Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Communion With John Owen.
I was extremely grateful for some of the comments that came from my post yesterday on John Owen, and particularly the specifics about "mortifying sin". A tremendous thanks to Hugh for reminding me of this outstanding biography given by Dr John Piper at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1994. It is a great place to start if you have never read any of John Owen before - John Piper is capable of giving you a passion for anything! And he certainly will not fail to give you a taste of getting into Owen.
Another resource devoted to John Owen that I would strongly recommend is a website devoted to him run by Justin Taylor - Piper's former Director of Theology and assistant. The website doesn't have a huge amount of Owen's writings on it yet, but Justin Taylor said that is apparantly in the pipeline. There are however, a vast amount of excellent articles about Owen written by a host of men ranging from Sinclair Ferguson to J I Packer. Again these are excellent places to begin, if the thought of going out and purchasing the Works of Owen scares you silly. However if the Spirit has given you a perculiar gift of faith and you are ready to take the plunge - you will be well advised to buy the Works from the Metropolitan Tabernacle, they offer it for £175 instead of the normal retail price of £215.
A few words on Volume 2 ...
I am really grateful to my friend Don, for reminding me of the awesomely rich Volume 2 of the Works on "Communion with God". While I did indeed want to review Volume 6 to deal with my concerns over this present interest in dealing with "indwelling sin" there is much in Owen to be relished and enjoyed! And Volume 2 is an absolutely outstanding rich experiential tome. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones called it; "One of his greatest experiential works". What does Owen mean by the term, "Communion"? We may think of the Lord's Supper or some other aspect - but Owen defined "Communion" as;
"His communication of Himself to us, with our returnal unto Him of that which He requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with Him" (Volume 2, pp8-9).
However! We must note two things concerning our communication with God;
"It is two-fold; 1. Perfect and complete in the full fruition of His glory and total giving up of ourselves to Him, resting in Him as our utmost end ... and 2. Initial and incomplete in the first fruits and dawnings of that perfection which we have here in grace". (p9).
Interestingly enough Owen seems to distinguish between two receptions of the Spirit. He argued that when we receive the Spirit as a work of sanctification it is a passive reception - very much like a vessel receiving water or indeed the wind coming upon the dead bones in Ezekiel's vision. However when that person has become a Christian, he becomes actively involved in receiving the Spirit. "It is believers that thus receive the Spirit; and they receive Him by faith" (p231).
In his sermons now posthumously published as, "Joy Unspeakable", Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones argued that "Communion with God" is the volume to approach should one want to establish Owen's views on the matter of receiving the Spirit. He complained that the more obvious volume, "A Discourse on the Holy Spirit" - Volume 3 - is not very clear at all.
Monday, February 27, 2006
A Review of Volume 6 of the Works of Dr John Owen.
The challenge has been laid before me to re-read John Owen's glorious volume on "Mortification and Sin" and to re-discover where this somewhat disturbing emphasis on "indwelling sin" has come from and whether the great Puritan theologian really meant for this to be. I see this as intricately linked to my on-going thoughts about the "whole council of God" (Acts 20:27) and whether there is some danger in a "Cross only" mentality that is an extremely popular view today.
I want to make it patently obvious that I am not entering into a "Opposing Everything" ministry that characterises many - which, by the way, was something I hated when I was growing up. The views and practices that I am considering are actually ones that I do believe must characterise and in some cases dominate our lives. But I am concerned at the danger of emphasising them to the neglect of other issues in the whole council of God.
I wasn't prepared to be so encouraged and thrilled by Owen's rich writing - and above all his passion for a Spirit-saturated lifestyle. Indeed he does have a lot of text on the vitality of "mortifying sin" that makes me realise where this enthusiasm for speaking often of the "heinous sins that nailed the Saviour to the tree" and "accountability groups" - where individuals share the multitude of sins that make them "the greatest sinner ever" - comes from. For example;
"The vigour and power and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh" (p9).
"That the choicest believer ... ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin" (p9).
"Make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you" (p9).
"Indwelling sin always abides whilst we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified" (p10).
However there are some key quotes that I haven't heard mentioned in this new enthusiasm for dealing so passionately with sin. John Owen noted clearly that he was aware of the ease in which legalism can creep into ANY area of the believers life - even a good and valid practice like the mortifying of sin. He said;
"Mortification from self-strength carried on by ways of self-invention unto the end of a self-righteousness is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world" (p7).
And so he begins his exhaustive discourse on the VITALITY of the Spirit's work in this. Indeed he makes the matter non-negotiable;
"He (the Spirit) only is sufficient for this work; all ways and means without Him are a thing of nought" (p9).
We may rightly ask - how then does the Spirit mortify sin - if we are doomed to failure without Him? John Owen has much to say;
"How does the Spirit mortify sin?
1) By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh.
2) By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin for the weakening and destroying and taking it away.
3) He brings the Cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith and gives us communion with Christ in His death" (p19).
Owen is obviously aware of the danger of swinging to the other extreme in resisting legalism and "letting go and letting God" for he wrote;
"He (the Spirit) works upon our understanding, wills, consciences and affections - agreeably to their own nature. He works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that His assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work" (p19).
Terry Virgo spoke much of the work of the Spirit in helping and aiding us to mortify sin in our lives - and noted that one way we can always tell when the Spirit is at work, is that He gently convicts and brings an area of change to our lives that requires attention. Condemnation on the other hand, he said, "is a work of darkness. It is doomed to failure and can never work". It concerns me therefore when (passionate sincerity aside) there is talk of "periods of never-ending correction" and "ultimatums ... you must do this ... or else" and such like.
John Owen comments on this subtle legalism;
"This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in. A soul under the power of conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin but hath no strength for the combat. They cannot but fight and they can never conquer. The law drives them on and sin drives them back".
And then he reminds us again of how we must have the Spirit - or all is doomed;
"I have proved that the Spirit alone can mortify sin; He is promised to do it, and all other means without Him are empty and vain. A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue that truly mortify sin without the Spirit" (p34).
It is slightly later on the large volume that John Owen then embarks on a glorious chapter that sounds suspiciously like John Piper and his talk of Christian hedonism. Consider the following statements;
"In this frame the heart is filled with better things and their excellencies so far as to be fortified against the matter of any temptation" (p144).
"It is from that dear estimation he had of the excellency of Christ. So verse 1o (Phil 3) the soul is exercised to communion with Christ and to walking with Him. He drinks new wine and cannot desire the old things of the world, for he says, "The new is better". He tastes every day of how precious the Lord is and therefore longs not after the sweetness of forbidden things - which indeed have none" (p144).
"Let a soul exercise itself to communion with Christ in the good things of the gospel - pardon of sin, fruits of holiness, hope of glory, peace with God, joy in the Holy Ghost, dominion over sin, and he shall have a mighty preservative against temptation" (p144).
"He that is satisfied with the kindness of God as with marrow and fatness - that is every day entertained at the banquet of new wine, hath a holy contempt of the baits and allurements that lie in prevailing temptations" (p144).
An important comment was made in my post on Terry Virgo's messages on the grace of God, concerning the practice of publics display of emotion over "indwelling sin" and whether or not that is true humility or whether indeed it is helpful or not. John Owen actually deals with this and pleads for a healthy balance;
"Self condemnation and abhorrency do very well consist with gospel justification and peace ... this is the mystery of the gospel which unbelief is a stranger to, nothing but faith can give us a real subsistence unto these things in the same soul, at the same time. It is easy to learn the notion of it, but it is not easy to experience the power of it".
Or in other words, surely we are not meant to live on the one hand in liberal triumphalism rejoicing in "sins forgiven and conscience cleansed" without a strong realisation of our sins that did indeed drive Christ to Calvary - BUT on the other hand it is just as unhealthy to constantly be weeping over the sins that put Jesus there, without rejoicing in what He has done. Didn't it say that "For the JOYS set before Him, He ENDURED the Cross, SCORNING its shame"? The Cross was never a positive thing! It was a place of shame, of the ultimate humiliation - and Christ Himself pleaded with God that "this cup be taken away"! Let's never forget that. But He did, so that we can live with the glorious realisation of "sins forgiven and conscience cleansed". I am concerned that a constant and public display of our indwelling sins is not actually glorifying to Jesus Christ, who has Don said, may well be pointing out that He has actually forgotten those sins we are constantly rehearsing because they were laid in the open grave at the Cross (remember Pilgrims Progress??! Christian didn't stay there - but walked on towards the Celestial City!).
John Owen concludes it excellently;
"Faith will carry heaven in one hand and hell in the other - showing the one deserved and the other purchased" (p547).
So I am hugely encouraged by reading this Volume - it truly is awesome! But it presents the tension that we must hold again before me, and I am concerned that we don't swing to either excess because of particular passions or viewpoints. And above all - above all - we can do NOTHING without the Spirit of God and His work within us. Surely this is the ultimate 'charismatic dimension'?
Sunday, February 26, 2006
While I continue to read John Owen on "Temptation and Sin" as stated in a previous blog, I was intrigued to read through Owen's Volume on the Work of the Holy Spirit. I would like to emulate C H Spurgeon by providing a number of key quotes that caught my eye with extrodinary relevence I think for us today.
On Real Cessationism.
"Now the cessation of the operations of the Spirit towards men obstinate in ways of sin, after He hath long grieved and vexed, compriseth three things; i) A subduction from them of the means of grace either totally, by the removal of their light and candlestick all the ways of the revelation of the mind and will of God unto them (Revelation 2:5) or as unto the effacacy of the Word towards them where the outward dispensation of it is continuous so that "hearing they shall hear but not understand" (Isaiah 6:9). ii) A giving up of them unto themselves - a consequence of the two former - as to be bound in them "as in chains of darkness". But this is not all. He becomes at length a professed enemy unto such obstinate sinners.
a) He comes upon them as an enemy to spoil them.
b) He will come upon them with spiritual judgements smiting them with blindness of mind and obstinacy of will.
c) He will cast them out of His territories.
d) He will freqently give them a foretaste of the vengence prepared for them.
And then finally iii) A giving up unto themselves or leaving them to their own ways".
"David on his sin feared nothing more than that God would take His Holy Spirit from him. And the fear hereof should influence us unto the utmost care and diligence against sin, for although He should not utterly forsake us - as to those who are true believers - yet He may withdraw His Presence from us, that we may spend the remainder of our days in trouble and our years in darkness and sorrow".
On Spiritual Gifts.
"These gifts, we intend, are not in themselves saving graces, yet they are not to be despised; for they are, as we shall so 'the powers of the world to come' by means whereby the Kingdom of Christ is carried on and propogated in the world".
Warnings to Those Who Would Call Themselves "Apostles".
"Yet I must say, if there be any who pretend to be successors of the apostles as to the extent of their office - power unto all nations notwithstanding whatever they may pretend of such an agreement to take up a portion accomodated unto their ease and interest, while so many nations of the earth lie unattempted as to the preaching of the gospel, they will - one day - be found transgressors of their own profession and will be dealt with accordingly".
Or in other words ... be careful what you title you allow attributed to yourself.
"But what power now over all the churches or authority in all churches, some may fancy or claim to themselves, I know now; but it were wished that men would reckon that care and labour are as extensive in this case as power and authority".
Concerning The Role of the Apostle.
"Wherefore the right and authority of preaching the gospel and converting persons unto the faith, the whole world fell equally under teh care and was in the comission of every apostle".
"The object of apostolic power was two-fold; 1) The World to be converted. 2) The churches gathered of those that were converted whether Jews or Gentiles".
Note; if this was the role of the apostle - may we justifiably ask - HAS the world become converted? If not, then how can the role have ceased with the closing of the canon?
Concerning The Gift of Prophecy.
"To prophesy is nothing, but to declare hidden and secret things by virtue of immediate revelation".
"Only I take it here, both as it signals a faculty of prediction or foretelling things future upon divine revelation or an ability to declare the mind of God from the Word by the especial and immediate revelation of the Holy Ghost".
Is it right then for a pastor to shy away from the predictive place of the gift of prophecy because of the fear of excess?
Concerning the Gift of Knowledge.
"Yet we shall find that it is a perculiar gift and in itself singularly useful however it may be abused ("Knowledge puffeth up") as the best things may be, yea are most liable to".
Saturday, February 25, 2006
The Quest for the WHOLE Council of God.
I was surprised but thrilled at a number of comments that came out following a recent post on the grace of God. I think Don kicked off the discussion by speaking of the freedom that we MUST find in Christ, then I threw out the thought that it is essential that our DOCTRINE must affect our PRACTICE.
The wonderful Jul then commented on something that has been at the back of my mind - the practice of constantly discussing "indwelling sin" accompanied by "accountability" groups. She, like me, is troubled by this - and made the point that we are indeed 'jars of clay' and that God is actually glorified in our weakness! She ended her comment with this outstanding conclusion; "When are we going to remember he chose us because we are weak and foolish? We are usually spending all our time trying to fill in the cracks in our jars of clay so we can impress everybody, instead of letting his glory shine out through our brokeness".
Don, then again demonstrated his experience and wisdom and gave a fantastically long post (that I wished he hadn't stopped on!) with discussing the Gospel - something that MUST be close, indeed central to all of our hearts. He again like Jul and myself has experienced the long accounts of how heinous our sin is that put Christ on the Cross. A popular quote is often used in this context of Martin Luther - "We carry the nails in our pockets". Yet Don wondered; "I thought He'd forgotten my sin at my moment of salvation, and raised me up with Jesus in baptism???". He noted how the Puritan writers are often used to talk of the need to constantly be "mortifying sin".
And he echoed the ache of my heart that we so rarely hear talk of the "positional" verses such as; 1 Peter 2:9: "We are A CHOSEN RACE, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY NATION, a PEOPLE FOR GOD'S OWN POSSESSION!/That we might proclaim His excellencies!" and also remembered a hymn inspired by Galatians 2 & Colossians 3:"I've been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I liveYet not I, but Christ liveth in me and the life which I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for meIf ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God set your affection on things above, not on things on the earthFor ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
The Whole Council of God.
This was the most outstanding section of his comment that I really want to emphasise, because in it - he summed up and vocalised something that I have been teasing through for a long time. He said:
"Here's how I see the gospel, based on how the disciples of Jesus behaved:
1. The cross without the resurrection leads to confusion and despair.
2. The cross with the resurrection leads to joyful assurance that our sins have been forgiven by God, through Jesus, who is now alive.
3. The cross with the resurrection and the ascension leads to hope in a glorious future with Jesus, who has gone ahead to make a dwelling place for us with His Father, and will one day return to destroy evil forever and take us to live with Him as He is now.
4. The cross with the resurrection, the ascension and the infilling of the Holy Spirit leads to a triumphant Body of Christ on Earth; moving with the mind and power of Christ to become ever more like Him and tell others of what we've learned and experienced with Him; and, united with Him not just through His written Word, but also through His moment-by-moment presence with us in our *redeemed* inner man. Members of this Body have complete access to *everything* that is His (Jn 16:14-15), including the experience of sonship in His Father!".
This IS vital because it emphasises the point that by no means am I or any of us trying to do away with the vitality and centrality of the Cross. I love and appreciate and benefit from the prophetic insight that speakers such as Mahaney have brought to this area. The importance that we mustn't just see it as a "beginning" and then to have no more relevence to us as believers! I have listened many times to Mahaney's message that he brought to the Brighton Leaders Conference last year on "The Cup". It must be heard.
Are we not missing out by stopping there? Is our Christian experience and life lacking because of an undue emphasis on one extremely valid part of the whole council of God? Another commentator noted quite rightly that this IS important - it is more than just semantics, or theological head knowledge - this is actually affecting lives! He ended quite rightly by saying that we cannot refrain from discussing this simply because of the sincerity or "nice-ness" of those advocating this view!
Ern Baxter was a strong advocate of the "Whole Council of God" as I have referred to in a previous post - "The Neglect of the Resurrection". There are a lot of issues and questions to be dealt with here. My first job is to take Volume 4 of the Works of John Owen to work tonight to re-read. It is quoted frequently in the whole area of discussion and I want to refresh my memory as to exactly what the Puritans said and their intentions - as I am absolutely positive that they never intended a legalistic unhealthy focus on "indwelling sin".
Furthermore as Hugh reminded me on a different subject, the most essential thing is to get into Scripture and assess what the Word of God has to say. So while I am aware this post has thrown out a lot of questions, I am excited about what may be found - as the bottom line here is indeed as Don said; Freedom in Christ!
Friday, February 24, 2006
Today's obviously the day for audio clips ... I found this link to part of Al Mohler's radio show. He invited a call from a gentleman who has obviously had an unfortunate experience with the local church and was seeking to justify independence from the Word of God. Mohler sets a great example by graciously, humerously but firmly setting the record straight - despite ALL the bad experiences we may have had in the church, we simply can't get away from it. The church is where it's at!
Just a brief link for your interest here in light of the previous few blogs on singleness. It was an encouragement to find a sensible and mature set of sermon notes from an SGM (PDI) church in the USA called "Living Hope Church" (cool name) on; "Two Gifts: Marriage and Singleness". This is a balanced view that is worth reading. They have a detailed 4 page set of sermon notes here - with application questions if you are really serious about it, here.
In other news ... I am seriously into listening to the 9 Mark Ministries interviews courtesy of Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church. You don't have to buy them unless you want to, but can actually listen to them online. I have to admit I found the highly acclaimed; "Cooperation in the Church" interview between the Big 4 - the two M's and the two D's - a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for a clearly outlined, strategic discussion teasing through what the gospel essentially IS and what cooperation and unity entailed in light of that - and maybe an insight into the upcoming conference and a hint of what the atmosphere would be like (I'm allowed to be curious even though I don't want to go). But it wasn't that at all. More a light and friendly chat, with a lot of jokes at each other - you can tell they are all good friends, but with no clear direction.
Much more profitable were interviews with Dr John Piper - Part 1 and Part 2, an outstanding interview with Dr Wayne Grudem, C J Mahaney on his own tends to ask questions less and talk more, and finally a great interview with the somewhat austere Iain Murray who is a complete mine of information.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Just in case anyone read the last paragraph of my entry on singleness and thought I had got carried away on a wave of emotional writing, I have been reading about the great saint and martyr Polycarp. What a man! Listen to this;
Polycarp was denounced to the government, arrested, and tried on the charge of being a Christian. When the proconsul urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, he replied: "Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" The magistrate was reluctant to kill a a gentle old man, but he had no choice.
Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he waited for the fire to be lighted, he prayed:
"Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved
child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of
you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole
race of the upright who live in your presence: I bless you
that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be
numbered among the martyrs (*Note that ... "Worthy"*)
and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life,
for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.
Among them may I be accepted before you today, as a rich and
acceptable sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and
foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things
I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal
heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through
whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for
the ages to come. Amen".
The fire was then lit and shortly thereafter a soldier stabbed Polycarp to death by order of the magistrate.
We're Not 'Special' But We Deserve a Voice.
I am speaking of single people. And when I say we are not 'special', I mean that we are not 'special' because of our marital status. We are indeed special because we are children of the King of Kings! It has been my concern for a couple of years now that single people have been and are being neglected by the church and above all are being seen as 'odd'. My concerns were amplified by comments coming from the group of churches I used to be associated with making sincere but unfortunate comments about marriage and how young men should just "get on with it". Get on with it? When there were no suitable single women in the church? Great care is needed and great sensativity. I do realise and appreciate that some young men indeed do need a proverbial boot up the backside, but my concern is linked to the fact that the Word of God has MUCH to say about single people and none of it is to do with "getting on with it".
I was greatly encouraged therefore to re-read the foreword to John Piper and Wayne Grudem's monumental "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" (available to read online). Piper's foreword is called; "For Single Men and Women" and he has eight vital theses on singleness that must be heard. By the way - he wrote; "We know you are there ... and we are listening". I wonder if that is true - many subscribe to RBMW but are you really listening to the single men and women in your church? Here are his eight theses:
1. Marriage, as we know it, is not the final destiny of any human.
"There is some warrant for thinking that the kinds of self-denial involved in singleness could make one a candidate for greater capacities for love in the age to come".
2. Jesus Christ, the most fully human Person who ever lived, was not married.
(In answer to the common argument; 'A life of slavery to virginity would mean being only half human') - "The most fully human person who has ever lived, or ever will live is Jesus Christ and He never once had sexual intercourse ... We will always have mountains of truly human Christ-likeness yet to climb, but sexual intercourse is not one of them. For He never knew it. And He is infinately whole".
3. The Bible celebrates celibacy because it gives extraordinary opportunity for single minded investment in ministry for Christ.
To quote the single yet hugely used of God David Brainerd; "I cared not where or how I lived or what hardships I went through so that I could but gain souls for Christ ... All my desire was for the conversion of the heathen and my hope was in God".
4. The Apostle Paul and a lot of great missionaries after him have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Matthew 19:12; "For some ... have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of haven".
By the way! I haven't heard THIS verse preached on ... ever!
5. The Apostle Paul calls singleness a gift from God.
"Single people are not generally treated as the bearers of a superb and special gift from God. They are sometimes treated as abnormal in the Church".
6. Jesus promised that forsaking family for the sake of the Kingdom will be repaid with a new family, the church.
7. God is sovereign over who gets married and who doesn't. And He can be trusted to do what is good for those who hope in Him.
8. Mature manhood and womanhood are not dependent on being married.
"We are persuaded by Scripture that masculinity and femininity are rooted in who we are by nature. They are not simply reflexes of a marriage relationship. Man does not become a man by getting married. Woman does not become woman by getting married".
So what ... ?
This is more than just a rant on my behalf to try and influence church life generally for the better, for myself and my fellow single Christian brothers and sisters in this country. I actually passionately believe that John Piper has touched on something absolutely key - although he didn't specifically allude to it. I have been writing much about Restoration and the glorious end-time church. I do believe strongly that part of that glorious end-time church will be martydoms. I don't say that lightly - but simply from a view of Scripture that is unavoidable. It is going to happen! For too long now, the West has avoided the persecutions that our brothers and sisters across the world are going through - whether that is the mercy or judgement of God - it is not for us to decide. But I am certain that it is coming. And I believe that single men and women are ideally placed to become those who just might step forward as martyrs for the glorious Kingdom of God. I could be wrong - but I suspect that it was for a good reason that Paul said it is actually BETTER that some do not marry! We are placed strategically to have absolutely NOTHING to lose for Christ and His Kingdom! But we do have EVERYTHING to gain! So even if the church isn't actually listening to single people as Dr Piper said (but secretly pitying) I strongly advise that we begin to change our attitudes.
Marriage isn't the be-all and end-all of human destiny. Jesus Christ lived the fullest human life possible and He never married. There is a un-tapped huge resource in remaining single for the Kingdom and glory of God. Singleness is a GIFT! Meant for our GOOD! The biggest fear of singleness is defunct because we do indeed have a family - the glorious church. And at the end of the day all our destinies lie in the hands of an awesome God who knows exactly what and where He is going. And He promised that as SURELY as He lives - all the earth, ALL the earth WILL be filled with the glory of the Lord!
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
It seems I am not alone in passionately believing in, longing for and working towards Restoration. My esteemed friend Hugh has posted two excellent posts on Restoration here (Principles of Restoration) and here (Restoration - the Magazine). I recommend them so highly because he has the weight and benefit of experience behind him. I for one shall be visiting his blog daily to learn about these amazing truths.
When I was working last night, I got to thinking about the Pastor/Teacher. I have written down a few thoughts on the role of the Apostle and the Prophet previously, and it hit me how vital it is that the 5-fold Ascension Gifts must co-exist. Any of them have the ability to halt or cause problems for the advance of the Kingdom of God. Just as similarly, I was struck by how vital it is that we see these ministries in the context of church planting. If we do not, it is guaranteed that controversy will creep in and we will begin arguing about their existance today.
What Ern Baxter and Terry Virgo Saw ...
This particular line of thought concerning the Pastor/Teacher was inspired to me by two prophecies. One was given to Ern and one to Terry. In the extremely key interviews that Ern Baxter gave just before he died entitled "Life on Wings" (the transcript is available online here), Ern was being asked about how he developed a keen concern in disciplining and shepherding. He said;
"I had had an experience up in the mountains of Australia with a group of about 40 pastors in rather an intimate discussion session. And it had impacted me greatly – it had reduced me to tears because it was almost like God had invaded my rational flow with a kind of transcendental invasion and I shared it with the men and women and we were all weeping because I was seeing something in the Spirit (at least that’s my way of presenting it) where I thought of a number of men who were apostolic and prophetic in their ministries who were sitting on top of church works (some of which were sizable) and were really keeping eldership from emerging.
And they needed to come off the top of those things and do their apostolic/prophetic/ evangelistic work – because those three are mobile people. And because they were sitting on top of these, in some cases, sizable churches they were actually keeping the government of God from evolving in eldership. And that was much of what I said at Montreal. It was well received and there was a considerable response from men to whom the message spoke. And about 300 men responded – that was a word to them. That they needed to reconsider who they were and what they were doing and what they should do".
In his book "No Well Worn Paths", Terry shared two accounts where it seemed that this issue was on the Lord's heart - and I see an intense parallel between these accounts and what Ern saw. When Terry was pastoring his church in Seaford, Alex Buchanan came to their meetings and began to prophesy; "Young men prepare yourselves for ministry, for my hand is increasingly upon my servant ... here he will grow less and less and you will grow more and more".
The second account came when Terry was considering going to the USA to minister in 1993. It was a prophecy given by Robyn Lowe and she said that she had seen a vision of Terry with a machete in hand, striding up a hill and cutting through undergrowth. Terry's temptation would be to look back to ensure that all was okay behind - but God urged him through the vision not to do that but to be fully assured that as he moved forward in obedience, so behind him and fanning out in ever increasing circles would be workers and rows of people. The prophetic word ended; "You will not be forsaking them by going forward, rather you will be helping, as it is important that you clear more ground so that in turn, all can move forward".
What Does That Mean?
I want to suggest that I think that pastors/teachers should be far quicker and more ready to relinquish their office in place of a younger man within their midsts if God so speaks. I realise that could come across as incredibly arrogant (who do I think I am?!) or stupid maybe. So I want to unpack the enormous benefit for the pastor/teacher taking that step and the greater church if they can do this. Consider this anonymous quote that I found in an old Restoration magazine;
"Everyone who has the capacity for responsibility will be given responsibility and as their capacity increases - so will their sphere of ministry".
A Mobile Pastor/Teacher will ...
1. Benefit Himself.
If a pastor/teacher can hold this mobile state of mind and be ready at a moments notice to pass on his office to a younger man, I believe it will keep him humble before God. The dangerous problem with the traditional ecclesiastical position of a "one senior pastor and congregation" mentality is that pastors can become extremely protective of both their ministry positions and their pulpits. While there is a valid place for the senior pastor acting protectively towards his church and not allowing error, the far more serious problem I think is this - that their identity becomes wrapped up in their position. If the pastor is prepared to go if God says so, I think an attitude of humility will be fostered, because he will realise that his identity is actually hid with Christ on high.
A mobile state of mind will keep him vastly dependent on God. Again in the classic "one senior pastor and congregation" picture, there can be a great deal of pressure to 'people please'. I have heard story after story from various friends of mine who are in the ministry, who have had unspeakable things said to them by angry pew members when they have tried to initiate change! There could be a very real temptation to not preach certain sermons or not initiate certain changes for fear that the congregation will rebel - or even worse, leave. To keep a mobile mindset will free this. He will realise that the ministry is not a democracy - elected in by the congregation, who then have the power to move him - but that he is there called by God.
And finally a mobile mindset will keep him fresh to God. If you as a pastor are constantly on the lookout for younger men who may carry a "double portion" of your anointing, then you will find it very difficult to rest and build here three tabernacles. You will know and trust that if God does move you in, it is NOT to retirement! But to more exciting challenges and changes. I was profoundly touched by a comment that Terry Virgo made at Stoneleigh Bible Week 2001 - his final address. He was mentioning church planting and he urged older couples among the thousands to seriously think about moving to a new church plant, and the enormous blessing that their presence and wisdom in a church plant will bring to the younger pastor. I don't think we are EVER meant to think of retirement - or indeed to become overly obsessed with heaven. Surely heaven and the thought of it, is meant to motivate us and release us to more daring living - not a morbid escapism.
2. Benefit Others (Jerusalem, Judea and the Nations!)
If a pastor can hold this incredible mobile mindset then he will free the way for Elisha. It is incredibly moving to read the final accounts of the time that Elijah and Elisha spent together before Elijah was taken to heaven. Elisha's final request was "a double portion". I wonder how easy we find it to accept the fact that our successors are meant to do a better job than we did? Hebrews 11:39 says of the giants of the faith; "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised". Again and again through that wonderful passage, it makes reference to this mobile context. (v8) Of Abraham; "he went out not knowing where he was going". (v13) "These died in faith, not having received the things promised but having seen them and greeted them from afar". Can we achieve this? To be so thankful for the prophecies and promises that God has given, but to know that maybe it will be the Elisha's who follow who see this come to pass.
A mobile-obsessed pastor will keep the church fresh and dependent on God. I am sure that no one would deny that "change" is not a favourite subject in todays church! Yet if the pastor/teacher fathers them properly and prepares them for that inevitable time when God will indeed move him on, and bring in an Elisha-figure who will take them - the people of God - yet further, I believe that they will begin to trust this and accept this. In his now-out-of-print book, "What on Earth IS This Kingdom?" Gerald Coates writes; "Many settlers were once pioneers and others still have a spark of pioneering spirit left but their faith and corporate lives are so old they are creaking, and any spark of life they have is reserved for simply helping them to carry on".
Addressing the nation in 1899, Theodore Roosevelt said; "Far better it is, to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much or suffer much, because they live in the great twilight that knows neither victory or defeat".
And finally a pastor/teacher with a mobile mindset will advance the mission of taking the gospel to the nations, and hasten the Lord's return. How so? Because he will be then freed to take his experience to other churches, to younger pastors who can thrive on having him behind them. It is no good a pastor/teacher allowing a younger man to take his place, and then him taking a back seat in the church! The whole context of mobility that both Ern and Terry saw, was that the pastor/teacher is stepping aside to allow others to surge forward. But then there are new paths to clear, new challenges to meet and new missions to embark on.
I must highly recommend Mark Heath's post concerning John Piper and his views on church planting. Piper sees four key reasons as to why we MUST plant. The fourth is; "Breaking free from the risk-free comfort of long-standing patterns of church life is a good thing. It’s good for your faith to be tested. It is good to take risks". Piper of course does not just want any old church plant. He desires; "God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, justice-pursuing churches" and Mark adds; "Spirit-filled". Mark makes the vital point that we must not get threatened by church planting - there is a huge world out there to save!
Newfrontiers - the family of churches I am involved with - frequently refer to the prophecy that John Kpipi gave at Stoneleigh 1999 speaking of a thousand churches. I don't know if they will ever see these 1000 churches in the United Kingdom if their churches are marked by pastor/teachers who jealously guard their pulpits and rarely move anywhere. Yet if they can grasp this mobile context, (and I know they already are) 1000 churches suddenly becomes a small thing, especially if God will restore His house.
A few Caveats ...
I think that this mobile context and indeed obsession can only occur safely and securely in the context of loving fatherly apostolic ministry in the churches concerned. It is the apostolic fathers who are best equipped to spy out and see younger potential Elisha figures and it is the apostolic father figures who know best where the senior pastor who desires to move on can be best placed. I will never forget being at Brighton a few years ago and seeing a Newfrontiers pastor called John Wilthew being prayed for. Although I had seen him sit on a couple of Stoneleigh platforms, I didn't know a great deal about him. I discovered later that he has moved to loads of Newfrontiers churches and been involved in supporting the pastors there. I think he was at Church of Christ the King, Brighton - then at New Community Church, Sidcup - and now I haven't got a clue where he has gone! That thrills me - because it demonstrates what I am trying to argue.
It is not always God's will I am sure that every senior pastor should quickly move on as soon as possible! I do believe that it is key that some strategic churches should indeed have pastors with a long ministry. But Dave Holden reminded us at Brighton 2003 that EVEN IF they do stay - they should still have a mindset of "going"!
It would be remiss of me to end this without mentioning the obvious and celebrated case where a senior pastor has handed on his very successful ministry to a younger man. This is of course C J Mahaney handing over the leadership of Covenant Life Church. The whole weekend where this took place is available on DVD, and although I haven't seen it to recommend it, it could be a useful resource for anyone requiring further persuasion on these things. Just as similarly Peter Brookes handed over leadership of Church of Christ the King, Brighton and moved to a new apostolic work in Australia and a younger man will now be taking over there. So it can happen! And I believe the more it does, the further the advance of God's Kingdom.
Monday, February 20, 2006
The Monday morning blues ... especially on a February rainy day. I urge - I implore - I beseech you to begin this week by basking in the awesome teaching of Terry Virgo on "God's Lavish Grace". I have referred to these sermons being available - but for the record - here they are again. This was the Bristol conference last month, and in particuar - Saturday night was the message which certainly marked a "God Breaking Out" moment. I don't know how long City Church, Bristol will keep them online - so do make the most of them. Download them but above all listen to them! Grace has to do with our POSITION! Not our PRACTICE!
For those who may consider going to hear Terry live - the "God's Lavish Grace" tour hasn't finished yet! He is off next here:
17-18 March 2006 Manchester
Tel: 0161 789 7700
24-25 March 2006 Teesside
Tel: 01642 807089
5-6 May 2006 Birmingham
Tel: 0121 442 6350
And the book of the conference is available to buy for a mere £7.99! A bargain! Probably the best news you'll ever ever hear ... for £7.99! No ... I'm not getting paid royalties or advertising I promise ... I'm just a very excitable person ... :)
Sunday, February 19, 2006
I've been prompted by a comment left by my new amazing friend Don, and a brief discussion between Mark, Ger and myself to revisit the whole topic of Restoration and what it meant back in the 1970's and does it still have relevance today? I recall that Terry Virgo dealt with this extensively in a Newfrontiers magazine that is unfortunately not available online anymore. It is the August-October 2002 edition and I shall refer to it in a bit with some quotes.
What Did It Mean 'Back Then'?
As per much of the Charismatic Movement in the 1970's, it was quite difficult to find a standard theology textbook for the beliefs that were so passionately held to. Probably the best books today for anyone interested in researching this would be Professor Andrew Walker's "Restoring the Kingdom - The Radical Christianity of the House Church Movement" (for a more objective critical yet fair evaluation. See Mark Heath's review here) and Terry Virgo's "No Well Worn Paths" (specialised to Newfrontiers). Also Bryn Jones "Radical Church" is an extremely monumental book. Not only is it an excellent outline of Restorationism, but it is also his 'magnum opus' written just before the Lord called him home.
I think one cannot better this account by Prof Walker of actually being at the Dales Bible Week, for an assessment of what "Restoration" meant to the people.
"It was the 6th August 1982. I was at the Dales Bible Week in Yorkshire ... as I walked around the hundreds of tents and caravans housing some eight thousand people, it was impossible not to feel the excitement and enjoyment that everyone was experiencing ... In the evening, a huge wave of some five thousand (maybe seven thousand) people surged into the giant hall of the Great Yorkshire Showground. The rousing songs and choruses reflected the language of majesty and kingship that I had been hearing throughout the day. "All hail King Jesus" was one song ... This language of sovereignity and glory was matched by the corresponding sense of being kingdom people; soldiers of the King; "Gird up your armour ye sons of Zion ... we'll win the battle with great rejoicing ... I hear the sound of the army of the Lord ... its the sound of praise, its the sound of war ...".
When the preacher for the evening, Bryn Jones strode to the microphone he described the reality of the demonic powers that controlled our cities ... he left us in no doubt that we were in a state of war ... Outside in the growing dark, the crowds weaving their way through the caravans were singing and humming songs of the kingdom ... "The church of God is moving ...". Everyone is relaxed yet triumphant".
For a more refined and theological view of what was happening, I recommend the audio messages of Ern Baxter when he spoke at the Lakes Bible Week in 1975 on the "King and His Army", and most particularly the Dales Bible Week 1976 on "Where Are We Going?".
I have given a great deal of thought to this. The more cynical would pragmatically argue that "Restorationism" simply isn't meant to be, and may have adopted a more pessimistic amillenial view of the end times. Andrew Walker examined a number of possibilities including heavy shepherding and discipleship, doctrinal deviance and the splitting from the Dales Bible Week to other small Bible Weeks. However his arguments are unpersuasive.
What Does It Mean Today?
So to Newfrontiers and Terry Virgo. The inspiration for him writing the article came from a question posed by a London Bible College student who was interviewing him. Terry wrote; "I was fascinated by the question and assured the students that we had by no means abandoned our commitment to Restoration. We believed in a restored church and embraced Haggai's promise that the glory of this latter house would surpass the glory of the former (Haggai 2:9)". He then went on to explain his evidently more worked out and thought through understanding of Restoration;
1. Spiritual Authority.
He said; "God's ultimate goal is that the church should become a 'mature man' (Eph 4:13), a body with many functioning members ... the church will arrive at this maturity only through the equipping ministries of the gifts of the ascended Christ ... some were to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers". Terry is absolute that he does not think that Restoration will happen or has any chance of happening without the functioning 5-fold Ascension gifts (or Ephesians 4 Ministries) in full operation in the church.
2. World Mission.
One of the perhaps less understood and grasped concepts in the 1970s - 80's was perhaps a commitment to this - Mission to the Nations. Terry admitted that the Charismatic Renewal brought a measure of a personal blessing in the baptism of the Spirit and gifts, but noted that the renewal was never meant to remain a personal thing. This is something heavily on Newfrontiers heart - thus prophecies that come from their ranks such as "1000 churches" in the UK.
David Devenish wrote an article entitled "A Vision for an End Time Glorious Church" and he also brought some extremely useful definition and understanding to the concept. He said;
"First what was meant by 'Restoration' was that the Church should be restored to New Testament truth and practice ... however Restoration meant more than this, which brings us to the second component of the Restoration vision. As well as Biblical doctrine and practice being restored, Restoration means that we put our hope in the prophetic promises of an end time glorious church affecting every people group. This is not triumphalistic. We recognise that a glorious church will be surrounded by an increase of evil ... it is through difficulty that we enter the Kingdom".
Much of the Restoration vision is bound up indeed with a great deal of Old Testament prophetic writing. Restorationists would argue that while much prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ - the key is that there is much yet to be fulfilled. I think that a healthy Restorationist doctrine will combine both our responsibility and God's sovereignity. We are well aware that unless God pours out His Spirit in revival, we are doomed. Yet at the same time we must plant churches with a zeal that surpasses anything yet seen if we are to see God's House restored in our day.
It must be made absolutely evident that Restorationism is not something that is exclusive to Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers or Keri Jones and Ministry Without Borders, but Iain Murray's outstanding; "The Puritan Hope - Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy" (it can be read online here if you can't find it in the shops) makes it abundantly clear that the Puritans saw the spreading of the gospel as inevitable and relentless before the end. Thomas Goodwin said; "There will come a time when the generality of mankind both Jew and Gentile shall come to Jesus Christ. He hath had, but little takings of the world yet, but He will hath before He hath done".
So Terry Virgo concluded; "Does anyone still believe in Restoration? We most certainly do!". And I can only utter Amen to that!
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Book Review - Acts - Professor Stanley M Horton.
They say great minds think alike, so it was encouraging to see that Mark has just finished reading and thus reviewed a commentary on the book of Acts. However whereas Mark's review follows a more conservative Reformed Tyndale commentary - my review is by a Pentecostal theologian - maybe one of the most renowned Pentecostal theologians, Dr Stanley Horton - author of, "What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit". I must be clear at the outset - I found this commentary extremely refreshing to read. It is a delight to read a theologian who has nothing to fear from approaching the text with honesty and candour, and quite frankly isn't trying to find some loophole for we, the present church, having to emulate all the activities of the New Testament church. Furthermore Dr Horton is a clear fan of the Holy Spirit, saying; "The Holy Spirit is more prominent than the apostles".
The Theme of Acts.
Dr Horton wrote; "The Book of Acts, therefore records what Jesus continued to do and teach through the Holy Spirit in the growing, spreading Church. Though Jesus is now in glory at the right hand of the Father's throne, He is still doing His work in the present world. Accordingly an enlarged title for the Book of Acts might well be The Acts of the Risen Lord by the Holy Spirit in and through the Church".
The Applicability of Acts.
It is perhaps unsurprising that Dr Horton sees the book of Acts as being more than jut a history book. Rather he argued; "Acts will affect our values and help us be disciples who claim God's promises and bring Christ glory. Acts is more than a chronicle of the past. Rather the past becomes the platform from which to preach to the present. We need to do more than study the Book of Acts, we need to live it!".
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Once again - no surprises here. Dr Horton does not take refuge in compromise in seeking to avoid offence. His description of the baptism of the Spirit is rich and experiential. He wrote; "What Jesus promised as a baptism is pictured here as a filling, that is a full, satisfying experience. Remember too that since the Holy Spirit is a Person, we are talking about an experience that brings a relationship. Each term brings out some aspect of the Pentecostal experience and no one term can bring out all the aspects of that experience". I do think that the controversy over this particular work of the Spirit may have gotten into trouble because we have become caught up with the "when" question - whereas the biblical perspective is "what". Horton, I was pleased to see, did not interact with much of the arguments as to when the baptism of the Spirit occurs (as per for example Dunn). He is caught up with the glorious inheritance that is rightly every new converts.
If Pentecostal, then what of tongues? Ever the true Pentecostal, Horton wrote; "This indicates that speaking in other tongues was the normative accompaniment of the baptism of the Holy Spirit". With other views in mind, Horton is clear that he sees the tongues in Acts as the same as those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 - 14.The Essential Resurrection.
One of my greatest thrills in absorbing this commentary was to see the vital place of the Resurrection of Christ in our post-Pentecostal era. In commenting on Acts 2:33, Horton wrote; "Peter uses Christ's exalted position to explain the Pentecostal experience. Now at the right hand of the Father, Jesus received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and in turn poured out the Holy Spirit. The results of this outpouring the crowd now saw and heard ... the outpouring of the Spirit was also evidence that Jesus was actually exalted to the Father's right hand. This means something to us who now believe and receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This baptism becomes evidence to us personally that Jesus is there and He is still working".
A Mission to the Ends of the Earth.
Horton considers a number of possibilities as to the abrupt ending to the book of Acts, including the martyrdom of Luke - but concludes that this is in the sovereignity of the Spirit. He notes that the first seven chapters see events in Jerusalem unfolding and the church beginning. Chapters 8 to 12 see the Spirit breaking down barriers and the gospel relentlessly advancing towards Samaria and Judea and chapters 13 to 28 - the gospel begins to move towards the ends of the earth. "Then, because Acts has no formal conclusion, we are left with the assurance that the gospel will continue to spread towards the 'ends of the earth'".
This book is indeed (to use Ligon Duncan's phrase) a "soul-fattening" book. It is an excellent scholarly commentary, that may not appeal to conservative Reformed readers who cannot accept a Pentecostal interpretation on these "hot potatoes" but I found it a hugely encouraging and stirring read. Horton puts the Spirit, His outpouring, gifts and fruits into the context of the Great Comission - namely that we must go to the nations with the greatest news on earth.
While many thousands of us may be thinking ahead to the various Bible Weeks we may be going to this year - for me is the awesome Brighton Leaders Conference; "Together on a Mission" - I still don't think this particular conference notice and invitation can fail to get a thrill when looked at. Particularly when the main speakers are Ern Baxter, Bob Mumford, Arthur Wallis, Bryn Jones and Terry Virgo ...
1978 - "A Great Shout of Hallelujah in our Hearts".
While the internet remains an invaluable resource for learning and reading, I still cannot get over the thrill of reading through older magazines and searching for nuggets of gold. I have been reading the Jan/Feb 1978 edition of "Restoration". The theme - "Spiritual Warfare" - is perhaps not surprising after Ern Baxter's series at the Dales Bible Week on "Binding the Strongman".
Bryn Jones opens with a strong piece in his editorial noting; "It is tragic to hear Christians self-congratulatingly referring to their church as numbering over 200 or 300 people without mentioning the fact that this is still one thousandth of the population of their city!". I think this is still very true today. All churches may be guilty - evangelical or not of joining in the "numbers game". I have to say that I think it is a temptation especially for those who believe in church planting. Let this truth reside with us! We were not comissioned by the Risen Lord to go and make "numbers" but "disciples". Our efforts to save the lost must be focussed and clear - we are not out to simply fill pews and collect tithes, but indeed disciple the nations!
Bryn Jones also wrote the first piece in the magazine entitled again "Spiritual Warfare" and he wrote the paragraph that caught my eye and made me determined to reproduce it here again, to be read and contemplated again;
"The gifts of the Spirit were not given by the Holy Spirit for a church to enjoy charismatic 'tingle' or glory goosebumps, but through the use of these gifts, it could be built up in faith and move out in war into Satan's territory; with the word of wisdom bringing resolution to many a complex problem; the word of knowledge causing understanding of the situation more perfectly; supernatural faith enabling them to move in dimensions that their own normal understanding militated against (it can't be done), healings undoing Satan's works; workings of miracles displaying the almighty power of God - whilst prophecy brought forth God's mind and purpose to the immediate situation.
An ability to discern the spirits immediately unmasked and uncovered satanic schemes and intentions, speaking with tongues and interpretation communicated with God and man in a higher spiritual dimension than natural mind could conceive".
I have not heard this perspective brought on the spiritual gifts ever I think. Once again I argue that Bryn Jones' words are prophetic for our generation - that we MUST realise that these giftings and anointings are meant for a great purpose than simply to bicker over, or even just simply enjoy. They are sent to bring forth the people of God and answer the prayer "Thy Kingdom Come".
A telling quote is to be found in the magazine. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones is quoted as saying; "In the Bible I find a barracks - not a hospital".
Terry Virgo closed the magazine with an intensely practical and helpful article on "Temptation". He began by arguing that "Knowing the Truth sets us free" but closed by saying;
"We are not simply skittles that must fall down every time our enemy bowls a temptation at us. Understand the provision that has been made! Believe the promises by which we escape the corruption that is in the world (2 Peter 1:4). Temptations are bound to come but we have a sympathetic and victorious Lord. Call on Him and prove His faithfulness. He will make us more than conquerors".
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Well got your attention didn't it!? Al Mohler writes a provocative piece on the; "Heteroflexible, Pansensual, Bi-Curious Teenager". He sketches a picture of life today in school in New York that could be the teen's dream and the orthodox evangelical's nightmare. During the Panel Discussion at the "Sex and the Supremacy of Christ" conference, Mohler was jokingly attributed as having a real ministry in the whole area of "sex" and indeed he seems to be boldly dealing with issues that others fear to even voice. I have noted some of Mohler's posts previously on these issues and issued the challenge; "It is no longer acceptable to bury our collective orthodox heads in the sands of prejudice and bigotry and quote Leviticus at the problem".
To an orthodox evangelical church that still, I suspect, can't quite cope with words like; "homosexuality", the words that Mohler presents before us as postmodern realities will be nothing short of horrific; "polysexual, ambisexual, pansexual, pansensual, polyfide, bi-curious, bi-queer, fluid, meteroflexible, heteroflexible, heterosexual with lesbian tendencies". The trouble is these realities are out there.
The disappointment in Mohler's blog is his conclusion. While true, the suggestion is that he doesn't quite know what to say. "Missing from this entire picture is any notion that human sexuality is a stewardship to be protected and a gift to be respected, rather than simply a physical capacity to be used in personal experimentation and polymorphous gratification". Yes indeed it is missing. BUT WHAT ARE WE, THE GLORIOUS CHURCH GOING TO DO ABOUT IT? Yes indeed these people can be judged, cast out, disfellowshipped, whatever you want to call it. But I feel a measure of excitement that I actually believe the church was intended to march out in GRACE and TRUTH to meet these challenges. Surely it is possible to preach truth, hold onto truth and yet love the lost like they have never been loved before - after all Christ did it.
But I say it again; "It is no longer acceptable to bury our collective orthodox heads in the sands of prejudice and bigotry and quote Leviticus at the problem".
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Ern Baxter - the Prophetic Songwriter.
I promised in a previous blog that I would search out and gradually include some of the songs that Ern Baxter wrote. While many knew him as a powerful preacher and prophet, not many knew that he was an accomplished musician and songwriter. Indeed, when he was particularly anointed by the Holy Spirit he would often break into song during his sermon.
Here is a hymn that he wrote for publication in the New Wine magazine that he was a consulting editor for.
The Sovereign Son.
On Zion's Holy Hill, the God-man sits to reign;
A rightous scepter in His hand, o'er shades His vast domain.
Divine decree hath placed Him there, while mocking monarchs rage,
Inviolate His throne shall stand, supreme from age to age.
No weakling King is He, this Man on heaven's seat;
His bloody sword, His body scarred, declare His foes defeat,
The keys of conquered kings He holds, the trophies of His fight.
While round Him, 'worthy' cry His hosts, and celebrate His might.
And now from yonder throne, on men good gifts He pours,
And with the strong He gladly shares, the spoils from heaven's stores.
Not meat and drink, but peace and joy and righteousness complete;
His Kingdom gifts to all His seed, who gather at His feet.
All hail Jehovah's King! We bless Thee, David's Son!
Thy everlasting reign, shall aging worlds out-run.
Thy years shall never end, and placed at God's right hand,
Thine enemies shall each be brought, to own Thy just command.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said; "We can say that a prophet was a person to whom truth was imparted by the Holy Spirit. Indeed we can say that he received a revelation of truth
and was given power also to speak and to utter this truth in a more or less ecstatic manner".".
I feel constrained by a number of urgent influences when writing this piece. Firstly I have been really challenged by Hugh's comment to stick as firmly and as closely to the Word of God as possible and secondly I feel that when seeing the urgency of more 5-fold Ascension Gifts in the context of World Mission, it is important to be less apologetic about it. For I believe that the world is at stake here, and the sole passion on my heart is to do as excellent a job that the church can accomplish, so that we can indeed "speed the Lord's return"!
So some Scriptures to begin demonstrating the vitality of New Testament prophecy:
1. (1 Corinthians 11:4-5, 14:3) The New Testament church prophesied regularly when together.
2. (Acts 19:6) Those who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit prophesied at the laying on of hands, WHEN they received.
3. (Romans 12:6, Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 29) Prophecy is a gift that the Risen Christ gives to the church.
4. (Ephesians 4:4-6) Apostles and Prophets were given the revelation of the full plan of salvation.
5. (1 Thessalonians 5:20) Christians MUST value prophecy and not despise it.
6. (1 Corinthians 14:1) The gift of prophecy must be sought above any other.
What then is a Prophet?
1. He is a Spokesman of God.
Exodus 7:1 - "Your brother Aaron shall be your prophet".
Haggai 1:13 - "Then Haggai, the messanger of God, spoke by the comission of the Lord".
Jeremiah 1:7 - "Then the Lord said ... Do not say, 'I am but a youth' because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you to speak, you shall speak".
Isaiah 6:8-9 - "Whom shall I send and who will go for Us? Then I said, "Here I am, send me!". He said, "Go".
Ezekiel 2:3-4 - "Then He said to me, 'Son of man I am sending you ... and you shall say to them".
Ezekiel 3:10-11 - "Moreover He said to me, 'Son of Man take into your heart all My words ... go to the exiles and speak to them, and tell them ...".
2. He is a Watcher For God.
Isaiah 62:6 - "On your walls I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth".
I realise that the majority of texts I am using here are from the Old Testament, but while I do understand the difference between Old and New Testament prophets, I think there are some similiarities in their comission and calling and I believe there are principles that can be learnt (1 Corinthians 10:6 - "these things happened as examples for us"). In this key text, I see such a powerful link between the ministry of the prophet and the role of an intercessor. The Lord God has appointed watchmen (or prophets as I am arguing) not just to look and see but to then "give Him no rest" until when? Until He returns a second time? No, until "Jerusalem is made a praise in the earth".
a. To warn of His judgement and imminent departure.
There is a disturbing progression in Ezekiel (which I have never heard preached on!) which details the withdrawal of the glory of the Lord in stages from the temple - to a mountain outside the city. I think, on the one hand it shows the astonishing grace of God (the withdrawal was in stages not immediately) but on the other, the fact that He cannot tolerate sin and will withdraw His active Presence if His Spirit is quenched or grieved.
Ezekiel 8:6 - "Son of man do you see ... ?". (v12) - "Son of man do you see ... ?". (v15) - "Son of man do you see ... ?". (v17) - "Do you see this son of man?".
Ezekiel 9:3 - "Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been to the threshold of the temple".
Ezekiel 10:18 - "Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim".
Ezekiel 10:19 - "And they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord's house and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them".
Ezekiel 11:23 - "And the glory of the Lrod went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city".
b. To look for His coming in revival.
Ezekiel 43:2, 5 - "Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing the east; and behold the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory ... and behold the glory of the Lord filled the house".
3. He is a Catalyst Used by God.
Throughout the Bible, there are many references to the power of the spoken Word. God is a speaking God, and His silence usually demonstrates some form of judgement. (Psalm 33:6) "By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made". This is true of God, yet I would argue that it was intended to be also true of His prophets (inspiration) and His teachers (preparation).
Jeremiah 5:14 - "Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, "Because you have spoken this word, behold I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood and it will consume them".
Ezekiel 37:4 - "He said to me, 'Prophesy over these bones ...". (v9) - "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy son of man ...". (v12) - "Prophesy and say to them ...". (v14) - "I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life".
I believe that the prophet's words in a local church context can unlock personal issues. I remember being at Stoneleigh Bible Week 2000. It was the first meeting and I just couldn't "get into" the worship. The devil was busy reminding me of my sin and how unworthy I was. Then Terry Virgo got up and prophesied (and I shall never forget it); "This is dancing ground ... I have cleared the way ... you're free to dance now". From then on the whole Bible Week seemed unlocked to me.
But also unlock and unleash a corporate powerful spirit of prayer, intercession, worship. I have been fortunate to be in some contexts (such as Stoneleigh Bible Week, Brighton Leaders Conference and at Church of Christ the King, Brighton) where the worship has been progressing beautifully but not quite "there" - and then a prophetic word is spoken, the people are arrested and the whole tone and manner of the meeting changes. Of course a sensitive elder in charge is essential to hear from God, weigh whether the word is of God and respond to it.
Some practical matters ...
John Hosier recommends that; "It is probably best not to have a prophet leading the church. He can get so much revelation that the church can blow up trying to implement it all. It is not always wise to have elders who are prophets, for they tend to be impatient and frustrated when considering the small details of church life that elders must give attention to".
Monday, February 13, 2006
It seems from the fantastic comments on my last short blog, that I am not the only one who is interested in developing and understanding the 5-fold Ascension Gifts of the Risen Lord! It seems that this question lay heavily on Dr Ern Baxter's heart also. In his book; "God's Agenda", he wrote:
"There is an apostolic key to evangelism in the Book of Acts that we desperately need to find. We've just been playing around the edges of it. We have to talk about apostles, prophets and evangelists".
Before I get into some thoughts on the Apostle, Mark had an extremely useful critique that he wrote in the comment section of my previous blog - of the earlier breakdown of the 5-fold ministries that I mentioned. It is worth noting here:
"I'll have a stab at improving on it...They all love God, and they all love the church.
The apostle loves to build the church through church planting and overseeing the early stages of growth.
The prophet loves to build the church through hearing God's word of encouragement and guidance in season and passing it on.
The evangelist loves to build the church through proclaiming the gospel and seeing people saved and added to the church.
The pastor loves to build the church through caring for each person individually, seeing that they are helped in times of trouble and protected in times of danger.
The teacher loves to build the church through grounding them in the word of God, bringing them to maturity".
So to the Apostle ... the working definition that I have used of the apostolic since I heard it at Brighton 2003 was by Dave Holden. He said that apostles will be responsible;
1. To ensure that the church is moving on to ‘regions beyond’.
2. To care for all the churches they serve – this may include laying foundations or fathering a church through all kinds of challenges.
3. To define doctrine that will help shape a church in what she believes and will result in practice that glorifies God. This doctrine, of course, has its authority in God’s Word alone and will prevent the church from being blown about by new doctrinal trends.
4. To impart the Holy Spirit. This could be introducing people to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, or enabling a church to have fresh encounters of the Holy Spirit. It may also be signs and wonders. Apostolic ministry is far more to do with impartation than administration.
Both Dave Holden and John Hosier do of course take great pains to note that the modern-day apostolic gift in no way whatsoever is intended to add anything to Scripture. The canon is closed! But they argue that the modern apostolic gift should be seen in the context of church planting. John Hosier's understanding of an apostle would tie in well with Mark's - he says: "An apostle is particularly gifted to help get churches well planted and well established" (p42).
Practically then ...
So practically, a previous commentator asked about individuals and whether in my opinon they are gifted. In one sense, it is difficult to state one way or the other because I don't know them and their ministry very well and certainly as well as I used to. But on the other it is of use to think about these things practically so they don't just stay as semantics. I found it extremely interesting that Don noted that in the mid-80's C J Mahaney was seen as the "prophet" of PDI, particularly bearing in mind that earlier I had suggested that I felt his gifting was more as a prophet bringing the message of the Cross to the church.
Is Mahaney an apostle? I think that the one word not mentioned in all the definitions of "Apostle" that I have found so far is the word; "Father". An apostle will have a fathers heart - or should have. Last year it came to my attention that Mahaney came to the UK to speak at the Brighton Leaders Conference. A number of folk in the UK SGM situation were quite excited because they were sure that he would visit their churches while in the country and speak. He however did not do this - much to their intense disappointment. Two of the UK SGM leaders were spotted at the Brighton conference, presumably to use the time to see Mahaney. Now I am sure that he had his own valid reasons for not visiting either of the churches - but this does not seem like a father's heart to me.
So for me, I am happy to see his role as that of a "prophet". He is passionate about the message of the Cross, his message is single-minded (often like that of a prophet!) and he cannot talk about anything much else (apart from sex and romance).
When Terry Virgo was visiting Bristol a few weekends ago for the "God's Lavish Grace" tour (by the way the messages are all available online here - I URGE you to hear them!) I was amazed at the intensity of his schedule. He had returned from Dubai not a long time ago. Yet he still spoke at City Church, Bristol on the Sunday morning after the conference had finished. To me that is the heart of a father. Like Paul, the impression was that he was "eager" to see us and impart something to us! That to me is the heart of a father. Somehow Terry has the ability to make each and every person in the Newfrontiers family of churches feel like they relate to him personally - an extrodinary gift!
So there is just a few collection of thoughts on the role of the apostle. Tomorrow - the prophet. It would be appropriate then to close with some words from Terry himself:
"Today, newly formed local church foundations must be laid. This is apostolic work, whether the apostle initiates the breakthrough or whether the apostle or apostolic delegate arrives after the evangelist ... if we consign apostles and apostolic ministry exclusively to the early church, we are left without one of the key factors in world mission, the vital role that apostles played".
As I said earlier, the 5-fold Ascension Gifts is not a matter of pure academia. We MUST be passionate about it, because they are crucial to the world mission that we are on as a family.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
The Glorious Ascension Gifts.
I mentioned yesterday that any Reformed Charismatic Systematic Theology will (or should) have a high view of the validity of the "Ascension Gifts" (John Hosier doesn't like the more commonly used 'Ephesians 4 Ministries' remember) and their essential contribution towards the fact that we are essentially a "Family on a Mission". I think that the role of Apostle and Prophet have generally been made much of in the Christian press, maybe due to only a recent restoration of the use of the term, but this has had the disadvantage of relegating the Evangelist and the Pastor/Teacher to that of second place.
I was walking back from work and had a useful mental image of the Ascension Gifts and how they could be seen as being useful. It was quite unoriginal but it was basically that of building a group of houses and the roles of individuals in building them - bearing in mind it is important to bear in mind the useful understanding that this blogger had concerning them.
1. An Apostle. (Loves the Church) He is the Architect of these houses that are being built. His mentality is unquestionably mobile - therefore he will not get tied down to a particular house, but maintains a deep love for the group of houses he is designing. It is important to get his role correct (something like putting the first buttonhole in a shirt) because get his role wrong, and the others will not be in place properly.
2. A Prophet. (Loves God) He is the Designer of these houses. His passions and feelings are quite subjective and based on the fact that he just "knows" such and such a way looks "right". He will most probably find it most difficult to work on a local level with the pastor/teacher, as both may frustrate the other - therefore if he is to be based (as he must) in a local church context, it is advisable that he is based with an apostle. The apostle understands his "mobility" desires the most, but has the ability to put his creative and prophetic qualities to work on to the broader global benefit of the wider church.
3. An Evangelist. (Loves Non-Christians) He quite simply has the primary job of going to the quarries and blasting out the rocks and shaping them into bricks - nothing more, nothing less! Vital at a beginning level. He too therefore may get frustrated by the business meetings and intricacies of local church life.
4. The Pastor/Teacher. (Loves Christians and Books) He is the brick layer. His passion is to carefully and delicately place one brick on top of the other and see the local house rise - beautifully built and supporting itself well. He may be tempted not to understand why it is important that the houses around him are designed well, and built well. He may also be in danger of bothering the Architect the most, but knows that he needs him desperately.
That picture helped me somewhat to understand that each and every one of the Ascension Gifts were given to the church by the Risen and Ascended Lord for an excellent reason and we need them all! So my prayer is that we see more and more of these released into the church as we look for the growth and accelaration of the Gospel and the glorious Church of Jesus Christ!
Saturday, February 11, 2006
1. The Problem Stated.
The last couple of posts by Mark and myself have re-reminded me of the vitality of holding a constant tension between the Word (Reformed Doctrine) and the Spirit (Charismatic Life and Experience). It seems that despite the vast progress in revelation and outworking in church life that men such as Ern Baxter, R T Kendall, Sam Storms and church movements such as Newfrontiers and Ministries Without Borders have brought, this question must still be dealt with seriously and in the present imperative.
What makes me say so? I note with concern and interest the comments that I quoted in my last post such as; "PDI pastor Craig Cabaniss, stated ... that PDI had chosen "Geneva" ... over "Toronto". Why did they have to choose? Are the two so dynamically opposed? I quote again; "participation in the 90s renewal had been officially forgotten, and there was a total emphasis on the Cross of Christ, the writings of C.H. Spurgeon, and on identifying and rooting out "indwelling sin" in each member". Again why must renewal be neglected in place of the Cross, Spurgeon and "indwelling sin"? Let me make it absolutely clear - this is NOT a post directly about SGM/PDI - it is simply that the previous post concerning them seems to demonstrate the dilemma I see facing the national church.
That dilemma to me - is that I think the "Reformed Charismatic" corporate body and individuals have a desperate need for a deep foundation based on systematic theology.
2. The Problem Solved?
Enter John Hosier - and Mark's post. I do think in light of the dilemma stated, that John Hosier's unofficial "Newfrontiers Systematic Theology" could never have been timed better. It is noteworthy that Hosier began in his lectures (as must ANY Reformed Charismatic Systematic Theology) with the Word of God. I want to suggest 3 points where any Reformed Charismatic Systematic Theology should begin.
a. The Word of God.
If we fully accept the totality of the Word of God in unprejudiced fulness and acceptance then surely the following truths must apply:
- The New Covenant era of the Holy Spirit will be even MORE glorious than the Old (2 Corinthians 3:8).
- The Holy Spirit has been poured out on ALL flesh with verbal manifestations following (Acts 2:16-21).
Did not Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones thunder from Westminster his opinion that; "We are living ... in an age hopelessly below the New Testament pattern - content with a neat little religion. We need the baptism with the Spirit (p89) ... Look at the New Testament Christian, look at the NT church and you see it vibrant with a spiritual life ... There is no problem of discipline in a graveyard, there is no problem very much in a formal church. The problems arise when there is life".
The Word of God gives an absolutely HUGE scope to our experience and walk in the Spirit! We may have experienced the utter heights of the Charismatic Renewal in the 1970s but I do not think have even plumbed the depths of what is possible as laid down by the Word of God. After all - would anyone dare claim that they were accused of drunkeness and then saw 3, 000 souls saved in one moment in one city? I hope therefore I may be excused for being slightly puzzled when the sincere phrase is used; "I only want to obey the Word of God" in the context of removing a doctrinal belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If we are truly "Reformed Charismatic" - surely ALL of our practice in church life should have originated from and be grounded in the Word of God?
If this is the case, then there will be no need to choose between Toronto's Renewal and Geneva's Reformation - after all, I'm a Reformed Charismatic and I want them both! Surely the mature and sensible, calm and discerning response to something with potential excesses is that of Terry Virgo - seeing the good and living in the light of it, yet discerning and steering clear of the bad (the Thessalonian principle).
b. The Church Family - the Dwelling Place of God in the Spirit.
Like grace, this is not something that John Hosier deals with exclusively, but unsurprisingly for a Newfrontiers theologian, it runs through most of what he does deal with. It is absolutely fundemental that a Reformed Charismatic theology must hold a high view of the Church - and not just any church - a Spirit-filled, Spirit-drenched church!
Terry Virgo wrote; "Worship is our highest calling. God is seeking worshippers, so converts must become worshippers". What kind of worship is this? Worship in Spirit and in truth. Terry said that church should be the climax of our week! He wrote; "We are talking about encounters that affect you powerfully. The nearest description is this very irresponsible one of being drunk! ... We must not worry that this kind of worship is not ‘seeker friendly’. I have non-Christian friends who have come to our Sunday morning worship and have said to me, ‘We just cried. What did we touch? What was that?’ When we worship we want the unsaved to feel the impact and know that God is there". Yet unfortunately while we may aim toward the model church that is Church of Christ the King, Brighton or Jubilee Church, Jo'burg - sometimes things do go wrong in the charismatic churches.
I have noticed recently that a number of points suggest that the charismatic wing of the church can get a bad press, particularly in relation to pastoring. For example; "Tomczak chose to break with PDI rather than continue submitting to a potentially never-ending period of correction". This unfortunately is not exclusive to Larry Tomczak in the USA. as regular readers will know that this has been my experience in the UK. And once again let me make it clear that such "heavy shepherding" is not exclusive to SGM/PDI. I am currently reading; "Ungodly Fear - Fundamentalist Christianity and the Abuse of Power" by Stephen Parsons. A couple of quotes from that well researched book show that others too have suffered under the hands of sincere church leaders.
"(a quote from one such pastor in counselling a rape victim) We have decided that you are bitter, you are looking for revenge ... if you persist in doing this, we will excommunicate you from the church. We will treat you like a non-believer, we will not pray for you, when we meet you in the street, we will not speak to you (p153)".
How are we to respond to this? We could i) Argue that the leaders were "sincere". But surely sincerity does not equal biblically correct and so on and so on? Stephen Parsons writes that sincerity is not excusable if mistakes are being made and lives are being damaged by leaders who have been entrusted with the care of people's souls. We could; ii) Reject this style of church life and drift towards a more liberal individualism. Many have done this, as Parsons writes. I have also tried it this past year.
But there may just be a 3rd way; iii) Look to the City and believe in it. A vision of the Church is crucial - this is something that Hosier and Newfrontiers demonstrate through a belief in restoring the church. It is hoped that one need never ask; "Where are we going?" in a Newfrontiers church! The answer surely is; "We are a family on a mission!". And there is of course a tension to be held here. Emphasise mission to the exclusion of family and you may inevitably see an increase in militant evangelism and an obsession with numbers in seats. Yet emphasise family to the exclusion of mission and you will effectively become a glorified social club.
I believe passionately that a true pastor who loves his people as Christ loved the Church should NEVER be guilty of an atmosphere of "a never-ending period of correction". I have seen the hopelessness, the tears, the fear and above all the awful legalism as the individuals concerned desperately tried to "impress" and "convince" the leader that they had "repented". Discipline? Absolutely! But it must be done in a context of assured love and a desire for the highest best which is something that is built over time - not done haphazardly on the strength of an ecclesiastical title.
c. Where Are We Going? - A Positive Eschatology Must Be Held!
While I accept that eschatology may not be a gospel matter in terms of who I can or cannot fellowship with, I would contend that a correct positive eschatology is crucial in defining a Reformed Charismatic perspective. This by the way goes a little further than Richard Baxter's "Saints Everlasting Rest" and 'one day we will see Him and be like Him'. This is wholly and utterly to do with what the church will become - the glorious Bride of Christ, ready to be presented to the Father!
John Hosier assumes restoration (like grace and the church) in his lectures. For example both he and Newfrontiers argue unapologetically for the presence of Ephesians 4 Ministries (although he doesn't like that phrase - I have adopted the term; "Ascension Gifts"). This is on the basis that we have not yet "all come to maturity" and therefore we need them desperately. Furthermore he argues for the presence of spiritual gifts in the context of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as therefore a manifestation of the Spirit.
It is my suspicion that the Word of God actually suggests that spiritual gifts are an ESSENTIAL part of Mission to the Nations! Why else would Paul write that unbelievers "will" come into the midst of a Spirit-drenched community and hear not preaching but prophecy and fall down exclaiming "God is truly among you"? Even the gift of tongues seems to play a part in speaking volumes to the unbeliever!
So much for the gifts of the Spirit ... they are far more than just what makes a "charismatic dimension" - but absolutely crucial to our mission. I have mentioned the disciplining and sanctifying of church members, and I would urge that a positive eschatology could be crucial here too. Consider a rebellious Israelite not conforming to the law of God in the wilderness. If he does not hear the pleading of his tribal leader to sacrifice and seek the forgiveness of God, he will be judged and will not see the Promised Land - to which they are heading. Just so for a church member, say in a Newfrontiers church - who are going places! Who would want to miss that? Yet apply this to a church who has no mission and no vision other than to amble through life like "pilgrims in a foreign land" hoping for heaven someday - no positive eschatology and an important prohibition is lost.
So what ... ?
I believe that an urgent call to those of us who would claim to be Reformed Charismatics is to realise that theologians are required! We have depended and benefited from many men - but I am sincerely bothered that we are not raising men and women from our own ranks particularly from within the United Kingdom. I look to my bookshelves and my favourite authors are mostly American, or they are dead. Thank God for Terry Virgo! Thank God for David Devenish and John Hosier! But they won't live forever! Who is rising up to replace him? Are we reading men and women? Are we writing men and women? Are we taking an urgent interest in theology that will undergird the experience that we hungrily seek?