Thursday, May 18, 2017

FIEC in Scotland - Free Church of Scotland Article

An article published in 'The Record' (Monthly Magazine of the Free Church of Scotland).

‘If you can do it on your own, it’s not big enough’, was the strapline of a recent FIEC Mission Day held in Edinburgh – but it could equally be the motto for all churches and groups with a heart to see Scotland reached for Christ. The Fellowship of Independent Churches is one such group and is delighted to share that ambition with the Free Church of Scotland.

FIEC is a UK wide network of over 560 Independent Churches (including Brethren, Congregational, Baptist, Missions Halls…) who are united by strong evangelical convictions and a vision to see local churches strengthened and supporting each other. In other words while FIEC churches are ‘independent’ as regards their governance they know that being separatist or existing in isolation is not a Biblical model.

In Scotland, which historically has had a relatively small constituency of independent churches, there are currently 23 affiliated churches along with another 30 pastors connected to FIEC’s Pastors’ Network. It is nonetheless a growing network and encouragingly includes four new Church Plants in Huntly, Buckhaven, Glasgow (Barlanark) and most recently in Orkney. Other churches who have joined in recent years include Harper Church in Glasgow, Niddrie Community Church and Charlotte Chapel in the capital.

A proliferation of new Independent Churches
A key FIEC conviction is that there is no substitute for healthy and outward looking local churches if the gospel is to flourish again in Scotland. In recent years while there has been decline in some sections of the church there has been a proliferation of new Independent churches. New churches that will be increasingly needed in evangelising unreached areas and new communities. In this FIEC exists to help connect them with each other and to a big vision for gospel growth across the whole nation.

Almost every Independent church would want to see Church Planting and Revitalisations taking place nationwide, they would want to see new gospel workers being raised up and well trained, and they would want to see those gospel workers being supported and cared for. The reality is however, that such aspirations are often beyond the capacity of individual churches and remain unachievable for them. Alternatively a group of likeminded churches partnering together have the potential to give those gospel desires concrete expression.

FIEC means that an Independent church on the Black Isle can help a Church Plant in Glasgow get legal help setting up its constitution, a church in the borders can support the training of a student in Edinburgh, or a church in Shetland can help support a sick pastor in Ayrshire. In short FIEC allows Independent Churches to have something of the vision and capability of a gospel denomination like the Free Church.

In practical terms this is being worked out in initiatives such as the Certificate of Independent Church Ministry at ETS. The course is designed for students and others who are considering ministry in Independent Churches and gives an appreciation of the history, ecclesiology and practicalities of serving in a self-governing church. Along with this has been the FIEC initiated Pathways Conferences for men and women thinking about vocational ministry options. In the past two years these events have helped almost 100 men and women think through issues such as ‘the Call’, the character, and the challenge of Christian ministry today.

Care of Workers
FIEC pastors and church leaders are connected together in a ‘Link Pastor’ network to help ensure that no-one need feel isolated or out-on-a-limb because they serve in an Independent church. Additional support in this area has also been provided by pastoral retreats and day conferences which provide refreshment and fellowship for those in the front line of church life.

Reaching Scotland
The big challenge for all gospel-hearted people is, of course, the desperate spiritual state of the nation. With over 90% of the Scottish population lost and increasingly ignorant of the gospel the need for Bible-believing Christians to stand together and clearly proclaim Christ has never been greater. Because no one group, however dynamic, can meet that need on its own – all are needed and all have a part to play. FIEC is just one of those groups and thus we particularly value our deepening friendship with the Free Church and its big hearted gospel generosity towards us.

So please pray for FIEC and its work supporting Independent Churches – pray that such churches will have a big vision for the gospel, that being Independent won’t stop them partnering with other committed evangelicals, and that their part in the great task of making Christ known in the nation will be a fruitful and God-glorifying one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ian Brady was evil and that's a fact.

It was Bertrand Russell who made the statement, “‘Dachau is wrong’ is not a fact.” In other words, while he was appalled by the Nazi Concentration Camp he nonetheless struggled to see an objective basis for calling it ‘wrong’. Russell of course, was simply being consistent in applying his atheistic world view – in a meaningless universe where everything is ultimately arbitrary what basis can there be for such moral absolutes?

Today’s news of the death of Ian Brady the notorious ‘Moors Murderer’ seems to be causing some people a similar quandary. One contributor to Radio 4’s Today programme was reluctant to call Brady ‘evil’ as it was a term that had ‘religious connotations’. Instead he seemed more comfortable in seeing Brady’s crimes as the escalation of earlier sadistic and violent behaviour (which they undoubtedly were).   

Well, as others have pointed out, if your world view isn’t able to look at someone torturing and murdering five children and call them ‘evil’ – then perhaps there is something deeply flawed about your world view.

Blinding or illuminating
Psychology and social sciences have contributed hugely to our understanding of human behaviour - but all such enquiry, if detached from the notion of a moral universe, is in danger of blinding rather than illuminating us. To see Dachau or Brady as just being dysfunctional behaviour or simply sitting on an amoral continuum of possible human activity, is to reduce ourselves to little more than mechanistic animals.  It strips us of ultimate moral responsibility and indeed of ultimate moral accountability.

The rejection of ‘evil’ as an objective moral category is in part driven by the hubris that humanity can explain itself and thus fix itself. So by turning the actions of Brady into observable processes we are able to rationalise them, and if we can rationalise them we can rectify them. But as most of us know from personal experience human behaviour is frequently irrational and defies mechanistic explanations.

It is only the recognition that there is a spiritual/Godward dimension to our lives that can allow us to truly comprehend ourselves, never mind Ian Brady.

The reality of evil
So far from being a product of religious imagination ‘evil’ is a reality – a reality that affects and infects every person. At its deepest level evil is not simply behaviour that we find distasteful or upsetting – it is a condition. Biblically it is the dislocation of men and women from the source of their life and purpose. It is the rejection of God and thus the rejection of objective morality. A rejection that inevitably leads to conflict, self-assertion and the manipulation of others.  It is why Jesus was clear that even the best of humanity is ‘evil’ in God’s sight and that apart from God Himself there is no-one ‘good’ (Luke 11:12, Mark 10:18)

So Ian Brady was evil and that’s a fact. But, in the eyes of God, you and I are also evil and that’s also a fact. Our offences might not be grizzly and tabloid (thank God), but we have each stood apart from God, made up our own rules, violated our consciences and pursued self-gratification at the expense of others.

Inexcusable but not unforgivable
We cannot simply explain ourselves as corks powerlessly thrown about on a sea of haphazard materialism or victims of circumstance – we are responsible moral beings because there does exist a supreme moral standard. We are evil and we are culpable – no more excuses.

Yet the staggering message of the Gospel is that even though we are inexcusable we are not unforgiveable. The Gospel is painfully blunt about our evil and its consequences, it offers us no ‘get outs’ but amazingly holds out the prospect of forgiveness. It points us to a place where evil was laid bare and its horrors exhausted so that guilty people could be forgiven and go free. Because we can no more fix ourselves without God than we can truly understand ourselves.  

Ian Brady will now give an account of himself to God and face the consequences of his evil. The call of the Gospel is to take responsibility for our own evil, to look to the Cross of Jesus Christ and ask for mercy in the here and now.

Jesus Christ came to save you, me and the worst of sinners. And that’s a fact.