The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘politics

Of Christian nations

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What is the state and what is the church? Once we come to a biblical understanding of these two institutions and what their purposes are, we will have no problem seeing the absurdity of declaring Zambia a Christian nation (or a secular state) and enshrining it in the constitution.

So writes Conrad Mbewe in a slightly reworked version of an older lecture on Zambia as a Christian nation. 20 years after the then-President declared it to be such, Conrad returns to the issue and gives some excellent insights into the relationship between the church and the state, and the roles and relationships of individual Christians in and between each, which we would do well to heed, especially with our Prime Minister recently suggesting that he wants Britain to be a Christian country.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 December 2011 at 22:00

Review: “Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative”

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Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative

Carl R. Trueman

Presbyterian & Reformed, 2010, 144pp., paperback, $9.99

ISBN 978-1-59638-183-4

Provocative, punchy and playfully perverse, Professor Trueman writes with gleeful awareness of his contrariness. This republocrat’s fundamental assertion is that theological conservatism and political conservatism do not necessarily walk together in lock-step, in the course of addressing which he turns his guns with deliberate abandon on both the left and (mainly) the right of the political spectrum (including the yoking of religion and patriotism, Fox News, Max Weber, and democracy itself). It is the literary equivalent of deliberately shooting fireworks from the hip: you will enjoy the delightful verbal pyrotechnics, but there may be little real damage done. It relies substantially on the perspective of a British immigrant, and will therefore be of most interest to American believers, although those looking in, and familiar with the more conservative Christian scene in the US, may find it less bewildering and more relevant. This is a volume that raises rather than addresses a variety of interesting issues, and asks some serious questions in a manner so playful as almost to undo itself. I imagine that you will have as much fun reading it as Trueman probably did writing it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 February 2011 at 06:00

Political provocations

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From Paul Helm, who comments on Wayne Grudem’s Politics and Geron & Wehner’s City of Man, concluding thus:

So you see, this is the perennial problem for would-be Christian cultural and political analysts. Usually, by the time they come to write their books, they have stepped over the line. Repeat after me: Such analysts are not doctors and teachers in the church. Isn’t that a shame? No, it is not. Rather, it sets in relief what should be the glory of the Christian church – that the body of Christ is an Accident and Emergency Unit of men and women of various political hues and outlooks, and of none: social misfits, political oddballs, the proud, the vain, carpet-baggers as well as the filthy rich, and those who could not care less. Each affirming the fact of being united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Such it was from the beginning. Why should it be any different now?

Happy?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 15 October 2010 at 14:50

Posted in Culture and society

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Grudem on government

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Yesterday evening I was at St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, to hear Wayne Grudem speak for the Christian Institute on whether political engagement distracts from the gospel.  This was the first date in a planned tour (coming soon to a town or city somewhere within striking distance of you, maybe).

Colin Hart of the Institute gave Wayne a monster build-up, which – while it may be a reflection of genuine respect and affection – does rather tend to give the audience an over-inflated idea of what to expect.  There were no staggering insights here, but there was a clear and winsome presentation of Grudem’s perspective.

Beginning with a gracious review of the place of the UK in the ongoing combat for liberty of conscience and public Christian testimony, Grudem then presented five wrong views concerning Christian involvement in the political sphere, which have been more or less publicly articulated, or are to some extent popular attitudes:

  • Government should compel religion.
  • Religion should be excluded from government.
  • All government is evil and demonic.
  • Do evangelism, not politics.
  • Do politics, not evangelism.

Each was presented with Grudem’s characteristic fairness, and he responded to each with a clear and fundamentally Scriptural rebuttal.

Then, calling on examples from Daniel, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Esther, and John the Baptist, and drawing on apostolic teaching from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, he called for “significant Christian influence on government” as the right and righteous approach, making application to Christians in general and to pastors in particular.

Positively, it was an excellent example of clarity and fairness of communication.  He employed Scripture wisely and widely, both in exposing error and in promoting truth.  I think that I had a great deal of sympathy with his fundamental conclusion.  I enjoyed it, even though it was – quite rightly – not so much ground-breaking as a heartfelt engagement with the times in the light of God’s Word.

Outstanding issues remain: in terms of his positive conclusion, what is “significant . . . influence”?  I hope I understand the principle, but I think that this needs to be developed, not least in terms of the difference between the engagement of the Christian who is a citizen/member/subject in a state or nation, and the responsibility of the church as a body.  I would like to have seen the right relationship between evangelism in a fallen world and engagement with that world in the political and societal spheres more fully developed.  I think we need to make sure that – while there are helpful principles and illustrations to draw from our Old Testaments (God forbid that we should abandon them here) – we take great care to distinguish between the time when God revealed himself to and through a nation-state in which he was the supreme ruler, and the very different mode of his dealing in the New Testament period and following.  We must take care not to assume that we can simply read across from the days when God tied his name to a national people in a particular land into the days when God has tied his name to his church in every place.  I also think that we must take pains not to pressure the Biblical data into a 21st century Western mould.  Not least, we should not assume that ‘government’ – and, more specifically, ‘good government’ – looks like a modern Western liberal democracy.  I do not think that Prof. Grudem had the time in the context of this meeting to develop these questions, and so I look forward to his forthcoming massive tome on the topic, Politics According to the Bible (from Zondervan later this year, probably September).

On the way home I read Grudem’s new book, Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business.  I got the sense that it is a nuggety version of particular aspects of the larger volume on Politics.  If Business is anything to go by, Politics will be stimulating to the point of provocative.  I hope to give a brief review of Business for the Glory of God in due course.

In the meantime, I would advocate going to hear Professor Grudem with a genuinely Berean spirit.  The very clarity of his address will help to identify the issues with which believers need to wrestle in order to honour God in this regard.  (Plus, excellent discounts on his books, old and new, are given.)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 25 June 2010 at 11:56

Long night, strange morning

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What a fascinating night, and what a curious situation we face as a nation.  Perhaps not so surprising that we have a hung Parliament, but very intriguing is the degree of hungitude (new political word alert).  Looking at the pattern of voting, there does not seem to be a single pattern, and even some of the collection of patterns are more trends with notable exceptions than consistent patterns.  What the immediate and longer-term future holds, who can say.  Expect not many people to know what is really going on for a long time.

Here in Crawley, Henry Smith, the Conservative candidate, secured quite a substantial majority.  Congratulations, Henry!  Commiserations to the other candidates, a couple of whom ran excellent campaigns.

And for the people of God?  We are exactly where we were before: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12.28).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 7 May 2010 at 09:16

Quizzing the candidates

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If you have been following the blog recently, you will know that the pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  All three candidates were kind enough to respond, and their answers are now posted, as follows (alphabetically, by surname):

I am very grateful to all three gentlemen for taking the time to answer.

I should also point out that another Crawley congregation, Three Bridges Free Church, are hosting a hustings on Thursday 29th April from 8-9.30pm to which all the Parliamentary candidates for Crawley have been invited (though I am not sure how many have confirmed their attendance).  If you would like to know more, or would like an opportunity to follow up the answers provided here, that is the place to go.  In addition, the Christian Institute has made an election briefing available.

Quizzing the candidates: Chris Oxlade (Labour)

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The pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  Chris Oxlade, the Labour Party candidate, has kindly provided his answers.  Links to the other candidates’ answers are below.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

I don’t beleive our society is broken. I believe there are issues and problems which need a fresh look at and tackling but society isn’t broken. I’ve had the honour of working with charities, faith groups, voluntary groups and residents associations in Crawley for the last 15 years with the Mercury FM Charity Appeal, which I run. So many people are caring, giving, dedicated people who care about society and want to make a difference. To label their work as a “broken society” which some opposition politicians like to do is pretty offensive and degrades the community spirit which is building all the time in Crawley.

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

I do. I had a Christian upbringing, (was even a choir boy at Worth Church!) and it has given me a passion for trying to help others and care about where we live. It should be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe.

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

I strongly believe that the family unit is the bedrock of society and I’d like to see more done by the state to strengthen this.

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

I believe in free speech, I also believe that people have rights to a personal life, and that’s exactly what it is. A personal life, which if not hurting anyone else, has nothing to do with anyone else.

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

Yes, I do.

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

Yes.

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

Yes.

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

I’m not against more open licensing laws in principal, restricting free choice is something I’m not for, however, more careful implementation of 24/7 licensing needs to be considered.

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

Yes.

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

About right.

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

This is a very complex and emotive issue and more research needs to be done into this first

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?

Crawley is a great place to live. I was born and grew up in the town and work in Crawley all my life. It does get a rough deal locally by our town neighbours, but Crawley’s is where most people locally can fly off on holiday from, work in, shop in and visit reguarly. I’d like to see more independent stores in the town centre to help Crawley have a better identity locally, more new green business on Manor Royal and many more community events.

  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?

I would not rule out a second runway at Gatwick. I would like to see the new owners bringing up capacity for the airport, as it’s a long way off of reaching passenger capacity

  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

Yes. With full a&e and maternity. In the meantime, I will fight for more services to be brought back to Crawley Hospital.

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

I’m passionate about Crawley, I love the town. I would be honoured to represent Crawley at Westminster, but more importantly I would put Crawley first in everything I do. I want things to change, a new hospital, better housing, more youth facilities, a stronger green ecomony. Crawley is a great place to live. I believe I can make a difference in Crawley in the years to come.

Thank you, Chris.  I know you stayed up late and got up early to get these answers to us as soon as possible.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 April 2010 at 09:22

Quizzing the candidates: John Vincent (Liberal Democrat)

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The pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  John Vincent, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has been kind enough to provide his answers.  Links to the other candidates’ answers are below.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

Our society is not broken but it is troubled in many ways.  The pressures forced upon people are causing problems in society.  Some of the e-mails I have received during this campaign have highlighted the difficulties and stress some suffer.  An MP can not alone cure all society’s ills but if in a term things can be made a bit better than they were before then it’s a job well done.   Each of us can do a little.  Yes and unlike Mrs T, I believe there is such a thing as society.

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

Undeniably Christian values are a core part of our history.  People should live by their values.  I will live by mine.

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

Please keep the State out of the bedroom as much as possible.  I believe marriage is the basis of healthy families.  The duty of the State is to support families, single people and all the constituent parts of a healthy society.

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

I believe in freedom of choice and freedom of individual conscience. As long as someone is not causing harm to another or breaking the law then I believe in allowing people to live their lives in the way they wish and also to have the liberty to express their beliefs freely.

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

You use the word “employ”.  There has to be one set of employment laws in the UK.  However this should not stop churches/religious groups making whatever choices they prefer with respect to voluntary work.

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

The reality is that children need some knowledge of sex as soon as they become of an age where they are active.  Ignorance or moral lessons on abstention are of little help when we are faced with a large number of teenage pregnancies and a growth in sexually transmitted diseases.  A degree of consistency is needed in the messages given but there should be some limited scope for flexibility where religious sensitivities are concerned.

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

Yes.  I like the concept of quiet hours that is in place in Cologne where I work.

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

The hours of pub opening were once at the centre of this debate.  Now the problems associated with excessive drinking can’t simply be controlled by licensing hours.  Alcohol is freely available and relatively inexpensive.  I believe we now have a culture of binge drinking that has to be addressed by more than just Government.  There is no magic wand to solve this one but as your MP I would focus on ensuring that Crawley develops an attractive social environment that does not depend on cheep booze.  For example there is great potential to get an ice rink for Crawley.

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

I would be open to a review of the idea.

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

I acknowledge that abortion is an issue of individual conscience.  Not all Liberal Democrats agree on the way forward.  There should never be a ridged Party line on this subject in any Party.  I support a woman’s right to choose.  All women should have access to a legal abortion on the NHS within 14 days of asking.  I do not agree that the time limit for abortions should be changed from 24 weeks.  However the subject should be periodically reviewed on the basis of scientific evidence.

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

I believe in the individual’s right to choose. The issue of voluntary euthanasia needs further debate and the law on suicide needs to be clarified.

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?

Many of England’s new towns have similar problems.  However I see opportunity in Crawley.  It has the potential for a very bright future.  It’s a dynamic place that needs some better organisation to capitalise on that fact.  The local authorities have been slow and unimaginative in many cases.  Also, I agree with others that Crawley needs more visible policing to tackle anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime.

  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?

Not in my first term as Crawley’s MP.  That said Gatwick airport is a vital part of the local economy and should be recognised as such.  On its part the airport must take its impact on the environment seriously.

  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

If a new hospital is built in Crawley it will cost a great deal of money. That cost can partially be offset by the freeing up of the land of the present Crawley Hospital site.  However wining this argument will not be easy and require a strong commitment from all Crawley’s public bodies.  As you MP I would fight for this.

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

I believe I have the necessary knowledge and experience.  I work hard.  I’m independent minded.  I’m a pragmatic West Countryman.  I’m not a lifetime politician.  I know what public service requires of a person and I have much that I can bring to the job.

Thank you, John, for taking the time to answer our questions, and for the care you have taken with your answers.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 April 2010 at 08:24

Quizzing the candidates: Henry Smith (Conservative)

with 4 comments

The pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  First out of the blocks with the answers was Henry Smith, the Conservative candidate.  His answers are below, and there are links to the other candidates’ responses.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

There are many great examples of communities working well and harmoniously, often with faith based organisations at the centre of that. I believe, however, that there are too many people, often the young and under privileged, who are excluded from our society or who have decided to exclude themselves. In this sense I think significant sections of British society are broken.

I believe that part of the problem over the past half-century or so has been increased pressure on the family; pressures from changing work patterns, societal attitudes and a lack proper recognition from the state. My personal belief is that the family is a God given structure and the ‘bedrock’ of our society for millennia and that fact has not changed simply because we live in modern times.

I believe there is such a thing as society, it is just not the same as the state.

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

I believe in the values of freedom and faith. The Christian community and other faith groups have a positive and essential role in our society and believers should of course be free to express their faith.

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

As the family is the basis of a healthy society so I believe marriage between a man and a woman is the basis of healthy families. Unfortunately it is not currently the case but the tax and benefit system should recognise and support marriage.

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

I believe in freedom of choice and freedom of individual conscience. As long as someone is not causing harm to another or breaking the law then I believe in allowing people to live their lives in the way they wish and also to have the liberty to express their beliefs freely.

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

Yes.

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

Yes.

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

Yes.

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

Yes.

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

Yes.

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

I believe that the current law on abortion is about right.

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

I believe in the individual’s right to choose. The issue of voluntary euthanasia needs further debate and the law on suicide needs to be clarified.

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?

I think Crawley is a good place to live with just about everything on our doorstep, that is why I chose to live here when I got married and why we are raising our young family here. However, I think our town could be better still. As a local resident, if fortunate enough to be elected MP, I will speak for local people’s interests in Parliament, not be simply a Government mouthpiece here at home. Crawley needs more visible policing to tackle anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime. In addition we need to bring important hospital services, such as A&E and maternity, back to the area.

  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?

My view on the future of Gatwick is exactly the same as the opinion of the airport’s new owners – that it should grow in terms of passenger numbers but on the current ‘one runway, two terminals’ configuration. the Department for Transport estimates that numbers can increase by an extra ten million throughput passengers per annum without the need for an additional runway. Gatwick and its effect is vital to our economic success and local employment. I believe economic growth can be achieved without runway expansion which would damage the local environment.

  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

Yes. This is the most important local issue. An important town like Crawley with a growing and aging population; major transportation links, such as Gatwick, in addition to being at the centre of the sub region, needs a new hospital. East Surrey Hospital is ten miles away over congested roads, is overloaded and receives bad hygiene reports. My wife, Jennifer, used to work at Crawley Hospital until her job moved to East Surrey, from home in Maidenbower some mornings it could take her up to an hour to reach work – inconvenient for residents at best, life threatening at worst.

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

I am local, am raising my family here and have represented the area on the County Council for over a dozen years.  As Leader of West Sussex County Council I have been pleased to realise investment of over £100 million into three new Crawley schools, the new library (twice the size of the old library and the most sustainable public building in West Sussex) and the recycling centre at Metcalf Way which is now achieving a recycling rate in excess of 50%. I believe I have local knowledge and experience.

Thank you, Henry, for taking the time to answer our questions, and for your swift and precise answers.

Chris OxladeHenry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 April 2010 at 08:53

Quizzing the candidates

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Taking a leaf from the book of Guy Davies, and drawing on some briefing from DayOne, the pastors here at Maidenbower have submitted a series of questions to our local Parliamentary candidates (from the three main parties).  The Christian Institute has also produced an election briefing.

With the first of the UK’s televised debates by the leaders of the main parties threatening to alter the political landscape, this could be an interesting election.  We sent the note and asked the questions below of the three candidates with a view to discerning their personal opinions on various issues, and helping the people of God here – and in Crawley more widely – to make a decision about their vote in the upcoming election.

I will post the answers as they become available.

Dear Candidate,

We are writing on behalf of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, and other Christians in Crawley.  We are taking a keen interest in the election, and consistently pray for the government and other civil authorities at local and national level.

As a means of helping the individual members of this church and other churches, we should be very grateful if you would take a few minutes to consider and respond to the questions below.  These are some of the questions that may help Christians in Crawley decide how to vote in the upcoming election.  We hope to make your answers available to the members of the church at Maidenbower and other interested Christians.

Thank you for taking the time to consider these questions.  We very much look forward to reading your answers.

Questions for candidates standing for Crawley at the General Election (May 2010)

1.         Is our society broken?  If it is, how does your party hope to fix it?

2.         Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?  Is Christianity merely a private matter, or should it be allowed freely and publicly to influence the words and deeds of those who believe?

3.         Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the state to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

4.         Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?

5.         Do you believe that churches/religious groups should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the specific teaching of those churches/groups?

6.         Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

7.         If elected, would you oppose any extension of Sunday trading hours in shops?

8.         If elected, would you support a reduction of 24/7 licensing?

9.         If elected, will you oppose the introduction of Sunday elections?

10.       Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

11.       Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

12.       Local issues:

  • Crawley does not seem to have a great reputation locally or nationally.  Is this fair, and what – if necessary – should be done about it?
  • Do you oppose or support the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport?
  • If elected, will you actively be seeking to obtain a new hospital for Crawley?

13.       Why should the people of Crawley vote for you at the upcoming election?

Chris Oxlade ∙ Henry SmithJohn Vincent

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 16 April 2010 at 09:31

True patriotism

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john-newton-2My friend at Grace Gems recently sent out this sobering reminder from the letters of John Newton.  It is worth our while to remember in these days of activism in which we can lose our way all too easily.  Newton does not deny that God makes us part of particular nation-states, but he does remind us of where our primary attachment belongs.  A robust perspective on our citizenship in heaven best equips us to do lasting earthly good.  This is very much of a piece with Spurgeon’s words that I posted a few days ago.

Dear friend,

Allow me to say, that it excites both my wonder and concern, that a Christian minister such as yourself, should think it worth his while to attempt political reforms.  When I look around upon the present state of the nation, such an attempt appears to me, to be no less vain and foolish, than it would be to paint the cabin – while the ship is sinking! Or to decorate the parlour – while the house is on fire!

When our Lord Jesus was upon earth, He refused to get involved in disputes or politics, “Friend, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Luke 12:14. “My kingdom is not of this world! If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight!” John 18:36. God’s children belong to a kingdom which is not of this world; they are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and a part of their Scriptural character is, that they are the “quiet in the land.” Psalm 35:19.

Satan has many contrivances to amuse people, and to divert their thoughts from their real danger!

My dear sir, my prayer to God for you is – that He may induce you to employ the talents He has given you, in pointing out sin as the great cause and source of every existing evil; and to engage those who love and fear Him, (instead of wasting time in political speculations, for which very few of them are competent,) to sigh and cry for our abounding abominations, and to stand in the breach, by prayer, that God’s wrath may yet be averted, and our national mercies prolonged! This, I think, is the true patriotism – the best way in which people in private life may serve their country.

I consider the ungodly as saws and hammers in the hand of the Lord. So far as they are His instruments, they will succeed – but not an inch further! Their wrath shall praise Him, and be subservient to His designs!

If our lot is so cast that we can exercise our ministry free from stripes, fines, imprisonments, and death – it is more than the gospel has promised to us! If Christians were quiet when under the cruel governments of Nero and other wicked persecutors, when they were hunted down like wild beasts – then we ought to be not only quiet but very thankful now! It was then accounted an honour to suffer for Christ and the ‘offence of the cross’!

Those are to be greatly pitied, who boast of their ‘liberty’ – and yet they do not consider that they are in the most deplorable bondage – the slaves of sin and Satan, under the curse of God’s law and His eternal wrath! Oh! for a voice to reach their hearts, that they may know their true and dreadful state–and seek deliverance from their horrific thraldom! May you and I labour to direct them to the one thing, which is absolutely needful, and abundantly sufficient.

If I had the wisdom or influence to soothe the angry passions of mankind – I would gladly employ them! But I am a stranger and a pilgrim here in this world. My charter, my rights and my treasures, are all in heaven – and there my heart ought to be. In a very short time, I may be removed (and perhaps suddenly) into the unseen and eternal world – where all that now causes so much bustle upon earth – will be of no more importance to me – than the events which took place among the antediluvians!

In the hour, when death shall open the door into eternity – many things which now assume an ‘air of importance’, will be found as light and unsubstantial as a child’s dream!

How crucial then, is it for me–to be found watching, with my lamp burning, diligently engaged in my proper calling! For the Lord has not called me to set governments right – but to preach the gospel, to proclaim the glory of His name, and to endeavor to win souls! “Let the dead bury their own dead – but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!” Luke 9:60. Happy is that servant, whom his Master finds so doing, when He returns!

As you have forced me to respond – both duty and love have obliged me to be faithful and free in giving you my thoughts.

I recommend you to the care and blessing of the great Shepherd and Saviour; and remain for His sake, your affectionate friend and brother,

John Newton

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 24 June 2009 at 12:53

The work of the law written in their hearts

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David Anderson has an excellent post about the current expenses scandal among British Members of Parliament, in which he asks where all the critics of the MPs get the notion that they have done wrong, even though they are operating within the rules they have set for themselves.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 22 June 2009 at 20:20

The king enthroned

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Who knows what the future holds for the world now that the reins of power in what is probably still its most powerful nation sit in very different hands?

God does. God always did. He ordained all these things: he “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1.11). Our God is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases (Ps 115.3 cf. Ps 135.6). We sing of the government of God that

The kingdoms of this world
Lie in its hand;
See how they rise or fall
At its command!
Through sorrow and distress,
Tempestuous storms that rage,
God’s kingdom yet endures,
From age to age.

The civil authorities are appointed by God and are accountable to him. They will answer to him for the manner in which they exercise their power, and will be judged as men for the discharge of their authority. We who are Christians are also accountable to God, and are called to a righteous recognition of and responsibility to those whom God has placed over us.

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour. (Rom 13.1-7)

The apostle was not talking about modern Europe or modern America, or even modern Iraq or Afghanistan or Ukraine. He was talking about ancient Rome, with all that meant.

But our accountability to God rises far higher than this world.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself. (Phil 3.12-21)

What of these realities, duties and hopes can be for one moment or to one iota altered by events in this world? We must remember that we are citizens not just of a great kingdom, but of the greatest and only enduring kingdom that this world will ever know, a kingdom that is – in fact – not of this world: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here” (Jn 18.36). It does not depend on this world; it will never be advanced by this world; its progress may be relatively impeded by things in this world, but it can never be overcome. When the world shows its teeth and claws to this enduring kingdom, the response is a simple one:

Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Dan 3:14-18)

This is as much to honour all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honour the king (1 Pt 2.17) as when, in the present comfort and ease of our homes we obey the command that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1Tim 2.1-2).

We must remember that while the world cannot ultimately impede the progress of God’s kingdom, neither is it the means by which God’s kingdom advances. Again, while the world may, to appearances, provide an environment conducive to the progress of the kingdom, peace, justice, and righteousness are never secured by sinful men. There is only one who will beat swords into ploughshares; there is only one who will secure peace on the earth; there is none who is righteous – no, not one – apart from him; there is one Judge in all the earth who does right. We are grateful when this world enables us to pursue our Christian duty quietly and peaceably, but we do not hang our hopes in this world or the next on the civil authorities.

And, as we consider the future, who is to say that God will not confound all our expectations? We are informed without a shadow of doubt that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; he turns it wherever he wishes” (Prv 21.1). God can do all his holy will against the wicked determinations of violently godless men, contrary to the foolish determinations of well-meaning sinners, and cutting across the flawed perspectives of mortal saints. If he wills, he can save the highest in the land as well as the lowest, and use them powerfully for his glory. The very men we might humanly anticipate would be for the downfall of Christ’s kingdom may well turn out to be its greatest servants (might they not, Saul of Tarsus?).

What are we? We are strangers in the earth, sojourners and pilgrims in this world (Ps 119.19; 1Pt 2.11). We are citizens of an unshakeable kingdom to which our primary and highest allegiance belongs. We are servants of a King enthroned on high (Rev 4.2), and our attachment to him conditions our attachment to and relationship with everyone and everything else. And, when the false religions and idolatries of this fallen globe finally collapse, and the kingdoms of this world together fall for the last time, one faith and one kingdom shall yet endure, and one King shall still sit enthroned:

Through the rise and fall of nations,
One sure faith yet standeth fast:
God abides, his Word unchanging,
God alone the first and last.

crown-of-thorns

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 5 November 2008 at 11:27

Collective shame and a modern holocaust

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A woman and her child before the firing squad

A woman and her child before the firing squad

Like the author of this piece reproduced by Gene Veith, I am not an American citizen.  Furthermore, I do not even live in America, so I am one step further removed from what he has to say.  One could also debate about the issues of collective guilt and shame.  Nevertheless, even excising the political context, the historical parallel which he draws surely needs to be taken into account by each one of us.  Before this is about politics, it is about the morality of mass murder.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 14 October 2008 at 13:28

“Punished with a baby”

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I must admit that I find the heavy political engagement of many American blogs a bit tough on the electronic senses – it’s not an approach with which I am familiar, or always comfortable.  But this is not about ‘politics’ per se.  I don’t know the context of this comment, and what went before and what came after, and I would want to be correspondingly careful about drawing conclusions.  But, first of all, “values and morals” divorced from the living and true God of Biblical truth are essentially valueless, being simply shifting marks. Secondly, under any circumstances to speak of a child made in the image of God as being some kind of punishment is gross – what are (where are) the values and morals that lie behind that declaration?

PS Those are his grandchildren that he is talking about.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 2 September 2008 at 08:47

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