Wednesday, July 20, 2011

John Trapnell - a sinner saved by grace

I went to the celebration of John Trapnell's life yesterday at Ringwood Parish Church. Although I knew John very well and for a longer period than most of the 300+ in the congregation, there were things I did not know about him. For example, I had not appreciated how much he and I shared similar tastes in music and it would have been great to go to the opera with him. We did have a mutual friend in Peter Witham, who taught my son violin and for many years was my contact with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra who often performed for Tenovus, one of the charities that I ran. But John was also involved with the school choir at Ringwood after his retirement, which I knew nothing about.

John had offered in the past to take me sailing, but I was put off by my experience in a sailing dinghy when I was younger. It was a cold and wet endeavour. (Endeavour was the name of Captain James Cook's boat, I believe). John's boats were a little larger than sailing dinghies.

It was good to see some of my old colleagues at the celebration, though fewer than I had hoped. Mostly they were retired and many suffering from the way that old age bites into your life as it does into mine.

Something of John's personality came over. He had insisted to David Craig, his long-time friend and Pastor, that the 'warts' should not be hidden. They were not. John came from a privileged background and led a very blessed life, but there were adversities, some of which were of his own making. He claimed never to have thrown instruments in the Operating Room. He later amended that to saying he had never thrown them at anyone. He was certainly opinionated and some thought him arrogant. But h could be exceedingly humble and he was well aware of his faults. He prayed before every operation and was exceedingly kind to his patients, who genuinely loved him. Some of the things I knew about him are best not said, since they have been repented of and if the Lord can 'see them no more' I don't see why anyone else should.

He was certainly a 'sinner saved by grace' and for those who don't understand that let me explain. Grace is not just a Girl's name, nor something to do with graceful. It has a specific Christian meaning of the unmerited and freely given forgiveness and mercy of God. After I was first converted, my new Pastor, Harry Kilbride, took me for a long walk and taught me the Doctrines of Grace. I have stuck to them ever since.

The Grace doctrines are often described by the acronym TULIP. The T stands for Total depravity. This does not mean that all humans are totally depraved. It sounds really wild in today's world and probably, as words change their meaning, ought to be modified. What it does mean is that every man and woman, every child and baby, has been corrupted by the Fall, and corrupted in every part of their being. It was certainly the case that Adam and Eve were perfect when they were created, but by their wilful disobedience to God, they caused the world and everything in to be cursed. This is known theologically as the Fall. Importantly, it means that every part of Man is corrupted including his will. Of course we are not as bad as we possibly could be. There is still some semblance of what God saw when he pronounced His creation 'good', but it has been marred in every part. Especially this is true about the will. It means that we could not choose to love God with all our heart mind and strength, because our will is corrupt. That choice is not available to us; we will always choose self over God.

That does not prevent us doing good things; atheists may do splendid things, but it stops us from choosing the best. Lutherans tend to believe the same thing on this, but many Methodists were say that their will is free to choose Christ.

The 'U' stands for Unconditional election. This means that God has chosen to save some without regard to whether they were good or bad; without even foreseeing or predestining that they would be come good. It was just an act of love of unmerited mercy. He loved us because he loved us.

There is a danger in this that we should think of ourselves as special, as the chosen people. That is why it must be stressed that this is unmerited. He chose us before the creation of the world because if he had waited to see what we were like he would certainly have discarded us. This is why churches are like hospitals, full of sick people. Never look for perfect Christians in a church; you are sure to be disappointed. An unfortunate correlation with election is that those who are not chosen are condemned. It sounds like God has elected some for damnation - the Lutherans leave this part out completely. But it is open to Man to choose God without His help; it's just that he never does.

The 'L' stands for Limited atonement. Atonement is one of those technical words that mean nothing to most people these days, but it is quite simple. The word means at one ment. It means that we and God are at one with each other. Before, God was angry with the human race because of our disobedience to him. But God had provide the means of assuaging that anger, his son taking the penalty of sin for us on the cross. Many other branches of Christianity believe that the atonememnt was for everybody, but the doctrines of grace suggest it was while potentially sufficient for everybody, in effect it was limited to the elect.

The 'I' stands for Irresistible grace; Lutherans believe it is resistible and Methodists synergistic.

The 'P' stands for the preservation of the saints. It means that once you are saved you cannot be unsaved. Of course some fall away, but they were never saved in the first place - they just gave the appearance of salvation. Lutherans believe that falling away of the saints through apostasy is possible and Methodists that preservation of the saints is conditional on holding on to faith. Some Calvinists are 4 or 4.5 pointers and are less strong on some of these doctrinal points. Among the more famous Calvinists are Jim Packer, Tim Keller and John Piper.

John Trapnell was a five pointer and had good reason to be. Without such grace he could never have been saved.

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