Category Archives: New Zealand
On Sunday, 17 March 2019, less that 48 hours after the horrific attack in two Christchurch Mosques resulting in the massacre of 50 people created in the image of God, I preached this sermon as part of this service.
Today, 22 March 2019 when marking one week since this evil attack, New Zealand’s media outlets (online, TV, radio) will broadcast the Islamic “Call to Prayer” (adhan) at 1:30pm.
An English translation of this prayer is as follows:
“God is the greatest (4x)
I acknowledge there is no deity but god (2x)
I acknowledge that Muhammad is the messenger of god (2x)
Hasten to the prayer (2x)
Hasten to the salvation (2x)
God is the greatest (2x)
There is no deity but god (1X)”
I offer the following as a suggested “Christian Call to Prayer” at this time of sober reflection and meditation:
“Dear God, you are the one true and living God – Father, Son and Spirit. You alone are God and you alone give mercy and grace. We praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – who died and rose again so all those who turn from their sins and trust in Him can find forgiveness and eternal hope.
We pray that those who do not yet know you, as you have faithfully revealed yourself to us in your word – the Bible – may come to know you by faith and in knowing you will know comfort and peace that transcends the evil of this world.
Dear loving, compassionate Heavenly Father, we pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The very fact that in less than 30 minutes, New Zealand will broadcast the Islamic Adhan is as unprecedented as the wicked attacks that took place here just one week ago. This is a crucial and important time for New Zealand and for New Zealand Christians to stand together with all those created in God’s image against evil and wickedness.
Yet, it is also important for Christians to lovingly and carefully hold fast to the truth claims of the Bible and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. We do this because we love Jesus more than anything in this world and we love others more than we love ourselves, so out of love we honour Christ and desire all people to know Him and love Him.
Fleeners: Going to America
Time flies… September 2017 marked 11 years since we moved to New Zealand as a family for gospel ministry.
Our lives have changed radically over these years. We are not the same people we were then. Clearly some of that is due to the simple passing of time and the normal changes that occur in life. Yet, much of who we are today is a result of becoming New Zealanders and serving together as a family as we’ve sought to be faithful servants of Christ.
One significant aspect of our life and ministry in New Zealand is that we’ve never returned to the US as a family in all these years. We have been happy to call New Zealand our home and Lord willing will continue to do so for many years to come. Another aspect has been the fullness and pace of our lives in ministry. We’ve been in fulltime ministry for nearly 15 years and have only ever had a two-week holiday and those didn’t happen until the last three years.
We’ve come to a time when we believe a family trip back to the US is overdue and we realise our window of opportunity to do so is closing. We also realise we are all very tired and overstretched. By August 2018 Mekaela will be 17 with only one year left of school. Mandy has one grandmother who is still living. We have nieces and nephews/cousins we’ve never met. We have siblings and parents we haven’t seen in many years.
I (Joe) have received approval from the Gospel Training Trust which oversees the Tim Training Course (where I teach) to have the 4th Term of 2018 off from my teaching responsibilities. I have also received affirmation from our church’s Elders, Deacons and congregation to be free from ministry here for December 2018 and January 2019.
Our plan is to return to America for those two months. Lord willing, we will be able to see all of our immediate families, visit Eastern Pennsylvania to show the children where they were born, etc., do some sightseeing along the way and have two or a bit more weeks for R&R together.
Though we have the time now in our schedule for a trip like this, we do not have the finances to make this happen. Like always we are dependent on the Lord for His provision. Like so many times in our lives we know He often provides through the kindness and generosity of His people.
If you are someone who has been blessed by our ministry over the years and are in a place to help us financially, we would be truly blessed.
You can give to our “Fleeners: Going to America Trip Fund” via this account – BNZ 02-0644-0073993-013.
If you are outside NZ and would like to contribute please contact me and I can send you details in an email – jfleener5 AT gmail DOT com
I’ve just realised the blog where these articles were posted in 2013 is no longer online. I wrote these articles at the time when New Zealand was debating and finally legalising same-sex marriage.
I was prompted to consider these articles again after watching a 16 minute human interest story broadcast last night (Sunday, 16 July 2017).
An enormously complex issue; socially, politically, culturally, theologically, relationally, etc. covered in the mainstream media in 16 minutes!
In the best of times it is sad and painful to see real-life, family struggles rehearsed on TV, let alone on today’s crazy world of “reality TV”.
New Zealand politicians (many) pride themselves on being progressive. The media (seemingly the world over) pride themselves on being culture changers/influencers.
For those who believe God’s good design for men/women and marriage is universal and timeless, we must be wise, loving and yet clear in this new world in which we now live and minister.
These were originally published a four seperate articles. I am now including them all here as one post.
To Attend or not to Attend? This is Soon to be the Question
It is the first week of July, 2013 in New Zealand. You go to the letterbox and there it is. You’ve been expecting it, but in some way hoped maybe… just maybe, they wouldn’t invite you. It would have made things a bit easier.
But, you are. You are invited to your sister’s wedding. The date is set for the 24th of August. She is planning to marry her long-time partner, who happens to be another woman. Yep, this will be one of the “same-sex” weddings performed in New Zealand within the first week they are legal.
You and your sister grew up in a “church going home.” Over the years your understanding of the Gospel and the Scriptures has grown stronger and clearer. At the same time, your sister, though still calling herself a Christian, has drifted away from a commitment to Christ-alone for salvation and trusting Him for joy and fulfilment within His holy will for her life.
To add to it, the phone rings the next week. It’s your sister… She explains that since Dad passed away last year, she can really only think of one person who she’d want to walk her down the aisle… you.
Now, she knows your view on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. You’ve shared with her over the years, with patience and compassion, how God’s Word is very clear on this, and an active, practicing homosexual relationship is sin and displeasing to God. You’ve shared with her over the past year or so that marriage is defined by God, not man, and therefore by definition must be between a man and a woman.
The truth is, in the past when seeking to explain these things to your sister you have become angry and even harsh in your tone towards her. This has grieved you and you have sought her forgiveness, yet still affirming your conviction on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
She knows this will be something you will take seriously and therefore doesn’t expect an answer straight way. You hang up the phone… What’s next?
The first passage that floods your mind is James 1:5, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
So you pray, “Lord, you know I lack wisdom, please help me.”
You love your sister, you really do. How can you best love her at this time? Do you attend and walk her down the aisle? Do you attend, but don’t walk her down the aisle? Do you not attend at all?
Other passages come to mind:
Romans 1:32, Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Will your attendance be seen as giving approval for something God condemns, as you are called upon to be a witness to the union? If attended alone wouldn’t, would walking her down the aisle, having to say publically you willing give your sister to another woman in marriage?
Is this one of the areas where I am free to choose either option? Go or don’t go? Yet, what if my choice to go would cause another Christian to stumble? One who has been saved from a lifestyle of homosexuality and still struggles with same-sex attraction (Romans 14:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 8:13).
What about Luke 14:26 & 27 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Is this a matter of competing allegiances between Christ and your family?
This, like many of the more complex issues in our lives, is better thought about before it happens rather than waiting until we’re in the middle of it.
Over the next few posts, I would like to consider how a Christian might think through this very real and difficult scenario Biblically.
To Attend or not to Attend? This is Soon to be the Question – Part #2
(In this post I switch to first person pronouns throughout, not because this scenario actually relates to me or either of my sisters, but simply for ease of writing and a more personal form of communication.)
As I try to think through this very real scenario, I find myself very torn. This is only the beginning of the complications that will arise as our culture shifts further and further from a sense of Biblical norms.
It seems like we must, firstly, acknowledge that for those who are in this type of scenario, this is very difficult on a number of levels. Even after thinking things through carefully and prayerfully, regardless of the decision there will be an awkwardness and unsettledness.
It seems to me that Romans 1:32, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” is going to provide a grid for me to think through as I consider my role in a situation like this.
Would my actions in this scenario, in any way, be understood to be granting approval for a known, public sinful lifestyle?
If my sister had participated in the filming of a pornographic film, would I attend (whether I am male or female) a “premier” showing of the film to celebrate her success?
I would think not…
Let’s consider the “attend and walking her down the aisle” option…
It seems that in any wedding ceremony, even the most irreligious, the role of the one walking someone (historically called the “bride”) down the aisle has a generally understood purpose: the giving of the “bride” to the “partner” (in this case another female).
To walk my sister down the aisle and give her away in marriage to another woman seems to me to communicate several things. Firstly, I agree that what is happening here is a marriage. Secondly, I am willingly supporting an active homosexual lifestyle. Thirdly, I am publicly declaring that the union of this couple is a good thing and should not end until the death of one of the parties.
To actively participate in anything that communicates even one of the above points in regards to a same-sex marriage would be to go against the clear teaching of Scripture.
As a result, it would seem clear, that I cannot walk my sister down the aisle and “give her away.”
In my next post, I will consider whether or not to attend even if I cannot walk her down the aisle. (The more common and complicated scenario that people will be facing in the very near future.)
To Attend or not to Attend? This is Soon to be the Question – Part #3
Since the first post in this series, I have received emails, FaceBook messages, Twitter Direct Messages, etc. all from people who are facing a scenario very similar to the one I’ve described, or they expect to before the year is over.
This is no hypothetical dream world. There are real people, real families, real relationships affected by what we are discussing.
So, my heart is heavy. I find myself weeping over the brokenness of our world, the damage due to sin, and rejection of Christ and His will. Firstly I weep for what I see of all of this in my own heart, then for what I see all around me. I long for Christ’s return. Even so, Lord Jesus come…
Yet, He has not returned, not yet. And in this window of time in which we live, we are called to live faithfully for Him, to Him, and by His strength.
It is after a long discourse, where Paul reminds us of our risen, returning Saviour that he encourages us with these words, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Having already established that I cannot walk my sister down the aisle and “give her away in marriage,” I still have the question; “can I attend?”
Ironically this question would be answered very simply by Christians a generation ago, though there would not have been a scenario for the question to arise.
Here’s what I mean.
Today a wedding is seen by most as a spectator sport. It is a place to see and be seen.
However, it wasn’t that long ago (even still in many Christian wedding ceremonies), when the attendees saw themselves as witnesses. Sure only two people actually sign the wedding license as legal witnesses, but all present are witnesses to the making of vows.
Even in a secular wedding ceremony it is common for the celebrant to say something like, “We are gathered here together to unite in marriage — and —.” You see the “we” in that statement? Although many who are in attendance may not consciously see themselves this way, they are a part of the ceremony. They are being asked, either implicatly or in some cases explicitly to witness this couple making their vows and to serve them in the future by holding them accountable to those vows.
Even if we were to acknowledge that this aspect of attending a wedding ceremony has so been lost to our culture, we can safely assume no one will see my attendance as a formal statement of approval to the wedding, marriage, or the vows, does this remove all concerns?
I don’t think it does…
It seems to me that if we were to look for a cultural synonym for how weddings are generally viewed today, we could use the word celebration. Surely, most everyone would agree that a wedding of any kind is understood as a time of celebration. You will even find on invitations, often, something like, “come celebrate with us…”
Celebrate… Hmmm… Can I celebrate with this couple? Can I celebrate the public display of an open homosexual lifestyle? Can I celebrate the denial of God’s design for marriage, sex, and personal intimacy?
I know I cannot partake in a role when I am seen as giving my approval for and even declaring right and good something that God calls sin. If my attendance were to be perceived as such, I could not attend.
Yet, even if I knew everyone present (or at least everyone I knew personally) would not take my presence as approval, can I join this celebration?
It seems to me like I have found myself right back at Romans 1:32 & Luke 14:25 & 27.
I love my sister, but I love Christ more. I long to maintain a relationship with my sister where I can continue to show her deeds of kindness and share the Gospel of Christ with her and her partner. Yet, I cannot celebrate, let alone, approve of something for which Christ says is sin.
The next phone call will be mine to initiate and it is one I don’t look forward to. To tell my sister I cannot attend her wedding will not be received well. Not by her, our Mum, or extended family (remember this is written first person, but hypothetical for me). I am likely to be the recipient of direct anger and indirect avoidance.
Yet, I have often observed that long-term family division does not, generally, result from one single event where there has been offence.
If there has been general strife and tension within the family (even if under the surface) for years, then something like this may result in very long term or even permanent division.
If, we have been able to maintain loving family relationships through the years even when we’ve had significant differences, the division that comes as a result of this may be longer than previous periods of tension, but may not be long-term.
However, even if it is, if I have come to this conclusion because I believe it is what is honouring to the Lord and pleasing to my Saviour, I have to trust Him for the outcome.
In the strength that Christ provides through His Spirit I can follow Romans 12:17-21 and within a few weeks of the wedding invite my sister and her partner around for tea (dinner).
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I have endeavoured to write a “kind of thinking out loud” type blog post on a very delicate issue. Not because I am actually “thinking out loud”, but to show the kind of process I might go through in considering such a scenario. In this type of detached format, it can all come across rather clinical and seemingly without feeling. I do understand, when one is facing this situation for real, there will be much emotion and wrestling. Firstly, I believe that is why it is imperative for Christians to think carefully about these things before they find themselves deep into it. Secondly, I believe a Christian can think carefully and prayerfully through all of this and come to a different conclusion than I have presented here. Though we may differ in our conclusion, I believe they will be better off having thought through it carefully.
Everything’s Different… Nothing’s Changed…
Did you notice this morning as you woke to a new day that everything was different here in New Zealand?
Last night the New Zealand parliament voted to pass into law the Marriage Amendment Bill, making New Zealand the 13th country in the world and the first in Asia-Pacific to legalise same-sex marriage.
We should expect to see the first same-sex/transgender weddings in New Zealand in August.
A term and a societal institution which has been understood and practiced a particular way in all of New Zealand’s history along with all of human history across all cultures has just been disregarded, redefined, and dismissed. The word marriage still has the same definition in my dictionary today as it did yesterday “the formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife” (Oxford English Dictionary), but according to our government and society at large this is no longer the definition.
Yet, nothing’s changed…
As a Christian, I recognise three significant items that are as true today as they were yesterday.
Firstly, God is sovereign and He does all things well. Most of the members of our parliament would not see themselves as serving the sovereign and good purposes of the Creator of the Universe, some may even be purposely attempting to work against Him, yet they are His servants. His will is being accomplished and He will use even human government with all of its inadequacies to glorify Himself.
God hasn’t changed.
Secondly, the definitions of terms can change over time, but when something has been instituted by God its meaning cannot be altered regardless of what politicians, cultures, or even dictionaries say. Marriage is still and will always be an institution designed by God for the lifelong, convental commitment between one man and one woman for His glory in order to picture the love Christ has for His church. You see, marriage has been marginalised and maligned in or society for decades. It has been seen as a disposable commodity or something that can simply be bypassed for cohabitation, etc. The passing of this bill is significant to be sure. Yet, it is not an isolated event. It is the next step in an erosion process that has been picking up speed for decades.
God’s hasn’t changed His design for marriage.
Thirdly, our opportunity as Christians, to speak boldly and clearly into our culture with the truth of God’s Word continues. We’ve always been called to be lights in a dark world. As moral darkness grows deeper around us, our light can show brighter and brighter.
Yet, here is the sticking point…
If we have not been upholding and celebrating God’s design and purpose for marriage before today; if we have not been boldly & clearly challenging our culture and those around us with the transforming power of the Gospel without concern for personal ridicule before today; if we haven’t been speaking out against sin publically and privately before today, we won’t suddenly start now.
Our commission hasn’t changed.
My Christian friend, my pastor/minister friend. If, over the past year or more you have been unclear on God’s design for marriage; if you have cowered from boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and calling people to repentance, please repent. You are very close to looking no different than the culture around you. There’s no light left to shine.
Do not lose hope. Do not bow to the idols and pressures of this world. We serve a resurrected, returning Saviour and therefore can “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58 ESV)
If you are reading this blog as a non-Christian, scanning websites on this historic “day after” please know our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to speak clearly and boldly on those things He has ordained. He is our Lord and Saviour. He died for our sin so we could be forgiven. He rose again from the dead so we could have hope – a hope that is not rooted in this world. You can have this same forgiveness and this same hope by confessing your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
If you do this you will see that everything is truly different and everything does change!
Recently a friend sent me a link to Mark Keown’s blog post “Should Women Lead Churches and Preach?”
In general, Mark’s post didn’t state anything significantly new and revolutionary in the world of egalitarian/complementarian debates. What he writes, for the most part, has been stated by many others who hold an egalitarian view.
Let me state at the outset there are many who would use the term complementarian to describe themselves who are really patriarchy and from whom I would have no fellowship. They say stupid things about what the Bible supposedly claims about woman, the home, the church and society. Their views and practices are unbiblical and harmful.
However, Mark’s post is very unhelpful as well. For, at least three reasons.
- Due to his lack of reference to and interaction with the best of complementarian representatives, one could sadly conclude that Mark’s arguments here have never been addressed from Scripture by anyone and therefore you’d be an idiot to think differently than he does. I know it is only a blog post. Yet, one should, at least show an awareness of the literature and give some indication that there are Christians who love Jesus, the Bible and woman who have come to different conclusions.
Here are just a few examples of excellent books which address every argument raised in Mark’s post:
Notice the above three books are all written by woman, each solidly exegetical, each familiar with the historical arguments and current debates.
Marriage and Family in the Biblical World (a collection of essays, one written by a female scholar)
Here are a few items written by the husband/wife duo of Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger:
Notice that none of the above authors, as far as I am aware, are connected to CBMW. I say that simply to point out that there are solid, robust, complementarian authors and scholars from a variety of sources. I haven’t even included Amiee Byrd and Carl Trueman, who are both complementarian, yet who stirred up a hornet’s nest last year in critiquing CBMW and others in how they often defend their complementarian views.
- Mark makes this statement near the beginning of his post, “However, for women who are called to ministry, this is essential to their identity in Christ, and it cannot be treated as a secondary issue. It is a primary issue where Christian identity is concerned.”
I find this statement concerning on a number of levels which have nothing to do with gender.
As a Christian my identity is in Christ. It’s not in my vocation, my role as husband, father, etc.
For someone training future ministers it would be critical to constantly remind them of this. To send anyone out into ministry where they are thinking that their ministry or ministerial role is where they find their identity is to set them up for great disappointment, frustration, and failure.
- In the last few sentences, just before Mark’s concluding paragraph he makes the following statement, “We may be standing in the way of the Spirit if we block women from ministry. We may be like the Pharisees who thought Jesus was ministering under the power of Satan. Jesus warned them that a sin against the Spirit is the ultimate sin for which there is no forgiveness. That is worth thinking about.”
To give credit where credit is due, this is certainly an original contribution, as far as I am aware, in the whole egalitarian/complementarian debate.
Essentially all of the authors above, and everyone who has ever been a part of Jesus’ church who place some limits on when and how woman can serve in the church may be guilty of the “unpardonable sin”! Wow!
I’ve read some strong statements by both egalitarian and complementarian authors before. I’ve read statements by complementarians that embarrass me. I’ve never read anywhere such an unfounded and frankly ridiculous statement by contributors to this debate on either side.
There is no possible way one can defend this conclusion exegetically. If one handles such an important part of the Gospel’s teaching – “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” – with such a casual and indefensible approach, why on earth should anyone listen to how they handle the rest of Scripture?
To be frank, Mark, suggesting that brothers and sisters in Christ whom you disagree with as potentially guilty of committing the “unpardonable sin” is a serious matter. I obviously have quibbles with the rest of your post, but this kind of statement is beyond excuse. I would beg you to reconsider your words.
The more I consider the issues being debated in most church denominations in New Zealand (and elsewhere) today, the more I find myself thinking, “this is Spurgeon’s ‘Down-Grade Controversy’ all over again!”
If you are not familiar with this controversy of Spurgeon’s day, you will find a great collection of primary source materials here.
If you were to only read three items, I would recommend these:
As you read them think about the current theological and culture debates raging in most of today’s denominations. There is nothing new under the sun.
Like Spurgeon I can’t understand how one can stay in “fellowship” with those who deny even in practice the authority, sufficiency, and inspiration of Scripture.
Gavin & I had the most fantastic opportunity to go on a four day tramp with Wide Open Spaces.
We were four days and three nights on the Cass Lagoon Track near Arthur’s Pass.
This was the most difficult physical activity Gavin had ever done in his life and in 20 years for me. It was very, very hard. We were pushed beyond our limits in almost every way.
Yet, we had the most priceless and amazing opportunity to experience this together as father and son. I would do it again in a heartbeat (well, after I recover from this one).
I can’t speak highly enough for the crew of Wide Open Spaces. They were tremendous guides, well equipped, patient, & knowledgeable.
A full album of our tramp is on FaceBook.
For these tramps all of the necessary equipment, including food, is provided by Wide Open Spaces. All you need to bring is your clothes and even then they will provide jackets, thermals, etc. if needed.
Everyone involved are Christians and the tramp is purposefully focused on Scriptures and Biblical principles. This included evening devotionals together as father/son as well as purposeful chats along the track attempting to direct our attention to God’s glory in creation and from the Scriptures.
Gavin & I had never attempted even a full day’s tramp with a pack, let alone a overnighter, and certainly not a full four day tramp. We jumped into the deep end on this one.
It was the best father/son activity we have ever done! We will certainly look to do it again!
Well, it seems the thing to do each December, so I’ll join the fun and list here my top 10 reads from 2014, in no particular order.
- Selina: Countess of Huntingdon by Faith Cook. I try to always be in the process of reading a biography. This proved to be one of the most enjoyable I’ve read in a long time. Selina was a friend and contemporary of Whitefield and the Wesley brothers (along with many others during the Great Awakening) and used her position and finances to help enable their ministries.
- From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective – A fantastic read. Very challenging and helpful. I found myself better able to think Biblically about a very important doctrine and to consider carefully its practical implications.
- Journey of Grace (Theological Novels) by Richard Belcher – I have been reading these books to the family most evenings. We’ve now read the first six volumes. They are fantastic. Excellent stories that keep the kids attention yet, all the while, teaching solid theology. Really unlike anything else I am aware of. I can’t recommend these more highly for families and/or individuals.
- Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile – I found myself, due to the kind providence of God, planting a church this year with a great group of believers here in Rolleston. This book proved timely and extremely helpful in equipping me to think carefully about who and how to appoint as leaders in Christ’s church.
- 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches – There’s actually seven books in this series. They are each excellent. They are short and concise, yet thorough. These are highly recommended to anyone who loves this church.
- Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide & Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty by Brett McCracken – two books which have some overlap in content and intention. I was surprised how helpful, informative, and challenging I found these books. I seriously think these two ought to be required reading for anyone in ministry or considering ministry under the age of 40 (at least).
- Christ-centred Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles by Graeme Goldsworthy – I try to read a volume of Biblical Theology each year. This was my choice for 2014. I found Goldsworthy helpful and challenging. I wouldn’t agree with every point, I think he finds Christ in places and ways I am not sure is intended. However, I was helped to think and for that I am thankful.
- C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath – An excellent new biography on the life of a profoundly influential 20th century author and intellect. I learned a lot about Lewis, the era in which he lived, and his influence on Christians today.
- Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? by Randy Alcorn – I teach ethics and try to read up on related materials often. This is an older book but one I was unfamiliar with until it was recommend to me by a friend. I found Alcorn’s evidence and arguments compelling and convincing.
- A Controversial Churchman: Essays on George Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand and Lichfield, and Sarah Selwyn by Allan Davidson – I found this book really cheap on a discount table. I don’t think I would have ever gone looking for it. I decided to read it as I now live in the district named after Selwyn and I have heard bits about him over the years. I am very glad I read the book as it provided me with a number of insights into the early years of the church here in New Zealand and helped me to see many of the roots to the current mess the church is in today.
I am convinced that much of this discussion is contextual and therefore is not easily transferable to other settings. Thorn hints at that in his post. So this isn’t a response to his post, it is just that his post reminded me of our process.
One will search in vain to find any prescriptive Biblical teaching on church names! So when it comes to planting a new church one has the opportunity to do something (actually a lot of things) that is not a “normal” ministry experiences when in an established church – pick a name!
This can be rather terrifying, in that, you are establishing a name to a church that will, Lord willing, outlive you! In today’s world, web address as registered, FaceBook pages setup, etc. all with this name. The name of the church takes on significance long before you have an physical location, sign, etc.
In our setting I found this to be rather simple… I was driving around town with two other men from Grace Baptist Church in Christchurch on my first visit to Rolleston and we began to discuss the name.
For me, I considered the following:
- Church – we are a church. We are not just a fellowship, and certainly not a club, or just a community organisation. I am committed to having the word “church” in our name.
- Rolleston – we desire to be a local church, established in and actively reaching Rolleston for Christ. I like the idea of having “Rolleston” in our name.
- Baptist – I’m a Baptist (a Confessional Baptist). I am not uncomfortable with this and make no apologies for holding to Baptist convictions. In our context, where we have a Presbyterian Church in town, and are surrounded by Anglican churches, I think Baptist in the name helps folks to immediately recognise who we are as compared to others.
- I must add here, I have many friends in area Presbyterian, Anglican, and Reformed Churches. They are dear brothers and sisters-in-Christ. In the big gospel game, we are on the same team. Yet we hold differing doctrinal distinctives.
- Reformed – I am a Confessional Baptist (I’m happy to affirm the 1689, London Baptist Confession of Faith). We require our elders at RBC to affirm the 1689, Long Baptist Confession of Faith. Generally this would classify us as a “Reformed Baptist Church”. However, in our context we opted not to include the word “reformed” in the church name:
- We do not require members to affirm the 1689, London Baptist Confession. In other words, we are quite happy with gospel diversity at the membership level.
- The word “reformed” in New Zealand (at least in church names) has been so historically recognised as “belonging” to the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, it just seemed like a point of confusion which would constantly need explanation.
The result of this, rather simple process, was the name Rolleston Baptist Church. We are a church, holding to historically recognised Baptist distinctives of doctrine and practice, seeking to reach the community of Rolleston with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.