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Showing posts from April, 2014

The Gospel, Grace & Apostleship

Paul opens his letter to the Romans with a greeting that teaches us something about his apostleship: Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-6). Immediately he links his apostleship with the gospel — he was 'called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel' . These aren't two unrelated callings, as he goes on to talk about both — the gospel and apostleship — as the greeting proceeds, drawing the two together again in verse 5 when he writes of 'grace and apostle

Tenets Matter: The Role & Authority of a Confession of Faith

Not every church is confessional. Some have no written confession of faith. In others, the written confession is simply thought of as a historical relic, but is no longer considered of much relevance in the present day. Other churches, however, are confessional - they have a confession of faith and they submit to it today. And the Apostolic Church in the UK is a confessional church. Some confessional churches have very long and detailed confessions of faith (such as the Westminster Confession and Catechisms) and others have short and concise confessions (such as the Tenets of the Apostolic Church). Yet, in both cases, the actual wording of the confession is very important, and even more so in a concise confession such as the Tenets. You see, the Tenets are not simply an off-the-cuff summary of some stuff we happen to believe. No, they are a very carefully worded summary statement of the faith, written in very careful and precise theological language. Whilst a longer, more detailed co

The Gospel of the Wedding Feast

You may have noticed that I've been writing a bit about parables recently. We've had the Good Samaritan , the Loving Father & His Two Lost Sons (a.k.a. the prodigal son), and the Talents . And you may also have noticed that I've been writing about how all these parables show us Christ and His Gospel. Well, here's another parable today, and it shows us the Good News too. Jesus starts off the parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-14 by saying that 'the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son' (v.2) - and that's wonderful news! You see, this isn't just an introduction, setting the scene for the parable; the kingdom of heaven really is 'like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son', for the High King of Heaven has arranged a marriage for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the whole Bible is a book about a wedding. It starts with a wedding and ends with a wedding and is full of wedd

Some Books to Read on Justification (for everyone)

Yesterday I mentioned a great book on the doctrine of Justification, but, undoubtedly, some of you might be put off by the thought of a 500 page 19th Century tome. So today, I've got some more recommendations of good books on justification pitched at all sorts of different levels. So no matter how big or how small your appetite is for good doctrinal reading, there should be something good here for you. Start Here: The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney This is a very small book, and it's very easy to read. Yet, it remains one of my favourite books of all time.

Thirty-odd Propositions on Justification (from James Buchanan)

Justification is 'the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.' It might not be the whole of what the Bible teaches us about salvation, but it stands right at the centre of what the Bible teaches about salvation, and every other part of soteriology is related to it. So the doctrine of justification is quite important. And as it's so important, it's a doctrine worth knowing and understanding well. So, before I get to the thirty-odd propositions that form the actual contents of this post, let me just recommend the book from which they come. The Doctrine of Justification by James Buchanan was written in 1866, but is probably the most comprehensive book on the evangelical Protestant doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone ever written. Buchanan first goes through the history of the doctrine, pausing to look at the significant errors along the way (many of which still crop up with a considerable degree of regularity in pentecostal and evang

What the Parable of the Talents is Really About (Hint: It isn't our talents!)

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 25:14-30 from which we get our English word talent . We get our word from it, because Jesus uses the word talent . But Jesus was talking about an amount of money, not how naturally skillful people are. And in fact, even though Jesus uses the word talent, and we tend to call it the parable of the talents, the heart of the story isn't really what people do or don't do with the talents, but something else altogether. And it's important that we see that. For the servant who doesn't make use of his talent (which, let's remember, is 6000 denarii, or about 20 years' pay, not an ability or skill!) is cast 'into the outer darkness [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth' (Matt. 25:30). If this was a story centred on what people do or don't do with their abilities and skills, that would mean this man got sent to hell for not making good enough use of his abilities! And that would make salvation depend on us instead

The Darkness, the Waters, and the Cross (A Good Friday Sermon for Holy Saturday)

Today's Holy Saturday, when we remember that Jesus lay in the grave for us and hallowed the grave for us. While Jesus underwent the second death (Rev. 21:8) for us on the Cross on Good Friday, willingly suffering the wrath of God in our place, and triumphing over it with a victorious cry of 'It is finished!', on Saturday He lay in the grip of the first death - physical death. Jesus was dead that day; His body in the tomb and His soul in glory (Luke 23:43). And through His death and burial for us, we have no need to fear the grave, for those in Christ will know the same thing as he - our bodies (still united to Christ) in the grave, our souls in glory with the Lord, waiting for the day when body and soul will be reunited at the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Anyway, as it's Holy Saturday, here's a good hymn appropriate to the day from Martin Luther . And here's last night's Good Friday sermon on the darkness, the waters, and the Cros

Good Friday's Already Good: Don't be scared!

Good Friday, as the name might possibly give away, is a very good day indeed. And that means we don't have to be embarrassed, scared, or uncomfortable about this, one of the preeminent days of the Christian calendar. Embarrassed, scared, or uncomfortable? How could that be when we celebrate Good Friday with our Facebook statuses and even the possible thought of going to church?, you ask. And I reply that, yes, even amidst the Facebook status updates and thoughts of maybe going to church, even while (to an extent) embracing Good Friday, sometimes we still show ourselves to be embarrassed, scared and uncomfortable. After all, we wouldn't dream of just possibly thinking about maybe going to church to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday (even those who only show up twice a year know how important the Resurrection is). But even more than that, what  about when we actually make it to a Good Friday service, update our Facebook status in a seasonably appropriate way, or

Maundy Thursday: What's Important According to Jesus? [Repost]

Today's Maundy Thursday (you know, the day before Good Friday, and the day on which Jesus ate the last supper with His disciples). Maundy Thursday's isn't really famous for what happened during the day, but rather for what happened that night. It was the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It was the night on which Jesus was arrested and tried before the High Priest. And before that it was the night on which He washed the disciples' feet and the night on which He prayed in Gethsemane. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) tell us a lot about what happened that night. John, on the other hand, tells us a lot about what Jesus said that night.  It was the night before the Cross, and yet Jesus spent a lot of it teaching His disciples. In fact, one of the largest chunks of Jesus' teaching to be found in the gospels, the Upper Room Discourse and High Priestly Prayer of John 13-17 was what He taught on that eventful night. Jesus knew what was coming. He had al

The Gospel of the Loving Father and His Two Lost Sons

What's the Prodigal Son about? The parable of the prodigal son is about a prodigal son, right? Well, maybe not. In fact, actually not; for, despite the title that gets put at the top of the page in many of our English translations, Jesus himself tells us that it isn't about a prodigal son. How does He start off the parable? 'A certain man had two sons' (Luke 15:11). Not one son, but two sons. And, what's more, not just about two sons, and not even mainly about two sons. The main character here isn't either son, nor is it a tag-team of the two sons; the main character in this story is the father. 'A certain man had two sons.' The 'certain man' is the one the story is about. Now, this father has two sons. A good son and a bad son, right? No, definitely not. A nice, obedient, respectful son, and a horrible brat? Still no! Both his sons are horrible. They're each horrible in different ways - each according to his own style, but both of them

Sacraments Matter (Because They're *Gospel* Sacraments!)

Sacraments matter. They really do. You might not think it; after all, good, sound Pentecostals and Evangelicals don't often give all that much attention to the sacraments. They're there, but, you know, we just don't talk about them all that much at all. But then, through our lack of thinking about them, talking about them, or placing much emphasis on them at all, they begin to gradually disappear. It's striking that Evangelical churches tend to gather around the Lord's Table with much less frequency than any other tradition. And although British Pentecostals have a long tradition of weekly Communion (historically the Breaking of Bread has been the main church service for the Apostolic Church, Elim, and AoG, the 3 British Pentecostal denominations), in places that's giving way too. And very often this sacramental neglect seems to be connected to ideas about evangelism. Now, hopefully we all want to reach out to people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. But

The Great Gospel Mystery of Marriage: Why sins against marriage are attacks on the Gospel

This week I've spent a good deal of time thinking about marriage. (And no, before anyone asks, not about getting married, but about marriage in the abstract.) You see, one of my tasks this week was to draft a statement of the doctrinal position of the Apostolic Church on marriage, which, naturally enough, required a bit of thought about marriage. Anyway, the draft has been sent off to committee now to make its way to May Council, but writing it has forced me to think theologically about marriage. You see, generally I, and probably most other pastors, tend to think about marriage pastorally. We help people prepare for marriage, we marry people, we pray for marriages, and we sometimes get called in for pastoral help when things aren't going well. So those are the sort of practical, pastoral things we tend to think about when it comes to marriage. But the Bible takes rather a different approach. Yes, there's practical and pastoral stuff in there about marriage, but the Bible

The Life in Christ and Apostleship

Paul starts off his second letter to Timothy with the greeting, 'Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus' (2 Tim. 1:1). Now, we can be very tempted to almost skip over such greetings - 'it's just Paul saying hello again,' we often think. But all Scripture is inspired and profitable (as Paul tells Timothy later on in this letter - 2 Tim. 3:16), even the greetings in the letters. And this particular greeting in this particular letter tells us something important about the nature of Paul's apostleship. Well, first off, what's really clear and obvious here is that Paul's apostleship is 'by the will of God'. In other words, Paul hasn't set himself up as an apostle. It's not a career-choice that Paul made, but rather the call of God. And it's not simply a choice of the church. The church didn't just say, 'Oh, you know what, we could be doing with an apo

Law, Gospel and the Good Samaritan

We love to identify with characters in the Bible. We love to find ourselves in the story. But do we always find ourselves in the right place? Just think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, I think we'd all agree that we're not supposed to identify with the robbers. And surely we're not meant to see ourselves as the priest or Levite either (after all, they don't come out of this story looking too well). So who does that leave for us to identify with? And immediately we jump in and cast ourselves as the Good Samaritan. To be fair, we don't need an awful lot of encouragement to do so, for the expression 'good samartian' has become such a part of our language and culture, that it would be really odd not to see ouIrselves as the 'good samaritan.' After all, charities and hospitals are named after the good samaritan. Everyone in this country knows what a good samaritan is - a good helpful person, the sort of person we should all be! And so we all