Searching for Meaning in Life

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“Vanity of vanities; all is vanity”

Ecclesiastes 

Based on a message given at Providence Baptist ChapelBedford on 2 May 2021

 

Vanity of Vanities” is the famous phrase and timeless truth that was written by King Solomon some 3,000 years ago. What a bold statement to make. Without God, life has and can have no meaning. The big questions of life simply will not be answered. Questions like: Why am I here? What is life all about? Where am I going in life? Is there any purpose and meaning to life? Without God, our search for meaning will fail.

Human cells under a microscope

Many Scientists today tell us, in their opinion, we are just made up of billions of cells. Cells that are responding to predetermined rules, or algorithms. A predictable code, which has appeared by chance. Atoms and molecules that apparently behave predictably, because of chemical programming. Surely that cannot be!

What about human consciousness, our emotions, and feelings? What about our vast potential for creativity, our inner thoughts, and unique personalities? There must be more to life.

King Solomon

Solomon lived in 848BC and became king over ancient Israel at the age of just 12. History tells us that he was the wisest and richest person of his time. He knew three thousand proverbs and could recite them all. When visited by the Queen of Sheba (from Ethiopia), she was recorded as saying the “half had not been told her” about his wealth and glory. His conclusion about life is worthy of consideration. He concluded that life is empty and not merely one part of life, but all of it is ultimately vanity. The totality and completeness of life is all just a vapour.

Before coming to this wide-reaching conclusion, Solomon conducted a series of ultimately failed experiments. He used his extraordinary wealth, riches, and wisdom, to test his thesis thoroughly. He created, as it were, a chemistry laboratory of life and tried out various life experiments:

  1. Comedy and laughter. If only I can laugh, he thought. If only somebody would make me laugh and laugh and laugh. That would give me satisfaction and joy. Sadly, experience shows that often the clown is the most unhappy person.
  2. He turned to wine and to alcohol. This will relax me. A bit more, just a bit more, but a habit was formed and there was no lasting pleasure.
  3. He tried property, real estate, and DIY. Perhaps one more project, a bigger palace, an extension, that will do it.
  4. He turned to all kinds of entertainments, music, and drama. But they gave no ultimate pleasure, just a few hours of superficial fun.
  5. He developed many relationships, with hundreds of wives. Many try this still today, in our promiscuous Western society.
  6. He sought to build a reputation for himself to make a legacy. If only people will look at me and consider all that I have done and achieved.
  7. Finally, he got hold of everything his eyes lusted for. All the possessions he wanted to buy, and he did not hold back.

All of these experiments failed for Solomon, just like they do still today.

 

The Fairground of Life

There is a poem written by Rosemary Clooney, which analogizes the essence of Solomon’s experiment. It tells of a teenage girl who went to a fair, what John Bunyan called ‘Vanity Fair’.  She stayed too long and found out the reality of life. 

I wanted the music to play on forever,
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I wanted the clown to be constantly clever
Have I stayed too long at the fair?

 I bought me blue ribbons to tie up my hair
But I couldn’t find anybody to care.
The merry-go-round is beginning to slow now.
Have I stayed too long at the fair?

 I wanted to live in a carnival city,
With laughter and love everywhere.
I wanted my friends to be thrilling and witty,
I wanted somebody to care.

I found my blue ribbons all shiny and blue,
But now I’ve discovered them no longer blue.
The merry-go-round is beginning to taunt me,
Have I stayed too long at the fair?

There is nothing to win and no one to want me.
Have I stayed too long at the fair?”

 

Vanity in Word Pictures

Life is vanity, Solomon says. The same Hebrew word for vanity is translated with many other contrasting English words. All of them are helpful descriptions of what Solomon had in mind. Life is like a breath. I can’t get hold of it. I know on a cold day you can see your breath, but there is no substance to it.  It is also a delusion. We delude ourselves with one more possession, one more night out, one more friendship, one more relationship, one more bottle. We are mistaken.

 

Vanity is called emptiness. Like a vessel that we thought would have something in it, but it turns out to be empty. It is also a fraud. We are deceived. It turns out to be just a failed promise. Like buying something on the internet, but it never arrived. The word is translated as futile or pointless and like idols. There was something there, I think I can see it. But it can’t hear, smell, or speak. It can’t move. It was nothing. It was useless. It is like a vapour. The kettle boils and we see what comes out, but we can’t touch it. Finally, vanity is translated as worthless. Life has no value without God.

 

God Has Given Life

Imagine you open a present. The present arrives and you decide for some reason you later regret to throw the envelope away that was attached to it. Your present gets mixed up with some other presents. it was wrapped up beautifully, but you have no idea who sent it to you. The envelope is gone. It contained both a letter from the one who gave you the present and the instructions for the gift. But you threw the envelope away. You don’t know who and why the special present was given. It could be from anybody.

God of course is the giver of life and your soul is the special gift. God’s gift to you only has a real meaning and purpose if you know who the giver is, if you know why He gave it to you.  When things go wrong with the gift, you need the instructions to put things right. Life without God is like a present with no giver to explain about it. It is abstract, meaningless, pointless and void of anything worthwhile.

Find the envelope (the Bible) with the Maker’s instructions and open it.  Learn what He is like and why He gave you a soul. Know what He has said to you. Inside He has written a love-letter.

 

The problem is that as soon as we open the present things have already gone wrong. We fail, we sin, we fall short of the glory of God. We develop twisted characters and veer from the best pathway for life. We need to go back to our Creator, who alone gives us the instructions, in His Word, open it and read it.

 

Remember your Creator while you are young

Life does not have to be like this. When Solomon’s experiments were over, he said “remember”. Remember thatyou have a Creator. Come before your Creator, ideally while you are young, or as soon as you hear the Creator calling you. “Remember, now, your Creator.” It doesn’t have to be meaningless and pointless.

 

Solomon also gave a warning. Be careful, because “the evil days will come”. The end years of life will draw near. Life’s experiments will fail.  You will say “I have no pleasure in my life as it is, without God, without my Creator. While the sun, nor the light, nor the moon or the stars, be not darkened nor the clouds return”. You will see the dark clouds do come down in life. Illness comes suddenly. The sunlight goes away. What seemed to be pleasure is gone. The music at the fair stops. The merry-go-round doesn’t go round anymore. Isn’t this an accurate picture of life without God?

Renzo Piano

If I gave you a book and you opened it, you would probably ask who is the author? If I showed you a wonderful painting, you would say, who is the artist? If you look at the tallest building in Europe, the Shard, you might ask who designed it. It did not just get there. It was designed by an Italian man called Renzo Piano. There is an architect, an artist, an author, somebody that wrote the software, and knows the JavaScript to code it. Of course, there is a Creator. Do you know your Creator? Have you remembered Him? Or have you been trying to forget Him?

We often see on the News, some actor or actress, or a popular musician, who has fame in their world. A rap artist with fifteen million social media followers but sadly dies suddenly. There does not seem to be an explanation for why the individual life has ended. No illness is mentioned. Then the inquest into the death comes out some weeks later. It becomes clear, yet again, that they tragically took their own lives. The fame and millions of followers were empty of meaning. Life was lived without God.

We also hear of people who grow up not knowing their mother or their father. They were brought up in a different home and family. At the age of 3 months or 3 years they were fostered or adopted. We feel for them. But sooner or later, when they get to 16 or so, their heart inevitably cannot wait any longer. They have a longing desire to re-connect with Mum or Dad. They cannot live not knowing who their father or mother is. So, they reach out, desiring to re-connect. “Who are my parents what are they like?” They cannot live without knowing. Wouldn’t you rather know your Creator? His purpose, reason, and explanation for life and the soul.

Abundant Life

In John chapter 10, The Lord Jesus is speaking about life, its meaning and purpose. He says, “the thief comes to steal”. He wants to steal your life; this is referring to Satan. He wants to ruin your life so that it has no potential meaning and purpose. He wants to destroy your life. But Christ says, I am come from Heaven to this earth of sin, this earth of emptiness. “I am come that they might have life”. There is no life in our souls without God, as Lord and Saviour. It will be empty, futile, meaningless. But Christ says “I am come” to fill up your empty vessel. Fill it until it with abundant life.

Christ says, I am come to give you the reason I made you. You are living your life completely differently to the way I want you to live. You have gone this way and you have gone that way. I am come so that you can be reconciled with me. When the merry-go-round stops in life, then you will see it has just been a Vanity Fair. It won’t give you pleasure, meaning, purpose, you were looking for.

The testimony and experience of true Christians is this: it is not that we found life. It is not that we worked it out. It is not that we were intelligent. Christ calls us as The Good Shepherd. He comes to find the lost sheep. He says, this is the way you come to Me. “I am the door”.  I am not a thief. I never came to make your life poorer. I never came to make your life more restricted or be a kill joy. I am come that you may have abundant life. 

What a contrast this is to Satan’s way. He wants to rob you of lasting joy. He wants you to have no confidence in God. But Christ has come to give real life. Do not travel through life scratching around on the surface, looking for meaning. “Remember your Creator.” He designed you and gave you a soul. Your soul cannot be satisfied with all these other things, only by Him.

Fear God and obey Him” were Solomon’s final words. God’s command is for us to go and seek Him and to ask for this new and abundant life. He will give it to you. He will fill up your life and it will over-flow, with joy and peace. You will know forgiveness of sin and all your guilt taken away. Do not wait till the music stops. Don’t wait for the carnival of life to end.  Come to Jesus Christ. There can be meaning, and purpose in our lives. But only if you will seek the Lord by coming in repentance and faith.

If you wish to find out more about the Gospel or would like to speak to the Pastor then please e mail on Pastor@providencechapel.org.uk

 

Pastor Oliver Wyncoll

www.providencechapel.org.uk

www.providencechapel.org.uk/youtube     

What is The Gospel?

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Based on a message given at Providence Baptist ChapelBedford ~ 24th January 2021

What is The Gospel?

O Zion that brings good tidings” Isaiah 40:9

 

 

What is The Gospel? What does that word even mean? If you tried to answer these questions, asked your neighbours, or colleagues, would you or they get anywhere close to understanding The Gospel’s true meaning in the Bible?

Sometimes we hear a friend tell us of a relative of theirs who has died. But to make it worse, they didn’t even have time to tell their loved one what they wanted to. They wanted to say something vital. “If only I could have told them, that I loved them”. But now they bear the thought of if only. A regret lingers in the mind. The opportunity was not taken and is now snatched from them, and it’s too late.

The Gospel is about the love of Christ for lost sinners, me and you. If you read this, then I will have no regrets. I need to tell you of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ for every single person that has ever been born. There is a general love of Christ for all people. But only those that listen and respond will be rescued and gathered by Him.

We have a great need to hear The Gospel. Never has the world needed The Gospel more than now. We are one day nearer to that time when each of us will stand before the Lord God and give account; one day nearer to eternity, one day less than yesterday to turn and repent of our personal sins. The Gospel needs to be heard. Yet society (us) often has no time for it. Will you hear it by reading this?

If you hear no other message about The Lord Christ, you need to know about God’s exclusive salvation. About your soul and its need to be right with God. Of the consequences of sin, and God’s holiness. About an eternal future away from God for every sinner who is unrepentant, remains unforgiven, unwashed, and unpardoned.

1. The Gospel is: Good news. “O Zion (God’s people), that brings good tidings; O Jerusalem that brings good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God”. Isaiah 40:9

In the New Testament the word Gospel, evangelion, is mentioned 145 times. It means “Good News”. There is another term in the Old Testament that also appears in the New Testament; “Good Tidings” and it is used twice in above verse and 130 times in all. That’s a total of 275 times that the words for Good News are mentioned in God’s Word.

Mark 1:1 “In the beginning of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ the Son of God”. The Bible claims, and it undeniably is, a book of Good News. There is even a Bible (not a very good translation), but it has a very good name, called The Good News Bible.

Psalm 34:8 says: “O taste and see that the Lord is good”. This is God’s Word, it is about Him, it is His message. Everything about it is good. You cannot find one verse, one chapter, one book in this Bible that is not good. What a contrast to the world we live in! The news we read, things we talk about are often not good news: disease, discrimination, divorce, depression, death: that’s just five D’s. Then there is sorrow, sickness, strife, separation, and sin: that’s five S’s. Sadly, those ten things cover the majority, of what we contribute to, suffer from and experience in this life.

We do not want to be gloomy, but we must assess the real world we live in. The world up and down, east to west. It is like this as the consequence of our individual human hearts. The direct result of what I say, I do, you say, you do. It has always been like it. This is the world we live in. A world that desperately needs Good News, and so this message: “O Zion that brings good tidings”; is a message we need to hear.

The Bible describes this message as “The Gospel of peace” and as “The Gospel of truth”. Don’t you want to hear of peace and truth? We don’t want to hear of war and strife, anger and envy. We don’t want to hear of lies and fake news. We want to hear things that are true and good and right. This is a message of really good news.

2. The Gospel is: Exclusive and Eternal. Hang on! That’s two very broad claims. Exclusive; O yes, it claims so itself. The Lord Jesus Christ said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father; but by me”. You cannot get a more exclusive set of claims than that: no other way, no other truth, no other access to God the Father, but through Christ: one way, one person; the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is also an eternal Gospel. It always has been. There only ever has been one way to heaven. It is the same way promised from Genesis 3:15 to the final chapter of the whole Bible. Yes, in the Old Testament there were shadows, types and figures (sacrifices of animals, altars etc), used as pictures. But they were just sign-posts. Not to John O’Groats or Lands’ End, but signposts pointing to our need of a Saviour.

One way; and it always was one way to God. It had to be. There cannot be two ways, or a hundred ways; they would contradict. No, one way, and the way must be decided by God Himself. And He has, when the three Persons of the Trinity, before time began: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit agreed that the problem they could foresee, in time and space, could only be solved by God. So God the Father would send God the Son, and God the Son would willingly come into time and He would be a human being, just like me and you, except with no sin. He would live a perfect life. So that me, a fallen person, could have the forgiveness of my sins. The Holy Spirit is the one that opens our hearts and eyes to see and understand our need of the Saviour. There only has ever been one way. It is exclusive and it is eternal.

3. The Gospel calls us to: “Behold your God” Isaiah 40:9. This is the Good News, the glad tidings. The Bible has such a simple way of explaining something which is so profound; the human heart is in rebellion with God. The human heart does not want to look to God, does not want to listen; God says just three words through the prophet Isaiah; “Behold, (look), your God”. Look not to an impersonal spiritual force, but The God that made you and me.

The word “behold” means look carefully and intentionally: look away from yourself, look away from every thought you might have that you can solve your problems, and will be okay eternally. Look away from every other source of help, look away from thinking that you have one percent goodness to give to God. Look to Him alone.
One snowy night in the 1850’s a young lad heard this verse being repeated again and again: “Look unto me, all the ends of the earth; and be ye saved, for I am God; and there is none other”, another exclusive claim. The teenage lad walked off into the street. The verse had arrested his heart. It seized him. He went home and was never the same. His name was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. His sermons have since been read the world over, by more than any others outside of the Bible. “Look unto me”; it’s much the same as this verse: “Behold your God”. It is a call. The exclusive eternal call of God to lift up your eyes, and to look unto your God.

Afterall, you are personally accountable to Him. We are accountable to parents, or spouses, and bosses at work. Accountable to the Government to pay our taxes. But also accountable to God. We must come before Him. We must bring our “soul account” with us. An account that is in deficit, overdrawn. We have such a burden of sin; we need to bring it before God and ask Him to cancel our debts: not look to anyone else, not think we can cope with this mountain of debt alone. Please, do not ignore Him any longer, do not push Him away, do not close your ears.

4. The Gospel is a call us to look to Jesus Christ. The book of Isaiah was written 800 years before the Lord Jesus Christ. It says: “He shall feed his flock, like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs”. This is a prophecy about Christ. Isaiah is looking way into the future. He sees the Lord Jesus Christ in his mind’s eye, as the only hope: he sees Him feeding His flock, gathering lambs one by one, to Himself.

This message, this Good News, this Gospel, is about a person, Christ. He is an indisputable, historical fact. You cannot see Him today, not with your physical eyes. But you can with your spiritual eyes. Tens of thousands of people heard Him, saw Him, saw what He did when He was a man. There is more evidence for Christ today, than there is for Julius Caesar. There is more evidence for Jesus Christ being real, being a human-being that walked on earth for thirty-three years than there is for any other ancient historical figure. There are more books written about Him. The Bible has sold more copies than any other book. Historians at the time attested that the Lord Jesus Christ is who He says He is. Isaiah points forward. “He shall feed His flock”: this is Christ, this is the Good News, this is The Gospel.

5. The Gospel is: a call to One who is a Shepherd. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd; He calls Himself the One that gathers. You see, we are like sheep which have gone astray, we have gone this way and that, gone off into the rocky outcrops, and got lost. We are now in great danger; our souls will not be gathered unless He comes and gathers us one by one. “He shall gather the lambs with His arm, with His strong arm”. When the Bible talks about the arm of Christ: it is His message and His power to save. 

He shall gather the lambs with His arm and He will carry us. We cannot walk on our own, we cannot save ourselves from sin, we cannot come into the fold to be with Him. He needs to come and find us, rescue us, gather us up, carry us and bring us to Himself. This is a message about a Good Shepherd; the Shepherd who does everything for us. I accept my need and that Christ alone must save me. I do nothing but repent and trust, as soon as I hear His voice calling me, the voice of the Shepherd.

He gathers, He feeds, He carries, and He leads the lambs. That is me, that is you, if you will seek Him, stop resisting Him any longer. The Gospel is a call from the Good Shepherd. He comes looking for you, looking for me. He will gather you, if only you will hear and ask Him. The Good Shepherd: He calls us, He gathers, He feeds, He leads and He carries. “He shall gently lead those that are with young”. He gathers even the youngest to Himself if they will hear Him.

6. The Gospel: is a call to look to Calvary. Jesus Christ is pictured here not only as the Good Shepherd, but as one who will lay down His life for the sheep. I cannot lay down my life to earn Heaven: He must lay it down for me. He must do everything. He must bear the terrible, just punishment for my sin instead of me as my substitute.

In Christ’s life, He had not one thought of disobedience to His parents, not one lustful thought. He did not look upon anyone else with pride, jealousy, or anger in His heart. He lived a perfect life. How do I know that? Pontius Pilate said: “I find in this man no wrong”. There were two men hung either side on the cross. One of the men testified: “This man did nothing amiss”. He lived a perfect life. He died a perfect death so that you could be free, forgiven, cleansed, washed, and pardoned from sin.

Have you been forgiven? Do you have your sin upon your record still? Do you have guilt upon your heart? Can you feel it? If the Lord was to call you this day: would you still feel that guilt, on your “soul account”, unwashed, uncleansed, unforgiven; the Gospel calls you to look to Calvary; the only place where you can be cleansed: “God commends His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; the just Christ, for the unjust you and me, if you will hear Him.

7. The Gospel is: the dividing line for all eternity. In Luke 23:39 there were two robbers, two thieves on either side of Jesus Christ on the cross. One would fear God and one would not. They both heard the seven sayings of the Lord Jesus on the cross, pleading with His Father for the people in the crowd to be forgiven; people who had hurled insults and abuse at Christ, and mocked Him. The two men both mocked Him, but one heard His words; words offering forgiveness, and believed and feared God. He trusted that Christ would be his Saviour, the other would have none of it.

What about you? Are you on the left or are you on the right? Are you with God or are you against Him? Will you fear God in your heart and seek His forgiveness; and trust Him with faith in your heart, or will you push Him away? Have no fear (respect) for God, just a cynical mocking? If you do not fear God, you mock God; if you don’t fear God, you push Him away, don’t do it for your eternal soul’s sake.

There is only condemnation for those who reject the love of Christ. One thief heard: “Today you will be with me in paradise”, the other thief died in his sins. What will it be for you? With God forever: because you fear Him, trust Him, believe in Him, and have repented of your sins. Or will you stay as you are? With that dividing line for all eternity in front of you, not behind you.

Hear the call of The Gospel. Come to Him in prayer, trusting by faith and repenting of all your sin. If you really mean it, He will hear your cry and change your life.

If you wish to find out more about the Gospel or would like to speak to the Pastor then please e mail on Pastor@providencechapel.org.uk

 

Pastor Oliver Wyncoll

www.providencechapel.org.uk

www.providencechapel.org.uk/youtube     

Truth Decay in a ‘Post-Christian’ World

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Has the Western world finally and conveniently rejected the concept of truth? Or is it still possible to discover real truth, a comprehensive, consistent reality?

Before the Lord Jesus Christ was handed over to the religious leaders, and the will of the gathered crowds, Pontius Pilate famously washed his hands of all personal responsibility. After cross examination, he rightly concluded that “he found no fault in Him”. He was right.

Pilate needed to appease his uncomfortable conscience. A conscience that had been challenged by the words of the Lord Jesus. He had told Pilate that “He was born and came into the world to bear witness to The Truth, and that everyone that is of The Truth would hear His voice.” What did Christ mean by The Truth?

Truth up for grabs?

It seems as never before, in the Western world, the concept and existence of objective truth is up for grabs. What is it and why do we even need it?

Former President of the US, President Obama, spoke recently not of tooth decay, but “truth decay”. He was highlighting that in the West, the existence of a universal concept of truth, is rapidly disappearing. 

The oft-mentioned expression of President Obama’s successor, President Trump, was a new term “Fake News”. He challenged head-on the power of social media and news channels to spread stories, that in his opinion, had no basis of truth or legitimacy. Ironically, social media has now responded by posting notices disputing many of his claims and seeking to ‘fact-check’ them.

Another evidence of the concept of objective truth being challenged is the current popularity for crazy conspiracy theories.  They circulate on social media, and are believed by many, but no meaningful evidence is ever provided. Whether it be the health risks of 5G or Bill Gates’ apparently long held ambition to micro-chip the world, via a compulsory global vaccine, if such a thing were even possible.

It seems that we are in the middle of a ‘truth crisis’. One that threatens the authority of politicians and the safe and efficient functioning of society. People no longer know what to believe anymore. No wonder there is so much uncertainty. Sadly, this comes when certainty is desperately needed. 

Post-truth in a Post-Christian era

We should not be surprised. For seventy years, there has been a growing rejection of the concept of objective truth. This rejection of truth has coincided with the West moving into what is widely called the “Post-Christian” era. 

It was highlighted in Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1951 book “Truth Unchanged, Unchanging” based on lectures he gave in 1947 at Wheaton College. The foreword reads: “What is man? What is wrong with the human race?” Unless we answer these questions correctly, we cannot hope to solve the problems in our world.

In this new Post-Christian era, a vacuum has been created. Caused by the shift away from a largely universally accepted body of consistent objective truth. Truth and values held securely by lawmakers, leaders, and society for centuries.

We have rejected a time-tested, consistent set of absolutes. Absolutes like the intrinsic value and sanctity of life, the necessity of transparency and honesty, submission to the authority of the God-given institutions. These and many others are bedrock truths of the Bible. The changing laws on abortion and the re-defining of gender are examples of this shift from absolute standards, to the truth of relativism and convenience.

Alternatives to truth

Instead we have replaced Absolutes with many versions of the truth. What is filling this vacuum in the Post-Christian era? Firstly, it is the ‘law of the jungle’, which is no law, or at best a constantly moving view of what is right and wrong. A mind-set which is individually determined, and therefore inevitably inconsistent. A set of relative values. ‘What’s good for me, now in this situation’, rather than what is essential and right for everyone always. “

In the absence of truth, “power is the only game in town.” said Richard John Neuhaus. The extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany proved the utter fallacy of this position.

An elevated new role has been given to experts, whose views and opinions we are asked to accept as truth. Afterall, they “cannot be wrong, they are globally renowned in their narrow field”.

The problem with so-called experts is that very often they do not agree. Or their advice shifts and contradictions and inconsistencies creep in. This is entirely understandable as the information they are responding to, and their personal knowledge of it, is at best limited and itself changing.

A further alternative is the new role that data is playing in our everyday lives. The data that comes out of social media ‘likes’, focus groups and the surveys. The Data cannot be wrong, they say.

But this is the same data which then feeds the algorithms, which feeds our personal news flow, which shapes our opinions, which feeds the focus groups, and so the circle goes on. It is just another version of the contradictory law of the jungle.

What is Truth?

We need to come back to the question that Pilate cynically asked, “what is truth.” He gave it as a cynical answer, more than as a question. An excuse, and an attempt to get away from the facts he had been presented with.

Like him, we too do not want to face up to the statements of the Lord Jesus Christ. We would rather question and pour scorn on the existence of something called truth, than to face up to the consequences for each of us individually.

In order to get an understanding of the defining characteristics of the truth, we must go to the Bible. There is only one place to find such a definition, and we believe that is the Word of God.

Before we go there for a definition, why does the Bible have any  authority to define truth?  Three points will suffice. First, it claims to be The Truth. “Thy word is truth” John 17:17. Second, it has stood the test of time. Third, it is totally consistent, which is unsurprising, as it is divine revelation from the changeless God who cannot lie.

The Bible has been helpfully defined as:

A reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report to us supernatural events that took place in fulfilment of specific prophesies, and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.”

When the Bible uses the word truth (alethia), it means “that which corresponds to reality, what is factual, absolute, not relative”. This kind of truth has a number of inherent characteristics which define what it is, and why it is liberating, desirable and necessary.  Here are just 7 of its essential features: 

  1. God is Truth and Truth is God: it comes from Him, is defined by Him, and He is the embodiment and personification of truth through Christ Jesus.
  1. Truth is Consistent: it cannot contradict itself; if it does, logically one part will either be true and the other false or vice a versa.
  1. Truth is Timeless: if it is not true from the beginning of time and to the end of time then it never was and never will be true.
  1. Truth is Proven: in order for it to be universally accepted it must have been tested repeatedly and evidenced to be true in order to be the Truth.
  1. Truth is Comprehensive: it is a set of holistic principles dealing with and applicable to all areas, phases and facets of life.
  1. Truth is Objective and Real: it conforms with reality as opposed to being purely subjective and dependent on what I feel or think.
  1. Truth is Universal: it must be true in every situation and in every place, and for every person.

The Bible tells us that The Truth is embodied in and revealed by a person. Not an abstract, unknowable force or set of inconsistent opinions. But in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

In this Post-Christian age of uncertainty, relativism, and truth decay, may many discover the timeless truth, revealed in the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ Himself, who tells us that “The truth shall make you free. “ John 8:32

Whose Authority Are We Under?

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But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’.

In the parable of the Ten Pounds, The Lord Jesus Christ tackles the age-old problem of establishing the “ultimate authority” in life. He uses the relationship between the citizens of the world and a certain nobleman or landowner. The imagery used is very clear. The nobleman is the Lord Jesus Himself, who is the One we must look to.  The citizens are all who choose to reject His “ultimate authority”.

The crescendo of the parable is Luke 19:14, where the stubborn minds of the citizens are vocalized brashly. They absolutely reject any notion that they are under his authority. With added pathos the tone used includes a large element of contempt, we simply will not have “this man” to rule over us, they say.

The issue of what is rightful and legitimate authority has been an underlying theme throughout 2020. As Governments across the globe have battled with Covid 19, respective nations have been subjected to an oscillation of policies. No lockdown in Sweden was championed initially at least, full lockdowns in several countries and regional lockdowns elsewhere have been trialled. This has generated growing tensions, as another characteristic of human nature has been prominent, our innate tendency to compare ourselves.

Through the pandemic, Governments have chosen to resort to a cadre of “Scientific Experts and Advisors” trying to re-assert control and augment their apparently waning authority. The Experts have been given prominent platforms, to shift the focus from the politicians. The problem with this approach is that the Experts don’t often agree.

Protests in Europe and the US have been frequent from those who do not accept Governmental authority. Ironically, these protests have probably spread the virus more rapidly. But essentially, they raise the same questions: Who is in charge of my life? What right have they (the respective Governments) to tell me what to do?  It’s all a question of authority.

Collision of Two World-views

The fundamental difference between Biblical Christianity and the world-view of the “citizens of this world”, is that Christians have reached a position in heart and mind of willingly surrendering to the righteous, just, kind and internally consistent authority of our Maker. The Christian is now “under new management” so to speak. In the above parable one of the servants did nothing with the pound that was given to him. His reason for doing nothing was that the “Nobleman is an austere person”. The Greek word translated as austere, means dry, hard and stiff. Or we might say severe and oppressive. The reality of course with The Lord Jesus Christ is the exact opposite. The Nobleman had given to the servants and money. He had trusted the servants. But he had expected them to use what he had given to them by investing and trading with his money. The parable is teaching us that as human beings we are beholden to a higher authority in life. We are to live  for and under the rule of another, but until our hearts and minds are opened, we will not want to submit to the Lord. The old saying goes “only two things are certain in life, death and taxes” (originally accredited to Daniel Defoe, in his ‘The Political History of the Devil’, 1726). We are beholden to the Giver of life, which the Bible demonstrates is God, who is able to give and remove life. We are also beholden to delegated authorities, such as the Government of the nation that we are living in, to whom we are to pay our taxes.

Clearly there must be multiple right and legitimate authorities in order for life and society to function more smoothly, in a fallen world. There is the Boss, line manager or CEO at work, the Headteacher at school, our parents or an older sibling, the Police. We may not always like the rules made, or agree with them, but society would simply disintegrate without any of these authorities and institutions.

To take it to the extreme, in order to prove the point, without these authorities no taxes would be collected, there would be few hospitals, children would be orphans, schools would be chaotic and not educate, roads would be even more lethal.

But in many ways the disintegration and disrespect for authority we are seeing is exactly the path that we are pursuing in the Western world. One by one the God-given and commissioned institutions of government, family, marriage are being rejected, ignored, or undermined. Self-rule is now the only rule, it seems to many. Having largely rejected God and His just rule as a nation, it is inevitable that we will eventually reject all delegated authorities.

It was Erasmus who said: “in the street of the blind, the one-eyed man is called the Guiding Light“. When all the institutions have lost their powers, eventually we will wake up and see that the old ways were indeed the right ways after all. Proverbs 14:34 says “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Mother Church?

For centuries in Europe a battle was waged for supremacy, between Church and State. Who is the ultimate authority, Church or State? The Catholic Church argued it was Mother Church, with the Pope being its supreme leader. The Church of England argued Church and State are to be closely connected. Still today the Archbishop of Canterbury is ultimately appointed by the Queen in the UK.

Over the years, wars were fought over such issues and 1,000s of Christian Martyrs were put to death.

Ridley and Latimer martyred in 1555

The Ultimate Authority

The position of the Bible is clear. Christians are under the rule of God. He is our chosen ultimate authority. He sets the length of life and one day we will appear before Him to give account for how we have lived our lives. “For it is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgement.” Hebrews 9:27

He sets the rules for life, for society and for His Church, not us. But He also delegates and institutes certain other powers. In His kindness and mercy He has organised the world to establish systems and controls. These limit the disorder and chaos that would otherwise result. “He changes the times and the seasons: He removes kings, and sets up kings: He gives wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:” Daniel 2:21

Who is ultimately in charge of my life? As a Christian the answer is Christ. He governs us by His Word the Bible, a revelation of unchanging and ever relevant truth. Revealing to us timeless principles which are to be taught and applied to every situation in life.

Authority Clash

What happens when there is a conflict between authorities? What if we do not agree with or like the authority we are under? The answer is inevitably tension and problems, which we have seen this year.

The Bible helps us to resolve these problems. God wants His people to obey the laws of the land and the appointed leaders of His churches, if they teach from His Word. He requires us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”.

In the Covid pandemic, governments have chosen to enforce lockdowns on various sectors and organisations in society. This has resulted at different times on places of worship being closed. Only time will tell if this was right and wise. This begs the question, does the right to practice one’s faith transcend the God-given authority government has?  The answer must be yes. In the US it is enshrined in the 1stAmendment.

There must on very rare occasions be exceptions. What if in the opinion of government, the practice of gathering together for public worship of any kind risks loss of life, such as in war or as in a pandemic? Or, if the law says we must have a fire safety certificate for a building before it can be opened to the public, to demonstrate it is safe, would it be right to meet anyway and endanger lives by disobeying the law of Government?

Some feel in the UK Covid lockdown, and with credible reasons, that there is a risk that the Government could either over-step its God-given authority in curbing public worship or set a precedent that could be abused in the future by singling out true churches for restrictions.

As several have highlighted, the Puritan Richard Baxter helpfully dealt with just this issue 350 years ago, in another time of plague. The following is an excerpt from The Practical Works of, Volume V, in his Christian Ecclesiastics, where he answers nearly 200 questions dealing with Christians and matters of conscience. He said: “If the magistrate for a greater good, (as the common safety) forbid church-assemblies in a time of pestilence, assault of enemies, or fire, or the like necessity, it is a duty to obey him.”

He goes on helpfully to establish a vital principle. “There are times when public safety must take precedence over religious observances, and since the civil magistrate is charged by God with upholding public safety, he can in principle make this call.”

Baxter points out that there is a fundamental asymmetry between divine commands and divine prohibitions. “When God forbids adultery, no conceivable situation or subsequent human command could justify disobeying this prohibition. This command is binding always. But when God commands us, say, to give to the needy, we are not commanded to be giving at every moment; indeed, that would be impossible. Sometimes we ought not to give, if we need to preserve limited resources for other God-given responsibilities. So, if we are commanded by the magistrate to do that which God forbids, we must obey God rather than man. But if we are forbidden by the magistrate, for a time, to do that which God generally commands, we may obey man without disobeying God.

Not worshipping physically together for a time is unnatural to sincere Christians. We may not agree with such restrictions or consider them to be disproportionate to the risks to health involved.

However, as Christians we are to be under government rule. Governments have certain God-given rights e.g. protecting life (as set out in 1 Peter 2:13-17). Where governments rightly seek to protect life (in accordance with the 6th commandment) this is surely permitted and reasonable. In effect there is a hierarchy established. Worship, which is a command for all, may for a limited time come behind the protection of life.

This rule though must not be abused to curb real religion, which is where some rightfully have concerns at the present time.

The blow of not being able to worship publicly is though cushioned to some extent by modern technology. So the need to starve and be isolated from worship is reduced. We can still meet in Spirit and in Truth. It is harder yes, and it is different, for sure. It is inferior as well and requires additional concentration and must not be used beyond valid reasons to be absent from worship.

In all this, we must remember true worship is not about a building or a place. It does not require a threshold number of people, two or three are sufficient. It requires us to come into the presence of Almighty God. To open His Word and be under His authority. To take to heart and mind His unchanging truth. Adoring and worshipping Him. Thankful for what He is and for what He has done to deliver us from the tyranny of self-rule and Satan. He has done this by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Saviour of all who willingly choose to come under His gracious authority and rule.

Covid-19 and Beyond

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“Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community?” This was the fascinating title of a book written in 1967, by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Earlier that year he had isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica, and laboured over his final manuscript. It was to be the final year of his life before his assassination.

In his book, he laid out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America’s future, the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. Dr King demanded an end to global suffering. He asserted that ‘Humankind’, for the first time, had the right resources and technology to eradicate its deepest problems, a bold statement.

Over 50 years later, it seems from afar that America is more divided, in terms of race and poverty, than at any time since the American Civil War. “Humankind” has so far been unable to solve its deepest problems. The sort of problems which led to the 1960’s uprising and has been seen again in recent months on the back of the “Black Lives Matter” or BLM movement.

But the same question Dr King asked in 1960’s America, can be asked in 2020’s UK. In the aftermath of its first wave, it is now evident that Covid-19 has also divided and exposed our society deeply.

The Aftermath

Few would argue that the UK, and the world as a whole, has been hit by the biggest crisis since the outbreak of the Second World War. No other crisis since 1939 has affected so many countries (188 currently) and had such a dramatic effect on society, our families, on individuals, and on the way we live.

Some 6 months since lockdown was first announced in the UK, we are seeing a regular flow of academic research and news items exposing many of the hidden impacts, above and beyond the illness itself and many consequential deaths. Impacts we heard anecdotally are now writ large.

As a Pastor in Bedford, I increasingly hear and see in our locality, the scale and breadth that the societal impacts of Covid-19 and lockdown have had upon our nation. There will likely be more to come.

The Heart of the Issue

It is a growing and sobering catalogue of issues that are coming to light. The UK government, relevant charities, businesses, and churches are seeing these issues first-hand.

Initially at least, lockdown disguised certain underlying problems. Some turned to gardening and home baking. Others spoke of the benefits of homeworking, time with the family, time-out, no commuting and lower pollution. But this was only papering over the cracks.

The Bible uniquely explains that ‘the issue of the heart is the heart of the issue’. This is the central issue facing all of humanity, and has been ever since our Fall into sin. It is also the problem that governments and civil rights movements won’t and can’t deal with.

The issues we face now are not new. But in our arrogance, as human beings just like Dr King, we proudly assume we will be able to overcome them.

The Issues

Here is a depressing summary of just 5 of the current issues, some old some new, that are now coming to light at scale, as we come through Covid-19:

1. Relationships – Lockdown forced people to live together, with limited freedoms, sometimes in the confinement of overcrowded homes. The result is a shocking growth of domestic abuse and a surge in relationship breakdowns.

2. Alcohol – With relationships at breaking point, as a nation it appears that we have turned again to alcohol to try to drown our sorrows. A recent Public Health England report states that 8.4m people are now drinking at high-risk levels up from 4.8m in February 2020. It concludes that “Soaring alcohol misuse could overwhelm public services”. Our own experience in Bedford is that the streets and park benches are testimony to the growing number of damaged lives, all no doubt with a story to tell.

3. Mental Health – Numerous reports tell us that anxiety levels and the mental health of the nation is at a very low ebb. This is not surprising as we are social beings; this is the way the Lord God made us. If we are cut off from God and then mostly cut-off from each other, or worse pent-up with each other, it is unsurprising that many are now fearful to go out, stressed and anxious about their lives.

4. Elderly/Care Homes – Perhaps one of the saddest impacts has been on those coming to the end of their earthly lives. Given the nature of Covid-19, our elderly have had to endure the longest and most restrictive of lockdowns. With limited contact outside, residents and staff have carried many burdens. Some we have spoken to, as we have given Bibles and gifts to residents and staff in nearly every Care Home in Bedford, are shattered and traumatised by the ordeal they have been through.  

5. Authority Ignored – Like the USA, in the UK we have long championed democracy as the panacea for all societal ills. It is somewhat ironic then that an issue the UK faces is a growing disrespect for authority of all kinds. A natural consequence perhaps of a largely post-Christian society, which has mostly rejected the ultimate authority, our Maker and the authority of His word, the Bible.

We are seeing a blatant disregard for  the Covid-19 rules and laws the government has asked us to follow. This seems to stem from i) a diminishing respect for politicians ii) the inevitable and inherent inconsistency in  the rules we are being asked to follow changing regularly and iii) a lack of neighbourly concern and awareness.

Where do we go from here?

The challenge we now face is that these problems are rearing up when the country is more indebted than ever before. Not helped by the historical fact that most governments, regardless of hue, tend to focus mostly on the effects of the problems not the underlying causes.

Looking forward it is clear that no amount of money will solve the issue of the human heart. What is needed is a permanent systemic and wholesale personal change in many lives. One that comes from the reality of knowing and experiencing new life in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is revealed in and through the Word of God.

In Defence of Christianity

Christianity is indestructible and needs no defence. CH Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist preacher, once said “Defend the Bible! I would rather defend a lion!”

However, strangely a defence has started to mount from a most unlikely quarter . A number of recent books and articles have started to defend the merits of Christianity, philosophically speaking at least. Authors and commentators on society like Jordan Peterson, Tom Holland, Douglas Murray, and even Richard Dawkins (to an extent) are part of a growing lobby of what some are calling “Christian-Atheists”.

Their argument runs something like this:

You may not like Christianity, but i) when you look at all the alternatives it is so much better; and ii) when you look at what it has achieved over thousands of years it has some strong credentials, namely:

  1. Its Values – Christianity and the Bible put the highest possible value on human life and its preservation – who can argue with that?
  1. Its Laws – Unlike the changing Covid-19 rules “The law of the Lord is perfect (complete and consistent) converting the soul.” Psalm 19:7
  1. Its promotion of Human Rights – These were the creation of God. He enshrined hundreds of them in the Bible, to protect humanity from humanity.
  1. Anti-Slavery – Who abolished it? Wilberforce and other leading Christians were the ones that fought and succeeded in defeating this inhumane practice.
  1. Anti-Racism – Who first stood against it? The Bible teaches that God is “no respecter of persons” and that we should never make decisions and discriminate based on the appearance of the face.
  1. Healthy Loyal Marriages – Christianity put necessary constraints on men and women, defining marriage around commitment and faithfulness and prohibiting abuse or rape of any kind.

The Only Answer

The unchanging and timeless message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin it offers, through Christ’s perfect life and atonement, needs no defending.  It has transformed the lives of millions and continues to do so.

But perhaps some, in the aftermath of Covid-19, can be open-minded enough to see that it is the only answer to the underlying problems and deep questions of life. Governments, Civil Rights movements, technology, money will not sustainably solve the problem of the human heart.

The problems we now face in the aftermath of Covid-19, are in fact the same problems which have always been there and ever will be, until this earth is no more. They have just been exposed at the same time on a scale we have not seen for many decades.

The Essence of Divine Worship in a Post Lockdown World

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Forgive me for a personal reflection. At this present time I am in the rather unusual position of having been a Pastor for more days during Lockdown than before. As Lockdown now unwinds it is good to reflect on how these past months have affected our lives and particularly our worship.

Lockdown Commences

At the Induction service on 7th March we knew the Covid-19 Pandemic was rapidly taking hold, and just days later a gathering of over 500 would have been unlawful. Restrictions to normal life were imminent with Lockdown commencing on 23rd March. Quickly we had to adapt the way we worship, witness and fellowship as a Church.

At the time we did not know that the restrictions would mean 105 days would pass before a form of corporate public worship would be physically possible again (5th July 2020), and then only for some, and with ongoing restrictions.

The first few weeks of Lockdown were very challenging for everyone. So many decisions had to be taken, and in such a short period of time, with few precedents to draw on. Decisions such as whether to live stream or pre-record services, record at home or in a make-shift studio, whether to hold a virtual Lord’s Table or not; and how many prayer meetings to hold, just to name but a few.

More importantly, could we provide Pastoral care remotely. The very real danger to the elderly meant they were unavailable, and the vulnerable and socially isolated, would need more spiritual support and encouragement, not less.

With responsibilities shared, tasks taken up by many not by one, including young believers, the burdens lifted and we had the opportunity to “one-another”.

As we look back over these months, the Lord went before us, just as He did when the children of Israel entered the unknown way into Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. Problems that sleep deprived nights could not solve, were addressed and faith and prayer were strengthened, as we  saw the Lord provide.

Alongside the challenges there were also new opportunities and encouragements. New technologies have been embraced. New people have been contacted as 600 free bibles have been given out. Local care homes have been supported with bibles for the residents’ rooms and day room and staff and residents encouraged to access our live stream services. Sunday School was moved online in just a week and many new and existing worshippers have been able to join us on our YouTube Channel. “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” Ps 118:23

Lockdown Lessons for Life

We have learned so much and re-learned old lessons. Members have given testimony to the Lord dealing with them in new ways, resulting in spiritual growth in a few months, that might have taken years without Lockdown.

We have been reminded that God is Sovereign and in supreme control. He rules the nations of the world. Many have been caused to think of their ‘never dying souls’ perhaps as never before. John Ryland puts it this way:      

Sovereign Ruler of the skies,
Ever gracious, ever wise!
All my times are in Thy hand,
All events at Thy command.

But perhaps most beneficial lesson of all, is the least obvious one. We have re-learned a ‘back-to-basics’ approach for life with many unhelpful things swept away. We have had more time to read, pray, appreciate, and give thanks to God and others.  

Many though have been shaken. No doubt in time we shall discover, even more have been traumatised as a result of Covid-19 and the loss of loved ones. Some have turned to worship who were non-worshippers. Others seem to have made the NHS their sole focus for praise or channelled their energies into new campaigns for justice.

However, it is remarkable that at a time when UK churches have been emptied, many more have heard the Word of God than perhaps since the 1950’s.

We have also seen, and are not surprised, that with more time, the sin of the human heart has erupted.  Domestic abuse has risen by 50%. There has been even less respect for Government, law and Civil Society.  God’s Word tells us these things would be so, especially in a country that has turned its back on God and His high and holy laws. That has rejected His totally consistent, timeless, and unchanging truth.

Worship in Lockdown and beyond

As Christians, one of the major impacts for us has been the sudden stripping back of our worship. Not being able to meet together physically, and then unable to sing in public worship, has made us think deeply about what true worship constitutes. Every believer has a desire to worship the great Creator, adoring Him and extolling His sublime attributes with praise, and to do this together.

After all, God has made us to be worshipping creatures, and if we do not worship a transcendent Almighty God, we will worship something or someone else. The Psalmist says “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” Ps 115:1

The essence of true worship is to draw near to God. To come into His holy presence with thanksgiving and with joy. The way His people are to draw near is prescribed by God Himself.  Drawing near is not a right, but a tremendous privilege, the highest a human being can have.

Checklist of Questions for True Worship

Our forms of Worship have been challenged. This is a good thing. Public prayer meetings have been replaced with Zoom prayer meetings, sung worship with read worship. So it is right that we ask some vital questions:

  • What is the true essence of Divine worship?
  • Is my worship mostly vertical (for God) or horizontal (for me)?
  • Does my worship take me into the presence of a Holy God?
  • Is the test of right worship acceptability to God or me?
  • Does it give all glory to God or lift up the flesh?
  • Are the words based on real bible truth?

There has been such a fundamental shift of the worship practices in Evangelical Churches in the UK and beyond in the last 40-50 years, it could make us think that one of the reasons the Lord has allowed Covid-19 is to be a challenge to the way we worship. We remember He says: “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” Isaiah 42:8

We sometimes hear comments on the worship of a particular church. We then hear how the choice of which church to attend, is based solely on personal preference, as though God’s instructions and what His Word says is an after-thought. Yet God’s Word is clear, “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24

Biblical worship is never to be crafted or based on human artistry.  It can never be a performance requiring a paid-for ticket.

 

The children of Israel were warned in the strongest terms that when they made a new altar for worship, not even a tool was permitted to be used to craft the stones. They were to be natural stones, never the result of man’s effort or craft. “And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” Exodus 20:25

As we return to some form of public worship,  without singing for the time being, may our worship be examined by God. May He show us if it is honouring to Him, conforming to the instructions of His Word which should rightly regulate all our Worship. Then and only then will it be pleasing to Him and a blessing to each will follow.

False ‘Prosperity gospel’ in and around Bedford

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As a newly appointed Pastor in Bedford, several things have struck me, as I have started to get to know the area.

Firstly, the remarkable diversity of the Bedford population, with over 30% of knowing a language other than English. This was a major attraction for me and my family, having lived in London for the last 30 years.

Secondly, I have been struck by the sheer number and diversity of churches and chapels in the area. This is a testimony, perhaps to both the ethnic diversity and the legacy of the likes of our most famous son, John Bunyan.

Related to this is a dawning realisation that, as in London, there are so many churches who could be characterised as “Prosperity gospel” in their teaching and practice. I am particularly concerned for those involved in such churches, especially in a Post-Covid world.

Origins

In the last 100 years in the US and 50 years in the UK, the Christian Church has been badly infected by a perversion of the true and timeless Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. A heresy which is commonly called “The Prosperity gospel” (“Pg”), also known as “The Word of Faith Movement”, has spread rapidly. The 2018 documentary “American Gospel : Christ alone” available on Netflix, has highlighted the impact.

The roots of Pg are in Pentecostalism in the US, with one of its early pioneers being a New York based Pastor called EW Kenyon at the turn of the last century. It was then quickly taken up by Kenneth E Hagin. The movement is now in its 2nd or 3rd generation of development and has become further and further divorced from the truth.

Current leading exponents include Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Todd White and Joyce Meyer. It is noteworthy that these are all Americans. This is unsurprising, as in many ways the movement fits well with the much-vaunted American dream that “you can have it all”.

Perverted Teaching

The central teaching, as with all heresy, is skilfully designed to appeal to the sinful tastes of those who have not yet truly repented of sin.

Repentance is the first call in John the Baptist’s recorded message (Mark 1.4) as he prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Saviour started his public ministry, His first words in Mark are a command “to repent and believe” (Mark 1.15). However, the Prosperity gospel has no such requirement and so many of its followers have not been called to turn their back on the world and all it stands for.

Kenneth Copeland with his latest jet plane

This distorted gospel has a particularly cruel appeal among the poorest sections of society. It is a wicked heresy, exploiting those who often have the least.

The core belief is that Christians should aim to be as rich as possible in this world, and it teaches “You can serve God and the world (or mammon)”. Material things and as many possessions as you want can be relentlessly pursued at the same time as devotion to God. Indeed, “the more you have the more blessed you are.” The implication is clear, that a large part of a Christian’s happiness is to be derived from what we have, and what we have is a sign of God’s favour. Afterall, it is God’s will that His people are blessed materially as well as spiritually.

This is the very opposite of the teaching and numerous examples of the Word of God. We remember that the “Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head” Matthew 8.20. The Apostle Paul, as far as we are aware, never owned a home and supported himself through tent making. David in Psalm 37.16 says “a little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked”.

Biblical teaching of the sin of covetousness, and specifically the 10th commandment which prohibits it, is dismissed by Pg teachers as being old fashioned and unnecessarily depriving believers of deserved happiness. This is exemplified by one of its leading exponents, Kenneth Copeland, who has an estimated personal net worth of US$300m (IB Times: “The Richest Pastor in America” – 20 April 2020). 

In addition to covetousness, there is an almost total denial of illness or a confident ability to heal those who suffer from it; during the pandemic of COVID-19 in early 2020, Copeland gained national attention for his comments in response to the outbreak. He repeatedly claimed that the pandemic had ended or would soon end, and that he could heal sufferers from its effects.

Unsurprisingly he also called for his followers to continue paying tithes if they lost their jobs in the economic crisis of the pandemic. He later made claims to have destroyed the virus and to have ended the still-ongoing pandemic (The Independent – 6 Apr 2020).

Pg does not recognise that a larger part of the history of the Christian Church, especially the New Testament Church, has been characterised by persecution and suffering. The Saviour suffered, Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles suffered, and most were also martyred. To Pg advocates we are not to suffer, instead we are to be positive and to triumph in everything we do in life.

In effect we can summarise this heretical teaching as ‘Christ plus’ (wealth, health and prosperity). Many of Pg teachings are quite simply outrageous, and yet in the UK and in around Bedford, there are many churches who have been drawn in by the empty promises.

Key NT Verse to Justify Pg Teaching

The key verse used by Pg teachers to justify its position is 3 John 2 “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy souls prosper”. Much is made of this verse, one of few in the New Testament which, on the surface at least, seems to encourage prosperity as the rightful pursuit of all true believers.

The Greek word translated as prosper means to follow a good path. What clearly delights John is not that Gaius is made rich, though evidently, he was able to give hospitality, but that “he walked in the truth”. It is a common feature of most heresies that they build whole beliefs and practices on one or very few verses, rather than “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” as Paul teaches us, comparing verse with verse and ensuring no inconsistency.

Nowhere does the Bible link true Godliness with poverty or wealth. In fact, the Bible teaches that it is not money, but our lust for and desire for money or “the love of money” which is “the root of all evil”. As true believers, we are to seek to avoid all covetousness. Like Abraham, and the Levites (Joshua 13.33), our riches and our inheritance is spiritual and eternal not earthly, physical, and passing.

The New Testament gives a strong warning about pursuing riches, “but they that be rich fall into temptation and a trap” 1 Timothy 6.9.

A New Authority

What is the source and authority for this new set of teachings, which is a total departure from the teaching of the church over the centuries?

The answer is “New Revelation”. The Bible gives solemn warnings (e.g. Revelation 22 – the Bible’s final chapter) to any that attempt to add to or take away from the Word of God. But as we know from history, as soon as the idea of modern-day prophets or revelation is introduced a flood of errors come in. To the Pg movement, it matters not that their teaching contradicts the Bible or indeed their own teachers.

Misunderstanding of the Fall

One of the major doctrinal errors of the Pg movement is a complete misunderstanding of the fall in the Garden of Eden. As a result of Adam’s sin, and ours sin in Adam, the blessings of creation were  significantly reduced. Our relationship and communion with God, the most precious gift of all, was removed. Now, our heart’s desires are for those things that do not ultimately satisfy us. 

As a result, the promise that we are to have “dominion over the earth and enjoy its richness” can now only be fulfilled in Christ when we are converted by Him, and then ultimately in its fullest respect only in heaven, when full communion will be restored.

Until then, as believers we have communion with God in Christ, through the means of grace, but this will be partial at best. However, Pg teaching totally ignores the consequences of the fall, or that ever since we fell, we have been vulnerable to idolatry and materialism.

Costi Hinn

We have been greatly helped to understand the inner workings of the Pg movement by the nephew of Benny Hinn, one of its leading and most wealthy exponents. Costi Hinn parted ways with his Uncle several years ago, having worked for his Uncle in a gap year as a ‘Catcher’ of those supposedly slain in the Spirit. He has since professed Christ.

Costi Hinn

He says, in a revealing article in Christianity Today entitled ‘Benny Hinn Is My Uncle, but Prosperity Preaching Isn’t for Me’ – “Growing up in the Hinn family empire was like belonging to some hybrid of the royal family and the mafia. Though Jesus Christ was still a part of our gospel, he was more of a magic genie than the King of Kings. Rubbing him the right way, by giving money and having enough faith, would unlock your spiritual inheritance. God’s goal was not his glory but our gain. His grace was not to set us free from sin but to make us rich. The abundant life he offered wasn’t eternal, it was now. We lived the prosperity gospel.” (Christianity Today September 2017)

Providence Baptist Chapel (PBCB)

In the letter of Jude, we are urged to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” When we see a significant perversion of the true Gospel and its teaching, which has once been delivered, our duty is to stand up and speak out. This article in a small way seeks to do this.

In my former church in London, over the years we had the great joy of many joining us who came out of Pg teaching churches, having seen through the practices as shallow and being no gospel at all.

At PBCB we would dearly love to help any who are confused with the teaching of this movement. We believe that whilst the leaders are clearly culpable, and many have become very wealthy, most of the followers have never heard the consistent teaching of the Word of God, which has been taught since the time of Christ, and has not changed. Teaching which calls us to repent from our personal sins and turn to Christ, as the only Saviour, and as the primary source of our ongoing peace and joy. We are called to live a life, as Christ did of holiness, in pursuit of heavenly treasures which are to be laid up for Him.

Conclusion

We believe there are many already caught up in the Prosperity gospel or Word of Faith Movement in churches in and around Bedford.

 

With the likely consequences of the Covid-19 crisis on the economy and on people’s incomes and lives, the appeal of a gospel which offers riches and perfect health could accelerate its penetration of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The way this false gospel has and continues to exploit the poorest in the UK, US, Africa and Asia is beyond cruel. Our desire is to help all who are open to hearing the Word of God and understanding what it teaches. 

 

Pastor Oliver Wyncoll

June 2020

pastor@providencechapel.org.uk

www.providencechapel.org.uk

www.providencechapel.org.uk/youtube     

NB – for a more in depth look at this subject we recommend “God or Mammon – The Snare of the Prosperity Gospel” by Robin Compston