Thursday, 19 May 2011

Now about spiritual gifts, I don’t want you to be ignorant


I think the Holy Spirit gets a bum wrap.

  1. He’s important, often ‘neglected’ [except for what we can get from him], and misunderstood because he’s poorly spoken about and we look for evidence for him and his interactions with us in poor places.
  2. I believe that the fruits of the spirit are helpful, wonderful and central to being a Christ follower.
  3. I believe the gifts of the spirit are relevant [for today] and helpful, but finding evidence of authentic ones and using the gifts appropriately is difficult.

in regards to the spirit and how we interact with him..

  • I’m often scared of him (not in a holy fear kind of way) but just scared because I don’t understand what’s going on sometimes.
    • He seems to be presented so different and out of control than ‘Jesus’ – or probably who I’ve made Jesus to be in my head? - But perhaps it’s not the holy spirit I’m scared of but rather people supposedly affected by the spirit?
  • Totally comfortable with the fruits of the spirit “love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control” (note ‘self-control’) no-one could disagree that these are great characteristics.
    • I couldn’t get through the day without the direction of the spirit or the ability to have his help to examine my motives/actions/thoughts…
  • Though I get that in an attempt to be helpful we have talked about him living in my ‘Jesus shaped hole’ (think about that mental image for a minute) – I am uncomfortable with the ‘go on being filled’ if that means anything other than ‘maintain and enjoy / seek out a relationship’ with this person of the trinity.
  • I don’t get why we do ‘spirit filling stuff’ [at the front] in church meetings (almost as a spectacle) when we cultivate our relationship with Christ in private, but share his effect on our lives publically.
    • being filled with the spirit isn’t a ‘sign and wonder’ as far as I can tell (anymore than God is, or Jesus is)
    • I don’t know what the shaking, screaming, laughing, wobbling is.. (I mean I know how we describe it, but I don’t think I have any measure to discern what it is when I see ‘it’ occurring) and I’m uncomfortable with it. – especially if it doesn’t lead to more of the ‘fruits’ of the spirit being displayed in our lives. 
    • The filling of the disciples/apostles at Pentecost didn’t require the ‘laying on of hands’ to be filled, and though they acted pretty weird, they were fully able to say what was happening to them.
    • If the only time I was aware of the spirit was in meetings it would be like ignoring one of my children except on their birthday. Surely, either we accept and worship the spirit as the third member of the trinity, be as focussed on him as we are on Jesus and God the father, or our understanding and our worship is lacking?


In terms of gifts.. 

  • Speaking in tongues. I get that. it makes sense, let the heart speak without the hang up of words.
    • Speak to edify yourself
    • Speak to build up others (praying in/with the spirit)
    • Speak to strengthen the church – don’t know how this works, but if it does, fine.
    • pray in the spirit, by the spirit’s prompting – seems to make sense and be helpful.
  • Interpreting tongues.  this seems to be helpful if the church is to be built up
    • Does God speak to us in tongues?  Seems like an extraordinary hurdle that is unnecessary. – rather like when the catholic church only spoke in Latin…
    • If he doesn’t generally speak this way, why are interpretations of tongues often phrased as if God is speaking?
    • The potential for abuse of tongues then prophecy combo is huge, and though I generally trust our leaders and the people to be well intentioned, I wonder if we ever really correct things that are spoken that assume an authority that is not required, given or appropriate?
    • How do we assess if someone has the gift of interpretation?
      • Anyone with knowledge of scripture should be able to efficiently and intelligibly speak to remind us of it’s words without attaching to a tongue,
      • I wonder, if what is interpreted is speech from someone to God or someone to the church the ability to interpret may be more easily recognised and validated! 
        • Though a speaker might not know themselves the words they speak in another tongue, surely they would know whether the interpretation is consistent with what they feel or believe? 
        • Or that what they are speaking about is something they have never thought about or are concerned about?
  • Prophecy, I get that – if God is alive and well, he’ll surely speak, won’t he?
    • Either God speaks or he doesn’t.
      • if he speaks, we need to learn to listen to what he says and more importantly do it!.
      • If he doesn’t speak, what on earth is all this stuff we hear ‘God’ saying?
    • I don’t get a lot of the language that we use when we prophecy.  Sometimes I think we use prophecy as another way of being ‘opinionated’ or to show how ‘holy’ or ‘close to God’ we are.
    • So much of prophecy seems very namby pamby.
      • I struggle to believe that the God who told Noah what wood to use and how to build an ark would speak so vaguely or so restrictively to those who are attempting to follow his lead.
      • Jesus spoke in parables, and though the meaning may be unclear, the holy spirit is supposed to be our helper/advocate.  in which case one would expect his communication to be intelligible, clear and helpful?
      • So I’m not at all sure that much of what we hear is prophetic.  Inspired, maybe.. Prophetic? I’m not certain.
    • But if we agree that God does speak to us directionally, what do we do with that?
      • Authority is an elder function – so what do we do when prophets speak ‘authoritatively’? 
        • I worry about the ability to pose and move ‘agenda’s’ by using prophecy. 
        • I wonder just how much God really cares about some of the things we think are important? [his ways are higher than ours afterall]
    • When we talk to people about how to hear God, why do we often limit their expectation of God speaking [to those without a confirmed gift of prophecy] as saying Yes, No, wait?   This doesn’t seem scriptural or helpful.
    • Can you learn to prophecy, or practice it? 
      • If it’s a gift it should come from the spirit.
        • Understanding if you have the gift perhaps takes the wisdom and discernment of others? 
        • Learning when to prophecy is helpful?
        • Prophecy workshops?  what are those?
    • That we both seem to highly revere prophecy, but not to include it as canonical but also need to weigh it [I’m not clear on who should weigh], AND that we ensure that nothing is considered prophetic if it is not consistent with existing canonical scripture seems a difficult balance to maintain for Christians who just try to live for Christ as well as they can.
  • healings, This is always awesome when they are genuine. That God the creator has power to heal and wants to, how can anyone find that difficult. 
    • There are pranksters, charlatans and people who just want attention out there. In that regard, Derren Brown clearly makes a great point and i am thankful he exposes the trickery some have clearly used… Hands up anyone who wants authenticity, not showmanship in our meetings where healings are purported?
    • Whether a provable physical healing takes place, or that someone no longer complains of an affliction but accepts they have one (and is therefore made more ‘content’) seem to me to both be healings. I don’t know if the emotional healing is given as much credit as it deserves, and surely it is up to God to choose how he heals us?
    • I’d love to see more physical healings.  It demonstrates as clearly as a life totally turned around that God is alive and is powerful.
  • Discerning of spirits. I don’t really know what this is.
    • There seems to be a lot of talk about demons and angels and spirits of the age but I don’t think I’ve really heard good teaching on this subject to be able to know what this discerning really is and how we can evidence it’s operation.
    • There does appear to be a lot of nonsense talked about where we see demons in and on people who belong to Christ. I don’t see how this can be possible. If we are new creations, the old has gone the new has come. We now belong to His kingdom, and sin and evil has no dominion over us. If Christ and his spirit is ‘within’ us, how can a demon also be resident?
      • I think we confuse demons with sinful actions we chose to do, and use demonic forces as an excuse to not take responsibility for the good we fail to do and the evil we chose to do.
  • Wisdom.  Everyone needs more of this. this has to be a good thing
    • Get wisdom, get understanding…   if we need the holy spirit to illuminate the scriptures to us, then I hope this is a gift we all have.
    • Of course wisdom is nothing if it doesn’t affect our actions.
    • it’s hard to be wise unless we read, learn and grow.
    • Is the gift of wisdom something more than understanding what is wise?
  • Knowledge. it’s surely a wonderful thing if God gifts us with knowledge supernaturally.
    • Just because we know something doesn’t mean everyone needs to know.
    • surely God speaks to us about more than ‘joe blogs has a dodgy knee’ – I haven’t in recent years observed much of people saying God told me about ‘situation’… I hope though that this is exactly what IS happening..
      • I wonder do we maybe get knowledge confused with Prophecy?
    • I don’t know how we recognise this gift, nor how we enable the benefit to be used widely.
  • Faith.  How rarely do I talk about or ask for this as a gift of the spirit?
    • Salvation itself requires faith.  is this gift of faith somehow different?
    • surely one evidence of a gift of faith is that miraculous stuff is able to happen…
      • mountains leap in the sea
      • situations are miraculously altered
    • is another evidence of a gift of faith the ability to impart faith into a situation where someone (else) is faithless?
    • Seems to me, more than any of the other gifts, this would be a fabulous one to persistently ask God for and practice?
  • Miracles:  Signs and wonders:  I guess this would have to be the ‘staff’s into serpents’ and ‘water to wine’ and stuff?
    • I haven’t heard of ANY cases of anyone doing these things in modern day. 
    • We see miracles as healing (and salvation) only  but what has happened to the signs and wonders stuff that perhaps to our eyes would seem more like ‘magic’
    • I’d really like to be able to turn water into wine (the best stuff that people will want to drink)


Why have I written these things down?

It’s because if I who have been around church and Christ followers, and have attempted to follow Christ myself for much of my nearly 40 years can be concerned and confused about things of the spirit, how much more might we need to explain to those who observe us?

Isn’t it refreshing when leaders admit what they don’t know as much as what they do?  Surely it gives those who journey with us hope that they are not ‘hopelessly lost’ or incapable of contributing in the family of God whilst they wait to be with Him?

We have real questions to answer when we start talking about the spirit. I cannot be alone in having concerns and worries about what I observe [maybe I am?], but we have nothing to fear about being truthful and open about what we understand and what we don’t. 

We have to accept that there have been terrible abuses and follies. We have to be honest that we don’t always know what’s happening. We have to be clear that the Holy Spirit is God and we’re still learning how to interact with him appropriately.  (and maybe those who do have wisdom on such things, need to help those of us who don’t)

I would like to think that we are word and spirit people.  I cannot ignore this person of the trinity because some things make me uncomfortable. I cannot ignore his prompting, and I mustn’t for the sake of ignorance attempt to squeeze him out of our worship of God. Where i struggle, I want to be open to believe, have faith and know/experience more.  Where I understand, I want to grow in stature and live well.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Thinking about marriage

There’s always been a bit of a furore about marriage and sex in Christian circles. I wonder is it possible that we confuse our biblical understanding of marriage, betrothal, engagement and responsibility when looking the lens of [western] legal marriage concepts and societal expectation and if so how easy is it for us to separate what we have practiced as the norm from what the bible actually says?

For a whole host of reasons, I’m not offering an answer to that question – this is after all a blog which captures some of my struggles to understand and live right and I wouldn’t want to knowingly or unknowingly [Rob Bell like] lead any reader to conclusions I don’t support - but I share below some of the questions that have challenged my assumptions/perspective…

  • Hypothetically: If it could be proved that Jesus had a sexual relationship (with Mary Magdelene ) would that challenge His divinity, or our understanding of sex[ual sin]?
    • If Jesus did ‘kiss Mary on the mouth’ (as suggested in gnostic gospel of Philip), and ‘loved her more than the other disciples’ (as Philip and gospel of Mary Magdelene suggests) does that redefine what we might see as appropriate loving contact ‘prior’ to marriage [if we assume that had Jesus have been married it surely would have been recorded?]
  • Might the growing trend towards co-habiting, civil partnership and alternative lifestyle choices in our communities require us to redefine how we speak about marriage so that we are clear about what we communicate is God’s plan? If indeed God has but one blueprint for the way in which each of us should live.
  • In cultures where plural marriage is permitted by law would we define God’s understanding of marriage differently? (Does God actually care how many wives/husbands we have (or had?). Is it important that the Trinity is 3 not 2 persons? Do we speak of responsibility to wives rather than singular wife? Do we promote divorce as a method of ‘making right’ something which is ‘wrong’?)
  • In cultures where there is no marriage ceremony but where there is an understanding of ‘belonging’ would we define sexual activity within that relationship to be sinful?  If not, how do we respond to co-habiting couples in the West? – ie what exactly are we communicating is biblically sinful? (sex without legal contract? sex without clarity of exclusivity?)
  • Is it right to conclude that faithfulness is not about how many wives or concubines a husband might have, but how you care for them? 
    • Is marriage then more about faithful responsibility (provision and offspring) not sexual monogamy?
    • What then is the biblical definition of adultery? Since if one even looks with the eye at another he has committed adultery in his heart (even before a sexual act has taken place!)
  • Paul seems to suggest [1 Corinthians 7:32-33] remaining single is preferable to marriage, and that marriage is reserved for ‘if you can’t control yourself’… [1 Cor 7:36] So is God for marriage or against it?
    • For elders and deacons is it essential they are married?…
    • or if they ‘are’ married essential for them to only be married to one woman (presumably at once)?  
    • What then do we make of ‘it is not good for man to be alone?’
  • If there was a global disaster which significantly affected the number of men available to sire children and continue the species, would our biblical understanding of marriage, wives and sex subtly change?
  • If there was a global disaster which significantly affected the number of women available to bear children and continue the species, would our biblical understanding of marriage, husbands and sex be different than if men were in short supply?


What I’m pretty certain of is:

  • Marriage is a good thing for lots of reasons. Some biblical, some practical. some personal
  • Taking responsibility for each other is serious and important.
  • Providing stable environments for child rearing is essential.
  • Loving relationship (as an antidote to brokenness) is always on God’s heart.
  • How we speak about how people live demonstrates to them what the kingdom of God is like.
  • I don’t think Song of Song’s is primarily about God and us,  nor am I certain (from the text) that the sexual activity was exclusively post marriage. [but then I voted for the Alternative Vote so what do I know :) ] .

You may find some answers to the questions above in some of these links: (* determine for yourself their validity to speak on the subject) better still do your own research / ask your elder..

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Is Newfrontiers abandoning it’s commitment to Male Leadership?


In 2008 Mark Driscoll addressed the Newfrontiers leaders conference and commended our movement for holding to the biblical principle of male Eldership. Following the conference a critique of Newfrontiers position by a methodist minister, Dave Warnock suggested that our understanding of scripture on this matter was incorrect and several of our newfrontiersbloggers attempted to clarify and explain the position.

To answer my principle question, I do not believe at this time that there is any credible suggestion that Newfrontiers is abandoning it’s commitment to male leadership, but in my own recent research looking at the media download sections of several UK Newfrontiers churches it is clear that our understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 differs widely enabling nearly 40% of our churches to [occasionally] permit women to teach when the full congregation is assembled.  (Teaching is assumed to be an eldership function, and as such the preserve of men)

Among my research, I found even  Wendy Virgo addressed an assembled congregation in Horsham on Mothers day (though interestingly CCK in Brighton – until very recently the longtime home for Wendy and Terry - is not one of the congregations that has permitted a woman to take to the pulpit on a Sunday) and in the first minute of her talk she taught that  “we don’t usually make a habit of women preaching on Sunday’s but we do feel that at time’s it’s appropriate”.    I found that this statement was somewhat odd. Either, we have a ‘habit’ [Note: not a biblical principle] that prevents women from exercising their gifting to teach, preach and encourage or we believe that preaching and teaching to a congregation that includes men requires authority that is provided by church government which is exclusively male led.

However I don’t want to get into the discussion that would require greater theological mind(s) than mine to probe questions such as: what exactly is teaching, what  is someone doing when they speak from the assumed pulpit on a Sunday, can women speak formally as long as they don’t teach, is the teaching in 1 Tim 2:12 something that is in reference only to her husband, can single women then be free to teach since they have no ‘head’ in the home, can elders delegate their authority to others, can those that have been delegated to set direction and all such other questions… as these are not the subject of this post… .

The nub of my question is, since a number of our congregations draw the line of where women can teach in different places sufficient to allow some to teach the assembled church, and with many church denominations already opening governmental positions to women, does that mean it’s only a matter of time before one of our congregations elevates someone to the leadership team (beyond children’s or women’s ministry) and enables them to have a directive or authoritive role (rather than a complementarian influential one) in church governance?


For those who haven’t seen the vision and values statements or who haven’t been following Terry Virgo’s series on these statements here’s the relevant ones to this topic.

7. A church where Biblical family life is highly valued, where husband and wife embrace male servant leadership and joyful female submission, where godly parenting is taught and practised and where the special value of singleness and its unique opportunities are affirmed.

8. A church led by male elders (one of whom is clearly understood to be gifted to be lead elder) who are ordained by the Holy Spirit, recognised and confirmed through apostolic ministry. These men are to be helped in fulfilling their calling through ongoing fellowship with trans-local ministries.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Contesting the incontestable: No2AV/Yes2AV debate


It is undeniable that the Alternative Vote (AV) system produces a result that is different from first past the post (FPTP) in constituencies where there isn’t a clear favourite among that electorate.   That AV doesn’t favour (nationally) either of the main parties (as FPTP does) is to its credit because it levels the playing field on which parties with broad support can compete.

  • Voting to keep FPTP (because you don’t like AV or you would prefer Proportional Representation (PR) is saying to the government that you are not interested in electoral reform and support the current demonstrably unfair system
  • FPTP is unfair in a race with more than 2 candidates, because in nearly every election, the winning candidate will only gain the support of around a 1/3rd of the electorate that bothered to turn out. In FPTP a candidate wins with a minority. 


According to the Telegraph.. Twenty MPs from the new intake – ten Labour and ten Conservative – have listed ten incontestable objections to the Alternative Vote system.  (Telegraph points in Italics, my response in normal case)

  1. AV IS OBSCURE: Only three countries in the world use AV for their national elections: Fiji, Australia, and Papua New Guinea
    1. It is correct to say that AV is only in use for national elections by three countries, but even in the UK there are many different forms of alternative voting that take place for different ballots.  In that regard AV is not obscure, but actually favoured for some elections including the election of the conservative leader!
    2. The banality of this argument is obvious though… and one of principle, like saying that we shouldn’t have an NHS because other countries don’t.
  2. AV IS UNFAIR: Supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote.
    1. Alternative votes only come into play if there isn’t a candidate that passes 50% of the turnout in the constituency AND because their first preference is eliminated.
    2. I understand that there will be a threshold in which the votes for fringe parties will be reallocated in the event that none of the candidates reaches that 50% in the first place.
    3. This position assumes that those who might vote green or UKIP or even BNP would choose to show a preference for any other party than their own… or at least another one that might raise enough support across the constituency…  In the case of extremist politics, I think that’s highly unlikely.
    4. In reality everyone’s vote in AV is counted the same amount of times in the constituency until there is a clear winner. What changes is the allocation of the vote preference. (your principle vote for a labour candidate or a conservative one will most likely be counted in every round against your first choice candidate)
    5. In relation to the existing system, FPTP national elections are decided by a small number of marginal constituencies. All this proves is that with each proposed system there is some level of unfairness to some, the question is, is AV more fair than what we have now or less?
  3. AV IS UNEQUAL: AV treats someone’s fifth or sixth choice as having the same importance as someone’s else’s first preference – but there is a big difference between positively wanting one candidate to win and being able to ‘put up with’ another.
    1. No, AV treats someone’s second or third choice with a similar importance in the event that no clear winner is determined.
    2. The truth is under AV EVERY voter has an equal chance of influencing the result. – This cannot be said about FPTP.
    3. In FPTP, everyone who tactically votes is likely to be voting for who there 2nd ,3rd , 4th etc choice.
  4. AV IS ‘EVEN LESS PROPORTIONAL’ THAN THE CURRENT SYSTEM: So concluded the independent Royal Commission chaired by the senior Liberal Democrat Roy Jenkins in 1998.
    1. Though the Jenkins report suggested that AV could produce IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES even less proportional results than the current system, the recommendation was that the best system for Britain was AV+ where 80-85% of constituency members would be elected ordinarily through AV whilst the remaining 15-20% would be elected on a corrective top-up basis. But regardless, the general point is moot because neither AV nor FPTP claim to be proportional.
    2. AV isn’t proportional representation, nor does it claim to be.  It is simply a method of enabling more people’s vote to be ‘FOR’ a candidate or candidates, reducing the amount of wasted votes and enabling more people to be engaged with politics, and the result.
    3. The reality is that the result will reflect the choices people actually make.  In recent history the most likely outcome is more seats for Liberal Democrats. (if you consider the actual share of the vote nationally)
  5. AV IS ‘DISTURBINGLY UNPREDICTABLE’ – another warning from Roy Jenkins. Elections fought under AV would either wildly increase the majority of the winning party (e.g. Labour in 1997, the Tories in the 1980s) or create hung parliaments by giving the balance of power to the third party.
    1. This is nonsense.  With FPTP with more than 2 parties and electoral constituencies with massaged boundaries the only predictable thing about FPTP is that the result won’t reflect the will of the majority of the UK.
    2. The reality is that democracy, when allowed to be truly democratic, is unpredictable. I think that is a good thing, because it will return politics to issues.
  6. AV IS NOT WANTED – EVEN BY THE YES CAMPAIGN: Before the general election, Nick Clegg described AV as “a miserable little compromise” and the Electoral Reform Society said they did “not regard it as suitable for the election of a representative body, e.g. a parliament”.
    1. What is not wanted is AV to be the system that endures, but nearly all see AV as a stepping stone towards PR.   The likelihood is that if we don’t vote against FPTP by voting for AV, you will not get another chance to change the electoral system in the UK.
    2. If AV is not wanted, then that is what the outcome of the referendum should decide.  But I want it (over FPTP) and so do lots of others. So the general statement is not only incorrect, it is also premature.
  7. AV IS NO-ONE’S FIRST CHOICE: AV was not in the manifestos of either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats. Many people who want voting reform have spent years campaigning for proportional representation – which AV is not.
    1. The Liberals would prefer PR to be on the ballot paper. It isn’t.  Given that the only options are FPTP and AV, AV is the first choice.
    2. NO ONE voted for the coalition manifesto. That doesn’t mean the same as No one wants electoral reform 
    3. The referendum is on which is BETTER, not which one is perfect.  I can’t see that FPTP is better than AV.. though I can certainly see faults with both.
  8. AV IS COMPLEX: The Government will have to spend millions of pounds explaining to voters how AV works to prevent a fall in turnout at elections. In Australia, the only reason they have high turnout is because they made voting compulsory.
    1. This is a nonsense too.  In Australia after AV was introduced the turnout rose.. This was BEFORE they introduced compulsory voting.
    2. Anyone who can count to three can vote in AV. It takes no explaining.  Rank your preference 1st choice, 2nd, 3rd.
    3. I agree that voting should be compulsory (even if people only spoil their paper)  but with turnout being voluntary no-one really knows if it will increase or decrease.. wouldn’t it be interesting to try?
    4. My own view is that anything that rewards peoples action to vote is likely to encourage voting.
  9. AV IS EXPENSIVE: Under AV we won’t be able to count ballot papers by hand on election night if we want a quick, decisive election result. Local councils will have to purchase electronic counting machines that are very expensive and prone to malfunction.
    1. This has already been refuted.  Manual counting is not just possible, but possible in similar time. 
    2. Where there is a clear winner, the count will be exactly the same
    3. In the event of reallocation of votes, the second and third rounds will take much less time because only some votes are being reallocated.
    4. The benefit of electronic means of recording or counting the vote is a separate issue to be addressed whichever system of voting is used.
  10. AV IS NOT THE REFORM WE NEED: There are lots of genuine reforms which would go some way to restoring people’s trust in politics – but changing our voting system to AV is not one of them. That’s why it’s a shame that we’re about to spend £90 million and five months debating a system that nobody really wants.
    1. I agree that other reforms are needed. But that doesn’t mean this one isn’t needed, and this is the one before us on May 5th.
    2. Do you think it is likely that the Government will offer further reforms if we don’t turn out to vote?