Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Five Apostolic Values - Tim Jack

It's coming up to Convention time again, which (together with happening upon my convention notebook) has reminded me of something I wanted to write about from last year's convention, but so far haven't. One of the speakers at last year's Convention was Tim Jack, the former national leader of the Apostolic Church in Australia. So this post is a summary of some of what Tim Jack spoke about at AblazeUK 2014, ending with his 5 Apostolic Values.

Tim reminded us how everything flows to us from God's great love, by His grace. Grace is not a commodity. Grace is God's love coming to us in Jesus.

And this grace is rooted in the communion between Jesus and the Father. It comes from the presence of the Triune God. This is where the power for our mission flows from. So we need to be people of the presence of God as w haven't been for a generation or maybe two. The gracious power of the presence of God melts the power of hostility and indifference.

The Church is the Body of Christ. So it's not separate from Christ.

Apostolic Church, we are not people of theory - we are people who have been crafted to be carriers of a ministry that displays to the world something of the humility, something of the servanthood, something of the power of God that comes and is delivered by faith. People like our forefathers understood it better than we. The mandate of our time is that we will unlock what is known and embedded into the fabric of our movement and wear the garments that they wore. They understood the message of Ephesians 4. They understood that there's a gift to the Church from the Ascended Christ of the 5-fold ministry - not to form a hierarchy, but to be a group of people who'll equip the saints. We need to come back to the place where we understand our mandate.

To be genuinely Apostolic we need these 5 Apostolic Values:

1) We are Christ-centred

Jesus Christ is the centre of everything. Everything is from Him, through Him, and to Him. 'Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.' (Eph. 1:9-10) This is God's plan, to bring everything together under Jesus Christ.

2) We are Theocratic

If Christ is the Head of the Church, then He is the One who rules the Church. Jesus moves among the Candlesticks - He's not far away. He is God with us. And He rules His Church through the ministries He raises up of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

3) We are a Covenantal People

We're washed in the same blood, filled with the same Spirit, and called to the same mandate. And so we resolve issues properly - we don't run away. Grace enables us to resolve whatever issues we might have. Growing up together into Christ the Head.

4) We are Pentecostal

There are young people in Pentecostal churches who have never heard prophecy or seen a healing. We must be open to the presence of God. Many churches are content with a changed atmosphere, but that isn't Pentecost! Manifestations of the Spirit are not enough. On the Day of Pentecost they broke out of the room and spoke Christ to people.

5) We are Missional

You cannot separate Christ from mission! In Acts 1:8 we're told that the Holy Spirit gives power to witness to Jesus. Under His power the Church will be bold and confident enough to engage society regardless of its hostility. Hostility melts away before true servanthood and true humility. The Holy Spirit does a whole range of things in Acts, but let's never forget that comes to engage us in meaningful witness into a broken world.
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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Abraham Rejoiced to See My Day: 11 Sermons Proclaiming Christ from the Life of Abraham

Jesus declares in John 8:56 that 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.' So Abraham saw Jesus. It's not just that Abraham heard about Jesus - He actually saw Him. (And the Jewish leaders Jesus was speaking to definitely understood it that way, for they start into a discussion about Jesus' age. In other words, they're trying to reject what Jesus has just said about Abraham seeing him by arguing that he's nowhere near old enough!)

Jesus is present in the book of Genesis. He appeared to Abraham. We find Him in Genesis in promises and patterns as well. Genesis is a book full of Jesus, so here are 11 sermons proclaiming Jesus from the life of Abraham in Genesis (plus one from the life of Isaac too).

Genesis 11:27-14:24  Jesus Promised, Patterned and Present to Sinful Abraham
Genesis 15  Justified by the Word of God
Genesis 16  Hagar meets Jesus
Genesis 17  Gospel Signs
Genesis 18-19  Who is this God?
Genesis 20  Law and Gospel in Gerar
Genesis 21  The LORD keeps His Word
Genesis 22  God will provide a Lamb
Genesis 23  Trusting in the God who raises the Dead
Genesis 24  A Bride for the Well-Beloved Son
Genesis 25  From Death to Life, From Barrenness to Fruitfulness

And then there's the one chapter of the Bible that Isaac gets all to himself...

Genesis 26 Isaac's Faith in Jesus

(P.S. You can find the sermons on the first 11 chapters of Genesis here.)
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Friday, 5 June 2015

A Foretaste of Heaven: Early Pentecostal Thoughts on Worship

Worship is a significant feature of Pentecostalism around the world. In some places Pentecostals seem to be identified more with a form of worship than even with their doctrine of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. But what was early Pentecostal worship like? Was it like today? And what did the early Pentecostals think about worship that led to it becoming such a significant feature of Pentecostal life?

Several months ago I was talking to a lady from church about her experience growing up in the Apostolic Church. She told me about the Penygroes Conventions back in the days of D.P. Williams, and about what her assembly was like when she was young, under such pastors as W.R. Thomas (which is just the sort of thing that interests me greatly, seeing as I’m writing a PhD which deals a lot with both D.P. Williams and W.R. Thomas!). Anyway, as we were talking, it dawned on me that, when she would talk about ‘worship’ or ‘praise and worship’, what she had in mind was rather different from what most people of my generation or younger describe as ‘praise and worship’ today.

Now, more recently I was re-reading T.N. Turnbull’s Brothers in Arms (his biography of the Williams brothers). At a few points in the course of the story, Pastor Turnbull writes about worship. Although he’s writing history, not theology, and dealing with specific occasions, this is a Pentecostal pastor rather than an academic historian who’s writing, so some of his thought on worship shines through. Now, that’s interesting, because, not only was T.N. Turnbull writing over 50 years ago (1963), but also, he was someone who’d been involved in the life and worship of the Apostolic Church from the very earliest days of Pentecostalism in the UK. Tom Turnbull wasn’t trying to piece together and reconstruct what early Pentecostal worship would have been like – no, he was there and experienced it. (He might not have experienced all the particular events he writes about, for he’s writing history, not memoir, but he did experience early Pentecostal worship.)

And each time Turnbull writes about worship, he associates it with heaven. His first description is of the early days of the Penygroes assembly, back at the beginning of the Apostolic Church in 1911.
In the new building charismatic phenomena were in evidence. The bliss was such that it seemed as if the people had already entered into heaven. The Spirit of the Lord was manifested mightily. The nine gifts of the Holy Spirit were in operation continually, especially the voice gifts, divers kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy. There was likewise healing and restoration of spirit, soul and body. By signs and wonders the Lord proved the veracity of His word.
Turnbull’s describing worship in Penygroes assembly as ‘bliss such that it seemed as if the people had already entered into heaven.’ He associates this with the manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit through the gifts and with the Lord speaking by His Word. Interestingly, he doesn’t have anything to say about music. We don’t know what songs they sang, what instruments they used, or any details at all about the musical side of things. In fact, if we stuck strictly to Turnbull’s description, we wouldn’t even know if they used to sing at all in Penygroes!

And this lack of mention of singing and music is a factor in all Turnbull’s descriptions of worship. (Off the top of my head, the only times I can ever remember him mentioning singing are at special events, funerals, and in the middle of a rather remarkable sermon preached by Jones Williams somewhere in North America.)

But even without singing, all Turnbull’s descriptions of worship connect it with heaven. Describing the very first worship service in the Apostolic Temple in Penygroes at its opening in 1933, Turnbull writes:
Solemn and ever to be remembered was the breaking of bread on that first Sunday morning in this new Temple. It brought God into the midst of the Convention as never before.
Worship here is chiefly tied to the Lord’s Table, and again, it’s heavenly, being associated with the presence of God. Now, it just so happens that I have a copy of the order of service for that Sunday morning, and whoever it belonged to originally made a few pencil notes on it about how things transpired. So, that means that I know that this heavenly time of worship at the Breaking of Bread actually led to less singing in the service! While there were some hymns in both English and Welsh earlier in the meeting (during the part which was considered the Ceremony of Opening for the Temple), after the sermon the congregation simply sang one chorus (Lest I forget Gethsemane – which they sang whilst seated) leading into the ‘Breaking of Bread Service’ which Turnbull writes about. The presence of God was such that the Breaking of Bread Service continued for over 40 minutes (remember, they’d already had all the hymn singing, the prayers, several addresses for the opening of the building, and the sermon – so this was just the portion of the meeting around the Lord’s Table!) and the planned closing hymn (The Church’s One Foundation) was never sung. As Turnbull says, this Breaking of Bread ‘brought God into the midst of the Convention as never before’, yet that presence of God had nothing to do with music or singing, and actually led to less singing rather than more.

Turnbull’s last description of worship is from a Convention in Melbourne, Australia in 1933 or 1934 (Turnbull doesn’t specify the date, but notes that it was during the centenary celebrations of the city held in 1933-34).
There is no sweeter time to an Apostolic member than that spent around the Lord’s Table, and on this occasion the members of the congregation found themselves drawn right into the heavenly places.
Again, worship is associated with heaven. Again, worship is associated above all with the Lord’s Table. Again, there isn’t any mention of singing or music. Turnbull goes on to talk about prophecy and preaching at that Breaking of Bread service, but he doesn’t say anything about music.

So, what can we conclude from Turnbull’s descriptions of early Apostolic worship? Well, certainly we can conclude that singing and music were not at the centre of their thought when it came to worship. I imagine that, if the early Apostolics were somehow transported into one of our modern Pentecostal meetings and heard us talk about a time of ‘praise and worship’, they’d be rather confused at the resulting time of singing. Now, I’m not at all suggesting that singing wasn’t part of their worship (you just have to look at our Welsh hymnbook, Molwch Dduw, to see how many hymns were written by the early Apostolics, so singing was certainly of some importance), but what I am suggesting is that, for them, ‘praise and worship’ was not equivalent to singing.

While singing doesn’t get a mention, the gifts of the Spirit, the preaching of Christ and His Cross, and, above all, the Breaking of Bread do. The focus then was on the Lord speaking by His Word, revealing Himself, and feeding His people. Our activity (our singing) was not nearly as important in their thought as God’s activity (in the Gifts, the Preaching of the Word, and the Breaking of Bread). The focus was on Jesus. In their worship they received God’s good gift in Word (preached and prophesied) and in Bread and Wine, and responded to these proclamation of Good News of salvation in Jesus.

And, as the Lord revealed Himself to them in His Word, in the Gifts, and at the Table, they knew and experienced the presence of their God. They enjoyed communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so they had a foretaste of heaven.

May we have such a foretaste too, as we gather in worship around Christ’s Word and Table this Lord’s Day!
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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Apostleship, Communion and Unity (Part 2): From Bradford to the World

How do churches share communion (fellowship) when they’re divided by language or geography? How can English-speaking Yorkshire churches be ‘in communion’ with Latvian/Romani/Russian speaking churches in Yorkshire? How can Yorkshire churches share communion with churches in the Scottish Highlands, the Welsh Valleys, or across the sea in Northern Ireland, when few of our members have ever been either that far north or west? If you’ve read Part 1, you might not be surprised to hear that my answer is going to be something to do with apostleship.

In Part 1, we were thinking about apostles as a ‘focus and sign of unity’ among the churches of an Area. But the connection between apostleship and communion doesn’t only apply internally within the life of the Area churches, but also externally, between the churches of the Area and the wider church. (We were using the Bradford Area as our test case last time, so we’ll continue to use it today.)

Now, the first hypothetical above isn’t really hypothetical at all; communion between English-speaking assemblies and Latvian/Romani/Russian-speaking assemblies is a real issue here. Here in our Area, we have a group of Latvian Romani churches affiliated to the Apostolic Church. In church they speak Latvian, Russian and Romani, so, although someone will translate to English for us if any of us are there, the difference in language means we don’t have a lot of joint events (although we did manage a combined multi-lingual baptismal service last Easter Sunday in Leeds). Yet, we’re still in communion with each other, despite our language differences.

But how do we ensure that that’s a real communion and not just one on paper? That’s a question which our Area Apostle took to heart, and in the solution, he has in a way become the embodiment of that communion.

So, practically, how do we maintain our communion? Well, every other Friday our Area Apostle and I go down to Wombwell (a town in which we have both an English assembly and a Latvian one in the same building) to meet with the Latvian pastor and leaders (along with an elder from our English assembly in the town) to pray together. We spend some time together. We hear the news of what’s happening in their churches. Sometimes we’re able to help with something practical (e.g. recently they were planting a church in a new town, so we were able to put them in touch with our pastor there to get somewhere for them to meet). Sometimes there is apostolic and prophetic ministry. But always we pray together. They pray for our churches, and we pray for their churches. And so, through those Friday evenings, even if the people of our churches don’t get together very often, there is true fellowship established between our English-speaking churches and our Latvian Romani churches. To a large extent, our communion is through our apostle.

But what about where geography divides? If we never see fellow-believers in Boness, Belfast, Bedford, or Bridgend, how can we still be in communion with them (never mind those in Brussels, Brisbane, Blantyre, or Belo Horizonte)? In this case, even the area apostle can’t pop over and spend some time praying with them on a Friday night. So how do we maintain ‘the apostles’ fellowship’?

Even here, apostleship comes into play in this communion. While our apostles may not regularly spend time in Bridgend or Belfast (or any of those other places) in fellowship with the saints there, they do share fellowship with the apostles from those Areas. The people in the Yorkshire assemblies are in communion with the people in Boness through our respective apostles. Here in Yorkshire we have communion with our apostles (†Leeds and †Bradford – for explanation, see Part 1). Up in Boness they have communion with their apostle (†Glasgow). And †Leeds and †Bradford share communion with †Glasgow. That communion manifests itself in some of the structures of the church (like Apostles’ Councils, Committees, and May Council), but goes beyond structures and exists even outside of them; for, ultimately, that communion is found in Christ the Head of the Church and True Apostle. †Leeds and †Bradford have fellowship with †Glasgow because they all minister as apostles in union with Christ, sharing together in His ministry of apostleship.

This communion becomes visible in things like ordinations as well. When †Bradford was ordained as an apostle a few years ago, †Leeds, †Glasgow, †Middlesbrough and †Newcastle all took part in the ordination (along with a number of retired apostles). The call to the apostleship came from the Apostles’ Council – which demonstrates that an apostle is not just recognised in some places, or in communion with certain churches – and the ordination itself was carried out by apostles from all over the north of England and Scotland. And so, even through the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil, the communion of the churches becomes visible.

So, as we sit in our seats on a Sunday morning in Yorkshire, we’re in communion with those who gather in Blantyre and Brisbane in two ways. Firstly a spiritual communion, because whether in Bradford, Blantyre or Brisbane, we share in communion with the same Christ who is the Head of the Church. One day that spiritual communion will be an experienced reality, when we gather together at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Now though, we only have foretastes of it – one of which is the second way we share in communion with the saints in Blantyre and Brisbane. This second way is an experienced communion through the apostleship, for the British apostles are in communion with the Malawian apostles and the Australian apostles.

All this means that the Bradford Area, or any other Area or Region for that matter, isn’t an insular, separate church, only looking in on itself. Instead, we can look out from Bradford to the world, enjoying a true communion with assemblies , both nearby and on the other side of the world.
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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Pentecostal Joy

At the Feast of Weeks (the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost), the Lord called His people to come and gather together in His presence and rejoice before Him. They had plenty of reason to rejoice. Pentecost came at the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest, so they could rejoice before the Lord for His great provision of good crops. But that wasn't their only reason for rejoicing. The Lord told them that they were to remember that they were slaves in Egypt (Deut. 16:12). So, they had every reason to rejoice before the LORD at Pentecost, because He's the God who delivered them out of slavery and bondage.

And we too have great reason to rejoice before Him, for He’s the God who has delivered us out of an even worse slavery and bondage! We weren’t slaves in Egypt, but the Bible tells us, we were in slavery and bondage to sin. Yet thanks be to God, for He has delivered us through the death of Jesus Christ His Son in our place on the Cross. Jesus has taken our punishment and defeated sin, death and the Devil for us so that we might be delivered safely out of slavery and bondage and instead be brought into the family of God as well-beloved sons and daughters.

Pentecost and joy go together. And not just any old joy, but joy for the sons and daughters of God. If you want to hear some more about that, then here's a sermon from Acts 2 and Deut. 16:9-12 for Whitsun Morning on Pentecostal Joy to which you can listen.
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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Apostleship, Communion and Unity: The Bradford Area as a Test Case

I’ve been thinking some very theological thoughts, so thought I’d try and clarify them by putting them into concrete terms. Last week I wrote about Benjamin McNair Scott’s book on apostleship and reflected a bit on Peter Wagner’s views. Today I’m going to write a bit more about apostleship (understood in a way rather different from that of Wagner).

I’m not sure how to say this without getting all my Apostolic and all my Anglican friends shouting at me at once, but, theologically, our apostles basically equate to their bishops. Before anyone gets annoyed with me for saying that, let me just say that, yes, functionally and practically there are significant differences (and even theological differences about the office itself), but theologically they play a very similar role. (And in case anyone’s worried that I’ve lost the plot and just started making things up, let me stress that this point isn’t original to me – I got it from D.P. Williams who saw the ministry of the Apostolic Church in terms of the 3 historic orders of ministry in the Christian church: the apostolic ministry/episcopate, the presbyterial ministry, and the diaconate. If you want to know about that, it’ll hopefully be in the final version of my PhD, as long as I don’t have to cut too many words.)

Anyway, Simon Chan (in his book Pentecostal Ecclesiology) has pointed out that Pentecostals need to build on their episcopal impulse (and, he notes, ‘whether [it] is called episcopal or apostolic ... is a moot point’, so, like D.P. Williams, he sees the connection between the two) by reflecting on what the church has already said about the historic episcopacy. In fact, he sees this as a significant way of guarding against misguided versions of apostleship (like the one advocated by Wagner). One of the things Dr Chan particularly highlights is the connection between the bishop/apostle and communion.

In the tradition of the Christian church, a bishop is a ‘focus and sign of unity.’ Thus the apostolic ministry is closely tied to the communion of the church. After all, the early church continued steadfastly not only in the apostles’ doctrine, but also in the apostles’ fellowship (Acts 2:42).

But what does that look like in practice. I thought I’d take the Bradford Area as a concrete example. Now, I realise things are a bit different up here than in other parts of the country, as we are the only Area with an area apostle who does not have the responsibility of a local assembly. But that’s part of the reason why I’m using our Area as my concrete example, as, in many ways, that helps make this communion aspect of the apostolic ministry more visible here.

So, here in the Bradford Area we (currently) have two apostles: let’s call them the apostle in Leeds (†Leeds) and the apostle in Bradford (†Bradford). †Leeds is the area apostle, †Bradford pastors the mother church of the Area. As he doesn’t have the responsibility of pastoring one local assembly, †Leeds regularly visits each of the assemblies in the Area. That means that each assembly sees him about once every other month – about 6 times a year – and so he’s much more than simply a visiting preacher. Such regular presence allows for a different kind of communion. The people in each church don’t know him simply as the area apostle who signs the odd letter or whom they see at one-off Area services. Instead, he is part of the life of their assembly. In a sense, he belongs to them – he’s not the pastor of a neighbouring church, but rather part of their own church: one with them.

And so when it does come to Area services, when †Leeds preaches or takes the Table, he does so not as ‘the’ apostle (imposing an authority from above), but rather as ‘their’ apostle (representing them and their churches, as well as standing in persona Christi). Thus the authority of the area apostle is an authority-in-communion: not an appropriation to the individual of authority, but the authority of the church expressed through the apostle in loving communion.

This communion of the people of the churches with the area apostle also has an impact on the unity of the area, for while he is ‘their’ apostle, he isn’t uniquely theirs. They share him with each of the other assemblies in the area. And so unity with the apostle brings with it unity between the assemblies.

Now, of course, it’s not the apostle who creates this unity. It is Christ Himself who is the unity of the church and who brings this unity of the church as one in Himself about through His Holy Spirit. The church is one, has always been one, and will always be one. Yet, we do not always live out the unity which is ours in Christ. But again, we need to be careful here, it’s not the apostle who enables us to live out this unity, but Christ the Head of the Church who ministers through the apostle. Christ is the true apostle, and so all true apostolic ministry can only be carried out in union with Christ. It is Christ the Apostle who is at work through his apostle.

So, as the area apostle draws the assemblies together in unity, it is Christ who is at work drawing his people together as one. This isn’t an imposed unity, but a unity in loving communion, which then expresses itself in prayer, and care, and fellowship. As the area apostle moves about among the assemblies, the people of the assemblies hear of what’s going on in each of the other assemblies – not through a formal report, but in the context of fellowship – and that leads to opportunities to pray for one another, to provide help and care for one another, and to join together in worship in united fellowship.

In our Area we don’t have a lot of Area services. Gone are the days of District rallies and Area conventions. Apart from special events (like ordinations, installations and farewells) we only tend to get together (as churches) twice a year: on Good Friday and at Whitsun. Both happen in Leeds, so I’m always one of the last to leave. So I can tell you this, despite the infrequency of our combined services, there is a warm communion between the people of the various assemblies in the Bradford Area. We’re united, not by a vision statement (we, thankfully, don’t have such a thing) or a style (in all our unity, there’s a wide stylistic diversity between the assemblies of the Area). Rather, we’re united by and in Christ through the Spirit, and that unity and warm fellowship has been expressed throughout the year in our communion with our area apostle. As the area apostle shares in the life of each of our churches, then our churches share in each other’s lives through him.

Now, maybe some of that sounds a bit strange. But for those of you who are part of the Bradford Area, although you might not have quite expressed it like that, you can probably recognise our experience in what I’ve written. I’ve simply tried to express a bit theologically the lived reality of the church in our Area.

Our area apostle is about to retire, and things will look different in the future. Not every apostle is the same – as I said at the outset, for these last five years the Bradford Area has been somewhat unique – but this happens to be one of the great strengths of our current apostle. He’s a good and faithful preacher of Jesus Christ, excellent in administration (as the wider Apostolic Church in the UK well knows!), a caring pastor to the pastors and elders of the Area, yet in and through all those things he’s brought a deeper communion between the churches of the Area. (I imagine that at his farewell service, we’ll see quite concretely that he really has been a focus and sign of our unity.)

Now, if people had been expecting a Wagner-esque ‘apostle’, with his extraordinary authority, mega-church building, and ‘catalysing’ of ‘networks’, they might be disappointed. Our apostleship simply doesn’t look like that (and nor, would I argue, should it). Instead we’ve got something much better. For, if people are looking for one sent from Christ the Head of the Church as a representative in the outworking of His purpose in the church, then what could be better than an apostle who builds up the churches in unity together in Jesus! After all, Christ’s prayer for the church is ‘that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me’ (John 17:21).

Most of the assemblies in our area have been growing over the past few years. In several of them the congregation has doubled or more than doubled. But in all of them there’s been a much more significant growth: a spiritual growth, a growth in Christ-likeness. We’ve been growing together as a church in the area in health and maturity in Christ, and our communion together has been a significant factor in that. And so, I rather suspect that that growing in healthiness has a lot to do with the growing congregations.

So, when our area apostle retires next month, we don’t need to panic that things are going to collapse. While a Wagner-esque ‘apostleship’ of extraordinary authority rests very much on the man, an apostle who builds as the focus and sign of unity builds something that will stand strong and stable long after he’s gone. Ephesians 2:20 talks about the foundation laid by apostles and prophets. If an apostle tries to lay a foundation in his own charisma, it won’t last long after him. But a foundation laid in loving communion (which is, after all, the very nature of the Triune God) is a foundation laid deep in Christ, and so in Christ it will stand strong.

Anyway, that’s plenty for now. Next time I’ll write about how that connection of communion and apostleship works beyond our own internal life as an Area.
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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Songs for the Ascension (Plus one "En Français")

Thursday is the greatest day of the year — Ascension Day! There aren't nearly enough worship songs nowadays about the Ascension of Christ, so — in anticipation of the big day itself — here are a few songs on the theme of the Ascension of our Lord. Click on the title of the first one for a video and the next three for simple audio recordings. (There's also a link to the first one in French — il y a aussi un lien vers le premier chanson en français.)

1. Before the Throne of God Above  [Words, Chords and Sheet Music]  (Charitie Bancroft)

Surely this must be one of the greatest hymns of all time. It's certainly one of my favourites, and a favourite in my assembly too. There are some songs that people mumble along to for years, but there are others where longstanding members and brand new people alike just suddenly burst into song with joy. In our church, this is one of those. (Also, Charitie Bancroft was from Northern Ireland, like me.) The wonderful new tune we all know it to was written by Vikki Cook. (For another Vikki Cook ascension song, see under Hail the Day below).

(And just for good measure, here it is in French — Voici un vidéo de la traduction française.)

2. See the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph  [Words]  (Christopher Wordsworth)
     (RH 198; NRH 274)
     Tune: Hyfrydol (I will sing the wondrous story)

This hymn is full of fantastic ascension theology. We've been singing every year at Ascensiontide since I came to Leeds 5 years ago. (We didn't know the tune in the book, so we just chose a tune we did know, and it works quite well that way.)

3. Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise   [Words]  (Charles Wesley)
     (RH 188; NRH 266)
     Tune: Llanfair  (it will also work the tune of Christ the Lord is Risen Today)
If you want something more contemporary, Steve and Vikki Cook (who wrote the tune we all know for Before the Throne of God) have adapted the words of this one and set it to new music with a chorus and bridge. Have a listen to their version here.

4. Where High the Heavenly Temple Stands   [Words]  (Old Scottish Paraphrase for Heb. 4:14 ff.)
     (RH 201; NRH 281)
      Tune: Boston  (the American tune for When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)

The Old Scottish Paraphrases have never had a great press, but their job was simply to put what the Bible says in ways that could be sung. You could almost think of this as a sermon in song — and what a sermon this one is! Here's one verse as an example:
In every pang that rends the heart
The Man of Sorrows has a part;
He sympathizes with our grief,
And to the sufferer sends relief.

5. He is the King of Kings (Glorified, Risen and Ascended)

Okay, I thought I'd find a video of this on Youtube to link to, but it turns out I couldn't find it anywhere. However it's the sort of old Pentecostal chorus that I'm sure lots of people know.

He is the King of Kings;
He is the Lord of Lords;
He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 
Glorified, Risen and Ascended;
Glorified, Risen Lord.
Glorified, Risen and Ascended;
Glorified, Risen Lord.

P.S. Here's a post from a few years ago on singing Ascension Day Psalms.
P.P.S. For more on the Ascension, click on the Ascension label at the bottom of the blog.
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Friday, 8 May 2015

"Apostle": You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

I’m in the middle of reading a fascinating book by Benjamin McNair Scott on apostles (Apostles Today: Making Sense of Contemporary Charismatic Apostolates: A Historical and Theological Appraisal). It’s the book of his PhD dissertation, which is fascinating enough in itself – a PhD on apostles in the church today by a Church of England priest.

It’s already got me thinking a lot. After all, I’m an Apostolic, and if there’s one thing people generally associate with the Apostolic Church it’s our belief in apostles for today. And what’s more, I wrote my MTh dissertation on apostleship, and the subject even makes it into one of my PhD chapters as well.

One of the things it’s got me thinking about is how our theology can easily be changed or even subverted through unnoticed redefinition. I’ve written somewhere before (though possibly not on the blog) about how Wayne Grudem’s view of prophecy totally transforms what prophecy is by classical Apostolic understandings. However, there haven’t been any books in print which present the Apostolic understanding for decades and we no longer have our own theological college or any source of theological training for our pastors in this country, so they have no access to teaching on the classical Apostolic understanding (other than what might or might not have been handed down in church life). Grudem’s books are both readily available and widely recommended (I, too, often encourage people to get hold of some of his books, like Bible Doctrines, Systematic Theology, or Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth) and so people read what he says about prophecy and often accept his definitions. Thus, without really realising it, our understanding of something like prophecy is transformed by redefinition. (Now, I’m not saying this has entirely happened in the UK Apostolic Church, but I do hear more and more people speaking about prophecy in more and more Grudemesque terms. So the influence is there, and I reckon it’s growing.)

Anyway, one of the chapters in McNair Scott’s book has got me thinking on the same lines about apostleship. In one chapter he presents an overview of the teachings of 5 popular charismatic teachers on apostleship, and it demonstrated to me just how radically different some of the common ideas about apostleship doing the rounds today are from the either the classical Apostolic position or the biblical view (which, after writing an MTh on the subject, I’d argue aren’t that far apart).

Anyway, if you want the 5 overviews, get McNair Scott’s book and read it. But I just want to take one as an example here of the radical difference: C. Peter Wagner.

Wagner defines an apostle as:
a Christian leader gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the church within an assigned sphere and/or spheres of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and by setting things in order accordingly for the expansion of the kingdom of God.
(The definition is from Wagner’s book Apostles Today, and is cited on p.66 of McNair Scott’s book.)

At a glance, it might not seem that shocking. Wagner talks about church government, he talks about the Holy Spirit’s work, He talks about sending by God. But actually, the way he talks about these things is a bit worrying.

Yes, Wagner talks about church government – but he seems to set the apostle outside of that government. The apostle can establish government in the church, but he doesn’t appear to be subject to it. For Wager, a single apostle has ‘”extraordinary” spiritual authority “to assume and exercise general leadership.”’ Apostles, he insists, have ‘exceptional authority.’ This might be over a network of churches, over individuals, over a specialised ministry, or over a geographic territory!

Essentially, Wagner’s apostles are non-ecclesial. Some of them might take authority over churches, but they don’t seem to come under the authority of the church and seem to be able to exist far outside the structures of the church. What’s more, they seem to be, to a large degree, lone-ranger apostles. Yes, Wagner leads some sort of coalition of apostles, and he talks about horizontal apostles who bring apostles together to cooperate in things, but this is essentially a coming together of individuals. It is not a collegiate apostleship (one of the fundamental marks of Apostolic apostleship – when the 2016 ‘centenary’ comes round next year what it’s actually the centenary of is a stand our apostles took over collegiate apostleship against an attempt by an individual to assert his own apostolic authority).

Apostolic apostles cannot be non-ecclesial, because our whole understanding of apostleship is tied up with Christ’s Headship of the Church. Christ, the Head of the Church, is the true Apostle (Heb. 3:1), and He gives gifts of men to His Church, who, through their ministry in union with Him, express His apostleship. That’s also why we need a collegiate apostleship – no one man by himself can express the fullness of the apostleship which is in Christ Jesus.

(The non-ecclesial nature of Wagner’s apostles comes across too in the way he links them with ‘the expansion of the kingdom,’ rather than the building of the Church. I’ve been hearing this creeping in recently in our circles – the idea that the church exists for the kingdom. But in Apostolic theology it’s the other way round. Christ and His Church are at the centre of Gods’ Eternal Purpose. As D.P. Williams wrote, ‘There is nothing higher nor nearer the heart of our glorified Lord than His Church.’)

Wagner’s talk about ‘hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ troubles me as well. Here we have a man, who is accountable only to God and perhaps any peer-to-peer apostle accountability that he has set up for himself, who comes to the church to tell them what the Holy Spirit is saying. Yet, when the true and living God speaks, He speaks an open Word. He doesn’t give secrets to individuals so that the church must receive their secret knowledge. That sounds much more like Gnosticism than Christianity. When God speaks in prophecy, He encourages – in fact, commands – the church to weigh and judge it to make sure that it is God speaking. We are not to accept that something is of God just because one person says so, even if they claim the sort of divine authority Wagner seems to want to give to his ‘apostles.’

Biblical apostles didn’t give themselves to bringing secret messages from the Holy Spirit to individual churches. No; they gave themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). That’s how apostles tell churches what the Holy Spirit is doing – by preaching the Gospel Word of salvation in Jesus Christ (for that’s what the Holy Spirit is doing – applying the Redemption purchased by Christ). Such independence on the part of apostles together with a view of them as the people who alone hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches opens up a very real danger of abuse.

Wagner also differentiates between the gift of apostleship and the office of apostle. McNair Scott summarises this: ‘the gift is given by grace alone, but the office is attained “as a result of works that have demonstrated faithfulness in stewardship of the gift.”’ Perhaps I’m misreading McNair Scott’s summary at this point, as I realise now that the word ‘attain’ is his word, not part of the quote from Wagner, but this sounds like it makes God’s Gifts (for the office is a gift to the church, even if Wagner wants to separate the two terms) dependent, not on grace alone, but on grace and our cooperation with grace. This, then, leads people’s understanding of grace and gifts away from the Reformation evangelicalism to a much more Roman position (especially given the huge emphasis which Wagner places on apostleship – with such a view it’s only to be expected that people would take it as a model of how God’s giving of gifts works in general).

Ultimately, I fear that Wagner’s view of apostleship leads to a Theology of Glory (as opposed to a Theology of the Cross) – looking for God and His works in the things that seem biggest, brightest and best to us, rather than looking at them through the Cross. For example, Wagner’s idea of an ‘congregational’ apostle is the pastor of a very big church – one that grows beyond 700 or 800 people. Now, maybe this shouldn’t be all that surprising – after all, Wagner was the ‘church growth’ guru – but numbers are all that matters here. In worldly terms, it looks successful. And so apostleship is, for Wagner, associated with (apparent) success. He even advocates something he calls a ‘workplace apostle’ (the whole idea of which seems to have no biblical support) who are business entrepreneurs who can be identified ‘owing to their level of wealth’!

Contrast that with D.P. Williams, who insisted that apostleship entails suffering in fellowship with Christ. The Church and her ministers ‘can hold glory only to the extent that we are crucified.’ Unless there is this sort of cruciform apostleship, they’ll be like ‘children playing on the seashore’ with ‘superficialities’ rather than ‘facing the rough seas’ and so venturing into the deep waters of God’s Eternal Purpose in Christ. When Williams talks about the power of apostles, he writes:
The Apostleship is invested with power and authority to carry forth the Revelation committed unto them: in prayer, intercession, the ministry of the Word; to preach, teach and heal; to toil, labour and suffer; to ordain Elders, impart spiritual Gifts (confirmed of God with signs and wonders); to rule and govern with demonstration of Divine wisdom, knowledge and discernment.
See that – power to suffer. (And, by the way, the power, he says, is invested in the apostleship, not in a lone apostle.)

Ultimately, my fear is that Wagner’s view of apostleship leads to a rather man-centred message. It seems like he places a lot of emphasis on the importance of having (his version of) apostles – so much so that the church must restore them in order to experience a great end-times revival. He sees apostles as being able to ‘take territory from the enemy and convert it to the kingdom.’ In fact, on the website of his coalition, the statement of belief states that the fivefold ministries (including apostles) will ‘establish the Kingdom of God on earth’! Surely only Jesus can give reviving, not mere men, and certainly only Jesus can establish His Kingdom.

Apostles are not the hope of the church, only Jesus is. As D.P. Williams warned, ‘If we put our trust in the gifts, and not in the Giver, we shall soon become prodigals from our Father’s Home.’

So, Wagner might use the same word as us, but he means something very different. He says he believes in apostles today, and we believe in apostles today. But that doesn’t mean we believe the same thing at all.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll have more to say about McNair Scott’s book in the future, as I haven’t finished reading it yet (and also, he’s already promised that he’s going to talk about apostleship in the Apostolic Church in a later chapter).
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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Even the Italians aren’t Memorialists (Or even more evidence that Apostolics aren’t Zwinglians!)

My Italian isn’t brilliant, but I’ve been managing to work through part of the section on the Lord’s Supper in the Catechismo Apostolico (which is the Catechism of the Italian Apostolic Church). The Catechismo isn’t a small book in question and answer format like our old British Apostolic catechisms used to be (and yes, we had several over the years, some in Welsh and some in English), but a 230 page book which sets out ‘the doctrinal content of the Christian faith’. It isn’t anywhere nearly as detailed and exhaustive as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but it’s quite impressive for Pentecostals. I suspect that it’s no coincidence that it was published the year before the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was promulgated – as one scholar has noted, there tends to be a ‘muted apologetic against ... Italian Catholicism’ in Italian Apostolic doctrinal works.

And that’s what makes the Catechismo so interesting when it comes to the Lord’s Supper. You see, if any national Apostolic Church was to state a Zwinglian Memorialist view, you’d expect it to be the Italians by way of reaction to Roman Catholic teaching (remember the ‘muted apologetic against ... Catholicism’). Yet even they don’t.

According to the Catechismo, ‘the Lord's Supper is much more important and complex than imagined by those who simply see it as a simple commemoration of past events.’ See that! It’s not just a commemoration. Instead the Supper ‘expresses in the present the communion of believers with their Saviour and therefore among themselves.’

The Catechismo explicitly excludes the sacramentalism of the Roman Catholic Church when it comes to the Supper (along with the sacrifice of the Mass), arguing that ‘it is absurd to think that participation in the Lord's Supper produces the communion with the Lord and among the participants.’ Instead, participation in the sacrament ‘expresses and reinforces’ the already existing communion ‘if the participants know how to discern the Lord's body.’

‘The Lord is truly present among believers who celebrate the Supper.’ This is not a physical presence in the sense of transubstantiation, but yet it is a real spiritual presence. There should be a great respect for the sacrament, and so ‘the remains of the bread and wine used for the Supper are destroyed, and so not put to a profane use.’ (By the way, that’s also supposed to be the case in the UK.)

The Catechismo does play the Italian Apostolic understanding of the sacrament off against the Roman Catholic teaching. But that doesn’t cause the Italian Apostolics to run for cover to the opposite extreme of Zwinglian Memorialism. Ultimately they appear to take a Calvinist spiritual presence view (in common with most early British Apostolics – those who weren’t Calvinists at the Table had an even higher view), and emphasise the Supper as a meal of loving communion, a covenant renewal, and a foretaste of the New Jerusalem and the perfect eternal communion of theosis. (NB The undestanding of salvation as theosis in the Catechismo – ‘ultimately, to be a Christian means to participate in the Trinitarian life of God.’)
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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

D.P. Williams on the true test of what’s from the Holy Spirit

Watch lest the under-currents will capture you. There is an under-current at work; and in its outward manifestation, it is imitating the Spirit of God. And it is trying, and often succeeding , to carry with it many of God’s children because it is such a close copy, such a good imitation of the real thing. But try the spirits, says the Word. Test them, examine them so as to see whether they agree with the Blood, with Calvary and the Atonement. That is the supreme test. I tell you, the Apostolic Church believes in the Blood, believes that the only condition and basis of the world’s restoration is Calvary’s Cross. Let us watch the under-currents.

(D.P. Willliams, Penygroes Convention, 1933 – Riches of Grace,  ix.5, May 1934, p.179)
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