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Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomThe Revd Walter Bright’s site is well worth a visit for words of conviction and inspiration.

A few weeks ago I referred to his helpful post on various types of prayer.

His post ‘Joy is strength: How can I increase it?’ is another thought provoking entry.

Over the past 35 years, the notion of personal ‘happiness’ seems to have overridden our former and greater priorities.

I remember in the late 1970s when young people used to ask each other, ‘Are you happy?’ Hmm.

It’s difficult to be happy when you’re at university or just starting out in the world. So many things interrupt or delay that temporal — and fleeting — feeling. It seemed a silly question to ask at the time. It still is.

Mr Wright puts things in perspective for us with regard to happiness — and joy. We often confuse the two. Excerpts from his post follow; please visit his site to read it in full.

He uses Nehemiah 8:10 as his text:

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

He introduces the biblical context of the word:

Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “a feelings of great happiness” but there is something much richer and deeper from God’s word about the word. This is because joy is more of an “elevated and spiritual kind.”

and elaborates further (emphases in the original):

Joy is God’s will 

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13. It is his will for us to serve with joy, have joy in difficult times and grow in joy. 

Joy comes bursting out of salvation

Psalm 126:1-3: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth were filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Joy is a gift from God through salvation.

This part particularly resonated with me:

Joy is not happiness 

2 Corinthians 7:14.

“I have confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering.”

The word happy comes from the same word as happen. When things are going great, we are happy. Joy, however, no matter what’s happening – you still have it.

If the joy of The Lord is my strength, then the more joy I have the more strength I get.

If you want to find out how to increase your joy and become stronger spiritually, follow Wright’s inspiring — and surprising — advice.

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetThe Revd Walter Bright has a concise post on seven types of prayer which is a marvellous apologetic for communicating with God.

As he says:

In short, prayer is not just asking and receiving from God it is life with God, intricate, deep, living, a thing not only to enjoyed – but also understood.

In an age where many of us are reluctant to pray because it’s ‘boring’ or ‘time consuming’, Mr Bright offers good reasons to pray. Here are two (emphases in the original):

1. The Prayer of Praise. Verse 13… “you should sing praises” Somebody once said, “praise is the plow that prepares the heart for the planting of the promises of God.” In Acts 16:18-30, Paul and Silas experienced its power when they decided to life up a praise in their midnight hour of chains and pain.

6. The Prayer of Labor. Verse 16… “The fervent prayer.” Thomas B. Brooks once said that “the best prayers often have more groans than words.” 2 Corinthians 11:27; Isaiah 66:7, 8.

I would suggest an eighth — The Prayer of Thanksgiving — especially for good (or bearable!) outcomes from stressful or life-changing events. Exams, surgical procedures, financial worries, moving house and new jobs spring to mind. Supporting verses include Psalm 95:2-3, Psalm 28:7 and Psalm 106:1.

So often we wonder, ‘Why doesn’t God help me?’ Two reasons might account for that. One, we don’t talk to Him through prayer nearly enough. Two, we might be ignoring Him when He is trying to get through to us.

The more we pray, the more we appreciate God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s guidance and Jesus as our only Mediator and Advocate.

John F MacArthurIn yesterday’s post on Luke 9:43-45, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘The Amazing Person of Christ’.

In it, he explains how he reads and studies the Bible (emphases mine below):

The more you know about Christ, the more likely you are to reflect Him.

And that really is the Christian life. As I look back at my life and all the years of study and tens of thousands of hours of going through the Scripture, whether I’m writing books or preparing sermons, or writing notes in a study Bible, or whatever, all of my efforts to understand the Scripture do not end with the understanding of the Scripture. My goal has never been to know the facts of the Bible. It isn’t that I want to know Bible history, or that I want to know what’s in books and verses. That’s not the end, that’s only the means to an end. I want to know Him. Paul said, “That I may know Him.” It is the joy of my life to find God in the living Christ on the pages of Scripture. The more I study the Bible, the more glorious Christ is to me. The more I understand the Scripture, the more majestic and magnificent and awesome Jesus Christ is and my worship and my service to Him is a direct reflection of that awe. A limited view of Jesus Christ produces a limited capacity to worship and limited motivation to serve. The great objective of Scripture is to know Christ so that you can love Him more, so that you can be swept away as the hymn writer put it, in wonder, love and praise. It’s not about knowing the Bible, it never should be. Knowledge puffs up. It’s about knowing Christ. Not some mystical knowledge, not some knowledge induced. Your lack of understanding about Christ cripples your worship and no amount of music and no amount of sort of spiritual mood-inducing is going to produce true worship which rises out of an overwhelming wonder concerning Christ.

So whenever we gather together, it is Christ who is the goal and the end of everything we learn. Everything I know about the sinfulness of man makes me love Christ more because He brought an end to all my sin. Everything I know about the glory of God makes me love Christ more because I see God fully revealed in human terms that I can comprehend in Christ …  He’s the theme of all of Scripture.

This is why it is almost painful to read or listen to so many notional Christians who subscribe to erroneous beliefs: Arminianism, universalism, mysticism, Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM), gnosticism, theonomy or liberation theology.

Nothing in the New Testament points to any of those.

Yet, the stubborn say, ‘I’ve read it already’ or ‘That verse doesn’t agree with my personal belief’. I read a long thread last week about the HRM on another blog; one HRM advocate said (paraphrased), ‘Well, as I don’t really know the details of the New Testament, I cannot say’.

Goodness me.

Read Holy Scripture and discover the truth it reveals. If you’ve actually read it, reread it. It contains a wealth of knowledge which helps us understand Christ all the better. And in understanding Christ, He draws us closer to Him and we better reflect His example in our own lives.

As MacArthur says, isn’t that the purpose of the Christian life?

Excellent starting places in the New Testament are the Gospels of John and Mark as well as the Epistles Hebrews and Romans. And why not try the Grant Horner Bible Reading System? It’s easy to follow and takes but one half-hour a day.

Following on from yesterday’s post on politicians’ sexual peccadillos, a more general social outlook sees a plethora of unsettling news stories from the West.

A brief sampling includes sexual experimentation by preteens involving porn and rape, an abusive (soon to be ex-) husband who grabbed his beautiful wife by the throat in public, the ‘right’ some believe they have to deface public or private property, the hate born of extreme nationalism based on neopaganism, the expanding presence of powerful street gangs (the 21st century Mafia), urban bankruptcy, colour-blind juvenile delinquency (it involves many races), the denial of humanity to toddlers and abortion. There is much more.

Whilst we lament these destructive elements, the Revd Walter Bright reminds us that we, too, suffer from our own pernicious temptation and sin in this regard. I cited his post on New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner yesterday and it is too good not to reprise:

Even though some of our weaknesses may not lead to a public scandal, every one of us has a Weiner in us. For some it is pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, money, alcohol, the party life, groupies, gossip, boasting, exaggerating, sexting, anger, masturbation, hustling and dealing. It is that thing that we wrestle with, fight against but it keeps coming back to knock us down …

It has a grip on you. It is stubborn. It is not easily overcome. It is almost like a “dog going back to it’s vomit” and a lot of Christians have a little of Weiner in them. They fall down and get up, they are hot, than they are cold. No matter how hard you try to cut loose, you are caught in its web. It is that thing you get easily addicted to …

The Weiner in you is pleasurable. It is the thing that keeps you coming back for more. Sin has a lot of pleasure in it. I don’t think anyone will be doing it in the first place if it wasn’t fun. But the tricky thing is that pleasure is fleeting and temporary. It bites in the end, and always lead to death – spiritual death.

At the Anglican-Episcopalian site Stand Firm, the Revd David Ould wrote about Charles Saatchi grabbing his (for now) wife Nigella Lawson’s throat at a London restaurant:

… when we fail to honestly take responsibility for our behaviour and acknowledge the sin within us we deny ourselves any opportunity to be forgiven or to rebuild broken relationships. Which is bad enough with others, whether they are our spouse or not, but even worse (and yes, it is possible to be even worse than this) when it comes to the way we relate to God. And never forget that the mercy available from God is even more spectacular.

To save us from judgemental moralism, aren’t we all in danger of being Saatchi?

The Revd Timothy V Shockley Sr also addressed the breakdown of society with the following excerpt from the best selling book, Are Christians Destroying America?, by Pastor Tony Evans:

When you see a culture that’s deteriorating look closer and you will probably see a people of God who have withdrawn from the culture and turned it over to the unrighteous to rule. Consider: when Christians began abandoning inner-city and urban neighborhoods, taking their skills, resources, and moral influences with them those neighborhoods deteriorated.

When Christians left the public school system, moral values were systematically erased until they became almost illegal to teach. When Christians vacated the media, then a spiritual approach to defining everything we hold dear went with them. When Christians decided they ought to get out of politics then righteous political decisions left with them. These realities are magnified in minority communities one of the beauties of integration is that minorities won the right to live anywhere they want, but one downside has been that much of the expertise and moral consciousness of the minority community left the inner city leaving behind an absence of the models who are desperately needed to give a community vision and stability. God’s people have been called to penetrate society. Don’t get me wrong, evangelism is always first because without forgiveness of sins, anything else we give a person is temporary. We have been called first and foremost to win people to Christ. But having given a person Christ for eternity, we must also give him Christ in history. We must give him hope in time. The absence of righteousness in our culture has everything to do with the absence of God’s people penetrating the culture. When there is no yeast the bread stays flat, and when there is no Christian influence the culture stays flat.

(There is only one item I disagree with somewhat and that is the sentence relating to urban neighbourhoods. It’s a bit unfair to the many residents who are God-fearing and peaceable. On the other hand, some people moved out way too early, but having lived in such an area and with a now-deceased widowed grandmother who was the last elderly holdout there, the day comes when you just have to move.  With Grandma, it was the random stones (from strangers) through the windows, some of which missed her by inches, and the teen burglars who broke in once during the middle of the night. Did they have a surprise when she burst out of bed at the age of 72 in her pyjamas dashing towards them and shouting. Unfortunately, by then, they had already taken a heavy chain to her television set and brick fireplace. She sat up the rest of the night near the front door, which couldn’t be relocked. She lived in her house for another ten years.)

This isn’t a call for theonomy by any means. However, Holy Scripture calls us to lead a life of goodness and truth. When we excuse certain behaviour to each other or our children because we harbour indifference and deny the family structure — or we offer as excuses ‘helplessness’, ‘identity’ and modernity — then we are enabling a corrupt, violent, valueless society.

Setting the best example we can is a good start towards a remedy as is explaining to each other and to the next generation why certain things are plain wrong.

The American Episcopalian-Anglican site Stand Firm recently featured a summary of New York City’s mayoral candidates.

Timothy Fountain tells us:

In New York, what I think is the new legalism is on parade.  I’m calling it “justification by sexual expression.”  It’s all the rage these days. It’s there in the requirement that one affirm gay marriage in order to be a Good Person, for example, but not limited to that.

It seems that the Empire State, in particular its Big Apple, requires public sexual expression in order to be a worthy public servant.  Consider[:]

Anthony Weiner, candidate for Mayor of NYC.  This is a guy who resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives because he was texting pictures of his junk to various lady friends.  While he was married, no less.  But he’s a serious contender for Mayor.  In fact, his name recognition might be best of all the candidates, because he expressed his sexuality.

His main opponent? Christine Quinn.  Her main qualification? …

Yep, she’s a lesbian.  She should be Mayor because she expresses her sexuality.

But wait!  There’s more!

Now leaping into the NYC race as a candidate for Comptroller?  It’s Elliot Spitzer!

He was the Governor of New York, until word got out that his public pay and benefits included patronage of upscale prostitutes.

It’s not just the Empire State that faces challenges in this area:

Moving beyond New York Democrats, there’s Mark Sanford,  former GOP Governor and now Representative from South Carolina.  He created my favorite new sexual euphemism, “Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which means “Flying to another country on the peoples’ dime to romp with my mistress while the people keep my wife and family in the Statehouse.”

The Revd Walter Bright wrote about Anthony Weiner’s problem at the end of July in ‘The Weiner in You’. Excerpts follow from his powerful post:

The question is what is this guy thinking? After being publicly humiliated and getting kicked out of office by his actions, he goes back to doing the same things that ousted him in the first place. It is my take that Anthony Weiner has a Weiner Problem. Even though he insists that he does not have an addiction to this kind of lifestyle, he most definitely has a problem. A problem that most believers can identify with: A disposition to sin and a return to it – just like a dog to its vomit.

The Weiner in you is a weakness,

A certain disposition to sin. Even though some of our weaknesses may not lead to a public scandal, every one of us has a Weiner in us. For some it is pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, money, alcohol, the party life, groupies, gossip, boasting, exaggerating, sexting, anger, masturbation, hustling and dealing. It is that thing that we wrestle with, fight against but it keeps coming back to knock us down.

The Weiner in you is a stronghold.

It has a grip on you. It is stubborn. It is not easily overcome …

The Weiner in you is deceptive.

It tells you that you are invincible. No one will ever find you out. You wife will never know. Your boss will never find out. The Weiner in you tells you that you are good at it. In fact it even convinces you that you can never change – this is who you are – embrace it …

The Weiner in you is pleasurable.

… It is the thing that keeps you coming back for more. Sin has a lot of pleasure in it. I don’t think anyone will be doing it in the first place if it wasn’t fun. But the tricky thing is that pleasure is fleeting and temporary. It bites in the end, and always lead to death – spiritual death …

Five decades ago, our more faithful family elders predicted this would happen.  We were younger then; some of us — myself included — told them that this was a new era which needed a new way of thinking. Now, many of my peers and I — the ‘me’ generation — see that what our parents and grandparents foresaw in their wisdom has, indeed, come true.

It’s hard to believe that so many people today value sexual relations and other sin above moral living. (I use that term because not everyone mentioned in this post is Christian.) Moral living is so much easier, but the problem is that it is less ‘fun’, less ‘satisfying’. And, where politics are concerned, many voters bought into the whole thing by rationalising Bill Clinton’s behaviour not so many years ago. ‘So what?’ they said. ‘French presidents and prime ministers have been at it for years. No one there cares. Why should we? It’s time America grew up and accepted sex as a fact of life.’

Sex is a fact of life, and not always in the best way these days. What example does this set for us and for future generations? We have a sexually saturated society. We also have a corrupt and crime-ridden one. Is one feeding the other or turning a blind eye to it?

For those trapped in this lifestyle, Pastor Bright has this advice:

The first thing one needs to do is accept or acknowledge that they have a Weiner problem. If you cannot accept the fact, you will not be able to confront the fact. The second thing is to be open about your Weiner problem, thus leading to the third thing – seek help. Finally we must humble ourselves under the mighty power of God and allow the word of Christ to dwell in us richly as we daily submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we acknowledge our sins, openly confess our sins to Jesus and to others without shame and seek the help we need through counseling, accountability and for some – deliverance, drawing power from the Lord, allowing his word to saturate our lives as we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit – we not only get set free, but also stay free and victorious.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

From this verse is derived the phrase ‘priesthood of all believers’.

When I was growing up and even as a young adult, there was no such thing as Every Member Ministry (EMM), where laying a table at a church supper counts as much as preaching the Word of God.

So it seems, at any rate.

Today’s churches of whatever denomination push their various programmes involving laypeople. These are often referred to as ministries. It still surprises me to visit a church website, click on the word ‘Ministries’ and find that these do not pertain to clergy.

Such is the ‘priesthood of all believers’.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) says (emphases mine):

We affirm the priesthood of all believers. Laypersons have the same right as ordained ministers to communicate with God, interpret Scripture, and minister in Christ’s name. That is why the Convention requires strong lay involvement on its boards.

This doctrine is first and foremost a matter of responsibility and servanthood, not privilege and license.

It is of course, a perversion of this doctrine to say that all views are equally valid, that you can believe anything and still be a Baptist or that the pastor has no unique leadership role.

Hmm.

Notice how the SBC calls this ‘priesthood’ a ‘right’ and a ‘responsibility’ in an incorrect way.

On this topic, Theopedia cites Daniel Akin in Perspectives on Church Government, (p. 37):

The priesthood of all believers… means that in the community of saints, God has constructed his body such that we are all priests to one another. Priesthood of all believers has more to do with the believer’s service than with an individual’s position or status. We are all believer-priests. We all stand equally before God. Such standing does not negate specific giftedness or calling. It rather enchances our giftedness as each one of us individually and collectively does his part to build the body (Eph. 4:11-16). We are all priests. We are all responsible.

It will come as no surprise to find that Dr Akin is a leader in the SBC and is president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

If that is the actual reading of St Peter’s verse, then how is it that most churches never held to this position until the past 20 years or so?

I was not alone in having been raised by parents and religious teachers with the concept that ministry — the pastorate — was a ‘vocation’ or a ‘calling’. This also held true for abbots, nuns, friars, brothers and other vow-professing members of religious orders. It did not extend to Mrs Smith or Mr Jones down the street, as nice and churchgoing as they were.

Earlier in 1 Peter 2 — verse 5 — Peter introduces Christian priesthood by saying:

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Reading that verse puts a different slant on 1 Peter 2:9.

One of the few traditional, orthodox interpretations of ‘priesthood of all believers’ is that of David J Riggs:

all Christians are of that holy priesthood and can offer spiritual sacrifices to God. All have the right to go directly to God through Jesus Christ, our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16). 

… Rev. 1:5-6 says, “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” Consequently, the New Testament repeatedly teaches that all Christians are priests. When one obeys the gospel of Christ, he is added to the body of Christ and is thereby part of God’s holy priesthood. As priests, all can offer up spiritual sacrifices and draw nigh to God through the mediatorship of Jesus.

A sacrificing priesthood of men was appointed under the law of Moses, but the animal sacrifices offered by those priests were mere types and shadows of the one sacrifice made by Christ. By the one sacrifice made by Jesus, He put an end both to the Levitical priesthood and the Old Testament law. (See Heb. 7:23-25; Col. 2:14-17) …

There is no priesthood on earth that has the right to forbid each Christian from going directly to God through Christ, or to assume the authority to administer graces and obtain mercy for others. All Christians are of that royal priesthood of God, and have but one great High Priest, Jesus Christ …

That is what the ‘priesthood of all believers’ means.

It does not mean judging and demanding confessions in small groups, like the Communists do (as per Bella Dodd). No layman has the ‘right’ to hear about your sins.

It does not mean poking our noses in someone else’s business because they do something in the freedom of Christ with which we personally disagree.

It does not mean that by baking cookies for the church fête or being a church greeter on Sundays that we are performing a priestly function.

The ‘priesthood of all believers’ means that we do not require a high priest on Earth to intercede on our behalf to our Father in Heaven. The Christian lay ‘priest’ (true believer, faithful to the Gospel) may pray freely and directly to Christ Jesus, his only Mediator and Advocate.

Dr R Scott Clark explores this in one of his Heidelblog posts, ‘Ministers All?’

Clark examines Ephesians 4 and other New Testament passages in light of Every Member Ministry (EMM).

He started his Christian journey as a Southern Baptist before becoming a Reformed minister. Note how the aforementioned SBC ‘priesthood of all believers’ definition came to play out in his life:

I wasn’t always a stuffy high-church Calvinist. I came to faith in the context of a revivalist Southern Baptist congregation. I learned quickly as an evangelical that I needed to have a “ministry.” It wasn’t enough simply to be a teen-ager and to learn the basics of the faith and to go about my daily life trusting Christ, dying to sin and living to God. No, I had to have a “ministry.” So we took “spiritual gift” tests. The test said that I had the gift of prophecy. I’m still waiting for that one to kick in. In order to be regarded as full-time, sold-out, born again Christians, one had to have a ministry. So, with other students, we started a campus bible study at the local public school (which was contested by the Nebraska Civil Liberties Union the next year!). I was at Campus Life and if not there then at Youth Group or at a FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) or Campus Crusade (I was a religious over-achiever) meeting at the University or every week. My last two years high school w[ere] a blur of religious activity. When I got my first radio job helping to produce and then to host a Sunday morning gospel show on a local country station, my well-meaning youth pastor told me that it was okay to miss Sunday AM services because I had a “ministry.”

Later, as a young Reformed minister:

If I can be brutally honest when I embraced the “every member ministry” model during my pastorate in Kansas City it was because we were a small church and we didn’t seem to be growing and, in response to the tremendous internal and external pressure felt by most pastors to “grow the church,” I adopted a series of “new measures.” I became a predestinarian evangelical. I fiddled with the Regulative Principle and I made friends with the so-called “church growth” movement and I let those things color my biblical exegesis. I read a series of distinctly modern assumptions back into Ephesians 4.

Clark cites Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV):

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

He rightly asks:

Did Christ give the various offices listed “to equip the saints to do the work of ministry” or did he give them “to equip the saints, for the work of ministry….”? In other words, are these two phrases to be taken as a list of things to be done by these special offices or is the purpose of the offices to equip the laity to do the work of ministry?

Clark begins his post by saying that EMM has its roots in the 18th century Second Great Awakening. By the 1820s, it was becoming a pattern in American evangelicalism.

Is EMM biblical or is it populist and democratic?

The New Testament does not say much about EMM:

Our Lord did not give the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16) to every member but to the apostles, the first officers in the visible, institutional church. The “every member” model fits well into the program-driven approach adopted by virtually all evangelicals since the 18th century but does it fit Paul’s view of the church elsewhere? It seems to me that, if Paul had such a view, he would have expounded on it in detail in other places but he did not. He did, however, spend a considerable amount of space detailing the nature of the special offices. 1 and 2 Timothy were written to a young pastor. 1 Timothy 3 is about the offices of elder or overseer (vv.1-7) and deacon (vv.8-13). Most of 1 and 2 Timothy are about how Timothy should conduct his office as pastor. Much of Titus 1 is taken up with the matter of elders and Titus 2, again, is about the conduct of pastoral ministry. 1 Peter 5 is devoted to the office of elder. In other words, we have extensive revelation about the special offices and precious little about so-called “every member” ministry.

I’ve heard it argued that Acts 8 reflects the apostolic approach to “every member ministry” in as much as the church was scattered and “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” One difficulty with the application of this narrative to this question is that the only Christians named in the narrative are special officers (Stephen and Philip). The first example of this preaching to which Luke turns is Philip. It is not at all clear that the intent of his narrative is to supply a ground for the “every member” ministry model.

Back to Ephesians 4:

Why would Paul turn to “every member ministry” in the midst of a discussion aimed at and about the ministry of special officers? In the verses before Ephesians 4:11-12 he’s speaking to Timothy about the conduct of his office and the first thing he says in v. 13 has to do with the public administration of the Word. In short, the every-member interpretation of Eph 4:11-12 doesn’t seem to fit even the immediate context.

So, what do laypeople do as church members? Clark helpfully explains our responsibilities as Christians just the way I understood them when I was a child:

I think it’s helpful to speak about the witness of the laity to the faith (that which is objectively revealed in the Word and confessed by the Reformed Churches) and their witness to their faith, i.e. to their subjective appropriation of the biblical faith. Yes, we should speak to our neighbors, friends, and co-workers about the faith and our faith, but we should distinguish lay witness from the official proclamation of the gospel. God the Spirit is free to act through popular witness or public proclamation, but as has been noted, it is to the latter that he has attached promises.

I realize this is heresy in contemporary evangelicalism, but not everything every Christian does is “ministry.” The baker has a vocation to bake to the glory of God but baking is not his ministry. We need to recover the idea of vocation. Calling the daily work of Christians “ministry” is intended to elevate it but it actually accomplishes the opposite. It devalues it by implying that anything that isn’t “ministry” isn’t valuable significant in itself. Really, what the EMM model has done is to take us back to the pre-Reformation view of the church in which there were two classes of Christians. The Keswick Movement did the same thing. Again, folk were thinking of two classes of Christians, those who have the blessing and those who don’t. The EMM movement implies that unless what someone does is “ministry” it isn’t really significant.

To those looking for their first church or transferring to another, beware the exhortation to join a ‘ministry’ under the spurious obligation of the ‘priesthood of all believers’.

Respond by telling them what that phrase really means.

And, yes, let’s recover the idea of ‘vocation’ and ‘calling’ with regard to our clergy.

Late last year a reader asked for a post on Nephilim babies.

First, this is a preoccupation of ‘Christians’ who read outside the biblical canon.

Second, outside of two mentions of Nephilim in the Bible, there are no other.

Third, no one who wrote or compiled the Bible was trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes or hide some ‘truth’ from them.

Interestingly, the Nephilim conspiracy theory surfaced again in April 2013 on discernment sites. Below are excerpts from two posts on Herescope which debunk this absurd preoccupation.

In their post dated April 10, Pastor Anton Bosch explains the background to the Nephilim. Emphases in bold are mine:

Demons/ angels (sons of God) had illicit relationships with women (the daughters of men) and these perverted relations produced genetically mutated beings known as nephilim (giants). God then imprisoned some of the angels who did this and in order to purify the bloodline of man God brought on the Flood. Through genetic engineering these Nephilim will be resurrected, one of which will be the Antichrist. To these people, the Nephilim are also tied up with so-called extra-terrestrial forms of life.

The Nephilim are given passing mention in the Bible and only in the Old Testament:

The Hebrew word Nephilim is translated “giants” in the Old Testament. It only appears twice in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. A whole series of doctrines have been built around this word, in spite of the fact that the word only appears rarely. These doctrines on the Nephilim are based on Genesis 6:1-4.

The elaboration about the Nephilim and their babies do not come from the Bible:

It must be noted that most speculators lean very heavily on extra-biblical writings for most of their information.

And:

These speculators quote the Book of Enoch (and other apocryphal books) in support of their ideas as though they are Scripture. Yet, Enoch and the rest of the Apocrypha are not part of the Canon of Scripture for obvious reasons – they are not, and have never been regarded as inspired except by apostate churches.

Then there is the problem with taking Scripture too literally. ‘Oh, if it says “giants”, they must mean abnormally huge people’. Not necessarily.

This is Genesis 6:1-4:

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Look at the last sentence — ‘mighty men … men of renown’. Wouldn’t that allude to men who were in positions of temporal power, not physically oversized? Yes:

Genesis 6:4 does say that the children that were produced “were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.“Mighty men” is a term which is used 154 times in the OT and simply refers to powerful men, either physically or politically. Just like there are many mighty men today and some are men of God and others are worldly and unsaved, so there were mighty men in those days, of which Noah was one.

“Men of old” also holds no mystique, these were simply the heroes of bygone days.

“Men of renown” is also used in Numbers 16:2 and Ezekiel 23:23. These are just famous men, or well-known men. The Hebrew term literally means “men with a name” meaning they had “made a name” for themselves.

The descendants of these relationships were not monsters, mutants, or anything extraordinary. Some were ordinary people and some were powerful, some were little known and others had made a name for themselves. Genesis 6:5 (the next verse) goes on to describe these people as wicked and worthy of God’s judgment.

The word Nephilim is used differently in Genesis and Numbers:

… the translation of the word nephilim in Genesis 6:4 as “giants” is very arbitrary. There are many other possible ways this word could be translated here: Bullies, mighty ones or tyrants. At least one dictionary states that the nephilim in Genesis and in Numbers were two different peoples. Once again, we cannot build an entire doctrine on a word which we cannot translate or explain with any measure of certainty.

Genesis 6:4 is simply a description of life before the Flood and not a commentary on mysterious genetic mutant life forms.

As for the great flood, the Nephilim and Noah:

If the Flood had anything to do with anything other than man’s sinfulness, either Moses or Jesus would have said something, but both are silent about demons, angels and mutants. The Flood had nothing to do with clearing the gene pool. It was all about clearing the earth of sinful and wicked people. Even Sunday school children should be able to tell you that.

If the Flood had anything to do with God wanting to destroy the giants because they were “contaminated seed” or to purge the gene pool then, Noah and his sons should have been destroyed also. Noah and his sons carried the gene from which giants were formed. This is obvious since giants (nephilim) are born after the Flood and were present in the Land when the spies were sent to scout out the land (Numbers 13:33). These giants were descendants of Noah since all of humankind after the flood descended from Noah.

How, then, did the false teaching about Nephilim babies come to be such a talking point in certain literalist churches? An earlier article in Herescope, ’101 Questions about the Nephilim’, explains:

Because these teachers have been esteemed for years by believers who adhere to biblical prophecy taught from a dispensational pre-millennial and pre-tribulation rapture perspective, we would note two things about the futuristic scenarios they are creating. First, many other solid Bible scholars and teachers and pastors are being influenced by this new prophetic paradigm which embraces both Scripture and mythology. And second, because these teachers are esteemed and have enjoyed the reputation of being reliable, it becomes difficult to question their prophetic presupposition—that when combined with Scripture, extra-biblical sources are reliable authenticators of the biblical text—without being derided as being divisive and unloving. So we recognize that the questions we raise may prove controversial. But nonetheless, they should be asked.

Teachings regarding the Nephilim have precedence in history. Yet we think it is time to take another look at this issue as it is currently manifesting itself. Quite possibly the reliable Bible scholars, teachers and pastors of the past never dreamed that contemporary interpretations regarding the Nephilim would leap to the extremes as they now appear to have leapt. Likewise, the Gap Theory has become a gaping chasm into which these “new prophetic paradigm” teachers are inserting their myths. Our fear is that the camel of mythology has now stuck its nose in the prophetic tent, and given the camel’s fascinating speculations, will wreck the whole tent of prophetic study from the pre-millennial and dispensational perspective. We think it’s time for some questions to be raised about the current Nephilim-prophetic construct.

There is enough content in the Bible to absorb and heed without notional believers becoming preoccupied with extra-biblical references and stories, even when put forth by previously reliable pastors and teachers.

Who are likely to donate to church and to new churches (‘plants’)?

The middle class.

It does pastors no favours if they bite the hand that feeds them. This ‘April Fool’ post from a Scottish pastor demonstrates the potential folly of this type of Marxist class struggle in a church context. (H/T: The Triablogue.)

Satire is difficult to write. Most attempts belong in the circular file.

There is another question, however — should a pastor write satire for publication especially when he depends no doubt on money or time from a social class that he criticises? Consider the Scottish pastor’s critique, ‘A Working Class Manual On How To Reach The Middle Classes With The Gospel Of Jesus’:

Congratulations. You have been saved from a housing scheme background and you have taken the step to enter into cross cultural ministry. Ministering to the middle class is fraught with many pitfalls and dangers and is something not to be entered into lightly. Please take time to read the following.

1/ As a people group they are difficult to penetrate without a prior appointment. They like using diaries and a good phrase to familiarise yourself with is: ‘having a free window’. However, be warned that more and more are resulting to sync[h]ing their iphones, their [M]acs and their calendars with alarming frequency. Often, any [A]pple based product or even a prominent sticker often leads to a ‘way in’ to the culture …

3/ Related to shopping, please try to familiarise yourself with shops like Waitrose, Marks & Spencers and the shrine that is John Lewis. This is the Holy Trinity of the MC shopping world. For those of us used to Lidl and Farmfoods just pressing our faces against the windows of these establishments can be quite an intimidating experience. Our suggestion is that you buy some of the garments listed in 2 and then try to familiarise yourself with the layout of these places. Practice buying something exotic like Salmon and maybe even some fruit. Be warned, at some point you will have to purchase fresh vegetables, but we do offer specialist training before leaving you in an area on your own. Don’t worry about it for now. But, for those who can face it, practice at home with a tin of canned carrots (Ketchup helps initially with the unfamiliar taste) …

7/ This is a long-term ministry. You must settle in for the long haul as you take time to try and be open and honest with the MC. Keep persevering. I have heard many testimonies of middle class people opening up and even being saved.

8/ Remember to break their spiritual poverty gently to them. Most of them are on a mission to save YOU. Friendship evangelism is a good one. They love that approach …

Funny? To some, perhaps. Maybe standards of wit and satire have gone down since I was a nipper.

Two comments:

1/ As a result, I shall wonder in future whether the next pastor or vicar I meet has the same outlook as this man. I’m already highly disappointed in and sceptical of today’s Church, anyway. This type of approach isn’t helping to draw me back into the fold.

2/ I notice that this pastor spent four years ministering to street children in Brazil. Would he have dared to satirise them like this? Unlikely. Therefore, why satirise the middle class?

Stunts such as these are unfunny and in poor taste.

Christ came for all sinners — rich, middle class and poor alike.

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetNow that Easter is over — although Eastertide continues for 50 days, until Pentecost Sunday — we move from a period of penitence and sombre consideration of our Lord’s suffering to a period in which we contemplate the meaning of Easter.

Last year I excerpted the Revd James A Fowler‘s call for more Resurrection theology. I found Mr Fowler’s sermons from his Christ in You Ministries most helpful. You can find excerpts in the following posts of mine as well as a Lutheran perspective:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

Jesus’s death and resurrection go hand in hand. Our salvation could not have been effected by one of these events alone. Both needed to occur. The above posts explain why.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s sermons on Holy Scripture are edifying to read because he has studied the Bible for decades and can provide rich detail which encourages us to stop and look again at the passage.

His 2011 sermon, ‘The New Passover’, lays out what likely took place when Jesus and the Apostles gathered for the Last Supper. The passage is Mark 14:17-26, although MacArthur mentions other Gospel accounts.

What follows are excerpts, emphases mine as are the links to Scripture:

First it began with a prayer of thanks and it was followed by the first cup of red wine, doubly diluted with waterAfter that first cup, which kind of launches it, there was a ceremonial and an actual washing of hands. They actually washed their hands because they ate with their hands and there was a ceremonial significance to it because it symbolized a need for cleansing and a need for holiness.

So the opening cup and then the cleansing after the prayer of thanks. It seems to me that this might be a good place to assume that while they were talking about the need for cleansing, while they were talking about their unholiness, maybe that is where the Lord pointed out a problem with them because Luke 22:24 says, “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest.” Same ole, same ole, right? It is very likely that at that time as they’re just getting beginning into this and the issue becomes a heart holiness that our Lord confronts that arguing about who is going to be the greatest, that ugly pride, by doing what John 13 says He did. “Jesus rose from supper, laid aside His garments, taking a towel, began to wash the disciples feet. And He gave them a profound lesson on…humility.”

It had to be juxtaposed against their arguing about which of them was the greatest and such an open manifestation of pride. And then He said to them, “I’ve given you an example for you to do as I have done for you.” And then He even said to them, as recorded in Luke 22:25 and 26, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.” That’s what Gentiles do. “But not so with you.” He went on to say the greatest of you become as the least, as the servant, the slave. So just getting in to the Passover and they’re already demonstrating their sinfulness, the symbol of the washing would have been a perfect time for them to confront that sinfulness. Our Lord perhaps does that at that interval and then washes their feet to give them a lesson on humility.

This was followed then, this washing, by the eating of bitter herbs. This is when the bread would be broken. It would be flat bread, not a big fat loaf, flat bread broken and distributed and then dipped into a paste made from fruit and nuts. And then after that… first course…they would sing the Hallel. The Hallel, from which we get the word Hallelujah, are series of hymns that praise God from Psalm 113 to Psalm 118. And they sang them all at the Passover. Traditionally they would sing Psalm 113 and 114, and then would come the second cup of wine. And then after that cup would be the eating of the lamb, the eating of the meal. That would be the … main course

And after the main course was completed would be the third cup of wine and after that they would sing the rest of the Hallel, Psalm 115, 116, 117 and 118. And then they would have a final sip of wine and one more Psalm and leave. That was the evening.

That could have all been done rather in a brief amount of time, however, it was strung out for many, many hours, being interrupted by all the other things that we talked about going on.

Early in this celebration in this sequence, our Lord says something that I think is important for us to hear in Luke 22:15 and16. “He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’

The language is very, very strong. Literally He says, “I desire with a desire,” that’s emphatic in the Greek. This is a very strong passion, “I must celebrate this Passover with you before I suffer. This has to happen for all the reasons that I told you.” Not only because it’s right because it’s commanded by God, but because He must make this transition. He must end an era. He must bring to a completion an entire system and launch a new one and He must lay out all the promises upon which every believer through all of redemptive history draws and He must tell them of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and He must confront their sin, and He must give them a lesson on humility and all these things are so compelling. He knows that He can’t die until all of this is clearly delineated to them and the Holy Spirit will bring it back to their memory in the future and they will write it down and it will be inscripturated and we will follow that instruction and cling to those promises. This has to happen before He dies.

He has, like everybody else, lived His whole life seeing animals sacrificed and all of them, He knew, pointed to Him. And now He was eating a meal at which the last legitimate Lamb was sacrificed and would be eaten and in a matter of hours it would be over. And He was the fulfillment of all those sacrifices. And in the view of His imminent suffering, He knows He will die, He knows He will not live to another Passover, He understands the urgency of this hour.

And there’s another component, John 13 begins by saying this, “He loved His own who were in the world, eis telos, to the max, to the limit, to the end. It was not simply a theological demonstration here. What He said to them, what He promised to them, what He pledged to them, and what He called for them to do was all a part of loving instruction.

It was His profound love for them, as well as their profound necessity for the truth He would give them that compelled this to occur. He says in verse 16 of Luke 22, “I say to you, I’ll never again eat this meal with you until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” And with that statement, we have the end of all legitimate Passovers…this was His last meal before the cross, He ate the lamb and then became the Lamb hours later.

Will there ever be another Passover, legitimate one? Will there ever be? There will, He says that, please notice it. This is not going to happen, He says in Luke 22, until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. Even Passover has not yet reached its final fulfillment. That’s going to happen in the Kingdom.

Paul says, “We do this until he comes.” Matthew 6:29 talks about the fact that it’s going to occur in the Kingdom…when He returns, He will celebrate the Passover meal with His own redeemed people again. He will.

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