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By In Worship

Towards the Reformation of worship

Recently at Emmanuel we had a sermon and discussion on the subject of worship – in particular, how we should go about the continual process of trying to reform our worship in accordance with Scripture. For many people, this raises an uncomfortable tension.

On the one hand, obviously there must be something to be said for seeking to shape our worship in accordance with Scripture. It may not always be easy to figure out all the details, but in principle, since everything comes under the Lordship of Christ, it’s hard to regard the practical and liturgical details of our church services as unimportant.

But on the other hand, we want to avoid conveying the idea that the liturgical niceties are the be-all-and-end-all of the reformation of worship. Without retreating into gnostic pietism, there is surely something to be said for the idea that the LORD accepts those whose hearts are right before him, who seek him in faith with a repentant spirit.

2 Chronicles 30 sheds some helpful light on the subject. In this chapter, King Hezekiah is in the process of reorganizing the Passover festival after generations of neglect. Clearly, the King is concerned with making sure that everything is done in a certain way, as some of the details in the text make clear (e.g. vv. 14-16). We don’t know how (un-)comfortable the people found these arrangements, though we can be sure that they were unfamiliar with them, since the Passover hadn’t been celebrated for so long. But regardless of this, the liturgical details matter. (more…)

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By In Worship

Getting the best from the Lectionary

During advent at Emmanuel we’re following the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. This can provoke a range of reactions from Reformed and evangelical Christians, and I thought it might therefore be worth recording some of my own reflections on the strengths (and weaknesses) of this approach.

I should start by conceding that there are some obvious problems with following the lectionary – at least, there would be if we did it all the time. For example:

  1. The readings are frequently very short – too short to get any sense of the context.
  2. The first problem is exacerbated by the fact that the readings often miss off significant portions at the beginning and end (or even sometimes, in some lectionaries, the middle) of the passages being read, which are necessary to make sense of them.
  3. Many parts of the Bible are not included at all (at least in the readings for Sundays), with the result that they disappear entirely from the corporate church’s worship. This really would be a serious problem if (as many lectionary fans wish) the whole church throughout the world adopted the same lectionary.
  4. The logic and coherence of sequential exposition of sequential passages in a single book is lost. (For what it’s worth, I think that many preachers tend to overestimate the value of sequential exposition in this respect. If you’re a preacher,  try asking a member of the congregation next Sunday what you preached on last week, and you’ll soon discover why, yet I think there is still something to be said for the point.)
  5. The familiar passages that (understandably) dominate lectionaries tend to become over-familiar, leading to a stereotyped picture of the Christian faith which loses the surprise-factor of the unfamiliar parts of the Bible. (I mean, how many lectionaries devote substantial attention to large portions of the book of Judges?)
  6. Related to the previous point, I’m afraid I wonder how many of the choices of readings in some lectionaries are dictated by theological prejudice against unpopular or controversial aspects of the Christian faith. Imprecatory Psalms are either ignored entirely or heavily edited; large portions of Leviticus, Joshua, Judges and the prophets fail to make an appearance; you get the picture.
  7. The choice of readings for particular seasons of the church year may at times reflect exegetical misunderstandings about the texts being read. Even if these misunderstandings were not present in the minds of the editors, they could easily be reinforced in the minds of congregations. For example, if the season of Advent is broadly about the anticipation of Jesus’ final return in glory, then the inclusion of Lk 21:25-36 is likely to reinforce the widely-held but (to my mind) mistaken reading of the Olivet Discourse as a prediction of this great event, rather than a prediction of the destruction of the Temple in AD70.

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By In Politics

Everything that’s wrong with secular liberalism

The problem with modern secular liberalism, at least here in the UK, was crystallised perfectly in a recent exchange between a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) and Lord Hall, the Director-General of the BBC.

The exchange related to what we should call the Islamic terrorist group variously known as IS (Islamic State), ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Some recent commentators have abandoned these acronyms, in recognition of a number of mainstream Muslims who argue that “the term “Islamic State” gives a religious dignity to what is simply a terrorist sect” (Telegraph). Instead, they prefer the name “Daesh,” an Arabic acryonym for “Al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham“, the full name of  the group.

The term “Daesh” has an additional benefit: it sounds similar to the Arabic word “Dahes,” meaning “one who sows discord,” and is therefore regarded as highly insulting by IS/ISIS/ISIL followers. It’s always nice to be able to insult people who so richly deserve it.

This rings all kinds of biblical bells, of course. Think of the deliberate mockery of King Eglon of Moab in Judges 3 – the horrendously and hilariously overweight monarch whose name sounds like a blend of the Hebrew words for “fat” and “cow”. (My kids have had similar fun ever since they started learning German, when they discovered that the German for “Father” is “Vater“, and for “Daddy” is “Vati“. And yes, those V’s are all pronounced “F”.)

So, in July this year, a group of 120 British MPs wrote to Lord Hall, the director-general of the BBC, urging him to instruct his staff to use “Daesh” as well. Lord Hall replied that he was unable to comply, since this would break BBC impartiality rules by giving viewers the impression that the BBC was explicitly supporting the group’s opponents.

So here we are in the UK, where our Counter-Terrorism Security Office has just issued advice telling us to “run and hide” rather than “play dead” if the horrors of the Paris attacks should be repeated here, and our taxpayer-funded BBC can’t call a spade a spade without breaking its own impartiality regulations.

Meanwhile, in other unrelated news, expect Christian doctors to continue to be disciplined for offering to pray with their patients, Christian employees to continue to be told they can’t wear a cross in the office, and Christian Ministers to be arrested for reading out Bible verses in public.

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By In Books

Moving on from Calvin

reading-backwardsOne of the many fascinating things about Richard Hays’ book Reading Backwards is the degree to which he highlights how much the best of modern biblical exegesis has moved on since Calvin.

(For the avoidance of all doubt and the preclusion of all misunderstanding, I should clarify that I do not think that the best of contemporary theology has moved on very far past Calvin, nor do I think it desirable that we should do so. It goes without saying that Calvin remains with good reason perhaps the foremost theological influence in the Reformed church, and indeed, as a biblical exegete Calvin was unparalleled in his day. The only reason for comparing Hays to Calvin specifically is because Calvin was so good.)

The point can be seen most clearly by comparing and contrasting the different approaches taken by Hays and Calvin to the Gospels.

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By In Politics

Churches and Councils have erred

Thus says Article 21 of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles. And though Emmanuel is not an Anglican church, everyone in the congregation here – along with pretty much every other Christian I’ve met – would agree with it.

But there’s more than one way to affirm this article of the church’s teaching.

It’s possible to say “Churches and Councils have erred, and therefore we can cheerfully ignore what our forefathers in the faith have believed for the last two millennia. Tradition can go wrong, so phooey to tradition. Just as long as I’ve got my Bible, I can find the truth, and I don’t need no help from anybody.”

But there’s another way to say “Churches and counciles have erred.” We could can say it with tears in our eyes and grief in our heart. We could say it as a lament, knowing that the historic teaching of the church contains countless glittering insights into the way of Christ which we have lost in large part because we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. We could say it in hope, as we recommit ourselves to dig deeper into the riches of ages past, to sift the wheat from the chaff and recover treasures long-lost which, if only we could find them, would give fresh life and power to an increasingly anaemic 21st-century church.

This latter path, it seems to me, comes a good deal closer to showing the appropriate respect both to the wisdom of saints long dead and to the power and grace of the God who is the Lord of history. Unfortunately, it’s a harder road, and so in our day it is fast becoming the road less travelled. Please, Lord, help us to rediscover it.

Rev Dr Steve Jeffery is Minister at Emmanuel Evangelical Church, London, England (BlogFacebookTwitter)

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By In Theology

Two conferences on the Trinity in London, England

It’s a pleasure to announce two forthcoming conferences at Emmanuel Evangelical Church in London, England, in March 2016. Both conferences are on the subject of the Trinity, and our speaker is Pastor and Theologian Peter Leithart, President of the Theopolis Institute.

The Emmanuel Church Conference, The Very Practical Doctrine of the Trinity, is open to anyone, and takes place on Saturday 12 March 2016.

The Emmanuel Ministerial Conference, Rediscovering the Trinity, is aimed at Ministers, Elders and theological students, and takes place on Monday 14 March 2016.

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By In Politics

Do we live in a free country?

justice

We tackled this question in Forum, our interactive post-service discussion group, a few weeks ago at Emmanuel. We began by simply trying to clarify in our own minds what degree of freedom and restriction we currently experience, while at the same time trying to work out what level of restriction we would be prepared to tolerate in future.

This latter aspect of the question was particularly useful, since it’s very easy to allow ourselves to succumb unthinkingly to a one-tiny-step-at-a-time process of encroachment on our liberty, so that we end up like the proverbial frog-boiled-alive, never noticing the gradually increasing heat until we doze off and end up cooked.

In response to the following 16 hypothetical scenarios, we sought to decide whether:

  • We are currently in this situation; or
  • We’re not currently in this situation, but we’d be willing to tolerate it; or
  • We’re not currently in this situation, and we’d be unwilling to tolerate it.

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