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John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

Over the New Year, a few tweets from Anglican priests caught my eye.

The first is from the Revd William Pearson-Gee, vicar of Buckingham Parish Church, whose sermon about not closing church for coronavirus went viral on Sunday, December 19, 2021:

He has the following suggestions for 2022, which will serve us better than easily-broken resolutions:

The Revd Steve Collier encourages us to put away fear and embrace living:

As far as coronavirus is concerned, Mr Pearson-Gee would like a focus on meaningful data rather than scary statistics:

He was bemused by a panicked mother who drove her child from Kent to Milan for the vaccine:

On the deeply sad news that 400 Anglican churches have closed in England over the past decade alone, he made an unintentional yet inspired typo. He meant to say ‘conversation’:

I am pretty sure that the Church of England hierarchy is responsible for a number of those closures, as they advocate for online church and only a hub of actual buildings. Philistines! The laity are fighting back. We’ll see who wins.

At least Mr Pearson-Gee’s church is doing well:

People know that they need more human contact rather than online participation.

The Revd David Horrocks of Barkham Church in Wokingham

… pointed out the late Revd John Stott‘s prediction 40 years ago about this sort of thing:

Stott also warned about the effect of television on children:

In closing, why do we persevere with our faith? Because our Lord and Saviour did. He set the example:

Jonathan Edwards, who was a Congregationalist, can teach us a few eternal truths from long ago. It’s all in the Bible.

More’s the pity that the Church of England isn’t more rigorous in its seminary curriculum. At least Mr Horrocks reads a lot of solid theology books, such as this one by a Presbyterian, Sinclair Ferguson, in his own time:

There is a remnant of Anglican clergy who are truly devoted to Jesus Christ and, through Him, God the Father. We read so much about the irritating hierarchy and so little about the good local priests leading their flocks to light and truth.

I will pray that they continue to be faithful servants.

The Church of England (CofE) has been undergoing a post-coronavirus exercise of church closures and consolidation.

Having been buoyed by Zoom worship in 2020 and 2021, Anglican bishops have decided to pull the plug on some of the world’s most beautiful churches, a source of community and comfort to those who worship in them.

Last week, Emma Thompson, not the actress, but a journalist and member of Save the Parish, wrote an article for The Telegraph about this dispiriting and destructive plan.

She rightly wonders whether England’s Anglican churches will still be there for her children. I share her view of the local church (emphases mine):

I love my rural village church. My vicar. My neighbours who attend. It’s local. It is, somehow, intrinsic. I love the Church of England and what it has brought to our constitution, language, law, architecture, art and music. Yet, unfortunately, I am increasingly worried that this great institution of our national life may not survive for my children’s old age.

At a time when the CofE could be offering comfort during a pandemic, it moved instead to championing political issues and the need to combat climate change. At the most senior levels of the Church, God has been sidelined.

In the last five months, three Anglican bishops have been received into the Roman Catholic Church. The latest is the former bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, who, several years ago, was shortlisted to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thompson rightly points out that his crossing the Tiber should be a red alert to Anglican bishops:

The significance of Dr Nazir-Ali’s decision should not be lost on those at the top of the CofE.

Bishops, now all nominated by the same appointments secretary, appear to prefer groupthink to diversity of thought. If no room exists for Dr Nazir-Ali – a theologically erudite, spiritually committed man who challenged the CofE’s strategic direction – then it is clear that a form of cancel culture has invaded the Church. How strange if the concept of tough love – the idea that someone who cares enough to criticise might love you most – is not embraced by Christ’s followers. Without extraordinary people, the institution will sink.

The new CofE strategy involves the closure of the local church, to be replaced by the diocesan office. How will that provide pastoral care for thousands of churchgoers?

Thompson reminds us that being the Good Shepherd to the flock is still part of the ordination vows:

… ordination vows reference being the Good Shepherd. The parish, the contact point with people providing local pastoral care, must be the basic unit.

Absolutely.

What is happening to CofE churches is nothing short of alarming:

Various dioceses announced morale-shattering parish clergy cuts. The Archbishop of York proposed the “Myriad” scheme to create 10,000 new lay-led “house churches”. Leicester Diocese voted to consolidate 234 parishes into 20-25 huge groups, cutting local vicars.

This accompanies a third shift, the Church’s loss of respect for its buildings, our shared national heritage. A green paper, nicknamed the Church Closers’ Charter, has suggested empowering dioceses to dispossess vicars, close churches and sell parish-owned buildings more easily and quickly.

What are these bishops thinking? Thompson said that these decisions are being taken by a ‘cabal’ of 12 of them, deciding the future of the faithful, and not in a good way.

She says that the Methodist Church in England adopted a similar plan and is now a shadow of its former self.

In closing, she says that the only way to combat this is to give generously:

Some dioceses, by pledging not to cut parish clergy, have managed to increase giving. This shows that we need not despair.

Even so, this dire plan of the bishops is a dangerous path for an established (national) church to take. One can only pray that divine intervention thwarts it.

On Saturday, August 7, 2021, Mark Dolan of GB News interviewed a Scottish clergyman on his late night show.

The Revd Dr William Philip is the pastor of Tron Church in Glasgow. Earlier this year, he led a handful of other Scottish clergy in filing a successful lawsuit against the Scottish government for having closed churches in 2020 during lockdown.

In the 20-minute interview below, he explained why it is so important to be able to gather together to worship during the coronavirus crisis. Believers need to gather together in one place — church — for communal prayer and fellowship. His words were well received not only by Dolan and his guests but also on YouTube:

Philip, who worked as a hospital physician before ordination, also does not think that vaccine passports are necessary:

While churches in England and Wales re-opened in July 2020 and closed again for three weeks in October, Scotland took different measures. In January 2021, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government forbade — criminalised — public worship during new lockdown measures.

On January 6, Philip and five other Protestant clergy sent a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, which reads, in part (emphases in the original):

We write as ministers and leaders of churches in Scotland, supported by colleagues across the United Kingdom, to raise our profound concerns at the measures to suspend public worship in Scotland as part of the currently increased restrictions.

We understand entirely the exceptional difficulties of leading the country at the present time, and we and our churches have prayed for wisdom and clarity for your government repeatedly. But we strongly disagree with the decision to prevent the gathering of the Church at this time, which we believe is profoundly unhelpful and may be unlawful.

As pointed out by Sir Edward Leigh in his letter to you of 4 January, Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits governments from interfering with religious practice unless demonstrated as essential for public health because church services were proven a significant source of spread of disease. We know of no evidence of any tangible contribution to community transmission through churches in Scotland; to the contrary, since churches re-opened in July we have demonstrated that places of worship and public worship can be made safe from Covid transmission. It is for such reasons that legal challenges in other jurisdictions have overturned prohibitions of the freedom to gather for worship.

However, above all we are dismayed because there seems to be a failure in the Scottish Government to understand that Christian worship is an essential public service, and especially vital to our nation in a time of crisis …

In national times of crisis past, governments have looked to the church and sought leadership in a national call to prayer to the Living God. We urge you not to be the government which denies our nation the collective prayer of the churches of our land in days when it is most greatly needed.

We echo the words of the Archbishop [of Canterbury] and other leaders to the Prime Minister and call on the Scottish Government to recognise and support this, and enable us to continue to worship safely, as part of the essential fabric of the nation.

On February 9, Philip wrote an article for The Critic: ‘Meeting others to worship is a lifeline’. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

A group of Clergy taking government to court might seem a surprisingly ‘un-Christian’ thing to do, when closing churches is to ‘save lives’. In fact, the reason we have commenced action against Scottish Minsters is born of profound Christian love for our nation. We all recognise the challenges facing the government. But we believe that, however well-intentioned, criminalising corporate worship is both damaging and dangerous for Scotland

There is an urgent need for a message beyond that of health and safety: a message of hope and salvation. This is the calling of the Christian Church – especially in dark and difficult days: to ‘hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering’ (Hebrews 10:23). Jesus Christ is the only hope that dispels all fear, death included.

That is not to say Christians don’t care about present physical threats. Indeed, it is this eternal perspective that liberates to love and serve neighbours truly, and fearlessly. As CS Lewis pointed out ‘those who want heaven most have served earth best’. This is what our society needs to witness, proclaimed boldly by Christian leaders and adorned visibly in the worshipping Church. So it is of great damage to Scotland that corporate worship is now illegal.

It also brings great danger.

Many in the world today brave huge threats to worship as Christ’s Church. We do not remotely claim such persecution; however, our situation is unprecedented in modern times. For centuries Scottish law has embedded the truth that both Church and Civil government are ordained by God and subject to Him, but their roles are distinct and government must not interfere in the Church. It was the Stuart monarchs seeking to undermine this ‘twa kingdoms’ doctrine that led to a century of conflict before religious toleration prevailed across Scotland and England with the Claim of Right Act 1689. Scots law reiterated then that Jesus Christ alone is head of the Church and this remained paramount in the Union of 1707, was reinforced again in the 1921 Church of Scotland Act, and is affirmed by each monarch in the Coronation Oath

I never imagined myself involved in action like this. But Scots would not have precious freedoms today had our Kirk forebears shrunk back in their time. I truly hope that our government will see what a grave incursion this ban on public worship is – to centuries-old Scots law as well as modern Human Rights protections – and also the suffering it is inflicting on many. The proper place of Christian worship must be restored so that, as Martin Luther said (amid a far more deadly epidemic), our people may ‘learn through God’s word how to live and how to die’.”

One week later, Lord Braid of the Scottish High Court granted permission for a hearing. By then, 27 clergy had pledged their support. Christian Today‘s article says:

Lord Braid has granted permission for a hearing which will take place remotely on 11 and 12 March after Scottish ministers rejected the arguments of 27 Scottish church leaders in a pre-action letter.

The church leaders argue that the “disproportionate” closures are a breach of human rights law and the Scottish constitution, and are preventing them from meeting the material, emotional and spiritual needs of their congregations and communities.

In their response, Scottish ministers said the state was within its rights to “regulate the secular activities of Churches…for the purposes of protecting public health”, and that churches were compelled to “comply with secular law.”

The church leaders come from a broad range of denominations, including the Free Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), Church of Scotland and a number of independent churches …

Rev Geoffrey de Bruin, leader at Christian Revival Church Edinburgh, said: “This is now a crucial moment for the freedom of the church in Scotland …

For Christians, spiritual health is more important than physical health.

Churches serve as lifelines of support to the most vulnerable during the toughest times and we pray that these important principles and beliefs will be recognised and upheld by the courts in March.”

The Christian Legal Centre (CLC), founded in 2007, took the case on behalf of the clergy.

Fortunately, the clergy won their case in March. Christian Concern issued a statement on the outcome:

Permission for a judicial review was granted and heard at the Scottish High Court on 11 March 2021.

On 24 March 2021, judgment was handed down by Lord Braid, ruling that the Scottish Ministers’ decision to ban and criminalise gather church worship during lockdown was unconstitutional and disproportionate.

The Tron Church serves a diverse congregation in central Glasgow. In 2012, it broke away from the Church of Scotland, opposing its move to accept gay clergy, although it maintains a cordial relationship with the Kirk, as the state church is known. The Tron is now part of the West of Scotland Gospel Partnership.

In February 2020, the SSE Hydro stadium in Glasgow cancelled an appearance by the Revd Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, amid accusations of ‘homophobia’.

Philip joined several other clergy from the West of Scotland Gospel Partnership in signing a letter to The Herald, expressing their disappointment. Excerpts follow:

THE cancellation by the SSE Hydro in Glasgow of the Franklin Graham event is a deeply disturbing decision that is antithetical to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and to true democratic values.

Franklin Graham is being discriminated against for having on occasions expressed mainstream Judaeo-Christian views on sexuality. His views in this area are not religiously extreme, indeed they simply reflect the historic and orthodox teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and countless other denominational groups. Like all mainstream Christian leaders Franklin Graham believes that every human being is a precious soul made in the image of God, and thus should be loved and treated with respect accordingly.

The planned event is one in a rich tradition of such Christian activity going back centuries in both Glasgow and the country at large. As Rev Graham has expressed himself his mission is not political but to make known the good news about Jesus Christ to every person regardless of their sexuality or any other characteristic

Christians disagree about many things, but Christians all agree that respect for religious freedom and freedom of speech is fundamental to a free society. Therefore, we ask that the SSE Hydro management, and those political leaders who have influence in such matters, reverse this decision.

A failure to do so would be an ominous move towards a less free society and one that will in time have serious repercussions for the civic liberties of all.

The Revd Dr Philip sounds like a good clergyman and one who refuses to stand by when the Church is discriminated against.

In 1995, a Church of England scandal made national news.

Reading an update on it this week reminded me of the Corinthians, whom St Paul reproved for becoming debauched. Their carnal attitude permeated their church services: babbling nonsense ecstatically ‘in tongues’, which was part of pagan worship, and drunken Communion services.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, something similar happened to a church in Sheffield. Unfortunately, there were no senior Church of England clergy to censure the vicar. As it happened, they encouraged a programme about which they knew little.

This week, The Times recapped what happened at St Thomas’s Church in Sheffield at what was called the Nine O’Clock Service, or NOS.

The NOS was held every Sunday.

A young Christian rock musician — and ex-nightclubber — Chris Brain, led the NOS, which The Times describes as:

a radical mix of rave culture, social and environmental campaigning and religion that drew queues of black-clad young followers for its weekly gatherings.

Instead of reminding Chris Brain of pertinent chapters of 1 Corinthians, the clergy wanted to extend the NOS throughout the United Kingdom (emphases mine):

The hierarchy was buzzing at the prospect of a vibrant model of service that might be copied around the country to attract new congregations.

Chris Brain, the charismatic young Christian rock musician who had emerged as leader of the NOS, met Dr George Carey, who was soon to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, and later recalled: “He said to me, ‘I’d be very happy to see an NOS in every town and city in the UK’.”

Carey, who met Brain in 1990, was interested in getting more converts, and rightly so. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, he declared the 1990s to be the Decade of Evangelism. He is best remembered for propagating the Alpha Course nationwide. Alpha started at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. It has been an international phenomenon for many years.

Returning to the NOS, in 1989, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev David Lunn, had confirmed 100 people — nearly all NOS attendees — at St Thomas’s. That is an extraordinary number of confirmands for any church at any one time:

It was a moment of great excitement for the church hierarchy because they were almost all young people, usually thought of as being out of reach.

As a result, Brain became a diocesan star of sorts, seen as being ideal for the priesthood:

Brain was fast-tracked for ordination and invited to contribute to the archbishop’s collection of essays on evangelism. Lunn told the BBC that the NOS had a “permanent significance” and was a “new development in the way we understand the Christian religion”.

The church authorities were either unaware of, or happy to turn a blind eye to some more disturbing aspects of the movement.

Brain’s ordination in 1992 was rather extraordinary:

When Brain was ordained in 1992, the NOS borrowed at considerable expense the robes worn by Robert de Niro in the film The Mission for the service.

He became St Thomas’s vicar.

Behind the scenes, however, carnality prevailed with Brain and some NOS adherents, particularly women. It was turning into a cult:

There were allegations of controlling behaviour and followers handing over thousands of pounds while cutting themselves off from their friends and families. Young women were enlisted as “postmodern nuns” in Brain’s Homebase Team. Some allegedly gave massages and engaged in sexual activity when putting him to bed.

Brain rationalised their behaviour, as one woman later recalled:

One member of the group, interviewed by the BBC, said: “He would talk about how we were discovering a postmodern definition of sexuality in the church. It’s just language — language covering up the fact of what was really going on: one bloke getting his rocks off.”

Things started getting out of hand in 1992:

There had been consternation in 1992 when an NOS service at a Christian festival included a troupe of dancers in black Lycra bikinis cavorting in front of 15,000 people.

A few laypersons and clergy complained to church authorities, but nothing was done until 1995:

Church leaders finally listened in August 1995 after disclosures by three whistleblowers:

One woman claimed that there was bullying and people were “blurring boundaries sexually”. She worried about how money was spent. The NOS charity, the Nine O’Clock Trust, recorded an income of £272,000 in 1994.

That amount of money is something an average Anglican church can only dream of.

Church authorities suspended Brain’s ministry. A month later, he tried to downplay the extracurricular activities of the NOS:

In a September 1995 interview with a Sunday newspaper he said that the sexual contact he had with women followers was “heavy petting” but “non-penetrative”. The Homebase Team had been created to help his wife at home because he was so busy with his work. “It was like any other vicarage, you always get ladies helping the vicar’s wife. They set up a rota but the idea of handmaidens is ridiculous,” he said.

Brain added: “These were relationships which began 10 or 12 years ago when I was part of the nightclub scene. When I became a priest, I should have done something about them . . . I didn’t and that was wrong.”

He said that his ordination never should have happened:

He claimed that it was “utterly ridiculous that I was made a priest . . . I was the breakthrough for the church but it changed everything for me. Everyone became dependent on me.”

Yes, congregants depend a great deal on their vicars. They expect spiritual leadership and guidance. He is their shepherd.

The Times is revisiting this story because, after 25 years, former NOS members are now seeking compensation:

Former members of the Nine O’Clock Service, which was known as the NOS and drew hundreds of young people to nightclub-style evangelical services in Sheffield in the 1980s and 1990s, have approached the church alleging that they endured abuse and exploitation.

The current Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Rev Pete Wilcox, said that:

the survivors had given “harrowing testimonies” about their experiences, and their concerns were being taken “very seriously”.

More ex-members could be coming forward:

to allege sexual exploitation and psychological abuse.

One member explained that the reason for waiting a quarter of a century to come forward was because the Church of England advised them to stay silent:

One former member of the group said: “People have been silent for a long time and it has caused them huge distress and trauma. The church told them at the time that they should keep silent, don’t talk about it, the press will destroy you. I think after the MeToo movement people felt ‘enough is enough’ and they made a decision to come forward.”

Some of those seeking help are considering legal action for damages because church leaders had overtly supported the NOS, believing that it would attract younger congregations.

The article says that the hierarchy even gave the NOS financial backing.

The ‘postmodern nuns’ wore unusual habits and had unorthodox duties:

Brain resigned his ministry in 1995 as the scandal unfolded. It emerged that his entourage included a group of “postmodern nuns” who wore black miniskirts and whose tasks ranged from housekeeping duties to “putting him to bed” at night.

He told a BBC documentary in 1995 that he had been “involved in improper sexual conduct with a number of women”.

Fast forwarding to the present, Brain is now 63. The article says that he has changed his first name from Chris to James. He is currently:

co-director of a “transformation design” consultancy based in Manchester.

The Times reported that he did not respond to their attempts to contact him.

The NOS, The Times says, had between 300 to 500 members. A number of them forsook family and friends for the movement, filling its coffers with large sums of money.

At the time the scandal broke, the then-Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop Lunn, said that:

the hierarchy was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

The current incumbent, Bishop Wilcox, is taking a much different stance:

Wilcox said: “We can confirm a group of survivors of the appalling conduct at the Nine O’Clock Service in the Diocese of Sheffield, which originally surfaced in the 1990s, have contacted the Church of England. Their concerns and harrowing testimonies are being taken very seriously. Support is being offered and the church is working closely with the statutory authorities.”

A large law firm, Slater & Gordon, is representing the former members. One of their solicitors (attorneys), Richard Scorer, said:

The Church of England has a moral and legal responsibility to those harmed by abuse in the Nine O’Clock Service and it must honour that and ensure that the appalling harm suffered by victims is properly acknowledged.

I remember when the story broke. It was in the papers for several weeks. Even the atheists I knew at the time expressed their shock and said that priests should not act like that.

The Times has done an admirable job of returning this harrowing story to the spotlight.

I hope that settlements can be reached and that the Church of England learns an important lesson from this.

However, I have a few old bookmarks on the Nine O’Clock Service, which say that Chris Brain’s departure did not end the movement. Furthermore, The Independent reported at the time that Bishop Lunn was quick to demand that Brain resign as vicar and that the Archbishop of York had already banned him from performing priestly duties.

More to come on Monday.

In response to reader H E’s guest post last week on declining church numbers, another faithful reader of mine, George True, responded with an excellent comment about a truly Catholic priest in Arizona.

It’s too good to leave there, so here it is in full:

There is a firebrand priest here in the Phoenix AZ area by the name of Father William Kosco. He has publicly, from the pulpit, denounced the Catholic bishops of America for their cowardice in going along with all of the cultural Marxist insanity. He has also publicly denounced Joe Biden as someone who is diametrically opposed to every fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic church. He has said that Joe Biden would receive Holy Communion at his church only over his (Father Kosco’s) dead body. He has declared that Joe Biden, being a public figure, must PUBLICLY repent of his sins against God and his nation in order to be allowed Communion.

The pews at Pastor Kosco’s church, St Henry’s in Buckeye AZ, are FULL.

At this point, allow me to post a tweet that I saw shortly after reading George’s comment. It ties in well, as it shows a church full of worshippers (click on the tweet, and when it opens in a new tab, click the image to see it in full):

Now on with the conclusion of George’s comment:

He is showing all priests, Catholic and Protestant, how to put butts in the seats. Start boldly and fearlessly declaring the truth, speaking out against evil, and affirming the fundamental precepts of our faith. People are hungering and thirsting for the truth, and they will flock to shepherds who exhibit courage in the face of evil.

One cannot say better than that. May the good Lord continue to bless Father Kosco and his congregation.

The other day, one of my readers, H E, commented on my post about the latest Gallup poll showing a severe decline in religious affiliation in the United States, which is down to an all-time low of 47%.

H E’s observations are worthy of a guest post (emphases mine):

The news reports in your post mention how people have turned their backs on organized religion. I think a more important story is how organized religion has turned its back on its parishioners.

I can speak only for what I witness in the US. The mainline denominations have moved away from preaching God and the Bible to preaching political activism and pop-psychology. Observers are puzzled by the decreasing number of people who attend church services. This is no surprise to me. Why should someone go to church to listen to a second-rate political stump-speech for the latest left-wing cause when he could hear the same thing by turning on his television at home and watch the evening news?

A few months ago, I drove through a nearby city and I passed a church which had an electronic sign in front with a scrolling message. The message said the following:

We love you
So we are closed

I was so shocked by this message that I stopped my car and took pictures of the sign and its message. Last Spring, our governor ordered churches to close, but he lifted this restriction after a few months and churches may now hold services, but with limited capacity. This particular church decided to remain closed, as a “service” to its parishioners.

The church was a Methodist church. I recall reading about the Wesleys and the early days of their ministry and how they would travel from city to city and ask permission to preach in the local church. If they were refused permission to preach in the church, they weren’t deterred. They would look for a large open field nearby and preach there.

I wonder what they would think if they knew their spiritual descendants thought so little of God’s Word that they suspended preaching as a service to their parishioners.

Another reader of mine, CMinTN replied:

Very good points. This is how I see things as well. I am 45 and my wife is 35. She came from a devout Catholic family while I come from a Methodist family on my mother’s side. We were very active at Church until the covid. Now, there is no choir, mandantory distancing, must make an appt. to attend. Very few people are going to our Church anymore and the bishop and conference seem to want to stay locked down out of a combination of fear and social justice virtue signaling. We still keep the faith though

One day, misguided clergy will have to answer to the Lord, in person. One wonders how they will spin their answers.

My thanks to H E for another excellent commentary. H E has also written about coronavirus through the lens of history, the lack of support for John MacArthur’s court battle and today’s Democrats.

The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 9:8-15

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

———————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s reasons why ministers in the church should receive a salary for preaching the word of God.

In today’s passage, he gives biblical reasons supporting his principle.

He says that it is not his personal belief but a mandate dating back to Mosaic law (verse 8).

John MacArthur tells us how the verse is structured in Greek (emphases mine):

“Say I these things as man?” And the Greek – the form of that question in the Greek implies a negative answer. “No, I’m not just talking in human terms.” … I’m not just saying these things as a man, “or saith not the law” – and he means the law of God – “the same thing?” Is this just human reasoning, or does God’s law say the same thing? And the second question has implied in it a “yes” answer. Greek – the way they form a Greek question in the Greek language will give you an idea as to whether it’s to be answered yes or no. This second question has a yes answer. “Do I say these things as a man? No. Or doesn’t the law say the same thing? Yes.” God’s law. … This isn’t just a human analogy or a human reason, God has something to say.

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4, which instructs the Jews to allow oxen to eat a bit of grain while they are treading it to remove the outer husk (verse 9). It would be inhumane to put a muzzle on an ox preventing it from munching some of the grain while he treads it.

MacArthur explains how treading was done:

Now, the Egyptians had an interesting custom that the Israelites picked up. Whenever they wanted to separate the grain from the husk, they would throw all of the stuff on a great floor, a great flat area. And they would get oxen, and they would tie to the oxen a great big, round, flat stone. And the oxen would just walk all over that grain, dragging that stone, crushing the husks and releasing the grain out of it. And that’s the way they separated it. And the law said, “Don’t muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads the grain.” You want to have one frustrated ox, you just muzzle him and make him tread that grain; you’ll really frustrate him. That would be inhumane. That would be unjust. If the ox is going to drag that rock around all day, he ought to be able to take a few bites now and then. That’s the point, see?

Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 to illustrate that a man should receive a salary for preaching. In the second half of verse 9, Paul asks if God is that concerned for the oxen’s welfare. He answers his question in verse 10: no. The point of the verse from Deuteronomy is to say that a farmer, a thresher — and even the oxen — should be able to partake of a harvest.

MacArthur says:

When God wrote that, he wasn’t really talking about oxen; he was talking about people. And it’s – incidentally, in Deuteronomy 25, there’s no mention of animals anyway; it’s talking about social and economic relationships between men. And he just puts this one in a metaphor, “Men ought to be able to earn their living from their labor.” A simple principle.

If God requires that an ox spending his strength serving man should get his reward, how much more a man who spends his strength serving God? If an ox shouldn’t be muzzled, why should a man of God? Why should a minister?

And, you know, there’s a built-in incentive, too, I think, in this. I think, when a man gains his living out of his labor, it may tend to make his labor all the more diligent. I think sometimes that when a person in Christian service has to go out and learn his living, and he knows that in his Christian service he’s not earning his living, he tends to be slothful there because his success is not really that significant in terms of accruing to himself earthly benefit.

And so, that’s a simple, biblical principle. And now look at verse 10 again. He say, “This is written” – now pick it up right in this third line there – “This is written, that he that plows should plow in hope.” In other words, the guy plowing the field ought to be able to hope that out of his plowing he’s going to gain a reward – “he that threshes in hope should be a partaker of his hope.” In other words, he should be working, realizing there was going to come something in the future. He’d have a hope for something in the future, and indeed it would come. Hope for the servant.

Paul concludes: as the ministers provide their flock with spiritual truths, should they not reap a material reward for it (verse 11)? As ministers are preaching God’s word, are they not even more entitled to receive a salary for their higher calling (verse 12)?

This is still the situation in most denominations. Clergy salaries are notoriously low. In the Episcopal Church, of which I was a member in the US decades ago, most clergy were what we now call ‘trust fund babies’. They had a private income to supplement the poor salaries they received.

Paul was not advocating for ministers to become wealthy, as so many shyster televangelists are today. He just wanted them to live comfortably, meaning more than modestly. They should be able to buy their own clothes, for example, rather than receive hand-me-downs from their congregations.

MacArthur gives his own real life illustration of discussions about wages for clergy:

Paul makes a direct application in verse 11, “If we” – and this is really straight – “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a big deal if we reap your material things?” Now, that’s an interesting statement. He says, “Look, Corinthians, if we sowed unto you the things of the spirit, life transforming things, eternal things, forever things, is it any big deal that you would give back to us some material things?” It’s an obvious question, isn’t it? No. I mean it’s no big deal.

But so many times the mentality of Christians in history has been, “Make sure the servant of God can barely make it. Don’t give them too much. After all, they’re serving God.”

And you see, my philosophy on the thing is, “Hey, if he’s serving God, I mean what higher calling? Give him a whole bunch.”

Sometimes somebody’ll come to speak somewhere, and I may be in the discussion, and they’ll say, “Well, let’s see, if he gasses his car,” and we’ll maybe kick this around in some group somewhere, and we’re talking about a camp or a conference with different pastors or something, and somebody will say, “Well, it’ll only cost him, well, let’s say we give him an extra, we can get away for $150.00.”

And I’ll usually say, “Well, that’ll be good; let’s give him $350.00”

“What’s he going to do with the extra?”

“What would you do with the extra?”

“Oh, well, let’s see, I’d buy – fix – pay my bill.”

“That’s what he’ll do with the extra.”

You see, the point is not just make sure he never has enough, but give him more than he needs, and then you let him worry about how he is a steward of it. You let him – generosity. You know, we think about a missionary, and invariably, you know, you say, “Well, we don’t want to – don’t want to overdo it. After all, they’re only missionaries. And the missionary comes home, and you say, My brother, I know you need a new suit, and I’ve got one here that I don’t wear anymore … Right?” In your income tax, you write off $45.00 suit given to missionary. Hmm. See? Real good, real good.

You know, what you ought to do is take him down and buy him one just like he’d like to have. And then you worry about how he’s a steward of the suit you gave him. Don’t you worry about keeping him poor.

In the second half of verse 12, Paul states, using the royal ‘we’, that he did not ask for a salary from the Corinthians because he did not want to put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel. He restates that again in verse 15.

However, it is clear he expects the congregation to pay for other ministers’ work in furthering the Good News and Christian doctrine.

Paul refers to the verses in the Old Testament that specify what parts of a sacrificial animal the priests received (verse 13). Not all of the animal was burnt. The priests received the hides to sell and they also received most of the meat.

Therefore, Paul reasons, it is only right that ministers in the Church receive a salary for preaching the Good News (verse 14).

MacArthur explains how the sacrificial system worked in the Old Testament:

For example, a priest is in the temple, and people are bringing offerings in the Old Testament. The man would bring a burnt offering. There were five different offerings that the Jews would bring. Let’s say he’d bring a burnt offering. Now, this alone was the one that was totally burned up. The only thing left would be, according to Genesis 32, the stomach, the entrails, and the sinew from the thigh, and that you wouldn’t particularly want.

But what was left out of the burnt offering was the hide. And the priests would take the hides, and they would use those hides to sell to make money to live. So, out of the burnt offering came the hide of the animal.

The second offering that the Jews gave was the sin offering. Only the fat was burned, and the priest kept all the rest of the meat. The third offering was the trespass offering; the same thing. The fat was burned; the priest kept the rest of the meat.

There was the meal offering, where they brought flour and wine and oil. A small token of it was burned; the rest of it went to the priests. The peace offering, which was the fifth one, were the fat and the entrails were burned. The priest received the breast and – it said the right shoulder, and that all has symbolic meaning – and all the rest of it went back to the worshipper.

So, in every case, there was something for the priest in order that his livelihood and his support and his sustenance might come out of his service. The priest received the first fruits of barley, wheat, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey – all of those things – some of the first fruits of everybody’s crop had to go to the priesthood to support them in the Old Testament. They received one tenth of the Levite’s tithe. They received what was called the Terumah which was the 1/50 of any crop. They received what was called the Challah, and that had to do with dough. When anybody made bread, 1/24 of the batch had to go to the priests. If you were a baker, 1/48, because you were making more bread.

And so, the priests in the Old Testament, according to these truths – and you can find them in Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 18, and many places – they were sustained by their ministry. And so he says in verse 13, “Don’t you = know that those who minister about holy things live of the temple? And those who serve the altar are partakers with the altar?” In other words, the support comes right out of that ministry. Simple truth.

Paul ends by saying that he never asked for a salary for himself (verse 15, repeating verse 12). He is saying that he enjoys his work so much that he wouldn’t ask for or accept pay. When he was given donations by other churches, as Acts and his other letters show, he gave those funds to needier congregations.

Paul’s point, however, is that other ministers should be paid.

Matthew Henry explains:

… it is not given in charge to all, nor any preacher of the gospel, to do his work gratis, to preach and have no maintenance out of it it may sometimes be his duty to insist on his maintenance for so doing

1 Corinthians 10 deals with idolatry. More to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

That’s Paul-ine (not as in the female name Pauline), reminiscent of the Apostle Paul.

By resisting California’s local and state government, the Revd John MacArthur is walking into St Paul’s territory.

When I last wrote about the travails of Pastor MacArthur’s Grace Community Church, he was still in battle with Los Angeles County. That was in mid-August.

His and his church’s fortunes have not improved since then.

Before going into Grace Community Church’s struggle in detail, an unfortunate situation has resulted from the coronavirus. This is universal and separate, going on throughout Western countries.

It might have happened by accident or by design, through lockdown.

However, the unchurched or the formerly-churched who wished to find comfort and succour in a church community because of a pandemic were unable to do so because of lockdown.

Some Christians often say, ‘Church is everywhere you look or what you make of it personally. If you don’t, it’s your own fault’.

Those from a Calvinist tradition strongly maintain that church is not a building. The Church of Scotland holds to that tenet. Their attitude is: ‘Lockdown? So what?’ Someone from the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) lambasted John MacArthur here a few weeks ago.

For the rest of us, however, that belief does not hold true. In fact, not being able to worship in person in community, particularly at a difficult time, can be deeply unsettling at a time when people feel the desire for a spiritual — and physical — connection more than ever.

RedState, much improved since the departure of Erick Erickson, posted an article by Kira Davis: ‘The Church Has Spectacularly Failed the COVID Test … and the Faithful’.

Ms Davis met up with a friend of hers in California. Her friend was clearly upset about not being able to go to church during lockdown. She said she thought perhaps she was having a crisis of faith.

Ms Davis diagnosed her friend’s problem differently (emphases mine below):

Listening to her in person made me realize a couple of things. For one, she wasn’t really expressing a loss of faith. She was expressing a loss of connection. Having suddenly been disconnected from all the things that kept her grounded and the community that regularly helped her explore her relationship with God, she was left floating without an anchor.

The second thing I realized is that people are suffering under lockdowns much more than we may think. My friend has a beautiful family and they’ve been able to continue working through COVID shutdowns. She has a lot to be thankful for and on the outside she might strike one as very adjusted. That is the veneer she — like many of us — has had to adopt in order to keep life as normal as possible for her children.

Davis rightly chose to put the blame where it properly lies — with our clergy. I don’t live in the United States, but even those of us in other Western countries have experienced limitations on our fellowship. In England, at least, we need to sign in to attend a religious service, wear face coverings, observe social distancing, bring our own liturgical printouts/Bibles, realise we mustn’t sing and remember to greet from a two-metre distance.

At least we can worship indoors.

In California, the state mandates outside worship, more on which later:

Church leadership has fooled itself into believing that YouTube services and drive-by food donations count as “serving” the community. Even as churches begin to accept limited permission from the state to meet, we have to make reservations and worship outside in order to enjoy the privilege of religious freedom.

Our world is currently burning around us. There are no answers to the current state of our national angst without the Church and yet the Church has voluntarily put on a muzzle. People are desperate for answers, even more desperate for connection. These are the two things we are best at.

Too right!

During normal times — the rest of our lives, bar 2020 — priests and pastors have been telling us that we must attend church for the state of our souls:

Every pastor will tell you at one point or another that we humans are born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts and we spend our entire lives searching to fill it.

Yep. Except when there’s a pandemic.

During this crisis, those same clergy — men and women– have scurried from sight, just when so many of us need them:

There are a lot of holey hearts out there right now. Space abhors a vacuum. Something will fill those empty spaces and the Church has been willingly sidelined. We no longer have community — our most powerful draw — to offer. What is left to fill the vacuum? Rage without resolution, bitterness without forgiveness, punishment without grace. Alcohol, drugs, loneliness, resentmentall of these things are filling those lost empty hearts out there without much challenge from the institutions God has appointed to lead and to serve.

With John MacArthur in mind, Davis then zeroes in on the current conflict between Church and State. She nails it perfectly:

Whatever their personal feelings about John MacArthur may be, California churches should be supporting his move to defy a state authority that has thwarted our human and constitutional right to assemble and worship. Every Sunday, we’ve heard our pastors proudly and loudly share stories of how Jesus was a revolutionary, a direct conduit of the counter culture of the Kingdom. We brag about this aspect of our God, even as we cower before state authorities who have no interest in keeping our tax-exempt sanctuaries thriving because God…the Church…is always and always has been direct competition to the gods of the state. We don’t even pay them taxes. We are worthless to them and it is beyond tragic how our pastoral leadership has, for the most part, confirmed as much.

She concludes:

The specter of losing our church properties to fines or penalties scares us more than our brethren (people like my friend) losing their faith and their communities. It is not lost on me that Peter obviously later redeemed himself by becoming one of the most influential Christians in human history. It is also not lost on me that the ultimate price Peter paid for his eventual obedience to the name of Jesus was to be crucified in an extraordinarily brutal fashion.

California church leaders aren’t even willing to incur a fine in the name of Jesus.

Nope.

Fortunately, at the age of 81, with a full life of ministry dating back to the late 1960s, John MacArthur has decided to don St Paul’s mantle.

No doubt, he and his godly wife Patricia have prayed together over this issue since July.

On September 16, MacArthur told Laura Ingraham of Fox News that he and his church were still under threat of fines or imprisonment. He said, ‘Bring it on’:

That day, RedState‘s Alex Parker compared him to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry in The Enforcer: ‘Pastor John MacArthur Backs Down Not an Inch: If California Wants to Jail Him, “Bring It On”‘. Citations follow below.

It’s hard not to cheer along with the congregation at this announcement of his from August 9, because the only legitimate way to assemble en masse these days is through ‘peaceful protest’:

Returning to his interview with Laura Ingraham, he expressed his deep admiration for Paul the Apostle:

We received a letter with a threat that we could be fined or I could go to jail for a maximum of six months. Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the apostle Paul, and when he went into a town, he didn’t ask what the hotel was like, he asked what the jail was like because he knew that’s where he was gonna spend his time. So I don’t mind being a little apostolic if they want to tuck me in a jail.

He also reminded Ingraham and her audience of the COVID-19 figures and the absurdity of prohibiting state-wide public worship:

We believe that the governor, the county, the city, and the health department are going against the Constitution,” MacArthur said in the Tuesday night appearance on Fox News. “And just to remove one obvious question, the rate of COVID in California is 1/100 of 1%. So 1/100 of 1% of 40 million people have COVID and that eliminates freedom to worship from the entire state.

He told Ingraham that President Trump is also on his side. Excellent news, even if MacArthur is self-avowedly apolitical:

I am so thankful that President Trump has told me personally that he supports the church as essential and the churches need to stay open. So, with the Constitution on our side and the president’s backing, we’re open.

A few days earlier, on Sunday, September 13, MacArthur appeared at the pulpit to resounding, if not deafening, applause and cheers. If you had heard only the audio, you would have thought that President Trump were standing there.

MacArthur had a long list of demands from the State of California to read to his congregation:

He thanked them and said, by way of compliment:

You people are out of control. Thank you, thank you.

The requirements follow.

Keep in mind that thousands of worshippers attend Grace Community Church each Sunday:

– No indoor meetings;

– Registration of every person on church property;

– Screening and temperature checks upon entry;

– Six feet of social distancing mandated, including in the car park and in restrooms;

– Every other parking space must be left vacant;

– Everyone must be masked;

– Restrooms must have monitors;

– Floors must have tape markings;

– Restrooms to be used during the service, rather than afterwards to prevent queues;

– Hymnbooks, Holy Communion and Bibles are forbidden;

– No one can shake hands;

– Mandatory seat covers must be in place;

– Services must be shortened (congregation laughs);

– Worship must take place in a tent with a maximum of 350 people;

Anyone who comes in contact with someone outside of their family afterwards for more than 15 minutes must self-quarantine for two weeks.

A lot of those sound like what we have in England.

MacArthur concluded:

Obviously, this is not constitutional but, more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the Church.

On Thursday, September 24, Ryan Helfenbein of the Falkirk Center interiewed John MacArthur at length (26 minutes). This is the second of a two-part series on COVID-19 and the Church:

Ryan Hefelbein asks him about his critics decrying his reopening of Grace Community Church.

MacArthur says that Scripture says that the members of the Church are called out to meet together. There is no such thing as an ungathered church.

The notion that the church is scattered is an un-scriptural belief:

That is a foolish statement to make.

MacArthur and his legal counsel had appeared in court that day — September 24 — and presented the enduring infinitesimally low statistic of contracting, let alone dying from, coronavirus, especially between the ages of 30 and 60:

On the basis of statistics alone, this [lockdown] is completely arbitrary.

He says that, even though he is cautious, he believes that whether we live or die depends upon the:

purposes of God.

MacArthur says that his mission in life is to make sure that as many people as possible hear the word of God.

He said that there was only one person, a physician, who had COVID-19. The doctor recovered.

As such, word got around the congregation. MacArthur said that many wondered if the alarm surrounding the pandemic was justified. Through nothing of his own doing, people began to return to church. That would have been in July. Prior to that, he and his assistants had been doing online worship broadcasts in several different languages.

He said:

The Church should never close its doors.

He spoke about the irony of our clergy lauding the heroes of the Reformation (Martin Luther, John Knox), yet they will never run that risk of being in danger — especially surrounding a virus. He pulled a face, disapprovingly.

He took exception to the vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris comparing COVID-19 to the Second World War:

Last I knew, no one was bombing LA.

Nice one!

MacArthur said that more and more people have been attending his church’s services every week. That’s probably because there is nowhere else for them to worship normally.

He dismissed ‘conspiracy theorists’ but posited an ongoing ‘conspiracy’ in California and elsewhere in the West — pre-COVID — undoing the tenets of the Gospel as expressed in the Book of Romans:

This culture has done a massive work on destroying the law of God in the heart.

He said that the only remaining bulwark is the Church, but, that, too, has been restrained, not only this year but over the past few decades:

What the hell is going to keep this culture from going to Hell at warp speed?

He said that the only solution is to:

keep preaching, living godly lives, confronting these things

Ryan Helfenbein asked if the coronavirus had changed him.

He replied that, no, it hadn’t. The word of God and his ministry had not changed. Yet, the culture has certainly changed.

Incredibly, he ventured into politics, which is somewhat of an unknown frontier for him, because in past sermons he says he was not interested in the subject. Yet, today, he says that the parties have divided along moral lines (19 minutes in):

For a Christian, a real Christian, I do not believe they can vote Democratic …

Not only do Christians have to uphold righteousness, they must take the side of those that uphold religious righteousness … God wants you to take the stand for righteousness’s sake …

He reiterated not to vote for a platform — the Democrats’ — which goes against God’s will as expressed in the Bible:

Certainly not to vote for that, otherwise you have complicityMurder and perversion is not an option for a Christian on any level. I think it’s come down to that.

He says that the Republican platform — not necessarily the personal lives of their candidates — is on the side of biblical morality.

True to form, MacArthur has a can of Fresca by his side on the desk. He loves Fresca. So did my late maternal grandmother.

Fresca has a weird taste, but if you grew up with it, as I did, it brings back fond memories.

Returning to a serious note, MacArthur reminds us that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and the Ruler of the world. MacArthur warns us about the different forms of wrath that can be wrought against a culture.

In Romans 1:24-26 and 28, he says, that God will deliver persistent sinners unto their own devices: serious sin, including sexual immorality. Essentially, God gave them over to a ‘reprobate mind’ i.e, insanity.

He believes that, by and large, we are now ‘in a reprobate mind’ — not all of us, but too many — and that God has unleashed judgement. However, MacArthur says the judgement is temporary, provided that we, as a people, repent.

MacArthur ended by saying:

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Part 1 of the interview is here.

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