Tuesday 30 September 2014

Worldliness does not Belong in the Church

When I hear of various stories of what happens in certain professing Christian churches, it is hard to categorise or label such churches sometimes. All manner of things happen today in the name of Christianity; ranging from alligator shows to attract non-Christians (I hope they do not get loose), to liturgical dramas, to a full rock n' roll band to perform for the masses, as they sing along. How do we respond to such things? How do we respond when we open the pages of the Bible and fail to see any of these things occurring in the New Testament churches?

In discussion with some Christians recently, it has become clear in my mind that some professing Christian churches have become very worldly. Therefore, their events may well attract the world, but these events do not produce Christians. We must ask ourselves some basic questions again and again. These questions include: "what is a Christian, how are our sins forgiven, and what is a church?".

The head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ said this to his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

Someone once said that the church is like a ship and this world is the sea. A ship on the sea is fine, but if the water gets into the ship, it is a disaster. How true this metaphor is. If the world gets into the ship, it is doomed to sink, it is game-over. Just like the people in Hong Kong who are rising up and rejecting anti-democracy principles enforced upon them, it is time for Christians all over the world to rise up and reject worldliness in the church. Remember that if you are in a ship and water is leaking in and you say nothing, then you face the danger of potentially perishing with ship, even though it was not your fault for the water leakage, but yet you said nothing. You refused to raise the alarm.

Listen to James 4:4 as a stark warning."You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God". Let us call "a spade a spade". Many things happening in parts of the church today, are nothing more than worldliness. The church must be salt and light instead!

Saturday 27 September 2014

How should students consider their involvement in a church while away from home studying?

We at Sheffield Presbyterian Church have students at both Universities in Sheffield and so as a minister I get regular updates of student life on campus. It is amazing how many professing Christian churches can all compete with one another, each offering their "wares" and then promoting themselves as to why they are best suited to meet the needs of students. I wonder how many students are instructed by their parents or their home churches as to what to look for in a church and what their attitude should be to church attendance. Here are a few pointers.

For Students

1. Remember that Jesus said "I will build my church ..." (Matthew 16:18), therefore your involvement in a church while studying should be serious minded and not to be seen for your own convenience.

2. The Bible teaches how we should shape our work lives. The Fourth of the Ten Commandments explicitly instructs all people to "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11). The Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week which is Sunday. This is a day for worship, for Christian fellowship and for rest from your work, such as essay writing, revising and time in the library. The Lord knows that our minds need mental refreshment, but more than that we are commanded to worship the Triune God. Therefore, excusing yourself that you cannot wake up in the morning is obviously an inadequate excuse for only attending the evening service of worship in the local church you commit to.

3. When considering a church, do not look for excitement or simply for a church where lots of other students necessarily go. Two crucial aspects to look for are the church's commitment to preaching sound doctrine, and a biblical and reverent approach to worship. All too often students look for the church with the biggest band which sing the coolest songs, but if that is our measuring rod, we really must "open our Bibles" and ask ourselves, "is that what Jesus instructed the church to do to make disciples?". There is the ever-present danger that worldliness enters the church and worldliness will not produce godliness.

For Churches with Students

1. It is good to be aware of the social needs of students who are away from home, ones who are perhaps away from home for the first time, but churches should not orient their programmes around student activities only. Students should be integrated into the normal life of the church and not treated with some special status.

2. Seek to encourage students to be involved in the Christian Union on campus and to play a positive role, while exhorting them to remember that their studies should not suffer with an unbalanced lifestyle.

3. Encourage students to get integrated with regular families and not only to congregate with fellow students at church.

I think that my own views as a minister are sometimes counter-cultural and out of step with the wider church, but we must think seriously about these matters, when as reformed churches we have a high view about the church. Paul wrote to the young Christians at Thessalonica: "but test everything; hold fast what is good" (5:21).

Saturday 20 September 2014

Sheffield Student Church Search

If you are a student who is coming to Sheffield and you are looking for a church or if you are already in Sheffield as a student and you are also looking for a church, then seriously consider coming to Sheffield Presbyterian Church.

Our meeting place is opposite the English Institute of Sport in the Don Valley area of Sheffield. We meet in a beautiful 17th Century Chapel which was built in 1629. Our worship is God-centred where preaching is the high point of our services. These ideas which shape the structure of our worship are classic biblical and reformed in their understanding of the need of the church and the requirements that Scripture places upon the church for the church.

Our website is: www.sheffieldpres.org.uk

The Don Valley tram stop is a few minutes walk and there is a bus stop outside. In addition we have our own car park.
We look forward to welcoming you.

Kevin Bidwell
Minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church

Thursday 18 September 2014

The Roman Catholic Church has never "changed its spots"!

This may seem like an unusual blog post, but is it really? True biblical and reformed doctrine should always warn of doctrinal error. If you have ever read the "Institutes of the Christian Religion" by John Calvin or the writings of English puritans such as Thomas Watson, you will have noticed that they are replete with warnings regarding the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

The title of this blog post is taken from Jeremiah 13:23 "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil". The principle taught in this verse, is that without true and genuine repentance, a people or a religious system will continue as corrupt as ever. This was true of the professing people of God in Jeremiah's day, as it is true of the Roman Catholic Church today. (This does not mean that all branches of Protestantism are today without error, because some forms of Protestant liberalism bear no mark of biblical Christianity either.)

Rome has appointed a new Pope, one who comes across as a nice man, someone who can relate to the ordinary man or woman, but the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is as dangerous as ever.

Let me give five areas of false teaching by the Roman Catholic Church which reveal that they continue to be a false church, one whose "Spots" have never changed".

1. The Roman Catholic mass claims to involve a physical change of the bread and wine into the literal physical body and blood of Jesus. Protestants have taught for centuries that this teaching is heresy, one that is utterly false and this is also a denial of the gospel of God. Priests do not and cannot repeatedly offer up Jesus on an altar. Listen to Hebrews 10:14: "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified".

2. The office of the Pope as being the supreme bishop over the church is false. The church is to be governed by elders, under the guidance of the Scriptures and teaching that is in accord with the church's creeds and confessions.

3. The idea that the Pope is the alone infallible interpreter of teaching for the church is false.

4. Praying to Mary and the Saints is idolatrous. At the inauguration of Pope Francis, he publicly prayed to Mary while then also praying the Lord's Prayer. Such confusion is utterly and totally wrong. For a professing Protestant Christian to consider the Roman Catholic Church as harmless or as equally valid to a biblical church, is to wholly misunderstand the teaching of the Bible. The First and Second Commandment states that we will shall have no other gods and that we shall not make a graven image. Bowing down to altars, statues and to the mass itself is tantamount to idolatry.

5. The preaching of true doctrine is altogether absent in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a works based religion founded upon works based righteousness which enslaves people to a cycle of confession to a priest, with a repeated coming to the Eucharist administered by a Catholic priest, for perpetual renewed justification. This is darkness and it is system that fails to lead people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, as Jesus is offered in the gospel.

I guess that many professing evangelicals in the West have bought into a post-modern view, whereby there is no absolute truth and this has blurred the discernment of many. Our aim is to win Roman Catholic followers to the gospel, but a warning must be sounded in each generation to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Listen to Paul in writing to the Galatian Church.

Galatians 1:9 "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed".

Galatians 2:16 "Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified".

Let us be content with blessings of the gospel and also be warned of the mysticism and superstition of the Roman Catholic Church.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Prayer is a means of grace

There is a wonderful balance to the teaching of the Westminster lArger and Shorter Catechisms. These documents bring out the doctrines of Scripture and are therefore international in their usefulness. There are three things which have been passed on by the church to succeeding generations of disciples. These are the teaching of the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. Question 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks a vital question which is: "What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?". The answer is: "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".

In Acts 2:42 we recognise some of the fundamental activities and commitments of the infant church in Jerusalem. These were a steadfast devotion and commitment to:

I. The apostles' doctrine or teaching
II. Fellowship
III. The breaking of bread
IV. Prayer

While a commitment to the apostles' doctrine must have priority and this must be the basis for the other three, we must not neglect or downplay the importance of prayer as a means of grace. I have heard it taught that prayer is not a means of grace but that we simply pray in response to the word and sacraments but this is incomplete doctrinally.

The Larger Catechism makes it clear in its detailed questions on prayer, that we are to pray to God only (not to Mary, saints, angels of false gods). We are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ and it is by the Holy Spirit, the one who helps us (questions 181-182). Paul writes from a prison cell when he wrote to the Philippians and he instructs the church: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" 4:6-7). Clearly through the act of praying biblically and in presenting our requests to God, there is then a communication of God's grace to the church with the result of restored peace, instead of anxiety. The peace of God is communicated by Christ Jesus to the church through the means of prayer.

Here are two examples from the writings of John Calvin which explain his understanding that prayer is a means of grace.

"Prayer digs out those treasures, which the gospel of the Lord discovers to our faith" (Institutes III:xx2).

"We [are] permitted to pour into [God's] bosom the difficulties which torment us, in order that He may loosen the knots which we cannot untie" (Genesis I:489).

Monday 1 September 2014

"No minor thread": The fourth of the Ten Commandments

Perhaps the "acid test" of someone's knowledge of the 10 Commandments is to ask them how they practice the fourth commandment. If their eyes look glazed and they do not even know what you are talking about, then it is a plain indication that the 10 Commandments are little understood by them at all. However, in recent decades there has been a "termite-like erosion" of orthodoxy among evangelicals who claim to uphold a reformed confession. In the USA today, it is not uncommon for men to be ordained to the ministry and to make what are deemed to be minor exceptions to the Westminster Confession, such as the Christian Sabbath. In the UK, the reformed Baptists seem to have been losing their nerve fast on points such as the Christian Sabbath and the place of the law in the church. Perhaps they wrongly think that these things are antiquated and if they "shed this load" it will lead to new church growth. The question is then; what kind of growth will it produce in such "panic button" moves?.

Philip Ross examines the biblical and theological basis for the threefold division of the law in his book called "The Finger of God". He rightly challenges those men who enter Christian office, especially reformed and presbyterian men, who make exceptions to the Christian Sabbath and he challenges men who claim that the rejection of the Sabbath is a "minor point or exception".

He writes: "Were the Westminster Confession a garment, you would not want to pull this 'minor thread', unless you wanted to be altogether defrocked. And perhaps the reason that some people pull at this thread is because they regard the confession as more of straightjacket than a garment. Unbuckle the Sabbath, and you are well on your way to mastering theological escapology" (page 5).

Listen to the Lord rebuking and exhorting the Old Testament saints who actively sought to "unbuckle themselves from the Sabbath". Isaiah 58:13-14 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Delighting in the Lord and delighting in the Sabbath are connected, but few contemporary evangelicals seem to make this connection today. Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 12:8 "For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath".

Let us all examine ourselves in this matter of the fourth commandment and let us pray for ourselves and others for the recovery of the practice of this commandment in the church.

(For further reading, I recommend a book by Joey Pipa called "The Lord's Day").