Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Red Herring of ‘the Aroma of Rome’

At Council last week a friend was accusing me (in jest, he assures me) of ‘the aroma of Rome’ in my presentation of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. And when it comes to the Lord’s Supper, there’s nothing British evangelicals fear more than the aroma of Rome. The Protestant Reformation roundly rejected Rome’s doctrine of the sacrament, with its concept of the mass as a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead, its withholding of the cup from the laity, and its hiding of Christ’s Words of Institution. To the 21st Century evangelical mind, however, the ‘Roman’ doctrine tends to be simplistically reduced to one word: ‘transubstantiation’!

Despite the fact that the Reformers themselves were much more concerned with the sacrifice of the mass and the withholding of the cup and Christ’s Words than they were with transubstantiation, transubstantiation has become the Protestant bogeyman. Yet, as transubstantiation is rather a complicated philosophical theory, it isn’t generally very well understood by people, with the result that good Protestants can easily end up terrified of good Protestant understandings of the Lord’s Supper, simply because they’re worried they might sound a bit like what they think of as transubstantiation and be tainted by ‘the aroma of Rome.’

Just before he died, D.P. Williams warned the Apostolic Church of the danger of this red herring. His worry was that over-caution ‘in trying to avoid the false assertions of the theory of transubstantiation as put forward by Roman Catholicism’ would mean that we ‘failed to grasp the truth’ of true communion with Christ in the sacrament. The danger of such a fear is that we miss the true ‘mystical union of eating His flesh and drinking of His blood’ which is what ‘we can and should by faith experience, and by that communion be made partakers of the Living Christ.’

In other words, the fear of the aroma of Rome is a red herring that distracts us from the reality of the presence of Christ in the Breaking of Bread. We can end up so over-cautious in how we speak of the sacrament that we only speak of it in negative terms of what it is not, and miss the positive of what it actually is. It’s not transubstantiation, but it is the true body and blood of Christ. As D.P. Williams put it, at the Table we feed upon ‘the Unblemished Lamb who has been sacrificed for us’, Christ our Passover, and derive ‘from Him the blessings of our redemption.’

But was this purely an idiosyncratic view of D.P. Williams? Not at all! Pastor Dan’s co-worker in Penygroes, Thomas Davies, also writes of how Christ’s ‘Sacrifice becomes our paschal Food; [His] bloody Cross our well belov├Ęd Board.’ When ‘lovingly the Apostle’s fingers brake the bread’ and ‘all in reverence partake’, then Christ’s ‘sinless Flesh is bruised to our view.’ And this real presence of Christ is linked with Christ speaking through the words of institution pronounced by the minister at the Table. As the congregation hears His Words ‘broken for you’ proclaimed, Christ Himself is speaking, saying to them ‘This have I done for you!’

Nor was this understanding of the sacrament confined to the Welsh section of the Apostolic Church. Andrew Turnbull, the leading apostle of the Apostolic Church in Scotland, writes of a Breaking of Bread service in Northern Ireland in 1924 at which the Lord ‘shewed forth His power in a marvellous way’. Turnbull explains the great power of Christ at the Breaking of Bread through the real presence. ‘Truly Christ has come in the flesh, at one word from Him by His Spirit.’ Again we see the connection between the real presence and the Words of Institution, as well as the connection of the Words of Institution and the work of the Spirit which D.P. Williams also wrote about. Furthermore, when Christ is present ‘in the flesh’ at the Breaking of Bread, then ‘devils cried out and fled, bodies were healed, and many saved.’

But the real presence was not only the Apostolic understanding of the Breaking of Bread in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We also see strong evidence for it in England. A hymn written by a certain ‘H.M.S.’ from the Albert Street assembly in Bradford refers to Christ’s ‘precious Body broken’ and to His ‘Blood Most Holy’ at the sacrament. The final stanza of the hymn is a clear affirmation of the real presence (even almost bordering on Eucharistic adoration!):

Oh Broken Body of the Lord,
Oh Food and Drink most precious;
Until He come, beloved, adored,
Oh may we dwell with patience.

George Perfect, ordained as a teacher in the Body of Christ in Bradford, and later called as an apostle and sent as a missionary to Nigeria, wrote of how we ‘meet our risen Lord’ and feast on Him, the Word, in the Breaking of Bread. The bread which we eat in the sacrament is ‘the Bread of Heaven’ which ‘God has given to mortal men.’ The wine which we drink is ‘His blood [which] cleanse[s] from every stain.’ Perfect also connects the presence of Christ with the Words of Institution: it is through ‘His Word of power and grace’ that we meet with Christ face to face in the sacrament.

Nowadays, words like ‘symbol’ get liberally sprinkled throughout any talk of the sacrament, like antibodies to fight off the infection of the aroma of Rome. But could it be that an oversensitivity to the aroma of Rome accidentally leads to an autoimmune response where we end up turning against our own historic (and very Protestant) doctrine of the sacrament? No Apostolic has to share the doctrine of D.P. Williams, Thomas Turnbull, George Perfect and Tom Davies on the Breaking of Bread (the Tenets only commit us to understanding it as a sacrament rather than an ordinance without defining a particular understanding of Christ’s presence). But neither can anyone dismiss a view held by many of the most significant founding apostles of our movement as ‘the aroma of Rome’. It’s not Roman; it’s Apostolic!
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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Prayer Teaching Sessions 1: Theology of Prayer

On Monday night we had the first of our Bradford Area Training Sessions on Prayer. So, as promised, here are the recordings of the teaching sessions for anyone who missed them, or missed something in them and wants to hear them again.

Session 1: The Relationship at the Heart of Prayer (aka Prayer and the Trinity)
Session 2: Gospel Prayer
Handout PDF: Theology of Prayer Notes

A few people asked for some quotes that weren't on the handout as well, so here you go:

‘Prayer is learning to enjoy what Jesus has always enjoyed.’ (Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, p.21) 
'We pray as it were by His [i.e. Jesus'] mouth, since He gives us entrance and audience, and intercedes for us (Calvin, Geneva Catechism
'The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.' (Westminster Shorter Catechism, A.30) 
‘Communion consists in giving and receiving.’ (John Owen, Communion with the Triune God). 
 'We can only pray "in the name of Christ" because Christ has already, in our name, offered up our desires to God and continues to offer them.' (James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace)

Also, here are the hymns we mentioned:

From Redemption Hymnal, No. 386 - On sharing in the Son's good relationship with His Father

So nigh, so very nigh to God,
I cannot nearer be;
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He.

So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be;
The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me.

Why should I ever anxious be,
Since such a God is mine?
He watches o’er me night and day,
And tells me “Mine is thine.”

RH 539 - The Blood of Jesus is what we're relying on in prayer

Behold the throne of grace,
The promise calls us near,
There Jesus shows a smiling face
And waits to answer prayer.

That rich atoning blood,
Which sprinkled round we see,
Provides for those who come to God
An all prevailing plea.

My soul ask what thou wilt,
Thou canst not be too bold;
Since His own blood for thee He spilt,
What else can He withhold.

Beyond thy utmost wants
His love and pow’r can bless;
To praying souls He always grants,
More than they can express.

Thine image, Lord, bestow,
Thy presence and Thy love;
I ask to serve Thee here below,
And reign with Thee above.

Have a look at RH 385 (Why Should I Fear the Darkest Hour?) and RH 201 (Where High the Heavenly Temple Stands) as well. Jesus is all we need in prayer.

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Some Fascinating Research from which the Apostolic Church can learn

Yesterday I posted a quotation from Luke Worsfold’s PhD dissertation on the Apostolic Church in New Zealand. It’s a fascinating piece of research, partly because, as far as I’m aware, it’s the only piece of scholarly research on the Apostolic Church in any country, apart from what's been done by Bryn Thomas or me. (But if any of you do know of any other academic work on the Apostolic Church, let me know about it!) If anyone happens to have read Worsfold’s dissertation and has also read anything I’ve written on ecclesiology or prophecy, you’ll be able to guess that I’d disagree very strongly with his conclusions, but disagreement over what conclusions to draw doesn’t undermine the value of the research. His work needs to be read by ministers within the Apostolic Church, for there are lots of things we should learn from the data he presents (although, of course, the things I think we need to learn from it are not necessarily the things he thinks we need to learn!).

Now, I’m used to reading academic things, but I realise for a lot of people in the Apostolic Church this dissertation might be a bit uncomfortable – it’s not a difficult academic read, but it’s simply that it attempts to take an objective academic look at the church. In other words, although Luke was an Apostolic pastor in Australia when he wrote it and although his father had been the president of the New Zealand Apostolic Church, this is not a sympathetic look at the Apostolic Church. When it deals with history, it’s critical academic history, not hagiography. That might not surprise us so much with long distant history, but this account comes right up to the 21st century and involves living people. As Luke himself notes, in a small denomination like the New Zealand Apostolic Church, people are more likely to only speak openly about the good things, or to put a good spin on everything, so a frank critical (in the academic sense) treatment might come as rather a shock.

At times, I think Worsfold is too critical, particularly in some things to do with prophecy and also in his assessment of D.P. Williams and the origins of the UK church. When it comes to 1916, I completely disagree with his interpretation of events, and think it's a bit overly reliant on anti-Apostolic sources. And I’m saying this not based on the hagiographical accounts of the movement’s origins (of which Worsfold is so critical), but based on my research on D.P. Williams over the past decade. If Worsfold’s reconstruction were correct it would involve a huge discrepancy between Williams’ actions and his theology. And while, yes, it is quite possible for people to act out of line with their theology, such a discrepancy between Pastor Dan’s ecclesiology and what he did would be completely out of character for him. So much of what he did was determined by his ecclesiology that it is very hard to swallow a reconstruction of 1916 which would fly in its face.

When it comes to the prophets and prophecy, I suppose the reasons I’d think Worsfold is too critical stem from the fact that he takes rather a different view of the nature of prophecy than I would. He deals with the shift in New Zealand Apostolic attitudes to prophecy, moving from a D.P. Williams-like understanding to a more Grudemesque position. I still stand at the D.P. Williams end of the spectrum, Worsfold doesn’t. As a result he’s much more critical of the contents of transcripts of prophecies than I would be. For example, at one point he dismisses a prophecy about growth in the New Zealand Apostolic church on the grounds that God wouldn’t be interested in denominational statistics. While agreeing that the Lord likely has a rather different view of denominational statistics than the ones we can so easily be tempted to fall into, I don’t see in any way how that would mean you couldn’t have a genuine prophecy about growth, for the Lord does care both about the assemblies, and about His servants who sometimes need encouragement.

Anyway, my goal here is not to refute Worsfold, but to encourage people to read his dissertation. There are lots of historical lessons here for us to learn from. New Zealand often seems to be held up as a shining example of growth and progress. Worsfold shows that that isn’t necessarily the case at all. So for those who would be tempted by the grass always being greener on the Antipodean side, a warts and all account is a profitable counter-balance. But much more importantly than that, Worsfold’s research presents us with so much we can learn from – sometimes in the form of problems and mistakes which have been made elsewhere, sometimes in the form of good things from other places. He also highlights how quickly and easily a denomination’s theology can shift when prospective ministers aren’t taught its own doctrine. (Worsfold particularly highlights this with regard to the doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.)

I’m certainly not saying Yea and Amen to everything in Luke’s dissertation, but just because I disagree with his conclusions doesn’t mean I want to ignore his work. Research like this should be of benefit to the church. But it can’t be of benefit unless it’s read by ministers of the church. So I want to encourage people to read it. Read it critically (in the good sense of the word, just as Luke has read the history and theology of the New Zealand church critically). Read it and learn.

I might interact a bit with some things from Luke’s dissertation on the blog in the future, because it really is a fascinating piece of research with a lot for us to learn from.
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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A Message from New Zealand: Forgetting Our Theology

It seems that Pentecostalism as portrayed in the New Zealand Apostolic Church is now less concerned with theology than it is with praxis. Over the last decade, the focus in the national publication, Apostolic News, has been on church growth and mission.* Little, if any, theological writing currently emanates from the Apostolic Church yet there is much theology within her own archives and in published academic journals which invites interaction. The sermons of yesteryear contained much theologising with a heavy reliance on Scripture, but this has given way to the inspirational and motivational talk.
*These emphases are not new to the Apostolic Church, being present in the core establishment of the movement.

W. Luke Worsfold, Subsequence, Prophecy and Church Order in the Apostolic Church New Zealand (PhD diss., Victoria University of Wellington, 2004), p.135
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Thursday, 10 September 2015

Prophecy, the Church, and the Presence of God: Some Thoughts from Terry Virgo’s 2015 Donald Gee Lecture

Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I defected to the AoG last night (for one night only mind you)! Mattersey Hall, the AoG Bible college, held its annual Donald Gee Lecture last night, with Terry Virgo, the founder of NewFrontiers as the speaker, so I went down to Nottinghamshire for the evening to be there. And I’m really glad I did. It was a fantastic night which left me encouraged by what God has done, and excited about what He's going to do.

Terry Virgo spoke on his life and ministry and the history of NewFrontiers. Now, here in England, NewFrontiers is well-known as dynamic, growing movement of Spirit-filled, Bible-based, gospel-preaching churches. And, until more recently transitioning to a new generation of leadership, Terry Virgo’s own ministry has been almost synonymous with the movement. So many of those churches were either planted by him or greatly impacted by him. So, in that context, it was really encouraging to hear that Terry got saved through the witness of his sister (who herself had only just got saved at a Billy Graham crusade in London). Who knows how God will use the person the brand new convert has just led to the Lord!

Another thing that really struck me in Terry’s story was the recurring significance of prophecy (so much so that I asked him about it in the Q&A after the lecture). As Terry said, the baptism in the Spirit changed everything for him. But after that, prophecy seems to have been of key importance at many significant junctures in his life and the life of NewFrontiers. It was after hearing 2 prophecies in a Pentecostal meeting in Brighton he happened to attend one Sunday that he gave up his job in London with its daily commute. When he later started studying at Bible college in London, he attended Westminster Chapel to hear Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Sunday evenings, but went to a little, newly begun Pentecostal church in the mornings. There he was struck by the manifestation of the presence of God (which was unlike anything he’d experienced in his rather formal Baptist church back home) and one of the ways which he pointed out last night that that presence was so clearly manifest in those meetings was through prophecy.

Later, after several difficult years in his first pastorate, God sent along a prophet one Sunday to preach, and he ended up prophesying which led to a complete change and an end to the difficulties in the church. The various churches Terry helped and worked with came together as a united movement – NewFrontiers – through prophecy, and their strategy for mission into Europe (by spreading out across the UK first to provide a solid base) came through a prophetic vision. The decision to stop the Stoneleigh Bible weeks, even though they had an attendance of 30,000 was because of two prophecies.

So prophecy was clearly important at significant moments. When I asked Terry about it, he did point out that this was fifty years of history in an hour’s lecture, so it could perhaps give the misleading impression that prophecy was coming thick and fast all the time. He was quite frank in saying that he didn’t think that they were a hugely prophetic movement, but that yes, prophecy had helped immensely in making key decisions. He pointed out too that prophecy often confirmed what people had already been beginning to feel was the right move. He said that prophecy isn’t always so inspiring in the local churches, but in that case they’d love to see the level of prophecy raised.

Another thing that struck me was how Terry spoke of the vision of God’s Glorious Church (which is one of the reasons why I think the Apostolic Church is in some ways closer theologically to NewFrontiers than any other movement). Terry spoke of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as being like God knocking over the first domino, which eventually led to the vision of the Glorious Church – not just the local church, but the Body of Christ – and the realisation of God’s great love for His Church. Terry Virgo talks about this Glorious Vision in almost the same terms as D.P. Williams and the early Apostolics. D.P. Williams even writes about that same progression from realising that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was for today to the vision of God’s Eternal Purpose for the Church. It really exciting to hear Terry talk about it.

One last observation is the emphasis Terry put on the presence of God. Both throughout his lecture and then again at the end of the Question and Answer session he came back to the importance of God’s presence in the church. His experience of completely open worship with no set ending time, just continuing on in the powerful presence of God, on those Sunday mornings while he was at Bible College made a lasting impact on his view of the church and worship, and he told us of the difficulty when he first tried to introduce 5 minutes of open worship into the services in his first pastorate. But at the end of the evening, Terry came back to that theme, and warned us of the danger of looking too much to the business world and losing our ethos. We need to seek God’s presence and not be ashamed of it when others come into our meetings. Our eyes need to be on the Lord, and not on the clock!

Anyway, those are just a few observations from last night’s Donald Gee Lecture with Terry Virgo. Hope they give you something to think and pray about.

(Now, I’m just hoping that last night’s other event, The Future of the Church – a discussion with Simon Chan, Ephraim Radner, Thomas Rausch and Fred Sanders – is going to be online at some stage in the not too distant future – a 3am start in the UK was, alas, just a wee bit too late to stay up for the Livestream.)
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Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Leading True Worship: Nothing But the Blood

A while ago I was in a big service somewhere one weekend. The established worship leader took to the stage with his big, loud band. And as we sang (or attempted to sing), frequently between lines, the worship leader would shout at us all to "sing it like you mean it", "sing it like you know it", "sing it like you're worshipping", etc., etc. And he'd dispirit us with questions like "Are there any worshippers in the house?" (after we'd been "worshipping" for half an hour). And as he harangued us with such disheartening commands and comments, he led us in singing lots of songs about how we were the ones welcoming God into the place and about the power of God and the miracles He would perform for us today. We skipped straight from God as mighty Creator to God as present-day worker of miracles and blessing without a single mention of the Incarnation or Blood of Christ. Apparently this was Christian worship without the Cross. 

That same weekend worship was very different in a friend's church. Quite a few people were away for the weekend, including the pastor and the usual worship leader. There was no big, loud band or giant crowd. But in the congregation there was a faithful elderly lady suffering from dementia. As the church was worshipping, this lady suddenly cried out, "Thank you Lord for the atoning blood of Jesus!" And then she said it again and again and again. And, as my friend told me, then the whole meeting just lifted. That heartfelt thankfulness for the atoning work of Christ made all the difference. 

So, who led God's people in worship: the established leader with the big professional band screaming commands from the stage, or the little old lady with dementia who pointed the whole church to the blood of Jesus?
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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Tim Keller on Being Filled with the Spirit and Experiencing the Father’s Love

When the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus at his baptism, he hears a voice say, ‘This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. You are my Son and I delight in you.’ In the same way, Romans 8:16 tells us that the Spirit bears witness to our hearts that we are children of God. Part of the mission of the Spirit is to tell you about God’s love for you, his delight in you, and fact that you are his child. These things you may know in your head, but the Holy Spirit makes them a fiery reality in your life. 
Thomas Goodwin, a seventeenth-century Puritan pastor, wrote that one he saw a father and son walking along the street. Suddenly the father swept the son up into his arms and hugged him and kissed him and told the boy he loved him – and then after a minute he put the boy back down. Was the little boy more a son in the father’s arms than he was down on the street? Objectively and legally there was no difference, but subjectively and experientially, there was all the difference in the world. In his father’s arms, the boy was experiencing his sonship. 
When the Holy Spirit comes down on you in fullness, you can sense your Father’s arms beneath you. It is an assurance of who you are. The Spirit enables you to say to yourself: ‘If someone as all-powerful as that loves me like this, delights in me, has gone to infinite lengths to save me, says he will never let me go, and is going to glorify me and make me perfect and take everything bad out of my life – if all of that is true – why am I worried about anything? At a minimum this means joy, and a lack of fear and self-consciousness. 
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul says, ‘Don’t be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.’ Remember the disciples on Pentecost. They went out and spoke the Gospel in public with such a wonderful lack of self-consciousness that some thought they had had too much to drink (Acts 2:13). But their boldness was unlike being drunk in the most important respect. Alcohol is a depressant – it deadens parts of the rational brain. The happiness you may feel when you are drunk comes because you are less aware of reality. The Spirit, however, gives you joyful fearlessness by making you more aware of reality. It assures you that you are a child of the only One whose opinion and power matters. He loves you to the stars and will never let you go.

(Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, pp.172-173)
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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

"A Tribute to a genuinely humble man of God"

I just want to post a link to  a tribute Pastor Haydn Greenow has written on his blog to our dear friend and godly colleague, Pastor David Williams who died suddenly last month.
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Sunday, 9 August 2015

AblazeUK 2015 Prophetical Ministry

Last year after AblazeUK I posted the prophecies from the Convention. Rather a lot of people either that couldn't get to convention or who wanted to hear them again got in touch to say that they'd appreciated it and several wanted to know if I could do it again this year. So, here's the prophetical ministry from the Convention in 2015.

(Be warned, the quality, and volume, of the recordings varies, as I just recorded them on my phone.)

Saturday Night - Prophetical Ministry through Stuart Walker
Sunday Morning - Prophetical Ministry through Sam Akinrinwa
Sunday Night - Prophetical Ministry through Alun Stephens
Monday Night - Prophetical Ministry through Sam Akinrinwa
Monday Night - Prophetic Message through Andy Tilsley (guest speaker from Christchurch, London)
Tuesday Night - Prophecy 
Tuesday Night - Prophetical Ministry through Nick Watson (from the Apostolic Church Australia)
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Thursday, 23 July 2015

On Falling From Grace (Part 4): Some More Texts on What it Actually Means to Fall From Grace

In the last installment we were looking at some Scriptures to see what it actually means to fall from grace. And today we’re going to do a bit more of that. (For the previous posts in the series so far, see: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

The writer to the Hebrews takes up the topic again in Hebrews 10. There we’re encouraged to ‘hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful’ (Heb. 10:23). Our hope doesn’t need to be shaken, for our God is the faithful God. At the end of the chapter the writer quotes from the LXX of Habakkuk: ‘Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him,’ followed by the assurance: ‘But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul’ (Heb. 10:38-39). In both the OT quotation and the assurance, the contrast is between faith and drawing back. Faith leads to life and salvation, but drawing back to perdition and God’s displeasure. Again, then, here we see that falling away is associated with unbelief, the opposite of faith.

But, in-between the two sections of Hebrews 10 I’ve quoted above, comes one of the strongest warnings in the NT about falling away:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
Now, you might be thinking that this seems to immediately go against all that we’ve been saying about unbelief, rather than bad things we do – sins we commit, being the cause of falling from grace. After all, this passage starts off by warning what will happen ‘if we sin wilfully.’ But what does it mean to sin wilfully? If it simply means having willingly sinned, then that would cast us all out into this ‘fearful expectation of judgment’, for ‘if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8). Thankfully for us all, sinning after we become a Christian doesn’t cause us to lose our salvation, but instead we have a remedy for our post-conversion sin for ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). So Hebrews 10:26 can’t in any way be suggesting that we need to lead sinless lives to avoid falling.

What then does it mean? Well, let’s have a look at Numbers 15:22-31 to find out. There we find a distinction between presumptuous sins (or sins committed with a high hand) and unintentional sins (or sins of ignorance). The Greek word used sinning ‘wilfully’ in Heb. 10:26 is the opposite of the Greek words used for sins of ignorance in the LXX of the OT. The sinner wasn’t necessarily ignorant of his sins of ignorance, but rather they were essentially sins which flowed from weakness – for in this life the saved are always simil iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and sinful) – but from which the sinner would want to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. The presumptuous sins on the other hand were sins committed with a high hand raised against God – just imagine someone shaking their fist against the Almighty. These were sins committed in arrogance, defiance and unbelief: sins committed with a disdain for God and His Word. So, ultimately, to sin with a high hand was an act of apostasy. There was no sacrifice for sin committed with a high hand.

So, coming back to Hebrews 10 we can see how that fits in. The writer to the Hebrews is talking about Christians: those who have ‘received the knowledge of the truth’ and were ‘sanctified’ by ‘the blood of the covenant.’ But now they sin by ‘trampl[ing] the Son of God underfoot,’ counting His blood ‘a common thing, and ‘insult[ing] the Spirit of grace.’ So, even the way their sin is described here in Hebrews isn’t in terms of bad stuff they’ve done, but rather in terms of apostasy in turning away from the Lord Jesus and His saving work, rejecting the grace of God. Their wilful sin is the sin of the high hand against the Lord: apostasy from gospel.

The result of this unbelief is the Lord’s vengeance, for ‘there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins’ for those who have rejected the only sacrifice that can avail for sin. Instead, they are once again God’s ‘adversaries’ who will be devoured by ‘judgment and fiery indignation.’ For, ‘it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’

Peter also warns of the perils awaiting those who fall away:
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:20-21)
Again, we might be tempted to think in terms of doing bad things here, when we read the warning against ‘turn[ing] from the holy commandment.’ But is that what Peter’s talking about? Well, what’s ‘the way of righteousness’? It’s not a life of our own righteousness, but rather trust in Christ for righteousness. Salvation is not found in obeying a legal commandment, so then how could falling from salvation come about by turning away from a legal commandment? I’d suggest that, in line with what all the other passages about falling away have taught us, Peter’s not writing about keeping a legal commandment, but rather he’s writing about the gospel command to repent and believe in Christ (see Peter’s words in Acts 2:38 and compare what Paul has to say in Acts 17:30-31). The holy commandment which they had received was the commandment to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and so to turn from that commandment would be to turn away from faith in Christ.

James encourages us to bring back those who wander from the faith:
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
The one who wanders here is a brother from ‘among you’. He was in the truth and wanders from it. So this is a Christian that James is talking about. Yet the one who turns him back from his wandering saves ‘a soul from death’! So this is someone who was saved, but has fallen away from eternal life to death. And how does he do that? By wandering from the Truth: turning away from Christ the Truth to unbelief. (John has a similar encouragement for us to pray for those ‘sinning a sin which does not lead to death’ so that God will ‘give life’ in 1 John 5:16-17).

John writes in his first epistle of how we persevere. ‘Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father’ (1 John 2:24). We continue in our fellowship with the Father and the Son by abiding in what we have ‘heard from the beginning.’ And in case it isn’t clear what that is, John’s already told us in the opening verses of the letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
We abide in the eternal life which is knowing the Father and the Son, by abiding in the Word of Christ – the gospel which we have heard. For faith comes by hearing.

This fits in well with the words of Jesus which John records in his Gospel about the vine and the branches:
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:5-8)
The branches which don’t abide in Christ are cast out and thrown in the fire. But not only that, we also see there that abiding in Christ goes together with having Christ’s Word abiding in us. As we receive the Gospel word in faith, we entrust ourselves to Christ in whom is salvation. Those who no longer abide in Christ, and so are cast out of the Vine, then, are those who no longer have His Word abiding in them – those who have turned away in unbelief.

So, then, we’ve seen that, not only are the Scriptures rather clear about the possibility of falling from grace, but they’re also rather clear about how that happens. Falling from grace is just that – falling from grace. So it’s a rejection of God’s grace in Christ by turning away from faith in him and back to relying on something we can do for ourselves. Which brings us right back, full circle, to Gal. 5:4: ‘You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.’

Right, now that we’ve looked at the Scriptural texts, next time we’ll look at some questions and issues that arise from that. Stay tuned!
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