Saturday 30 July 2011

Book Review. Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett.

J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2010, 238pp, paperback,
ISBN: 978 0 8010 6838 6

J. I. Packer needs little introduction; his co-author Gary A. Parrett was one of Packer’s former students at Regent College, Canada, and he is now professor of educational ministries and worship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the USA.

This book’s ‘Introduction’ (9-19) outlines the reason for these two men teaming together in this noble project, one that seeks to recover the practice of catechesis in the church. Their vision ‘assumes the existence of authoritative truth that needs to be taught’ (11). Every reader concerned about the rise of liberalism and doctrine-less Christianity within evangelicalism, will resonate with this book’s analysis, concerns and assessment of a widespread problem. The authors do not underestimate the challenge and they incisively write that there is a ‘resistance to authoritative instruction within the Christian community’ and that too often ‘today’s agenda is learning Bible stories rather than being grounded in truths about the Triune God’ (11).

This book contains an introduction, followed by ten chapters which argue for the recovery of doctrinal instruction, as something that has practical ramifications for the church. The first chapter ‘Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way’ contends that catechesis is derived from one of the NT words for teaching, katēcheō (Luke 1:3-4, Acts 18:25, for example). Their definition is: ‘Catechesis is the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and it’s implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight’ (29). They helpfully outline that instruction can be for ‘seekers’, for children or baptismal preparation, and the ongoing teaching of believers (29). The second chapter, ‘Catechesis Is a (Very!) Biblical Idea’, is excellent, in that it spells out for the target audience, evangelical Protestants, that catechesis is not only biblical, but that it is a biblical imperative (50).

The third chapter is ‘The Waxing and Waning of Catechesis’. The authors comment that ‘within evangelical circles, conservative Presbyterians and other Reformed believers probably represent the only major groups that have regular acquaintance with the notion of catechesis’ (33). They pinpoint part of the waning of doctrinal instruction in the church to the rise of the Sunday school model for the teaching of children (71-72). They highlight that Baptists and other denominations would commonly reject reformed catechisms because they taught a different view on baptism, one that upheld that the infants of the members of the visible church are to be baptised (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 95). They propose that catechetical instruction was unfortunately replaced with a form of biblical moralism, one that lacks doctrinal content. This analysis is searching and it is a much needed exposé of a contemporary weakness, one that needs to be addressed within evangelicalism.

Some of the later chapters are perhaps too technical in their handling of this subject and their ecumenical approach, and sympathy with the Roman Catholic Church, most notably in Chapter eight, mars, what is otherwise a much-needed book; one that is highly recommended for ministers, elders and Sunday school teachers.

The recovery of catechesis to enable Christian’s and churches to know their faith well is undoubtedly counter-cultural and those churches that seek to be contemporary at the expense of a historic appreciation of the church would do well to listen to what this book suggests.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

What do you Look for, when you are Looking for a Church?

This is a very important question, one that most often reveals our priorities or even the spiritual temperature of our Christianity. Maybe before you read on, with this blog article, you should pause for a few minutes, get a pencil and paper and write down a list of the things that are important to you when looking for a church.

If you have not made this list, perhaps do so later and examine what you have put down, and ask yourself if your list would match what the NT apostles would counsel you with, were you to live in First Century Corinth or Jerusalem. In talking to people I find it fascinating, illuminating but sadly quite often discouraging to hear what people are looking for when they seek out a church. It can include things such as a church in their own community, a church with a good range of activities for their children, a place where lots of students go, a church with a high quality 'praise band' and so on. However, are these the first priorities that our Lord Jesus Christ would expect his disciples to be looking for?

At the time of the reformation, the Christian church in the face of spiritual abuses, Roman Catholic idolatry and indulgences, they had to ask some hard questions as to what represented the marks or distinguishing features of a true church. In the light of Scripture they concluded that there are two to three marks of a true church. These are:

1. The preaching of pure doctrine.
2. The right administration of the sacraments (there are two only and these are baptism and the Lord's Supper)
3. Church discipline (this means a well-ordered church with discipline for members on moral and doctrinal matters).

Sadly, such distinguishing marks are rarely understood by many Christians or they are not sought for, when people look for a church. I have read a book recently on the church, one that seeks a so-called 'missional' approach to church, but this missional church does not consider that preaching, that is the public proclamation of pure doctrine, as something that is necessary for the advance of the church and the gospel. They claim to be gospel driven without gospel preaching that is public, propositional and filled with pure doctrine. Perplexing, but all too common!

In closing, let us hear the words of holy Scripture:

Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded his apostles: 'That repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Luke 24:47)'.

Paul told the church at Corinth that: 'For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:23)'.

Maybe some of us need to reevaluate what to look for when seeking a church. Certainly the preaching of pure doctrine is essential to our spiritual well-being and if this is not found in our neighbourhood then we need to be prepared to travel rather than commit ourself to a church which may be less-than-best for God's people!

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Are you Looking for a Church in Sheffield?

Maybe you are coming to Sheffield to study at one of our Universities or perhaps you are looking for a church that is committed to biblical preaching. We would like to warmly invite you to come and worship with us at Sheffield Presbyterian Church.

We are a new church plant of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales and we were formally constituted in April 2011. As such we are not huge, but we are enthusiastic concerning the gospel of God and our sense of mission in our world, the North of England. There are a number of values that we consider essential in order for a church to be healthy.

Firstly, we are wholeheartedly committed to doctrinal preaching in order to feed the sheep and to evangelise the lost. We are a confessional church and this means that we uphold the Bible as having supreme authority over the church and our subordinate standards for doctrine are the Westminster Standards. We believe that holding to a historic church confession gives the church stability, like an anchor, and this means that we are connected to God's church historically but also geographically.

Secondly, we believe that our public worship should be ordered so that it is God-centred, focussing on simplicity with reverence, but also great joy at what our God has done in and through the mediator Jesus Christ. In an age where so many churches compete as to who has the best music band, we may seem a little different. However, we explain that our principles are firmly rooted theologically from the Bible's commands as to how God is to be worshipped. We maintain that simplicity marked the New Testament pattern of worship. The ingredients of our public worship includes the reading of the Scriptures, public prayer, the preaching of the Word of God, the singing of Psalms and hymns, with our worship beginning with a call to worship and closing with a benediction.

We have members who testify that they wish that they had found confessional presbyterianism 20 years ago. Our desire is to feed God's sheep, to care for them and to be faithful to the Lord. Confessional presbyterianism has a long history in Sheffield which goes back to at least to the seventeenth century. Presbyterianism was recovered through the Genevan reformation but it is a pattern which, we believe was established by the apostles and set in motion by the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church.

Our church website is

We warmly invite you to worship with us on the Lord's Day at 11.00am and 4.00pm and the details of our meeting place can be found on the website.