Thursday, 5 January 2012

A Home for the Huguenots in London

Orange Street Congregational Church is located in the heart of London, between Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square, and west of St Martin’s in the Field, and stands on the site of a Huguenot chapel, established in 1693. This Huguenot-founded church was opened and dedicated on Easter Eve 1693 by its first minister Daniel Chamier. It was then known as the Temple Of Leicester Fields, the name by which the Huguenots called their meeting houses, as in those days the Leicester Square district was indeed a "district of fields." 

It was there, and at Spitalfields, that a large number of Huguenots settled after fleeing the terrible persecutions of Protestants in France. From the reign of Francis I to that of the opulent Louis XIV, these French Christians, mainly Calvinists, had endured tortures of every conceivable kind. Many escaped, as best they could, to such places as England, Holland, Prussia, Switzerland and the bright new world – the United States of America. 

France thus lost a host of fine men and women of piety, industry and ability, and England gained many. The refugee communities were composed of nobles, clergy, physicians, soldiers, manufacturers and artisans, the latter of whom taught their English brothers the arts and crafts they had learned in their forsaken France.

The records show that Jean Pierre Stehelin, minister of the Orange Street Church from 1736 to 1753, "made himself a perfect master of the seventeen languages: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, English, French, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, Arabic, Chaldean Gothic, Old Tudesco or Druid, Anglo-Saxon, besides Spanish, Portuguese and Welsh." 

Charles de la Guiffardierre, an able minister, was a great favourite at court, and read French to the Princesses and to Queen Charlotte. 

It is believed that Jacques Saurin, the famous French Calvinist and scholar, preached in the church many times. Saurin was born in NĂ®mes, Jan. 6, 1677, died at the young age of almost 54 at the Hague on Dec. 30, 1730. His family went to Geneva after the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685. In 1694 he entered the English service as a cadet under Lord Galway, afterward served in Piedmont, and then returned to Geneva and studied theology. In 1701 he became pastor of the Walloon church in London. He remained there four years, and passed the rest of his life at the Hague, acquiring a great reputation as a preacher.  When hearing him preaching, Dean Jacques Abbadie asked, "Is it a man speaking or an angel?" "To tell the truth", said Weiss, "no preacher among the Catholics or the Protestants could be compared to this sublime genius, whose inspiration is equalled only by that of the ancient prophets, and of the most illustrious among the Fathers of the Church."  It was in all likelihood that it was during this time that he preached in Orange Street church.  What an accolade to be paid to any man.

Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), the famous scientist whose house was adjacent to and possessed by, the church, where he settled in 1696, and attended the services and heard Saurin regularly. So did Newton's niece, Catherine Barton, a close acquaintance of Dean Swift. It has been said of the preacher, who was young and singularly handsome, that as he warmed to his subject the silence of the intent congregation was "almost painful." 

At the time of the revival under the John and Charles Wesley, the Orange Street Church passed from French to English Protestantism, when the friends of the Rev. Augustus M. Toplady secured the chapel for the evening services. The building was licensed by Dr. Terrick, Bishop of London, and a new era began. 

After preaching at various London churches, Toplady became minister at Orange Street. About this time, he published many hymns, the best known of which is Rock of Ages, first sung in Orange Street. 

In 1787, being badly in need of repair, Orange Street Church was closed and the congregation migrated elsewhere. Later the same year it passed from the Church of England into the hands of the Nonconformists, becoming a Congregational Church, with the Rev. John Townsend as its pastor. 

This enduring Huguenot foundation has had many well-loved ministers, including Samuel Luke, whose wife, Jemima, wrote that delightful children's hymn, I think when I read that sweet story of old. So at least two of our best-known hymns are associated with the church as well as the list of illustrious Huguenot preachers who donned the pulpit there.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Unhappy Muslims!

  The Muslims are not happy!
They're not happy in Gaza.
They're not happy in Egypt .
They're not happy in Libya .
They're not happy in Morocco .
They're not happy in Iran .
They're not happy in Iraq .
They're not happy in Yemen .
They're not happy in Afghanistan .
They're not happy in Pakistan .
They're not happy in Syria .
They're not happy in Lebanon .

So, where are they happy?

They're happy in Australia .
They're happy in England .
They're happy in France .
They're happy in Italy .
They're happy in Germany .
They're happy in Sweden .
They're happy in the USA .
They're happy in Norway .
They're happy in every country that is not Muslim.
And who do they blame?

Not Islam.
Not their leadership.
Not themselves.

Excuse me, but
 how stupid can you get?

The Church Our Mother?

Augustine was surely correct when he said that if God is our Father, the church must also be our Mother.  This view was also endorsed by John Calvin (1509-1564).  But when that ‘mother’ turns out to be an abusive one, uncaring, unloving; when she becomes unfaithful to her Husband and flirts with other gods, thus becoming unfaithful, when she becomes drunk with notions of her own self-importance, blinded by power and pounds, when she becomes the end of all things, she then has departed from her high calling – to be the Bride of Christ, and to submit to His will in all things. When that mother turns from and against the very children her Husband gave to her, and treats them in a most abusive manner, the entire scenario has changed drastically. The sad reality is that it is the blood-bought church of Christ that behaves in this despicable way!

Yet when preachers tell their congregations that it is their Christian duty to commit to ‘mother church,' regardless of her track record, then they have gone too far.  And some just that!  They have taken Augustine and Calvin totally out of context, and made what they say a Christian requirement.  That it is is not doubted; but whether Christians are required to submit to an abusive mother is another question altogether. 
In society at large, if anyone suggested that children commit to a mother who has proved to be abusive towards her children, they would be roundly turned upon, and let know what reasonable people think about such a suggestion.  Also, if it was even suggested that children have a duty to submit to what has proved to be an abusive mother, the full rigour of the law would be called into action.  But not in the church.  I have heard very senior churchmen say o radio that his church was a family centred church, meaning that looking after the family lay at the centre of its concerns.  But where is the proof, where's the evidence that this is the case?  Are ministers also entitled to be cared fr and looked after well by the church?  When ministers are subjected to indescribable abuse at the hands of the church and her authorities, then she forfeits any right to be regarded as a good mother.   In fact, in society and in the natural realm, her children would be taken from her - and rightly so!

Call in the Church Authorities for Jesus!

Our Lord Jesus Christ was the meekest and most loving Man Who ever walked this earth.  He went about doing good because He had a heart for God and for people.  He not only taught the people the ways of God, but actually showed God to them.  When they saw Him, they saw the Father. 

But the more His disciples stayed with Him and learned from Him, the more clearly they saw the implications of what He was saying for them.  The stage came when His followers said that he was saying “hard” things to them, and they just could not hack it. 

So what did they do?  They walked no longer with Him, (Jn.6:66).  They voted with their feet.  They cut their links with Him because He was saying things to them that they did not like!  Indeed, they were not prepared to have Christ to rule over them.  They were living rebellious lives, shown in their hearty rejection of the Son of God’s teaching and His legitimate demands on their lives. 

Now, let’s bring this into the 21st century.  Here was the church gathered together to be taught the Word of God by none other than Christ Himself.  But what He was saying to them was not finding favour with the members or with the elders.   They had tried to get Him to change His teaching and the way he was preaching, but he refused.  And He refused because He saw that it was the refusal to submit themselves to His discipline that they were saying these false things.

So what do they do?  They set up a delegation to meet with the Presbytery to inform them that this Man is teaching things that they have not heard before, and they wanted Presbytery to persuade Him not to continue in this way, but to tone down His preaching.  Indeed, what He was preaching to them was wholly inappropriate for that particular group of people.  They were the most religious people around.  OK, they didn’t believe everything their faith taught them, but most of it.  Jesus taught about the need for the ‘new birth,’ but they didn’t believe that kind of thing; in fact, it was irrelevant so far as they were concerned. 

Now the Presbytery was in a pickle!  These men regarded themselves as the only people who were holding to the traditional faith, most others having departed from it years ago.  They were the true defenders of the faith, and they only.  They held to the traditions, unlike those who weakened under slight pressure.  They were the people!  Now this new preacher has come amongst them and He is preaching what they ought to have been preaching and weren’t (though they believed that they did preach the true faith faithfully).  Yes, there was some overlap between them, but what made His preaching stand out was that He was making clear what they were saying in riddles.  He was dividing the congregation, whereas they were assuming that because their hearers had professed their faith they were genuine Christians.  They had no place in their thinking for the false, or spurious, professor.

But Jesus believed in and taught that it was possible to make a false profession of faith.  Yes, He cautioned carefulness when dealing with this situation, and to give the benefit of the doubt to the weak Christian.  But He gave no place whatever to the religious professors who persisted in their unbelief.  And that’s where the ‘rubber hit the road.’  He drew the distinction; and the Presbytery could not handle it.  Their primary concern was for the church, their denomination, not the Gospel.  They had to maintain their church structures at all costs, and keep the members on board, irrespective of the consequences for the preacher.

How do Presbyteries ‘resolve’ situations like these?  Well, the truth is the first thing that is set at naught.  Let’s forget about the Gospel issue, and let us work on the assumption that all parties believe the Gospel – we’ll not even question that presupposition.  They are all Gospel people, so we will deal with what is essentially a breakdown in inter-personal relationships.   The congregation is committed to the biblical Gospel and so is this preacher. So to remove the troublesome preacher will maintain the gospel in the church and enable things to get back to where they were before his arrival.  Right?

Wrong, and a thousand times ‘wrong.’  What a false assumption it is that the church is infallible – a distinctly Roman doctrine which reformed churches have now embraced.  To remove the man who is teaching and preaching the Gospel may well be, in the providence of God, God’s way of removing His candlestick from that church!  Oh, church authorities need to be very, very careful.  To remove the herald of a clear Gospel message, and then replace him with a “good churchman,” is essentially an attack on the Gospel of Christ.  It is to say, in this practical and observable way, that the Gospel clearly preached and applied has no place in our church/denomination.  The peace and unity of the church is more important that the Gospel, even though church unity and congregational unity can only be on the basis of the Gospel.  But forget that.  Silence this clear preaching, and then the church will settle down.

How wrong church leaders can be in these matters!  Is it cowardice that drives them?  Or, the desire to be seen as ‘good churchmen’?  Or, are they, as Al. N. Martin, would describe them, “wicked pragmatists”?  Has the church become much more important to them than the Gospel?  Have they lost their concern for the souls of their members?  Has the Gospel of Christ been discounted to this extent?  It seems so.  But the lesson here is that no church can deal so shabbily with the Gospel without their being serious consequences to follow.  So beware!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

"Church Society" Polarisation

There is growing polarisation between the communities in Northern Ireland, according to research carried out by Dr Peter Shirlow, UU, c.2000.  His research suggests that the communities in Northern Ireland are further polarised now than they were before the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998.  Social polarisation is a current reality forthis part of the world.

Yet, what is happening in society is but a reflection of what is going on within the Christian church here.  The main, that is, larger denominations are theologically liberal and ecumenical, while smaller one have been imbibing the attitudes of liberalism for many years.  Then, when the biblical Gospel arrives in these churches, they do not know what has hit them.  At first, the congregations tolerate this new message, but as the impact of the gospel begins to register on their minds, there is an antagonism welling up within a section of the membership, which eventually spills out into outright opposition to the minister and his message.  Polarisation within the congregation is created, and this infiltrates into the wider denomination, forcing ministers to take sides either with the gospel or against it. 

This is happening within the churches at this time.  What we see in the country is a true reflection of what is happening in wider society.  Hence, there should be no great surprise at what is happening within Northern Ireland's divided society.  It is a case of "like church, like people."  A hopelessly divided evangelical church can but create an equally hopelessly divided society.

Northern Ireland knows what this is like, for the contexts are similar.  But, it must be qualified to a degree because our nearest international neighbour, the Irish Republic, acted as a bad neighbour when in the early seventies and under Jack Lynch’s premiership, it supported, financed and trained republican terrorists (the IRA) to engage in acts of international terrorism against the UK.  Over the years, other premiers gave their support to IRA terrorism, and to its allegedly political counterpart, Sinn Fein.  

In like manner, it is neighbours who are involved in opposing the Gospel of God (Rom.1:1).  These people belong to a different kingdom, serve a different master, and march to a different drum beat.  the Gospel people belong to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, whereas their enemies belong to the Prince of darkness, Satan.  Their aspirations are fundamentally different, the one excluding the other, and their methods are also fundamentally different.  The very existence of these two kingdoms means that there will be strife and conflict and outright war between them.  There will be casualties on either side, and the capacity of Christ's kingdom will grow and increase, being strengthened by the power of God's might (Eph.6:10).  The other kingdom has already been defeated, but its master has not yet informed his servants; but time, and eternity, will tell.

In the Northern Ireland situation, those attackers were from our own towns and countryside, our neighbours; they spoke the same language, or at least used the same vocabulary.  It was neighbour who set up neighbour for attack and assassination and it was neighbour who passed on information to terrorists about the movements of neighbours who were security forces personnel.  Most of the terrorist attacks came from within Northern Ireland, but they found the proximity of the Irish Republic most convenient to escape to after completing their dastardly deeds.  

The context of the church tells the same sorry tale.  The people who are setting up the minister for attack probably live on the same street or road, or in the neighbouring farm or district; they have been friends for years. They, too, speak the same language and use the same vocabulary, but the difference is that they mean totally different things by the words they use.  They talk amongst themselves, passing on the latest information that is opposed to the best interests of the minister and of the Gospel he preaches.  Sometimes they operate in small numbers so as not to draw attention to themselves, while on others they will only work in larger numbers, where they have the numerical strength to intimidate those "Christians."  Like wolves, they meet in packs and come together when they consider it safe to do so - they do this without realising that there is nowhere safe for the enemies of the Gospel to be.  Their purpose? To tear the minister and his supporters in the Gospel to pieces, if they possibly can.  After their foray is over, they return to the safe haven of their Irish Republic - their homes and into their familiar communities.

This is church life in Northern Ireland - not unlike societal life in Northern Ireland.  And in common with both, there will be and can be no coming together unless and until God sovereignly and graciously changes hearts and gives to all a completely new disposition - one of love to Christ and his Gospel.

What do you think of this analysis?  Are the parallels between the two situations acceptable?  Do you see them? In fact, this is not just a parable about life in NI; this can be taken to any place on earth, and you will find that the Kingdom of Light is being opposed and attacked relentlessly by the kingdom of darkness.  But GOD MUST WIN!

Can You Really Blame Christians...!

It is a fact that those Christians who associate with the everlasting Gospel of salvation have possibly never felt so excluded from the church as they now do with the current ecclesiastical processes that have been initiated by church leaders.  Their feeling of estrangement and alienation from the entire church process is palpable.  They feel excluded from the very ministries that were established to help them recover, make spiritual progress, to claim back their lives again, and to give them a better future.  Many see no point in getting actively in their local church, for, to them, it is nothing but a battlefield where in-fighting is the order of the day.  And sadly, this growing apathy will create further detachment from and disenchantment with church life in Northern Ireland. Apathy does not serve the purposes of Christian service and evangelism; on the contrary...

Why cannot the church authorities see this?  Why is there no one with spiritual maturity who can recognise what is really going on within church life today? Have church leaders, on the basis of the Peter Principle (a principle known within management circles), been "promoted to the level of their incompetence"?  The situation is becoming increasingly worse by the day.  When you see godly ministers being hounded to within an inch of their lives by church members and elders, with the majority of people being best categorised as 'on-lookers' and 'bystanders,' people who simply could not care less about what is going on so long as it doesn't happen them or in their church, then genuine support for such godly pastors is not a given.  

This is exactly the situation in Bosnia today.  The majority of the people feel desperately cut-off from mainline society, a situation that creates feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and alienation.  This is not just in the former Yugoslavia and among the Bosnian people - this is happening to Christian ministers and pastors in our country!  In Bosnia, you could generally well who your enemy is; but in Northern ireland, the enemy operates from the shadows, skulks around corners, uses others for cover, and generally wrecks havoc in the church of Christ.  A godly minister cannot always or readily tell who the enemy is!  

Further, what disillusions God's people there is the fact that in some cases, leadership positions within the churches are held by unscrupulous people.  In Bosnia, what hurts the people very deeply is that war-lords now hold very senior position within the government, men who are well known for their human rights violations, and who are war criminals.  Sadly, a growing number of Christian people view their leaders in a similar way - they just do not trust them to do the right thing, namely, to defend and promote the Gospel witness of the church.  

In light of all this, can you really blame Christians for not wanting to get involved in their churches?  What can you say to real Christians who adopt this position?  What biblical counsel can you give them?

Monday, 2 January 2012

Churches Are Dangerous Places for Christians!

This is an utter shame within the Christian church.  There are many ministers and manse families that are being persecuted by the church members and elders and fellow ministers.  The absence of empathy shown to them by their colleagues and other church members is appalling. They are hounded, stalked, hated, set-up to fall, entrapped, wrong-footed, etc, all in an attempt to bring the servant of the Lord down.

What is more hurtful is that when these people, when they fail to get at the minister, re-focus their attention and attacks on his wife.  She is most vulnerable, is the homemaker, and feels for her husband when he is being attacked and hurt.  She carries burdens as wife and mother and homemaker that no one else knows anything about.  On top of all, she does not always know everything about what's is going on, and that exasperates her anxiety.  When her husband is attacked, she is attacked; and so are her/their children.  And all this happens within the church of Jesus Christ, the caring profession par excellence.  If that is care for each other, then dear help the church members.  From another perspective, church members often receive more care than does the minister's wife.  But that's for another day/post.

Often, the enemies of the Gospel, whether they are Christians or not, will turn their depraved attention to the manse children and use them to get at their father.  Oh how utterly inexcusable such a policy is.  And this happens.  not only did I find myself the focus and target of Gospel enemies within the church, so also did my wife and our children. I now of other manse families where exactly the same had been done.  And it's very hurtful.

It is evident that where loyalty to the firm supercedes loyalty to Christ and the Gospel, those whose orientation is the opposite of that are deemed to be expendable.  These 'firm's men' see that manse family as being expendable, unwelcome, surplus to requirements.

This reminds me of the experiences of the Bosnian people at the hands of their enemies, where they became an unwanted population in their own land.  The terrifying message: "You do not belong in our society.  You should be isolated, humiliated and extinguished" is not unknown to both communities in Northern Ireland, and in church life in Northern Ireland.  We have had the "Brits out" call from nationalist republicans for many years, and despite their attempts to limit this mantra to the British Army and British institutions, they have not convinced the pro-British community that they are exempted from this call.  Church-based opposers of the Gospel are making precisely the same call concerning those who stand for the Gospel.  They want these Gospel people out at all costs.  The "ethnic cleansing" and genocide that was enacted against the pro-British community along the border region is proof of that nationalist republican policy.  In many church denominations in Ulster, there is the ecclesiastical form of ethnic cleansing and genocide, but few are able to recognise it as such.  People from this grouping have been excluded from their local towns for shopping purposes, excluded from many of the normal social activities of any normal society, and ministers and their families are likewise being made to feel most unwelcome in many places. 

What happened in national Bosnia between 1993 and 1996, has been happening under the cover of "church" for many years in Northern Ireland.  Faithful evangelicals are no more welcome within these denominations today than the Bosniacs were in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The message they too are hearing is, "You are not welcome in our church.  We are not used to that kind of preaching.  We are not heathens, so go and take your 'born again' message to those outside the church and who lives on the streets.  We are respectable people who want to live comfortable lives, lives of ease, so don't bring that message to our church!  We hope the church will isolate you and remove you from our church altogether."  

The lessons from Bosnia are clear, and most disturbing.  The only ones who recognise them are those who are being targeted for 'the treatment.'  The perpetrators of 'the treatment' believe they are doing God a service, just as Paul did in his pre-conversion days!