I spent Monday afternoon in prison, with Brad Franklin, pastor of St Giles Christian Mission. He and Andrew King, pastor of Highbury Baptist Church, visit each week to lead a Bible study with men in the prison who sign up for it. I was there to see what they did.
I had never been in a prison before. It was not quite as daunting as I had anticipated. After the study, Brad showed me round a couple of the wings. What struck me was the numbers of people everywhere and the noise.
Church government has been a vexed issue for Christians since the time immediately following the apostles. An examination of the Greek terms used in the NT will not solve every question, but it does shed considerable light on the issue. Four Greek terms, in particular, are closely intertwined in this context.
What do you say when you are about to pray at a meeting? ‘Let me pray’ is very popular at the moment.
However, this is not the best way to introduce prayer, even a short prayer before preaching or doing something else in the meeting. I suggest rather that we should be saying, ‘Let us pray’.
The reason is simple: the prayer that is about to be prayed is a corporate prayer - we hope that everyone will be joining in the prayer in their hearts. ‘Let me pray’ implies that everyone else sits by and listens while you do the praying. That is obviously not what we want.
At the end of his letter to the Hebrews, the author refers three times to the church’s ‘leaders’ (13:7, 17, 24). In the first instance, the reference appears to be to former leaders, who have perhaps passed away; the second and third times, he is speaking of their current leaders, urging obedience to them and sending them his greetings. ‘Leader’ is an unusual word to find in the New Testament in relation to a church. Normally, church leaders are referred to in the NT as pastors, elders or deacons.
How do we emphasise to someone the seriousness of what we have to say? ‘Now listen very carefully’, or ‘I want you really to pay attention to what I’m going to say’. This is how Paul does it: ‘I command you before God who gives life to everything and before Christ Jesus who witnessed before Pontius Pilate the good confession ...’, and ‘I bear witness before God and Christ Jesus who is coming to judge those who live and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom ...’ (1 Tim. 6:13; 2 Tim. 4:1).
One of the texts most often preached at induction services must be 2 Tim. 4:2, ‘Preach the word!’. It is an obvious choice. But does it mean quite what we think it means? We probably take it to refer to the regular, week-by-week preaching and teaching ministry that a pastor normally exercises from his own pulpit. We imagine, perhaps, Paul instructing Timothy to work his way systematically through Isaiah or 1 Kings, chapter by chapter, expounding the meaning and applying its message to his congregation in Ephesus. But is that quite what Paul meant?
My former pastor, Bob Sheehan, used to say that a heretic was not distinguishable by his looks: heretics do not have horns or an 'H' imprinted on the forehead. Equally, history suggests that heretics can be very nice people with the best of intentions.