How Jesus Runs the Church

James McConnell: Nolan has a point (Newspaper article)

I don't often agree with Stephen Nolan. Usually when the outspoken BBC presenter interviews Christians he comes across as antagonistic and needlessly provocative. Rather than getting to the heart of an issue, he seems more interested in provoking a reaction (and sadly often succeeds).

But watching his recent documentary with controversial Belfast pastor James McConnell, I think Nolan hit the nail on the head. The 79-year-old's family opposed his decision to take part in the documentary, given Nolan's coverage of controversial remarks McConnell made about Islam in 2014. They needn't have worried however. Nolan brought out the lesser-known, sensitive side of a man from a tough background, orphaned early in life. For his part, McConnell acknowledged his aggressive nature and anger issues.

But at the end of the 30-minute programme, Nolan raised his biggest concern:

'Can I level with you? I wondered before I met you, and I still wonder, how much danger there is in one man appointing themselves as a preacher in a local community ... That's dangerous. Is that fair?'

To his credit, McConnell acknowledged: 'that's fair enough'. And it's not just Nolan who sees it as a danger. The Bible itself knows nothing of self-appointed preachers. Nor does it know anything of independent churches, such as McConnell's Metropolitan Tabernacle. The Apostle Paul asks: 'How are they to preach unless they are sent?' The New Testament describes only inter-dependent churches which must submit to a wider body (eg Acts 15).

McConnell and Whitewell show us the practical implications of preaching the gospel but ignoring other parts of the Bible's teaching. The courts decided last year that his remarks about Muslims weren’t illegal. But who decides if what he said was harmful to the reputation of Jesus and his church? Contrary to the Bible's teaching, McConnell isn't answerable to any Christ-appointed church authority.

And what happens now the charismatic preacher has retired? Numbers have already fallen dramatically. What if his successor preaches a different gospel? Who is there to step in and stop him? Nor is that just a question that independent churches must face - many denominations have ended up in the same place because ministers and elders have been appointed who don't believe in Jesus and don't care what the Bible says.

I regard McConnell as a brother in Christ. But we ignore the Bible's checks and balances at our peril.

Published in Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press, 2nd February 2017

Church membership: how the world knows who represents Jesus (book review)

Church Membership: how the Bible knows who represents Jesus
Jonathan Leeman
Crossway, 2012

Isn't it enough to just go to a church? What does it mean to join a church? Is it something for others but not for you? If you are a member of your church, how should that affect your life?

If you have ever wondered about any of those questions, this book is a must-read. We live at a time when 'organised religion' is looked on with suspicion if not horror. But within the 130 pages of this short book, Jonathan Leeman shows that church membership is expected by the Bible and absolutely vital.

There is much here for long-time church members as well as those new to the concept. Most church members would never imagine that the local church should affect decisions such as where to live or whether to take promotions at work - but Leeman shows that it should.

Even in churches where people could argue the Biblical case for church membership, members often don't have the slightest clue how they should interact with those under church discipline. Leeman here addresses that issue too.

As he's coming from a Baptist perspective, we wouldn't go with absolutely everything in the book, though Leeman himself acknowledges that in the New Testament 'Christians are ordinarily united to individual but interconnected churches' (which sounds a lot more like the Presbyterian position than the Baptist one!). However those minor disagreements don't detract from an absolutely brilliant book.

Cheapest online price: £6.79 delivered

Those wanting to read more on what the church is and how it should be run should check out Guy Waters's How Jesus Runs the Church (150 pages) or, if you're really keen, James Bannerman's The Church of Christ (1000 pages - though a great abridged version is also available).

Beginner, intermediate, advanced!