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Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Threefold Pillar - Hated?

Below is a snapshot of who one can refer to as "an ideal Englishman" or "a model student." Indeed an aspiration most parents would love their offspring to acquire, and those fortunate enough to afford to educate their children privately would not hesitate in laying down the cash, even if such a decision would cost the couple dearly in sacrificing their own luxurious lifestyle, particularly in expensive faraway holidays, or owning a top brand of car.

Such being the case of ex-Etonian Andrew Picard, son of a wealthy Westminster lawyer. Just by looking at his image, it is easily understood why he would fit in well in any exclusive gentlemen's club, company boardroom, and of course - in any local church. By walking into church, he would be instantly noticed, and if the service is about to begin, or had just started, not a few in the congregation would mentally note him for an after-service chat. Even the minister up front may consider him as a potential future leader, starting as a deacon while at the same time, pruning on his preaching skills to the level of etiquette professionalism.

Andrew Picard
He is the ideal example of who a British church-going Christian should be. Smartly dressed, well educated, from a wealthy family, self reserved, not given to emotional displays, and choosing his friends carefully - mainly among women of his age. Although he is exceptionally good at team sports - rugby in Winter, cricket in Summer, any feelings of team comradeship remains confined to the playing field. In the evenings he is more likely to be found in a nightclub socialising with up-and-coming young ladies - each one cherishing the hope to be the one whom such an eligible bachelor would set his eyes on. An evening in the pub with some working-class mates would be obnoxious to him.

And so looking at his snapshot, or actually passing him as he walks along the street, is how I would suss out his status and way of life. Because such a life profile is not from a novel, or even from a television documentary or drama. Rather it's from real experience. A few years ago I invited a fellow window cleaner, who had just turned to Jesus Christ as a result of my testimony, to a Saturday morning Men's Breakfast. He wasn't dressed smartly but in tidy casuals, as were everyone else in the room. Neither does he have that "academic look" about his facial features, as Andrew Picard has. Apart from myself, only one other male took the time and effort to chat with him, and he was the Breakfast co-ordinator. He was totally ignored by everyone else, something we both noticed, and that had discouraged him from attending church of any kind since then. Furthermore, more recently, another friend and I have both successfully weaned him off from getting involved with Jehovah's Witnesses.

By contrast, the high respect such a one as Andrew Picard would have received in church became true to life within the past few months, when a tall, intelligent-looking graduate from Holloway College had arrived at our fellowship, and after a short period, had already preached from the front several times, and is held in high regard by both our Elders and the rest of the congregation.  This is far from being a unique case. On the contrary, it is the norm for churches across the United Kingdom to seek out graduates and even doctorates for future leadership, a notion which makes me wonder how the heck did the likes of Peter, James and John make it into the role of apostleship in the first place. How could this Jesus - "The Christ, the Son of the living God" be so short sighted? Didn't he realise that these three were mere fishermen, and not graduates? However to save face, and to give the Lord some credit; he did choose in Paul a religious intellect, a Pharisee, and himself a son of a Pharisee, to write a large portion of the New Testament in the form of theological and devotional letters to churches of his day.

Eton College.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he chose his immediate disciples. Because he was looking at the heart, rather than social status. After training them to a suitable level, he went to the cross. On it he atoned for all the sins of mankind. After his resurrection and ascension, he chose an intellect of high standing, but he had to temporarily blind him in order to bring him to his conviction that this Jesus, whom he persecuted, is the risen Christ. And this had brought him in direct line with Peter's testimony that the Jesus they crucified is the Christ resurrected, the Son of God, and to change their minds to believing this revelation reconciles them to God, forgives all their sin, and receive "a time of refreshing from the Lord" (Acts 3:19). Whether Peter fully understood that one's acquittal is meant to be eternal is debatable, I can't be sure. Quite likely he didn't fully understand. But with Paul, he had a better understanding, as so well presented in his letter to the Romans. He used the case of Abraham's acquittal as a yardstick for justification for all believers. And then, further on he writes that nothing physical or spiritual, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:28-38).

Fantastic news!

Christ died to atone for us, was buried, and then three days later, rose physically from the dead, defeating death, and ascended into Heaven to intercede for us as high priest. And anyone believing this in his heart, with the resulting trust in the record, has all his sins forgiven, and imputed with the righteousness of Christ, and can never be lost again. It is as simple as that!  

But why is such wonderful news virtually unknown by much of the world population? For example, the concept of Eternal Security, or Once Saved Always Saved, has been dubbed, "the Devil's Doctrine" or "Heresy of Satan". But if that was true - for one whom Jesus called, "The Prince of this world" - Satan has failed disastrously. Had he succeeded, then Once Saved Always Saved would have been accepted universally by all religions, not just within the whole of the Christian faith! Even among atheists and humanists, the concept of Eternal Security is dismissed as nonsense. Instead, all who fully believe in this truth makes up a very small proportion of the population, including a minority within the Christian faith, who accepts the Omniscience of God as a vital Biblical truth, and one of the major three pillars of God's eternal essence.

So interfaith wars continue to be fought, one insisting that Mohammed is the true prophet of God, while another says, "No, ours with a pantheon of different Hindu deities is the true faith", while another bases his faith on the founding by someone else, such as Buddha, another on Confucius. Within Christendom, a large proportion insist that Peter was the first Pope, along with Mary being the Mediatrix. Then para-faiths such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Science, Unification, Theosophy, Freemasonry, and other splinter groups, all having their own interpretations of the Bible, but all of them denying the threefold pillar of salvation: Forensic Justification, Imputed Righteousness, and Eternal Security. Then within the Reformed churches, the Arminian idea that the believer can lose his salvation and still end up in Hell after all, even after years of remaining faithful, is not only a denial of God's Omniscience (and also his Omnipotence and his Omnipresence) but also a rebuke to the threefold pillar of God's free gift of salvation. Yet many insist on this doctrine, even among the highest Oxbridge academics, resulting in a large percentage of churchgoers with a question mark over God's redemptive love and sincerity, and trying to be "holy" in their attempt to pacify a misanthropic or moody deity.

For the likes of Andrew Picard, like all other unbelievers, they slide into a lost eternity questioning whether God actually exist, let alone whether God loves them. He looks to religion, including the church, only to see much warring among themselves, along with insincerity, and hypocrisy. He sees fear of punishment underlying their quest for morality rather than love for God and a love for morality in itself. In other words, to do good to another in order to escape punishment, rather than out of love for the recipient. Little wonder that he regards the Bible as old hat, full of fables, and irrelevant to his needs, and instead rely on Darwinism as truth rather than the God of all Creation. Not surprising then when he has only himself and science to trust.

Why was Andrew Picard in the papers in the first place? For us to admire his prestige and social status? Rather, because he was charged with having more than 2,000 images of distressed young children, even as young as two years, as victims of sex abuse on his computer, together with some videos of abuse carried out on very young children, including that of a three year old girl being raped by an adult man. Other children were photographed crying in agony while sexually abused, and there were even some of bestiality with dogs. He had them to share among others in the paedophile ring. His computer, after being traced to its source, was confiscated and charges brought forth. But while justice for this crime would have normally locked up the offender, this fellow escaped with just a ten month prison term suspended for eighteen months. The judge made it clear that he has admiration for his Etonian education, his wealth, and his social standing, and therefore considered fair not to be held in custody. Therefore he escaped with a mere fine.

So if you want favouritism in both the church and in the judicial system, make sure you are born in a privileged family, attend Eton for your education, and always remember to dress smartly. The world is your oyster.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Revival or Hysteria?

This week's blog, although open to anyone to read worldwide, is a response to an article written by a very good friend of mine, Jon of the Kerith Centre, in my home town of Bracknell. Before I married, I have had many discussions with him at his home, which ended when he moved his family to a different location. But according to what I have read, he attends a prayer meeting every weekend to pray particularly for revival. I have to admire the fellow, and his devotion to prayer, and quite likely with fasting too, for such a particular cause. He, like myself, have as strong concern for the spiritual welfare of our local population, as well as for the nation as a whole. In his article he mentions one particular revival which took place in the Outer Hebrides in 1949 as a result of persistent prayer by two elderly ladies.

These ladies were Peggy and Christine Smith, 84 and 82 years old respectively. Apparently, both these sisters had never married and therefore had no children or grandchildren among them. But their faith in God, along with their perseverance in prayer allowed the Lord to move supernaturally across the islands under the ministry of a visiting evangelist, Duncan Campbell. It was a revival, or an awakening in the true sense, not unlike the three thousand Jews converted on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two. Prior to Campbell's preach, much of the population were on their knees, convicted of their sin and pleading with God for forgiveness. Among other things, Psalm 24 was read out, resulting in a mass conversion leading to salvation. If there was such a moving of the Holy Spirit across a particular location, this was one good example of God's cup of mercy poured out for all to drink.

Lewis Island, Outer Hebrides.

The population of the Outer Hebrides has always been sparse, the two main industries were fishing and crofting. Also at that time they were most likely suffering the ravages of War, maybe with a small percentage of the population never having returned home. Younger men avoided church altogether, blaming God for allowing such conflict, suffering and death to occur in the first place. It was the spiritual welfare of their fellow countrymen, together with their concern for God's glory, which struck the hearts of these two sisters, for something which was nothing short of a miracle.

Jon believes that if God can move in such a way in the harsh environment of a remote group of islands, he could also move across the whole of Britain, as history itself attests of past spiritual awakenings which took place across the nation during the 18th and 19th Centuries. I have to admire his faith and perseverance. A lot of it. In fact, a great deal of it, to say the least. Because between the Hebrides and the Home Counties, for example, could not be more culturally diverse. While up north, the unforgiving climate and the gruelling efforts of commercial fishing and crofting draws such workers to a greater awareness of their circumstances, along with the need for God in their lives, a characteristic which was quite prominent among slaves of the Deep South. By contrast, why should the highly sophisticated, well educated, confident professional, who sit smugly in his office throughout the working week, feel the need for God? Believing that science and particularly Darwinism has demeaned the Bible to a level of silly fables totally unrelated to the real world, his self-confidence and comparatively easy living would require a miracle of stupendous proportions to attract his attention to his need. Yet Jon rightly believes that with God all things are possible, including such a mass conversion of the present secular middle classes. Such hope in God's omnipotence motivates him to persevere in prayer.

Yet the word Revival in referral to a spiritual awakening is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament. Its real meaning is that of an individual who has been unconscious, or in a coma, on his way to recovery by returning to life and consciousness. It is true that revival is something that occurs in hospitals rather than in a church. However, Jon writes that he had read a great deal about past church revivals. I can attest to that. Because I once recall him reading about Charles G. Finney's evangelistic crusade in New York, especially between the years 1825 and 1835, before taking on the role of President of Oberlin College in Ohio that year. It is said the Charles G. Finney was the father of Revivalism.

Finney as a young man was tall for his 6'2" stature, had an athletic build and was startlingly handsome, with piercing eyes which would have cut through the very soul of any man. He was confident to the point of arrogance, he had a brilliant intellect which he used to study Law. When he was converted in 1825, then aged 33, he was said that he read the whole Bible from cover to cover before packing in his studies for good to be ordained as a minister by the Presbyterian Church, which had Calvinistic leanings. Despite his ordination, he denounced the churches of his day of being deceived, and began to preach very pragmatically to large crowds assembled to hear him. A fully fledged revival got under way, and according to his biographer, up to 250,000 people were converted throughout his career. According to many, Finney lives on, some 140 years after his death in 1875 aged 83 years. 

Many churches, particularly in America, continue to look up to him right up to our time. Along with his evangelistic campaigns, he was also a social reformer. He was against Negro slavery of his day, and sought for its abolishment.  Yet although non-whites were invited to his meetings, he made sure that they were segregated from the rest of the congregation, very much as women were segregated from the men at a Jewish synagogue. This made me wonder, when miscegenation was common in slavery, just where Finney drew the line between black and white. Later, while sitting as president of Oberlin College, he wrote Systematic Theology, with all of its 83 Lectures, and he had the final version printed in 1851, which is available online right up to the present.

Charles Finney.

Towards the end of his life, Finney was gravely disappointed with the very high level of apostasy among his converts. Somehow, his pragmatic thesis failed to work in reality of life, and this has shown a shocking lack of endurance and perseverance. Connected with this, by reading part of his work directly about justification by faith, some grave truths began to surface:

1. That the Crucifixion was not substitutionary in the sense that the death of Christ had paid Infinite Justice for our sins. Instead, Finney believed that the Crucifixion was necessary as a public demonstration of God's Government in the realm of displaying justice.

2. Linked to this is his denial that the justification of the believing sinner is forensic. That means that the believer does not receive a legal acquittal from the Divine Court which would have been credited to his account. In short, he denies the truth of imputed righteousness. This is due to his parallel insistence that Original Sin from Adam's transgression is not inherent, and therefore all babies are born innocent. Finney even explains the universality of sin by insisting that young children want their own desires fulfilled before learning to fulfill the desires of God and others, and therefore, by the time they are old enough to learn, the habit of sin is fully ingrained. The result of Adam's transgression is nothing more than a leading of greater intensity of temptations. At initial repentance, the contrite receives a pardon for all his past sins, and he must live a life of holiness where any selfish ends are turned over for the glory of God.

3. The Christian must live a life of holiness and not fall into any sin before he can arrive at complete justification. This has a strong parallel to the Roman Catholic doctrine of infused righteousness, as opposed to imputed righteousness as a result of forensic justification explained by Paul in the fourth chapter of Romans. If a believer sins, he is out of fellowship with God, and requires regeneration all over again, or be lost, according to Finney. His life must be purely devoted to the glory of God and to his Government. Any self-motivated action frequently performed by the believer is proof that he has remained unregenerated and is still in his sins.

For example, a teenage believer who opposes major sins but still commits minor offences, or is flippant in his devotion to God, is proof that the youngster is merely deceived, not converted, and is still in his sins. Or the woman who walks into the office in a new dress, with a desire to show it off to her colleagues. She is still in her sins as well, as with the minister who may argue against infidelity, "Because, to accept infidelity may ruin all my hopes for eternity."

The above examples may have an element of virtue, but it's all down to self-reformation, a human effort to exchange self-motivation to God-centred motivation without the help of God within. Finney expects every true convert to be instantly perfect to prove his salvation, or run the risk of falling away back into eternal ruin. This mode of soteriology is known as Pelagianism, from Pelagius, a fourth Century ascetic monk who grew up in Britain and preached across the Roman Empire. His driving point was that it would have been considered blasphemy for God to have given his Commandments through Moses if mankind is unable to keep them, a view shared by Charles Finney.

And so Finney's revival took hold of New York and its surrounding areas with breathtaking success, which looks to all the world to have been a move of the Holy Spirit. Finney himself insisted that his revival was due to the visitation of the Holy Spirit, otherwise such mass conversion would have not been possible. But as time went by, Finney himself was able to see his converts spiritually decay into apostasy, and it was only about two to three generations later that the general morality of New York City itself deteriorated to the level of gang culture, drugs, gunfire and many instances of killings, along with a multiple cases of mugging and street robbery. It took a secular Mayor to pass new legislation for the city to be morally cleaned up throughout the seventies and eighties.

And here is my point with revivals. They are not always good. Our friend Jon relates his first-hand experience of a revival at an Assemblies of God church at Brownsville, Pensacola, in the mid- nineties. Although I have not visited the city in Florida myself, I have read enough about it to seriously question whether this was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, or whether it was mass hysteria - a play on the emotions of many. I'll accept that among the thousands who attended, some might have genuinely turned to Christ for salvation. But I believe that the greater result of this so-called awakening was emotional rather than spiritual. Would this sort of thing really benefit our town and our country?

At the time, the senior pastor of the church was John Kilpatrick, who invited evangelist Steve Hill to monitor the revival. As Hill preached, people by the thousands fell to the floor, many writhing and shrieking, shaking and manifesting behaviour which would have alarmed any passing unchurched or unbeliever, if not terrify. Even here in my home town, we had a taster of all that in our church during the late 1980s. I sat there as still as a statue, pondering why the Holy Spirit hadn't "slain" me as he did to others around. It had no bearing on the experience recorded in the second chapter of Acts, or anywhere else in the New Testament. The only resource I had was the Bible, and I used it to evaluate the genuineness of such a phenomenon. It was even reported that the building was cleansed from any demonic presence prior to the start of each service, something which has no parallel in the entire Bible whatsoever.

Brownsville Church, Pensacola.

But most disturbing of all, were manifestations within this revival which were clearly demonic. One example, here recorded, is what Steve Hill commented on a young man writhing on the front platform:

God put it on him...caused him to fall to the ground and experience "birth pains"...he's giving spiritual birth to you...he's dying for you...he's dying so you might have life.*

Was that young man dying so the rest might have life? In other words, was the Atonement re-enacted all over again, despite that not only blatantly contradicting Romans 6:10, Hebrews 9:28, and 1 Peter 3:18, but he wasn't even Jesus Christ himself?

This is clearly the spirit of Antichrist! God would never act on opposition of his own Word. The word "antichrist" literally means "Instead of Christ." The young man was attempting to atone for the rest present in that auditorium instead of Jesus Christ. But despite of saying all this, I do believe that there were some genuine conversions among this emotional fraud. As was in Charles Finney's Pelagian revival - some were genuinely saved. God is indeed merciful, and no matter how fraudulent a meeting, service, or revival may be, the true grace of God will have his hand in it, nevertheless.

As it might be expected, the Brownsville Revival fizzled shortly after, leaving the Elders disputing among themselves and one, I believe, was even fired from his post. The church went into debt by many thousands of dollars due to their inability to pay for such a huge building. The congregation dwindled from thousands to just merely two hundred, and limping along to this day.

I have highlighted these three "revivals" because my friend Jon is praying for revival right here, in our hometown, and he has been praying for it with patience and perseverance for many years. I have accepted that the 1949 Outer Hebrides Revival was a genuine awakening. People by the masses were convicted of their sin, a Psalm was read out to them, and they believed, committing themselves to the Lord. But for the other two, they were deeply flawed, and both ended with a very pitiful state of affairs. Furthermore, Jon is fully acquainted with all three "revivals" dealt with here. He should be really careful with what he is praying for!


* Dave Hunt, Occult Invasion, Harvest House Publishers 1998, P. 524.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

On The Table, Not Underneath It.

Of all the blessings of retirement, alongside time spent on gym workouts, swimming, Starbucks, and jigsaw puzzles, is taking long walks in the morning. I am very fortunate where I live. Rather than in a city, where sidewalks are hemmed in between buildings on one side and constantly roaring traffic on the other, instead our back garden gate opens onto one of a network of off-road footpaths, on which I can walk for miles without ever encountering traffic. A good length of the walk passes through woods as a day-hike trail, or in Queen's English, the Rambler's Route, which is also the ideal path for dog-walkers and an occasional off-road cyclist. 

And a perfect occasion for meditation. As with other times, thinking about spiritual things, which is high on the meditative agenda. Like the moment I had a vision of a dining table covered with a white tablecloth and adorned with many good things. This has come as a result of asking myself whether on this blogging page I put too much emphasis on the grace of God and neglecting the part about the works God has planned for us as believers. Perhaps I can be accused of "easy believism" - a label I am prepared to accept. Because in reality there is no other option when it comes to salvation. It can be rather alarming when a man inspired by the Holy Spirit writes that for anyone who keeps the Law perfectly - then stumbles slightly at just one point - is guilty of breaking the whole Law. Blimey! What hope is there for any of us otherwise?

Like the true story someone once told me back in 1979. These two fellows from our church flew to America for a holiday during the Summer of that year to stay at the home of the host they knew. On one particular occasion, the host was driving rather fast along the freeway with his two guests when he was stopped by a police car.

"What was the speed you were driving?" asked the officer.
"Er sixty, I think."
"And what is the legal speed limit?"
"Fifty miles an hour." the driver answered sheepishly.
"Indeed. That is why we are giving you a ticket. By the way, what is your occupation?"
"I'm a post-grad student."
"Huh-huh, and what are you aiming to be?"
"Er-ha-hum, I am studying Theology."

The driver received his ticket and had to pay his fine. Despite his calling, he had broken the whole law, and therefore appeared in Court alongside thieves, murderers, fraudsters and other transgressors. He broke the whole law by one minor offence. And that is regardless of how much theology he was learning and how many times a week he prayed in the college chapel. He broke the law and a penalty was demanded by justice. Or for someone else to pay on his behalf. If that did happen, all he had to do was to accept the atonement on his behalf and he will be free from the penalty of that particular offense. Before the substitutionary payment was made, the driver could not work to earn his reprieve, because the offence was committed and a penalty was demanded. After the payment was made, justice was satisfied and the offender could not add anything else to make it more satisfied, neither could he work to avoid undoing the pardon he has received.

Throughout my forty-plus years as a believer, I have come across sermons and writings about what Jesus had spoken about in Matthew 18:21-35. It's about the unforgiving servant. Arminian Christians had used this parable as proof-text that salvation can be lost if a believer refuses to forgive the offence committed by a fellow believer. The story is about a king who was owed ten thousand talents by one of his servants. The servant couldn't pay it back, so he fell on his knees to plead. He was forgiven and set free from his debt. Now this guy should have been so happy to have danced through the whole palace, even hugging and kissing his fellow servants. Instead, he found someone who owed him the equivalent of a few quid, and instead of releasing him as he had been released, he had the poor fellow thrown into prison. The other servants were distressed over this, and reported back to the king. The master then had the first servant thrown into prison to be tortured, until he paid back all that he owed.

But this story does not teach the loss of salvation as many would believe. For starters, nothing about the Gospel is mentioned. Nothing about salvation or the redemption from sin and the receiving of eternal life. Nothing about regeneration. Also, no mention about being adopted into God's family. Instead, there was a ruler whose servant owed him a huge sum of money. That was all. One very important point appears to have been overlooked, even by post-graduate preachers and writers. That is the servant was released from his debt, not redeemed. There is a big difference between the two. It was the king's own choice purely for the servant's benefit. As everything else stood, the debt remains unpaid. Not long afterwards, the servant was forced to repay, because no substitutionary payment was made. The story is a world away from the tale of some rich relative stepping forward to pay on the servant's behalf in full redemption from his debt. 

We can now thank and praise God for sending his dear Son Jesus Christ to make a substitutionary payment on our behalf by dying on the cross, buried in a tomb, and raised to life three days later. By believing this in our hearts, we are forever acquitted. The debt of sin owed to Infinite Justice paid in full. As Paul wrote afterwards: if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9). And John backs this up: that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...(1 John 5:1). This is not a chicken-or-egg issue. Confession can only come out from a heart belief.

And here is where I find to be the greatest source of Eternal Security. Unlike the king forgiving his servant for the servant's benefit (and a financial loss to the king himself), God has redeemed us for his own sake. In other words, the glory, honour, and majesty of God is forever tied to our redemption. It is the risen Jesus who gets all the glory, as beautifully narrated in Revelation chapter five. The glory of God to the entire heavenly host is the reason for once saved always saved.  

I can therefore ask: Can we sin, that grace may abound?
Answer: Yes we can. And we do.
But Paul does not ask that question. Rather, he asks: Shall we sin, that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1). 
Answer: By no means! 
And I love the way Paul would have spoken as an English gentleman as depicted in J. B. Phillips Translation  - What a ghastly thought!

The two questions are quite different. Because in reality, we still sin, even after redemption. That was why John the apostle wrote that anyone who says he is without sin is deceived, the truth is not in him, and in effect calling God a liar (1 John 1:8). But we have the power to choose not to sin if presented with a definite choice (as opposed to spontaneity). Instead, living a righteous life as a believer is pleasing to the Lord in the sense that such living is glorious to God in the sight of all men.

Hence the vision of a well laid dinner table while out on a morning walk. I tried to reason out the vision. A table is a board supported by four legs. That is, the traditional school desk type of furniture. Then I thought about the Cross of Christ. A cross has four stems radiating from the point where the two beams meet at the joint. These correspond with the four legs, which can also symbolise the four Gospels, each narrating the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The board is the eternal life which the gospels offer, the gift of salvation itself. On the table top is a white table cloth. It is a brilliant white covering, free from any spot or blemish. This is the righteousness of Christ. Finally, all the utensils represent the works done by the believer. There are all types of articles on the table: a silver lampstand, delicate china dishes and serving vessels, pots and cutlery made of stainless steel, but unfortunately an unwashed wooden carving board has also found it way to the table, greasy and unsightly.

All the items on the table serve one purpose, to contain food and liquids for the benefit of those sitting at table. None of the utensils, dishes, or cutlery are there for their own benefit. They are there for the benefit of the diners. I this is where I connect the vision with our Christian lives. We live for the benefit of others. It is worthwhile noting that nobody puts any items under the table. They will be of no use there. The table is supported by its four legs, and has no need of further support by anything else placed underneath. The whole furniture will not benefit whatsoever if things are piled under it in an attempt to further or strengthen its support. At worst, the table may become lopsided, allowing everything on it to slide off. Works done in order to "remain saved" has no value to either God or man. In addition, none of the items on the table itself contribute to its structure. The top will always be supported and held in place by its four legs. And that is true whether there are piles of dishes on it or nothing at all. Salvation is not dependent on our works. 

But God is very particular on how a Christian should live his life. It is all about unbelievers seeing the glory of God in our lives so they too may be converted and believe. Jesus did say that all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:35). Since God himself is love, the only way that unbelieving mankind can see this love is through us. And through this love for one another and also to them God will be glorified.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Wearing A Tie In Heaven - Really?

And so after a vigorous two-hour workout in the gym, I was looking forward to relaxing at home to ease my legs. They were aching and as stiff as an ironing board with an oversupply of lactate in the muscle fibres. I browse the current news on the Internet. Then I thought, Oh no, not again. What is it all about this time? It was a report about a teenage schoolgirl in the North of England, whose tie was worn slightly out of kilter. A passing teacher reminded her of this, and she immediately corrected the mistake. That, with an apology from the student, should have concluded everything and allowed to attend class as normal alongside everyone else.

But no. Instead she was ordered to go to the Consequence Room, an area of isolation to sit in as punishment. Funny that. In my day, back in the mid-sixties, if a student - or pupil as we were known back then - was told to straighten his tie, he would have made the adjustment immediately without further ado, knowing full well that any resistance to authority would have led to the Headmaster's office for a caning. Then that was it. Back to the classroom. The Consequence Room was totally unheard of. But in this case, the teenager, who has Asperger's Syndrome, was unaware of her attire, and when it was brought to her attention, her condition immediately compelled her to sort the matter out. She could not understand why further punishment was required, and she protested against the order to go into isolation. As a result, the school sent her home for the day, forcing her to miss out on her education.

It is my opinion that female pupils at school should be exempt from wearing a tie as part of the uniform. To me it looks ugly, a form of masculinisation, especially when the tie is very short, the knot very large, and the top button left undone. Very untidy, and not only that, but also a sign of rebellion. But all this is only my own opinion. You may strongly disagree. But apparently, many other schools see the girl's uniform in the same way that I see it, and compulsory V-neck collared blouses are instead worn. It looks much more smart and tidier. Furthermore, with a possible exception of the Forces, no grown woman wears a tie, ether on or off duty. Indeed, for a female adolescent having to wear a tie at school is a typical example of British cultural idiosyncrasy.

A scene from the BBC soap, Waterloo Road.

But this does not deter the majority of comments in the long forum which trails the article. These comments were aimed at the schoolgirl's rebellion against school rules, condemning her and serving her right. Typical comments included: Her Asperger's has nothing to do with it. She was a wilful rebel and deserves to be sent home. Good Heavens! Has anyone read the article properly? It was emphasised that the student corrected her attire immediately afterwards, a natural reaction of an Asperger's sufferer when confronted with such a situation. Oh well, I guess there will always be an England, eccentric as it might be. The nation's obsession with the necktie has not faded despite its decline among many male professionals. I recall the Daily Mail right-wing national newspaper heavily criticising the BBC for allowing foreign and home correspondents to deliver their reports dressed without a tie. Clive Myrie, for one, was heavily criticised for this, but others such as Mark Lowen and Will Gompertz readily deliver their reports tieless. Then there was this massive hoo-ha over Robert Peston's refusal to wear a tie while on air, which stirred another long forum of controversy following the article. By contrast, among female correspondents, a tie is as rare as an oasis in the Sahara Desert, but not a single whimper had ever sounded. Something which makes me wonder how an average school girl feels about compulsory wearing of a tie.

Why such controversy? I know, it's all to do with discipline. In many ways, it is well known that a school with a strict uniform policy delivers graduates with a higher educational level than the more liberal school, and with a greater percentage going on to university. Statistics constantly bear this out. But I do wonder whether the willingness to shed the tie before the commencement of university, for example, is due to a level of physical discomfort caused by the restriction, or a sudden sense of liberation until the job interview, or even whether it's a sign of rebellion against stuffiness - the "stuck-up" image, or a combination of two of the three, or of all three. But one thing seems guaranteed: Going about tieless creates controversy, stirring feelings. 

And I can see a stark similarity between the controversy over going about tieless, and that of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Both are very controversial. Especially over whether one is saved by pure unadulterated grace, or whether one has to play a role in his salvation. I for one, believe in pure unadulterated grace. That means that by dying on a cross, he took all my sins - past, present, and future - upon himself, reconciling me to God forever. That means, as a believer, I can enter his eternal rest, free from the Law of Moses, and therefore irrespective of how I think, feel, and act, as the word unadulterated simply means without any human effort or contribution. Therefore Once Saved Always Saved. And that is through the grace of God through Jesus Christ, who offered himself as the one sacrifice - once and for all time - so that the one sanctified is forever made perfect (Hebrews 10:14).

Religious people don't like this. They don't like it at all. In the dawn of history, Cain murdered Abel because he was the recipient of God's grace, while his older brother was religious. Later, the religious Pharisees threatened to put Lazarus to death for being another recipient of God's grace. Also the man born blind. He received his sight without working for it, and the Pharisees threw him out of the synagogue. But most intense, other than to Jesus Christ, must have been the stoning of Stephen. The Sanhedrin must have got so hot under the collar (pun intended) that they literally yelled and gnashed their teeth. And all this happened after Stephen tells of his vision of the risen Jesus standing up in his Father's presence to receive him at the point of death.

I believe that the Inquisition - Rome's effort to eradicate "heretics" for the preservation of the Catholic faith by torturing on racks to extract a confession - was another works versus grace episode, and what a bloody episode that was! On October 16th 1555, two Bishops: Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, were burnt alive outside Balliol College in Oxford as another case of works versus grace. Then to this day, works versus grace continues relentlessly. So what do I mean by "works"? It is the effort to keep the Law, to keep God satisfied and to keep his wrath or his disapproval in check. Because God is holy, and by nature we are not holy, it is human nature to try and please God one way or another. This natural human tendency to try and please God in our own strength is called the flesh. As Paul wrote, in our flesh we cannot please God (Romans 8:8 KJV) - so it's not worth trying.

Martyr's Memorial, Oxford.

It is so unfortunate that there are many who can be considered true believers who are prone to be controlled by the flesh rather than by the Holy Spirit, even if they declare that they are Spirit controlled. Here I am not talking about "sinning wilfully" or doing bad things. Rather, I'm talking about those who believe that salvation can be lost through abandoning the faith or excess sinning. Often known as Arminians, because it was originally taught by Jacobus Arminius towards the end of the 16th Century, these Christians feel the need of constant good works in their lives to keep the disapproval of God at bay. So they turn to Christ for forgiveness of their past sins, then turn to the Law to remain holy. The snag with that it doesn't work. For example, prayer is often begins by confession - to "clear the air" in case God has something against him and his prayers go unanswered. I have been through many years with this train of thinking, stemmed from my upbringing as a Roman Catholic. Throughout life, if my experience has anything to go by, God is perceived as constantly checking over my performance, and always finding something amiss. Nothing could be further from the truth. If all this is true, then Christ's death on the cross has failed to atone completely - a reasoning upheld by the Catholic Church.

Therefore it is not too surprising to have found Arminian Christians to be more judgemental of other believers, and tending to be more in want of patience against those who might differ. If they struggle to measure up to what the Law demands, it would be natural to see others failing to keep the Law perfectly as well, and therefore prone to judge. In my fellowship, I am under constant scrutiny, judgement, and even hatred by another member of our church. Not surprisingly, he is as Arminian as he can get.

This is where such controversies have in common. Whether a school girl must wear a tie to keep the rules of her school, or for a Christian to keep the Law to avoid divine punishment, the two are basically the same - to keep the rules or risk punishment. I have reason to believe that the majority of boys do not like wearing ties. Just walk through the High Street of any town on a Saturday, or stroll through a theme park in the Summer. You'll be hard pressed to find any young person, or even older people, of both genders wearing a tie. But at school they wear ties because it's part of their uniform and to wear uniform is the rules. Likewise, Christian believers try to keep the Law instead of resting in his grace because to obey the Law perfectly is the rules. And breaching of these rules brings judgement - whether for not wearing a tie at school, or that the tie isn't straight, or whether a Christian angrily shouts "F**k off" in church. Tut! Tut! A forum of controversial commenting to follow. 

Finally, I need to say to any of you Arminian readers: I'm not here to get at you. Rather, I wish you to see the freedom Christ has bought for you, and enjoy your eternal rest in him. Recently I have lost a small number of followers. At first I thought it was due to calling the English eccentric. There may be some truth in this. But more likely, I think they were Arminians feeling "got at". Rather the opposite. Jesus Christ has set you free, nailing the Law to the cross. So enjoy the eternal security he bought with a very high price.