Newsletter 129 Autumn 2018

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12: 28 – 29.

Later in this issue of Trumpet Sounds I report on the response to my request to hear from readers about their experience of church, either being in or out of a church. I also make a few comments on my own church survey. Before that I have included with this edition of Trumpet Sounds the following two supplements:

Georgi Vins

The first supplement is a powerful and moving testimony taken from Georgi Vins book ‘The Gospel in Bonds’. Georgi spent many years in Soviet prisons because he would not renounce his faith in Christ. The testimony is a reminder that especially in the darkest hours our Lord will be right beside us and use it for His purposes. To read the click here Supplement

Wartime Miracles

When I first heard of this leaflet I didn’t think much about it. I thought that most Christians knew these things. It now seems that many do not. We need to be reminded of God’s mercy to this nation in the past so that in these critical days we turn to God and seek once again His mercy.

The author Rev. John Willans prays that this leaflet will be used by the Lord to stir us all up to intercede more urgently for our nation. We are facing tumultuous times. But in tumultuous times past the Lord has heard the prayers of our nation and been merciful to us. To read the leaflet click here Wartime Miracles Leaflet

To read the author’s testimony regarding how he was led by the Lord to write the leaflet click here Call to Prayer – Godly infrastructure

In this edition

What ever happened to the church?

Christ in history

Church Survey

Do not take the name of Mohammad in vain

What ever happened to the church?

John Hampton in his recent book ‘Mere Churchianity’ makes the case that the most destructive thing ever to happen to the church was its becoming ‘The Church’. The church became a thing in itself. It adopted structures, hierarchies, liturgies, buildings, the separation of clergy and laity (which Jesus hates) and many other practices which are out of step with the vision of the body of Christ set out in the New Testament.

The word ‘church’ is itself a poor translation of the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ which is better translated as ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly’. In correcting the translation we immediately see that the Lord has in mind a gathering of His people, not a religious structure. The devastating truth which many faithful church goers have recognised is that most of our energy goes into supporting the structure rather than building the body of Christ. Can this change?

In the last edition of Trumpet Sounds I invited readers to write in with their own experiences of no longer being part of church. The responses which I have received can be divided into three categories:

1.      The housebound or those who care for them

2.      Those with one foot in a local church

3.      Those who have abandoned the formal religious structure completely.

The housebound or those who care for them

I have only had one response from a person in this situation. She receives teaching through Youtube and fellowship on Sunday mornings by watching ‘Church without Walls’. This is a programme hosted on Revelation TV by Gordon and Lorna Pettie. Their friendly intimate style is aimed at drawing viewers in to feel part of a fellowship. Having watched the programme 2 or 3 times I sense that most of the viewers are those who for one reason or another are unable to join in with formal church.

Those with one foot in a local church

Most response came from readers who fall into the ‘one foot in a local church’ category. Why do people go to church while conscious of the short comings? For some it is for fellowship. None of us want to live our lives in isolation from other believers. The Christian faith is to be worked out in community [Galatians 6: 2, Colossians 3: 13 – 15]. But it is that community which is so often lacking in a church. One reader summed up the situation like this:

“We do not go to church for the sermon, which is usually superficial, unbalanced, lacking in prophetic relevance, individualist, yet with a charming childlike gratitude for the cross.”

“Neither do we go to church for the ‘worship’ which is usually low on musical competence and theological accuracy or depth.”

“Neither do we go to church for the fellowship – which simply does not happen in any biblical sense of the word over a twenty minute cup of tea.”

“So why do we go? A sense of duty? Heaven forbid; is it not ‘for freedom that Christ has set us free’.”

“Perhaps it is a vain hope that some of the lessons we have learnt through suffering may benefit others in the faith.”

There is a regret expressed by older readers that today there isn’t the depth of Biblical teaching with which they were blessed in their earlier years.

Those who have abandoned the formal religious structure completely.

Finally there are those who have moved out from the traditional church structure due to despair at the apostasy or seeing that there is more to church than the traditional structure offers. They have dipped their toe in the water of Christian life outside ‘the church’. It is not an easy road to take. One reader who has been outside the ‘church’ for many years comments; “We had many attempts at home fellowships of various kinds but they have all ended in tears.”

In Mere Churchianity, John Hampton writes about such an attempt at fellowship, “However, as demoralising as it was, this experience did provide both of us with some unexpected and valuable insights. We came to realise that people have expectations concerning a lot of things – including meetings in particular – and that often these expectations are unconscious such that they are not even recognized until they are not met, and it’s at this point that frustration sets in being usually directed towards whoever’s leading The Meeting.”

Many who are out of church survive on para-church meetings and conferences. Is building friendships and finding fellowship in such settings any less ekklesia? There are four key words to test our gathering. They are love, discipleship, body and witness. More on this another time.

Christ in history

In this fourth study from the series twelve revelations of Jesus Christ from the book of Revelation we come to Christ in history. Jesus Christ is the central figure of all history. This study reminds us of His role in bringing salvation to mankind and the restoration of His creation.

The first three studies looked at Christ as He now is in glory, then Christ and his intimate relationship to His church, followed last time by His place in eternity. This study, taken from Revelation chapter 5 through to chapter 8 verse 1, could also be titled ‘Resurrection Day in Heaven’.

In preparing these articles, I acknowledge a great debt to my father who many years ago gave some in-depth teaching on this book. Much of what I share is built on that teaching.

The Scroll

Chapter 5 opens with the one on the throne holding a scroll. The significance of the scroll we are left to work out for ourselves. There are a number of things which we are told about it;

·                It has writing on both the inside and outside.

·                It has seven seals

·                Only someone who was worthy could open it

·                When no one was found worthy to open it John wept.

·                When the Lamb takes the scroll the whole of heaven erupts in praise.

·                As the scroll is opened it reveals conflict leading up to final victory.

John who received these visons had an advantage over us, he could read what was written on the outside. He immediately knew the content of the scroll. Held in the Father’s right hand and sealed with seven seals conveys a message to us of its importance. That importance is underlined by John weeping at the prospect of it remaining unopened.

As it is opened the story which unfolds is one of conflict. It is a conflict between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world represented by four horsemen and the kingdom of heaven represented by the martyrs. It is an age long conflict lasting from the fall of mankind through to the establishment of the new heavens and new earth.

John then sees a strong angel who I believe to be Satan in his role of accuser. He cries out with a mocking accusation, “Who is worthy”. While no one is found worthy, Satan remains the ruler of this world. [John 12:31].

He is worthy

An elder not an angel speaks to John. An elder because this matter concerns creation. “Do not weep. Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

John is being taken back to events which took place many years before when he was a young man. He had watched at the crucifixion, when all seemed lost and had come to nothing. He was there in the garden on resurrection day, when defeat was turned into victory.

Sixty years on John is allowed to see in a vision the scene in heaven on that day. He is allowed to witness the Lamb of God appearing triumphant before His Father’s throne. The Lamb “as though it had been slain.” has taken on Himself the penalty for our sin. The Father on the throne has found Him worthy. The Lamb takes the scroll from Father’s hand.

In response the whole of heaven erupts in praise. The living creatures and the elders fall down in worship before the Lamb. The Elders, who represent mankind, cry out in praise, “you were slain and have redeemed us to God by your blood.” Our victory and the victory of the kingdom of God is because of His victory. From that day on the redeemed and all of creation can and will give all the glory the Father and the Son for ever and ever.

Mary Magdalene

The Holy Spirit led John to record in his gospel a scene which may seem to be a quaint little aside. On this glorious resurrection day standing just outside the empty tomb was a weeping heartbroken young woman [John 20: 11 – 18]. She pours her heart out to one she thinks is the gardener. This story is the most beautiful testimony to the character of our Saviour. In the Psalms it is said that “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds”. Here we find Jesus, in meeting Mary, doing just that. He comes to comfort her and help her take in the good news.

But note He goes on to say, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” We go back to vision of heaven. The Father on the throne, the living creatures, the elders and more that 200 million angels all waiting expectantly on this the most glorious of all days. What do we find Jesus doing? Taking time to comfort the broken hearted. Such is His love for those who love him.

The Seals

Chapter 6 through to chapter 8 verse 1 cover the opening of the scroll. As each seal is opened the content of the scroll is revealed. They summarise a conflict which has been in progress throughout history.

The first seal reveals a man who goes out to conquer. In Genesis chapter 10 we read of Nimrod. He was the first man to build an empire. After him many others have followed. They are deceived by Satan into coveting power and the control of their fellow men.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that while Islam generally rejects the Bible, claiming that it has been corrupted, these verses are accepted. Both Sunni and Shiite see this as a reference to the coming Mahdi. Before his fall from power Sadam Hussein displayed many posters in Baghdad portraying him as a medieval knight riding a white horse. He saw himself as the fulfilment of this prophecy.

The second seal reveals that the aftermath of conquest is not peace but war. Empires rise against each other as each seek to gain more power.

The third seal describes famine the inevitable consequence of war. The wheat and barley are sold at prices ordinary people cannot afford. Luxuries such as oil and wine, symbols of prosperity, are even further out of reach.

The fourth seal reveals that the end result of Satan’s kingdom is death. The history of the world has been summed up in the rise and fall of empires. The desire to conquer and control has always been followed by war, famine and death. At the end of the age, the Antichrist will finally fulfil these prophecies. Despite his promise of peace, his reign will bring war, famine and death.

When the fifth seal is opened we see the other kingdom. The history of the kingdom of God seems to be a story of defeat. The world appears triumphant while the kingdom of God appears weak. The martyrs are told to be patient. They must wait until their number is complete. God will judge sinners but in His own time.

The over view of the conflict between the kingdoms ends with the wrath of God. Jesus spoke of the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light and the stars falling from the sky in reference to His coming and the day of judgement following the reign of the Antichrist. The prophets also described the great and terrible day of the Lord in the same terms. As the sixth seal is opened the people of the earth will wish that they could die rather than face the Lamb of God. There is no escape, not even death can protect, for all will be held to account before the throne of God.

144,000

We now have a word for the people of Israel. There are 12,000 from each tribe with the exception of Dan. Nothing more is said about them other than they are sealed. They are sealed before any harm is done to the earth, sea and trees.

The precise numbering emphasises that God is watching over His people. Not one whom God has sealed will be lost. He will protect them through these troubled timed. In Ezekiel 9: 4 those who mourn over the sins of Israel are sealed and protected. These are the remnant of Israel who although for a time blind to their Messiah will on that day when He returns come to faith in him.

The tribe of Dan is missing in order to emphasise that this is still a salvation by faith. Dan was the only tribe who failed to have the faith to claim their inheritance in the Promised Land [Judges 18:1].

The global harvest

At the beginning of this vision John wept because no one could open the scroll. He thought that the battle had been lost and Satan was victorious. Now he sees the fruit of the victory, a great multitude from every tribe and nation. The multitude has come out of the great tribulation which in the context of this passage refers to the whole time in which the battle between the kingdoms has raged.

The Seventh Seal

The silence is the peace following war. The conflict between the two kingdoms is ended. There is a new Heaven and a new Earth, which will enjoy peace forever and ever.

Question?

How many people are required to form a congregation? Jesus said that where two people are gathered in His name, He would be with them. In contrast the much more numerous church at Laodicea left Him standing outside. Which gathering would you rather be part of?

Church Survey

While my wife and I are waiting to move we are taking the opportunity to undertake our own church survey. We live in an area where there are many lively churches. I refrain from using the identification ‘Evangelical’ because that is questionable. On Sunday mornings we have visited a number of local churches.

It has struck us that no matter what the brand (I think that is a more appropriate term nowadays than the older designation denomination) the pattern of service in many churches is similar. There will be 45 minutes of singing performance songs followed by a talk. Wherever one goes the same repetitive performance songs are being sung. Please bring back hymn books. There is very little prayer. The children stay in for the chorus time. My observation is that generally they look bored silly. It is no way to introduce them to Christianity.

The worst experience came when attending what would probably fall into the category of an emergent church. We arrived 5 minutes before the service was due to begin. On arrival we were offered coffee which we declined. I then had to ask if someone would show us to where the service was taking place as the church was held in a large school complex. On eventually arriving at the Gymnasium where the meeting was held we were accosted by another member of the congregation keen to tell us all about the church. Meanwhile the lady leading at the front was vainly trying to call the church to order and get the meeting started. Soon the band was belting out their songs. Was it one, two or three songs? They all seemed much the same. The congregation were still wandering in with their buns and coffee, chatting as they went. There was little engagement with the band at the front. Singing over, another lady gave the address. This comprised the message ‘Trust Jesus’ said in twenty different ways. The talk ended with the members of the congregation being invited to demonstrate their trust by coming out the front and walking over some chairs. Another song and then the instruction that next week everyone was to come dressed as a super hero. (Yes I mean everyone, adults and all!).

It is not all quite so bleak. There was one Anglican Church where a few minutes into the service we knew that it was being led by a real man of God. In another, a Strict Baptist, the leader called for a moment of silence before announcing the first hymn. How refreshing and uplifting to start worship with a great hymn sung with real enthusiasm in a congregation where there was a good proportion of men. There was no band just a keyboard to one side.

The verse at the head of this edition of Trumpet Sounds calls on us to serve God with reverence and godly fear. I believe that the fear of God is what is lacking in many churches. Where is the reverence due to the Creator of all?

Do not take the name of Mohammad in vain

The Daily Telegraph reported that the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] has upheld a verdict against a woman accused of slandering the prophet Muhammad. Rulings by the ECHR are binding on all 28 members states of the European Union.

The case involves Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, an Austrian woman who in 2011 was convicted of “denigrating religious beliefs” after giving a series of lectures about the dangers of fundamentalist Islam. She was prosecuted for making the following offhand comment in the lecture, “A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?”  Her lectures were secretly recorded. The tapes were handed over to the Vienese Public Prosecutor.

She was tried and convicted of “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion,” under Section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code. She then appealed but lost that case. As a final resort she took the case to the ECHR.

The ECHR ruled that states could restrict the free speech rights enshrined in Article 10 of the Convention when balancing the applicant’s right to freedom of expression with the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected, and to have religious peace preserved in Austrian society.

The ruling effectively establishes a dangerous legal precedent, one that authorizes European states to curtail the right to free speech, if such speech is deemed to be offensive to Muslims and thus pose a threat to religious peace.