ONE YEAR ON

One year on visualReflections of a City Church Apprentice


One year on from the beginning of my time with City  Church Dublin & it has been an eye opening year to say the least; A 22 year old guy leaving Bible College, thinking he knew so much about ministry and all that it would entail and everything the world would throw at him – HE DIDN’T HAVE A CLUE!

I was never expecting what I encountered, a fairly turbulent year of ministry for City Church Dublin, that I got swept up in as their apprentice; learning to swim is definitely necessary when you find yourself in the deep end. Shortly after I arrived at City, Mark (Lead Pastor) wrote a blog entitled “Welcome to the frontline, now go and die”. This blog post was highlighting the season of difficulty that had been prevalent for many involved in ministry in Dublin, hard pastoral ground, sickness, mental health issues, discouragement & bereavement. But God does not leave us, and that’s what gives us the hope to endure these things.

With all of that going on in the background and the forefront of our ministry, this has truly been one of the most exciting and enriching years of my life. I have met so many wonderful people that I call family; we say hellos and goodbyes all the time, but there is an intense cultivation of gospel centred community blossoming out of City Church Dublin that creates such a care and concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of the individuals and families that God sends our way; that has been amazing to be a part of.

Leaving a well established, fairly large, church in Northern Ireland, and entering into a young church plant in the centre of Dublin, was refreshing and frightening at the same time; I had been born into a church community that I then grew up with this community supporting and loving me. It was safe and comfortable and I really enjoyed the opportunities that God had given me to serve.

Now I was leaving the security of everything I had known and entering into the unknown, to work with 3 people I didn’t know beyond a few Skype sessions and an interview, to be in a position of responsibility for certain aspects of ministry in this new church. This is what was refreshing and exciting at the same time; having to be more intentional every single Sunday to greet the new people that entered our doors, to be loving through the week as I met with people, to be transparent and vulnerable and to never know how many people would show up on a Sunday morning, to face the frustrations that would accompany my new position, but to grow, to love and be loved, to cultivate community, to move beyond being people who meet every week, to being a group of people who genuinely care for one another. That has happened and is still happening.

I am forever grateful for the support that I receive; people reading my newsletters, people praying in response, the financial support of my home church and from others who have blessed me financially along the way. Your contribution has been very much appreciated and never goes unnoticed. I thank God for you all.

So what’s next?

I start a 3 year, part-time Masters this September, focussing on Church Planting. This is in association with Oak Hill Theological College & Acts 29 (a global church planting network). What started out as a staff team of 2 pastors and 2 apprentices has dramatically decreased to Mark and myself. Kieron, has just left City Church to Pastor Immanuel Church Dublin and to manage Irish Church Missions, as they seek to find a full time superintendent.

This increases my responsibilities, with more preaching and greater attention to one-to-one ministry. Focussing more on our student demographic, as well as all of the other roles that my apprenticeship involves. Mark & I will be attending a SOMA conference in October that focusses on Missional/Gospel Communities and how that looks elsewhere in Europe and we hope to learn how we can do this better.

Our first sermon series this year is entitled “Gospel DNA” – Spending some time looking at the basics and fundamentals of being a gospel centred church; this will be our launchpad and hopefully a catalyst for the intention we have in cultivating a greater desire to be a community that is missional and gospel focused in every area of our lives.

It will be ever-changing, as I have found ministry to be, and it will be challenging, but it is much more rewarding as we see people journey with God and become more like Jesus as they invest their lives in his Gospel and to be a part of the local church in the centre of Dublin.

Prayer points:

New intake of students for this academic year; that we will be a welcoming place to worship and a place where they know they will be loved and able to grow in their faith; that they will have a family here in Dublin.

Beginning my Masters; that I will be able to efficiently balance my time between my studies, sermon preparation, and all the other duties that I have in my work with City Church.

Missional Communities; as we meet every week to study God’s word and to grow together, that we will be a community that isn’t exclusively for the church, but a place where everyone, from all walks of life will feel welcome and loved.

Praise God for his provision, his sufficiency and his strength to persevere in this Gospel work in Ireland’s capital city.

Pray for opportunities to develop one-to-one ministries, with believers, and also with people who don’t know the Lord, but would be willing to take a look at Christianity and to study God’s Word.

Thank you for reading, thank you for praying and thank you for all your support over the past year and the support that I know I can rely on as I continue in my ministry here in Dublin.

Blessings,

Chris McGuire
chris@citychurchdublin.ie

“Welcome to the front line…now go and die”


In September, City Church employed two new apprentices, Chris and Grant. Both young, both excited for ministry, both passionate about Jesus… and both joining us in the most difficult ministry season we have ever faced.

And it’s not just Kieron and me, pastors and leaders all over the city are reflecting on the difficulty of these past 2 years (or more!): the hard pastoral ground, sicknesses (including a brain tumour and pneumonia), mental health issues, discouragement, disappointment and sudden bereavement.

As for us… in July, Philippa and I went through the trauma of a threatened miscarriage. In September, Esther (Kieron’s wife) had an epileptic seizure and has now been diagnosed with epilepsy. In October, Grant had severe abdominal pain the doctors were unable to diagnose… and that is only a snapshot of the waves of suffering that have broken over our backs in recent months. Frankly it has felt like a relentless, sustained attack from the enemy, designed to discourage and derail us from speaking and living for Jesus.

As I sat across the room from Chris and Grant this morning I half joked that we should have told them what they were joining when they signed up to City Church. What we should have said was, “Welcome to the front line…now go and die” or rather “…someone’s going to try to take you out”.

Because that’s exactly what it feels like right now.

On Sunday we were looking at the death of Jesus and asking the question, “What does it mean for Jesus to be forsaken? Was the Trinity broken?” Now, there is lots to say here and the sermon (which you can listen to here) could only scratch the surface, but there is one thought that gives me great hope in these dark days. And it is this…

Throughout his life, Jesus represented all of humanity. He is described as the second Adam, the second “head” over humanity. When he faced temptation in the desert he did so as the man who would succeed where Adam failed, who would obey God and not reject him, who would stand and not fall. He was our representative in life and in death. In his death, the God-man dies both as the substitute for and the representative of our fallen race.

My point is this: if the Trinity is broken, if the Father “walks away” from his Son, what we are saying is that at humanity’s moment of greatest need… God leaves.

Jesus came teaching, healing, ministering to the poor, raising the dead but when humanity’s plight is most desperate, when we most need God to hear and act, he is nowhere to be found. This cannot be the case. I think this is a sad example of 21st century children looking at their fathers and how they walk out or emotionally “check out” and concluding that God must be like that. Moreover, biblically we are not driven to this conclusion… in fact the opposite should be inferred.

The cry of dereliction, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” is quoted by Jesus from Psalm 22:1 and recounted in both Matthew and Mark but there is no editorial comment, no interpretation offered for these words… Why run to the conclusion that the Trinity broke apart?
Furthermore, this is not the only resonance with the Psalm in each of these accounts. Jesus is mocked (Psalm 22:6-8); his hands and feet are pierced (Psalm 22:16); they cast lots for his clothes (Psalm 22:18). From this I conclude that we are to have the whole Psalm in view here. We read of a sufferer who feels profound forsaken-ness and yet who cries out to God in faith, recalls his character and hopes for deliverance because (v.24) “he has NOT hidden his face from him”.

This gives me great hope as we endure this season. Yes it often feels that God is behind a cloud; yes we often feel a genuine sense of abandonment, but the consistent witness of Scripture and the testimony of the cross is that our Heavenly Father does not walk out on his children, but that he sees, he acts and he does not hide his face from us! So as I consider these two younger brothers who have joined us on the front line, I know that we have invited them to stand in the crosshairs, but I am assured that we can move forward across the battlefield because God isn’t in the business of abandoning his children.

A message from the Big Apple

Mark are Philippa are currently in New York with Redeemer for a church planting intensive. Here’s a taster of their learning thus far:

 

Dear lovely city peeps,

Greetings from the Big Apple! Phil and I have had our first full week of training and already we have learnt lots and met some great people.

The course focuses on three main areas:

Spiritual formation – helping me/us love Jesus more and grow as a Christian

Ministry design – thinking about our vision and purpose as a church and how to move forward with that

Pastoral leadership – how to love people better in a church plant setting.

Already I feel like Jesus is doing work on my heart, exposing some painful areas but also encouraging me to keep my eyes fixed on him. I’m also gaining some great insights for when I return in the middle of October!

I talk about you all often and people from lots of different countries have spent a lot of time praying for our young church plant in Dublin. I look back over the last two years and I am very grateful to God for how far we have come and how he has helped us to grow a church that looks increasingly healthy. I am growing in the conviction that the way forward for us is to find meaningful ways to express our commitment to one another and to the city we love.

One thing that has stuck with me so far is that we love our city of Dublin NOT because of the things we get from her! We love her in brokenness. We love her despite her faults and long to see her walls resound with the gospel.

That’s what it means to love our city.

Philippa’s bump is even bigger now and our little baby likes to wriggle a lot, especially when Philippa is trying to concentrate in class. Please keep us and the baby in your prayers.

See you all soon!

Mark and Philippa

Printer Error: What should and shouldn’t be tolerated

Tolerance

Tolerance is the ‘buzzword’ of our generation. It is trotted out in debates, in the media and enshrined as our highest virtue. For me, growing up in Northern Ireland, my parents were insistent that I remained “tolerant” of others. One might go even further and say that tolerance is at the very heart of modern western civilisation, it is the non-negotiable; it cannot be questioned or criticised. However, that is exactly what needs to happen because the modern notion of tolerance is the cuckoo in the nest of our value system and must be critiqued if we are to weather the current storms. I am, of course referring to the on going public debate surrounding the Ashers Bakery Company and now the Beulah printers in Drogheda.

My point is a simple one: the notion of tolerance has changed and in its place we have a New Tolerance, which instead of fostering harmony simply flattens all those who oppose it.

  1. If I disagree with you I am not judging you.
    Originally tolerance meant something like this, “I disagree with what you are saying but I defend your right to say it”. Under this view of tolerance, note what is being tolerated… the person! This arose from the belief that all human beings have inherent dignity by virtue of being created in God’s image; this is the basis for our traditional view of tolerance: robust disagreement at the level of the ideas being stated but a defence of the person i.e. they are not repressed, burnt at the stake, run out of business. It is absolutely crucial to note the interplay being ‘ideas’ and ‘persons’. Traditional Tolerance made a distinction between the two and allowed for differing ideas (and faiths) to co-exist without the suppression of a particular group. New tolerance does not have the same distinction. It blurs the lines between ‘thinking’ and ‘being’ so that to disagree with an idea (e.g. same-sex marriage) is to hate/judge the person. This is particularly pronounced in the issue of homosexuality where to disagree with it as a lifestyle is seen as passing judgement on who someone is. This is because where we find our value as human beings has shifted from who we are in creation to who we believe ourselves to be. Rene Descartes said, “I think therefore I am”. Put another way; I think ‘x’ about myself, this is where I derive value and meaning therefore to disagree with that is to undermine me as a fellow human being.

    Christians believe that human beings are valuable not because of their beliefs, social class, education or sexual orientation but simply because they are image bearers of God. This is/ought to be our starting point and is precisely why a Christian can say “I love you as a person, I am not judging you, but I disagree with you”.

  2. Tolerance and Truth
    Both views of tolerance are connected to/arise out of a particular view of truth. Traditional Tolerance held as its basic foundation that there was objective ‘truth’ and that it could be known. Therefore, in the free exchange of ideas the truth would inevitably bubble to the surface. Thus, people would be allowed to express contra opinions in the pursuit of this truth. By Contrast, New Tolerance has arisen out from a post-modern view of truth that says, “all ideas are equally right”, “there is no objective truth” and “you cannot say someone is wrong”. Therefore, to be intolerant is not to silence and repress a person but to disagree with an idea!

    Thus the logic of the New Tolerance runs like this:

    1. There is no absolute truth to be found
    2. Therefore all ideas must be seen as equally truthful and valid
    3. Anyone who disagrees with an idea or critiques it must be an intolerant bigot.
    4. Because a person has broken point 2 – they will no longer be tolerated!
    5. And because this new definition of tolerance focuses on the idea and not the person, it persecutes that person until they are silenced, sued or run out of business.

    This is what Prof. D. A. Carson calls, “the intolerance of tolerance”. This is the tragic irony of our most beloved virtue; the New Tolerance we see today is profoundly intolerant. It will not permit any disagreement, critique or dissention. At that point, given the reaction in the media to the examples stated above, we are forced to conclude that New Tolerance is, at its heart, totalitarian in its scope.

  3. Final reflections
    There is much more that can be said here and I hope this article will be a discussion starter for us as we begin to critically engage with the world around us but let me conclude with three closing remarks.

    First, in the west we prize intellectual, philosophical and academic advancement but without tolerating the dissenting opinion the ‘free exchange of ideas’ simply dries up. Second, we covet diversity in all spheres of life but if we cannot tolerate people with whom we disagree, what true diversity is there? Third, this view of tolerance is not only damaging it is logically incoherent because tolerance presupposes disagreement! If we are not allowed to disagree how can there be any meaningful tolerance? At that point I must conclude that this New Tolerance is the cuckoo in the nest of our western society should be critiqued and shooed away in favour of a tolerance that is more robust and better for us as a society.

City Church is moving

blog-moving

I know I’m in the minority, but I much prefer winter. I love an open fire and a glass of something warming (preferably single malt) while the wind howls outside. As far as I’m concerned, summer is overrated! I would much rather be too cold than too hot and from a ministry point of view, summer is a fallow time of year here in Dublin. Especially when you’re a young church full of students who go home and leave you with the drunken guy at the back heckling your sermon (true story).

Bring on the winter, I say!

At the start of September, City Church Dublin celebrated its first birthday! We spent the evening celebrating God’s goodness to us in Jesus, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to ourselves and eating lots of cake. Personally, I celebrated having the City members back and gearing up for another year together. Now, we are well into October and we are excited to see who else God is bringing into our little church family.

In addition to meeting new people, we are moving to a new place! We announced a few weeks ago that we are partnering with Dublin Christian Mission to rent their building at Chancery Place on a Sunday morning. The building is right beside the Four Courts and close to the Luas line.

The City Dwellers (members) met there on Tuesday night and saw the building for the first time. We also spent some time praying for the move, asking God to use our presence in the building for the growth of the gospel and praying for the surrounding area. We launch in our new venue in a few weeks’ time (details to follow).

This winter we are praying big prayers and looking to the next 5 years of City’s life. We feel like we are on the cusp of a significant season in the life of the church and have a growing conviction that things will never be the same again. Obviously this is very exciting but comes with its own unique set of challenges. At the moment our preaching series is in the book of Acts and time and again we are confronted with the sovereign rule of the risen Jesus. As a church we want to keep our eyes firmly fixed on that heavenly reality as we, by his grace, have many more winters together.

A message from the corner of a dark room

Mine shaft

Well, here we are in the middle of the summer. A lot of you City Dwellers have been away for over a month now; Kieron is off on holidays and I am sitting in the corner of a dark room just rocking back and forth. Yet in the midst of my loneliness I am taking the time to reach out to give you a short update on where we are at behind the scenes.

It may be quiet on Sundays, but during the week Kieron and I have been hard at work looking to September and beyond. Before we broke for the summer we agreed as a church at we would look for a new venue to launch morning services and we have been searching high and low. We haven’t found anything yet but the process is helping to crystallise a few things for us as a leadership. We are really excited to get you all back in September to talk about the dreams we have been dreaming and to get your input on the direction of City Church.

We will be a year old when most of you come back, and we will take some time to reflect and give thanks for a year of God’s grace to us as a church family. We are also thinking through community groups and hope that they will continue to serve you all well.

Basically we are excited about you coming back and wish you would all hurry up!

In the mean time, remember a few things:

  1. Many of you are out of routine which means it’s easy to neglect your walk with Jesus. If this is you, it’s not too late. Download a sermon, listen to it while you walk along the beach or in a decent coffee shop. Dust off your Bible. Trying reading some Psalms or a Gospel (maybe Mark), if you don’t know where to start.
  2. Keep praying, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t in days, or weeks. Have a look at Ephesians 1, how many things are there to thank God for? Reflect on his awesomeness and relay it back to him in prayer. Nothing fancy, he’s your Heavenly Father.
  3. Remember that you have a church family here who love you!
  4. Know that if you arrive back in Dublin and you’re a bit of a mess spiritually that we have open arms waiting for you. Come as you are!
  5. Remember the two constants of City Church: Jesus and change. A lot might happen in the next year, but Jesus is still on the throne and he is ultimately in charge of City.

Now, I will return to my dark corner and await your arrival.

Mark

City Dwellers — A forward-moving family

City Dwellers

Last Tuesday (13th May) we had our first City Dwellers’ meeting. This was for all those who call city their home, a kind of AGM I guess. It was a chance to do a bit of housekeeping, talk about our vision for the future and pray for the life of the church.

We talked about where the church was financially, and while it is able to pay its rent, that’s really about it. We want to grow and support new ministries and new initiatives. But there is a lot to be thankful for!

We have only existed for the last 34 weeks and have already come a long way. One of the most moving things about last Tuesday was how people prayed using the language of family. In a city where people surround us yet often feel isolated, this is a very significant thing for us. We want to cultivate that, make new friends, and grow closer together.

Another thing that was obvious is that people are growing spiritually. They have found a home and a community that loves them and is seeking their good. People are pushing themselves and wrestling with the Scriptures and not shying away from the hard things. (Please God, more of that!)

So it’s as a family that we are seeking to move forward into this new phase. We are praying for a building that can accommodate us in the morning and our desire is to launch morning services on Easter Sunday 2015.
We don’t simply want to be a student church but a diverse family where everyone is welcome and grows together, where people can get married and settle down, where little people run between chairs and our ears are filled with their laughter as well as the praise of God. We want to be a family where older saints draw along side younger ones, imparting wisdom and demonstrating what it means to endure in the faith. We want to be a church that is really looking out to the city around us not with self-righteous fear but with (what John Piper calls) broken-hearted boldness, speaking about and demonstrating the beauty of our God to all who will listen.

That’s what we want to be!

It feels like we are at a positive transition point in the life of City. We have begun to solidify as a family, and that makes me very excited for the days ahead.

We started this crazy experiment last September and, yes, it’s very early days; but there is a sense of momentum. Let’s keep moving forward, growing together, loving Jesus, loving one another and the city in which God has placed us.

What is progress?

Progress
With the upcoming European elections, there has been a lot of talk about progress in Ireland lately. Every election sign promises a “way forward,” a “balanced approach,” or “people before profit”. Of course, for the elections, the conversation is mainly about economic progress, but there is also a lot of talk about progress in other areas of society as well. Here are a few:

  • Political progress: society might say that democracy today is a more highly developed kind of government than the autocratic empires of ancient times, or even than the communist regimes of the more recent past, that there are no God-ordained kings to rule over common people.
  • Scientific progress: society might say that we understand the world today better than we did before, knowing that it is not flat, not the centre of the universe, and not created by some divine being with too much time on his hands.
  • Ethical progress: today society no longer tolerates slavery; no longer tolerates the tyrannical oppression of women; and, more recently, no longer tolerates differences of opinion on whether moral limits exist with respect to sexual orientation and expression.

The general consensus is that all this “progress” is good and that it all leads to a more fruitful, equal society. And that makes sense from the secular perspective of modern society, but what about from the Christian perspective? Does God consider these types of “progress” as progress at all?

Well, the answers aren’t always straightforward to obtain, but there are a few principles that we can apply when considering whether human advances are considered progress in God’s eyes:

  1. Humanity is not on a constant path to perfection
    At the beginning of the Bible, we learn that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” [Genesis 1:31]; that is, it was perfect. Then, two chapters later, after the man and woman that God had made had sinned, God cursed the earth and mankind. From that time on, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth…. And not only the creation, but we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” [Romans 8:22-23]. The narrative of the Bible is not that humanity made a mistake thousands of years ago and has been working ever since until it can be perfect again; the narrative of the Bible is about a broken creation with a broken people, both of which are redeemed by a promised saviour. And though that promised saviour has come, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” [Romans 8:19], the time when all will be made right. Because we are part of this broken creation, we can’t trust that every time humanity moves along with a political, scientific, or ethical development that we are approaching God’s standard of perfection.
  2. God’s standards for human behaviour are found in his Word not in human consensus
    One of the consequences of the sin in Genesis is that we don’t always want what God wants. Sometimes we do—and sometimes even society does—but usually just in vague terms like peace, love, and justice. But often we all just want our own freedom; we want to be our own gods, choosing what we should be able to do. This is a result of sinfulness. Paul describes sinful humans like this:

    For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him… and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie…. [Romans 1:21-25]

    Although this curse is partly removed by the work of the Holy Spirit when we become Christians, part of this blindness remains. This means that we can’t trust ourselves to know better than God’s instructions. And when it comes to progress, we can’t trust the consensus of society when determining whether something is right or wrong. So back to some of the examples from above, we can’t redefine the definitions of the Bible (marriage, gender, start of life, etc.) using whatever definition we think is most fair, or even most loving. When the Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman or that gender is a God-ordained distinction, we have no right to try change that or stand silent as others do. At the same time, we can celebrate when society ends slavery or when political developments lead to a society that reduces the oppression of the poor, because we know these changes uphold Biblical truth. Therefore, human “progress” is only really progress if it brings us more in line with the truths revealed to us in the Bible.

  3. God’s call to humanity is to Christlikeness
    The discussion so far has been on the progress of humanity as a whole. But part of the narrative of the Bible is that, as Christians, we are not lumped together with humanity, but sent into humanity as light into darkness. For that reason, our biggest concern should not be the progress of society as a whole but our progress in the mission that God has given us. This is what Paul calls “progress” in Philippians 1:25, a call to which he gives by commanding,

    Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. [Philippians 1:27-28]

    Paul then goes on to explain in the rest of Philippians just what it means to live a life worthy of the gospel, following Christ’s example of humility and looking forward to the ultimate redemption of creation. That being said, we don’t ignore the progress of humanity as a whole; we work to advance it by advancing the gospel. But knowing that the progress of humanity is outside of our control, we also don’t lament how the world is falling apart, wishing to go back (or forward) to a simpler, more moral time. Instead, knowing that all things—including humanity’s progress and our progress in the faith—are under God’s control, we focus on following Christ’s example and becoming more like him, knowing that this is achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the kind of progress that Christians should be talking about.

Don’t quote the Bible less, quote it better

Recently, I read an article by Rich Little about the dangers of quoting the Bible as Christians. The author correctly identifies some dangers and gives some helpful insight, but the impression he gives is that there isn’t much of a place for quoting Scripture in today’s world. His advice—to himself and to others—is to quote the Bible less when we are in danger of quoting it improperly. My advice is different: instead of quoting the Bible less, we need to quote it better. Let’s look at each of the dangers he identified and see how we can avoid them to use the Bible properly.

Note: The headings are quoted from the original article.

  1. “No Scripture is written to me”

    This is a great point. We can often sit down with our Bible, open it up, and say, “What is God saying to me in this verse?”—which is good question to ask but the wrong place to start. When we start there, we are likely to understand the verse out of context, and then quote it out of context too. But the heading is misleading; we should change it to “No Scripture is written only to me.”

    When we read a book of the Bible, we need to know the audience to whom the book was written. We need to know what the passage said to the original audience. We ask questions like: Why is it there? What would be missing if it wasn’t there? Then, once we know what the passage said to the original audience, we can learn what it says to us by asking questions like: What does this passage tell me about the kind of person that I am? What does this passage tell me about who God is? What does this passage tell me about Jesus and his work? What does this passage tell me about how to honour God? And for the most part, the right answers to those questions will be just as applicable for everyone to whom you are going to quote the passage.

    So when it comes to quoting scripture, we need to ensure that what we’re saying to whomever we are quoting it is the same thing that the passage is actually saying. If you can do that, then you don’t have to fear ripping the verse out of context. And the other thing to do, as much as possible, is to communicate the context when you are quoting Scripture. This helps ensure that both you and the person to whom are quoting understand what the text is really saying.

  2. “No Scripture is written to ‘Them'”

    This is another great point. But the danger of is that we can lose all of our confidence in defending Christian truth, thinking that we should first convince everyone to be Christians before we bring the Bible into discussion. The problem that arises then is how can we convince people to be Christians? How can we convince them to believe? The New Testament makes a consistent connection between believing and hearing the good news. For example, in Romans 10, after concluding that there is no distinction between Jewish people and Greek people (the “us” and “them” of New Testament times) when it comes to righteousness, Paul asks:

    How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [Romans 10:14]

    The point is that it is necessary for all to hear the “word of Christ” [v. 17]. And where else will people hear this good news except in the Bible? There is nowhere else, so we use the Bible to show people the truth: that everyone (both “us” and “them”) has fallen short of God’s requirement for morality and that our only hope is faith in Jesus. The way to avoid the danger of quoting in an “us” vs. “them” mentality is to remember that there is no distinction between us and them; we all have fallen short, and we all need God’s grace just as much. But, if anything, this should drive us to quote the Scriptures more boldly—both to “us” and “them” alike.

  3. “Scripture contains errors”

    While the author makes another very helpful point—that the authority of scripture doesn’t fall down when we see variations between modern translations—the presentation is misleading, which can lead to a false conclusion. His basic point is that there are minor things in the Bible that are unreliable so we should only focus on the major things, simply “witnessing the perfect Christ of scripture.”

    The issue here is a misrepresentation of biblical inerrancy. Biblical inerrancy is the belief that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything which is contrary to fact” [1]. This is the doctrine that has always been held by believers. Now, to say that Scripture (as we have it today) contains errors is grossly misleading. Though modern translations are not inerrant in themselves, they are inerrant to the extent that they reflect the original manuscripts. And they do so very well. Different translations represent different attempts to present the same truth. When Paul quotes Old Testament Scriptures [e.g. Romans 3:10-18; 1 Corinthians 2:9; etc.], he quotes them in a different language, he speaks them to a different culture, and he doesn’t worry that the wording is not exactly the same; that doesn’t stop him from saying that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness….” [2 Timothy 3:16].

    Variations in wording between modern translations have no impact on the inerrancy of Scripture, and they should not make us hesitant in quoting it. They should, however, affect how we quote it. We shouldn’t get hung up on the syntax of a particular sentence from a particular version, and we shouldn’t make big stretches in interpretation because of alternate meanings or the connotations of particular English words. We should use whatever Bible study tools we have (multiple translations, lexicons, commentaries) to understand what particular texts are saying and verify the truth of whatever it is we think they do say. The more confident we are about a passage’s meaning, the more confidently we can quote it to others.

  4. “Proof-texting is unbiblical”

    The author’s next point helps us avoid another dangerous pitfall of Scripture quotation. The argument is that slicing Scripture into small chunks and reassembling it allows us to defend any doctrine we please, or even make up new doctrine altogether. This is a great point because we need to be very careful about how we piece together arguments from scripture; we cannot use out-of-context verses to build up false arguments.

    But just because we can’t use small (or even big) portions of Scripture out of context, doesn’t mean we can’t use them at all. We can use in-context verses to defend and explain truth. Let’s look again at Paul’s use of Scripture. For example in Romans 3:10-18, he cites no less than 10 separate passages from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures—in a different language to a different audience than the original—in order to point out that no one has a righteousness of his or her own. Or, for an even stronger example, let’s look at Jesus being tempted by the devil in Luke 4. When attacked by a verbal challenge to turn a stone into bread, how did Jesus respond? With a single sentence from the book of Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” And twice more before the end of verse 13, Jesus quotes Old Testament Scripture in single sentences as his only defence. Jesus was not one of the original audience members for any of those texts, but he still used them in tiny chunks, knowing that they impacted his life and his behaviour and knowing that they proved the devil to be a liar. Of course, in this passage, we also see the devil using small, out-of-context verses to try to cause Jesus to sin. So it does show that proof-texting verses falsely is dangerous, but our solution should be Jesus’ solution: the answer to misused Scripture quotations is not fewer Scripture quotations but properly used Scripture quotations!

  5. “The Bible is not God”

    The truth that the Bible is not God is a great truth. If the Bible were God, then our God would be far too small. In a general sense, all of creation (including the Bible) points to God, declaring his glory, but the Bible also does more than that. The Bible functions as God’s communication to us. In it, he inspired each author to write exactly what he intended them to write. And today when we read the Bible, we have exactly what he intends for us to have. God’s power has not been compromised by 2000 years of the copying of manuscripts.

    The Bible is not God, but the Bible is how God has told us about himself. The Bible is how God communicates his will to us. And most importantly, the Bible is how God has revealed his Son to us. And God has decided in his Bible to do more than just tell us history about his work; he has also “breathed out” to us what is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” [2 Timothy 3:16-17]. So no, we don’t worship the Bible because it is God, we worship the God of the Bible who has given it to us. And we worship him in the way he has instructed us in his Word. And when we debate—both with Christians and non-Christians—about truth, we do so using the very words of Scripture because that is how we measure truth. And when we correct—both our own views and others’—we correct it using the teaching of Scripture. And when we share the Bible with others, we quote it confidently—precisely because it is God’s word.

So to conclude, we shouldn’t fear studying Scripture diligently, and we shouldn’t fear quoting Scripture to other people. God has blessed us by providing us with a gift that “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” [Hebrews 4:12]. We shouldn’t be afraid to wield it, both to save ourselves and to save others. That’s how the New Testament church used God’s Word and that is how Jesus used God’s Word. So feel free to use it!

References

[1] Grudem, Wayne. 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, pg. 42.

Merry Christmas City Dwellers

Ha'penny bridge

As City Church closes it’s doors for the next few weeks, it is a time for me (Mark) and the rest of the pastoral team to take stock and reflect on what has been. It is also an opportunity to say to all of you how much I have appreciated your willingness to join us in this adventure.

Sixteen weeks ago we launched in the city centre of Dublin with a handful of people from Immanuel Church. Within a couple of weeks we began to make new friends as people found us and got involved. We met in Harold’s Cross to have community group, eating together, talking about the sermon and praying for one another. This quickly outgrew the space and we decided to split into two locations.

Over the last 16 weeks it feels we have grown closer. We have done a lot of laughing together and shed a few tears along the way but these are indicators of the deepening relationships we (the pastoral team) so earnestly desired from the start.

You have opened your arms to welcome new people–people from all over the world, people at various points on their spiritual journey–and have made it feel like it’s the most normal thing in the world. This is far from ‘normal’. It is the visible sign of the Holy Spirit’s work in us to turn us outward, becoming lovers of others rather than of comfort and self. One of my top prayers for us as a church next year is that we strive after more of this. That we become relentless in our pursuit of the outsider, the classmate, workmate and housemate.

The rationale for all of this is the Gospel of Jesus. The message that God has acted decisively in history to bring a people to himself through the death and resurrection of his Son. God is in the business of removing stony hearts and giving vibrant hearts of flesh. We want that life-giving truth to saturate everything we do at City, in the hope that others might experience it and that (one heart at a time) we might be a blessing to Dublin.

Of course things have not been without their challenges. People have sacrificed in order to be part of City Church and that does not go unacknowledged. I spoke a few weeks back of the need for mentors in the Christian life fully aware that the older generation (in general) is absent in City. We need those older saints, especially older women. Please pray that God begins to broaden the demographic at City.

Financially we are covering our rent and some other costs. No staff member takes a salary from City. When we asked for your generosity, you responded and we made a donation of €150 to disaster relief in the Philippines. I want us to be a healthy church who has a healthy view of money, even though none of us has much. Giving is a part of Christian discipleship and your generosity has been an indicator of the viability of City church. Let’s build on this. In September 2014 we hope to appoint another intern alongside David. We have €8000 (per year) from Irish Church Missions for this and I would like us to be able to commit to at least an additional €1000 per year. This is just one aspect of the financial life of City, and I want to keep you all up to date about where your money goes. In the new year please review your giving, budget for it and let’s work together to make City financially healthy so that we might start new ministries and take financial responsibility for ourselves.

In January we will begin a 6 week series through the book of Daniel, looking at how God works in surprising ways, in situations where He is not honoured and uses his people to make him known to a hostile society. My prayer is that through that series God encourages us to see that a few faithful people can make a difference as they trust his promises and his sovereign goodness. That is what I want for us at City.

Thank you all so much for your setting off on this adventure. Have a wonderful Christmas and see you all in 2014.

Blessings,

Mark