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 train, 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 no all 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).

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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].

Taking Root and Bearing Fruit

TakeRootThe story of King Hezekiah’s besiegement in Jerusalem by King Sennacherib of Assyria is perhaps one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. It is found smack dab in the middle of Isaiah and is the only narrative in the book (a textual indicator if ever there was one). An almost identical account is also found in 2 Kings 19:30.

Sennacherib mocked the living God (pride) and in light of this Hezekiah prayed (humility). Isaiah’s prophetic response mirrors this: the demise of Sennacherib foretold (Isa 37:21–29) and a promise of hope for Hezekiah (vv. 30–2). God opposed the proud but gave grace to the humble. Three agricultural signs would confirm to Hezekiah that his deliverance was not by chance but according to God’s purposes. A far greater promise was spiritual in nature, that God would preserve a remnant for His glory. The remnant would come through the storm, first take root downward and then bear fruit upward.

The Lord gave me this verse at the end of June when I was reflecting on being at the chapel for 2.5 years (and looking in my sermon folder to see 5 calendar years in which there are now sermon folders for). I felt Satan “tempt me to despair” because in that time, while lots of great things have happened in our fellowship, we’ve not seen any conversions or baptisms. While numeric growth is not the only way to measure growth we certainly wouldn’t mind it! Then I came across Isa 37:1 and I felt as if this perfectly summarised the chapel: a) we have been a faithful remnant that has remained biblically faithful to the Lord when many churches have become synagogues of Satan (Rev 2:9), b) that over the last 2.5 years we have seen modest numeric growth but we have been maturing spiritually (Bible study, prayer meetings, retreats, leadership, fellowship events, preaching, internal health) and have been able to undertake a number of physical upgrades (technology, insulation, windows, website, etc), and c) that we stand on the cusp of the Lord doing great things in our midst (Tots ministry, relationship with the school and community, Cromhall’s 5 Most Wanted, outreach events, sign, etc). Key to bearing this fruit is prayer and humility.

So may we take courage from Isa 37:11, continue to be faithful, continue to become rooted in Christ, and expect that the zeal of the Lord will do still greater things as we wait on Him.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

As far as the east is from the west

The book of Psalms is a wonderful book. Reading from it recently I came across this passage (Ps 103:6–19):

The Lord works righteousness     and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses,     his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious,     slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide,     nor will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,     nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,     so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west,     so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children,     so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame;     he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass;     he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,     and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,     and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant     and remember to do his commandments. 19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,     and his kingdom rules over all.

Verses 11 and 12 are significant.

v. 11- The atmosphere of the earth is 300 miles thick (though most is within 10 miles). God’s steadfast love is even greater than this!

v. 12- The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles. However, there is no actual distance between the east and the west, they never meet! God’s ability to forgive is immense.

Contrary to much popular belief, however, that teaches God’s love, and especially His forgiveness is given to all indiscriminately, that is not what the Psalm says. Notice the end of v. 11 (and 12, 17) that says “on those who fear Him.” On those who know the greatness of the Lord (v. 19) and truly acknowledge their sin before Him (v. 10) and stand in reverence and awe before such a God, pleading not their own cause as if they were innocent but trusting in the blood of the New Covenant (Jesus) (v. 18) alone to save them, to that person—the humble believer—the Lord will show the steadfast love and forgiveness the Psalm describes.

The Gospel message is inclusive (available for all) but forgiveness belongs exclusively to those who trust in Jesus (Acts 4:12). Have you placed your trust in Him?

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Initial Reflections from Sharing Jesus at Summer Solstice 2017

Last year evangelist Jonathan B. and myself led a session on the New Age at the Chapel. We invited Jonathan to speak because he has been attending Stonehenge for 15 years, attending to speak with people about the Gospel. Around the time of that meeting I felt it was an outreach opportunity I should commit to attending. In the end myself and David F. from the Chapel agreed to go with him (so glad he was willing for us to tag along). It was a privilege to serve alongside two men so gifted in “on the spot” public evangelism.

I share these reflections as my mind is still filled with the grogginess of returning home at 0600 not having a proper night’s sleep just in case anyone is interested in what goes on/ or how the Gospel might be shared in places such as these.

The three of us met up in the early evening for fellowship and prayer (so important in evangelism and serving in spiritually dark places). With a willingness to be used by the Spirit, and with tracts, Bibles and Jesus t-shirts in hand (that might seem a tad tacky but they work well as a conversation starter) we set off to seek and save the lost. Given how warm it has been there were lots of people, different sorts of people all searching and thirsting for living waters but searching for it in broken cisterns (Jer 2:13). There were some neo-pagans, druids and witches of varying sorts (some pretend and some real). There were also many neo-pagan and New Age worshippers wishing folks “happy solstice.” Then there was the majority, or those looking for a good excuse for revelry and then those who just came to check things out. There were lots of drugs and alcohol (the air stank of it), dancing, flame tricks, glow sticks and different sorts of music ranging from classic hippy, rock to pagan drumming. I was particularly bothered by how many children were being exposed to such darkness, drugs, false worship and lack of sleep! It was an odd combination of some elements that almost seemed darkly primitive blended with a hippy culture of the 60s. Nonetheless, we were there to love people and minister the Gospel in the name of Jesus.

We journeyed first to:

Avebury

20170620_213739

We arrived here while it was still light out. Given this location is off the beaten path from Stonehenge (though much larger in size) there were less people and a less organised feel. This meant that it had a better atmosphere for engaging with people. Sadly the local URC church had just been sold and nothing was on at the parish church (though I cannot confirm whether they were doing anything or not). After surveying the lay of the land (this was new for 2 of us) we broke off for a time to do some individual sharing. We each had a few conversations with people but it was not until we re-joined a large group within the stone circle that a number of people began being drawn into conversation with us. Chief among these were two teenage boys and some women. We were able to pray extensively for one very lost 17 year old and share with him. It was disconcerting to see how the UKs moral slide away from the Lord is having disastrous effects in real people’s lives and causing so many of the secondary societal issues we are seeing such as broken homes and suicide. With another we were able to share to the extent that he took a Bible and was sincerely interested in considering Christ (once he was not in the state he was). We also shared extensively with a drunk (who we helped get a coffee) who was receptive and will wake up in the morning with the literature he took. Contact details were exchanged with several of these folk so Gospel follow up might take place. It was a good environment for sharing and things seemed to flow very naturally.


Woodhenge

Sadly when we arrived here the party had ended and the campers were hunkering down for bed. That didn’t stop us from looking at Woodhenge in the dark.

Stonehenge

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The BBC reported that there were 13,000 people at Stonehenge last night, of which we were but three. We hoped there were other Christians there taking advantage of this opportunity for outreach. By the time we got here it was late (or early) such that many people were sleeping on the ground (and you had to watch you didn’t trip over them! A few of them will have woken up to some tracts in their sleeping bagsJ). After paying £15 to park (that kept some away) we walked the incredibly long distance to Stonehenge, through the security and metal detectors, past the lighting, vendors and armed police. It all had a very commercial and touristy feeling that seemed to cramp the spirit of evangelism. We met a Hindu monk in the enormous car park. He showed us some scary Hindu pictures and wanted us to take a copy of his sacred book. He declined the offer to swap “holy books.” It turned out he had been a “Christian” and was from California. Many people we talked with either thought they knew what Christianity was all about from RE lessons or had tried Christianity and didn’t like it, or had been raised in the church but had not had their questions answered (to such nominal Christians- Ps 34:8, Taste and see that the Lord is good…the trouble is they had never tasted, oh what baggage to faith there can sometimes be). After making it to the centre of the circle and witnessing yet more revelry we dispersed to the edges where opportunities to engage with people were generally greater. Jonathan was able to engage with a druid whilst David and I were able to enter into conversation with a number of people who weren’t high. Sadly, despite repeated attempts to steer conversation to spiritual things and ultimately the Lord we sensed things were not as open to evangelism as at Avebury and wanting to beat the sunrise rush left just prior to sun up.

I am sure we’ll all have further reflections and lessons to apply to future evangelistic attempts at such settings, however, for this tired brain it is time to sign off. Please pray for those we met.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Do the Gospels misquote Deuteronomy?

Someone recently asked me the astute question, “Why does Deuteronomy seem to differ with the Synoptic[1] Gospel accounts of the first part of the Great Commandment? What does it all mean? How are humans made up? (well, that might be the occasion of another blog post).

Let’s do some Bible digging to answer these questions. First, compare the three Synoptic accounts of Jesus quoting Deuteronomy below.

*All quotes are taken from the ESV.

Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (the Shema,[2] 1st half) Matthew 22:37

(1st half of the GC)

Mark 12:29–30 Luke 10:27a
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[3] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…. (The first and greatest commandment): You shall love the Lord[4] your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. The most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…
Some copies of the LXX[5] include “mind.” Mind instead of might. Matthew leaves out the opening of the Shema. Mark includes “might” in the form of its synonym “strength” used in the LXX but inserts “mind” before it.

Mark includes the opening of the Shema.

Luke, like Mark, includes mind but unlike Mark has mind last after strength (syn. of might used in the LXX). Luke does not quote the opening of the Shema.

Let’s begin by quickly looking at Deuteronomy. Two things immerge from this. The first is the exclusive relationship the Israelites were to have with the LORD. Verse 4 is not referring to monotheism or the internal nature of God (while those are true), but rather that the Israelites were to worship the LORD alone, unlike the Canaanites who worshipped many different gods (c.f. Dt 4 and Dt 5:7). It is also a statement of devotion. “All,” and the various descriptors that capture aspects of our wholeness, is used to underscore the demand of exclusivity and entire devotion to Him.

What about the Synoptic Gospels? How do the Gospels quote Deuteronomy and what do they mean? First, we must remember the Gospels are not like a modern biography or history, whilst they are faithfully given, involve facts and realities, and have been given by the Lord (and so are completely trustworthy) so we might know Jesus, believe in and follow Him, they are real people’s eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s life and they are seeking to make (primarily) theological truth claims (rooted in real events). The analogy of witnesses at the scene of an accident is often helpfully given. All truthful witnesses will essentially agree on what they saw, even if their accounts differ slightly. Similarly, the Synoptics are in essential agreement on this saying.[6] Where they differ is in the wording from Dt 6:5. Firstly, we must remember they are not primarily referring to “rigid compartments of human existence” but rather together refer to the whole person. That is not to say that they don’t speak to questions of metaphysics,[7] just that their main point is to highlight total devotion as in Deuteronomy. Because Greeks (Gentiles) did not have the same view of the whole person as Hebrews (who saw the mind as part of the heart), the use of mind was probably a way to translate one Hebrew word into two Greek words to relate to non-Jews. Matthew’s use of mind instead of might or strength is, however, interesting. He appears to be following an OT version that had an additional word. Alternatively, he may have alluded to the power of the mind as a synonym for personal moral strength or the strength of the will?

In a nutshell though, the Synoptic Gospel writers are recalling Jesus capturing the essence of the first and greatest moral principle of the universe expressed in Deuteronomy—to be exclusively or entirely devoted to the Lord—to flee idolatry in all its forms and to be completely devoted to the Lord with the entirety of our being.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] A term used to refer to three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) because they share many qualities that make them distinct from John. It literally means “seeing together” indicating they all share the same general summary and can be easily lined up together.

[2] The Shema is repeated twice daily by observant Jews. Shema means “hear.” It is taken from the opening word of the verse.

[3] The Hebrew is ambiguous. The ESV team has given the most plausible option but others (given in most Bible footnotes) include: The LORD our God is one LORD; or The LORD is our God, the LORD is one; or The Lord is our God, the LORD alone.

[4] Because the Greek word for “lord” is kurios and not YAHWEH like in Hebrew, the OT convention of LORD is not used.

[5] The Septuagint or the Greek version of the Old Testament. In Greek or Roman numerals it litterally means 70 for the seventy scholars who translated it.

[6] Context is different for in Matthew it is Jesus who says this, Mark a scribe and Luke a lawyer.

[7] Here used to mean, how we are made up. I.e. mind, body, soul [and spirit]. What about the will and affections [emotions]?

Half-way evangelism

I recently played host to some family member tourists from Canada. As part of the usual trail of places we took them too, it included some historic churches, cathedrals and abbeys. Often people treat these religious sites as merely sites of historic and architectural interest, no different from a National Trust Property or museum. So, I always value it when the community that represents the building has hourly prayers and asks people to pause to remember it is a Christian place of worship, or when they put up panels explaining the essence of who Jesus is and what Christianity is about.

If you had to write such a panel or explain this to a friend what would you say? Perhaps you might try writing something down yourself, looking up a couple Bible verses to include, it would be a helpful exercise to prepare you for evangelism.

Sadly, some of these panels or leaflets, while beginning with good intentions, end up being a form of half-way evangelism. Consider the following example I came across. There is lots a Christian could say “amen” to, but also much that remains to be said and a few questionable statements. Have a scan to see what you think:

leaflet

Your thoughts?

Allow me to share mine…

1st Paragraph: Amen and amen!

2nd Paragraph: This begins well but in the list of extraordinary things the main reason he came (to defeat sin and death) is not mentioned? The last sentence is also somewhat fuzzy, not necessarily wrong just a bit fuzzy. Perhaps something better would have been to say, “He lived the perfect life we cannot live to show us what it means to live uprightly before God and others” or something to that effect.

3rd Paragraph:

  • 1st sentence: yes
  • 2nd sentence: add…”and for who He claimed to be”
  • 3rd sentence: somewhat vague and universalist (meaning because He died we are all okay without personal faith in Him). How about, “But through His life and death He knew he would atone for the sins of all who would believe in Him, reconciling them to God.” (1 Jn 2:2, 2 Cor 5:18)
  • 4th and 5th sentences: hurray, back on track. Amen!
  • Last sentence: fine

4th Paragraph:

  • 1st sentence: “…are Christians” should read “claim to be Christians” for many who identify as Christian are only nominally so (Mt 7:21). Perhaps they were trying to point to the giant wake Jesus left behind Him as a tool to encourage others to think about following Him?
  • 2nd sentence: Wait a minute! How about, “Through Jesus death and life changing and life giving gift of the Holy Spirit believers are given life to the full, starting now and for eternity.” (John 10:10)
  • 3rd sentence: great

We certainly do not want to be automatically confrontational when we encounter such leaflets (remembering 1 Pet 3:15b), however, we do need to be zealous for truth (Jude 3) and as we are we will be sharpened in our knowledge of Jesus and His Gospel, help others to be so, and together more able to effectively spot error and proclaim with purity the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Proverbs 14:34

British Flag Button with Great Britain Text 3D IllustrationRighteousness exults a nation but sin is a reproach to any people. Proverbs 14:34

June will see our nation go to the polls again. In the meantime each party is casting their vision of what is necessary to either make Britain great again, or make it greater still. Tragically no party espouses the truth of the above proverb, that the key to true national greatness (exultation=lifting up, to raise) lies not in politicking but in fearing the Lord and Gospel transformation. The three crosses on our flag (do you know what they are?) make our flag the most Christ exulting flag in the world—incredible isn’t it! Indeed in generations past, our national greatness arguably flowed from being a nation that championed evangelical Christianity. Providentially England was sparred at the time of the Spanish Armada, Britain was spared invasion by Napoleon and then Germany (twice!). Despite this favour and heritage the bulk of society has turned its back on the Lord their flag proclaims, content not to pursue righteousness but to foolishly believe that sin upon sin will be sufficient to exult the nation when in actual fact it is a massive reproach (a disgrace, blot or stain) upon our land. As sin is the root of every issue, the greatest issue facing Britain today is not Brexit, the NHS, the state of the Union, the economy, environment or the poor (as important as these are), but godlessness and sin. So as Christians let’s do the most patriotic thing we can do this election month and tell people about Jesus. He is the only future hope our nation has of greatness.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Are there different ranks of Christians?

This question was asked of me by a boy who heard a Christian leader infer that they were a better or higher ranked Christian than so and so. It is a very good question and I’ll attempt to answer it straightforwardly.

Short answer, NO!

Medium answer, read on…

This has been a common misconception amongst Christians for ages. Consider how the following three groups each opt into this view:

Roman Catholicism: There is the laity, deacons, priests, bishops, etc. Priests for example are believed to actually change (ontologically) when they become a priest as a higher level of holiness is required to handle the sacraments (like communion). This is not to mention the canonisation of people as saints and RC’s worship of them.

Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement: There are unbelievers, Christians (those who have been forgiven of their sin by believing the Gospel), and then super-Christians (those baptized by the Holy Spirit as a separate event subsequent to salvation, usually evidenced by speaking in tongues).

Works/Legalism: There are those who believe Christians are saved by works. Even many legalists, who think they believe the gospel but deny it by living as if it is in obedience to the Law that we are saved (the Law is good and points us to our duty but it cannot save).

Popularity/ Skill: Some buy into our cultural viewpoint that if you are a popular Christian, have published lots of books, or have incredible skills, that makes you a better Christian.

These perspectives are all wrong. Listen to what Jesus said to His disciples:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingomd of heaven?” And calling a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:1–4).

Jesus was not saying all children are automatically innocent (their first word is often “no!”). He was saying they are a prime example of being dependent upon another (their parents). What is required of someone to become great in the Lord’s eyes is to humble themselves and trust/believe/follow Jesus. Because salvation is of grace (Eph 2) and from start to finish it is rooted in faith (Ro 1:17) all Christians are equal in value before the Lord. Though some receive more gifts and high callings and authority (1 Cor 12:11) and some might be more mature in the faith (further along in the process of sanctification), they are all nonetheless equal in the strictest sense for all of this is of grace. The attitude of more mature Christians should never be to “pull rank” or boast as the disciples did but to have the spirit of Christ, which is humility. Humility is the true mark of a maturing Christian.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris