Author Archive

Gospel Implications for Today’s Church

Mark Thompson, in his article, “When to Make a Stand” in the Autumn 2016 Edition of Essentials (Part 2 in the Winter edition) provides an excellent balance to the paper by Brian Rosner, “When Christians Differ” (Essentials Spring 2015). The question of when to make an issue of some aspect of Christian life is often a difficult one and this becomes even more so when our understanding of Scripture seems at odds with that of someone else.
The error that Paul highlights in his encounter with Peter, reported in Gal 2 came about not because the “Judaizers” were disobedient. Rather it occurred because they were strongly Bible believing followers of Yahweh. The “plain reading of the text” in many places was that Jews shouldn’t associate with Gentiles. But Paul points out to Peter and presumably to all those standing around as the encounter takes place, that Jesus’ coming has changed things. What we used to believe needs to be reconsidered. What’s more, as Mark Thompson points out, ‘their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel’ (v. 14). The tearing down of the ceremonial and fellowship barriers between Jew and Gentile was a consequence of the gospel but one that was so natural and necessary a consequence that to deny it was to be ‘out of step with the truth of the gospel’.
Mark proceeds to show how a necessary consequence of the gospel is that the social barriers have been torn down.
What Mark doesn’t do, no doubt due to a limitation of time, is to consider the conclusion that Paul comes to after the extensive theological discussion of Galatians 3. Paul’s conclusion is: “28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Why does Paul throw in these extra two categories of social distinctiveness, yet elsewhere appear to reinforce that distinctiveness? His main concern in this letter is the issue of the status of Jewish identity. Hence the next verse: “29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Yet he includes slave-free and male-female in his list of distinctions that are torn down by the gospel.
It should be noted that his conclusion isn’t that the pairs here are equal. It’s actually that they are equivalent. Equivalent not in terms of value but in terms of social interaction. To put it in Marks Thompson’s words, the tearing down of the ceremonial and fellowship barriers between slave and free, and between male and female is so natural and necessary a consequence that to deny it was to be ‘out of step with the truth of the gospel’.
Yet in the rest of his writing Paul accepts and, in places, reinforces the social and economic reality of slavery, the social and ceremonial distinction of male and female roles. Why is it so?
My conclusion is that to change the behaviour of Christian Jews was within his power as one of the apostles but to overthrow a social order as all pervasive as slavery and patriarchy were, would take a longer time than he had. Instead he chose to sow the seeds of change and wait for the gospel implications to filter through to the wider culture. Just as Matthew includes a subversive element in his genealogy of Jesus by including marginalised women, including a number who were Gentiles, so Paul here and elsewhere prepares the way for these social distinctions to be broken down.
So while Paul tells slaves to obey their masters he also warns masters to treat their slaves with respect. In Eph 6 he goes further: “9And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.” Slaves had no rights under Roman law but under God they were fellow servants, with their masters, of God.
In the case of his letter to Philemon he asks that Onesimus be treated “16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” And then he goes further in asking Philemon to welcome him as he would Paul himself.
Sadly it took 1700 years before a small group of evangelical Christians began to argue for emancipation of slaves. Even then there was an equally vocal group of evangelical theologians who argued from God’s word that slavery was a right and proper institution affirmed by God’s word and in fact established by God to be the lot of the descendants of Ham. To give two minor examples, in 1835, the Presbyterian Synod of West Virginia fiercely assailed the case for abolition, calling it “a dogma” contrary “to the clearest authority of the word of God.” In 1845 the Old School Presbyterian Assembly decreed that slavery is based on “some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God.” Countless other examples of bible believing evangelical argument could be given.
What was being overlooked by the opponents of abolition was that the gospel intrinsically overthrows the possibility of men and women being held by another as property. Why? Because they are people for whom Christ died.
The same approach is true with the issue of male and female relationships. In Ephesians 5 Paul appears to reinforce the social norm of male headship, but in fact subverts it, first by instructing Christians to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (5:21) (note the gospel imperative similar to that in Gal 2:14), and then by instructing husbands to love their wives in a life-surrendering way, the way Christ loved the church. He also redefines headship in Eph 4 to be something totally different to what would have been the common understanding then and still is today: “15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” According to this definition headship has to do, not with directing and decision making, but with empowering and enabling growth.
Elsewhere we see Paul validating the ministry by women of prophecy and leading the congregation in prayer (1 Cor 11) and interestingly in the same passage he points out the interconnectedness and interdependence of men and women in the purposes of God.
In the second part of Mark’s paper he says: “we should be seeking to understand just how much of a difference [God’s word] makes for our good. God’s benevolence and the goodness of his word are foundational principles when considering when to make a stand. I want to ask, ‘Is this teaching, is this behaviour, drawing people away from the good God’s good word which nourishes and builds his people?’ ‘Does it build confidence in God’s good word as an instrument for good or does it undermine that confidence?’ ‘Does it suggest that the truth expressed in God’s word is incomplete, or out-dated, or ill-informed?’
Paul had a similar approach. “20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9:20-22)
The question that immediately comes to my mind in this context is whether the approach of so many evangelical Christians to the ministry of women in the church is building confidence in God’s word as an instrument for good? Is it drawing people away from the good God’s good word which nourishes and builds his people?’ Are we going to win those who are outside the law by restricting the ministry of women to lesser roles in the church? Equally important, if not more so: is the way we treat gifted women in our churches in step with the truth of the gospel?

14/08/2016 at 05:51 2 comments

Sexual freedom and the rise and fall of nations.

‘Any human society is free to choose either to display great energy or to enjoy sexual freedom; the evidence is that it cannot do both for more than one generation.’

Dr. J.D. Unwin (1895-1936) was a British ethnologist and social anthropologist at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He studied the rise and fall of civilizations and wrote a book, ‘Sex and Culture’ published in 1934 by O.U.P. He studied 86 civilizations spanning the last 4,000 years.

‘In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre- nuptial and post-nuptial continence.’

‘The data showed an inseparable link between a society’s destiny and its willingness to exercise sexual restraint.’

‘Societies that practice absolute monogamy, meaning no extra-marital or pre-marital sex and which discouraged divorce, tend to be the most vital economically, scientifically and artistically.’

Unwin had no Christian convictions and applied no moral judgement on his findings, saying, ‘I offer no opinions about its rightness or wrongness.’

As a Christian I marvel at the way history vindicates God’s commandments which are always for our good.

Of course it will not happen to us; or will it ?

‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’   (Winston Churchill)

Every Christian can play their part to save our nation by being completely controlled by God, the Holy Spirit.

‘You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.’                                                                               Romans 8.9.   NIV

A powerful prayer for constant  use.

Loving Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, you love us and gave your life for us.              I love you and give my life for you.                                                                                I am willing to lose control of my life and give back to you complete control of the whole of my life with all of my heart in the power of your Spirit alone.


Bob Collie       12.2016

09/08/2016 at 06:35 Leave a comment

C.S. Lewis on the radical nature of Repenting—a MUST do.

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves. They could be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for them­selves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God designed the human machine to run on himself. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
Now what was the sort of ‘hole’ man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down our arms, surrendering is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender—this movement full steam astern—is called repentance. Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something that God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen.
Now the whole offer that Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also will be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call ‘good infection’. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.
We were considering the Christian idea of ‘putting on Christ’, or first ‘dressing up’ as a son of God in order that you might finally become a real son. What I want to make clear is that this is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.
The Christian way is hard and easy. Christ says ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’ You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Chris­tian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says ‘Take up your cross—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute He says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ He means both.
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and our heart go their own way—centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do.
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because we are letting Him work at the right part of us. When He said, ‘Be perfect’, He meant it. He meant that we should go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact it is impossible. May I come back to what I said before? This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.
That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. He meant what He said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect—perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty and immortality. The change will not be complete in this life, for death is an important part of the treatment.
The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Person­ality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Give up yourself, and you will find your true self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
C S Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the literary masters of the 20th Century. He was an atheist who later fell in love with Jesus Christ. One of his most read books is Mere Christianity. And one of the main themes of this book is ‘Repenting’. All the above quotes are from this book and on this theme.
The church generally through many centuries has deliberately ignored the need to repent as being far too difficult for both church leaders and people. It is what Bonhoeffer termed ‘cheap grace’—forgiveness without repenting. It is not possible.

16/03/2016 at 03:55 Leave a comment

A Christmas Reflection

And so another year fades to an end
but then that fading light is overwhelmed
by radiance of memory once again
an uncommon birth in a common stable
the divine indwells the profane
light enters the darkness
a light that will never be quenched
a helpless child
whose fingers once shaped the universe
God exchanges infinity for humanity
and all our futures are turned around
in this divine exchange
hope for hopelessness
meaning for futility
reconciliation for alienation
and so we turn to face a new year
once again renewed and reassured
that God is with us and knows us
has shared our humanity.

24/12/2011 at 01:07 Leave a comment