The Reformer, Jan Huss

•October 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As evangelical churches celebrate the 500th anniversary of the emergence of Luther’s 95 Theses, which sparked the revolution known as The Reformation, let’s spare a few moments to consider another big player in God’s movement to deal a crushing blow to Romanism and re-acquaint Christendom with the Word of God.

Jan (John) Huss was born in 1369 in Bohemia, which is now contained within the Czech Republic. Bohemia was a good place, providentially speaking, for the man to appear: it had its own translation of the Bible, and the daughter of its king was sympathetic to the writings of an English reformer, John Wycliffe. Her marriage to Richard II made a conduit for the flow of Wycliffe’s radical teachings into Bohemia, where it could be argued it had a greater effect than in England.

Huss became the rector of Prague University at the age of 34, and was ordained a preacher at the capital’s Bethlehem Chapel in 1402. He was already a “troubler in Israel” in that he was intrigued by Wycliffe’s ideas and had an instinctive dislike of the indulgence scam, where popish officials were selling “get out of Purgatory free” tickets to raise money.

Rome had already begun to clamp down on this new movement, and their persecution of the Waldensians is well known by students of church history. This sect eventually joined the reform movement and later suffered greatly by the pope’s armies. The pontiff had also ordered all books by Wycliffe to be burned. His efforts had little effect, and in Rome’s desperation it had every church in Prague closed down.

As well as preaching, Huss’s writings were valued, and one of his treatises, De Ecclesia, was especially useful to Luther.

Huss was summoned to the Council of Constance in 1414, to answer charges made against him. Although he was promised safe passage, he was arrested soon after his arrival. Kept in squalid conditions, he waited for his moment in court.

Of course, there was never going to be a fair trial, and all the scriptural and philosophical arguments a believer can muster are no use when Rome is in the judgement seat. A kangaroo court found Huss guilty and sentenced him to be burned at the stake. Hear what Foxe says of Huss’s last moments:

“…the bishops appointed by the Council stripped him of his priestly garments, degraded him, put a paper miter on his head, on which was painted devils, with this inscription, “A ringleader of heretics.” Which when he saw, he said: “My Lord Jesus Christ, for my sake, did wear a crown of thorns; why should not I then, for His sake, again wear this light crown, be it ever so ignominious? Truly I will do it, and that willingly.” When it was set upon his head, the bishop said: “Now we commit thy soul unto the devil.” “But I,” said John Huss, lifting his eyes towards the heaven, “do commend into Thy hands, O Lord Jesus Christ! my spirit which Thou has redeemed.”
When the chain was put about him at the stake, he said, with a smiling countenance, “My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this for my sake, and why then should I be ashamed of this rusty one?”
When the faggots were piled up to his very neck, the duke of Bavaria was so officious as to desire him to abjure. “No,” (said Huss) “I never preached any doctrine of an evil tendency; and what I taught with my lips I now seal with my blood.”
The flames were now applied to the faggots, when our martyr sung a hymn with so loud and cheerful a voice that he was heard through all the cracklings of the combustibles, and the noise of the multitude. At length his voice was interrupted by the severity of the flames, which soon closed his existence.
Then, with great diligence, gathering the ashes together, they cast them into the river Rhine, that the least remnant of that man should not be left upon the earth, whose memory, notwithstanding, cannot be abolished out of the minds of the godly, neither by fire, neither by water, neither by any kind of torment.”

Such was the impression Huss made on his home country that in 1915, the 500th anniversary of his death, an impressive monument of the Reformer was built in the centre of Prague.

Prague - 179 - 231017

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Jesus Probably Doesn’t Love You

•September 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

A small evangelistic leaflet came to my attention recently which drove me in despair to write this post today. The inventors of this evangelistic campaign have a website, and have a strong brand which has been reproduced as bumper stickers, posters and many other formats like our leaflet.

4points

A corruption of the gospel

I’d love to get rid of this leaflet. I want to collect all copies and have a huge fire. I want this nonsense to stop. Since I have no power to do either, I’m writing this post in the hope that some people will be persuaded.

On a positive note, I like the bold, simple approach of using symbols, and I might just design a leaflet in a similar vein. I’ve no doubt the authors are genuine, loving, zealous, born-again, Bible-believing Christians. That being so, I love them, and want to share with them something I’ve learned, in the hope that their outreach efforts might be more God honouring.

“GOD LOVES ME!”

Are you an unbeliever? Then you have no right to believe God loves you. The Bible says God hates not just the sin but the sinner himself. The only people he loves are his elect, chosen from before the universe was created. (Those who are not elect are without doubt given good things, but it’s not the same, and we shouldn’t even call it “common grace”, let alone “love”.)

If you don’t belong to Jesus Christ, you face a day of judgement when he will pour out his fury on you. You’re on Death Row, and your horrific execution is on the horizon.

There are many pictures used about the judgement. One pictures Jesus Christ crushing his enemies under his feet while their blood splashes up over his clothes. It may be meant as a picture, but the reality will be even worse.

There’s no Biblical example which would warrant us telling the lost that God loves them. Read the book of Acts and look at every message preached. Not once will you find an apostle saying “God loves you!” Now the same can be said of God’s hatred of sinners. However, if you were going to choose one, you’d be better off telling sinners that God hates them with a vengeance. We take our main examples from the Bible, and so we avoid saying this, but it’s the less unwarranted of the two.

“JESUS DIED FOR ME”

When Jesus volunteered to come to this earth and be killed, he did it to save people. This was not a potential salvation, activated by the prayer of a sinner. He secured salvation for his people. All the individuals who his Father entrusted him with were redeemed, all their sins brutally paid for through the internal agony of Jesus.

Imagine an unbeliever is handed one of these leaflets. He’s assured that Jesus is “crazy” about him and wants more than anything else to be his friend. He’s told that Jesus paid for all his sins—every single one of them. “The thing is”, he’s warmly informed by the badly-taught evangelist, “if you want to secure your place in heaven [sic] and be happy, you should say a prayer to Jesus and let him into your heart. After all, he won’t force himself in.”

The man goes away, tempted by the added benefit of the Christian life, but content that all is well with him and God. Quite reasonably, he reasons that if God loves him so much he couldn’t possibly harm him. Whatever “hell” and all that’s about, God wouldn’t send him there, unless he’s playing some sick joke on mankind. From a logical standpoint, too, he concludes that a perfect God can’t punish Christ AND him for the same set of sins. So this man grows old and ends up on his deathbed, with just minutes separating him from eternity. Yet he believes the evangelist who says that though he never got round to saying “the prayer”, God even now loves him intensely.

The man closes his eyes in death. He opens them in what seems a millisecond, and finds himself at the Great Judgement Seat of Jesus Christ. To his horror, Jesus appears not as the effeminate figure painted for him throughout his life, but in his real form, as a holy, righteous God of wrath, preparing to carry out the sentence. Jesus orders the angels to cast him into the Lake of Fire, and so begins the eternal torment of the man who God loves.

The Biblical case against this “God loves you, Jesus died for you” mantra is powerful, and it is no wonder that believers who have some sense of the true Jesus Christ are saddened and infuriated by this emasculation of the Lord of Glory.

Repeating sermons

•June 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I prefer “messages” rather than “sermons”, but you all know what I mean.

Messages I put together are aimed at the congregation I’m about to speak to. However, I don’t bin them afterwards, unlike others I know who are against the recycling of messages.

If I preached the same message exactly more than once to the same people, it would be a bit stale. Still, there’s good reason to re-use them with different audiences, albeit with some changes. After all, if you believe the Lord helped you in your preparation, it makes as much sense to discard it as it would for a Christian writer to discard the research they’ve been doing on a book, or a Bible-college student to shred their theological essays after they’ve had them marked.

I was recently in the awkward situation of being told at the outset of a preaching engagement that my message was the same as I delivered the last time I was there. My system of keeping a record had failed, and I had to dig myself out of that hole with profuse apologies. I had no choice but to carry on.

What happened surprised me. It was the same message, yet very different.

Not believing that incidents are random, but are instead planned by God for some reason, I reflected afterwards on the situation. The real awkwardness, I realized, was the thought that the people would feel cheated. But why are we conditioned that way?

In any area of teaching, rehearsing the material is essential. Students of every discipline revisit numerous times what they’ve been taught . Even students in theological colleges do it. Yet in the area of preaching, we leave the messages behind us, to dissolve into the past. They’re replaced in the hearers’ minds by new sermons, as if it would be a crime to dwell on them.

We have to concede the point that sermons are not lectures. They feed the heart as well as the mind. That being so, exact comparisons with secular learning are not fair. Yet these sermons do contain facts and principles which would be good for people to have solidified in their memories. We may like the idea that preachers should “keep it fresh”, as the Lord lays new messages on their hearts for those people at that time. Yet this is exactly what happened when I repeated a message: it was different the second time around. The “facts”, if you like, were still there, but the exhortations were new and relevant for that time.

I’m having to rethink this matter. It could be that God’s purpose in this was to show me that it isn’t necessarily lazy or inconsiderate to repeat a message to the same people. Don’t think I’m starting a campaign to adopt this as normal practice, but it should make preachers and hearers think a little about their attitude. There could be a case for deliberately repeating yourself in the name of learning, and preachers have the duty then to deliver it in a way which shows they’re genuinely preaching anew and not lazily reading an old message for their own convenience.

Banning the Collection Plate

•April 5, 2016 • 1 Comment

By “collection plates”, I mean to include any practice where people in a Christian worship meeting have a plate, bag or box held in front of them so they can give offerings of money to the work of the church. So it doesn’t include boxes which people can put money into at any time convenient.

What’s the big problem? To answer that, I thought I’d make one of those “101 Reasons” lists, but I don’t know if I have that many, so I’m going to do a Q & A until I run out of ideas.

Why do we collect money?

In the Bible, the Lord’s people collected money for the Lord’s work. In the Old Testament, we see collections for buildings and the support of the religious leaders. In the New Testament, it’s all for people, including widows, orphans and those in full-time preaching ministry.

We don’t have genuinely poor people in our society, do we?

In the West, the state has structures in place for the support of the poor, and they do it with an efficiency the church could never match. Today, almost all the money collected from Christians is spent on church buildings and salaries.

So that means we need to collect money forever, doesn’t it?

Because there are regular outgoings for heating, insurance, etc. there will always be a need for collections. Some congregations pay for a full-time pastor, too. But when it comes to fundraising matters, if the need has been met, or if the church’s bank balance is large, the fundraising should stop until it’s needed again. An example would be helping a neighbouring congregation with paying for a roof repair, or helping out a poor pastor abroad.

Let’s get that collection plate going around then!

Steady on…there are some problems in doing it this way. Those who are not giving for whatever reason could feel embarrassed, seeing that the whole procedure is very public. Even the collector can find it awkward to have to read body language to judge whether anything will be handed over. If he gets it wrong, he could find himself holding the plate for a few awful seconds under the nose of someone who it turns out has nothing. Both people embarrassed, and for no good reason. And do we need to mention the impression it gives unbelievers who visit?

But if everyone’s supposed to give, there shouldn’t be as much of an issue, should there?

It’s not up to you or me to judge how others spend their money, and even the idea that “The main thing is that you give something” just isn’t Biblical; it would make the giving symbolic rather than practical as it was in the Bible. Like every other Christian act or belief, giving money publicly can result in a proud heart which looks down on those who haven’t given, or haven’t given as much. Remember that these critics haven’t given everything they have. They’ve kept money to spend on TV, mobile phones, holidays, and many other luxuries, so they need to be extremely careful and humble when making judgements about others. The irony is even bigger than that. These people’s thinking should rather be, “I’ve noticed she hasn’t put anything on the plate again. Maybe she’s struggling, and the church could help her out with a gift of money. I’ll tactfully ask her.”

I was told it’s part of our worship. Is that wrong?

Giving money is meant to glorify God just as everything we do should be. But you won’t find it included as part of corporate worship in the practice of the NT church. The creation of money-giving as a religious ceremony is an invention of men. The early church, according to the likes of Justin and Tertullian, collected money after the public worship was over. Interestingly, the treasurer’s job is usually done by deacons, which could imply it was considered a necessary function, like organizing church-renovation, which was not tied to public worship,.

But isn’t giving individually going against the spirit of corporate activity?

It may sound pleasant to give “as a body”, but a nice thought is all it is. Many activities are carried out individually, such as when someone in church makes the tea and coffee, paints the vestry, cleans the toilet, banks the collection money, builds the church website, and we could go on and on. There is nothing in these activities which undermines the idea of the unity of the body, and neither is there any principle that we should treat money-collection differently and artificially make it a public exercise.

And in our church we do it twice on a Sunday…

Which means that some people split their money in half so they have something to put on the plate morning and evening and thereby take part fully in the Ceremony of the Money.

Didn’t the Apostle Paul talk about collections on the first day of the week?

Read the passage (1 Cor. 16). He tells them to do their fundraising before he came, so that there wouldn’t be a collection when he was there. If it was meant to be a ritual, Paul would have asked them to make sure they brought cash so they could perform it when he came! Some commentators believe the money was saved up at home, then brought in at an appointed time, which would do away with the whole idea of weekly public collections.

So what do you think we should do?

When we understand that this is about fundraising and not religious rituals we might decide to put a box on the wall in our church building so people can give whenever it’s convenient. But remember that employees and people on benefits are almost all paid electronically, so a bank-transfer or Paypal transaction would be most convenient. Think about this bizarre scenario. A man get’s paid. He goes to a cash machine to get bank notes out. He then takes them on a Sunday and hands them over. The treasurer processes it all and travels to the bank to re-deposit the notes. Hardly a great use of our time. What’s sadder is that, if the worker gets paid monthly, they repeat the whole process four or five times a month!


It’s time to get rid of the collection plate. If we have to raise money for a particular purpose, let’s allow people to give in such a way that their left hand doesn’t know what their right hand is doing. Stop the withdrawing and re-depositing cycle which wastes believer’s time. Put the giving so much in the background that the world can’t see us as money-centred. When we have enough, let’s tell people so, like Moses did. And let’s be more compassionate to those who feel they are struggling to pay anything at all. After all, the Lord desires your mercy more than any sacrifices.

The Apostle’s Desire of Resurrection

•June 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In the third chapter of Phillipians, the Apostle Paul talks about knowing Christ. It is on this basis that he expresses his hope, as seen in verse eleven:

“If by any means I might attain unto heaven”

Oh, hang on, I got that wrong. My mistake. What he really says is,

“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection“.

In a theological world where “heaven” and “the resurrection” are treated as almost synonyms, most believers would read over the verse without much thought, even substituting their preconceptions about heaven into the verse. It’s both an astounding and awful habit, whereby we read the word but “see” another. It’s all down to indoctrination of the wrong type, and I’ve suffered with it as much as anyone. Even after paying closer attention to the words in the verse, many would wish it said heaven. After all, there’s precious little evidence to back up their beautifully alliterative but erroneous phrase, “heaven or hell”.

Paul deliberately chooses to say that his hope is the resurrection, whereas most believers wouldn’t. They’d invariably say their hope is heaven, in an [unwitting?] departure from the overall teaching of the Bible; and if we look at the whole New Testament, especially the best record of Apostolic preaching – in the Book of Acts – you won’t find a single statement that if we trust in Jesus we’ll go to heaven. So many have fallen for a heathen Greek philosophy of human-shaped immaterial souls. It proves just how we’re more influenced by the teachings of men than the Bible itself.

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What “Hell” Means

•December 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The subject of hell is a difficult one, partly because my own views differ from most other people’s. So I thought I’d state a few facts about hell so you can do your own research.

What will make your own study difficult is to do with translation. You may know that the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The good thing for us is that people hundreds of years ago took the time to translate these scriptures into English. Great. But it’s not that straightforward! There are difficulties finding equivalent English words to translate into. Now several words in the Bible, including ‘Sheol’ [shee-ole], ‘Had-ace’ or ‘Hades’, ‘Tartaros’ and ‘Gehenna’, have all been translated as ‘hell’.

This means that, when you hear the word ‘hell’ used in the Bible, you don’t know straight away what is meant. In Acts, it says that Christ descended into hell. And we know he didn’t go into fiery torments, so the word doesn’t always mean that. Professional theologians have used their great intellects to invent all kinds of new ideas. One is that, although hell always refers to a fiery place, there’s a safe zone somewhere in it for Christ and others. The ‘compartmentalized hell’ has been a popular idea, but people will naturally wonder, when we tell them they face ‘hell’, whether they might just get into the ‘good bit’! Dear, oh dear.

No, ‘hell’ in this case means ‘the grave’. In the old days, farmers would ‘hell’ their potatoes—that is, plant them in the ground. (The word is of Germanic origin, meaning “to cover over”.) So sometimes, being ‘in hell’ just means ‘being dead’.

There are other uses that mean something a bit more what we’re used to. When ‘Gehenna’ is translated as ‘hell’, it means a place of “eternal fire”. The Greek word was pinched from the name of a big rubbish dump outside Jerusalem, which was continually on fire. It contained not only rubbish but, before Christianity’s influence ended the practice, unwanted babies were thrown in there too. Truly, a terrible picture of a terrible place.

Then there’s the mention in the Book of the Revelation of a ‘lake of fire’, where the unsaved masses will suffer for all eternity. It tells us that, at the end of time, both death and hell will be thrown into the lake of fire. So the main point to be made here is that hell and the lake of fire are not the same thing.

If all this talk of Greek words has caused any confusion, just take this away with you: if you’re not a believer in Christ when judgement comes, you will spend ages and ages in a state of intense discomfort and despair, and the worse thing is that these ages of suffering will never end.

The Resurrection of Man

•December 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

To kick off some discussion about the issue I alluded to in my previous post, I’m now going to be pointing at the elephant in the reading room of the Bible college saying, “Shouldn’t we be dealing with this?” and watching the brethren bury their heads more deeply into their books to avoid eye-contact with me.

Okay, that sounds a bit arrogant. Bible scholars are people who have been exceptionally gifted by God. (Well, the good ones anyway.) But my initial attempts at getting them to discuss this issue have been met with very uncharacteristic vagueness and lack of interest.

Let’s see if I can sum up what my beef is. My posts are too long, so I’m going to be as ruthless as possible with my words.

To me, the Bible says that when we die, that’s it, until the resurrection. The raising up of the body is the big deal. It’s what those guys in the Bible spoke about so often. Our resurrection is not the icing on the cake: it is the cake. That is, getting a new body isn’t adding finishing touches to God’s final plan for us, the bulk of the glorious work being a wispy existence as a disembodied soul where God lives. No, our receiving a new body is when we go from being dead to being alive. There is no halfway house, where we have everything already, our resurrection being a sort of bonus on top of the glory we already have.

So we die, and in one sense we cease to exist. However, we still exist in the mind of God where, it could be argued, we are more “real” than when our existence is materialized. In due time, God will recreate us. Hard to believe? Well just a minute, didn’t he know us before we existed? Didn’t he form each one of us from the technical drawings in his mind when we came into this world? Then don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re less real while God is crafting a new “us”.

As Luther said, you’ll fall asleep in death, and you will rot or burn. At some later point, when the end comes, God will raise the new you. Even if a thousand years have elapsed, all you will experience is a closing of the eyes and an immediate re-opening of the eyes at the glorious resurrection. No darkness to fear. No ages of silence. Just a split second from your perspective.

This is idea isn’t new, but it is unpopular. It’s my aim to have this brought into the arena of Christian discussion. Hopefully, it can eventually be talked about openly and calmly, without threats of disfellowship or denunciations of heresy. If I can contribute to that, even in the smallest way, I’ll have accomplished something really useful.