Friday, February 26, 2016

Another quotation that might make it into Sunday's sermon

From a friend's email signature:

“If we have not what we desire, we have more than we deserve.” Thomas Watson [puritan]

The History of Children in Church

I have recently seen this article linked to a couple of times, apparently approvingly. Mr (?) Denlinger argues that perhaps it has not always been as normal for children to be included in the whole of the Lord's Day service as some advocates of that approach suggest.

Certainly the author is right that we probably too easily assume that we can guess what the history of the church has been and, guess what, we probably assume that it agrees with us!

He may well be right that those who argue for children in church need to do more to make the case that history is on their side.

But I have to say that the specific examples he gives (from 16th Century Scotland) are not very impressive to my mind. They are from rather a particular time and place. Had the author said that children were excluded from The Lord's Day Service from the earliest days I would have been all ears. Or that this was apparently the universal practice in East or West for a thousand years. Or that all the mainstream Reformers were agreed on this matter.

Fair enough. More work is needed. Denlinger agrees.

And, I have to say, that I do not find the examples very attractive. This is beside the author's point, really, and historical evidence is there whether we like it or not. But I would be surprised if anyone found these cases very persuasive. As the author says, these days, with carpets and microphones and other practical adaptations, perhaps infants and children can be less of a barrier to adult participation in church anyway.

It seems to me particularly sad that: 'Perth legislation of 1587' ordered that infants about to be baptised "be holden in some secret place til the preaching is ended" and then brought forward for baptism, lest the crying of the baptismal candidate create "din in time of preaching, so that others incoming thereto are stopped from hearing."

Obviously the practical concern for the edification of the majority of the congregation is a good and right one but this seems to me especially painfully far removed from our Lord's own teaching: let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven, we might add, even when the little ones prove a naissance to the ever so important adult disciples.

It is also a great shame that there is 'no evidence that' the advocates of keeping children away 'spent any effort devising a wholesome alternative to corporate worship for the youngsters' or indeed for the adults who presumably had to stay away to look after them. Some progress has at least been made, even if what is offered today is frequently far from perfect.

'Glasgow's churches apparently made 8 years of age the "cut-off" for attending the sermon' which raises the interesting question of when children are to be encouraged back into the main service if there is a Sunday school. One church I knew well had a group of 17-20 somethings and a couple of adult leaders going out of the morning service at one time to flee the sermon! This is obviously absurd.

The case of paedocommunion would be a counterbalancing piece of evidence, including Tommy Lee's work on 'THE HISTORY OF PAEDOCOMMUNION: FROM THE EARLY CHURCH UNTIL 1500'

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ready to die for Christ

An extraordinary story read on Facebook:

"The pioneer missionaries traveling inland Africa did not expect a long life. They were normally young people in their twenties who knew that their ministry would last for a year or two before they succumbed to disease. Consequently they would pack all their belongings not into a suitcase, but in a coffin, and then set sail to Africa. These coffins standing on end with shelves inserted made great cupboards apparently, until required for duties!

The decision to step onto the ship with your coffin can be understood only by appreciating the depth of their conviction that death was not the end, and that such decisions were part of God’s plan to bring back the King to reign ’where the righteous dwells’ . 2Pet 3:13 "

(Discipleship Matters by Peter Maiden, IVP UK 2015,pg 44)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A classic quotation from John Newton I might use (probably again) on Sunday

‘I am not what I ought to be,

I am not what I want to be,

I am not what I hope to be in another world;

but still I am not what I once used to be,

and by the grace of God I am what I am.’

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sounding Like The Proclamation Trust

Here, amongst other things, The Revd Dr Peter Leithart makes the point that we want everyone to be able to speak Bible.

The specialised and specific categories of systematic theology have their place, but we should not lose sight of what Bible words mean: they have Bible meanings.

If we already know what 'justification' means, for example, when we come to the Bible, the Bible can never correct our understanding of righteousness and vindication and so on, which are facets of the Bible concept of justification.

This is the Proclamation Trust point that we must not impose our system on the Bible. What does this passage say and mean? It is only when we have truly heard this that we can begin to put it together with what we understand from other Bible passages already (our Systematic Theology, as we call it).

Of course, ideally there is always a complicated interaction (a virtuous spiral) between text and system: our systematic theology helps us to understand the Bible and the Bible corrects our system.

But Leithart and PT are surely right to remind us that Bible must always trump System if we are to be Evangelical Bible believers.

Good News

I have decided that The Revd Dr Joe Book is worth listening to.

He makes the interesting point here that we might say that the first good news in the Bible is that God has created a very good world. This is very important for understanding the gospel. Salvation is not an escape from creation / physicality / flesh. "Mind" or disembodied "spirit" are not the ultimate goal.

Boot's wider point is that the Gospel cannot be reduced to a headline or even to the cross, resurrection and Parousia. The whole story from creation to new creation is really needed if we are to understand and appreciated the goodness of the good news and its implications. We need to understand the nature of the Fall if we are to appreciate the Redemption. The gospel is about time, history and events. It is not merely an idea. We should expect the gospel to impact everything.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Some Bible / Old Testament Overviews / Summaries - Dan Hait – The Old Testament Told in Only 5 Minutes [and a bit] by an American – Andrew Wilson from King’s Church, Eastbourne - <12 and="" bible="" books="" characters="" covenant="" dates="" font="" how="" involved="" it="" jesus="" key="" mentioning="" minutes="" points="" to="" with="">

(1)    Eden

(2)    Election (of Abraham)

(3)    Exodus

(4)    Empire

(5)    Exile & Return - Dr Ros Clarke – The Bible from Beginning To End





Part five: TIME OF CONSUMMATION – (NT) fulfilment in Christ – Desiring God – The Old Testament in Ten Minutes - Jason DeRouchie

Vaughan Roberts – God’s Big Picture (IVP) -

  • 1. The pattern of the kingdom
  • 2. The perished kingdom
  • 3. The promised kingdom
  • 4. The partial kingdom
  • 5. The prophesied kingdom
  • 6. The present kingdom
  • 7. The proclaimed kingdom
  • 8. The perfected kingdom

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Need a super-confessor?

According to the BBC News website, to mark the Vatican’s jubilee year, the Pope has ‘sent more than 1,000 priests [nicknamed ‘super-confessors’] on a global mission to forgive grave sins that normally only he, or a top Church official, may pardon.’ Such ‘grave sins include defiling consecrated bread and wine, violating confessional secrecy, and plotting to kill a pope.’

You can read more about the story here:

Now, I cannot claim to be an expert on contemporary Roman Catholic theology. For what it's worth, I would actually have quite a bit of time for Pope Francis, and no doubt he would give a more sophisticated account of this than a brief piece on the BBC website. But let me say something from an Anglican Evangelical point of view (which of course I would claim is faithful to the Bible) about the confession of sin and forgiveness, against the background of this story. Much more could be said but perhaps this short post will be sufficient to suggest an approach.  

In our Sunday services, we often introduce the prayer of Confession with these words from the Bible:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

            1 John 1:8-9, quoted in The Book of Common Prayer & Common Worship service books.

The confession here is surely to God himself. There is nothing in the context to suggest confession to a priest, or indeed only in a church service. It is of course God who forgives, and notice that he promises ‘to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ if we seek his pardon. It is because Jesus has taken the punishment for all those who will put their trust in him that God is just to forgive our sins.

According to The Prayer Book, ‘God… hath given power and commandment to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins’. What the minister does here is remind the congregation of God’s promise and preach the good news to them. God ‘pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly [that is, genuinely] believe his holy Gospel.’ Again, it seems clear that God forgives all our sins when we turn from all that we know to be wrong, and put our trust in Jesus. There is no implication that some sins require special absolution from certain senior clerics.

The New Testament does encourage us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16) but this confession could be to any other believer, not just a priest. For some, it might sometimes be helpful to discuss some of your struggles with your pastor, but other Christians might be just as helpful, and this kind of ‘confession’ is not a condition of the reassurance of forgiveness that we all receive each Sunday as the minister reminds us of God’s Word. I’d always be happy to speak with any parishioner whose conscience is troubling him or her, but I wouldn’t be assigning penances. If we feel a burden of guilt, we need only look with faith to Jesus. He would speak words of comfort to us, as he did to the penitent thief who died on a cross beside him.

The Bible teaches us that there is ‘one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men’ (1 Timothy 2:5). The clergy are essentially Bible-teachers and pastors, not go-betweens between people and God. One of the great themes of the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament is that the Lord Jesus Christ is our all sufficient High Priest. He has offered himself once and for all for sins, and so the way to God is open through him. Because Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, we can bring our confession directly to him knowing that he understands our human condition and sympathises with our weakness. Hebrews urges us to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, trusting in Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16). He is, if you like, the super-confessor we all really need.  

The wrong date

I had a very short introduction to my sermon on love today to do with St Valentine's Day.

An attentive parishioner noticed that I said that Donne, who died 31 March 1631, had written a poem for a wedding in 1632. Possible, of course, but perhaps a little odd.

It seems there is a misprint in the book I used (Saints on Earth: A biographical companion to Common Worship by John H. Darch and Stuart K. Burns, Church House Publishing, 2004). They say that Princess Elizabeth and Frederick 5th married on St Valentine’s day, 1632, but the interweb says it was 14 February 1613.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Back in July of last year, David Cameron got into trouble for making human beings sound like insects when he spoke about a swarm of migrants coming across the Mediterranean wanting to seek a better life in Britain.

The prophet Joel does the opposite in chapters 1 and 2: he speaks about insects as if they are human beings when he describes a plague of locusts as like a great army.