Recovering the Reformed Confession

Hall Gate SanctuaryAt my ordination service the first song was Psalm 100, “All people that on earth do dwell”. We sang it to the tune Old Hundreth which was written to be sung in the church in Geneva in Calvin’s day. Despite the efforts of some (tapes of the Vaughan-Williams setting being posted to me, etc) and the uneasiness of a few more we sang it unaccompanied. It was great. For many it was a novelty to sing without the organ/piano/praise band. But why? Especially when Reformed churches have sung a capella psalms from the beginning? Continue reading

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He has been raised

“Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised.” Mark 16:6

This year, April is the month when we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. In our Sunday services we have been hearing Mark’s account of the life of Jesus. We’ve seen how this young, charismatic rabbi has gone from preaching and healing in Galilee to the courts of the temple in Jerusalem. We’ve also seen how Jesus was more than just a rabbi, with authority over evil spirits and even nature. We’ve come to realise that this is no ordinary man. Could this be the Messiah? The one sent by God to save his people?

As we move towards the celebration of Easter, we will hear once again of how Jesus was deserted by his closest followers. We will hear how one of his inner circle will betray him to the religious authorities of the day. We will hear of how the Roman authorities will nail Jesus to a cross to die – just as he said they would.

And as we hear this story once again may we join with the centurion at the foot of the cross who said: “Surely this man is the Son of God.” For this was the event on which the whole of history turned. Here was where God took the sin of the world and our rebellion and dealt with it, once and for all.

But all this would have been in vain were it not for the fact of the resurrection. If not for the resurrection all we would have are the teachings of a young man from the middle east, to be studied along with the other rabbis, if at all.

However, the resurrection changes everything. Here we have confirmation of all that Jesus said about himself. In the light of the resurrection we see the true glory of the cross. And in the resurrection we realise that there is hope. We realise that God has not abandoned his people but through Jesus there is new life and release from the power of death and sin.

May the church be a place where the crucifixion and the resurrection are central to everything we do,

In Jesus’ name and to God alone be glory.

Per Crucem ad Lucem

forsythThrough the cross to light. That’s the title of a little biography by A.M. Hunter about a Scottish congregationalist called P.T. Forsyth, a minister and theologian at the turn of the last century. My interest in Forsyth came about after my return from Madagascar. That trip had clarified the importance of a vital trust in Christ, the beauty of Reformed worship and the great responsibility laid on me as a future minister of the Gospel. For more background see this post.

The Gospel. I came back from Madagascar convinced that the church in the UK was in danger of drifting from the Gospel. I also came to see that it was not upon the heads of ministers to run social services or to turn churches into community outreach centres but to proclaim the saving work of God in his Son Jesus Christ.

Continue reading

Promise of Peace

As a new minister I’m required to continue my studies for three years in a programme called Education for Ministry 2. (EM1 was the four years in college, EM3 is the rest of my life.) The latest element of this was to attend a Theological Reading Day in West Yorkshire. We were looking at Alan Spence’s book “The Promise of Peace: A Unified Theory of Atonement.”

Alan is a Zimbabwean currently ministering in the URC. The book was written in response to Tom Wright’s view of the atonement as being essentially the Christ as Victor model – the Good News is that Jesus is Lord. For Spence, Wright overlooks key sections of Paul to justify his position. “The Promise of Peace” sets out to show that a model of Christ as Mediator is a better fit for the Biblical record. In his talk to us he outlined six(ish) presuppositions that we need to wrestle with when thinking about the atonement.

1. God hears his people cry. Therefore, there is judgement and accountability.
2. The announcement of God’s rule (The Kingdom of God) is not unambiguous Good News. It’s not good news for those who are complicit in evil, for example.
3. The cross is absolutely central.
4. Jesus’ action in the atonement is in his humanity.
5. (Not a presupposition but a question.) On what terms does God forgive us?
6. We must wrestle with what it means to say to God: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I was convinced by the book and I was even more convinced by Alan in person. His position is Biblical, historically grounded and relevant. He continues to ask questions of this nature in this month’s Reform.

What impressed me most, though, was his commitment to the historic Gospel and yet his total graciousness to those who disagreed with him. There were other speakers on the day – a liberal atonement-denier, an eastern Orthodox apologist and an Anglican. As I sat listening to the others I was shaking my head in disbelief and excommunicating as I went. If I was in Alan’s position I would have lost the plot – he didn’t. He was a great example of how to stand up for the faith, without acting like an imbecile.

All in all, a good day – and it’s not often I say that of URC events.