This Beverage of Life

This Beverage of Life

“The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:  She believes in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth , and the sea , and all that are in them; and in one Christ, Jesus the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God:  [announcing in prophecy] the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ, Jesus our Lord, and his future manifestation from heaven in then glory of the Father to gather all things in one, and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race . . . . .

As I have already observed, the Church, having received the preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it.

She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.

For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the content of the [apostolic] tradition is one and the same.  For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.

But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all [people] that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Irenaeus, Against Heresies I, 10, 1-2, trans. A Roberts and W. Rambaut, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.I, ed. A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A. C. Coxe (Buffalo, N. Y.: Christian Literature Publishing, 1885); translation has been slightly modified.


The Drill

The Drill

A friend of mine describes the Christian life using a military metaphor that is both helpful and enlightening….I know – what a bargain!


Not this kind of drill!

Being a Christian is about learning the basics:  Prayer; reading (i.e. exegeting and interpreting) scripture; Christ-likeness; learning the Fruits of the Spirit; living the sermon on the Mount; renewal of the mind; developing spiritual habits formed in the furnace of Trinitarian relationship, etc.  These basics are like the “basic drill” an army unit performs to stay sharp.  In other words, the existential reality for the army is the drill performed in peace-time: Marching; cleaning; inspection; fitness; and so on and so forth (one doesn’t want to push a military metaphor too far – there’s enough of that going on already)!

But the basics serve the special missions:  Either planned or spontaneous mission/evangelism; specific seasons of ministry; short or long-term mission; local or national or international.  In short, an Olympic athlete’s gold medal was forged on the running tracks of Trinidad; the swimming pools of Portugal and the cycling arenas of Argentina – the actual final in which it was won is almost a moot point!  The basic drill serves the special mission.

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Blessed are….

With thanks to the excellent team at Holy Ground, Exeter for showing this video recently, and Fr. Simon Rundell SCP for providing it, and of course Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber for writing it in her book ‘Accidental Saints’.  This has the aroma of Jesus all over it.

To assume the Gospel is to lose the Gospel

To assume the Gospel is to lose the Gospel

“If you get to the place as an individual in a family or in leadership in a local maxresdefaultchurch, you get to the place where the Gospel is that which is assumed, but which you’re not particularly excited about, the next generation puts the Gospel to one side.  It assumes it too but doesn’t really care.  The generation after that loses the Gospel.

So when you come likewise to something like the Lord’s Supper, I would argue that one of the groups of churches that is most likely to lose the centrality of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, is precisely the Plymouth Brethren; precisely because it’s so central for [them].  That’s not an insult, it’s a perennial danger in every denomination:  that which is most understood to be central can accidentally become that which is merely assumed – and then is on the edge of being lost!”

D. A. Carson

“A perennial danger” maybe the perennial danger.  I have found that as wonderful as being involved in a church can be, the power of assumptions are quite something to behold.  We assume too much because what we assume is too little.  There is a cognitive displacement that takes place, as though the Gospel is a stepping stone to actual ministry, or actual church business:  The Gospel is actual ministry and it is actual church business.  I suppose it gives rise to the reason why Carson would also say “I cannot think of  why any thinking Christian would not want to study theology.”  

Any departure from the Gospel is, of course, a catastrophic mistake more serious than if the escaping Israelites had set up home in the middle of the parted waters as they escaped the despotic Pharoah.  Many churches have “set up home” in the place where they are still being redeemed, because they have assumed the Gospel, they have fallen for the perennial danger; they have cuddled the wolf thinking it is a lamb.  This leads inevitably to a fossilising of corporate church life and of personal devotional life.  That is how the theological wolves pacify the churches today.

Institutional monotony is as alive and well in decaying Catholic churches as well as so-called charismatic-evangelical churches.  Give us a baby in a manger any day but do not give us the Christ who walks on water or wakes the dead!”  The Gospel obviously gives both – and shows that the baby doesn’t stay in the manger because he likewise doesn’t stay in the boat….or the grave for that matter.  A water-walking, dead-rising Messiah is a Messiah we can’t control, and the moment we have controlled him…’s not Him but another sentimental Hymn of slogans (this is the point to say that a truly great hymn can be reduced to sentimental sloganeering no less than a soppy bad hymn – it is the culture in which it is sung that makes the difference).  If it is a culture of Gospelised content, then wonderful.  But if not, then it is noise and wind!

Let us not lose sight of the Gospel because we’ve been too busy or too lazy to see it.  In 1534 John Calvin wrote on the importance of the Gospel, the opening of which reads:

jean-calvin-028“Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness…”

I have quoted it in full here, and it is a brilliant reminder of the things that are of first importance.  Our cognitive displacement is, I think, part of our tendency to sloganeer words rather than live with their reality and depth.  In other words, actual biblical content has been displaced in favour of mere words that are biblical but function as religious slogans.  This happens in our worship, mission, evangelism and devotions.  Often, what we think is Christianity is a parody, a shadow a pale reflection.  The Gospel, and all its content and entailments is biblical Christianity.  An assumed Gospel is a sloganeered Gospel, empty of power, depth and meaning – and who wants that?  Not me!

And we say this because we love the church.  And we love the church because Jesus loves the church.  Dodman Cross



We set up the board as it should be set up.  A place for everything and for everything, a place.  You go first.  Ah, nice move.  The Knight advances.  My call:  A7…. That’s got to be a hit – the aircraft carrier I reckon, well….Eighteen points for that word?  How can that be?  Lead-piping in the Library is no match for an attack of infantry and cavalry – it’s going to be a blood bath.  Your move:  Rats!  A geography question – If a Lieutenant attacks the Spy, deep into enemy territory – who wins?  Draw a picture and I’ll try to guess who!  But do not pass go, there is no £200, but there is a jail.  Only three 6’s get you out of that, and you know what the fundamentalists think about that!

This is gibberish.

A Christendom model of Church is equally gibberish in a post-Christendom context, a bit like playing the rules of one game whilst playing another!  Trying to keep all these games going in some sort of super-human Robo-Cop-Christian kind of way, is demeaning and dehumanising, a bit like what Stanley Hauerwas in Resident Aliens calls being nibbled to death by ducks (p.126).

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Lord, being a pastor is impossible!

Lord, being a pastor is impossible!

I am re-reading the brilliant book by Dave Hansen ‘The Art of Pastoring’ and the same day I came across this wonderful article by Mandy Smith re-printed below.hansen

There is a dynamic in being a pastor that is quite incredible.  We are neither managers nor mechanics; farmers nor chefs; social workers nor nurses.  And I am grateful for those who do these things.  Yet pastoring with integrity is most certainly not “running the church” (God forbid), but it is about being squeezed by Heaven’s Hands whilst living and loving in this pressurised mixed up world, often perfectly encapsulated by individual congregations around the world.  Too many people bemoan “the state of the church” myself included – but take one minute to think about it….how can it be anything but, this side of Glory?

bartonMy own church is no exception (and they are entirely innocent of anything this blog produces ;-), and whilst the list below is an accurate reflection of pastoral ministry, it ebbs and flows with varying degrees of weight and emphasis throughout the points on the list in a pastor’s ministry.

I am totally confident in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to break rocks to peices and re-make old, sin-tired hearts anew.  And that process by definition is hard, tough, gritty, life-changing and will divide people.  That is why P. T. Forsyth is right to say that the Gospel, when proclaimed faithfully, will both attract and repel its hearers.  The Gospel is a dividing thing, and so it should come as no surprise that churches are places, under Gospel proclamation, that wrestle, Jacob-like, with the Angel of the Lord, until a new person is formed.  The church is not a happy social club where we are meant to just “get on” and “be nice”, not a place where things should be smoothed over into a kind of bland conforming mediocrity, but a gathering of sinners learning what it means to be the New Humanity created in, through and by, the atoning and redemptive work of Christ.  The church should be a lot rougher, not smoother.  And that’s how grace works:  Grace doesn’t work or isn’t needed in a wonderful, open, tolerant, all-loving, all-embracing community (this is how some people wish the church was) – how can it?  To exercise grace, there must be un-grace and disgrace. To exercise patience, there must be impatience and all manner of urgencies.  To exercise true agape love, there must be self-love and no-love, etc, etc.

Sinful men and women all of us.  And some of us sinners go on under the call of God to be pastors.  And it is these pastors who face what I think are astonishing complexities in everyday life, simply because we are going about the business of the Kingdom of God – and that is terrifying in its own right.  Jesus builds his church, and this sometimes (often?) despite the church, despite me.

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The mirth of believers

The mirth of believers

We live in a broken world, with astonishing levels of violence, rivalry and scapegoating.  And only a fraction of it makes the news.

But one of the most counter-intuitive resistances human beings can do, and should do, is to laugh.  Laughter is what makes us human, and since we are all made in God’s image, as Sydney Harris says, “God cannot be solemn, or he would not have blessed us with the incalculable gift of laughter.”

The New Testament does not have one single account of Jesus laughing.  But it would be a mistake to think he never did.  Jesus was most gloriously free and always unashamedly himself.  He wore no religious masks.  Laughter is not less than holy, but an actual fact of it.

I can’t read the story  of the seemingly rude encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in which Jesus refers to her as a dog – as anything but Jesus humourously teasing out of her a response that is a product of true faith, faith that sees.  I suspect he even had a wry smile on his face as he did so, and so did the spiritually astute woman (Mark 7:24).

Sometimes our churches can be communities that are reduced.  Places of simmered down spiritualities.  Dour, serious, pious!

Maybe we’ve thought that to permit laughter is to allow victory to the devil.  Some people get very serious when they get religion.  That’s a shame.  Maybe they think laughter represents weakness, corruption and foolishness of the flesh.

I think one of the holiest sounds in our churches, or anywhere, is laughter.

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