Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Stranger at Christmas

The town was used to strangers, even though it wasn't a big place. Some passed through while others stopped for a while looking for work. It had its share of homeless people, some of whom ended up begging on its street corners or in front of shops and at markets.

In its constitution, laid down by its founder and identical to all the other towns he had founded, it had a regulation specifying how its citizens ought to treat strangers - "when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:33-34).

So, the residents of the town were not merely to do strangers no harm; they must also do them positive good, treat them indeed as they treated their own people. Ultimately this was a reflection of how God had treated them. The ideal is couched in the language and in recall of redemption - “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Having experienced the redeeming kindness of God they should have been the first to show kindness to the stranger.

Over 2000 years ago a Stranger entered the town. He was born in an outhouse near one of town's inns, the child of a poor couple. Against the expectation of most he grew up to be the most remarkable man who ever lived. His name was Jesus of Nazareth. The God who had stipulated that the stranger be loved and that no wrong be done to him had arrived incognito and found his stipulation regularly ignored. It was the same in every other town also, nowhere more obviously than in the capital. The ruling authorities ended up putting him on trial, pronouncing him guilty though he was faultless and condemning him to crucifixion outside the city walls. The apostle John summed it up succinctly - “He came to his own, yet his own people did not receive him (John 1:11).” 

On one occasion during his ministry (Luke 10:29-37) Jesus was asked a question after mentioning the need to love one's naighbour. A self-assured lawyer, flushed with a sense of self-justification, asked, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus answered by telling of a man who had been mugged by thieves and left badly injured. The first two people who came across him were a priest and a Levite. You would expect that they of all people would stop. Yet both passed by on the other side! Then along came a Samaritan, who would have been despised by the first two. You would think that he of all people would have decided not to get involved. Yet it was he who attended to him and then made provision for his future care. Significantly and powerfully Jesus then turned the lawyer’s question around and against him - “Now, which of these three do you think was neighbour to the man who fell among the thieves?”

Our attitude to the stranger, homelesss or otherwise, must not begin with “who is my neighbour?” but with “who must I be a neighbour to?” We do not have the liberty of choosing them; they are chosen for us by God in his providence. We always have people around us who are in need - a widow with young children, a pregnant teenager, an alcoholic, an unemployed family, to state but a few. Our first thoughts must not be “which of these is my neighbour?”, but “how can I be a neighbour to them?”

Some years ago as a Church Camp leader I dressed up as a homeless man, complete with tattered coat, tangled (false) beard and a black plastic bag containing a few items of clothing. It was an exercise in "find the leader" for the campers and I looked the part! I found a park bench near a supermarket and parked myself there. I was there for over two hours, some of the time lying as if dead on the bench. There were two paths into the supermarket on of which was close to the bench. Almost every shopper took the longer way round! They passed by on the other side. None of those who took the near path stopped, glancing only disapprovingly in my direction. I could have been injured or even dead, but no-one took any interest. I was a "stranger", persona non grata. Many saw me but none acted as a neighbour to me. (The campers did find me though!)

The experience confirmed the Bible's view of human nature! It also left me with a real appreciation for the work of Bethany Christian Trust and other similar agencies working with the homeless. They do not pass by on the other side! They deserve and need our support, prayerfully, financially and in other practical ways. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us. The first Church Council in Acts 15 made remembering the poor one their major resolutions. The poor are still with us and the resolution is still active. Let's take it up, but not only at Christmas.

People no longer see the Stranger around. He has long gone back to where he came from having completed the remarkable mission he was sent to accomplish. But the Stranger is coming back! Not to a particular town or country, but to the whole world and all shall see him. Not as a Stranger but as the Lord Jesus Christ. As the Sovereign Judge his judgment and verdict will take account of more than what we believed; it will include what we have, or have not, done, and particularly in connection with how we treat strangers!

‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

How we will spend eternity is closely connected with how we treat the stranger (and the Stranger!)

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Opt-in or Opt-out? Does it matter?

After a lengthy lay-off I've been prompted back into blogging mode by Secular Scotland. No, I've not joined the existing 500 of them, but yesterday the BBC asked me to give a response to the petition from Mark Gordon and Secular Scotland which was being considered by the Petitions Committee of the Scottish parliament. Reading the petition made a blogging response unavoidable!

The petition calls upon the Scottish government to amend the Scottish Education Act 1980 by making Religious Observance (RO) in public schools an "Opt-In" choice rather than an "Opt-Out" one as currently is the case. This would mean that instead of parents who do not wish their children to be involved in RO choosing to opt-out, parents who do wish their children to attend RO must specify their opt-in choice when offered to them by their school. In other words the present "default" position of being included unless you opt out would be changed to being excluded unless you opt in.

First of all, the petitioner claims that one of the main reason for bringing this petition is that the present system is not working and that in looking at numerous (he does not say how many) school handbooks he has discovered that they often (he does not state how often) make no mention of the right to opt out. Further research, he says, has revealed that only 20% of parents (he does not say how many he asked) say the school informed them of their right to opt out. This, he claims, makes the opt out system systematically defective.

Well, even if these figures are accurate (and there is no way for us to check them - but more on checking statistics later!) this is hardly a basis for turning the whole system on its head. It's not a problem with the substance of the system; it's a lack of communication. It ought to be fairly simple to fix this, even if it's as extensive as is claimed, with little expenditure or extra administrative burdens on schools. To change the default position, however, would impose a considerable, additional burden on schools, as is stated clearly in the response to the petition from the Association of Head Teachers and Deputies Scotland.

In addition, the change proposed would not guarantee any greater efficiency in informing parents of their rights, nor would it provide a better basis for parental understanding of the detailed content of RO as the petitioner claims. Indeed, with an increase in the required administration the likelihood is that the information would be even less efficiently communicated!

Second, the petitioner tells us that there is a need for change given that the decline in religious profession in Scotland has dropped from 65% expressing affiliation to Christianity in 2001, to 57% in 2008. This, we are told, is mainly due to falling allegiance to the Church of Scotland (down from 42% to 35%), and most of the school chaplains happen to be Church of Scotland ministers. The petitioner then complains that children who do not opt out of RO are worshipping under the aegis of a Church whose tenets are followed by only one third of the population. He then asks, "are we to assume that in future years Scottish children will have a religious viewpoint imposed on them that is representative of a tiny minority of the population?"

What are we to make of this? Well, for a start, if any parent objects to their children "worshipping under the aegis of a Church whose tenets are followed by only one third of the population", they have the option of withdrawing them! And, although I was never any good at maths, I make it that 57% affiliation to Christianity is still a majority! The petition states that Secular Scotland has "over 500 members". That's 0.01% of Scotland's population! It doesn't take much effort to conclude that wherever the drift away from Christianity has headed it's not been to Secular Scotland!  Let me then turn his question around in a way that exposes the audacity and aim of the secularist thinking behind this petition - "Are we to assume that in future years Scottish children will have a religious viewpoint of historic significance denied them through the influence of a tiny minority of the population?"

Oh, and while we're on the matter of statistics, I took note of the fact that 1,516 signatures had been appended to the petition online. On examination I counted 436 of these (that's 29%) who stated other than "Scotland" as their country (of residence I presume). The places mentioned included England, USA, Belarus, Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Romania, France Spain and United Kingdom (I know Scotland is still part of it but if living in Scotland why not specify "Scotland" like the 1080 who did?). Now some of these good people may well be Scots, but I doubt if they all send their kids to Scottish schools, so why should their names be included in support of proposed changes in SCOTTISH schools! Because 1,516, while not an impressive number, looks 29% better than 1080 perhaps?

Third, the petition quotes from the February 2005 Guidance Circular (8), in which the Scottish Executive endorsed the findings of the Religious Observance Review Group, set up after an HMIE report. The report stated, "Where the school, whether denominational or non-denominational, is continuous with a faith community, that community's faith in the 'focus of worship', may be assumed and worship may be considered to be appropriate as part of the formal activity of the school. Where, as in most non-denominational schools, there is a diversity of beliefs and practices, the review group believed that the appropriate context for an organised act of worship is within the informal curriculum as part of the range of activities offered for example by religions, groups, chaplains and other religious leaders.”

The petitioner concludes from this, that "Given the demographic described above, schools in Scotland cannot now be reasonably said to be continuous with faith communities since no significant faith community exists....Since schools are no longer continuous with faith communities, the current basis for RO provision needs to be urgently reformed."

This is an unwarranted conclusion. Even in rural Lewis schools, nowadays, diversity of beliefs and practices exists. Does that mean that "no significant faith community exists"? Of course not! I belong to a faith community, the Christian one. My friends in the next village may be practising Muslims, Baha'is, or Buddhists (yes, they're all here!). Does such diversity in beliefs and practice mean that none of our groups is "significant"? And who is to define "significant" anyway? How about we just allow Secular Scotland to do that, because, going by this petition, they work out what it means on the basis of numbers affiliated. Oh dear, what a shame! On that basis I've just calculated that they are not "significant", so we have no option but to apply their own conclusions against themselves - ie they have no right to impose their views on the rest of us!

Fourth, the petition complains that secularists are really hard done by. The religious lot have more resources than any secularist who attempts to challenge the present order (although we are not told how this is the case). And the religious opponents of secularists are "well mobilised, informed and canny." Well, I'm pleased that Secular Scotland give us some praise! At least one third of that description may even apply to Secular Scotland themselves! Ms Veronica Wikman, of Edinburgh City Council, the petition tells us, raised an online petition calling for the removal of RO altogether. But "the religious mobilised numbers, in a counter petition, well in excess of Ms Wikman's". What an unjust system we live in when religious people are allowed to have so many more names for a counter-petition! And I thought we lived in a democracy!

Is Secular Scotland's reasoning not able to cope with the possibility that Ms Wikman's failure to stimulate support for her petition may have had something to do with most people not being in favour of it, so didn't want to sign it? Why complain about so few supporting her and so many supporting a counter-petition? It's what you should expect, when you compare 0.01% with 57%!

Fifth, the petition concludes by claiming that "The data shows that this country can no longer be reasonably considered a Christian country and to continue to do so flies in the face of Scotland's position as a leading proponent of equality and diversity. Privileged default access by churches to a nation's children without a parent's express permission is deeply unfair and illogical and may represent strong potential for legal challenge either nationally or in Europe at the ECHR."

Okay, we maybe are not a Christian country any more, if we ever were one. But Secular Scotland has produced clear evidence that we are not a secularist country either! Raising the issue of equality and diversity coupled with the spectre of possible litigation is a predictable but ineffective argument. I have no problem with equality, if that means according equal liberty to all beliefs and to those who say they have none at all. Nor do I have objections to diversity, which adds richness to any culture. Retaining the current default for RO will not increase inequality nor reduce diversity. But there is a good whiff of totalitarianism about the idea that the secularist 0.01% of Scotland's people can set the terms governing religious observance in Scottish schools when 57% of its people are affiliated to Christianity.

And that's really what all this is about - secularism will not rest until every last vestige of Christianity is excised from our national consciousness and practice. Peter Hitchens in the concluding words of his splendid book "The Rage Against God" claims persuasively that societies in history which sought to eradicate God from the lives of their people, in the name of reason, science and liberty, succeeded only too well in showing that,

“good societies need God to survive…and when you have murdered Him, starved Him, silenced Him, denied Him to the children and erased his festivals and his memory, you have a gap which cannot indefinitely be filled by any human, nor anything made by human hands. Must we discover this all over again? I fear so. A new and intolerant utopianism seeks to drive out the remaining traces of Christianity from the laws and constitutions of Europe and North America….The overthrow of Christian education is a real possibility in our generation. The removal of Christianity from public ceremonies is almost complete. Expressions of Christian opinion or prayer in public premises can be punished in Britain under new codes which enjoin a post-Christian code of ‘equality and diversity’ on all public servants. Secularists are equating the teaching of religion with child abuse and laying the foundations for it to be restricted by law....The Rage against God is loose, and is preparing to strip the remaining altars when it is strong enough to do so" (The Rage Against God, Peter Hitchens, Contiuum International Publishing Group, 2010, page 158).

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

ICRC 2013 - Day 6 Tuesday 3rd September

For our morning devotions today Rev Richard Holst took us through 1 Thessalonians 1:1-12, emphasising the self-giving nature of Paul's ministry and applying this to our gospel ministries. Ministry is self-giving, which means it is also self-denying.

Rev Peter Azuana
The first presentation of the day was by Rev Peter G Azuana, from the Universal Reformed Christian Church (NKST), in Nigeria. Their application for membership was incomplete so the conference encouraged the Churches sponsoring them to help complete the application in time for the next conference in 2017. Rev Azuana gave details of the NKST and their work which aims to be holistic and extaended to all nationalities. They have 557 pastors, 353 congregations, a university, a seminary, a Bible College, 53 secondary schools, 500 primary schools, nine hospitals with clinics, schools for nursing, midwifery, medicine and technology. In addition they also have orphanages. I must confess that I felt very small, inactive and humbled by such a report! How thrilling to hear about such a wide range of activities all related to gospel work! Their women's ministry is distinctive, with Bible studies and evangelising prominent in their activities.The NKST's university is distinctly Christian but is seen by the government as a rival and they do not support the Church. Rev Azuana asked for prayer in regard to the university especially.

Next up was the report of the Missions Committee of the ICRC. This was presented by Rev Raymond Sikkema. A booklet with details of mission work engaged in by the member Churches was distributed to the conference and Mr Mark Bube took us, in his own engaging style, through much of the detail. The Missions Committee had met with representatives of the World Reformed Fellowship and the committee hoped that
Mr Mark Bube and Rev Raymond Sikkema
the conference would mandate them to send some of their number to the WRF Missions meeting.

After dealing with a report from the Advisory Committee on Finance and another Advisory Committee report on incomplete applications Rev Rowland Ward presented a second report by the Advisory Committee on the Review Committee's report. A number of questions were received and comments made and the discussion was then left to be continued at a later session.

After another very good lunch provided by the refectory the conference heard reports from the worskshops which had discussed the paper by Dr Jin Ho Jun. Dr Jun then gave his responses to questions raised from the floor. After this the discussion of the Review Committee's report continued resulting in a number of the recommendations being accepted. Any recommendations to do with the ICRC Constitution, rather than the Regulations, must first be sent to the members Churches for their Assemblies or Synods to consider so that their responses can then be taken up at the next conference.

The afternoon session was concluded with a presentation by Rev Jos Colijn, Kampen University giving information about a new project commissioned by the Synod of the Reformed Churches in Netherlands. In this they proposed to offer a research Master of Theology with the aim of developing students in their studies of Reformed Theology to a level of academic excellence. They were hoping to identify future Church leaders and invite them to work together as a learning community. The task will be to train trainers and to form an international community of Reformed theologians who will take what they learn at Kampen and apply it in their home contexts.

In the course of the day we, the Free Church representatives, held meetings with delegates from the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North East India and later with the Presbyterian Free Church Central India. The representatives of the RPCNEI were Rev L Kiemlo Pulamte and Rev Ros Infimate. We discussed matters which were common to us as Churches but also received from them information about their denomination and the work they are engaged in. The RPCNEI began in 1979 with 5 families and now
have 104 congregations, with 14,000 members and 45 pastors. Due to the shortage of pastors they need to care for 4-5 congregations each. They have congregations in 5 Indian states and also in Myanmar and have 38 missionaries working in various locations in neighbouring states to Manipur where their headquarters is situated. They have a home for children and a programme of vocational training for young people so that they may be able afterwards to earn a livelihood. They have support from the Reformed Churches in Netherlands (Liberated) and network with various groups in the Reformed Christian Fellowship.It was good to meet with these brothers in the Lord and we hope to be able to remain in close contact to see if there can be any scope for a closer relationship between the two Churches.

The relationship of the Free Church to the Presbyterian Free Church Central India is a special one. This Church was established through Free Church missionaries and today, although the Free Church has no missionaries in Central India seeing the PFCCE has been self-sufficient for many years, we regard them with a special affection. Rev Shyam Babu and Rev Samit Kumar Mishra conveyed to us the love of their Church and outlined a number of issues which they wished to bring back to the Ecumenical Relations Committee, including their Diploma in Theology programme and Lakhnadon school which faces financial challenges at
Rev Shyam Babu and Rev Samit Kumar Mishra
present. They also spoke about the challenges currently faced from Islam and from the authorities, and also how their aim as a Church is to raise spiritual leaders from local communities who will preach the gospel to their own people. Shyam and Samit are heading to Scotland after the conference to give talks at various locations in the Free Church, but unfortunately their already full programme means that we will not have the pleasure and benefit of hearing them in Lewis. We asked them to take our love and prayers back to their congregations in Central India.

After dinner much of the evening was taken up with the report of the Advisory Committee on the application from the Christian Reformed Churches in Australia. The report was given by Rev Jack Sawyer, of the OPC.
Rev Jack Sawyer
The Committee's report raised sensitive issues and a lot of time was spent discussing various options relating to procedure as well as some points raised in the Committee's report. At 9.15pm the conference accepted a motion to refer the report back to the Advisory Committee for them to report back next day. This was wise considering the importance of decisions about whether or not to receive a Church into membership of the ICRC. These decisions should not be taken with tired minds and it was best to reflect and pray over the matter for the next day's business. It was appropriate that we sang "Praise, my soul, the King of heaven" at he conclusion of the evening. All decisions are under his sovereign appointment and he is always deserving of our praise.

Monday, 2 September 2013

ICRC 2013 - Day 5 Monday 2nd September

Today at conference we began with worship at which Rev Richard Holst gave an exposition of 1 Thessalonians chapter 2. After this a presentation was given by Rev Geoff van Schie of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia which is making application for membership of the ICRC at this conference. Geoff's ministry is varied and depends much on support from others financially but he is thankful to report many instances of God's blessing on his ministry.
Rev Geoff van Schie
This was followed by a discussion of the report of the Review Committee which was recommending changes to certain aspects of the ICRC Regulations. No final decision was arrived at as the document requires further consideration the amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee which looked at the Report. This was followed by the second “workshops” session where issues raised by the second paper given by Rev James Visscher on Friday, “The Nature of Preaching”, were discussed. Our group concentrated for most of this session on the matter of “appeal” in preaching. We dealt with how preaching ought always to have an "appeal" element both to those who are confessing Christians and to the unsaved.

During the lunch break we had a very pleasant and profitable informal meeting with Rev Heon Soo Kim and Rev Byoung Kil Chung of the (Korea) who had both visited Lewis on their way to the conference. Although the Free Church has a fraternal relationship with them as members already of the ICRC we explored the possibility of taking this further so as to develop closer relations where there could be mutual assistance and edification in gospel ministry. This is one of the good and important aspects of the conference that time is available for delegations to meet so that the relations we share in the gospel are applied as much as possible to the extending of God's kingdom.

Then it was time after lunch to hold a plenary session at which a brief report was given by each of the four workshops after which Rev Visscher gave his response to the points raised.

The conference then considered another presentation, this time from the Reformed Churches in Korea given by Rev DongSup Song. This denomination is young, with four ministers and around 200 members, founded in 2005, and is now seeking admission to the ICRC. This application will be reported on later in the conference by the Advisory Committee set up to examine it.

Rev Patrick Jok and Rev Daniel Kithongo
The Committee examining the application from the African Evangelical Presbyterian Church, given by Rev Daniel Kithongo last Thursday, reported. The Committee was recommending that the application be received. The conference unanimously accepted the AEPC into membership and Rev Kithongo was then welcomed as now a sitting delegate of the Conference. The Chairman led the conference in prayer.

Before the coffee break another report was received, this time from the Committee examining the application from the Sudanese Reformed Churches. Again the Committee was recommending that the conference receive the application favourably and admit the SRC into membership. This was agreed to unanimously by the conference and Rev Patrick Jok was then welcomed as a sitting delegate of the conference. The Chairman again led the conference in prayer.

It is such a heartening experience to be part of a conference admitting these relatively new churches into membership of the ICRC. When we are so used to dealing with declining numbers in our churches and are free from poverty and persecution how humbling and challenging it is to see growth in churches set amongst poverty and persecution, with an obvious commitment to maintain Reformed theology, preaching and church order. It's a cause of much thankfulness for the growth but of much prayer that our decline would be turned around by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Coffee (and tea) time
Dr Ho Jin Jun
The evening session began with worship, led by Rev Pila Nkuka, Reformed Church of Indonesia NTT, who spoke from Colossians chapter 2. This was followed by the delivery of the third and final paper of the conference "Preaching in Illiterate Cultures" given by Dr Ho Jin Jun, Cambodia Presbyterian Theological Institute. It's hard for us to imagine what it must be like to preach the gospel in a context of illiteracy where many of the hearers cannot read a text or write. Africa has a 40% literacy rate and Asia 20%. Dr Ho's paper dealt with the illiteracy situation in Asia mostly and gave details of the practices used in preaching in that situation.

There was just time for another presentation from a church already in membership of the ICRC but which had not yet managed to give such a presentation to conference. This was the Reformed Churches of Brazil, located in north east Brazil and the presentation was given by Rev Luiz Fernando. The RCB developed from missionary work carried out by Canadian and Dutch missionaries in the 1970's, one of whom was the Corresponding Secretary to the Conference, Rev Cornelius Van Spronson.
Rev Luiz Fernando

Saturday, 31 August 2013

ICRC 2013 - Day 3 Saturday 31st August

Beautiful sunny day and very warm today in this lovely spot. Our bus left at 9.45am for our trip to the "Big Pit" Coal mine (so called because of the width of its shaft, 5.5 metres at its widest point, the biggest in the area when it was completed), near Caerphilly. The other bus took a second group to Cardiff and Cardiff Castle.
From the hill overlooking the Big Pit mine
The Big Pit mine was really interesting. Actually going down the pit shaft and being shown the various parts of the pit made the whole experience very authentic. We were given a safety helmet and a belt with a power pack for the light which attaches to the helmet. All possessions with a dry battery, phones, cameras, watches etc had to be left in safe keeping before going down the shaft in the cage for safety reasons. A slight spark from a battery connection could trigger an explosion. Now, in descending the 50 metre vertical shaft it helps if you don't mind close fellowship because 20 people in a smallish cage does make for a pressing experience!
Even the model horses looked real!
Once down we were then taken along the mine by an ex-miner who showed and explained various aspects of how the mine worked, the tools and equipment used, the horse stables and equipment, the signalling methods etc. In early times whole families worked for mine owners for little return and the children would operate doors at certain points along the length of the mine in total darkness. We were asked to switch off our helmet lights and when the guide switched his off he asked us to hold our hands in front of our face. We could not see anything! I was reminded of those verse in Exodus chapter 10, which describe the plague of darkness - "Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived."

We were then told about a disaster which occurred in 1913 and being down in a mine while being told made it all the more solemn as took in the details. The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, also known as the Senghenydd Explosion, occurred in Senghenydd, near Caerphilly, killing 439 miners. It is the worst mining accident in the United Kingdom, and one of the most serious globally in terms of loss of life. The demand for Welsh steam coal before World War I was enormous. Among other uses it fuelled the Royal Navy's huge fleet of steam battleships, dreadnoughts and cruisers, and was also used by foreign Navies allied to Britain and the British Empire. The explosion was probably started by methane gas being ignited, possibly by electric sparking from equipment such as electric bell signalling gear.

The initial explosion disturbed coal dust present on the floor, raising a cloud that then also ignited. The shock wave ahead of the explosion raised yet more coal dust, so that the explosion was effectively self-fuelling. Those miners not killed immediately by the fire and explosion would have died quickly from afterdamp, the noxious gases formed by combustion. These include lethal quantities of carbon monoxide, which kills very quickly, the victims being suffocated by lack of oxygen. This disaster led to new and safer methods of signalling, detection methods for methane gas and eventually to the Davy Lamp, still used to detect methane gas.

There are a number of exhibition buildings on the site containing all kinds of exhibits and the coffee shop was a welcome sight after emerging from the dark, damp and cold mine shaft!

Given the conditions in which miners had to work, the sharing of danger and disaster, a short visit down the Big Pit mine made it easy to see why mining communities had such strong bonds between families and individuals, some of which remain today. It also helps to explain why miners' unions looked after their members with such a fierce loyalty and went to such lengths to protect them and their jobs.

The Picket Caravan
No account of our Big Pit visit would be complete without a photo of the picket caravan, used no doubt during the miners' strike in the era of the Thatcher government. It could tell many a tale of scuffles, shouts of "scabs", police charges, Scargill speeches, endless cups of tea and coffee. It's appearance now as an exhibit is a somewhat sad statement of how the mining industry has all but disappeared leaving lives, relationships and communities changed forever. In its heyday Big Pit employed 1300 workers. Now there are none apart from those guiding visitors into its shafts.

Following this we proceeded to Caerphilly castle, the largest castle in Wales. It was begun in 1268 by Gilbert de Clare, known as "Gilbert the Red", possibly due to his red hair. The castle proved a very handy refuge for Edward II in 1326 as he fled from his wife Isabella and her companion, Roger Mortimer! It is surrounded by a series of moats and small islands and has a drawbridge. The south-east tower of the castle leans at a greater angle than the famous Tower of Pisa! It's difficult to do justice to this in a photo but it is really scary to look at!

The figure bottom left seen holding it up is not a hunky Welsh hero but a wooden substitute! The sheer bulk of these castle walls is amazing. Imagine how it must have been for those armies trying to storm these walls or attempt to penetrate them with medieval war engines! I saw no sign of the fabled Green Lady who is said to haunt the site! There were, however, a few pale men around, as by this time a number of us were feeling the need of replenishment at Cooper's Carvery where we were booked to have our evening meal.

We were joined there by the other bus which had returned from their trip to Cardiff and Cardiff Castle. The roast beef was good and roast turkey and ham were also available. A recent visitor to the Garrabost manse commented, however, that the Yorkshire Puddings "did not match up" and added "I was comparing them with Donna's!" Well, that's a good note on which to finish and a wee reminder to me of why I should be thankful!

ICRC 2013 - Day 2 Friday 30th August

Rather damp and drizzly for most of today in beautiful Treforest campus. Our conference day began with worship, as is proper, at which the Chairman Rev Richard Holst gave the first of four expositions of Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. After a plenary session covering a number of routine items the conference listened to Rev Patrick Jok of the Sudanese Reformed Churches. His denomination is applying for membership of the ICRC at this conference. In an impressive talk and presentation he outlined the plans the SRC has for church planting, evangelism and social ministries in the years ahead. The war in that region in recent years has left its devastating legacy on the lives of many people and infrastructure, with the result that

The SRC started as a small house fellowship in Khartoum, Sudan in February1992. It was time of great Christian persecution in Sudan. By God’s grace SRC has now grown into 16 churches all over South Sudan and Sudan with 8 ordained pastors and 15 evangelists. In the SRC strategic plan (2011-2015), it is hoped to plant 36 more churches: 25 in South Sudan and 11 in Sudan!

The conference then divided into four discussion groups or "workshops", one of which I was assigned to chair, in which the paper given at yesterday's evening session by Rev Dr Robert Letham was discussed. Our discussion for an hour was stimulating and rewarding. Dr Letham had raised issues in his paper that really got us thinking. For example, in what sense is the preaching of the Word of God "infallible"? Or, is the preaching itself "the Word of God" at the same time as it is preaching "from the Word of God"? Also, in what is usually called "revival" when many more people are converted than at other times and when the power of the Holy Spirit is experienced above what is known at other times, is the preacher himself changed, does the preaching changed? In addition, does a concentration on the need for "revival", including praying for this, tend to demote the preaching of the Word in circumstances outwith "revival" to an "ordinary" level. And is it right to pray for "extraordinary" preaching (in the sense of what is associated with "revival) with preaching outwith such occasions regarded as "ordinary"? Finally, what do we mean by "revival" when we think of the preaching of the Word of God? So, the theologians back home should have plenty here to get their teeth into till I get back!

As you can imagine there were many contributions to the discussion, not all of the same mind! But we ended the discussion with the conviction that preaching and the Holy Spirit are inseparably joined, what Letham calls "distinct but inseparable ( this also applies to the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the composition of human beings as physical and spiritual). We also agreed that the preaching of the Word of God carries out the sovereign will of God in the sense that his word never returns to him "void" or "empty" and always accomplishes what he has chosen to bring about both in the conversion of some and the hardening by others of themselves under the Word.

A break in the afternoon from 3-5.30pm helped me to catch up on some emails and to make a start on this blog post! After our evening meal we had the second lecture of the conference delivered by Rev James Visscher, a minister in the Canadian Reformed Churches, whose topic was "The Nature of Preaching". Again, on Monday we are due to discuss this paper in our workshops.

After the evening session Rev Patrick Jok met with Iain D Campbell, Rev David Miller and myself, as representatives of the Ecumenical Relations Committee, to discuss how the Free Church might be able to set up closer relations with the Sudanese Reformed Churches and what the relationship would mean to both denominations. This was a very interesting and productive discussion and again Patrick impressed us with his account of how the denomination had started with small beginnings, with himself actually, and had grown by God's blessing to the 16 congregations they presently have. It would be wonderful if we could have Patrick speak to ujs back in Scotland about the Sudanese Reformed Churches and their commitment to church planting, evangelism, theological education in schools and their overall approach to what it is to serve Christ in the gospel.

Tomorrow (Saturday) most of the delegates are going on arranged trips to local sights, one group to a coal mine and Caerphilly Castle, the other to Cardiff and Cardiff Castle. Apparently Wales has more castles in proportion to its total area than any other country in the world! Mind you, it maybe has something to do with that lot over the border!

I will try and find time when we get back from the trip to give a brief account, provided I don't get left down the coal mine!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

ICRC 29th August

With help from Flybe I arrived last evening at the Eighth meeting of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC), at the Glamorgan Conference Centre, University of South Wales,
Treforest, Pontypridd, near Cardiff. This is a modern, beautiful campus, set into the hills. Along with me from the Free Church are Iain D Campbell, who travelled with me all the way from Lewis, Bob Akroyd and David Miller. The hosting denomination is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales (EPCEW). We attended the opening service of the conference at one of their congregations Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Cardiff last evening. The service was conducted by the minister there Rev Dr Peter Naylor who is also the clerk to the conference. The sermon was by Rev Iain Hamilton, Cambridge Presbyterian Church, another EPCEW congregation. Great emphasis on the triumph of Christ and how we as his people share in a triumphant procession with him. Others are in the procession too, but not sharing this victory; rather they are in chains as defeated enemies, Satan and his forces. Stirring stuff!

This is the congregation taking their seats just before the service began. One or two faces may be familiar!

Today (Thursday) we spent most of the morning confirming who were present representing the member churches, around eighty delegates in all, and also observers from other churches. In addition, importantly, a welcome was given to the wives of delegates, although sadly for one delegate (actually a few others too!) Donna was missing!

After lunch we spend time giving preliminary considerations to a report from the Review Committee set up at the last meeting in 2009 in New Zealand. The Committee was charged with looking at the structure of the conference and how it might be improved in line with the growth in the number of members churches since the ICRC was set up in 1985 in Edinburgh. This is a long document running to some 50 pages, so the conference will need to give more than one session to it. Hopefully it will be adopted near enough as it is as, having been on the committee, I know that a great deal of time and care was spent on it, and it should help to make the ICRC more efficient as a conference of churches holding to the Reformed tradition.

In the afternoon we saw a presentation given by Refo500, an  international platform for knowledge, expertise, ideas, products and events, specializing in the 500 year legacy of the Reformation. Worldwide, more than 120 partners have joined Refo500 and the number of partners is still growing. Partners collaborate in order to offer a program and to tell the story of the Reformation. Refo500 partners include Protestant and Catholic organizations, churches, universities, museums, cities, publishers, and others.

Rev Dr Robert Letham
After our break for our evening meal we had the first lecture of the conference from Rev Dr Robert Letham, a lecturer in Systematic Theology at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, formerly Evangelical Theological College of Wales. Previously he was Senior Minister of Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church Wilmington Delaware for 17 years.

 Dr Letham's subject was "The Necessity of Preaching", giving us some important reminders of what preaching is and why we preach. His lecture was an excellent, scholarly, insightful, stimulating, and thought-provoking presentation. Tomorrow we will have four "worskshops" (discussion groups) on his lecture so that we can get into more of the detail and application of the lecture.

Rev Daniel Kithongo
The final item on the evening's agenda was a presentation from Rev Daniel Kithongo from the Africa Evangelical Church, in Kenya, one of the churches applying for membership. In his presentation he referred to the persecution of some of their congregations by militant Muslims, who in some case will drive a car which contains a bomb to a church service, park it close to the church and then leave the scene. It appears that they are just arriving for worship like others but the car explodes just as the worshippers are arriving for the service. Try and imagine what it would be like if our attendance at church had to face this! Please pray for them as they seek to be true to the Lord against such intimidation and violence.

This was a very good day. The Lord was honoured, fellowship was good, much was learned and quite a few new relationships established.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A Clean Mouth

By "a clean mouth" I don't mean the kind the dentist wants to see, although this is recommended! No, I'm referring to the words we use in conversation. The principle also extends to all the written forms of communication we use. Bad language, "swearing" or "blaspheming" has always been with us, but never has it been communicated as much, because of our technologically advanced age, and as unashamedly as in our society. In everyday conversation, books, films, songs, and videos, the regular use of blasphemous, coarse, vulgar language, is commonplace, leaving many children with the idea that such words are normal and acceptable. I suspect that "go and wash your mouth out" is much less used now than a generation ago and would be regarded only as an order to brush one's teeth! This is not surprising in a society that has moved so much from the precepts of the Bible as a foundation for moral conduct and for the "norms" of conversation.

However, my concern lately is with the number of Christians who seem to have little problem with "liking" pages or comments on Facebook that have words or images which contain coarse, vulgar language, like the "f" word. The bad language used by unbelievers is one thing; we should not be surprised at that. But condoning or commending it, even not being offended by it, on the part of those who confess Christ as their Lord is another thing altogether. The Lordship of Christ extends to the words we use and how we use them. We have to speak to all, always, as if we were speaking directly to him. "He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend (Proverbs 22:11)." 

In the third commandment we are told "you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain", which we mostly associate with careless or irreverent use of God's name. We tend, rightly, to call this "blasphemy", a term we will look at below. Taking God's name "in vain" includes every unjustified use of God's name in a frivolous, insincere, empty or disrespectful way - treating God lightly in other words. We break this commandment when we use the name of God yet do not take him or the ideals of his kingdom seriously. How many times do we hear people who have no personal faith in God say "O my God"? Or, think of the stand-up comedian whose routine includes jokes about God, uses the coarsest language, then waves to the audience at the end and says " Bye, God bless" - and, yes, Christians sometimes laugh along with him, or her, in the privacy of their homes! Or, again, think of the vicar in England, Rev Alice Goodman, who has a sticker on her car with the letters wtfwjd? which stands for "what the f*** would Jesus do?" She states that the middle word is not blasphemous but is a vulgarity, as if that itself were alright! Of course this is blasphemy, bringing the name Jesus into a disreputable connection with an acknowledged vulgarity, and so is a transgression of the third commandment. Even if her motive was good the method is decidedly bad!

So blasphemy is disrespectful speech against God, in particular when one or more of the names of God, including Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is included. However, the matter of our quality of speech is much wider than the way we use God's name or names.  In the New Testament the same Greek words as are translated "blaspheme" and "blasphemy" are also used in a wider application. For example the Greek verb blasphemeo is used in Romans 3:8. The ESV translates this "slanderously charge us", the NIV has "slanderously claim that we say" and the AV "slanderously reported". In each case the Greek verb blasphemeo is given the meaning "to slander".

In other words blasphemeo is to speak disrespectfully, profanely, slanderously, or in similar vein, against God, or human beings, or even the possessions of Christians (2 Peter 2:2) and angels (2 Peter 2:10), whether or not the names of God are directly used. Compare Titus 3:2 where blasphemeo is translated "speak evil of" (ESV and AV) and "slander" (NIV). It's interesting to compare the Oxford Dictionary of English definition of "blasphemy", which is "the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk", and gives the origin of the word as "from Greek blasphemia -slander, blasphemy." So in translation we should probably confine "blaspheme" and "blasphemy" to the context of speech directly against God, while the other meanings of the word tell us that quality of speech does not end at how we speak about, and to, God.

Along with this we should note the many descriptions of speech mentioned in the Bible. This includes "perverted" speech (Proverbs 2:12), as well as speech that is "smooth" (Psalm 55:21), "prudent" (1 Samuel 16:18), "crooked" (Proverbs 4:24), "seductive" (Proverbs 7:21), "truthful" (2 Corinthians 6:7), "sound" (Titus 2:8) and "gracious" (Proverbs 22:11 and Colossians 4:6). As well as being harmful words can be, and ought to be, beneficial to others.  Our speech and our written words are vehicles which convey what is in our mind, thoughts, emotions and attitude - channels for good or bad. Through our words we give vent to anger, flattery, pride, falsehood, jealousy, praise, joy, excitement, compassion, and many other personal traits, all of which reveal aspects of our character. This is one reason why the Bible has so much to say about our words and how we use them. The Letter of James devotes the whole of chapter three to this! Our speech can have have devastating effects for good or bad. A guide in Norway was once asked by one of a climbing party if avalanches were common in that area. The guide pointed to a heavy overhang of snow in the distance and said, "See the big overhang of snow on that mountainside. One word can bring all that down!" Sadly it's like that in life, including life in the Church. Our words all too often bring an avalanche of trouble rather than a volume of good.

Paul's statement in Colossians 4:6 bears closer inspection - " Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." The words "seasoned with salt" are explanatory of "with grace." As a right amount of salt adds savour to food, without which it would be bland, so our speech should carry a good savour to those we speak with. "Salty" speech does not mean speech that is abrasive, stingy, or alienating, even when we need to be challenging or admonitory, but rather speech that is positively beneficial and helpful to those we speak with. The avoidance of coarseness and vulgarity is only one side of our quality of speech (or writing) as Christians, although it is a very important and necessary side in today's world. The other side is the wholesomeness of our language. It must communicate the savour of godliness. Quality of speech is more than the absence of harm in our words: it's also persuasive of good.

The verse ends, "so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." This has an apologetic or evangelistic ring to it. Our way of speaking is a vital element in our efforts to speak for Christ and to guide people to him. Our Christian conversation will often not be well received but we must be careful never to reduce it to a sanctimonious criticism or a boring commendation of truth. Salty speech will often be challenging but never unloving, gracious but never compromising.

"With grace" means that not only must our words be gracious but also that the effectiveness of our words does not depend on our skill with words but upon the grace of God. We can rely on God's grace to guide our speaking, even to give us the right words. The Lord on our lips is also the Lord of our lips.

"The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips (Proverbs 16:23)".

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Korea 6 -Wednesday 8th May 2012

For my final day in Seoul I visited a seminary of which the dean in Rev Dr Heon Soo Kim, whom I had met through being on an ICRC committee together. We last met in Philadelphia.
The seminary was about 50 minutes drive from my hotel and I was picked up by one the of students. This is a small seminary with four students, committed to the Reformed faith and belonging to a denomination of six congregations. I was asked to deliver the same lecture as I had given to the Conference on "The Letter of Jude and its Relevance to Reformed Theology Today." The students were avidly interested and we discussed the lecture and other aspects of Jude's letter for about an hour afterwards!
I saw round the seminary building, built and maintained by this church. The church building is situated just across the road from the seminary in a very quiet part of Seoul. Even the sound of the traffic is hardly noticeable! Dr Kim is assisted by others in the teaching programme but he is full-time dean of the seminary.

Dr Kim and I, accompanied by a Korean Chinese student then went to a very pleasant Chinese restaurant a short drive from the seminary where we enjoyed a splendid Chinese meal. I think I counted seven courses! Actually each was quite small, necessarily, but very tasty. I tried some sea creatures I had never even heard of before and a marinated egg which had been prepared Chinese style by being left marinating in sawdust for one month! I'm not sure what my chickens back home would say to that! It was very tasty!

In the evening I preached at the church's mid-week meeting. I had been asked to preach a sermon on the message of Jude, which I tried to do, taking as the main points: (1) The Entrance of Nominal Christianity; and (2) The Battle for Biblical Christianity. Dr Kim had expressed an interest in this theme as one which he saw as relevant to the challenges facing the Church in Korea at the present time. After the service I joined Dr Kim and the minister of the congregation in a custom which they have in this congregation and was a first for me. We went up each aisle bowing to each pew while its occupants bowed to us. I can imagine the faces in the pews at Garrabost if I suggested doing this after every service! I was then taken back to the hotel by a member of the congregation Mr Sam Oh, who lectures at Sungkyunkwan University.

I have enjoyed my busy week in Seoul, but look forward to getting home. The Koreans are very hospitable and kind people and I have met with courtesy and respect everywhere. They are also a very efficient people. Everything seems to be so well organised, from airports to conferences. They take pride in their work and are concerned to provide an excellent service. I'm sure they have their problems like we do, and the Church there is facing challenges similar to those we face in the West. However, they seem to be concerned to stave off a threatening decline and are passionately committed to mission at home and abroad. If I take home but that concern it will have been a worthwhile trip.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Korea 5

Monday 6 May

Back to lectures today. In plenary session we began with a Korean professor, Dr
Jaesung Kim, who spoke eloquently about Reformed Theology in Korea, It's Origin and Transplantation. His grasp of theological development in Europe was impressive let alone his knowledge of how it had been transplanted to Korea and then developed there. Dr Julius Medenblik, of Calvin College, USA spoke on rethinking the leadership of higher education and he was followed by another Korean professor, female this time, Prof Heeja Kim
the first female vice-president of Chongshin University, who gave an inspiring lecture on Korean "Bible Women" and how they were and are a spiritual "engine" in the church. These "Bible Women" have an honoured place in the Korean church, acting as missionaries and evangelists.

After lunch we had an afternoon of lectures in various rooms again. I attended one given by Dr Joseph Pipa,
Greenville Theological Seminary, USA. His lecture was on worship in the Reformed tradition.

I then delivered my lecture on "The Letter of Jude and its relevance to Reformed Theology." Around 30 students attended and I can say that I enjoyed and felt uplifted by the experience.

Each lecture is followed by an evaluation given by a Korean lecturer or Professor and then for a few minutes students may ask questions on the lecture subject. I think I managed to cope, but then we have good preparation for this kind of situation by having to open the Ceist! One thing at least in hich we are ahead of the Koreans!

At 3.30pm a Korean musical was held for our benefit. This was a moving and a very professional account of the life of Pastor Joo, a Korean minister of the Presbyterian Church tortured and killed by the Japanese when they ruled Korea. The acting was very good conveying dramatically the pastor's inquisition, his family's trauma and also his death.

We had dinner together at  Korean restaurant on the way back to the hotel. Beginning to see images of sirloin steak, creamed potatoes etc! Not that I dislike Korean food, but I like home fare much more. But then again at home I am just thoroughly spoiled!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Korea 4 - Sunday 5 May

Sunday 5 May

Today I preached at 4.30pm at Seongsil Presbyterian Church. I was picked up by a
couple of the young assistant pastors there at 2.30, as the church was a good hour from the hotel. The senior pastor of this congregation is Rev Youngbok Kim who has visited Lewis on two occasions. We had time to go round the church building. Amazing! Five stories high, complete with lift, and containing dozens of rooms and halls used for many church activities involving every age group in the congregation.

Seoul is a massive city of some 14 million people but remarkably there was actually a real, genuine Rudhach in the audience! They do get everywhere don't they! It was easy to pick her out as everyone else I could see were Koreans, but I did appreciate her coming to hear me from Anseong, about an hour's travel from Seoul.

Just look at what I came across  doing the rounds with Pastor Kim! Couldn't resist a photo!

Alongside the building is the old building, still used as a teaching and activities centre. A set of four houses for single assistant pastors stands in between the two buildings. There are four services every Sunday, three of them taken by Rev Kim, so we had at least one thing in common!

with Rev Kim
There are booths for private prayer, rooms for teaching children, giving guidance to young couples and for teaching new attenders. Last week they had 49 new attenders! New attenders are welcomed by individuals or couples in the congregation who are then "attached" to them until they are established. In addition they attend a 12 week course to teach them the basic aspects of the gospel.

At the conclusion of the service the group of newcomers who had finished this course today were formally presented and given a gift by the congregation. Rev Kim then prayed for them and after a photo with them I was taken to a room to meet them and say a few words. This was a real thrill for me and I could not help thinking how good it would be if we had enough newcomers at KFC every week to require such a course!

with newcomers
This congregation has 2,500 members, but what is impressive apart from its size is the volume and passion shown in its various services and activities. They have 15 assistant pastors, a social care unit where deprived and disabled people are cared for every weekday, and every Sunday 1,500 people have lunch in the church dining room!

Later Rev Kim and I met up for a meal with Rev Changwon Shu and his wife Myoung Ja, their daughter Jiheh and husband William, Rev Yong Oh Kim , who will be coming to the Free Church Assembly, and Prof Andrew McGowan. This was a most enjoyable time of fellowship after which Andrew and I were taken back to the hotel.

with Rev Yong, Rev Kim, Prof McGowan, Rev Shu and Myoung Ja

Korea 3 - Saturday 4 May

Saturday 4 May

Guess what? I made it to the early morning prayer meeting! The church was only a few minutes from the hotel. There were around 300 people present at 5.30am. Unlike the early prayer meeting I attended on my first visit to Korea the minister preached for about 40 minutes this time. Apparently this happens at most early morning meetings. After the sermon the minister led in prayer during which the people also prayed as they sat in their pews accompanied by a piano! I doubt we could incorporate this into our KFC early morning prayer meeting! The video clip below gives you an idea of what it was like.

After breakfast we were given a video presentation of Korean culture at a Korean restaurant, followed by a session of discussion as to how how to build on this conference and develop relationships further. The restaurant also provided various Korean cultural items of entertainment in music and dance, for observation not participation I hasten to add! Korean costume is so beautiful and colourful as you can see from the clip below.

The afternoon gave us a choice between attending a meeting to explain a venture in Europe called Refo500, and a tour of various sites of interest in Korean church history. I chose neither, deciding instead to rest back at the hotel. I had already seen the sites on previous visits and was more in need of sleep than anything else.
The conference is going well and the programme well packed, some would say too much so. There are nearly 30 people at the conference from outwith Korea, from 11 countries. The main difficulty will be in carrying things forward from the Conference and in establishing what the ultimate aim of it has been. It has certainly been good to have shared in discussing the variety of situations found in Reformed Churches in the countries represented here.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Korea 2 - Friday 3 May

Busy day! Today's sessions were held in the main lecture theatre at the university. This brought happy memories for me. I preached here on my last visit to Korea to 1200 students.
The first address today was by Prof Yonggu Park of Chongshin university who spoke movingly about the great Korean revival 1901-1910. This was a defining period in the Korean church.

The second address was given by Prof Dongmin Chang of Baeksoek University.
He is a direct descendant of the subject of his address, Dr HyungNong Park, 1897-1978, who was one of the most important and influential figures in the Presbyterian church in Korea. He was a contemporary of Dr J. Gresham Machen in the USA, and like him he led a movement against the influx of Liberal theology which had introduced a flawed view of Scripture opposed to the Reformed view of the Bible as the inspired word of God.

We then heard Prof Jerry Pillay, President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, who adressed the gathering on Revival and Unity of Reformed Churches: how to deal with this Challenge. Prof Pillay's paper emphasised the importance of unity in the Reformed Faith, but did this with a view to engagement in mission, justice and social ministry.

Getting as much as possible into the morning session we had a fourth address! Phew! Not even a break for coffee! Not even a Lewis communion packs as much into three hours! Prof Giho Park spoke about the Missionary Movement of the Korean Church. With thousands of missionaries already in places throughout the world the aim of the Presbyterian Church of Korea is to have 100,000 missionaries in various fields by 2040! Mission is such a great emphasis with this church and one of the benefits of being here is to get a feel for their passion for mission as well as other important facets of being a gospel church in today's world.
From 11.50-12.30  we joined with the students for worship. Wonderful singing! Rev Andrew McGowan, Professor of Theology in the University of the Highlands and Islands, preached on Union with Christ from Romans 6.
We had lunch at a Korean restaurant close to the university. It was good to share a table with Dr Joseph Pipa, Greenville Theological Seminary, USA, Rev Changwon Shu and Prof Jeffrey Jue. Dr Pipa has the distinction of having been to Lewis, and Dr Jue of having attended Bon Accord Free Church while a student in that city during Rev Iver Martin's ministry there!

After lunch we had the first set of lectures, as distinct from the main addresses mentioned above, took place, from 1.50-2.50pm. There were 6 lectures in total, all held at the same time in separate seminar rooms, so obviously we had to choose which one we wanted to hear. I attended one given by Prof Johan Buitendag, University of Pretoria, South Africa. His lecture was called The Dialogue between Theology and Science and the Orthodoxy's Notion of the Fall. The room was packed with students. Mmmm, must confess I had a bit of a problem staying awake! Choosing a lecture with lots of philosophical ideas after lunch was not such a good idea!

Another session with everyone together from 3-4.30pm, heard addresses from Prof Jeffrey Jue of Westminster Theological Seminary, USA and Prof Bruce Baugus, Reformed Theological Seminary, USA. Prof Jue's paper was Reformed Theology for a Global Church in the Twenty First Century. Prof Baugus spoke on Presbyterianism Now, The Urgency of Church Polity in the Mission to China and the World. Both these papers were excellent.
Dinner was at followed by a much looked forward to concert. This was the first ever public concert in this new music hall. Very enjoyable if you like classical music.

We got back to the hotel at 9pm, and jet-lag is all too obvious. I have serious doubts about my ability to be at the the first item in the morning, because we are to have a wake-up call at 4.30am so that we can attend an early morning prayer meeting at 5.30am! I'm making no promises!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Korea 1 - Thursday 2 May

Arrived at 8.15 this morning (Korean time) after a good flight with BA. Got a nice surprise at London when told I had been upgraded to World Traveller plus! Reckon it must have been the result of the early morning prayer meeting! Ahead of UK by 8 hours. Got some sleep early afternoon.

The conference opened tonight at 6pm, after which we enjoyed a wonderful garden dinner in the grounds of Chongshin university. Fabulous buffet dishes with 15 main courses and other stuff that I had no time to sample. Did not see mashed potatoes with butter though!
The food was provided by the Marriott hotel where I am staying along with the other guests from outwith Korea. Today was misty and thundery in the afternoon but brightened beautifully for the dinner. The opening worship was led by an old friend who preached memorably in Knock Free Church a few years ago, Rev Changwon Shu. Here he is with his wife Myoung Ya. It was so good meeting up with them again.

Afterwards three more speakers gave addresses. The Chairman of the Board of Chongshin University Rev Youngwood Kim spoke about the Presbyterian Church in Korea and thee President of the university Prof Dr Ilung Chung spoke on "What we believe." Below is the chairman in his traditional Korean outfit.

One of the highlights tomorrow evening will be a performance by the Chongshin Choir and Orchestra. Really looking forward to that. I'll try and get some video footage of it along with photos. Must now get some sleep.