Christmas in (another) three words

12/12/2014

The Standard Christmas in Three Words remains the talk and tract by Vaughan Roberts whose Three Words are Historical, Joyful and Essential.
This is another Christmas in Three Words, in skeleton form.

Me

Me is a very interesting subject and it’s one I like talking about a lot….
Me is an amazing subject because you and I are fearfully and wonderfully made…
Jesus was born because God is interested in me and You. He has come to us, as one of us. He’s not distant or abstract as many think.
=> Jesus is called Emmanuel which means God with us
=> Something to celebrate, then.

Mess

Me is a good place to start but a terrible way to end. If we make ‘Me’ everything, then we make God nothing.
Can tell Lighthouse story (look up USS Montana on youtube if you don’t know the story). We are on a collision course with God.
The result is Mess, in my life and in the world’s life. Some mess we can clean up; but much of it we can’t.
Jesus was born because we need help. If we were perfect, or if we could (eventually) sort ourselves out, then Christmas would never have happened.
=> Jesus is called Saviour which means ‘rescuer’.
=> Something to admit: we are helpless rebels

Messiah

Who can bring order to a disordered world? We need a king or ruler who can take charge and turn it round.
Jesus was born as the king to take charge and turn it around.
Surprises are that he was born in humble circumstances, although in a royal city (Bethlehem); that he led through service (e.g. Mark 10.45); and that his victory is celebrated on the day he died, Good Friday. He is an unusual King, but he was born for this (see John 18.37).
God’s wonderful response to the Me-Mess is to send a person, the Messiah.
=> Jesus is called Messiah or Christ which means King
=> Something to do, to put ourselves under his saving loving rule.
The wise men came to worship the child. You’re wise if you do so too.

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I wrote the word Messiah in large letters and covered them up, gradually revealing each part of the word as the talk progressed.

Happy Christmas!

(c) Ed Moll 2014


What are British Values?

05/12/2014

As I went into school to lead Collective Worship, the head teacher quizzed me: ‘what are British Values?’ It’s a church school but still required under new DfE guidelines to promote British Values. What are they and what do I think as a Christian?

The first point to make is that the name British values is wrong, because it implies that these are unique to Britain and cannot be exported. For example

  • Singing Rule Britannia at the last Night of the Proms
  • Apologising when someone else stands on your foot or takes your seat on a train
  • Cheering when any one of France, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa are defeated at Rugby Union

Much better to speak of ‘Values that Britain Holds Dear’ and which France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and many others may also hold dear. These values will overlap with the best of the western Democratic Tradition, but do not embrace everything it brings.

A second point is to acknowledge that these values have been strongly influenced by Christianity, yet they are not identical to Christian Values. There is considerable overlap between Values that Britain Holds Dear and Values Christians Hold Dear in public life but they are not identical. We notice the overlap if and when we encounter other cultures whose wellspring is not Christian: by our lights they may be selfish, corrupt, passive. The culture is animated by different values because it was born of a different worldview.

Here then are my Values that Britain Holds (or Should Hold) Dear. Unsurprisingly they overlap with but do not coincide with the Government’s.

1. Public Servants are Accountable. It may be odd to put this one first but it is about Public Service and often forget how radical this vision of Public service is, and how deeply indebted to Christian teaching. In Mark 10.33-45, two of Jesus’ disciples ask for special treatment when he comes into power. He replies by teaching that according to the values of the Kingdom of God, whoever would be great must be the servant of all. There is an echo of this in the motto of the Royal Academy Sandhurst at which all the British Army’s Officers are trained: ‘Serve to Lead’. Public Servants are just what their name implies: servants of the public, and are therefore accountable. we believe this deeply, and take it for granted until we see an abuse.
An implication of this Value, which others consider a Value in itself, is the separation of the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches of government, so that they hold one another to account.

2. There are no non-persons That is, every human being is a person. In classical civilisation, slaves were non-persons, called ‘living tools’ by one philosopher, and treated as chattels. In pernicious regimes, opponents are proscribed or classed as non-persons and stripped of their rights, their identity, their property and their freedom. The Nazis called Jews ‘non people’ with horrifying consequences. A Value We Hold Dear is that there are no non-persons and that all have rights. The state may, after careful judicial process, remove some rights such as freedom and (in our case) voting: but this is a judicial and not a political decision.
This Value has a clear biblical root: we are made in the image of God. A friend of mine works in a different culture and trains midwives. the first lesson she teaches is that both men and women are made in the image of God and therefore women also deserve medical treatment: obvious for us but radical in that other culture. We are deeply and rightly indebted to Biblical teaching for this value.
A positive implication is the value of Democracy, with its corollary of shared responsibility. In Christian democratic thought, politics is how we love our neighbour.
Another implication of this Value is that we care even for the rights of criminals. Hence the extraordinary spectacle of a British legal system defending an unpleasantly critical foreign terror suspect against extradition: it’s because we don’t want to lose hold of on Value while we’re fighting to defend another.

3. Church and State are (almost) separate. Britain is not a Theocracy because Church and State are separate. Almost. Again, this model has biblical roots. In the Israelite monarchy, the Word of God came through the prophets but they themselves did not rule: they spoke to the Kings who ruled in God’s stead. The King and the prophet were, in their different fields, serving God. In the New Testament Paul writes that “the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.” (Romans 13:4). Thus the British Monarch and those in authority under her are the servants of God to do good to society; and the Church are the servants of God to bear direct witness to his ways and to his word.
Church and State are only almost separate because the Church in England is Established. The arrangement is neither Theocratic (which it would be if the Church ruled the State) nor Erastian (where the State rules the Church). I would say that this relationship allows the Church to speak biblical wisdom to those in authority, not least to remind them that we are all accountable to God who made us; it also preserves freedom of religion for other religions and denominations.

4. You are free both to Choose and to Change your religion.
This value follows on but is important because it distinguishes our approach to multiple cultures from others’. Christianity is a personal and voluntary religion: children may be brought up in the faith and be ‘culturally’ Christian: but profession as a Christian, through Baptism or Confirmation, is with one’s own ‘heart and mouth’. It is this choice which opens the door to a freedom of religion view which allows citizens to hold their own faith, and to change it. The latter is crucial because in other countries one may have the freedom to follow the religion into which one was born, say Hinduism, Islam or Christianity, but not to change it. In those cultures faith is a corporate and cultural identity which the individual is not free to change. That is not the Way that Britain Holds Dear.

5. There is only a limited right to conscientious objection.
The positive value is that everyone is expected to obey the rule of Law. Values 1 and 2 tells us that this reaches from the highest rank in society to the lowest. Christian teaching here is also decisive: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1–2) The presumption in Christian teaching is that believers should obey the law, unless the law enjoins what God has forbidden or forbids what God has enjoins. Christians from NT times onwards have suffered judicial penalties for placing allegiance to God above even their duty to the human rulers.
In the current context the Government’s British Values includes the Rule of Law, and I am not writing to oppose that. I am pointing out that in the Christian tradition, as in other religious traditions, obedience to the law is a religious duty only until it conflicts with religious law; but because of the separation of Church and state, the religious law rarely has an explicit Civic expression. This is a problem for theocratic religions such as Islam in which religious law might be seen to trump a great deal of Britain’s civil national law. School teachers are rightly expected to teach respect for the Law of the Land; religious leaders may need to prepare their people for the consequences of placing religious observance above national law.
There is a limited right to conscientious objection which respects that different religious traditions will have different rules: however the Law sets the boundaries on what is and is not allowed within this discretion. For example most dietary rules are allowed, but the right to kill religious opponents is not (see Value 2). The likely tricky issue for Christians is same-sex marriage (SSM) which the more conservative Christian traditions hold is incompatible with biblical faith.

The Government’s list of British Values includes:

- Democracy

- living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety

- separation of power between the executive and judiciary and they can be held to account

- the freedom to choose and hold other faiths is protected by law

- not to be prejudiced or discriminate against people of other faiths

- the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination


Positive Complementarianism

02/04/2014

Latimer Study 79 Positive Complementarianism: The key Biblical texts by Ben Cooper

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The debate about the role of women in the church turns on whether one’s role in ministry in church should ever depend on gender. Those who think not are described here as egalitarians, while those who hold women as equal but with different roles are termed complementarians. Ben Cooper helpfully distinguishes this theologically conservative position from social conservatives who seek to defend hierarchy or patriarchy.

The aim of this admirably short booklet is to commend the complementation view in a positive way, that is with a focus not only on what Scripture says women cannot or should not do, but on the positive side of that teaching too. This aim informs his selection of key texts, which alongside the obvious ‘gender’ texts of Genesis 1-3, Galatians 3,.28, 1 Corinthians 11 & 14, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Romans 16, and the pastoral passages of 1 Tim 2 and 3 includes passages form the Gospels and Titus 1. Cooper shows that the creation pattern was one of ‘benign asymmetry’ which is recovered in the NT teaching on how the church, the household of God, should live. This is in contrast to egalitarian views which either deny asymmetry in the original creation, or that it should be present in the new creation. It’s well done in a short span. The relative scarcity of footnotes keeps the text clear and simple, but I would NewImagehave like to see a reference to the long section in Christopher Ash’s Marriage: Sex in the Service of God (IVP, 2003) that deals with the asymmetry of the male-female relationship in redemption.

Another helpful link is to the passages on leadership such as Matthew 20:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

A hierarchical view of leadership, in which leaders are necessarily better than others, makes the complementation claim that women are equal but not to be leaders within the church impossible to accept. Jesus’ words on leadership show that Christian leadership entails a lower status, not a higher status. Leadership is sacrificial, as shown supremely by our Shepherd himself, Jesus.

This is a good argument but I note that it has an interesting history. Evangelicals with a negative  experience of episcopacy (i.e. many conservative evangelicals) have used this sort of argument to say that since leaders are servants, ‘Bishops do not matter’ and can be ignored. This confuses status with power. Bishops have power, but are not to use it for status. They matter and we ignore them at our peril. This argument sidesteps the important debate about how evangelicals in an episcopally ordered church engage with bishops. And in a similar way we must not sidestep the important debate on how power and leadership are to be distributed between men and women in church; leadership matters, women matter, and neither can be ignored.

So this booklet is short, it’s good. I recommend it. It’s a great resource. Please can we have a similar one on the same-sex debate?

I note with interest the appearance of that peculiarly evangelical word ‘publicly’. It should be ‘publicly’ of course, but keeps cropping up because it looks like our other favourite word, ‘biblically’. Spellchecks take note!

Other resources on a similar topic:

Latimer Study 65 The New Testament and Slavery: Approaches and Implications by Mark Meynell.

Latimer Study 73 Plastic People: How Queer Theory is changing us by Peter Sanlon

Latimer Trust is an evangelical think-tank dedicated to providing biblical input and a considered response to significant issues within the Christian community and elsewhere.

I am a council, but not directly involved in editing the publications.


Hill & Hill Translating the Bible into Action

31/03/2014

What can parish ministry learn from missiology? Loads!

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What can first world ministry learn from those working cross-culturally in developing countries? Loads.

In Translating the Bible in Action: How the Bible can be Relevant in all Languages and Cultures (Piquant, 2008) Harriet Hill and Margaret Hill take us through seven areas involved in taking the Bible and putting it into practical use. It’s written in world english which means clear communication using a limited vocabulary. There is a french language translation Traduire La Bible en Actes: Manuel pour faire un bon usage de la Bible dans chaque langue et culture (Presses Bibliques Africaines, 2011)

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You don’t have to be working cross-culturally, or even in Africa to benefit from this book. We all face the same barriers to understanding and application. In the first section (after an introduction) the authors consider the theological foundations of language and culture. The key point for me is that real paradigm shifts happen when you’re reading in your mother tongue. Thus although you may be able to read in another language and gain content, there will always be far, far better engagement if you encounter the material in your ‘home’ language. This is a strong argument for Bible translation into local languages, and not settling for national languages (French, Portuguese, English, Swahili). A similar argument applies to the way the English language has changed since the seventeenth century (When the 1611 Authorised version of the Bible, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were published), and indeed since 1984 (when the NIV was published).

A particular challenge in many African countries, as elsewhere in the developing world, is multi-lingual churches, where the congregation is drawn from several tribal groups, and this topic forms the second main section. Yet this phenomenon has its European counterpart too. Within a single culture, there are gaps between the generations. And Great Britain is a multi-cultural nation: even in Somerset, surely one of the least ethnically mixed places in the UK, there are sizeable Polish and Portuguese communities.How do we aim to reach and include them? We are far behind our African brothers and sisters here!

Section three, Relevant Bible Use covers the basics of understanding the Bible and making pertinent application. It’s the reason I came across this book, because we distribute these on behalf of Langham Literature at the Langham Preaching seminars that I have been part of in francophone Africa. I particularly found the chapter on ‘Providing Necessary Background Information’ to be a helpful reminder of just how much knowledge we assume for interpreting the Bible.

Sharing faith is really helpful on doing so in oral contexts. You don’t have to be in a developing world to meet one: a sizeable number of people in the UK are functionally illiterate. (Section six on literacy deals with teaching literacy, especially with African context in mind). And if you think about it, an all-age Family Service is an oral context: we tell stories, use pictures and drama, and aim to communicate the message of the Bible in a way that engages all ages, all of the time. I would like to hear more of Chronological Bible Storying, and work out how Langham Preachers could apply their sound exegetical and hermeneutical skills to this setting.

Section five looks at using your gifts of music, art and drama – chapters that any church would do well to take on board. Finally section eight Passing it on helps the reader think through the logistics of launching a new product, usually a Bible translation. There is a helpful chapter about ‘Bringing about change’.

I would recommend this book for the following reasons

1. In any context, there are sound principles to help you translate the Bible into action. If, like me, you are basically an Anglophone but working with francophone people, the french translation is a great help.

2. In any context and including the West, it’s a great summary in simple language of key concepts of missiology and ministryt

3. It’s great to think about everyday ministry through new eyes. Pastor Simon’s situation is a million miles from my own: but the obstacles in people’s hearts and in his own are not really that different; and his resources are the same – biblical wisdom and good Christian friends.


There must be more to life than this!

24/03/2014

I’m not very good at reading Christians books that others have chosen for me. I like to pick my own books, thank you very much. I strongly prefer deciding which problems will be addressed in print.

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You might imagine my feelings when I was given a copy of There Must be More to Life than this: How to EXPERIENCE the God of the Bible in Everyday Life, by Barrie Lawrence (New Wine Press, 2012). What does my family think my life is missing that they should present me with this? Nevertheless, family diplomacy dictates that I should read, and this I have done.

Barrie Lawrence is a dentist (now retired) and more important, a Christian (still active) who came to a vibrant faith as a young student. He tells the story of his life and adventures in the first half of the book, and devotes the remainder to helping the reader share Barrie’s great Christian experience.

It’s the story of an ordinary person to whom extraordinary things happened. Barrie isn’t that ‘normal': he comes across as a larger than life character, full of ideas new ventures: dental practices, Christian bookshops, and new fellowships. And he drives a red Jaguar.

The story isn’t about him, but about his experience of knowing Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. He came to faith in Christ but the real turning point was in a charismatic experience that shaped his faith and understanding. He hears God speaking to him, he prayed and saw some striking miracles of healing; he is zealous to share his faith. I have to admit that he and I are probably complete opposites when it comes to temperament, and we would most likely wind each other up. Yet he’s hard to dislike! I also don’t fully share his charismatic leanings: but you can’t deny that here is a man gripped by God, and going for gold. It’s an edited account of his life, and although failures are acknowledged, it’s not clear how fully they have been dealt with. There are some loose ends: I’m not expecting a sequel, but is Wendy still on the scene?

The Christian hope is a glorious prospect of life lived as it is meant to be before the face of God and in the light of all his blessings. I’m also looking forward to being free from the power and presence of sin, which so clouds my heart. One of the things I can look forward to in glory is meeting Barrie Lawrence and saying, ‘Thank God that what we have in common in Christ so far outweighs our differences, and that we can rejoice together at the wonderful, wonderful grace of God.’

What I really want to know is whether the relative who gave me the book read it first. Maybe I should find a protect for engaging them in a spiritually meaningful conversation.

 


Lost in Translation – 1

20/03/2014

Last summer I was in the US and on Sunday evening attended a fine Presbyterian church. It is set in an affluent area, the buildings are immaculate, and everything was done to a

high standard. Unsurprisingly, the congregation were mostly what we Brits would call upper middle class – healthy, wealthy, scrubbed up and well dressed. And they were very, very friendly. My companions and I were intercepted several times on the way in and on the way out.

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It turns out that Francis Schaeffer pastored this church some time before he moved to l’Abri. (Schaeffer was a foundational thinker whose written works brought life to many reformed Christians). As we stood in the sanctuary chatting to a patrician couple (she had been a lifelong member), he said, “I bet Dr Schaeffer was not wearing his knickers when he preached here!’. I said nothing.*

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*Because I’m British. In American English, knickers are walking breeches. In British English they are an item of ladies underwear best not mentioned in church, especially to refined ladies old enough to be my mother. Unfortunately I will remember that remark every time I think of that church. And possibly of Dr Schaeffer.


Six Weeks

17/03/2014

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By the end of this year, I shall be heartily fed up with the First World War, the centenary of whose outbreak will be celebrated in August. Which makes it hard to imagine how Europe’s citizens felt after four years of war, toil, and bloodshed. John Lewis-Stempel’s Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War records, largely in their own words, the experiences of the junior officers on the front lines. Officers up to the rank of Captain lived with the men in the trenches, and led them into battle. They also led the many, lethal, patrols into No Man’s Land.

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Many of the officers, especially in the early part of the War, were very young, mere school-leavers. There was a method to this apparent madness: officers were needed in large numbers and at short notice: the Cadet Forces of Universities and Public Schools trained students and pupils for leadership, and their Old Boys were therefore readier material for rapid commissioning. In addition, the Public School system existed to buttress the very values upon which the officer class depended: self-reliance; paternalism; physical fitness; courage. Boarding school was excellent preparation for war, and public school was good for leaders. A steady diet of martial texts from the Classics fed a vision of service to one’s nation. Because they led from the front, young leaders faced heavier casualties than other officers and men: the six weeks of the book’s title is how long a young officer could hope to be on the front before suffering an injury or death.

As the war progressed, men from other social classes were promoted. At the end of the war these Temporary Gentlemen were expected to return to their trades. An officer was expected to put his men first (and their horses). While some grew up with a natural sense of command because they had servants, the rest earned their soldiers’  respect by the care they took to feed them, inspect their feet, look after their needs. Lewis-Stempel writes that this was in contrast to the practices in the French army, which suffered mutinies unknown to the British army. Incidentally, if anyone knows of a good treatment of France’s experience of the Great War, please let me know. (Ed Moll at St George’s Wembdon)

The officer’s care of his men has a Christian foundation:

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For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

Even today the motto of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst is ‘Serve to Lead’ and seems to me to follow Jesus’ example of leadership through serving, without being servile. The young officers of the first war who grew up to put their men first, put this into gritty practice. Often they were rewarded by their men’s loyalty and courage. A larger-than-expected number of gallantry awards to Other Ranks was for rescuing wounded officers.

Many of the young officers became poets, and Lewis-Stempel selects judicious quotes. There are many more selections from letters home, often with a comment as to how many days later the author’s death followed. I want to commend this book because it is moving without being maudlin or manipulative. It brings the war to life without glorifying it in any way. I agree with the reviewer in Evangelicals Now who said, ‘If you only read one book about the First World War in this centenary year, let me suggest that this might be it.’


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