How banns can be banned and we can still be missional

Marriage in the Church of England is a complex legal thing. The CofE acts on behalf of the state for the legal aspect of marriage.  For British ad EU nationals resident in the UK it is legally required, or at least normal, to marry by banns.  Banns were introduced in the marriage act of 1753 and were designed to prevent polygamy and incest, by giving the community three opportunities before he wedding day, and a fourth on the day itself, to expose anyone who was/is already married or couples who were/are unwittingly closely related. Banns no longer serve this legal function because urban communities are too transient and far too big for banns to effective. Many banns which are read in church are for complete strangers to the congregation.

For non-EU nationals the couple can’t legally marry by banns and need to complete the legal prelims at the registry office. This inequality is what Stephen Trott’s private motion at synod last week tried to redress. Unfortunately, all three houses voted down his motion, preferring to put up with the legal and administrative inconvenience and the inequality of treatment for non-EU nationals for the missional opportunities banns provide.

It is too late for synod, but I suggest that we might share best practice so that, if the motion returns to synod, someday, we will already have a functioning alternative which shows that simplifying the legal does not mean doing away with the missional.

For anyone marrying by banns, there are three Sundays, when the couple don’t need to attend church, but it’s nice if they do, when the vicar reads the banns. The idea that banns are missional is something I find it slightly disingenuous, as I say to a couple “we must read your banns, so why don’t you come to church?” when what I really want is for the couple to join the church.

I publish the banns of marriage between NN of … parish and NN of … parish
This is the first / second / third time of asking. If any of you know any reason in law why they may not marry each other you are to declare it.
We pray for these couples (or N and N) as they prepare for their wedding(s)

When a couple can’t marry by banns I propose to say the following, based on the declarations in the marriage service. This gives me the opportunity to say, “you don’t have to come but we’d love to announce your wedding in church and pray for you.”

I give notice of the marriage of NN of … parish and NN of … parish
The marriage vow and covenant which they are to make will be made in the presence of God, who is judge of all.
We therefore pray with them, that as they are united in love, they may fulfill Christ’s will for them throughout their earthly lives.

Does anyone else have a practice which replaces banns when necessary? If so, what do you say?

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Reaching the Unreached – session 3

Simon Smallwood spoke last at this year’s RTU conference, on the subject of the third section of the RTU vision statement:

To see a movement of Christ centred churches, reaching socially deprived people in a grass roots way.

My notes on Simon’s talk are not as complete as they could be. I failed to notice that his handout was double sided! So I didn’t take notes from his introduction nor the three surprises he spotted in the book of Acts (chapters 13:48, 2:42-47 and 4:13). The main point Simon made from these three texts, I believe, is that anyone can be made godly and suitably gifted through Christ’s ministry of the word and the Holy Spirit. Middle-class Christians have failed to see the difference between culture or class and godliness. Godliness does not equal being middle-class and giftedness does not need a university degree to be effective in the kingdom of Christ.

Simon shared openly about how good intentions at St George’s Dagenham had led to a number of outcomes which worked against the principle of church in “a grass roots way”. My notes pick up on similar lessons we are learning, about two or three years behind Simon, perhaps. He said much more than what is noted here. My notes consist of he lessons I was taking away, so some of these notes might be my application rather than reality in Dagenham.

Examples of things not going as expected:

  1. Simon brought good teaching about Christ to Dagenham and his hope was for local people to take that teaching into the community.  The problem was people bought into Simon’s alien (middle-class) culture and so stopped speaking like locals.
  2. Simon did what many other similar churches did, which was to offer ministry trainee-ships to young folk. These schemes often imported apprentices from big teaching churches in university towns. The MTs were mobile and middle-class who ended up being masters not servants in the local church. Rather than developing the gifts of church members, they took over. The church ended up serving the MTs as a training ground.
  3. This led to the MT scheme becoming a destructive influence rather than building the church. Locals felt they could never be like the MTs and all the resources and training available at the time was tailored to tertiary educated middle-class folk. All this destroyed the confidence of local people.
  4. A focus on small group ministry meant there was a need for confident, gifted “pastors” who could run small groups which were culturally alien. But small groups which work in one culture might not work in another and so small groups, meeting in the homes of local folk, are not essential if the local culture finds this form of meeting and hospitality alien.

Things we are doing and learning.

  1. Don’t do more than can be sustained. Do what we can within the body of the local church. Keep Christ-centred teaching and discipleship at the heart of all you do.
  2. Don’t worry about what other churches are doing. One of MTs at Dagenham was university educated and had a huge capacity for work. He has been replaced by five local men who take it turn about to lead bible studies and talks for the youth group.
  3. An inexperienced local speaker is heard better by the youth than an experienced outsider.
  4. Shifting responsibility in church life to local men. PCC was led in the past by people who lived outside the area and this is shifting to locals along with youth work and discipleship. Anyone brought into serve the church from outside must seek to work their way out of  a job by training local church members.
  5. Seeking ways to train local church members in an accessible, suitable and affordable way. The urban catechism; one to one discipleship and the urban ministry programme all recent and very useful for affirming local leaders, pastors and teachers.


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Reaching the Unreached – session 2

Graham Miller from London City Mission led the second at Reaching the Unreached. He addressed the questions, “who are the unreached?” and “how can they be reached?”

Focusing on his knowledge of the population of London, Graham explained that 15% of university graduates living in London are professing Christians. However, only 3% of working class London is Christian and more than 1.5% of these are immigrant, so the largest unreached people group is not Asian or Muslim but the white working class. Church plants, however, have gravitated toward the middle class areas of London. Churches are effectively competing for loyalty according to their brand of worship or theology in areas which will sustain them. Few, if any, churches are crossing racial or class boundaries.

The question then is, how will the success of the university mission movement and professional class churches over-spill into other demographics and cultures in London or other UK cities and towns?

Graham suggested the need for British churches to learn from the cross cultural mission practices of those missionaries who, like him (and me) have served overseas.  Missionaries have sought to teach Christ and then stand back to allow indigenous believers to make new disciples and to grow and plant churches.

I would have liked Graham to speak about direction of flow of people between areas within cities. I wrote about this in a post in 2008, having observed it in Wolverhampton.  I noticed that church planters need to prioritise areas of urban deprivation because the flow of people between middle class areas and socially deprived areas is only ever one way. If the church is going to reach the unreached, missionary church planters must go and live in the poorer, diverse and socially deprived places. Churches should seek to serve the local area, as Christ-centred fellowships. They may attract or invite mature believers from outside the local community, who have extra resources to support and serve the church, but only to share in the ministry with local folk. Simon Smallwood has begun to put this model into practice and it is something which we are beginning to wake up to in West Bromwich. I’ll post my notes from Simon’s talk at RTU tomorrow.


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Reaching the Unreached 2016 – session 1

It was brilliant to be reunited at the Reaching the Unreached conference on Saturday with faithful ministers who share the same passion for Christ-centred ministry in areas of high social deprivation. Two of us from Holy Trinity West Bromwich took a red-eye train to London and came back massively encouraged by the day.  Here’s my notes from session one; Duncan Forbes from New Life Church, Roehampton, on Christ-centred ministry.

RTU – ‘a movement of Christ-centred Churches reaching the socially deprived in grass roots ways.’

We can lose focus on Christ and focus on other things, even good things. Churches are to be focused on Jesus (Ephesians 1:19-23 and 2:19-22). The church is all about Christ. The cornerstone and centre of it all. (Ephesians 3:14-19) how wide, high, long, deep love of Christ. United in him and in the knowledge of him (Ephesians 4:13).

Parents begin parenting by focusing on Jesus but can go out of focus and make it about behaviour, which makes life easier, or on character or on looking good in public, rather than on Christ.

In the 1990s church was all about worship. There was something good about this, but it was more about what we do, rather than focusing on Christ. Nowadays, the buzz word might be missional. Again, it is about what we are doing rather than being about Jesus.

Revelation 2:1-7. The focus begins on Jesus, but it shifts to deeds and hard work for Jesus. The Ephesians are persevering and are doing lots of hard things. Are they the missional church, with suffering and good doctrine. Yet I hold this against you…you have shifted your focus from your first love, your love for Jesus. Your focus is on the deeds, not the Lord Jesus.

Mission is the growth of the church as it focuses on Christ…check out Duncan’s summary of what mission is.

God being glorified through
the believing community expanding,
as the church displays God’s glory
in word and deed
whilst it serves and protects
and spreads God’s rule broadly and deeply,
making disciples of all types of people.

Take note of what you say when you speak to people. Do you speak about what you do or who you are in Christ?

Luke 10:38-42 – anti- task focus. There is only one thing which is important, which cannot be taken away from Mary (she sat at Jesus’ feet and focused on him and his teaching).

We can focus on our sin, confession and sanctification. The focus is on how we are doing are Christians, how we are growing. We can focus on a system which changes us, the gospel focus on transformation,

Beyond Duck-tape workbook – get it, but remember that it is focused on change in us, get more holy, get more godly or grow the church. We focus on propositional truths about Jesus rather than on the person of Jesus, and all the truth about him. We need to speak to him, ask him to come to us and fill us with his Spirit, as well as knowing the truth.

Consumerist culture trains us to think “what do I want.” Someone says “I want longer worship” or “I want shorter worship.” or “I want hymns” or “I want songs.” etc etc. We end up not doing conflict resolution and so everyone individually demanding their own ends but no speaking about it. We should be asking “how do we work out what Jesus wants?” We are to make it about him, so we mature, and ask “in what ways can we know him better?” Rather than being blown about, here and there, we speak the truth (the bible) in love.

We get different people from different cultures to speak that word, so that we avoid cultural blind spots. We need all kinds of people have good access to the scriptures and good access to exegetical training so that we can speak the truth in love.

Say an Anglo-European sense of time (starts punctually) and a south-American sense of time (we start once everyone turns up). Then we do a biblical theology of time and share our perspectives and then ask “when do we meet and how do we do what Jesus is calling us to do?” Think about Jesus and Jarius’ daughter and Jesus delaying his arrival when Lazarus died. How do we work out time?

If we are going to be Christ-centred churches, then church should reflect the gospel and the truth.

Church reflects Christ’s death – 2 Cor 4:10 – we carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies.

We speak about how being beaten up, imprisoned, suffering for the gospel hurts us. Be open about our gospel related pains.

Church reflects Christ’s resurrection – 2 Cor 2:

If you have Jesus then you have all the resources you need. We might think things could be better with more material resources, funding or buildings. All we really need is to know his resurrection power.

Christ-centred churches will be seriously repentant. If you are a parent, you are the chief repenter in your family. If you are the church leader, then you are the chief repenter. Set the example.

We are sinners and the world knows it. We are also called to close fellowship. Recipe for disaster, unless we are seriously repentant.

The comfort of the gospel – Jesus’ blood covers it all. It’s a place where it is okay to have sinned as Jesus has it covered.

We are clothed with Christ’s righteousness. That makes a huge difference to the way we do church. A Christ-centred church focuses on Christ and his righteousness.

Best holiday ever. But living on top of each other means we were sinning against each other all the time. Told each other how we were sinning against each other and affirmed each other in the righteousness of Christ.

When we focus on Jesus we are freed up from looking good. Comparison between us and better looking churches or better looking people.

John 15. I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me and I will abide in you.

No storehouse of grace. We need to sit at his feet, feed on him, abide in him.

What are some of the practical changes we could make?

  1. Spend more time with Jesus as we become more Christ-centred.

  2. We’ll spend more time in confession and repentance.

  3. We’ll ask Jesus to help us to do the good works he has called us to do. Let’s not assume this is too much or too difficult for you, but rather, how about asking Jesus to strengthen you with his power.

We don’t need to tell people what to do when their behaviour is out of order. Teach Jesus and let his holiness work in them. Then repentance will be genuine from the inside.

Revelation 1. Jesus is a man but he is so different, other, higher, than us. His eyes penetrate our souls, his mouth with words like a double edge sword. John who had been Jesus’ closest friend, was terrified, and Jesus puts his hands on John and assured him that he was loved.

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Why communion without a human “priest” is still communion.

There was once a prisoner in solitary confinement who had lived a notoriously evil life since rejecting the Christian faith of his parents, who had baptised him as a child. He had been caught, tried, found guilty of his crimes and ended up in jail. As he decayed in his cell, the words which he had heard as a child came flooding back and in the quietness of his solitude he found that he repented of his sins, loved and trusted Jesus and knew that he was loved and forgiven for the first time.

That night his meagre prison rations were shoved under his door, a dry crust of bread, some beans and, most strangely, a glass of red wine.

As he prepared to eat, he prayed, thanking Jesus for dying on the cross for all his sins and, as he prayed, the words of Jesus came to him, silently, in his mind, “take, eat, this is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Then, as the prisoner took the cup of wine, again the words of Jesus came to him “drink this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

As he ate and drank, with faith in Jesus and great love for him, the prisoner felt assured of the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ and that he was accepted and incorporated into the body of Christ.

Here’s the question. Was he in true communion with Christ and the church?

The answer is one which flows from my sabbatical studies. Yes, the prisoner is in true communion with Christ and his church because Jesus is the great high priest. He had come to faith, by grace, and it is the words and the work of Holy Spirit which make his communion meal what it really is; a memorial of Christ’s death, the presence of Christ by his Spirit and the renewal of his covenant (see yesterday’s blog post). The meal was not necessary for his salvation, but it was truly an act of communion.

Conversion in solitary confinement is an exceptional circumstance.  The prisoner was not free to attend a communion service, where two or three are gathered together as the body of Christ. On his release from prison he would not be encouraged to carry on solitary communion but join in fellowship with the body of Christ. Yet, because it is Christ who does the work by his word and His Spirit then, in that exceptional circumstance, the prisoner was in true communion with Christ and his church.

I believe this illustration is helpful for two reasons.  It gives me a greater grasp the glory of Christ as High Priest, as this is all his work.  I also find that a human “priesthood” is not required for anyone to truly receive communion from and with Christ. The role of the minister at communion is to speak the words of Christ so that the service acts as a memorial and covenant renewal, and Christ and the Holy Spirit do their work in the hearts and minds of believers.

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Holy Communion in a Venn Diagram

My sabbatical studies this summer focused on the theology and liturgy of the Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer. One of the books which I found most helpful was Michael Horton’s A Better Way – rediscovering the drama of God-centred worship. Horton has observed how American church services have broadly followed two paths: remaining traditional but dry and so withering on the vine or; innovating, with all forms of entertaining worship styles, which gives an impression of life but which miss the point of church gatherings.

Horton believes that an absence of robust theology of preaching and communion lie at the heart of the problem and I now agree with him. Horton didn’t need to persuade me on the need for expository preaching in the context of good biblical and systematic theology but my understanding and practice of communion have not matched the attention I have given to preaching and I suspect this is true of most evangelicals of my generation.

The following Venn Diagram represents what I think the bible teaches on Communion and I’ll say something about where I have moved from and how the BCP service might be used in church life.


A memorial of the death of Christ. Communion is a memorial service as Jesus said “This is my body, which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19. We are to remember Jesus, his death for sin and the bread is a visible reminder of his body, as often as we eat and drink together.

The spiritual presence of Christ. Christ is spiritually present at communion, not so that the bread and wine are changed or indwelt, but as faithful believers eat the bread and drink the wine with faith in their hearts in Jesus, who they have just remembered, the Holy Spirit unites those believers with Christ in the heavenly realms. Communion is a means of grace by which believers remain in Christ and he in them (John 15:4).

Covenant renewal between Christ and his people. Jesus said “drink this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant.” (Luke 22:20).  All the promises of God are yes in Christ (2 Cor 1:20) and so the conditional and unconditional covenants of the Old Testament are fulfilled by Christ and in Christ. When faithful believers meet for communion, they confess that they have not lived their side of the covenant but know that God is faithful to his side.

My practice of communion tended toward bare memorial, which added little to the word of God in the bible as I can always remember Jesus without eating bread and drinking wine. This practice might possibly be a Newtonian reaction, equal and opposite to the horror stories of Christians worshipping the “host” (from the Latin for “sacrificial victim”). We hear of the bread being stored in an Aumbry or lifted up and adored, because of the belief that Jesus is, or is in, the host, which seems little more than an act of idolatry, perhaps panemolatry.

The covenants which are fulfilled in Christ are corporate as well as individual and this is where I believe my practice was missing.   The gathering of the church is for renewing the covenant together and for true unity, being one body as we all share in one bread (1 Cor 10:17).

The BCP communion service has both of the first two aspects; a memorial of Christ’s death and his spiritual presence with his people as they feed on him by faith with thanksgiving. The communal renewal of the covenant of grace is also clearly evident. The invitations and exhortations, which mysteriously vanished in Common Worship order one, are designed to ensure that notorious covenant breakers are not permitted to receive communion, whilst those with a tender consistence are assured of God’s love and faithfulness. The renewal of the covenant focuses on a change of heart and behaviour so that Christ’s church is healthy, loving and evangelistic.

A memorial alone is dry boned worship. The spiritual presence alone is idolatry. The covenant renewal alone is legalistic ceremony. But when rightly understood and put into practice, all three come together to form full and true communion between Christ and all his faithful people.  I can now see how all three are there in the BCP service and I look forward to putting it into practice.

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Richard Baxter on the oversight of the flock.

Richard Baxter ministered in Kidderminster in the mid to late 17th century and his model of oversight of the flock is as relevant today as it was then. The size, mobility and diversity of parishes has changed dramatically, requiring a change in method but not the model. People are still people and the gospel is still the gospel.

Baxter begins by considering the different needs of the souls in his care. He divides people into six broad groups (or class in old English). It is worth remembering that he wrote for fellow pastors and not for his congregation. He would have phrased things differently if he had his flock in mind.

Baxter puts the needs of the unconverted first. The compassion of the pastor compels them to seek the lost. Baxter divides the lost into two groups:

  1. We must labour, in a special manner, for the conversion of the unconverted.

    The work of conversion is the first and great thing we must drive at; after this we must labour with all our might. Alas! the misery of the unconverted is so great, that it calleth loudest to us for compassion.

  2. We must be ready to give advice to inquirers, who come to us with cases of conscience; especially the great case which the Jews put to Peter, and the gaoler to Paul and Silas, ‘What must we do to be saved? ’ A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls.

When he turns his attention to the converted, he divides them into four groups:

We must study to build up those who are already truly converted. In this respect our work is various, according to the various states of Christians.

  1. There are many of our flock that are young and weak, who, though they are of long standing, are yet of small proficiency or strength.
  2. Another class of converts that need our special help, are those who labour under some particular corruption, which keeps under their graces, and makes them a trouble to others, and a burden to themselves. Alas! there are too many such persons. Some are specially addicted to pride, and others to worldly-mindedness; some to sensual desires, and others to frowardness or other evil passions.
  3. Another class who demand special help are declining Christians, that are either fallen into some scandalous sin, or else abate their zeal and diligence, and show that they have lost their former love.
  4. The last class whom I shall here notice, as requiring our attention, are the strong; for they, also, have need of our assistance: partly to preserve the grace they have; partly to help them in making further progress; and partly to direct them in improving their strength for the service of Christ, and the assistance of their brethren; and, also, to encourage them to persevere, that they may receive the crown.

All these are the objects of the ministerial work, and in respect to each of them, we must ‘take heed to all the flock.’

This order makes good sense because eternal salvation is the ultimate goal of ministry. The farthest from Christ, and so nearest to hell, must come first, for their need is the greatest. The strong come last, because they are able to feed themselves and are not in peril. Jesus taught Peter, James and John, with the other nine disciples, as he went about his ministry as the good shepherd, seeking and saving the lost. Evangelism and mission first. Discipleship is done on the way.



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