Friday, September 11, 2015

A genuine Luther quote

It intrigues me that many famous quotes are misattributed. My Scots friend Jeanette Stewart says that they were so busy, they outsourced them!

But Terry Gallagher has given me a wonderful genuine quote by Martin Luther, from his Introduction to Paul's letter to the Romans:

"Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. 
Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. 
The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. 
Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace."

Thanks Terry!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ten year anniversary

In 2005,  Ron, one of our church members in Bathurst, encouraged us to read through the New Testament in 3 months, and gave us a pamphlet that gave you readings for each day, from September to Christmas.

Only a few of us joined in, but I enjoyed reading through the TNIV New Testament, and then decided to read through the Old Testament. That was not easy, because it is over 3 times as long as the New Testament, and has many chapters of genealogies and lists.

But I got through it, and decided that in the future I'd read a bit of the Old Testament and a bit of the New and go through them both together.

Over the next ten years, I read through four study Bibles, listened to two audio Bibles, worked through the Bible in nine different translations, and last year read through the Greek New Testament.

This has been an enriching experience.

One of the most enjoyable read-throughs, which I did once in the TNIV and once in the new NIV, was going through the unusually-named The Books of the Bible, which is a reorganised Bible, with chapters, headings and verses removed, but with judicious spacing to mark the different sections.
This version is partly thematic and partly chronological. The First Testament is more like, but not exactly the same as, the way the Hebrew Bible is organised.

Most of the Bibles I read are in the tradition of the King James Version of the Bible [which closely follows the earlier Tyndale Bible], but two of them have been translated without letting the KJV dictate the agenda. I find this refreshing, as it provides some interesting new insights into what the original authors may have intended. These two versions are the New Jerusalem Bible, available, if you scroll down, here, and the one I'm working through now, the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

The two audio Bibles were well worth listening to. I enjoyed the African American dramatic version of the TNIV called The Bible Experience. (If you purchase a copy today, it will be in the recent version of the NIV.) And I listened to a lightly-dramatised free-of-charge version of the King James Version from Faith Comes By Hearing. I think it would be hard-going to read through the King James, and if I were trying to, I think I'd use a version such as the Cambridge Paragraph version of the KJV, because its usual format of  a paragraph per verse spoils the flow of God's Word. (There is a copy of this edition available in Logos Bible software.)

I enjoyed reading the ESV through twice, in the Reformation Study Bible and in the ESV Study Bible. Both of these versions have excellent helps for understanding the message of the Bible, but  I am always left with questions they didn't answer, or questions whose answers raised more questions!

It was fascinating going through the NIV Archaeological Study Bible in the 1984 edition of the NIV. This Bible has lots of maps,photos, diagrams and articles about the historical background of the Bible. Did you know that the oldest part of the Bible that exists as an archaeological artefact is the wonderful Aaronic blessing, at the end of Numbers 6:

      The LORD bless you
         and keep you;
      the LORD make his face shine on you
         and be gracious to you;
     the LORD turn his face toward you
         and give you peace.

I enjoyed the exercise of reading through three idiomatic Bible versions: the Contemporary English Version, the Australian edition of the Good News Bible and the New Living Translation
I can see the value of the CEV for new readers of English, but found the translation of some parts of the Bible (such as Ephesians) too loose to be useful.

Having nearly been through the whole Bible thirteen times over the past ten years (after I finish reading through The Holman Christian Standard Bible in the Mission of God study Bible edition), I'm looking forward to the next part of the journey!

I'm thinking of reading through J B Phillips' version of the New Testament, and would like to tackle the New King James Version and the New Revised Standard Version.

And I'm eagerly awaiting the new Zondervan NIV Study Bible, edited by Don Carson, which is expected to be released next month.

By the way, I have devised my own Excel spreadsheet to make the read-through easier. I never read from Genesis to Revelation, but read a few chapters of the First Testament, a Psalm and a chapter or two of the New Testament, as often as I can. Sometimes every day. Sometimes I miss a day or more. Life gets in the way. Then I pick up where I left off.

And I don't begin on 1st January, which is the worst day to begin anything. Any other day is a good day to start reading the Bible!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Early Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura

A well-documented collection of quotes from Michael Patton, showing that the Early Church Fathers taught that  authority for Christians beliefs comes ultimately from Scripture.

Patton concludes with this quote from J N D Kelly:

The clearest token of the prestige enjoyed by (Scripture) is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the Fathers, whether their aims were polemical or constructive, was expended upon what amounted to the exposition of the Bible. Further, it was everywhere taken for granted that, for any doctrine to win acceptance, it had first to establish its Scriptural basis (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, pp. 42, 46).

Friday, April 24, 2015

Where does God draw the line?

I was brought up in a Baptist Church and was taught that God offers salvation from his wrath for everyone who believes in Jesus as Saviour. We understood that apart from God's grace, we all deserve punishment for our sin.

Trying to gain God's favour by good works is fruitless, because none of us can measure up, and because God has made clear that we are freed from sin through what Jesus has done, not from our own efforts.

But we were also taught that many people hope that they will be saved because their good deeds outweigh their bad ones.

And, many churches also do not truly teach salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but add extra things to this.

We were usually told that those who add to the good news of salvation through Christ cannot be saved from God's judgment.

However, every now and again, someone would say something like this:

When we get to heaven, there will be a lot of surprises. There will be plenty of Roman Catholics in heaven.
It seems to me there is a line between universalism (which teaches that all will be saved) and exclusivism (where only those in our little group are enjoying God's favour). But where does God draw the line?

I am sure many folk would think of me as being very narrow-minded. And we did spend two enjoyable, but challenging years in the little town of Narromine. The challenging part was high school Music teaching!

I enjoy reading articles in Christianity Today, but have discovered that some other Evangelicals think it is far too inclusive. I'm sure they would cringe at this article in which Marlena Graves writes about her experiences at seminary, where she learnt
to be generous to Christians who see some important things differently.
They might also not be very happy with the story in The Wall Street Journal about the identical twin brothers, raised as Baptists, who are now a Roman Catholic priest and an Anglican bishop.

I was also interested to see that the newly-formed Australian chapter of The Gospel Coalition is attracting criticism from folk who think it is too inclusive and from those who would like it to be less complementarian.

I think Marlena Graves achieves a good balance in what she says in the last half of her article:

I think of my experience in seminary, where I studied alongside students from 50 different church backgrounds and denominations, from Pentecostal to Presbyterian and Roman Catholic to African Methodist Episcopal. The distinctives of our traditions meant that at core, we had intense disagreements over doctrine (especially over the nature and practice of the sacraments) and other controversial issues (like the ordination of women). But amazingly, we didn’t spend time debating our differences.
We could all trace the genesis, trajectories, emphases, and tragedies of our particular traditions in church history. None of us could afford to be arrogant about our traditions. We all “called upon the name of the Lord”; we all “declared with our mouths, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believed in our hearts that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9-13). Our common devotion to Jesus and love for one another reigned supreme. For the first time in my life I thought, “This is what heaven must be like.”
As Protestant evangelicals, we have some specific beliefs that are starkly different than a lot of fellow Christians, including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. But to those who suggest that moving from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy amounts to “changing religions,” I direct them to our brothers in Christ who have been martyred for the faith.
Those Coptic Christians killed in February, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians killed just days ago, are they not really Christians? Are they members of a different religion, Orthodoxy, not “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”? I certainly wouldn’t say that. (And, for the record, neither wouldPope Francis.)
As CT blogger Peter Chin wrote earlier this year:
Our response to the death of the 21 clearly demonstrated that we share a profound connection with other believers despite the considerable geographical, cultural, and theological gaps between us. We have proven that we do not need to be in complete alignment with other followers of Christ to stand with them in their pain.
What do you think?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Is this harmonisation really by Bach?

Is this wonderful harmonisation really by Bach?
I have not been able to locate it anywhere other than in Geoffrey Shaw's Twice 20 Choral Songs for Choirs.
I have found the tune harmonised by Bach, but not in this specific, superb version.

Can you help?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Perfect Day

I was listening to Denis Walter's terrific album Songs From a Southern Land today and was captivated again by One Perfect Day.

Vin Maskell is a great writer and tells the story of how he came to love this song here and also includes the songwriter's own recollections.

It looks like he is thinking of this article as old and I'm hoping he doesn't take the page down, because it's a great story.

I love Sara Storer's version. I love Denis Walter's version, too. But I'm disappointed the line about Margaret Thatcher's government doesn't feature in either of them.

In case he does:

St Andrews market, Victoria, May 2012

Is One Perfect Day, by 1980s Melbourne band The Little Heroes, one perfect song?

St Andrews is a town in the hills on the edge of Melbourne. It’s not quite a suburb and it’s not quite out in the country. I visited its popular Saturday market as the stall holders were packing away their goat’s cheeses, their angora scarves, their wooden toys, their landscape paintings.

But the bloke with about 30 milk crates of second-hand records was in no hurry. There were hundreds of, if not a few thousands of, albums there. “Five dollars each,” the bloke said.  “Or, at this time of day, three for ten.”

But with so many albums, where would I start? Pop, folk, rock, country?  By accident or by design, by chance or by fate, The Little Heroes’ 1982 album Play By Numbers was jutting out on an angle from the back of one of the milk crates on the ground. I only knew one Little Heroes song, One Perfect Day, and I’d always liked it. (The song reached number 25 on the Australian charts.)

I can’t remember when and where I first heard it (maybe on Countdown) but I’ve always felt it was a gorgeous piece of pop, in which the singer tries to will a reunion with a former lover who is on the other side of the world.

One Perfect Day, I’ll get your telegram
And you’ll be calling me – who whoa
This Perfect Day I can’t stop thinking
Are you over there, are you happy there

The only version I had of the song was a restrained version by Bernadette Robinson, an internationally acclaimed Melbourne soprano who has also interpreted songs by Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Leonard Cohen.  Her Perfect Day (on a very good 1993 compilation album called Moon Over Melbourne) is stripped back and slowed down:  a pure voice, a piano and a bass, rather than the original pop band treatment, which included a touch of  1980s synthesiser.

Crouched there on the gravel of the St Andrews market, I turned the album cover over  to read the song listings and there was One Perfect Day – final track, side one. The song had been floating in and out of my head for 30 years and now here it was in my hands, on old-fashioned vinyl.

And tell me if it’s still raining there in England
And did the Government fall last night
And tell if it’s still raining there in England
Adventures so hard to come by
If you ever come back just drop by

One Perfect Day
One Perfect Day
One Perfect Day

I flicked through some more milk crates and plucked out Dedication by Gary US Bonds (for his version of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender) and a Linda Ronstadt Greatest Hits album.

Australian country music star Sara Storer recorded a version of One Perfect Day in 2010. The song’s writer and The Little Heroes’ lead singer, Roger Wells, told One Song at a Time:  “Sara’s strong Aussie accent took the song into her world and she made it her own.  I loved it.”

The Little Heroes called it a day in 1985, after three albums and the one hit single. Roger Wells later became a meditation trainer and author, with a keen interest also in travel, art and photography.  He writes songs from time to time.


Roger Wells speaks to Stereo Stories (via email),  August 2012

Missing, alienation and yearning seem to be at the heart of most of my songs, which is unfortunate, because it got a bit tedious for everyone else. Of course now, with the ability to look back and connect all the dots of my life, I understand – but back then, with various bands rolling their eyes as I reeled out yet another melancholy lament, I kind of wished I could write something different.

One Perfect Day came to me one night in 1979.  I was still getting over the death some months before, of a girlfriend, Christine, who I’d been very much in love with. And not having been present when she died, or seen her buried, her loss left a nagging feeling that I just couldn’t throw, that she was still alive somewhere – so I was having trouble moving on.

That particular night I was sitting on a couch watching the late night news on a little black and white TV – coverage of the British elections, and it seemed as if Thatcher might lose.

I’d received a letter that day from an old friend, Kerry, who was living in London working as a nurse, and I had been writing a reply, which was lying on the table.

On the couch beside me was a book I’d been reading, This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, a science-fiction novel about a false utopia.

So I’m sitting there noodling on my guitar, gazing blankly at the British election on the little black and white screen, thinking of Kerry, having just finished reading this book, and I began singing, and as often happens, the song just happened – very quickly.

The two short verses and chorus drew together all the elements I’ve mentioned and wrapped them around the core of Christine’s death . And I had yet another song of missing and yearning.

I recorded the song on an old cassette, then played it back.  It seemed oddly complete, though there wasn’t much to it. I thought maybe it needed more, because after all, two verses and a chorus isn’t much. But still, there was a strange symmetry to it that seemed to work.

I woke my girlfriend Carol and played the song to her.

'It’s a hit,' she said and went back to sleep.

And that’s the only song I ever wrote that she said that about.

From then on the song seemed blessed – Carol’s pronouncement was echoed by everyone who heard it – the band, the producer, Peter Dawkins, the head of EMI, who we were signed to.  In rehearsals and then the recording of it, everything came easily, as if the song was using all of us to realise itself – it was the strangest thing. It had a momentum all of its own.

And when it went out, everybody picked it up and ran with it, from audiences to radio.

Problem is, I, the writer, just cannot hear the magic of the song.  For sure, I can hear a nice song – but I can’t hear the magic.

Over a couple of wines a friend of mine even tried to point it out one night, saying “… it’s when your voice goes up, and the bass does this, and the chords change, and … fuck mate, it’s amazing … and the outro …”

And I thought I could see it, but then I couldn’t.

But it’s been like an angel to me, in the life I’ve led. Each time I’ve been broke, or stuck somewhere, it leans down from the sky and scatters a little money to help me out … and my life stumbles on.

So it is a magical song … I just wish I could hear that magic.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Investigating Baptist origins

I found this interesting article by Leon McBeth today. It is over 35 years old, but is worth reading.

I was looking for an article on origins of the Baptist Church and was pleased with what is said in this short piece.

This part is particularly helpful:

Baptists New and Old
The story of Baptist beginnings forms a paradox. On one hand, Baptists are deeply convinced that theirs is a Bible faith, rooted in the message of Jesus Christ and the apostles. To that extent, Baptists can be called a New Testament church.
On the other hand, the historical evidence clearly states that Baptists originated, as a distinct denomination, in the early seventeenth century. How does one harmonize the sense of continuity from Bible times with the factual reality of more recent beginnings?
Some have so emphasized the sense of continuity from Bible times that they find it difficult to face up to historical facts about Baptist origins. Some have even erected elaborate schemes, or "Trails of Blood," seeking to trace Baptists through all the centuries from Christ to the present. These theories are based upon assumptions, unreliable or nonexistent historical data, or faulty interpretation of Jesus’ promise that the gates of death should never prevail against his church. A Baptist today can have a real sense of identification with the teachings of Christ without trying to prove historical succession.
Other Baptists, however, may so emphasize the recent origin of Baptists that they lose the sense of continuity in faith and practice from Jesus himself. The earliest Baptists recovered and proclaimed anew the old faith that has come down the centuries from the Lord and his apostles. The Baptist denomination dates from the seventeenth century; the Baptist faith, we believe, dates from the first century.