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My name's Jonathan Black and I'm a pastor and teacher in the Apostolic Church in the UK.


Not in Word but in Power = Not in Power but in Word

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Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 4:20 that ‘the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.’ Its the sort of verse that some types of Pentecostals and charismatics love – the sort of verse that gets pulled out to downplay the importance of theology or even of good preaching. And when it gets pulled out in that way, its assumed that it means – that Paul means – that, at the end of the day, knowledge, teaching and preaching of the Word are less important than signs and wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Spirit, for that’s the real stuff of the Kingdom of God. But is that really what Paul’s saying? Of course not!

First of all, this is Paul who’s writing. You know, the Paul who identifies himself as a preacher and teacher (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). This is the Paul who says that ‘Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17). This is the Paul, who when the Jews seek for a powerful sign and the Greeks seek for powerful wisdom, declares ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Paul is not really the sort of chap who downplays the Word in favour of something else. In fact, even when dealing with the gifts of the Spirit (which the people who use 1 Cor. 4:20 to downplay the Word would put in the category of powr), Paul is insistent that hearing the Word is of the utmost importance: ‘in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue’ (1 Cor. 14:19). So reading 1 Cor. 4:20 in a way that downplays the Word doesn’t sit comfortably at all in the wider context of Paul’s writing.

Secondly, look at the close context. What does he mean here by word and what does he mean by power. When Paul writes that ‘the kingdom of God is not in word but in power,’ the word that he’s talking about isn’t the word of God, but the word of puffed-up human wisdom. How do we know? Because he tells us in the previous verse: ‘But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power’ (1 Cor. 4:19). Paul isn’t contrasting the Word of God with power at all; he’s contrasting human words with God’s power! That’s a very big difference.

Thirdly, where does Paul tell us the power of God is to be found? We don’t have to look far for the answer. By the time they’d read this far it would have been clear to the Corinthians. It is ‘the Word of the Cross’ which is ‘the power of God’ (1 Cor. 1:18). It is the preaching of Christ crucified which is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2:1-5). He writes the same thing in Romans as well (Rom. 1:16). Paul is adamant that true power is not found in human strength, but in the weakness of Christ. True power lies not in impressive rhetorical skill, persuasive arguments, or powerful signs, but in the weakness and death of the all-powerful God and our weak words about it, which he takes up as His powerful, life-giving words. True power is in the gospel. True power is in the preaching of the Word.

So really, 1 Cor. 4:20 means the opposite of what many people try to use it to mean. Paul isn’t downplaying the Word. No! He’s already established that the Word is the true power. And so when Paul writes – when the Holy Spirit through Paul writes – that ‘the kingdom of God is not in word but in power,’ he’s making it clear to us that God’s Kingdom doesn’t consist of and isn’t brought about by puffed-up human words, by human strength and wisdom, but rather it consists in, and is brought about by God’s power, which is the gospel Word of Christ and Him crucified. So ‘the kingdom of God is not in word but in power’ means that the kingdom of God is not in [human] power but in [God’s] Word.
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4 Sermons on the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

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When Pentecostals talk about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, we often focus on the book of Acts. But it's not just something from one book of the Bible. So we've recently spent a month in church looking at the outpouring of the Spirit from other parts of Scripture. Here are the recordings of the four sermons:
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Isaiah, Cyril and the Gifts of the Spirit

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Cyril of Alexandria, just in case I somehow haven’t mentioned it before, is one of my favourite theologians of all time. So, anyway, as I was preaching a few weeks ago on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from Isaiah 44, I thought I’d have a look at what Cyril had to say about it in his commentary on Isaiah, and when I did, I got a bit of a surprise. You see, Cyril was convinced that when Isaiah prophesied:
For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring (Isa. 44:3)
he wasn’t just talking about the Spirit being poured out, but the gifts of the Spirit as well, specifically the ones mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:8-10.

I’ve always taken the promise of ‘My Spirit’ and ‘My blessings’ as an example of Hebrew parallelism, with both halves referring to the same thing, the Holy Spirit. But Cyril notices something: it doesn’t say ‘My blessing’, but ‘My blessings’, and so it’s talking about something plural that’s poured out when the Holy Spirit is poured out. And for Cyril, that’s the gifts of the Spirit. Not only does Cyril insist that these gifts are supplied by God to the saints, but he also wants to emphasise that these gifts are not only for the ministers (which he has talked about earlier in the chapter), but for all God’s people. And so Cyril stresses that ‘each of us has a particular gift from God.’

For Cyril of Alexandria, God pours out the gifts of the Spirit as He pours out the Spirit Himself, and these gifts are of great value to the church, especially as she encounters ‘suffering for the sake of piety’ and when she is ‘depressed for a time,’ for through these gifts we receive ‘spiritual streams from God’, ‘consolation in spirit’, and are ‘restored to vigour.’

So, there you go, for the great church father, Cyril of Alexandria, the gifts of the Spirit were an important part of the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but not as things to be fascinated with in themselves, but because they point us to ‘faith in Christ’ and help us to ‘boast of being God’s inheritance and the portion of Jesus Christ, Saviour of us all.’
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Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper (A Review)

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Review of Chris E.W. Green, Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper: Foretasting the Kingdom (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2012)

Chris Green’s book is fascinating, stimulating, encouraging and challenging all at the same time. It’s also astonishingly brave: Chris manages in one book to write on Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, historical theology, New Testament Studies, hermeneutics, and systematic/constructive theology, and all with the odd bit of liturgical studies here and there for good measure. (To be fair, more theologians should do this, but more often than not we stick to the safety of our own chosen sub-discipline.) And, although it is an academically rigorous work (it’s the published form of his PhD dissertation), he writes for the church, and particularly for Pentecostal churches.

Dr Green has demolished once and for all the erroneous, but sadly frequent, claims that Pentecostals have a low view of the sacraments (or that they don’t believe in sacraments, just ordinances) and that Pentecostals take a purely Memorialist (Zwinglian) view of the Lord’s Supper. While, as I’ve demonstrated in the past, such claims were never true of British Pentecostalism or of the Apostolic Church, Green now provides significant evidence that such claims are equally erroneous when it comes to North American Pentecostalism, both in its Holiness and Finished Work varieties. Through a meticulous sifting of early Pentecostal publications he demonstrates the high view that early American Pentecostals had of the sacrament, and connects this with the view held in Britain by looking at articles from Confidence (the earliest British Pentecostal magazine, published by Alexander Boddy) as well.

One particularly interesting aspects of this historical evidence is the significant focus given by the early Pentecostals to healing at the Table. Interestingly there is a frequent association of healing with the bread: the bread being seen as given for the healing of the body and the cup for the forgiveness of sins. (Interestingly, this echoes Cranmer’s distinction of benefits of the body and blood in the Prayer of Humble Access.)

Green’s constructive chapter advances the high sacramental insights gained from the historical research, all the while dealing with significant questions which arise within a Pentecostal setting (such as immediacy/mediacy of Christ’s presence, spontaneity versus form in worship, and the role of the Holy Spirit at the Table).

Green invites Pentecostals to recover a worship and piety rooted in the Breaking of Bread. For many, this first and foremost means a recovery of the Breaking of Bread itself (for as Green points out, many American Pentecostals only celebrate the sacrament once a month or once a quarter). But for all this is a call to a community life shaped by the Eucharist.

By the way, this book is also exciting. And I don’t just mean intellectually stimulating (which it is), but it’s a book that will get you excited about and looking forward to breaking bread with the church next Sunday.
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Christ's Triumph

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Christ is dead. But in Death He is made alive! By His Life He has abolished Death. He walks down to its lowest caverns. He hurls open the gates of death and takes away the Keys of Death and Hell from the god of the underworld, Satan.

Before the rising of the sun, behold, to the amazement of all His disciples and acquaintances, He is risen, and is alive for ever more. All His declarations concerning His triumph and victories have been actually fulfilled. He was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. His Father vindicated His Life and Death. By His atoning sacrifice on the Cross, He vanquished all His enemies, He satisfied infinite demands of justice on the other. The law had no right, no claim to His life, but, having come as a Substitute for sinful men, He atoned for them, in order to be their salvation. The Law demanded His life as such Substitute and Surety, therefore the curse of the Law fell upon Him. He obeyed even unto death (Gal. 3:13). ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law’.

(D.P. Williams, 'His Victory over Death and Hell')
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Calvary is Older than Everything Else

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Calvary is the basis and ground of human hope and Divine purpose. It is the axle of the whole universe. Not only is Calvary the centre of the created universe, but Calvary is the centre of the Divine Nature. Calvary is tabernacled in the heart of God. Calvary is older than the universe; before the mountains were brought forth, before the stars were rolled into their wondrous paths; before the first ray of light shot through the gloom, God had fore-ordained the Lamb in the Eternal counsels of Eternity. In other words, the idea of sacrifice stretches forth from eternity to eternity. It is not an after-thought of God because of the calamity of sin. Calvary is older than everything else. Calvary is not built on Leviticus; rather, Leviticus is built on Calvary. During the forty days Moses was on the Mount, God revealed to him the Eternal Reality and Substance; He revealed Calvary and all that it meant. Then as he came down and built the tabernacle, and established the priesthood, all was the outward expression of the Eternal Realities. Calvary was older than Leviticus, older than the Mosaic Law. It is embedded in the very depths of the Godhead.

(W.H. Lewis, from the Breaking of Bread at the 1935 Apostolic Church International Convention, Penygroes)
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The Promised Outpouring

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When Jesus speaks to His disciples about the baptism of the Holy Spirit just before the Ascension, He calls it the Promise of the Father (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). So this wasn’t some new promise Jesus was giving then; it was an old Promise which had already been made long ago. The promise goes way back into the Old Testament, where the Lord promised to pour out His Spirit. And we can learn quite a bit about this outpouring of the Spirit from the Old Testament prophecies.

One of those Old Testament prophecies is in Isaiah 44:1-8 where the Lord not only promises to pour out His Spirit, but also tells us about what will happen when He does. So, if you’re interested, here’s a sermon from Leeds from Isaiah 44:1-8 on this Promised Outpouring.
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The Baptism in the Spirit, Justification, and Serving God

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Sometimes the way we tend to talk about things as Pentecostals isn't all that pastorally helpful. Sometimes the way we often talk ends up heaping extra burdens on people's shoulders, rather than pointing people to the One whose 'yoke is easy' and whose 'burden is light'. And one area where this problem comes up again and again is when we talk about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and serving God. You see, so often we want to emphasise the importance of the baptism and the difference it can make to our service that we end up either making others feel reluctant to serve, or else feel guilty about serving. We love to quote verses like Luke 24:49 ('tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high') as a carrot, without realising how easily it turns into a very big stick.

Anyway, this has been on my mind a bit for a few reasons. One was a pastoral conversation over coffee in a church plant on the continent. One was a prophecy in a big city church in a European capital the other Sunday. Another was an old Welsh hymn by D.P. Williams. Yet these different thoughts from different contexts, languages, cultures and even times in history have been colliding in my mind and, I suppose, crystallizing as this blog post.
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A Eucharistic Prayer from Apostolic Sources

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Thank You, O Lord God , our Heavenly Father,
For You have richly spread this Table in our midst,
Furnished with the holy bread and wine
Which You, our kindly Maker, provide.

Nothing, Lord, have we to offer as atonement;
Nothing can we win by our own merit.
But You, in Your great love and grace
Provide a full redemption
By the one offering for ever of Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord
Who by His death in our place
Has fully paid our debt,
Has banished all our wrong,
And has clothed us with His perfect righteousness.
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Top Ten Posts of 2014

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The most-read posts on the blog in 2014:

1) The Biggest Theological Issues Facing Our Churches Today 
Far and away the most read post of the year. A year later, most of the issues are still issues (although now I might not be so quick to dismiss some of the issues from in the bottom section as not having much impact on our churches.)
Here are a few posts related to one of the issues on the list:
Sacraments Matter (because they're *Gospel* Sacraments!) 
The Words of Institution: Are We Really Breaking Bread

A happily surprising entry at number two. (Always nice when classic theology beats contemporary controversies.)
Also on the subject of lessons we can learn from the Church Fathers:
Charismatics and the Ninth Anathema    
Christ’s Seamless Garment, Our Spotless Robe, and the Unity of the Church
Irenaeus On Revelation, Justification and Jesus
Applying Irenaeus on True and False Pastors and Elders in the Evangelical & Pentecostal World Today

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