THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Holy Spirit -
For centuries, the church has been divided by different methods of baptism and approaches to the raising of children within Christian families.
First, in infant baptism, children are accepted into God’s Kingdom through their parents’ faith, and when of age, must ‘confirm’ their own faith and vows of baptism.
Second, baptism is given as a result of an adult profession of faith, and the ‘dedication’ of a child acknowledges the prevenient grace of God working in both child and family.
Baptism; common themes
Despite the sometimes heated divisions about baptism, there are common themes. At the heart of each pathway is the belief that baptism is a sign of entry into God’s Kingdom and the acceptance of His rule in the family life of God’s people. LiFE seeks to build and not tear down, therefore:
(See also 1 Peter 3:21, Mark 10:38, Colossians 2:12, Ephesians 4:5 etc.
What does ‘Church’ mean?
The Church is the collective name given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Strictly, the name ‘church’ means ‘gathering’, referring to the way in which God’s people gather together both to worship God and also to live their lives as Christ’s disciples and do His will.
When Peter makes his first and famous declaration that Jesus is ‘the Messiah the Son of God’ (Matt 16:17) Jesus responds by saying that He will build ‘His church’ on this foundation of faith (Matt 16:18). After this, there are large numbers of references to the word ‘church’ in the letters of Paul and the apostles, all of which use it to describe the gathered people of God who meet to worship Him and live for Him in any one place (e.g. see 1 Cor 1:2, Eph 3:10f. 1 Tim 3:5 etc.)
Churches and buildings
Over the centuries, unfortunately, the name ‘church’ has become synonymous with buildings and institutions. Consequently, it has become despised both by society and also by some Christians who reject this word because of its bad connotations in those churches that have become institutions. This is unfortunate because there are few options for Biblical alternatives.
The term ’fellowship’ is sometimes used as to describe God’s gathered people, but this only creates confusion because of the way the Bible uses the word ‘fellowship’ to refer to one aspect of worship (see Exodus 20:24, Leviticus 4:10f.). Also, the apostles use the word ‘fellowship’ to describe a quality of spiritual relationship, often with ‘the Spirit’ (see 2 Cor 13:41, Phil 2:1 etc.)
The Church today
There is no doubt that God’s people are divided, and it is difficult to speak of the ‘church’ as being God’s ‘gathered people’, when many Christians will not allow themselves to be seen with those of a different Christian persuasion. Also, the Biblical description of the church as the ‘body of Christ’ is not one that has an easy explanation when most of society simply perceives buildings, mostly ancient and many in obvious decline, as ‘churches’.
Yet it is still possible to make the simple point that the real church is people not buildings, and return with vigour to Paul’s great descriptions of the church as the ‘body of Christ’ (1 Cor 12), a ‘Temple of the Spirit’ (1 Cor 3:16f.). A building without people in it or without a purpose for those who use it is a rather ridiculous idea, after all. Instead, let us be invigorated by thinking of the vast number of people who have made up the church over the generations, who have bourne the faith to us, and without whom we would not have the buildings we use today, which are a testimony to their faith. Thank God for His people, the church, throughout the ages!
This course teaches that salvation is available to us solely by God’s sovereign grace through the work of Christ on the Cross. Whilst the work of Christ is complete and sufficient for all people and all sin, it is granted and made effective in people’s lives through repentance from sin and faith expressed in Christ. Upon salvation and through the grace of Christ, the individual is found acceptable to God.
Subsequent trials, temptations and sins
These afflict the individual through the inescapable fact of living in a sinful world. They are dealt with as the believer submits them all to God, often through accepting the help and ministry of other Christians. Such confession and repentance enable the already sufficient grace of Christ to be applied to the life of the believer, and it is the privilege of all believers to love and help each other on this pathway of discipleship and holiness, as commanded by Jesus. In this way each one finds the grace of Christ sufficient for all circumstances of life.
Problem 1 -
Be aware that at the present time, so called ‘hyper-
Problem 2 -
This theology arose during the seventeenth century from disputes about predestination between reformed protestants who were followers of John Calvin. A strict Calvinist position was preached claiming that salvation comes from God’s grace alone without any human decision to believe; the saved are chosen beforehand by God, they are ‘called’ and their faith is a by-
The teaching on this course
The teaching on LiFE is different, and is known as ‘Arminian’, after the name of the man who first explained it. This affirms that Christ’s grace and saving power is sufficient for all sin and for all who have faith in Him, if only they choose to express such faith. It describes salvation as happening when God’s supreme and completely necessary grace is received by a human decision to believe in Jesus as Lord, the Son of God. Such ‘faith’ is frequently described in the stories of Jesus. This teaching was first taught by the Dutch theologian Arminius, and it summarises previous Christian and Biblical theologies of salvation. It was made popular by the evangelist John Wesley; who is believed to have said this: ‘All need to be saved, all may be saved, all may know they are saved, and all may know they are saved completely’.
Getting ‘salvation’ right
It is not easy to find one’s way through the different things people believe about the nature of salvation. The issues highlighted above have often divided Christians, sometimes bitterly. The wisest course of action is to explore the Biblical basis of all claims about salvation. However, some will easily fid scriptures here and there to support a variety of views on all these things. By far the best is to become so familiar with God’s Word that your understanding of God’s gracious work is steeped not in explanations of individual texts, but in your understanding of the whole history of God’s saving work evidenced throughout the Bible. God’s Word is indeed the history of salvation applied to people throughout the ages, with Christ as the complete and final gift of salvation for the whole world and all people. The later stories of Acts and the apostolic letters amply describe how the church struggled with these issues, and we should immerse ourselves in receiving the wisdom and revelation afforded us there, instead of being tied too firmly to the fads of time and the followings of the latest preachers.
What’s the problem?
Theology is a subject that has until recently been studied with great success at most major universities, but it has become toxic, the victim of its remoteness from the faith and life experience of everyday Christians within the church. The word speaks simply of what it means to think about God and to try and work out the basic questions about life; who God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are, about the nature of God’s work for the redemption of a sinful world, and about His eternal plan for all He has made.
Hundreds of years of academic research led by professors and intellectuals high on the list of the most senior ‘brains’ among the nations has come to an inglorious end. During the twentieth century, universities discovered that ‘theology’ could not compete like for like with science and the arts; the result being that theology professors who want their jobs have ultimately bowed to government pressure to stop producing theologians who serve the church, instead, they are to turn out graduates who will go on to deliver the religious elements of the national curriculum in the nation’s schools. This is what the government pays for and this is what it will get.
The consequences of the failure of academia
The great denominations of Christian church life in England have traditionally been run by a power base of people highly trained in theology at the nation’s universities, and their companions, the theological institutions. With the theology taught being more ‘religious philosophy’ than doctrine and the pastoral arts, clergy entering ministry in church life have found themselves woefully short on the skills necessary to lead a group of people in an essentially voluntary society. People vote with their feet if they are not led well, or their church is more concerned to try and grow inter-
In addition, theology has a bad name because too much of it has appeared to ordinary Christians as extravagantly opinionated rubbish. As a youngster I recall having to grapple with the ‘death of God’ theology, and when I asked whether clergy who said that God does not exist might think it inappropriate to lead Christian communities or share communion with them, I was told that my question only showed that I was philosophically ignorant. I recall that as a consequence, most of the committed Christian friends I had at that time simply left the established churches. To this day, those who left them remain rooted in independent or new churches, and many local denominational churches are staffed by clergy hard pressed to preach anything more of a message at Easter than ‘celebrate new life’. It is certainly my experience that many fight shy of preaching ‘Christ crucified and resurrected’ (see 1 Corinthians 15).
Where do we go from here?
The only way forward is for serious theological enquiry to start again but this time from within the church, and by ‘the church’, I mean wherever people who love their Lord meet for worship. How can this happen? I believe it is already happening as new churches begin in large numbers to create for themselves the discipleship courses, leadership and mentoring schemes and systematic preaching series demanded by growing and seriously committed congregations. What is needed most of all is some coherence to this effort, and this is where we must say that if the Holy Spirit is indeed behind this then He will lead the way.
We may well find that the model of Alpha is the way ahead. Here, a tight programme of theological enquiry is put together at one source, but effectively franchised out to those who will use it. Certainly, the thousands who do ‘Alpha’ regularly in their churches often ask, ‘where do we go from here’? Another model could be theology dispersed by the Internet, in which good theology rises to the fore through a kind of ‘natural selection’ process of use and effectiveness of Internet material.
LiFE course rests somewhere between these two and does not pretend to be an answer to the churches problems here. It is a tool for the church and for the Holy Spirit. We wait to see how it is used.
DIVERSITY AND UNITY
An article will appear here in due co
What are the Creeds?
In the first few centuries of the life of the Christian church, they were held together by a number of powerful forces. First, a growing consensus on the Gospels and Paul’s letters as Scripture, second, the missionary and organising effort of some of its great early leaders such as Clement of Alexandria and the charisma of its martyrs, such as that of Polycarp. The third developing force was that of theology, as people from an educated and intellectual background were converted and then began to use their minds in the quest for deeper truths. Famous theologians of the second century include Origen, a man of independent mind who made meticulous searches of Scripture in order to try and find the truth about God.
In the first couple of centuries, there is also evidence of the church using short and memorable texts to summarise faith, especially belief about the work of Christ. They are elementary ‘statements of faith’, or ‘Creeds’. Scripture contains some evidence of this, for example, where Paul says in his letter to Timothy:
‘Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
“He was revealed in the flesh
Vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed amongst the Gentiles,
Believed in throughout the world
And taken up in glory”’ (1 Tim 3:16)
The Apostles’ Creed
The earliest such a ‘creed’ to have common acceptance in the church is the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. This form of words was used not only as a unifying force amongst the churches, demonstrating that what was believed about the Gospel was the same everywhere, it was also used for teaching. When new converts came into the church, they were rigorously tested and taught; many were obliged to learn parts of Scripture by heart, and also the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. It draws its name from the fact that it was believed the apostles (here meaning Jesus’ disciples after the resurrection), worked together to produce this clear statement of the person and work of Jesus. Here it is in full.
I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Nicene Creed -
Probably the most famous of the great creeds is the Nicene Creed. This came out of the great Council of the church at Nicea in 325 AD, a very different document to the apostles’ creed which came out of the earliest experiences of the church. The Nicene Creed was written three centuries after the death of Jesus, when Christianity had developed throughout the Roman world and the Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity after his apparently miraculous victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.
It was the Emperor Constantine who called the Nicene Council, and required the churches of the day to come up with a defining statement of Christian Faith. It is said that he had no small hand in its wording; he was a politician who worked hard to ensure peace amongst the disparate factions already found within the Christian church. If Christianity was to be the faith of an Empire, Constantine wanted one Faith, not a church of division or riddled with disunity.
For centuries, scholars have studied the text of the Nicene Creed, observing the different theological strands which eventually made up the statement. Any student of theology should have a good look at it, and explore the thoughts and feelings of those who created it (there are plenty of documents about it) so as to understand why it speaks of ‘persons’ and ‘substances’, and describes the church as ‘catholic’, for example. There are four different sections to the Nicene Creed dealing first with God the Father, second with Jesus, third with the Holy Spirit, and fourth with the Church. Most of it is about the person and work of Jesus. This document is the closest we have, and perhaps ever shall have, to an agreed doctrinal statement of Christian faith.
But before we look at the text, it is worth knowing that the ‘Nicene Creed’ is in fact a revision of a text agreed at Nicea in 325AD. Nearly 60 years later at the Council of Constantinople (381AD), and after yet further debate about the nature of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Church, alterations were made. The original Nicene Creed had a number of additional comments in brackets on the nature of God, and also defined some erroneous beliefs as heresies. With the additions, however, the result is what we now recognise as the Nicene Creed, and is recited today at many services of communion or ‘eucharist’.
The Nicene Creed -
The text of this creed may not be the exact words you recall, simply because it was first written in Latin not English; any version we have come across is certainly a translation! For your information, I have highlighted the parts original to Nicea in bold. It is worth looking at what was added, and reflect on why!
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-
begotten of the Father before all worlds (ages),
Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made;
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered,
and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father;
from there he will come again, in glory, to judge the living and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
(We believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father,
who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified,
who spoke through the prophets.
(We believe) in one holy catholic and apostolic Church;
we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Theology, a dirty word
Today, the use of the word ‘theology’ will usually get either looks of blank incredulity, or in some cases outright hostility. This subject means simply ‘thinking about God’; and as such, many of past generations regarded this as the ‘queen’ of university subjects. After all, if God made everything, all science and art ultimately derives its existence from God. But that is not how people think now. Academic theology has followed the ‘philosophy of religions’ rather than the faith of believers, and has ended up promoting the weird and extreme religious experience. No churchgoer in the UK would recognise what goes on in academic theology as having anything remotely to do with the faith they practice. Indeed, most young Christians reject the word ‘theology’ as representing all that has gone wrong with the church.
So why is theology important?
We are at a new place in the life of the church now, and we do not have to be slaves to past mistakes and paranoia about different sorts of theology; ‘liberation theology’, ‘liberal theology’, and more. Many scholars are developing new ways of approaching Biblical text even today, for example, ‘temple theology’, as advanced by Dr. Margaret Barker. These and other efforts hold much interest, but mainstream academic theology has largely stopped offering people a rounded general theological education covering everything from Biblical theology to History, philosophy of religion, pastoral; studies and more. As in so many subjects, academia struggles to make socially useful connections between its many disciplines, so that the broader aim of a university (universal high quality education) can be delivered in a helpful way to individuals and for the benefit of society.
Theology is important today because ordinary Christians need a grounding in ‘thinking about God’ which challenges them to reflect on what they mean by their faith. People need to think through what they believe about life after death, about the purpose of existence under a Creator God, about who Jesus is to them and where He is, as well as what they mean by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the challenge of what it means to be ‘holy’, or ‘chosen’. The list is large but not endless, and it is not impossible to challenge people to think carefully about such things without cutting their faith from beneath them -
How can the church recover theology?
Many growing churches have already decided that sending their brightest and best away to university to study Biblical studies or do theology (even at a Bible College) is not conducive either to people’s faith or to the long term growth of the church. They have replaced this by mentoring schemes for leaders and missioners, for young and old, and by various means of delivering theological reflection to church attendees, in house groups, or in special events or courses. The picture today in the UK is massively varied.
We look now however for what God is doing, and if this is the general trend, then I suggest that in time He will raise up a means of bringing this great effort together for the sake of all His people. It does not serve the long term needs of God’s people to just develop courses and theology within their own ‘denominations’ or groups. God is interested in what will serve His mission for the whole world, not just your local church or mine. Each of us can and should work to God’s agenda as we perceive it where we are, but we should also be on the watch for His greater agenda which will concern the whole world and the eternal destiny of His people.
Theology and practice of LiFE
For this reason, LiFE course is on the face of it, just another course grown out of a church seeking to do what is right in today’s world to develop discipleship in the church and missioners for the future of God’s Kingdom. However, it is different from other such course in several ways, and at each stage it seeks to be open to how God might use it. That is His prerogative and the future is His design.
These and other developments here at LMC give us cause for rejoicing. We believe that the future is bright with the promises of the Lord. But it is fundamentally His work not ours.