Friday, 29 November 2013

Extinction in a generation?

Photo of George CareyHave a read of this report from the Daily Telegraph: ‘Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, warns Christianity “a generation away from extinction” in Britain. Clergy are now gripped by a “feeling of defeat”, congregations are worn down by “heaviness” while the public simply greets both with “rolled eyes and a yawn of boredom”, he said.’

Lord Carey goes on to say how in particular ‘we’ have let down young people and that we must deploy ministers to get children and youth back into church.

There’s much here to admire. Lord Carey may no longer be Archbishop of Canterbury, but it still takes courage for such an establishment figure to point out just how bad things are. But he’s quite right: Christianity is a generation away from extinction in the United Kingdom. This is something both very old and very new.

Let me explain.

On the one hand, this is a very old truth. Christianity is always a generation away from extinction. This was true just after Peter preached in Acts chapter 2 and people turned in their thousands to the Lord Jesus. This was true as people were converted in droves during the Evangelical Awakening. And it is true as people turn in hordes to Jesus in China today, unreported as that is by the BBC. The people of God is always one generation away from extinction.

This is because of the reality that our heavenly Father calls individuals by name from our death in sin into having faith in his Son. As the example of Jacob and Esau shows, faith is not a genetic inheritance, notwithstanding the preciousness of being raised within a Christian family. God has no grandchildren. In consequence, the gospel must be preached afresh in each generation, to each generation, without the assumption that somehow faith becomes automatic.

Yet this is easily overlooked and Lord Carey is quite right therefore to remind us that preaching the gospel is constantly necessary, because new generations are constantly arriving. He is also right that if we have so allocated resources that the gospel is not preached to each generation then we have indeed failed, and at the most fundamental level, because we have failed to carry out the great commission. This may be an old truth, but it is a vital one. Lord Carey has got us smelling the coffee.

But there is also something new here. This is more, it seems, than the salient fact that each generation must be evangelised anew. Lord Carey talks about a defeated clergy and a laity full of heaviness. Observationally I think this is by and large true – although there are remarkable exceptions. But I want to draw a distinction here.

Is it…

Clergy and laity are heavy and defeated in their emptying churches because they have tried evangelism and it has failed?

Or is it…

Clergy and laity are heavy and defeated in their emptying churches because they have not tried evangelism?

It may, of course, be both, and I accept that as we talk about defeated and heavy clergy and laity we are talking in generalisations. Even so, I think a key underlying question as we look at ‘extinction in a generation’ is: Have we as the Church of England actually preached the gospel?

I haven’t seen Lord Carey’s full text, but it intrigues me that his criticism apparently focuses on the lack of resources allocated to youth work. Even if that were true (the conservative evangelical churches I know do try in this area), the issue is not whether we have bodies on the ground in youth work on Friday nights. The issue is whether those bodies on the ground know the gospel personally, understand it intellectually and care enough to share it.

This means that Lord Carey’s misgivings are perhaps more serious than even he realises. The issue of extinction cannot be separated from whether we have been preaching the gospel. It means the term ‘gospel’ cannot simply be a fashionable, on-message word one throws into discussion papers from Church House. It must be given the concrete meanings that it has in the Bible. John Calvin, thinking of Luke 24:46f, insists that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins’ is the sum of the gospel. So too did the Lutheran Reformers, and so too does the Church of England in the Homily on Repentance.

Candidly, are we in the Church of England as a whole discussing the gospel in those terms? If we aren’t, do you think this might have something to do with Lord Carey’s observation about ‘defeated’ and ‘heavy’?
Even more seriously, if parts of the Church of England are not evangelising the coming generations, so that ‘extinction’ stares us in the face, then should we not be worried that extinction, spiritually speaking, is already here: is it that there will be no one in the pews in 30 years’ time, because the gospel is not in the pulpit now?

Let’s smell the coffee again.

By Mike Ovey

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Design, the Designer, and a Singing Lion

Design, the Designer, and a Singing Lion

Neo-Darwinian evolutionists of our day do not deny that the natural world has many characteristics that give the appearance of design. They call this a case of “apparent design,” denying that it is “actual design”; in other words, the depth, complexity, and integration we observe in nature simply looks like the product of an intelligent designer but they aren’t. Rather, they are the outcome of purposeless natural processes that have been plugging along, unguided, for eons. (A naturalistic orchestration Richard Dawkins has called the “blind watchmaker.”) By contrast, Intelligent Design proponents observe the appearance of design in nature and attribute it to an intelligent agency.
I spend much time pondering how the same observations in nature can produce such drastically opposing viewpoints concerning the origin, complexity, and diversity of life. Nothing strikes me as more absurd than seeing the world as a fortuitous accident, claiming that the laws of nature alone have produced sentience and human rationality from nonliving matter. But in the end, metaphysical pre-commitments, not everyday sense, tend to rule one’s perspective on such things. If you are a materialist, only material explanations will do, and anything else is ludicrous; repugnant, even.
I’ve been re-reading C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, this time aloud to my son (what a delightthis is!). A passage in The Magician’s Nephew is startlingly relevant to this worldview dichotomy. For context, the scene (which gives me chills every time I read it) involves Aslan’s creation of the world of Narnia from a dark, formless place to one filled with light, life, beauty, and the self-awareness of certain chosen creatures. There are several human witnesses to the musical unfolding of his magnificent creation, but one of them perceives things very differently than the others:
When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, [Uncle Andrew] had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing–only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.
May you hear the Lion singing and embrace the song in all its splendor.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Joy of confession: No good for God

A poor sinner once wrote to his preacher with these words:

Dear Sir, Someone always told me to look where I want to go. But the question is where do I want to go. I know as a christian the answer is I want to go to Jesus. I should look to Jesus. But do I really want to go there. In my more spiritual time, when I had little of the world in me, and I had the beauty of Jesus in my soul, my answer would have been I want to look to Jesus to be exactly like him. To go where he is. But now, I have nothing but sadness in my heart because of my sins. Jesus is far gone from my sight and I am really apprehensive to go where he is because he might say to me those terrible words, 'depart from me ye cursed of my father.' I tell you Sir that I am worse than those who have been diagnosed with depression, for mine is a spiritual depression, a long recession in God's economy. But I do have those moments when I see sunshine through the small holes of my prison. At times, a little rain simmers through and I have a little hope again. But it does not last because I am the kind who has a weak will. Who is no good for the world. Yea, I am no good for the world because I am not good for God. These are really sad words that I am writing, but it all flows from my heart. From a depressed dead heart. I do have debts to pay, many of them owed in love but in my current condition I do not know how to go about it. O for pity Sir, for heaven to remember me. Do write to me soon Sir on how to be encourage again. 

From one whose name not worthy to be mentioned
A fallen saint.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A question to charismatic churches

In his (John MacArthur) book, Strange fire, MacArthur asks those who are part of Charismatic churches to ask themselves these questions:

1. Why does the modern version of speaking in tongues parallel pagan worship practices? (This came in the context of him quoting an orthodox priest who queried that, "If the possessed voodoo priest says: 'shiri-bo-bo-bo-boh' in a staccato stammer over his black whisk he holds, and the possessed Christian born-again Christian rattles: 'shla-ba-ba-bah-shlabalika' over his Bible, what can be the difference.")

2. How can a God of order be honored by confusion and disarray?  (This question comes in the context of given an account of an event that happened in a pentecostal prayer meeting in which a "Spirit-filled" woman fell down in ecstasy and knocked over a boy who was speaking in tongues. After crashing into the pews, the boy got up, nursing a bloody lip, and lamented, 'Oh why?' in his own native language). How can the Spirit be responsible for this kind of mayhem.

I am currently reading Strange fire in the hope of reviewing it. Whilst reading it I will continue to ask questions that the author raises to those who are Pentecostal/charismatic.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Love, a confusing emotion

For Gerad, love was a confusing emotion. One day it satisfies and on another day it strips his heart bare. He wanted out sometimes and he would often say, 'Love is too hard.'

Often she would call him and tell him time and time again her problems. She would constantly despair of the disorder of her soul as incurable. He always offered her his ears and even more, he always made his shoulders available for her to cry on. 

But his heart was crumbling too. 

Bottling up everything, especially his own problems had reached its limit and Gerad knew that at any minute everything could spill over. 

But Gerad loved her.

Gerad knew that love offers life. It lightens the dark moments and his presence always made her smile. He tells himself that love covers a multitude of sins whenever she forgets to ask about him and his troubles. It was always about her – so self-centered. He always took a sigh to swallow his own madness and always, always focused on her.

His love was a love that gave but never received. 'Giving love its is own reward', he often said to himself. 'It is not about me. But about her.' 

'To love her,'  Gerad reminded himself every morning, that 'I must daily forgive her, for love is not possible without the healing work of forgiveness.'

'Some people,' he tells himself 'have turned their hearts away from tenderness because they have a defensive hardness – but I must always be tender towards her. I must always cry over her misery and adopt it as my own. Perhaps I need another friend, one who can hear my heartache, but she takes up too much of my time. She is needy and I must be there. Loving her is sacrifice.'

Gerad's love is not the kind that is easily found in our society. Time and time again, voices have told him that his love for her is unhealthy. That he is loving the unlovable, that he lets her desires take over his own, that his love is surely one-sided. Why love someone who does not love you back is the common refrain. But in his heart he always answered saying, 

'My love is not determined by self-interest, nor wanting an appreciation or even recognition for its service. My love is free even when it bleeds.'  


Where have all the Godly Men Gone?

Where have all the godly men gone? These days I ponder that question with increased frequency and concern. If the lack of godly men were only a matter of personality or ministerial preference, then little would be lost. Such is not the case, though. The church is in great need of awakening and renewal; and, in the spirit of Richard Baxter, its greatest need might well be godly men.
Not that long ago, “man of God” was a common and honored descriptor in the church. The phrase ranked alongside “great preacher,” “brilliant theologian,” or “gifted writer” in frequency and surpassed them in value. Now, it seems as though the designation “man of God” has gone the way of the bus ministry and the youth choir—a largely passé referent to a bygone era of church life.
It is as though someone snuck into the shopping mall of the Kingdom and changed all the price tags, upsetting and inverting God’s value system. We have increased the mundane and ancillary aspects of Christian ministry, all the while cheapening its true virtues and values. In God’s economy, though, character is valued over talent, and holiness over giftedness.


Why is there a dearth of godly men? Admittedly, godliness is nearly impossible to measure, and godly men are nearly impossible to quantify. Yet, three factors seem especially to contribute to the paucity of godly men.
Many churches don’t seek men of God. Given the complexity of modern ministry, many churches prioritize giftedness and experience above godliness in their candidates for ministry. Churches often look for competent administrators, capable speakers, polished people skills, a cute family, and other secondary concerns before assessing the heart. Like ancient Israel, we have the propensity to look on the outward; all the while God looks on the heart.
Many ministries no longer necessitate godliness. There may now be more distance between the minister and the congregation than ever before in the history of the church. Through the years, pastors have lived among their people (New Testament), by their people (parsonage), and near their people. Now, everything from the size of the church to the expansion of auxiliary campuses has created distance between the pastor and his people. Moreover, video-screen pastors often have no relationship at all with their people.
An overcommitted laity does not desire personal interaction with their ministers, and overcommitted ministers have less time for personal interaction anyway. Though social media grants the appearance of personal engagement, the truth can be altogether different. The distance between the pastor and his people means there is less life-on-life engagement and less moral accountability one with another.
Ministry “peer pressure” is not toward godliness. The “peer pressure” of ministry is oriented toward events, products, conferences, and materials. It is as though the paraphernalia and garnishes of ministry have displaced the more biblical and eternal aspects, like godliness. Perhaps this is why Matthew Henry lamented some preachers who, “when in the pulpit, preaching so well that it is a pity they should ever come out; but, when out of the pulpit, living so ill that it is a pity they should ever come in.”[1]


“Man of God” is a biblical designation granted to Old Testament giants like Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, and Elisha. In the New Testament, Timothy is the singular designee. The title was not merely honorific. It was a lofty and noble designation—granted to men with lives that merited it.
In the context of I Timothy 6, the title “man of God” is associated with action. It is found in a list of admonitions, commands, and encouragements that flow both descriptively and prescriptively. Paul instructs Timothy that the man of God is known for fleeing from immorality, fighting for the faith, and for following after Christlikeness. Moreover, II Timothy 3:15–17 links the adequacy of the man of God with the power and authority of holy Scripture.
Clearly, the New Testament prioritizes godliness in the life of the minister. The qualifications for ministry found in I Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 deal almost exclusively with character, with little reference to giftedness beyond the ability to teach. Thus the timeless ministerial admonition, “Beware of letting your talent gain you a ministry position that your character cannot keep you in.”


In the main, the modern church has most everything it needs—save revival. We have more conferences than ever, but fewer conversions. We have more books and blogs than ever, but fewer baptisms. We have more products and paraphernalia than ever, but little power. Indeed, we have a surplus of resources, but a deficit of revival.
Of course, revival is a work of the Holy Spirit, initiated and carried forth by God. At the same time, we cannot expect God to bless our shallowness, staleness, and carnality. Perhaps revival will not arrive in the pew until it first arrives in the pulpit. It may well be that the greatest need of the church is godly men who shepherd the flock of God with holiness and grace.


Where have all the godly men gone? I am not exactly sure, but I pray God will call forth a new generation of men consecrated in heart and devoted to his glory. As the hymn of old begs, “Rise up, O men of God! The church for you doth wait, her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!”[2]

[1] Matthew Henry, Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible: Matthew through John (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1859), 229.
[2] William P. Merrill, “Rise Up, O Men of God.”
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Friday, 8 November 2013

The writtings of Sunny Caane - On death's doors

Men must live their lives as if death may come at any hour. With this view should incline them to live their lives with all seriousness leaving nothing half undone. Everything must be completed, everything that can be attended to must be attended to, for at any hour, death may strike her fatal blow. But men are far from this wisdom. Only a few have this perspective in their hearts, but many are friends of vanity and of time.

I have many times thought that death's hands was knocking on my door. But when I opened the door, it was but the wind against my roof. At times I sigh and at other times relieved because I was not ready to die. For to die unprepared is to die with fear.

I feel now as the man with the ten thousand talents worth of debt. I am on my knees pleading, 'have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' But we know that such large debts can only be paid back if one has the means to a large fortune. For even if I was to work four hundred years, I should never pay my bill. In this regard, I am hopeless lest my creditors have an eye of mercy.

But my flames are flickering, almost put out. The hour of death is upon me and I shall be my own executor. My name should be thrown in with uselessness and remembered with the dogs. I am but hopeless incarnate, forlorn displaying and misery travelling.

I had lived my life with death far from my eyes as to leave many things undone. I wish I completed a story. I wish I did something good. But now I live too cold to be warmed by the sunshine of love. I keep myself in the shade of isolation. I was a fool to think that time was my friend, but now my own time I must shorten.

I bid you farewell Sunny, I bid you a long farewell.

Roscoe Johnson


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Only one thing

Only one
can unlock
the key
to my heart.

There is
one thing
the end
of a
lonely road.


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Miscellanies 89: We shall never get it quiet right

It is true that we shall never get it quiet right until the earth is made anew. After the April showers comes the blooming flowers of May. We see here only the shadow of the throne, but there we shall see it absolutely. Here we are still under the tutelage of faith, there we shall see with our own eyes.

Saints will cry here, but there, no weeping shall ever fall on nature's ears. It is a paradise that our weary feet is voyaging to, but here we must bear a little while with the thorns that pricks our pilgrim's feet. It is true that men here are more ready to conceal their lust, but there, there shall be nothing to confess.

So while we live here in great anticipation of our future glory, we must be full of love and honesty. We must be ready to reveal our defeats than to hide our shame. We must be ready to mourn for our speck than to make known by gossip the huge log in our brother's eyes. We must be ready to have a tremendous patience with the church, for you see, that whilst here on foreign shores, we shall never get it perfectly right. As God has abundant grace for us, we must have grace for the church. She is the darling Jesus died for and we must die for her too. 

Let not the darkness of the world kill your spirit, but rather create a light through it, a light of path for it through the light that shines in you. Today you may come across hopelessness, but you have hope. You may shake hands with depression, but you have joy. You may sit next to powerlessness, but you have power. You may work with impurity, but you have purity. You may hear about slavery, but you have freedom. And of course you know that all these good things which the world lacks belongs to Christ, and because you are in him, he has given them to you.

O we shall never get it quiet right, but we can do a lot of good. 


Dedicated to excellence

I ought to be dedicated to excellence, that everything I do is done to the best of my ability. We ought to give all to God and do all as if ...