The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘idolatry

When the mission becomes the idol

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Eric Davis at The Cripplegate has some helpful comments on the error that occurs when

sanctification gets sacrificed on the altar of mission. It is an error I have made in my ministry, being so fixated on getting people in, I have neglected those who are already there. . . . Sanctification and missional-emphasis need not be an either/or scenario.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 18 October 2011 at 21:27

Posted in Ecclesiology

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God and men in history

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Stonewall JacksonMichael Haykin quotes from General “Stonewall” Jackson about his concern with the elevation of men in the minds of others:

The manner in which the press, the army, and the people seem to lean upon certain persons is positively frightful. They are forgetting God in the instruments He has chosen. It fills me with alarm. [Stonewall Jackson’s Book of Maxims, ed. James I. Robertson, Jr. (Nashville: Cumberland House, 2002), 85].

Haykin’s application to the study of history is helpful:

the actions of men are never simply that and nothing more. While no contemporary historian is blessed with inspired insight, nevertheless, some judgement as to God’s actions in the past needs to be made, lest we forget God in the instruments he uses.

At the same time, Jackson’s wisdom illuminates a problem as much with the armies of the Lamb as with the armies of any human general.  Do we idolise certain men, certain ministers?  Do we think, speak, act as if the progress of God’s kingdom depends upon them?  Does our practice show that this is what we have come to believe, whatever our profession may be?  Let us take care lest we forget God in the instruments he has chosen.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 September 2009 at 08:55

Wider reading

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Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation (Volume 1: 1525-1552) compiled and introduced by James T. Dennison (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008) is not cheap, but serious historians and those interested in the confessional heritage of the church will enjoy this first in an intended series of three volumes.  Several of the thirty-three texts included are here in English for the first time.  Each is simply and clearly set out, preceded by a brief introduction.  If nothing else, it gives a rich and encouraging sense of one’s inheritance as a Christian confessor.  This volume carries us from Zwingli’s Sixty-Seven Articles of 1523 through to the Consensus Genevensis of 1552.

From the same stable comes A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism by William Ames, translated by Todd Rester (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008).  This is a translation from Ames’ original Latin of his exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism.  It is not a systematic treatment of its questions and answers, but rather an exposition of a Scripture passage that corresponds to and buttresses the conclusions of what was often called ‘the Christian’s Catechism.’  Simple, brief, rich chapters give us spiritually stimulating insights into the genuinely practical piety of this seminal Puritan.

Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, Andrew Sach (IVP, 2007).  In even starting this book, I had to overcome my innate distrust of any book that demands ten (yes, ten) pages containing forty-five (no joke!) separate endorsements designed to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of readers and any number of groupies of Christian celebrities.  On reflection, this should probably be taken as an indication of the seriousness of the subject.  The book divides into two, the first section positively setting forth the doctrine of penal substitution (Biblical foundations, theological framework, pastoral importance and historical pedigree), and the second answering the critics (the issues of Scripture, culture, violence, justice, God, and Christian living are addresses).  It is a clear and robust statement of this essential doctrine, responding to current assaults and fads, and will be appreciated as much by thoughtful believers in various walks of life as it will by pastors and preachers.

Nothing in My Hand I Bring: Understanding the Differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant Beliefs by Ray Galea (Matthias Media, 2007) is by a Maltese man whose Roman Catholicism was deeply ingrained but became more nominal as he matured.  Then, seeking substance in his life and reading the Bible, he was converted.  The book tells his story briefly, but concentrates on a comparison between traditional Roman Catholicism and fundamentally Biblical Protestantism.  Written with an insider’s insights and a Christian’s convictions, this would be helpful to those wrestling with similar issues, or helping others who are doing so.

In Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C. J. Mahaney (Crossway, 2008), several Sovereign Grace Ministries pastors address the matters of the media, music, stuff, and clothes, beginning with the principle that worldliness (and its absence) is fundamentally a matter of heart obedience to the word of Christ, and also teaching us how we should love the world in a Godlike fashion.  The basic principle is sound, though its application here is interesting.  Curiously prescriptive at some points, at others it allows for (and even promotes) a broadness that will cause proponents of an older evangelicalism to raise at the very least a quizzical eyebrow. The so-called “New Calvinist” view of culture is, I think, the underpinning one.

Preachers and teachers will appreciate Look After Your Voice: Taking Care of the Preacher’s Greatest Asset by Mike Mellor (DayOne, 2008).  Although the “greatest asset” subtitle could be argued on theological grounds, this is a brief but helpful treatment of an important but easily-ignored topic.  Simple, clear and helpful, it is written by a preacher for preachers (rather than by voice-production specialists for the stage, for example) and so takes some account of spiritual aspects as well.  A good investment for preachers, and includes three appendices on voice exercises, voice physiology, and care of the voice (this last by Spurgeon).

Tim Shenton is in the same congregation as the subject of this book, Audrey Featherstone, I Presume?: The Amazing Story of a Congo Missionary (Evangelical Press, 2008).  It chronicles the dramatic conversion, wartime experience, and labours in the Congo – often in the midst of extreme dangers – of a woman of faith who would be considered in many respects unremarkable.  Bringing us right up to her present circumstances as a widow still serving her Lord, this book will be an encouragement to those who consider that they have little to offer their Saviour in serving him.  The book contains a brief history of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RBMU).  The legitimacy and terminology of missionary agencies and female missionaries are both assumed rather than questioned.  The 20th century setting is a helpful reminder that such work is not the relic of a more distant past.

Faith Cook has written several compendiums (compendia, if you are so inclined) of Christian mini-biography, and her latest – Stars in God’s Sky: Short Biographies of ‘Extraordinary Ordinary Christians’ (Evangelical Press, 2009) – ranges through time and space to consider the work of God’s grace in the hearts and lives of men and women sometimes associated with brighter stars in God’s galaxy and sadly overlooked by Christian astronomers.  Here we find the lives of such as John Foxe and John Gifford, Susanna Harrison and Fanny Guinness, briefly sketched out for edification and enjoyment.  A good and stimulating read, as one has come to expect.

Growing Leaders in the Church: The Essential Leadership Development Resource by Gareth Crossley (Evangelical Press, 2008) can sometimes feel like a curious combination of theological textbook and business manual.  A format busy with diagrams, text boxes, question sheets is not always easy on the eye, but there is lots of good matter to appreciate.  The aim of the book is to provide a resource for training present and future church leaders in a practical way.  While at points there is a degree of absoluteness in the instruction given, at others one has the sense of several options up for grabs, all considered legitimate – a little more pragmatism in evidence.  Good men will differ on whether these lines are drawn in the right places.  The book raises a good number of the right questions, and offers stimulating and practical answers, though some will wish to emend or extend them.

We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G. K. Beale (IVP/Apollos, 2008) begins at Isaiah 6 before traversing the Old and New Testaments to demonstrate, support and apply the thesis that “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”  Insofar as it reaches its intended audience, a thorough treatment of a vital topic, well and carefully argued.  The topic is fascinating, but the handling of it is not popular: the style is a little ponderous and lofty, the substance dense, and the aim high, the whole tone being of the academy.  Perhaps Professor Beale could be encouraged to craft a more accessible and engaging treatment of the same topic on such a necessary theme for those not accustomed to the language and tone of the theological lecture hall?

The New Creationism: Building Scientific Theories on a Biblical Foundation by Paul Garner (Evangelical Press, 2009) will appeal to Christians of scientific skill and interest, as well as others more broadly concerned about the nature and implications of the teaching of creation.  The author deals with the issues of origins in clear and pithy style, not avoiding the hard questions nor fudging on the answers, building a scientific model that will assist Christians being assaulted with regard to their doctrines of origins and practice of science.  As a non-scientist, it seems to me fascinating and useful, not above the head of the untrained, though probably of greater value to those who understand the technical issues.  For Garner, Genesis presents us with the facts of history, provides a framework for good science, and establishes a foundation for the gospel itself.  Some details and emphases might doubtless be challenged, but the whole seems sound and helpful.

The Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series from Reformation Heritage Books includes volumes on Alexander Whyte, Jonathan Edwards, Hercules Collins, Horatius Bonar, Lemuel Haynes, George Swinnock and John Calvin.  A growing interest in ‘spirituality’ (which some believe has been for too long a dirty word in Reformed circles) has led Joel Beeke and Michael Haykin (the editors of this series) to turn to the past to find particular models of Biblically-informed, Spirit-impassioned piety as a spur and guide to modern Christians.  Varying in style, wide-ranging in subject, popular in approach, this is a colourful and profitable series.

If you are visiting Edinburgh, A Spiritual History of the Royal Mile by Paul James-Griffiths (Latent Publishing, 2008) will serve you well.  It is broad both in its temporal scope and its theological sense, with the chapters on the Reformation and the Covenanters probably being of most interest, together with the Enlightenment period and the time of the Great Awakening (where Chalmers and Finney are made to sit alongside each other).  The chapter on 21st century Edinburgh is sobering.  One should not forget that Edinburgh is also home to the offices of the august publishing house, the Banner of Truth, though it is not on the Royal Mile; bargain hunters have been known to head to the Banner warehouse to pick up some damaged stock at good prices, as a help on their own spiritual journey.

Idols, God and Jesus

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Last Thursday I had a surprise visit to South Wales.  Pastor Achille Blaize had been due to preach in Brynmawr at a monthly meeting hosted by Zion Baptist Church.  Due to ill health he had to cancel, but had been unable to contact the pastor.  Pastor Blaize had asked my father to step in, assuring him that he would pass on the details as soon as he himself was contacted.  Following the sudden death of his sister, my father accepted my offer to cover anything that he felt was a bridge too far at this point.  That meant that I travelled across to Wales on Thursday afternoon where I enjoyed some fellowship with Pastor and Mrs Teify Ebenezer before heading over to the church.  There was a reasonable congregation of mainly older saints, and I was fairly confident that they were a little disappointed to see someone who was so distinctly not Achille Blaize going up into the pulpit.  I was then obliged to confess that I was not even the substitute, but the substitute’s substitute!  Having been asked to preach something for the encouragement of the saints, and working at fairly short notice, I elected to preach again from Colossians 2.6: “As you have therefore received Jesus Christ, so walk in him.”  It sometimes feels a little cheap to repeat a sermon, but they always come out slightly differently in some respects, although I find that my brain tends to respond to the same prompts in the same way, so that what were originally off-the-cuff comments and illustrations come back when I use the same material again.

In any case, I think God was pleased to help me in preaching, and I was relieved to find that there was less evidence of disappointment after I had preached than there might have been before.  These were earnest and warm-hearted men and women of God, and they were primed to feed upon God’s Word, making my task much easier.  I left after a cup of tea, and made it home half-an-hour or so after midnight.

I started preparing for the Lord’s day on Friday, working around various other commitments.  On Saturday morning we had a regular special prayer meeting, in which we took as our springboard for prayer a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon called One antidote for many ills.  It was a very good meeting, and we prayed from about 8am until 9.30am.  Some of the men go out after the meeting to speak with people on the street, but there are not often too many around.  We acknowledged that we need to go to where people are when they are there.  Therefore, after spending a day preparing again, I went back to Maidenbower on Saturday evening with a couple of friends, and we prayed briefly and then went out looking for some of the gangs of young people who often hang around in the evening.  First stop was with a couple of lads hanging around outside the shop.  I spoke to them for about fifteen minutes while the others scouted other locations.  When I finished, I went to find them, and we headed over to a local park where there were about fifteen or twenty gathered, hanging out at a floodlit football pitch (barely five-a-side size, but nice for a kickabout).  In the kindness of God, the two lads by the shop had joined them, so the ice was already broken.  We talked to them for about thirty minutes, and a group of them came over to see the church building.  We handed out a few tract-invitations, declined a kind invitation to go for a kebab, but stopped for a twenty-minute game of football.  They were open, chatty, deliberately provocative (both in their questions and using calculatedly coarse and blasphemous language), and they had short attention spans, but we were able to speak gospel truth to them and introduce them to things that many of them had clearly never heard before, or only in twisted and convoluted fashion.  The bewilderment they expressed when finding out that I was a great sinner, and the confusion of how I could be confident of going to heaven if I was a great sinner, and the sheer amazement of the assertion that Christ had died for his people (he was a “a total mug” for taking the punishment of others, apparently), revealed again the natural responses of natural men confronted with divine truth.  It was a good evening’s work.  Although none of them did turn up at the services on Sunday (apparently the morning service is not attractive to those who generally don’t get up until mid-afternoon on a weekend), I think a door has opened, and we hope to keep pushing through it.

On the Lord’s day itself I finished dealing with the God-constituted role of parents, emphasising authority with affection, and once more returning to the gospel dynamic that must be essential if we are to function as prophets, priests and kings in relation to our children.  Next week, God willing, we move on to look at the parental tasks that are built on that foundation.

I had both morning and evening services.  In the morning I preached from 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10 on Idols, God and Jesus.  The church in Thessalonica was being described to Paul as a group of men and women characterised by a turning, a serving, and a waiting.  They had turned to God from idols, attracted to the beauty of God’s holiness from the idol cults and their practices.  We have our own idols: reputation, appetite, ease, custom, family and carnal security – the things which grip our consciences, condition our actions, demand our time and energy and money, which we are most afraid of losing, which govern and drive our thoughts, words and deeds.  Even though a Christian has been liberated from idolatry, they constantly cry for our attention, and we can give the impression of still being in thrall to them, our lives still decorated by idolatrous paraphernalia that needs to be torn down.

Further, a Christian serves God.  His one concern is to discover and do the will of God, without limit in the service rendered nor the time, duration, or effort of it.  A saint is consumed by the glory of God, and such a life is a powerful testimony to gospel realities, a potent and persuasive witness.

Finally, a Christian waits for Jesus, God’s Son, who is in heaven, having been raised from the dead, who is delivering his people from the wrath to come.  The second coming of Christ was a key element in apostolic teaching, and these believers believed it, and were in eager and expectant anticipation of it.  They lived in the light of Christ’s imminent return, rejoicing in and sustained by the fact that he would come not to condemn them, but for the consummation of redemption already enjoyed.

This is how the saints of Thessalonica were described: is that true of us?  What does the world report of you and the church of which you are a part?  Are you one characterised by turning, serving and waiting?  You ought to be.

In the evening, I felt unusual liberty in prayer.  Our evening reading from the Old Testmanet was the first chapter of Haggai, and the Lord was pleased to open my mouth in confession of sin and pleas for grace to be shown in abundant measure, taking my cue both from the criticisms and encouragements that Haggai brought to the people as appropriate.

I then preached from Philippians 4.13 on The all-sufficient Saviour.  Paul had learned a settled composure in the midst of trials, a stability of soul that was not fatalism or impassivity, but rather a freedom from anxiety through trust in God. This is the climactic summation of his testimony: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Here is Paul’s assured determination: he testifies to active faith in an active life, confident that he is competent to respond righteously to whatever circumstances he faces, a confidence road-tested from the heights of abundance to the depths of abasement.  This man can say this having made trial of God’s love in a life of extremes.

Then we looked at Paul’s believing declaration.  He can do “all things” – this is not some kind of extreme positive thinking (“With enough faith, you can do anything without fear of failure or suffering”) but the confidence that he can accomplish whatever is demanded of him in the path of Christian duty in whatever circumstances God is pleased to send.  He can “run his course with even joy.”

Finally, this would be the most ridiculous rhetoric ever blown out of the mouth of an air-headed man were it not for Paul’s humble dependence.  His sufficiency is not of himself, but of Christ.  Organic union with the Saviour secures a constant flow and steady supply of grace sufficient for every duty in every circumstance.  Such competence is not inherent, but given, found only in those who are new creatures in Christ, and found most in those who walk closely with him.  Such sufficiency in Christ is a rebuke to our unbelief, complaints, fear and inactivity.  Too many saints know little of this because they have never made trial of the promises of God, and so have never enjoyed Christ’s closeness in times when abundance might distract or abasement might divert us.  Our weakness will be the platform on which the strength of Christ is displayed: we must be willing to have it so and ready to prove it so.

Today is a little slower, and then tomorrow I am preaching at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Ashford, Kent, dropping in on a man recently appointed to the pastorate of another church on the way there.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 13 October 2008 at 13:29

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