Better church: The why and how of running Sunday meetings

If you’ve been going to Sunday church services for as long as I have, you will no doubt have a list of things that you don’t find very edifying (or to put it in a slightly less edifying way, things that drive you nuts). For example, has something like this ever happened in your church?

The person leading the meeting announces that it is time for the Bible reading. And even though the person doing the reading has been told in advance exactly when the reading will take place, he waits till the announcement is made, and then gets up out of his chair, which is in the middle of a row, two-thirds of the way towards the back of the building, and makes his way ponderously to the front. He arrives at the lectern after what seems like 15 minutes, takes his glasses from his pocket, puts them on, and then announces where the reading is from. No-one hears him though, because the guy on the sound desk hasn’t pushed up the slider to activate that particular microphone—even though he has watched the entire slow-motion tableau unfold to this point. And so the Bible reader looks up at the guy on the sound desk, who thus being startled out of his reverie, pushes up the slider. The reader taps the microphone with his finger a couple of times—toof, toof, toof—smiles a slightly bashful smile, and finally starts his reading with the words I badly need to hear: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another”.

Or perhaps the thing that gets to you is the lack of apparent logic or flow within your church meetings. The meeting starts with a song, and then a prayer, and then a Bible reading, and then an interview with a visiting missionary, and then a song, and then some announcements, and then a break to say hello to the person next to you, then another song, then the sermon, then some prayers, then another song, and then a closing benediction (in the form of “please stay for morning tea”). And you’re left at the end feeling slightly flat, and wondering whether the pastor has gone back to using RandomChurchServiceGenerator.com.

You no doubt have your own pet peeves. And there is no shortage of things to be peeved about in church meetings: sloppiness, incompetence, paucity of imagination, poor planning, incoherence, lack of awareness of visitors/newcomers… and so the list goes on.

What should we do about this all-too-common lack of quality in our church gatherings?

The first thing we must do is repent for having such a selfish and critical spirit. It is really beyond irony to be spending our Sunday mornings in a funk because the church meeting is not edifying. The whole point of that marvelous passage in 1 Corinthians 14 about the importance of ‘edification’ is that we need to stop focusing on ourselves and start loving other people. My role in church is not to be a critic who assesses the different aspects of the meeting, but a lover who cares more about other people and their growth than my own preferences or needs. My role is to listen to God’s word and respond with a soft and humble heart; to pray that God’s Spirit would be at work in my heart and those around me; and to encourage and build those around me by everything I say and do.

However, if I am the person responsible for organizing and running the meeting, or one of the people who contribute in some way, then the same spirit of love and selflessness should lead me to make my contribution in a way that actually helps and builds up other people. Out of basic kindness and generosity I should do what I can to improve the quality and ‘edification-factor’ of our Sunday gatherings.

But this leads us to another thought: surely it is the power of God’s word and Spirit that makes our meetings ‘better’ or not. So why not simply read the Bible a lot, preach a lot, pray a lot, and then go home? Does it really matter, in the end, how high-quality everything is, or in what order we do things?

And if we say that it does matter, and we devise really clever meetings with lots of bells and whistles and videos and interviews and slick music and who knows what else, are we starting to doubt the power of the Word? Might we get into a situation where we are manipulating people’s affections and emotions in order to make them feel closer to God?

So is there a good reason—a good biblical and theological reason—to bother working hard to make our church meetings ‘better’?

1. Edification and common grace

The apostle Paul points us towards an answer in 1 Corinthians 14. The overall point of the passage is very clear: that when we gather together as a church we should pursue love, and exercise those gifts which most effectively build or ‘edify’ the church. This is the single most important criterion for what we do in church: “Let all things be done for building up” (v. 26).

How do we know what makes for ‘building’? In 1 Corinthians 14, edification happens when two conditions are met: firstly, when some sort of word from God is spoken (such as prophecy, knowledge or teaching), and secondly, when it is spoken in a way that is intelligible to the hearer. This is why prophecy is superior to tongues (at least, to uninterpreted tongues), because those present can actually understand what is being said. Paul uses some illustrations from different fields of human endeavor to make what is really a very obvious point:

If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. (1 Cor 14:7-9)

Theologically, Paul is drawing on the doctrine of revelation—that God reveals himself to us by his word as we speak it to each other, and that this word is what the Spirit uses to ‘build’ us. But he is also drawing on the doctrine of creation or common grace to make the simple point that if our speaking of God’s word does not respect the realities of living in God’s world, then nothing will be communicated or understood. Just as a bugle will not effectively communicate the call to battle if it has a sock stuffed in it, so a speaker in church will not effectively communicate God’s word if no-one else has a clue what he’s saying.

This is because the people who are gathered together in a church are (in most cases) humans. We are creatures of God living in God’s world. We live in human communities with their languages, customs, and habits. We have no access to each other, to communicate God’s word with each other, except via these realities—as one creature to another.

In 1 Corinthians 14, the key factor is language. However, the principle applies to more than language, because there are all sorts of creational factors that affect how humans hear things and communicate with one another and relate to one another. For example, even if we speak the same language, you still may not hear and understand me if my voice is very soft and there is lots of background noise; or if I use complicated words or ideas that are beyond your educational level; or if I have left all the windows open so that you are freezing cold and can’t concentrate; or if I speak like Fidel Castro for seven solid hours so that you can’t possibly follow my point.

These sorts of factors affect all human interactions everywhere—not just those that take place in church. And we need to respect, to understand and to work with these factors as we run church meetings.

Now I know those of you who are preachers already believe this, because of how you construct your sermons. You don’t just stand up and tell people some random thoughts you had concerning the passage (well, most of you don’t). You craft it. You think about how to engage your listeners’ minds at the beginning; you think about how to use humour at various points to lighten the mood; you think about when to get deadly serious; you use gestures; you vary the pitch, volume, inflection and tone of your voice; you think about the logic that would make the most sense; you think about how to surprise your listeners with a twist they weren’t expecting; you work out how to help them understand with a story or an illustration; you try to speak in a language they will understand.

When you do some or all these things as part of your preparation and delivery of a sermon, are you doubting the power of the Word? No, you are expressing your belief that if you are going to actually communicate the Word to the bunch of humans in front of you, you need to use the gifts of common grace that God has given to us to relate together—clear speech in a language that is understood, humour, logic, story, personality, voice, gesture, and so on.

Now it is very possible to misuse the gifts of common grace to manipulate and fool people, and to generate a response that mimics a true response to God’s word. We can tell stories that tug the heartstrings and use that to generate a response. But the fact that the gifts of common grace can be abused and misused doesn’t mean we don’t use them! In fact, we have to use them, because we have no access to people and their minds apart from as one human relating to others, with all the constraints and gifts that we share. And this is precisely why most preachers work hard on the construction and delivery of their sermons, and not just on the raw ideas.

My question is this: if we believe this about sermons, do we also believe it about church meetings? If the general quality of our church meetings is anything to go by, I would judge that many of us do not.

Many of our church meetings are like sermons where the preacher has run out of time to really work on the packaging—where he has the basic message and ideas, but hasn’t found the time to organize them better, edit out the extraneous stuff, and craft the whole thing so that it works. And so the end result feels thrown together, a bit flat, haphazard or even boring. It lacks the impact and effectiveness it might have had if it had been communicated in a way that accords with the common grace of how humans communicate.

In the rest of this article, I want to encourage those of you who organize and run church meetings to think about doing it better, in much the same way as you might think about writing and delivering better sermons.

To do so, you will need to do two basic things:

  1. Work out the Bible-driven content or message that will be the heart of the meeting
  2. Organize that content in a way that is likely to be effective with the bunch of humans you expect to turn up.

2. The Bible-driven content

In Briefing #397, Phillip Jensen argued that “the distinctively Christian gathering or assembly, that historically has come to be called ‘church’, is made up of those whom God has saved and redeemed in Christ, and who now in repentance and trust gather around him to listen to his word, so that they may persevere and grow in holiness and righteousness” (‘What is church for?’, p. 20).

If this definition is correct, then our meetings should basically consist of two very distinctive and important things:

1. Listening to God’s word—we read the Bible, preach the Bible, speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, exhort and encourage each other, prophesy to each other, and declare the great deeds and works of God (otherwise known as ‘praise’). But this word of God that we listen to is not a disembodied word. It isn’t written by a hand on a wall, or spoken directly to us by God. We only hear God’s word in our assembly as we speak it to each other from the Bible. This is the great and primary thing we do in church meetings: speak God’s word to each other in a multitude of ways.

2. Responding to God’s word in repentance and faith—we respond to God in prayer or in song, we confess our sins, we take our prayers and supplications to him, we give thanks, we rejoice, and we urge and encourage each other to keep on doing these things. (It is worth noting that singing fits into both categories. It is a wonderful God-given means of proclaiming and listening to God’s word, as well as responding to God’s word.)

These two kinds of things should determine what we do when we gather. And those of us who are Anglicans and have grown up with The Book of Common Prayer should know this, because that’s pretty much all that the BCP is—a whole variety of ways for God’s people to listen to God’s word together and to respond to him in prayer and thanksgiving.

In one sense, then, the Bible-driven content of every church meeting will be the same. It will consist of only these two sorts of things, in some combination. It will be built around the basic gospel idea that God approaches us graciously with his saving word, and that we gratefully respond by his Spirit in repentance and faith.

Even though each meeting will be exactly the same in this sense, each one will of course also be different depending on the particular message of the word of God for that day, and what sort of repentant faithful response it calls for. Most meetings will have their own particular biblical emphasis or theme.

So our question now is: how do we organize and run meetings with this sort of Bible-driven content (general and particular), using the gifts of common grace to speak God’s word and respond to it, given who we are as people? How do we take the sock out of the bugle?

3. Observations of common grace

As I’ve put together church meetings over the years, and thought about what has and hasn’t worked, it seems to me that good meetings are like most exercises in communication—that is, good church meetings:

  • Have conceptual flow
  • Vary the emotional temperature
  • Contain both familiarity and variety
  • Spring from someone’s heart and mind.

GOOD MEETINGS HAVE CONCEPTUAL FLOW

Like sermons or books or articles or speeches, a church meeting should go somewhere. It should make some sort of sense to those participating in it, because that’s the way our brains work. Things have more impact for us when there is a movement of thought, when one thing leads naturally and logically to the next.

This was one of the strengths of some of the classic liturgies of Reformed Christianity, such as the Morning Prayer service from The Book of Common Prayer. It has three main movements:

  • Movement 1 starts with a scriptural call to repentance, and an exhortation, followed by confession of sins, a declaration of forgiveness and a response. We are preparing to listen to God’s word.
  • Movement 2 exhorts us to listen obediently (via Ps 95), and then moves into the first Bible reading, a responsive hymn, the second Bible reading, and a second responsive hymn.
  • Movement 3 focuses on the response of faith, with the recitation of the creed, various prayers and the thanksgiving.

Now this is not a divinely inspired movement of thought, or the only way to do it. But it does make sense. It makes gospel sense, because the flow of the service takes us repentantly to God to listen to his word and then calls on us to respond joyfully with faith.
Do your meetings have any conceptual flow to them like this? Or are they more like a TV chat show: “And now we have… and now we have… and now we have”. (Mind you, good TV chat shows also have their own logic, but that is a point to pursue another time.)

We don’t have to have the same conceptual flow every time. There are a range of ways to structure a meeting to achieve the basic goal (which is to speak God’s word to each other and respond). For example, we could focus more on God’s word in the first half of the meeting, and then spend the latter part of the meeting exploring the response. Or we could have hearing God’s word as the climax of the gathering—after spending some time preparing for it—followed by response. Or we could have multiple cycles of hearing and responding.

How we do it will depend to a significant extent on the particular theme or Bible passage that we have chosen to focus on. But in whatever way we do it, we must think about the conceptual flow of the meeting. What is the reason for this next component—how does it fit into the whole? How does it relate to what is before it, and to what comes after? Does it make sense? Does it take the congregation somewhere? (I could say quite a bit here about ‘announcements’ and their tendency to break up the conceptual flow, but more on this below!)

GOOD MEETINGS VARY THE EMOTIONAL TEMPERATURE

Humans are emotional and affectional creatures.

The way we organize things, and the way we conduct ourselves and each part of the meeting, will have an emotional effect on those present. It will tend to evoke lightness of spirit, or joy, or sober reflection, or excitement, or boredom, or anger, or thankfulness, and so on. It’s not as if we have a choice about this. Our meetings will have a constantly varying emotional temperature, whether we like it or not. So we should be aware of the emotional temperature, and seek to work it in with the conceptual flow.

Does this sound potentially manipulative? Of course it does. But we will affect and manipulate people’s emotions by how we run our meetings. We can either do so haphazardly, unintentionally and unhelpfully, or we can be sensitive to the effects of what we’re doing.

Preachers do this in sermons all the time, and rightly so. They don’t speak with the same emotional register all the way through. They have light and shade; moments of humour as well as sadness; moments of great earnestness when they’re really laying it on the line. If the sermon has the same emotional register all the way through, it’s not only boring and ineffective, it’s inauthentic. The listener begins to think: “Is this guy a normal person? Doesn’t he have a sense of humour? Or isn’t he capable of being serious?”

It’s the same with meetings. If they have the same emotional temperature throughout they just doesn’t work for most people—especially when the emotional or affectional tone is jarringly out of sync with the content; when we speak of the most profound realities in the universe in a light-hearted, flippant or matter-of-fact way.

This is one of the things we struggle with in my part of the world (it seems to me). We aren’t too sure how to do seriousness and gravitas. Sometimes the whole meeting is conducted with a breezy informal chattiness—which is great to have as we welcome people and make them feel at home. But if this becomes our only emotional tone, it communicates that none of this affects us, that none of it is serious or important or worth being passionate or joyous or repentant about. The gospel is a matter of heaven and hell, of misery at my sin and joy in forgiveness. If this is never reflected in our manner of speech, then what are we communicating?

We need light and shade. We need a dash of humour, but we also need times of quietness, seriousness and celebration.

There are other crimes we can commit against the emotional logic or effectiveness of a meeting. The schoolboy error is to put on a rip-roaring, emotion-pumping song just before the sermon. So we get everyone hyped up and excited emotionally, just in time to sit quietly for 30 minutes and concentrate. In most cases, the emotional temperature you’re after just before the sermon is one of quietness, as people prepare to listen to God’s word with humble hearts.

Mind you, it is just as much a crime to start the meeting with all 17 verses of ‘The God of Abraham Praise’ played in slow time. Or to follow a time of deep and personal prayer with ‘the announcements’.

Announcements can be a problem. If you insert ten minutes of announcements and ads for upcoming events right in the middle of your meeting, you’ve pretty much destroyed whatever conceptual flow you had running, and taken the emotional temperature of the room down to that feeling you get when the ads come on about 20 minutes from the end of the movie. All of a sudden the congregation is taken out of listening to God and responding to him, and into the men’s breakfast next Saturday morning, the working bee, the house party, and whatever else you’re trying to drum up enthusiasm for. (Ditto for long interviews with people that are really thinly disguised advertisements to try to get the congregation to sign up for things.)

The best place for announcements, if we must have them, is usually at the very beginning or very end of the meeting.

GOOD MEETINGS NEED BOTH FAMILIARITY AND VARIETY

In cricket, good spin bowlers usually have a devastating, wicket-taking delivery in their arsenal. Shane Warne had the ‘flipper’, a delivery that would hit the pitch and then shoot through quicker and lower than the batsman was expecting. The effectiveness of Warney’s flipper lay in the fact that he kept it in reserve. He would throw it in every now and then when the batsman wasn’t expecting it. If you bowl six flippers in a row, they lose their effect. But if you throw one in every now and then, it keeps the batsmen very watchful and interested.

Likewise with our gatherings: many things in our church meetings will be similar from week to week, and this is good. There are only so many ways you can listen to God’s word and respond to it together. And we do like a certain degree of familiarity. But we also like variety. We also need to keep throwing in flippers—things that are different or unexpected. It’s a good rule of thumb to aim for one ‘flipper’ each week.

Here are three simple ideas for ‘flippers’. I’m sure you can come up with many more:

The life interview: Interviews of different kinds have become quite common in church meetings, but they are often rambling and poorly prepared. If an interview is going to communicate something of God’s word rather than just interesting stories or unfocused waffle, we need to put in a bit of preparation (as any decent interviewer in any other context does). What is the point of the interview? What is its trajectory? What are the key things you are hoping will come out? How do these connect with the main biblical theme of the day?

The interview can easily become a gap filler, and without preparation and thought it often drains both conceptual and emotional momentum from the meeting. But if we take time to choose a topic for the interview that connects with the biblical theme of the morning, to prepare with the interview subject, and to ask real questions, interviews can be as varied as the people you have available to interview.

Post-sermon ‘prophecy’: Here’s an idea that I have seen tried a few times, and which worked extremely well. The preacher picks a mature, thoughtful person from the congregation and shares with them (say on Thursday or Friday) the burden of what is going to be preached on Sunday. Then you ask the person to prepare a short response: a reflection on how this message digs down into their lives, what it means day-to-day, what it will require them to change, what implications it has. And then you invite them up for a few minutes after the sermon to share their encouragement and exhortation with the congregation. I’m not sure whether this is exactly what 1 Corinthians labels as ‘prophecy’ (who is?), but it’s one of the closest things I’ve seen.

Sing a song: Quite a few of the songs we try to sing congregationally actually work better as solos. So get someone to sing it really well, and then talk about the message of the song. Use it as another way of speaking the Word to one another.

GOOD MEETINGS SPRING FROM THE PERSONALITY AND MIND OF A LEADER

Just as we don’t preach the same kind of sermon because we are all individuals, so meeting leaders will do things differently and make it work differently, depending on their personalities, their sense of humour, the way they get serious about things, their style of communicating.

The meeting leader is crucial to the whole process, because as humans we don’t relate to an order of service but to a person who is leading us through whatever is going to happen next. The meeting leader is not only vital in planning and preparing the conceptual and emotional flow, and in thinking creatively about the content of the meeting, but also in actually delivering it and leading it. He is the glue that holds it together, the engine oil that keeps the parts moving.

This is why, in the end, a return to set liturgy would not raise the standard of our meetings any more than reading out a centrally-approved sermon would raise the standard of our preaching. A set pattern of words achieves a degree of minimum-standard quality control; it will ensure uniformity. But it will also achieve mediocrity. We can share templates and patterns with each other, but each meeting needs to be worked out according to not only the particular message and emphasis for the day, but also according to the kind of congregation you have.

Ideally each meeting should be planned and led by someone—by one person who thinks it through and has the authority to make it all happen. Very often church meetings are designed by a loose committee. Someone chooses the music, someone else lines up the pray-ers, someone else (possibly the preacher) chooses the Bible readings, someone else puts together the announcements. And then the components are slapped together quickly, and off we go. And we wonder why our meetings can often be mundane and even boring.

If you’re going to make a start by improving just one thing about your Sunday meetings, improve your meeting leaders. Give them the training, the time, the resources and the authority to pull it together and make it work. Sundays will work better when someone is devoting real time to thinking it through, preparing it, and making it happen.

There is, of course, so much more to be said, and so many more good ideas to be shared. For some suggested church meeting templates, check out my So what does the gathering look like? series (part one, two, three, four and five).

Perhaps the best way to conclude is with a benediction:

And now may your microphones always be on when you step up to them; may your PowerPoint stand faultless, blameless and in sync; and may your musicians not jam after the meeting at such a volume that no-one can hear themselves think. Amen.

Boko Haram Conflict Cuts Nigeria Wheat Crop as Farmers Flee

bobko haram map

  • Wheat imports estimated to be 4.1 million tons in 2016-17
  • Former biggest producer Borno state now producing no wheat

Wheat growers in Nigeria’s northeast have abandoned their farms under the onslaught of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, a setback for the country’s efforts to cut imports by boosting local production, a research agency said.

“Wheat production in the zone has declined to just 20 percent of what it used to be due to insurgency,” Oluwashina Olabanji, executive director of the Lake Chad Research Institute, said in an interview in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. Borno, which used to account for about a quarter of Nigeria’s production, currently grows no wheat, he said.

Nigeria produced an average of 80,000 metric tons of wheat a year for decades until the introduction of a new variety in the 2012-13 season that tripled the average yield to as much as 6 tons per hectare (2.47 acres), increasing output to 400,000 tons in 2015-16 as more areas were cultivated, according to the institute. This compares with the output of 3.3 million tons during the same period by Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest producer.

This new variety hasn’t been introduced to Borno, with most of the wheat-growing areas under occupation or within reach of the Islamist militants, Olabanji said. Production is expected to be little changed in the current season because many farmers have fled their land, according to the agency.

Nigeria is expected to import 4.1 million tons of wheat in the 2016-17 season, compared with the 4.3 million tons imported in 2015-2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The country’s rain-fed wheat, typically planted in October and harvested in April, is grown in 13 states in the northeast and other highland areas.

Nigeria’s combined output of wheat, rice, corn and sorghum will probably decline to 16.3 million tons in 2017-18, from almost 16.5 million tons a year earlier, the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service said in a report this month.

Displaced Farmers

Borno faces an elevated risk of famine, with the number of people affected forecast to roughly double to 115,000 this year because the violence has forced people to flee their homes and farms, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“The majority of the farmers who should’ve been trying out the new varieties are now at internally displaced camps depending solely on what is being provided for them,” Abubakar Gamandi, chairman of the Farmers Association in the region, said in a April 18 phone interview from Maiduguri.

Nigeria is battling an insurgency by Boko Haram to impose its version of Islamic rule on Africa’s most populous country of more than 180 million people. The conflict has spilled over to neighboring countries and tens of thousands of people have died in the group’s violent campaign. The militants have caused $9 billion of damage since the beginning of their insurgency in 2009, according to the United Nations.

Fannami Modu, who had a three-hectare wheat farm in the town of Marte, said his farm was burned when insurgents raided the place in 2012.

“I used to earn a lot from wheat,” he said. “It was devastating when they destroyed our crops.”

How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

By Ted Schroder,
www.tedschroder.com
The atheist says, “There is no God, and therefore there is no life eternal.” The agnostic says, “I do not know if Jesus is God and therefore I do not know if he was raised from the dead.” The materialist says, “There is no reality except physical life, and therefore there is nothing beyond this mortal life.” The philosopher says, “There may be spiritual universals and therefore there may be some kind of immortality of the soul.” The secularist says, “I don’t care whether God exists and therefore any religion is irrelevant to me.” Jesus said, “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear God’s voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned”(John 5:28,29). The Bible teaches that there will be a general resurrection of the dead. “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

St. Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of the dead is essential to the Christian faith. He argues, first of all, from the premise that Jesus the Christ was seen by hundreds of people who are still living and can attest to their experience of him. He was seen, not as a ghost, but as a solid, bodily presence who could be touched and who could share a meal with them. When his disciples were startled and frightened thinking they saw a ghost, he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:38,39).

That Christ rose in bodily form is proof of the resurrection of the dead to those who believe in him. Down through the ages, beginning with St. Paul himself, countless people have experienced the presence of the risen Christ. If there is no resurrection of the dead then not even Christ has been raised and all these appearances are mere hallucinations.

Secondly, he argues that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.” Central to the proclamation of the Gospel by the apostles, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, is the resurrection. When Paul presented his defense to Governor Felix he declared that “there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” In Athens he argued that God has given proof to all men of the last judgment by raising Jesus from the dead. Peter at Pentecost quoted David’s prophecy when “he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was no abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

My New Testament professor, C. Kingsley Barrett, in his commentary on this passage wrote, “Take out the resurrection, and there is nothing left….If there is no resurrection, the Christian proclamation is a lie placed where it is likely to do most damage, in a statement about God… In other words, Christianity is completely destroyed: you might as well never have believed at all.”

Why would the apostles proclaim something that was false? What would be their motivation? They suffered and were persecuted for this belief. What had they to gain by perpetuating a lie? The Message translates these words, “If there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling you a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ — sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.”

You can’t have a Christianity that is sweet talk about ethical behavior, or an emotional spirituality, or social justice for the oppressed, or prophetic indignation, without the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. Christianity without the resurrection is worthless. Without the resurrection of Christ your faith is useless.

Thirdly, he argues that if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. In other words, there is no forgiveness, there is no salvation, there is no good news, no Gospel. Christianity is completely destroyed, you might as well never have believed at all. In many churches where the resurrection is not proclaimed the message is merely one of good thoughts and exhortations to good behavior. There is an attempt to provide comfort to those who suffer but there is no Gospel content or salvation message to transform human lives mired in sin. If there is no resurrection then death has won, there is no victory over the human condition of condemnation and alienation from God. If Christ is dead and buried there is no hope, no redemption. If Christ is dead what has he to give us? If Christ is dead then his promises to be the resurrection and the life, that those who believe in him will never die, are empty promises that cannot be fulfilled.

Lastly, he argues that if Christ has not been raised, then those who have fallen asleep in him are lost. They died under a delusion of a future life in Christ. They died hoping in Christ and resurrection. But that hope is in vain if Christ has not been raised. They thought that death was falling asleep in Christ — falling asleep in his arms of mercy and love, that the day of their death would see them in paradise with the Lord. They believed that they would wake up in his presence. We believed that we would one day be caught up together with them to meet the Lord and so we would be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But without the resurrection of Christ they are lost forever. We will never see them again. We ourselves have nothing to look forward to. Are the materialists right? Is there nothing beyond this physical life of space and time? Have we come from nothing and do we go to nothing? Do we perish like the grass which withers and the flowers fall? Is that the reality which we must face with courage and resignation? Is there no advantage in being a Christian? Is our hope a delusion? So Paul concludes, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” In other words, we would be putting our trust in something which is fraudulent, a Ponzi scheme of theology which deceives us and cannot deliver any rewards.

You can see how important the resurrection of Christ is to our faith and life here on earth. Without it we and all our loved ones are lost. When you or your loved ones face death what do you believe will happen? “What will become of you?” said a non-Christian, “Supposing there should be no resurrection?” “Well,” said the believer, “I like to have two strings to my bow. If there is no hereafter, I am as well off as you are; if there is I am infinitely better off. But where are you? If in this life there is, indeed, a hope of a life to come, then you shall be in the next life of all men most miserable for you will not be prepared. You will still be in your sins.”

Jesus said, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me. You will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy” (John 16:16,20). “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

If you want to be forgiven, if you want to experience the salvation of God, if you want to enter into life eternal, life in all its fullness, if you want to walk in the Spirit of freedom, if you want to become mature, if you want to enter into the kingdom of God, if you want to know the love of God, then believe in the resurrection of Christ, put your trust in his grace, his gift of the true and living way that is everlasting.

END

CANADA: Diocese of Niagara Parish Offers Islamic Prayers to Allah

CANADA: Diocese of Niagara Parish Offers Islamic Prayers to Allah

By David W. Virtue, DD
www.virtueonline.org
labyrinth

Western Christianity’s flirtation with Islam has apparently reached, or should I say evolved, to a new level.

We have seen the Episcopal Church’s National Cathedral open its doors to Islamic worship. We have seen passages of the Koran publicly read in a cathedral in Scotland, with only minimal pushback. In Germany, Islamic prayers were offered in a Lutheran Church by an Imam, with fierce pushback by a Christian Lutheran woman; who called the act blasphemous. We have seen the Archbishop of Canterbury shake hands publicly with dodgy Islamic leaders who would sooner kill him than love him if circumstances were different.

But what we have never seen before is this.

In the wake of the Quebec mosque shooting, St. Simon’s in Oakville, Ontario, in the Diocese of Niagara, decided to support Muslims, by praying to Allah during its monthly labyrinth walk.

Now you should know that the bishop of this diocese, one Michael Bird, is a revisionist, dare one say loathsome little man, who hates opposition of any kind and even sued a blogger because he found himself satirized for his crazy positions. He has pushed the revisionist button at every opportunity especially and including the public promotion of homosexual marriage and much more. As you can imagine, he is not loved by orthodox Anglicans, many of whom dumped the liberal diocese, leaving friends and church buildings behind in order to stay faithful to the gospel.

The labyrinth walk is normally reserved for trendy events like Gaia inspired eco-worship, so this is a new exploration of the boundaries of voguish virtue-signaling, a further lurch into fatuity, writes David of samizdat, who must remain anonymous for fear of retribution. (Free speech on sodomy is on its last legs in Canada).

David writes that it was only a couple of decades ago when St. Simon’s was an orthodox and faithful evangelical parish.

And then came the news of the shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, during evening prayers in late January.

According to one liberal Anglican priest, faith communities across Canada were shocked.

So, the question that must be asked is this, have these same Anglicans shown ANY shock at the destruction of an entire Anglican diocese in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram and the slaughter of thousands of mostly Anglican Christians? Nope, not a word. They don’t count, largely, we suspect, because they are evangelical in faith and morals and the Diocese of Niagara dumped all that a long time ago.

Have there been calls for a Day of Prayer by Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz for some 90,000 Christians (one every six minutes) who were imprisoned, tortured and killed by Islamic extremists last year?

The story continues. At St. Simon’s, Oakville, Rector Darcey Lazerte tried to comfort his parish community with a sermon focusing on understanding and taking action to support the Muslim congregations. “It only seems fit to dedicate our monthly labyrinth walk to peace in support of the Muslim community,” he lamented in a sermon.

“An invitation to Al Falah Islamic Centre was quickly offered, and through Dr. Majid Kazi’s effort, eight members of the mosque joined our walk. Together with five members of the parish, two people from Greening Sacred Spaces Halton and several regular walkers, our February labyrinth walk became a spiritual support group.

“As part of the meditations, we used a Muslim prayer for peace by Muhammad al-Jazri. It was completed during the siege of Damascus, December, 1389. The debriefing at the end of the walk was a testament to the strength of the Muslim brothers and sisters in their pursuit of peace and greater understanding of the foundation of their faith.

“We are hopeful that this new fellowship will lead to other shared opportunities.”

This was the prayer:

O Allah, unite our hearts and set aright our mutual affairs, guide us in the path of peace.
Liberate us from darkness by Your light, save us from enormities whether open or hidden.
Bless us in our ears, eyes, hearts, spouses, and children.
Turn to us; truly you are Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.
Make us grateful for Your bounty and full of praise for it, so that we may continue to receive it and complete Your blessings upon us.

I’m not sure what “enormities” the congregation of St. Simon’s need to be liberated from, but perhaps one is the enormous folly of reciting an Islamic prayer in a Christian church.

And you thought the only truly insane Anglicans in North America were in TEC! Move over TEC, you have just been replaced.

END

Christian Concern

“GAFCON is enabling the Anglican Communion to be fit for God’s purposes in the twenty-first century. We are uniting Anglicans around the world in faithful witness to Jesus Christ and recovering Biblical truth where it has been compromised. There is much still to do, but we give great thanks to God for his grace at work among us.”
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh – GAFCON Chairman

GAFCON is the future

The Anglican Communion worldwide is a most amazing gift of God, but it is being squandered by false teachers determined to substitute their own ideas for God’s revealed will in Scripture. They do this without rebuke from the Communion’s traditional leadership.

Gafcon is the future. Through Gafcon the true gospel is being proclaimed and the Bible guarded. We hope this snapshot will demonstrate that the faithful of the Anglican Communion have risen and have begun to reclaim the Communion for a confident and clear witness to Jesus Christ.

By becoming a Gafcon supporter you are helping shape the future, a future where we will see the West re-evangelised and the gospel continue to spread in the fast growing parts of the world.

Gathering

  • GAFCON 2018 will be held in Jerusalem, returning to the place where the movement began in 2008 when over 1,000 delegates acclaimed the inspirational Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. Attendance increased to over 1,500 for GAFCON 2013 in Nairobi and we expect a healty increase in 2018. We aim to fund 500 bursaries so that no one is excluded for financial reasons.
  • The Gafcon Primates Council meets annually and represents the majority of practicing Anglicans worldwide. Last year’s meeting in Nairobi included representatives from ten provinces and we expect a similar attendance this year.
  • From the beginning, Gafcon has stood with faithful Anglicans who have been pushed to the margins or even ejected by revisionist leadership. In South America, the pattern seen ten years ago in North America is being repeated and the Anglican Diocese of Recife is to become a new Gafcon province, the Anglican Church in Brazil, a safe place for faithful Anglicans in Brazil and throughout northern and central South America.
  • As the Scottish Episcopal Church prepares to make official its rejection of apostolic teaching about marriage and sexuality in 2017, the Revd David McCarthy, Rector of one of Scotland’s largest Anglican congregations, has spoken movingly of how Gafcon is a ‘source of great hope’.
  • In addition to Provinces represented at the Gafcon Primates Councils, there are a growing number of branches to serve regions where there is no provincial involvement. This map shows how widely Gafcon is now established throughout the Communion.

Equipping

  • The Gafcon Bishops Training Institute (BTI) was launched with an inaugural international conference in September 2016 in Kenya, led by Director the Rt Revd Dr Samson Mwaluda. Nearly thirty recently consecrated bishops attended for eight days of fellowship, leadership training, Bible teaching, robust discussion and fun. The next conference will be held in May 2017.

  • The Gafcon website has had a major upgrade so that all our supporters can be informed and equipped through regular high quality content including personal testimony and teaching videos.
  • The Gafcon Theological Consultation was launched in February 2017 at a meeting hosted by Uganda Christian University and chaired by Archbishop Peter Jensen. This group will work with Gafcon aligned theological colleges across the Communion to ensure high quality bible training and teaching resources are widely available.

Gafcon Theological Consultation - February 2017

Contending

  • In January 2016 the Gafcon Primates played a leading role at the Canterbury Primates meeting called by Archbishop Justin Welby. The Primates voted overwhelming to apply disciplinary measures to the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC), following its official adoption of same sex ‘marriage’. Sadly, these measures were not followed through, but the Gafcon Primates were widely quoted by the BBC and international media as the leading voice for orthodoxy in the Communion.
  • Meanwhile, violations of the mind of the Communion on marriage and sexuality, as expressed in Lambeth Resolution I.10 of 1998, continue in the Church of England itself as revisionists attempt to establish ‘facts on the ground’. In November, GAFCON UK courageously drew international attention to this trend. A subsequent House of Bishops report recommended no change in the Church of England’s doctrinal position, but indiscipline continues.
  • An Epiphany service at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, included a liturgical reading from the Koran in which the divinity of Jesus was explicitly denied. The Archbishop of Canterbury declined to comment, but Gafcon UK leaders were prominent in the protests that followed this shocking departure from apostolic faith.

Witnessing

The historic Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008 concludes with the words ‘The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ’. Partnership in the Gafcon movement is stimulating new mission initiatives worldwide. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • The Anglican Church in North America has now linked up with the Gafcon aligned Diocese of Recife and the Anglican Church of South America to form ‘Caminemos Juntos’, an evangelistic and church planting initiative across the Americas.
  • The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) created by Gafcon, has announced plans to pioneer twenty-five new local churches by 2020 and two hundred and fifty by 2050.
  • In January 2017, the Gafcon Church Planting Consultative group met to plan a global church planting network for mutual learning, collaboration and encouragement. Church planting is seen as a key strategy in the re-evangelisation of the West.

How you can help

  1. Pray
    This is our top priority. Without prayer we labour in vain.  Hopefully the emails you receive with links to Gafcon news, our blogs, videos and regular updates provide useful fuel for your prayers. Why not encourage others to subscribe by forwarding this link to other Bible believing Anglicans you know? (www.gafcon.org/join)
  2. Become a Supporter
    For the movement to grow and have real influence around the world we need to recruit as many active Supporters as possible who will assent to the Jerusalem Declaration, Gafcon’s commitment to Biblical truth and apostolic orthodoxy. If you have not yet done so, please read the Declaration here and email us at support@gafcon.org to say you assent.
  3. Become a Partner (donor)
    We need finance to resource the movement properly: to provide effective communications, to mobilise the Gafcon Primates, to connect supporters worldwide and train and equip church leaders. Our hope is that most of our Supporters will become Partners by donating to the movement. A modest donation given regularly by a large number of Partners will make it possible to maintain a sustainable movement. Please become a Partner by donating here.

Conservative vicar calls on bishop to ‘repent’ over thanksgiving for gay couples

harry-farley Harry Farley Journalist

A Conservative Anglican vicar is calling on his bishop to repent for saying the Church’s view on sexuality was ‘morally unacceptable’.

Rev Steven Hanna, of St Elisabeth, Becontree, said his church ‘could not in good conscience’ attend an upcoming conference organised by Bishop Steven Cottrell after he called for thanksgiving prayers for gay couples.

Rev Steven Hanna, vicar of St Elisabeth Brecontree, will not attend a training session organised by the bishop.BBC

In a presidential address Bishop of Chelmsford Stephen Cottrell said the Church of England was seen as ‘immoral’ for its refusal to welcome gay marriage and said it should reach an ‘agree to disagree’ compromise over gay marriage as it had done over women’s ordination.

‘It would be particularly foolish for us to ignore the missiological damage that is done when that which is held to be morally normative and desirable by much of society and by what seems to be a significant number of Anglican Christian people in this country, is deemed morally unacceptable by the Church. As I have said before, I am not sure the church has ever before had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set,’ he said in an address to Chelmsford’s local diocesan synod.

But Hanna said his bishop had ‘not said clearly what we believe he should have said’ and called on him and other bishops to repent.

‘We disagree that it is damaging to mission to proclaim biblical and traditional views on marriage and faithful sexual relations only within the boundaries of traditional marriage,’ he said in a statement on Monday.

‘We believe to proclaim this is consistent with Christ’s gospel. We believe it is faithful to being Christ’s disciples and faithful to His mission and not damaging to it, even if many do not like that message. Not to proclaim this, we believe, is unfaithful.

‘We call all our bishops to public repentance – both for what they have said publicly and for what they needed to say clearly but haven’t publicly said.’

It comes amid growing friction within the CofE as it wrestles over the next steps on sexuality.

A report that held a predominantly conservative line on gay marriage was rejected by the ruling general synod in February. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York responded to the unprecedented defeat by calling for a ‘radical new Christian inclusion’ for gay couples in the Church.

But conservative factions have hinted they could switch their loyalties, and more importantly their financial support, away from the CofE as they perceive a liberal shift.

GAFCON, a traditionalist grouping of mainly African primates, has called for a ‘new vision’ for the Anglican Communion.

‘Despite its enduring historical symbolism, Canterbury can no longer be the defining centre, but through the Gafcon movement a growing number of faithful Anglicans are now recovering their true identity in the gospel itself as the Bible is restored to its rightful place at the heart of the Communion.’

Generation Z Most Conservative Since WWII?

BreakPoint: Kids These Days

For years, we’ve been hearing that one side of the political aisle is on “the right side of history.” But history doesn’t seem to be cooperating.

For at least a decade, Millennials have been stereotyped as lazy, entitled, and stuck on social media. While that may not be entirely fair, they are notoriously liberal, overwhelmingly supporting left-leaning candidates and favoring policies like nationalized healthcare and same-sex “marriage.”

But Millennials are also getting old—relatively speaking. The first are now reaching the ripe old age of thirty-five! And sometime between 1995 and 2000, the millennial generation ended, or at least stopped being born, and a new generation began.

Members of “Generation Z” are now beginning to graduate high school, and 2016 was the first time any of them were old enough to vote. At seventy million and counting, they’re also about to outnumber their predecessors.

So, what’s so intriguing about this new brood? Well, according to a growing body of research, they may be, by certain measures, the most conservative generation since World War II—more than Millennials, Generation Xers and even the Baby-Boomers.

Millennials were raised in a time of roaring prosperity, when video cassettes were a bigger influence than digital technology, and many came of age before the age of radical Islamic terror. Gen Z kids, by contrast, are “digital natives.” They’ve never known life without the Internet, and have grown up surrounded by instant access to the world’s harsh realities on their smart phones.

These young people are products of conflict and recession. They can only remember a news cycle “marred by economic stress, rising student debt… and war overseas.” As a result, they’ve taken on what one team of Goldman-Sachs analysts called a “more pragmatic” and conservative outlook on the world.

Of course, generalizations at this stage are very early and very subject to development. But according to polling in the wake of the 2016 election, Gen Z Americans didn’t vote like their Millennial predecessors. Eight out of ten of these kids identify themselves as “fiscally conservative,” and they prefer saving to spending—at rates not seen since the Silent Generation.

And get this: According to one British study conducted by global consultancy firm, The Guild, almost sixty percent of Gen Z respondents in the U.K. described their views on “same-sex marriage, transgender rights and marijuana legalization” as “conservative” or “moderate,” compared with a whopping 83% of Millennials who called themselves “quite” or “very liberal” on these issues. The Gen Z participants were even ten times more likely than Millennials to dislike tattoos and body piercings!

These are good trends, but these students still need discipleship and catechesis. A tendency toward traditional values, by itself, means nothing unless those who believe in revealed Truth, the Gospel, the natural family, and political and religious liberty step forward and train the next generation to articulate and live out these truths.

What is clear from this emerging data about the young is that they don’t fit neatly into rhetoric about the “right side of history.” As Columbia University sociologist, Musa Al-Gharbi writes, trends like this are deeply troubling for those so recently crowing that the future belonged to one political party.

No one knows what the future holds, except the One Who holds the future! And the fact that so many were apparently wrong about the right side of history is just another reminder that He alone is God, Whom the Psalmist called “faithful throughout all generations.”

Further Reading and Information

Kids These Days: Generation Z Most Conservative Since WWII?

Eric has highlighted some interesting and surprising statistics for the post-Millennial generation. These statistics show that there is a great opportunity for believers to be engaged in discipling and training this younger age-group. For even more details about Generation Z, check out the resources linked below.

Resources

Gen Z is the most conservative generation since those born before 1945

  • Marketing Communications News
  • September 15, 2016
The Democratic Party Is Facing a Demographic Crisis

  • Musa Al-Gharbi
  • The American Conservative
  • March 2, 2017
50k ‘Gen Z’ Students Identify as Republican

  • Alberto Avalos
  • Hispanic Heritage Foundation
  • October 27, 2016
The Post-Millennial Generation Should Worry Democrats

  • Pete Vanderzwet
  • Dailycaller.com
  • February 7, 2017