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.”

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. Gordon Fee gives another angle on this in his commentary on 1 Corinthians:

Along with 15:8 this question establishes two things: (a) Paul believed that his experience on the Damascus road was more than a mere vision. For him it was a resurrection appearance of a kind with all the others—to be sure, after the ascension and therefore out of due season (15:3–8). (b) But since others who saw the Risen Lord did not become apostles, what most likely legitimized his apostleship was the accompanying commissioning. Although he does not say so here, in Gal. 1:16 the revelation of the Son of God is accompanied by its purpose, “that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (cf. 15:8–11, where the resurrection appearance is followed by discussion of his apostleship).

Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 395). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

In other words, the qualification for apostleship came with the Christophany, it wasn’t the Christophany itself. It was rather, that when the Lord appeared to him He simultaneously commissioned him as an apostle. This is an important observation, and distinguishes Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord from the encounters of other believers who never entered the apostolate.

e. Lastly, in connection to the above point, let us think about 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. This is an unbiblical idea. Our giftings in the Church are Spiritual- and unregenerate men cannot have them.

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.

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

Deviating from the Thread of the Knowledge of God

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“We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” -1 Jn. 4.6

“….even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” -Gal. 1.8-9

There is a thread of the knowledge of God which runs through the Scriptures, and which we need desperately to cling to in these last days. It is the accumulated revelation of God, beginning in Genesis, running right through the Patriarchs, Judges, and Prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

It continues on in the New Testament record, finding it’s revelatory climax in Jesus Himself.

The foundational apostles, having a firm grasp on that thread, found themselves in a continuum with the knowledge of God set forth by their progenitors. What the prophet of old saw in part, the apostle viewed in fuller measure, but that fuller measure never ground against the revelation of God given before. Isaiah and Ezekiel’s visions were not trumped by Paul’s, but rather summed up in Christ. “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.” The apostle’s teaching did not replace the revelation of God given in the Hebrew Bible (after all, Paul charged the Gentiles to read the prophets!), it brought type and shadow to manifested definition through the Gospel of Jesus.

In obedience to the Gospel call, the apostles poured out their lives to convey and deliver that precious knowledge of Christ to the Gentiles. On the shoulders of that great Hebraic history and sacrifice, the Church finds its foundation, and out of the sap which comes from Israel’s tree, we “live, move, and have our being.”

When the Gnostic heresy was affecting the community to which John wrote, he was gripped with concern and addressed the Church along these lines:

These men do not have a hold on the holy thread which has been given through Christ; namely, the intimate knowledge of the God of Israel, which was delivered to us by the full-orbed demonstration of His wisdom on the Cross. They deny His flesh-and-blood witness, and thereby prove that they are false. They didn’t come from the apostolic fellowship, they have a hold on some faulty version of faith, and are operating in a spirit of error.

When the Judaizers were infiltrating the congregations in Galatia, Paul was equally concerned, though the impostors were of a different order than the Gnostics. In essence, he charged the Church thusly:

The Gospel that we delivered to you was not the concoction of men. It was given to me by way of holy revelation, through a vital encounter with the God of Israel. Before my confrontation with the Messiah on the road to Damascus, I thought I had a hold on the thread of the Lord’s doctrine, but I was on a windy path of religiosity that had impressive forms, but no viable union with Him in truth. The Messiah Jesus appeared to me, transformed my heart and view, and introduced me to the true thread of the knowledge of my father Abraham’s God. Now, why would you make room in your hearts for those who would proclaim a so-called Gospel that is totally out of touch with the foundational word that you received from me? It may have manners of formality and superstructures that seem spiritual, but its foundations are faulty. They have not been laid by foundational servants who are in that holy continuum, but by men with agendas. Flee from these “different gospels”!

We look upon the congregations in Galatia and wonder how they fell prey to the Judaizers. We look upon the ones to whom John wrote, baffled that any of them would even consider the strange ideas and ruminations of Gnosticism. But it behooves us in these days, with a shortage of foundational servants in the Church, to raise very serious and applicable questions.

Do we have a firm grasp on the “thread” of the knowledge of God, as He has set Himself forth in the Scriptures?

Are “different Gospels”, that the apostles of old would hardly recognize, taking center stage in our congregations?

Do we find ourselves in a continuum with the prophets and apostles of the Scriptures, or is our “revelation” of Jesus and the Gospel a caricature of the true and foundational revelation once and for all given?

Certainly, we all “see in part” and “prophesy in part”, but my own heart is alarmed these days, as I’m hearing “different gospels” promulgated, even in evangelical and charismatic congregations. “Gospels” that seem to have a hold on some other thread of knowledge- one that grinds against the revelation of God given through the Scriptures.

I’m hearing statements like this:

“There’s no need to preach repentance in the church. I refuse to preach repentance to people who are already repenting.”

“God is not the author of any suffering or any natural disasters. In fact, because all of His judgment was fulfilled at the cross, He does not act in that way any more. That was Old Testament.”

“The Gospels were actually written to support Paul’s epistles.”

“Maybe you’ve been spending too much time in Jeremiah. Maybe you’ve even spent too much time in the Gospels. Jesus was not a grace preacher. He was a preacher of the Law. You need to get out of the red letters for a while and get into Paul.”

The man who made the latter statement declared, “I may be a little too Pauline for you all…”, to which I responded, “Actually, he is not being Pauline at all!”

Dear saints, I am not into “watchdog ministry” or looking under every rock and behind every bush for the slightest spasm of doctrinal error. I am not one to find pleasure in naming names or exposing faults in others to my own elevation. But my heart is breaking over the kinds of things I’m hearing these days, and I’m told by itinerant preacher friends that they are running into this all over the nation.

….there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master [and His Lordship] who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. -2 Pet. 2.1

This applied to Peter’s day, and it will apply in an increasing measure in the days leading up to the Lord’s return. The Lord has never been fond of mixtures, and we are seeing a staggering kind of mixture in our day. It is likely an old mixture, but it is being repackaged and is spreading in an unprecedented manner. It’s a profession of Jesus as Savior, but a denial of Jesus as Lord. A profession of Jesus as “good”, but a denial of Jesus as “the Judge of all the earth.” A profession of Jesus as compassionate, but a denial of Jesus as the One who calls “all men to repent.”

Dear saints, it is not either/or. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” “Behold then the kindness and severity of God…” If we are unwilling to grow in the knowledge of God as He has set Himself forth in the Scriptures, we can be sure that we do not have a hold on the right “thread”.

More than ever, we have come to a time when an “utterness” toward the Lord is the matter of life and death for the Church and for Israel. We’ve got to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints,” lest we find ourselves swimming in the polluted waters of “different gospels,” which will have great appeal to men, while leading them away from the reality of of Christ, though their movements will likely bear the name “Jesus.”

The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading. -Lam. 2.14

We need to be cognizant of the fact that as the final pages of history are turned, there will be demonstrations of power that are from the Lord, and demonstrations of power that are from below. The safeguard against falling prey to “different gospels” is to be found in the secret place with the Lord, to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, and to walk in humility one with another in a continued pursuit of the true knowledge of God.

The world is evil, the times are waxing late, and the glory of God has departed from the church as the fiery cloud once lifted from the door of the Temple in the sight of Ezekiel the prophet.

The God of Abraham has withdrawn His conscious Presence from us, and another God whom our fathers knew not is making himself at home among us. This God we have made and because we have made him we can understand him; because we have created him he can never surprise us, never overwhelm us, nor astonish us, nor transcend us.

….The God of our fathers wills to be the God of their succeeding race. We have only to prepare Him a habitation in love and faith and humility.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, Ch. 8, God’s Infinitude

I do not want to leave you with a note of hopelessness, for He has made Himself overwhelmingly available to us. No person has more copiously poured our their affection or condescended so far to reach you. If we seek Him with all our heart, we “shall find Him,” and when we get a hold of the “thread” there is no greater place of holy delight, “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” All the more grievously does it strike me, that many would wallow in habitual sin and a “different gospel”, when the glories of the Man Christ Jesus have been made available to all who would come.

We must dig deeply into the Scriptures. We must be found in the place of prayer. We have a privileged calling to make a demonstration of His wisdom to the “principalities and powers of the air,” to “move Israel to jealousy,” to take the Gospel of glory to the “uttermost parts of the earth,” and ultimately, to “hasten” the day of our glorious Lord’s return.

Dear saints, I say again, there is nothing more crucial than coming into a knowledge of God as He is, and not as we ourselves have conceived Him to be.

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. -1 Jn. 5.21

The Near Extinction of Honor

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“‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect [fear]?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, ‘O priests who despise My name.’ But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’” -Mal. 1.6

We need to be leery of any view of the Fatherhood of God that does not lead us into a holy esteem for the Lord. Likewise, our view of His Lordship ought always to be accompanied with a sense of His kindness, lest it become stoic and lifeless. Our view of His Fatherhood must be attended by the quintessential attribute of His nature; namely, His holiness, lest we find that we are engaged headlong in activities performed “in His name,” but altogether devoid of His honor. The prophet commences with an “oracle of the word of the Lord,” declaring, “I have loved you.”

How did Israel requite the Lord for His gracious love? From the love of God the prophet now turns to the ingratitude of His people. God has treated the people of Israel as a son; have they honored Him as Father? They have retained the relationship of servant to Him as Master; have they rendered Him due reverence? The rightful respect due God has been withheld, due mainly to the ungodliness of the priests against whom the charge is directed.

(Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets; Moody Press, 1990 ed. pp. 251-252)

It is a rarity for the “rightful respect due God” to have a place in the consideration of modern saints. With the advent of smart phones, instant internet access, and a thousand other forms of entertainment and distraction, the idea of being “still” and knowing that He is God is taking on an archaic character. The everyday bustling believer is being (or has already been) reduced to a brand of humanity that can only respond to, and receive from, that which is quick, easy, and colorful. The priestly distinctives of waiting and honoring and revering the One on the throne have reached the status of taboo, even if we would refuse to admit it.

We have learned to settle for the offering up of blind, lame, and sickly sacrifices, and the robust faith of the apostles and prophets of old is nearly extinct in the Western Christian experience. We need daily to be reminded that:

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; 
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; 
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. -Ps. 19.8-9

Many Christians are being raised with an understanding of God that is tragically bereft of the kind of reverential honor that the prophets and the old Levites bore before the people. There is something tinpot and cheap about our hurried ministries and perfunctory thoughts of God. They do not ring with the life-giving note of the fear of the Lord, and unless we acquire that, we can be sure that however busy we might be with work, play, or some ostensible expression of ministry, we will not bear the necessary priestly distinctive: “holiness unto to the Lord.” Our witness will be reduced to humanism and our ministry to mere religion.

Our great task is not first to perform externals, but to bear the knowledge of God as He is before the people, and that knowledge cannot be obtained but by a people in earnest pursuit of the Living God. If we give slipshod attention to Him, however feverishly engaged in ministry we might be, He will be as a Father without honor. We need to be arrested by the reality that He will have nothing to do with man-centered ministries, humanistic theologies, or garbled definitions of priestliness and sonship.

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not not pleased with you,” says the Lord of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” -Mal. 1.10

We need to be acutely aware of the fact that it is possible to function in a distorted kind of faith that caters to our spiritual preferences, but is in no way pleasing to the Lord. It is even possible for this infraction and offense to be committed “on My altar” or under the auspices of Christian ministry.

Leon Morris wrote that Malachi gives attention to “laxity among the priests,” and this may well be the characteristic condition of believers in modern times, whether Evangelical or Charismatic. The laxity is not in activity, but in earnestness after God. The Levites had deviated from the priestly covenant, and in like manner, the Church has largely deviated from “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”

‘My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts. So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as your are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction. -Mal. 2.5-9

We need to peer long and hard into the Levitic call, especially at its heart, for it is not unlike the call of every saint. In the Gospel, we have been “grafted” into a continuum with the Hebraic Levites of ancient times, for like our Lord, the nature of a priest is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” We ought to be bearing that priestly honor for the Father, and going from “glory to glory” in that wondrous reality. Have we seen Him as worthy of that kind of life; of living, moving, and having our being in Him; ‘broken bread and poured out wine’ for His sake?

The Life-Giving Work of Affliction

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“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” -Ps. 34.19

It is a “gospel” of naivete which claims that once a man comes to faith in Christ he will never know affliction. To state the Biblical view clearly, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14.22) According to Luke, this was a word of encouragement to the saints.

This Pauline perspective was expressed thusly:

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -1 Cor. 12.10

And:

“…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way by great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities…” -2 Cor. 6.4

For Paul, remarkable sufferings did not disqualify him from the blessing of God, but were the commendation of his ministry, that “in every way by great endurance” he was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.” 

On every front the Biblical writers recognized that suffering was integral to the life of faith. It is on the ground of affliction that our faith is tempered, reinforced, and proven. The modern paradigm has digressed into a tooth-and-nail scrap for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and seldom do the saints operate on the basis of apostolic wisdom, which leads us to becoming “broken bread and poured out wine” for the sake of Christ.

We need to rightly interpret our present affliction and God-orchestrated tensions, for so long as we have as our ambition the circumvention of all hardship, we impede the formation of Christ in our own life and character. To circumvent the cross is to obstruct the flow of resurrection life.

Whenever a thing becomes difficult in personal experience, we are in danger of blaming God, but it is we who are in the wrong, not God; there is some perversity somewhere that we will not let go. Immediately we do, everything becomes as clear as daylight.
….The attitude must be one of complete reliance on God. When once we get there, there is nothing easier than living the saintly life; difficulty comes in when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Dec. 14th selection

We need to recognize that in large part, difficulties are permitted to come upon us “when we want to usurp the authority of the Holy Spirit for our own ends.” Paul himself, in all of his apostolic character and stature, was brought to the view that his “thorn in the flesh” was meant to keep his own soul in check before the Lord, lest he “exalt” himself. Whatever that “thorn” was, he had prayed for a release from it, and finally concluded at the encouragement of the Lord that it was to remain as a life-giving affliction.

We see here the two-fold view of Paul, for he had seen mighty deliverances, and for this reason he pleaded with the Lord for a release. But when the Lord gave word that His grace was “sufficient” to carry Paul through, immediately he interpreted the affliction as a safeguard for his soul. He saw that his own propensity for self-exaltation, which was yet alive in his recesses after years of apostolic labor, needed the release of grace that could only be attained through suffering.

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
   that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
   than thousands of gold and silver pieces. -Ps. 119.71-72

The “law” or wisdom of His “mouth” must become “better” to us “than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” For Paul, the wisdom of God prevailed over his own, and so he recognized the goodness of God, even in the land of affliction. Indeed, he was able to discern the kindness of God, not only in the midst of affliction, but through the affliction itself.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want. (Ps. 34.8-9)

The goodness and fear of the Lord, when rightly apprehended, will shepherd us well in the barren grasslands of trial, and lead us to the waters that “make glad the city of God.”

‘Fear of the Lord’ in Psm. 34 means to recognize YHWH in His actuality, particularly in His reality for salvation, and to behave accordingly.
….He who fears YHWH recognizes and acknowledges His reality.
….The righteous experience the reality and the saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress.

(Hans Joachim Kraus, PSALMS: A Continental Commentary, Fortress Press)

The “saving activity of YHWH, especially in times of distress,” is the great work of ringing out our propensity for self-exaltation, so that through and through we might be infused with the light of His glorious character and wisdom.

Whether suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake, friction in relationships, or experiencing some other form of affliction, we can be sure that the Lord means to effect His “saving activity” by the very means of that hardship. “Death works in us, so life” does as well, in our own hearts and unto those souls whom the Lord has put us in touch with. This is an apostolic view too infrequently celebrated by the Church, but when we are apprehended by it, we take on a whole new panoramic outlook, and Jesus Christ has the preeminence in our lives.

This is to be supremely desired.