We are told that many people in Britain think church is irrelevant. They might be interested in spiritual things but have no time for ‘organised religion.’  Why is it, then, that some atheists have started an ‘atheist church’ in London which meets on a Sunday morning (in a deconsecrated church) and they have songs (for which they stand), readings, a ‘sermon’, ‘reflective silence’ and even a collection? Is this deep down a yearning for ‘organised religion’?

 

However they say they are a ‘godless congregation’ which doesn’t have the ‘terrible dogma’ of Christianity. What is terrible about a God who is so loving he is love? What is terrible about a God who loves us enough to become human in the person of Jesus so that he could die to show us how much he loves us, as well as how much it costs him to forgive human bad behaviour? What is terrible about the prospect of a life of eternal bliss and fulfilment beyond this one? Clearly, our friends in the atheist church don’t really understand what they are rejecting, and what they are missing.

 

Their ‘church’ is an inferior replica of the real thing. It is a vehicle without an engine – it has no power to keep it moving forwards. Even the British Humanist Association is sceptical and says there were a number of atheist churches a hundred years ago, but they all petered out. The real church has lasted 2000 years and in many places is alive, well and growing.

 

How sad that people think they can have the benefits of religion without having the heart of religion: Jesus himself.

What is God saying to us through the remarkable coincidence on February 15th 2013 of the arrival of the near earth asteroid (which we were expecting) and the meteor strike in Russia (which we weren’t expecting)? Some would reply: “Nothing.” Others: “We need to step up our observation and (hopefully) protection against such bodies.”

 

We are talking about a 10 ton meteor creating a devastating sonic boom, a temperature of 2,500 degrees centigrade and an enormous explosion. Astronomers say such objects enter our atmosphere between once a year and once a decade. They can only hope to find a fraction of objects the size of this meteor and the much larger asteroid which passed earth later the same day. To deflect asteroids would probably require decades of warning. It is only a matter of time before one hits the earth, as has happened in the more distant past.

 

I do not believe the combined event signals the imminent end of the age! Nor do I believe “God did it.” What I am saying is that we should ask what God wants us to learn from it. Think about it. The coincidence is quite astonishing.

 

Listen to the comments in the secular newspapers, e.g. the Guardian (16.02.13).

 

“Traditionally, a torpedo across the bow is fired as a warning to change one’s behavior – and this coincidence of events should be a warning to humanity that meteors are not always as benign as “shooting stars” and that the next asteroid might not miss! Will we, the crew of SS Earth heed this warning?” (Rusty Schweikhart).

 

“Perhaps it’s better to use asteroids and meteors as a way of thinking about the fragility of existence. If the world were to end tonight ….” (Roz Kaveney).

 

Then Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, a professional astronomer searching for Near-Earth Asteroids, wrote in the Independent: “…a small asteroid strike and flyby within 24 hours may have been cosmic coincidence, or perhaps mother nature is telling us to take this threat a little more seriously.”

 

Russian prime minister prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev commented: “It’s proof that not only are economies vulnerable, but the whole planet.”

 

So, the secular prophets are interpreting the event: a shot across the bow as a warning to change behaviour; the fragility of existence; “mother nature” speaking to us and even a reference to the end of the world.

 

But what about the Christian prophets? Some may speak out in similar ways (and, sadly, some of these will be extremists) but experience teaches that many will not.  Even on the Sunday after these astronomical events many preachers will have avoided the subject.

 

Why is this? I believe there are several reasons:

 

  • Many Christians simply are not aware of the eschatological (End Times) dimension to life. Neither are many Christian teachers and preachers.

 

  • If those teachers and preachers think about the subject they either feel lacking in confidence to speak about it or they are embarrassed to do so because they see it as happy hunting ground for unbalanced ‘prophets of doom.’

 

  • So they ignore the subject as much as possible, despite the fact that Jesus and the New Testament emphasize it and call Christians to live in the light of the End Times.

 

  • Thus they fall into a deceptive trap of the devil to prevent the vital End Times message being conveyed to Christians and, in appropriate ways, to unbelievers. They fail to convey a message which is a strong motive for holiness and evangelism amongst Christians and for thinking seriously about eternal matters amongst unbelievers.

 

So what is God saying to us through this remarkable astronomical coincidence which shows the fragility of life on earth? In brief:

 

  1. It is a reminder of the prospect of the End Times. Jesus spoke of preliminary reminders – “wars and rumours of wars … earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven …. but the end will not come right away.” He intended us to remember his coming when these traumatic events take place, even when the End is not imminent.

 

  1. Beyond that, after a time of great distress and suffering for the inhabitants of earth, Jesus says: “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken’”(Matt 24:29).  When such things happen, Jesus will return (Matt 24:30-31).

 

  1. Christians need to find their security not like the world does – in material things, human efforts and superficial assumptions that “all will be well” – but in God’s love and their relationship with him.

 

  1. Christians need to be aware of their ultimate accountability to God (and of the world’s ultimate accountability to him too). We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. We need to be prepared for that.

 

  1. The church and its teachers need to wake up to these three issues and to proclaim that message as part of our evangelism.

 

Will we listen? Will it change us?

 

Tony Higton

Message 1

The New Testament really does teach we should be thinking frequently about the End Times. Jesus stressed the Kingdom which is ultimately eschatological. He taught us to pray regularly for his eschatological Kingdom to come (in the Lord’s Prayer). He also said we are to celebrate Communion and so to proclaim his death “until he comes.” Communion looks forward as well as backwards. I counted 118 passages on eschatology in the NT excluding Revelation. This includes 8 major passages plus a whole book – Revelation. For more information on eschatology see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/

Message 2

Richard Dawkins says religion “peddles false explanations” but he hasn’t a credible clue about what caused the Big Bang and why we are here.
Message 3

Government Minister Lady Warsi says “People who do God, do good.”

Archbishop Welby says the church has the greatest opportunity since 1945 – to fill the void caused by a dwindling welfare state

In the light of eternity it isn’t enough to do good. The church must also major on prayer and proclaiming Jesus as Saviour. It often doesn’t.

Message 4

Could Jesus’ statement that “stars will fall from the sky” before his Return be literal? Is tonight’s near-miss asteroid relevant?

The size of an office block, doing 5 miles a second it will pass nearer than many of our satellites. Will the next one be bigger and hit us?

Astronomers are concerned and scanning the skies, having found 10,000 others which could threaten Earth. No immediate danger but it makes you think. Jesus would say it’s meant to.

Message 5

End Times teaching is a strong motive for holiness and evangelism amongst Christians and thinking seriously about eternity amongst unbelievers

Message 6

Now we’re back from holiday here’s an update on the eschatology (End Times) campaign. It is, of course, early days but things are going well. More people are showing interest and I’m meeting up with some Friends to discuss co-operation. I’m continuing my research and writing, and some interesting ideas are emerging (more on that later). I’ll be circulating material from time to time and hope to arrange conferences and speaking engagements.  Suggestions are welcome.

Message 7

Yesterday I went to the Thanksgiving Service for a Methodist Minister friend who died recently. It was a salutary experience which focused attention on the shortness and purpose of life, and gave opportunity to ask: “How am I doing in terms of living my life for God?” As I’ve said before, thinking about eschatology (which includes death) is a strong encouragement to holiness and mission. How are you doing?

Message 8

On holiday last week we walked on England’s famous Jurassic Coast and I discovered a couple of fossil Ammonites. It is awesome to think they had been lying there for perhaps 190 million years. It spoke to me of the wonder of creation and the greatness of our Creator!

Message 9

I think that what ultimately matters is not when or how God created the universe but THAT he created the universe. To me it would be just as wonderful whether he created the universe 13.7 billion years ago, 6000 years ago or last week and it would be just as wonderful if he created it over billions of years, seven days or instantaneously.

Message 10

The UN has declared March 20th from this year the first International Day of Happiness and is encouraging us to make other people happy. Peter wrote to believers who “suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1: 6). Yet he speaks of them being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” even though they don’t see Jesus “now” (verse 8). This inexpressible and glorious joy is largely based upon our sure hope of seeing him face to face “then”. The more we think about that, the more we will experience the joy which is vastly greater than mere happiness.

Message 11

Canon Giles Fraser, writing in the Guardian, cynically wrote off the Evangelical emphasis on having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” I know that can be used as a cliché and could, in some people’s minds, turn Jesus simply into an innocuous friend. But to me it is incredibly meaningful. I want to ask Giles: “How can you love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength without having a personal relationship with him? We might express ourselves in different ways but if we are not at least beginning to be aware of having a personal relationship with God we are not experiencing the real thing as far as Christianity is concerned. The relationship is there for the asking. Jesus is more ready to become a Friend than we are to ask him to be.

Message 12

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 1: Early in Holy Week Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (which was brought about by the Romans 40 years later in AD70). But he also prophesied the End Times and urged his disciples to look out for both early (recurring) and later signs of his Return (see Matthew 24). His prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

  • Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.
  • Prophecy can concertina events widely separated in time to appear close together.

So Jesus speaks of the events of AD70 and of his still future return in the same passage.

Are you looking out for the signs of Jesus’ return? (see “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about the signs of Jesus’ return?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf ) .

Message 13

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 2: Jesus also told the parable of the Ten Young Women (Virgins) in Holy Week. They were waiting for the bridegroom to come but he “was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:5). That’s a good picture of the church and of many Christians today. Because the ‘bridegroom’ (Jesus) is a long time in coming (the Second Coming) they have stopped concentrating and don’t think about his Return. However, Jesus’ message is for those who have not made any preparation for his Return, i.e. have not come to faith in him, shown in obedience. Such people, he says, when he returns, will be shut out from his presence – a solemn warning.

Message 14

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 3: Jesus’ teaching in Holy Week includes a description of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). When Jesus returns he will judge the people of all nations. The criterion of judgment is people’s attitude towards the followers of Jesus (which, of course, shows their attitude towards him). Only those who show love and kindness towards the followers of Jesus (and so to him) will have eternal life.

Message 15

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 4: At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches that Communion not only looks back to his death but forward to when he will drink wine with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Paul says Communion proclaims the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Jesus was referring to a prophecy of Isaiah that God “will prepare a banquet for all the nations of the world—a banquet of the richest food and the finest wine. Here he will suddenly remove the cloud of sorrow that has been hanging over all the nations. … will destroy death forever …. will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes” (Isa 25:6-8). Are you looking forward to that?

Message 16

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 5: When Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) the high priest said: “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied: “‘You have said so ….. ‘But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Matthew 26:63-64). Jesus looked beyond the horror of the cross to the time (still future) when he returns “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). I strongly recommend that you think of his return daily. How about it?

Message 17

On Good Friday, as I do every day, I checked the TV programme list to see if there was anything worth recording. I didn’t find anything connected with Good Friday (except an old film about Barabbas). I found this sad and yet, somehow, meaningful. I was reminded of the words: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering…?”

In the years when I was taking a public stand against the church accepting homosexual practice, I wished that some of the people who supported me would go and support someone else. Normally these were people who despised homosexuals, not just disapproved of homosexual behaviour. To despise homosexuals as people is wrong. The old saying is relevant: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” And that applies to all sinners, including sexual sinners – heterosexual or homosexual.

 

I believe firmly that Britain is still a Christian country, despite secularisation and the serious decline of church involvement. Statistics and other factual evidence support this. But we are not a theocracy. My opposition to the church accepting homosexual behaviour was based on biblical teaching. The Bible and Christian Tradition consistently state that homosexual behaviour is wrong and, like the multitude of other sinful actions, most not related to sex, subject to God’s judgment. That was legitimate because I was addressing the church. But such an argument will have little weight in society, although there is a strong argument that the church has a moral and spiritual responsibility to warn people about sinful behaviour and its consequences, pointing out the path of forgiveness through faith and repentance. It is a very serious matter for the church to fail society by condoning or even to appear to condone sin.

 

The church has a perfect right to convey reasons why gay marriage is wrong. But it has to argue them on rational grounds in our democratic society. It can appeal to tradition – that the Christian Faith has always defined marriage as heterosexual and that argument has some weight.

 

The church also has a perfect right to regard gay marriage as invalid morally and to have nothing to do with it even if Parliament does approve it.

 

But we need arguments which will make sense to society. Simply to say that gay marriage will be bad for couples won’t make sense because people will say that if heterosexual marriage is commended by the church as beneficial to individuals and society, homosexual marriage will have the same good effects.

 

What are the arguments against gay marriage? They include the following:

 

  1. 1.      ‘Gay marriage’ is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage

 

It is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Had human beings been creatures who reproduced asexually and had self-sufficient children there would have been no need for marriage. Marriage meets the human concern for the future of the race and so for the welfare of children. This concern includes the desire for the best context for the bringing up of children: a stable, committed family.

 

It is the nature of things that individual human beings are incomplete as far as reproduction is concerned. Male and female bodies are clearly complementary and reproduction is achieved in the context of a couple becoming one organically in sexual intercourse. This completeness is only possible with two sexually complementary individuals – male and female. It is a beautiful context for the conception of new life. No other sexual relationship can achieve this – only the union of a man and a woman.

 

It is because of this fundamental definition of marriage that it is legally only consummated by heterosexual intercourse, no other sexual activity.

 

This is the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Neither the state nor the church can change what marriage is because of ill thought out concerns for homosexual equality. Homosexual relationships can never be marriage because they are incapable of procreation. If our government approves what it calls gay marriage we can only conclude that it isn’t marriage.

 

There will, of course, be arguments that all this is undermined by the existence of heterosexual couples who cannot or decide not to have children, or by the fact that same sex couples can adopt children or have children by AID etc. But these are special pleading. Human beings are clearly designed to be able to achieve procreation in heterosexual marriage

 

  1. 2.      Children need a father and a mother

 

This is an obvious implication from the fact that children are born to heterosexual parents. It is the nature of things that children are born into a heterosexual family. Of course, there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job but most people would think that is not the ideal situation. We need not deny that same sex couples might also make a good job of rearing children. But children need the input of both close, loving male and a female role models. That is the nature of things. That is how children are best brought up and best learn from their parents.

 

Research on the effect of homosexual parenting on children is at an early stage, particularly in the case of male same sex partners. However research does show that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship.

 

One factor is that statistically, same sex relationships are significantly less faithful than heterosexual couples and this could, of course, have a negative effect on children.

 

  1. 3.      Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage

 

It would re-define marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. Already the de facto definition of marital love as primarily emotional undermines marriage and encourages divorce. We ‘fall in love’ and we ‘fall out of love’ so we split up. If we regarded marital love as primarily a commitment of the will we would have a firmer foundation for marriage. It would be more likely to weather the storm of varying emotions.

 

Marriage, being about procreation and the care and nurture of children, has a profound effect on society, which is why there is a social and legal aspect to marriage. To undermine marriage would therefore be harmful socially.

 

  1. 4.      Approval of ‘gay marriage’ is likely to open the gates to other unhelpful practices

 

At this point, critics will groan at the “slippery slope” argument. But one would be very naive to believe that the approval of gay marriage would be an end of the liberalising trend. Already people are calling for multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, ….  multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Carla Bruni in an interview with Figaro in 2007 (quoted in Guardian 28.03.08) said: “Monogamy bores me terribly … I am monogamous from time to time but I prefer polygamy and polyandry.”  Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them? However they would not only harm society by undermining marriage and the family but they would also cause emotional and physical harm to individuals.

 

In working towards ‘gay marriage’ on the grounds of removing discrimination against homosexuals the government is thinking superficially and ignoring the harm to marriage, the family and society which will result from it.

 

Tony Higton