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Monday, 5 March 2018

Apostles Today?

A Growing Issue
Two events recently took me back to the Bible's teaching about Apostles. First, this fine book about a new movement (fad?) passing through some of the more charismatic churches.

Second, a retired pastor shared his concern that someone in his home church was trying to connect the church up with some bigshot preacher in a nearby city - in some kind of apostolic "oversight" arrangement.

Fortunately the church was having none of it. The bigshot preacher says on his website that he has "a growing apostolic ministry amongst a number of churches that look to him as a wise father or master builder."

So what's going on?
Well, historically, the church has always believed that the gift of Apostle, capital A has gone. It was given at the founding of the church for the founding of the church but since the foundational documents of the church are all completed (i.e. the New Testament) these capital A Apostles are no longer necessary.

No-one,  by the way, has a problem with small a apostles. The Greek word apostle simply means sent one. All sorts of Christians can be regarded as sent ones, from missionaries to church planters.

No, we're thinking here of capital A Apostles - like Peter, John, James and Paul.

Some charismatics are saying that capital A Apostles are still around and that in neglecting this gift the church will fail to accomplish her calling to reach the world. They teach that every local church should voluntarily put themselves under one of these so-called apostles.

What wrong with modern-day Apostles?
In a word, they are deceivers and impostors. An impostor is someone who says he is something that he is not, a deceiver is someone who pretends to be someone he is not. Modern day Apostles are both impostors and deceivers, and here is why.

Jesus left foundations to thirteen Apostles
Jesus wrote no books but left thirteen men to the task of establishing the church for all time. Eleven of these were the men who followed Jesus around during his earthly ministry and were witnesses of his resurrection. One (Matthias) was appointed to take the place of Judas - and he too had to be a witness of Jesus' earthly ministry and resurrection (Acts 1). The thirteenth apostle was the apostle Paul who felt keenly being an "outsider" to the Twelve by calling himself "one abnormally born" (1 Cor 15:8). Paul's unusual calling pointed to his unique status as apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13, Galatians 2:8).

All Apostles had to bear at three demanding qualifications
Every capital A apostle had to prove the following qualities:

(i) seen Jesus in person - the risen Christ (see 1 Cor 9:1)
(ii) performed remarkable miracles (2 Cor 12:12)
(iii) were able to point to significant fruit from their ministries (1 Cor 9:1)

All the 27 books of the New Testament were written by Apostles or close associates of Apostles (Luke an associate of Paul, Mark, an associate of Peter). In other words, Apostles wrote Scripture. Of course they did! When they wrote under the guidance of the Spirit, Jesus spoke! Therefore, if there are Apostles today it must follow that their writings are on a par with the writings of the New Testament.

Let us suppose that a modern day "Apostle" says he has seen Christ (number (i)) and let us even say that he says he can point to significant fruit (number (iii)). Although we might investigate both claims and find them wanting, what about the second requirement?

When Paul touched handkerchiefs they could be sent away to heal people (Acts 19) and when Peter's shadow fell on people it healed them (Acts 5). All the miracles of the Apostles were spectacular. They didn't heal headaches and backaches, the blind saw, the lame leaped, the dead were raised.

This second requirement alone rules out every single modern "Apostle." If miracles of the nature of the original Apostles were being performed anywhere in the world today the Internet would be alive with the news and every news outlet in the world would follow that Apostle everywhere he went and record the wonders of his miraculous powers. We would have non-stop TV channels dedicated to him and teams of independent doctors confirming every case.

Where - we challenge - is any man anywhere in the world performing Jesus-an- his-Apostle kinds of miracles? Nowhere is the answer. Why? Because there are no Apostles in the world anymore, they all died out in the first century.

A Growing Menace
Tragically the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is growing. And it is our duty to warn Christians to avoid anyone who calls himself an apostle of the New Testament variety. We have absolutely no need of Apostles today. What we need is to return to the Gospel of the true Apostles and preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Have nothing to do with such deceivers and impostors! 

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

7 False Teachers in the Church Today

I take the unusual step of directing my readers  to a faithful blogger, Tim Challies, and his latest blog - well worth a read.

7 False Teachers

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Mission to Nuremberg - Christ died for the Ungodly

How the West treated its worst Criminals
In the aftermath of the second world war some western leaders - including Winston Churchill - called for summary justice. They wanted the Nazi leaders to be merely recognised by those they had tortured/imprisoned and then shot, all within 6 hours. In other words don't listen to evidence, don't hear both sides, no fair trial, presume they are guilty, at least by association, and then punish them with death.

Had this method of (in)justice taken place at least three men who were acquitted (out of the 21) would have been served great injustice (von Papen, Fritzsche & Schacht) and six other men who received varying prison sentences would have also suffered injustice.

Listening to both sides
Fortunately, the western tradition of a fair trial prevailed. Evidence was heard. Both sides were able to speak and argue their case.

True justice, of course,  proved to be very costly, financially. Around 160 British staff and over 1000 American staff manned the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg.
Palace of Justice Nuremberg

This fair treatment of the accused is the direct fruit of Christianity where both the just nature of God and the infinite value of a human soul contribute to a justice system where the accused is not summarily condemned without hearing the other side of the story, but the accused is given opportunity to defend himself fully, and both sides of the case are heard - no matter what the accusation. 

Another way care for the accused was shown - even towards Nazis - was that they were given pastoral oversight.  Since 15 of the 21 men identified themselves as protestant, a Lutheran Pastor, well-accustomed to caring for prisoners, was assigned to them.

Henry Gerecke - the pastor who loved lost men
When Henry Gerecke, an American chaplain who knew the German language, was asked to take on this role he agonised over it, but remembering that in the Gospel, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6) - which includes all of us - he accepted the task.

His "flock" now included some of the most notorious killers of all time. Men like Goering and Ribbentrop and Speer.

The 21 men on trial at Nuremberg
Little by little he encouraged them to come to a weekly service he held every Sunday and before long 13 of the 15 men in his charge (the remaining 6 were Roman Catholic) were coming every week.

What is more, in the year he was given to care for their souls, Gerecke saw changes in some of these men before their sentences were meted out (most were to die by hanging). By the end of the whole ordeal, Gerecke was convinced that at least 4 of the 15 men in his care had become true believers: Speer, Fritsche, Sauckel and Schirach.

Gerecke's work was not liked by some who called him all sorts of names. But he believed in an amazing Gospel which teaches that "Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6).

The story is well worth reading and is a tribute to the amazing grace of God, which teaches that no-one is outside the grace of God, no-one beyond grace.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Reformation Gave Birth to Science

Before the Reformation
There are all sorts of reasons why science was born in the West in the 1600s - and most of them are connected to Christianity. Peter Harrison explores one important reason in his book, The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of Natural Science. 

Before the rise of modern science, Aristotle - Greek science - reigned. (In fact if you criticised Mr Aristotle in a British university all the way til around 1650 you'd get your knuckles wrapped!)

The Greek view of nature was related to the Greek view of books, of texts. Embarrassed by their myths and heroes they decided to explain them away by allegorising the texts: those terrible heroes weren't real and their stories weren't real, they only referred to something or someone else.

In a similar way, nature, they said, points away from itself. Nature is symbolic. So the two lights in the sky are really symbols for our two eyes, and so on.

Therefore, don't pay too much attention to the natural objects themselves, just work out what they refer to.

Biblical literalism and the Reformation
Along came the reformers! They taught that the literal sense was the real and most important sense of the Bible. Away with the four-fold interpretations of Scripture they said. Tragically many of the church fathers had bought into the Greek method of interpretation so the reformers had to wave good be to a good deal of them also!

The result of this new attitude towards the Bible was that it flowed over into the West's new attitude towards nature. Nature was not there merely to act as a reference to other qualities or objects, it was there to be studied for its own value. Now lots of attention was given to nature.

And hence a new attitude towards nature emerged form the reformation's new attitude towards the Bible and produced the soil in which science could flourish.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Joy of a Forgiving Heart

The Peril of an Unforgiving Heart
Let's start with the opposite. According to Scripture, it is possible to possess a "bitter root" - a heart in which bitterness of some kind or another has taken hold.

Just as a plant's roots take hold in soil - bindweed, the gardeners curse, for example - so some past bitterness can infect the human heart - and be the cause of much trouble..........

"See to it that no-one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Hebrews 12:15)

That bitterness may be against God - perhaps we feel he let us down in the past - or it may be against some human being. Whichever, this root has never been dealt with, never purged, never dug up and cast into the fire, this offense never forgiven.

And the result is that it causes trouble and spreads to many other people, "defiles many."

An unforgiving heart not only affects the person, but spreads its defilement wherever it goes. By gossip or slander against God or man, the embittered soul pours out their sour story of woe to all who will listen.

What is the cure to an embittered heart? 

The cure to a bitter heart
The Scriptures provide us with many resources to help us cultivate a forgiving heart. In the first place, we must tell God that we forgive those (which may include God!) who we feel have sinned against us in our daily prayers (Matthew 6).

Secondly, we must realise the mountain of our own sin, and how the Lord has forgiven us billions and by contrast contemplate the pennies others have sinned against us by comparison and extend forgiveness for those tiny sins (Matthew 18).

Thirdly, we decide to leave all revenge to God, and free ourselves from the awful burden of being the Judge (Romans 12).

Fourthly, we remember that one of the very properties of divine love is that "it keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13). God himself has put away our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103) - an astounding feat for Holy Omniscience.

The Joy of a Forgiving Heart
Nothing pollutes a heart more than unforgiveness - in essence it is the polar opposite to the Gospel. And few things bring joy to a heart more than forgiveness and forgiving-ness.

Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.
(Romans 4:8)

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Uncontrollable Mystery on the Bestial Floor

William Yeats
The poet William Yeats wrote a strange enigmatic and unusual short poem called "The Magi" which ends with this well-known line, "The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor." He was referring to the incarnation - the uncontrollable mystery -  the baby who was born among the beasts in a humble stable. I am not sure what Yeats meant by "uncontrollable" and the word "unfathomable" would be better.

With the glitz of Christmas over, it may be time to ponder this remarkable mystery - God made flesh.

The greatest miracle?
Of all God's many acts of power and wonder, the Incarnation must rank as the first. When it comes to mysteries, the Trinity comes first - the union in One of three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the Trinity was Something that always was, whereas the Incarnation was an act of God whereby the Son of God took on human flesh at one point in time and space - surely the greatest of all God's many mighty acts of power.

Let's ponder this miracle and worship......

The Son of God became a real man
The Son of God did not become a "sort of human being", he became a true human being like you and me. While his father was not Joseph, his true mother was Mary. The power of God overshadowed Mary and the Holy Spirit performed a miracle in her womb, but Jesus Christ was a true man, who came, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:3, in "the likeness of sinful man." That is, Jesus was as close to us as it was possible to be  but without sin.

As a man Jesus could get tired, become ill, injure himself and be tempted as we are but always without sin.

The Son of God continued to be God
Although at the point of his conception the Son of God became a true man, yet he continued to be God. The angel Gabriel made it clear that the one to be born would be called the Son of God - his divine title.

The Son of God was One Person with Two Natures
And so this is where the mystery runs deepest. In One Person, the Son of God combined two natures. He was at one and the same time, true man and true God. These natures did not mix so that a third nature arose, but were combined in One Person, with One Will and One I, forever! Who can ever begin to understand such a thing? How can Someone be both all-knowing and limited in knowledge? How can Someone be both limited to one point in space and time in his human nature and yet be omnipresent in his divine nature?

All kinds of errors have arisen over time in regard to this point of doctrine. Some have said that Jesus was only part God and part man. Some have said he became a new nature - a mix of human and divine. Some have said he wasn't really man or that he wasn't really divine. But Scripture - and orthodox tradition going back to Chalcedon - teach that Jesus Christ was both true God and true Man in one Person.

"He became what he was not (a man) and continued to be what he always was (God)."

The only thing that changed when the Son of God took on human flesh is that he laid aside the trappings of his divine majesty and humbled himself. Once risen and ascended into heaven he regained the glory he once had with his Father.

The Reasons for the Incarnation
The Son of God took on human flesh to save us. To pay for the sins of men he had to become a man, but to pay for all of our sins, he had to be God. To become the mediator between God and man, he had to be a man to represent us and he had to be God to represent Himself. All for love's sake he became man! What a wonder and what love!

The Son of God took on human flesh so that God could understand our plight. God knows from the inside what pain, sorrow, bereavement and loss are all about because in heaven, at this very moment, stands a true human being, who is our advocate. The claim, "God does not understand my situation" is now and forevermore a lie!

The Son of God became a man to set an example of self-giving for the sake of others. That is the meaning of the beautiful poem in Philippians chapter 2. Paul introduces the highest doctrine imaginable to sort out the most mundane problem  - Christians seeking their own will. What did Jesus do? He gave up what he wanted for the sake of others.

When we pray, let us remember that in heaven there is a man who understands our lot as men and women living in a broken world. He understands all the trials and temptations of this passing world, yet without sin.

Meekness and majesty,
Manhood and Deity,
In perfect harmony,
The Man who is God.
Lord of eternity
Dwells in humanity,
Kneels in humility
And washes our feet.

O what a mystery,
Meekness and majesty.
Bow down and worship
For this is your God,
This is your God.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Christmas Letter with a Difference

It's that time again....
Every year at this time I dread the Christmas family letters - most especially, strange as it may seem, the ones from Christian friends.


For one thing, as a general rule, Christian annual letters gloss over all the difficult stuff in the last year and like Facebook, portray the past year as one long season of bliss.

(It's why so many people who live off social media are depressed. They read about the lives of their friends who have air-brushed out the ordinary disappointments of life and they become unhappy by the contrast with their own troublesome lives.)

Another reason I despair of those annual letters - and this is the most tragic reason - is this: they are generally full of earthly achievements and devoid of any spiritual ones.

Parents boast about their kids like yea:

   "John passed Grade 7 Oboe"

   "Susan got a new job as a manager"

   "Fred graduated with a 2:1 degree in XYZ"

When these earthly achievements are mentioned without any reference to the child's spiritual condition or spiritual growth we must be truly saddened.

Should not a Christian parent write something more like this?

   "My middle son has grown in grace this past year and is serving Christ in his local church with the gifts the Lord has given to him."

  "My third daughter gave us great joy in 2017 by being baptised in the spring, giving witness to the faith she has in the Lord Jesus."

   "Please pray for my youngest son who remains backslidden."

Someone needs to say OUTLOUD that what grade John has achieved in Oboe, what high-faluten job Susan may have found, what degree Fred graduated with - all of these are totally and utterly insignificant compared with the spiritual condition of the child.

In the world to come these worldly "achievements" won't matter one single half hoot and will be completely unknown.

So I dread reading the Christmas letters, and rarely do I come away from that annual sitting without a sense of profound sadness at our upside down priorities.

A Christmas Letter with a Difference
This year, however, we received one Christmas letter which cheered our hearts. Here's what one member of this family said:

"This year will go down in my books as a year of the Lord drawing near to me. Through some special times of prayer and worship, I have felt God increasing my faith and courage to serve him in some challenging situations. I am discovering anew that the real Blessing in life is More of Jesus."

This believer was honest about "challenging situations" in life. And this believer made their personal contribution to the letter all about knowing God better.

What we speak - and what we write therefore - reveals the true state of our hearts, and our true priorities for both ourselves and our families.

What really matters to you, to me, to us? Temporary, passing matters, or spiritual and eternal ones?

This unusual Christmas Circular Letter ended with the following Bible verse:

"I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good thing apart form you.'" (Psalm 16:2)