3. The New Testament Dynamics of the Apostolic Ministry.
We have seen the first use of the term ‘apostle’, and we have considered the OT and NT prophetic significance of this ministry, that of missions, pioneering, foundational building for the new temple of God. But what does it look like practically? To answer this question we need to evaluate some key lives, which manifest such a calling and ministry.
A: Jesus – the Chief Apostle.
Hebrews 3 says:
1Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. 2He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. 6But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.
Firstly, in this scripture Jesus is compared to Moses. It is evident in this scripture that Moses carried an OT type of apostolic ministry, as well as priestly. However, Moses was a faithful servant in God’s house, but Christ was the builder and the Son over it! Moses rescued God’s people, but also led them, formed the structure of their national identity in obedience to God’s commands, and he was supposed to lead them into the land of promise, and see them planted by God in that place, after disarming the nations and their powers. He was a ‘Kingdom missionary’ in an OT type of way. His calling was very apostolic!
So too do we see Jesus in a greater way. We must look at the example of He who appoints, sends, gives and perfectly manifests the apostolic ministry – Jesus Christ. If he is the apostle, then there must be something in His life here on earth that demonstrates that in His life & mission. I’d like to suggest the following:
i. He was chosen & sent by God to this world on a Divine mission. (John 3: 16; 8: 16 – 18, plus many more)
ii. His actual physical presence on earth carried the authority of God’s Kingdom as an apostolic representative. The ancient Jewish law says. ‘The one sent, is as the one who sent him…’ We will see that this carries through to present ministry, though Jesus is more than that, as He is the ‘word made flesh, dwelling among us’.
iii. His apostolic ministry has at its heart, mission. Just as Moses not only delivered God’s people but also was commissioned to take them in to promise, so was the apostolic ministry in Jesus one of a ‘NT Exodus’. That was Christ’s mission! It has been said that an evangelist takes people out from bondage, but an apostle takes out, in order to take people into something. Jesus not only manifested a ‘rescue ministry’ but also a purposeful ministry of the Kingdom. He disarmed the powers over the peoples, to bring them into His inheritance, planted in a place of fulfilment, that they may become an apostolic Kingdom people. That was His apostolic mission!
iv. The parables of Mark 4 and the account of Jesus’ ministry in Mark 5, really beautifully demonstrate how the Kingdom of God works. It is my belief that this account carries tones of the apostolic about it, and how Jesus brings Kingdom advancement into new regions. Here the Lord goes on a mission to the ‘other side’ of the lake to deliver a man possessed by demons. In chapter four he has taught on the work of the Kingdom, especially how in seed form it becomes large and spreads. He then goes on to illustrate practically what that looks like in the 5th chapter. Yes, there was a tormented man needing deliverance, but as we study this account we find the region was oppressed also, and that Christ had gone to reach a people, through a man. We see initially, that Christ and the disciples encounter a violent storm en route to the other side. The Lord rebukes the storm in a manner only attributed to demonic powers. I believe the Lord was going to touch a region, as well as a man. On encountering the tormented man, the Word says that they (the demons) begged to stay in the region, hence why they desired to be allowed to enter the pigs. Jesus actually permits them but only for casting them into the sea! Upon his deliverance the man begs to follow Jesus, and the people beg Jesus to leave the region! (Interesting!) The man is not permitted to leave with Christ but to stay and tell all of God’s goodness. The region must be transformed. As the parable of the mustard seed had illustrated, from seed form the Kingdom would grow into something grand and glorious! So it was the case in this region. Kingdom advancement, and planting of Kingdom seed is apostolic ministry.
v. Consider another account in Mark 1. Jesus heals masses out of His great mercy and compassion. He delivers a man from demons with authority. Many from the region of Galilee see, hear & follow, as they have never seen this authority before. After resting in the home of Simon and Andrew, and healing the mother in law, He goes to pray alone the next morning. Again the crowds are waiting at the house, and Simon summons Jesus to come and minister to the crowds. Surely this is the beginning of a ‘great’ ministry. National fame could lead to global magnitude! The world’s first great healing evangelist! (Not that there is anything wrong with that kind of ministry.) Yet the Lord is mindful of the Father’s apostolic purposes, and must visit other towns and villages also. He says in another Gospel account of this story, that this is why He has been ‘sent’. It is one thing to minister to great crowds, and see God move and bring release, but it is quite another to see the mission beyond evangelism. It is apostolic to bring a penetration of God’s rule into physical locations. God wants a representation of His Kingdom, through peoples, in locations. A divine deposit in each location visited. Christ’s apostolic ministry was one of Kingdom advancement, through mission pioneering, penetration of the powers of darkness, and forming a people / disciples to bear witness to that in every location.
vi. The text earlier quoted in Mark 3, where Jesus chooses the 12 to be apostles, is also a key part of His apostolic ministry. He knows that He alone cannot fully perform this ministry, and so designates the same authority of the Kingdom upon them, that they may multiply the apostolic work of the Kingdom. The one ‘sent’ also must be a ‘sender’. This too is apostolic. W.A.C Rowe , a man greatly used of God in the apostolic church UK, which was birthed in the Welsh Revival once said, ‘the apostolic ministry is not a flash of brilliant individualism. It is always glorious team work.’ It is apostolic to raise up others with the same DNA and send them out. This leads us into the next example of 12 apostle’s ministry.
B: The 12 Apostles of the lamb, in particular Peter.
Having chosen the 12, it is not sufficient to place a title upon them alone. It has been rightly said that the ministry gifts are not prescriptive but descriptive of ministry in lives. Therefore, Jesus gives the 12 clear apostolic instructions, which He has embodied and demonstrated for them to carry forth. We must heed to these instructions, because they surely must have played a foundational role in the thinking & activities of the 12, 70 and Church in Acts in their mission to the nations.
We will look at Matthew 10 and examine the elements of this ministry.
i. Verse 5. Here specifics of geographical locations are given. Jesus is the sender. George Ladd says: ‘The Kingdom creates the Church, not vice versa. The Church bears witness to the Kingdom’s activities.’ Therefore, those sent are obeying a call and commission to something / somewhere. Oswald Sanders says: “Missions are to be based on the passion of obedience, not the pathos of pity” So we can see the absolute centrality of the Lord Jesus in the apostolic ministry from the outset, in that He as the Head of the Church is the One from whom all apostolic specifics come. One Scripture says, He sent them (the disciples) where He Himself was about to go. He knows the spiritual dynamics of the nations, and therefore where we would not choose to go, He would often choose, knowing what the key to unlocking a place would be! This takes a unique apostolic dependency by the vessel upon God.
ii. Verse 7. Secondly, their first act in their mission is to proclaim the presence of the Kingdom as good news. They are to announce the Lord’s redemption, power and free grace, based upon repentant lives and faith. What we see in this is God’s ambassadors announcing the ‘invasion’ of God’s rule into the house of the enemy. This is evidenced also in Paul & Barnabus’ ministry in the cities they visited (and the subsequent upheaval!)
iii. Verse 1 & 8. Authority is given for the driving out of powers of the Kingdom of darkness. This is essential in apostolic mission, as one cannot progress to rescue and build something of Kingdom value until the ground is free, so to speak. The spiritual governs the earthly (as with Mark 5 and Luke 11: 14 – 28) and therefore the 12 had to be instructed in this. This ministry of deliverance and healing was evidence that what they proclaimed was fact!
iv. Verse 11 – 16. Apostolic ministry is not only to rescue but also to appropriate God’s rule on earth for a location and people. Therefore, Jesus instructs the apostles to find a house for the ‘shalom of God’ to rest there. Apostolic ministry as demonstrated in Christ, leaves something behind, which produces the fruits of righteousness, peace and joy, in lives and in homes. It is a ministry of reconciliation and restoration of God’s order. What was once previously owned by the powers of the air is now a place of dominion for God and His people. If a house receives this, it knows of grace and peace in the Holy Spirit. From there, the Kingdom, like leaven can spread to the other houses in that place. From this a community of the King is formed that constitutes the congregation / Church of Jesus Christ. A house is the foundation of a community. When a house received the Good news, the men are instructed to stay and make it a base for operations in their mission.
Also, Matthew 16 gives us further insight into the apostolic ministry of the 12, and particularly Peter.
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Here we see the type of authority expressed in the apostolic church. Upon her revelation of the Son of God, given by the Father, she is built by Jesus, as a stronghold of the Kingdom against the powers of hell. Peter, as a foundational part and representative of this apostolic body of God’s people, is symbolically given the keys of the Kingdom, to bind and loose. Again, the heavenly realities are connected to the earthly manifestations. Acts tells clearly of Peter’s administration of this in chapter 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 & 10.
In Acts 8, we see a good demonstration of the apostolic ministry in Peter. Upon Phillip’s evangelistic success in Samaria, Peter with John goes to affirm what is happening and bring authority and order to that revival. It is not two governmental Apostles bringing things ‘under their control’ but rather it is a distinct function at work. Evangelistic success is great, but without something remaining in that region it is wasted. New wine needs a new wineskin. Apostolic insight also brings out any satanic infection in the new work quickly (as we see with Peter and Simon the sorcerer). This is important so that the new house is built without foundational weakness and is fitting dwelling place for the Spirit. It is worth comment also that they upon their return visit other places in Samaria to preach the Gospel. Both Gospel proclamation, and setting things in place for continuation of God’s work are key parts of the apostolic ministry.
So then we see, that apostolic ministry is not a hierarchal governmental office that sits around presiding over everything. No! Rather it is a functioning ministry in harmony with the work of God, yet distinct from the other ministries. It is a powerful ministry, which brings Kingdom authority with it in evangelism and administering God’s work in mission, for the building of His Church. ‘Going’ is a vital part of the ministry, that’s what ‘sent’ means. Nowhere is presiding mentioned or seen. Rather, as WAC Rowe says, apostles should be those who ‘breakthrough’ & ‘blaze a trail’ for the Kingdom, and should be the most progressive of ministries in the Church.
Apostolic ministry in Peter was foundational. No builder can lay a foundation unless he ‘goes’ to the place of choosing. (We cannot build from out of an office, right?) That’s part of the mission – to go!
It is worth here mentioning, James’ role in Acts 15. He is also mentioned in apostolic terms in Galatians 1 & 2. It is apparent here that His apostolic ministry was more to Jews in Jerusalem, rather than the Gentile nations. So was this a ‘presiding kind’ of apostolic ministry? I do not believe so. I believe one can be ‘sent’ to a city, as well as a people or nation / nations. I know of such ministries today, such as Colin Dye in London, or Jackie Pullinger in Hong Kong. These ministries are far from presiding bishops (in our understanding); rather they are God’s pioneers and builders for that city. In as much as others plant and do mission in a plurality of locations, so too do these servants reach an entire city by planting a plurality of faith communities in different suburbs or areas of the city. If there is any form of remaining after the initial work it is for the purpose of aftercare with the elders for those churches.
Finally, Acts 10, again we see Peter’s apostolic ministry at work. He is mysteriously apprehended by a vision for the house of Cornelius. Supernatural ministry accompanies the apostolic function due to its Kingdom advancing nature; as does the evangelistic ministry also demonstrate. Peter uses the ‘keys’ to open the door of the Good news of the Kingdom to the gentiles, and the Spirit falls upon the house! Notice the house as a key ingredient to this story. How many missions have failed or been partially successful because we have not taken the Kingdom to a house and remained there! This is apostolic.
In conclusion, from Peter, with John, and indeed Paul, we see that part of the foundation building is the laying on of hands for healing, Baptism in the Holy Spirit and ordination. These are foundational aspects of a foundational ministry that are vital to the ongoing building work of the community of faith.
In the next and final installment will conclude this series by taking a look at Paul, and how the Lord through him has given us a glorious pattern to follow.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: apostle, Apostolic Church, art katz, Jesus, Kingdom, Paul, prophets, the church, the Gospel
In the first installment of this series on the apostolic ministry (see earlier post), we took a look at the original meaning of the theme ‘apostolic’ as given by the Lord to the 12; that of ‘sent ones’. In this next part we will look at Christ’s Apostolic ministry in particular, and the significance of it then and now.
2. Prophetic significance from OT history & prophets; fulfilled in Jesus.
Mark 11, 12 & 13 capture a remarkable sequence of events in the life of Jesus. It is a time when Jesus is open about His Messianic status like no other point in His life. He did this in the final week before His atoning death and triumph. This was a moment like no other in that He was now declaring Himself as the pioneer of a new day, a new foundation, a new building and a greater glory! This statement of truth about Himself was the ‘Rock of offense’! Thus, because the ‘grace of apostleship’ is the grace of Christ through a vessel, in a smaller but important way, apostolic ministry due to its pioneering and foundational nature causes a great disturbance, but also great glory! Let’s look at why.
Throughout the Gospels & Epistles, Jesus is referred to as the ‘Stone’. (Acts 4, Ephesians 2, 1 Peter 2) This is in prophetic fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies in Isaiah ch 28, and Zechariah’s words in his book – ch 4 & 10. It is also wonderfully foretold in Psalm 118.
The overall picture presented in the OT prophecies is that Jesus is both the foundational stone in the beginning of the building process, and Capstone / consummator of God’s house at the end. With Him in the NT teaching, Apostles and Prophets both historically (Eph 2: 20) and now by their present function (Eph 3: 5) fulfil a foundational role in what God is building for His glory, and the Spirit’s dwelling.
We see in Mark’s Gospel 11, 12 & 13 something of the fulfilment of the OT prophetic word conveyed. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem one week before His death and resurrection, and begins ‘ministering’ for a week at the temple. As he enters Jerusalem, the crowds cry ‘blessed is He…’ in fulfilment of Psalm 118: 15 – 29. It is significant because the cry of ‘blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord’ is directly related to the Psalmist’s prophetic declaration of the Capstone being rejected and it being the Day that the Lord has made.
After this event in Ch 11: 12 – 19 – the Lord clears the temple, and declares God’s intention for His people – that it is His house of prayer for all nations! The next day Jesus speaks of speaking to mountains, after cursing the fig tree, and using true faith in God. And then in ch 11: 27 – 33 – His authority is questioned. In other words to build something new, must require a fresh ground to work with; every obstacle removed and persistent standing in the face of opposition. What Christ has come to do is lay a new foundation stone in His mission and message. This is apostolic.
In Mark 12 He tells a parable of Tenants who reject the Son, and He quotes the Psalm 118 in fulfilment of the rejection of Him – the Stone, by the Jewish religious leaders. He then teaches in the temple for a few days. God has suddenly come to His temple!
Ch 13, the disciples marvel at the ‘stones’ of the temple, and the Lord tells them it will be destroyed.
It is evident that Jesus Christ, the Stone, is clearing the way, so to speak, for a rebuilding of God’s house, based upon Himself. It will demand a new understanding of what God is doing in the earth. What God is doing to a physical temple by destroying it, He will perform the opposite by building a new spiritual temple built upon His Son. This is in fulfilment of Zechariah 3 & 4 where the Stone would be laid to shouts of ‘grace / blessings’. Interestingly, Zechariah prophesies to the mountain of opposition that stands before Zerrubbabel and Joshua’s building work, by saying ‘What are you O mountain… you will become level ground.’
Zerrubbabel and Joshua were the commissioned builders against the will of the enemies of Judah (Ezra 4) and yet the prophet brings encouragement to build in the face of opposition. This historic account in the OT is also prophetic of the Lord’s glorious NT work.
So the OT prophetic type is the builder working with the watchman in the building of God’s house. In the NT, the apostle and prophet are foundation ministries for the NT people of God, built upon Jesus! In the both examples it is not by might, nor by power but by the Spirit of the Lord!
Here we see an OT prophetic view & NT fulfilment of what the great apostle Jesus did in His ministry. He destroyed the temple, and rebuilt it in 3 days! Now we can understand why apostolic & prophetic ministry working together brings great disturbance to the powers of darkness, because it is the taring down of satan’s kingdom, and the laying of a foundation Stone – the message of the Kingdom of God, in Christ. It is a building of a new spiritual temple upon Jesus, the Chief cornerstone. Apostleship is front line ministry, rather than ‘managerial status’. It is rooted in the Man, Christ Jesus, and because of this it will bring commotion but come with great glory from God and to God! Upon Himself, with apostolic ‘building’ ministry and prophetic ‘watchman’ ministry, we can see God’s house built for God’s glory to dwell in by His Spirit.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: apostle, Apostolic Church, art katz, Jesus, Kingdom, Paul, prophets, the church, the Gospel
Author’s Note: Over the next few weeks I’d like to talk about the apostolic ministry in today’s Church, and how I believe Scriptures reveal it works in the Kingdom of God. I will publish four parts, including looking at Christ, OT prophetic significance, the original 12 including Peter, & Paul.
May God speak to us in regard to these things in a deeper and more precious way!
We are all well acquainted with the Scripture in Ephesians 4: 11,
‘it was He who gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers…’
It has become a well quoted Scripture in many circles around the world, and thank God that many in the Body of Christ are now embracing it as a present reality in the Church! However, it still produces much disagreement, debate and confusion. And even if many agree with its present truth, much confusion, speculation and even abuse in applying these truths have come.
It is even more so in regard to the apostolic ministry itself, that the truths have become very clouded of late. Not that the Word of God is cloudy on the issue but what men make of the precious word ‘apostolic’ has become cloudy. Thus, abuses abound; who are these people? Men, women, or even both? Are they bishops or spiritual CEOs, or neither? Who has the right to choose or name them? Are there different grades of apostles? Is it an office or a function? Does the ‘apostle’ have the right to ‘make the calls’ and ‘pull rank’ if others disagree?
It is my view that we have to come away from answering these questions, and quarrels in endless debates, and go back to the Scriptures. From there we can see the clear picture the Scriptures portray. (Please be aware that I will not get into the debate of ‘if they are valid ministries for today’, as that question has been answered thousands of times, and I am taking it for granted that the readers will believe it to be so.)
I quote Art Katz in regard to this theme of ‘Apostolic’:
“Like every Biblical word, we will not find the definition in a dictionary. We need rather to be apprehended by the genius of what the word represents… Probably one of the greatest failures of the Church is to be satisfied with verbal statements and creedal affirmations but without the corresponding actuality.”
1. Back to basics. The Apostle as ‘sent one’.
Mark 3: 13 – 15.
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14He appointed twelve—designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15and to have authority to drive out demons.
The scripture above carries some foundational elements to understanding the apostolic ministry, which are in keeping with Ephesians 4: 11 & 1 Corinthians 12: 28. It is that ‘He’ – Jesus Christ has appointed these ministries. In this Scripture in Mark 3 we see the following:
Firstly, there is a Pattern. While on the mountain in prayer (Also see Luke 6: 12 -13) – Jesus calls and man responds / Jesus appoints & designates – His servants ‘go’. This shows that initiative is God’s, not man’s, in the raising up of this ministry. He by the Spirit imparts the gifts and graces needed. He calls and anoints His servants for such a task. Man’s duty is to respond.
There is also a Meaning. Mark 3 (Also read Luke 6) is the first time in the life of Christ and the disciples that the word ‘apostle’ is used to define a ministry. That means that this initial use of the word should be deemed as key to any future understanding of its meaning. For example, the meaning of the word ‘apostle’ and how that meaning relates to its function today, is to be understood in terms of what we then go on to see evidenced in the life of Jesus and these 12 men in the Gospels from this point. It is also from this significant point that the Lord Jesus delegates the authority and power of this ministry upon the 12 ordinary men; it is from this key moment that this ministry begins to be seen in their lives. We will discuss this more later on, when examining the 12’s particular ministry.
The word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent one’. That is, one commissioned with a Divine mission or message by God to a people. Think of a ship, bearing special cargo, on a mission to take it to a specific destination.
So then, the word ‘sent’ carries a missionary call & dynamic to it. It is a word of action and commissioning; it is also a word of authority and representation from the sender. It is a ‘go-ing’ word! If we remember this, we will rightly understand the spiritual dynamic contained in this ministry.
In the OT, Exodus 3: 10 & 12, God calls and meets with Moses in the Burning Bush encounter. We again see the Apostolic God revealing Himself, calling His servant, commissioning him to His purposes, sending His servant to a particular mission with the sender’s authority and message. It is worthy to note, Stephen in Acts 7 gives an account of Moses calling at the bush, uses the word ‘send’, which is an apostolic word. Moses really fulfils an OT type of apostolic ministry.
There is a message. The Scripture in Mark 3 specifically says that the sending was in connection to them preaching. Preaching is a vital ingredient in the apostolic ministry, but not just any preaching. I believe there is a kind of ‘apostolic preaching’ that brings the authority of the Gospel of the Kingdom to bear in virgin territory, and establishes God’s rule through the building of new communities of faith. This preaching is one of tearing down in order to raise up. It is an appropriating ministry accompanied by signs and wonders that can change a region. This preaching also carries a foundational grace that reveals Jesus Christ both theologically and experientially to the newly formed community. It takes the newest of believers to the depths of discipleship in such a way that, ‘Christ is formed in them…’ and they in turn become a Christ centred apostolic people.
In part 2 of this article we will look at how Jesus Christ began to fulfill Old Testament prophecies as the Great Apostle of our Faith.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: apostle, Apostolic Church, art katz, Jesus, Kingdom, Paul, prophets, the church, the Gospel
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” -1 Tim. 1.15
The phrase “peccator justus” is Latin for, “justified sinner.” I am not a Latin expert, or anything close to one actually, but the two words are reverberating through my mind and heart as I type today. Here is the reason why:
On December 9th, 1968 a man named Karl Barth- a Swiss/German theologian- was working on writing a lecture. Barth was probably the most well-known theologian of the 20th century. He was a controversial man, who was known to challenge the categories of both Liberal and Evangelical theologians, and to shake the dusty definitions of God that had crippled the world of theology. He resisted the Nazi Regime’s falsely concocted version of Scripture and Church, personally mailing his statement to Hitler himself, for which reason he lost his esteemed position as a professor in Germany at the University of Bonn. The beloved Evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce noted that Barth’s 1919 commentary on Romans fell “like a bombshell on the theologians’ playground, and we are still feeling its reverberations today.”
He challenged the entire landscape of 20th century theology, jolting systems of thought and calling scholars and pastors to let God be God over their labors and studies. He said that we needed to recover the “Godness of God,” and to hear Paul’s spirit beneath the surface of the NT texts. He hand-wrote over 20,000 pages of theology over the course of 50-plus years in theological work. I may not agree with all of his theological conclusions, nor all of the decisions he made over the course of many years in pastoral ministry, theological labors, and authorship. But I really appreciate the man, and so much of what the Lord brought to the Church through him. The fruit of his labors goes on in the lives of many believers who have never heard his name and who are not likely to ever read one of his books.
Back to December 9th of ’68. Barth was 82 year of age, and by this time he “spoke of his death remarkably often and even wanted to talk about the details of his funeral.” Being the thinker, theologian, and pastor that he was, Barth had reflected on the reality of death and eternity very long and very hard for many decades. When he visited the U.S. in 1962, he was put on the cover of TIME magazine in painted form, standing in front of Jesus’ empty tomb with his own words as a banner above: “The goal of the human life is not death, but resurrection.”
Now he was aged, and even seemed to sense that his days were drawing to a close. In some of his last letters written, he made these awesome statements:
Looking back, I have no serious complaints about anyone or anything: except my own failures today, yesterday, the day before yesterday and the day before that- I mean my failures in real gratitude. Perhaps I still have bitter days ahead, and certainly my death will come sooner or later. One thing remains, for me to remember and impress upon myself…. ‘Do not forget the good that He has done!’
… How do I know whether I shall die easily or with difficulty? I only know that my dying, too, is part of my life… And then- this is the destination, the limit and the goal for all of us- I shall no longer ‘be’, but I shall be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, in and with my whole ‘being,’ with all the real good and the real evil that I have thought, said and done, with all the bitterness that I have suffered and all the beauty that I have enjoyed. There I shall only be able to stand as the failure that I doubtless was in all things, but… by virtue of His promise, as a peccator justus. And as that I shall be able to stand. Then… in the light of grace, all that is now dark will become very clear.
It’s remarkable how tender and sensitive to mercy a man becomes when he is on the edge of eternity. All of a sudden, the grudges we have held, the suspicions we have harbored, the fears which have ruled us, the possessions we’ve coveted, and the self-righteousness we’ve carried, all become utter vanity before the reality of standing face to face with the God of all creation. Before the Light of His unveiled glory, every one of us have marks of the intensest soul-stains, and we realize that all of our boasting has no merit whatsoever- all of our religious and social facades are exposed for the falsities that they are, and we are moved to cry out for the reality of mercy.
Barth was interrupted from writing his lecture by the phone calls of two friends. One of them, a man named Eduard Thurneysen, had “remained faithful to him over sixty years. They talked about the gloomy world situation. Then Barth said, ‘But keep your chin up! Never mind! He will reign!‘”
These would become his last recorded words.
“… Barth did not go back to his draft which he had left in the middle of a sentence, but put it aside until the next day. However, he did not live that long. He died peacefully some time in the middle of the night. He lay there as though asleep, with his hands gently folded from his evening prayers. So his wife found him the next morning, while in the background a record was playing the Mozart with which she had wanted to waken him.”
Interestingly enough, before he breathed his last “he had been writing a few sentences of the draft for his lecture in which he was saying that in the church it is always important to listen to the Fathers who have gone before in the faith. For ‘God is not a God of the dead but of the living. In him they all live.'”
If we would walk with a greater consciousness of the fragility and preciousness of life, and the reality of death, we would become in a more concentrated manner, a people of mercy. We all fall under the category of ‘peccator.’ We have sinned, and worse, our souls actually consist of the substance of iniquity and wickedness. Sin is not only a litany of things we’ve committed, it’s a part of our very fiber and nature as humans. Yet death approaches for each one of us, and immediately following the breathing of our last breath, we encounter the One Who made heaven and earth. As Barth said, “I only know that my dying, too, is part of my life…” The only hope that any of us have is in the cross of Jesus Christ. Only He has the power to yank us from the category of sinner (peccator), and to place us within the glorious family of those who have been justified and transformed by the power of His indestructible life (peccator justus)!
When Christ has transformed our hearts, we can face the adversities of life, and the shakings and tumblings of the Kingdoms of this world in the same vein that Barth encouraged:
“… keep your chin up! Never mind! He will reign!“
He will reign, saints, and no matter what befalls the nations in these last days, however dim your vision is at present, there is a vital and eternal hope for those who have repented and believed the Son of God. He will reign, and the proof is in your own justification before the throne of God. Rejoice, then, in so great a salvation! Let your heart send streams of enraptured gratitude to the Savior!
There will come a day when the saints will inherit the manifested reality of resurrected and glorified bodies. The propensity for sin, the pulls of temptation, the stubborn presence of pride and self-consciousness, fatigue and sickness will once and for all be removed from our experience. Our fallibility and dim sights will be totally submerged in the Light of His wonderful perfections. Glorious day!
Until then, we turn to Him day by day, that His likeness and glory might rise in our present experience. We’ve been justified by the power of a Blood which speaks better than the blood of Abel. We have a radically opened access to righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. One day, our justification before God will be manifested in full, but until that day dawns, let us receive the Spirit of Holiness in increasing measure. Let us go from glory to glory and from faith to faith, hastening the day of His return, and letting our newfound light shine before men. As A.W. Tozer once stated:
What God is seeking is a people in the earth who will trust him now as completely as they know they must at the final day.
“… keep your chin up! Never mind! He will reign!“
(All Barth quotes taken from Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts, Eberhard Busch; Fortress Press, 1975, pp. 497-499; Tozer quote from an audio message)
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: F.F. Bruce, Germany, Karl Barth, Paul, theologians, theology, time magazine
Editor’s Note: Originally published on TownHall.com, used with permission. Frank Turek is a speaker and author, and a leading Christian apologist. Learn more at his website www.CrossExamined.org
I like to strike up conversations with people I meet while traveling. Last Tuesday, on the way back to San Francisco airport, I asked the driver where he was from. “Jordan,” he replied.
In an effort to make a connection, I mentioned that I haven’t gotten to Jordan, but I went to Iran in 2006 and served in Saudi Arabia with the Navy twenty years ago.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I’m a writer and a speaker. I co-authored a book defending the truth of Christianity called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.”
“I’m a Christian too,” he said. Then, just as we were pulling into the terminal, he asked, “What do you think about the Iraq war?”
With less than 90 seconds left in the ride, I quickly said, “I think it was the least bad choice we had. Saddam used WMD, invaded Kuwait, and then violated 17 straight UN resolutions and the cease fire. What other choice did we have in a post 9-11 world?”
He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he claimed that Iraq had nothing to with 9-11, and that we just should have gone after the bad guys in Afghanistan. He then said, “Jesus told us to love our enemies.”
Leaving the issue of 9-11 aside, was his inference correct? In light of what Jesus said about loving our enemies, should Christians be pacifists?
I don’t think so. In fact, sometimes the use of force is not only justified, it can be a dereliction of duty not to use force.
First, “loving your enemies,” like “turn the other cheek,” is a command for individuals in personal relationships. It is not a command for governments or for individuals put in grave bodily harm. As individuals we should pray for our enemies and “turn the other cheek” instead of returning insult for insult. Such behavior demonstrates supernatural love aimed at securing the offender’s conversion to Christ. But those commands do not mean that we have no right to personal self defense, nor do they mean that a nation shouldn’t protect its people from other hostile nations.
With regard to self defense, not only does the Old Testament affirm the right to self defense (Ex. 22:2), Jesus himself told his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). Jesus later told Peter “put your sword away” so Christ’s sacrifice would go forward and the scriptures would be fulfilled (Mt. 26:54). But the very fact that Jesus told Peter and the other disciples to buy a sword shows that its use for personal protection is appropriate. (By the way, Jesus never condoned the use of the sword as a means of religious conversion. It’s impossible anyway. Genuine conversion, by definition, is freely accepted. It cannot be coerced.)
With regard to war, the New Testament does not order newly baptized soldiers to get out of the military. Instead, John the Baptist told them not to abuse their power and to be content with their pay (Luke 3:14). Soldiers are needed because, as Paul pointed out in Romans 13, governments have a God-given responsibility to use “the sword” to protect their people from harm. In fact, Paul himself accepted military protection when he was in danger (Acts 22:25f), and Jesus affirmed the right of governments to impose capital punishment, saying that such a right was given by God (Jn. 19:11).
Second, “love your enemies” cannot mean that all use of force is prohibited because such an interpretation would contradict the passages just cited and result in absurd conclusions. It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” means “allow them to kill your family.” How would that be loving to your family?
It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” prohibits all wars. What about the war against Hitler? Not justified? Please. How would that be loving to the Jews or the countries overrun? (Notice that even my driver friend isn’t against all wars. He thinks that the war in Afghanistan is justified. But if “love your enemies” meant you could never use force, then how can Afghanistan be justified?)
With such an absurd interpretation, we couldn’t even have police protection, a court system, or prisons. Why believe that police can use force but not Armies? There’s not much of a difference. Police use force to protect people from enemies inside a country. Armies use force to protect people from enemies outside a country.
Without the proper use of force, we’d have anarchy, and innocent people would be hurt or killed. That’s why complete pacifism is not only unbiblical, it is a dereliction of duty. Individuals have a responsibility to protect themselves and their families from harm, and governments have a similar responsibility to protect their citizens.
Christians can and should, of course, oppose specific wars that don’t meet what theologians call “just-war theory.” As I mentioned in my last column, I believe the Iraq war is just. But I didn’t get enough time with my driver friend to hear his complete case against the Iraq war. Maybe he knows something I don’t, but it didn’t seem so.
One thing is for certain: Christians contradict scripture and common sense when they say no war or use of force can ever be justified. As terrible as it is, War is sometimes the least bad choice available. In other words, it’s not that Christians are for war; it’s that we’re against the alternative—the oppression and death of the innocent. And in a fallen world like this, sometimes the use of force is necessary to protect the innocent. Without it, we wouldn’t even be able to love our friends.
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: Frank Turek, Iraq, Jesus, Jordan, military, Paul, Peace, TownHall, turn the other cheek, War
Editor’s Note: Introduction to the VOR Series The Basics.
You believe that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that only those who place their faith in Jesus will find salvation after death. As a Christian, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think that they are true. Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6) or he does not. We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so. If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in “eternal fire” (Matthew 24:41). If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way. I admit this without a single caveat. The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.
— Sam Harris: Letter to a Christian Nation
Sam Harris and the militant atheists of our day are not stupid. Neither are the Orthodox Jews, agnostics, theologically-liberal Christians, or the host of others who have openly rejected the message of the gospel. The burden of proof is on us, the disciples of Jesus, to tell the world His message, and prove that there is no reasonable response to that message other than to fall down and worship Him as Lord. The VOR series, The Basics, is my attempt at doing just that.
Obviously, not everyone will believe what we have to say, no matter how much evidence we provide, and God is not someone that is to be analyzed and discussed as if He were a mere concept, or a hat-in-hand deity in desperate need of people to believe in Him, just waiting to answer every arrogant and haughty “intellectual” question we can come up with… but giving silly, illogical, or inadequate reasons for believing this remarkably radical and supernatural message we carry gives respect neither to the message itself, nor the people to whom we bring it. As Paul said, if Messiah is not raised, we are of all men most to be pitied, for we are giving people false hope, and giving up our lives for a lie.
Let us then strive after the truth, wherever it may lead. For then, we will know the truth, and the truth shall set us free.
Posted in Philosophy & Science Tagged with: apologetics, atheism, Jesus, Letter to a Christian Nation, orthodox jews, Paul, sam harris, Scripture, the Gospel, truth, VOR Series: The Basics
At the funeral of a family member recently, the pastor of the church at which the funeral was held recounted how in the last weeks of the deceased man’s life, he had met with and preached the gospel to him. The man was literally dying of alcoholism, and it was apparent he had only a little time to live. After weeks of rejecting the evangelistic offerings of the pastor, the man finally answered the pastor’s question of “How do you know you’ll be in heaven when you die?” with a response acknowledging that he had asked Jesus to be his savior. A few days later he was dead.
The story was encouraging, knowing the sinful and God-rejecting life my family member had lived, however, the pastor’s proclamation following the account gave me pause. He told the people at the service that because of the man’s profession, he was now in heaven, and that if we wanted to meet him after our death, that we needed to accept Jesus as well. Perhaps it was because I had been intensively praying and studying on the subject of Hell at the time, but the declaration the pastor made rang in my ears. He wasn’t simply sharing his religious beliefs… he was making a prophecy! And a very bold prophecy at that, considering the way the deceased had lived his life, and the lack of evidence of authentic conversion and repentance. (Did Paul not say that drunkards will not inherit the Kingdom of God?)
I asked myself, did this pastor really know that this person was in Heaven? Had he with fear and trembling searched the scriptures and received revelation from Heaven that he was accepted in God’s sight? Or was he simply following his particular denomination’s statement of faith, noting that the man had performed the correct religious ritual to attain salvation? What a profound and ultimate prophecy we utter when we pronounce judgment on what a person’s fate will be at the great resurrection of the dead, I hope and pray it is taken seriously.
When we share our faith with others, are we simply giving our or our denomination’s opinion on the matter? Or are we declaring with authority that which we know to be true? Some church movements advocate having flexible “conversations” rather than proclaiming our beliefs to people as truth, and surely this is the best approach to take if we are not sure we are right on a particular subject. However, if we are not absolutely sure about core faith issues such as the resurrection and return of Jesus the Messiah, then whatever we may be, we are not the Church that Jesus and the Apostles founded, and should not identify ourselves as such. (Perhaps philosophical social club would be a better word?)
So, if authentic faith in Jesus requires the proclamation of the good news as fact rather than opinion, what is the manner in which it should be proclaimed? I would like to propose a paradigm shift in evangelism away from sharing our beliefs, and to proclaiming a prophetic gospel. Consider the following account of Paul in Athens:
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”–because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” So Paul went out of their midst.
— Acts 17:16-33, NASB
In the midst of a people that loved to hear about new ideas, Paul proclaims He who is the ultimate end to what they had been searching for. Rather than submitting his beliefs into the mix as one more idea to consider, perhaps hoping for his message to be considered more logical or more attractive than others, he supersedes all other ideas by declaring to know and speak on behalf of the creator of all ideas. The god that was unknown to the Athenians was no longer unknown to them, Paul was proclaiming to them who He was, and in the process was showing the Athenians who they were. Are we missing part of the real and authentic gospel, if we retreat from speaking with such authority and conviction?
Paul ends his appeal with a startling prophecy. A day is coming in which all men everywhere will be raised from the dead for the purposes of judgment, God has proven it by raising the one who will do the judging from the dead already, and they therefore need to repent of their ignorance and sin and believe in this man of judgment. Rather than merely a doctrinal point to be studied, this was a startling prophecy that had real application to the people he was talking to. Either he was right or he was wrong, but the men hearing the prophecy didn’t simply “appreciate” it as a “beautiful religious belief”… he was either a lunatic or a man to be taken very, very seriously. Both responses can be seen in the text.
When we preach the gospel, it is both the fullfilment of prophecy and prophecy itself. Every word of God is precious, and just as there is a grave need to jealously guard our speech with regard to individual prophecies and revelations we give, we need to guard the universal prophecies that the Body of the Messiah has been given stewardship over in this time, the premier one being an expectation for salvation through Jesus both now and at His returning. As we guard it, let us also proclaim it in the spirit in which it was first given, when the gospel was by its very nature prophetic.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Athens, denomination, Hell, judgment, Paul, prophecy, prophets, religious beliefs