Church Services and Boiling Frogs

On 3rd November a friend posted this on Facebook:
‘If we are going to press for the continuation of public worship in Christian churches, can we get beyond the somewhat tepid assertion that it is good for our mental health?’

This post, in part, is an attempt to answer that very important question.

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It sounds dramatic, but the Apostle John warned us about the Anti-Christ. (1 John 2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7) And Jesus told us to look out for false Christs that will seek to deceive us. (Matt 24:5) Kim Riddlebarger, if I’m channeling him correctly, said the sign of the Anti-Christ is when the machinery of the State is mobilised to persecute the church. The question is, is this what we are seeing now? Are we seeing movement towards that? When does it cross the line from a painful inconvenience, that we are told benefits our neighbour, to outright persecution? Are the powers that be acting with more subtlety than we see in China? In China we definitely see the State mobilised against the church – and against religion in general. It would be insulting and quite ridiculous to compare our situation with Christians that are losing their lives simply for being Christians. Or are we in the West seeing the proverb ‘Softly softly catchee monkey’ being played out. Would a full on assault be too obvious? You’ve heard of boiling frogs. Is that us?

My recent reading about Cyprian of Carthage (200-258), The Scottish Covenanters, and Martin Luther has raised all sorts of questions. Christians then were asking similar questions. I have a couple of quotes from the book on Cyprian that, I think, puts where we are at, or where some think we are at, here in the UK and the US. It’s a debate that is happening right now. Is the fact that church doors are closed and gathered Worship is restricted, some might say forbidden, demonstrating State persecution? Is the State boiling a few frogs?

The following quotes ‘might’ help the discussion.

‘Persecution and prosecution were the same thing in these cases. Being prosecuted for disobeying laws that violate religious conviction is germane to persecution. We empty persecution of its meaning if we do not include prosecution for refusal to do something that would violate a person’s faith. [The writer] Moss does not see it this way. She writes, ‘There is something different about being persecuted under a law – however unjust – that is not designed to target or rout out any particular group. It may be unfortunate, it may be unfair, but it is not persecution.’ p. 70 & 71.

Some feel that way now. Perhaps saying ‘The lockdown doesn’t seem fair, but it isn’t persecution. Christians aren’t being singled out.’ Brian Arnold gives a footnote to the comment above from Moss, saying;

”I understand Moss’s point and I believe the point is well-taken in certain instances. Take for instance Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was killed, not for his faith, but for his attempt to assassinate Hitler. Should he be considered a martyr? Perhaps not. But early Christians do not fit this category. They were killed because they were asked to do things that would have severed their souls from Christ for eternity.”This is footnote 21 on p. 71: Moss, The Myth of Persecution, 14-15.

This is at the heart of it. Are we Christians being asked to do, or not do something that is a serious violation of our faith?

Some say yes, or at least, we are close to it. Others say no. Did I say Cyprian experienced persecution and plague? He also had some interesting things to say, I thought, on the Lord’s Supper. He was eventually beheaded in the year 258.

Shifting or sifting?

Whatever it is the Lord is doing (some of which may be a sifting), in a few months we have shifted (a lot have anyway) from worshipping in our church buildings (whatever the building) to worshipping as an online church community. We say, ‘What a blessing from God this technology is that we can meet. It isn’t ideal but we can meet. How wonderful.’ And it is, but we all know this is second best to meeting together as a church. Right? I’m seriously wondering if our online church experience is really just boiling frogs. It’s a bit weird for the minister speaking into a camera, or just one or two techie guys there but it’s what we are doing. Some are a little further on from that and are working towards more being able to attend. I’m not quite sure what happens when the church building reaches its social distancing capacity. For us, we simply aren’t going to all be able to attend with the current regulations in place. That’s my understanding anyway. I’m amazed at how quickly habits can form. There’s no rush to make the meeting. There’s no inconvenience. There’s little or no discipline. There’s no need for punctuality. You can amble into your living room, if you get up at all, watch the service at your own convenience while still wearing your pyjamas and eating your breakfast. And, you can pause the service while you boil the kettle and make your cup of tea.

Jesus came in the flesh. He had a body while on earth. He still has a body on earth – it’s called The Church. There’s something deeply Incarnational about gathering physically as the church. The Bible speaks of giving the right hand of fellowship (Gal 2:9), or greeting one another with a kiss (1 Peter 5:14) or simply sitting down with one another. Speaking to one another face to face. And if your church practices it – washing one another’s feet! Or the laying on of hands or anointing. I must admit to not seeing a lot of anointing with oil. Still, these all require physical contact.

The Lord’s Table

Then there’s the Lords Table – Communion. Breaking bread together. I know some churches are managing to do this online. We can’t ask Cyprian or Luther what they would have done today, but Luther did say this:

‘The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh itself and not weaken in the struggle but continually grow stronger…. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attacks the old man, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about everywhere, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or yield hand and foot and become indifferent and impatient. For such times, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.‘ Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Though’ by Stephen J. Nichols, p.129.

We are moving towards a year now. When was the last time we physically assembled for the Lord’s Table? And when will we be able to celebrate again? Many of us celebrated (past tense) the Lord’s Table each month. Churches do this differently, but whatever the frequency, we must surely celebrate this means of grace at the minimum annually. Is it a command from The Lord Christ, or a suggestion? The State, however we frame it, intentional or not, is causing us to neglect the physicality of the Lords Table. This is how I see it. And it’s a problem. Isn’t it? When will we be able to celebrate this again and strengthen and refresh our faith together and say ‘Until He comes.’

Then what shall we say of Baptism? Will we have ‘Socially Distanced’ baptism’s? But perhaps we’ll leave that for another time.

Overstepping Authority?

Has the State over-stepped its authority? Surely it has no authority over the church of The Lord Jesus Christ. Meeting online, however convenient, is at best a very poor substitute for the physical gathering of the body of Christ – His church.

Now, what to do? That’s the question. We pray. We need a great deal of Grace and Wisdom from God. Be patient – for now. I am not suggesting we storm Westminster, or that we start a riot. And I’m not advocating for Civil Disobedience. Maybe in time that will come. There is some legitimate push back from some quarters. Remember, frogs that are slowly boiled eventually die (or submit). We should resist thinking an online church is a true expression of the church at worship. It isn’t.

Whatever happens, even if we never physically meet together again, the Lord has promised to build his church (Matt 16:18) in the face of the severest opposition, as we see in other countries today. And He will. The Lord has done exactly that in times past when in Cyprian’s day ‘the blood of the martyrs was the truly the seed of the church (Tertullian).’ However He will do it, He (The Lord Christ) continues to build His church. and will build it. And ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied….’ (Isaiah 53:11)

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.’ (Romans 1:16)

The call is to be discerning and ‘Know the times.’

Daily Readings: The Early Church Fathers

I was especially struck by the reading today. Christians in other lands know the reality of which we know next to nothing in our country. St Cyprian of Carthage (200 – 258) knew what he was talking about. Rome was at the height of its power. Just a couple of sentences from the brief Bio given at the start of the month.

He proved a wise, moderate, spiritually-minded leader of the mainstream Church amid fierce persecution, and crowned his life as a martyr. When the death sentence was passed on him, Cyprian’s response was simply, “Thanks be to God”.

Very challenging to us. What a bunch of pansies we are. Pray for our persecuted Brethren.

Thanks to Dr Nick Needham for editing the readings. (Daily Readings: The Early Church Fathers, Edited by Nick Needham, Christian Heritage)

Cranmer: Canon Andrew White: “You have got to be prepared to die for your faith”

Cranmer: Canon Andrew White: “You have got to be prepared to die for your faith”.

Saw this on BBC ‘Newsnight’ last evening.  Andrew White tells it like it is – Dreadful. Very sobering reading from Cranmer. He is right, Christians do seem to be sidelined.

Lecture on Arthur Hildersham

I’ve been a bit remiss and neglected to post a link to the last lecture of 2014. Austin Walker was unable to give his lecture (see next post) but Dr Lesley Rowe ably stepped into the breach with her excellent lecture on Arthur Hildersham & the Plague Summer of 1625.

The parallels between then and our own day shouldn’t be lost on the hearer. Here’s the link – enjoy!

Dr Lesley Rowe – Arthur Hildersham

Cranmer: Canon Andrew White deserves a knighthood

Cranmer: Canon Andrew White deserves a knighthood.

Canon Andrew White is known as ‘The Vicar of Baghdad’. This post by Cranmer makes for very Sober & Prayerful reading.

 

Sudan Christian Meriam Ibrahim ‘detained’ again: Call to Prayer and Action | The Domain for Truth

Sudan Christian Meriam Ibrahim ‘detained’ again: Call to Prayer and Action | The Domain for Truth.

Lots of contact info from The Domain for Truth.

BBC News – Sudan woman faces death for apostasy

Do we really want Sharia law in the UK?

BBC News – Sudan woman faces death for apostasy.

Cranmer: Theresa May seeks to outlaw Christian street preachers

Cranmer: Theresa May seeks to outlaw Christian street preachers.

I didn’t expect such a quick follow-up to yesterdays post about Free Speech & Religious Liberty. I was alerted to the latest move against Free Speech & Religious Liberty in our ever more Totalitarian country through listening to Janet Mefford. Interesting how our American friends see us.

The above link to Cranmer says it all. Some interesting comments as well.

Radical Islam in the House

I’ve started listening to The Janet Mefford Show, downloading (Available through iPlayer) to listen on the way to work. I listened for the first time to Dr Oliphint (Covenantal Apologetics) on the show and was pretty shocked by some of the other stuff – particularly the Homosexual ideology and Islam. I was a bit skeptical to begin with, the concern was if Janet was a fundamentalist nutcase. Some of her callers gave me that impression. But I have to say she has some excellent guests and to be honest I now lament afresh the fact there is nothing like it over here in the UK. It would probably be shut down over here as a show that promotes hate speech – even though that’s far from the truth. Disagreement is becoming more and more problematic. I heard via another online broadcaster (not Janet) the term ‘Gaystapo’ for the first time to describe the Homosexual lobby / agenda / ideology. Whilst the term may not be that helpful I think we get the point. Basically, disagree and expect to be dealt with. And it’s really no different when it comes to Islam. The cry of Islamophobe is fairly common here – we had it from the BBC Question Time audience just last Thursday – compete with (measured) applause.

Back to the point of the post. It was on Janet’s show (yesterday I think) I heard an interview with Dr Michael Coffman to discuss his book ‘Radical Islam in the House’. Whether he went too far in his prognosis is hard to say, but if 10% of what he says is true America (Could be too late for us, unless the Lord graciously steps in) seriously needs to wake up – and fast. I know nothing of Michael Coffman but I’m about to order the book on kindle – here’s the blurb below:

Product DetailsProduct Description
Radical Islam In the House exposes the very real Islamist threat to America. It’s no longer lurking at America’s door, it has already penetrated deeply into the federal government and our culture. The over arching goal of the leadership of every major Islamic sect is to create a global Caliphate or world government.

Iran wants to create world chaos to allow the Shi’ite Muslims to form a Shia Caliphate. While allowing Iran to obtain the nuclear bomb will be catastrophic, there is an equally dangerous Islamist cancer that is systematically Islamizing American politics and culture; Wahhabi Islam.

Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam is the foundation of al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Qaeda uses violence, while the Muslim Brotherhood uses stealth and deception. By preying on political correctness, they have convinced most Americans they are peaceful, share the same God and want to coexist. While peaceful coexistence may be what the average Muslim wants, it is not true of the Islamic Brotherhood leadership. The Brotherhood has a well-developed, step-by-step plan to turn America into an Islamic controlled nation within a few years as part of their world Caliphate.

Nearly all Muslims believe that the return of the Mahdi, their messiah, is eminent. When that happens he will lead Islam into global conquest and a global Caliphate. This story quite literally leaps off the pages of the Bible in ways non-Jews, Christians and even Muslims will find shocking.

Very few Americans know that Obama’s Kenyan family is steeped in Wahhabi Islam, or that prior to the 2008 election Egyptian TV and radio bragged that a Muslim was going to be president. The implications are stunning and should be understood by everyone — before it is too late.

Cranmer: Syria’s al-Qaeda freedom fighters invade Christian village

Cranmer: Syria’s al-Qaeda freedom fighters invade Christian village.

Follow the above for Archbishop Cranmer’s Blog post. Once again this story like most others involving Christian persecution will probably go unnoticed. Cranmer’s concluding paragraphs are:

Under the protection of the mystical Shi’a-Alawites, Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities have been relatively free to live and worship. This will not be the case under the Sunni-Wahhabis (my emphasis). We know that Assad has stockpiles of chemical weapons. He may have used them, but it is by no means certain that he has. What is certain is that the ‘rebels’ which the US and France are about to assist are itching to get their righteous hands upon them (my emphasis). Syria’s nuns do not want to be bombed: a group have written

The Pope has spoken up, patriarchs and bishops have spoken up, numberless witnesses have spoken up, analysts and people of experience have spoken up, even the opponents of the regime have spoken up…. Yet here we all are, waiting for just one word from the great Obama? And if it weren’t him, it would be someone else. It isn’t he who is “the great one,” it is the Evil One who these days is really acting up.

If the US and France assist Syria’s ‘rebels’, Maloula’s nuns and all those who shelter in its convent will eventually be gassed to death in Al-Qaeda’s final solution (my comment: with help of President Obama). Their equation for salvation is simple: Christians + Sarin = Allahu Akbar.