A Tale of Two Assemblies: FCGA17 and CofSGA17 — Personal Reflections

sad departure

Walking up towards the Mound from Edinburgh Waverly, on a certain week in May – you are struck by something odd. Ministers. Lots of them. But then as you approach the Mound you notice something else. Like a fork in the road the Ministers split into two groups. Some head towards St Columba’s Free Church and the others head towards the Church of Scotland’s Assembly hall. It Did strike me as odd that this scenario has been playing out every year since 1843. Most church splits really go their separate ways – yet every year the CofS and FC ministers and elders are reminded of the disruption. I cannot help but wonder that surely there comes a time when you need to delete your ex-girlfriend from your Facebook friends’ list?

FCGA17

This week I had the joy (yes, joy) of attending the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland as a Commissioner for Glasgow and Argyle Presbytery. This is not a detailed report – you can watch the videos, and read the reports for yourself – instead this is simply a few short reflections on some personal observations. 

Connections

FCGA17 was a humbling experience. It’s one thing tapping into the GA, online from afar – it’s another thing being there as part of the assembly. I’m reasonably new to the Free Church, so I don’t know most people – and most people don’t know me. Social media helps networking on one level – but on another level it’s superficial, one-dimensional and detached from context. Social networking may help us overcome geographical chasms, but it doesn’t develop depth of relationship. You just can’t get to know people via social media. In this sense, it was good to meet a number of folk in the flesh.

Humbling

I was encouraged by most of the GA. When I wasn’t encouraged, I might have been drifting off because we were dealing with some boring bits (or slightly amused at how a church models its governing affairs like a mini parliament) – but most of the time I was deeply impressed by the contribution of many of the other leaders. One of the things that really encourages me about the FC is depth. There really is a depth in many of the members. There is a depth of knowledge, wisdom, spirituality and godliness among many of the men and women who spoke at Assembly. I’m thinking for example of Irene Howat whose love for Christ and children was and is so evident. I’m thinking of Ms Elaine Duncan (Bible Society) who exhorted the incoming Moderator as she presented him with a Bible – her words carried conviction, depth and spiritual authority. I’m also thinking of some of the elders and ministers – both young and old, who just oozed character. Maybe it’s just the fact that I spent too long in youth ministry, and contemporary charismatic-evangelicalism – but the lack of hype, spin and triumphalism at the GA was just brilliant – and as I said, humbling.

Fellowship

The fellowship was fantastic. I had the opportunity to get to know some new folks, and to get know a little better some folks I’ve just got to know. Having relocated from the Isle of Skye, where not only are Free Churches ten a penny – but you quickly get to know folks because it is such a small community – in the central belt, FCs are more thinly spread and ministry commitments prevent you from getting to know other leaders and ministers in neighbouring towns. I really loved getting to know some of the ex-CofS guys, and it was also great to spend some time around food with a few of the senior leaders. And it was brilliant to catch up with some of the Skye leaders – not least my former minister.

Ministry 

The ministry was top-notch. It really was. There was a clarion call to “tremble” at God’s word in repentance and humility; a call to mission; a call to semper-reformanda (the Moderator, Derek Lamont’s opening address was simply outstanding and cutting-edge); a call to holiness, discipleship and accountability Really, really good stuff.

Unity in Diversity

There was an obvious diversity in the FCGA17. Okay – perhaps not enough – it was very white-western-male-centred – but within that group there certainly were a mix of backgrounds, personalities and approaches. Some more conservative than others. Others more progressive than others. Yet at the same time there was a unity – and this was particularly felt at various times in the GA when there were references to the doctrine of scripture. Scriptural authority is not a peripheral doctrine in the FC, it is foundational – and that was clear at many levels.

I loved how folks from a non-CofS background were welcomed the message was clear, “this is your church” – in other words, just because you weren’t brought up FC –that doesn’t mean you are visitor or a second-class member. It was very encouraging to hear those words – not just for the CofS guys, but others who have come in from other denominations.

I also liked the fact that the chairman of the Board of Ministry made it clear that the FC was not an “anti-gay” church. With ministers and members of the CofS leaving over issues surrounding human sexuality – this may be the assumption that people make. It was great to hear an ex-CofS minister affirm this by making clear that it was the CofS’s departure from the doctrine of scripture which has led many to leave the CofS.

Humorous

There were loads of laughs. The banter was brilliant – not least between myself and my commuting comrade – a minister who happened to be travelling via the same train route as myself. 

Sad

This was also a sombre assembly. An assembly marked by tragedy. This was an assembly with a shadow over it. The passing of Iain D. Campbell, and the circumstances surrounding it, certainly impressed upon this ‘young’ preacher’s mind, the words of Tozer, “The world is not a playground, it is a battleground.” There is an enemy of our souls, and we all must be ever-watchful.

Sorrow was further compressed by the events in Manchester. One of the most powerful moments was our morning of prayer where we also sang psalms of lament. At moments like this – we need the breadth and depth of human experience that can only be found in the psalter.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Hope-filled

Whilst there was sadness, there was also hope – a lot of it actually. The Free Church is bursting with vision. That’s no exaggeration. The Mission Board, the Board of Ministry, and the Seminary Board and the Board of Trustees, are full of vision, passion, and strategy for mission, ministry and training in the 21st century.

Final reflections

This week in May, ministers at the Mound did not just continue to part ways geographically, and denominationally – they continued to part ways theologically. In one assembly, there was a clear message sent out that the church is not anti-gay, but it’s conscience is forever bound by the authority of scripture. In another assembly, a message of secular inclusion and scriptural abandonment rang out loud in clear. In paving the way for ministers to perform same-sex weddings, the Church of Scotland has abandoned the revelation of God’s Word. Maybe it’s a good thing after all that both assemblies run on the same week. The annual ritual also becomes a means of self-reflection. A constant reminder of the importance of not allowing the state to define our consciences, theology and practice.

Of course, while the ministers of each denomination head towards their respective assemblies – there are interactions. Friendly words – and not so friendly words are exchanged. I think of the minister from one assembly who confessed that he wished that he was attending the other assembly but felt that for him it was “too late”. But I also think of the exchange between a Church of Scotland Minister and a Free Church Minister who had left the CofS to join the Free Church. “Turn Coat” mocked the Church of Scotland minister. That’s simply poor taste. It’s also ironic – to be happy to be a turncoat when it comes to the Word of God yet to boast faithfulness to an increasingly apostate denomination is not a reason for boasting. As our retiring moderator reminded us, “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” Isaiah 66:2

There are no perfect Christians, ministers or denominations. But by the grace of God, there are real encouraging signs in the FC. God is at work. The priority is God, His Word and his world. After almost 500 years of the reformation, there is a remnant who are still saying “give me Scotland…” Whether we are also saying …” or I die” is yet to be seen – but the signs are encouraging. May God keep us in his grace, and empower us for his purpose and glory – for Jesus’ sake, Amen.  

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Contradictions, Confusion and Invoking the Wrath of Christ: The Church of Scotland Report on Human Sexuality

So, someone let the cat out the bag. The Church of Scotland’s Theological Forum Report on human sexuality had to be published early because someone leaked it. What is the report presenting to the assembly? Two key areas are being presented. The General Assembly will be asked to:

 Authorise the Legal Questions Committee to undertake a further study on the legal implications of conducting same-sex marriages and report back to the General Assembly in 2018. *

Invite the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better.

So, basically, the Forum wants the CofS to sort things out legally and constitutionally so the CofS can perform same-sex marriages and it wants to apologise for discriminating against gay people. How has the CofS discriminated against gay people? Presumably by holding to a teaching that marriage is intended to be for one and man and woman for life. And that the only context for sexual inter-course is heterosexual inter-course in the context of marriage between one man and one woman. Or as the Church of Scotland’s historic confessional standard says: “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman.”

At this point we jump into the rabbit hole and discover the weird and wonderful world that is Church of Scotland theology and ethics. On the one hand the Church of Scotland is claiming that it seeks to be faithful in “upholding the fundamental doctrines of the Church” whilst allowing for “Constrained Difference”.

This is optimistic. On the one hand the Forum is calling the church to repent of what it regards to be “discrimination” against “gay people” yet at the same time it claims it will allow different viewpoints to co-exist. Yet this is inconsistent. If the church is discriminating sinfully against a certain people-group, how can it call itself to repent whilst at the same time allowing this expression of discrimination to exist? That’s meaningless. (Or political spin).

On the one hand the Forum says:

The Forum does not believe there are sufficient theological grounds to deny nominated individual ministers and deacons the authority to preside at same-sex marriages.

But on the other hand it says:

The Forum does not believe that such permission should be granted until there is assurance that the conscientious refusal of other ministers and deacons to preside at such marriages is protected.

So, if I read that correctly, in light of the whole, the Forum is asking the CofS to 1) not to discriminate and 2) to be free to discriminate by not marrying gay couples.

Whilst we should be glad that the Forum is seeking to protect the rights of conscientious and biblically faithful ministers, it is impossible to see how the Orwellian double-speak will not ultimately lead to problems. By embracing the radical LGBT view of human sexuality, they have already condemned the biblical understanding of human sexuality.

 CofS ministers and elders who attend the 2017 General Assembly need to see what is really going on. Scriptural authority is being replaced by humanistic ethics. And the CofS is shifting from sola-scriptura, to an almost Roman Catholic view of authority, where authority rests not in scripture alone but the tradition of the church and the living tradition of councils. In other words, the Holy Spirit continues to speak to the Church a fresh Word from God.

The report says:

Yet God’s Word is found through as well as within Scripture, and Jesus himself promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into further understanding (cf. John 16: 13). It is these new understandings that the General Assembly is attempting to discern in its consideration of the issue of same-sex marriages.

There you have it. The embracing of the new sexual ethics of LGBTism is the Holy Spirit speaking to the church. This section in the report is given in an answer to those who refer to Paul’s teaching on human sexuality. In other words, the New Testament scriptures:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men (1Cor 6:9)

So, according to the Forum, the Holy Spirit can speak to the church and lead the church into new truth. Even if this new truth contradicts the old truth.

I cannot help but point out that the Church of Scotland is taking a very dangerous path. This is a path that can only lead to divine judgement:

18I testify to everyone who hears the words of prophecy in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 20He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:18—20)

The very last words of Jesus to the church are crystal clear. Don’t add to the Word of God and don’t take away from the Word of God. By denying what the Bible teaches and by claiming that the new path of LGBT inclusiveness is the Word of God to the church via the Holy Spirit, the Forum is calling the CofS to violate both commands. Consequently, the Church of Scotland is in danger of invoking both judgements upon itself. In other words, God will surely judge this path and those who follow it will come under judgement and forfeit eternal life.

My ‘Holy Week’ visit to the local Orthodox Church

This week is ‘Holy Week’. In contrast to living on Skye, where you were lucky to find at least one ‘Good Friday’ church service – here in Dunblane you have it all. With the Cathedral, St Blane’s CofS, an Episcopal Church, an Orthodox Church, Quakers, the Free Church and a local charismatic church – there is a lot happening on ‘Holy Week’. Of course, being the Free Church we are pretty much ploughing on as usual. Well that’s not quite true, we ran our Easter Craft for Kids and the Case for Christ (which comes to a conclusion on Easter Monday). And this Sunday our text in our Acts series naturally falls on a passage which relates to the risen Christ – so we will have a resurrection message and resurrection themed hymns and psalms. Oh – and the kids will get chocolate eggs.

Anyway, with ‘Holy Week’ being such a big thing here, and with my recent reflections and interactions with the current news pieces surrounding Hank Hanegraaff’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy – I decided to take the opportunity to pop along to the local Orthodox Church. I caught half an hour of what was going to be a three-hour service (Holy Thursday The Passion Gospels, FAST) but I couldn’t stay for the whole thing as our own Bible Study and Prayer meeting was starting an hour later. Since I only caught a snap-shot on the Thursday, I also went along for the Good Friday Service (this included Vespers and procession of the shroud) and managed to catch the whole thing.

I’m aware that the concept of a Free Church preacher and elder visiting an Orthodox Church might freak some people out. But let’s just put it in perspective. I was a Religious Education teacher for seven years. I’ve visited mosques, Buddhist temples and I’ve gone to hear the Dali Lama – and I still love Jesus, preach the gospel and hold to Sola Scriptura and haven’t morphed into a tree-hugging, all-religions-are-the-same kinda guy. So, if the Orthodox Church visit makes you shudder. Chill.

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Location

The first striking thing about the church (Community of St Nicholas) is its location. Its in a lovely little cottage in the centre of Dunblane. One half of the cottage is the residence of the priest and his wife, and the second half has been converted into the church.

 The Priest

As I arrived on Thursday evening, I was early — no one else had arrived. I had an opportunity to introduce myself to the priest and his wife. A lovely couple. We chatted about a number of things briefly – not least New Testament Greek. One thing struck me about the Priest – he actually came across as a religious man. And it wasn’t just because of his robe or the big gold chain with a cross. It was his countenance. I’ve experienced this a number of times with a certain people. There are some people whose faces radiate a kind of lightness. It’s the kind of person you meet whose presence makes you aware that you need to spend less time reading books or tapping away at a keyboard and more time on your knees.

The ambience

The bare stone-wall interior, with hanging candles was quite atmospheric. At one point, in the good Friday service, I felt I’d been transported back in time and we were worshipping in the ancient catacombs.

The people

On the Thursday, around 12 people gathered in the small church. On Friday night there must have been nearer 30. What struck me was the fact that there were a lot of young women with children at the service. I was also struck by the fact that it was very multicultural. There were a good few nationalities present. In fact, I’d go so far to say it is the most inter-national church I’ve encountered in Dunblane – although I’ve still to visit a few of the other ones. It was certainly more international than the various Free Churches I’ve visited or been a member of.

The Service/Liturgy

This was interesting. As would be expected, there were aspects that made me awkward and other parts I found incredibly enriching. There were also parts that were simply universal i.e. aspects that can be found in all churches in all places. One other thing that struck me is the fact that there were no seats. You stand throughout this service (there are some seats at the side for those who need them). Given the fact that one service lasted three hours, this is interesting in and of itself. How many of our churches get caught up moaning about the discomfort of the pews, or pushing for ‘comfy chairs’? The fact that the normal practice is to stand sent out a clear message — this isn’t about making you feel comfortable. Have evangelicals become too comfort orientated?

The awkward bits….

The first thing I noticed is when some people entered the building, the first thing they did was bow down and kiss one of the Icons. Throughout the service there was a fair bit of veneration of icons, veneration of Mary, and the regular performance of the Sign of the Cross.) I also couldn’t help but notice the central Icon at the altar was Mary, with a small image of Jesus at the centre of her. I guess this is part of the ‘Mother of God’ theme. Again, as reformed believer who sees the supremacy of Christ in the pages of scripture, it is difficult to see how this kind of imagery does not negatively affect our view of the person of Christ. Jesus seems to be overshadowed by his mother. Having said all that, these were very small parts of the over-all whole – which by and large were more universally applicable to all Christians.  

In many ways, the Orthodox service was like a more intense version of the Catholic Mass which I attended as a child. The priest, the altar attendants, the incense, the chanting of scripture and prayers were all very similar but in some ways felt more ancient.

Overall, the service was mostly made up of sung/chanted scripture readings. Ironically, these were read from the authorised version. There were readings from Isaiah, the Gospels, the Psalms and the Books of the Law. These were chanted in-between various sung/chanted prayers and responses.

One bit that particularly moved me was a song that reflected upon the impact of the cross upon Jesus’ mother – as a mother. It was a reflection on the words of a scripture “and a sword shall pierce your own soul too.” This was not, in my view Mary veneration, but a valid biblical reflection upon the effect of the cross upon Jesus’ mother. If protestants feel that the EOC/RC over-do the emphasis on Mary, we certainly under-do it. I was deeply moved by the horror and pain that Mary would have experienced as she watched her son being crucified. What mother would not be shattered into a thousand pieces by that?

Really Interesting Interactions

A couple of interesting interactions occurred between myself and other people. A young guy came in on the Thursday night. He had travelled all the way from Glasgow. He informed the priest, and myself, that he had been attending an Orthodox Church for a month. He said he’d been doing some research on churches, and “by process of elimination” arrived at the conclusion the Orthodox Church was the true church.

The priest had to go and get things ready, and myself and the young guy got chatting. Once he found out I was in ministry in the Free Church he began to ask some questions. It turned out his background was similar to mine – he was from a ‘nominal’ Roman Catholic family. I took the opportunity so share some brief testimony as to how I stumbled into a gospel hall when I was 18, and heard the simple gospel and how I encountered Jesus in a very real and life changing way. My prayer and hope for this young man is that he doesn’t stop short of just looking for church, religion, or a denomination – but that he finds Christ. In fact, this was my one concern about the whole experience. Whilst there were crosses, and icons of Jesus and references to him everywhere – my worry was that the gospel and the need for personal faith and repentance were not very clear. My concern, and my experience from growing up Roman Catholic, is that Jesus gets crowded out by religion. That’s not to say that there are not people in these contexts who clearly know Christ (it’s not for me to judge that) but it’s just to say that we cannot under-estimate how important the reformation was. In clearing away the smoke, the images, and the priesthood – it helped us see Jesus more clearly. It helped us hear the message of Christ crucified and the call to repentance and faith.  

The second interesting encounter was with a couple I later bumped into on the way home. The woman had been involved in the singing part of the service. It turned out, the husband was an Episcopalian but the wife Orthodox. We were outside the Free Church, and I had the opportunity to introduce myself as the local Free Church ‘minister’. The wife almost fainted. Literally. She was astounded that the local FC preacher would visit an Orthodox church service. The husband excitedly said. “David Robertson has done more to warm me towards the Free Church than any other person”. I agreed and told him that David’s writing was quite instrumental in drawing me to the Free Church also. We then had a chat about the decline of biblical teaching within the mainline churches.

These two encounters are examples of what I like to call ‘Kingdom moments’. The moments where something of the Kingdom of God breaks through in what seems like a chance encounter.

Taking away stuff to apply?

Is there anything to learn from the Orthodox Church for Free Church ministry? Yes, I think so.

James White, commenting on the conversion of Hank Hanagraaff to Eastern Orthodoxy said about evangelicalism:

“The church has become focused on the people pilling in, not the sacredness of what goes on there.”

Well that’s one thing the EOC can’t be accused of. There was nothing seeker sensitive about the EOC I visited. There was on the other hand a strong sense that the purpose of the gathering was religious. I think we have lost something of that. This ties in with a recent lecture from the Rev John Ross at ETS last week. He challenged us to recover our reformed liturgy. He challenged us to recover the liturgy of Knox and the Directory for Public Worship. I think he is absolutely right. Within reformed liturgy there is a strong God-centeredness. After several decades of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels – we have just ended up with shallow church.

Having said that, Ed Stetzer warns about the lack of missional elements within the EOC.

I think the tendency towards (big-O) Orthodoxy and its liturgy is missiologically unhealthy, not just theologically problematic. Many segments of Orthodoxy take Hellenistic (or other) cultural forms, consider them normative to today’s context, and apply them as the “true” or “authentic” way.

That’s not helpful and it actually hinders the advance of the gospel, which in part explains why American Orthodoxy has far more converts from evangelicalism than it does from secularism.

Whilst we need to recover our sense of sacredness, we also need to maintain our missional ethos. A liturgy that is not designed to draw people in and make it accessible is not like Jesus. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus was incarnational. The church should be too.

Finally, we need to do a better job of explaining ourselves ecclesiologically to those who want answers. “Which split was the Free Church – was that the one in the 1800s?” asked a young man who was in the process of looking for the true church. Do we know who we are, where we came from and why we exist as a church? Are we able to articulate who we are in relation to the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal and Church of Scotland? One of things that causes me to despair is the fact that many evangelicals – including many reformed ones – have such a shallow view truth, church and history. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that not everyone spends their lives watching mind-numbing television. Not everyone wants to go to your church because you are ‘seeker-friendly’ – they don’t care that your services are designed with the first-time visitor in mind – they want truth. They want to know how your church is connected to the Apostles. Are we able to explain ourselves in terms of where we fit on the Orthodox, Catholic and protestant map? Do we know why the Reformation mattered and why it still matters? We need to.

Overall, as you can see, I valued my visit to the local EOC. Dunblane churches have good relationships across the denominations. I hope to meet the leader of the local EOC again sometime. The services did help me reflect upon the cross. The OEC helped me see things that I can do better as a Christian (prayer) and things we could do better as a church and a denomination. It also helped me value afresh the importance of the reformation, and the dual challenge for our churches to be sacred spaces but also missional places.

 

 

 

 

 

Dreher & Hanegraaff: Why we need to become more Orthodox & Catholic & Why the Reformation Still Matters

So Hank Hanegraaff has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Christian Blogosphere looks like a load of drunk folk staggering through Glasgow City Centre. Some are arguing, some are shouting incoherent nonsense – some are singing sectarian battle songs and others just staggering about dazed. What are we to make of this?

The Hanegraaff situation fascinates me and interests me for a number of reasons which are connected to my own spiritual journey.

Icons, statues of the Virgin Mary, Crucifixes, Stations of the Cross and the altar were all early and frequent images for me as a child. Like most people of my generation I walked away from religion and pursued my own path. But later, I came to faith in Christ through the simple preaching of the gospel in a brethren hall. I then spent a number of years trying to make sense of my experience, evangelical teaching, and the glorious-chaos of the evangelical and protestant church. Early on in my conversion, I rejected the exclusivist, and ‘conservative’ brethren approach to church in favour of the more open and experientialist Pentecostal/charismatic church. Yet whilst I appreciated the emphasis laid upon encountering God, and the call of God, I was always concerned about the doctrinal chaos that marked Pentecostalism. The Toronto Blessing and Prosperity theology, in particular, were sources of concern.

In the providence of God, I stumbled upon a book written by Hank Hanegraaff, ‘Christianity in Crisis’. This book was really helpful for me. In this book, Hank highlighted a number of false teachings plaguing the contemporary church, particularly via the Word of Faith movement. I am indebted to that book for its biblical emphasis on discernment.

Christianity in Crisis

Unbeknown to me, Hank was the ‘Bible Answer Man’, an evangelical Christian apologist. I never knew that, I just read his book. However, now that the ‘Bible Answer Man’ has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, many evangelicals are declaring him apostate.

The fact that evangelicals can equate conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy as apostasy, to me, is actually symptomatic of the problem and the reason why guys like Hank end up ‘swimming the Bosporus’. Are we really saying that there were no Christians from the end of the first century up until the reformation? How can we say that someone who sincerely owns the Nicene Creed as their personal faith, is not a Christian? How can we say that someone who genuinely prays the Jesus prayer (“O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) is not a Christian?

This is the second reason why the Hanegraaff scenario interests me, it’s not only because I’ve appreciated his work in apologetics, it’s also because I totally understand why he has headed into the Eastern Orthodox Church. The evangelical church, by and large is, a-historical, and ever drifting away from solid apostolic Christianity. Rod Dreher in his book, the Benedict Option, demonstrates this issue brilliantly.

Too many of our churches function as secular entertainment centers with religious morals slapped on top, when they should be functioning as the living breathing Body of Christ. Too many churches have succumbed to modernity, rejecting the wisdom of past ages, treating worship as a consumer activity, and allowing parishioners to function as unaccountable, atomized members. The sad truth is, when the world sees us, it often fails to see anything different from nonbelievers. Christians often talk about “reaching the culture” without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize. Without a substantial Christian culture, it’s no wonder that our children are forgetting what it means to be Christian, and no surprise that we are not bringing in new converts.

If today’s churches are to survive the new Dark Ages, they must stop “being normal.” We will need to commit ourselves more deeply to our faith, and we will need to do that in ways that seem odd to contemporary eyes. By rediscovering the past, recovering liturgical worship and asceticism, centering our lives on the church community, and tightening church discipline, we will, by God’s grace, again become the peculiar people we should always have been. The fruits of this focus on Christian formation will result not only in stronger Christians but in a new evangelism as the salt recovers its savor.

Dreher, along with many others, is spot on in his analysis of the contemporary evangelical church scene.

But this raises a question. What is the solution?

Michael Allen and  Scott R. Swain, in their book, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation observe:

Many critiques of Protestantism suggest that if one desires a churchly, sacramental, ancient faith, then one must turn from the Reformation toward Rome or the East. And many have taken to those paths, fleeing what they may perceive to be thin theologies of ministry and of the Christian life in the Reformational world.

Book

This is the path that Hank has taken. However, whilst I would argue that it is wrong, ignorant, and sectarian, to declare the Eastern Orthodox Church an apostate church, it is also, in my view, unwise to run for refuge to Rome or Orthodoxy. Why? Well, as much as I understand the quest for historical-connectedness to the Apostolic church I’m ultimately unconvinced that it can be found in either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism.

To be perfectly at one with the EOC or the RC is to be at odds with the Apostles. If we are looking for a pure stream of the Apostolic faith, we need to look beyond the East which at best is a freeze-frame of 7th or 8th Century Eastern Christianity. We need to look beyond Roman Catholicism – which at best originated in a 4th century development, and instead we need to go to the inspired writings themselves. The Apostles teaching, the Gospels and the Law and the Prophets are a surer foundation for the church than the later developments of the OC or the RC.

I understand the quest for the ancient church. I understand the despair at shallow evangelicalism. I understand the aversion to the schismatic and at times bigoted expressions of Protestantism. Yet having said all that, the Reformation matters. The scriptures matter. The gospel matters.

There is a third way between embracing the errors of the OC and the RC and the mind-numbing banality of evangelicalism. It’s not perfect, and it’s not without its faults and weaknesses. But I do believe that it holds together the best of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism. Where is this place I speak of? It is the confessional, reformed presbyterian community of faith.

I understand that to many ancient-church seekers, the reformation church looks like a novel-schism. It looks less like the ancient church, and more like a modern anomaly. But I would say, look deeper. Read Calvin’s Institutes – a thorough exposition of the Apostles Creed which draws upon the scriptures and the early Church Fathers.

The reformed faith, unlike its evangelical successor, is not anti-catholic or anti-orthodox. Arguably, it retains the best of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. William Perkins, the reformed puritan, argued for a Reformed Catholicity. He said:

“By a Reformed Catholic, I understand anyone that holds the same necessary heads of religion with the Roman Church: yet so as he pares off and rejects all errors in doctrine, whereby the said religion is corrupted.”

In other words, Reformed Christianity is exactly that – reformed. It is the reformation of Catholic faith. It seeks to retain that which is biblical but reject that which is false.

Whilst I can see the attractiveness of the ‘ancient’ liturgy of EC/OC I cannot escape the fact that the gospel and the scriptures are smothered in centuries of human tradition. Historicity is important. But at best, EC/RC can take us back to the 4th—8th century. It’s not ancient enough. And it has too much cultural and traditional baggage. The grace of God is buried by vestments, icons, priests, altars, and incense. The clear voice of scripture is locked in a chest of human tradition. And we can’t really see the light of Jesus because he is overshadowed by his mother. These issues, and many more, is why the reformation mattered and why it still matters today.

Shack Author, Young’s new book of lies illustrates why ‘Radical Church’ is essential reading

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In November 2016 EP Books published my book ‘Radical Church: A Call to Rediscover the Radical Roots of the Christian Faith”. This month author of the Shack, William Paul Young has published his book ‘Lies we believe about God’. Why do I mention these two titles together? In my book I argued for key truths that the western church has either neglected, rejected or lost sight of – and consequently needs to recover. Young in his book says many of these ‘truths’ are actually lies.

‘Radical Church’ was written as a rallying call. It’s a call to restore a dying church. Young’s book is also a rallying call, but I would say it is rallying call to put the final nail in the coffin of biblical Christianity.

‘Radical Church’ calls the church to rediscover the Sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of humanity, the authority and sufficiency of scripture, the Judgement to come, and the Divine-wrath absorbing and bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ. These are foundational truths – yet Young calls them lies.

For example, regarding sin and human nature, Young says:

“Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of un-goodness. We are true and right, but often ignorant and stupid, acting out of the pain of our wrongheadedness, hurting ourselves, others, and even all creation. Blind, not depraved is our condition.”

In ‘Radical Church’ I make the point:

Humans were made in the image of God, and they were created to reflect God’s glory and greatness. However, when the devil told Adam and Eve that we could ‘be like God’ we reached beyond our station. We snatched a power that that is greater than our identity and purpose. We committed treason; we robbed for ourselves that which belongs to God alone. Consequently we have a higher view of ourselves than is actually true. We are pretenders to the throne.

In ‘Radical Church’ I explain the downgrading that has taken place within evangelicalism. This sheds light on some of the statements that Young makes in his book. In ‘Radical Church’ I argue:

The Bible’s teaching on the human condition is incredibly unpopular in our society today. Humanism boasts in the greatness of human nature. Humanism celebrates human potential and human goodness. To a self-assured humanistic culture, the idea that humans are sinful by nature, sinful in heart, and sinful in deed is a radical and prophetic rebuke. Society does not want to hear about sin, and neither do many quarters of the church. Even within evangelicalism there is a tendency to neglect or reject this teaching. Evangelicalism, in many parts of the West, has ceased calling sinners to repentance, and is instead celebrating the greatness of human potential. However, in order to see true gospel transformation, we need to understand the depth of the human problem: we are not just broken people in need of wholeness; we are rebels in need of redemption.

What I say is truth, Young claims is a lie.

Someone is wrong. One of these positions is not the truth.

If you do read Young’s book, I’d encourage you to read ‘Radical Church’ as a counter-argument. More importantly, test Young’s claims in the light of scripture. Because the real tragedy is not that Young’s book indirectly implies my book is full of lies, the real issue is that Young’s book makes the Bible a book of lies.

For a detailed review of ‘Lies we believe’ check out Challies’ article.