This article has just been published in the Australian Presbyterian. Out of the Ashes – The Fall and Rise of the Church in Scotland I suppose that for many Australian Presbyterians Scotland, or at least the Presbyterian Church in Scotland is considered to be the motherland! If that is true, then the cry that comes out from Scotland is ‘your mother is very ill!’ … Continue reading Out of the Ashes – The Fall and Rise of the Church in Scotland – Article in Australian Presbyterian
John Smyth, who now lives in South Africa and campaigns on morality, is at the centre of the allegations.Channel 4 News The media, liberal ‘Christians’ like Giles Fraser and the Bishop of Buckingham, atheistic secularists, and other enemies of the Gospel can hardly contain their glee. The ink had barely dried on the accusations against John Smyth a former evangelical camps leader, before the blame game … Continue reading Christian Camps and Child Abuse – Is Evangelical Theology to Blame?
“For too long the western church has occupied a throne and has abandoned the cross. The church has reigned as king instead of bowing as a servant.”
John Caldwell’s statement is not new. In fact there is very little in this wee book that is new. You can find more detailed analysis of current cultural trends, contemporary church issues, historical developments and in-depth theology elsewhere. What you will not find, and what is new, is that all these things are brought together in this one book in a manner which addresses the needs of the churches today and which is accessible to the vast majority of people.
John’s basic thesis is one that I would totally agree with. One of the reasons that we set up Solas Centre for Public Christianity was precisely because we identified the same trends that John notices. With his social and varied ecclesiastical background he is well able to comment from both an insiders and outsiders perspective, on the confused state of the Church of Jesus Christ in the United Kingdom today.
Confused is perhaps the best word to describe what is going on. There is a great deal of confusion in the general society about God, the Bible, humanity, morality and ethics. It seems as though the foundations have been destroyed and people wonder what can they do? What is even more disturbing is that the church seems to reflect the trends within the culture and therefore ends up being even more confused. Perhaps we really are at a stage where God is judging the nation and letting us go our own way? We have become the blind leading the blind.
A View From the Battlefield
None of this is new. God’s church has often existed within confused and apparently declining situations. But God in his mercy does not leave us alone, which would indeed be the ultimate judgement. He sends his word, and he sends those who proclaim his word. John Caldwell is such a person. His analysis in this book of the contemporary church scene in the United Kingdom (and therefore applicable in the wider Western world) is insightful, depressing, and yet somehow stimulating and encouraging. This is not an academic thesis looking at the sociological aspects of religion from the safe vantage point of an armchair in an ivory tower. Nor is it the story of one particular work of God in a particular location at a particular time. This is a view from the battlefield, which takes a broad sweep over the whole contemporary situation.
The branding of the church is neither radical nor biblical.
What is especially helpful about this small book is that it takes a number of disciplines and applies them in a practical way to the current church situation. John notes that in reaction to a sinful, competitive denominationalism, evangelical Christians seem to have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. We have exchanged one mess for another. Reflecting the culture more than Scriptures, we have ended up with a sinful competitive networking based on dominant personalities and advertising branding. The branding of the church is neither radical nor biblical.
Of course there are those of us who are long enough in the tooth to find ourselves cringing whenever we hear the word radical. Every new program, every new work of God is deemed to be ‘radical’. I find myself yawning and switching off when I am told to read, watch or support the latest radical initiative from the latest in-vogue Christian organisation. If you have to say you are ‘edgy’ you are not! What I love about John’s book is that it is radical, precisely because it does not seek to provide us with something new. It points us instead to Scripture, the basics of the Christian faith and the lessons we can learn from our own history.
What is more radical than the cross? And yet how many contemporary evangelicals either do not understand or water down or even deny the atonement? And it’s not just the foundational issues of the cross, the person and work of Christ, or the inspiration and sufficiency of the Scriptures, which are under attack. It is also how we apply them, and how the church lives out the doctrines of the Scriptures in the contemporary world whose world view is so antithetical to them.
The Community of the Church
Whilst there are Christians who will argue that what we need to focus on is evangelism, others who argue that mercy ministry is the way ahead, and still others who want to emphasise prayer, Bible teaching and personal devotion; far too often the church in its various manifestations is either forgotten, sidelined or dismissed. John’s ‘radical’ notion is that all of these things matter and that all of them come together in the church’. In order to communicate the gospel we need therefore to work out, not only what the gospel is, but also how we live it out in the community of the church.
As you read this book there are things that you will say Amen to! There are other things that you will question or disagree with, and gaps that you will want to fill in. But one thing is absolutely sure – every single chapter of this book deals with issues which are vital to the well-being and health of the whole church in today’s society. It will benefit you enormously to prayerfully read through and think about these issues.
Just as ‘radical’ is an overused and often cringeworthy word, so ‘conversation’ often shares the same fate. But in this instance the word conversation is very appropriate. My hope and prayer is that this book will stimulate many conversations which cause us to turn to the Lord, the head of the church, and ask him what he wants. May it be that we will be encouraged to be faithful to his word, to be salt and light in a society which rejects that word, and to once again see the renewal, revival and re-formation of the church in our societies.
Christ is on the throne. We are not. We do not tell him what he should be doing with his church. We just simply say ‘speak Lord for your servants are listening’. And then pray that he would give us strength and grace to be doers as well as hearers of the word.
Continue reading “The Radical Church – Foreword and Review”
Presbyterianism can be a bad way of governing the church. In its worst form it is over centralised, authoritarian, political and bureaucratic. So maybe the best way to govern the church is Independency? After all it recognises the significance of the local church and gives freedom to develop and grow. It’s why some in the Free Church and other Presbyterian churches like … Continue reading Time for Mission – Presbyterian Style!
It was wonderful to hear that Songs of Praise, the flagship BBC religious programme, was to come from the Island of Lewis – the home island of my wife and apparently more significantly the home island of President-Elect Donald Trumps mother. I looked forward to hearing some Gaelic psalm singing, traditional hymns and perhaps a couple of Celtic praise songs. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08bb6rg/songs-of-praise-isle-of-lewis So what did … Continue reading Songs of Praise, the Island of Lewis, Donald Trump and the Religion of the BBC
“Does God call me to belong to a local church where the Word of God is not being taught?” That was one of the questions I have often been asked. I hope to have an occasional series looking at these kind of questions. To some the answer to this particular question is so obvious that they think even the question is daft. But life … Continue reading Does God Call Me to Belong to a Local Church where the Word of God is not being Taught?
St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee is famous throughout the evangelical world for being the church of Robert Murray McCheyne. But many of those who come to the church now, know very little about McCheyne; and many of those who are aware of McCheyne know very little about the current St Peters. This short article is intended to remedy those deficiencies in knowledge! Birth … Continue reading Robert Murray McCheyne and St Peters
This was published in the Scotsman today – you can read the original Here The Headline was somewhat bizarrely – “When Jesus Christ was conscripted for the War Effort” – which was not what I was saying….Here is the complete text of what I originally wrote… It’s Time for Nicola Sturgeon to Call a National Day of Prayer In May 1940 Britain faced the greatest threat … Continue reading Its Time for Nicola Sturgeon to Call A National Day of Prayer
Free Church National Day of Prayer – Nov 30th 2016 As I post this I am watching news of a most extraordinary event – the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. Whatever this will lead to, the only appropriate Christian response is prayer. The Free Church has called a national day of prayer – not because of the American election, but … Continue reading Time for Prayer…..
(Gleneagles Hotel) It was a fascinating afternoon – an interview at Gleneagles Hotel between Michelle Roux’s senior and Andrew Fairlie, two of the top chefs in the world. When I bought the tickets it was originally for Annabel, as I did not think it would be my cup of tea – but it turned out I was wrong. I found the whole thing absolutely fascinating … Continue reading The Wit and Wisdom of Michel Roux – An Afternoon in Gleneagles