It’s church Jim, but not as we know it!

Throughout the last two thousand years, and all around the world today, Christians come together in churches of an almost endless variety. Whatever shape or size of church you prefer, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be something out there somewhere that fits the bill. Moreover, it seems pretty clear as well that the vast majority of Christians in this myriad of completely differing churches are quite happy to endorse the believers in pretty much all the others.

Across the world Christians in churches that are, for example, led by priests, happily endorse other churches which are not led by priests. And, of course, vice versa! How many Christians in (let’s say) Baptists churches are going to condemn their brothers and sisters for being in Episcopalian ones? I would imagine very few! Yes, by and large Christians don’t tend to fall out with each other over what kind of churches they attend. And, of course, quite right too!

But I have discovered something in all this which is, I think, rather strange, because there does appear to be an exception to this rule, and one that generates a goodly amount of controversy too. You see, whereas most Christians in churches that, for instance, baptise babies, are happy for other Christians to be part of churches which don’t, and vice versa; and whereas most Christians in churches whose worship is somewhat akin to a pop concert are content for other believers to be part of churches which would positively reject anything other than a pipe organ or piano, and vice versa, there nevertheless does seem to be one way of doing church of which the vast majority of Christians, and especially church leaders, are deeply suspicious, and on which most seem to positively frown.

I have discovered, over a period of four plus decades, that pretty much any which way of doing church is, broadly speaking, acceptable to the vast majority of Christians except that of simply replicating what churches were like as described in the pages of the New Testament. Christians are free, it would appear, to do church pretty much however they choose with the exception of just copying how the apostles of Jesus set churches up in the first century.

Worship, it seems, can be completely liturgical, or not liturgical at all. It can be raucous and charismatic or ecclesiastically sombre. It can be happy-clappy or quiet and reverent. But what it can’t be, it would appear, is open and participatory, with all present free to take part as the Lord leads as taught by Paul the Apostle! The Lord’s Supper can be pretty much any kind of ritual with bread and wine that you care to think of, whether administered through the medium of priestcraft or non-ordained laymen, light and airy in tone or more formally ecclesiastical; but what it apparently can’t be is having a loaf of bread and cup of wine as part of an actual meal as was the case in the New Testament churches!

Further, church leadership can take the form of Archbishops, Archdeacons, Vicars and general priesthood or, alternatively, it can be the other end of the spectrum and comprise non-priestly – yet still ordained – Ministers and Pastors and the like. But what it apparently can’t be is plural elders raised up in, and recognised by, the church of which these men were already a part even though this is what Bible scholars unanimously accept was how the early church functioned in such regard! And we note finally that it is quite normative for Christians to gather in Cathedrals, Basilicas, Church Sanctuaries, Chapels, rented building and village halls etc, but should a church simply meet in the homes of those who comprise it, as Bible scholars unanimously confirm that the New Testament churches did, then not only are such gatherings of believers not even recognised as being churches, they are positively guaranteed to invoke the very greatest of suspicion!

This is amazing, is it not? Pretty much any which way of doing church you can think of is acceptable in the eyes of most Christians except, that is, the way the New Testament describes that churches were actually like! When it comes to what form church life ought to take the consensus of Bible believing Christians throughout church history has been that pretty much the only way not to do church is the way the Bible actually teaches.

I think that is something we should think about very seriously indeed!

Isn’t life strange?




Church Life: Command or Convenience?

We can, broadly speaking, divide the concerns of the writers of the New Testament into three areas: theology (propositional doctrinal truth), morality and ethics (personal holiness) and actual practise regarding such things as church life and church setup, baptism, and how the early church went about evangelism etc. However, although few genuinely Bible believing Christians would question whether or not the first two categories are matters of command; that is, positively prescribed, the majority view since the New Testament was completed has been that the third category is merely descriptive and therefore not binding. Whereas theology and personal holiness are accepted as being biblically mandated, with the clear understanding that the apostles of Jesus expected full obedience to their teaching regarding such, how Christians put into practise what they also taught regarding church life, baptism, evangelism and the like is, in contrast, said to be entirely negotiable and up for grabs. It is apparently  absolutely fine for us to go about such things any which way that happens to best suit us.

Now of course if this is what the New Testament writers actually teach then all is well and entirely as it should be. If it is found to be clear from the inspired text that theological truth is binding (divinity of Jesus, atonement, salvation through faith by grace alone etc etc), and that moral stances such as not stealing, or not being sexually immoral, or positively loving our neighbours and forgiving others are matters of command, but that things such as church practise, baptism and how evangelism was conducted are not mandated, then I would have no complaint. But the simple truth of the matter is that, however much Christians continue to turn a blind eye to it, such things are commanded and mandated in scripture just as is doctrinal theology and personal moral and ethics.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2, precisely in the context of how the believers there were conducting themselves regarding church life (the immediate context being women in the assembly), Paul writes, “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”

The Greek word here for traditions is paradosis and it simply means the established way of doing things; that is, established practise. And of course, if Paul is praising them for sticking to the way he taught them to conduct themselves regarding church life, and women in the assembly, then what would he say to believers who have changed what he had taught the Corinthians out of all recognition? He certainly wouldn’t say, “Well done for going against what I teach and doing things completely differently!” He would rather say, “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Following the above statement are four chapters in which the apostle outlines how the Corinthians were messing up their church gatherings, and what they were to do in order to correct things. As a direct consequence Bible scholars are virtually unanimous in their understanding that Paul had taught the Corinthian church to, for instance, meet  in their homes, to have open participatory sharing and worship with all present taking equal part, and that the whole proceedings ought to revolve around the Lord’s Supper, the loaf and cup being part of a communal meal. Paul also makes clear in these chapters that when it comes to church practise, the  test of orthodoxy is conformity to this way of doing things. Phrases such as, “We have no other practise!” and, “As in all the churches…” eloquently testify to this simple fact. Then, summing up his argument at the end of these chapters, he writes in Chapter 14:36-38:

“Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?  If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.”

Here, as clear as day, and as black and white as one could wish for, in the precise context of describing how a church gathering ought to be conducted, Paul states both explicitly and unequivocally that such things are as much matters of command as are theology and morality. If what Paul writes here is to be taken in any way seriously, and how could it not be, then we are not free to do things differently, be it regarding church practise, baptism or whatever. In the second to fourth centuries the Early Church Fathers went totally against Paul’s teaching, and therefore against the Word of God itself, when they made the changes to church life and baptism to which the vast majority of Christians, however inadvertently, are still adhering.

The argument that in the New Testament such things as church life and baptism are merely described as opposed to prescribed is patently false. 99.9% of Christians will have never even heard the above verses referred to by their leaders, let alone explained or expounded by them. How could they though? Should they attempt to do so, their leaders would then have to explain why they are making a living out of performing a ministry of which the New Testament knows absolutely nothing!



None But The Brave!!!

If there is one thing I am not, it’s brave! Indeed, I am an accomplished practitioner of cowardice in all it’s myriad forms, and courage is as alien to me as is flying to your average prairie dog. And if there is one thing I try to avoid even more than putting myself in harm’s way, it’s putting Belinda and Bethany in harms way too. Yet with that said, I can honestly report that we have just spent three whole weeks in the most complete and perpetual danger. Indeed, never more than a few feet away from both imminent and painful death.

“Were you smuggling Bible’s into North Korea?” I hear you ask. “Or preaching the gospel to cannibals in the Amazonian wilderness?” “Did you climb Everest to give out tracts at the summit?” Well, no! It was actually worse than any of those things. We were – prepare to gasp in horror – with a church in…….Western Australia! That land down under where the ten most most deadly everything-in-the-world were lurking in both the undergrowth, and ocean, wherever we walked, paddled or swam.

Our hosts assured us that it was perfectly safe, but of course I didn’t believe them for a moment. Their assurances that they had never even seen a snake, or a red-back spider, counted for nothing as just about everything that was dangerous in the antipodes – the deadly blue-ringed octopus included – either slithered, skulked or swam in front of us pretty much wherever we went.

So hey! Maybe I’m not such a coward after all!  I have, let’s face it, been for many years in close contact with Americans, and can now add Aussies to the list. I can only say, “Strike a light Cobber! Let’s get some Sheilas in with a couple kegs of the amber nectar and we can dig into our tucker bags down by the billabong!”

But seriously though! It was both a great joy and privilege to spend time with a fairly newly formed church of the Lord’s people who truly are committed to living every aspect of their lives purely on the Word of God in obedience to their Saviour! It is a rare thing, to be sure, and we were greatly blessed to be a small part of it for three wonderful weeks.

The family whom the Lord primarily used to start this church – Gary and Helen, Dan, Becky and Rachel – were friends of ours here in England before they emigrated. They pioneered a biblically based church in their home whilst still living in Yorkshire, but England being England, it just never took off as it should. However, the Lord eventually led them to Australia, and although at the time it was sad and perplexing for us (why would the Lord remove one of the very few families in England who actually understood church life?) it is both wonderful and encouraging to know that such a church now exists down under.

Being with Gary and Helen and the kids again was brilliant, and getting to know the folk in the church there was just the icing on the cake. We never know what the Lord is going to do next, and our loss here in England has certainly turned into Perth’s gain. I am increasingly of the conviction that the Lord has pretty much finished with the UK, and that the judgement of a famine of the Lord’s Word is now the result. But I am thrilled to be seeing encouraging things happening elsewhere, and having the privilege of being a tiny part of it.

So thanks for having us Yanchep church! It was great! I hereby welcome you to the rather small and completely non-influential company of Christians whose burden it is to live as comprehensively as we can according to scripture, including church life!








Now there’s a thought…!!!

As both an elder and a Bible teacher I would rather deal with, and be the victim of, the abuse of the freedom biblical church life grants the Lord’s people, than the perpetrator of spiritual retardation and damage amongst them through the exertion of a completely unbiblical hierarchical authority and control.

That the entire edifice of the church life of the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians should be built on a system of leadership and hierarchy that is itself entirely unbiblical beggars belief!

As for me and my house, we will go by scripture!


Home Sweet Home

I’ve been doing some much needed fixing up around the house lately and can be seen from time to time vanishing upstairs with a chisel in one hand and a paint brush in the other. The look of fear on Belinda and Bethany’s faces when this happens is matched only by their groans at the thought of the clearing up they have to face when I’m done; and I have notice too that Belinda will check our house insurance documents to make sure the premiums are paid up and that we’re properly covered for any damage that might result. I have always thought this a bit unfair of her, but then I do concede that there was that little hiccup with the blow torch and a downstairs carpet a couple of years ago. (Don’t ask!) But it doesn’t change the fact that I can be a useful old sausage here and there, and such am I currently being!

My limited practical skills are put to the test all the more though given that the house we live in is a bit….now how can I put this…a bit…higgledy-piggledy! It’s a council house, you see (that’s ‘government rental’ to my American friends), and was therefore constructed for practicality as opposed to any aesthetic considerations. Although we have lived here for nearly twenty years we have yet to find a proper right-angle where the walls and ceilings meet. None of the walls are actually flat and the doors don’t hang properly because the frames and lintels aren’t accurately parallel with each other. It’s all a bit of a challenge really, but although the thought of living in a better built abode one day is tantalising, this is still our home and we are nevertheless very happy in it. It is truly our home sweet home, notwithstanding the practical challenges entailed regarding ongoing maintenance.

And this is, I think, a nice little illustration of the relationship between our lives with the Lord down here and what awaits us after death. Although knowing and trusting the Lord brings us great contentment and peace, life is definitely, like our home, on the higgledy-piggledy side. Nothing fits quite as it should (sin will always cause disjointedness), and some bits, like our front door that has a gap at the bottom where the north wind pours in throughout the winter, are just downright disastrous. It’s good, yes! Even great sometimes! But man, it could be so much better! And of course the good news is that although there are no guarantees that Belinda, Bethany and I will ever live in a house with right-angles, flat walls, fully vertical doors and horizontal ceilings – oh yes, and a front door that shuts properly – we nonetheless know that, because we know the Lord, we are guaranteed that something infinitely better, in every way, awaits us after death.

The contrast for the believer between life here and life after death is the difference between living in some hovel with a roof that doesn’t even keep the rain off your head, and moving into a specially built palace on the most beautiful beach in the world in which every room has been designed, and then exquisitely crafted, just for you and for your complete personal satisfaction. There will, of course, be a 65″ 4K HDR TV in the man-cave to watch Star Trek re-runs on, and an entire rail network of full-size trains to play with and drive in the quarter of a million acre back yard

Of course, such an illustration doesn’t even begin to do justice to what I am trying to say because it’s limited entirely to material considerations, but it’s a start. Indeed, Jesus spoke promisingly of our eternal homes with Him the other side of death, so He obviously thinks the comparison is a good one too! I am therefore buoyed at having written this!

Do pray for Belinda and Bethany though. I’ve still got stuff to do and they look so worried when they see me with a blow torch in one hand, a box of matches in the other, a bow-saw between my teeth and a look of grim determination on my twitching face. But all will be well. Not necessarily because of the improvements I am making – well, I think they’re improvements – but because one day we will be with the Lord in the utter perfection of righteousness; and therefore of complete happiness and contentment. Even Star Trek and trains will fade into inconsequential oblivion in comparison!

Heaven…quite literally!

I have long been perplexed by the fact that just about everyone, Christians included, spell Heaven with a small h. Heaven is, if I am not very much mistaken, a place, and places, if I am not even more mistaken, are proper nouns which should always be capitalised. This fact can’t just be put down to the fact that most people don’t believe that Heaven is a real place because most people don’t believe in such places Asgard, Valhalla or Narnia either, yet such are nevertheless always capitalised. No, the presumption of a place being fictitious doesn’t change the fact that it should be still be spelt with a capital letter. Whether it be Thomas More’s Erewhon, Dylan Thomas’ Llaregub or Gene Roddenberry’s Vulcan, places, whether believed to be real or fictitious, are always started with a capital letter. So why not Heaven? And especially, why don’t Christians capitalise it?

At least most people get Paradise right, even though it’s only a part of Heaven, much as London is only a part of England. So wouldn’t it be strange if I were to capitalise London, yet spelt England with a small e? What on earth is going on?

Well, I actually have no idea, this adding to the sheer extent of my perplexity. So all I can do is put forward a tentative theory, and it is this: What if it’s part of a ploy by the enemy to minimise the reality of Heaven in people’s minds by reducing it more to a state of being than an actual place? I talk a lot about the Early Church Fathers in my teaching because their thinking has had a monumental effect on the Christian faith over two millennia, partly good, but partly too a complete disaster. And one of the more disastrous aspects was the influence they laboured under from Greek thinking and philosophy which understood the physical material universe as being inherently evil. This led, quite logically, to the idea that anything really spiritual must also be non-physical, hence the traditional Christian art that depicts Heaven as comprising non-corporeal-type beings floating around on clouds. To the modern mind such a notion quickly translates into the idea of an almost metaphorical spiritual state of being as opposed to an actual place. So what does the Bible say?

It is simply not possible for us to get our minds around the idea, in any significant way, of there being something outside of the Universe, but that is precisely what we are dealing with when we speak of Heaven. The Lord has lived there throughout eternity, the angelic realm having come into being and living there too before the creation of the actual Universe. So Heaven, this place God calls His home (it even has a garden), is therefore somewhere completely other than in the cosmos in which the rest of God’s creation exists. What we can, or at least vaguely, get our heads round though is that just as Jesus got a resurrection body which, although physical (he ate and drank in it), was so much more than that, being a vessel perfectly fitted for a human being to be able exist in God’s home outside of the Universe, so too will we, as God’s people, eventually get the same type of body. But there is just so much more!

Not only will we one day be physical beyond our comprehension, but the Lord is actually going to create a completely new Universe made from the same ‘stuff’ as Jesus’ resurrection body (I call it ‘miracle matter’), and Heaven is going to actually enter that Universe and land on the newly created Planet Earth, the Lord thus making His home with us as promised in His Word.

Let’s get this straight once and for all. Heaven is a literal place outside of this literal Universe, and should therefore, as a place, be capitalised when written. Jesus is literally God become a man, and He was literally raised from the dead in a literal physical ‘miracle matter’ body, being now literally back in the literal place outside the Universe called Heaven. Believers literally join Him there when they die; and folk who don’t believe such to be literally true, and who just laugh and scoff, are in for a terrible shock when they discover, when they die, that Hades and the Lake of Fire are literal places too!

What a wonderful salvation and eternity Jesus has won for us, and for any who will yet humble themselves, repent of their sins and simply receive it as a free gift from Him. I am literally cock-a-hoop about the whole literal thing!

In Praise of the X Files!

Over the last couple of years I have, thanks to Amazon Prime video, re-watched the entire X Files. To say I have greatly enjoyed sharing in Mulder and Scully’s ongoing paranormal adventures would be somewhat of an understatement, and I can only thank the Lord for granting even unsaved writers such amazing creativity. Bringing together the genre of global conspiracy with a virtually invisible alien invasion floats my boat no end, and I am truly grateful to it’s creator, Chris Carter, for giving such full reign to the imagination God has given him, even though it appears that he remains entirely ignorant of where it came from.

And of course the point I wish to make is that such conspiracy theories are entertaining precisely because they are not actually true. As C S Lewis once observed, the notion that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden is only fun in so far that you don’t actually believe them to be real. And so with the X Files, and every conspiracy theory that has ever entertained those of us with a fictional penchant for such. Whether it be hobgoblins, vampires,  the existence of the Illuminati, the notion that the CIA masterminded 9/11 or that the Earth is flat and the moon landings were faked, gullible people will always be taken in by the self-deceived promulgators of fantasy-mistaken-for-fact-type thinking. Failing to distinguish between fact and fiction they are taken in by nonsense and irrationality devoid of common sense, pertinent facts and reality. Not only is it sad beyond words, it brings good fiction, and especially good science fiction, into undeserved disrepute!

But of course the reason that I am such a complete and utter skeptic when it comes to conspiracy theories is because scripture not only reveals their basis to be complete nonsense, but shows us how they actually pail into insignificance when compared to the ongoing conspiracy that actually is for real, and which is truly cosmic in every sense of the word. The idea that any conspiracy could take place on a global, or even just a national level, is just too far-fetched to pass the test of even basic logic. Human beings are notoriously bad at keeping secrets, and for all kinds of reasons too. The idea, for instance, that covert forces in the US orchestrated 9/11 so as to make it look like Islamic extremists were responsible is just too ridiculous to contemplate. That everyone amongst the hundreds of individuals required to pull such a thing off could be relied upon to not break ranks in any circumstances, be it through guilt or simply selling the story for financial gain, is just too ludicrous to contemplate. No! You may rest assured that such things as the 9/11 theory, werewolves, the Illuminati and alien conspiracies remain purely in the realm of fiction.

What people do need to get their heads around, however – though they probably never will – is that the truth of the matter is that there is a conspiracy in full swing that is not merely global but actually cosmic in its scope. Indeed, a conspiracy of both divine and angelic origin that even the Chris Carters of this world wouldn’t even begin to be willing to accept as being the case. Scripture makes perfectly clear that men and women who have not repented of their sin and turned to Jesus for eternal life are fully at one with the desires and intent of Satan and his legions, and are therefore, though completely unbeknownst to them, easily manipulable pawns in his cosmic scheming and machinations. Conspiracies of sorts are a reality, though not global ones engineered by human beings or some shadowy organisation headed up by some sinister mastermind.

That the Lord will win out in this cosmic battle with humanity as the unwitting pawns isn’t in question, but in the meantime men and women nevertheless remain subject to a conspiracy and control they will never be willing to admit to. Humanity is indeed in subjugation to the demonic principalities and powers in the heavenly places! The end of the conspiracy will be a one world government based on the ultimate rejection of the Lordship of Jesus and the acceptance of a political power both originated and upheld by Satan himself; but one that will be crushed out of existence when Jesus returns to this planet in order to rule it Himself. This order of events will be followed by the creation of a completely new universe in which believers will live with the Lord and those angelic forces who have sided with Him.

Wow! How’s that for an X File, then?