Tuesday, 24 March 2009

the nature of spiritual authority

When I have finished writing this current book I have several more I want to write. They are some way off at this time so I thought I would use the blog to vent some steam while I am waiting.

Differences between gatherings of God's people are usually distinguishable by differences in theology and in polity. Theology is obvious but polity is church order. Here in the UK our bloodiest civil war was fought over the issues, not of theology, but of polity. King James the First of England (and VIth of Scotland) was thoroughly committed to Episcopalian polity ie bishops and a clear hierarchy of offices. The son of a Roman Catholic mother he had been raised as a Presbyterian and hated it. The preachers made it plain that there were two kingdoms in Scotland and that although James was king over the one, Jesus Christ was king over the other. They made it plain that King James would never be the head of the Church of Scotland. On the death of Elizabeth he became king of England and set about the task of creating one 'United Kingdom'. To make it work there would have to be one 'United Church'. But what kind? He had no doubt. It would be Episcopalian with himself at its head and with the power to veto its choice of bishops. He was a crafty old bird but his son Charles believed all the same things but had no subtlety in his determination to create one 'United Church'. His failed efforts in Scotland spilled over into England and pretty soon the Civil Wars began.

It is a serious business and saints of different persuasions have been prepared to suffer and die for their convictions. What's more they have been prepared for others to suffer and die who didn't or couldn't share their convictions. Is it just a matter of 'pay your money and take your choice' or is there a Biblical route to sanity in these things. What are the Biblical principles of spiritual authority and how should it be exercised?

There is the beginning of an answer which is expressed so plainly it could hardly be misunderstood. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 NKJV. That is an inverted pyramid in contrast to Gentile power structures which have hierarchies of leadership with the great ones at the apex. At this level it is a principle rather than a clear church polity but it is a principle which must be carried into church polity if church polity is going to be faithful to the spirit of its one Lord.

Of course it is not just a matter for the great ones of the earth who meet in their synods and councils. It begins in the local gathering of the saints and expresses itself in the way a man 'rules' his smaller household. Abigail expressed the desire to simply wash the feet of the servants of her lord. Abigail means Father's Delight and such a disposition surely is!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Care in the Community

Reading in 2 Corinthians this morning I was arrested by the statement of Paul concerning his motivation in initiating the disciplinary action that we first meet in 1 Corinthians. Briefly, someone in the church there had begun a relationship with his step-mother. Paul is horrified and even more so that the church at Corinth had taken no action in the matter. If our presumed scenario is correct, it seems that the church in Corinth quickly moved to implement Paul's counsel. It may be that there is a missing letter between our 1 Corinthians and our 2 Corinthians but that will not alter what follows.

Paul writes Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you. 2Cor 7:12 NKJV

The passage shows Paul's motivation in taking the initiative. It was not primarily as a punitive act against the immoral behaviour of one, nor an act to support the infringed rights of the other. In one sense it was not even a simple acting in responsibly towards a community for which he felt a responsibility. According to what we read here it was specifically to 'show that he cared', and he adds the words 'in the sight of God'. He was conscious of God's eye upon him as he took the first steps and as he makes this claim. Earlier he had testified that his earlier letter had been written through a haze of tears. (2Cor 2:4) It brought to mind an old Graham Kendrick line.."where are the love tears that earned the right to speak". Do we have any right to initiate public disciplinary action without the tears?

Any public discipline must surely begin here, not with any sense of vengeance or even the righting of wrongs but with a tearful endeavour to demonstrate genuine care for the community. There are times when public discipline is necessary and the New Testament has examples of some of these but whenever such public action is necessary it is vital to ensure that our motivation is a genuine demonstration of our care for the community and is not triggered by any crusading intention.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Vicarious Suffering?

The title would usually turn our thoughts to Christ himself. 'Vicarious' coming from the Latin actually means a substitute and that certainly turns our thoughts Christ-wards.

However, I wasn't thinking about Christ's vicarious suffering but ours. I was reading 2 Corinthians earlier this morning and was taken again with the boldness of Paul's statements. He begins by saying that we can pass on to others what we have learned of God in times of trial and suffering. He says that where 'the sufferings of Christ' abound in us, so does the comfort or encouragement. So far that is fine and we know that God wastes nothing so every trial 'traced upon our dial' as the old hymn says can be a source of blessing to ourselves and to others.

It is the next section that stops me in my tracks. He says 'Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.' 2Cor 1:6. If we take a short cut in that sentence you may see how I am thinking... "if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation". Or even shorter, 'if we.. it is for you'.

That is not 'vicarious' in the same way that Christ's suffering was vicarious but there are definite points of contact. Paul was conscious, as we read elsewhere, that some of his suffering was for others; I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, Col 1:24. This suffering was 'for the sake of His body', it was not 'instead' of, as Christ's vicarious suffering was, but it surely linked to the well being of others.

Now Paul was an apostle, and I am not, and one of the essential elements of apostleship is suffering but I got to wondering about just how much of our suffering is '...for you'? We can be so 'ego-centric' that we conclude that all our trials are 'for our own sake', perhaps sometimes they are not. Suppose the trial that God is taking you through is NOT for you but for me? Suppose the trial that God is taking me through is not for me, but is for you... where would that leads my thoughts.

The family of God, the body of Christ is a mysterious and invisible reality. If we are baptised by one Spirit into one body we are joined together in him and we are 'in this together'. Charles Spurgeon used to encourage his students to be 'often at the death bed' of the saints. He added it is a wonderful thing to 'see silver hairs adorned by golden graces'. It is not just true of death-beds. It is a source of powerful encouragement when I see the 'given grace' which enables fellow saints to patiently persevere.

So 'hang in there' my brother/sister. I need to see God's grace at work in you. The time may come when my remembrance of your suffering will be just the thing I need as part of God's grace to get me through mine.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Imminent Collapse of the Evangelical Church

This topic is causing a lot of fluttering on the websites. It originated in an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled; The coming evangelical collapse. It would be interesting to hear people's feelings about this. I am in broad agreement with the article as regards it being a possibility but as to whether or not it will happen I am not sure.

Perhaps the more challenging question is 'would it matter'? What do evangelical churches stand for today and would it be a loss if we lost them? One of the themes in the article and the writer's blog is what we might call the sheer 'wooliness' of so many evangelicals. The writer makes the point that the shift to social concern which has been the pattern for much of the last 20 or 30 years as been at the cost of a 'confessional orthodoxy'. In other words a more traditional denominationalism with clear belief systems. He predicts that disenchanted evangelicals will head towards Catholcism and the Orthodox chruch in an endeavour to find a solid theological ground. We have, so he says, got to the position where the main criteria is 'growing numbers' and the mega-churches are, by definition, the success story here, but where is it all heading?

Some 30 years ago I sat a white haired preacher down and asked him a question. I said, "When I see the way that evangelical theology is heading with its 'decision based' practices and its claim that this is 'receiving Christ' I wonder whether or not evangelicalism has gone too far to be retrieved, short of another reformation. What do you think?" He refused to be drawn, maybe he didn't understand the question! Maybe, as with this article, there is little to be said that really adds anything to the discussion.

I have been thinking about John Baptist and his mission to clear the way so that men could get a clear view of the coming king. If it takes the loss of 'the evangelical church' to clear the way, perhaps it would be price worth paying.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

David Wilkerson's Predictions of New York catastrophe

I was first alerted to Dave Wilkerson's blog by a friend who asked 'what do you make of this?' I think an equally important question might be 'what do I do with this?' That is surely always the right response to a word which someone says has come from God.

I have to be honest and say to myself; 'do I believe this prediction?' and my honest answer is 'no'. So the next question is 'so you believe this will not happen?' and my answer to that also is 'no'. By 'believe' I mean active faith. Do I have active faith that this calamity will overtake New York? No I don't. Do I have active faith that this calamity will NOT overtake New York? No I don't.

Do I have opinions? Oh yes, by the truck load, but I try not to exercise faith in my 'opinions' and I certainly try not to exercise faith in other people's opinions.

So I am left with the question. "what does God expect me to do with this David Wilkerson blog?" I can pray and I do for David Wilkerson and John Piper and others who have a high profile and whose words are listened to by thousands of attentive hearers. They, and I in a lesser degree, carry a heavy burden...

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1 NKJV

A few of us are discussing this on the Biblebase Discussion Forum. Why not come and listen or even better... join in.