Christianity Explored!

Christianity Explored is an informal and relaxed seven-week course. It’s for anyone who wants to think about the meaning of life. It’s run by ordinary Christian people local to you and is completely free. You don’t need to know anything about the Bible, and you won’t be asked to pray or sing. You can ask any questions you like, or just sit and listen.

Whoever you are, whatever you’re thinking, CE is a place for you to explore what life’s all about. It might just be the best news you’ve ever heard.

We’ll be running it on seven Sundays, starting on 11 November. It will start at 4.50 for light refreshments and last until 6.00, apart from on 25 November, where it will begin at 2.30.

We look forward to seeing you there!

New Bible Study Time

Who says Christians are afraid of change?

Our Wednesday Bible Study will now be starting at 7.30, rather than 7.45! Everyone is always welcome to join us: next week, we will be looking at the story of Jonah and how we too can often run away from God.

Toddlers Cancelled

The current demographic means that most of the Toddlers children have now matured to school or pre-school age. This year, there has been a very low take-up of places for the next generation. It has therefore reluctantly been decided to stop Toddlers and review the situation after summer 2018.

We want to make Toddlers an exciting and enriching experience and this will be achievable with larger numbers. The facilities are here and we would love to recommence Toddlers at the appropriate time.

We will keep the website posted!

The Design Argument

Everyone is welcome to join us on Saturday 14 October from 3:00-4:30 for a talk by Professor Stuart Burgess about the Design Argument.

The Design Argument examines the exquisite complexity which we find all around us in nature and reasons that there must have been a designer, God.

The talk will be accessible to all so we hope to see you there!

“Church isn’t relevant to students…”

“… church is just for old, boring people who have nothing better to do with their old boring lives.”

Most people, whether Christian or not, have probably thought this at some point in their lives and the frenzy of university life can make this statement seem even more correct.

However, we believe that church is far more than just an old people’s home. If you’re a Christian, we’d love to help you continue in your faith during your time at university. The Bible teaches that church is a vital part of the life of a Christian because it allows us to learn about the Scriptures and support each other in our Christian lives. Without a good church, living for God openly, or at all, at university will be significantly more difficult.

If you’re not a believer, or you’re not sure, we hope you’ll come along so we can explain the good news about salvation, that God sent his Son into the world to die for us so that our sins might be forgiven. Whatever your background, the Bible teaches that you’re never too young or too old, too cynical or too dismissive to be saved by Jesus and we hope you’ll start that journey with God during your time at university.

Now, we’re not going to pretend that going to church will instantly solve all your problems, not even those directly connected to being a Christian. You might even be judged by your peers for coming. However, the benefits of being a real Christian, not just someone with a vague belief about God that never affects their lives but someone who really lives for Jesus, far outweigh the disadvantages and we hope to see you soon to help you put the message of the Bible into practice in your university life and beyond.

The Design Argument

Everyone is welcome to join us on Saturday 14 October from 3:00-4:30 for a talk by Professor Stuart Burgess about the Design Argument.

The Design Argument examines the exquisite complexity which we find all around us in nature and reasons that there must have been a designer, God.

The talk will be accessible to all so we hope to see you there!

Young People’s Meeting

All secondary school and university students are warmly invited to our Young People’s Meeting which takes place every Sunday during university term time at 5:00. The first meeting of this year will be on Sunday 1 October.

This meeting offers young people the chance to discuss the important issues they are facing from a Biblical perspective.

Toast will be provided to help fuel the discussion!

Self Denial (2)

“By such elementary instruction, Scripture at the same time duly informs us what is the right use of earthly benefits-a matter not to be neglected in the ordering of our life.” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.10.1)

How should we use the material and spiritual gifts that we are graciously given? How much should we use for our own benefit?

The Context

3.9.1 We must realise that this world is full of trouble and subject to decay. Only then will we desire the life to come.

3.9.2 We often foolishly live as if we are “establishing immortality for ourselves on earth.”

3.9.3 We should be thankful for all the blessings we receive in this life. At the same, we should greatly desire the more enduring gifts of the life to come.

3.9.4 We should use this life as an opportunity to serve the Lord. We must always be ready to leave this life so that we may gain more of Christ (cf. Phil 1:23-34; 2 Cor 5:6).

3.9.5 Our hope of immortality should overcome the fear of death. Calvin advises timid minds to read Cyprian’s, On the Mortality.

3.9.6 We can endure suffering by fixing our thoughts on the world to come.

The Content

3.10.1 We should use the good things in this world to help us in our Christian life, neither being so strict as to only consume the bare minimum, nor being too lax, and ignoring the principles laid down in the Scriptures.

3.10.2 We should use God’s gifts according “to that end to which the Author himself created and destined them for us.” Food, for example, was created not only for sustenance but also for enjoyment (cf. Ps 104:15). We should delight in the beauty of creation (cf. Gen 2:9).

3.10.3 We must receive all things with thankfulness. We must not eat so much that we cannot serve God. We should not adorn ourselves in such a way as we begin to flatter ourselves rather than praise God.

3.10.4 If we despise the present life, in comparison to the life to come, we will not go astray. We should use this world as if we did not use it (1 Cor 7:29-31).

3.10.5 We should bear poverty patiently (Phil 4:12). This is related to the previous point since those who are impatient in poverty tend to boast in prosperity. We must also remember that we are stewards of the good things we receive, and one day we must give account of our stewardship (Luke 16:2).

3.10.6 We should consider our own calling, and live in a way that is appropriate to that calling.

Further reading

Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of The Christian Life is repeatedly cited by John McNeil in the footnotes to this section of Calvin’s Institutes.

Theological Reflections

Calvin seeks to chart a middle course between self-indulgence and asceticism. We may enjoy material blessings but we must not set our hearts upon such blessings. We need to remember that this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:29-31). We also need to remember that we are stewards of all we receive.

We should seek to live moderately so that we might give generously.

On Self-Denial

“Even though the law of the Lord provides the finest and best-disposed method of ordering a man’s life, it seemed good to the Heavenly Teacher to shape his people by an even more explicit plan to that rule which he had set forth in the law. Here, then, is the beginning of this plan: the duty of believers is ‘to present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him,’ and in this consists the lawful worship of him (Rom 12:1)…” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1)

How important is self-denial in Calvin’s theology? Which Scriptures shape his understanding? How should self-denial be related to self-care? In other words, what, if any, are the limits of self-denial?

The Context

3.6.1 Calvin aims to briefly summarise the duties of Christians.

3.6.2 Since we have been united to God, we should seek to enjoy holy fellowship with him (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:15-16).

3.6.3 Jesus Christ is our example. We should respond faithfully to Christ’s work for us and in us.

3.6.4 We must not only be Christians in name. We must seek to follow our Saviour from our hearts.

3.6.5 We cannot attain perfection in this life but we should daily strive to grow in goodness.

The Content

3.7.1 We are to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1). We are not our own but the Lord’s (1 Cor 6:19). So, firstly, we must deny ourselves and our own worldly desires.

3.7.2 We must, secondly, devote ourselves to the Lord, seeking to do his will, and seeking to display his glory. We must look to our Lord in all things. We can only do this if we have denied ourselves.

3.7.3 Paul reminds Titus about this (Titus 2:11-14), urging him to turn from ungodliness and worldly desires; commending a sober, upright and godly life; and pointing to the joy of our Lord’s return.

3.7.4 Self-denial concerns our attitude to men. We are to consider others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). We are to seek their good (Rom 12:10). This is difficult since we are so easily filled with pride.

3.7.5 We will only be willing to serve our neighbour once we have denied the urge to serve ourselves. We receive gifts from God for the good of others (cf. Exod 23:19; 1 Pet 4:10; 1 Cor 12:12-31).

3.7.6 We must seek to do good to all people without exception. Every person is made in the image of God.

3.7.7 We must seek to do good out of a sincere love for others, not seeking anything in return.

3.7.8 Self-denial, also, chiefly, concerns our attitude to God. We must renounce worldly ambitions and fears. We must seek our prosperity and security in the Lord.

3.7.9 Once we realise that all true happiness arises from the Lord’s blessing, we will not pursue worldly goals by worldly means.

3.7.10 If we deny ourselves, we will be able to praise the Lord even in times of trouble (cf. Ps 79:13).

The Cross

3.8.1 Jesus Christ calls us to bear our own cross (Matt 16:24), meaning that we must be prepared for hardships in the Christian life. Through these hardships we are conformed to Christ (Rom 8:29).

3.8.2 The cross demonstrated Christ’s obedience to his Father. It keeps us from pride.

3.8.3 The cross demonstrates the Father’s faithfulness. He gives us the strength to endure.

3.8.4 The cross teaches us patience and obedience.

3.8.5 The cross keeps us from forgetting our Lord, which otherwise, in our prosperity, we would be tempted to do.

3.8.6 The hardships we experience are sometimes a form of fatherly discipline to correct past transgressions (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-8).

3.8.7 It is not only those who proclaim the gospel who suffer persecution but also any who seek to uphold the cause of righteousness. Those who suffer for Christ’s sake are blessed.

3.8.8 We should rejoice even while we suffer, knowing that we have great consolation in our God.

3.8.9 We groan and we weep, yet we do so with joy and peace (Matt 5:4).

3.8.10 We painfully endure what we would rather avoid, for the sake of our Saviour (cf. John 21:18).

3.8.10 Our afflictions are for our good. Therefore “the bitterness of the cross” should always “be tempered with spiritual joy.”

Further reading

Calvin writes more about self-denial in 3.3.8; 3.15.8 and 3.18.4.

Theological Reflections

Self-denial is an essential part of Calvin’s teaching on Christian living. It must be twinned with devotion. We deny ourselves so that we might be devoted to God. Self-denial involves suffering but it is not without joy. There is the joy of knowing that we are following the example of our Saviour, and the joy of knowing that we are living under our Father’s blessing. The key texts are those cited above, especially Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 6:19 and Titus 2:11-14.

Our Heavenly Father gives us many good gifts to enjoy in this life. We must seek to use these good gifts in the right way. This is the subject of Calvin, Institutes, 3.10, and, God-willing, the subject of the second part of this post.

Theophany

(I posted this a little while ago on another website but I wanted to re-post it here.)

“A theophany is a visible manifestation of God to human beings… Jesus is a theophany… but much more. Only in the case of Jesus did God become flesh permanently, being conceived in the body of a woman, experiencing a human infancy and growth, and increasing in wisdom and stature, subject to sufferings of this life and to death itself.” (Frame, Doctrine of God, 585-86)

How should we understand these manifestations of God? How should they affect our doctrine and practice?

The Bible begins with a God who appears. He formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils (Gen 2:7). He planted a garden eastward in Eden, and he placed Adam in that garden (Gen 2:8). He brought all kinds of animals before Adam (Gen 2:19). He formed Eve from the side of Adam, and he brought Eve to Adam (Gen 2:22). He walked in the garden in the cool of the evening (Gen 3:8). He called to Adam, and cursed Adam (3:9, 19). He made garments of skin for Adam and Eve (3:21). Then he drove them out of the garden of Eden (3:24).

The Bible ends with a God who appears. God will make a new heaven and a new earth and his dwelling will be with men (Rev 21:1-4). We shall see his face (Rev 22:4).

In between these two events, God is largely hidden. This is a consequence of sin. Sin separates us from a holy God (Isa 6:5; 59:2).

God appeared to Abram, when he lived in Mesopotamia (Acts 7:4). God appeared to Abram at Shechem (Gen 12:7-9). God appeared to him twice when he was ninety-nine years old (Gen 17:1, Gen 18:1).

God appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:20; 34:5-7). He also appeared to Moses, Aaron, his sons, and the seventy elders of Israel (Exod 24:9-11). God appeared to Moses and Joshua at the entrance of the tent of meeting (Deut 31:14-15).

At other times, God appeared to the patriarchs and prophets in signs, visions and dreams. Jacob saw the Lord on his way to Haran (Gen 28:11-22). Moses saw the burning bush (Exod 3:4). Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted (Isa 6:1-5). Ezekiah saw the glory of the Lord in the midst of a storm (Ezek 1:1-28; 10:1-22).

As we go through the Old Testament, we see that God appeared at critical moments in Israel’s history: to call a man and his wife out of idolatry, to call a nation out of Egypt, to make a covenant with them, to warn them about exile, and to give them hope in exile. Yet each of these appearances were fleeting.

Then, gloriously, God appeared in a new way.

In the person of his Son, he took on a human nature—not only appearing like us but becoming one of us, while remaining fully God (John 1:14; 14:9).

All previous appearances of God were mediated through the Son (John 1:18). But the incarnation is something unique and new. For a little while, the Son is hidden from us. He has ascended into heaven but he will return. And when we see him, we will be made like him (1 John 3:2). This is something to rejoice in and something to build our life upon.

Doctrinal Considerations

We should understand God’s invisibility in the light of his appearances. Although he is not ordinarily seen by us, he is able to make his presence known. He does this through the mediation of his Son.

Practical Considerations

We should respond to the great hope of seeing God by seeking to be pure (cf. Matt 5:8; 1 John 3:3). This is what our Saviour desires (Eph 5:25-27).

Bibliography

Frame, John M. Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg, N. J.: P & R, 2002.