Jump to content


Photo

Reformation


  • This topic is locked This topic is locked
64 replies to this topic

#1 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:20 AM

REFORMATION

a book for Christadelphians

Reformation.jpg

by Harry Whittaker

Published by:
Biblia
130 Hednesford Road Cannock
Staffordshire U.K.
1st Impression 1985

Printed by
North West Print Limited
Danefield Road, Sale, Cheshire



CONTENTS

Front cover: John the Baptist (artist unknown).

Foreword


#2 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:22 AM

FOREWORD

THERE are reasons not to be gainsaid for believing that the Christadelphian Body (not the Christadelphian Faith!) is in need of Reformation.

We could do with a prophet in the spirit and power of John the Baptist, but there is no sign of any such.

We have need of a resurgence of idealism and re-dedication. That will certainly come, but only when it is too late. The parable of the ten virgins makes that plain enough.

This book will not be popular. Its author is prepared for that. But one who goes in for plain speaking on important issues can hardly expect applause or approval. However, we have gone on long enough calling a spade an agricultural implement.

So whilst, inevitably, the hotch-potch collection printed here will make plenty of people cross, it is hoped that it may also do some good in the lives of others with responsive consciences.

There are certainly some better qualified than the writer to undertake a task of this serious nature. However, in the eight ears since 1977, when I began to get on edge about it, there have been only signs of tinkering. Perhaps this is just another attempt at tinkering - with a heavier spanner and less know-how.

Considering that the Christadelphian Faith is nearer to Bible Truth than any other faith available, it is a pity that a call to Reformation in the living of that Faith should be necessary.

God has given us the best thing in the world, and we are content to treat it as something ordinary.

Learning to cherish our spiritual inheritance and to live the life in Christ with zeal and idealism must become top priorities.

But how are such lessons to be inculcated? Inspired and inspiring teachers are in such short supply. And those with more ability and better judgement than I seem to lack the energy or the courage to speak out clearly.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge in this undertaking the encouragement and criticism of my invalid wife. There is not a little of her practical wisdom woven into some of these chapters. But the roughnesses are my very own.

Special thanks also to Elsie Bramhill (bearer of a worthy name!) who typed and re-typed, and always with enthusiasm.

Parts of this book have appeared in one of our magazines, and feed-back seems to suggest that readers can stand this sort of thing in small doses at monthly intervals. So perhaps that is the best way to read what is now an expanded collection.

H.A.W.

#3 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:25 AM

1. REFORMATION - REALLY NECESSARY

ALL human institutions are born to roll downhill. Whether it be a village cricket club or a welfare society caring for the aged or a new political party, they all start with a flurry of idealism and high endeavour. Then, after a while - just how long depending on the initial "temperature" and the number of supporters and the material resources that have accrued - the momentum begins to slacken. This goes on by imperceptible degrees. The burden of activity comes to be borne more and more by fewer and fewer, until at last it is only a handful of enthusiasts that keep the concern going, helped by the not-ever-so-effectual encouragement of a greater number of nominal sympathizers who are "leaners" rather than "lifters".

And where individual repentance or enthusiasm is concerned, the pattern is usually not dissimilar. Maintaining a head of steam is not easy.

How churches decay

Religious institutions are not appreciably different. Over the centuries the considerable diversity of churches came into being out of a series of crises in each of which it became evident to those more concerned that a desperate need had arisen to make a fresh start, a need to refurbish ideals or beliefs or methods, a need for reformation. In short, it's time for the car to go in for a service.

But once the reformation has taken place, usually in the face of opposition mild or bitter, it gradually acquires respectability. By and by a place in the sun is conceded by the rest; and, enjoying this improved status it makes sundry concessions in return. After a generation or two it is institutionalised. An increasing degree of formality and rigidity sets in, and then in spite of the efforts of the dedicated and valiant few the long slow depressing process of decay ensues, until at last – rigor mortis: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead."

This kind of process, with sundry minor variations, has happened over and over again.

The Baptist church furnishes a good example. Back in the year 1942 The Christadelphian carried an impressive series of articles showing, by copious quotation from Baptist documents of the 17th century that in their beginnings the pioneers of that faith were almost identical in creed and outlook with the Christadelphians of the 19th century.

But in the course of the years, the Baptists have taken over not a few of the familiar doctrinal corruptions which have characterized the apostasy for long centuries, so that, for example, the present writer's father, reared in a fairly vigorous Baptist church, found it necessary to pull out because of the manifestly un-Biblical character of much of the teaching.

Today that process has gone even further. Now there are a fair number of Baptist churches which cheerfully deny their own name, no longer requiring baptism by immersion but accepting for membership or communion all who "love the Lord Jesus" (a specious phrase, this! for how can a man love Christ and yet ignore or deny some of the plainest things that he taught?)

The Christadelphian Faith has now been in existence for more than 130 years. Has the same kind of process been at work in its history as in the other churches?

The answer is No! - and Yes!

Our teaching

It may surprise many readers of these words to read the present writer's conviction that the doctrinal decay in our Body over the years has been negligible, and this for two very simple reasons.

First, we have had a well-recognised Statement of Faith which, for all its imperfections of phrasing or emphasis, has kept to the forefront of our attention the main lines of Christadelphian conviction. That Statement nails our colours to the mast. And it is a fact that, essentially, Christadelphians of today stand for the same things that the (then nameless) Christadelphians of Dr. Thomas's early days stood for.

There is, however, need for some caution. Over the centuries the Church of Rome and the Church of England have both preserved in what is called the Apostles' Creed a splendid (if perhaps over-brief) statement of faith often recited in church services. But fossilisation has taken place. A big proportion of those who recite the words either do not understand what they say or definitely disbelieve some of their propositions. There is only one word to describe this.

It has to be admitted, with a sense of shame, that today we have a liberal left wing (happily, not too influential) which shows signs of a similar attitude, either decrying the importance of sound doctrine or throwing overboard certain specific principles. Again, there is only one word to describe his.

But, even making allowances for such erratic attitudes, it remains true that in the main the Christadelphian Faith still stands where it did.

#4 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:27 AM

Defenders of the Faith

This staunchness to a true form of doctrine has come about also because we have never lacked watchdogs. These nuisancy yapping terriers (as they appear to some) have justified their existence by keeping us doctrinally on our toes when without them we should probably have lapsed into indifference.

The trouble with these self-appointed Defenders of the Faith is that nearly always they have been wedded to an utterly wrong and Biblically obnoxious doctrine of fellowship, the logic of which has meant a sequence of disastrous fragmentations. And after any one of these flurries of spiritual excitement it takes us two or three generations to work the evil out of our system.

"The Truth is in danger" is still the constantly recurring battle cry of those whose sovereign remedy is to "split the kirk." But from the angle of doctrine these anxieties are exaggerated, for before "this generation" has passed (Mt. 24:34) the coming of the Lord will save us from that kind of disaster.

A greater danger

From another angle, however, the outlook is hardly encouraging. We have fended off doctrinal loss with a well bolted and barred stable door, and are as yet hardly awake to the fact that the horse has been stolen via another exit. To use a different figure of speech, the engine and transmission of the Truth's chariot are still in tolerable going order, but underneath there is corrosion enough to warrant some head-shaking.

It is a corrosion of spirit, due to several causes. Sadly discouraged by the brute paganism of our time and the undeniable difficulty of making headway with gospel proclamation, we are not the witnesses for the Truth which we once were. To a perceptible extent Christadelphians have lost both the knack for talking about the Faith that is in them and the inclination to do so. We keep on rooting around for substitutes for personal witness - exhibitions, films, answer-phones, the time-honoured leaflet distribution, and what not- but we mostly hold off from the one thing that can save us and our message in these days of unbelief, that is, talking about the Truth, being personally identified with it by our own individual witness. This is why the Year of Witness, for all its considerable expenditure of money and effort, was hardly the success it might have been. We try everything we can think of, except that which works best of all.

The spirit of the age

But by far the biggest reason for the lowering of our spiritual temperature is the corroding influence of the affluent society. Because we can't beat 'em, we've joined 'em. The car, the telly, the Mediterranean holiday, the plush comfortable living of a generation which dotes on nice clothes and wining and dining - all this general softness and self-indulgence, this crass materialism - has bit by bit so invaded our way of life that often it is hard to tell us apart from the dedicated materialists among whom we live.

In all kinds of ways the worldy outlook takes charge of us and imperceptibly turns us into a people losing sight of their Christian idealism.

There is lavish expenditure - by both sexes - on all kinds of worldly enthusiasms: cosmetics and hair-do's, the latest in clothes, pride in a home which with its expensive carpeting and chromium kitchen is perhaps smarter than it should be; there is acceptance of a happy time-wasting slavery to the car and the garden, over-indulgence in week-end trips and the country cottage (or maybe the caravan), quiet luxurious addiction to the glossies and to the nastiness of the modern novel, conversation of a mostly empty or trivial character rising with an effort to an exchange of items of ecclesial gossip.

Of course nobody indulges in all of these hedonistic relaxations, which by the world's judgement are every one of them perfectly respectable. But there are, alas, plenty of us who go in for plenty of them - and have consciences so slumberous as not to see anything amiss. At the other end of the scale the word "austerity" simply does not find a place in the Christadelphian vocabulary. And if we speak of a Puritan we do so not in admiration or a spirit of emulation but with scornful disparagement, following the world in giving that admirable word its current fashionable opprobrious flavour.

In the world and of it

This is the cause of so much of our decay - that we have let the world impose its outlook and its standards of judgement on us; and this is happening more and more because the Word of God with its complete relevance to life today, as well as to the generation of Peter and Paul, is either being squeezed out or else is being kept in a water-tight compartment.

Is there need for Reformation? Every brother and sister in Christ knows that there is. And the place to begin is not in one's own ecclesia nor even in one's own family but in one's own soul. Nor will that suffice. In a sudden burst of honesty or contrition or enthusiasm it is relatively easy to begin. But it is continuance that really makes Reformation.

#5 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:31 AM

2. "FORSAKE NOT"

THE meetings, Bible reading, and prayer - these three items may be regarded as the basics of Christadelphian life, the warp and woof of our existence. Consider here the first of these.

Our community is readily divisible into two categories – those who go to the meeting on every possible occasion, and those who don't. Two generations back, the former represented the Christadelphian norm. Today they are a slowly-shrinking hard core. Without them the entire community would have folded up long ago. No society can flourish without its reasonable proportion of dedicated supporters.

How dedicated?

Today, the larger fraction of ecclesial membership falls into the part-time category. It is, of course, understood that not a few find it difficult to join regularly in ecclesial worship and devotion; there are such hindrances as serious sickness in the house, the care of children, bad working hours, discouragement from those at home unsympathetic to the faith, and so on. What is written here is not relevant to any such.

But there are, very differently, those who are seen on Sunday mornings sometimes, and on no other occasions. It may surely be permissible to express a fair degree of surprise that there are any brethren with full opportunity to make regular attendance who are content to share the Breaking of Bread service just now and then.

Thanksgiving

For, consider, this most important service of all is essentially a thanksgiving. A name which the early church had for it - Eucharist - means just that. So a casual attitude towards it, with attendance going in fits and starts, in effect declares: "I am thankful to God for the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done for me, but not much! There are other things (e.g. a Sunday morning in bed) which I regard as being every bit as important."

Put down in black and white, this looks horrible. But is there really anything unfair about it as a diagnosis?

Sins forgiven

Again, would there be such an easygoing attitude to the Table of the Lord if there were clear realisation as to just what this meeting of devotion means? Consider the familiar words:

"My blood of the New Covenant for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26: 28). Here is the identical phrase which is used about our baptism into Christ.

These two holy rites are designed to supplement one another. Baptism washes away every sin committed up to that moment. But - such is human frailty and human thinking – after a while spotless robes of righteousness begin to lose their immaculate whiteness.

However, the disciple who lives by faith in Christ takes delight in the knowledge that with the Memorial Service comes 'remission (forgiveness) of sins.' There the blemished robe of righteousness resumes its pristine freshness.

Yet faced with such a reassuring truth as this, there are some who continue relatively indifferent to the most important thing in life, and who don't mind openly asserting by a pointed non-enthusiasm that this is how they feel!

Others are altogether dependable in their attendance at the Breaking of Bread service, but have neither intention nor conscience regarding any other ecclesial meetings. This is better. But such can hardly be said to be dedicated to the highest idealism. Why is it that they are content to miss every Bible Class and Fraternal Gathering? Not through lack of opportunity. Allowance has already been made for such in an earlier paragraph. Then why?

#6 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:33 AM

Reasons? - Excuses!

'During the week, at the end of the day I'm tired out.' Of course! But, then, not all of those who do attend are as fresh as a daisy! If indeed at Bible Class time you are feeling jaded, what a splendid opportunity to acquire merit!

That mid-week meeting teaches me nothing. The standard is poor I'm bored.' You may be right. But there are others who think the same, and yet never miss. Who have the better standards?

'If I attend, I shall get chivvied into speaking.' Not necessarily! But there could be worse evils. Such an exercise may do both you and others a power of good. Paul says it will.

'I can spend the evening more profitably at home.' That may well be. But is there not a flavour of selfishness in such an attitude?

There are not a few who keep their minds bolted and barred against just such a thought, because Scripture says:

'We are members one of another.'

'There's a TV programme I don't want to miss.' Here is honesty. But how odd that it should always happen on one particular night in the week!

Every one of the foregoing collection of samples is an excuse. There is not a single reason among them!

Intention

The blanket explanation covering them all is, of course, sheer lack of intention. If you intend to be at all those meetings you have been in the habit of defaulting from, you will be there. It's really as simple as that. A combination of sense of duty and purpose sets all these problems straight.

But, alas, the spirit of the age we live in encourages a man to shy away from anything he has a disinclination for. Hence the present lament about inadequate attendance.

Yet the brother whose sense of duty (not the highest motive!) leads him to participate in all that the ecclesia is doing is no loser by it. For, unless the tone of an ecclesia is pathetically low, when a meeting concludes there is usually plenty of time spent in noisy idle chatter (as it might appear); but this is one of the finest ways in which fellowship is expressed. And this is specially true if that chatter happens to include further discussion of the speaker's topic at that meeting.

This fellowship is a really valuable thing, as the full-timers know better than any. Does the brother who dips the lights in order to send people home when they prefer to go on talking realise what a criminal he is?

Sundays only

It is hardly necessary to make separate mention of those who participate loyally in both Sunday services, but who somehow consider it neither duty nor privilege to be present at any other meeting. There is a strange unrecognised inconsistency about such a pattern of life. In principle, what has been written already applies here also, if in less degree.

If the ecclesia was designed by Almighty God to be a family, is it not evident that the more time the family spends together the better? The early church thought so:

"And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house . . ."

There is something to be said for having in the ecclesia one or two unofficial vigilantes. Some people have a flair for imparting to the undutiful a nudge in the right direction. But not many have. The ham-fisted, and those who trample round in hob-nailed boots, are invited to doubt their personal qualifications for such a role (as does the present writer). But the tactful ecclesial watchdog is worth more than his weight in dog biscuits.

#7 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:37 AM

3. OUR UNCHRISTIAN GIVING

In the Law which he was guided to give to Israel, Moses laid it down explicitly that the faithful Israelite should pay to the sanctuary of the Lord a tithe of the increase of his crops and of his flocks and herds. Indeed, some would expound the details of Mosaic precept as requiring two-tenths of this increase, or maybe in certain years three-tenths.

There is no need to argue that issue here. The main point for the present is that the Law did not suggest guide-lines as to what out of his piety a man might give to the sanctuary of the Lord or to the Levite in his gates; it stated explicitly what God required from him. Yet here there was necessarily involved an important element of faith. The Israelite was his own inspector of taxes. So far as one can tell, the Law said nothing about priestly or Levitical inspection of harvests or farmyard stock. God trusted each Israelite to make his own fair assessment. A man to whom God was a reality would know that "Thou God seest me", and in his giving he would act accordingly. This was faith.

There are not a few religions, such as Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists, who have taken over from the Law of Moses the idea of tithing, making it into a rule to be rigidly adhered to. This is what would be expected in those who essentially believe in justification by works.

Did Jesus really mean that?

But today, for the true Israel of God who follow a religion which has no rules or regulations (Col. 2: 16, 17), such an institution is abhorrent. Yet, clearly, there should be a spiritual counterpart to the simple rigid rule laid down for ancient Israel. And there is! Its terms are positively frightening:

"Give to every man that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."

"Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great."

"Give, and it shall be given unto you."

"Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not."

"All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need."

These are not exactly popular Scriptures in the Christadelphian world. Without the springboard provided by such other Scriptures as Jn. 3: 16; Mt. 20: 28; 1 Cor. 15; 57; 2 Cor. 8: 9; 9: 15, what hope of ever turning this idealism into reality? In generation after generation we have proved ourselves more resolute and more adept at explaining away than at fulfilment. There were men in the time of our Lord Jesus who were good at this, and they hardly ranked among his finest disciples.

First fruits

Israel had another commandment about giving to the Lord. It required that at harvest time, as another acknowledgement that

"All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,"

the man of true piety should bring to the sanctuary of the Lord a basketful of fine fruit (Deut. 26: 2).

If such a commandment were taken seriously by the nation, a result of it would be that at the appropriate season of the year the court of the sanctuary would be chock-a-block with these tokens of harvest thanksgiving.

Instead: "Amos, what seest thou? And I said, a basket of summer fruit" (i.e. one basket, where there should have been hundreds at least). This was what the nation's religion had come to. No wonder, then, that "the end is come upon my people of Israel."

The New Israel

Today the New Israel are surely in better shape spiritually. But are they as good as they might be? Today those who are justified by faith God leaves to themselves, to let their faith operate in the application of gospel precepts more exacting than the Law of Moses.

But there is good reason to believe that that faith does not, in many instances, operate very efficiently in this era of the affluent society. Brethren who are called upon to move about the ecclesias in the ministry of the Word hear announcements of "last Sunday's collection," and can hardly fail to be struck by two things: the varying degrees of generosity and self-denial, and the fact that if Christadelphian contributions to the Lord's cause approximate at all to the tithe standard of ancient Israel, then a very large proportion of our brethren and sisters are classic examples of sweated labour!

#8 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:43 AM

Ecclesial accountancy

One is aware, of course, that only a portion of Christadelphian charity goes into the collection bag. There is no lack of other activity of this kind in which, here also, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.

But allowing for that fact, even to the extent of assuming that the collection bag total needs to be multiplied by three, would that revised total come anywhere near representing one tenth of the ecclesia's income (either gross or nett)?

If readers of these words will do a little mental arithmetic with the figures provided Sunday by Sunday, and then glance round the fairly well-dressed assembly and the equally well-dressed car park, they will shamefacedly have to agree that the Mosaic tithe is proving too idealistic a standard for a big proportion of us.

Personal accountancy

Yet here is a remarkable thing, truly, that modern disciples find the standards of Moses' law too exacting for them, whilst Mormons and suchlike shoulder such a duty cheerfully.

Remarkable, too, that whenever our Lord Jesus picked up a Mosaic precept for comment he invariably turned it into a principle quite impossible in its challenging idealism (see, for example, Matthew 5). The examples quoted on page 10 make it shatteringly obvious that he intended the same with the duty of Christian giving. Instead of following him in this, we have apparently achieved retrogression from even the standard which Moses would lay down for us.

What is responsible for present deficiencies in this undeniable duty? With many it is probably sheer lack of awareness of the inadequacy of one's rather haphazard standards and methods of giving. Probably all of us would be all the better for a systematic check-up in this field. Pencil and paper in this activity will help a lot. Attempting it, many will undoubtedly be in for a shock.

Such personal and very private accounting will no doubt take into the reckoning not only one's average Sunday contributions but also what is given to the funds of ALS, CBM, H & H, BF, and so on. Some might even like to include the cost of a campaign, though questionably, for that is usually an enjoyable and beneficial holiday, for the younger folk, at any rate. Speaking brethren rarely have their travelling expenses adequately covered. Private help given to the poor and aged might well be taken into account also.

But when all has been reckoned up, or roughly estimated, in most calculations there will be an appreciable something lacking from Moses' modest 10%.

Sin of omission?

All who find themselves under self-censure as a result of this piece of arithmetic homework should be all the more ready to use a means of improving their own contributions of cash to the Lord's work, the more so since it is utterly painless - that is, the deed of covenant.

All who pay income tax, and that means nearly everybody, are positively encouraged by a benevolent grandfatherly government to have some of their tax returned to them simply for the asking. It involves only a promise to give the repayment to some recognized good cause. In practice all that is needful is the signing of a simple form promising to pay so much a year. Thus by the stroke of a pen one's donations to this fund or that are automatically increased by about 50%. Is it not downright bad stewardship with the resources God has given us if we fail to make use of such a facility?

This particular method of encouraging support to some of our good causes is already familiar to many. But one strange omission, very widespread, is in the failure to use deeds of covenant in connection with the ordinary ecclesial collections. Very elastic arrangements are possible regarding these. Suppose, for example, you contract to give £50 a year to the Sunday collection, that means that the ecclesia also receives another £25 back from the government. You may, of course, actually contribute £60 or £70 in the course of the year. Then that extra £25 will be in no way affected. If on the other hand your total for the year falls short by (say) £10, the ecclesial treasurer is empowered to make good that deficiency out of contributions from others or out of what extra you may give in the following year.

It is all very simple. A tax-paying member of the ecclesia who can manage only 20p per Sunday has it in his power to add another £5 per year to his ecclesial fund by simply signing a form. There are some ecclesias which are receiving an annual cheque from Her Majesty's tax collector of over £1000. Again the question has to be asked: With a kind open-handed government making such generous offers, is it good stewardship of the resources God makes available to us if we neglect such opportunities to improve the efficiency of the work we do for Him?

"Occupy till I come," said the nobleman. On his return he was best pleased with those who had been most purposeful and forward in achievement.

#9 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:46 AM

4. PERSONAL PRAYER

Here is an aspect of the spiritual life where your average Christadelphian has a lot to learn.

"Since prayer is such an intimate and personal matter, how can you possibly know that?" is the rejoinder which is bound to spring to the lips of many.

To this justifiable query there is a two-fold answer. Personal conversations reveal that there is an almost universal dissatisfaction regarding one's own prayers. Also, the utter inadequacy of so many prayers offered in public reveals only too clearly that many brethren who are called upon to pray on behalf of others don't know how to pray. So their own personal prayers must surely be in the same category.

It is a fact past all argument that many prayers offered at ecclesial meetings are repetitious, wordy, uninspiring, unhelpful, packed with clichés - in fact, not prayers at all, but only dull public addresses to the Almighty. It is no difficult matter to sort out the brethren who know how to pray from those who don't, and they are a small minority. From this it is possible to generalise fairly safely regarding the community as a whole. If there is one field more than another in which there is need for a Christadelphian reformation it is here.

Obviously one needs to start with one's own private prayers. A drastic improvement in these can hardly fail to bring with it corresponding benefits in all ecclesial services.

A good routine

First, it is important that there be a good wholesome prayer routine in one's daily programme. It may be argued that routine is deadening, the very enemy of spiritual alertness. This may be true, but it need not be if the danger is counterbalanced by self-awareness and self-examination from time to time.

But to pray just when you happen to feel like it is to deliver yourself to the devil, for, human nature being what it is, you will more often find yourself out of love with the practice of prayer than in love with it. And you will indeed be a most exceptional person if there are not times when there is a sustained disinclination from intimate talking to the God who made you. In any case, it is precisely at such times, when you are feeling most unprayerful, that you most need to pray. Just as it is absolutely necessary to make yourself go to the Breaking of Bread service at a time when you feel all out of tune with it, so also with your prayers. This principle must be received as a dogma. If it is, it can often be a life-saver.

How often?

Some people say their own prayers once a day (those who don't manage even that, regularly, are in a bad way; there is a bright red light flashing!). This once-a-day habit should be regarded as an unsatisfactory irreducible minimum. Is the Father in heaven only so important that five minutes out of 1440 may be reckoned as His fair share? And remember, it is for your benefit, too, as much as for His glory. Are your spiritual needs as minuscule as that?

One has the impression that most of us pray twice a day, morning and evening. There are some evangelical churches who lay it upon their members to be like Daniel and to pray on their knees three times in a day, giving thanks to God. Centuries before Daniel this was the practice of David also:

"Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice" (Ps. 55: 17).

So the regular pattern of prayer at the beginning and at the end of the day should be a source of idealistic discontent and not of complacency.

Saying one's prayers lying in bed, for comfort's sake, is not at all a good thing. In the morning it needs the activity of getting up and dressing to bring a needful degree of mental alertness. And at night, especially if the electric blanket has been switched on, prayers said in bed are not likely to be very urgent in character, but more likely incomplete because sleep super-venes. At the best of times with many of us prayer is a difficult or even unnatural exercise, so there is not much point in increasing the handicaps.

Sleepless nights

In this matter of the mechanics of prayer the sick have no choice but to say their prayers in bed. Their prayer times can be, and should be, both more lengthy and more numerous. But also for the reasonably healthy rest of us there is a time when prayers said whilst lying snug in bed may be regarded as not only valid but admirable - that is, during sleepless hours in the dead of night. Rather than the usual recourse to a bottle of tablets it is better to appropriate such times for extra prayers on behalf of all the people whom we know to be in need of them - and that means nearly all the people we know! And if, as usually happens, sleep takes over in the middle of such an exercise, it may be assumed fairly confidently that there is little headshaking in heaven because of it.

#10 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 03:49 AM

Improvisation

Another admirable habit is to improvise short prayers at all sorts of odd moments in the course of the day - prayers for the ecclesia's sick folk can be said whilst washing dishes or dusting; there can be a brief intense thanksgiving for the cheering influence of a bright shaft of sunlight or for the sight of a blackbird on the lawn or for the fitness to run easily up a flight of stairs; or maybe petition for wisdom in answering a particularly difficult letter. The possibilities of this kind are endless, yet one suspects that in the lives of most they go almost completely neglected.

The Lord's Prayer

What form should our personal prayers take? Our Lord's own pattern prayer ought not to be neglected, especially since it goes so shamefully ignored at our formal meetings. But let it be said slowly, ever so slowly, perhaps even with each phrase and petition repeated with concentration of mind on the meaning. Just saying a familiar form of words can easily degenerate into a spiritual soporific or even an insult to high heaven.

Formal and commonplace, or personal and real?

There should, of course, be every effort (should it need effort?) to relate one's prayers to current needs and situations. And for that reason, all need to learn improvisation in prayer. Even apart from the Lord's Prayer, it is the easiest thing in the world to slip into regular repetition of favourite phrases and commonplace petitions. Witness how often this happens in formal prayer in the ecclesia, and thus be warned about the same danger in your private devotions.

The prayers you say to our Father in heaven cannot be of too intimate a character. After all, His knowledge of every one of us is as detailed and intimate as it is possible to imagine (read again Psalm 139). So by all means let at least some part of your prayer be in the nature of confidences spoken in the ear of the best Friend of all.

Indeed, it can be a wonderfully good thing to talk over on one's knees any practical problem which currently presents itself.

Thinking things out before God is a splendid exercise and not at all an affront to His majesty. Decisions reached in this environment and by this means invariably stand up well to the light of day next morning.

The wandering mind

What is to be said about that wretched problem of mind wandering in prayer? Amongst those who are given to taking their spiritual life seriously this is a universal headache. Many of our communal prayers in the ecclesia are almost an incitement to this bad habit. But what is the answer to the miserable self-reproach which suddenly says: "You have been saying words, words, words; but your mind has been miles away, and most unworthily"?

To this there is no easy answer. It helps, of course, to be constantly aware of the danger. But is there a cure?

Answer: No! not whilst this unruly human nature of ours exercises its restless powers.

But two things have been known to alleviate the problem. One is to say prayers half aloud, for then the mental effort of framing praise and petition in formal sentences rather than in idea can provide a most helpful mental discipline.

There is also the excellent device of having a prayer list. This means praying with eyes open and with concentration on the written sheet - that is, unless such a list is consulted first as an immediate and specific reminder of what there is special need to mention.

Such methods as these vary a good deal in the degree of their usefulness. In the flock of the Good Shepherd some sheep are more wayward, more silly, than others. We are not all alike. What is an admirable aid or practice for one disciple of the Lord may be next to useless for another.

But for all, without exception, if there is to be real worthwhile prayer, there must be first a firm intention that is shall be so. If we really want to pray, we shall.

Help in time of need

Finally, all should take comfort from the fact that no matter how inadequate one's prayers may be - spasmodic, wool-gathering, deficient in content and paltry in character-the Lord Jesus is an utterly adequate High Priest willing, nay, eager, to make good with his own perfect ministration all that the prayers of his brethren undoubtedly lack. This is comfort indeed. The incense, which is the prayers of saints and which may not be compounded according to the very finest divine prescription, is transformed by him into a most sweet-smelling offering before the Lord. But he can only achieve this if there is incense of some kind, the best the offerer is capable of.

#11 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:07 PM

5. BIBLE READING

IT has come to something when Christadelphians have to be urged to pull their socks up and do more Bible reading. But this is the situation, and it may as well be faced frankly and honestly.

Time was when "the daily readings" were done as a matter of course - by all. Those days are passed. It is now needful to reinstate the wholesome habits of earlier days.

Is it possible that there is some truth behind the excuse that life is a lot busier than it was and that therefore time for regular Bible reading is not so easily come by? Some would urge this in extenuation of their neglect, but very rarely does such a plea ring true. How can it? This generation has far more leisure time than any of its forefathers.

No intention?

So if Bible reading is not given its proper place, it can only be because of lack of self-discipline in the use of one's time. If the Word of God does not get the priority it deserves, this must be through lack of intention that this spiritual activity shall have its due opportunity to exercise its influence in one's daily life. If the will is there to have Holy Scripture making its considerable contribution to a well-rounded faith and good Christian living, then daily reading will find its place without difficulty.

And, conversely, if Bible reading is neglected, it can only be because no need is felt for it and because there is no love for it. This fact may as well be faced honestly: If your attention to God's word is spasmodic, fragmentary, unsystematic, then by that fact you proclaim your cool indifference to the best thing God offers, for the Word and The Word made flesh are one; you cannot have either without the other.

The Bible does two things for us - it instructs, and it influences. All Christadelphians have already had experience of Bible instruction. But he is a poor fool of a Christadelphian who considers that he has already gained all that he needs in that respect. The attitude which implicitly declares: "The Scriptures have already told me all that is really important," sets this Book of God at an astonishingly low level. A man needs more than one lifetime of devoted study and contemplation before he can get within sight of such a conclusion.

Many slackers in this field would find their casual attitude cured forthwith if only they could convince themselves that there is still far more to be learned from the Word than they have succeeded in discovering as yet.

A mistaken emphasis

Here, incidentally, is where certain among us blunder badly (though with the best of intentions). They dogmatically urge you to "read the 'pioneers' and keep on reading them." Almost invariably behind this attitude is the tacit assumption that the worthies of an earlier time succeeded in discovering everything of real value that is to be discovered in Holy Scripture. A sorry proposition, truly, which those fine men - every one of them learners to the end of their days - would have had precious little esteem for.

By all means read all that they have to offer, but let it never be forgotten that that course should be only a small part of a good apprenticeship. It has been said before, and deserves to be said again, that one who stands on another's shoulders should be able to see further than he.

Slow progress

Bible reading certainly leaves its mark on the reader. But how very imperceptibly! Not in a week, perhaps in a year, more likely in a decade, certainly in a lifetime. Yet - strange paradox! - the one who thus reads systematically, persistently, hungrily, will be the very last person to notice any transforming influence. But others will see it and, maybe, marvel, perhaps even envy.

Unconscious influence

Very often it is not the jolting impact of blunt Bible aphorism or precept which makes the change - though indeed there are but few Bible readers who do not have this experience; they are the spiritually thick-skinned. Rather, it is the fact that when reading the Word of God you are spending long hours with the world's finest literature and in the company of the finest characters who ever lived.

It is an experience everybody has had - by simply being in the company of saintly people, you have been made to feel a much better person that you normally are. They have this effect of bringing the best out of you.

Alas, it works the other way as well. There are some individuals who seem to have quite a flair for bringing out the very worst that is in you. Although not meaning to, they efficiently transform you into a very devil.

So also in your fraternizing with the elect whom the Bible makes you familiar with. They either make you like them or make you want to be like them - which amounts to the same thing. Yet, strangely enough, even when the Book takes you into the innermost soul of pietistic Pharisees or crude bullying Rabshakeh or rough tough Joab or devious covetous Balaam, it somehow succeeds in immunizing you from their influence. And thus you gain on the roundabouts without losing on the swings.

In theory everyone concedes the truth of what this chapter has said so far. But in practice, no! Otherwise it would not be needful to lament here that the Bible is losing its place in Christadelphian life.

#12 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:10 PM

Good Bible talk

If it be asked:

"How can you possibly know that?"

The answer is:

"Two pointers - the deplorable lack of good Bible conversation amongst us; and, the utterly inadequate Biblical content of much of our public speaking."

How rarely, at the close of a meeting, is there animated discussion centring on what has been heard! Plenty of talk about health or jobs or holidays or the latest marriage or the latest baby. Can this mean anything else but a relative indifference to the Book on which our faith is built?

And there is an increasing tendency to let fluency, showmanship and the gimmickry of public speaking disguise a sorry lack of Biblical backbone. True, addresses heard today are in the main much more listenworthy than they were, say, two Generations back. But that is to be expected, for in those harder struggling times most of our speakers were entirely self-taught. Today's educational facilities should make relatively easy not only effective techniques but also the acquisition of good Bible understanding. Today we often get the former, but not so often the latter!

So Back-to-the-Bible it must be. The daily reading according to the Bible Companion may not provide the very best regimen of this kind, but nevertheless the system is undoubtedly a splendid one. The familiarity which it fosters with the text of Holy Scripture is superb and has been many a time envied by people of other communities.

Resolution

For all who will take a cool honest look at themselves and detect a certain slovenliness or laziness in this matter of regular Bible reading, here is a straitjacket to be voluntarily taken on for the good of one's soul, a discipline to be accepted and never shrugged off. All young Christadelphians should do themselves the good turn of making an unbudgeable resolution that for the foreseeable future they will adhere rigidly to this pattern. There is a minority so eager to spend time poring over and thinking hard about the Word that they would rather find time for it than for food. Such hardly need the discipline of a regular system. Yet even for them the fellowship of reading the same scriptures on the same day as all their brethren is a spiritual dividend worth having.

When and how?

When is Bible reading best done? The answer here necessarily has to vary with circumstances and temperament But for most, early morning is undoubtedly the best time. A few - families, mainly - read at meal-times. Very many leave Bible reading to the hour of relaxation at the end of the day immediately before settling down to sleep. Almost any other time is better than this. At such an hour mental alertness and insight are hardly at their keenest; and with not a few the lure of lighter reading is specially strong just then.

So Bible reading in bed should be taboo. Even reading with an over-comfortable sprawl in a cosy arm-chair can hardly be recommended.

The most rewarding method of all is to read with one's feet under a study table, with concordance handy and with a pencil or pen poised ready for use. For it should be an unflagging rule that every impressive new idea or hitherto unsuspected link-up of passages must become a permanent capture by being made note of somewhere, in a notebook or a Bible margin.

You can afford to snap your fingers at those who denigrate such habits as channelling your thinking for all time whenever you come back to that annotated Scripture. The habit of assiduous note-making has far more to recommend it than to decry it.

By all means make lavish use of alternative versions to impart freshness to a Scripture in danger of losing its appeal through over-familiarity. But never forget the importance of checking some new rendering which sounds specially attractive. There is no modern version which has not taken too many liberties with the text. A reading is not necessarily correct just because it says what you would like it to say! But with this caution, the versions can indeed be very helpful.

The main thing is, however, that you read - regularly, alertly, and a lot. Frame your habits thus, and then you will also read thankfully.

#13 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:14 PM

6. OPERATION LOST SHEEP

Jesus told a parable about a sheep that was lost. There is an unmistakable element of urgency about this little story. The ninety and nine are left to take care of themselves - in the wilderness, too! It is the one that is lost that is all-important.

Once again, here is Jesus flying right in the face of normal human judgement. If that sheep is lost, isn't it because it is wayward? The rest of the flock hang together, and thus they are safe and also full-fed. Why does this odd one have to be so odd, so silly?

Good Shepherd

These considerations notwithstanding, the Good Shepherd gives top priority to an immediate rescue operation. He is not content merely to go to the top of a near-by hill in order to scan the countryside. He doesn't sound his pipes, and then shrug his shoulders if there is no response from a long way off. He "goes after that which is lost, until he find it." Here is resolution and persistence, a spirit that is unwilling to admit defeat.

This same intensity of purpose and unflagging zeal in what is, after all, a matter of personal self-interest, shows just as clearly in the next parable.

Anxious housewife

Unlike the sheep which is lost away from the flock, the greatly-valued piece of silver is lost in the house! If, as seems likely, it was part of a necklace or other personal ornament, it was probably taken for granted. Through year after year it was worn along with the rest. But as soon as it is lost, having rolled away into an obscure crack or cranny or into a gloomy comer behind some item of furniture, its importance overshadows all other domestic concerns. "Doth she not light a candle, and sweep the house (raising such a dust in the process), and seek diligently until she find it?"

Again, there is a determination not to be said nay. That coin must be found! So the operation is not perfunctory. She seeks diligently.

True to life?

How true to life these two parables are - in one essential respect, at any rate! Together they convey a solemn warning that it is possible for one of Christ's brethren to be lost not only by very obviously and perhaps perversely going away from the flock but also by the obscurity of his presence in the house.

These parables are not true to life, however, in the element which they have strongly in common - that, in both instances, as soon as there is awareness of the loss, there is almost frantic urgency about recovery.

The sorry fact has to be faced that in most ecclesias when a wayward brother breaks off his association with the rest, there is either a short flurry of anxious activity on his behalf, followed by a sad shrugging of the shoulders in a spirit of resignation, or else, that device of the devil, a letter of resignation is received and accepted, and the chapter sadly considered closed. Very rarely indeed is there an undiscouraged resolution to continue every effort, until ... The chapter is to be considered closed only when it comes to a happy ending. There must be few ecclesias indeed which are not at fault in this respect.

Two worthless sons

In yet another parable which by its dramatic power overshadows even the other two, the Lord puts the twin problems side by side. There is a young rip of a son who is lost away from home, and wanting to have nothing more to do with the stodginess of the life he has been used to. And there is the ever-so-respectable son who stays at home, and continues to go through the motions of a life of service, yet all the while nursing in his soul a proud and bitter spirit. Like that coin, he is in the house, but lost just as much as his brother.

The attitude of the father to both is the same. For that waster who has gone off to paint the big city red he is ceaselessly on the look-out; and when a worn ragged figure is one day spied in the distance, the old man runs, runs, to greet him; he hears only the prodigal's confession but stifles with his own breathless gladness the suggestion that his son should cease to be a member of the family.

And when the other preens himself on his own splendid virtues and in high dudgeon sulks outside, coining caustic phrases about that worthless fellow, his father does not administer the lambasting he so richly deserves, but instead sinks his own dignity in a superb plea for reconciliation.

Regardless of his own comfort or personal feelings, the father of these two disreputable offspring deems no effort out of place that the family might belong to each other again. In his eyes nothing else is more important.

The dutiful ecclesia

Then how essential that from time to time every ecclesia amount an Operation Lost Sheep. It is, alas, true that with little effort most ecclesias could compile a depressing card-index of names and addresses of lapsed members - and could also usefully include in it those who, though never belonging to the ecclesia, have had close contact with it as potential converts or as members of Sunday School or Youth Circle.

Once in a while these should be visited by those best qualified to talk to them. Sending a letter, or making a phone call, instead of seeking personal contact, is the recourse of a lazy man or of a coward or perhaps of one who is outwardly dutiful but unconcerned in spirit.

And if, as inevitably happens from time to time, there should come a startling crisis in the Middle East sharp enough to set all Truth-instructed people thinking about the Second Coming, that is the time to arrange a special meeting and to put out warm invitations to all on the aforesaid card-index.

But all such recommendations as these, like the parables themselves, fall on deaf ears if there is no real concern for the family, no intention to do what our duty to do. The will to bestir oneself in this good work is all important.

#14 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:21 PM

7. FIRST BASE

THE Christadelphian body came into existence primarily as a protest against the utterly false, un-Biblical teachings which the churches had imparted with dogmatic confidence for centuries. That protest, that distinction in basic teaching, constitutes the only justification for the separate existence of Christadelphians. It may be questioned whether perhaps all the characteristic beliefs of our community are important enough to warrant the emphasis we have been known to put on them. After all, there are differing degrees of importance regarding our various doctrines. It is, for instance, vastly more important to believe that our Lord experienced a bodily resurrection to eternal life than it is to be perfectly clear in one's mind whether it happened on the third day or after three days and nights. * It is more important to understand what the Covenant Name of God involves than it is to know how one should spell or pronounce it. **

Apart from details of this sort, our inheritance of a corpus of clear Biblically-established doctrines is a thing to be mighty thankful for.

Modern trends

But alas, in these days it is becoming increasingly evident that there are some among us who are not as thankful as they should be. In fact, it may be taken as incontrovertible that today there is nothing like the emphasis on sound doctrine, indeed on doctrine sound or unsound, that there used to be.

This fact becomes shiningly clear when consideration is given to samples of current Sunday evening addresses, Whereas our forefathers discoursed vigorously and lengthily about "The Thief on the Cross" and "That old Serpent the Devil" and "Trinity or Unity?" and topics of a similar doctrinal character, today we find ourselves listening to homilies of a kind which might well be heard at the Methodist Church down the road.

This is just one of the ways in which the lines of demarcation between ourselves and a rather invertebrate orthodoxy are becoming blurred. As already hinted, some brethren think this trend not at all a bad idea. They want our gospel to be more concerned with Christ and an appeal to the heart.

The spirit of the age

Of course in this they are right. It is a valid criticism of the old-time Christadelphian preaching that Christ and one's personal reaction to him received but little stress. In this respect our fathers were to a big extent children of their times. But the same is just as true of the present generation. We live in a time when the only acceptable dogma is that dogma is anathema, when the most palatable philosophy is: "By all means follow the religion that suits you,” not the religion that is right. And accordingly topics for Sunday evening addresses have taken on a different emphasis, as these extracts from a current ecclesial 'plan' illustrate:

Christ died for us all
God is calling to you
Can prayer help you?
The amazing grace of God
Living waters
Freedom in Christ.

Interspersed with these come a few which have the Second Coming or the truth of the Bible as their theme. But the importance of sound doctrine seems to be giving way to something not unlike the modern evangelistic approach - Christ in your heart, your own personal Saviour, the Lord of your life. Not that this is wrong - of course not - provided it is handled discreetly.

First century emphasis

But ought not the fact to be faced that this was not the approach of the apostles in the course of their preaching? The rather sickly style of modern conversionism is in sharp contrast with their aim and method. Is it not true that in the Book of Acts apostolic witness constantly repeated these ideas?:



Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God.

All things concerning him were written beforehand in the Holy Scriptures.

He rose from the dead.

A heavenly high priest, he now shares the glory of God.

He is the promised Messiah, and will one day return to rule the world.

He is God's appointed judge of mankind.

Therefore repent, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance.

 

The apostles seem to have reserved the "devotional" emphasis for later, in epistles written to nurture the Christ-life among the new ecclesias, and even there an intense emotional stress comes only occasionally.

Personal familiarity

There is another aspect of this decline of interest in "first principles" which arouses misgivings. Not only the Sunday evening speaker but also, even more, the rank-and-file Christadelphian is losing his ability to be a competent witness for the Faith. Here are inter-related factors - less interest in doctrinal principles means declining ability to talk about them and therefore less inclination to attempt to do so. And, conversely, less personal witness means that the Sword of the Spirit becomes rusty and blunt.

This unhappy phenomenon shows itself in all kinds of ways. A brother, long years in the Truth, and nearly all that time holding ecclesial responsibilities of one kind or another, proved quite unable to conduct a trial interview for baptism without falling back on one of our standard publications for the job, Another brother who has built up for himself a wide reputation for tackling "deep" Bible subjects came to grief sadly one nigh when asked to deal with a 'first principle' theme that was a-b-c for members of an earlier generation. A middle-aged sister was heard to remark: "There are plenty of the questions asked me before my baptism which I couldn't attempt to answer today.” A sorry admission! Hardly a thing to be proud of.

So there is perhaps something to be said for including in our Christadelphian Reformation a re-discovery of the basic doctrinal instruction which was once a normal part of Christadelphian equipment. The glory has not departed yet, but is as vividly bright as it was?

Then what about an occasional chapter out of "Christendom Astray"?

-------
* The Statement of Faith very clearly and correctly says the first of these!

** The Statement of Faith uses "Jehovah" and has no mention of "Yahweh"! But there may be in existence some versions where a little tinkering has taken place.



#15 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:28 PM

8. AUSTERITY

THERE'S desperate need for a reformation here' said John the Baptist. 'And when I say reformation', he added, 'I don't mean words about it. I mean something done.'

Of course John the Baptist didn't say that, but that was the gist of his call to repentance. That is the kind of language he would have used - will use - to our generation.

He came to the people of Judaea as austere a figure as those Pharisees were sleek and self-satisfied. Camels' hair and a leathern girdle? Today he would wear denims and an old anorak. He subsisted on locusts and wild honey. Today, apple fallings or coffee-and-a-bun.

This was the way he set the tone for his campaign. And can there be any doubt at all that in this generation he would send out the same ringing call? Can there be any doubt that right now the New Israel needs such a call?

Puritan?

In cool withering language eighteenth-century William Law exposed the falsity of religious life in his own time. Apart from the dated phraseology everything he wrote is just as apt, or more so, for a big segment of the modern Christadelphian ecclesia:

"If you will here stop and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you, that it is neither through ignorance or inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it... When you fully intend to be like them in their ordinary common life, when you intend to please God in all your actions, you will find it as possible, as to be strictly exact in the service of the church (here, read 'ecclesia'). And when you have this intention to please God in all your actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, you will find in you as great an aversion to everything that is vain and impertinent (i.e. trivial) in common life, whether of business or pleasure, as you now have to anything that is profane. You will be as fearful of living in any foolish way, either of spending your time or your fortune, as you are now fearful of neglecting public worship (i.e. in the ecclesia). Now, who that wants (i.e. lacks) this general sincere intention, can be reckoned a Christian." (From "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life").

No apology is made for the length of this quotation. We all stand in need of blunt words like these.

High ideals still-born

Is there a single reader who on the day of his baptism was not full of all kinds of good intentions, fine ideals, high resolutions? But they were all stultified from the first minute by the environment into which he stepped on emerging from the. baptismal waters. The turning of those aspirations into practical living was inevitably guided by the standards of piety and Christian service normal to the ecclesia which gave birth to this new child in Christ. And - the fact may as well be faced - at no time in the last 120 years have those standards been what they should have been. Especially is it beyond gainsaying that, since the affluent society came in, standards of self-denial and ' self-dedication have been mediocrity itself. And this for the very simple reason, constantly harped on by William Law, that there has been no substantial intention to be self-denying and dedicated.

Yet the Lord himself plainly and bluntly said: "Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14: 27).

Too comfortable

Look round the ecclesia of which you are a member (and don't forget to include yourself in the inspection), and then ask yourself how many undeniable examples of cross-bearing there are. Note here that the Lord Jesus did not equate this with patiently putting up with unavoidable affliction. He spoke of a man "taking up his own cross" (Mt. 10: 38). The words imply a deliberate choice of an uncomfortable way of life. What percentage, would you say, is there of such in your ecclesia?

Then have the "called-out ones responded very completely to the call, or do they need calling out a good deal further? In modern times does the average Christadelphian ecclesia give the impression of being made up of earnest single-minded sanctified souls whose first, whose only, aspiration is a grateful approximation to the purity and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ their Lord?

It is dogmatically asserted here that the kind of austerity John the Baptist called for and which the Lord Jesus personally exemplified and demanded in a hundred different ways is not matched by so much as five per cent of us.

Taking up the cross!

Instead, this:

Lavish Christmas dinners and high self-indulgence in fine style pagan style by thousands of Christadelphians, not one of whom believes that their Lord was born on December 25.

A natural birthday is always a good excuse for a lively celebration, even though the only two birthday parties in the Bible were both used to perpetrate a murder! Today young Christadelphians throwing parties have had the air loud with sexy pop songs. Nor have these relatively harmless antics seen the worst to which our young dedicated "saints" have given themselves.

"The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof.” His people, therefore, will seek to give Him glory by using the gifts of His air earth in a way that will please Him. How many of our parties do that?

Again, look round a well-groomed ecclesia (there are plenty to choose from), and ask yourself why saints in Christ need to be so expensively turned out. Any appreciable difference from the church of worldlings in the next road?

Or, look at the car-park, and contemplate the quality there! and the high proportion of new or nearly new models.

Or, eavesdrop on conversations about Mediterranean cruises and exotic Caribbean holidays.

Or, drop in at a few modest homes, and marvel at the fine new lounge carpet, or the plush new suite ("we were fed up with the other - had it nearly five years!"), or the expensive kitchen gadgets - all these acquisitions dedicated to the service of "the Son of man who had not where to lay his head."

Of course, all of these are examples in extremism. But they do happen! And, in a less degree, they are happening in the lives of most.

How many of your brethren or sisters do you know who would not be the better for some real acts of self-denial? Do we, as a community, need a drastic dose of austerity, or don't! we? Surely it is time we stopped playing games with our religion, time we counteracted modern temptations with realistic re-dedication.

#16 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:41 PM

9. "MAKING WISE THE SIMPLE”

It is a strange thing to have to say to those who pride themselves on being the People of the Book, but it needs to be said: In the Christadelphian body there is a desperate lack of good Bible study!

Here by "Bible study" is meant something more intensive and purposeful than Bible reading (which also is in shorter supply than it was). The daily Bible reading which covers from three to six chapters renews acquaintance with the general ideas of Holy Scripture and also, it is hoped, supplies new insights here and there, now and then. This needs also to be supplemented by a more careful and painstaking application to words, phrases, details, arguments, allusions.

This kind of approach to Scripture is something that is within the grasp of all who have the intention to learn more deeply what the Bible is about.

Gifts lying idle

It is not only (though of course it is specially) for those who are natural students. Alas, even about them - the people with higher I.Q.'s - it needs to be said that far too many who at college or university have brought to concert pitch their ability to master geology or economics or biology or literature or history have failed lamentably, and to their shame, to harness their proven powers to the vastly more important duty of developing a deeper insight into the Word of God.

How is such neglect to be explained? Is it due to the pressures of life or lack of self-confidence or laziness or downright indifference? Certainly all of these are covered by one phrase - lack of intention. To them the subject is just not important enough. If it were, there would be no lack of diligence. Every ecclesia has its capable brother who hardly ever thinks of settling down to a programme of good Bible study except when he has to prepare an address. How high an esteem for Scripture does such a practice betray?

No bent for it?

But there are far more in the other group who excuse and solace themselves with the reassurance: "That kind of thing is all right for those with the bent. I'm not one of that sort. I wouldn't have a clue how to start. " A big number of sisters mistakenly put themselves in that category, besides the many brethren who quail before the undoubted brilliance of some of our greater luminaries and who allow themselves to be put off from realising the best that is in them. "It is plainly impossible for me to achieve the kind of results produced by Brother A, so why should I bother to try?" Is this excuse-making, or laziness or both?

Let it be remembered that the greater a man's persona endowment, the greater also his responsibility. The apostle James calls it "heavier judgement" (3: 1 RV). And the Lord himself insisted on the same principle: "To whom men commit much, of him they will ask the more" - hence "few stripes... many stripes", whatever that means.

Husband-wife co-operation
And here it needs to be added that the wife of many a brothel carries a heavy responsibility to encourage, incite, persuade, or goad her husband into applying himself to this best of all activities. Too many wives would rather see the spare bedroom re-decorated than rejoice in knowing that a deeper insight into the Sermon on the Mount is crystallizing out in the study or through the to-and-fro of man-and-wife discussion.

Learning to ask a question

It may come as a surprise to those who write themselves off as incompetent in this field to know that even the most ill-equipped among us are capable of Bible study of the best sort. For this is not a matter of erudite commentaries and lots of Greek and Hebrew. Quite simply, it calls for the developing of the faculty, which we all have more or less, of asking questions.

One of the finest mathematicians in Britain, a man with an international reputation, once said to me: "The way to make advances in mathematics is to find problems that need answering. Once you realise you are faced with a problem that no one else has yet dreamed of tackling, then you are on the way to extending the boundaries of the subject. "

He didn't know that he was, in effect, enunciating a wholesome principle for much rewarding Bible study. There is no block of three or four verses in the Bible which when read with care does not provoke questions. And often, though not always, the search for answer leads to wider understanding.

An hour or two before writing these observations I was busy reading and re-reading 1 John 2: 12—14:

12. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
13. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

And here are the queries which arose in my mind:

1. Why the repetition (v. 13a = v. 14a)?
2. Why this order? Why not: "fathers... young men... children, "which is surely more natural?
3. Why do not these groups include "mothers... young women"?
4. "The wicked one.” What wicked one?
5. Why the change of tense? "I write... I have written (strictly: I wrote)."
6. Why three clauses in the second address to young men?
7. Why should these particular reasons apply to these particular groups?

I repeat, anyone capable of careful attention can read any block of verses in the Bible and come up with a list of specific enquiries like these. And if satisfying answers do not follow as readily, then they are still there as so many useful talking points when in Christadelphian company. And then there is hope that the disease may prove infectious.

"Light" reading

Again, as a particularly easy form of Bible study, ask someone to recommend a helpful commentary on some part of the Bible you are specially interested in, and each evening before you settle down to the telly or light reading of some kind, read the commentary on (say) three or four verses, having a pencil in your fingers to mark points of interest. Persevere to the end. Then go through it again, transferring to the margin of your own Bible every useful suggestion.

Another not very exacting method is to equip yourself with a Bible which has a good set of central-column references (in this respect the Interlinear Bible is in a class by itself). Having decided which book you are going to study, read a chapter carefully (or, maybe, only half a chapter). Then go through it again chasing up all the references supplied. Do this slowly and carefully, always asking yourself: "What is the connection?" When you strike one that is particularly useful, put a pencilled ring round that little letter ⓟ (or whatever it is), and underline in your references column the passage it steers you to thus: p. Rev. 6:26.

"Exploring the Bible" (HAW) mentions all sorts of other methods which can be tried out; e. g. painstakingly following up every important word or phrase with the help of a good concordance. This is one of the most rewarding methods, but also one of the most wearisome.

The main thing is that you attempt something in this neglects field. Nurture in yourself a lively curiosity regarding Holy Scripture. And, whatever method you try out, be sure to persevere. The golden rule is: Little and often.

#17 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:46 PM

10. "BY THY WORDS THOU SHALT BE JUSTIFIED"

"Members one of another", writes Paul. His words are never more true than when those in Christ are engaged in enjoyable conversation. And we help or hinder each other according to the quality of our talk.

It may be trivial chit-chat, lively repartee, acrid debate, gossip harmless or harmful, or, on the other hand, it may be earnest enquiry, hard thinking done aloud, or enthusiastic sharing of worthwhile ideas. Actions may speak louder than words, but it is doubtful whether they have more influence on the lives and characters of others.

The good talker

The man who talks well and wisely is "a tree of life", "a flowing brook", "a fountain of life" (Proverbs 15: 4; 18: 4; 10: 11). Lovely figures of speech, these, with profound truth in every one of them.

Tennyson put it this way:

"And what delights can equal those
That stir the spirit's inner deeps,
When one that loves, and knows not, reaps
A truth from one that loves and knows."

Tennyson was no great Bible man, but here how well he describes conversation between two Christadelphians of the right sort!

But they have to be of the right sort. Good conversation wilts among us nowadays! How often do two kindred spirits walk and talk, or even lounge in armchairs and exchange worthwhile ideas? The busy-ness of life (in the world's most leisured generation) defeats us.

Or is it that the media have drugged our capacity for conversation, mesmerising us with faces and pictures and words that are mostly mediocrity, so that we lose the knack for constructive thinking for the benefit of our fellows?

What is it that is "like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Proverbs 25:11)? The 19th century revisers made a guess "A word in due season". King James's men made a different guess: "A word fitly spoken", but in the margin they had the humility to confess their mystification about the literal reading "A word spoken upon his wheels.”

Dare one suggest that there is here an allusion to the cherubim chariot of the Lord (Ezekiel 1: 19, 20), the symbolic vehicle of the Spirit of Life?

If this is correct, the lovely picture in that Proverbs verse turns into shape and colour the uplifting influence of wholesome talk about the Word of God (consider Ps. 147:15; Jer. 23:21; 2 Th. 3:1 RV, and many others).

Incomparable stimulus

Everyone knows - in theory, at any rate - that in neither quality nor influence can any conversation aspire to the same level as well-informed discussion centred on the Scriptures. That Emmaus Bible Class (Lk. 24) was a prototype. To its inspiring level all other Bible discussions should aspire: "Did not our heart (that is, our mind) burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?" Then, if there are such possibilities, why are the Lord's bewildered disciples of the present day so un-eager for a like experience?

Let the reader of these words ask himself: "When did / last have an Emmaus experience?" And if that lapse of time has been shamefully long, then further questions follow: "Why so long? Have I been without the right appetite? Have I been in the wrong company? Is my preference for more trivial talk? Is it possible that I don't want to talk about the Scriptures, because then I feel like a fish out of water?"

But, says the holy prophet, "they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard" - heard what? Aimless chatter about the weather and ailments and holidays and the car and the garden and clothes and grand-children, and sundry other like topics - was this what made their heart burn within them?

#18 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:48 PM

Idle words

Yet did not the Lord Jesus say: "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgement" (Mt. 12: 36)? There is no more unpopular passage in all the Bible, chiefly because there is none more misunderstood. A careful pondering of the context makes the conclusion easy and clear that Jesus meant every idle word spoken about him. It is by our words about him that we shall be justified, and by our about him that we shall be condemned. ("Studies in the Gospels", p. 254).

"That's better", you say to yourself with a sigh of relief, "I can live with those verses if that's what they really mean.”

But suppose you are not in the habit of talking about the Lord at all? Is that where a certain sinister word to the ecclesia at Laodicea comes in?

Also, the fact stands incontrovertibly true that you cannot hope to make conversation of any quality or value about him unless you have developed deeper insights into the gospels than you had when a kid in Sunday School.

And the Lord doesn't want pious platitudes about himself -devout talk turned on in certain company because you fear it may be expected of you. If there isn't avid eagerness or at least alert or well-informed interest, what's the use? The vast diversity of truth written about Christ our Lord is to be loved with heart and soul for its own sake - and in what more efficient way shall this love grow than by talking about him?

A wholesome influence

The same goes for all other parts of Scripture. The words of Moses also are to be "in your heart and in your soul... a sign upon your hand... frontlets between your eyes... and you shall teach them your children" - how? by packing them off to Sunday School once a week? Well, at least that. But much more effectively by the simple godly habit of talking at home about the Scriptures as though you are interested in their every detail.

The father of two lively boys - 9 and 10 years old - unloaded to me his worries about the inevitable effect of this increasingly evil world in their lives. "What (he asked with evident concern) is the best way to counteract the influence of all this rottenness?

What can be done to insulate their developing characters from the corruption and violence all round them?"

Thinking fast, I offered only one suggestion: "Let your boys grow up hearing the Bible talked about in the home, in a natural and unforced fashion, as just part of the family's way of life. That will save them if anything will. "

I wasn't consciously echoing Deuteronomy 11. It was only] afterwards that I realised how I had been borrowing from Moses.

This, of course, is the way for us to "exhort one another daily" - not by prating at each other or laying the law down about this and that, but by helping to insinuate the salutary influence of God's Word into one another's thinking.

And why not the same also in our correspondence? The late Brother Will Watkins, of cherished memory, hardly ever wrote letter without weaving into it a comment on some Bib passage which was occupying his thoughts at the moment. After all, what he found fascinating, stirring, or uplifting could surely be counted on to have a like effect on his correspondent also!

Habits of this kind are of immense value negatively as well as positively. Out of the seven abominations which the Lord hates (in Proverbs (6: 16-19), no less than three of them have to do with words and talk. The "grapevine", more efficient in the Christadelphian world than anywhere else, hums with many an entertaining detail which, whilst not downright evil in character, would be better not said. The old Greek dramatist wasn't acquainted with our modern slang, but he wrote a play about the "grapevine", and called it "The Wasps".

The good habit discussed here, centred on the Good Book, may be counted on to crowd out this human penchant for denigration and damage of others. Instead, by it life is toned up, made sweeter and more wholseome, to the glory of God.

But until the habit is formed and has taken over, there needs to be firm intention.

#19 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:50 PM

11. DISSATISFIED?

In the narrative of Israel's wilderness wanderings on how many separate occasions do the people come under censure for murmuring? The correct answer is fifteen. They murmured against the Lord, they murmured against Moses and against Aaron.

It is difficult to decide which is the worst thing about them during that period - their amazing lack of faith, or their highly developed faculty for grumbling. Doubtless these two evil qualities reinforced each other.

In more recent times many an exhortation for the New Israel has been framed on those caustic records in Exodus and Numbers. And so it will always be - because such admonitions are always necessary.

There may be good or bad reasons for a spirit of dissatisfaction. Discontent regarding some aspect of our doctrinal position or of the traditional formality which has now become the set pattern of ecclesial life; or maybe some uneasiness about the mediocre spiritual quality of our way of life, or of some other facet of the Christadelphian kaleidoscope mentioned in this book.

Consider just now the first of these.

Uneasy about doctrine

Let the fact be faced that the basic reason for our existence as a separate community is a valid one. We have inherited a different and better theology than anything any of the churches can offer. When a dissatisfied brother writes his wretched "letter of resignation" and goes off to join some church or other, he invariably moves downhill theologically. In order to strain out some doctrinal gnat, he soon finds (if he takes his critical faculty with him) that he has to swallow several large unclean camels. One can only be profoundly sorry for those who finding what we call The Truth unsatisfying, take off for fresh spiritual fields and doctrinal pastures new.

The writer of these words has had fairly wide experience of this comparison of our Faith with that of others, and over the years the conviction has grown steadily that no one else has anything better to offer. To be sure, it is a bad thing for Christadelphians to go around saying cocksurely: "We've got the truth". But we are fully justified in asserting with fair confidence (and, I hope, gratitude): "What Christadelphians stand for is nearer to Bible Truth than anything else we have met.”

And of course that is why we should never cease to evangelize. Aren't you doing a friend a good turn (to put it mildly) when you show him something better than what he already believes?

When doctrinal dissatisfaction rears its head, this is usually because the occasional restless individual has been doing his own Bible research (yes! by all means!) regarding the Devil or Demons or the Pre-existence of Christ or the Holy Spirit or some similar field where (let's face it!) there has been a tendency among us to paper over cracks and pretend that "there's really no difficulty.”

It's as well to be honest here and admit that in such doctrinal regions we have not had all the problems neatly solved for us in advance by our venerated "pioneers.” But there is a big difference between making such a concession and drastically scrapping as rubbish their main-line conclusions on such matters. Those main lines will still safely carry the bulk of our traffic. To change the figure, even the less tidy corners of our theology can be splendidly satisfying for starving church mice.

It is a pity that, times enough, those who have set out to resolve outstanding problems have made shipwreck through an ill-advised confusion between wood and trees. They have tended to become obsessed with one or two aspects of their problem whilst at the same time losing sight of the main issue It is this loss of sense of proportion which has, all too often brought shipwreck of faith.

Let it be said here, too, that intolerant or over-drastic handling of these tricky situations can make bad worse. Instead of being quietly urged to mark time for a while in a spirit of loyalty, to let the dust settle, doubters clamouring for answers have instead sometimes been rather peremptorily shunted into outer darkness and permanent disaster. Even a traitor like Judas was encouraged to be present and to continue at the Last Supper.

#20 Resource Manager

Resource Manager

    Forum Management

  • Administrators
  • 13,232 posts

Posted 20 September 2010 - 01:53 PM

Idealism

Another kind of grumbling alluded to earlier is one which all have a good deal of sympathy for at different times. It is the spirit of criticism, activated by the high idealism of the gospels, which looks at the typical Christadelphian way of life and sees it as far more ordinary, and far less idealistic, than it has any right to be.

Who can say that such a dissatisfaction is quite unjustified? We Christadelphians have the best thing in the world, yet, judging at least from outward appearance, we bring to it the same kind of half-hearted interest and undedicated zest that men would have for a course in embroidery or women for a do-it-yourself class in automobile repairs.

The fact has to be faced that as a community we are not much given to idealism. Within certain limits our spiritual life is pretty wholesome, but reaching for stars is not a ploy we are specially keen on. How are you to reach for a star and at the same time keep your feet on the ground? And this last we are doggedly resolved on doing. The faith which climbs over the gunwale to attempt walking on water to Christ is not deemed, admirable but quixotic and a liability.

So the critic who avers that we are too matter-of-fact, too much lacking in heavenly aspiration, is most of the time dead right. And for that very reason he may become dissillusioned, especially if he happens to encounter a few examples of faith-in-action elsewhere. Faced with this kind of problem the idealist is in danger of misapplying "By their fruits ye shall know them, "* and then of going on to draw a bad conclusion which may take him off into a more effervescent but less-soundly based society. Instead, the right and proper reaction is to go ahead and put one's ideals into practice in one's own life first. Only such a practical measure endows one with the right to point a finger at others who haven't as yet made that amount of progress. Yet, oddly enough, once you have tried walking on water (and have felt just the same as Peter), you lose all impulse to say to the rest:

"Why don't you...?"

When you have despised yourself for your own timidity, you somehow feel less inclination to censure your chicken-hearted brother.

A bad symptom, and its cure

The fact is, this grumbling-appendix disease afflicts only those who live in the world of theory, and who are better at looking at others than at themselves.

One of the warning symptoms is when you find yourself talking about "the Christadelphians", and using the pronouns "they" and "them", instead of saying "we". It is a tendency to look out for.

When Daniel felt in a frame of mind akin to that, he "set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes." This is the right way to go about things. And he said it in the right way too: "O Lord... we have sinned, and have committed iniquity... neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets... O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face... we have rebelled, neither have we obeyed...” And so his prayer went on - an intensifying confession of sins which he himself was not at all guilty of but which crushed his spirit because they belonged to Israel and he too belonged to Israel.

All the fine men of God were like this, brought low by the inadequacies of the people they belonged to:

Moses, Nehemiah, Paul, David, Jeremiah - the list is lengthy.

The psalmist did not confess:

"We have sinned like our fathers," but "with our fathers."

It is a worthy self-humiliation: "Lord, I have sinned with my ecclesia.”

-------
* Isn't it true that the Lord was talking about false teachers and their disciples? Applied thus to brethren who flirt with modernism the test is mordant, for no modernist ever becomes a missionary!





1 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 1 guests, 0 anonymous users