A Question from the Philippines

A friend of mine who is a pastor was contacted by a man in the Philippines who was seeking discipleship. As the two have developed a relationship the following question arose. This was my initial answer to assist my friend’s response.

If the Bible teaches that only men are to be pastors, why then do ministries under women often prosper?

Why do unorthodox churches seem to prosper from a worldly perspective?

Why does the church down the road that does preach the Gospel but whose form of church government is not Biblical become flooded with people?

How is it that someone is converted under an unregenerate minister who happens to state the Gospel?

How can it be that a Gospel-centred church that appears to abide by New Testament principles not grow, or even perhaps shrink under persecution?

Some of these questions relate to God’s providence, which can sometimes be mysterious.

Returning to the original question, I would say that because complementarianism[1] vs. egalitarianism[2] is a secondary matter and that above all else the Lord desires people to be saved (primary issue) the Lord at times works through unorthodox means. Complementarians must also remember that some female pastors are sisters in Christ (just like some female [and male!] pastors are not). I think the best example to answer this questions is found in Judges.

Formal positions of leadership in Israel were always male. The case of Deborah (Judges 4:4) appears to be an unusual exception.[3] It appears to be an exception until one sees that Old Covenant prophetess does not equal New Covenant pastor. It appears an exception until “to judge” (which literally means defend) is coupled with her role as prophetess (a woman, in this case, who spoke the word of God, often to people in formal positions of power). In summoning Barak she shows she is not indeed the formal leader in the sense that he is, otherwise she would not have told him to gather the troops (v. 6b). We further see their mutual-leadership in the song of Judges 5. Though Barak ultimately went out into battle he did not get the glory, not because he relied on a woman (the Lord spoke through her![4]) but because he did not assume the role of faith and leadership that he should have (v. 9). As a result the glory of the victory was given to Jael who the Lord used to kill the enemy leader Sisera. The Lord used two faithful women (in this case) who stepped up in the absence of a faithful man, instead of the faithless man, because the Lord’s ultimate aim was deliverance from Israel’s enemies.

This question and the story of Deborah and Barak reminds me of Ezk 20:30, “And I sought for a man among them, that should build up the wall, and stand in the gap [of the wall] before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.” The Lord is using many sisters in Christ today to accomplish salvation because Christian men are not standing up to the positions of leadership in the home, church and society that God calls them to.

Correct gender roles are not about capability but faithfulness to design. When this is not heeded, it doesn’t mean the Lord won’t use a woman when she steps up into the role of a man, even if this is not the Lord’s ultimate design. Why? Ultimately men and women are called to be faithful to the Lord’s purposes in gender, but because salvation is His ultimate end, He will not stop at this even if this means using a woman and giving the glory to her instead of the man to whom (in this case) it would normally rightfully belong.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] That men and women are equal before God but created for complementary roles.

[2] That men and women are equal in ALL things.

[3] See: http://www.adfontes.ca/posts/post/article/deborah-and-the-defeater-verses/index.php. I believe Paul is spot on here.

[4] Godly men would do well to listen to the counsel of godly and respectful women. I have listened and am the wiser for it. They have spoken and have contributed to the work of the body (in my case part of the head).

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Are Christians Bigots?

This is a common accusation of Christians, but is it warranted?

A bigot is: a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions. It also has the connotation of religious hypocrisy.[1]

There are 4 different points that are worth considering to paint a response to this question:

  • It all depends whether the person in question is an authentic Christian or a nominal Christian. This is a distinction many non-Christians often do not make because they do not understand the spiritual change that takes place when someone actually becomes a Christian. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 7:21a). All nominal Christians are by nature hypocrites and often can be bigoted.
  • It also needs to be remembered that whilst every true Christian is perfect in the Father’s sight because Jesus’ perfection has been applied to their account, they are not actually perfect but are being made perfect through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. As a result there is not a righteous man [or woman] on earth who does good and never sins. (Eccl 7:20).
  • The Bible calls true Christians to cloth yourself with humility and to think less of yourself than others and especially God (Phil 2:5–8). Similarly Christians are told to put away all…hypocrisy. (1 Pet 2:1). This doesn’t sound like bigotry!
  • If real Christians are bigots then it is because God is a bigot. Jesus himself said, I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn 14:6). Post-modernism (and the world through history past) despises the exclusive nature of Jesus, the Gospel, the Bible, Christianity and Christians because it is a constant reminder of the truth that they presently reject.

One might say that true bigots are those who are intolerant toward God himself.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/bigot

Remembrance Day 2017

image-0-02-01-d9228c71bbd98012b45c19e8f8b516ba0809fe3e33c51d6a9d86258ce85c1e12-V

Today is Remembrance Day (I hope you bought a poppy and that you paused to remember!). This is a photograph of my grandfather, Jack W. Crocker, in 1943. My grandfather was a WWII veteran, many of his friends and countrymen paid an even greater sacrifice than his service by laying down their life for their friends, family and country. In serving as a chaplain in the Canadian Army Reserve for 6.5 year I had the privilege to meet many men and women who likewise sacrificed greatly, and knew of others who had—still today— paid the greatest sacrifice for our peace, their lives.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for their friends.

(John 15:13)

Whilst those who serve, served and have died deserve our respect and honour, and whilst the sacrifices ensured our freedom in the face of tyranny and still today protect and defend the peace we enjoy, it does not have any salvific quality spiritually speaking. Here, at best, these men and women are pointers and reminders of the one who was perfect and God and who gave His life to save us from our sin so we might have life and peace for eternity. Do you know this warrior, saviour and friend (Jesus)? If so, when was the last time you paused to remember and give thanks for Him?

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Can I attend a gay “wedding”?

Last night we delved into marriage and sexuality in our Why We Believe What We Believe series (please listen to that message under “past sermons”).

Following on from that I wanted to re-blog an excellent article from a friend from several years ago in which he wrestled with the question of whether it is acceptable for a Christian to attend a gay “wedding.” Click here to read.

Part of our evangelical DNA is to be relevant and incarnational in ministry, however, as this article shows, this does have its limits.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Culture meets the Church

We live in an interesting time culturally speaking. In fact there are elements of modern culture that are downright disconcerting. Consumerism, materialism, narcissism along with a whole host of other “isms” plague us. Today seems to be all about me, the ultimate sign of how far society has moved away from God (the first sin was pride, Gen 3:5, see also Ro 1:25). What is perhaps even more troubling is the way culture is leaking into the Church. Whilst we as the Church are not supposed to be conformed but be transformed (Ro 12:2) sadly in many areas believers allow culture to lead them rather than the Gospel of Truth. One area this has become apparent is in “church hopping,” switching churches frequently whenever they cease to meet your needs or try to hold you accountable. In speaking with our missionaries recently who serve in South Korea this is even a problem there! Instead of continuing on I thought it would be worth re-blogging a couple of different articles and a video by an American Christian comedian (the discerning Brit will be able to read between the lines):

What if the church doesn’t meet my needs?

7 bad reasons to leave a church (and while we’re on it, what might be 7 good Biblical reasons to leave a church?)

And finally, check our an comedic episode of “Church Hunters”:

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Harvest

…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen— Romans 1:25

Harvestime is a wonderful time of year when we can give thanks for what we have, not only the “harvested” crops and autumn colours, but everything else the Lord has blessed us with according to His common grace (family, jobs, homes, etc). Yet, that is not quite what Harvest is actually about, it goes one step further…

Harvest is about giving praise to God who created all things and giving thanks to Him for what He has so graciously given us, even though as sinners we don’t deserve even the beauties and blessings of this tainted, fallen creation.

There is a danger at Harvest, and all the yearlong, to exchange this truth about God and focus instead on “stuff,” created things; to worship and to serve what God has made rather than the God who made them! In fact, this danger is nothing other than idolatry. We live in a world rife with this sin and would do well to heed to words of John to beware the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions (1 John 2:15–17)—the things of the world that are passing away— and rather to love God.

And so this Harvestime, let us bless our Creator, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and thank Him for the blessings He has poured out and not get it the other way around.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

ISingPop Ministry

Hands

By Chris W. Crocker

Presented at the St.Andew’s CE School ISingPop concert at St. Andrew’s Church on September 28, AD 2017, a community event sponsored by St. Andrew’s Church and Cromhall Chapel. This 360 degree reflection of the Christian faith followed the song See Those Hands.

The Lord be with you!

Hands up if you think the students of St. Andrew’s School are doing a fab job this evening! Let’s give them—and ISingPop— a big hand for all their hard work (clap [draw attention to hand actions with each subsequent reference]).

Take a look at your hands for a moment. Our hands have done a lot of things we are proud of, and if we’re honest also a lot of things we’re probably not. But our hands are amazing aren’t they! The Bible says they were created by Jesus, just as a potters’ hands shape the clay. Did you know the finger prints on your hands are unique to your DNA. No one else in the world has hands like yours, you are special!

But while we were designed to bless Jesus our creator in worship with our hands (lift them up) and live in a relationship with Him, instead we choose to go our own way and curse Jesus with our hands, we sinned.

BUT God the Father, with loving, gracious, merciful and just hands, sent His one and only Son, Jesus into the world He created so whoever would believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16).

So, Jesus was born of the virgin Mary—that first Christmas—and she held the Rescuer with her hands as she pondered these things in her heart. As Jesus got older, He grew up with His hands in wood, working in the family business as a carpenter.

But there came a day when it was time for Jesus to set His hands to the work His heavenly Father had sent Him for. And as He began that work, and was baptised at the hand of John the Baptist, God the Father stretched out His hand from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

During His 3 year ministry, Jesus laid His hands on people and healed them of illness, stretched out His hands and fed people, calmed the storm, taught them, all to prove who He was, but most importantly to make a way back to God, which He did in the strangest way.

Jesus suffered abuse at the hands of the Roman soldiers, crowds and religious leaders. Finally the soldiers took nails and a hammer in their hands and nailed Jesus’ hands to the Cross. He hung on that cross by His hands and died. And to make sure He was really, really dead, a soldier picked up his spear in his hand, and thrust it into Jesus side. He died the death that all those who’d believe deserved to die.

BUT that isn’t the end of the story, because three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He was God’s Son, showing He had power over sin and death in His hands.

People don’t come back to life from the dead though, we’ve got a handle on that, and they knew that back then too!

Yet, 100s of people saw the risen Jesus—this miracle—including His disciples, all but one, Thomas. Thomas said, “Unless I see His hands,… and place my hand in His side, I will never [ever, ever] believe.” (John 20:25).

But a week later Jesus appeared to Thomas and said to him, Thomas “put your fingers here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe!” (John 20:27) and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who will give you” life and life to the full” (John 10:10).

For the Bible says there is coming a day when Jesus will return, not as a baby or a suffering Saviour, but as a great and mighty King and Judge with justice in His hand. What will be the deciding factor?

Not by the “good works” done by our hands but whether we’ve put up our hand and said, “Yes, Jesus, I believe,” put up our hand and said, “Jesus I’m sorry for my sin,” praising Him with our hands and serving Him with our lives.

This is the message of the Lord to us this evening. Thanks be to God!

What happens to children when they die?

What happens to children when they die?Baby

This question was asked in this summer’s People’s Choice summer series and because of space in that series and also because it may be more clearly delivered in type, I address it in this blog.

This is not a question unique to today (though emotionalism and universalism perhaps make it more difficult to address). Infants died in Bible times, pre-modern Britain, and indeed still today. Although infant mortality has decreased, still children die, particularly the unborn (miscarriage, abortion[1], the disposal of embryos in fertility treatments, etc).[2] So long as there are children and so long as there is sin and death this question will be relevant.

Before I begin to give a basic and introductory response, I want to emphasise that I do not embark on seeking to answer this question as if from a distance. My wife and I lost a child through miscarriage and we have had close friends and family members suffer the loss of both unborn and newborn children. Something else that I must stress before I proceed is that this question is often approached through emotionalism. While our affections have a role to play we must submit ourselves to Scripture, conceding that our ways are not God’s ways (Isa 55:8–9). Generally when we are uncomfortable about something in the Bible God is correct and we are wrong. If you proceed in reading this blog please pause, pray and be open to reason [or reasoning] (James 3:17). Christianity is like a train and the order of that train is important. First must come the locomotive, then the car and finally the caboose. Put another way, first must come fact (or the promises and truths of God), then faith (or belief in those) and then feeling. Get the order wrong and the train soon runs off the track. Get the order right and it runs smoothly along.

The question centres around salvation and namely, if the Bible teaches human depravity and the need of salvation (which it clearly does), what about children? It also touches upon our beliefs about what the character of God should be in relation to this question, either leaning toward His love (how could a loving God allow…) or His justice (God is soft on sin if…).

Numerous passages and verses in the Bible teach human depravity, but three are perhaps most pertinent to this subject.[3]

The first is Psalm 51:5 where the Spirit says through David: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. This verse teaches that not only from birth but from conception we are sinners.

The second is Ro 5:12, which addresses why we are born sinners. Here the Spirit says through Paul: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. This means that because the head of the human race—Adam—sinned, all humans are born sinners (original sin). Not only are we born guilty sinners by nature but we also co-opt into sin through sinful choices throughout our lives.

Thirdly, and perhaps the most challenging, come passages like Deut 20:16–18 and 1 Sam 15:2–3 where the Spirit says the following about the destruction of the Canaanites:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

We must remember that these last passages speak of judgement because of societal sin of a great magnitude (with simply a different means than say Sodom and Gomorrah) and not genocide. Traditionally this total judgment has been understood by Christians as a real event backed up by archaeology, but also as a picture of hell.

If children had no sin, children wouldn’t die. As death is a result of sin generally, children as well as adults tragically die.

In light of these three passages, we return to the question.

There have been at least 7 ways that Christendom has sought to answer this question.

  1. All children go to heaven (universalism: that God ultimately accepts everyone because He is “love”).
    1. This has been the death knell of ‘liberal Christianity.’ The basic teaching of the Bible is that sinners are saved through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Jesus’ death did not save everyone but only made that salvation possible. Jesus died to save those who would believe in Him, He died to save His own (Jn 10:14). The Bible clearly teaches that notall humans are saved.
  2. No children go to heaven.
    1. Based on the above passages and that children cannot believe some do not think any children go to heaven.
  3. Christened children go to heaven (Roman Catholicism).
    1. Roman Catholics believe one is saved by faith+sacraments+works. One of the sacraments is to christen children. In a sacrament the church is seen as having the authority to dispense God’s grace on earth. As such those children who are baptised are saved, hence why Roman Catholics are so quick to want to baptise their children. The clear teaching of the Bible that we are saved by faith and not by works (whether personal or ecclesial [by the church]) discounts this view.
  4. Children who die before the “age of accountability” go to heaven.
    1. Another popular view that seeks to balance accountability for sin and the need for faith in salvation is this one: that children are only subject to the penalty of hell if they reject Christ after some arbitrary or subjective “age of accountability.” If they haven’t reached that age they go to heaven. But what is this age? Is it 4, 6, 8, 12, 20, 40, 80? The Bible doesn’t say, because it doesn’t exist. Anyone who has worked with children knows that children wilfully choose sin from a very early age and should be held accountable much earlier than 18!
  5. In His mercy God applies the meritorious work of Christ to children because He is a God of grace.
    1. In this view children do not exercise normal faith in Christ that is needed by those who can choose, but rather He has mercy upon whom I have mercy (Ro 9:15). While it is true that God has mercy upon whomever He will (in this passage as it relates to election), the consistent teaching of Scripture associates receiving this mercy in faith. The strength of this view is it fights universalism by appealing to the need for the work of Christ. The downside is that nowhere in the Bible is this clearly stated.
  6. Only elect children go to heaven (or children of the elect are saved).
    1. This was the view held by the founders of our chapel. Article 10.3 of our founding confession said this: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit,[12] who works when, and where, and how He pleases:[13] so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.[14]” (The Scriptural proofs for some of these show that even the most robust theologians need to bend Scripture to address this question). In this view infants who are elect are saved without faith shown on earth[4] according to the mercy of God. A similar view believes children of believing (elect) parents are saved on account of the faith of their parents. This view would account for why not all children (like those of the Amalekites) are saved and why some possibly are, but no one could know who an elect child was or was not, because the elect are normally only justified through faith on earth.
  7. This is a mystery best left to the Lord (my personal view).
    1. I do not stay awake at night wondering about the eternal state of my unborn child. Why? Because I entrust its soul to an all wise, good and sovereign God and accept His will, whatever it may be. While point 6 comes closest to sounding reasonable, I believe that because the Bible does not even remotely touch upon this subject clearly, it therefore must not be a subject God wants us to concern ourselves with, otherwise He would have told us.

There are two things, however, that the Bible does clearly teach: 1) personal comfort grounded in the promises of God (vs. speculation) for those who mourn the loss of a child, and 2) the personal need to respond to the Gospel.

  1. For those who have suffered the loss of a child comfort is available in the face of such loss but it does not come from speculating about your child’s salvation but hoping in the promises of God such as, Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4).
  2. The Lord commands all people everywhere to repent… (Acts 17:30).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] In 2015 there were 185,824 in England and Wales (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/17/abortion-rate-england-and-wales-five-year-high).

[2] I believe it is possible to differentiate between the immorality of abortion for instance and issues of infant salvation.

[3] Jesus saying, “let the little come to me” has as little to do with salvation as it does baptism, rather Jesus is breaking down barriers in the apostles hearts, because the Gospel was not meant for “us” (the disciples or the Jews) but for them (Jews and Gentiles and all who believe).

[4] This is very similar to forms of universalism where it is believed people will get a second chance before entering heaven to believe (but see Heb 9:27).

Faith + Hope

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

So begins the ‘hall of fame’ list of faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Given the dark days in which we live—rife with evil, moral decay and unbelief—days in which humanly speaking I resign myself to believe our civilisation is doomed, what is faith, what is hope?

Most people today are hopeless, their lives uncertain, because they have a presumptuous ‘faith’ (trusting in themselves, others or in ungrounded optimism & wishful thinking [a ‘faith in faith’ mentality]) that ‘hopes’ in uncertainties (selfish desires, earthly shifting sands, fallible people). It is a trust in a hope of a feeling of expectation that something good might happen. When this leads to shattered hopes and broken faith—as it almost always does—people invariably despair; over time they give up.

Biblical faith and hope are not so vague, but are described as an “assurance” and a “conviction.” Faith is a trust in a promise made by a faithful God. He is the object of our faith, His promises the basis of our hope. Therefore, whatever He has promised we can trust and as we actively wait for it we hope. In fact, our trust is so firm and our hoping so active, it is as if what is invisible is visible before our very eyes (see: Ro 8:24–5; 2 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:8).

Hebrews is speaking about Jesus and His return, but He seems to tarry; we’ve also been promised eternal life, but can feel so dead; we’re promised a happy resurrection, but our bodies know corruption; we are made just, as yet sin dwells in us; we hear the call to rejoice, but are in the midst of miseries; we have the promise of good gifts, but still we hunger and thirst.

What would become of us if we were not supported by true hope and faith, the ministry of Christ’s Spirit and the Word, along with the example of a cloud of witnesses, who together enable us to triumph over the world and endure to the finish line, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Leavers’ Address @ St. Andrew’s School

It is a great privilege to have been invited by Mrs. Green to address the leavers of 2017 (and everyone), but especially you six. It certainly is a milestone we want to celebrate!

Harriet, Natasha, Nathaniel, Michel, Lucas, Samuel, you are probably counting down the hours, not just till the end of the year but to your new adventure at secondary school. You’re flying the coup, moving on, leaving the nest! But I hope you won’t forget us all at St. Andrew’s, that when you’re learning to drive in a few years you’ll drive past, if you get married and have children, take them past, show them where you went to primary school. Laugh…but it will be here before you know it [click fingers]. You are maturing, growing up. But I hope you will remember the Christian values you have learned, and I’d like to leave you with one last thing to consider.

Jesus says that the key to growing spiritually mature is to turn and become like children [not go this way but go back this way]. Crazy thing to share at a leaver’s service! Just when we’re celebrating moving on (physically speaking), Jesus is calling to you turn around (spiritually speaking), and become like children.

Listen to what’s going on in Matt 18:1–3:

1…the disciples came to Jesus, asking, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”

So Jesus called a child to come and stand in front of them, 3 and said, “I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. (GNT)

Powerful words, potentially confusing words too! What did Jesus mean by become like a little child? Did He mean to become innocent? Parents, what is one of the first words a child says? “No!” That’s right! Jesus was not talking about innocence. What did He mean then? V. 4:

The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child. (GNT)

See when we are young we are dependent on parents, adults, teachers…but as we grow up we become independent, self-sufficient, responsible…new skills and abilities. And physically speaking that is good. But Jesus says to be spiritually mature, to be “great in the Kingdom of heaven,” we must become humble. Humility is the key to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Humility means to be entirely dependent on Jesus with your whole life, whereas pride is to think you’re so great you don’t need Jesus in your life.

My prayer is, yes, fly the coup, mature, do great things, but even more I pray that you will remember this spiritual lesson today, that the key to true greatness is to trust in Jesus.

Thanks for listening and the Lord’s blessings to all our leavers! [Shake hands].