Hear me on the BBC, talking about church attendance statistics

Sorry this blog has been quiet for a week. I have been enjoying a few days’ break in Italy.

You may have heard me on BBC Radio 4 this afternoon, on the programme More or Less which is about the use and abuse of statistics. I was interviewed last week about church attendance statistics, because the interviewer Paul Vickers had read a post from last year here at Gentle Wisdom, Lies, damned lies and church attendance statistics. And part of the interview was included in the broadcast programme.

You can hear this again on BBC iPlayer, starting at 8:50 minutes, for the next seven days I think and possibly only in the UK. There are two short segments of the interview with me, the first at 11:15. The programme, which is summarised here, will be broadcast again on Sunday 19th April at 8.00 pm. Or you can listen by subscribing to this podcast.

Jesus is alive!

Easter is coming up, and I have been invited by Slipstream, which is the Evangelical Alliance’s leadership resource, to post about the resurrection of Jesus, and what it means to me. This is supposed to be part of a synchro blog, whatever that means. I admit that I have not listened to the Gary Habermas and Tim Keller podcast to which the synchro blog is linked, although I have read the tasters. So these are just my own thoughts. Anyway, here goes…

1. Validation

My first point about the resurrection is that it validates Jesus’ ministry. It is this that proves decisively that he was not just a good teacher, or a crazy one, but the one sent by God, indeed more than just a man.

Yes, the miracles Jesus performed also validated his ministry, but it is hard to prove that these are genuine especially after two thousand years. However, there is one miracle which cannot be doubted: that a man officially executed and formally declared dead by the Roman authorities, and buried by Jewish leaders, rose again and was seen alive by hundreds of witnesses. Even in modern times sceptical lawyers who have examined the evidence have been forced to conclude that there is no other explanation for the records, that Jesus must have truly risen from the dead. And if this can be accepted, then there should be no problem with all the other miracles.

From this evidence we are also forced to believe that Jesus really was sent by God, not just as a teacher of truth but also, according to the content of his teaching, as the one who would save us from our sins and bring us to eternal life.

2. Victory

Jesus’ resurrection was far more than a validation of his ministry. It was also the culmination of his work of bringing salvation to humankind.

God sent his Son into the world to defeat the powers of evil which had taken over so much of it, which had brought men and women down to the depths of sin and despair. God’s purpose, which is still being worked out, is to bring the world fully into his own Kingdom, where evil and sin would no longer have a place. He sent Jesus to fight and win the decisive battle to achieve this purpose.

Throughout Jesus’ time on earth he was attacked by evil, in demonic and human form. Eventually the devil thought that he won the victory, by having Jesus put to death on a cross. But he had no idea what was really happening on that cross, that Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sins was, in a way which is beyond human as well as demonic full comprehension, a key tactic in the final defeat of evil. Three days later the powers of evil were taken completely by surprise when Jesus rose from the dead, and it became clear that they had been completely defeated. The resurrection of Jesus is both the final act and the public demonstration of his complete victory over death, sin and all forms of evil.

3. Vision

It was hard to find a third “V” to summarise this third aspect of what the resurrection of Jesus means to me, not just as a past act but also as a living reality today. But certainly one aspect of it is that he gives me vision for what to do with my life.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he didn’t die again, as Lazarus presumably did. His resurrection was not just the resuscitation of a corpse. His resurrection body was taken up into heaven and so is no longer visible to us today. But he is still alive, as we celebrate every Easter. And this means that I can and do have an ongoing daily relationship with him.

In that relationship I mustn’t forget that Jesus is not just an ordinary man, not even as he was when he walked in Galilee. He is still filled with the power of his resurrection life. And, amazingly, those of us who are “in Christ”, who are Christians with that same relationship with Jesus, are also, through the Holy Spirit, filled with this resurrection life and power. In the words of a recent worship song from Hillsong (the link is to an MP3 of just one chorus):

The same power that conquered the grave
Lives in me, lives in me.
Your love that rescued the earth
Lives in me, lives in me.

Because Jesus is alive and working, demonstrating his love, in and through me, I can do even greater works than he did when he was on earth. And the same is true for you, if you truly believe in Jesus. We can do more spectacular miracles than he did, healing and even raising the dead – as long as this is not just as a public spectacle but to show God’s love and bring him glory. But probably more importantly we can continue and bring to completion the work of Jesus in reconciling the world to God.

Yes, Jesus in rising from the dead won the great victory which made this reconciliation possible. But we still see a world far from God as people allow themselves to be dominated by evil. The kingdom of God is here, but it is not yet here in its fullness. Jesus as one man on earth could only reach and bring his personal touch to a few people. But now he has a community spread throughout every nation, and he calls every one of this community, that includes you and me, to bring that touch of love in one way or another to needy people, those far from God, all around the world. This is the purpose which God has for us, his people, and the vision which he sets before us.

Of course, in our own strength we can do little to solve the great problems of the world. But as we are filled with Jesus’ resurrection power there is no limit to what we can achieve, to bring about God’s great purpose of bringing the world fully into his Kingdom.

I didn’t really mean to write a sermon, and I won’t be preaching this as one, at least this Easter. But if anyone reading this still needs an Easter sermon and wants to use this material, you are welcome – but I would prefer if you let me know.

Blair versus Benedict over homosexuality?

I don’t believe that Tony Blair is the Antichrist, nor that Pope Benedict is. But I won’t be surprised to see accusations of this kind being thrown around in the wake of an astonishing interview which Ruth Gledhill reports, in an article in The Times (also picked up by Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream) and a blog post. At least according to Ruth, the world’s highest profile Roman Catholic convert of recent years has publicly criticised the Pope’s and the Roman Catholic church’s teaching on homosexuality. She reports on her blog that

In an interview with the gay magazine Attitude, Tony Blair says he wants to urge religious figures everywhere, including the Pope, to reinterpret their  religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal.

But what did Blair actually say? Did he really call on the Pope to reinterpret the Bible? Not quite. Here is the only part of the full interview, almost at the end, in which the Pope was even mentioned – the interviewer Johann Hari’s questions in bold:

But why do you think so many of the world’s most senior religious figures disagree? The Pope said in a speech that ‘homosexuality is a more or less strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder’, and even compared the tolerance of homosexuality to the destruction of the rainforests.

Again, there is a huge generational difference here. And there’s probably that same fear amongst religious leaders that if you concede ground on an issue like this, because attitudes and thinking evolve over time, where does that end? You’d start having to rethink many, many things. Now, my view is that rethinking is good, so let’s carry on rethinking. Actually, we need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith. So some of these things can then result in a very broad area of issues being up for discussion.

That’s when I understand why religious leaders are very reluctant. But I sometimes say that organised religions face the same dilemma as political parties when faced with changed circumstances. You can either hold to your core vote, basically, you know, say: “Look, let’s not break out, because if we break out we might lose what we’ve got, and at least what we’ve got, we’ve got, so let’s keep it”. Or you say, “let’s accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change, and actually reach out”.

Can you foresee a situation where in your lifetime or mine, we would have a pro-gay Pope, for example?

I don’t know, is the honest answer. I don’t know. Look, there are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this Pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic Church, particularly a well-attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you’d be surprised at how liberal-minded people were.

That’s quite a radical line for a Catholic: to say that the average Catholic congregation speaks for the Catholic Church more than the Pope does?

Well, I’m not going to say that! [Laughs] On many issues, I think the leaders of the Church and the Church will be in complete agreement. But I think on some of these issues, if you went and asked the congregation, I think you’d find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes. If you asked “what makes you religious?” and “what does your faith mean to you?” they would immediately go into compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering. I would be really surprised if they went to “actually, it’s to do with believing homosexuality is wrong” or “it’s to do with believing this part of the ritual or doctrine should be done in this particular way”.

So not really a declaration of war by Blair on Benedict, much more a call for rethinking on this issue. And he is probably right. I doubt if my own position would please Blair, and certainly not Attitude magazine, but it would also be strongly opposed to the anti-gay prejudice and unwelcoming attitude found in many churches. Blair certainly makes a good point that to maintain its membership the church has to keep up with the times, not to retreat into conservatism for fear of upsetting some of its core members – but I would not take that principle as far as Blair seems to, allowing it to influence central areas of doctrine and ethics.

Will Blair be able to remain in the Roman Catholic Church after this? I guess the Vatican authorities, already hit by recent bad publicity about another British convert, Bishop Richard Williamson, will pretend not to have noticed this interview. It certainly won’t make them happy, but nor will it infuriate them as much as it would have done if Blair had really called on the Pope to change his teaching. Maybe it will actually stimulate some rethinking and appropriate changes of attitude, although I trust that it will not lead to a change in the church’s core teaching on homosexuality.

How not to burn out

Some good advice on how to avoid burnout, for Christian ministers everywhere when adjusted for their circumstances, indeed also for me – from someone who has been there and paid the price for it:

I can actually think of both moments, right, where I’ve burned out, or came close to burning out. I can think I was disconnected, in the sense of, you love God, you pray, your read your Bible, but I have a message tonight, I need to meet with Jesus so I have something for the people. And it gets away from “I just love you, Lord, here I am, like Mary sitting at your feet” which has been my message: the secret place, soaking, marinating. I mean… But sometimes the very message that you preach is the very thing God’s saying to you.

And then you get so caught up in the work of revival. I remember in Lakeland that the first six weeks of Lakeland I would set aside two to four hours before I would do anything else to wait on the Lord, or in the afternoons. And then you get so busy with all the appointments and media and all the work of revival. Pretty soon after the sixth week, you know, it dwindles down to “I’ve got a few moments here. God, what are we doing tonight?” And God still moved in power, God still moved in power. And you still love the Lord but you lose the preciousness of “I’m just here because I love you, and there is no agenda”.

And the very thing you are saying, you know, is “I may be going. Give me the twelve steps. Give me a goal. Give me…” But you’re right, God is saying to me “It’s about the rest, it’s about getting back to…” I built our ministry on that relationship. Of course I didn’t know there would be ministry, it was just I loved the Lord and out of that love for the Lord everything flowed. And I can think of both situations, you know, I just got disconnected from the Lord.

Todd Bentley, speaking on the latest video at Rick Joyner’s page of videos about Todd’s restoration, dated 27th March and entitled “Entering Rest” (starting at 03:57).

Later in the ten minute (starting at 9:11) Todd says:

I was so devoted to the work of the ministry. Ministry is not evil, but I got so caught up in the love of the work. That’s really what led, after ten years that’s what led to… there was no relationship left with Shonnah, with my first wife, there was none. And to me that was the biggest issue, was  the ministry became the mistress. And I never can have that happen again. I mean, that doesn’t mean I can’t have ministry and do ministry, but it has to be done different.

Good advice! May every minister of the gospel take it to heart.

Original Bible text cannot be copyrighted, US copyright attorney says

This post was originally a comment on my previous post about copyright. I have decided to make it a separate post because of its importance, and have added the last part, after the quote.

Stan Gundry of Zondervan, in his own comment on a post which is mostly written by him, while not entirely agreeing with me on these issues, confirms that the critical text  of the Greek New Testament, and the Hebrew Bible, is not protected by copyright in the USA:

I am not a copyright attorney myself, but I have had lengthy phone conversations with a lawyer who is credited with being the best in the USA. Here’s the deal, at least according to USA copyright law. Ancient texts such as those we are dealing with in the OT (Hebrew/Aramaic) and NT (Greek) are in the public domain and are not protected by copyright. In fact (and this is controversial), even the critical texts as reconstructed by textual critics cannot be protected by enforceable copyrights.

This is indeed good news. It means that, at least in the USA, the German Bible Study does not have a leg to stand on to in its refusal to allow MorphGNT and Re:Greek to use the UBS Greek New Testament text.

I am tempted to compare this issue with the attempts, which backfired, of Mark Brewer to stifle debate about the former SPCK bookshops – a saga which is continuing, and still being documented by Phil Groom. The comparison is not entirely fair because the German Bible Society has not taken the same kind of active role that Mark Brewer took in demanding that material was removed from the Internet. Nevertheless I think they will find, just as Mark Brewer did, that their restrictions on the availability of their text will backfire on them.

I have a complete electronic copy of the UBS Greek New Testament 4th edition text. I will not publish it myself not least because the copyright position here in the UK is not as clear as in the USA. But I see no reason not to provide this text to people in the USA for them to use as they please.

Twitter Church

Elder Eric of Tominthebox News Network reports on the world’s first Twitter Church, inevitably based in Southern California. The pastor has never met any of his congregation, but keeps in touch with them only through Twitter updates – which, for those of us not already in the know, seems to be the latest fad which has taken over from blogging and Facebook. The pastor says:

I now share with people all the time. I update my Twitter status at least 4 times per hour. Sundays are when things really get special. I now have a group of people that all watch and read as I update my status repeatedly on Sundays from 11 AM to noon. During that hour, I send hymns and sermon notes via Twitter. We also text on our cells during that time. Last week one person even got saved. Although I don’t know who he is or where he lives exactly, I’m thrilled to add one more to the Kingdom.

April Fool? It’s always 1st April at TBNN. But, as a commenter predicts, very likely there will be such a church soon if there isn’t already. Indeed some of my blogging and Facebook friends are already using Twitter updates (which I receive only through Facebook) to report important news in the Christian world. Is a Twitter church the logical next step? Could this be a valid expression of church? I wonder!