Fear Not!

There is a struggle that we all face as we seek to live truly faithful Christian lives – and that is to conquer our fear. Because the existence of Satan requires us frequently to check out how we are managing (are we truly God-honouring, and in what ways do we need to reform ourselves, or redouble our efforts to be Christ-like?), for we are, as the BCP describes it, in a constant battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

It is all too easy for us, when engaged in the Christian life, to take our eyes off the one in whom we are more than conquerors, and instead get bogged down in the mud of life, and so, like Napoleon’s artillery at Waterloo, to become ineffective – in our case ineffective both as Christian individuals, and as Christian leaders. One of the easiest ways for us to get bogged down is to be affected by fear.

Now, let me be clear, there is a perfectly reasonable form of fear – the fear of falling from a height (or is it the fear of hitting the ground after the fall?) serves to act as a brake on acting foolishly – for most people. The fear of being made to look a fool can serve as a spur to make greater efforts in our preparation of, our study for, and even in our presentation of talks, liturgies, sermons and the like. But there is also a fear which is a paralysing agent – a fear which can prevent people from acting. Those on the stage or in music can suffer from stage fright – that is a fear that prevents the individual from doing something that they are perfectly capable of doing in the practice room. And we know that many Christians live their lives in fear of failing as a Christian – such fear ends up making the person anxious, uptight, and ineffective as a sharer of the gospel. In the January 2018 Tabletalk magazine this is described as “…due, ultimately, to disordered doxology.” And they go on to say that those who fear man so much do so because they fear God so little.

With specific relevance to our current situation, there can be a fear of the world and of what it might think. Such a fear may be a fear for the reputation of the individual themselves, or of the congregation, or of the Christian faith – but such a fear is folly. It is right that we should take reasonable precautions – it has always been thus however. A man professing to be a Christian recently stated that because he might be a unwitting conduit for carrying the virus he would be remaining extremely vigilant, wearing a muzzle (as Peter Hitchens describes face coverings), and that he desires the lockdown to continue. Except he forgets that he might, and always may be, an unwitting conduit for carrying a virus which may possibly do someone else harm. Is he going to live his life in such fear?

When Peter wrote those famous words: 1 Peter 3:17 – “Fear God. Honour the king.” he was seeking to tell us that we needed to turn the way we regard the worldly authorities, and life itself, around – that Christians should not be like the pagans, who honoured their gods with incense and offerings, and lived in fear of the king. Instead, though we should make efforts to honour the secular authorities of this world, we should reserve our fear for God himself. John Flavel:

Godly fear does not arise from a perception of God as hazardous, but glorious.

It is notable that over the last few months many Christians in positions of responsibility have demonstrated what I would term ‘craven’ attitudes in the face of the demands of the governments in their nations, and demonstrated a real and tangible fear that because they might lose the good opinion of the secular world around them, and its leaders, we must all genuflect before their demands. The number of clergy is significant whom I have observed to comment that we should lock down, or stay locked down, because the world will think badly of us if we don’t kow-tow to the ‘rules’ imposed. As Dave Brannan wrote in his Brephos article – reposted by Christian Concern – such men have adopted the attitude that

it’s what they [the world] think, not what God thinks, that makes witness ‘good’. Fear of man, rather than fear of God.

What saddens me is that so many, Christian leaders, and Christians, have clearly lost sight of the fundamental truth laid out for us in Scripture – that the critics they are so afraid of are those who are dead in their sin, and who therefore have no time for us in the first place. The gospel will not fail because we are weak and human – because we are and always will be weak and human, and the spread of the gospel of God transcends our hopeless humanity. If we live our lives in fear of the world, in fear of the court of public opinion, we simply would not preach the only gospel of eternal salvation there is. And that is no way for the faithful Christian to live. The most repeated command in the Bible is “Fear not.” Dave Brennan finished his Brephos article by saying:

What we need in this present crisis is more than just to act as implementers of government guidelines. What we need, is to exercise real, courageous, spiritual, Biblical leadership. And we need to be clear on what our ultimate authority is.

There is our challenge.

Letter to the Prime Minister

From the Chairman on behalf of the PTS Council.

Extracts: This letter is a request from the Council of the Protestant Truth Society to end the lockdown on Christian churches…Britain is, constitutionally and historically, a Christian country. Our churches have played a vital part in our national story…Our country has a long and vital tradition of civil and religious liberty. Those liberties are precious. They should not be curtailed unnecessarily…This nation’s welfare ultimately depends on God. Our country desperately needs the public prayers of believing Christians. We would therefore urge you to permit the reopening of our churches.


 

 

PDF version

 


Full Text:

4th May, 2020

Dear Prime Minister

We are delighted that you have recovered from your Covid-19 infection. Clearly many prayers for you have been answered. Our lives are in God’s hands and you have been given a new lease of life. We are also glad to hear of the safe birth of your son.

This letter is a request from the Council of the Protestant Truth Society to end the lockdown on Christian churches.

We know that this new virus has been a major challenge for your government. Many, particularly among the elderly and vulnerable, have died. There is strong evidence that the virus is now past its peak. Many businesses, deemed essential, are continuing to function. Many more businesses will reopen this month.

Britain is, constitutionally and historically, a Christian country. Our churches have played a vital part in our national story. They were not closed for the vastly more lethal Spanish Flu. They were not shut for the Blitz. In May 1940 George VI ordered a national day of prayer. God heard the nation’s prayers. Churchill’s political position was secured. The British Army, through a miraculous combination of circumstances, was almost entirely delivered at Dunkirk.

Christians are law-abiding people. We fully understand the need for hand washing and social distancing. There is no reason why churches cannot be permitted to meet, observing sensible precautions. Our country has a long and vital tradition of civil and religious liberty. Those liberties are precious. They should not be curtailed unnecessarily. If B & Q can open then so should the church.

You have said that you will be guided by Cicero’s dictum Salus populi suprema lex esto. There is wisdom in this if the word salus is rightly understood. The motto of Oxford University is Dominus illuminatio mea, the opening words of the Latin translation of Psalm 27. The verse continues et salus mea. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation.’ This nation’s welfare ultimately depends on God. Our country desperately needs the public prayers of believing Christians. We would therefore urge you to permit the reopening of our churches.

Yours sincerely

The Rt Rev. Dominic Stockford – on behalf of the PTS Council

Lockdown: Count the Cost!

A message from the Chairman of PTS Council, Dominic Stockford:

In one of his many examples, in which Jesus primarily explains how we should approach the cost of following Christ, Jesus also gives us a salutary tale as to how we should approach many other challenging situations:

What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.

(Luke 14:31-2)

In the words above we are asked to consider that a king going out against a foe would first make the sensible step of counting the cost of what he is about to do, before he engages in any fight. And, it is clear, he would do this because of the chances of such a battle being far more costly in lives than any peace that he might successfully sue for. The cost of engaging in a fight, we are shown, will frequently outweigh the rather more prosaic ‘doing nothing’.  

It is this simple teaching which seems to many of us not to have been absorbed by those who have gone about issuing instructions to lock down anything that moves – and specifically, from the Christian perspective, to close down Christian churches. There are many harms being done to this country, and therefore to the people within it, by the actions that have been taken. People have lost jobs – which they are unlikely to get back again, because many of the firms they work for are unlikely to survive. People will lose income, and in the long term will therefore lose their homes. People will and are losing their businesses, and therefore losing their ability to employ people in the future. And not only are they losing the ability to provide for themselves and their families, many will lose the will to do so again in the future. I read today of the fact that the car finance crisis is going to fuelled even further by this lock down – yet another cause of even more trouble and distress.

There are, of course, many more harmful matters which are now occurring, and many more which will occur in the future. The GDP of the UK will drop significantly, which will affect society’s ability to care for the ill, the underprivileged, and the vulnerable in the future. The NHS might be doing well at the moment (or rather, the front-line staff are doing well), but it will be significantly damaged by what is happening to our economy each and every day of the continued lockdown. And so on. Such real harms, occurring now and in the future, should be properly balanced against the apparent harm which this virus may do. And it does not appear that this is so. One number alone (I do not propose to delve further into statistics) should highlight what seems to be a gross over-reaction. Today’s cumulative total of all who have tested positive for coronavirus in Richmond upon Thames is 235. The population of Richmond upon Thames is, according to current figures, 196,904. This gives us, as a percentage of the population who have had this virus badly enough to come to the authorities’ attention, 0.12% of all those living in this area in London. A city which has, we are told, been extremely badly affected by it. And for that we have basically closed down the borough. Entirely.[1]

Amidst all this harm being done, practically and socially, another great harm is being done. Spiritual harm. The NHS has long employed chaplains in its hospitals because it knows well the healing and helping power of prayer, and of faith in Christ Jesus. This is why every time someone such as the National Secular Society suggests getting rid of them they are simply ignored. Spiritual comfort, prayer, and the coming into the presence of God, which can only be done ‘where two or three are gathered together in My name’,[2] are vital components in health, healing, and wholeness. I know this for a fact – in the past I was a hospital chaplain in a major hospital for three years.

Which brings us on to another great harm that is therefore being done in our society at this time. Our churches have been closed, by law. And it is worth noting here and now, that the President of Brazil has specifically not gone this way, standing out from the crowd by insisting that they remain open and accessible, and that people must be allowed to gather there ‘to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at [God’s] hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things that are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.’[3]

The harm being done by the closure of places where people can place their trust in the Lord God, their Almighty Creator, provider, and sustainer, is not to be underestimated. And yet it is one further damage being done to our nation.

No one is suggesting that we encourage great heaving masses of humanity to gather together, packed and crowded into our churches – most free churches don’t have that problem anyway. I know that my congregation, and many, many others could meet quite successfully, quite safely, taking all reasonable precautions necessary, and worship together each and every Sunday. We could also hold our churches open during the week, with similar precautions, so that people could come into them and join together in turning to God for prayer. But this government seems to have no time for God, no concept of what it should mean in practice to be a Christian country, and no time for any other way through what they tell us we are facing except ‘their way’.

The Bible has clear words for these people, and for all who have lobbied to ensure that churches must remain closed for the duration, during the very time people should need them even more:

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

(Psalm 146:3)

And their faces and their minds are clearly completely and resolutely set against the encouraging injunction from God to His people found in the book of Deuteronomy:

When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you.

(Deuteronomy 20:1)

They have chosen their way, and I say here and now, clearly, it is the wrong way. It is wrong because it demonstrates no fear of God – Peter tells us in his second letter to honour the Emperor, but to fear God. These men and women have taken us down a path where not only is there no fear of God (that being replaced by fear of a virus), but there is not even any respect for God; nor respect for the desire of many to turn to God, and to join together as we are mandated to do by God’s Word, and place this current situation[4] into his hands through our sole mediator with God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I call on them to think again.

 

[1] I accept that some people may have had the virus at home, and various other caveats – but untested as they are (and the tests themselves are not reliable) we cannot possibly know this to be a fact.

[2] Matthew 18:20

[3] The Book of Common Prayer.

[4] As far as there is ‘a situation’ that is factually unusual compared to any other year.

 

 

 

The Present Pandemic

A message from the Chairman of PTS Council, Dominic Stockford :

We are threatened, it seems, with a global pandemic of a nasty virus which is easily caught, and which has an unusually high fatality rate. The UK is already struggling with this, and as I write I have just learnt that when my wife sang in a concert on Saturday she sat next to someone for three hours who has now tested positive for Covid19. It is real, it is nearby, it is personal. However, we must be careful not to lose the balance we should have. We should not over-spiritualize our response and thus ignore the practical ramifications of our actions, nor should we “over-practicalize” our response and ignore the reality of our all-powerful Sovereign God and His place in the events of our lives.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

It would be easy to read this verse and think that our physical needs, which appear to be under so great a threat in the current circumstances, will be filled by God. We should not forget that of course He cares, for God personally knows and understands, through the sufferings of Jesus Christ, how terrible human suffering is. It is worth, however, stopping for a moment and considering the context in which Peter wrote these words – a warning about the assaults of the devil upon our spiritual equilibrium. At this time it would be all too easy for us to become petulant with those around us. It would not be difficult to be cross with those who are stripping the shelves of food and other commodities in London and elsewhere. It might also be easy to get angry with our pastor and elders for either closing the church on Sundays, or strongly discouraging over 70s from attendance. However, we have to remember that temptations in such directions would indeed be the work of the devil.  

As Christians we need to give a faithful and consistent witness to the work of Christ in our lives, and we need to do this now, almost more than ever. So many around us are panicking, are indulging in criticism of the behaviour of others, and are doing everything but the one thing that really would help – which is to hold trust in God and in His Sovereign work and will. We need to demonstrate that trust by our calm and thoughtful actions. We should seek to show that we respect our government (Romans 13:1), and seek to follow their advice (they have the medical experts, we do not), and yet still seek to reach out with care and compassion to those around us.

It is more than disappointing that we do not expect anyone in Government to call for a Day of Prayer – even though it would have to be held in our homes. However, our response should firstly be in prayer – turning to our Father and placing the situation before Him. We should seek to know how it is we can best serve Him in whatever situation we find ourselves. And while we should not fail to take sensible precautions against catching or transmitting the virus, we should not forget that man’s days are numbered by the Lord, and whenever He is to call us to Himself, then so be it.

Our secondary response must be to consider how best we can seek to share the peace that we have through our faith in Christ:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  (John 14:27)

Because we know that in Christ there is a sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, we have a peace that we can at the moment see is so visibly lacking in the lives of most of those around us. We know that in the end this world is not the be-all and the end-all, but that there is an eternity in God’s presence lying ahead of us. Whilst we should not deliberately seek to put ourselves at physical risk, the danger of death is not a matter about which we ought to be panicking. Instead, as Christians, we should hope to find a way in which we can share the eternal hope that we have in Christ with those who are panicking. And many are.

Ligonier Ministries put out a tweet today (March 17) saying that “The world is fearful and anxious, but it is fearful and anxious about the wrong things. The world is fearful about the economy, and the world is fearful of diseases like the coronavirus. The world, however, is not fearful of God.” There is our challenge, to help those around us to understand that those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have nothing to fear from man, or from anything else for that matter. Thus, not only do we seek to act in accordance with our faith towards those around us, but we also pray for those around us, pray for those in authority, pray for the church, pray for repentance and a renewal of true faith within this nation, and do so remembering the one in whom we trust.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. (Psalm 91:1-3)

General Election Result

Chairman of PTS Council, Dominic Stockford writes,

In the aftermath of a General Election there are a number of ways to view the results. We could look to our local result, and concentrate on that – in my case that picture is very sad. We now have a local MP who claims to be Christian, and yet supports both abortion and the variety of so-called ‘re-assigning of gender’, as well as same-sex ‘marriage’. This from a person who attends what claims to be an evangelical Anglican congregation. I have had contact with other clergy who had ‘near misses’ in their constituency, but avoided such a terrible message being presented about the true gospel, and God’s true picture for mankind and Creation.

We could also be saddened that some individual Christians were not returned to parliament – for instance, David Burrowes was standing once again, but was not elected in Enfield. Or we could give thanks to God that some Christian MPs were re-elected, Fiona Bruce, for instance. 

We could, on the other hand, look at the overall picture, which is, let us be honest, if not perfect, a far better result for Christians than was possible. If the current opposition parties had held sway instead we would have had a Parliament that would have brought in the most liberal and ungodly laws on a whole variety of moral issues – abortion, euthanasia, ‘gender identification’, and so on. And although no one would claim that the winning party is either stuffed full of conscientious Christians, or that it is going to stand up for Christian principles, it does at least allow for conscience votes on such matters.

Job said:

The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.         (Job 1:21)

In the end, as Christians, we should finish our ruminations on election results not with celebrations, or with mourning, but with a remembrance that no matter what the result, God is Sovereign – and whatever we might face we should therefore seek God’s will in it.

Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3)

Cambridge Lecture 2019

The PTS Annual Cambridge Lecture will be held (D.V.) on Monday November 25, 2019, 7.30pm, at The Round Church, Bridge Street, Cambridge CB2 1UB.

Duncan Boyd will be speaking on The Protestant Constitution after Brexit, and there will be opportunity for questions after the lecture.

False religionist ‘most welcome’ to preach at Holy Eucharist service


On October 17 the PTS Chairman, The Rt Rev. Dominic Stockford, wrote as shown below to the Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Rev. Dr Steven Croft, with concern over the invitation to a Muslim imam to preach at a service of Holy Eucharist.

Dear Bishop Croft,

I am sure that you are aware that Canon Law B18.2 states that “the sermon in Anglican worship shall be preached by a minister, deaconess, reader or lay worker duly authorized in accordance with Canon Law. At the invitation of the minister having the cure of souls another person may preach with the permission of the bishop of the diocese given either in relation to the particular occasion or in accordance with diocesan directions.”

It is reported that a Muslim imam has been invited to preach at the Service of Holy Eucharist at the University Church of St Mary, Oxford, this Sunday morning next, at 10.30 am. Can you please confirm that you have given a non-Christian religious teacher permission to preach at this act of Christian worship, in contravention of the Canon Law of the Church of England? If you have given no such permission, can you please enlighten us as to the steps you are taking to prevent this blasphemy?

Yours sincerely,

Rt Rev Dominic F Stockford

Chairman

Protestant Truth Society

 

This elicited the following Statement in response:

 

Statement from the Diocese of Oxford published 17 October 2018

Monawar Hussain MBE DL will deliver the University Sermon following the Eucharist at St Mary’s this Sunday. He is most welcome. Founder of the Oxford Foundation and the Muslim Tutor at Eton College, Monawar is well known to many in Oxford and he joins a long list of those invited to preach the University Sermon by the Vice Chancellor. Monawar is not the first person from another faith community to be invited to preach the University Sermon, his presence on Sunday reflects the strong commitment of the Church, University and other faith communities to interfaith engagement.

Ashers – Supreme Court Victory

Earlier this year the UK Supreme Court heard the case of Ashers Baking Company, who were appealing against a ruling which stated that it broke the law by declining to fulfil an order to decorate a cake with a campaign slogan promoting ‘marriage’ between homosexuals, which was deeply offensive to the management who are sincere Christians. The ruling, handed down on 10 October 2018, saw the judges unanimously vindicate the bakery.

The Rt Rev. Dominic Stockford, Chairman of the PTS Council remarked:

It is a victory for freedom of expression. This means it is a victory for the freedom to express our faith, and to live by that faith – competing ideologies notwithstanding.

The factual background as expressed in the Judgment of the Supreme Court on October 10, 2018 in  Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd and others [2018] UKSC 49 is as follows:

On 8 or 9 May 2014, Mr Lee went into the shop and placed an order for a cake to be iced with his design, a coloured picture of cartoon-like characters “Bert and Ernie”, the QueerSpace logo, and the headline “Support Gay Marriage”. Mrs McArthur took the order but raised no objection at the time because she wished to consider how to explain her objection and to spare Mr Lee any embarrassment. Mr Lee paid for the cake. Over the following weekend, the McArthurs decided that they could not in conscience produce a cake with that slogan and so should not fulfil the order. On Monday 12 May 2014, Mrs McArthur telephoned Mr Lee and explained that his order could not be fulfilled because they were a Christian business and could not print the slogan requested. She apologised to Mr Lee and he was later given a full refund and the image was returned to him.

In a statement outside the Supreme Court, Daniel McArthur, General Manager of Ashers Baking Company declared:

I want to start by thanking God. He has been with us during the challenges of the last four years. Through the Bible and the support of Christians, He has comforted us and sustained us. He is our rock and all His ways are just.

We’re delighted and relieved at today’s ruling. We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order. After more than four years, the Supreme Court has now recognised that and we’re very grateful. Grateful to the judges and especially grateful to God.

We’re particularly pleased the Supreme Court emphatically accepted what we’ve said all along – we did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message itself.

The judges have given a clear signal today. In fact it couldn’t be clearer. Family businesses like ours are free to focus on giving all their customers the best service they can – without being forced to promote other people’s campaigns.

Royal Wedding Protest of May 14

14th May, 2018.

The Council of the Protestant Truth Society register their deep disappointment and dismay at the appointment of the Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, Primate of the Episcopal Church in the USA as preacher for the wedding of His Royal Highness Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the 19th day of this month.

 

Whilst wishing Prince Harry and Meghan a long and happy marriage, imbued with the blessings of God, we cannot withhold the deep spiritual concern we have that it should begin at a service which will have a preacher who does not hold to the Biblical view of marriage so beautifully expressed in the Service of the Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.

 

With great concern we note that despite being invited to preach at this high-profile wedding he does not believe in Biblical marriage (Genesis 2:24 “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”). At this of all weddings, taking place in the United Kingdom, involving the 6th in line to the throne, whose monarch (the groom’s grandmother) promised at her coronation that she would: “…to the utmost of [my] power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel. [And] to the utmost of [my] power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law.”

 

The Episcopal Church, Bishop Curry’s denomination, has acted contrary to the Bible and to the “Protestant Reformed Religion” by accepting so called ‘same-sex-marriage’, for which it has been suspended from full participation in the Anglican Communion (the world-wide Church of England). The suspension is specifically because these views on, and actions over, marriage are “a fundamental departure from the faith”.

 

This abrogation of Biblical truth by the denomination that he oversees, and his personal views on the matter, make him utterly unsuitable as a preacher at this occasion. It is beyond credibility that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York would not know of the liberal and unbiblical views he holds as it was they who were the prime movers in this suspension of the ECUSA from the Anglican Communion.

 

We therefore request that his invitation be withdrawn and that a suitable preacher who holds to the Gospel as it is written, and to the “faith once delivered unto the saints”, be appointed forthwith.

 

Rt Rev Dominic Stockford

Chairman, Protestant Truth Society