Tim Farron Resigns as Leader of Lib Dems

I’m sure you’ve seen the news.  Tim Farron has stepped down as leader of the Liberal Democrat political party as he views his leadership of the party as incompatible with his faith in Christ.  Whether you’re supportive of his (and the Lib Dems) policies or not, his situation reveals much about our society’s willingness to tolerate and/or accept traditional Christian views on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.  It is concerning.

Do have a look at his resignation speech in full below:

Farren has written further on the matter in a short blog post for the Spectator here.

Lord David Alton’s, cross bench peer in the House of Lords and committed Christian, perspective on this turn of events is a valuable read.  But, if you can make the time, this analysis from Stephen Kneale deserves careful consideration.  (I don’t know Kneale and am not commending any other of his blog posts.)  Here’s a snippet:

The real irony here is that the progressivist keepers of liberalism are finding they are less tolerant and liberal than Evangelicals. For the Evangelical can maintain something is sinful, such as gay sex, whilst defending homosexual rights and loving their gay neighbour. Evangelicals know, better than most, that we all fall short of God’s standards. We are no less sinners than anyone else. If we are called by Christ to love our enemies, how much more readily can we love people who are not so much our enemies but just disagree with us? Just as we expect non-Christians to defend our right to believe, so we can defend their right to demur. It seems, however, the keepers of progressive liberalism cannot reciprocate. Not only will they not defend to the death your right to say what they dislike, they will insist you stop thinking it and will hound you until you recant at which point they will drive you from public life for not fulsomely affirming their predetermined views at the first time of asking.

Not only are we kidding ourselves if we think we live in a tolerant liberal society, the spirit of Voltaire is dead. Those who claim to be liberal are no longer any such thing.

 

Islam and Violence

In the aftermath of yet another attack by Islamic extremists in Europe, the claim that Islam is ‘truly a religion of peace’ becomes increasingly difficult to accept without question. Much has been written in recent days, but, for me, three great articles stand out as useful for Christian consideration.

Firstly, Adam Taylor writing in the Washington Post, notes the similarities in the regulation of society between ISIS and Saudi Arabia suggesting that we cannot simply dismiss ISIS as an isolated, extreme form of Islam.  The summary graphic created for the article is telling:

The second article appeared on the USA today website and is written by Nabeel Qureshi, a muslim convert to Christianity now working as a Christian evangelist with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  He briefly assesses Quaranic teaching, hadiths and the related Sunnah.  He argues that the literal interpretation of many texts is indeed violent:

Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians (9.29) so that Islam may “prevail over all religions” (9.33). It is fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final chapter of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites (9.44-45). If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys:Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits (9.111).

Muslim thought leaders agree that the Quran promotes such violence. Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation in the United Kingdom, has said, “We Muslims must admit there are challenging Koranic passages that require reinterpretation today. … Only by rejecting vacuous literalism are we able to condemn, in principle, ISIS-style slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation & other medieval practices forever (all of which are in the Quran). … Reformers either win, and get religion-neutral politics, or lose, and get ISIL-style theocracy.”

This is significant in that, for example, ISIS recruiters are appealing not to (perceived) social inequalities of life in the West, but to their scriptures.  Their seemingly persuasive arguments are not so much social or political as they are theological:

I believe what the recruiters themselves say sheds the most insight on the radicalization process. ISIL’s primary recruiting technique is not social or financial but theological. With frequent references to the highest sources of authority in Islam, the Quran and hadith (the collection of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad), ISIL enjoins upon Muslims their duty to fight against the enemies of Islam and to emigrate to the Islamic State once it has been established.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, is an article on the ‘Together for the Gospel’ website by Caleb Greggsen.   Greggson argues that violence has always had a central place in the spread and growth of competing ‘Islamic traditions’.  Each grouping vies for the title of ‘true successors’ to Mohammed.  In doing so, violence is intrinsic to their progress – ‘might is right’ dominates this thinking:

A better question to ask is whether or not there is a legitimate place for violence within Islamic tradition. The answer is yes. The primary means of determining this right [to be recognised as the true successor] in Islam is power. According to Islamic thinking, if you are in power and succeeding, then God is clearly blessing and supporting you. If you are not, then God has chosen not to bless you. Of the first four caliphs after Mohammed, three of them were violently murdered, either by assassination, mob, or in battle, all by “fellow” Muslims who supported other leaders. The first two Islamic dynasties came into power by slaughtering those who held power before them. Islam’s history only gets bloodier from there, since might makes right in a way that is foreign to the Judeo-Christian world. Despite the shocking number of Christians or secular Westerners being killed by Muslims, Muslims are killing even greater numbers of other Muslims.

Whilst violence has characterised Islam throughout history, Greggson adds a biblical perspective noting that:

Physical violence has been a distinguishing mark of all humanity ever since Genesis 4. Violence is not unique to Islam. It’s a distinctive of sinful human hearts. In other words, Islam does not make people violent. Sin does. As a man-made religion, Islam is just one more tool people use to harden the heart and embrace sin.

And here’s the challenge with which Greggson concludes which should give all Christians pause for thought:

We know—or should know—that Muslims are humans created in God’s image and distorted by the fall. They need the same gospel as we do. Muslims are not the enemy, but they are in bondage to him.

Moreover, we cannot let the threat of physical violence prevent us from fulfilling the Great Commission. The gospel is not just for “regular” peaceful Muslims. It is also for those who will try to kill us. The threat of violence challenges the validity of our belief that the gospel is infinitely precious and worthy of being taken to all peoples.

 

Winter Celebration – Thanks!

Thank you so much to all who turned up for our Winter Celebration last Sunday afternoon.  It was a great time of activities, music and crafts.  And the Frozen bouncy castle seemed to be a particular hit.

Thanks in particular to Heather, Nat and Naomi for all their planning and hard work which made it possible.

Peter Tatchell and the ‘Gay Cake’ row

It was with great surprise that I read of Peter Tatchell’s change of mind in his column in Monday’s Guardian newspaper.

2 years ago, a bakery run by confessing evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland, refused to make a cake iced with the slogan, ‘Support Gay Marriage.’  The owners, a young married couple, argued that to refuse to produce the cake was not an act of hatred against gay people, but instead an act of love toward God and an act consistent with their moral position.  Their opposition, they argued, was to the principle rather than the people.

The Equality Commission of Northern Ireland disagreed with them and fined the bakery.  And Peter Tatchell, well known supporter of LGBT issues in the media, was delighted.  But now he has changed his mind – as we all are free to after thoughtful consideration.  He writes that “much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.”

Tatchell’s explanation of his change of heart is fascinating to read.  I agree with his conclusion – an unusual statement to make from someone in my position, I know – as he writes:

The law suit against the bakery was well-intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage and gay blood donors remain banned. The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith and sexuality.

However, the court erred by ruling that Lee was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.The Ashers verdict could encourage far-right extremists to demand the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions

 

His cake request was refused not because he was gay, but because of the message he asked for. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.

We look forward to knowing the outcome of the bakery owners’ appeal.

Sin, encouragement and grace – Wisdom from Spurgeon

It seems almost counter-intuitive. How can a greater knowledge of our falleness actually serve to encourage our hearts in Christ? Surely, considering the depth of our sin will only lead us to despair?

Well, no, argues that great 19th century ‘Prince of Preachers’, Charles Spurgeon. Actually, the biblical truth is quite the opposite. As we understand our true corrupted nature in Adam, our own sin and struggles will no longer surprise us; and the grace of God, by comparison, will be all the greater and more wonderful to us.

“God saw the light that it was good.” This leads me to say to the young Christian, the Lord would have you encouraged. You have been looking at yourself since you have been converted and, perhaps, you have grown desponding, and have cried, “Alas, I am vile! I did not know all that was in me!” No, and you do not know all that is in you now. “But I am so bad.” Let me assure you, you are a great deal worse than you think you are. “Alas, Sir, I see enough to drive me to despair.” Yes, but if you could see the whole truth about yourself, you would be driven to self-despair 10 times over! You are so bad as to be hopeless! And you had better know it, too! I often thank God for teaching me early that my old nature was dead and corrupt, so that nothing has surprised me since. I commenced as a penniless bankrupt and I have, therefore, never become poorer! I began naked and, therefore, I have never lost a rag! I was dead, utterly dead, and therefore I have lost no strength!
It is a necessary thing for you to know that in your flesh there dwells no good thing. “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither, indeed, can be.” Put that down at the first, as an ascertained fact, and then nothing will amaze you afterwards! Your nature is incorrigible and incurable! But there is gracious light in you which God has put there and God delights in you because of it. Though you may have been born to God but a week ago and are a poor little crying baby in the nursery of the Lord’s house, yet your Father loves you and sets great store by the Grace He has given you! Now, do not be downcast! Say to yourself, “The Lord has said that the faith which He has given me is good. He has said that this little love that I have for Him is good. I will be encouraged, for if He has begun a good work in me, He will carry it on.”

 

Peace, Hope, Forgiveness – Wisdom from J. C. Ryle

It was a delight to baptise David White last Sunday.  How wonderful to hear such a clear testimony to God’s gracious work of salvation in Christ.  Here are words reflecting on that gracious salvation from J.C. Ryle in his ‘Practical Religion’ from the chapter entitled ‘The Best Friend’:

‘Jesus is able to pardon and save the very chief of sinners He can deliver the most guilty conscience from all its burdens, and give it perfect peace with God. He can wash away the vilest stains of wickedness, and make a man whiter than snow in the sight of God. He can clothe a poor weak child of Adam in everlasting righteousness, and give him a title to heaven that can never be overthrown. In a word, He can give any one of us peace, hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God, if we will only trust in Him. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.” (I John 1:7)

Amen.

Idols and True Worship – A Prayer by A. W. Tozer

In teaching recently about pastoral care, I was reminded again of the importance of the believer’s heart in God’s agenda.  God intends not to shape our thoughts, behaviour and emotions in the first instance, but His work of making us more like Christ begins in our hearts.  Jesus explains why:

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’ (Luke 6)

Of course, our hearts are by nature filled not with the love of God, but idols (Rom 1v25).  The wonderful A. W. Tozer, always worth a read, writes this in his ‘The Pursuit of God’ (chp2):

Before the Lord God made man upon the earth He first prepared for him by creating a world of useful and pleasant things for his sustenance and delight. In the Genesis account of the creation these are called simply “things.” They were made for man’s uses, but they were meant always to be external to the man and subservient to him. In the deep heart of the man was a shrine where none but God was worthy to come. Within him was God; without, a thousand gifts which God had showered upon him.

But sin has introduced complications and has made those very gifts of God a potential source of ruin to the soul.

Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and “things” were allowed to enter. Within the human heart “things” have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.

This is not a mere metaphor, but an accurate analysis of our real spiritual trouble.

Here then is Tozer’s prayer for a purity of heart:

Father,

I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come.

Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.