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Christmas for the Suffering: Holy Innocents

Today is the fourth day of Christmas, which means it’s the day on which we traditionally remember the bit of the Christmas story everyone wants to forget. For the 4th day of Christmas is Holy Innocents day, a day when the church remembers Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem in his bloodthirsty attempt to get rid of the One who was born King of the Jews, and secure Jesus’ throne for himself (Matthew 2:16-18).

When the wise men came to Herod asking about the One born King of the Jews, Herod knew exactly what they meant, for ‘he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him’ (Mt 2:3). We can see that he knew God’s Word about the coming King, because he knew to ask the chief priests and scribes ‘where the Christ was to be born’ (Mt 2:4). Herod’s sin lay in His reaction to this Word of the Lord. How? Well, what is sin? Sin is the opposite of faith: it’s not trusting in Christ and His Word. And all of Herod’s actions in the rest of the passage are driven by His opposition to the W…

Keeping the Pastoral Promise: A Reflection on the Sufficiency of Scripture & the Ordination Vow

The last few weeks have been filled with farewells. Three assemblies have now sung ‘God be with you till we meet again.’ Overnight I went from being the Minister of Word and Sacrament of a specific local church to a pastor without the pastoral responsibility of a particular assembly. Now that my former assembly responsibilities are gone, that’s made me think about what my responsibility is now. You see, I come from a tradition where being a pastor (or an ordained teacher as well in my case) isn’t just a temporary function or job. When you’re ordained as a pastor, you then ‘are’ a pastor. So, I need to think about what my responsibilities are as a pastor without the responsibility of an assembly.

But how? Well, my solution was to get out my Ministers’ Manual (which is basically our liturgy book) and re-read and reflect on my ordination vows. A vow is a promise, and so it should be remembered and kept. We’d be amazed if anyone forgot their wedding vows! And an ordination vow is just as …

Praying Always (Part 5): Tozer on Continual Communion in Prayer

A.W. Tozer’s name is well-known by Evangelicals around the world today. Yet, Tozer wasn’t a celebrity pastor, constantly making the rounds of the conference circuit. First and foremost, Tozer was a man who loved to spend time with God in prayer and meditation. And he was a man who believed strongly in the importance of unceasing prayer.

Tozer explained what it means to pray without ceasing by drawing on definition from Dr Max Reich: ‘Praying without ceasing [is] a continual, humble communion with God, day and night, under all circumstances, the pouring out of my heart to God in continual unbroken fellowship.’ (from Tozer’s article ‘The Church is on a Stormy Sea’, in Faith Beyond Reason).

But, if we’re to know this continual communion with God in prayer, then we need to be aware of, and deal with, the problem of distraction:

Whatever excites the curiosity, scatters the thoughts, disquiets the heart, absorbs the interests or shifts our life focus from the kingdom of God within us to …

Infinite, the Trinity's Loving: 2 Pentecostal Songs on the Trinity, the Eternal Purpose, and the Covenant of Redemption (by D.P. Williams)

There aren't all that many contemporary worship songs about the Trinity, the Eternal Purpose, or the Covenant of Redemption. To be honest, there aren't many older choruses either, and most people would be surprised to discover they were incredibly important themes in the early Pentecostal worship of the Welsh-speaking Apostolics. So, here are two Trinitarian hymns that take in these themes which I've translated from the Welsh of D.P. Williams. I've made rough recordings and attached PDFs of the lyrics and chords as well, so that if anyone wants to they can get an idea of the tune. (For one I've used the tune suggested in Molwch Dduw, our Welsh hymnbook, but I couldn't find the suggested tune for the other one, or one that seemed appropriate or usable today in the right metre, so I came up with one myself.)

Infinite the Depths is one of my favourites of D.P. Williams' hymns, taking in the wonder of Christ's atoning work, God's free justification of s…

Praying Always (Part 4): What Martin Luther had to say

Luther said that none of us could say we don't have time to pray without ceasing. Here's how he explained it:

There is no Christian who does not have time to pray without ceasing. But I mean the spiritual praying, that is: no one is so heavily burdened with his labor, but that if he will he can, while working, speak with God in his heart, lay before Him his need and that of other men, ask for help, make petition, and in all this exercise and strengthen his faith.

This is what the Lord means, Luke xviii, when He says, "Men ought always to pray, and never cease," although in Matthew vi. He forbids the use of much speaking and long prayers, because of which He rebukes the hypocrites; not because the lengthy prayer of the lips is evil, but because it is not that true prayer which can be made at all times, and without the inner prayer of faith is nothing. For we must also practise the outward prayer in its proper time, especially in the [Lord's Supper], as this Command…

A Pentecostal goes to some theological conferences: Tyndale Fellowship and EPTA 2018

This last fortnight has been conference time for me, first with the Tyndale Fellowship Conference Christian Doctrine Group in Cambridge, and then the European Pentecostal Theological Association (EPTA) at Continental Theological Seminary (my old institution) in Brussels. This was my first trip to the Tyndale Fellowship Conference and my second to EPTA, and I recommend them both highly. So, I thought I’d tell you a bit about them. (I also gave papers at both conferences this year, so I’ll tell you a bit about that too.)


What did they have in common?

The most obvious commonality is that both are academic conferences. Yet, both are also academic conferences hosted by confessional associations, and so they’re largely (though not exclusively) evangelical affairs. Most attendees are practicing Christians, and so both conferences include daily prayers as well as the academic papers. Both also attract people working in academia as well as those working in church settings, and so, it’s a time …

Praying Always (Part 3): Jesus and the never ceasing prayer life (Andrew Murray)

‘If you try to pray without ceasing because you want to be very pious and good, you will never succeed,’ warns Andrew Murray. There is only one way to a life of unceasing prayer, and it is not found in us, but in Jesus. ‘Christ makes us partakers with Him of His prayer-power and His prayer-life.’ And so it is Jesus who is ‘responsible for our praying without ceasing.’

Murray comes to prayer without ceasing in the last chapter of his classic With Christ in the School of Prayer. There he tells us that in this school:

Christ teaches us to pray by showing us how He does it, by doing it in us, and by leading us to do it in Him and like Him. Christ is everything – the life and the strength – for a never-ceasing prayer life. Seeing Christ’s continuous praying as our life enables us to pray without ceasing.
It is only because Christ’s life is now our life that ‘praying without ceasing can become the joy of heaven here on earth,’ for ‘never-ceasing prayer is the manifestation of the power o…

Praying Always (Part 2): D.P. Williams on Communion with God in the Life of Prayer

Christians are called to a life of prayer. And, D.P. Williams explains, that life of prayer is a life of ‘deeper communion with God.’ Yet, we cannot climb up to communion with God, but can only be welcomed in by God’s grace to us in Jesus and by His Spirit. So, the life of prayer is not our accomplishment, but God’s gift. 

We know that this life of prayer is God’s call to us as Christians. And we know that He alone can give this gift. Therefore, we should pray for prayer! We should cry out ‘for the Holy Spirit to come into your spirit to live the life of prayer and Divine fellowship.’ (Yet, in order to cry to the Lord for this, we must first come to the realisation that it isn’t something we can achieve for ourselves, and so ‘be absolutely broken’.) 
Public prayer in the prayer meeting relies upon the reality of this hidden life of prayer. It’s not wordiness or length or exuberance that makes public prayer real. If those are the things were looking to, then ‘that is not real prayer at…

Praying Always: A Pentecostal Perspective

The Bible tells us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17), ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit’ (Eph. 6:18). Jesus Himself taught ‘that men always ought to pray and not lose heart’ (Lk 18:1). Perhaps, though, we are tempted to skip over the words ‘without ceasing’ and ‘always.’ Surely that’s just impossible anyway, we might think. And yet, it is the plain teaching of God’s Word. Those who trust in Christ are called to ‘pray without ceasing.’

The early Pentecostals saw the importance of this. Ps Arthur Lewis compared prayer to breathing in an article in the Riches of Grace in 1936. ‘Our breathing is normal under ordinary conditions,’ he wrote, ‘but when extra bodily effort is demanded, it deepens, becomes abnormal.’ Ps Lewis used this difference between all-the-time normal breathing and specifically needed abnormal breathing to explain the difference between two types of prayer (which he called prayer and supplication).

‘Prayer is our normal breathing ……

Some Thoughts on Prayer (by D.P. Williams)

1. Before praying for anyone, or any cause, the spirit must be free towards God and Man.

2. We should not talk about any person, without being able to pray for such at the same time.

3. When praying, we should be on our guard not to be the accusers of the brethren. Avoid the spirit of condemnation while praying. It is the devil's work to accuse the brethren.

4. While praying, we ought to know how to deal with the cause of the wrong, then with the effect.

5. While praying, we must be always open to be searched by the Spirit as to our narrow-mindedness, and let Him enlarge our hearts towards all. The throne that we approach is universal. The Holy Spirit in His divine agency is universal, so we much be possessed with a universal heart. We are indebted to all.

6. Prayer must not be pointed at persons, but about persons for their good.

7. Prayer must be definite; never pray at random.

8. We must be prepared to fulfill our own prayers, when the Will of God had revealed in prayer what o…

Free video resource for Baptism & Discipleship

Baptismal classes are one of the best opportunities for giving new believers some basic teaching to prepare them for the Christian life. So here's something I've made to help with that.
People are very happy to come along for a few weeks of classes before they get baptised to make sure they understand what it's all about. And those few weeks of Baptismal preparation also give a great opportunity for some basic discipleship. So, we've put together a series of video teaching and Bible studies to go with them to help you with such a great discipleship opportunity.
The videos teach about baptism, and make sure that new believers have a good grounding in the gospel, as well as introducing some basic foundations of the Christian life and faith. So, for example, in Session 3, when we're talking about the words used at Baptism, we'll think about who our God is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in Session 5 we'll talk about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. 
The ide…

This Blest Cup, My Heart’s Delight: 4 Pentecostal Songs for the Breaking of Bread (by D.P. Williams)

The Breaking of Bread was at the very heart of early Pentecostal piety here in the UK. If you really want to understand the spirituality of the early British Pentecostals, you need to observe them gathered around the Lord's Table. Like Charles Spurgeon before them, they considered the Lord's Supper to be 'the Holy of Holies ... the most sacred meeting-place between our souls and God.' At the Breaking of Bread, they expected to know and enjoy the closest and richest fellowship with Christ.

Of course we don't have a time machine to go back to early Pentecostal Breaking of Bread services. But what we do have are what they've left us written down about the Breaking of Bread, in their teaching, their testimonies, and their hymns.

The great pioneer of the academic study of Pentecostalism, Walter Hollenweger, famously observed that much of Pentecostal theology is passed on not by 'the summa theologica but the song'. 'Hymns,' Hollenweger wrote, 'ar…

Quench Not, Grieve Not: On the Gifts of the Spirit in the Real Life of the Church (Part 1)

Jesus gives a warning in Matthew 7:21-23 to people who seem to know (or at least think they know) all about the gifts of the Spirit. They say to Him, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (Mt 7:22), and He says to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me’ (Mt 7:23)!
These are fearful words spoken by Jesus. And we all want to ensure that they are words we never hear. But, if we don’t want to hear them, then we’d better notice what these words teach us. For these fearful words show us that what is essential is, not prophecies and wonders, but to truly know the Lord and be known by Him. We can never rely on our prophesying (or casting out of demons, or working of wonders); that is not where our hope is found or where our salvation rests. We rely, not on what we have done for Christ, but what He has done for us.
Prophecies and spiritual gifts, then, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, aren’t necessarily a p…

The Mystical Theology of the Pentecostal Church

As good Evangelical Protestants, the early Pentecostals were well aware of (and frequently warned of) the dangers of ‘false mysticisms, carnal visions and dreams’ (D.P. Williams, Herald of Grace 5.7, p.125; cf. 5.11, p.220). Yet, the rejection of false mysticism doesn’t mean the rejection of a mystical theology. This is a point made not only by early Pentecostals, but also by well-respected conservative evangelical figures such as Martyn Lloyd Jones, who wrote:

There are, unfortunately, even many evangelical Christians who deny that God has any direct dealings with men today, and who hold feeling and emotion at a discount. They frequently substitute for true emotion a flabby sentimentalism. They are afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit, and so afraid of certain excesses which are sometimes found in mysticism and in certain people who claim to have unusual experiences of the Holy Spirit, that they ‘quench the Spirit’ and never have any personal knowledge of Christ. Indeed, they often…

Tears at the Table: Symeon the New Theologian and my old Pentecostal Pastor

When I was first called to the pastorate, one of the things I’m glad I did was spend an afternoon with my own first pastor. And I mean very first: he moved away from Londonderry when I was only a few days old. But, before he went, he came up to the hospital to visit the new baby, and convinced the nurses to let him lift me out of the incubator to pray for me because I was sick. And he prayed, and I was healed.

Anyway, one not so summery afternoon in August, 27 years later, we had ice-cream and tea by the Welsh seaside and he told me some wise things for which I am very thankful. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking of one particular thing which he said, as I’ve been reading the same thought from about 1100 years earlier from the pen of Symeon the New Theologian. What observation did an elderly Welsh Pentecostal pastor make in common with a medieval Byzantine monk? ‘Our problem,’ said my pastor, ‘is that there are no longer any tears at the Lord’s Table.’

Symeon would have seen that …

A Pentecostal Easter Hymn

Happy Easter! To celebrate this Easter Monday I've translated an early Pentecostal Resurrection hymn from the original Welsh to English. D.P. Williams, one of the most important leaders in the early days of the Apostolic Church (and British Pentecostalism more widely), wrote hundreds of hymns which were sung for many years by Welsh-speaking Pentecostal churches. Unfortunately, because there aren't many (or perhaps now any??) Welsh-speaking Pentecostal assemblies today, these treasures of early Pentecostal praise have largely been forgotten. So, here's my attempt to recover one of them through a meagre English translation.

1. Christ Jesus came from Heaven,
Stooped even to the grave;
God the Son clothed in our flesh
A multitude to save.
Hosanna! Hallelujah!
Praise to the Lamb of Grace;
Who died for us on Calv’ry
And suffered in our place.

2. Christ Jesus rose triumphant
The third day from the grave.
He death, by death, defeated
From death’s cold chains to sav…

Shepherding our Thoughts to the Good Shepherd

This morning I was struck by an expression in a sermon of one of our most renowned Apostolic preachers, Ian Macpherson. It wasn’t the point of the sermon at all, yet it expressed not only what Ps Macpherson was doing in that particular sermon (‘Jesus is the Atonement’, in None Other Name [London: Epworth Press, 1946], pp.77-84), but also a great deal more about the work of preaching and the nature of pastoral ministry. For, what Ps Macpherson was seeking to do was ‘to shepherd your thoughts’ to Christ and His atoning work. Preaching is not merely the transmission of facts. Nor is preaching the stirring up of emotions. Preaching is a shepherding of the thoughts, and so a shepherding of the heart and soul. That is why preaching is the great work of the pastor.

We live in an age where pastors are constantly tempted to shepherd actions. We might shepherd actions to conform to a vision, or to conform to a moral principle, or to conform to the needs of the team. But, as one of our greatest…