human begins receive from outside themselves. 

2 natures (true God and true man) in 1 person, 1 self (Christ) – Jesus not a 3rd kind of mixture – union of natures without confusion

The true humanity of Christ – The Second Adam, fulfilment of God’s plan for creation Ps 8, Heb 2:5-12 – essential to our salvation – real body, Jesus hungry (Mt 4:2), weary (Jn 4:6), heavy and sorrowful (Mk 14:33), grew in stature and knowledge (Lk 2:52), died, tempted (Heb 2:7, 4:15) – Christ sympathises with us, knows what it’s like to be human from the inside out, by personal experience not just divine omnipotence

“never to be divided” – incarnation not temporary – after the incarnation, Jesus remains the God-Man

truly suffered” – God suffered as a man in Christ; the Son suffered according to the human nature – God cannot suffer (in his divine nature) – see Article 1

On original guilt see Article 9 on original sin. Some Roman Catholics apparently taught that Jesus died only for original sin and the Mass made atonement for actual sin (Augsburg Confession XXIV). Distinguish sinful nature and sinful acts which flow from it.

On the atonement see also Articles 15 and 31.

Christ’s death as reconciling – Rm 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 2:16; Col 1:19-20 – note reconcile the Father to us, not just us to the Father – a propitiation dealing with the wrath of God – Rm 1:18; 3:28; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10 – of course not the nice Son reconciling the mean Father to us – God the Father in his love sends the Son who comes willingly – God satisfies the wrath of God

Christ’s sacrifice for sin – Jn 1:29; Rm 3:25; 1 Cor 5:7; Eph 5:2; Heb 9:26; 1 Pt 1:19

Further reading: Donald MacLeod, The Person of Christ (IVP, 1998)

Article 3: Of the going down of Christ into Hell

As Christ died for us, and was buried; so also it is to be believed, that he went down into Hell.

The phrase “he descended into hell” is not found in the earliest known versions of the Apostles’ creed. It first appeared in AD 390 when it was understood to mean simply that Christ really died and was buried. The Greek form of the creed has the word “hades” which can mean the grave / place of the dead not just hell. The phrase reappeared referring to hell in AD 650.

We may say that Christ suffered hell on the cross as he bore the punishment for sin. Calvin, Institutes 2.16.8-12.

Even if Jesus did go to hell after his death (which I’m not convinced he did!) we’d certainly want to say that he was just visiting! He finished his saving work on the cross (Jn 19:30). Hell could have no claim on the sinless Son of God. It is best to think that when Jesus died his Spirit went directly to be with his Father in Paradise (Lk 23:43, 46). Heb 9:24-26 speaks of Jesus entering heaven on our behalf, rather than hell. After his death Jesus’ body remained in the grave while his spirit was in heaven and then on Easter Sunday his body and soul were reunited at his resurrection (as ours will be on the great final day).

Some people have found support for the idea that Jesus descended into hell in Acts 2:27 (KJV/AV has “hell” for the Greek hades, OT sheol, grave / death), Rm 10:6-7 (abyss, depths or grave is a better translation here, though Paul is saying we should not ask that question!), Eph 4:8-9 (though this verse is probably speaking of Jesus coming to earth not going to hell) and 1 Pt 4:6 (though the dead here seems to mean those who were alive but are now dead, as the NIV takes it). It is probably best to think that 1 Pt 3:18-20 refers to Christ speaking (by the Spirit) through the preaching of Noah to the people of Noah’s day when they were alive, who are now spirits in prison in hell (see also 1 Pt 1:11; 2 Pt 2:5) though some think that Christ did go to hell and proclaim his victory to the fallen angels / demons (cf. ? the sons of God of Gen 6:1-4).

Article 4: Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

Bodily resurrection – the empty tomb, Mt 28:1-8; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-11; Jn 20:1-8; Jesus is specifically said not to be a ghost, Lk 24:36-43 see also Lk 24:30; Mt 28:9; Jn 20:26-28, 21:9-14 – the risen Jesus can be seen, talk, eat and be touched. On the resurrection body see 1 Cor 15. The Christian hope is for a New (re-newed) Creation – Rom 8:18-25

Heaven” - Heaven is God’s space, realm or dwelling place (Ps 33:13-14; Mt 6:9; Ps 2:4). In Hebrew and Greek the Bible uses the same word for heaven and for the sky (something we can do in English too, “the heavens” can be the skies). Jim Packer suggests that “the sky, which, being above us and more like infinity than anything else we know, is an emblem in space and time of God’s eternal life.”

Jim Packer argues: “To think of heaven as a place is more right than wrong, though the word could mislead. Heaven appears in Scripture as a spatial reality that touches and interpenetrates all created space.” Since Jesus’ physical-spiritual glorified resurrection body is in heaven, that would suggest it is a place. We need not think of heaven as “up there”. We can’t say where heaven is, even if that’s a sensible question.

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension amount to his vindication, the Father’s seal of approval on him and acceptance of his finished saving work. “sitteth” – enthroned (Rev 3:21), a man on the throne of the universe - Heb 1:3; 10:11-14; 12:2

Ascension - Acts 1:6-11, 2:33-34, 3:21; Jn 6:62, 20:17; Eph 4:8-10; 1 Thess 1:10; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 4:14, 9:24; 1 Pt 3:22; Rev 5:6

Heavenly reign of Christ – Ps 110:1; 1 Cor 15:25; Rom 8:34; Heb 7:23-26; 9:24; 1 Jn 2:1-2

Christ’s return as judge – Mt 25:31-46; Jn 5:25-29; 1 Cor 15:51-52; 2 Cor 5:0-10; 2 Thess 1:7-10; Rev 1:7; 20:11-15; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Thess 4:13-5:11

Article 5: Of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

Holy” - means special or separate / set apart. The Holy Spirit is unique and as God is set apart from all evil and sin.

Ghost” = Latin, “Spiritus”, Spirit, not ghosts as we might think of them (e.g. spirits of the dead)

proceeding from the Father and the Son” – The Great Schism between East and West 1054 – The East rejects the filioque clause, “and the Son”, whereas the West teaches “double procession”. Whatever exactly “proceeding” means?  The Spirit is uncreated and not begotten, i.e. he has a unique relationship the Father and Son proper to him as Spirit. Cf. Spirit = breath – Gen 2:7; Ps 33:6; Ez 37:1-14; Jn 20:22

The Spirit of the Father: Mt 10:20; Rm 8:11; Lk 11:13; Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; Act 2:33. The Spirit of the Son: Rm 8:9; Phil 1:19; 1 Pt 1:11; Gal 4:6; Acts 2:33; 16:17; Jn 15:26; 16:7; 20:22

The divinity of the Spirit: Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor 3:18; Lk 11:20 and Mt 12:28; Acts 28:25-28 with Is 6:9-10; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Mk 3:29; Heb 9:14; 1 Cor 2:10-11; Ps 139:7-10; Gen 1:2; Ps 33:6; Is 61:1; 2 Pt 1:21; Lk 1:35; Jn 3:5-7; Tit 3:5; 1 Jn 3:9 as well as Trinitarian passages

Personal, like Father and Son, not merely a “force”- Jn 14-17; Rm 8:26-27; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Gal 5:18; Eph 4:30; Acts 5:4; Mk 3:29. He not it!

Further reading: Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (IVP, 1996)

What are the applications / implications / uses of these doctrines? How do they affect our praises and prayers?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Romans 4 Handout

If you are coming to a service where I am preaching tomorrow, you may wish to look away now.

Romans 4 (p1132)

We are all sinners who deserve God’s judgement (Romans 3:9ff)

THE BIG QUESTION: How can sinful people (like all of us) be justified? (v2)

The meaning of “justification”

Declared righteous (v3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 22, 24)

Forgiven (v7)

What did Abraham discover in this matter? (v1)

How was he justified?

(And how are we justified?)

What does the Law say?

I.                    3 WAYS WE (& ABRAHAM) ARE NOT JUSTIFIED:

(1)   not by works (v2)

(2)   not by circumcision (vv10-12)

not by the covenant sign

… (not by baptism or Communion)

(3)   not by keeping the Law of Moses (vv13-15)

Abraham 2091BC
645 years gap
Law 1446BC

II.                  3 WAYS WE (& ABRAHAM) ARE JUSTIFIED:

(1)   … as a gift (v4)

… by grace (v16)

            The meaning of “grace”






(2)   … by believing God (vv3, 11, 17, 18)

… by trusting God (v5)

… by faith (vv5, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16, 19, 20, 24)

(3)   by the death and resurrection of Jesus (v24-25)


Receive God’s gift of justification by faith

Trust in Jesus!

Rejoice in peace with God and in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5vv1-2)