Monday 20 December 2010

The Authority of Scripture:Part 1

It is my endeavour to re-visit the issue of the authority of Scripture because in my many dealings with many people this seems to be a fundamental problem. Sometimes I talk with people and after a while it seems as if we are almost talking about two different forms of the Christian faith. One that accepts and rests upon the Bible as revealed in the 66 books of the Bible and another which gives mental assent to the Bible but these people also seek additional revelations outside of Scripture, such as personal prophecies, dreams and personal opinions. A post-modern view regularly places one's personal opinion above the plain teaching of Scripture. The common expression can be heard; "That is your opinion but I don't agree!". Perhaps a question should be introduced instead, one which the apostle Paul asks in Romans 4:3: 'What does the Scripture say?'

It will be my aim to look briefly in the coming time, at a number of issues that impinge on the authority of Scripture. However the first step to solving a problem is to recognise that there is a problem. Let us ask ourselves: 'Do we accept the full and final authority of Scripture as revealed in the 66 books of the Bible? Are we willing to search the Scriptures concerning all matters of faith and practice? Do we submit to the plain teachings of Scripture, even when it contradicts our own opinions?

In conclusion for this first blog post on this subject, let us hear the teaching of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 where Paul exhorts Timothy to pay heed to the written scriptures:

'... how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work'.

Let us make a New Year's resolution to commit ourselves and submit to, the authority of Scripture!

Friday 10 December 2010

Some Suggested Books for Christmas Presents

The time is drawing near when many of us will unwrap our Christmas presents and what better gift than a quality Christian book, one that is filled with sound doctrine. Here is a list of potential books that you could give some family members of friends.

Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism. A sound panorama of Christian history from 1750-1850 and it will help people to understand the issues that the church faces today. An excellent book, a monument to biblical truth!

Graham Miller, Calvin's Wisdom. An excellent book of pithy quotes from Calvin. An invaluable resource for preachers.

Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision. A heart-warming book of Puritan prayers. This teaches us not just to present a list of requests to the Lord but to fill our prayer with thanksgiving praise and adoration for who God is.

Terry Johnson, The Parables of Jesus. This could be used as a basis for Bible study, family devotions or sermon preparation. As ever Johnson is clear, straightforward, accurate and very readable.

Sing Psalms, Free Church of Scotland. A great resource for recovering the singing of metrical Psalms in modern English.

I hope that this whets your appetite for Christmas shopping.

Kevin Bidwell

Friday 3 December 2010

Burial or Cremation: What does the Bible Teach?

This matter of burial or cremation was forcefully brought to my attention over 15 years ago as my wife and i travelled to The Netherlands for the funeral of my Father-in-law. As I spoke to the undertaker, who was a committed Dutch Reformed Christian, we discussed the matter of burial and cremation. I explained that I did not have a clear view on either and he confronted me in true Dutch style. He asserted that 'Cremation is not Christian!'. Sometimes we need a sharp rebuke to make us think through the issues at hand and as ever must go back to the Scriptures and let God's Word determine our views. This is what I did.

While it is true that burial or cremation does not affect our eternal destiny, because we are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10), the fact remains that the OT and NT saints have consistently practiced the burial of people, who are made in the image of God, in the hope of the future resurrection. A helpful booklet that handles this matter sensitively is published by the Banner of Truth and it is called: Burial or Cremation: Does it Matter? by D. Howard.

It is not co-incidental that God declared to Abraham 'You shall be buried in a good old age (Gen. 15:15)' when God spoke the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. God had spoken: Abraham would be buried! Similarly our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was buried, consistent with the practice of handling the dead, since the beginning. The practice of the burial of the Christian dead appears to be one of obedience to the Bible, a manifestation of our hope in the future resurrection and a sensitive way of handling a loved one who is made in the image of God.

We cannot alter our past practice but I hope that this little blog article stimulates some people to seriously think through this matter in our own generation.

Monday 8 November 2010

Paying Tribute to a Living Preacher: Professor Ted Donnelly

It is a delight for me to write this article, in the hope that our own generation would rediscover the enormous significance of preachers and preaching for the true welfare of God's church. Calvin wrote many years ago that 'nothing is more ruinous to the Church than for God to take away faithful pastors' (Jer. I: 181). It is also true that a godly pastor must also be a preacher, one who can feed the flock of God and evangelise the lost. Sometimes people say that a man is a good pastor but he cannot preach. This kind of thinking is not the biblical pattern for the office of pastor. A pastor must be able to preach and teach!

One such living example of outstanding pastoral preaching is Professor Edward (Ted) Donnelly. While he has written two fine books, both published by the Banner of Truth Trust (Peter: Eyewitness of His Majesty and Biblical Teaching on the Doctrines of Heaven and Hell), he is best known as a preacher. I have had the joy of hearing him on a number of different occasions and in my opinion he is a 'modern day Spurgeon'. Naturally he has his own distinctive style but there is a great sense of being brought in to the presence of God when one sit's under his preaching. Many of his sermons are available on Sermon Audio:

If you are in Northern Ireland then make every effort to visit Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church to hear him in person and to worship with their delightful congregation. The church website is:

Above all, let us pray for a recovery of fine pastoral preaching in our own generation!

Monday 1 November 2010

Paying Tribute to a Living Theologian: Robert Letham

The Reformed world is often known for it's appreciation of it's rich historical heritage but perhaps it is not so well known for it's commendation of living theologians. We thank God for the lives and works of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, Archibald Alexander and many others like them. But who is firmly holding the reformed torch today? I would like to draw your attention to a contemporary living theologian, one whom I know personally.

Rev Dr Robert Letham is currently the Senior Tutor in Systematic and Historical Theology at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) and his profile can be found at this link:

A Presbyterian minister, Bob has served congregations in New Jersey and Wilmington, Delaware, the latter for over 17 years. He has taught theology at London School of Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) and Reformed Theological Seminary (Washington DC/Baltimore). Married to Joan, an American, for 35 years, he has three grown children: two daughters (both married), a son and a grandson. Bob Letham has supervised me through a MTh and PhD since 2007 and therefore I have first-hand knowledge of the man I am commending. Putting this aside, in what way can his writings help the church in 2010/11?

I would like to briefly commend two of Bob's books:

The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, Phillipsburg: P & R, 2007.

This is perhaps the finest book on the doctrine of the Trinity currently available from the reformed constitution of churches. It is an outstanding piece of scholarship, one that is historically rooted, yet connected to the doctrine of the church. In other words, this theology seeks to enrich real churches in the real world of the twenty-first century.

The Westminster Assembly: Reading It's Theology in Historical Context: Phillipsburg: P & R, 2009.

This work seeks to recover the historical context of the vital work of The Westminster Assembly. It is highly readable, informative, helpful and theological necessary.

Bob is a theologian, preacher and churchman. He has written a number of other books, which you can quickly source with a search on google or ABE books.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Comfort for the Mourning

In recent weeks we have suffered bereavement twice as a family. Firstly with the passing of a precious Dutch Christian from London, called Hetty Archbutt, who in her nineties entered 'Immanuel's Land'. She was a key person in my conversion to Christ and we have remained friends ever since and I am thankful that in God's providence, that I have been richly blessed with my Dutch wife, Maria.

A few days ago, James Wheatcroft, one of my uncles, died sooner than expected, though he was in his early eighties. He also was a Christian and there was a marvellous testimony from my auntie, as to how he knew that heaven was his destination, most clearly, especially in his final days. God is faithful to comfort all of his sheep in their final hours of death. As Psalm 23: 1 and 6 tells us: 'The Lord is my shepherd ... goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever'.

However, the Lord also comforts those who are bereaved and I have been ministered to richly in my mourning through the life, example and letters of Samuel Rutherford. Rutherford was exceptionally gifted theologically and he was one of the Scottish divines who worked to produce the Westminster Standards between 1643-7. He was also a pastor, one who had great compassion. A visiting Englishman said of him, that he 'heard a little fair [blonde-haired] man, and he showed me the loveliness of Christ'.

Rutherford wrote in one of his letters (74): 'I see grace grows best in winter'. It is in these winter seasons, especially in mourning, that we taste the sweet grace of Christ afresh. Rutherford's poems and letters are particularly comforting to those people who are grieving. Faith Cook writes; 'it is perhaps true to say that Rutherford excels most when he writes to the bereaved (Faith Cook, Grace in Winter: Rutherford in Verse, Banner of Truth, 1989, 86.)'.

I would highly recommend this book and the letters of Rutherford (which I have not read yet) in preparation for the time when you may find yourself unexpectedly or surprisingly mourning. At times like these we need a book like this already on our shelf, because grieving is not a time that you may feel like shopping for the book on the internet.

Thank God for faithful pastor's of Christ's flock like dear Samuel Rutherford and may we pray for the Lord to raise up men of his calibre in our spiritually thirsty land of the UK again!

Monday 11 October 2010

Remember Your Leaders ...

Hebrews 13:7 teaches us to 'remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith'.

One such 'leader' that I would like to draw your attention to, is the godly example of Archibald Alexander. You may be thinking, 'who is he?'. Alexander is no longer alive, but he is one of those godly men that I personally look forward to meeting in heaven. Dr SInclair Ferguson writes: 'The name [Archibald] "Alexander" is virtually synonomous with the story of the first one hundred years of Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, and is woven deeply into the tapestry of its origin, development, and justly-deserved international fame'.

Alexander was a highly gifted, self-effacing and godly minister, one who devoted much of his life to training the next generation of godly Christian ministers, in his own day.

This gifted man taught his students: 'Cultivate habitually a sense of your own insufficiency' because he believed that this 'much depends on the blessing of God'. He is often filled with great pastoral insight and wisdom. Alexander taught his students that the committed pastor is someone who will exercise 'courtesy or affability'.

If this all-too brief blog posting has whet your appetite, then I highly recommend the following book.

James M. Garretson, Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005.

This book is a mine of precious gold for those called to the office of eldership and preacher.

Monday 4 October 2010

Commending the Heidelberg Catechism

This is a brief blog post to simply commend the reading and studying of the Heidelberg Catechism. It is filled with pastoral warmth, sound theology and pointed application. Here is a sample:

Question 5: Can you live up to all this [the law] perfectly?
Answer: No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbour.

As you can read, it is not written in a post-modern and politically correct style; thankfully.

The best way to find out about this 'gem of a document' is to get hold of a copy (they are quite cheap to buy I may add) from Amazon or elsewhere and just read it.


Monday 27 September 2010

Can we Learn Anything from a Presbyterian Understanding of the Local Church?

There are perhaps four aspects of a Presbyterian pattern for a local church that comprise a compelling argument for this form of a church order. The headings chosen all begin with the letter ‘C’ and this is in some measure coincidental but it does however aid our remembrance. The headings that describe this suggested NT church model are confessional, connectional, church polity and covenantal theology. Let us begin by explaining these terms and their correspondence with the NT.

1. Confessional

The Presbyterian confession of faith for the English speaking world is the Westminster Confession along with the Larger and Shorter Catechism’s. These form a subordinate standard to the Bible but they give a summary of what is believed to be the Apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42). Obviously these documents were not known to the first century apostles and they are not infallible, however the doctrines they contain were known and written about by the early church elders and in a sense these doctrines are infallible. The nineteenth Century theologian Benjamin B. Warfield wrote about these three forms of unity and stated: ‘They are the richest and most precise and best guarded statement ever penned of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world’.[1]
To be reformed means holding to a reformed confession as a basis for church membership, preaching and as a means of interpreting Scripture. It is not uncommon to hear some Christians boldly assert that ‘all I need is the Bible’. It sounds right and yet it is profoundly mistaken because the real question centres on how we interpret the Bible. There are three options when it comes to church tradition. Tradition is something that is seen in a negative light, as if all tradition is ugly and something to be rejected as utterly false. According to Heiko Oberman there are two ways to understand the relation between Scripture and tradition, called Tradition I and Tradition II. [2]
Tradition I is the Reformed principle of Sola Scriptura which accepts the Scripture as the single and unique authority in the church while maintaining a high regard for tradition to learn from the past, so that we can more accurately interpret Scripture. Tradition II would represent the Roman Catholic Church that places church tradition on an equal footing with the Bible. Alistair McGrath observes a third category called Tradition 0 which is a ‘fundamentally individualistic approach to Scripture and tradition’.[3] McGrath explains that this places the ‘private judgement of the individual above the corporate judgment of the Christian church concerning the interpretation of Scripture’ and furthermore he believes it is ‘a recipe for anarchy’.[4]
This poses a searching question for anyone who would claim the name Christian. Which approach to tradition best represents your faith and your church? Presbyterian churches should hold to Tradition I but always need to be aware of the danger of allowing their confession to be exalted above Scripture. However, to live without any confession of faith at all, opens the door to rampant individualism that exalts human opinion above every form of authority.

2. Connectional

A second dynamic attribute of Presbyterianism is labelled as connectionalism. This means that local churches are in some measure inter-connected while maintaining their own identity and local church government. Thomas Witherow explains that there are three forms of church government and writes:
Prelacy is that form of church government which is administered by archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical office-bearers depending on that hierarchy; and is such as we see exemplified in the Greek Church, the Church of Rome, and the Church of England.
Independency is that form of church government whose distinctive principle is, that each separate congregation is under Christ subject to no external jurisdiction whatever, but has within itself—in its office-bearers and members—all the materials of government; and is such as it is present in practical operation among Congregationalists and Baptists.
Presbytery is that form of church government which is dispensed by presbyters or elders met in session, presbytery, synod or general assembly; and are such as presented in Presbyterian Churches.[5]

Undoubtedly God blesses different forms of church government but if we look at the NT it seems there was inter-church connection for ministry, accountability and support. For example the conference in Acts chapter fifteen that discussed doctrinal matters on behalf of local congregations and then Paul’s example in collecting diaconal aid for the saints in Jerusalem and Judea from many Gentile churches (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15: 22-9).
One pastor-theologian has commented that what led him from independency to Presbyterianism was the witnessing of gross injustices without any recourse alongside recognition of the interconnection of the one and many, the particular and universal. It is our contention that a Presbyterian form of church government principles, best represents the NT apostolic pattern.

3. Church Polity

In recent years there has been a lot of debate as to what are ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ doctrines for evangelical unity. While much of this discussion has been valuable it has sadly relegated the doctrine of the church to a position of secondary importance. This may have led some to altogether dismiss this crucial doctrine of which the NT has much to say.
The Presbyterian example that was modelled by the church in Geneva led by John Calvin and others has been replicated all over the world because men believed that a triform church office best represents the NT. This blueprint anticipates the offices of pastor (or minister), ruling elders and deacons. The pastor is primarily responsible as a man called, trained and equipped to lead the spiritual ministry of the church and most especially the preaching of pure doctrine. The elders are men who are to rule alongside the pastor and to oversee the church’s organisation, care and discipline (moral and doctrinal). The deacons do not constitute church rule but they are responsible for practical care and compassion. One of our aims must be faithfulness to Scripture, with an attitude that believes that we cannot improve on God’s plan. Obviously God’s plan will lead to the best care of the church and the best administration of the gospel. This three-fold pattern of church offices held by many Presbyterian Churches seems to faithfully describe the NT model for ministry.

4. Covenantal Theology

One of the exciting marks of Presbyterianism is its relentless pursuit for the accurate exegesis of Scripture and pure biblical theology—both are often sadly neglected in much of the modern church. Presbyterians emphasise a covenantal approach to theology which produces an important lens for biblical interpretation. This approach upholds continuity from Genesis to Revelation and the general view is that there was a covenant of works given to Adam before the fall and then the covenant of grace begins to unfold throughout the Bible, beginning from the first gospel statement in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15). J. V. Vesko explains that this covenant of grace is unfolded in four main covenants: Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic.[6] These covenants point the way to their climax which is the grace and redemption of the New Covenant purchased by Jesus’ own blood (Jer. 31:31-4; 1 Cor. 11:23-5; Heb. 8:1-13).
Four ways in which this covenantal continuity is manifested is in preaching, the law, baptism and the Lord’s Day. In preaching, sermons usually draw on the whole Bible and do not exclusively focus on passages from the NT and exposition should connect the Bible as a whole without apparent contradictions. This also means that the Law and especially the Ten Commandments have an important role for the church’s sanctification, even though we are saved by grace and never by the law. Baptism is administered to infants of believing parents as a connection to the OT covenant sign of circumcision but also to adult believers from non-Christian backgrounds. The Lord’s Day is seen to be a gift from God and this day (Sunday) is set aside for rest and the public worship of God. This is not a legalistic obligation but a joyful gift of the New Covenant that goes back to an ordinance given by God in Creation.


If this outline does not convince you fully, hopefully it will lead many to freshly investigate the importance of the local church to be organised in a way that is ‘decently and in order’ (1 Cor.14:40). Many significant theologians have unreservedly held to a Presbyterian pattern and these have included John Calvin, John Knox, Herman Bavinck, B. B. Warfield and William Hendriksen, to name a few. Presbyterianism is boldly proposed by Witherow who states: ‘Of all the churches now existing in the world, the Presbyterian Church comes nearest to the model of apostolic times’.[7]

However, it must also be stressed that though these principles are gleaned from Presbyterian theology, not all Presbyterian Churches put this into practice. Liberalism and other winds of doctrine have influenced many parts of Presbyterianism as it has many segments of the Christian Church. Additionally it must be pointed out that the Presbyterian Church does not hold the copyright to these ideas because they are believed to be drawn from the Scriptures. For example the concept of connectionalism is something that all churches should seek out to avoid the pitfalls of Independency. We need to be realistic in putting these lessons into practice as we minister in a world of diversity. May this brief paper, at the least, spur us on to place the doctrine of the church to the same place of priority that the NT writers gave it. It was not a secondary non-essential to them and it should not be to us.

[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. II, ed. John E. Meeter, Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973, 660.
[2] R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety and Practice, Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008, 8-11.
[3] Ibid., 27.
[4] Alistair E, McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd ed., Oxford: Blackwell, 1993, 144-5.
[5] Thomas Witherow, The Apostolic Church: Which is it?, Edinburgh: Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1967, 14.
[6] J. V. Fesko, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology, Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2007, 79-81.
[7] Witherow, The Apostolic Church: Which is it?, 76.

Monday 13 September 2010

The Ingredients of Public Worship

Many people ask me the question, 'what does a Presbyterian Church look like in practice?'; and it is perhaps helpful to partially answer this in this blog article. Of course the best way is for people to come and join us for public worship in Sheffield ( on the Lord's Day and we identify eight ingredients for public worship. Let us look briefly at these in turn.

1. A Clear Call to Worship the Triune God in the name of Christ the Mediator.

Our worship services will most often commence with a formal 'call to worship', a call which will include a verse from Scripture but also an exhortation to focus our hearts and minds on the Triune God. Our Lord Jesus Christ remarked to the woman at the well in John 4:22, that 'you worship what you do not know'. We do not want this to be said of ourselves, while pursuing a pattern of biblical and reformed worship and hopefully a clear call to worship minimises this possibility.

2. Public Prayer by the Minister

The public worship service is not an open prayer meeting but prayer should be a dynamic thread throughout the whole service. The organising minister prays publicly on behalf of the congregation as an act of worship, something that should direct our hearts and minds in adoration of God, the confession of sin, the request for forgiveness, along with intercession for God's church and God's world.

3. Congregational Singing

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church and he exhorts them; 'Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart (5:19)'. The New Testament does not teach much about singing. Congregational singing is important but it must not dominate the proceedings at the expense of our next ingredient.

4. The Public Reading of the Scriptures

Need I say more! The public reading of the Scriptures forms a vital aspect of our worship and as the Scripture is read we must anticipate that this is God himself addressing us, from His Holy Word.

5. Preaching

Christ told Peter to 'feed my sheep (John 21:16)'. This is primarily exercised through the expositional preaching of the Word of God which is to be diligently heard by the sheep.

6. Rightly Administering the Sacraments

The two sacraments of the church are baptism and the Lord's Supper. Historically the right administration of these two sacraments has been deemed as the second mark of a true church. Their orderly administration is vital for the correct functioning of a New Testament church.

7. Benediction

Each service will be formally closed with the use of a benediction. The benediction is the pronouncement of the blessings of God that are made available to the church, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Examples from the New Testament are: Romans 16:25-7; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Hebrews 13:20-1.

8. Sunday is the Lord's Day

The whole day is ordained by the Head of the Church, as a day for the public and private exercises of God's worship, for the spiritual profit of the saints and the glory of God'. Hopefully this day should be a 'foretaste of glory divine.

These eight ingredients have been explained only very briefly, but at least this blog article introduces us to the crucial matter as to the importance of what happens in the public worship of God, by Christians.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Sheffield Presbyterian Church

We are delighted to announce that from Sunday September 19th, 2010, that public worship services will commence. A church planting Bible study has been meeting in our home where we continue to discuss the Scriptures especially in the light of the Westminster Standards (the confession, the larger and shorter catechisms).

The Meeting Times:

10.00am Sunday School
The Larger Catechism for Adults
The Child's and Shorter Catechism for the instruction of children

11.00am Lord's Day morning worship

4.00pm Lord's Day evening worship

The Meeting Place:

The Source at Meadowhall, Sheffield (rooms 15 and 16) and the website for directions is

This new church plant is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales ( We are currently building our website which should be ready, Lord willing, toward the end of the summer and the address is:

Dr Kevin Bidwell
Church Planter with EPCEW

Thursday 22 July 2010

Some Suggested Books for Reading Over the Summer

Here are four books for suggested reading. They have blessed me and often the summer is a time of the year when people are able to find some extra time for personal and devotional reading.

Book One: Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark
This book was one of my favourite books in 2009. The author is incisive in pinpointing a contemporary church illness; the neglect of reformed confessions. Challenging and stimulating, but it needs concentration.

Book Two: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
This book is intensely pastoral and it may help those who have been bruised or for those who are helping those Christians who are bruised. Richard Sibbes 'never wastes the student's time' wrote C. H. Spurgeon, 'he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands'.

Book Three: The Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Worship (published by Christian Focus)

This book was another one of my favourite books in 2009. It has a range of contributors who each explain different facets of the regulative principle of worship. Some authors do not agree with each other on every point but this makes the book all the more stimulating. It will help many, but especially those who need a clearer vision of biblical worship.

Book Four: The Westminster Assembly by Robert Letham

This book combines church history, British history and theology magnificently. Maybe I am biased because Dr Letham was my supervisor for my MTh dissertation and my PhD. None the less this book is valuable and it uncovers the richness of the much neglected Westminster theology of the Westminster divines from the seventeenth century.

Happy summer reading!

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Some Advice When Going to Bible College

Recently a young man who I know from Germany contacted me. He wanted some advice because he is going to Bible school in Germany in September to prepare for the pastorate. His questions are helpful and my answers to him may benefit some who are already studying theology or those will be in the future.

Question 1: What general advice on going to Bible college can you give me?

Never forget that it is the Holy spirit who ultimately unlocks the treasures of the gospel, therefore critically assess all you read and hear but with a teachable spirit. Pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:17f) throughout your whole studies and indeed your whole life. Psalm 25:14, 'the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant'.

A further comment is that you should take the biblical languages seriously. Give Hebrew and Greek 100% of your effort and see this as an investment for the years ahead!

Question 2: What are some dangers I should be aware of? How can I deal with them?

You must never forget that pride is perhaps the number one danger in ministry and what is worse is not being aware of the danger of pride. Theological knowledge can be dangerous so pray for a humble mind. The apostle Paul reminds us when he wrote 'knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1)'.

Question 3: How can I practically connect academic and spiritual life?

I think by asking your pastor to take you under care throughout the whole process and to be asked for opportunities to grow in practical theology during your training. This should include not just preaching but all aspects of Christian ministry. Many people overlook the importance of inter-personal skills in Christian ministry. Consider how you could get feedback in this area of your life during the Bible college training also.

Question 4; What are some good study habits you can suggest?

Firstly get to know yourself. Are you a morning or evening person? It is difficult for me to fully answer this without superimposing onto you what works for me. However the art of good time management is crucial and therefore constantly evaluate your use of time critically; daily, weekly and monthly.

Question 5: In what areas did you feel that Bible College did not educate you where it was needed? As a pastor?

Perhaps three areas come to mind. As I have already mentioned inter-personal skills are often over-looked. Also practical theology can be neglected and this is where you need your pastor to mentor you. Perhaps the significance of the office of pastor and ecclesiology in general is often downplayed but maybe this is just my personal experience.

Question 6: What books, authors would you suggest for this time? Who are the really valuable, deep, long-lasting authors?

Without a doubt you should study the Westminster Standards; that is the Westminster Confession, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. I recommend that you memorise the 107 questions and answers in the Shorter Catechism. As regards theologians and authors there is none better than Calvin, especially his commentaries. Read Calvin much, in fact very much. You will be blessed and instructed but what is more you will become a better minister of the gospel.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Sheffield Presbyterian Church

We are delighted to announce that from Sunday September 19th, 2010, that public worship services will commence. A church planting Bible study has been meeting in our home where we continue to discuss the Scriptures especially in the light of the Westminster Standards (the confession, the larger and shorter catechisms).

The Meeting Times:

10.00am Sunday School
The Larger Catechism for Adults
The Child's and Shorter Catechism for the instruction of children

11.00am Lord's Day morning worship

4.00pm Lord's Day evening worship

The Meeting Place:

The Source at Meadowhall, Sheffield (rooms 15 and 16) and the website for directions is

This new church plant is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales ( We are currently building our website which should be ready, Lord willing, toward the end of the summer and the address is:

Dr Kevin Bidwell
Church Planter with EPCEW

Tuesday 6 July 2010

The New Covenant Commission

Read Matthew 28:16-20

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace and in this passage we read of the commission that he gives to his eleven men. These men he had trained, discipled and equipped to continue the work of the gospel, as shepherds under the chief Shepherd. This appointed meeting took place in Galilee, sometime between the resurrection and the ascension. It is worth noting that this appointed commissioning meeting is one that is collegial not individual, with collective responsibility for what Christ is about to tell them.

From this passage we want to focus on three things;

Firstly that our Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church;
Secondly by looking at the commands that are at the heart of this commission.
And thirdly to conclude with some final encouragement.
Hopefully we will all receive pastoral encouragement from this passage in order that we may leave today with a renewed vision for this great task of gospel ministry.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church

Christ had executed his earthly ministry as prophet, priest and king.
As prophet he had revealed the ‘whole will of God’ concerning salvation.

As our merciful and faithful high priest he had made propitiation for the sins of his people (Heb. 2:17). This included his perfect, active obedience of the law of God and he had taken the guilt, shame and punishment of law-breaking in his own body on the tree. Through his triumphant bodily resurrection from the dead, he was declared to be the ‘Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4)’.

Christ executes the office of king ‘by subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining his and our enemies’ but also by ‘powerfully ordering all things for his own glory’ (WLC, Q 45).

In verse 16 we read that the eleven disciples went to the mountain in Galilee that ‘Jesus had directed them’ to. The Lord Jesus as the head of the church, models the principle of doing ‘all things decently and in order’. He had already told them in advance before his crucifixion in Matthew 26: 32, 'But after I am raised up I will go before you to Galileee'.

Also in the midst of the emotional turmoil of the events surrounding his crucifixion, an angel of the Lord at the empty tomb, graciously reminded the two Mary’s to tell the disciples and he said: ‘Behold he is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him’ (Matt 28:7). The risen Christ then appeared to the women as they were running to tell the disciples and Christ said to them: ‘Do not be afraid: go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’ (Matt 28:10).
This meeting in Galilee between Christ and his disciples was no ordinary meeting.

In verse 17, Matthew records that when the Eleven did see him ‘they worshipped him, but some doubted’. There are different views on this passage but it records the fact of the situation and it provides pastoral encouragement to us all. How often our own worship is tarnished by doubts and how we can all relate to the man in the gospel’s, the father of the boy who was being convulsed, who then cried; “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Jesus did not rebuke them but he came to them and gave words of great comfort.

In verse 18 Christ declares: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’. This was not a new revelation because the Eleven had witnessed first hand that he had power over the ‘wind and waves’, the laws of gravity, sickness and demons, and now with his resurrection even death itself. In Matthew 11: 27 Christ had taught them that ‘all things have been handed over to me by my father’; he had proclaimed that he would ‘build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it’; and in the Garden of Gethsemane at his arrest he had explained that ‘more than twelve legions of angels could be sent at once by his Father (Matt 26:53)’.

Let us stop, pause and meditate on the extent, the magnitude and the majesty of the authority of our head of the church; none other than the Lord Jesus Christ! This is most likely related to the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision in Chapter Seven;

I saw in the night visions and behold with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the ancient of days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him (7:14).

The commission that Christ now gives to his disciples flows from the finished work of the exalted Christ and Psalm 110:1 especially comes to mind: The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool’.

The New Covenant Commission (or Great Commission)

What are the instructions given in this great commission or ‘new covenant commission’? There are four main directions given by Christ to his men and these are ‘going’; ‘making disciples of all nations’; ‘baptising’; and ‘teaching’.

A. Going
This is connected to the ‘making of disciples’ of all nations. They were not expected to stay on this mountain in Galilee for quiet devotion but they were commanded to go even to the ‘ends of the earth’. These instructions were not passive but they required an obedience that is outward-moving, dynamic and extending to all nations. This is no static commission; and truly it takes faith to obey Christ.

Today in the UK in 2010 we have ‘all nations’ on our doorstep and irrespective of their apparent resistance to the gospel, we are lovingly to pray for a harvest among them so that our churches can represent the cities where we live.

B. Making Disciples
While it is true that the main imperatival force lies in ‘making disciples’ this task is interwoven into everything else that Christ requires of his apostles. The context of the passage means that these four key activities are inseparable; and this also reminds us of the central themes of Christian ministry.

What is a disciple? A disciple is a learner and a follower. Disciples of Christ joyfully take ‘his yoke upon them’, they are to ‘learn from Christ’, they ‘find rest for their souls’ (Matt. 11:28-30) and in their following him, their aim is to be like him (Matt 10:24).
Christ has given himself as a ‘ransom’ and he has purchased the church with his own blood, therefore those who engage in this honorable task of ‘making disciples’ need encouragement and but also a reminder of the gravity and soberness of this ongoing work.

Making disciples involves the application of truth for the whole of life and all of a disciples life.

C. Baptising
The sacraments are at the heart of this commission. Our Lord had instituted the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26 and now the second sacrament of the new covenant is to be seen as integral to the churches responsibility, namely baptism. While the Lord’s Supper particularly celebrates our ‘union and communion with Christ’, our baptism declares our ‘ingrafting into Christ’, our partaking in the benefits of the covenant of grace and our engagement to to be the Lord’s.

Note that the Triune God is an unbreakable thread in every stage of redemption, not least the ongoing ministry of Christ, through the church. It is the singular name and the three persons each have the definite article; the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our God is unique and distinct from all other gods. One God, Three persons, of the same substance, equal in power and glory. Our leading of disciples to worship the Triune God publicly, in the mediation of Christ alone, is something vital to the making of disciples in the church of God.

D. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
This teaching is not to be theoretical but it must lead to practical holiness; ‘Obeying all I have commanded you’.
Teaching ‘all I have commanded you’: Other phrases are used elsewhere in the NT to lay stress on the importance of not leaving out vital aspects of biblical teaching. In Acts Chapter Two the Jerusalem Church devoted themselves to ‘the apostles’ doctrine’ (Acts 2:42); Paul spoke of not shunning to declare ‘the whole counsel of God’ to the Ephesian Church elders (Acts 20: 27). This is why the Westminster Standards are so valuable to us and it does not pay us to neglect their clarity of expression. Also we can study the standards to examine ourselves that we are not missing out vital aspects of gospel doctrine. For example we may read the Standards afresh and realise that it has been a long time since the doctrine of adoption has come through in a sermon.

Calvin in writing his dedicatory epistle to his commentary on the book of Acts maintains this aspect of the Great Commission and he asserts that ‘purity of doctrine is the soul of the church ... discipline ... the sinews (Acts I: xxi).

3. Final Encouragement

The apostle Paul asks the rhetorical question: ‘Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor. 2:16)’. I certainly feel my great inadequacy as I write this article. We all go through different seasons in life and ministry, faithfully plodding on ‘in season and out of season’. However let us remind ourselves today of this mighty covenant promise or rather covenant certainty: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’. These words would no doubt have been ringing in the disciples’ ears that night, as they put their heads on the pillow to try to sleep. ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’.
No matter what circumstances you are in today in your church this covenant promise is heart-warming. If you need wisdom for a new building due to recent growth, Christ says ‘I am with you always’ and he will guide you. Perhaps you face a different situation and you are fed up with persistent pastoral problems, a lack of converts and on top of that constant financial pressure, be reminded Christ is with you always! In all of our feelings of weakness, inadequacy and insufficiency the apostle Paul also adds that ‘our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor. 3:5)’.

Finally, no matter what ministerial pressure or discouragement you face, our ‘slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17)’. This promise is eternal ‘even to the end of the age’ and therefore it points us to the new heaven and the new earth.

As you finish reading this article today, I hope that you will mediate on this promise ‘I am with you always even to the end of the age’. Christ is our Immanuel in the church today, in our continuation of Christ’s ministry on earth, but also for all eternity, he will never leave us or forsake us.

Monday 14 June 2010

Book Review: 'Against the Tide' by Miroslav Volf

Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities
Miroslav Volf
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 2010,
211pp, paperback,
ISBN: 978 0 8028 6506 9

Miroslav Volf is a distinguished scholar. He is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and he is the director of the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture. His theological trajectory includes being the son of a Pentecostal pastor in Novi Sad (former Yugoslavia) during the communist regime of Marshall Tito; he gained a BA at the Evangelical–Theological Faculty in Zagreb, Croatia; an MA at Fuller Theological Seminary; and Dr Theol., at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

It is well known that he is a close friend to his mentor and research supervisor, Professor Jürgen Moltmann. Arguably, Moltmann provides one of the most significant influences upon Volf’s thinking and two theological impulses that run through his writings are the themes of liberation and the Trinity. These themes are particularly expressed in Volf’s books Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996), winner of the 2002 Grawemeyer Award; and After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (1998), winner of the Christianity Today award. Additionally, Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2005) attains the esteem of being the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official, 2006 Lenten book.

Against the Tide reads as a collection of loosely tied, short (two to three pages) devotional essays, which are systematised into nine broad categories. As a Yale scholar, Volf leads a ‘less than ordinary life’ and these essays are peppered with stories from around the globe. Illustration material is drawn from skiing trips, visits to Jerusalem, India, Jordan and the Balkans, a research sabbatical in Tübingen, and inter-faith dialogue meetings. Volf states that his overall aim in this book is what he calls ‘project love’ (x–xii), where he seeks to expound on this single divine attribute, so that Christians can ‘reflect’ in their ‘lives, the love that God is’ (xi).

‘God and the Self’ (1–20) is the first heading. In the six discourses that follow, Volf attempts to magnify the attribute of love at the exclusion of other divine characteristics such as mercy, righteousness, wrath, truth and grace, none of which are adequately handled. (Volf does mention God’s wrath later in the book and he expounds; ‘God’s wrath is nothing but God’s stance of active opposition to evil’ (30). This re-interpreted notion deserves further critical scrutiny.) It is immediately evident that Volf is well-read and he refers to Søren Kierkegaard (5), Antonio Salieri (6), Martin Luther (9), and Friedrich Nietzsche (12). The last essay of this sub-section is entitled ‘Dancing for God’; this metaphor deserves further comment because it appears to be gaining ground in some circles. For example Timothy Keller writes of ‘The Dance of God’ in The Reason for God (Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, 213–26).

The theological origin of this ‘dancing for God’ metaphor is not revealed in this book but it actually derives from feminist re-envisioning of God. Patricia Wilson-Kastner proposes that the ‘Greek word—perichoresis—signifies a dance around; and at the root of the theological term perichoresis is the image of dancing together’. Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel affirms this idea: She states that Wilson- Kastner ‘sees in the Trinitarian conception of perichoresis (dance, intermingling) of persons in the image of dance a confirmation of feminist conceptions of relationships and mutuality in the most beautiful way’. Volf endorses the need to highlight the femininity of the Holy Spirit (Exclusion and Embrace, 169) in his egalitarian Trinity; one that downplays monotheism and squeezes his Trinitarian paradigm into the all-controlling concept, for him, of perichoresis (After Our Likeness, 208–20).

An early warning needs to be sounded. In this first section it becomes evident that Volf’s methodology lacks biblical exegesis and this style continues throughout this monograph. Theology without thoroughgoing biblical exegesis moves the church into hazardous waters.

A second set of nine articles are gathered under the umbrella ‘The Reality of Evil and the Possibility of Hope’ (21–49). In many ways this kind of theme is a real strength, both in this book and in a range of Volf’s other writings. His personal experience of hate and ethnic cleansing in his native Balkans has prepared him so that he can adequately proclaim this important message of forgiveness in the face of impossible hostility. He persistently calls for reconciliation and forgiveness, something which inevitably involves ‘loving the evildoer’ (28). He also critiques the potential selfishness that can often hide behind the ‘all-American dream’ and he states that such dreams, ‘without God’, are ‘nothing but self-contradictory and unrealizable’ (43). He calls Americans back to God and he writes that ‘Augustine and [Jonathan] Edwards believed that if the world is to be enjoyed, it must be enjoyed in God’ (43).

In the following section on ‘Family Matters’ (51–76), Volf make his unashamed claim for egalitarianism which he anticipates for marriage. While many may beg to differ with his conclusions on biblical and exegetical grounds (Eph. 5:21–33; Col. 3:18–22), Volf inserts the significant clause that ‘egalitarianism in and of itself will not make a marriage thrive’ (53). These articles continue to display a style which protests against much in Western or rather American culture, and the call ‘rings out’ for Christians to swim ‘against the tide’ of inherent selfishness. However, each essay, though rich in devotional thought, lacks argumentation that is undergirded with sound exegetical evidence. Most Christians who stress a high value on the authority of scripture will therefore, legitimately, find this book troubling.
Two sections follow on from this line of thought, ones that deal with the ‘Church’ (77–102)’ and ‘Mission and Other Faiths’ (103–28). Here we begin to see Volf’s current line of theological emphasis come to the surface; namely inter-faith dialogue (113, 123). He mourns the ‘loss of biblical literacy in the West’ (81) while simultaneously writing a book that lacks biblical engagement. Volf promotes the notion of women’s ordination (85–88) without qualification and he reminds readers of his unchanging vision that he maps out in his own book (After Our Likeness). This ideal seeks to develop a Trinitarian, non-hierarchical understanding of the church (98), within an ecumenical context (100–102).

The remaining chapter headings are: ‘Culture and Politics’ (129–63); ‘Giving and Forgiving (165-80)’; ‘Hope and Reconciliation’ (181–206); and ‘Perspective’ (207–11). In these essays he makes a number of valid critiques concerning the direction that Western civilisation is generally heading and many of them will resonate with readers who hold a Christian worldview.

Unfortunately though, Volf’s pursuit of inter-faith dialogue has led him to re-think fundamental doctrines and this causes him to propose bewildering assertions. He declares ‘God is the Holy Trinity, but also … the God whom Muslims worship as Allah’; and he asserts that ‘to speak in a Christian voice’ is not to make ‘exclusively Christian claims in distinction from all other religions’ (124–5). While he may gain an audience within politically correct circles that are trying to grapple with religious pluralism, one wonders how the son of a Pentecostal minister has arrived at his current position. The Lord Jesus Christ is clearly at odds with Volf when he states: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’ (Jn 14:6).

Volf’s newly released book comprises sixty-five essays (including the introduction) and it will give the reader a window into politically correct academic theology that is currently being spawned at the highest level in the United States. The Yale Divinity School may be able to court the favour of politicians, such as the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who teaches for them (, or they may attempt to find ‘A Common Word’ between the three monotheistic world religions, ( but Volf will find the task of convincing Christians who earnestly and regularly read their Bibles more difficult. If you set out to read this book, perhaps you would do well to read the Gospel of John first and see how Christ is presented in His uniqueness, majesty and glory, as the ‘Saviour of the World’ (4:42), the ‘Bread of life’ (6:48), and the only hope for sinners who remain under the righteous judgment of God.

Kevin J. Bidwell has completed a PhD, in 2010, at the University of Wales (Lampeter) and the dissertation title is: ‘The Church as the Image of the Trinity’: A Critical Evaluation of Miroslav Volf’s Ecclesial Model. He is commissioned as a church planter to the city of Sheffield by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales. He is married to his Dutch wife Maria and they have two daughters, Melody and Rivka.

Friday 4 June 2010

Is the Local Church Important to You?

Quite often on this blog, I ask questions and I think that this may be connected to the value that I place on Reformed catechisms. The Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms use a 'question and answer' teaching method and this is every effective! Asking the right questions can often lead people to seek for truth.

In many circles today the value that is placed on the local church is undermined. Through various means, probably not always intentional, the church is not always seen as the mainstream of God's plan in the world. Missions for example is commonly seen as belonging to a missions agency and people forget that the local church is itself mission.

Through sustained criticism of the state of the church in the UK, some people withdraw from fellowship, preferring to feed themselves through internet sermons and they become a kind of 'self-feeding' Christian. However in a New Testament and biblical sense, Christian's are always committed to the local church. So, are you?

One of my desires in this blog is the recovery of Reformed doctrine and practice; something that should be thoroughly biblical. For this to happen there has to be a recovery of many things. This includes the recovery of the importance of the local church in our lives. May we cry out to the Lord of the harvest to thrust out godly pastors in England so that a host of godly congregations can be seen where the preaching is pure, the worship is God-centred (Is there any other kind of worship?) and the lost are evangelised. Let us listen to Jesus, the head of the church:

Matthew 9:36 Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
37 Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
38 "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."

Let us pray for a fresh commitment to the church by Christians and for the raising up of godly shepherds who are sent forth by the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Is the Church a Wax Nose?

This may seem like a strange question. However, I have to say that wherever I go there seems to be much confusion not only in Protestantism but in evangelicalism as to the purpose and plan of the church. For many, the church is treated like a 'wax nose'; something to be moulded into whatever shape people desire.

For some, this means the church is to be shaped around all-out evangelism, for others the church becomes a centre of social activity, while some leaders openly treat the church as a platform to fulfil their lustful desires for success, wealth or even fame.

My last article on this blog focussed on the three marks of the church. A friend of mine asked me to give more information recently and so I would like to direct the readers to a number of books to explore this matter of the church further.

These are;

John Calvin,The Institutes,Book IV, Chapters 1-3.
Edmund Clowney, The Church
R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ

May the importance of the church awaken in our hearts and minds. There is a clear apostolic plan laid down in the Scriptures for the doctrine, public worship, government and order of the Church of God. Therefore, the church should not be treated as a 'wax nose' to be shaped according to man's personal preferences. Note it is the 'church of God', not the 'church of man's organisation'; we must be cautious lest we face the judgement of God for treating the Church of Christ as ours.

May we all cry to the Lord, in all humility for a mighty awakening in the church, so that we comprehend the importance of the church to God, and his plan of redemption in the world. Here are a few key Bible verses in conclusion.

Matthew 16:17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it".

Colossians 1:18 And He [Christ] is the head of the body.

1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth.

Monday 17 May 2010

Looking for a Church? Some Things to Consider

It is surprising that when some people move house that they do not look for the right church before moving in to a particular area. They often just assume that there will be the right church at the end of their new road all ready to service their every spiritual need. Maybe this is a little sarcastic but many a family have ended up in a spiritually barren place through failing to adequately research this question before buying a house. So, what do we look for in a new church?

If I were to ask people to make a list of what they desire of their new church it would be interesting to think what would be on the list. What would be on your list? Maybe a friendly environment, lively worship, a good youth programme, a church in your community so that you can reach out to people or perhaps a pastor who is a good communicator. While these may have their place, they are not primary. Overall in England today we face real confusion over a single question: What is a church? A church is not a social club that meets my needs, but it is firstly a place to worship the one, true and living God. The reformers in the 16th Century in battling with the false worship of the Roman Catholic Church had to contend that there are three things that mark out a true church and these are:

1. The preaching of pure doctrine which is heard, loved and acted upon by the congregation
2. The right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper
3. Church order and discipline (moral and doctrinal)

Maybe some think that this is a little heavy but if we are concerned for the spiritual condition of our nation we should also be concerned for the spiritual condition of ourselves and the church we worship at. Listen to Acts 2:42:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Notice the divine order; they devoted themselves first to the apostles’ teaching (this is pure doctrine) which is the first mark of the church and this precedes a friendly atmosphere. We need apostolic doctrine; and this may mean that we cannot find a church at the end of our road and we have to travel. Additionally we need to pray for the Lord to raise up many new churches in the UK which will faithfully pursue and display these marks of the church. For this to happen we will need to see a host of new godly pastors to emerge which is exactly what the Lord Jesus told us to pray for:

Matthew 9:36–8 Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."

Let us pray for and support churches that display these three marks of a true church because this is where the sheep should be best cared for, under the hand of godly under-shepherds. Maybe next time you are looking for a new church, think through again the kinds of questions you need to ask of a future church that you would consider joining.

Monday 26 April 2010

Some Lessons from Presbyterians in the Southern Part of the USA

I have just returned from three and a half weeks of ministry in the Southern part of the USA (Georgia and Mississippi, especially). The purpose of the visit was to sow the vision that in 2010, England is a mission field! I particularly worked with the conservative wing of the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America).

Here are three websites of churches that I worked with and there are a number of resources available through the website:

There are many lessons for all of us, not just from the activity in the congregations but from the Christians I met. I experienced perhaps the best hospitality in the world, generosity of spirit, serious-mindedness and warm-hearted fellowship. No matter what your stereotype of American Christians may be, let me tell you that we can all learn lessons from Presbyterians in the Southern part of the USA.


So many people I met with, were quite simply modern Puritans in their sincere approach to take Christ and the gospel seriously. What a role model in an age where superficiality is sadly all-too common in sections of the professing church.


A warm-heartedness was often combined with a serious commitment to biblical doctrine; this left a wonderful fragrance. The two need to go together and I certainly witnessed that in way that was exemplary.


What generous people! It is simply part of them and it was in no way forced: I am sure that these qualities are the fruits of the gospel. Paul writes this to the church in Corinth:

2Corinthians 8:7 ¶ But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.
8 I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

And again we see the example of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Acts 20:35 "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"


Hospitality was another mark of God's grace that I observed. Again, the New Testament teaches that this gift is essential to healthy Christianity.

Romans 12:13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.


Last but by no means least, I witnessed terrific humility among many saints. I saw very able businessmen and in some cases multimillionaires, welcoming people into the church on Sundays. There was a joy in this service as opposed to people wanting to perform tasks that may appear more grand to some. In Presbyterian churches the only men who lead the public worship of God are ordained ministers and elders and yet these able men were not frustrated because they could not occupy a public or prominent church role. What a testimony!

Again the apostle Paul counsels all of us in Romans 12:3:
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

May we all learn from these five lessons and pray for them in our own lives and the church where we are members. These lessons are: Serious-mindedness; warm-heartedness; generosity; hospitality; and humility.

Monday 29 March 2010

What is Worship (Part Two)?

A theology of worship is necessary for churches to re-think how their theology informs their architecture, furniture, room layout, the administration of the sacraments and church government. Everything we do is an image of something, either consciously or unknowingly. Edward Donnelly explains that for the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland, their theology guides their design of church buildings, so that the pulpit is central, to signify that the Word of God rules over everything. Beneath the pulpit and in permanent full view before the congregation is the Lord’s Table, with the communion plate, the communion cup, and the baptismal bowl. Michael Horton similarly observes that worship is not neutral and he writes:
The Reformation, in its recovery of the preached Word, gave a fresh visual prominence to the pulpit. Along with the font (baptism) and the table or altar (the Lord’s Supper), the high pulpit stood over the people as the minister himself stood under the Word that he preached.

These are some of the visual aids that the Westminster Confession of Faith permits, while excluding others.
The Westminster Larger Catechism expounds the Second Commandment, as expressly forbidding any ‘monuments of idolatry’ and it condemns the worship of images as false worship, describing them as ‘not instituted by God himself’. It condemns ‘the making [of] any representation of God’ or ‘of all or any of the Three Persons’. Donald G. Bloesch explains that the ‘Christian faith is founded on God’s self-revelation in his Word’ and he warns that it is an ‘incontrovertible fact that an image [Ex. 20:4–6; Ps. 78:58; Is. 40:18] invariably gives a false picture of God because it is necessarily limited in what it can denote’.

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship connects the Trinity to Christ as mediator but this idea needs to be further sharpened, advanced and moved further in this direction. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarises the regulative principle for worship:

The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

Seven facets of public worship are gleaned from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship and it is our intention to encourage these elements in the Church of God.They are:

The Christian Sabbath
A Clear Call to Worship the Triune God in the name of God's mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ
The public reading of Scriptures
Congregational Singing (of which the singing of Psalms is singularly encouraged in the writings of the Westminster Confession).
Preaching Pure Doctrine, Pastorally.
The Right Administration of Baptism and the Lord's Supper
A Closing Benediction

Let us all pray for a recovery of biblical worship in the Church of God!

Tuesday 9 March 2010

What is Worship?

This question may seem like a ‘no-brainer’ to most people and it may be the kind of question which is never asked but just simply assumed. However, do we need to ask this question again for the 21st century church?
Recently I was invited to two different services in the same day and after returning from the evening service, a relative commented to me, that he could see on my face that I had enjoyed the evening service: my countenance was obviously different and he could see that. I remarked; “to be honest, you could say that what I have witnessed today, actually represents two different religions!” Yet, both would claim the name Christian, so what was the difference?

In the service in the morning the first thing that struck me as I entered a hired hall with about 300 people and a bustling atmosphere, was the noticeable lack of Bibles. I seemed to be about the only person carrying a Bible to ‘church’ and there were no church Bibles available either. The service commenced in a very casual way with a very professional music team, power point etc. There was almost no reading of Scripture, the majority of the time was spent singing emotional ‘trendy’, supposedly worship songs and the preaching was short and in fact was not preaching. The message was more like a positive pick-me-up for Christians where the Bible was nothing more than a promise box. However this did not seem to worry the congregation. They responded most enthusiastically with more singing, hands raised and then a hot cup of tea/coffee.

This service left me bewildered with many questions and the words of Jesus to the woman at the well sprang to mind: "You worship what you do not know (John 4:22)”.
In the evening I attended a church service that I suppose the morning crowd would consider ‘non-contemporary’, traditional or even boring and out of touch. On a different note I do find that the word ‘contemporary’ is a greatly misused term in evangelicalism, it is often used as a smoke screen to introduce unbiblical worship practices in the name of being relevant. Our aim is not to be traditional or contemporary but rather biblical.

This service began with a clear call to worship based on Psalm 124:8, everything was saturated with Scripture, including Bible readings, the singing of Psalms, the occasional hymn and we sang the Apostles’ Creed. There was a clear order to what we were doing and everything was conducted in a dignified way with a sense of the fear and awe of the God that we worshipped. Needless to say the high point of this worship was a 40 minute exposition of a passage from Luke that was Christ honouring, effectively explained, and it left us contemplating the majesty and beauty of God (not man or what God wants to do for man). Jesus said, “we worship what we know Jn 4:22)”.

Once again I ask the question ‘what is worship?’Hopefully you will see that this question is absolutely a ‘contemporary’ issue and if God permits, I would like to answer that question from the Bible on the next blog. Perhaps this article has most probably highlighted ‘what worship is not’.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Church Planting in Sheffield

On February 1st 2010, I officially began as a church planter for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales ( Durham Presbyterian Church have commissioned us to the work of church planting in Sheffield with the intention of establishing a long term work in the city. The aim and desire is to establish what we hope will become Sheffield Presbyterian Church. Please check out our website for more details:

We have begun a Westminster Bible study in our home for those interested in finding out more about the work. If you are interested then do please contact us.

The distinctive elements of this future church will be:

A Commitment to the Westminster Standards as our confession.

Public worship that seeks to be wholly committed to the expositional preaching of the Scripture.

Pure and simple worship that includes the singing of Psalms/hymns, prayer, preaching, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Hopefully the church will always be outward looking in a nation that is clearly a mission field.

Our desire is that the church will be filled with men, women and children who are serious minded about God and warm hearted at the same time.

Your prayer is valued.


Kevin Bidwell
Church Planter for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales

Friday 22 January 2010

What is Missions?

This is a hugely important question for the church to face because enormous amounts of finance and energy are expended in ways that might not be biblical. Furthermore the constant promotion of ‘new’ church growth methods and church evangelistic movements tend to foster ever-increasing frustration and confusion as their promised methods fail to produce real fruit. So what is missions? I think the apostle gives us a clear answer in Romans chapter 10 which reads:

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?
15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!"
16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?"
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Here Paul raises a logical progression of rhetorical questions which indicate the New Testament plan for missions. The sequence is as follows:

1. Authorised Messengers (who are trained and ordained men).
2. Proclamation (preaching, especially in the context of the church is the primary instrument for the extension of the gospel. Not drama’s, music, plays, healing meetings, Christian TV etc.).
3. Hearing (note the gospel is to be heard, not seen in an audio-visual production).
4. Faith.
5. Calling on the Lord’s name.

This sequence is a challenge to many contemporary mission movements who are often dislocated from the church and they commonly do not see the need for ordained men to carry that message. Instead young people are often sent on short term missions trips with little equipping in the content of the gospel message. Perhaps a major missions rethink is needed and hopefully the passage in Romans 10:13-17 can be a good place to start. Our starting point must always be the Bible and not our private opinions as Paul also wrote in Romans 4:3, ‘For what does the Scripture say?’

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Watch Out for ‘Liberals in Evangelical's Clothing’

Our Lord Jesus Christ warns us repeatedly that we are to be on our guard against deception, false teachers and also wolves who come to devour the sheep. Listen to these warnings:

Mt 24:4-5 ¶ And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many”.

Mt 7:15 ¶ “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves”.

This last warning is especially relevant to the church in 2010 because I believe that there is a new and subtle form of a ‘false teacher’ which comes in the guise of what I would call a ‘Liberal in Evangelical clothes’. The old Liberals were quite obvious and they would boldly deny the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of the Scriptures or the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. This old-style liberalism still exists but within the Evangelical ranks no one would deny these things and remain credible.

However many men and women minister who are liberal in their approach to Scripture but they do not openly say so and this makes this heresy quite difficult to spot. Here are some examples of this new liberalism.

• The support for female pastors and women in church leadership is in reality a denial of the authority of Scripture (1 Tim. 2:12, 3:1-7). Scripture forbids women pastors and elders and therefore to support such a view actually usurps the authority of the Bible.

• An obsession by many is expressed in their pursuit for extra-biblical revelation which includes a desire for angelic visions, claims of receiving prophetic knowledge of the future (often in detailed ‘supposed’ visions), visitations to heaven etc. This is virtually inner-light Quakerism gone wild! These false preachers masquerading as Bible teachers lead many astray from a steadfast commitment to the written Scriptures toward a subjective, experience based Liberalism.

• Some claim “all that matters is that we love Jesus”. Beware! This statement is probably a cover-up for a doctrinal downgrade. Luke records in Acts 2:42: And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

The question remains open: are you continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine? This includes a commitment to the authority, sufficiency and finality of Scripture. This blog comment is brief but hopefully it will stimulate your thinking. In conclusion listen to the Westminster Confession (Chapter1:10) on the doctrine of Scripture.

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.