Wednesday, May 31, 2006
In much of the controversy over the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I have noticed that very little is said about the term; "Sealing of the Spirit" or "Sealed with the Spirit". I wrote a post on Dr Lloyd-Jones' view of the sealing of the Spirit in October last year. He said;
"If I were asked to give a diagnosis as to what is wrong with the Christian church today, and as to what has been her chief trouble for a number of years, I would suggest that it is her failure to understand this statement". Ephesians 1:13: "In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise".
I am developing an informal series based on Dr Ern Baxter's statement that the Kingdom of God only becomes reality through the Holy Spirit. Yesterday we saw his views on the gift of prophecy. Today I want to reprint his sermon notes on the sealing of the Spirit that I discovered in his archive.
- Ephesians 1:13 - "In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise".
- 2 Corinthians 1:22 - "God hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts".
- Ephesians 4:30 - " ... the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption".
1. Who Does the Sealing?
- John 6:27 - "Him (Jesus) hath God the Father sealed".
- Ephesians 1:3, 13 - "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath ... sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise".
- 2 Corinthians 1:22 - "God hath also sealed us".
In John, the Father seals the Son. In the Epistles He seals the sons! The divine title is significant and ought not to be ignored.
2. Who Are Sealed?
Only the Saved are sealed! It is the "purchased possession" (Eph 1:14) which is sealed. It is for those who "trusted after they heard the Word of Truth" (v13). The great "Pattern" however, as indicated by the Word is Jesus. We can learn much about the sealing of the sons as we investigate the sealing of the Son. The great difference of course being that Jesus was sealed because of what He was in Himself and we are sealed because of what we are "in Him" (Ephesians 1:13). There is little doubt that the sealing of Jesus is intended to refer to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him after His baptism at the Jordon as recorded by the four Gospels. The three synoptic Gospels do little more than record the experience and so we turn to John's Gospel to discover the spiritual significance (John 1:15-34).
Many unwittingly indulge in an ancient heresy in trying to prove that Jesus only became the Son of God at this point. That this was the time and place of His being "made manifest to Israel" (John 1:31) is the testimony of Scripture, but the Word is also quite definite in safeguarding the Deity of the Son right from birth (Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:35, Gal 4:4). Two words in the Johanine record are of considerable interest to us in our investigation. They are "manifest" and "bare record". It is also significant that John makes no mention of the 'Voice from heaven' as recorded by the other three Gospels. The descent of the Holy Spirit alone was the signal that John was cautioned to watch for (John 1:33). This was the manifestation, identification and public authorization of the Son of God! The seal did not make Him the Son but rather was the public manifestation that He was the Son.
- Galatians 4:6 - "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts".
The sealing is an "Also" experience ... "In whom also" (Ephesians 1:13). "God hath also sealed us" (2 Corinthians 1:22). Paul writing to the Ephesians is not merely laying down a theological law, he is recounting an actual experience that had taken place in the lives of the Ephesians. Have we any account of this experience in the Word? Indeeed we have (Acts 19:1-7). A careful and prayerful persual of this passage will show that the reception of the Holy Ghost was an "also" experience and occured "after that they believed".
3. What Does the Seal Signify?
- Christ's Tomb. (Matthew 27:66) "So they went and make the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone".
- Satan's Millenial Doom. (Revelation 20:3) "Cast him into the bottomless pit and shut him up and set a seal upon him".
- The Bag for our Transgression. (Job 14:17) "My transgression is sealed up in a bag".
- The Duration of the Holy Spirit Seal. (Ephesians 4:30) "Sealed unto the day of redemption".
(Ephesians 1:13, 14) " ... sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise until the redemption of the purchased possession".
"The allusion to the seal .. would be particularly intelligible to the Ephesians, for Ephesus was a maritime city and an exclusive trade in timber was carried on there by the shipmasters of the neighbouring ports. The method of purchase was this: the merchant after selecting his timber, stamped it with his own signet, which was an acknowledged sign of ownership. He often did not carry off his possession at the time; it was left in the harbour with other floats of timber. But it was chosen, brought and stamped (and in due time the merchant sent a trusty agent with the signet, who finding that timber which bore a corresponding imprint claimed and brought it away for the Master's use". - Bickersteth.
(Nehemiah 9:38, 10:1) "We make a sure covenant and write it and our princes, Levites and priests seal. Now those that were sealed were ...".
After a recitation of the history of Israel, and an acknowledgment of sin with repentance, a covenant was drawn up wherein certain pledges were made to serve God. All who affixed their seal put themselves under a solemn obligation to fulfill and confirm His promises. On the other hand we are exhorted to "grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30).
Song of Solomon 4:12 - "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed".
We are told that this refers to the Oriental custom of sealing the fountains to "keep out the dust of the desert as well as to declare ownership". We must not attempt to press symbols too far. There are however many delightful things suggested by this reference. God has reserved us for His very own and has givne the Holy Spirit to actualise that reservation. This is not the reservation of salvation but of fellowship. There is that "secret" place of the inner life which is reserved alone for fellowship and communion "with Him" through the Spirit. "Pray to the Father which is in secret" (Matthew 6:6). We also read of the "hidden man of the heart" (1 Peter 3:4). The word "hidden" might well be translated "secret". The "secret things unto the Lord" (Deuteronomy 29:29) and are shared with "them that fear Him" (Psalm 25:14). These are such as "dwell in the secret place of the Most High" (Psalm 91:1). All such fellowship and enjoyment of the sacred secrets is "in Spirit" (John 4:24).
NB: Quite how literalist C J Mahaney with his views of the Song of Solomon would explain this verse, I am not sure. Any attempt he would make, would seem to me to rob something of the beauty and mystery that Ern Baxter writes of here.
(1 Kings 21:8) "So she (Jezebel) wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles ...".
To execute her infamous plot, Jezebel had to have royal authority. She knew that the elders and nobles would be obedient to the King's word and seal so she used both. The seal stood for the authority of the throne! When this is translated to the spiritual realm, it is staggering in it's inference. Could it be that those whom the Father seals are invested with the authority of Heaven's throne? It is true! We have the right to the use of His Name (John 14:13) and the authority is imparted by the Seal of the Spirit (Acts 1:8).
(Job 38:14) " ... turned as clay to the seal".
That which is sealed will bear the imprint of the Seal. One cannot be sealed with the Spirit and not be different. Just as clay or wax bears the same pattern as the seal imposed on it, so the believer will resemble the Holy Spirit. "We have no right to say we have the Spirit of life if we have not the life of the Spirit. The Spirit of Truth is seen in the truth of the Spirit. The Spirit of Love is manifest in the love of the Spirit. The Spirit of grace is evidenced by the grace of the Spirit. The Spirit of Humility is evidenced by the humility of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is revealed in the holiness of the Spirit. The translation into the Kingdom of God's dear Son (Colossians 1:13) is demonstrated by the transfiguration into His character (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
1. Every doctrine has a headquarters passage.
2. Here the church meeting is under consideration, with the possibility of an unbeliever or on ungifted coming in (v23).
3. Prophecy however is not specifically designed for soul winning - that is the result of preaching!
a) The Church Meeting. (14:26)
"This passage and indeed the whole chapter, presents a lively image of an early Christian assembly ... since those gifts have ceased, not one has the right to rise in the church under the impulse of his own mind to take part in its services" - Charles Hodge.
"We have in this series of actions the type of normal worship, in which all the elements of understanding and feeling are united and in which every believer endowed from above can give free scope to his particular gift. It is a SPIRITUAL BANQUET to which every guest brings his quota, just as in the agape" - Godet.
"The picture Paul draws is one which finds no counterpart in the greater modern churches. The chief distinction between the services of the Corinthian Church and those we are now familiar with is the much greater freedom with which in those days the membership of the Church took part in the service. Each member of the congregation had something to contribute for the edification of the church. We lose much of what would interest and much that would edify by enjoining silence upon the membership of the Church". - Expositors Bible 1981.
b) Preaching and Prophecy.
1. Two different words entirely.
2. In preaching, the mind, furnished with the studied Word, is anointed to declare what has been received from the Scriptures. In prophecy, the mind is not active in the preparation adn formation of the message, the person speaking in the language known to the assembly, under the same arrangement as with tongues - "as the Spirit gives utterance".
3. The preacher expounds the "prophecy of Scripture" - the written revelation. The gift of prophecy speaks from immediate Scriptural revelation concerning a local and specific situation. 1 Corinthians 14:29, 30 - "Let the prophets speak two or three and let the others judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace".
4. The preacher is a ministry gift, given by the risen Christ. Prophecy is a gift of the Spirit to the individual believer.
5. Since "they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14), it would be rather costly if everyone who prophesied was a preacher!
1. Prophecy especially desirable - (v1).
"Make love your aim and then set your heart on spiritual gifts. Especially on prophecy" - Dr Moffat.
a) 'Follow' refers to 'something indispensible'.
b) 'Desire' refers to a faculty 'simply desirable'.
c) Love as character is absolutely indispensible while gifts as ministry are highly desirable!
2. Purpose of Prophecy - (v3, 4, 31).
a) "He that prophesieth (Spirit enabled) speaketh unto men".
- "Edification" - "Building up".
- "Exhortation" - "Encouragement" (v 31 - "comforted).
- "Comfort" - "Consolation".
"Edification denotes a new development and a confirmation of faith, by some new view fitted to be strengthening the soul. Exhortation denotes an encouragement addressed to the will, an energetic impulse capable of effecting an awakening or advancement in Christian fidelity. Comfort points to hope. To soothe the ear. Putting pain to sleep or reviving hope". - Godet.
- "Learn" (v31).
Both the learning and encouragement of verse 31 seem to point to learning and encouragement in the proper and salutory exercise of the gift.
3. Prophecy "Greater" than Tongues "in the Church".
a) The term 'greater' is used here from the standpoint of utility.
b) 'Tongues' on their own do not edify the church.
4. Prophecy and the Unbeliever/Ungifted. - v23-25.
a) Remember the context - the church meeting.
b) "Tongues" alone does not edify. "But he that prophesieth edifieth the church" (v4).
c) What applies to the believer, applies moreso to the outsider!
d) This is not the normal way to win sinners - rather preaching.
e) HOWEVER if one should come in and prophecy is the prevailing gift, it will result in:
- "Convincing" - to convict, to show one to be wrong.
- "Judging" - Examination, detailed enquiry, his whole inner man is searched.
- "Manifestation" - The hidden evils of his heart are brought to life.
a) Remember "the light in the squalid place".
b) Ephesians 5:15 "All things are made manifest by the light".
- "Worship" - He will become a worshipper! Or a Christian.
- "Report" - Note the nature of the report. "God is among you!".
5. The Order of Prophecy. - vv29, 30.
a) Three Rules.
- "Two or three" prophets to speak in each meeting.
- "Let the others judge" - or examine, scrutinize and estimate. (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21). "Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things".
- The entire responsible body will evaluate.
- However if a judgement is necessary, the rule of eldership will undoubtedly obtain and the correction will be made by an elder.
b) Interference - "If anything is revealed to some else who is seated there, let the first be silent".
- First - Remember Chapter 13.
- Only a love-controlled church could obey.
- Undoubtedly the Corinthians did not yield to each other.
- There should be love and courtesy between the two.
- "It is by lengthening his discourse that the prophet is in danger of mixing what is his own with the divine communication. The apostle's injuncture is well fitted to set aside empty amplifications and verbiage" - Godet.
5. The Prophets are in control - v32.
- This is a continuation of the thought - "I can't stop" - may be the answer to some of what Paul has said.
- Under demon control, this is true (12:2).
- The Christian prophet is ALWAYS in control of his spirit.
- "The prophet has no right to make inspiration a pretext for refusing to submit to the rules laid down by Paul" - Godet.
7. The Measure of Faith.
- Romans 12:6 - "Let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith".
- "Let the prophet speak in exact proportion to his faith. Let there be no word spoken but from the conviction that God gives it" - Wey.
- "The prophet is to let his utterance be regulated strictly by the degree of faith of which he is concious in himself, the inward inspiration and the outward deliverance must keep pace and advance step by step together"- Ellicot.
8. Prophets subject to the Word - v37.
- "He will show that he is truly under the influence of the Holy Spirit by acknowledging my authority and by yielding obedience to the commands which I utter in the name and by the authority of the Lord" - Barnes.
- All gifts and activities are subject to the Word!
- The Word of God is the highest court!
9. Prophecy is desirable - v39.
- "Be earnestly ambitious to prophecy" - Wey.
- "Set your heart on the prophetic gift" - Dr Moffat.
Monday, May 29, 2006
I have been greatly enjoying reading Charles Simpson Ministry's magazine, "One-to-One", articles of which can be found online. The editor is Charles Simpson's son, Stephen and the articles are insightful and very inspiring. One article in particular, by Charles Simpson himself, really "got" me - as it addresses the issue that is so on my heart at this moment - Restoration. Here are some extracts that particularly spoke to me.
"Where is the Church going? ... To discuss what I see ahead, let me first share about something from the past. It was 1966, a year when there were many thousands of small home prayer and Bible study groups emerging across America. People of all social and religious segments were seeking God. I had just concluded such a meeting where the Holy Spirit had visited powerfully; I was waiting there with a brother who had just been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
It was then that the Lord spoke something to me that changed my entire worldview, and my view of the church: “I will restore the Church.” What was lost first, will be restored last; what was lost last, will be restored first. You will see this in the story of the Prodigal Son.”I cannot fully describe my response, but wonder, amazement, and joy, all at the same time, would be a start. I was not a “restorationist,” doctrinally-speaking. In fact, I was a pre-millennial-dispensational-fundamental-evangelical Southern Baptist (and I’m not making fun of that label). The Rapture and subsequent events were my focus—not restoration. Needless to say, after that experience, I began to see abundant Scripture to support the restoration of the Church.
As I read the story of the Prodigal, something became evident. Jesus was not simply talking about the story of a lost son, but He was revealing the nature of our Father in heaven. He is revealing the Father’s heart for the lost sons and daughters. The Father is wealthy, generous, and forgiving. He allowed for free will to err, but waited for repentance. The two sons therefore represented his two chosen people. Israel, the older son, and the Church, the younger one. The older son was law-oriented, dutiful, and unforgiving. The younger son was adventurous and learned mercy through serious error.
Genetics are a mystery to me. But they are tiny, ticking clocks that one day sound an alarm. In the course of tragic events, the young man “came to himself.” He finally got to who he was. He was a son of a wealthy and gracious father. “How many of my father’s hired servants have food enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my Father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” In essence, he made three declarations: I will arise - I will repent - I will serve.
As the son drew near, he rehearsed his confession, “Father, I have sinned,” but he never got it all out. The father, with compassion, ran to meet him and began to hug and kiss his son. “My son was lost but now is found!” Grace had allowed the journey and grace awaited the return. There were no “I told you so’s.”With joy, the father began giving orders to the servants, “Bring the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet.” The robe, ring, and shoes were restored. This is more than a natural father greeting a wayward son; this is the heavenly Father greeting a wayward Church and restoring it in righteousness, sonship, and Kingdom proclamation.“Bring the fatted calf and kill it! Let us eat and be merry, my son who was lost is now home.” The father threw a party! There was a great celebration, a feast with music and dancing. The son had come home, and was restored. The Church will come home, too.
Another question is what will be the last thing restored? Righteousness by faith is accepted truth in many quarters. Our sonship through Christ is generally understood. In the last two hundred years, we have gotten our shoes back with world evangelization. But the message to the world is the kingdom of God. There is more: spiritual power, a divesting of a world system for church government. It was apostolic unity that was lost first. Will it be restored? I pray and believe so. When that occurs, look out Hell! The Church will have a celebration and a feast".
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Dr Ern Baxter said: "My concern is this: How will the establishment of the Kingdom which we talk about ever be brought about? As I have searched the Scriptures, I have become aware that the kingdom of God will become reality by the ministry of the Holy Spirit through us". We all do well at talking. We all have our pet doctrines and our pet theories - our pet rants and our pet passions. I am no more special than the next person or website you come across, simply because my passions happen to be mine. Yet I confess a slight and growing weariness at talking. That doesn't mean to say that certain topics and certain issues still don't cause my blood pressure to rise! But now I'm learning to vent my frustrations in other ways than through the keyboard. Men whose doctrines do not adorn their names (1 Timothy 4:3) should be grateful ...
I am hungry for action! I want to see God intervene in our society! I want to see Him rend the heavens and come down! Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that revival is the only hope for our declining culture! If it was true in his day, how much more now? I want to see the church move on! I want to see the Church enter the Land! When Terry Virgo said something like; "I'm giving you a possession! I'm giving you a land flowing with milk and honey! My beloved Bride! I'm bringing you in!" - I must confess my heart leapt! Then ached. When? When are we going to see it? Our only hope is the Spirit of God.
So when I found and read this sermon of C H Spurgeon's, it was like manna to a hungry soul - water to a thirsty desperate man. When you read this sermon, you will find the answer as to why, for example I am not particularly bothered by the advent of the Da Vinci Code and why I won't be discussing it on this blog. Come with Spurgeon and let him do you good!
"Is the Spirit of the Lord Straitened?".
Sermon: 2218 - Sunday August 23rd 1891.
Text: Micah 2:7: "O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?".
"Unless we have unction of the Holy One and are endued with power from on high, in vain shall we seek to preach good tidings to the meek, to bind up the broken hearted or to proclaim opening of the prison to them that are bound".
"If our religion be not supernatural, it is a delusion. If the Holy Ghost be not with you, you are like Jannes and Jambres attempting to work a miracle without Jehovah's aid and you will be baffled and detected as an imposter".
1. The Spirit of the Lord is not straitened by the commands of Men.
"The previous verse reads: "Prophesy ye not".
i) Beloved friends this can never be. The Spirit of God is not straitened for any man in whom He dwells must speak.
"If God has given it to him to speak, speak it he must and nothing can silence him".
ii) But even if those who believe in God's Name should die and no more were raised up, the Spirit of the Lord would not even then be straitened for He could find other ways of reaching men's minds.
"He could still call a Saul of Tarsus without a Bible and without a minister".
2. The Spirit of the Lord is not straitened by an conceivable cause.
i) The Spirit of the Lord is not straitened by any change in Himself.
"I am the Lord - I change not".
"He is today what He was at Pentecost".
ii) He is not straitened by the Spirit of the age whatever that may be.
"Although the spirit of evil is mighty, he must fly before the Spirit of God who is infinitely more powerful and not to be hindered, hampered or straitened by the spirit of the age".
iii) He is not straitened by the discoveries of science.
"It does not make the slightest differene what is discovered nor should any true revelation of science unsettle any preacher of the Gospel. The more than is known of God's works the better".
iv) He is not straitened by the worldiness of the great masses in the midst of whom we live.
v) He is not straitened by the skill of His enemies.
"The simple truth of God will win it's way. I cannot imagine anything that will diminish the power of the Holy Ghost".
3. The Spirit of the Lord must not be treated by us as though He were straitened.
i) If we act towards Him as though His holy Word would not now convert, sanctify, comfort and conquer as it used to, we are in this horrible position of practical unbelief.
"Never think that the Spirit cannot bless the Word to you as He used to. The meat is rich: You have lost your appetite".
ii) We behave as if the Spirit of God were straitened in the next place if we conceive the present state of things to be hopeless.
"The church to which you belong may be cold and dead and the ministry powerless but is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?".
iii) Do you not think again that we very much act as if the Spirit of the Lord were straitened when we only look for little blessings?
"Dear friends there is no reason that I know of why the sermon that brings one sinner into the light should not bring a thousand into the light supposing a thousand sinners be hearing it. The same power which saves one is precisely that power that would save a thousand".
iv) Do you not think that we also treat the Spirit of God as though He were straitened when we imagine that our weakness hinders His working by us?
"Do you not see that though you think such a confession is an expression of humility, you are straitening the Spirit of God? However weak and feeble you may be, He can use you. If you think He cannot, you deprive Him of power in your apprehension".
v) Do not believe that the Spirit of the Lord is narrowed by the smallness of the place.
"Some of the greatest works for Christ have begun in hamlets".
"Do not hunger for big congregations. Hunger to save those you have".
vi) A great many persons are guilty of thinking the Spirit of God to be straitened when they fancy He must always work in one way.
"If we begin to tie the Lord down to one way or work, we shall make a big mistake".
"God neither blesses the Calvinism nor the Arminianism but the Christ that is in the sermon".
vii) We act as if we did not believe in this divine truth concerning the Spirit of God when we think that some men are beyond His reach.
viii) We may treat the Spirit of God as straitened if we cannot believe that He can bless us today.
"Believe that any moment is a good moment with God".
4. The Spirit of the Lord will prove He is not straitened.
i) He will exact punishment for resistance.
"Continual rejection will at last result in the total withdrawal of His Presence".
ii) He will fulfill the divine decree.
"Man's obstinancy shall not frustrate the purpose of God".
iii) He will glorify Christ and prepare a people to welcome His advent.
"The gospel shall be preached among all nations and out of every tribe and people, witnesses shall be gathered to await the glorious appearing of the victorious Christ which cannot long be delayed".
Friday, May 26, 2006
I am very concious that conversations have largely focused around the Church a great deal on this website, and other blogs that I love reading. Many topics are covered - such as Parachurch vs Local Church and my own assessment of the fact that if we are to see large 'Antioch'-style sending centres rise up then every member must be utilised. A great deal of attention is given to the fact that the Kingdom of God will only become reality through the Holy Spirit - here and here. Prayer and Worship have been looked at in the context of the 'model church' - Church of Christ the King in Brighton. Some of the best books that I have read recently are devoted to the Church: "Does the Future Have a Church?" - "Christ's Radiant Church" and "The Radical Church". This is all well and good but I have become increasingly concious that if someone turned round and said, "Okay - so you believe in restoration? How will the restored church function?" - I am not sure how clear my answer would take shape.
When speaking at Brighton Leaders Conference 2000, David Holden said; "Your eschatology affects your ecclesiology". Initially I didn't correlate the two - but I have come to realise that to hold a positive eschatology is vital if one is to be committed to the Church! Church dreary politics - Leadership Mishandling - Spirit-absent meetings. All these things can seriously "make the heart sick". Yet a positive vision of the Church can hold that passion. A triumphant vision of the Church can lift that and sustain that.
So I transcribed a sermon by Dr Ern Baxter on this very subject - it is taken from a series he called, "Laying Church Foundations".
"Any servant of God needs to be related to the Church. I personally must belong to a community of God's people to give validity to what I am doing. One of the dangers of going through any crisis of experience - whether it is personal or domestic or religious or national - is that having had some disillusionment and having experienced some pain from the misapplication of truth, the tendency for all of us is to then atone for the disillusionment by throwing out the whole thing - the baby with the bathwater.
I therefore want to refresh hearts with; "My Vision of Community". (Acts 2) The first community that came into existence in Jerusalem is a basic pattern for what God wants. It is not complete - you probably find a more complete deliniation of community in the Epistles. Our aim is to take a concordant walk through Acts 2.
This new community started with a group of disciples. That group weren't a bunch of intellectuals - or wealthy people but they were Galileans. They were uncultivated, unsophisticated and unacademic. There wasn't a Phd in the crowd! Putting a high value on the fact that despite your attainments, what God is dealing with is the raw, rough, primative, pristine stuff of human personalities that are committed to Jesus Christ. If you are going to have community - then you have got to have disciples. A disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ - that means one who comes under the disciplines of His Word. A disciple is one who has melded into a community of love and sharing and discipline.
One of our great difficulties in getting any sense out of contemporary Christianity is the measure of independent individualism that dominates our psyche. Frank Sinatra established the anthem of individualism when he sang, "I did it my way" - not knowing that he was enshrining the definition of sin; "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way". What is sin? Doing it "my way". What is redemption? Doing it God's way.
The people who came to Jesus Christ recognised in Him a new focal point for living. They saw the superiority of what He was and what He taught and everything else that they were hearing and they had heard a lot! Greek philosophy, Roman government, theory, Judaism. They simply said, "This Man is different. He speaks as One having authority". When His disciples were challenged to join those multitudes that were leaving the Lord, their response was significant; "Lord where shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life". They may not understand all He was saying but they were sticking. We have got to start out with disciples. I don't have the option this morning of chosing what I want to do. I have to do what my Lord tells me to do and I have to do that not only through the directness and the access of my immediacy to Him but I have to do that through the relationship of His People.
The Dynamic of Power.
This little group of disciples were ordered by their Lord before He went back to haven to wait in Jerusalem until they be endued with power from on high. The disciples had to enter into a dynamic experience to enable them to function in community and in outreach - We must know personally the Pentecostal Experience. In obedience they waited together in Jerusalem and "when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were together with one voice in one place." Somebody said, "What is the secret of the primitive church's power?". That little phrase that reoccurs about eleven times in the book of Acts "with one accord". Such is the power of unity! That experience cannot come out of a philosophy only - you need to understand it but it must come out of a dynamic.
The unity we're talking about is not the unity of the miners in England or the unions in America - we're talking about a unity that is fed by the dyanamic of a constance experiencing of the Holy Spirit's Presence and Power. If you don't have that then your philosophy will fall through lack of dynamic. You won't accomplish a thing unless you have the dynamic to make it work! You are born to this unity! The community process involves discipleship and it involves a dynamic experience of the Holy Spirit. The immediate effect of the visitation of the Holy Spirit in the beginning was that it drew attention - there was a mighty wind and a lot of noise! (2:6) literally means that the noise was so great that the whole city heard. The immediate effect therefore was that they came running from every direction!
"And filled the temple court". They saw the phenomena of the new dynamic. Notice that sometimes when the Spirit of God moves and there are signs and wonders and miracles and conversions, noone takes the time to tell you what's going on and relate it to the Biblical rationale. That's why it falls apart. Revival after revival has been disappated by pure indulgence in emotion and experience only. The Scriptures say that you and I must be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Why are we doing what we're doing? Peter stopped and preached for a long time! One might ask why he should preach in the highly charged atmosphere of the Pentecostal effusion. He could he do it? He did it because he had to do it! Peter was responsible for the balance of this thing and he knew that the experience was not enough. The mind had to be spoken to. He answer their questions, "These are not drunk as ye suppose".
You've had a sense reaction to a divine happening. You reckon it's wrong! What did he do? He provided them with a biblical rationale for what was happening. One of the main reasons that any move of God gets into trouble is because of ignorance among the people. If you don't know why you['re here and you're doing what you're doing then you are at a disadvantage and you could get hurt. There was a response to Peter's sermon. "Men and brethren what shall we do?". This is the initiation into community. They were baptised! Water baptism is not an appendige that is optional to the Kingdom of God! Teaching continued - "they continued steadfastly". Water baptisms are the Christian right to full initation. One of the things that we've missed about water baptism is that we baptise people into Christ's death and resurrection but 1 Corinthians 12:13 says that we are also baptised into people - into body at this time.
When you are baptised you are baptised into the community of God's people. Following your baptism and gift of the Holy Spirit, there is an "And". Follow the "ands". They continued steadfastly. There was a continuing character. These must be very important things to characterise the ongoing life of the community. It is taken for granted that you've received the Holy Spirit - that you have been baptised - that you've repented. What is the continuation of this initiation? What's involved in it? 1. Continuation in the apostle's doctrine. Teaching was clearly fundamental and central to the continuation of the community. Not projects but teaching. What can insensative and stupid non-entities mean by presenting non-threatening doctrines?
God never intended us to be brainless disciples! "I pray for you that you may receive the spirit of wisdom and of revelation". The term was coined at a Charismatic Convention in New York in 1950; "Baptised Brains". This is why reception of the Spirit doesn't guarantee that we won't do stupid things. When you receive the Spirit as life and power, you don't receive Him as intelligence. It is only as you let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly that you have the intelligence of the Holy Spirit. "Come into the charismatic experience out of the old wine denominations". 2. Experiential expression of the teaching. If teaching doesn't produce the second thing then you can question the validity of the teaching. Fellowship is the second thing. The baptism of the Holy Spirit or the experience of the Holy Spirit iand the experience of the Word need to combine to bring about the experience of community life.
True Unity by the Holy Spirit.
That is the community process. We are not here this morning because we have had some prior creature relationship with people. What brings us into relationship with other believers who attract our attention? A common experience of the Holy Spirit and teaching. We are held together by no other affinity but the people who have been baptised in the Holy Spirit and have been brought into the transcendent revelation pf God concerning what HE wants through teaching. The destiny of the world will not be fulfilled until the entire earth becomes a Spirit-filled, Word-instructed worshipping community of men and women declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is why we are to go out and disciple nations - teaching them to observe all things.
The Lord's Supper and Prayer.
The Corinthian excess mingled their supper and the Lord's Supper until they were having both. It was a time to share in the bread and the wine and include God in the meal by the extraodinary meal of remembrance. The Lord's Supper is not unimportant. Remember that as we get involved in our outreach and our evangelism - it is only to be as good as our internal activity current with God. And that includes our frequent celebration of the Covenant meal. "In prayers" - a lot of people don't have a lot of time for prayer. They have time for praise and shouting but not for prayers. Prayer should be a liturgical thing - it should be part of our gathering - we need to have prayers.
Signs and Wonders.
(v43) "And as they continued steadfastly fear came upon every soul as signs and wonders were carried out". I have seen enough signs and wonders to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up! When we see signs and wonders we should be looking for something alongside them - namely a sign people. We can see signs and wonders movements that are squandered by curiosity - only excitement and thrill - but never resulting in a sign people. We want the miracles but we should be wanting a miracle people. "God is here". We need the supernatural - not for an end in itself but to make us a supernatural people.
Resist vigorously the idea that the church ought to be diluted to socio-economic grey. What it does teach is that all we have is held in Jesus' Name to meet the needs of the people - but not to provide an equality.
The coming together of God's People has a biblical guarantee of a special kind of Presence that you don't have in your devotions at home. Something special ought to happen in the public meeting. They broke bread from house to house. Publicly they had their meetings and then went back from house to house to have a good time! The people were touched by this community - they had favour with the people (2:47) because they got along so well. That is why we should carry a constant distress in our hearts because the church column is often the scandal sheet. Why are we advertising the condition that we are in right now? Until we've got our house in order we have got no business trying to get people in. The people were coming because the community was so attractive that they couldn't resist it. It never said that the attractiveness of the community was lessened through suffering.
The Bible says, "Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us".
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
I was absolutely thrilled today to receive a letter from Charles Simpson. I had sent him a bound copy of my transcript; "The Priestly Clothing" in the hope of encouraging him that there are some of us who don't want to let Ern Baxter's message die! I didn't expect to hear from him as he is such a busy man with a worldwide ministry, but he was incredibly gracious enough to write. The thing that excited me the most was that he said in the letter:
"We hope to publish and distribute more of Ern's material. He had a profound influence and continues to".
He went on to say that he will be over at Nettle Hill, Coventry in June to meet with some leaders! How jealous am I ... He also spoke of the Leadership Conference that I spotted where he ministed along with Terry Virgo and Bob Mumford.
How grateful to God I am that there are leaders out there such as Charles Simpson and Terry Virgo who carry the passion and the vision to seize teaching such as Ern's that does the Kingdom of God so much good. Let's keep a close eye on Charles Simpson Minstries - there are some exciting things coming out from among their ranks!
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
More and more I am becoming a fan of the interview technique with my Christian heroes. I do think that there can be insights into their minds and relationship with God that is sometimes hard to see in the more prepared and presented sermon. I feel that this interview is particularly significant in these days because the questions asked of Dr Ern Baxter are questions that are still in my mind today. His answers therefore are of prophetic significance. This interview with Ern Baxter was done in January 1980.
Q: Do you see the 80's as crucial years in our society?
Baxter: Yes, I do see the 80's as crucial years. I think anyone with eyes would have to agree that we are facing some considerable challenges in every area of life. I want to point out from the first that I am neither a news analys, nor a prognosticator of trends. I don't feel that is my calling. The other night I turned on the television and watched what I thought was a regular news broadcast. The announcer was armed with statistics about the balance of power in the Middle East and with very refined information on sophisticated war planes. I listened to him with some interest, thinking that I was listening to some kind of news analyst until after about ten minutes he said, "All of this agrees with prophecy" and he started to tie all of these pieces of news into the Bible. Well I do not feel called to that kind of newspaper exegesis.
Of course as a normal human being, I have opinions on many topics but my calling is to declare God's purpose. When we talk about the 80's as crucial years, I am not equipped to adderss that topic as an economist or news analyist because those are not my areas of expertise. Instead I look at the coming years, whether the 80's or the 90's, in terms of what I believe the purpose of God to be. I need to say that because I don't want to come across as somebody who knows everything that is going to happen and tries to tie it all into some obscure Bible verse. In fact I feel many of God's people are so aware of current events that they have lost sight of the decrees of God. My hope is based on the decrees of God and that declaration of God is my ministry.
Q: How then should a Christian properly respond when he sees current events that concern him?
Baxter: He must react first of all in terms of his faith and hope. He should know what the purposes of God are through the gospel for the earth, for the church, for society and then make realistic practical responses for his own life. What is happening in the world will definately affect our lifestyle and our comings and goings. Obviously we are going to be affected by the energy crisis. But in terms of our emotional life, our thought life, our hope life, our faith life, the circumstances around us are not our anchor. We are related to what God is declaring. I am quite prepared to make the adjustments, economic and energy-wise, required of me as a citizen of the world. But I am also quite excited by what I see by faith in the affirmation of what God is going to do in the earth, in spite of what man is doing.
Q: What definite things do you see happening that encourage you?
Baxter: Personally I am encouraged that things are so badly shaken. The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 12 that everything has to be shaken that can be shaken, and only those things that can't be shaken shall remain. When I see shaking in terms of my philosophy, I don't just take it at face value as shaking: I see God in it. If I see this shaking as God getting everything ready for Kingdom exposure then I can be excited about it. But if I am joining the crowd of those who are saying, "Alas, alas Babylon the Great is fallen!" then it is a pretty miserable existence. But when I see Babylon falling, I am looking for Jerusalem to emerge.
Q: What do you think that shaking will produce among God's people?
Baxter: I think it will produce a restoration of simplicity. We are going to get rid of a lot of the unnecessary baggage and barnacles that have come into the Christian mileu which don't belong. I expect us to return to the simplicity referred to in Acts chapter 2 where the early church continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine, in fellowship, in breaking of bread and of prayer.
I think we are going to rediscover the meanings of Christians relating to one another in the simplicity and ardency of their faith. A lot of the ecclesiastical bulk will have to give way. I see considerable changes in the whole "church" situation and what would be alarming to others is exciting to me. However to rejoice in the shaking just because it is shaking is a vacuous operation. I am rejoicing in the shaking because it will leave a residue of something that is really valuable.
Q: What do you think of the attitudes found among some Christians who are wringing their hands at the evil in the world, hoping that Jesus will return before things get too much worse - sort of an escapist mentality?
Baxter: I believe that the Bible indicates that black gets blacker and white gets whiter but the outcome is not in question. In John's Gospel he says, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot arrest it". I believe the hand wringing mentality comes from having the dark side constantly portrayed. It is not uncommon to hear Christians lamenting the darkness instead of celebrating the light
The time has come for us to affirm the Lordship of Christ - the ultimacy of Christ's Kingdom - the fact that the darkness has to go and the light has to become permanent. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. I feel that are serious lacks in the thinking of Christians who are so engrossed wih the world's evil. I don't think that is the area we should glory in. We have been put in the world as salt and light. We are here to celebrate light and to celebrate the grace of salt: we are here to affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord and that "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof". God is victor and He will vindicate Christ. This is the note that I am sounding and the note that I would like to hear sounding more clearly.
The second coming of Christ is not the hope of the world. The second coming of Christ is the damnation of the world: it is the hope of the believer. I don't find anything in the New Testament that says the second coming of Christ is the hope of the world. My Bible says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. He is coming again for those that look for Him but for those who are not looking for Him, His coming will be the end. So I think the escapist mentality is based on a false premise. I don't think it can produce the kind of hope, faith and joy that God intends us to have as we celebrate the ultimate victory of Christ.
Q: Do you think it short-circuits a Christian's effectiveness?
Baxter: I can't see it otherwise. If I thought that the whole answer was getting out of here, then I would spend most of my time packing my bags. In the New Testament Jesus said to His disciples, "As the Father sends Me so I send you". Our mandate is to go into the world, not go to heaven. Heaven is only part of the deal. Although I expect to go there eventually, it is not my present order. My present order is to go into the world.
For instance I recently listened to a half-hour music programme featuring religious quartets and every single number they sang was about going to heaven. Every single number - without exception. There was nothing about the victory of the gospel, nothing about God's victory in the world. The whole impression was, "I'm a Christian and I can hardly wait to get out of here". Now there is a certain validity in wanting to go eventually but as Paul said, "If staying here is going to benefit people then I'll stay here even though I want to go be with Christ". As far as I am concerned when my work is through here, I expect to go. But in the meantime I'm not going to sit around wanting to go be with the Lord when He wants me to get out into the world, salt it, light it and bring Christ's victory into expression.
Q: What redemptive attributes - I guess you could call them antidotes - do you see developing among God's people in response to negative trends in the world?
Baxter: Before answering that directly, I would like to refer to a book called 'An Evangelical Agenda' which is a report of the second Future Evangelical Concerns Conference. The first book that came out from this source was excellent and the second is equally good. In one of the talks entitled, "Nuture, Form and Function", there is a quotation from a book by a man named Edge in which the life of a movement is described. I think it's done very well. Point number one says a movement generally is born as a violent reaction against the errors, abuses and the injustices in the status quo. The second stage of the movement is that, to survive opposition, it must eventually organise it's own institutions. In the third stage, the movement passes from rejection to toleration and finally to acceptance by society. In stage four, the movement does not merely experience acceptance, it becomes popular. Stage five records how, for the sake of efficency in organisation and administration druing this period of popular growth, there's a definite trend towards the centralization of authority. In the sixth stage beliefs become crystallised into dogma demanding acceptance. In the seventh and final stage a new movement must break through these shackles with new ideas, new beliefs, new values and a new way.
Now before I say anything else, let me say this: I cherish a hope that we may be at that point in history where we will avoid some of these historical trends so that what is happening now in terms of restoration and recovery of primitive Christian principles many not fall victim to this process. It is my personal belief that as we come towards the end of history (and I believe history has an end) there will be a generation that will avoid this trend and will remain primitive, pristine and pure. To that generation, Jesus Christ will be able to return.
Paul wrote to Timothy, "The things that you've heard of me among many witnesses, the same declare to faithful men or loyal men who in turn will teach others also". Paul put personal character at that point above gift, charisma, oratorical ability and academic attainment. He said, "If we don't have loyal men, men of character, men of integrity, regardless of whatever else we do, we haven't really got what we need". When we go back to the New Testament, we find such things as loyalty, integrity, covenant relationships, community, bearing one another's burdens. These traits are the warp and woof of the kind of Christianity which must ultimately demonstrate Christ to the world. There is a strong movement among men of various doctrinal and ecclesiastical backgrounds around the world to return to some of these primitive principles. I feel this is "where it's at".
Q: Do you feel these developments are pretty much cross-cultural or cross-denominational?
Baxter: I think so. The rampant disillusionment in society at large is causing men either to fall into despair or turn to other options. Many of them are researching the Scriptures again. It's like the old search to rediscover the historical Jesus. We're searching for the historical Christian. What was the original Christian like? To what degree are we caricatures? If we go back to the original Christian, we find interpersonal relationships and loyalty and integrity and covenant as the important things in his life. As I travel across the world, the healthiest sig I see are where men are finding one another in Christian covenantal relationship and starting to work out some meaningful life situations that go beyond Christian profession, right down to the nitty-gritty of Christian life.
In the larger perspective I feel the ultimate form of evangelism is what Jesus described in John 17 when He said, "Father I pray that they may be one as You and I are One; that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me". Now if we work that back negatively what He said was, "Until the redeemed community becomes one, the world will not know that You have sent Me". The kind of unity that must come cannot be contrived. It must be Christian people finding one another in the genuine pressures of everyday life in a Christian context. This is happening and I see it as a genuine hope for the future. When many of the ecclesiastical trappings start to crumble and fall, people will be looking for this sort of relationship. (This is very much in keeping with the vision outlined in Baxter's series on the 'King and His Army'). There is a vanguard now in preparation to be ready to give that option to people when these times come.
Q: Isn't this a departure from 'traditional' Christianity?
Baxter: Yes. There is considerable concern now about what is referred to as para-church groups. I think many para-church groups are the product of a sincere attempt to realize a restoration of the kind of simple primitive community that seesm to be the genus of the early church. (That these para-church roups are not interrelated in any way is less than ideal but I believe nothing is ideal right now). I believe in the Church. By that I mean I believe in Jesus' statement that He would build His congregation, His people - the people of God. I believe that and I don't want to be considered as somebody outside of the mainstream of the divine thrust in history. But in being part of that mainstream, I am responsible to speak out concerning the maintenance of the simplicity of original Christianity.
I believe that the New Testament has in principle everything necessary for us to maintain a sound Christian life and witness to the end of time. Many of the things we have invented in an attempt to help the Lord with His situation were unnecessary and have only cluttered it up. The story of Mary and Martha comes to mind. Martha was not getting lunch for the devil. She was getting lunch for Jesus. But Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet and hearing His Word. After Martha had laboured long in the kitchen getting lunch ready, she stormed into the room, whirled upon Jesus and said, "Master, don't You care that I'm out there getting lunch while my sister is sitting here doing nothing?". What she was saying in esssence was, "I know that You didn't ask me to fix lunch and I know that lunch is probably not in Your will but I'm doing the best I can for You. Bid my sister come and help me". Or in other words, "Have my sister help me in my programme for You". We need to keep this in the proper context.
Jesus' answer was beautiful. He said, "Martha, Martha, you are troubled and concerned with many things, but Mary has chosen the better part". Dr Moffat translates that, "the better dish". And Jesus said, "It shall not be taken from her". In other words Jesus said, "Mary is sitting at My feet and listening to My word. When I want lunch I will tell you. In the meantime don't get Me lunches that I haven't ordered". I think that we've gotten Jesus a lot of lunches that He never ordered.
Q: What do you see as the ultimate destiny of the People of God?
Baxter: I personally see the people of God in the earth as the manifestation of Christ's ultimate victory and the demonstration of His Lordship. I believe that "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof" and that the gospel must ultimately be successful. I believe that the redeemed community in every geographic locality is also the governmental centre of the Kingdom of God. I also believe that unfortunately the people of God have failed in their spiritual government over the earth. 1 Timothy 2 gives us the apostolic command as the redeemed community for when we're together in our common gatherings. First of all (or "most important of all" says one translation) we must pray for all men everywhere, for rulers and governors and those in authority over us that we may have a quiet and peaceable life for God would have all men to be saved.
I don't believe that is optional, yet in the last few years when teaching in conferences, I have asked audiences, "How many of you in your gatherings have obeyed this apostolic injunction?". In conference after conference, among thousands of people the number of hands raised would only be eight or ten. I don't think this is a perculiarity that can be treated lightly. If God's people are to exercise spiritual authority and rule and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God - if our power doesn't lie in the bullet or the ballot - then it lies in the spiritual realm. But it is no less a power because of that. In fact it is a superior power. But if it's not used it's useless. I don't care how good a sword it is, if it doesn't get into the soldier's hands then it wages no warfare.
If God's people have not picked up the divine mandate to govern the world through their corporate life and prayer, then we really can't complain too loudly at conditions. The world is waiting for a demonstration of Christian authority through community life and intercession. As I read the New Testament there is no question but that the people of God are to exercise Christ's risen authority and bring the Lordship of Christ into the world so that nations are literally brough under the thralldom of Christ's government. I know that what I have just said would be received with holy horror by thousands of Christians who have been trained and taught that the world is going to get worse and that the Church will go out of history with a whimper. But I was recently thinking about these things, I thought about the element of surprise that God has manifested in His activities throughout history.
Presuming that the angels were created before the material universe as we know it, when God spun the planets off His fingers and created the material universe, the angels must have been so surprised that they burst out spontaneously into singing and applause because they had been no party to the mind of God. The angels had no idea what a material universe looked likeand then suddenly it appeared by a fiat of divine creation. What angel could have anticipated that? Or consider Adam in the garden without a companion: to be put to sleep and then awake to find this exquisite creature awaiting him. How could Adam ever anticipate a thing like that? Or who could have anticipated the flood in Noah's day or the seperation of the Red Sea or the manna from heaven or the water out of the flinty rock? Or if you like the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?
Now people say, "But Baxter you must not read the newspapers. You must not be up on current events. What you're talking about is balderdash. It can't happen, given our current situation". But I don't accept that situation as final. The situation I'm functioning in is the situation of divine decree and power expressed in the character of God. It just seems out of character for God to allow history to finish up with Satan winning the day. If the best God can do is come back in a fiat way and demolish the devil by the Second Coming then He's saying, "My gospel wasn't the power of God. I had to come in and rescue My gospel".
Rather God has declared that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation and that in this age, in the fulness of time, He is going to gather together all things in one in Christ. God has declared that He is going to take out of the Kingdom all things that do offend. I don't know how He's going to do them. But as I look back at the history of God's activity I'm just excited and on tip-toe to see what God is going to do. It almost seems like God has got a twinkle in His eye as He says, "These folks will never learn that when things are blackest, I do My best job".
I believe that God wants us to fulfill the implications of the gospel and carry it to its intended conclusion. It is intended to change all of life and it must change it first in the redeemed community. When we become an example of a gospel life-style and a Kingdom life-style then we will have something to demonstrate to the world - that the government of God, the will of God has come to us in response to the 2, 000 year old prayer, "Thy Kingdom Come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".
Monday, May 22, 2006
I am always constantly on the hunt for resources that closely mirror my passions for Word and Spirit or to use Mark's words: "Pursuing faithfulness to the Word of God, and fulness of the Spirit of God". I was thrilled therefore to come across a number of conferences organised by Salt and Light Ministries with rich audio files for listening. Speakers include Terry Virgo, Philippa Stroud, Bishop N T Wright, Dave Richards (a Salt and Light apostle) and of course father of Salt and Light Barney Coombs himself. One added bonus is that they have preserved the prophetic words given at these events. It gives a powerful insight into how God is moving among Salt and Light.
The European Leaders Conference 2005 - 24th to 27th February - (Terry Virgo and Philippa Stroud).
The European Leaders Conference 2006 - (N T Wright and David Shearman).
The 28:18 Summer Event at Ashburnham Place, East Sussex.
There are also a number of papers that are worth reading.
Those who are fans of Kate Simmonds and follow her movements will know that last night was her final appearance leading worshipping and performing a gig at Church of Christ the King, Brighton. I think I knew it was going to be a memorable night (what else would get me to drive that 250 mile route to Brighton yet AGAIN?) but quite how memorable I wasn't prepared for.
The auditorium was completely packed out with notable faces showing up in a beautiful display of true Christian family - such as Mrs Virgo, Lou and Nathan Fellingham and John Hosier. She began by leading worship. Now we only sang 4 songs: "Give thanks to the Lord", "We come in Your Name (You have been lifted)", "Light of the World" and "In Christ Alone" - but I was astounded at how there was no warm up time allowed. The Presence of the Spirit of God was upon the meeting while the band were playing the first few notes! It was just ... Alive!
She then moved into what elder Steve Horne called "her gig". It wasn't a "gig" though. It was an extension of a time of the most powerful worship that I have ever experienced. Her songs ranged from the lively and passionate, to gospel, to intimate worship and through all of them what most captivated me was Kate's face. Her eyes were usually shut and her face was aglow and lifted to the heavens. This amazing woman is a worshipper! She sang two particular songs that reduced me to tears. She introduced one song by giving a short testimony sharing how she was wandering the Brighton seafront crying out to God to rescue her "if He was out there" and then she went on to meet a couple who went to CCK and brought her along. The rest is history. But the song was one of wonder and amazement that God would reach down and save her. It reminded me of how easily we forget our "first love" in the fires of controversy. Perhaps a life-saving practice would be to remember our pre-conversion state before God reached down and drew us (or in my case - dragged) to Himself.
The second song came just after David Fellingham had given a very powerful presentation of the gospel under the title; "Songs that Changed the World". He excellently compared songs from the world from Elvis Presley and the Beatles that offer no hope to songs in the Bible that offer every hope. He ended by quoting the awesome hymn, "Amazing Grace". This hymn is particularly special because it was the hymn that my beloved Grandpa chose for his Memorial Service when he died. Kate went on to sing it and I was completely floored by the truths in those lines. "Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home". "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!". And then the final verse ... a reflection on the wonderful and glorious hope we have to come; "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun! We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun!". Wow ...
The night wasn't really about Kate Simmonds - by her own design. The look on her face when we sung the lines of one of my favourite songs said, what the night was REALLY about:
"Holy is the Lamb worthy of glory - worthy of honour.
High and lifted up - and seated in majesty - Your throne will last forever!
Holy is the Lamb worthy of glory - worthy of honour.
High and lifted up - and seated in majesty - Your throne will last forevermore!".
The UK's loss is Australia's gain ... Roll on Brighton Leaders Conference ...
Saturday, May 20, 2006
If indeed the tide is turning in our land and the promises are true that God may revisit us again in reviving power, then one vital aspect that the Bible seems to address a lot is the fear of the Lord, which is sometimes quite sadly lacking. Dr Ern Baxter addressed this in his outstanding book, "God's Agenda". Here is what he had to say on it;
"Spiritual gifts are not for sanctification; they're for ministry. You can manifest spiritual gifts and be carnal. You can manifest spiritual gifts and be immoral (The house of God has been stained and slandered because this very thing has happened on national television in front of millions of unbelievers!). God has begun to talk to me again about the fear of the Lord. Once you've experienced the fear of the Lord, you'll never be the same again; it is not just an intellectual attitude.
One time in Minneapolis, I was scheduled to teach a group of 65 ministers in a seminar and then preach that night in a church. I was sick and I knew I had an infection (later I learned it was bronchial pneumonia). I was scheduled to catch a plane the following afternoon and I really felt weak. That night I began to speak from the thirteenth chapter of Acts about the blinding of Barjesus the sorcerer and the day Paul and the apostles publicly turned away from the defiant Jews to the Gentiles.
As I began to speak, I sensed that the fear of the Lord was in the meeting. I noticed that my voice, which had been weak from the sickness, took on a different timbre. I also noticed that my spirit was chastened. I realised that I felt genuine fear lest I do or say something wrong. At the end of the meeting many people in the place were bathed in tears. I was deeply concious of the Presence of God. People hurried up to greet me in tears. After the hosts took Ruth and me to our room, we didn't say anything to each other for I don't know how long. At last I told Ruth, "I'm almost afraid to break the silence. I'm so concious of the Presence of God that I am wholesomely frightened".
My friend, the fear of God is somehow missing from our lives or we wouldn't do some of the things we do. I remember the time when in South Africa when William Branham and I were being persecuted by the Dutch Reformed Church. They were giving us a lot of trouble. One night in particular we were under much pressure and opposition. As we prepared to minister before the huge crowds, William Branham and I were kneeling in prayer when suddenly a frightening presence came into the room. Brother Branham quietly said, "Brother Baxter don't be afraid. The angel of God is in the room". From that moment on I understood why people were afraid when an angel appeared in the Bible. I almost said to myself, "Well he can leave anytime". I tell you, I didn't so much as raise my head to him.
One night in Kansas City (1975), I was with 1, 700 men in a large auditorium when the Presence of God came into the place. As we were standing there and worshipping God, the Word of the Lord came, "Take off your shoes!". All of us 1, 700 obediently and quickly took off our shoes and prostrated ourselves. One brother, a close friend of mine named Eric, was out in the aisle with his hands raised. He came to me and said, "Ern while I was worshipping, somebody brushed my arm and words of prophecy came out of my mouth just like this". I told him, "It was an angel". There was a fear of God in that meeting that no one who was there will ever forget. That was about 20 years ago. But to this day, whenever I meet men who were there, they still remember ...
We need to recover our reverent fear of GOd. A few years ago, a good friend of mine who has served at the right hand of Billy Graham was having dinner with me in Arizona. I asked him about Billy's spiritual life and he said, "I can only tell you this; when Billy was going to Los Angeles for the meeting where he broke into national prominence, he stopped somewhere in the desert. He had an old beat up car and he was just a Youth-for-Christ kid. Billy got out of that car and knelt down there in the desert". My friend said, "I don't know how long he was there and I don't know what happened, but when Billy got up, he has, from that day run scared".
When you have stood in the Presence of the fear of God, you don't play games. The judgement of God is resting upon many of God's servants. I'm not saying this in a condemning way; I have also felt the hand of His chastisment. It comes to each of us when we refuse to walk in the fear of God. I prophesy that things will happen in this decade that will restore the fear of God. When these things come to pass, a lot of us who are playing religious games will change our ways or pay a price.
Acts 19:23 is short but it carries an important message for you and I: "And the same time there arose no small stir about that way". Please hear what I'm saying. Is anybody persecuting you? Are you enduring any great persecution? Are you languishing in jail? Are you having to flee for your life? When this biblical pattern is followed, you will have the same results as Paul. You cannot function in apostolic power without confronting society and having it rise up to stop you! The power of the gospel will change the human ethic. You may not convert everybody but remember that when Charles Finney was finished in a town they would close the taverns and the prostitutes would leave. Why? The Christian content of the message was so powerful that society became confronted with its sin. In it's revolt against the truth, the kingdom of darkness was defeated and had to leave.
I'm not talking about pidly little events taking place. I'm declaring that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). I'm talking about God taking back the earth and giving our lost inheritance back to us. I'm talking about the last Adam cancelling the first Adam. The bottom line is that we need to "get off our duffs" and leave our Christian ghetto games. It is time for us to find one another and bind together in a community of divine authority".
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Inital Reflections on "Convergence - Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist" by Dr Sam Storms.
Impatience prevailed and I decided that I couldn't wait till June for Kingsway to get their act together and release this long-awaited book by my hero so I ordered it online. This book was always going to be a 'must-have' for me due to the importance that Dr Ern Baxter placed on the tension that must be held between Word (Reformed Doctrine) and Spirit (Charismatic Experience).
'By the Word of Their Testimony'
First and foremost this book contains a great deal of biographical material from the life of Dr Storms. He does so with reluctance finding the idea of an autobiography "distasteful and pompous". But the genre of writing lends weight to his argument. I myself have come from a similar background of church history, being born into a fully fledged charismatic church, that then subsequently became both practicing and doctrinally cessationist and anti-charismatic. I then went to university and joined a charismatic church where I stayed for the duration of my training, then moving into an "open but cautious" church and finally ending up where I am in Newfrontiers. I found that many charismatics find it difficult to comprehend what life is really like in a cessationist church, and most definately vice versa!
Surely Dr Storms has a point when he says: "There's no escaping the fact that a serious, and occasionally vitriolic breach exists between Word-based evangelical cessationists and their more experientially orientated charismatic cousins" but quite accurately goes on to note that: "Ironically few in either party to this divison believe that a divorce has occured in their own experience! Word-based cessationists refuse to concede that they have diminished the role of the Spirit or failed to acknowledge and embrace the fulness of God's power for life and ministry ... Charismatics typically react with no less surprise to the argument that they have ... failed to build faithfully on the foundation of the final and all-sufficient canon of Holy Scripture".
So this book does deserve a gracious hearing from both sides of the divide because the author is a man who has experienced both extremes of Word and Spirit (or as he calls it 'Orlando' and 'Anaheim').
A Charismatic Apologetic.
One reviewer noted that while Dr Storms; "spends a small amount of time affirming his respect for and belief in the doctrines that have come to be known as Calvinism, the vast majority of the book discusses charismatic teachings. The book is clearly not an attempt to lead charismatics to the doctrines of grace, but is an attempt to lead Calvinists to accept charismatic teachings". He then stated; "But on the issue of the charismatics gifts, I think he is, quite simply, just plain wrong. I do not have time or inclination in this review to provide a thorough refutation of charismatic theology, so I will simply address the major points of the book from the cessationist perspective". It is of little surprise perhaps that reviewer confesses that he aligns his cessationists views with John MacArthur's 'Charismatic Chaos' (a book which also spends little time in the biblical text refuting charismatic teaching and more in charismaniac horror stories that he has heard).
I disagree with this assessment. Admittedly Dr Storms does devote a lot of his time to charismatic testimonies but he wrote; "I didn't begin this study with the expectation that either cessationists or charismatics would lay aside their convictions and openly embrace the other. I do hope, however that some of the animosity, mistrust and misrepresentation of which both are guilty would diminish". The book did not suggest to me that Storms had a secret charismatic agenda to attempt to 'convert' cessationists. It was more his honest testimony to the power and activity of God through His Holy Spirit in his life.
A Larger Perspective.
As one who has devoted much of their life to Ern Baxter's teaching, my heart leapt as much of Dr Storm's book is not (in the typical cliche) devoted to tongues and prophecy. Rather he examines the more broader glorious topics of 1. God Still Speaks. 2. Worship and 3. Spiritual Warfare.
1. God Still Speaks. - "The God of the Bible is a speaking God".
This is dealt with in the third part of the book. Dr Storms accepts that the cessationist concern in accepting that God speaks outside of and alongside His Word, is that damage may be done to the sufficiency of the canon. Interestingly enough Storms actually takes issue with his hero Jonathan Edwards at this point. He quotes from Edwards; "Why can't we be contented with the divine oracles that holy, pure Word of God that we have in such abundance ... now since the canon of Scripture is completed? Why should we desire to have anything added to them by impulses from above?". In answer to this Storms says;
"Believing in extra-biblical revelatory activity of the Spirit is not because of a lack of contentment with Scripture. In fact it is precisely because of what Scripture teaches concerning the activity of the Spirit that leads us to embrace so-called "impulses from above". I personally believe in the on-going revelatory activity of the Spirit precisely because I am unreservedly "contented" with the absolute truthfulness of everything Scripture says".
The challenge for us, he says, "is anyone listening?".
2. Worship. - "What both groups share in common is their conviction that worship must be theocentric".
Dr Storms suggests that the difference between cessationists and charismatics in the sphere of worship is concerned with the issue that cessationists believe that the focus of worship; "is to understand God and to represent Him faithfully in corporate declaration. Worship is thus primarily didatic and theological and their greatest fear is emotionalism". This assessment would tie in with the responses that I observed to the "Draw Me Close - Colson" debate.
Charismatics on the other hand; "believe God is most glorified not only when He is accurately portrayed in song but when He is experienced in personal encounter. Charismatic worship does not downplay understanding God but insists that He is only truly honoured when He is enjoyed. Worship is thus emotional and relational in nature and their greatest fear is intellectualism". Or to summarise the divide yet more succinctly;
"Perhaps the best way to illustrate this difference is the way both groups think of God's Presence in times of corporate praise. Cessationists view God's Presence as a theological assumption to be extolled, while charismatics think of it as a tangible reality to be felt".
3. Spiritual Warfare. - "It is more an issue of what they believe the Bible says is legitimate for us to expect the Spirit to do in today's church".
One of the major encouragements in this book is that Dr Storms does not believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for no apparant reason, or for enjoyment, or to simply characterise a church. Spiritual gifts are given, he argues quite rightly, for a purpose. The section on spiritual warfare is contained within the more personal section of the book and there are indeed some dramatic testimonies of "the demon-defeating, Christ-exalting power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father".
One question that occured to me while reading this section was - are demons really that bothered by correct orthodox doctrine? Indeed the Bible promises that "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" but "even the demons believe and tremble". Or to ask another question, if a persoon was possessed by a demon and seeking deliverance, is it most likely that he would go to a Reformed evangelical church where the doctrine was correct - or would he seek a charismatic church where exorcism and the promises of Mark 16 were believed and taught?
This book wasn't what I was expecting. There is less on practical ways to see Dr Storm's envisaged "convergence" and more devoted to a deeper understanding behind the motives and desires of both cessationists and charismatics. However I found this a useful technique. Understanding a situation often brings a degree of insight and having read this book, I do feel that I understand cessationist mentality a lot more. They do not set out to "quench the Spirit" or the other unfair accusations that are often levied against them by militant charismatics! Both cessationists and charismatics actually seek to glorify and honour the same God and love Him as best as they can.
Like the more critical reviewer who stated that this book hasn't changed his mentality towards charismatic gifts, I also have no desire to become a cessationist or to pursue a more Reformed conservative approach to my Christian life. Actually this book has increased the desire in my heart for more of the Spirit's activity in my life and the life of my church! It has been useful to show that noone can ever settle on laurels thinking that they have the monopoly on the Spirit of God.
However let me restate that this book has been helpful for understanding more of the mentality of both cessationists and charismatics. Maybe a real unity brought about by the Spirit of God and not characterised by "what we don't talk about" isn't so far away after all ...
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Many thanks to Luke for making my day - month - year! He reports that Terry is writing a book called "The Tide is Turning". In so typical Terry-fashion - optimistic and envisioned, he says:
"We are living in extraordinary days! ... I really believe the tide is turning in the land. One of the things the Daily Telegraph reported recently is that in the last seven years a thousand churches have opened in this country, and at the same time 450 Starbucks have opened".
Luke says quite rightly; "Sounds like the tide is turning to me!". I have to confess my heart leaps at the sound of this. We have lived so long in days of struggle and weary toil where it seems like the gospel doesn't bear much fruit at all. Can it really be true? Is God beginning to move in response to the prayers and cries of His People? He promised He would! I think I will be fighting Luke to get to the Brighton conference bookstall for this must-have!
Desiring God has interviewed John Piper in four outstanding parts, regarding the upcoming conference with speakers Drs David Wells, D A Carson, Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll as well as John Piper himself (possibly some of the best theological minds around all together?!). The interviews are an amazing opportunity to once again step into Piper's amazing mind and sense the passion that runs through him to see the glory of God exalted once again.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Building somewhat on yesterday's post re: Parachurch organisations, I was very struck by this quote of Ern Baxter's from the first message in the series: "The King and His Army". Triumphalistic restorationism? Or a dead-cert reality?
"And in 1975 while we all believe in the Second Coming of Christ, the Holy Spirit is bringing a new dimension to bear upon us and we are feeling a new weight of glory in our souls that is saying to us, “You have missed something and you have replaced it with something that it was never meant to be replaced by. That I don’t intend to solve the world’s problems by the Second Coming of My Son but I intend to solve the world’s problems by incarnating My Royal Self in the corporate Body of My Son and causing the kingdoms of this world to feel the impact of the corporate Christ as it blazes forth in the authority of King David for David the prince shall sit upon the throne in the hour of Messiah’s best victories and it is through the Church that God is going to demonstrate and vindicate the purpose that He had in Jesus Christ.
The Church is not going out like a scared rabbit or a dog between its legs. But the Church is going out in a blaze of glory as God vindicates His Son and declares that the resurrection was the ultimate victory of humanity over Satan and self and sin and the old Adamic society”. (*applause*).
Sunday, May 14, 2006
When I read the latest copy of the Newfrontiers magazine, I suspected that it would provoke some reflections, and hence therefore greatly enjoyed reading Mark Heath's thoughts on "Parachurch Organisations". Briefly summarised, Mark finds some agreement with author Steve Tibbert in that training is best done in the local church, questioning whether people with a heart to go to the nations should be handed to missionary organisations and finally agreeing that execeptions such as Wycliffe Bible Translators do exist. Mark has five questions - two of which caught my attention. He asked; "Are we ready to take over (from parachurch organizations) ... at the moment I doubt it". And secondly he noted Newfrontiers passion to plant churches. This however has an inevitable result: "But this means many churches with small memberships. There is no way that they can sustain a fully comprehensive set of ministries".
These are valid thoughts. The answer I believe is to be found in Terry Virgo's 'Firstline'.
He wrote; "After searching the Scriptures, we found she has an absolutely vital role to fulfill. The local church should be a strategic centre for the advance of Christ's kingdom on earth ... Church planting was strategy number one".
That suggests to me that church planting will ever and must always be our number one passion - that is the high calling upon us. But as Mark noted, excessive church planting without due care and attention given to making the church the strategic centre for the advance of Christ's kingdom will indeed result in many churches with small memberships. While church planting must always be our strategy number one, I would ask - should the task of those staying "at home" be to make the sending church that strategic centre? And does that task of making the church a strategic centre involve more than the more well-known serving gifts such as passing the offering bowl round or collecting up the tea cups?
Terry wrote: "Those who love the local church and see it's vital significance in God's strategy will regard the local church as the key centre for such things as worship, prayer, prophecy and healing. The more local churches engage in these God-given ministries the quicker we shall return to Biblical norms and extra-curricular activity won't be required!".
So I want to approach Steve Tibbert's article trying to envisage possible answers, rather than trying to see the questions.
1. Is There a Place For Learning from Other Strategic Centres?
Terry Virgo actually asked this question during his "Half Time Team Talk" at the Leadership Conference in Switzerland in 2003. He noted that Newfrontiers, as yet, has not produced "mega churches" on the scale of some and asked whether lessons could be learnt from them. I realise that the very term "mega church" raises negative connotations - I think when that term is used, it is most accurately summarised by something Terry said; "Once the local church discovers her true calling, she rises to her true significance. She is a dwelling place for God's Spirit. She is corporately the light of the world, a city set on a hill which cannot be hid". Or in other words, the issue is more than numbers. The question is are those numbers being trained and nutured to become fully mature disciples, themselves capable of discipling, rather than just seats in pews?
Can we therefore learn from the biggest church in the world - Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea? Two things impressed me as I read their website. Their passion for prayer is as famous as the church itself. And secondly while Dr Yonggi Cho is the senior pastor, perhaps what is less known is that he has 527 pastors assisting him and 100, 113 Elders and Deacons!
I remember my pastor, Dr Jebb went over to Korea to visit Dr Cho's church and came back hugely impacted by the passion for prayer that he saw there. Prayer Mountain is renowned over the world and this spirit of prayer is something that we desperately need to learn if we are to see strategic centres come forth from which to send church planters out.
Doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences aside, my point is that there surely is much to be learnt from the wider body of Christ. And who can deny that Yoido is a church that cannot be hid?
2. Is there a Place for Raising Up New Ministries Within the Local Church?
The most recent edition of "Connect" - the Newfrontiers newsletter - carried a report from John Hosier on behalf of the Ephesians 4 Forum. It was interesting to read that he gathers theologians to address key issues head on. But the glaring word that stood out to me was "twelve of our teachers". Twelve? In a family of churches the size of Newfrontiers, are there really only twelve teachers that can be gathered? Now I could have misunderstood the situation and this forum may deliberately be small, but this spoke to me of the need for the raising up of ministries to see this "strategic church" come forth.
It was Jesus Christ who said that the fields are white for harvest but the labourers are few. Is there any excuse for coming across a church of frustrated members who are not being used, and a leadership team who keep a tight reign on opportunities to exercise spiritual gifting? I don't think so - not if we are to see these strategic churches come forth.
Mark concluded: "Personally, I think that we will never be without the need for groups of Christians working together with common goals across local church boundaries, and because of this, there will always be organisations that in some sense will be "parachurch"". This may be true, but I can't accept that this is an excuse to not try and see the church become that strategic centre that Terry Virgo envisaged. Can it be really true that God blesses His church by raising up gifted individuals to work in parachurch organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators or UCCF and not bestow gifted individuals in the local church? No that cannot be. Surely the question is rather, are pastors and elders using those gifted individuals in their churches to their best?
So in conclusion, I don't think we will see parachurch organisations made redundant in the near future, unless God moves mightily in revival across His church. But I do think the argument that the New Testament church saw much that is done in parachurch today, accomplished among their ranks - i.e social action for the poor. I do think that is a model that we should be seeking to get back to. But we will only see this done when we get Terry's words into our hearts - that church planting is indeed strategy number 1. But those who don't go must be all involved in making the sending church, a strategic centre - a city set on a hill - a light that cannot be hidden.