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


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

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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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Christ is Risen! (Happy Easter)

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Alleluia. Christ is Risen.
He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

Here are the full words of Luther's Easter hymn:
Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands,
And brings us life from Heaven.
Wherefore let us joyful be,
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of Alleluia! Alleluia! 
No son of man could conquer death,
Such mischief sin had wrought us,
For innocence dwelt not on earth,
And therefore death had brought us
Into thralldom from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And kept us in his bondage. Alleluia! 
Christ Jesus, God's own Son, came down,
His people to deliver;
Destroying sin He took the crown
From death's pale brow forever:
Stripped of power, no more it reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia! 
It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life;
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death
Its sting is lost forever! Alleluia! 
Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love!—to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it, death passes over,
And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia! 
So let us keep the festival
Where to the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The sun that warms and lights us.
By His grace He doth impart
Eternal sunshine to the heart;
The night of sin is ended! Alleluia! 
Then let us feast this Easter day
On the true bread of Heaven;
The Word of grace hath purged away
The old and wicked leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!
                  (Martin Luther)

(By the way, the song starts about 1 minute 55 into the video.)
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Good Friday's Already Good: Don't Be Scared!

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Good Friday, as the name might possibly give away, is a very good day indeed. And that means we don't have to be embarrassed, scared, or uncomfortable about this, one of the preeminent days of the Christian calendar.

Embarrassed, scared, or uncomfortable? How could that be when we celebrate Good Friday with our Facebook statuses and even the possible thought of going to church?, you ask. And I reply that, yes, even amidst the Facebook status updates and thoughts of maybe going to church, even while (to an extent) embracing Good Friday, sometimes we still show ourselves to be embarrassed, scared and uncomfortable.

After all, we wouldn't dream of just possibly thinking about maybe going to church to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday (even those who only show up twice a year know how important the Resurrection is).

But even more than that, what about when we actually make it to a Good Friday service, update our Facebook status in a seasonably appropriate way, or pay any much attention to the day (other than as a bank holiday of course) at all? Then our embarrassments, fears and discomfort can really have the opportunity to shine through. How? By trying to make Good Friday Good and forgetting that it's Good already!

We so easily turn ourselves into apologists for Good Friday, but when we do, the day loses its true meaning. We decide we want to brighten up the decor ("after all, black's a bit gloomy"), cheer up the songs ("death's a bit depressing"), chase out the quietness, and generally make Friday Good by skipping over Friday. "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming", people enthusiastically proclaim, as if Friday has no goodness of its own.

Now, don't get me wrong - the Cross and the Resurrection, Good Friday and Easter - belong inseparably together. But that doesn't require an "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming" attitude. For Friday itself is Good! Perhaps not good in the way the world thinks of goodness, but Good in the only way that truly matters - God's way; for on Good Friday God displayed His goodness by demonstrating His love for us on the Cross where Jesus bore the wrath for us, in our place.

We don't need to be embarrassed, scared or uncomfortable on Good Friday, trying to skip over it to Easter Sunday with an "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming" attitude, because on Good Friday Jesus declared "It is finished!" - on Good Friday Jesus bore our sins in His body on the Tree; on Good Friday Jesus defeated death, hell and the devil; on Good Friday Jesus made an end to our sin forever through His once and for all sacrifice for us on the Cross. Isn't that sufficient reason to celebrate Good Friday for Good Friday (rather than merely a case of "Sunday's coming")!

You see, Good Friday is Good, we don't need to make it Good. And perhaps our attitudes to Good Friday tell us something about our ideas of goodness. We so often associate "good" with power and strength, yet on Good Friday we see God's goodness displayed in weakness, suffering and death. Yet, it's only through this weakness, suffering and death that we find true life, true power, and true strength.

So don't be embarrassed, scared or uncomfortable by the difference between our (sin tainted) notions of goodness, and God's true goodness. Don't be embarrassed by the weakness and foolishness of the Cross, for it's God's wisdom and His salvation.
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The Almighty Power of the Crucified

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The worship of demons then has ceased: creation has been sanctified by the divine blood: altars and temples of idols have been overthrown, the knowledge of God has been implanted in men’s minds, the co-essential Trinity, the uncreate divinity, one true God, Creator and Lord of all receives men’s service: virtues are cultivated, the hope of resurrection has been granted through the resurrection of Christ, the demons shudder at those men who of old were under their subjection. And the marvel, indeed, is that all this has been successfully brought about through a cross and suffering and death. Throughout all the earth the Gospel of the knowledge of God has been preached; no wars or weapons or armies being used to rout the enemy, but only a few, naked, poor, illiterate, persecuted and tormented men, who with their lives in their hands, preached Him Who was crucified in the flesh and died, and who became victors over the wise and powerful. For the almighty power of the Crucified was with them. Death itself, which once was man’s chiefest terror, has been overthrown, and now that which was once the object of hate and loathing is preferred to life. These are the achievements of Christ’s presence: these are the tokens of His power. For it was not one people that He saved, as when through Moses He divided the sea and delivered Israel out of Egypt and the bondage of Pharaoh; nay, rather He rescued all mankind from the corruption of death and the bitter tyranny of sin: not leading them by force to virtue, not overwhelming them with earth or burning them with fire, or ordering the sinners to be stoned, but persuading men by gentleness and long-suffering to choose virtue and vie with one another, and find pleasure in the struggle to attain it. For, formerly, it was sinners who were persecuted, and yet they clung all the closer to sin, and sin was looked upon by them as their God: but now for the sake of piety and virtue men choose persecutions and crucifixions and death. 
Hail! O Christ, the Word and Wisdom and Power of God, and God omnipotent! What can we helpless ones give Thee in return for all these good gifts? For all are Thine, and Thou askest naught from us save our salvation, Thou Who Thyself art the Giver of this, and yet art grateful to those who receive it, through Thy unspeakable goodness. Thanks be to Thee Who gave us life, and granted us the grace of a happy life, and restored us to that, when we had gone astray, through Thy unspeakable condescension.
(John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa, iv.4)
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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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