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Want the gospel to go forwards? Lock your church doors.

Here's Vishal Mangalwadi on how the gospel transformed church and culture at the time of the reformation:

Before the Reformation, Roman Catholic Churches were open seven days a week in Holland. The devout went to the church whenever they wanted to meet with God. They would light their candles, kneel, and pray. After the Reformation, the Church leaders decided to lock their churches on Sunday nights. Not because they became less religious, but because they became more religious.

Reformers learned from the Bible that the church was not the only place to meet with God. If God had called you to be a woodcutter, then on Monday morning you ought to meet with God in the forest. If he had called you to be a shoemaker, then on Monday morning he expected you to meet with him on the work bench. If he had called you to be a homemaker, you needed to serve God while taking care of your window plants. (From The Book That Made Your World)

Whenever the gospel is on mute, people will hover around the church, desperate to keep the delicate flame of faith alive. They'll come and "do their bit", light their candle, keep up their devotional practices. The church provides their holiness perch and they're desperate to stay on top of it. Needless to say, the mission of the church is paralysed by such thinking.

But the gospel actually means locking the doors of your church. It tells us: "You are not on a holiness perch, you are in Christ. You are sent. You walk in Him into your true calling. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." And so the mission of the church is served by shutting its doors.

Of course, five centuries on from the reformation we still find many reasons to keep our doors open. There are protestant "candles" we feel we must light. And the missionary flow we endorse runs dry so quickly.

This goes deeper than a scheduling problem. It's not just solved by resolving to hold fewer midweek meetings. It took a reformation to shift the practice of those Dutch churches and it will take a reformation of our own churches to shift our mindset. It's more than a question of administratively releasing people. Are we spiritually releasing them? Do we preach the kind of gospel that liberates our people? Can we genuinely say to them "Go in peace" because we've given them profound gospel confidence? Can we lock the door after them and say "Enjoy! Create! Serve! Love! Share! Be blessed in Christ! See you next week!"?

Or will we keep our doors open, running a thousand church activities and then wondering why no-one has any deep friendships with non-Christians?

On the basis of Christ's gospel and for the sake of His mission, let's lock our church doors.



Are Evangelists a Christian version of the SAS, swooping into dangerous territory to rescue sinners all by themselves?

What is the role of church in evangelism?

What exactly are we inviting non-Christians to?

This is the second episode in our series: Power Evangelism. Andy and Glen discuss the Power of Church. Maybe it should be the body of Christ that reaches out? Maybe it should be the body of Christ we invite people to?

Radical ideas!





Daniel Rowland"I like this tune," I said to my translator above the noise of the choir, "What are they singing?" He almost had to yell: "This is a very popular hymn in Malawi. It's called Just because you go to church doesn't mean you're going to heaven." "Oh" I said, watching the choir dance up and down the aisle, singing the chorus for the 50th time. Someone slid into church late, hoping to go unnoticed. He failed. Perhaps I'm imagining it, but some of the singers seemed to direct their words pointedly at the late-comer:

Just because you go to church doesn't mean you're going to heaven.

Well, it's true. And certainly you can understand the urge to sing it where nominal church attendance abounds. But it doesn't really capture the dominant note of the Bible. You see the Bible, more often than not, speaks of church as heaven.

"You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Because you're going to church you are going to heaven. You see that's also a biblical truth - a central one. I don't mean that every church-goer is guaranteed paradise, I mean that - right now - church is paradise. Forget the final reckoning for a moment, church is heavenly - that's the overwhelming witness of the Bible.

Daniel Rowlands, one of Wales' mightiest preachers, would watch his congregation walking to church on a Sunday and remark: "Here they come, bringing heaven with them."

That's the emphasis in the Bible. And yes, some who came to Rowlands church may be in hell right now. But not because they didn't taste heaven in church, they did (Heb 6:4-8). Everyone did - that's what church is. 

There can be an unhealthy preoccupation among evangelicals with distinguishing the visible church from the invisible elect. We're always looking past the tangible concreteness of our actual brothers and sisters, gathered around the word, the bread and the wine. We want to say "Yeah, whatever, those are just externals. The real issue is down deep in your soul." And so we encourage the spiritually serious among us to be deep-soul-divers, trying desperately to plumb their own depths. All the while it's church - in all its ordinariness - which actually does the deep work in us. The word exposes and heals us, the bread and wine nourish us "deep down", our brothers and sisters en-courage us in ways that nothing else can.

Church is heavenly. Whatever heaven we seek which is not intimately tied to church might just turn out to be a false spirituality. I fear that - in that false sense - there are some people so heavenly minded they're of no churchly use.



all-souls-sign-3I've been asked to write brief answers to six thorny questions:

Hasn't science disproved God?

Is God homophobic?

Why does God appear so violent in the Old Testament?

Are the gospel accounts trustworthy?

Why isn't God more obvious?

Why has the Church caused so much pain?

I've got to keep these under 600 words. I'd love if you could help. What have I missed? What have I got wrong?


Why has the Church caused so much pain?

Not a Liability!

The church is not a liability in mission. The church is God’s mission strategy for the world (Psalm 14:5; Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 2:41-47; Ephesians 3:10-11; 1 Timothy 3:15). Certainly, we can denounce many of the church’s actions, but only because they betray her true nature as Jesus’ bride.

In evangelism training I encourage Christians to consider the statement “That’s what I love about my church...” We need to be able to finish that sentence with genuine enthusiasm and drop it into conversation. We need to invite people into communities that don’t just have the answer to this complaint but who are the answer.

Macro or Micro?

People ask this question in two ways. On the macro level, it’s about crusades, inquisitions and conquistadors. On the micro level, it’s personal: “those people hurt me and they call themselves Christians.” We must figure out which version of the question is being asked.


David Bentley-Hart’s book “Atheist Delusions” does a wonderful job of outlining the Christian revolution from the first century onwards. Church, the world’s largest sociological phenomenon, has also been the champion of the greatest social improvements (e.g. equality, human rights, philanthropy, hospitals, hospices, schools, science, etc). Its failures (e.g. the crusades) occurred precisely when it forsook the teaching of its Lord (Matthew 5:38-48; 26:52-54; John 18:36).

Against this, atheist claims – like Christopher Hitchens’ – that “religion poisons everything” are lazy caricatures. For Hitchens to make his case he had to place Stalin into the religious (and therefore evil) category and Martin Luther King into the non-religious (and therefore benevolent) category. Such intellectual dishonesty is rife in these debates. It surfaces often as the charge that “religion is the cause of all wars”. The briefest glance at 20th century history tells you that God is not the common denominator in war – man is.


When the complaint is closer to home, we, and our local church, should be an exception that disproves their rule. Alongside that, we must point them to the true nature of church...

The Father and His adopted children

Evangelist, Michael Ots tells the story of meeting a family with a very unruly child. Michael was tempted to think poorly of the parents until he learnt the boy was adopted from a difficult background. That one fact transformed his outlook. When you realise God the Father is adopting children out of the most difficult environments you expect different things from the children and you infer different things about the Father.

The Doctor and His Hospital

Many think of Jesus as the Rewarder of the moral, therefore they expect His church to be a society of the superior. Actually Jesus is the Doctor for the spiritually sick (Mark 2:13-17) and His church is a hospital for sinners. No-one criticizes a hospital for attracting the sick!

The Spirit and His ‘works in progress’

Of course the faults of Christians are more evident, the Spirit leads us into a unity and transparency where sins are exposed. Of course our hopes for Christians are dashed more frequently, we expect more from them. But Christians do not claim moral superiority, which is why Christians are not “hypocrites” when we fail. Admission of failure is the very atmosphere of Christianity.

On the other hand, Jesus tells his most famous story about an elder brother who was too good to sit next to his younger brother at the family feast (Luke 15). If we find ourselves unable to join a church with those kinds of people in it – it’s not the church that’s being judgemental.


NoCompromiseLast week  someone asked me where I thought it would all end? All these adaptations the church seems to be making to culture. We used to get hung up on keeping Sunday special, but who is bothered anymore? It was only 20 years ago that the Church of England allowed women priests, but who can deny that women bishops will shortly follow? Right now, much ado is being made about gay marriage, but won't that also seem like an outdated scruple in years to come. Isn't the trend basically one of distinctives gradually eroded away?  And all those conservative Christians who have fought so hard, won't they just watch their children accommodate themselves to the very compromises they so feared?

Trouble is... that predictive model is based on the very thing that is shifting most fundamentally. It's based on the idea of 'Christian Britain' and a church that can expect (and demand!) the state to be at least Christian-ish.  But it seems plain to me that this is the one thing that's really changing. Or rather, this is the reality that's most obviously being revealed in all the other changes. The culture is not Christian-ish.  It's not even Christian-ish-ish.  The church doesn't have the political voice it wants to have. And shouting louder is not helping.  It's basically communicating peripheral issues as our central message (that's what's being heard anyway).

But what if we extrapolate from the real change that's occurring - the realization that the Christian vision of work/rest, men/women, sex and sexuality really isn't the world's?  What then?  Maybe then we'd see church as the place where true rest is enjoyed, true gender relations modeled and true  enjoyment of singleness and marriage nurtured. And we'll see the world as a place that almost must find the way of Christ baffling and wrong.

If we follow that trajectory then, yes, we'll have to accept persecution as part of the deal. But I'm pretty sure we all signed up to that at the outset, and, on the upside, it means that we're not at all destined to ever-increasing compromise. Nor are we doomed to fight all our battles for peripheral issues like sex.  In fact we  might actually find our churches modelling a counter-culture more distinctive than ever.  Meanwhile, those who focus the battle on Westminster may find that they are being just as defined by the culture as 'the compromisers' (even if negatively).

I'm no kind of culture-vulture and I couldn't spot a political trend if it tap-danced on my face. But it seems to me that whatever trajectory we're on, it does not need to end in a loss of Christian distinctives. Instead in might be the birth of some real distinctives. What's more it may help us re-assign resources to the true front line - the church - as we re-centre ourselves on our true mission - proclaiming Jesus.


unitarian worshipContinued from here...

In his book, "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace", James Torrance sums up much of the teaching we're considering, especially as he highlights the difference between Unitarian and Trinitarian worship.

Unitarian and Trinitarian Worship

According to Torrance these are the two broad models of worship.  Unitarian worship is not necessarily that offered by Unitarians – most often it simply reflects the functionally monadic doctrine of God latent in our congregations.  Worship on this model sees only two parties – the LORD who is simply the recipient of worship; and the human worshipper (or congregation) who may be divinely enabled and empowered but who, nonetheless, is wholly responsible for performing the worship.

As against this, Trinitarian worship recognizes that God the Father has set forth God the Son to be the True High Priest who, by God the Spirit, offers to the Father that which He demands.  Worship is therefore not the efforts of humanity in approaching God but a participation in Christ’s perfect worship of the Father, graciously offered through the Spirit.

This, in turn, leads to different accounts of intimacy.  On the Unitarian model, intimacy is an ideal to be reached (if only we can raise our moral and mystical games).  We are external to God and must figure out how to approach Him in an acceptable way.  The only priesthood here is our priesthood.  The only offering involved is our offering.  The only intercession is our intercession.  And if we get all these things right, then, perhaps, we will attain to a measure of intimacy.

On the Trinitarian model, adoption into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit is the incomparable intimacy which guarantees true and acceptable worship.  The order is thus reversed. Worship does not bring us near to God.  Rather ‘the blood of Christ’ has brought us near (Ephesians 2:13) that ‘through Him we… have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:18).  Blood-bought intimacy with God is the beginning of true worship – not an added bonus when the mood is right.

The Perfect and Eternal Priesthood of Christ guarantees our acceptable worship before the Father.  Therefore we're always late to worship. We're always joining something that is already under way. We begin our worship in the embrace of the divine love – our worship is merely God’s appointed means of experiencing such intimacy.

How then do we worship?

When we think of "intimacy with God", what do we picture?  Probably we're thinking of a private experience.  But in the Bible our intimacy with the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit is expressed corporately.  In community we reflect the Triune life to which we have been called.  As a community we are Christ’s Body and Bride.  A merely private intimacy with God is a rejection of the terms on which we have been offered fellowship.  It's true that worship of God is 24/7 (Romans 12:1ff).  And it's true that I am continually 'one with Christ', whether by myself or with others. But consider the marriage analogy.  I may be 'one with my wife' even when we're separated by oceans.  Yet our experience of intimacy comes with setting aside times and places.  So it is with our experience of intimacy - the Scriptures envisage corporate fellowship with God, as we gather.

The Gathering

Acts 2:42 gives four characteristic marks of the post-Pentecost church: the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship (koinonia), the breaking of bread and prayer.

Firstly, the Word is set forth. This is essential.  The Spirit brings us Christ through the Word since, as Calvin would say, Christ comes clothed in His promises.  There is no unmediated or self-generated approach to God.  It is of the essence of grace that God approaches us at His initiative and by His appointed means.  In the Bible, Christ is offered to us freely in words of promise.  God has ordained that ‘faith comes by hearing’ (Romans 10:17), thus the Bible must be at the absolute centre.  There ought not to be any meeting without the Word. When Luther wrote ‘Concerning the Order of Public Worship’ he advised: ‘Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course… We can spare everything except the Word.  Again we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.’

‘The fellowship’ is an objective, Spirit-created, communion to which believers are to be ‘devoted’.  This fellowship subsists in the organic union we share as the Body of Christ.  In it we are given various gifts and roles for our mutual edification and mission to the world (cf 1 Cor 12-14).  To be devoted to this involves the exercise of gifts in ministering to one another (cf Romans 12:4-8) and practical, costly service (eg 1 John 3:17-18).

'The breaking of bread' we take to be sacramental (hence the).  Along with the preached Word, the dispensing of the sacraments was taken by reformers as the other defining mark of a true Church.  Christ has given us Himself in this supper through 'visible words' (Augustine's phrase).  Via these, we ‘feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving’ (Cranmer's phrase).  This sacrament is communal by its very nature – uniting us with Christ and each other.  It ought to be a genuine high point in our gatherings though always attended by the Word, by clear teaching on its purpose, and eaten in peaceable fellowship with all (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

Corporate prayer is an essential part of worship.  The prayer Jesus taught His disciples was corporate – ‘Our Father’.  The Spirit equips the Bride to call on her Husband ‘Come’ (Revelation 22:17).  Prayer is an activity of the Church and one that expresses our complete dependence on, and devotion to, the Lord.  Our intimacy with God could not be more evident than when the Father sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts “who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).  All kinds of prayers should therefore be made in our services – prayers of praise (Revelation 5:9-14), of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20), of confession (Nehemiah 9) and of supplication (1 Timothy 2:1ff).


Right worship is possible only on the basis of our intimate union with Christ, under-written by His blood and sealed by His Spirit.  Intimacy should not be held out as the goal of Christian worship but the ground.  Our experience of intimacy with the Triune God comes as we appreciate that which is already ours in Christ.

Grace, therefore, is the very atmosphere of Christian worship since Christ, our great High Priest, has already performed the perfect service to God.  Even worship is a gift that comes from on high – not a work to be generated by us. We receive the benefits of His priestly worship through faith-union with Him, and we experience, understand and deepen that union especially in corporate worship.

The Communion of Father, Son and Spirit is known most fully in the communion of His people.  This happens as the Spirit works through word and sacrament, through a communal lifting of our hearts in prayer and through mutual encouragement, to awaken us to Christ’s presence in and with us.  As we grasp and appreciate Him we know our exalted position, caught up in the intimate life of God Himself.


Ephesians Sit Walk Stand

A Sermon on Ephesians 4:1-16

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The Christian life is a down-hill WALK.

It’s also a battle, we’ll see that in chapter 6. There are forces to STAND against. But we STAND because we hold the high ground.  And if you hold the high ground, you don’t need to advance, you don’t need to retreat, you don’t need to go anywhere. You just STAND in the strength of Jesus.

But this is the Christian life: First SIT at God's right hand in Christ. Understand all that we have.  Then WALK out into the world and, all the while, be prepared to STAND against the enemy’s schemes.  But notice this: NOTHING in the Christian life is about uphill struggle. NOTHING.

There is a WALK out into the world. There is a STAND to take against spiritual powers. But there’s never a climb.  Jesus has climbed. He's the only one.  We sit, we walk, we stand, we never climb. We are already on top of the world.  We have gone to heaven already, in Christ.  We have the fullness of God.  And now, what’s life about?

What’s the essence of this WALK? What’s the goal of this wonderful gospel?

In a word: CHURCH...


communityLeon preached a corker tonight at Emmanuel, Plymouth.

From Psalm 84 he answered the question, Why isn't church more exciting?

We're the only source of life for this dying world.

We're the only place where people can meet with God.

We're the only place where the broken and hurt can find healing and refuge.

We're the only place on earth where God lives.



God's Mission Strategy: The Church

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I wonder if any of you said this sentence this week:

I wish we could have a jubilee weekend every year.

I said that this week, did you?

I even heard one person from this church, who shall remain nameless,

We should have a jubilee weekend every week.

Three day working weeks, what do you think about that?  As far-fetched as that sounds, the Bible’s got an even bigger holiday to imagine: What about a whole year of Jubilee celebrations?

In the Bible “the Jubilee” lasts all year.  Did you know jubilee originated in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, every 50 years they had a Jubilee celebration – and it lasted all year.

But the Bible’s Jubilee is very different to our Jubilee celebrations.  In the Bible, Jubilee is very much about the commoners, not the royals.  It’s very much about the underprivileged.  The Bible’s Jubilee was for the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved and the indebted.  It was a massive levelling of wealth and privilege.

You’re thinking, what’s that got to do with Nehemiah 5?  It’s got everything to do with Nehemiah 5.  Let me explain...

Every 50 years, Jubilee was proclaimed and all debts were cancelled, all slaves were freed, all accumulated wealth was redistributed, everyone returned to their ancestral home and they all take the whole year off.

Leviticus 25 says this:

Count off 49 years... Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land.  10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

13 “‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.  (Leviticus 25:10-13)

There’s plenty more in Leviticus 25 but let me summarize.  In the Year of Jubilee all debts are cancelled; all slaves are freed; all accumulated wealth is redistributed; everyone returns to their homeland.  And notice where it all begins?  It all begins with the Day of Atonement.

If you understand the Day of Atonement, you’ll understand Jubilee.  And if you understand Jubilee, you’ll understand Nehemiah 5....

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