Who licenses preachers and how are they officially recognised?

13 ● December ● 2012

One Sunday in 1980 Pastor Humphrey Vellacott and Pastor Roy Scarsbrook and the Lighthouse congregation appointed me as an elder of the church. They laid hands on me and prayed for me to be a useful and faithful servant of God’s church and His Word. It was over in a few minutes and is all the ordination I have received and all I shall ever seek.

The FIEC Pastors’ Network is looking to include Pastors of member churches in an accreditation scheme so that it will be easier to know who is trusted and approved by the denomination. I am sure there are practical advantages inherent in such a scheme.

But I shall not apply. And this is why…

Firstly, though, I do wish to affirm that I wholeheartedly subscribe to the doctrinal basis of the Fellowship and I consider it to be a wise and constructive summary of some central truths of our common faith and a good rallying point for believers.

My problem is that I do not see the FIEC as capable or competent to accredit me as a servant of the Gospel. Only the living God himself can do that and only the Lighthouse Baptist Church is in the responsible position of judging whether he truly has.

This is a serious theological point. If the FIEC is moving to a position of accrediting ministers that is not far from licensing them.

Along with a strengthened “HeadQuarters” emphasis there is a growing use of “family” language in the FIEC which confuses and hides the relationship between the organisation and the true family which is the entire household of God and it’s local actualisation in churches. I do not owe the FIEC the love and loyalty which I owe to the church of Christ.

I became weary of the bogus use of family language during my years with the Baptist denomination. It was not a family and neither is the FIEC in my judgement.

The FIEC is an excellent service organisation but it is not the church. I agree that the future contains great challenges (was there ever a time when it did not?) but the history of denominations does not give me any reason to believe that the centralising trend will make more than a marginal difference. To be frank, I believe the mistakes of yesterday are being made again.

With regard to the care of Pastors, I find this in loving relationships with nearby colleagues (not all of them FIEC men) and the support of my own fellowship. In this context I receive both challenge and affirmation and I can not imagine a circumstance where someone a hundred miles away could do better.

I have decided that this is a club I did not wish to join. I want nothing to do with pastoral professionalism. I am a member of Christ and a member of the Lighthouse Baptist Church. It is enough.

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Do we come to God when we go to church?

26 ● November ● 2012

Only one Bible book tells us to go to church and that is Hebrews (Heb 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing). A few verses earlier we are urged to “enter the Most Holy Place” (v19) and “draw near to God” (v22).
So is there a connection between approaching God and going to church? Or should we see these as seperate commands? I raised this question at a meeting of ministers and conversation was shut down by someone saying this was a dangerously “Roman Catholic” idea.
The Roman idea of course is that the institutional church is a continuation of the Incarnation – a literal Body of Christ – just as the elements of the Bread and Wine become the body and blood of Jesus by a process of reincarnation in the Mass – so that loyalty to Christ and loyalty to Catholicism are identical and going to church equates simply to approaching God. I was annoyed at the assumption that I was willing to take such an anti-biblical line. The quality of theological discussion among Pastors is often not very high.
We had been discussing the Charismatic assumption that we draw near to God in “Worship” (which equates in practice to musical praise and singing). I think we had a consensus that this was shallow and silly and wide open to abuse but we did not progress very far in a positive direction.
I believe the Old Testament root of the idea of church is the assembly (ekklesia in the Septuagint) of Israel: firstly, on the mountain in the desert (e.g. Deut 18:16) and then in the gatherings of Israel at the great feasts (e.g. 2 Chron 30:23). These are undoubtedly gatherings around God. In particular they are gatherings around God Speaking (through the giving or teaching of the Law, through the prescribed ritual and through the blood of the sacrifices). Since Christ is and always was the word of God it is not too much to say that the people of Israel were coming God and gathering around Christ at these assemblies. Incidentally I believe this is why Christians preferred to call their meetings churches (ekklesion) rather than synagogues. They were meetings with Christ rather than just gatherings.
In all the fashionable talk about “doing church” there is a widespread assumption that God will just “turn up” if we do the right things or that God is already there and waiting for us to realise his presence. The Moore College/Proclamation Trust line seems to be that God is always present and speaking when his Word is TAUGHT and it is our problem if we are unaware of His real presence in the teaching.
It seems to me that the emphasis on God being in His Word – shared among His people – must be correct although I would include the Word prayed and sung as well as the Word taught. Yet I am worried about the mechanics being given prominence. What about the freedom of God? What about the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3? – They found their meetings satisfying their needs but Jesus was left outside the door. And the remedy he prescribed was not to run a few more preaching classes.


What is the basis of Christian community?

2 ● February ● 2011

For many years I had a  “continuation theology” which saw the church as the continuation of Israel and therefore receiving all the covenant promises and benefits. This was partly a reaction to the dispensationalism I was first taught and was encouraged by my reading of the reformers and English Puritans.

Now my thoughts have been changed somewhat though I do believe we are the true “Israel of God”. Since the magisterial reformers and Puritans all envisioned “National churches” where the membership of church and state was coterminous (with every child baptised and an overlap between social and ecclesiastical discipline) it seemed reasonable to emphasise that somehow every Christian nation/church was in a covenant with God analogous to and growing out of Israel’s national covenant with God.

Most Presbyterian and Anglican covenant theology was forged in that thought-world. I doubt whether the reality was ever close to the theory – think of Luther’s unsatisfactory fudge of “ecclesiola in ecclesiam” which was an attempt to recognize a sort of two tier level of fellowship. In any case I am certain that species of covenant continuation is untenable now. As I have explained previously, I believe many of the covenant promises and privileges of Israel have now been thrown open to the whole world in the Gospel of Christ.

I believe furthermore that Christ has in himself fulfilled the covenant obligations which Israel failed in and that both common and special Grace flow from the covenant sworn between Father and Son and sealed at the cross.

So what is the basis of Christian community if it is not covenant? The answer is, I believe, simple and written all over the pages of the bible; it is kinship. The tie of kinship is obvious in the Law of Moses – how often is one’s obligation described as to “your brother” or your “fellow Israelite” or some other such term? Every Israelite was a blood relative.

My relationship with other believers is not one of a colleague nor of a covenant commitment to them. We are brothers (in Christ). This is the fellowship (commonality) of the Holy Spirit. The term “New Covenant Community” is too plastic for  me – it can be shaped in too many ways. But if you and I have been made by the grace of the Spirit into members of the “household of God” my obligations are clear and far-reaching. It makes the Sovereign  God Himself the centre  of the  church. We are the assembly of the Christ, the community of the Spirit, the children of the Father.

Incidentally, I am a little uncomfortable with making the leadership into a major focus of community. Sometimes fellowship exists in spite of leaders rather than because of them. I do not believe the stars in Jesus hand in Revelation 1 to 3 are Clergy. They are the Angels (spirits or souls) of the churches. In both Thyatira and Sardis the leaders are clearly in the wrong. It is up to the members to reform the church or at least stay faithful themselves.

There are two tragic tendencies which work against realising this quality of fellowship. One is  “individualism”  –  the besetting sin of my culture. The other tendency is putting blood kinship above Christian fellowship which is a common failure where the extended family is more dominant.

To turn back to the positive, the New Birth is what creates spiritual life at both the communal and personal level. It does not just give me a share in the resurrection, it places me into the pattern of obligations and privileges of the church of the firstborn (Hebrews 12:23) (Note the plural – not Christ the firstborn but we who are the firstborn sons of God).

One problem which I have to recognise is the issue of spurious “new births” – people who have prayed a sinner’s prayer or have had a moving experience in church and so declare themselves born again. It can lead to an amoral “gnosticism” and I believe this is far too common. 1 John is in our bibles to deal with this.

I am writing concisely so please forgive the lack of  references and  argumentation. I am sure readers can fill the gaps.


Ellul on spontaneity and realism

5 ● October ● 2010

I love Jacques Ellul. I should have made the trip to Bordeaux while he was alive and tried to talk to him. I imagine his conversation would have been highly enlightening. Here he is on realistic thinking and spontaneity:

Second, Christian realism means knowing clearly what one is doing. Naturally I do not deny that the Holy Spirit may intervene and give direction to our action; but the possibility of the Spirit’s intervention is no justification for rushing pell-mell into action, just for the sake of action; for yielding to some emotion, sentiment, visceral reaction, on the plea that “God will turn it to account” or, worse, in the conviction that this visceral reaction is tantamount to a divine commandment or a prophetic insight. Christian realism demands that a man understand exactly what he is doing, why he is doing it, and what the results of his doing will be. The Christian can never act spontaneously, as though he were an Illuminist. He must be harmless as the dove (the sacrificial victim, ready to sacrifice himself in his action — for the dove is the sacrificial victim ) and wise as the serpent ( that is, fully aware of just what he thinks and does). He must use the light of reason, of science and technology, to get his bearings, for the “children of this world are wiser than we.” He must be the careful architect who, in accordance with Jesus’ advice, sits down to work out plans and calculate the cost before starting to build. All of which is to say that, contrary to widely held opinion, faith in the Holy Spirit does not mean that we may act imprudently, close our eyes and refuse to think; rather, it means that we must use our heads and try to see with clarity. True, the Holy Spirit — who is clarity itself — may propel us into the greatest imprudence; but then we shall know it.

This is from his brilliant essay on the christian and violence. Click here for the link.

A big thank you to religion-online.org for making this and many other wonderful texts available.


Breaking out of Nostalgia

15 ● September ● 2010

First addressed to a small group of ministers on 14 Sept 2010.

Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

The end of a matter is better than its beginning,and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.

One of the most important issues I think we need to face is the debilitating addiction to nostalgia in our churches.

The modern environment and the nostalgia trap

I believe we need to realise that we are in a new situation somewhat similar to the first two centuries of the Christian faith but also with many unique features.

The established denominations are deeply discredited in Europe because of their association with Nationalism, Imperialism and reactionary politics. Their reaction has been to embrace a relativistic liberalism rather than reform themselves. The “unestablished” denominations have made themselves irrelevant by retreating into ,firstly, otherworldly pietism and, secondly, a kind of “customer centred” churchmanship.

The above paragraph is a huge simplification and somewhat overstated but I am attempting to tell you how I see things. I believe our main opponent is NOT a dominant Islam – even less, post-modern philosophy – but a dominant secularism.

The main problem for the churches (by which I mean, of course, congregations) is that our people have lost the confidence to witness and the pastors/theologians often are not putting forward a cogent and reasonable statement of the Gospel which makes sense in a secularised world.

The man of lawlessness

I believe this was predicted in scripture 2 Thess 2:1-12. The man of sin who denies any and every God or authority above himself. This is the ruling Spirit in Europe. The restraining influence of public religion (Roman – first pagan and then Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Reformed etc.) has been taken away. The signs and wonders of modern magic (technology) mean that these things might be appreciated aesthetically but not taken seriously. Holy books and traditions, vestments, ceremonies consecrated objects and buildings, are all relativized. What matters is power, money, freedom, prosperity, health and peace.

If you want a longer (hopefully clearer) reading of the “man of sin” click here.

Incidentally, the Moslem hatred of western values stems from recognising that modernity will undermine their closed societies. Their aggression is based on the challenge to Islamic certainties. While I am not a prophet I believe that system will collapse rather than triumph. Catholicism makes similar imperial claims and had a much more powerful command structure and propaganda machine but is no longer taken seriously in the world of power politics.

I believe the USA is similar to Europe but I am no expert. There is much more church going but there seems to be a huge split between religion and practice there. In other words, the churches provide little more than a sense of blessing to secularized people. This may just be my mistaken impression.

The culture of dread

There is a climate of fear and foreboding around. A sense of the future as dystopia rather than utopia. There are probably many reasons for this.

The more people have, the more they are frightened of losing it. We are so safe and secure but people FEEL insecure. The measurable indicators are generally positive but people feel negative.

These things have been analysed by many commentators.

I just want to point out that it is not just Christians who indulge in flights of nostalgia. You find Nostalgia dominating the right wing press, the green movement, and many others beside. The “Tea Party” in the USA harks back to the simpler days of frontier life in the USA. Islamic fundamentalism is nostalgic for the “glories” of 1000 years ago. Most religious revival movements – e.g. Hinduism in India, Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Tibet – and most others are exercises in nostalgia.  Nationalism obviously gnaws at the same bone – Nazi’s, Putin’s Russia – huge sales of “alternative imperial histories”, China – resurrection of the Middle Kingdom.

So what is to be done?

Firstly, nostalgia is useless. There is no going back to an Anglican, Presbyterian or other reformed protestantism regaining it’s power over the population. As the spiritual heirs of anabaptism we should have no part in the nostalgia for the “stitch-up” of the Elizabethan church settlement which we find in so many christians – even free church people.

We in the free churches have other ways of disappearing back into “Old Time Religion” too. We hang on to the methods, songs and slogans of bygone eras and pray that God would bless them again and we forget that most of them were novelties and innovations in the day of their power. Now they are stale and weary.

When we pray for spiritual revival we are often asking for God to take us back to the 18th century or the London of Spurgeon’s day. So much Christian discourse today is the language of recovery (getting back to a previous state of affairs).

My interest in the book of Revelation has shown me that most evangelicals prefer a non-historical reading of the book. Either the circular and repetitive interpretations which see the writer going over the same ground seven to ten times or the futurist readings which see the clock of history frozen until the rapture or some other event sets it ticking. These two schools of interpretation seem opposite but they are not. They are both anti-historical with regard to the present.

Our business is to be subversive. “Tearing down strongholds” 2 Cor 10:3-5. I know this verse is in the context of church discipline but it is about rooting out pagan or sub-christian beliefs. Our preaching and witnessing has to attack these things head on with the Gospel. There are Pastors and preachers doing this in the Western world but not nearly enough. This is why so many of our people do not know how to witness.

The early believers won the argument on four levels:

  1. experience – they KNEW God,
  2. community – the love and loyalty of believers was a great sign that the Kingdom of God was near,
  3. rationality – their Gospel made more sense than paganism,
  4. hope – the general resurrection, the forgiveness of sin and the world to come loomed large.

Revelation 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

My ambition is to see churches like this planted and growing.

Arguments over Creationism, Sabbaths, philosophy, spirituality and fine points of doctrine or practice must not get in the way of the main thing. How do we build Christ-centred, sacrificing churches?

  1. Experiencing God.
    This is God’s initiative. I have one suggestion:
    Fasting.
    From food. From work. From diversion. From entertainment. From sexual relations.You may ask why I do not mention prayer. In my experience it only works when I pray for others but not myself. So get others to pray for you.
  2. Community.
    I think we are all aware of this challenge. Mobility has weakened the bonds of fellowship in our churches. I used to think the answer was the “Local Church” but this has become meaningless when people move so often. One answer is long pastorates but I need helpful suggestions with this.
  3. Rationality.
    This problem has been racking evangelicalism ever since rise of Deism in 17th c. We have a revealed faith. In Scripture and in Christ. Yet we also claim that it can be reconciled with reality because it is the only revealed religion which is also true. So we need always to demonstrate that the propositions we are building our lives on conform to reality. I think we are backing ourselves into corners with some of our thinking – presupositionalism and foundationalism – both of which lead to the idea that there is little contact between the rationality of the regenerate and unregenerate and can be like inhabiting a parallel universe. I think Lloyd-Jones book on authority is too simplistic on this too.
  4. Hope.
    Life is largely driven by hope. I am heartened by the renewed emphasis on resurrection in a lot of recent teaching. Yet sloppy talk about heaven and hell is still common. But things are much better than they were. The power of a strong hope is better understood. Not just the hope of personal bodily resurrection but the hope of a renewed creation and a world ruled by justice and righteousness. BUT so many christians still don’t get it.

    And it is not yet a strong part of our witness.

So many of my brothers are so busy they do not have time to meditate or consider how to engage this new situation. It is tempting to blame the present and wish the past back into existence. But we are in the centre of God’s historical purpose. We do not look back to the Garden of Eden – We look forward to the City of God.


The Identity of the Man of Lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians

26 ● August ● 2010

The traditional Protestant understanding of this passage is that it refers to the Papacy from the Dark Ages to the current day.

A number of strong arguments are put forward for this:

  1. The Papal claim to represent God on earth and to be the head of a priesthood which has a monopoly on saving grace;
  2. The claim to infallibly define truth;
  3. The widespread use of trickery in miracle-working linked to relics of very dubious provenance;
  4. The use of violence (including judicial burnings) to suppress dissent – particularly from gospel preachers.

The Catholic reading of these scriptures is obviously going to differ. They see the man of lawlessness as a problem of the future and being either an anti-Pope or anti-Christ person.

This latter view was held by some Anglicans and became popular among Protestants in the nineteenth century.

My own point of view (which is fairly common, I believe) is that the man of lawlessness represents a type of man which will become common or dominant in later times. This fits well with Paul’s argument in 2 Thessalonians that the end cannot come yet because the conditions are not ready.

The tendency could already be discerned in the Greek and Roman humanism which was sceptical and even disrespectful of their own Gods and those which other people worshipped (2 Thess 2:7). Nevertheless, popular pagan religiosity would keep this in check. Life was so mysterious and people felt so exposed to forces which they saw as personal and spiritual that they could not bear to consider a world where the god’s were dead and man stood in splendid majesty over their remains.

Behind these trends (which we like to call “social” or “cultural”) are the “princes” of Daniel 10:20. Just as the “Prince” of Persia had to be removed before the “Prince” of Greece could take power so traditional Paganism (and the paganised christian forms of Catholic and Orthodox faith) must be defeated before the Man of Sin can be revealed. This is the great rebellion or apostasy of 2 Thess 2:3-4. One landmark date for this rebellion would 1789 – the French revolution – since previously religious systems provided underpinning for various political constitutions.

Since 1789 the ideologies used to bolster the powerful have been humanist abstractions (freedom, equality, democracy etc.) rather than religious precepts.

Religious upheavals used to mean a change of religion (from paganism to Catholicism or from Catholicism to Protestantism) but this is a change to no religion and a denial of all spiritual restraint. Man dethrones every God and takes the throne himself.

Graeco-roman rationalism had attractions but rationalism needed to be vindicated and institutionalised in the triumphs of Science and Technology. Alternative creation myths were needed before Creators could be declared redundant. The Gods of thunder and sea must give way to alternative explanations of mysterious phenomena. Potions and charms will only be abandoned when other cures and protection can be seen to work. People will only give up their gods in the face of superior powers being revealed.

The Gatling gun and Quinine can defeat the spear and the witch doctor. Stalin can call the bluff of the Roman Pope by asking “How many divisions does he command?”

This is the unique thing about the modern world. Belief in a God or Gods can now be a lifestyle choice. Modern magic has trumped the power of prayer in the minds of most people.

Does this mean that Technology and Science are evil? That the new power which man has gained over his own biochemistry and his environment is wicked? It is possible to argue such a case and many religious reactionaries do campaign against mankind “playing God”.

I believe they are not wicked but they do encourage and enable the δυνάμει καὶ σημείοις καὶ τέρασιν ψεύδους (power, signs and wonders of deceit) mentioned in 2 Thess 2:9. They are signs of Satan when they are used in enmity of God.

The power of the nuclear fusion, the signs of the fossil record and the wonders of space technology are real. They are not counterfeits like the Turin Shroud. But they are deceitful, lying wonders if they are used as ways to belittle God.

Brilliant explanations of such mysteries as the shining of the sun, the origin of species and the scale of the universe are open to us and our children and a voice whispers (and lately has shouted) “Who needs God now?”.

This is the coming of the man of lawlessness with signs and wonders and he will not go away until Jesus returns and destroys him with the breath of his mouth.

Many people have written about the appearance of modern man and talk about secularism etc. To my mind no one saw things as clearly as Jacques Ellul.

http://www.jesusradicals.com/theology/jacques-ellul/

His mature thinking can be found in the book which has the English title of “The Bluff of Technology” and it is available online.

I am assuming (hoping) his reading of 2 Thessalonians would be similar to mine.

This appearing of the Man of Lawlessness is one culmination of an inevitable historical process. Inevitable because it is God’s will that sin must be manifested if it is to be judged and exposed – 2 Thess 2:11.

But there is another immensely hopeful historical process happening simultaneously, the revelation of God’s wisdom in those who believe – the “one new man in Christ” – maintained by the Holy Spirit in lives of faith bearing fruit in good words and deeds. (2 Thess 2:13-17)

There are two harvests ripening in this world.


Money as spiritual power

12 ● June ● 2008

Attached to this blog entry is a work in progress – currently called “Money and Christ”.

Open and Libre Office Freedom lovers click here.

Microsoft Word economic slaves click here.

This paper is a tirade against “Stewardship” – the false domestication of one of the great Gods of this world – Money.

We can not avoid Money – particularly in a modern urban environment – it is an absolute necessity. But money is also a spiritual power and a competitor to God in the minds of men. The counsel of the Pharisees was the doctrine of “Corban” – similar to “stewardship”. The counsel of Jesus is much more interesting and daring…..

Since this is a work in progress I would welcome criticism and suggestions for improvement.


The Post Modern revival of Creationism

21 ● April ● 2008

I have been really shaken by the way so many brothers in ministry have embraced Creationism.

It seems they feel justified in rejecting virtually all Geology, Astronomy and much of Biology on “presuppositional” grounds. Since they believe science is ruled by atheistic (i.e. naturalistic) assumptions they feel no shame in teaching a simple and wooden Bible literalism which over-rides all these others ways of finding truth.

They have a radical doctrine of the fall of man which concludes that all human effort to understand our environment is so sinful that it is bound to be guilty and wrong. Natural philosophy (science) and speculative philosophy are denounced as projects of “autonomous man” – that hopelessly wicked brute who will concoct and embrace any lie which enables him to contradict the literal meaning of Bible texts.

This arrogance does not befit the Christian. Did not John Calvin (and the ancient fathers before him) teach us about divine “accommodation”. That if God did not stoop to our level in the scriptures we could understand nothing of him? That we only see through a glass darkly.

It is true that when Calvin said God “lisps” he was referring to anthropomorphic Bible language about the Divine Being (Link Here). But since God also understood the immensity of creation through Time and Space and the complexity of its structure is it not clear that He used similar “Baby Talk” when teaching of creation? When scripture says “He also made the stars” it gives no clue that there are hundreds of thousands of galaxies each of which contains a million stars (typically) around which orbit an unknown and unknowable number of worlds.

The separation of earth and sea depends on plate techtonics working over time spans we cannot conceive without which this globe would be under a mile of water. But God has left it to us to work out the details.

In the same way, the making of Adam from earth (the same earth from which the animals sprang a day earlier) tells us that we share an earthy nature with them but that unlike them the breath of God has been given to us in a special way – Genesis 2:7. Modern Biology may have related us so closely to the animals that it makes some Christians uncomfortable but it seems God’s word has given us the main gist in an amazing brevity.

How could scripture have given a summary of what we now know through Science without becoming a tortuously complicated set of documents? The great message of redemption through Christ would have been buried in a vast divinely inspired encyclopaedia! Copying by hand would have taken a longer time than cathedral-building. And since, to this day, scientists are very aware how little we still know I guess a scientifically accurate Bible would need to be bigger still.

Actually, Creationism is characterised by a guilty “autonomy”. The third law of thermodynamics and all sorts of sample data are twisted. Only men who “know” they are right are capable of the special pleading and selective reporting of these people. Check out the patient work of talkorigins.org or Christians in Science who try to call people back to their senses and away from idealistic philosophy pretending to be either Bible Study or Science.

I fear so much of this patient work is wasted. Creationists are post-moderns. Like all the other sects they interpret the universe from their own vantage point. They deny that unbelievers are capable of finding or recognising truth. They inhabit an island of knowledge cut off from a mainland of sinful pseudo-knowledge which the rest of us inhabit.

Christians like myself who claim both to trust scripture and believe in an Old Earth, big bang cosmology and biological evolution are anomalies who are best seen as closet unbelievers or dupes of the system.

I note that many 19th c. calvinists had no great problem with Old Earth geology and early evolutionism because they had a world-view which included a strong providence, a real but limited natural theology and the doctrine of scriptural accommodation. Why are we abandoning that wisdom now?


Where did my soul come from?

1 ● April ● 2008

I wonder how much real biblical teaching on human nature is given in churches.  What is taught is often Greek dualism (with soul and body being two distinct kinds of existence) usually seen through the thought of René Descartes. Sometimes it is tripartism (spirit, soul, body).

Both these views are untenable if one takes seriously both scripture and science. In Hebrew and modern thought human beings are a psychosomatic unity which can described in various terms: mind/body, soul/flesh, spirit/soul/body, heart/appearance, outward/inward etc.

It is possible for Spirit and Flesh to be separated and the saints in Paradise and the spirits in Hades are in that strange position. But this is not natural or normal – it is the result of the catastrophe of death. Without bodies we exist only as shadows or resting souls.

But what is “Spirit”. In Genesis it is the breath of God which He lends us for life and takes back to Himself in death. Often, it is best translated as “mind” or “energy” or just “life”. But “spirit” has no substance or definition. It can only exist either as a function of a human nervous system or as something preserved in God’s memory and by His will.

Brain Science is showing us that many of the traditional characteristics of the soul are connected with our brains so intimately that there is no real dividing line between body and soul. There is simply personality.

Personality is responsible to God and is made in His image. The very concept of personality was worked out by Christians trying to describe the Triune God revealed in scripture and their experience. The living trinity is One God subsisting in three persons. You are one flesh subsisting in one person. The “spirits of just men made perfect” in heaven are personalities waiting for their new substance, the “Spiritual” body which will be material but not “flesh” in the sense of being naturally resistant to the desires of the spirit.

In Cartesian and Greek thought the soul is immortal in itself. It is a substance yet radically different from earthly substance.

Modern life sciences are undermining this picture. If we define human personality as an immaterial soul residing temporarily in a bodily shell then we will feel threatened by the more materialistic view of both consciousness and personality emerging from the structure of our bodies.

If we see things biblically we should be grateful that naturalistic philosophy is catching up with revealed reality.


The Easter Sabbath

7 ● April ● 2007

I am writing on the Easter Sabbath, Saturday 7th April. This is the quiet day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday and I am wondering about that Sabbath day when Jesus body lay still and uncorrupted. Is that not the model Sabbath?

The Reformed tradition normally speaks of the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance” and downplays Jesus’ own radical re-evaluation of the Sabbath. But if Jesus is the centre of all God’s purposes who was marked for slaughter “before the foundation of the World” then did God not have THAT SABBATH in mind when he inspired the writer of Genesis.

Consider the word of Jesus spoken at dusk at the end of the sixth day of the week (remember Jewish days end at Sunset) – “It is finished”. Is it not related to the statement of Genesis 2:1-3.

It depends whether you see the death of Jesus as merely mending creation or whether this you see this universe as God’s purposed setting for the revelation and exaltation of Jesus Christ.

I think scripture teaches us that the central story of the creation is NOT the story of its beginning but, instead, is the story of Jesus Christ and what He has achieved. So the “rest” of God on the Seventh Day is a reference to that day the holy body of His Christ would lay on stone in a tomb outside Jerusalem.

Jesus rested from His works before He was raised to see their fruits on Easter Sunday, the first day of the New Creation.

Hebrews 4 tells us that we who believe enter his rest now – note the tenses in Hebrews 4:3 -as we rest from the works of death and live to Christ. The promised “rest” is not our Resurrection which seems to be full of activity and life, just like the resurrected Jesus. Still less, is it the rest of inactivity in the intermediate state in what is popularly called “heaven”.

No, it is the peace of resting from rebellion and wilful sinning. The body of Jesus rested on Easter Sabbath, His battle with evil successfully finished. We must be done with rebelling and enter that rest.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…”.

Let us share in the death to sin won on Good Friday, let us share the holy Sabbath of our Lord and refrain from all sin and backsliding, and anticipate our share in the glories of Easter Sunday.