Our beloved brother Paul

paulAlmost every one of Paul’s Epistles begins with much the same form of wording—‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ’. Exceptions are those epistles which came not only from him but also from his fellow labourers, as that to the Philippians, or the Epistle to Philemon, where he calls himself ‘a prisoner’. Why did Paul draw so much attention to his apostleship? Did he have a justifiable reason for so doing?

It is worth noting that there is a considerable and important distinction between Paul defending his apostleship, and defending himself. The kind of comments we have concerning himself are 1 Timothy 1:15, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.’ He has defined his status as the chief of sinners by saying that he had once been ‘a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious’ (v.13). His own view of himself is never anything less than honest, and he is not afraid to see himself in his true colours. Why, then, does he defend his apostleship with such vigour?

 

Paul was called to be an apostle

An apostle, as no doubt we all know, is one who is an eye-witness of the resurrection. So Acts 1:22. It is clear from the crucifixion accounts that there were many who were witnesses to Christ’s death, and it is clear from the subsequent narrative that there were many (although not as many) who were eye-witnesses to the resurrection. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that the Lord was seen alive ‘of above five hundred brethren at once.’ And yet there were only twelve apostles!

Apostleship is not merely the term to describe those who could say they had seen the Lord Jesus alive after the resurrection. Certainly it cannot mean that any were actually present when the stone rolled away from the tomb and the Lord came forth, since we know of none (apart from the angels, perhaps) who were present; the soldiers had fled in terror when the earthquake struck. Rather, apostleship is the effect of having been called to serve as an eye-witness by the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify to what they had seen. This is why the apostles prayed for the leading of the Holy Spirit in choosing Judas Iscariot’s replacement. They desired only to appoint the man whom the Lord had chosen.

Paul was chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ. As he journeyed towards Damascus he and his companions saw a very bright light. Saul (to give him his proper name) was the only one to hear the voice. He saw the glory, and perhaps no more than the glory, of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He was also told that it was Jesus who spoke with him, and who had a purpose in showing himself to Saul in this way.

The effect of this revelation was that Saul was thrown into turmoil. All his previous prejudices concerning Israel and her God, and the true nature of Jesus of Nazareth and those foolish enough to believe he was the Messiah, were brought crashing down around him. He had to rethink his whole understanding of the purpose of the law, and of the promises to Israel. And when, through the grace of God, he came to a clear understanding of these things (one which coincided in every detail with the doctrine of the other apostles, as Galatians 2:1–10 shows) he knew he was sent to preach this truth far and wide. This was the message which came to him through Ananias, Acts 9:10–17. This was confirmed to him as he prayed on the ship in the midst of the storm, Acts 27:24.

Therefore Paul could allow no opposition to his apostleship. To resist this was to resist the one from whom he had his charge, Jesus Christ. To refuse his witness was to make him a liar, and he knew what he said was true.

 

Paul delighted in the gospel of Christ

Paul’s apostleship, his being an eyewitness, was not simply that he might inform people that there had been such a thing as the resurrection of the dead. There were a number who could do that, not only those whom he mentions in 1 Corinthians 15, but also those who were present at Nain when the widow’s son was raised, or who knew that Jairus’ daughter had died but was then alive, or those who were present at Bethany when Christ called Lazarus forth from the tomb. Paul’s apostleship went far beyond merely stating a fact. He was called to preach the doctrine of the resurrection.

That doctrine is nowhere more clearly summed up than in the Epistle to the Romans, where in chapter 3 he writes of our ‘being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus’ (vv.24–26).

Having spoken of the blessing that is ours through Christ’s atoning sacrifice (a sacrifice which is inextricably linked to the resurrection, Romans 4:24–25), he then asks, ‘Where is boasting then? It is excluded. Why what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.’

The problem with those who opposed Paul’s apostleship was that they all disagreed profoundly with this point. They were adamant that a man is justified within, not without, the deeds of the law. Christian men must submit to circumcision, they argued, else they cannot please God. So deep is the difference between our being justified by faith, and our being justified by the deeds of the law, that Paul dared to call anything other than the gospel of justification by faith ‘another gospel, which is not another.’ If any preach that alternative gospel, he said, ‘Let him be accursed’ (Galatians 1:6–8). Paul understood the terrible danger of turning the gospel from grace to works. He knew he was called to preach the gospel of justification by faith, and had been commissioned to the work by the risen Lord Jesus Christ. For the sake of those to whom he preached, therefore, he must defend his apostleship. To allow it to be attacked would be to allow Christians to think that it either did not matter whether we are saved by faith or by works, or that he was in fact wrong to preach justification by faith. Since the very salvation of sinners depends on this vital distinction, he cannot let the attacks go unanswered. The eternal security of men and women depended on the matter.

Attacks on Paul’s apostleship are rife today. Whether it is the feminist theologians who hate his so-called misogyny (hatred of women), or those who hate his alleged defence of slavery, or his apparent anti-Semitism (which would be funny were it not so sad, given that he was a Jew himself, who could wish himself accursed for his brethren’s sake), or his ‘culturally conditioned’ teaching on the need for men to pray with their heads uncovered and women to pray with theirs covered, the grounds of opposition seem almost endless.

If we ask why people go to such lengths to attack Paul, the answer must lie in the gospel he preached. At bottom, all attacks on Paul and his apostleship are of the same order as the murmurings and complaints against Moses when he led Israel in the wilderness. It is of the same order as the insistence by Israel that Samuel should make them a king. God said the Samuel, ‘They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me’ (1 Samuel 8:7). Those who oppose Paul’s apostleship, and the doctrine he preached, oppose the Lord who commissioned him.

It may seem very unlikely that readers  are among those who reject the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The plain truth is that we can pay lip service to doctrine but deny it in practice. While it is true that none shall be saved by holding to a form of doctrine, it is true that none shall be saved by holding that which is against the gospel. Under God, Paul’s apostleship has been the instrument for so much good in the world, since he, more than any, declared the whole counsel of God. Dare we deny this?■

The European Union – A Protestant View

June23

It is clear that campaigning on the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union has got off to a bad start, with both sides more concerned with criticizing their opponents, and prophesying disaster if they do not win, than with putting a positive case for remaining or withdrawing. Such has been the tone of these exchanges that it has been satirically suggested that before long someone will be prophesying a plague of locusts. This is no way to conduct a serious debate.

The issues are mind-bogglingly complex – finance, free trade, control of borders, immigration, and so on. Perhaps the central issue is that of the sovereignty of Parliament. At the moment European Union law ranks higher than United Kingdom law, and European Union legislation passes into effect without any parliamentary debate or vote.

Is there a distinctively Protestant view on this? Vatican City is a sovereign state, and enclave within a European Union member; but not itself a member. It is difficult to judge how much influence the Vatican has on European Union affairs, but my feeling would be that it is less than the Church leadership would like. The European Union of today is a very different creature from the original six-member European Economic Community established by the Treaty of Rome(!) in 1958. In the area of social legislation, for example, it is pursuing policies that seem a long way from the concerns of traditional Catholicism. See, for example, the European Network of Legal Experts in the Field of Gender Equality 2013 Update on European Union Gender Equality Law, which is at http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/files/your_rights/eu_gender_equality_law_update2013_en.pdf. The elaborate title and complicated web address seem symptomatic of the level of European Union bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, the Vatican has not been able to resist getting involved. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See (in effect, the Vatican Foreign Secretary) gave an interview in which he gave a clear signal of the Vatican’s – presumably the pope’s – view:

The Holy See respects the ultimate decision of the British people – that’s for the British electorate to decide. But I think we would see it as being something that is not going to make a stronger Europe. Better in than out.

Meanwhile the pope was awarded the Charlemagne Prize. This is a German award ‘given to public figures or bodies distinguished by their outstanding work towards European unity or co-operation between its states.’ The awarding committee’s citation seems to take ‘Europe’ in the narrow sense of the European Union: ‘In a time when the European Union is facing the greatest challenge of the 21st century, it is the Pope “from the end of the world” who orients millions of Europeans to what the European Union brings together at its core: a valid system of values, respect for human dignity and civil liberties, the uniqueness of human beings whatever their ethnic, religious or cultural background and respect for our natural resources.’ I think we can take it that the Vatican is in favour of the European Union, and that the rest of Europe perceives the Vatican as being in favour of the European Union.

All this implies that the Vatican is seen as having some moral authority in Europe; otherwise it would be absurd even to notice the opinion of the head of a non-member state (the Vatican City) who is himself by origin from a non-European state (Argentina). That should give us as Protestants something to bear in mind when we come to cast our votes.

Further, there is lesson from church history in all this:

Getting rid of continental jurisdiction over the UK is as easy an enacting an Act of Parliament. It was an Act of Parliament that brought in major EU powers. It is through amending or repealing that same Statute that EU powers can be limited or removed.

England had to do this before. In 1533 Henry VIII was worried about the succession and believed his marriage to Catherine of Aragon to be void, as he had married his brother’s wife. The King wished English divines to settle the matter without fear of Rome intervening and overruling. The Crown appealed to long history and custom, and to the powers of Parliament, to assert its own authority at the expense of the see of Rome. Parliament willingly passed an Act preventing future appeal of legal cases to Rome or elsewhere overseas. The UK wanted to make its own decisions. Royal will used Parliamentary authority to allow the Crown to end appeals to Rome.

In language which rings down the centuries Parliament said: ‘…this realm of England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and King…And whereas the King his most noble progenitors and the nobility and Commons of this said realm, at divers and sundry Parliaments…made sundry ordinances, laws, statutes and provisions for the entire and sure conservation of the prerogatives liberties and pre-eminences of the said imperial crown of this realm, and of the jurisdictions spiritual and temporal of the same, to keep it from the annoyance as well as the see of Rome as from the authority of other foreign potentates attempting the diminution or violation thereof…’

(Quoted from http://johnredwoodsdiary.com/2012/06/07/this-realm-of-england-is-an-empire/)

‘This realm of England is an empire’, that is, it is subordinate to no foreign power. It was by asserting the independence of England in this way that Henry VIII’s Parliament accomplished the first steps of the Reformation in England. And that too should give us as Protestants something to bear in mind when we come to cast our votes.

 

 

Understanding the Times

10753We live in perilous times, when many of the Christian foundations of our society and nation are being knocked away. Indeed, to those of us who are of riper years, the world today is a strange place, scarcely recognizable from the world of our childhood. Consequently we preach the gospel to a generation with new and unfamiliar preconceptions. 1 Chronicles 12:32

In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read of some ‘men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do’. We cannot ignore the times in which we live, however alien and unfriendly they may feel. God has put us here to serve him, in this place and this generation. We are not to look back to the past—neither our past, not the distant past—and wish that we were serving God there. ‘Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Or in the blunt language of the NIV, ‘Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such a question.’

‘Triggers’—a new threat to the preaching of the gospel

In a fascinating and alarming essay in a national newspaper, Professor Frank Furedi, (author of Power of Reading: From Socrates to Twitter, published by Bloomsbury) sets out a rising threat to academic freedom in British and American universities—a threat which may have strong implications for the preaching of gospel.

Professor Furedi draws attention to two particular areas of academic life where freedom of expression is being seriously challenged. First, there is the banning of speakers whose views are considered controversial. These are not necessarily directly related to the speaker’s present subject, but can relate to something they said or wrote many years ago. For example, the well-known academic and feminist Germaine Greer withdrew from giving a lecture at Cardiff University before she could be banned. Her offence was that she once expressed the opinion that a man trying to act like a woman, even one who has become a woman by surgical means, would not act, sound or behave like a woman. For this and similar opinions the Cardiff students branded her ‘transphobic’, and lobbied for her to be excluded. On this specific point, we as Christians must be very sympathetic towards Professor Greer, who surely expresses the biological and psychological facts of the case. But in any case, surely a university is meant to be a place where a great variety of opinions can be vigorously debated, not a place where speakers who fail to endorse the liberal consensus are banned, and further discussion is suppressed. We live in a very strange world, where feminists campaign to ban Germaine Greer; and she is not the only one who has suffered from this kind of bullying from the ‘trans’ community.