Saturday, 7 December 2019

An elderly gentleman; incident on a train


Rather than dive into the heaving underground at Waterloo I much prefer to get around London by bike.  

My bike, not Boris’.

It's very simple. It's a five minute ride to my station and I make sure I get into the carriage marked for bicycles. 

Yesterday I heaved my bike onto the train and a couple of young men were sitting on the fold down seats where the cycles are meant to go. There were other empty seats for them to use. So, being English, I didn’t say anything, but stood waiting, expecting them to see me and do the polite thing.

Nothing happened.

So I leaned forward and said, ‘Excuse me, do you mind moving to those empty seats, this is the place for bikes.’

One them looked up from his mobile and said curtly, ‘And for seats’.

I took that as a no, and was resigning myself to standing holding my bike the whole way to Waterloo.

Then, unexpectedly, another young man spoke up. The tone was not abrasive, but to the point.

‘Come on guys don’t be such assholes.’

The two sitters looked uncomfortable, but there was no movement.

My defender spoke again.

‘If you don’t move this elderly gentleman will have to stand with his bike’.

I was rather surprised to be called elderly; but I suppose at sixty one I am.

Rather shyly one of the sitters said he just needed to finish off a text. Then they moved.

I thanked them, and so everyone in the carriage could hear, I said to my defender:

‘And thank you, sir’.

I sat opposite my defender and said it was the small things in life that show character, and that he had done the sitters a favour. I can’t remember what he said, and we sat in silence till Waterloo.

As I was getting off, he patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Have a great day’.

I had been surprised by the refusal of the sitters to move; but I was mightily encouraged by the young man who spoke up for me.

He could easily have kept quiet. It was none of his business. And it was not dramatically important. A sixty something man has to stand for forty-five minutes on a train.

But for my defender it was important and he spoke up, and – to give the sitters their due – they almost immediately gave in to his voice of reason.

In Bono Vince.


Tuesday, 29 October 2019

A. W. Tozer: who was he?


Like thousands of others I have worked with Operation Mobilisation (OM). And wherever that wonderful group goes they sell Christian books – in the street, in churches, on their ships.

There was one author who was always on an OM bookstall – A. W Tozer. Some of the titles were virtually given away. The leadership of OM, especially George Verwer, were passionate about A.W. Tozer.

They were passionate for a reason. Tozer spoke out with razor sharp insight against lukewarm Christianity and called for believers to join, what he called, the fellowship of ‘the burning heart.’

I have never read a dud sentence from Tozer. I could leave this lap-top right now and find a worn-out copy of ‘The Pursuit of God’ or ‘Born After Midnight’ and the prose would be just as engaging and challenging as it was over forty years ago when I was first introduced to him.

In case you have forgotten how good he is, savour a few of these well-known quotes:

What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.

How good it would be if we could remember that God is easy to live with.

God wants the whole person and He will not rest till He gets us in entirety.

To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.

It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.

The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.

And my favourite, which I often use when teaching –

Truth has two wings

But who was he?

After revering this author for over forty years I realized I knew next to nothing about Tozer except that he was an American preacher. I didn’t even know what the A. W stood for (Aiden Wilson). I had no idea what sort of family he came from; what sort of education he had received; where he had lived and ministered; whether he had married and had children. And, apart from what could be gleaned from his writings, I had no idea about the man’s character.

My situation is no longer so dire. I have just finished an excellent biography on Tozer by Lyle Dorsett[1] and know a little more.

There were a few surprises.

The first surprise: Tozer was not from a Christian family.

The writing is so rooted in what historic Christianity is, the defence of orthodoxy so robust, that it seemed almost a certainty that Tozer was from a strong Christian family.

Completely wrong.

Tozer was one of six children born (1897) and bred on a poor farm in Clearfield Country, Pennsylvania. His father, Jacob, was a disciplinarian, devoted to hard work and his mother, Prude, was ‘shy, beautiful, and humble’. But they were not church goers; and while Tozer’s grand-mother, who lived with them, was meant to be a Presbyterian, there is little record of her going to church either.

In 1912 the family, like many others, left the hardship of the land and moved to Akron, Ohio. Here there was work for the men in a tyre factory; and it was here that A.W. Tozer heard a street preacher. Looking back he wrote, ‘I was little better than a pagan…I became greatly disturbed…I discerned that there was a Light – ever so dimly’.

A few days after hearing that street preacher A. W Tozer gave his life to Christ all by himself in the family attic. Tozer himself underlined that he was not from a Christian family. ‘I was converted by the grace of God when I was seventeen years old and there was no other Christian in my family…in the matter of faith I was completely alone.’

The second surprise: barely had a secondary education

Dr A. W Tozer, as he was known in later years, barely had a secondary education and never went to university. You would never guess this from the writing. The prose is succinct; the arguments clearly structured; and throughout Tozer draws on a vast range of writers and poetry, especially the early Church Fathers and Christian mystics, such as Julian of Norwich. This marked his preaching with a freshness and originality often lacking in his seminary trained peers.

Nor would you guess it from his audiences. Every week hundreds of students from Wheaton College (probably America’s finest Christian university) and Moody Bible Institute poured into his church, the Southside Alliance, in Chicago. And he was a favourite at Christian student conventions. Dorsett writes, ‘Probably no preacher in the United States and Canada captured the minds and hearts of college-age people like A.W. Tozer’. In recognition of his intellectual contribution to Christendom as a preacher and writer Tozer was awarded an honorary doctorate from both Wheaton and Houghton College.

And yet he had barely had a formal education.

Perhaps barely is too harsh a word. In rural Pennsylvania Tozer went to a one room school house where – like millions of others – he was taught from McGuffey’s Readers[2]. There were six of them and as well as giving Tozer vocabulary and literary understanding, he received a strongly Judeo-Christian world-view. Good and evil were never ambiguous, and Jesus stood above philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Tozer mastered those six grades – though the farm work often interfered with his studies, and like many others he left school aged just fifteen. Perhaps the world ‘barely’ is appropriate.

As seen, this did not hold Tozer back. He loved God, and was a firm believer in the importance of the intellect. So he studied. He was a voracious reader and a master at scouring Chicago’s second-hand bookshops for bargains. He read theology, history, literature, science – and he liked to ponder what he had studied. He once said ‘You should think ten times more than you read’. And so it was that this farm boy rose to be the teacher of those who were enjoying the finest education money could buy.

The third surprise: fragile family life

Great preacher, great marriage, great family life. That’s the assumption. Dorsett’s biography shows it was not so simple. This was also a surprise. On the surface it seemed a model family life. Ada, his wife, stood faithfully by Tozer’s side for forty-five years. She cooked, washed, went to the ladies’ meetings – and mothered seven children. The Tozers lived frugally (they never owned a car) but there is no record of Ada ever complaining. On Sundays they all sat around the table, with one or two poorer people from the church – the perfect picture of the Christian pastor’s family.

However under the surface Dorsett suggests family life was more fragile. He interviewed all the children and discovered they did not have rich memories of family times together. One would have expected that a man famous for his prayer life would have made sure his own family had an excellent devotional time together. This was not the case. Every so often Tozer did try to gather the family – ‘These never lasted more than a few weeks. As one son explained, the children just did not want it and they were seldom all together for extended periods in any case’.

As for family holidays, there were none. Perhaps this was because of Tozer’s frugality but it is more likely that the idea of being a tourist did not appeal to him. Once, when her older siblings had left home, their youngest daughter Rebecca did organise a holiday. It was not a success. Tozer was so moody that Rebecca had to ask him to cheer up. It seems this was the first and the last ‘family’ holiday.

Another normal family activity A.W. Tozer did not get involved in was engaging with the wider family, on either his side or his wife’s. He remained aloof. He was reluctant to visit them, and equally reluctant to invite them to his house. Dorset says it is clear this caused pain to his own family.

And at the heart of this family there seems to have been a shadow over the marriage itself. Rebecca, said that her mother ‘was a romantic soul to the core’. Tozer was not. Indeed he ‘eschewed sentimentalism’. It seems there was a distance between them, which the children felt. Rebecca even said, ‘Mother was a sad woman, she struggled to be cheerful’. This distance was seen every summer at the summer conferences where Tozer was a speaker. Usually Ada would stay at home.

After her husband’s death in 1963 Ada was more candid about her marriage to A.W. Tozer.

‘My husband was so close to God, a man of such deep prayer, always on his knees, that he could not communicate with me or our family. No one knew what a lonely life I had, especially after the kids left home’

Our view of Tozer as a husband will probably plummet even further when we consider his attitude towards his finances and his family. As a pastor, indeed one of their most successful[3], Tozer was given a salary by his denomination, The Christian Missionary Alliance (C&MA). He regularly gave half of it back to the church; but he never told Ada. She served up macaroni cheese day after day to her family, never knowing that she could have made her family’s diet more interesting. C&MA also wanted to make pension provisions for their pastors. Tozer refused to sign up. Moreover he gave away all his rights for the royalties for his books. Money which could have gone to his wife and family, poured into the account of Christian Publications.

All of this fragility in the family and the marriage was a surprise; but we should be very wary of judging Tozer.

Certainly it is not fair to judge him for being unromantic. That was his character. Moreover in his age romance in marriage was not as centre stage in people’s thinking as it is today. And there were plenty of examples of dynamic Christian leaders who were willing to make sacrifices regarding their marriage for the work of the church. Perhaps the most famous is C. T Studd, pioneer missionary in Africa and founder of WEC (World Evangelisation Crusade). For sixteen years he laboured in Africa; his wife, Priscilla, in England. They were apart. There were many others. And there are thousands of missionary children who were sent to boarding schools. Set in this context, in his own age, it is unwise to make any accusations against A.W. Tozer regarding a lack of romance in his marriage.

And it is unwise to judge Tozer for his attitude to his time and money. He grew up in a strongly patriarchal society, later buttressed by his reading of the Bible. The husband was the head of the household and it was up to him to decide how the family spent its time and money. For whatever reason Tozer did not believe in spending time visiting or being visited by relatives. Nor did he believe it was Ada’s role to have an opinion either about what he did with his salary; or how he provided for their senior years.

And Tozer did provide for his wife - in an unexpected way.

To their credit, after Tozer’s death in 1963, C&MA gave Ada the pension she would have been due if her husband had signed up to their scheme. So she was not destitute.

However the story is richer.

In 1959, after thirty-one years of ministering in Chicago, the Tozers moved to Avenue Road Church in Toronto. When preaching Tozer noticed a man sitting near the front all on his own. This man was Leonard Odam, a widower. Tozer encouraged Ada to sit next to him during the service, so he would not feel so alone.

A year after A. W. Tozer’s death Ada became Mrs Odam. She was more than provided for financially; it seems she also found the romantic love she had always yearned for. In 1974 she said, ‘I have never been happier in my life. Aiden loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.’

This surprise about Tozer and his finances turns into a challenge. It seems that God asked Tozer not to take all his salary, or his book royalties, or secure a pension. Tozer was no fool. He would have asked, ‘What about my family?’. And it seems the reply was, ‘Trust me’. Tozer did just that.

Dorsett is aware that he is stepping into sensitive territory when he – quite rightly – shows this fragility of the Tozer family. And, perhaps apprehensive that some readers might become overly judgemental, Dorsett emphasizes that while there were strains, there was absolutely nothing untoward in the Tozer household. The children were all cared for, and moreover they all became Christians and have lived successful balanced lives. Moreover Aiden and Ada were totally loyal to each other. And just in case anyone leaves his book thinking that Ada did not love her first husband, Dorsett tells us that she, 'spoke glowingly of Aiden's accomplishments...and even endearingly had his mortal remains removed from Chicago and placed among the graves of her beloved family in an Ohio cemetery.' 

There are surprises, but none of them distract for a moment from the fact that Aiden Wilson Tozer was a man who lived close to God and through his preaching and writing has encouraged millions of others to do so.

He still does.

If you have never read any Tozer, make sure you do before you die.

And if like me you read him many years ago, why not read him again? You won’t be disappointed.



[1] A Passion For God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett, Moody Publishers, May 2008. Kindle Edition. Nearly everything in this essay is drawn from this book. If something is in quotation marks, unless I am quoting Dorsett.
[2] In chapter two Dorsett has a fascinating section on the impact of these McGruffy readers. Dorsett’s point is that through these readers morally Tozer would have had an education strongly influenced by Christian values.
[3] When Tozer arrived at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago under a hundred attended on Sunday. When he left there were around 800. Furthermore Tozer took over the editorship of the denomination’s magazine and subscription doubled.

Monday, 30 September 2019

The Christian Case Against Brexit


There seems to be a Christian case for Brexit, supported by some well known leaders. The veteran preacher David Hathaway campaigns against the EU[1]. Dr Clifford Hill, founder of the magazine ‘Prophecy Today’ sees Brexit as a battle between good and evil, Brexit being the good[2]. Peter Horrobin, leader of the excellent Ellel Ministries, has argued that the UK had to come out for ‘deeply spiritual reasons’ [3]. And from across the Atlantic Franklin Graham, the son of the world’s most famous evangelical Christian, praised the Brexit result as being a set-back for those who wanted a one world government [4]

But is there really a specifically Christian case for Brexit?

This short article will explain why there is no serious Christian case for Brexit and why there is a strong Christian case for Brexit.

The Christian case for Brexit: superstition, sentiment, and faulty doctrine

Superstition

The European Union has a parliament that apparently looks like the Tower of Babel, and there is a statue outside the European Council buildings that reminds some of the whore in Revelation. This means the whole institution is from the devil. Indeed this is where the anti-Christ is going to emerge. So of course the UK must come out.

This is like seeing a lone magpie and assuming a whole load of bad luck is coming your way. It’s superstition. And speculative references to the apocryphal literature in the Bible (Daniel and Revelation) does not change transform superstition to serious theology, especially when there is absolutely no proof that either the parliamentary building or the statue are meant to have any sinister meaning[5].

Not only is it superstition, but Christians have been down this dodgy road many times before. Most Christians over sixty can remember when Hal Lindsey’s book ‘The Great Late Planet Earth’ was all the rage in the 1970’s. The end of the world was just around the corner, Daniel and Revelation were being acted out on our news bulletins, and the Soviet Union centre stage. Well, the Soviet Union is no more.

Hal Lindsey joined a long line of Christians who over the last two thousand years have veered from the central teaching of the Bible (preaching the Gospel and serving the poor) to speculate on the end of the world. Along with Lindsey they were all proved wrong.

The anti-EU Christian rhetoric that looks to Daniel and Revelation belongs in the Lindsey genre. It is not reliable. Sensible Christians should give it a wide berth.

There is superstition; and...

Sentiment

The sentiment is that the UK has a special spiritual destiny. This is buttressed by the generally benign influence of the British Empire, and especially the role of Britain in the Second World War where, according to Churchill, the country fought for ‘Christian civilization’.

Peter Simpson, a Methodist minister, has written a book called ‘The Biblical Case For Brexit’[6] and a part of his argument is that Britain turned its back on God in the 1960s when it embraced the cult of drugs, sex, and rock and roll. And so the country weakened. Instead of turning back to God, the country joined the EU, a poor substitute. For Simpson, Brexit is getting back to trusting God and so moving to fulfilling the nation’s destiny.

This is beguiling; but it’s of course nonsense. Nations have a history and due to all sorts of reasons (geography, education, individuals) they can play a special part in world affairs at a particular time. But a special destiny? Where is that in the New Testament? This is the fare of nationalists (it certainly was for the Austrian), but clear-thinking Christians should be wary, for when you drill down you might well find untarnished racism.

Joe Boot for the Ezra Institute has given a more theological presentation of what amounts to the same argument[7]. Man is sinful so the closer the executive is to democratic accountability the better. The UK, because of the Civil War has incorporated this insistence on accountability into her national character in a way Europe, with her revolutions and dictators, has not. According to Boot the British have something special about them which stands up to authoritarianism, a stubborn streak moulded by history.

Boot is quite right that man is sinful and dangerous and that the Bible teaches that God wants people to have stable government. However there is nothing in the Bible that says that the way of ensuring this is through democratic accountability. There was no democracy in Bible times, nor has there been any democracy for most of the church’s long history. Moreover the world’s largest denomination, Roman Catholicism, is hierarchical in its governance, not democratic. Boot has an argument about what brings stable government, but it is not a Christian argument.

As for the British having some sort of national character moulded by the Magna Carta and the Civil War, this is nonsense. How can anyone think that nearly 70 million people can have the same sort of character, let alone a character shaped by distant events? It’s not just nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense, because, as said, when you dig into this sort of argument about national characters, you are soon dealing with racism.

Faulty understanding of the Bible

Superstition, sentiment - and a serious failure to understand the Bible’s clear teaching on the state. In both the Gospels and the Epistles it is clear: the church and the state are separate[8]. However some Christians who argue for Brexit, the boundary thins, and the new Israel instead of being the church, becomes the UK.

It is impossible not to have deep respect Hathaway. He is a kind, generous and passionate man who aged 87 has preached to millions and still leads massive prayer meetings in the UK[9]. But he is not inerrant, and this was on full display at one of his rallies. There he said, ‘We must come out (of the EU).[10]’ By ‘We’ he meant the country.) David Hathaway was merging the UK and the church together into one Christian (Protestant) identity and so assumes the right to be able to speak for the whole nation and demand that it comes out of secular (and Catholic) Europe.

However there is no Christian Britain, there never has been. The wide and narrow road is as true in Britain, as it is true all over the world. There is a separation between the church and the state, and the church is always in a minority. So there are no Christian countries. Moreover there is not a hint in the New Testament that there should be any expectation that the state should be Christian. So this idea that Britain should leave the EU to preserve its Christian identity is based on a wholly false premise. It’s not in the Bible and it’s not in historical fact.

Superstition, sentiment, and a faulty reading of the Bible’s teaching on the state do not add up to a serious Christian argument for Brexit.

However there is certainly a strong Christian case against Brexit.

The Christians case against Brexit

Christians are against war

Paul urged Timothy to get people to pray for governments to that people can live peaceful and godly lives[11]. This is pleasing to God he says. He practices what he preaches. Luke portrays Paul as a keen supporter of the Roman Empire. It was bringing peace to a vast area.

And the EU has been bringing peace to Europe for over seventy years. For most of its history the continent has been engaged in ferocious wars. After the the Second World War the leaders of the coal and steel industries in Europe decided – wisely – to tie the continent’s economies together to ward off war. That was the start of today’s EU and in terms of keeping Europe away from war it’s been a fantastic success. There is nothing magic about the EU, but it’s helped keep the dogs of war at bay.

If Nigel Farage and others had proved to us that the EU was a war mongering institution that was going to set Europe and the world on fire – according to Paul’s instructions to Timothy that would be a Christian reason for opposing the EU.

But that’s not the case. It’s the opposite. The EU has proved its worth at keeping the peace for over seventy years, and so how can it be Christian to argue we should break this up?

Christians are against tribalism

Brexit certainly has a tone. Yes there is an argument about immigration and the control of borders, but the tone was and still is tribal. Our tribe must ‘take back control’. From whom? Foreigners. With the posters of queues of Turks knocking on Britain’s door, it was not just tribal, it was xenophobic.

This is not Christianity. The tone of Christianity from its inception has been to eschew tribalism[12] and embrace internationalism[13]. There are reasons why the church is the oldest, largest, and most successful organisation in the world. One is that she is unreservedly internationalist. The church is an organisation that is always reaching out across borders, always wanting to work with others regardless of race.

Moreover what has Christianity got to do with fear? That is also in the tone of Brexit. The Brexiteers like to talk about ‘project fear’, smearing ‘Remainers’ as people who are frightened to leave the EU. The irony is that it is the Brexiteers who actively stoke up fear: fear of foreigners before the referendum, and now as Brexit stalls in the workings of our parliamentary democracy, they are playing on fears of civil unrest. Christians are taught to be wary of fear. Not least because we have ‘not been given a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-control’ (2 Tim. 1:7).

Christians are for what is most likely going to keep countries away from war;

Christians are for what will dampen the noise of tribalism and fear.

That’s a strong Christian case against Brexit. But there is more.

Christians are for what is best for the church

The primary concern of Christians is not the state, but the church and her agenda – the spread of the Gospel and serving the poor. It is not difficult to show that staying in the EU is much better for the church and this agenda.

Travel

Consider travel. Christians are always travelling because we have a message to spread, we have fellow believers to encourage, we help the poor. As members of the EU Britons can travel to all of Europe, quite a number of the former Asian Soviet countries like Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, all of north and nearly all of south America, most of Australasia (including Japan), and some of Africa.

There is only word to use to describe this. It is a blessing.

Imagine a Christian from Tarsus coming to Paul and saying, please pray we can come out of the Roman Empire, their rules are oppressive and they have heathen statues? Paul, who was used to jumping on boats like we catch planes, would have been shocked. Leave the Roman Empire and risk losing his freedom of transport to preach the Gospel. No way. But that is what every Christian who voted for Brexit has risked. Once we are out we have no idea how easy travel will be.

Administration

In the EU any Christian can go anywhere in the EU to live and set up a business or a charity. Just like Paul and Barnabas could set up a church in Antioch. There was administrative cohesion in the Roman empire, just like there is in the EU. That is fantastic for mission minded Christians – not just for serving people in other European countries, but also to be able to serve outside Europe.

Security

Again we should learn from the apostle Paul. Being a Roman citizen for his security was a good thing. In Philippi it meant he and Silas were given a public apology, and in Jerusalem it saved him from being whipped[14]. Again, imagine his reaction if a Tarsus Christian for the sake of some grand idea of independence told him to campaign to leave the Roman Empire. Probably Paul would think that this Christian had never sweated in the danger zones of mission work and so had no idea how important the Roman empire was.

The case for Christians supporting the EU is exactly the same. Within the EU there are whole swathes of laws that bind the countries together to ensure the security of their citizens. This gives Christians with an EU passport some confidence. If they are mistreated, their opponents will have to deal with the EU. This is good for the church. Again this does not just help Christian activists working in Europe, but also helps mission workers outside the EU, because while most countries will have agreements with Britain, all of them will have agreements with the EU.

Pragmatism, usually best

Paul tells us in Scripture to imitate him and Luke has left us an example to do just that. So when we look at Paul in action we see he is pragmatic. He is against circumcision for new Gentile Christians, but he has no problem getting half Jewish Timothy circumcised (Acts 16: 3). It would make things smoother. He is not an ardent believer in cleansing ceremonies in the temple, but he is pragmatic. He believes this is important for church unity (Acts 21:26). He has no belief whatsoever in all the religious system of the Romans, especially the idea that the emperor was a god. However, as seen, he is very ready to make use of the Roman empire for travel, administration, and security.

Ask yourself

What is good for the church? Risking freedom of travel, ease of administration, and personal security and leaving the EU for the sake of sentimental ideology laced with exotic references to apocryphal literature; or staying in the EU and guaranteeing all the above?

Surely a sensible Christian’s answer has to be, we must support what is best for the church and with the solid evidence we have, church work is going to be easier if we oppose Brexit.

Open To Reason

This then is the Christian case against Brexit.

The Bible tells Christians to pray that we can all live peaceful lives. (1 Tim. 2:2)

Brexit weakens the institutions that keep the dogs of war at bay in Europe.

The Bible tells Christians to eschew tribalism and fear (Galatians 3:28, 2 Tim. 1:7).

The tone of Brexit is tribal and fearful.

The Bible tells Christians to support the church’s agenda, spreading the Gospel and serving the poor (Mathew 28: 19-20; Galatians 2:10).

Brexit risks ease of travel, administration, and security for the church.

A final word from Jesus’ brother. He said that the ‘wisdom from above is open to reason’.

I would ask any Christian reading this to be open to reason.

Tom Hawksley
September 2019




[1] David Hathaway believes the EU is the last empire seen by Daniel (see Daniel 7). He has made a film entitled, ‘The Rape of Europe’. See https://www.heartpublications.co.uk/is-the-eu-in-bible-prophecy/.
[5] The Louis Weiss building in Strasbourg was designed in a way to show that none of the Eastern European countries had yet joined the EU; the statues are of a Greek myth seeking to link Europe back to its ancient past. For more see - Brexit, Babylon and Prophecy: Semiotics of the End Times by Steve Knowles, University of Chester.
[8] Mark 12:17; Romans 13: 1 – 7; 1 Peter 2:17
[11] 1 Timothy 2:2
[12] Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14
[13] John 3:16; Matthew 28: 19 - 10
[14] Acts 16: 37 – 40; Acts 21: 25 - 26





Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Another referendum? Supine madness. Just stay in the EU.

I hope there is someone else out there who feels like screaming when a Remainer says we should have another referendum. This morning Tom Watson said Labour should be unequivocally for staying in the EU; but then added this twist of supine madness. There should be another referendum.

Why?

Is there a law somewhere that says Britain's foreign and trading policies have to be decided by referendums? This is the real poison of the Brexit story. It's not just Brexit itself, it's this attack on our parliamentary democracy with this crass stupidity that there is some mythical will of the people out there that can be discerned by a referendum.

Why can't politicians like Tom Watson and Jo Swinson have the courage to say publicly and loudly that referendums are stupid and dangerous. And, as Attlee so famously said, they are used by unpleasant people: 'Dictators and demagogues'.

No hospital in its right mind would allow patients and staff to vote on the best way for a surgeon to conduct a heart operation. It would be madness. But that's the madness that has now infected our political discourse.

The Farage crowd think this is terrible elitism - to say that ordinary people can't answer the simple question, in or out of the EU. But that's the truth. The question is far too complicated for most people. In terms of diplomacy, defense, trade, Northern Ireland, Scotland - this is a question for political heart surgeons.

And we have plenty of them, in the Civil Service and in parliament. And we're paying them a fortune. Let them get on with the job. They have the whole picture. If it is clearly in Britain's national interest to leave the EU then parliament and the Civil Service will come to that conclusion. The heart surgeons will do their job.

Surely it's time to get the kids out of the headmaster's study and let the proper authorities take the decisions.

So - unless they are supine - please Watson and Swinson and any other politician who believes remaining in the EU is the national interest stand up and reject all this referendum talk. Just say if we win power in a General Election we will cancel that cowardly Cameron referendum and we will stay in the EU.

And be encouraged. Farage has never won a seat in parliament - not for lack of trying.

Ah, a final fear - the Brexiteers will come out into the streets. Yes. And then they will go back again and when they sail through the border at Dover they will be grateful. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The next five years with Charles, Boris and Jeremy - Bible style


3 Chronicles, Chapter One

1. And Elizabeth slept with her ancestors, the kings and queens of Britain, and Charles her son reigned in her stead.

2. He was seventy-two years old when he began to reign and he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

3. Abominations were encouraged by the new King and his chief adviser, Boris.

4. Babies were constantly sacrificed in the Valley of Abortion (Boris even offered his own child) and lavish support was given to the Rainbow Cult for male prostitutes.

5. Meanwhile the poor people, promised freedom and greatness by Boris, suffered hunger and want.

6. In the third year of the reign of King Charles, the people turned against Boris and the king was forced to accept a new adviser, Jeremy.

7. The abominations did not cease. Boris had encouraged the promiscuity that led to the Valley of Abortion and the Rainbow Cult for pleasure; Jeremy out of twisted principle.

8. Moreover Jeremy demanded that the prophets of the Lord and the people of the church bow their knee to the Rainbow god at every high place in every city, town and village across the county.

9. King Charles made this law and any group that refused to bow down to the Rainbow god was severely punished.

10. So the meeting places of God in the land were closed down and the true prophets were driven into desolate places.
.
11. In the fifth year of King Charles the Lord raised up the Russians to harass the British. Due to rash words and populist policies pursued by the king’s advisers, Britain had no allies.

12. Charles’ grand-father, King George, when facing enemy attacks had called a day of prayer for the people to plead to the one true God for deliverance. King Charles though despised the one true God. He had declared he was the defender of all faiths.

13. And so many priests of Baal and Dagon and Marduk and many others all gathered in the presence of the king, along with some false priests of the Lord who loved the praise of men rather than God.

14. With one voice they all urged the king to fight the Russians. Many prophesied that victory would be certain and Britain would be great again.

15. This was from the Lord. It was His judgement on a nation that had scorned His ways.

16. And so in the fifth year of King Charles, Britain declared war against Russia.

17. For many years the people of Scotland had chaffed against the rule of Britain. So as soon as the war began they rose up against King Charles and his advisers.

18. The Kingdom of Britain now separated. This was also from the Lord.

19. The Russians overcame King Charles’ navy and air-force easily and soon a vast army was poised to invade England – from Scotland.

20. Though King Charles and his advisers faced certain defeat, they did not repent of their evil ways, nor did they seek the face of the Lord, or ask for his help.

21. And so in the sixth year of King Charles the Russians invaded England and defeated her army. The country was declared a republic to be ruled from Moscow.

22.King Charles and his family and all his advisers were taken to Russia.

23. All this happened because the king and his advisers scorned the ways of the Lord.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Bread and Fish: Connections Between John 6 and 21


Two famous stories: one with a cast of thousands on a vast grassy plateau; the other a dawn breakfast on a beach with just seven guests.Two very different scenes in John 6 and 21.

Only the host is the same: Jesus of Nazareth.

And the menu: bread and fish.

The author is a master at hinting at something more with just one or two words. This gift is on full display in 21:9.

When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire there with fish on it, and some bread.

We have the charcoal fire. And Peter. The idyllic beach scene suddenly opens up to a cold hostile night where Peter is warming his hands - over a charcoal fire (18:18).

Two words, but such poignancy, such pain. And such kindness. Jesus deliberately makes a charcoal fire to resolve the issue with Peter. And that happens. For when Jesus asks all the disciples to go and get some fish, it is Peter who takes the initiative. The old energy is back.

Then we have the bread and fish, and so the signal to John 6, for this is the same menu as Jesus and the disciples gave to the five thousand.

It is the same menu because this is what both the crowds and the disciples ate: bread and fish. That is the primary meaning. However at a secondary level the menu is the same because the two chapters complete each other. Without John 21, John 6 is incomplete; without John 6, John 21 is incomplete. That is what the ‘bread and fish’ (21:13) opens up. You could almost say the two chapters are talking to each other.

In John 6 there is total silence about the fish; in John 21 there is explanation. In John 21 there is total silence about the food for the sheep; in John 6 there is a long explanation. In John 6 there is silence about how people will be fed the bread of life; in John 21 it is made clear. In John 21 there is nothing about the way of feeding; in John 6 there is detail. In John 6 there is nothing about how the food is to be cooked; in John 21 it is shown.

Let’s consider these connections, starting with the fish.

In John 6 Jesus tells us a lot about bread. But what about the fish? There is no ‘I am the fish of life’ discourse, indeed even the suggestion sounds odd. And yet it is half the menu. Surely it would be strange if the fish was to be just fish. The bread is so significant, and the fish, just fish? This is a question that hangs.

It is answered in John 21. Here it is impossible to escape fish. Peter decides to go fishing, but they catch no fish (v.3). Jesus then asks if they have caught any fish, and they say no (v. 5). The miracle happens and there are ‘so many’ fish they cannot haul in the net (v.6); then ten of them are able to drag the net, ‘full of fish’ (v. 8). When the ten arrive at the fire, there they see some fish cooking (v.9), and now (v.10) the unexpected request of Jesus for some more fish (He already has some fish) and the gracious observation, ‘that you have just caught’ (without His intervention there would be no fish in that net) Now Peter, just one man, can haul the net ashore and we are told more about the fish: they are large and there’s 153 of them (v.11). And so breakfast begins and Jesus takes both the bread and the fish and gives it to them (v. 13).

If the fish got forgotten in John 6, they are centre stage in John 21. Are they just fish? Surely not. And we know that not from our author, but from the Synoptics (Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10) whom the author assumes his readers will have read[1].

The fish are people whom the church will catch. As often happens the author takes an idea sparsely mentioned in the Synoptics and develops it. It is quite a development. The catch must be miraculous; yet it needs disciples whose contribution is acknowledged; and it will be universal (the ancients believed there were 153 different types of fish).

But what about the fish on the menu – both in John 6 and 21?

It is interesting that while fishing in church language is easily understood as evangelism and fish are people who might be interested in the faith – the logic of a fish being caught is not carried through.

Fish are eaten.

This is outrageous. It means in John 6 we have people eating themselves, and in John 21 it is Jesus and the apostles eating future believers.

Let’s leave the fish as fish.

However the shocking nature of the image does not rule out that the fish, just like the bread, is meant to have a meaning. Eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood is just as shocking, but it makes sense in Christian doctrine.

So the question is this: does the fish being eaten also make sense in Christian doctrine?

The answer is most certainly yes; indeed the fish being eaten spells out what total faith in Jesus actually means and sinks any idea that Christianity is about mechanical easy believism.

Jesus gives the bread. It is broken. Christians ‘eat’ the love of God in Christ as shown on the cross when his body is broken.

Jesus also gives the fish to be eaten with the bread. This is the divine menu – bread and fish. The two must merge, must become one, must be absorbed. And so the sense emerges. Just as Jesus’s body is ‘eaten’, so too the true believer is ‘eaten’.

The divine meal is not just God’s offering of Jesus to mankind; it is mankind’s offering of themselves to God. That is the heavenly banquet of John 6, that is the intimate breakfast of John 21: man’s union with God.

This sense is painfully underlined in the final conversation Jesus has with Peter. He has eaten the bread – and the fish. After the commission, there is the prophecy that Peter will be executed. And after the prophecy the command: ‘Follow me’. Jesus is executed for us; Peter will be executed for Jesus. There is union, but it is costly.

This meaning of fish makes sense in Christian doctrine. It is just another image that underlines a Christian’s union with God as being something total. So in this Gospel we have the man who must be born again (3:7); the seed that must die (12:24), the branch that must abide in the vine (15:5,7).

There is exactly the same emphasis in Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptics. The cost of following him is – everything, even death. So Matthew 16:24, ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ (Matthew 16:24), or ‘None of you can be my disciples unless you give up everything’ (Luke 14:33). And its the same in the Epistles, perhaps best illustrated by Romans 12: 1 – 2. The believer is a ‘living sacrifice’. Sacrifices are burnt; fishes are eaten – the meaning is the same.

And it is certainly there in Revelation. Indeed the context of one of the most famous verses in the Bible (Revelation 3:20) is about Jesus consuming the would-be believer.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

Here the meaning is simple. It is only the wholly committed who are consumed. The meaning of the fish is exactly the same. Either we become fish that are eaten with the bread and so participate in the heavenly banquet; or we, like the lukewarm water, are spat out.

John 21 completes then what is left unsaid about fish in John 6.

And John 6 completes what is left unsaid about the food for the sheep. Jesus tells Peter – twice – to feed ‘his sheep’ (21:15,17). But Jesus does not say what the food is to be. There is no need. There has been a whole discourse in chapter 6 on what the true food is. It is Jesus – as the bread of life.

There is a much-ignored radical edge to this. For Jesus as the bread of life in chapter 6 primarily means the food of his death, and by implication his resurrection[2]. ‘The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ (6:51). Jesus expands on this in 6:52 – 58.

The radical edge is this: the church’s primary responsibility is to proclaim – in word and sacrament – Christ’s death. This is what feeds the sheep. John the Baptist underlines this, hence twice he says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (1:29,36). His message about Christ does not change. The spotlight is on the sacrificial death. Jesus himself emphasizes this in the first two church services. On the first Sunday He comes – and shows his wounds (20:20). And then about a week later, another gathering, and Jesus does exactly the same as the week before: He shows his wounds. Here we have the template for a true Christian meeting. The wounds must be seen. The cross must be revealed. For this is ‘the bread of life’. Paul says the same, ‘We proclaim Christ crucified’ as does the writer to the Hebrews, except he replaces the word cross with grace: It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.’

John 6 proclaims Jesus as the bread of life, but there is not a word on how people will be fed, nor is there any detail on how the food will be prepared. John 21 gives the detail. The sheep are to be fed by Peter – and so the leaders of all churches who have followed him. The food is heavenly, but as in John 6, the distribution is very human. Indeed without the disciples serving, the people would remain hungry. True then, true now.

As to how the heavenly food is to be prepared, again the answer is in John 21. The bread is to be cooked on a charcoal fire (21:9). The proclamation of Jesus as the bread of life must not be given as a cold mechanical mathematical announcement. Rather it must come from a life that has known intense failure and restoration, a life – like Peter’s – that knows grace as a living experience.

Finally in John 21 there is nothing about the method of distribution Peter and those who come after him are to use; it is John 6 that fills this in for the reader. The would-be feeder of others must organize people into groups; he or she must get the people to sit down (so they can see); they must then take round the food themselves; and once that duty is finished, they must clear up, making sure no food is wasted. There is no record of they themselves eating, unless the twelve rubbish bins are meant to be what they were to eat. (6:10 – 14)

While both John 6 and John 21 stand on their own, it is surely true that they are much richer for each other, and while at one level the writer records the menu for both chapters as being bread and fish because that is what the crowd and the disciples ate, it is impossible not to conclude that he is signalling to the reader to look for more: to look for connections between the two chapters.

Once you start looking, those connections are not difficult to see.




[1] For a detailed argument as to why it is reasonable to assume that the author knew his readers were familiar with the Synoptics see ‘Gospel of Glory’ by Richard Baukham, chapter eight.
[2] It is well known that in John’s Gospel the death and resurrection are collapsed into one event, hence the lifting up image (3:14, 8:28, 12:32, is both the lifting up on the cross and from the tomb.

Followers