Monday 24 June 2013

Engaging with Keller: Thinking through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical

This book has just been published by Evangelical Press. I am probably biased because I have written a chapter in the book on Keller's doctrine of the Trinity, but this book is long overdue. Having read the whole manuscript, it is a very stimulating read. It is not just about critiquing Tim Keller's public teaching, but it provides a stimulus for each of us to evaluate our own theology and doctrine.

The editors are Bill Schweitzer and Iain D. Campbell. It can viewed at this link:

Saturday 22 June 2013

The Puritan Churchmen would say "Para-church Mission, What?".

It is amazing that once we lose our grip on God's pattern for elders how many things potentially change. The previous blog sought to bring us all "back to basics" regarding church governance; the office of elders. I explained that if biblical eldership is not maintained then new church structures will be sought and new titles are used. People will begin to talk about raising up leaders instead of elders and deacons, but do we have a biblical mandate for such action?

In previous many decades, a new phenomena has mushroomed: "para-church" organisations. I understand that the issues are complex, but if the question was placed before the puritan ministers and elders of the seventeenth century of the necessity for para-church organisations to fill in the gaps that the church is supposed to be missing, then they would be perplexed and they would offer dissent. Furthermore the idea that non-ordained people would be thrust into teaching, evangelising, counselling, and organising, would have caused them to be utterly perplexed, I am convinced of that.

This is why, once a para-church organisation and especially a mission organisation begins to develop, it then produces a life of its own, often quite distinct from the governance of the church. Projects, single agenda issues, new concepts for the great commission and social development projects (now called "Transformation") often begin to take-over. I have witnessed this first-hand and before you know it, the extension of the church and the preaching of the gospel become side-lined. A para-church needs to justify its existence. My primary concern in this blog post is regarding para-church missions agencies because this is where things need to be corrected the most in my view.

Church planting needs to be done by men who are theologically trained, equipped and called by elders and the church. This is not a task for "people to have a go" otherwise what will be the end result. It is not that evangelism is to be done by a select handful, but the direction, guidance and ministry is to be given by elders; this is because in the NT, these are the ones who are to be doing the teaching. The teaching/preaching office is not an open office for all, but the pulpit must be guarded, and furthermore the whole of public worship is to be under the guidance of elders.

In Acts 13:1-4, Paul and Barnabas were sent out on their extensive mission trip and they were men who had been tested out in Antioch and then sent out. They were not novices. Furthermore, they established churches based on a fixed apostolic pattern and appointed elders (Acts 14:21-23). Once they had completed their mission, they then returned to Antioch: "they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles."

In all of our zeal, may we be men and women who are committed to the church of God. May people say of us, that we are people committed to Christ's church.

Monday 17 June 2013

Elders and Deacons: A Reformed, Puritan and Biblical Pattern for Church Government

I preached recently in Sheffield Presbyterian Church ( on "elders and Deacons". A young man who is a member in the church said to me that he believed that "if he asked most Christians he knows about church government, that they would have no idea what it is meant to be". My answer to him was that if this is not clearly taught and practiced then the alternative is for a secular and pragmatic leadership structures to be put in place in the church instead. Why substitute Christ's plan for his church with secular leadership structures, many of which do not convey the authority of Christ, such as musician worship leaders?

What does the Scripture say? Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus and told him the following:


"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil" 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

Timothy was to seek out able men with sound doctrine and godly character who would "shoulder responsibility" for the churches in the Ephesus region. It was most likely a presbytery of elders as Acts 20:17-28 indicates. When you consider that being a Christian could involve beatings or imprisonment elders needed to be men with spiritual maturity and strength. There were teaching elders and ruling elders who together would govern the churches on behalf of Christ. 1 Tim 5:17 "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching".

The public worship and services is to be led by elders and they are responsible for the preaching and teaching of the flock of God. How different the church would look if this was the case. And oh by the way these elders are to be married men and women are not permitted to hold this office in the church.

"Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 3:8-13".

Deacons are a very important office when they are rightly understood. These are to be men who do not govern the church but are under the elders but they are responsible for the practice needs of care and compassion in the church. Much more can be said about these two offices but for now I want to raise the profile of the biblical offices of elders and deacons, so that readers of this blog would consider a biblical pattern for the church.

For further reading, I suggest John Calvin, "The Institutes of Christian Religion", Book 4.

Monday 10 June 2013

Church Planting in England in 2013 and beyond

One of my aims in this blog is to stir up a passion for historic reformed doctrine. Such doctrine is passionately concerned about the church and hence I have being do a mini-series on "The Puritans". The doctrines and vision of the puritans is not an antiquated relic of the past. Why? It is because the truths of Scripture do not change and neither do the basic needs of humanity. Church planting is an in-vogue subject and I have said several times: "I am not interested in church planting, but I am interested in planting the right kind of churches". One of my concerns is that in all that I read concerning church planting, I find little that attracts me.

It seems like pragmatism, evangelism, and contemporary approaches (whatever contemporary means by the way) seems to commonly drive the agenda, instead of sound theological doctrine. Church planting should be committed to sound basic principles, so that they are connected to historic reformed and biblical ecclesiology. These are:

1. A firm commitment to the preaching of sound doctrine
2. Elders are to hold to a reformed confession and ideally the Westminster Standards.
3. Worship that adheres to the regulative principle
4. Government by elders with deacons responsible for practical care and compassion (1 Timothy 3:1ff)
5. The solid care of Christians being a priority

On all these counts the theology of the puritans can help us. The NT has an apostolic pattern for the church's doctrine, worship and church government and this needs to be replicated in every generation.

Church Planting with EPCEW

My own denomination is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales and we are committed to planting solid reformed churches. If you are interested in this vision, then please contact me, and we would be delighted for you to join with us in this vision. Contact me through the contact page of

"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you" Titus 1:5 Paul sent Titus to Crete to "put what remained into order" and this is needed in every generation, not least in the planting of new churches. We do not want new churches with a disordered or unbiblical model!

Friday 7 June 2013

Biblical Christianity and Ethics

During this last week I have listened to live debates from the House of the Lords in the UK. They were debating changing the historic definition of marriage and in the end, despite good counter-arguments, they voted two to one to remove the historic understanding of marriage. The UK government intend to legalise a loose definition of marriage, that being between two people: same sex or otherwise. It is all in the name of being loving to the Gay lobby and pressure groups. How do Christians respond?

Biblical ethics has hardly been a major thrust of Christian mainstream teaching in recent years, but I am sure that this will change in the West in the coming decades. Western governments are morally rudderless and with a hedonistic agenda. This is similar to the Greek and Roman world of the First Century; during which true Christianity flourished. Listen to Paul writing to the Corinthians: "What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'" 1 Cor. 15:32. The prevalent worldview of the First Century world was to "eat, drink, for tomorrow we die". It sounds like 21st Century Britain!

We all need to be on our guard regarding hypocrisy. Many times in the House of Lords debate, I heard mockers saying that the "Church" have regularly changed their opinion on many issues such as slavery, women's rights and now marriage. It sounds convincing, but wait a minute. Are not the politicians the ones who have changed their minds? They were the ones who endorsed slavery and only made it illegal when they finally had no other choice. This is a flawed argument and we cannot rely on our nation's political leaders to offer a reliable compass on moral issues. What is the answer? It is the Holy Bible alone which provides God's answers. The church needs to freshly articulate, simply and clearly, the teaching of the Bible concerning a range of moral issues, such as:

What is marriage in the sight of God?
What is sin?
What do God's Ten Commandments teach?
Is abortion the sin of murder?
Medical research: how far can we go?
What is adultery and fornication?
Jesus Christ is the only way to God

We cannot assume anymore that people have the basic framework of morality that is informed by the teaching of the Bible. Let the church joyfully embrace this challenge, while trusting for God help.

Proverbs 24:10 "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small."

Tuesday 4 June 2013

The Puritans considered Prayer to be a Means of Grace

Sometimes I have heard reformed people discussing the means of grace as "Word and sacrament". Though I understand the need to emphasise that churches should be committed to the ordinary and outward means of grace, this short-hand label is somewhat truncated. Why do I say that? It is because Question 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives a more comprehensive explanation than "Word and sacrament".

Question 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

Answer. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

Can you see what was missing? It is PRAYER which is also an outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption ... and it is made effectual for salvation. Therefore, the full and complete answer is the "Word, sacraments and prayer". And how important prayer is for the church and for individuals, not only for answered prayer but also for Christ to communicate to us. A large portion of the Westminster Standards is devoted to an exposition of the Lord's Prayer, with the intention that individual Christians, families and churches would avail themselves of this crucial means of grace.

Listen to Paul writing to the Colossian Church:

4:2: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

Paul then requests prayer for himself and his apostolic team from the church. Paul needed the prayers of churches, there was inter-dependence.

4:3-4: "At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak."

Paul then explains how Ephaphras was committed to prayer for their church. "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God" 4:12.

May we all, not least myself, not only read about prayer, but become like Christ and actually pray regularly, faithfully, with purpose and engage our whole being in the secret place. May God help us in this by his grace. The best way to learn how to pray, is on your knees, in a secret place, with the Bible open before you.