History’s heroes: WSC Q&A 99-107

I’m busy preparing for Sunday’s sermon on the next petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Along with Calvin and Watson, one of my first ports of call in my study is always the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This series of questions and answers was written to teach children the central tenets of the Christian religion – what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of us (Q&A 3).

It’s one of my sadnesses to think that this was written for children in an age when literacy was not universal and yet many in today’s churches would struggle to articulate their faith in a meaningful way. Below are the questions and answers related to the Lord’s Prayer. Read, inwardly digest and pray with greater understanding and joy in our wonderful God.

Q. 99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord’s Prayer.

Q. 100. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

Q. 101. What do we pray for in the first petition?
A. In the first petition, which is, Hallowed be thy name, we pray that God would enable us, and others, to glorify him in all that whereby he maketh himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory.

Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

Q. 103. What do we pray for in the third petition?
A. In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.

Q. 104. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
A. In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.

Q. 105. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A. In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.

Q. 106. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A. In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.

Q. 107. What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A. The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen, teacheth us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.

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The Weekly Word: Your will be done

Have you seen the advert doing the rounds on tv at the moment for Jessie Wallace’s new fitness DVD? Put aside the fact that she now looks like a little boy with muscles and look at the title: Jessie Wallace’s Look at Me workout. The DVD features the ex-EastEnders actress exercising in front of a giant neon sign which reads: “ME”.

This is a great example of the self-centredness of humanity. And it can be very easy to be all smug and say: “I’m not like that. I’m really nice and loving to everyone else. I’m not self-centred at all. No, not me.” You see, we’re all guilty of putting ourselves first above all things.

However, the Lord’s prayer up to this point has all been about forgetting our own wants and turning to God and asking for him to glorify his name and establish his Kingdom. Now we come to the third petition where we ask that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.

Like the other two petitions this petition looks forward to the time when Christ will return and all these things will come to fruition. So we can say this prayer with confidence that God will do these things. In the meantime  we are asking that in this life God would so transform us that we lay aside our self-centredness and live more and more for God.

In other words, it’s a prayer for continual sanctification.

Many people search around for God’s will. And a lot of people look around in the wrong place. For in looking for God’s will they turn inwards once again and start waiting for a “voice from God” or for circumstances to move in a certain direction that suits them. I often feel like waving my Bible around and asking whether they’ve given any thought to what God has actually said.

One of the great passages that tells us of what living a sanctified life according to the will of God looks like is Romans 12. In this chapter Paul details two ways of living. The life that is conformed to this world and the life of sacrifice demanded of the Christian.

The life that is conformed to the world is always looking to self as the centre of the universe. The world thinks of itself too highly (v.3), is haughty and claims to be wiser than it actually is (v.16). Look at the myriad atheist websites out there for examples of the smugness of human wisdom. However, ask them how they came to their conclusions oftentimes they’ll look at you blankly.

A Christian life is not to be like that. Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (v.2). That we must discern the will of God and to think with sober judgement (v.3). To live according to God’s will is not to live passively but to live with a love for the scriptures and a desire to know more of the things of God.

This will have consequences that the world won’t like. As you learn more and more about God you’ll become zealous for his glory. The world hates this. It hates people who know what you believe and why you believe it. They want you to be quiet, accept the verdict experts without question and turn on your television(vv9-12).

The other difference is in the way we are to treat others. The world will always judge their moral decisions on how it impacts them. And often it will repay evil for evil (v.17) and seek vengeance (v.18).

Christians, on the other hand are to bless those who persecute them (v.14), to feed and water their enemies (v.20) and to overcome evil with good.

This is the will of God for us in the inbetween times. And there will be times when we mess up and fail to live up to this ideal. And we must remember that Paul only gets to this point after 11 chapters showing how God justifies the ungodly. And God did this in Jesus who was obedient to the Father’s will, even to death on the cross.

So do not be disheartened. Pray this prayer with confidence for “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Don’t make it all about “ME”. May God’s will be done.

The Necessity of Acknowledging Authority

Do you believe that the Word of God in the New and Old Testaments, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the supreme authority for the faith and conduct of all God’s people?

Authority is not something that human beings are naturally comfortable with. All around us we see the consequences of people claiming the supreme authority in their lives. Broken families are often the result of fathers declining to take on their role of authority in the family. School teachers cannot exert authority in the classroom. Politicians lose authority and democracy suffers as a result. And to even assert that there is a greater authority than yourself will result in a puzzled look as if you’ve just spoken fluent Swahili.

As a minister, you’re different. Your allegiance is to Christ. By your initial confession you have declared that there is a God. As one of his creatures you acknowledge that you come under his authority. Now you will promise to base your whole ministry on that authority.

This promise may not be as strong as an inerrantist may want but it is still a strong and vital promise that you are making. The “discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” is a good explanation of the role of the Spirit in sanctification as he opens your eyes to his truth in his word. However, we have seen in the URC how that phrase has introduced a bit of wriggle room for liberals which makes them functional charismatics.

Don’t let that be the case with you, dear minister. The Bible is the Word of God. There is no other place for you to find the will of God. There is no other place for you to go to hear how God has saved you and how you are to live in gratitude for that salvation.

The Bible is your supreme authority for your faith and practice. Everything in your ministry depends on this. No more sermons from Opinions 7:12. No more sanctioning of moral behaviour that is clearly unbiblical. When you do that you are in rebellion against the promise you made before God and the church.

You are under authority. Conduct your ministry as if that is true.

History’s Heroes: George Bettis

A repost from a year ago triggered by another concert at Hall Gate URC.

Last Saturday evening Hall Gate URC hosted a concert. The ground floor section of the sanctuary was packed out so I went up into the balcony, out of the way.

Hall Gate Sanctuary

As I listened to the music and looked around the church I thought back to the days when people would have sat up there on Sunday morning listening to the preaching of the Reverend George R. Bettis at the turn of the last century. I then had one of those moments where you realise your insignificance and your significance at the same time.

I’m the 25th minister of Hall Gate since it was established in 1798. When I stand in the pulpit I’m standing where those 24 other men have preached the Word. I’m standing on their shoulders as I continue their work of leading God’s people. It’s really humbling.

It’s also quite scary. Will people be sat in the gallery in a hundred years time wondering what things were like in the time of Rev. Phil Baiden? I realised the responsibility placed on me to “shepherd the Church of God that he obtained with his own blood.” [Acts 20:28] It was really humbling.

One of the things I’ve struggled with in beginning my ministry is that transition from student to pastor. In a placement church you’re under the authority of the minister and the elders’ meeting of that church. They tolerate you for a year or two and you can be forgiven for being a naive young man full of zeal. On entering ministry I suddenly found people would be interested in what I said and took it with some authority. It’s been tricky at times.

That responsibility would have been felt by Rev. Bettis. He became the minister at Hall Gate in 1870. During his time the church increased in membership, made many improvements to the building and built a spacious hall and school rooms. Rev. Bettis was a man who loved the flock and worked tirelessly for his Lord. The only picture I’ve seen of him was of a kindly man with a white beard, posing with his bicycle by his house. After 37 years as minister he informed the deacons that he would be stepping down. This was rejected but the search was on for an assistant minister. As a result the Rev P.W. Jones was appointed.

Jones was a young, handsome man with great enthusiasm. Unfortunately his enthusiasm was for the denial of the doctrine of the Trinity and the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Bettis was true to the original Trust Deed of the church which insisted on the preaching of the Gospel, as understood by the whole church for millenia and precious to the Dissenters.

And so aging Rev Bettis, rather than retire, had to lead the battle against this “new” theology. It was messy and ugly at times. The church split down the middle. Bettis and those true to the gospel were forced to plant a new church – Trinity Congregational. After legal action the church building was locked and there was no worship for several months. However, the Trustees of the church agreed that Rev. Jones could no longer preach against the Trust Deed of 1802. He and his supporters moved down the road and joined with the Unitarians to create the “Free Christian Church”.

It’s a real privilege to follow Rev. Bettis into the pulpit at Hall Gate. I pray that I would have the same passion for the glories of the Gospel. In his final sermon at the church he said these words. I echo them wholeheartedly today:

This sanctuary is dearer to me and mine than I can express. I pray that God will yet build here a true, living church, and that it will become to many in the days to come, more, even, than in the past, their spiritual birthplace. I commend you to God and the word of His Grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus.

Rev. Bettis knew that nothing could be done apart from the grace of God. I pray that I would always remember that as I follow him in the work of Christ in the world.

The Weekly Word: Your Kingdom Come

George III

George III waiting to hear Handel

When I was coming to the end of my time in Madagascar I was browsing in a bookshop when a familiar piece of music began to play. As the piece built to its crescendo and the choir came in with “Zadok the priest” a tear came to my eye. I loved Madagascar: I felt at home and had tried to fit into the culture of the place as much as possible. But as I listened to Handel’s coronation music tangled feelings of homesickness, pride in my country (which I’d rarely had before) and looking forward to coming home came to the surface.

I was longing for the grandeur of a Kingdom that was long past its best but in praying the Lord’s Prayer we’re praying for the coming of a Kingdom that will never lose its lustre and will bring together people from across the world. But before we look at what the Kingdom is, let’s remind ourselves of what it is not.

It is not a political Kingdom
It is too easy to think that the Kingdom of God corresponds to the kingdoms of this world. As Jesus was about to ascend the disciples ask Jesus whether he will now restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Even with their experiences of Jesus and his teaching they equated the Kingdom with a earthly glory.

The history of the church is full of examples of looking for an earthly Kingdom. Too often we have thought that certain political viewpoints equate to the Kingdom of God. Christendom under Charlemagne and then the Holy Roman Emperors extended the Kingdom by the sword. The British Empire often equated liberal democracy and “civilisation” with the Kingdom. Now, many think that the Kingdom is seen wherever there are left-of-centre policies because they equate the liberation from poverty as being the Kingdom of God.

All these things are misguided. As Jesus tells Pilate: My Kingdom is not of this world.

It is not built by us
We human beings love to do stuff. We have to be active. We have to feel like we’re making a difference. This is seen in some of the language used about the Kingdom of God in our churches. The popular hymn says: “Sent by the Lord am I/ my hands are ready now to make the earth the place/ in which the kingdom comes.” This idea could not be further from the Biblical truth.

We do not build the Kingdom. We receive it (Mark 10:5). We enter it (Mark 10:23). We seek it (Matthew 6:33). The Kingdom of God comes about by God’s initiative and by the working of the Holy Spirit. It was fore-shadowed in the Old Testament, broke into history in the person of Jesus, expands by the preaching of the Gospel and will come to its full consummation when Christ returns.

But what are we praying for?
We are praying that more and more would see the wonder of our great King, Jesus. We are praying that the Gospel would go to the ends of the earth. We are praying that more and more would recognise the authority of God’s rule. And we are praying for the hastening of the time when Christ will return and bring his Kingdom in all its fullness.

But Phil, that doesn’t sound grand enough. Can’t we bring about a conversion of Great Britain to the gospel? Can’t we feed all the hungry and change the habits of multi-national companies? Can’t we all join together and march on Downing Street? We want people to see the Kingdom!

To which I say: Was it grand when Jesus was born in a stable? Was it grand when he wandered around and had no place to lay his head? Was it grand as he bled to death on the cross?

The resurrection is the promise of the glory to come. In the meantime; live under God’s authority – don’t mistake your ideals for God’s ideals – and the Kingdom, like a mustard seed, will grow without you even realising it.

Your Kingdom come.

On the Necessity of Public Confession

This post begins a series on the promises made by ministers in the United Reformed Church at their ordination. It is intended to offer challenge and encouragement to ministers in training and pastoral charge. I hope it will be edifying for lay people to see the high standards that their ministers have confessed before God and the church. And for those who are not in the URC, you’re welcome to leave us to it but it would be great if you would stay.

“Do you confess anew your faith in one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)

The day of my ordination was oppressively hot. I had to sneak a handkerchief into the sleeve of my gown to dab away the sweat from my brow. People’s clothes were sticking to the pews as the old sanctuary got warmer and warmer. Eventually the time came when I had to stand before the congregation and make promises. The temperature seemed to rise even further as I stood on the threshold of making vows that I bind me for the rest of my days.

But before I promised anything I had to “confess anew my faith in One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.

I had already confessed my faith at my baptism and entry into membership. Here I was to make a further confession in front of people who I was called to shepherd, love and lead. And the first confession I made was to declare my faith in the God of the Bible – God revealed as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To those of you about to be ordained: Do you truly see God in this way? Are you convinced by the doctrine of the Trinity? Have you studied the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds? Have you even heard of the Chalcedonian Creed that outlines the orthodox view of the Trinity?

Are you convinced by scripture that Jesus is the incarnate Son, the second person of the Trinity? Will you defend his divinity throughout your ministry?

Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is a person, in whom God dwells with his people today?

Can you confess with clarity and conviction that God is One in Three and Three in One?

And to those of you who are already ministers: Have you consistently defended this doctrine? Have you looked to increase your knowledge of this great mystery? Have you sought to preach with clarity that which you confessed before God and the church?

This confession will set the tone for the rest of the promises we will look at. When the question comes I pray that you will declare with passion: “I do!

History’s heroes: Thomas Watson

Puritan.

There’s no doubt that modern-day Britain uses that word as an insult. Of course, it was first coined as an insult back in the late 16th Century. It was used to describe those who wanted to see the Church of England purified from all Papist additions. The Puritans are most closely associated with Cromwellian England and are universally painted as boring kill-joys who wore bad clothes and banned Christmas.

With all the cultural baggage that we carry around with us, it’s a real shock to actually encounter the real Puritans through their writings and discover their warm, lively characters.

In 2008 I joined in with blogger Timmy Brister’s Puritan Reading Challenge. I’d read Richard Baxter’s Reformed Pastor and it challenged and changed my view of the pastoral office. I wanted to read more of these old guys. Could they have something to say to us in the 21st Century?

The answer was an emphatic: “Yes!”

Thanks to the PRC I came across the work of Thomas Watson. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and was minister of St Stephen’s Church, Walbrook. He signed up to the Westminster Confession but he didn’t sign up to regicide and was imprisoned by the Commonwealth. You’d think that he would have no problem with the Act of Uniformity but in 1662 he was ejected with 2000 other ministers from the Church of England. He continued to preach and minister in the following years.

The first work of his I read was “The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil”. I would read it on the Sheffield tram and spend half the journey lost in thought as his writing forced me to look at myself to see where I was falling short. But Watson is not a hectoring Puritan. His writing is full of imagery and illustrations that are so practical that he is a delight to read.

He also wrote “A Body of Practical Divinity” which is published in three volumes. The volume on the Lord’s Prayer has been a wonderful resource in my current sermon series.

If you want an introduction to the Puritans then you can’t go wrong with Watson.

For more on Watson’s Life and Works click here