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Why We’re Giving Thanks for Mike Ovey

"Your theological knowledge isn't like Gollum with the ring." That was one of Mike Ovey's warnings to me and my cohort as we started our time at Oak Hill CollegeHe went on to explain: "Theological knowledge isn't 'My precious', as if it's something you've got that no-one else can have. You are stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God, like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:1 - and your job is to pass on what's been entrusted to you."

Mike Ovey's thanksgiving service

Mike had been Principal of Oak Hill for ten years, and died suddenly on 7th January, aged 58. All three of our current pastors at Christ Church Mayfair were taught by him, and four of our congregation are currently training there. We all considered Mike a mentor, an advisor and a friend. On 13th March we gathered with hundreds of other Oak Hill alumni at All Souls Church near Oxford Circus to give thanks to God for his life.

Many moving tributes have been shared, including Vice-Principal Dan Strange's Just Mike, and it's not our intention to add another personal tribute here. Rather, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight why we believe in rigorous theological education for pastors, and why we invest a lot of time, prayer and money in sending people to train at Oak Hill.

The Best Possible Gift

At every Oak Hill open morning for prospective students Mike would tell them: "We want you to be God's gift to the Church."

That sounds like it was designed to puff potential pastors up with pride, but Mike would proceed to pop our bubble by pointing out that it was thoroughly biblical: in Ephesians 4:11-13 we're told Christ gave pastors and those with teaching gifts to the Church in order to build them up. "And I want you to be the best possible gift to Christ's Church", he would say. In terms of his Gollum analogy: it's not your knowledge. It's for you to pass on!

Shepherds Feed and Defend the Sheep

For Mike, passing it on meant pastors who were utterly faithful to the Scriptures. The word 'pastor' comes from 'shepherd', and this analogy is developed often in the Bible (e.g. John 21:15-17, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-2). And a shepherds' job is to feed and defend the sheep.

Mike taught us to gently and consistently feed our 'flock' with the mysteries of God: all the broken-hearted, scattered, hopeful people of God, wherever we might find them, who needed to know God through the Bible. In his doctrine lectures he would often pause and enjoy something about God, and encourage us to pray and thank Him for it ourselves. Our habit of savouring the Bible and adoring God at Christ Church Mayfair was strengthened by Mike Ovey's example here.

But Mike also put steel in our spines and taught us to defend the flock against error. He knew that theological error isn't always flagrant and obvious, but often insidious and hard to distinguish. It never trots into church and announces itself as error, because it would never win a hearing that way (Acts 20:30). Defending against it therefore requires a deep knowledge of the whole Bible, an ability to think theologically and an understanding of church history.

Lay people simply don't have time to do that deep thinking and fighting, so it should fall to the pastors to take a lead on it. And Mike had a vision of churches across the UK and the world led by shepherd-pastors who could do that. He knew we wouldn't suddenly wake up one day with an ability to defend against savage wolves (Acts 20:29), so he trained us in it. He wanted us to be good at it, for the sake of the flock. He wanted all of his students, including Matt Fuller, Phil Allcock and Pete Snow, to be the best possible gift to Christ's Church.

We Grieve... but Not Without Hope

We were all shocked when Mike's death was announced, and the news has left us reeling and wondering about God's plan in it all. While we can't claim to fathom the riches of the wisdom of God, it occurs to us that Mike must be pleased with his legacy. In seventeen years at Oak Hill, ten of which were as Principal, he trained hundreds of students to be good shepherds. Last year 43 students graduated from Oak Hill in the class of 2016: that's 43 pastors or church workers last year alone sent out to minister to people. And Mike was at Oak Hill for seventeen years! Moreover, the College is in good health going forwards and looking to build on Mike's vision.

So we grieve for Mike Ovey, but not without hope. We'll see him again one day, resurrected and enjoying the God he taught us about, and we'll continue the work he trained us in: feeding and defending Christ's flock with the Word of God.

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Giving thanks for the Bishop of London

16 years ago Christ Church Mayfair was born because a bishop backed a bold scheme to plant a new evangelical church in the West End of London. This month we say farewell to that bishop as he retires from 21 years as Bishop of London.  

Along with the rest of London Diocese we give thanks for Richard Chartres's living faith in the Lord Jesus, which has been clear throughout his ministry and has refreshed us whenever we have encountered him. We're also thanking God for his support for church planting, refusing to sell disused church buildings but instead encouraging new churches to be born in them - such as ours on Down Street, in Mayfair. We believe that this policy has helped make the London Diocese a place of Christian growth rather than decline in the twenty-first century so far, and we recognise it as a gracious gift of God.

Along with many others, some of us were at St Paul's Cathedral for the Bishop's farewell service on 2nd February. It was great to see Onyinye Udokporu, one of our undergraduate students, give the Bible reading. 

The Bishop said in his farewell sermon that he was 'concerned not so much to celebrate the highlights of the past twenty years as to look forward to the highlights of the next twenty years.' The Bishop's main immediate legacy is 'Capital Vision 2020', the primary call of which is for a church that is 'confident in living and speaking the gospel.' For this legacy we give thanks to our Sovereign God and look forward to the expansion of the kingdom of God in London under the next bishop. 

Please join us in praying for Richard and Caroline Chartres in their retirement, for the Bishop of Willesden as Acting Bishop, and for the appointment of the new Bishop of London in due course.

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#Brexit

If we are roughly representative of London, then some of us will be relieved or even excited after Thursday’s referendum result.  Many more will be feeling anxious, fearful and even angry. So how should our trust in Jesus shape our responses to this momentous event?

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1. It is ok for us to be deeply upset /excited. This is a vote that has massive implications for us and those we care about. Our faith in Christ does not mean that we maintain a zen-like indifference to the things of this world. However, let's never give the impression as Christians that we place the same hopes in political and economic outcomes as those who do not believe there is. Our most valued treasure is in heaven, and our greatest hope is in the return and rule of Christ, not the result of an election. Let us pray through the words of Psalm 46 (below) and seek to live as if we believe its truths!

2. How we respond when things go against us, and how we treat people we disagree with, should mark us out as followers of Jesus. We follow a man who calls on us to love even enemies, and who prayed for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying him. I have been saddened to see that the social media contributions of many Christian friends fall far short of Paul’s command in Colossians 4 that our speech be ‘full of grace and seasoned with salt.’ Let us ensure that when we write or speak, we show love and grace to those on the other side of the political divide, and that we believe the best about the motivations of those whose politics are different from us.

3. Lastly, let us love the foreigners amongst us. There have been a sickening spate of racial attacks on foreigners (or indeed Brits who ‘look different’). Many foreigners who live and work here will be feeling alienated and unwanted. As Christians we should be going out of our way to show love, compassion and offer practical help to them. Dare I say that inviting a foreign national for coffee / dinner might be a more useful response to the vote than posting yet more comments / memes online?

Psalm 46:
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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Je Suis Charlie?

I guess lots of us feel at a loss for how we respond to last week’s atrocities in Paris. Sound-bites are inadequate at a time like this, but as Christians we often face particular questions when there’s been a religious aspect to terrorism. So below are two thoughts for us as we seek to contribute graciously to honest and healthy discussions.  They are only a starting place for our discussions, and we highly recommend this helpful, longer article by theologian Al Mohler.

1. Muslims are not the problem, but there is an issue with Islam's view of blasphemy
The 1st thing I’d say is that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful. Don’t forget, there was a Muslim policemen gunned down protecting the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and it was a Muslim at the Jewish supermarket who hid customers in the cold store.  True churches preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but welcome people of all faiths.  Muslims should feel safe and welcome among us, and the moment they don't is the moment we stop being a real church. The problem is not with Muslims.

But we can’t deny that there is a problem at present with the treatment of blasphemy within Islam.

The politicians have stressed again & again that Islam is a religion of peace, but you do have to explain why it is then that so many Muslims find a justification for violence in its teaching when Muhammed is insulted. What's more, it is not just nominal Muslims doing the killing. Frequently the terrorists see themselves as devout, quoting the Quran as they kill.

Our culture often groups all religions together, splitting the world generally into religious vs. non-religious people.  But it is surely appropriate to ask why it is that Mormons are not murdering in response to the brutally offensive musical The Book of Mormon? Why is it that Charlie Hebdo’s journalists were not targeted by Jews when for decades they have produced offensive cartoons about Judaism?

There is an issue with responses to blasphemy within Islam, and peace-loving Muslims need to lead the way in a mature, sober discussion of what is to be done. 

2. Secularism is not the answer, Jesus is.
It’s easy to think that the answer to all this is secularism – to relegate all religious belief to the private sphere. It must be kept out of public life and not be allowed to influence society. Only then will we be safe.

But present day North Korea is an ongoing reminder of what we saw in 20th century Communist Russia, China & Cambodia – namely that secular regimes can be just as murderously intolerant and oppressive as any religious group has ever been.

Let me ask a serious question: As a Christian, could I ever justify violence to people who insult Jesus? Now I must admit that I am no great fan of Charlie Hebdo. Many of their cartoons are disgustingly obscene, blasphemous mockery of the Jesus who died to save me from my sins. Could their cartoons ever be so offensive that a Christian should say that they justify violence against those who publish them? No. Never. Not in any circumstances. Why is that?

It is not because Christians care about Jesus less than Muslims care about Muhammad. It is not because western liberal values have diluted my Christian faith. Rather, it is because of these undiluted, core values of Jesus:

  1. Jesus commands his followers that we are to love our enemies. That is not some obscure marginal teaching, it is from the heart of the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ central manifesto for his followers.
  2. Jesus’ example was that when he was being nailed to a cross after his unjust trial and brutal torture, he prayed out loud, ‘Father, forgive them.

Society would not be safe if only religious people took religion less seriously. Society would be safe if people took following Jesus more seriously.

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Christianity, Politics and Courtesy

What a strange few days since the death of Margaret Thatcher.  Much of the debate seems to have veered between hatred and hagiography[1] with a limited amount of comment in between.  This weekend the BBC will have an awkward decision over whether to play Ding dong the witch is dead which has reached no. 1 in the music charts.

Personally, although appalled by the glee with which some people have greeted her death, I feel a little left out by the polarised reaction.  I both admire many of her achievements and feel uncomfortable with some others.  I am also fully aware that there are members of Christ Church within all of the three major parties; there is no party line here!

So, let me make a simple point: the Bible is not a right wing book; nor is it a left wing book.

In her famous speech to the Church of Scotland in 1988 Mrs Thatcher sketched her thoughts on the interface of Christianity and public policy.  She suggested that the Bible does not tell us “exactly what kind of political and social institutions we should have.” As she explained, “On this point, Christians will very often genuinely disagree; though it is a mark of Christian manners that they will do so with courtesy and mutual respect. What is certain, however, is that any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.”[2]

Having spent a good deal of time in the book of Proverbs recently, it is obvious that the Bible is intolerant of laziness and would indeed promote individual responsibility.  Look at these “right wing” proverbs:

10:4    Lazy hands make a man poor but diligent hands bring wealth.

28:19  He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.

 

So, is that a clear endorsement of traditional “right wing” values?  Yes, individuals need to work hard to provide for themselves.  However, alongside that the book of Proverbs will also declare in “left wing” terms:

13:23 A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.

14:20 The poor are shunned even by the neighbours, but the rich have many friends.

The writer here is declaring that sometimes you can work hard and yet receive no reward.  To modernize, there may be a few big supermarkets that can drive your prices down so low that you cannot make a profit.  So, while the individual must work hard; sometimes there are structural problems within an economy which need addressing.  Maybe the government of the day needs to regulate.

Proverbs 14:20 makes the simple observation that if you are wealthy then even when you fall on hard times your friends can help you.  I like Iain Duncan Smith and know that he has invested much of the last decade exploring fairer ways of distributing welfare.  However, the reality is that it is easier for him to live off £53.00 per week than for many because he has wealthy in-laws who insulated him from poverty when he was forced onto the dole in the 1980s.

How we treat the vulnerable in society is a genuine mark of our humanity and indeed our attitude to God:

14:31: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God”.

Poverty should not exist within the church: members should care for one another.  Yet, within wider society, the question of how to treat the needy with civilised generosity without weakening work incentives is a difficult one.  The Bible would insist that there is no simple right wrong solution or left wing solution.  While there is sin in this world, there will always be poverty –either self-inflicted; a function of a disaster or poverty imposed by others.

So, this side of heaven, let’s be humble; be wary of simple caricatures of left wing or right wing solutions and be courteous to those who disagree with us.


[1] Idealising someone to the point of sainthood.

[2] http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107246

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Procrastination

Yesterday’s Times reported a new report published that reveals that Britain is a nation of…erm…procrastinators.

75% of adults surveyed admitted that they were addicted to putting things off.  Filing, ironing and washing the car were among the common tasks avoided, but the stand out winner was…cleaning the oven.  Nearly a third of men said that they wished their partner would stop nagging them about household tasks, while 42% of women wished that their partners would be more helpful.  Oh dear.

Rather than work on a sermon (and other obvious procrastination related gags) I thought I would pen some thoughts on putting tasks off.   The Bible is clear that idleness is a sin (2 Thessalonians 3:6ff).  Perhaps some need to hear that bluntly stated.  However, why do we procrastinate?  Some suggestions:  Is it because:

1)     Hard work is…hard?  It is more pleasant to sit and watch TV…to perform tasks that we like than to work hard.  Biblically, Christians are commanded to work hard: “Make it your ambition to…work with your hands so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).  If we have grown accustomed to laziness, we need to be reminded that our evangelism and our fellowship will suffer.

2)     We fool ourselves that we are busy?  We can fool ourselves into thinking we are too busy for cleaning the oven or ringing someone we should or indeed praying.  It is easy to fill our time with good things: some “research” on the internet perhaps; preparing a revision timetable if a student; relaxing so we have enough energy to attack the tasks in hand.  “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9) and so we can begin by being honest in our use of time.

3)     We fear the possibility of failure?  Sometimes we don’t want to give something our best shot in case it fails.  Then what?  It is far more comforting to think, “Well, I didn’t try my best so it doesn’t matter that it didn’t go too well; if I had tried harder then I probably would have succeeded.”  This is self-delusion.  We should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3)

4)     We fear the opinions of others?  This is clearly related to #3.  We can be so paralyzed by the what others will think of our essay…project…sermon etc that we delay beginning in the hope that somehow a brilliant piece of work will magically appear.

They may or not be true of you, but what can we do?

1)     Remember God’s power to change you.  Self Control is part of the Fruit of the Spirit that God grows in the life of every believer.  You can change in the area of procrastination as in every area of life.  So pray that God would change you in this area.

2)     Be accountable to others.  Tell someone or those you pray with what precisely you are struggling with and get them to hold you to account.  Practical things such as a timetable with start and finish times; turning off e-mail so that you’re not interrupted; not allowing yourself play time until a certain point in the day / week.  Rules can be helpful servants sometimes.

3)     Repent of procrastination.  Very little change begins without repentance and forgiveness.

4)    Expect to fail.  It’s very liberating to know that we all fall short of the glory of God in many ways (Romans 3:23) but that we can be forgiven.  Acknowledging our failure but trusting in God’s goodness and having another go is inherent in Christian living.  So what if the task we do is not brilliant?

5)     Look up and work for the Lord. Acknowledging that we work for the Lord can make us feel a right sense of shame at idleness and a right sense of pleasure when we use our time well.  It doesn’t justify us of course, but there is a pleasure in obedience.

Matt Fuller
Senior Minister

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