The Sweetness of Election

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“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” || Jer. 15.16

It may be offensive to our humanistic sensibilities that we only delight in God because of His grace, but it is a theme which runs thickly through the Scriptures. The child of God, humbled and made happy through the Gospel, knows something of this reality.

The prophet Jeremiah found the words of God, or rather, they “were found,” implying that he didn’t find them of his own accord. God’s words became to him “a joy and the delight” of his heart. The underlying reason for this is conveyed in the final portion of the verse before us.

“…for I am called by Your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”

The LORD had chosen him, called him by name, and this was seen to be the wellspring of his newfound delight in the Word of God.

This should be a profound mystery and a balm for our souls. “In love He predestined to adopt us as sons…” That is how Paul puts it. (Eph. 1)

This startling and astonishing truth establishes our hearts amid all the uncertainties of life and gives us assurance amid all the contrary voices of this crooked age. As George Herbert says, it makes us the “trees whom shaking fastens more.”

Bask in this truth, child of God. Let its rays warm your soul. Let its balm mend your injured soul and tend to your bruised conscience. Let it humble your resistant soul. Let it quiet your anxieties. Let it still your fidgeting. Let it wash away the dross of the fall. Pray for “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” along these lines, that you may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” This truth will enable you to be “strengthened with His might” in your inner-man.

As surely as He loved you from eternity-past, He loves you now, and He will love you for all eternity, “world without end.”

“…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” || John 13.1

“I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.”

Gleanings from Psalm 19.7-14

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I would like to reflect upon Psalm 19.7-14 in this paper. There is much to glean from it for our nourishment in the faith.

“The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul…”

In v. 7 we see that the “law of the Lord is perfect.” This is a theme often neglected by Christians. On the one hand, Paul the apostle noted that “Christ is the end (aim) of the Law.” He is the point of the Law, the very fulfillment of the Law. But this does not mean that the Law is a deplorable thing as it is often assumed.

Paul also declared the Law to be “spiritual,” and elsewhere, “holy, just and good.” Though Romans and Hebrews reveal the limitation of the Law to justify us, thus declaring the necessity of the Gospel, they do not demean the Law of God. In this Psalm we see that God’s Law is perfect, and as it issues from God Himself, it revives the soul who is humbled before Him.

“…the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple…”

When we prayerfully contemplate and receive the testimony of the Lord about Himself we find ourselves upon the surest footing. What He says of Himself is immutable, glorious, unbending. Though He often surprises and brings us to awe, it is never because He changes. His testimony is sure, quite unlike ours. Though we consider ourselves wise, we are fickle and changeable creatures. His sure testimony dismantles our purported wisdom and brings us to the “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ,” the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” There is deep-seated rest in being made simple before the immutable God.

“…the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart…” 

The “precepts” or “decrees” of the Lord are right, and this is of great comfort to the one who trusts Him. There is no “shifting shadow” in Him; no dubious claims, no suspicious motives. He is perfectly accurate and perfectly just in all His statements and requirements. The Psalmist says that this truth “rejoices the heart.” The servant of the Lord, whose hope and trust are in God, will be brimming with happiness over the fact that God has given him boundaries and promises regarding the life of discipleship. Lawlessness and relativity breed chaos and unrest. The just and true “precepts of the Lord” bring happiness to the heart, and this is a very precious thing “to those who are being saved.”

“…the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes…”

That which God commands is pure, and brings holy enlightenment to the eyes of Israel’s singer. The “Enlightenment” of the 18th century did little more than expand the horizons of how human depravity grapples for the vanity of self-expression. It dressed up fallen wisdom with frills for philosophical pageantry and the perpetual parade of human narcissism.

The “enlightenment” of Psalm 19, or Ephesians 1 as another example, is a holy enlightenment: One which reveals the character of God and the commandments/ways of God. It opens blinded eyes and frees us to behold and treasure Him. All of His commands are in the spirit of John 11, when Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. By His command we emerge from the tomb of unclean thoughts and vain presumptions, and into the purity and sweetness of seeing and hearing the God of our salvation.

“…the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever…”

The fear of the Lord, which is “the beginning of wisdom,” is both “clean” and eternal, according to the Psalmist. This should be encouraging to our weary souls, which are fraught with the subtle drone of a thousand worldly fears. To fear Him is to be cleansed from all other fears, and that precious fear endures forever. It will always be present and increasing in the hearts of the Redeemed.

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread; Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on thy head.” -Cowper

To fear God is to be freed from all other fears, extricated from their stranglehold, purified from the effects of the world, the flesh and the devil. How clean is the fear of God! It is our portion through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, “accomplished and applied” to us on the basis of faith. Therefore, as it is summed up in in the infinite God, it endures “forever.” Let us see to it that we fear Him.

“…the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.”

The Lord has rules, and He is no legalist. We must consider a few things about this.

1. The rules are the Lord’s rules. They are not the rules of kings. They are not the rules of popes or potentates. They are not the rules created by men for government or religion. He is the eternal God, and He has rules.
2. His rules are true. They are not flimsy. They are not optional. They are not relative to time, culture, and opinion. They are true. They do not change color or shape, for their foundation is God Himself. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne,” and true rules issue from that holy place, yielding rewards and consequences for the obedient and the rebellious.
3. His rules are “righteous altogether.” They are not merely accurate and immutable, though they are certainly characterized in those ways— they are righteous. We have lost the savor of the Biblical word “righteous,” and we need to recover it. It is “more to be desired” than “much fine gold,” for only righteousness can put the universe right again.

God’s rules are righteous, for they issue from His righteous Being. This is why they are more desirable than find gold and sweeter than the “drippings of the honeycomb.” They come from God— the King of all kings and the desire of the nations.

There are two more reasons given to explain the preciousness of God’s rules.

1. “By them your servant is warned.”
2. “In keeping them there is great reward.”

The Psalmist cherished the warnings of God, which communicated God’s mind to him and instilled in him the fear of the Lord and a hatred for sin and error. And he clung with hope to the promise of God, that “great reward” would be given to the one who keeps and obeys the “rules of the Lord.” Do we share with the Psalmist this kind of relishing in the rules of God in both Testaments, those rules which are applicable to all men?

We suffer from the twofold problem of living in an “anti-rules” society as “anti-rules” men. The problem is both in our hearts and in our surrounding societies. But the Psalmist had learned to delight in the King of the ages and in His rules. They protected him from deception and gave him certitude and hope in the reward which is to come. A true disciple will find himself increasingly agreeing with the Psalmist along these lines. Are you?

“Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.”

The Psalmist acknowledges that we cannot discern our errors on the basis of our own assessment. We need God’s Word. We need His Spirit. We need the community of faith around us. And we need His cleansing mercies to declare us innocent even from “hidden faults.” We need Him to keep us back from “presumptuous sins” and to break their “dominion over” our lives. So he prays for this, and we should too, on every stretch of our pilgrimage in the faith.

In God’s answer to the prayer of the Psalmist comes the assurance of forgiveness and belonging in His house. If God will help us discern our errors; if God in Gospel-mercy will declare us innocent even from hidden faults; if God will preserve us and keep us from presumptuous sins which would otherwise master us, “then” we would be “blameless and innocent of great transgression.” This demands our submission and obedience, but we cannot do this by our own discipline or wisdom. We need Him to expose us, to justify us, to keep us, and to complete the work in us. In short, we need Him. Therefore, we must pray as the Psalmist prayed.

This is a glorious Old Testament Gospel-prayer, one which speaks to our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification. The Ancient of Days has given His ultimate and final answer in His Son. We must behold Him to be changed, and we can be assured that “all who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved” to the uttermost.

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

In 2 Cor. 5.9 Paul stated, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” As a man in Christ he voices the same desire as the Psalmist does in our final verse. The Psalmist longed for his words and the very deepest thoughts and intents of his heart to be “acceptable” or “pleasing” to God. In calling the Lord his “rock” he acknowledges that he has no other source or foundation than God Himself. He cannot please God without God. In calling him his “redeemer” he relishes in the promise of God’s faithfulness to save us from all that displeases Him.

So we come full circle. The Laws of God, the precepts of God, the rules of God are perfect and sweet. The one who looks unto Christ and finds Him to be the rock and the redeemer may be found blameless before Him, wrenched loose from the powers of self-deception and worldly chaos— his cup running over with everlasting happiness in Him.

This is the portion of the redeemed, “and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The Indispensability of Apostleship

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“…the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things… gave apostles…” || Eph. 4.10b-11a

There is much confusion aswirl over the subject of apostleship, especially as it relates to the question of whether or not it should be seen as an ongoing ministry in our day. Many would say, “Apostles ceased to be when the last of the 12 died.” Others would say, “Apostles ceased to be when the canon of Scripture was closed. We don’t need apostles today because we don’t need more Scripture written.” Others, especially in Charismatic and semi-Charismatic “missional” circles might say, “Apostles exist today. They are the movers and shakers, the ones gifted to build ministries that have profound impact on the Great Commission and give aid to churches on various levels.” Still others would say, “Apostles exist today and have authority to govern regions and to oversee multiple churches and ministries.”

To be sure, confusions abound and opinions often escalate into fiery debates with regard to the issue of apostleship. My aims in this article are to survey two of the primary modern viewpoints (the first of which is not so modern, but is still prevalent today), to consider objections to modern apostleship and distortions to modern apostleship claims, and to offer what I believe to be a view of apostleship that is grounded in Scripture and is therefore indispensable to the life and mission of the Church today.

So, the cat’s out of the bag. I am convinced that apostleship is meant by the ascended Lord to be an ongoing ministry in our day— indeed, an ongoing ministry until the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession” returns. What this means may be surprising to some of you, but if you give thoughtful consideration to what I’m presenting here, you will find that none of the ideas I hold forth are either novel or extra-biblical. I am convinced that apostleship is indispensable chiefly because I hold to “Sola Scriptura”, not in spite of my reverence for and conviction in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.

This raises a host of questions from various angles, of course, and I haven’t the time here to raise and address all of them. Let me focus on what I believe to be the two primary errors when it comes to addressing the issue of apostleship.

The Cessationist View

The Cessationist view, specifically with regard to apostleship (usually including a view that prophets too have ceased to be), is the view that with the death of John the Apostle, or more commonly, with the closing of the Canon of Scripture, there was no longer a need for apostles, as their primary role was to unfold the mystery of the Gospel in an authoritative sense. In their view, the mystery had now been disclosed (which is true according to Rom. 16.25), the Scriptures had been written, and since this was the primary role of the apostles, none were any longer needed for the ongoing mission of the Church. I agree with the first part of that statement (that Scripture-writing apostles had an authority unique to themselves in relation to the first post-resurrection, post-Pentecost proclamation of the Gospel), but differ with the last part (that apostleship ceased altogether with the completion of the canon), as we will see.

I have some sympathies with those who hold to this view, though in the last analysis I find it to be unbiblical. My sympathies lie not in an agreement with the view itself, but with the fact that it is often held by brothers and sisters who are concerned to hold to the supremacy and uniqueness of Biblical revelation. Their fear of present-day apostles (and prophets) often issues from a high view of the Bible, coupled with the assumption is that the apostolic ministry is a foundational revelatory ministry. If claims of modern apostleship are made, so might there be claims of new revelations which are not in keeping with the testimony of Scripture. I understand that fear, and while I believe it is misguided for many reasons, I commend them for being jealous to guard the truth of the Word. This leads us to some of their objections to present-day apostleship. For brevity’s sake, I’ll give a few short thoughts in response to each one.

Primary Objections Made by Those Who Believe Apostles Have Ceased

I. “We don’t need apostles today because Scripture has already been written.”

I don’t believe the writing of Scripture was ever meant to be definitive of apostleship or exclusive to apostleship. There is much I could say on this point, but here are some reasons why this point is erroneous, if even well-intended.

a. Not all apostles wrote Scripture. In fact, most of the apostles named in the NT didn’t write Scripture. Only a few of the original 12 wrote Scripture, and of the other 10 names associated with apostleship in the NT, only a few were given that authoritative role.

b. Not all the authors of Scripture were apostles (nor were the remainder all prophets). This is glaringly obvious when we survey the whole of the Bible.

I needn’t belabor this point. There is no way to make a case from the Bible that biblical authorship was either definitive or exclusive to the role of apostleship. Simply put, some apostles were chosen and uniquely empowered by God to write some of the books in the Bible, but not all apostles were given this task, and the majority of the men chosen by God as instruments for the penning of Scripture were not themselves apostles. We conclude confidently that the authorship of Scripture was neither definitive nor exclusive to the role of apostleship.

II. “Jesus chose the twelve, and Paul was the only other apostle chosen, since he also had ‘seen the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 9.1) Any claim to apostleship otherwise is a presumptuous thing at best, and at worst, a destructive kind of deception.”

This point, which has cemented into a rather common tradition, is purely based on historical and biblical ignorance. Here are a few reasons it cannot be true:

a. Within the NT text itself, there are at least 10 men besides the 12 directly called ‘apostles’ or named amongst the company of apostles (c.f. Acts 1.26, 14.14; Gal. 1.19; 1 Cor. 4.6, 9; Rom. 16.7; 1 Thess. 1.1, 2.6; Phil. 2.25). Even if you seek to argue that some of these were comrades of the apostles but not really apostles, you cannot make that case for all of them, as many of them are explicitly called apostles in the texts provided. There is no sound hermeneutical approach, no commendable exegesis of these texts which would lead us to conclude that some, if not all of the names mentioned herein were not known as apostles in the early church.

b. Ephesians 4.11ff never specifies that the work of the apostles and prophets will only continue in the sense that their Biblical testimony is foundational for the Church. Is it foundational? Without question. Any deviation from the Biblical prophets and apostles should be feared and counted as error. But nowhere does the text teach or even imply in the slightest sense that the ongoing equipping and upbuilding of the church is the work of pastors, evangelists, and teachers only.

It is an acrobatic feat of interpretation (not without some sleight of hand) to pluck apostles and prophets out from this text, or to define them as first-century ministries, while the other ministries are to be ongoing.

I understand why many have concluded this, and I sympathize with the well-meaning intention to maintain a high-view of Scripture, but I think it eventuates in a diminishing of the Bible at the end of the day. It is a twisted exposition of Eph. 4.11 and other Biblical texts regarding apostleship. Often this is done unconsciously or because of theological traditions that go back many centuries. Nonetheless, a poor interpretation of Scripture and the elevation of opinions and extra-biblical traditions is the antithesis of a high-view of the Bible, not the reverse.

It should also be noted that none of the apostles, even the ones who wrote Scripture, were in and of themselves immune to error or short-sightedness. None of the them were Jesus. It is the Scriptures that are infallible, not the men who were used of God to write them. Even within the Scripture itself, we see occasional disagreements amongst the apostles. These do not prove the fallibility of the Bible, but rather the fallibility of all men. Our faith is in God and His Word, not in the apostles as men.

c. Paul speaks about false apostles in his epistles (1 and 2 Cor. especially), and Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for finding false apostles to be false. Why does this speak to ongoing apostleship? Because the ground of their falsehood was not as it is modernly claimed, that, “No other apostles besides the 12 and Paul were meant to be given to the Church.” Rather, the ground of their falsehood was their lack of Christ-likeness, their poor doctrine, their lack of true servanthood, their poor grasp of the Gospel, and on and on.

In other words, they were disqualified from being counted as apostles because they had not been shaped and sent by the Lord in a manner which pleased His heart and was in keeping with His word. The fact that there were false apostles meant that there ought to be true sent ones, and there is no biblical reason to assume that this ought not to be the case today. There are fakers today, and the need for true apostles is of paramount import still.

d. Lastly, regarding 1 Cor. 9.1. It is often said that since Paul had “seen the Lord”, a Christophany was required for one to be called as an apostle. 1 Cor. 15.3-11 may seem to contain an even stronger argument for this idea. The 12 had seen the risen Lord, and Paul encountered Him on the road to Damascus, and later while praying in the temple. Many conclude from this that a visible/audible encounter with Jesus is a qualification for apostleship. Is that what Paul was saying? I don’t believe so.

I do see how this could be a point of confusion, but I believe Paul actually answers his questions within the texts themselves. The point of 1 Cor. 9.1 is to give defense of his character and role to the Corinthian church to undergird his exhortations regarding food sacrificed to idols (ch. 8), and the divine right of an apostle to receive financial support from the churches to which he was rightly related (ch. 9). Thus, he asks several questions. “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”

Paul’s point here is not to give a list of qualifications for apostleship, but to defend his apostleship for the sake of building up the Body of believers at Corinth. He is not saying, “All apostles must have visibly seen the risen Christ.” In any case, though the 12 all saw him, and some of the other apostles in the NT may have been present when the 500 witnessed the ascension, we have no record of them seeing Christ in this way for certain. Nor does the Book of Acts or the other Epistles mention a Christophany as a qualification for apostleship.

The primary point of 1 Cor. 15.3-11 is indeed the supremacy of the Gospel and the reality of Christ’s resurrection, for which reason I believe he’s mentioning all of those who saw the Lord in His resurrected state. One more reason I don’t think Paul was putting forth a Christophany as a qualification for apostleship is that Paul was not the last apostle called and sent in the NT, but he does say, “last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” Some of the apostles mentioned in the texts above were not only called after Paul, a few of them were even led to the Lord and discipled by Paul. Timothy and Titus being a few examples.

Not only that, but Paul mentions the 500 others who saw them, the vast majority of which probably never became apostles. At least we have no record of them all being sent in the apostolic sense. Was Paul’s main point that apostles must have a Christophany, or that Christ in fact had risen from the dead, and that there were many witnesses to the fact? I believe it is the latter, even though the second half of the text mentioned does touch on Paul’s apostleship.

There is, however, a qualification for true apostleship given in 1 Cor. 9, and it is not the requirement of a Christophany. It is found in vv. 1b-3:

“Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me.”

In other words, true apostles will preach the Gospel, make disciples, and plant and nurture churches. Their seal of approval is seen in the churches which grow out of their planting and watering. God gives the increase, and the fruit of the Spirit vindicates the authenticity of the apostle.

Many may claim to have Christophanic experiences, and they have throughout Church history. Some of them are true, I believe, but many (I would assume most) of them are false. But you cannot fake the establishment and growing in grace of a family of believers, who previously were bound in darkness, sin and idolatry, and who through the faithful preaching of the Gospel are now serving the living God, growing in holiness and humility, treasuring and obeying the Scriptures, and above all the Christ of Scripture.

Much more could be said of the Cessasionist view, but that will have to suffice for now. Let us look to another erroneous and rather widespread view regarding modern-day apostleship.

The “New Apostolic Reformation”/Charismatic “Third Wave” View

I have already written much more than intended, so I’ll be as terse as possible here. You can find out more about this online or through a number of publications, though I must say, these are rather shark-infested waters.

On the one hand, much of what you’ll see from the so-called “N.A.R.” (and spin-offs from it) will be troubling, and in my estimation, it should be troubling to us. On the other hand, many who seek to criticize modern-charismatic emphases on apostleship often do so in venomous, slanderous ways, usually smearing all charismatic believers into the mix with leaders and teachings that the whole lump of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches wouldn’t be in harmony with.

It is a task quite daunting to wrap your mind around this, and in some ways it is impossible to know the whole and unprofitable to spend too much time on it. There are so many variations and streams that fall in this category that we must be careful not to caricature or misrepresent true brothers and sisters in our pilgrimage for truth. This is crucial, for there are many faithful Pentecostal/Charismatic men and women of God all over the world, many of whom have suffered greatly for the faith, and have led many sons to glory. It is an error to lump the Pentecostal/Charismatic church in with the false apostleship we’re speaking of, even though most of those who claim apostleship are found within P/C churches and movements, generally speaking. There are likely a great host of servants in the nations who are continuationists, most of whom will never be known on the popular level, whose ministries are very much in keeping with true apostleship in terms of their character, their suffering, their doctrine, and their fruit. This must be acknowledged as we think about the aberrations.

That said, let me note just a few of the erroneous assumptions that have been espoused, especially over the last 20 years or so under the auspices of C. Peter Wagner and his colleagues. I name him here not to demean him, but to say that since his books and teachings were quite public and influential, the errors which sprung from them need to be addressed rather than ignored. It is an unfortunate thing that many Charismatic leaders have been unwilling to address these things, but I am convinced that many false claims to apostleship have been made as a result of these teachings, and the subject is too precious in Scripture for us to permit these distortions.

I. The Idea of Apostles as CEO’s or Regional Overseers

Within the N.A.R., apostles came to be defined as men (and women) with remarkable organizational gifting, often smacking of a Bill Gates type of leader- one with outstanding abilities to influence and build large ministries. It was even claimed from time to time that men like Steve Jobs had an apostolic calling, but failed to fulfill it because they did not follow the Lord.

Certain leaders were branded “apostolic overseers” of a whole cluster of churches or ministries, especially as they were gifted to execute things administratively. Portions of Paul’s epistles were cherry-picked to affirm this, often devoid of their real meaning and context, and these men were seen as problem-solvers, movers and shakers, and this came to define apostleship within the movement. The NT idea of a gospel-grounded, relationally-oriented, sacrificial servant-apostle was scarcely emphasized, and an unbiblical model emerged. I am sure that there were exceptions to this within the movement, but by and large this seemed to be the flavor of things.

One would be hard-pressed to assume that Paul the apostle, the prototypical “sent one” to the Gentiles, was anywhere nearly as impressive as these figures. 2 Cor. 10 bears this out in no uncertain terms. His strength was in the weakness of his features and skills, in many ways, God’s power being perfected and magnified through his weakness and his sufferings. The fragrance of worldly success is not the “fragrance of Christ,” which is marked by humility and holiness, godly sorrow and joy unspeakable.

II. The Idea of “Apostolic Alignment”

I find no pleasure in digging this one up, in fact it pains me, but I find it necessary to address. The stakes are too high to leave it ambiguous.

It became common within this movement to speak of “apostolic alignment”, the process by which Dr. Wagner and others of his company would “align” other ministries with themselves, appointing them as new apostles, prophets, or influencers of other kinds, through the laying on of hands. It is Biblical for men to be appointed to different roles of leadership by the Church through the laying on of hands, but within the N.A.R. this happened on rather unbiblical and unreal grounds.

One dramatic case of this was seen on the international stage when Todd Bentley of the “Lakeland Revival” was “apostolically aligned” in a ceremony in 2008. Dr. Wagner and many of his colleagues were present at this event and gave sanction to it. It would soon be exposed that Bentley was engaged in an immoral relationship, which itself disqualified him from being a leader in the Body of Christ, not to mention to more grandiose claims that were made in the ceremony about him being a prototype for all future evangelists and revivalists. Despite the claim of real apostolic activity in this “alignment”, there was evidently little to no real accountability or viable relationship involved in the process. There was no context by which his character and doctrine could be assessed. But Paul told Timothy not to lay hands on men too hastily, lest we “share in their sin.”

This display, on a wide public platform, could only be seen as destructive and false, and the usage of “apostolic” language only served to make it all the more tragic. This kind of “Apostolic alignment” is a “Saul before the David,” an Ishmael rather than an Isaac, and as much as the N.A.R. might have cried for it to live, it cannot live as something pleasing unto God. However much the language of “apostolic” is used, it is by its very nature the antitheses of New Testament Apostolicity, which is characterized by a radical jealousy for the Name of God, a deep-seated submission to the Scriptures, a profound love for the Body of Christ, and a fatherly/brotherly kind relatedness to all who are appointed to various roles of leadership within the Church.

Too much goes on without being “in the light” in these kinds of ceremonies. It might be said that it’s more akin to Bill Gates appointing a new regional director at Microsoft than it is to the healthy appointing of a leader in the church. In fact, it may be even less accountable and honest in certain ways. This should not lead us to demonize others, but rather to tremble at the manner in which we are relating to one another, and the way in which we are appointing leaders.

The aftermath of the Lakeland incident was tragic and multi-layered, but it is not uncommon (though often much less public) in such circles.

These examples ought to be enough to compel us to look for light from the Scriptures. Wagner was, after all, correct in concluding that there ought to be (and are) apostles in the Church and in missions today. In fact, he was right about many things. But the errors which came out of this movement are more grave than we can perceive, and a humble and prayerful return to Scripture is our only hope of recovery.

For the last section of this article, I would like to focus on the Meaning, Purpose, and Indispensability of Apostleship.

The Meaning of Apostleship

If we would rightly grasp the meaning apostleship according to the Scriptures, I suggest that our understanding of it must be both de-mystified and sanctified.

Apostleship De-mystified

This speaks primarily to the cessationist view of apostleship, and its ripple-effects throughout church history.

The apostles of the NT were not super-heroes, nor were they elite saints whose role it was to write the Holy Bible. As noted above, some of them did write some of Scripture, but this was not their role as a whole. We need to be freed from Romish influences which Popify Peter and posterize Paul. These issue from a low view of the Gospel.

These men are our brothers. They were redeemed sinners who were still being sanctified throughout the time that the Book of Acts events transpired on beyond that. The Lord laid His hand upon them, shaped and sent them, but they remained men— trophies of grace, not icons to memorialize. Peter and John as well as Paul and Barnabus charged their would-be worshippers not to exalt them, “for we are only men like you.” Of course, the original twelve had a unique kind of apostleship (Mt. 19 bears this out), and the authority to write Scripture does not continue today. Any claim to apostleship that includes new Scripture being written is patently false. But even among false apostles today, the claim to this authority is few and far between.

We would not claim to worship the apostles, but we have mystified their lives, as if they were saints of a higher class. In fact, they were not. They may have been more Christ-like than us, but the possibilities of grace were not confined to them. The same Gospel which saved them has saved us, and the same Spirit which sanctified them is yet sanctifying us. This is one of the main points of NT apostolic teaching. The apostles meant for us to follow in their train, not to exalt them as ends in themselves. We are to look upon them, and seeing through them, to behold the One who means to conform the whole of the Church to His image.

The Canon of Scripture is superior in perfection and authority to all else that is taught in Church history, but again, it’s authorship is not exclusive to the role of apostleship. The Biblical Gospel is the authoritative Gospel, whether it came through Paul the apostle or Isaiah the prophet, or Luke the Physician.

The apostles of Scripture were not to be seen as the source, but rather to be seen as those who were ever pointing to the Source, serving as an example to the saints in character and doctrine, and a specific example in role to apostolic servants/missionaries in every generation. We must de-mystify them in this sense. We cannot “follow Paul as he follows Christ” if we think that he was built of better dust than we.

No, Paul’s dust was the same as ours and his Christ is the same Christ as ours, so long as we are submitted to the Scriptures and drinking of the same Spirit. The “chief of sinners” was a precious servant of Christ, shaped by the grace of God, and held forth as a pattern for us, not as an ivory-tower monument, untouchable and unreachable. Let us not belittle the grace of God by mystifying who the apostles were.

Apostleship Sanctified

This speaks more to those who would claim that apostles are for today, but whose view of apostleship is not in keeping with the picture laid forth in the Scriptures. Of course, this applies to the cessationist view as well, as all of our false assumptions regarding apostleship need to be purged and brought back to the foundational ground of Scripture.

I address here the more charismatic views because I believe that the word “apostle” has been cheapened and made too common by their claims. While I’m eager not to explain apostleship as something that has ceased, or something that is so elevated that we could never think of its recovery in our day, I’m equally leery of the cheapening effect that false claims to apostleship have had on the church and its mission.

If one of the roles of true apostles is to appoint elders/pastors who qualify to serve in accordance with 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, 1 Pet. 5 and Acts 20, then it goes without saying that apostles themselves should bear the same kind of character, doctrine, and spiritual wisdom which is required of elders/pastors on a local level. Elders/pastors are not merely men of elite intellect and morality, as if they’re qualities issue from themselves, but they are humble and godly men who have been shaped over time by the faithful hands of the Potter. Apostles must be the same. Thus Paul exclaimed, “You saw what manner of man I was in your midst.” “I am what I am by the grace of God.”

We must return to understanding apostleship in accordance with the example we see in the New Testament. Therefore, unless we are basically gripped with and grounded by a Biblical vision of apostleship (and we all “see in part” on this), our view must be “made holy” or sanctified, that we might rightly pray for and equip sent ones with the help of the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Purpose of Apostleship

Why did the Lord ascend on high and give the gift of apostles along with the other gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4.11? Let us look to the text itself for the answer:

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” || Eph. 4.12-16

Simply put, along with prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, apostles were given by Christ to equip the saints for the work of service, and to build up the Body of Jesus in the nations.

They are sent to proclaim the Gospel where it has been named and where it has not been named (Acts 2, Rom. 15), to make disciples (Mt. 28), to impart spiritual gifts (Rom. 1, 2 Tim. 1), to plant and nurture churches (Acts 20, 2 Cor. 11.28), to appoint elders (Acts 14.23), and to do this in an ongoing manner until the fullness of Christ characterizes the Church and every people group has been penetrated with the light of the Gospel (Mt. 24.14).

Apostleship is synonymous with true missionary work. Missions work that is devoid of the character, doctrine, and ways of NT apostleship is by definition non-missional. Claims to apostleship that are not in keeping with the missionary labors of the NT apostles are by definition sub-apostolic.

Apostles and Missionaries, from a biblical vantage point, are one and the same (a study of the Greek and Latin from which we derive “apostle” and “missionary” reveals this). Many have claimed apostleship cheaply, and others have claimed to be missionaries with little or no apostolic character. We cannot settle for this, saints. We must de-mystify and sanctify the meaning of apostleship/missions with the help of the Scriptures.

I could say much more along these lines, and I aim to do just that in my forthcoming book “Grace and Apostleship: Gleanings from Paul’s Missionary Vision”. But this will have to suffice for now.

The Indispensability of Apostleship

In light of these things it should be seen that apostleship is indispensable to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, which is the establishing and building up of local churches amongst every tribe and tongue.

Rather than spelling this out in great detail here as I aim to in my book, let me point you to the Scriptures for understanding and inspiration about the character of apostleship and its indispensability for the hallowing of God’s Name in the earth, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

We cannot be the church nor fulfill our mission without true apostles. Let us look to the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession”, the One who shed His blood to purchase men from every tribe. Let us “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 

Is apostolic ministry indispensable? Is it needed today?

“If we’re thinking of an ‘apostle’ in Biblical terms, that is, a ‘sent out one’, with a ministry that’s really establishing God’s work where God’s work is either absent or extremely weak (which is really what the apostles were doing in a general sense) then yes, we do need God to raise up such signal servants, who will draw the attention of both the churched and the unchurched people to the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ, sometimes at great sacrifice to themselves. Because they are so taken up with Christ… Christ is being preached. In that sense we need to pray, in our different towns, cities, countries… that God will raise up such clear voices— individuals whose ministry will be trail-blazing for others.” || Conrad Mbewe, Pretoria, South Africa, October 14th, 2010

Let us return to the Scriptures. Let us return to prayer. The Gospel is too precious a message, the destiny of men too ponderous, and the Name of Christ too holy for us to “sit at ease in Zion.”

Book Reviews for March 2018

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“Might in the Scriptures: A Memoir of Adolph Saphir, D.D.” by Gavin Carlyle was published in 1893, and is the only published biography of Saphir to my knowledge. You may be able to find an antique copy of it on Ebay or elsewhere, and other versions of it are readily available online.

It is 475 pages long and well over a hundred years old, so unless you’re interested already in Saphir or in the issues surrounding his life and ministry, it may seem like too much for you to get through.

However, I would encourage you to take it up.

Adolph Saphir (1831-1891) is unfortunately not well known in most Christian circles today. In his day, especially in England, he was a well-known Presbyterian pastor, preacher and author. His contemporary fellow London-pastor and friend Charles Spurgeon called him “the godly Saphir,” “the Biblical student, the lover of the Word, the lover of the God of Israel.” He was also a close friend of the famed Jewish-Christian author Alfred Edersheim.

Saphir was esteemed by the Church in his day as a true man of God, a kind of modern “Apollos”—- both brilliant and eloquent, and marked by “the sacred anointing” of the Holy Spirit. His preaching was a demonstration of Lloyd-Jones’ oft-quoted phrase: “logic on fire.”

He was born-again in 1843 (along with his father) through the ministry of the Jewish Mission of the Church of Scotland (of which McCheyne was a chief leader). He served the Lord faithfully in various contexts, through several pastorates, and in a host of church/missions conference settings. This he did through much trial, through much sickness, and with a sporadic but long-term bout with anxiety and depression. We can learn much from his teachings and his life, as well as from the fruit of his ministry and the conflicts he endured. This book contains a rich selection from his teachings, books and letters, and a thorough survey of his life.

After almost 50 years of service to the Lord, in 1891, he and his wife were taken ill with influenza and bronchitis (on top of his long-term battle with typhoid fever). She died on April 1st, and he passed into eternity on April 4th, after suffering from angina-pectoris. Physicians said that he literally died of a broken heart, which highlights the deep and precious relationship that he had with his wife Sara. His last words were from the Scriptures, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness.”

Most of his books are available online either as antique copies, facsimile reprints, or in digital format in one place or another. I highly recommend reading them all. In my judgment, no man outside of the Scriptures had a better grasp of the mysteries of the faith, the glory of the Gospel, the authority and beauty of the Bible, the importance of the Church, the Person and work of Christ, and the issue of Israel as it pertains to the history of faith, and the eschatological testimony of the Biblical prophets. He had flaws as all men do, but I would argue that few men understood and proclaimed “the whole counsel of God” as he did.

I’ve been gleaning from Adolph Saphir’s books since 2001, when another Jewish believer and friend named Art Katz (1929-2007) recommended them to me. They have been a consistent source of encouragement, conviction, and biblical grounding in my life ever since.

It was a real joy finally to read in such great detail the life behind the writings/expositions, and I commend it to you.

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This little book by Douglas Wilson (95 pages) is a dynamite stick of practical wisdom for parents and children alike. It especially highlights the father’s responsibility and role in raising his sons to pursue a woman according to Scripture, raising his daughters to honor God with their lives, and preparing them to be grounded in terms of what kind of man they ought to be eager to enter into covenant with— and what their father’s place is in that pilgrimage.

I cannot recommend it enough. I finished it with tears. Tears of regret (wishing I had read it and put its truth into practice when my children were young), tears of joy (which resulted from newfound clarity), and tears of hope for the future of my children and grandchildren.

I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that the Biblical wisdom in this book, and the helpful teaching which accompanied it, have been used of the Lord to change the way I think about fatherhood, parenting, marriage, and courtship. What a gift to the church. You should get a hold of it, and imbibe it.

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This 144-page book on biblical eldership was excellent. I so appreciate the brothers at 9 Marks and the good work they’ve put their shoulders to for the sake of the Church.

This book continues that precious work. Up until now, I’ve recommended Strauch’s “Biblical Eldership” as the best book on the subject, and it’s still must reading, in my opinion. But this newer work by Rinne may have become my first recommendation. It’s readable, convicting, encouraging, and clear.

I’ve served as an elder in a few local churches for about 15 years (and read or listened to many books and teachings on eldership), and I found myself freshly convicted and helped by what’s laid out in this book. If you’re an aspiring elder, currently serving as an elder, or would like to understand eldership better as a member of your church, this book will be an invaluable resource for you.

Man’s Fable Pulverized: An Easter Poem

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Life? Pitch blackness. A labyrinth, spark-less,

Lungs expand & contract, breathing in and out darkness;

All men beleaguered, bruised reeds, battered race,

Enmeshed in sin, culpable, Oh, grave dwelling place.

———————-

Meaning? We look for it, examining our past,

Sands of time, waters of hope, slip from our grasp.

Rusty toys, tools, and philosophies pacify;

We purpose-less ones tread on, we dissatisfied.

———————–

Stability? We forge veneers for our bodies of death;

Offering up cheers, hollow, vague, half-breathed,

Self-acclaimed masters of fate, yet so mastered;

By time which keeps marching, marching every day faster.

————————-

Truth? It’s a stranger to us, though presumption,

Compels us to claim and voice it, with gumption;

But our truth is spineless, with no heart, no splendor,

It’s relative, combustible, consumed as mere tinder.

————————–

Beauty? For us, it’s a thing double-blurry,

Our objects are fading, our sight plagued by hurry;

We squint to behold it in all the world’s wonders,

Which do briefly thrill, but still leave hearts asunder.

—————————-

All we like sheep have gone so far astray,

All we like fools have not numbered our days;

All we like the Serpent have coveted a throne,

All we like ruptured cisterns, unknown fractured stones.

All we like insecure kings craving honor,

All we like orphans, disoriented we wander;

All we like convicts, trampling Heaven’s Law,

All we like narcissists, with no God-ward awe.

All we like cowards, saving face, loving self,

All we appearing honest, but liars in stealth;

All we like tight-fisted consumers have grappled,

To preserve our great fable, our gold-plated shackles.

————————-

What then could mend this great tear in our souls?

What could make clean, make full, make whole?

What defines life, grants meaning, makes stable,

In real truth and beauty, capsizing the fable?

Gethsemane.

There in the garden One Man was betrayed,

He shouldered our malaise, and with bleeding pores prayed,

From loud cries and tears He emerged resolutely,

Knowing, feeling the cost of Redemption acutely.

————————

Then kissed by a fable-lover, one not unlike us,

Who treasured not Christ, but preferred money-lust;

The Servant-King was bound by the chains we procured,

His back whipped to ribbons, thorn-crowned, He endured.

Golgotha.

He ascended the Hill, the Place of a Skull,

Where spiked to the Tree He would taste wine & gall;

It was bitter, though not nearly as harsh or sour,

As the wrath He would meet with in that holy hour.

————————

The Messiah of Israel mocked by His kinsmen,

He was clothed with the blood of Atonement, red crimson;

While Rome’s soldiers watched over Him blind-hearted,

Incapable of seeing sin’s sea being parted.

—————————

Only this God-Man could raise this cup well,

Only this Lamb could confront powers of hell;

Only this Mediator could bear sin and death,

He drank down the cup, and surrendered last breath.

—————————–

“It is finished!”, He had cried, Oh, ineffable finish,

The fable we’d lived in and loved, now diminished;

The fountain now opened, decisively, surely,

The sweet tide of mercy, surged powerfully and purely.

——————————

Love vast as oceans and skies and all heavens,

Our sins, pulverized, even seventy times seven;

Fears, ills, and wants now eclipsed by His face,

Our orphan-state? Erased. Our offense? Not a trace.

——————————–

As saving blood dried on Golgotha’s dark slope,

As Pharisees gasped at the veil rent by hope,

Bewildered disciples hid in their inner-rooms,

Their warm-hearted Master now cold, still, entombed.

Resurrection Day.

And then, at the Father’s command angels stirred,

The seal broke apart, the stone rolled at His Word;

Indestructible life then warmed the frame,

Of God’s precious Son, the Lamb who was slain.

—————————

He rose once-for-all from the throes of the grave,

To make friends from foes, to make sons from slaves;

Once delivered to death for the sin of all nations,

Once raised in power for our justification.

—————————–

He crushed death to purchase dead men from all tribes,

Silenced the accuser’s feverish diatribe;

For this Man of sorrows had joy set before Him,

To ransom the many, to cleanse and restore them.

——————————-

He lives! He speaks! Let proud hearts be baffled,

The mystery’s plain-written, the fable’s unraveled;

Let those who believe Him, with joyful hearts burning,

Make haste to proclaim Him, until His returning. ——-

 

He came. He spoke. He died. He Rose. He ascended. He is coming. He is worthy.

Amen and amen.

-by B.A. Purtle

Good Friday by George Herbert

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Good Friday by George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633)

O my chief good,
How shall I measure out thy blood?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?

Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one star show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?

Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
Or cannot leaves, but fruit, be sign,
Of the true vine?

Then let each hour
Of my whole life one grief devour;
That thy distress through all may run,
And be my sun.

Or rather let
My several sins their sorrows get;
That as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sin may so.

Since blood is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloody fight;
My heart hath store; write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sin:

That when sin spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sin may say,
No room for me, and fly away.

Sin being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sin take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.

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Book Reviews for February 2018

Here are the books I read for February. I read a few I didn’t intend to read, and left off reading Baxter’s “Reformed Pastor” and the new release “Reading Paul with the Reformers.” I aim to get to those later. Here are some brief reviews on the ones I went through.

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Iain Murray’s “J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone” (Banner of Truth 2016) is very much worth reading. With the appendices it comes to 259 pages, and is valuable in my estimation for these reasons:

1. There aren’t many bio’s of Ryle available, so to get a glimpse into the life and thought of a man so precious in Church history is an invaluable blessing.
2. This is probably the best reason: It is well-laced with quotations and clips from Ryle’s body of writing, along with other sources. There is, indeed, little better outside of Scripture for robust, clear, powerful teaching than that which came to us through Bishop Ryle.
3. For those interested in the history and future of the Church of England, it provides a unique perspective, especially regarding the condition of Churchmen in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It raises questions about the history and future of Anglicanism, and much of this is beneficial for evangelical believers in any context.
4. Murray’s overview of the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Ryle is inspiring to faith and godliness, as well as instructive for ministers (and believers in general) with regard to pitfalls we ought to watch for.
5. It leaves one with a stamp of jealousy for a faithful clinging to Scripture in the face of unbiblical expressions of Christianity. This jealousy for God, the Word, and the Church characterized Ryle’s life resplendently. He was indeed a “man of granite with the heart of a child,” unflinching and unswerving with regard to the truths of Scripture, but largely charitable and patient, even with those who spoke ill of him for being so “archaic” and “puritanical.”

The one weakness I would note, and others may count it a strength, is that the amount of material covering issues pertaining to the Church of England, the ecclesiological and political wrestlings it experienced, were to me a bit overwhelming and made for less-than-interesting reading, at least for those segments of the book. These details will be of great value to some, particularly to those interested in the finer details in the history of Anglican polity. Perhaps that will be of greater interest to me in the future.

For me, much of it became information that I was simply eager to get through so that I could get to what I felt was the real meat of the story, and to Ryle’s own words, which were almost entirely crisp, convicting, faith-building, and practical.

Again, others will likely be helped greatly by details that seemed to me superfluous. In this season of my life, they are the least desirable aspect of the book as far as a solid edifying read is concerned. That said, even in those portions valuable thoughts are given and important questions are asked that the reader may dwell on to much profit.

J.C. Ryle loved the Church of England and was a faithful churchman in her midst until his dying day. But he did go to his grave with outstanding concerns for her future, which the book does well to convey.

Along with the history of his many engagements with the wider Church of England, it is remarkable to see the fruit that was born through the writing of his tracts and books, through his preaching ministry, through his investment in global missions, and maybe especially in the truly pastoral convictions he carried in terms of praying for and shepherding the flock of God on a personal level. This he instilled in the ministers he trained and mentored, and it is sadly a rarity in many Christian contexts. We need a recovery of it today, and Ryle’s example may help us along in that.

One of the most saddening parts of Ryle’s story was the unfolding of his son Herbert’s increasingly modernist views of Scripture and Church. The 2nd appendix lays this out well (along with other portions of previous chapters), and it leaves us with a longing to do all that we can in prayer, exhortation, tenderness, and faith, to deliver to our sons and daughters, in word and deed, the same faith which was handed down to us from the apostles of old.

Overall, the book was excellently written, edifying, informative, and challenging. So many of Murray’s thoughts and exhortations, which are sandwiched between quotes and footnotes, are very worthy of prayerful consideration and response as well.

For these reasons, I would encourage you to read this book. May the Lord use it to help us along in His plan to make of us a people “Prepared to Stand Alone” in the midst of a wavering generation, content with “jellyfish” theology, pragmatic ministry innovations, and that ever-present itch to appeal to humanistic views of truth and justice, an itch which plagues every nation today. This book will help to steel-ify your spiritual spine as you seek to give witness to the crucified Lamb, Who “was, and is, and is to come.”

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Spurgeon’s classic work, “Lectures to My Students” was a real joy to me. I’ve recommended it to aspiring pastors and missionaries for a few decades, but I’m slightly embarrassed to say that while I had read significant portions of the book, maybe amounting to half of it, I had never been through it from start to finish until now.

Now that I have, I can recommend it all the more heartily. It is chock-full of spiritual and practical wisdom, mini-expositions of passages, and a great wealth of pointed exhortations which flow from the well-spring of Spurgeon’s own experience as a man, a pastor, and a preacher.

It could well be called Spurgeon’s “Lectures on Preaching”, as more than half of it in my estimation addresses issues pertaining to the proclamation of the word. He is not bound by rigid definitions of exposition, but he cherishes exposition as central to preaching. He offers helpful thoughts on extemporaneous preaching, different ways in which we should give ourselves to study and prayer, and even the practical elements of how to train and use our voices and how not to use our voices.

One of the refreshing things about the book is how consistently it is laced with a godly kind of humour (pardon the British spelling). I found myself belly laughing on several occasions. It is not the kind of trite or cheap humor modern Americans might be accustomed to. It is what I’ll call a serious and profitable humor, which leaves the Christian preacher with a sense of how foolish much of our thinking is, and how we ought not to position ourselves to fall into the categories Charles often uses as the butt of his jokes. It is helpful humor, like unto the kind that Jesus sometimes uses in the Gospels.

Sometimes Spurgeon offers lengthy counsel that flows from his opinions, and as in all books, it is to be weighed with Scripture.

All in all, for a pointed, biblical, readable, practical, convicting, encouraging book on what it means to be a Christian, a preacher, and a pastor, this book should be in our top five, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful gift to every churchman.

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Adolph Saphir’s “Christ and the Church: Thoughts On the Apostolic Commission” is a wonderful read. I’ve never been let down by Saphir (I think he’s my favorite author), and this book was no exception to that experience.

As any book on the Church should, he spends the early parts (first 2 chapters) giving expression to the glories of Jesus Christ, who is the foundation of the Church. Few men have so poignantly and doxologically given articulation to the person and work of Christ, and as in his other books, he does this masterfully in “Christ and the Church”. Like Paul, Saphir would not have us to think that the Church is built upon itself (“we preach not ourselves…”, but rather upon the foundation which has already been laid, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

He goes on to give expression to the phenomenon of the people of God in the Old Testament, how central the Name of God was to their existence and faith, and how this becomes yet more concentrated when the Name of Jesus is revealed to and declared through “the church which is His body.”

His work on the obedience of faith in the New Covenant community is exceptional, and there are valuable and rare ecclesiological points made in the subsequent chapters.

All in all, for a baptism in Christ-centered faith, leadership and church-life, this book is to be highly recommended. Upon my rather small platform of influence, I’m happy to say as I have for years, “By all means, get Saphir in your library!” He is too little known, and would be of help to all who desire to know and please the God of Israel.

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This book on E.M. Bounds by Lyle Dorsett (also the author of a great bio on Tozer, among others) was very good. To be honest, I went through this one much quicker than I would’ve liked, so I didn’t retain what I could’ve. I’d like to go through it again in the future.

I am among the thousands of believers who have benefited greatly from Bounds’ writings on prayer, and I was eager to learn more about the man who wrote so powerfully, especially on that subject.

Dorsett does a fine job of surveying his life and giving us a glimpse into the experience of this remarkable man. One of the surprising details of the story is his involvement in the Civil War, which will be as much of a moral wrestling match to some readers as it was for Bounds.

I recommend you checking this book out. You’ll be enlightened as to Bounds’ life, and even better, you’ll be encouraged and challenged as a disciple by his example and words.

The Only Foundation of True Ministry

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The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. || Luke 10.17-20

In this remarkable passage we have one of the most Gospel-centric statements in the whole of the Gospels. It speaks to the bedrock issue of our identity in the Atonement. It behooves us to pay it mind, and to think about its implications in our day-to-day lives, and in the ministry to which we give ourselves.

The Lord of the harvest had sent out 72 of His disciples at the beginning of the chapter. He articulated the greatness of the need in Gospel missions, the ripeness of the harvest fields, and He bemoaned the fewness of the laborers, leaving us with the charge to pray for the raising up and sending forth of workers. Then He sent these disciples to proclaim the Gospel and to drive out demons in the towns to which they would go.

The 72 “returned with joy,” declaring that demons were subdued and driven out in the Name of Jesus. There was legitimate joy in their hearts, the joy of being vessels in the carrying out of the works of God’s Kingdom. Yet, the Lord of the harvest gives them a startling response, one which ought to be central to our consciousness as those laboring in Gospel mission, but one which, like these 72, is often lacking in the consciousness of who we are as His servants.

According to Jesus, they were not to rejoice mainly in the works that were wrought through them, but rather to rejoice in the glory of their adoption as sons— as those whose names had been written by God in heaven.

Robert Stein, in his commentary on Luke, speaks to the meaning of the Lord’s exhortation:

This picks up the “joy” of Luke 10:17 and points out that their true joy should arise not from missionary accomplishments but from their eternal salvation.
….

That your names are written in heaven. This metaphor for eternal salvation is found in the OT, the intertestamental literature, and the NT. “Are written” is a divine passive meaning God has written your names in heaven.

[Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 310). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]

I want to say that it is indeed “upon this rock” that the Lord means to “build His church,” and only upon this rock-solid foundation will the “gates of Hades” be incapable of “prevailing” against Her.

It should be obvious to the child of God that this present world system, with all its sinful allurements, should no longer be accepted as part of our identity. We are to “reckon” ourselves “dead to sin, and alive in Christ,” and no clearly-thinking Christian would claim that a life given over to sin befits the life of discipleship. We will be battling our own sin until the Day of the Lord comes, but we are battling it because it doesn’t define us any longer. We are disciples, learning to crucify the world in our hearts, and to walk in the way of the Master. This should be clear to us.

Less clear, often, is the fact that we ought to be battling against our tendency to interweave the good things (even things so good as driving out demons in Jesus’ Name, or being engaged in various forms of ministry) with our identity at the root-level. Bearing fruit in ministry is a great cause for rejoicing, but if it is the primary ground of rejoicing, something has been twisted in our understanding of the faith.

Jesus said not to give primacy to the works that are being wrought through us, but rather to rejoice at the deepest level in eternal salvation; that is to say, that we have become sons and daughters of God through the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Here is a simple way to think about it, one which is so simple that I’ve taught it to my children.

Our identity in the Gospel has vertical and horizontal implications.

Vertically, as we look unto Christ, our root-identity has become that of “sons” and “daughters” of God. Horizontally, our root-identity has become that of “brothers” and “sisters” in the family that we’ve been adopted into.

The Scriptures are so thickly threaded with this truth that I haven’t the time to recite all the verses that speak to us along these lines.

Suffice it to say, whatever I may be engaged in with regard to ministry, even God-given ministries that are biblical and line up with my own unique giftings, they will all become distortions if I am not living as a son in the vertical sense, and as a brother in the horizontal sense.

This puts the Gospel-premium on my relationship to the Father through Christ, and my relationship to the church through Christ.

Therefore, the evidence of my failure to “rejoice” that my name is “written in heaven” will show itself by prayerlessness, neglect of Bible-reading, a disregard for the many commands of Scripture pertaining to life and godliness, and the neglect of healthy relationship within a local Church. I cannot be truly rejoicing in the Gospel if these things are neglected, for they are evidence of the fact that I am no longer seeing myself as a son who walks circumspectly before the Father, and a brother who walks closely with the family of God. Without this reality, there is no stamp of God’s blessing upon my ministry, as a missionary, a pastor, a theologian, or any other role.

I cease to see God as my Source through the Gospel when I neglect communion with Him, and fellowship with His people. I begin to see my “calling” as a preacher, a writer, a church-planter, a worship-leader, a missionary, ministry director, or whatever it may be, as being superior to my grace-given calling as a son before God, and a brother to the saints.

Being a Gospel-grounded son infuses me with the grace of Christ, and being a brother in the context of the life of church keeps me footed on the self-same foundation, and guards me from deception. Yes, even from deceptive ways of doing all sorts of ministry.

Variegated kinds of destructive things have occurred in the name of ministry where these foundations are lacking. That’s because the Lord of the harvest never called his people to do things in the “name of ministry,” but rather in the “Name of Christ,” on the foundational truth that our names have been written in Heaven on the basis of the Atonement. Moral collapses, doctrinal deviations, and misrepresentations of church and mission have issued from the want of this reality.

We are simply not living as disciples of Jesus when our ministries take the preeminent place in our souls.

When there is a fracture in the vertical life-line of sonship, we can literally do nothing aright, for “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

When there is a fracture in the horizontal life-line of brotherhood, even the noblest of ministries become a distortion, for the Lord means to “build” His “church”, not merely to perform a litany of detached and multi-faceted works, however much we might seek to establish them in His Name. Nothing can be established in the Name of the Head in the neglect of His Body. Perhaps the most deceptive form of this neglect of the church is when we bear every kind of ecclesiological language (the priesthood of all believers, biblical eldership, Gospel-centric fellowship), but lack the corresponding reality which belongs to those precious truths. We may, even as the Pharisees of old, have an intensive focus on the truths of Scripture, while being devoid of the grace and life from which those truths ought to find their issuance. We may honor the Head with our lips while our hearts are far from Him, and this is something which we need to be on most diligent guard against.

The Head cannot be detached from the Body. If our works are not building His church, neither are they truly exalting the Head. If we are not experiencing life as members in His Body, neither are we experiencing life as it issues from the Head. When the vertical and horizontal fruits of our belonging to Christ are lacking or being circumvented, we are swimming in sub-apostolic  waters, and sharks abound therein.

So what can be said of your works, saints? Are you rejoicing that demons are subject to you; that your sermon was hailed as great; that the missions work is expanding and doing much good; that your writings are being heralded as ground-breaking; that your theology is ship-shape and confirmed as orthodox by men you esteem; the list goes on. Many of these things, if not all, could either be an expression of God truly bearing fruit in your life, or an expression of that you have become one who is operating in deception.

The question is, are you vitally related to God through your adoption as a son, and are you vitally related to the local church for the ongoing growth of a true rejoicing in the eternal salvation that has come to you in Christ?

Are you living, thinking, praying and laboring as a purchased son? Do the Christians around you truly know you as a brother— in accountability, vulnerability, and godly responsibility in their midst? Or are you more known by your particular gifting or position in the world or in ministry? If the latter, you are standing upon a faulty foundation, however fruitful your ministry may appear to be, with all of its calculated external characteristics. A ministry of that kind may be alive by way of reputation, but God will only reward finally what has been wrought by His Spirit and carried out in accordance with His Word. Jesus would have none of this for the 72, and He will have none of it for us. His love for us is too great and too true to permit it.

No wonder that the most fruitful of apostles in Church history “determined to know nothing among” the saints “except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” He wanted their identity to be founded upon and issuing from the only faithful and immutable foundation. He was eager to preach the Gospel to the sinners and saints, for only in the Atonement can the saints receive and enjoy the familial identity of sons and daughters before God, and brothers and sisters in His family.

Look at your life and ministry in light of the exhortation that Jesus gave the 72. Find and tear out the threads of inferior rejoicing that you’ve permitted to define your identity and drive your decisions and ambitions. Let the cross of Christ bring you to the place Paul boasted in, that cross “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to the world.”

Your joy will be fuller and fuller as you grow in an identity of sonship, and share intimately as brothers and sisters in the grace and truth of the Gospel with “the church, which is His Body.” On this foundation He means to build His church in the nations, and by His zeal He will accomplish this. May we be found in the company of souls who know the preciousness of this truth, carrying out His work upon the only true foundation of life and ministry.

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. || John 1.12-13

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Let love of the brethren continue. || Heb. 13.1

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Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you. || 1 Pet. 1.17-25

Israel, the Church, and the End of the Age: An Eschatology Seminar

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Greetings, saints.

We have an upcoming eschatology seminar which will take place on four consecutive Sunday evenings at Bellicose Church.

Here are the dates (and subjects to be addressed), times, and the location:

Dates:

November 12th:

“Unto All Who Love His Appearing”: Why Eschatology is Not a Peripheral Issue, but Is Central to the Faith

November 19th

Covenant Pre-Millennialism: A Christ-Riveted, Pre-Millennial, Post-Tribulational, Gospel-Grounded, Israel-Focused, Godliness-Nurturing, Prayer-Stoking, Missions-Inducing, Joy-Increasing, Church-Engaging View of the End of the Age (I aim in this session to give an overview of what I believe to be the harmonious testimony of Scripture with regard to the consummation of the age and the summing up of all things in Jesus Christ.)

November 26th

“Look At the Nation Israel”: The Meaning of Israel, the Theology of Israel, the Crisis of Israel, and the Glorious Destiny of Israel

December 3rd

“What Sort of People Ought You to Be?”: The Character and Role of the Church in the Eschatology of Both Testaments

Time:

7:00 P.M. (all sessions)

Location:

Bellicose Church
207 Westport Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64111

All are welcome. Invite as many friends as you’d like. The doors will open at 6:45 P.M. Coffee and other beverages will be available. Childcare will also be available, space permitting.

We’ll begin promptly at 7:00 P.M. with a hymn, followed by a teaching and a Q & A session with myself and Brandon Quezada. The sessions will be over at 9:00 P.M. (including the childcare), but I will stay longer for those who wish to spend a bit more time dialoguing and praying. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at bryanpurtle@mac.com.

I’m very much looking forward to opening the Word with you, saints. The old poet George Herbert gave us the wonderful line, “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises.” I’m praying that we will share in a rich and fruitful time together as we look to the One “Who was, and is, and is to come.” 

Affectionately,

BP

Treading Wisely Upon Wilderness Grounds

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Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. || Colossians 4.5-6

Paul issues a charge to the saints in Colossians 4 with regard to how we ought to carry ourselves in a world which “lies under the power of the evil one.”

Very simply, he tells us to “walk with wisdom toward outsiders.” Every believer needs to hear this exhortation. We are not to take lightly our goings and doings in the daily life of discipleship. We are regularly rubbing shoulders with “outsiders,” in our neighborhoods, as we’re running errands, meeting with blood-relatives, and in the natural cycles of employment and entertainment. Outsiders are everywhere about us, and we are to seek the Lord for “wisdom” as to how we see them and relate to them.

We are too casual about this, often seeing men only as a means to our immediate benefit, counting anything beyond utility as an inconvenience and hassle, and this reveals our lack of Godly wisdom. Too often the saints can be found mingling with the world and being stained by their garments, or swinging to the other pendulum-end by disregarding and avoiding them while we tend to our busy-headed life pursuits. The former dilutes and invalidates the brightness of our witness. The latter makes witness impossible, creating a kind of isolated Christian bubble, which ends up being un-Christian altogether.

Our lack of Godly wisdom in dealing with unbelievers has two root maladies which Paul addresses here, and he calls us to repent and reconfigure them, that we might become wise, seasoned with holy salt, and enabled to answer the labyrinth of worldly paradigms with the rock-solid truth of Jesus Himself. We live in a world that is languishing for want of truth, and only the redeemed of the Lord can address it rightly. Are we walking wisely, that we may do it?

The first root malady has to do with how we manage our time. Paul tells us to make “the best use of the time.” That is to say, we must “take every thought captive,” that every moment of the day might become a window through which the glory of Christ freely shines. We must establish the secret place of prayer and Scripture reading firstly, and secondly, we must learn the art of abiding in Christ throughout the day, and prioritizing all things rightly beneath the canopy of His rule. This will affect everything, from our theology, to our responsibility to the local church, to the ways in which we handle our finances, our families, our work ethic, and our management of all earthly pleasures (including food, entertainment, smart phones, etc.).

The second root malady he addresses is the manner of our speech. We are called to let our “speech always be gracious.” That is to say, we must learn to bridle our tongues, and bring them into submission to the Scriptures, and to the very Spirit of God Himself. There are times when we should be silent, and there are times when we should be speaking. Knowing how to discern these times, to be dependent on the Spirit and submitted to the Scriptures, will determine whether or not our speech is “seasoned with salt,” preserving in our hearts a love of the truth, and flavoring our words in such a way that men might “taste and see” the goodness of God in our conversations with them.

Only this kind of wise-walking amongst outsiders will equip us to “answer each person” in their respective mindsets and worldviews. Only this kind of gracious, salty living and speaking will bear ample witness to the crucified, resurrected, and soon-coming King.

Are you walking in this kind of wisdom, or are you neglecting the command to make the most of your schedule and to be careful about how you listen and speak to others? Your answer to this question may mean the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation for the “outsiders” around you. Indeed, it may mean the difference for your eternal destiny as well, for the child of God who is truly justified will find that his soul is on the road to being sanctified in these ways. If we refuse to grow in this, it may be that we do not belong to Christ at all— that we are “insiders” by way of reputation only, living cultural “Christian” lives which can only lead to the Lord’s fatal pronouncement, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.” We must “work out” our own salvation “with fear and trembling,” and as we do, we become vessels for the salvation of “the many” who otherwise could only be called “outsiders.”

This is our privilege and call. Let us be washed afresh and warmed anew in the grace and holiness of Christ, and give ourselves to the wise-walking which the apostle encourages. Thus may we constitute a “city on a hill” which cannot be “hidden.” One which faithfully casts Gospel-light upon “outsiders”, so that a “people dwelling in darkness” may see the “great light,” even Jesus Christ the Righteous. May we walk in this wisdom, and may it be said of our neighborhoods and cities, even of Israel and the nations, that “those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”