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.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Gone With The Wind and The History Boys – propaganda for racists and paedophiles


When you go on holiday the easiest entertainment is to watch the DVDs left by your land-lady, especially when the internet is iffy.

Our first evening we watched Gone With The Wind (it went on forever), the second evening, The History Boys.

Both were promoting poison.

The poison of Gone With The Wind is obvious. It portrayed the black slaves as if they had an idyllic time as much-loved members of the plantation family. What was all the fuss about?

It’s propaganda, seeking to legitimize a foul and brutal system. It starts sickly and gets worse – especially when the negro carpet baggers are seen later in their smart waist coats smoking cigars.

At least the racist propaganda in Gone With The Wind comes with a great dramatic story and larger than life characters who have a flicker of morality.

There is hardly a story in The History Boys and not a flicker of morality. It’s all about propaganda for paedophiles.

The teacher we are all meant to love is the bumbling, widely read, eccentric Hector – who gropes boys and so faces the sack. The teacher we are meant to be ambivalent towards is the smooth know it all Irwin; but our respect for him sinks at the end when we find out that he has lied about being a student at Oxford, and – much more sickening – when he is ready to listen to a disgusting proposal from Daikin, one of his pupils. Then there’s the caricature of the headmaster who pinched the behind of his secretary. Daikin is her boyfriend and he blackmails the headmaster. Reinstate Hector – or your misdemeanours go public. Hector is reinstated.

What is left in the viewer’s mind is that everyone has got strange sexual urges, and so – guess what? – it’s best not to judge anyone.

That’s the propaganda for paedophiles (we are just another group, please accept us) and it is all brought to an emotional finale at the end when Hector dies in a motor-cycle accident and we are urged to join in the eulogies for him at his memorial service.

Just in case the viewer has not had enough of homosexuality one of the boys, Posner, is in love with Daikin (quite a man – the school secretary, Irwin, and Posner) and this is never reciprocated.

Propaganda has no respect for truth. Its purpose is to emotionally convince the viewer.

That’s exactly what is going on here, faithful to another grim mantra of the film: it’s worth lying.

In 2015 1.7% of the population identified themselves as being bi or homosexual. Now suddenly in ‘The History Boys’ in a group of ten, 40% are bi or homosexual. It’s unlikely. But that’s the propagandist’s game. To make something shared by a very small minority look as if it is massively wide-spread.

The propaganda has been very successful. I will never forget asking a well-respected journalist what the percentage of gays was in the UK and his confident response was 10%. As said, it’s less than 2%.

And anyone who has ever worked in schools will know that what is depicted in this film is ludicrous. If any teacher allowed a pupil to take off their trousers in a lesson pretending to be a girl (as happens in an early scene) he or she would get sacked. The same goes for the proposal Daikin makes to Irvin.

It’s got nothing to do with reality. It’s fantasy in the mind of the writer - and his determination to promote a treacherous and animalistic view of human sexuality. There is not a flicker of morality about the preciousness of sex for marriage.

At least in Gone With The Wind the selfish cynical moral compasses of Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara are countered by Ashley and Melanie Wilkes and their code of honour.

There is no code of honour in ‘The History Boys’.

Pity our generation.


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

John 18:1 and the Kidron Valley and Richard Baukham


I have been reading the Gospel of John for well over forty years; I have been teaching it for over fifteen.

There’s always more. Your eyes alight on a word and you think, yes I have read that a thousand times, but….

Take John 18:1

It is a geography verse, the author is just telling us that Jesus moves from the room where he had dined with his disciples, to ‘a garden’…and to help people who knew the area well he adds, ‘across the Kidron valley’.

John is the only Gospel writer to mention the Kidron valley. At one level it’s just a detail that sharpens the directions. We would tell friends coming from London, come down the A3 and you will cross over the M25.

However John rarely operates at one level, he is always asking you to push a little further, especially when he mentions something the other Gospel writers haven’t.

So I looked up where else Kidron was mentioned in the Bible. It opened quite a door.

When David was being driven out of Jerusalem by his own son (2 Samuel 15), he ‘crossed the brook of Kidron’. It was the boundary, it marked the place where the king became an exile. With David the moment was intensely poignant, hence many were weeping.

With Jesus it is even more so. Here is the Messiah, the Son of David, Israel’s true King being driven out by his own people. This has been happening right from the start of the Gospel (1:11) but now with the crossing of the Kidron there is a finality, as there was for David. This is the end of the road for the rejected king.

And there’s more…

When David was leaving Jerusalem, he was cursed and pelted with stones by Shimei, the son of Gera. When the throne was restored to David, Shimei begged for mercy, which was granted. However, when dying David asked Solomon to ‘bring his (Shimei’s) grey head down with blood’. Solomon though gave Shimei one more chance. Shimei could live, as long as he never left Jerusalem:

‘For the day you go out, and cross the Wadi Kidron, know for certain that you shall die…’

For three years Shimei stays in Jerusalem; but then two of his slaves ran away and he saddled a donkey and went looking for them. He crossed the brook of Kidron. Soon after he was executed. As was Jesus. As soon as he ‘crossed the Kidron’ the shadow of the Old Testament looms large – ‘Know for certain that you will die.’

And as is typical with John there are even layers of meaning in the reference back to the Old Testament. Jesus is to die because he repeatedly – like Shimei – has defied the Solomons of Jerusalem; but that is not the real reason for his death. Jesus must die because he is willing to become Shimei, the man in vicious opposition to authority: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…’ (2 Cor. 5:21)

And there is more…

It was at the brook of Kidron that evil was comprehensively done away with.

So in I Kings 15:14 ‘…Asa cut down her image (of Asherah) and burned it at the brook of Kidron’.

There are six other verses similar to this where an idol, or a pagan altar, or just uncleanness is taken away and destroyed at the book of Kidron. See; 2 Kings 23:4; 2 Kings 23:6; 2 Kings 23:12; 2 Chronicles 15:16; 2 Chronicles 29:16; 2 Chronicles 30:14.

So Jesus as he crossed the brook of Kidron, the author reminds us that this is the place where evil is done away with for Israel. That is what would happen now for the whole world because Jesus was willing to cross the brook of Kidron.

Just one word in a geography verse and the author asks us to pause the video to see Jesus ‘crossing the brook of Kidron’.  To see the poignancy of the rejected king. To see the certainty of the coming execution. And to see the crushing of evil that is again going to happen at the brook of Kidron.

The lesson. Always expect more from John.

And there is more even in 18:1, ‘a place where there was a garden’.

Yes, there was a garden, but again, how evocative. The Bible story begins in a garden; now we are in another garden at the start of John’s passion narrative, a narrative which will end in a garden (19:41); and all will again start in that same garden.

Richard Baukham is a fantastic theologian, especially for bringing out the more in John. If you’re interested make sure you read his ‘Testimony of the Beloved Disciple’ (2007) and his more recent ‘Gospel of Glory’ (2015). In the latter he has a chapter entitled, ‘Dimensions of Meanings In The Gospel’s First Week.’ I had always wondered about the marking of the days in the first week. It was like a slightly steamed up window. Baukham comes along and wipes it pretty clean. He shows how the writer has linked the first week up with last week. So on the last day of the first week (in Cana) we have the first sign; on the last day of the last week we have the seventh sign (the resurrection), as a result of both, the disciples ‘believed’ in him. (But what a difference there must have been in the quality of their belief). On the first day of the first week, we have John in ‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’[1] dealing with the Jerusalem interrogators, the trouble begins; on the first day of the last week we have Jesus in Bethany for the dinner, where he is ‘anointed for burial’.

Baukham also shows how there is a linking between the first chapter and the last around the theme of discipleship. In 1:37 – 43 we have ‘Follow me’ four times. This is what literally happened. But the full meaning is brought out in chapter 21, where Peter is told what it will mean to follow Jesus. Moreover Baukham shows brilliantly how in John 21 when Peter turns and sees the Beloved Disciple so we have an echo of when Jesus turned and saw Andrew and that same disciple.[2]

Another connection between the two weeks is the theme of witness. In the prologue we are told in verse 7 that ‘all might believe’ though the witness of John the Baptist, and then in the first verse of the narrative (v.19), we read, ‘This is the testimony’. Baukham points out the uniqueness of the Baptist’s testimony, the only one to witness to Jesus being the ‘Lamb of God’ and the one on whom the Holy Spirit remains, and underlines how it is this witness that draws the Beloved Disciple to follow Jesus (1:37). This is the crucial link. As the Beloved Disciple was there at the beginning, hearing the cry from the Baptist that Jesus is the Lamb of God, so he is there at the end, the only disciple to witness the spear going into the crucified body. He is a witness in the last week, because John was a witness in the first week; and he witnesses in the last week the even that John proclaimed in the first week. And most importantly, he is the disciple (not apostle) ‘who is testifying to these things and has written them….’ (21:24). That is why, as 1:7 says, ‘all can believe through the witness of John the Baptist. We can all believe because the Beloved Disciple wrote the Gospel.

As Baukham says, the first week is a week of beginnings that anticipate the end, especially the cross and resurrection. So we have the Lamb of God proclamation, soon to be followed by the Nathanial narrative (1:45 – 51) where the question of Jesus’ origin is first comes up. This will continue which ends with Jacob’s ladder from Genesis 28. Baukham teaches us that the root for the word ladder in Hebrew is ‘sll’ which means to lift up. So in Jesus’ first ‘Truly, truly’ statements (there are 25 in the Gospel) he is referring to his being lifted up on the cross and in resurrection.

And so to the first sign at Cana which corresponds to the last sign in the last week. It is all about the best wine linked to Jesus’ hour. This is the best wine that God supplies in abundance, the wine that echoes back to Isaiah 25 and the abolition of death, the wine that for Christians is the blood of Christ.

When disciples see this wine, they believe and get a glimpse of the glory. So it was in the first week; so it was in the last week; so it is today.

Who knows for how much longer I will be reading the Gospel of John. I am still expecting to discover more; especially if Richard Baukham keeps on writing.


[1] Baukham doesn’t believe this is Bethany near Jerusalem; rather he argues it is in the north east of Lake Galilee, an area known as ‘Bashan’ in Aramaic, and Betenayya in Greek.
[2] Baukham rightly assumes that the anonymous disciple in John 1 is the Beloved Disciple of 13, and 21 which of course is why John Zebedee cannot be the author as he is mentioned in 21:2


Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Evan Roberts (1878 - 1951), the strange leader of the Welsh Revival

As the 19th C became the 20th an evangelist in Wales, Seth Joshua, prayed for four years that God would raise up a ‘lad from the coal mine or from the field, even as he took Elijah from the plough, to receive his work’. Joshua specifically prayed that the new Elijah would not be a man from the universities. If there was to be revival, he did not want arrogant intellectualism creeping in.
God’s answer to Joshua’s prayer was Evan Roberts.

Roberts was from a large mining family in Loughor, Southwest Wales. When he was twelve his father had an accident and he went down the mines to help support the family – he had fourteen siblings. He worked in the pits till his early twenties. He was very much a ‘lad from the coal mine.’

His parents were devout Calvinist Methodists as was Roberts. He gave his life to God as a teenager, made sure he got to every church meeting, sometimes carried his Bible to the pit, memorized Scripture at night and prayed fervently for revival. He prayed for longer than Joshua.

‘For ten or eleven years I had prayed for revival. I could be up all night and read or talk about revivals. It was the Spirit that moved me to think about revival.’

In early 1904, aged 25, Roberts experienced divine visitations.

‘One Friday night last spring (1904) when praying by my bedside before retiring, I was taken up to a great expanse – without time and space. It was communion with God. Before this a far-off God I had. I was frightened that night, but never since…after that experience I was awakened every night a little after one o’clock…From that hour I was taken up into divine fellowship for about four hours…About five o’clock I was again allowed to sleep on till about nine.’

In September 1904 Roberts began studying for the ministry in Newcastle-Emlyn. Shortly after arriving there the principal of the Bible School encouraged his students to attend a conference led by Seth Joshua in Blaenanerch. Roberts was yearning for a mighty baptism in the Holy Spirit.

 ‘I have built the altar, and laid the wood in order, and I have prepared the offering; I have only to wait for the fire.’

The fire fell.

At the first meeting of the conference on September 29th Seth Joshua prayed that God would ‘bend us’.

“That is what you need”, said the Spirit to me (Roberts). As I went out I prayed, “O, Lord, bend me”’

At the prayer meeting the next morning Roberts had a physical encounter with the Holy Spirit.

‘When others prayed I felt a living force come into my bosom. I held my breath, and my legs shivered…The living force grew and I was almost bursting…I would have burst if I had not prayed…What burst me was the verse, ‘God commending His love’. I fell on my knees with my arms over the seat in front of me and the tears and perspiration flowed freely. I thought blood was gushing forth. For about two minutes it was fearful. I cried, ‘Bend me! Bend me! After I was bent, a wave of peace came over me.’

That day he became keenly aware of two truths.

The first was that God is full of joy. He wrote to his sister:

‘God is a happy God and a joyful God. Therefore we must be happy and joyful’

The second is the reality of judgement. Remembering his experience in Blaenanerch, Roberts wrote:

‘As they sang, I thought of the bending at the Judgement Day, and I was filled with compassion for those who would be bent on that day, and I wept’

So the day after this experience he wrote: ‘Henceforth the salvation of souls became the burden of my heart. From that time I was on fire with a desire to go through all Wales, and, if it were possible, I was willing to pay God for allowing me to go’

Roberts did pay with his own money. He left his studies, took all his savings (£200) and began a full-time evangelistic ministry.

This began with prayer - and visions. On October 29th, 1904 Roberts and his good friend, Sidney Evans, both had the same vision. They saw an arm outstretched from the moon todays them. For Roberts the visions continued, sometimes the hand held a piece of paper with 100,000 written on it. For Roberts that was the size of the coming revival.

During the evening service on Sunday October 30th in Newcastle Emlyn the text for the preacher was, ‘Father, the hour has come’ (John 17: 1). This was for Roberts. The hour had come. Roberts’ body shook and he saw the people of his own town, Loughor, waiting for someone to speak to them. Roberts immediately obeyed what he saw as a direct command from the Holy Spirit and the next morning he travelled to Loughor. On the train he wrote a sermon, and practised it on the other passages.

As soon as he arrived Roberts arranged meetings for the young people of the town and by the end of the week he recorded that 65 people – from the reserved Welsh culture - had stood up publicly to confess Christ.

In terms of a revival expecting 100,000 conversions, 65 is not very significant. But for Roberts it was the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, and on November 4th he wrote these words to the editor of the Sunday Companion, a national weekly newspaper.

‘We are on the eve of a great and grand revival, the greatest Wales has ever seen. Do not think the writer is a madman.’

He was not a madman. The revival began.

The next week in Moriah Chapel in Loughor was overflowing. It seated 800 people. A newspaper report for November 9th said that people were lining the street of the chapel trying to get in. Once in, people stayed in – a long time. Usually the meetings started about 7.00 p.m. and did not finish till 4.30 the next morning.

After Loughor, Roberts and his small team went to towns all over Wales holding revival meetings. The response was the same. Thousands came, and thousands – often after a period of painful groaning as they faced their sins – publicly confessed Christ. By the end of 1904 the number of those who had responded was reckoned to be 32,000. By the autumn of 1905, when Roberts’ meetings became fewer, 84,000 had made a public confession. Some round that up to 100,000, the number Roberts believed God had given to him.

Whatever the actual figure, this was a Christian revival and Roberts was the acknowledged leader, albeit a strange one. Indeed for one eye-witness, the well-known journalist W.T Stead, he was not the leader:

‘The most extraordinary thing about the meetings I attended was the extent to which they were absolutely without any human direction or leadership.

G. Campbell Morgan, the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, underlined this, and how singing played a prominent role.

‘The meetings open with any amount of singing…then it is go as you please for two hours or more. And the amazing thing is that it does go….Three fourths of the meeting consists of singing. No one uses a hymn book. No one gives out a hymn. The last person to control the meeting in anyway is Mr Evan Roberts.’

The Billy Graham of his day, R. A. Torrey said the same thing: Roberts ‘ does not seem to try and run things in his own wisdom and strength…Oftentimes, even when Evan Roberts is speaking, some man or woman will burst out into song, and he immediately stops speaking and lets the meeting take its own course.’

It was Roberts though who shaped the character of these meetings, and for him they were all about total dependency on the Holy Spirit. A visitor to the meetings Mary Baxter wrote: '(Roberts) has a real belief in the leading of the Holy Spirit, and knows how to wait on the Lord and wait for the Lord.’

This emphasis on the total dependency on the Holy Spirit can be seen in three ways.

Firstly Roberts determined to cultivate an atmosphere where the Holy Spirit would be at ease. From the start of the revival in Loughor he laid down these rules for the congregation.

1. If there is past sin or sins hitherto unconfessed we cannot receive the Spirit
2. If there is anything doubtful in our lives it must be removed
3. An entire giving up of ourselves to the Sprit. We must speak and do all He requires of us
4. Public confession of Christ.

Secondly, Roberts was a fervent believer in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In November 1904 he wrote this: ‘The Spirit directed me to say that three things show that God is with us. 1. Enormous congregations 2. Unity between the different denominations 3. The baptism in the Holy Spirit (emphasis mine).

Roberts brought this belief into the heart of his meetings. He wrote this to a friend:

‘Let those who have confessed Christ remain behind, and send this prayer around. All must see to it that they pray it:

Send the Spirit now, for Jesus Christ’s sake
Send the Spirit powerfully now, for Jesus Christ’s sake
Send the Spirit more powerfully now, for Jesus Christ’s sake
Send the Spirit still more powerfully now, for Jesus Christ’s sake’

Finally, especially towards the end of his ministry, Roberts would stop any meeting if he felt the Holy Spirit had told him there was an ‘obstacle’ present. For those attending this was embarrassing; for Roberts is was a matter of honouring the Holy Spirit.

A famous example of this was when Roberts went to Liverpool in the spring of 1905. On April 7th there were queues a mile long and eventually 8,000 packed into Sun Hall. In the midst of worship, Roberts ordered the crowd to be silent and with great indignation announced that an Englishman was trying to hypnotize him. He asked the man either leave the building or repent. This caused a sensation. Roberts went on, ‘God will not be mocked! We have not come here to play with the holy things of God, We have come here to worship the Lord, and they who mock Him shall be scattered as chaff before the wind.’ The meeting then resumed, but after a while there was another obstacle. Roberts declared that two clergyman had grumbled about having to raise their arms. He asked them to publicly repent for the meeting to continue. Nobody came forward; and so a shocked congregation watched Roberts leave. Later his pronouncements were proved correct. Dr Walford Bodie, who was appearing at the Lyric Theatre, admitted he had gone to the meeting to hypnotize Roberts; and two ministers sent a signed letter saying they had overheard two other clergymen grumbling about having to raise their hands[1].

At some point in 2005 Roberts suffered a physical and mental breakdown and, apart from a few appearances, he withdrew from public life for the rest of his life. He gave himself to prayer for he considered intercession the most effective work a man can do:

‘I work as hard at prayer as if I had undertaken any religious work…By preaching I would reach the limited few – by and through prayer I can reach the whole of mankind through God’

Roberts remained in the secret place of prayer, living in Cardiff till his death in 1951. The Welsh Revival though has never been obscure. Its impact went around the world, and has passed down the generations.

In 1906 revival broke out in Azusa Street, Los Angeles. This continued to 1909. This revival led directly to the Pentecostal Movement which has at least 280 million adherents. It also led to the creation of new denominations such as the Assemblies of God which has about 70 million members in over 350,000 fellowships around the world.

It is acknowledged that the catalyst for the Azusa Street revival was the visit of Joseph Smale, a pastor from Los Angeles, to Wales in 1905 where he met Evan Roberts. On his return Smale organised day and night prayer meetings urging believers to cry out to God for a Pentecost. As in Loughor, so in Los Angeles – the fire fell.

Regarding generations: as I write in early 2019 the UK is now a country where Christian morality is trampled underfoot, the vile celebrated (in law), the occult exalted. And Britain today is in crisis.

The man standing up to urge Christians to intercede for Britain is the evangelist David Hathaway. On January 26, in Wembley Arena, joined by other Christian leaders, he will lead a day of prayer.

David Hathaway’s spiritual fervour – which is impressive – leads us directly back to Evan Roberts. For Hathaway was born – and born again – into a family and fellowship rooted in the spirituality of the Welsh Revival.

David’s father, William Hathaway, from Wales, was converted in the 1904 revival. After the war William Hathaway met George Jeffreys, another Welshman converted during the Welsh Revival, and these two men started the Elim Pentecostal church in the UK. The head-quarters was in Clapham and this is where David Hathaway was born in 1933 and it was here he became a Christian when he was eight.

So in 2019 an eighty six year old man, shaped by the impact of Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival, will be calling back the UK to repentance.

May God have mercy, again. 



[1] There are detailed accounts of all Roberts’ meetings in Liverpool here: http://www.reavivamentos.com/recent_revivals/evan_roberts_gwilyn_hughes.php

Followers