For the last 18 years, the “God’s Glory, our Joy” conference has been contributing its mite to the project of building biblical churches in the North West of England by providing a forum for thought, prayer, and discussion. This year, people gathered from about 20 different churches and listened to a trio of talks on the theme of “Courage and Consistency”.
Mike Judge (pastor of Chorlton Evangelical Church) gave the first talk on “Cultural Shift and Evangelical Compromise”, charting some of the major changes in UK society over the last 60 years and some of the ways in which evangelical Christians and churches have taken on the colours of the world around them. Rejection of authority, pursuit of pleasure and entertainment, a consumer mentality, love defined as a feeling, abolition of the difference between male and female, greater geographical mobility, student culture and stratification of society into cliques by age group; all of these cultural shifts have filtered through into evangelical churches. Mike closed the session with practical advice for church life in a post-60’s society.
From Mike’s session:
“There has been a significant cultural shift, and significant evangelical compromise. A section of evangelicalism has taken the culture, and not the Scriptures, as their reference point”
“We now have churches which claim to be “getting back to the New Testament” by having no formal authority figures. Have they even read the New Testament?”
“How many churches actually practise male leadership? How many Christian couples do?”
“Take rock music. Give it a Christian veneer. Serve it up on Sunday, and people like it. But what is the motivation here? Surely not to worship God better.”
The three talks hung together well, with the following sessions tracing out changes in the culture and compromises from churches and Christians in two particular areas.
Mark Stocker (pastor of Spring Road Evangelical Church in Southampton) gave a talk with a title borrowed from Jonathan Edwards and changed a little; “Sinners in the hands of a cosy God”. He spoke about the doctrine of hell and those who would relegate it to the sidelines or replace it with alternatives such as annihilationism. Mark argued that even within conservative evangelicalism, some churches see the doctrine of hell as “toxic”, and have abandoned it. This has not happened out of a desire to be faithful to Scripture, but in response to pressure from the culture around us.
From Mark’s session:
“Thanks heavens! Pope puts hell into doubt” read the headline. The Vatican denied it, but the desire of the press was clear.
“Why won’t evangelicals submit to scripture?”
“We want God to reflect our own image, so we won’t have a God of justice, but one who wants only to correct sinners and get them back on track. But “Vengeance is mine”, says God.”
“Edwards said, ‘It becomes the saints fully and perfectly to consent to what God doth, without any reluctance or opposition of spirit.’”
Rhys Curnow (of Newcastle Reformed Evangelical Church) spoke on “Male and Female: Shifting Roles and an Unchanging Bible”. He began by outlining what the Bible says about male and female, and how this works out in marriage, in general life, and in the local church. Rhys went on to address the way our Western world now thinks of gender as a cultural and social construct which can (and should) be changed at will, as reflected in the acceptable boundaries of public discourse and in changes to common practises and to laws. He closed by addressing the ways churches and Christians have accepted those changes, quoting sources to illustrate evangelical hermeneutics twisting in the winds of culture. The concern for our churches, he said, was not full-blown acceptance of transgenderism, but listening to self-professed evangelicals who blur the distinctives between male and female.
From Rhys’ session:
“Girl guides allow children to use the facilities of their choice without informing parents”.
“Transgender men can now be placed in female prisons, with unsurprising results”.
“The new NIV translation of 1 Tim 2:12 has revised “have authority” to “assume authority”. Douglas Moo leads that committee. He would defend the change as neutral. But it isn’t, is it?”
“Abolishing male and female is not an isolated issue, but part of theological liberalism.”
“This leads to an androgynous Adam and a Jesus whose manhood is not important.”
A session was also given to reports, and the conference heard news from a church in Wigan (a recent merger of two congregations), the Evangelical Times, and a church in Addis Ababa.
The conference was closed by worship, as David Campbell, pastor of North Preston Evangelical Church, preached on the closing promise of Jesus to the church at Laodicea: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father”. David helped us follow the Lord Jesus through his battles on earth and his conquest.