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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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

'Thy Loving Kindness is Better Than Life' (A little tribute to Ps Hugh Mitchell)

We're going to have a wee break from our current series today for a wee tribute. Today's the funeral of Pastor Hugh Mitchell, who died at the age of 100. If Apostolic pastors were the House of Commons, Hugh Mitchell would have been the Father of the House. But he wasn't simply the eldest pastor in the church. He was a faithful servant of God who had a significant impact on the life of the Apostolic Church, not only in the UK, but also around the world as Missionary Secretary. And his impact went far beyond the Apostolic Church as well.

These last two Sundays we've been singing one of his best-known choruses, Thy Loving-Kindness is Better than Life, in church (as well as using the patten he and the other members of the Gospel Quintet gave to the church at Easter 75 years ago). And when I went on the internet to see if I could find the song anywhere, I found it everywhere: from Lutheran hymnbooks, to recordings by the Maranatha Singers. From renditions by black gospel choirs to translations into Spanish and Chinese. A friend who used to pastor in the Highlands told me of his amazement when he went to a meeting in a little Presbyterian church up there and the launched into Thy Loving-Kindness is Better than Life. It seems Hugh Mitchell's paraphrase of Psalm 63:3-6 has managed to belt the globe.

Pastor Mitchell was born in 1914 in Bradford, and ordained to the ministry in the early 1940s. He was called as an Apostle in the Body of Christ, and served the Apostolic Church as Missionary Secretary from 1942-1949. In his Annual Report of the Apostolic Church Missionary Movement at the beginning of 1945, Ps Mitchell reported that, from the beginning of the Missionary Movement in 1922 until then, the Apostolic Church had sent out over 100 missionaries to foreign fields, with 25 new missionaries preparing to go (which is all the more astonishing as WW2 was still going on as he was writing!).

In that report Ps Mitchell wrote of our overseas work:
It should not be thought that the Apostolic Church Missionary Movement is yet another society seeking to add a contribution to the already vast missionary enterprise undertaken by the Christian Church. Neither should its merit be judged by income or expenditure. Such would only tend to underestimate its value and importance, and would certainly misconstrue its mission. Those acquainted with the vision of the Apostolic Church and its mission throughout the world will recognise the fact that its missionary work is not regarded as a sideline. It is more than that. It is a vital life-line. For the very nature of the church's vision permits no local or national interpretation to the evangel committed to her. And certainly no less its doctrines concerning the Church of Christ.
Up here in the Bradford Area, Hugh Mitchell was as well known for mission at home as for mission abroad. He and the other members of the Gospel Quintet had a dynamic (and for the time, cutting-edge) evangelistic ministry in Yorkshire and were responsible for the opening of several new assemblies (what we'd call church planting today).

Hugh Mitchell in 1962.
Ps Mitchell was also a pioneer when it came to the church's attitude to theological education. (Now, I should note that in the beginning the Apostolic Church seems to have had a rather positive attitude to theological study, with the desire from very early on to have our own Bible College with a robust curriculum, including biblical languages, and some well-trained lecturers being brought in from outside the Apostolic Church to teach in it alongside our own teachers. But somewhere along the way, during the middle of the twentieth century, a suspicion seems to have crept in about theological training.) In 1969 Hugh Mitchell (along with a confirmation through one of the prophets) was responsible for Council reversing the position it had taken 18 years earlier, and finally agreeing that 'theological degrees can be of advantage with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.'

Hugh Mitchell also served as a pastor in Bradford, Newport, Glasgow, London, and Eastbourne. He retired in 1979, but until just a few years ago would drive down from his home in London to Eastbourne every Sunday to help the pastor there!

Despite all that varied service over so many years in the ministry, he's probably best remembered for the songs he started writing and singing up here in Yorkshire. Even if you've never heard of Hugh Mitchell, you probably know some of his songs. Most of the songs in the 16 Gospel Quintet Choruses books, used by Pentecostals in Britain and around the world, were written by him. The same was true of the subsequent series Gates of Praise. He also produced 5 children's chorus books here in the UK, and a few in America (published by Zondervan). He also composed some hymns, including the hymn for the opening of the new Convention Hall in Penygroes in 1962.

While Thy Loving-Kindness is Better than Life is probably his most widely known chorus, you might also know some of his children's songs, like How Did Moses Cross the Red Sea or Whisper a Prayer in the Morning or (as I've just discovered, despite singing it with the kids in church all the time!) I believe the Bible (surely one of the greatest children's songs of all time!) from Good News Clubs or Sunday School growing up.

Anyway, here is a fantastic piano rendition of Thy Loving-Kindness. (I've put the words further down this post, so scroll down here for them.):

And here is a little boy who can sing the first verse:

Thy loving-kindness is better than life,
Thy loving-kindness is better than life:
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

I lift my hands, Lord, unto Thy name,
I lift my hands, Lord, unto Thy name:
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

Rememb'ring thee, Lord, I'm satisfied,
Rememb'ring The, Lord, I'm satisfied:
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

Safe in Thy shadow I will rejoice,
Safe in Thy shadow I will rejoice,
My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee
Thy loving-kindness is better than life.

And here's Whisper a Prayer (the words are on the video, although I've never heard the third verse before, and it's not in the the 1944 version printed in Gospel Quintet Choruses 3, so I'm not sure if it's been added by someone else or not.):

How Did Moses Cross the Red Sea:

I can't find a video of I believe the Bible, but come to Leeds and we'll sing it for you ;)

Ps Hugh Mitchell retired several years before I was born, and I never met him. Yet, through his songs he taught me, and thousands of other children around the world, about Jesus, the Son of God who died for our sins, rose again from the dead, and is coming back again. And that evangelism continues today in my church, and many others, where children are still learning about Jesus by singing Hugh Mitchell songs.

Jesus died for sinners,
Jesus died for sinners, 
Jesus died for sinners, 
Jesus died for me.

So let me just finish with some advice for evangelism from Hugh Mitchell's pen, back in 1941:
The evangelist should, to the utmost of his ability, portray the Lord Jesus as a Saviour on the cross, and the vision of Him there will bring forth an answer from the most stubborn of silent, hardened souls. (Art Thou in Health My Brother, p.18)
With thankfulness to God for such a faithful gospel servant.
And with prayer for his family.

Thy Loving-Kindness is better than life. (Ps. 63:3)
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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

On Falling From Grace (Part 3): What does it Actually Mean to Fall From Grace?

Let’s have a closer look at some Scriptures to see what it actually means to fall from grace. A good place to start would be the text the expression comes from – Galatians 5:4: ‘You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.’

Here we see what we’re talking about and what we’re not, which will help clear up a few misconceptions about the possibility of falling from grace. For a start, Paul’s writing about Christians who go back to relying on attempts to keep the law for salvation. (Specifically here, it’s about Christians who decide they need to get circumcised.) Now, the whole point here is that he’s writing to Christians. These aren’t unbelievers. These aren’t just people associated with the Church. They can only become estranged from Christ because they were united to Christ. They can only fall from grace because they were in grace. So this is a warning about true Christians losing their salvation.

But how? By attempting ‘to be justified by law’. It’s a case of people stopping relying on Christ and starting to rely on something they do instead. There’s no mention of doing bad things here; it’s not through committing certain sinful actions that these people fall from grace. Instead it’s all a question of faith. Once their faith was in Christ alone; now their faith is in Christ plus their own attempts at keeping the law. Ironically, they’re looking for assurance of salvation and that’s what causes them to lose their salvation, because they’re looking in the wrong place: in to themselves instead of out to Christ and Him crucified!

So, the very place where the expression ‘fallen from grace’ occurs in the Bible teaches us that falling from grace isn’t a matter of what you do, but rather a matter of where your confidence lies. Is your confidence in something else other than Jesus? Have you stopped relying on Christ alone for salvation? So, it’s not a case of being saved by faith but falling by (bad) works. No, we’re saved by faith, and those who fall, fall through ‘unfaith’.

We can see this connection between unbelief and falling very clearly in Romans 11 as well. There Paul’s writing about the Gentiles being grafted into the good olive tree. But he warns them about what happened to the natural branches:
Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Romans 11:20-23)
Those who stand, stand by faith. Those who are broken off are broken off by unbelief. Those who continue in God’s goodness remain in the tree. Those who don’t continue in unbelief are grafted into the tree. So, the difference between being in the olive tree and out of the olive tree is the difference between faith and unbelief. Faith is the way into the tree. Unbelief is the way out.

In Colossians we see that its faith in the Gospel which keeps us in salvation:
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard (Col. 1:21-23).
We have been reconciled through the death of Christ, and we will be presented holy, blameless and above reproach, but there is a condition here in the text: ‘if indeed [we] continue in the faith.’ Salvation and faith go together. We’re not to be moved away from the hope of the gospel. Our confidence is to remain in Christ and Him Crucified for us. Salvation continues as faith continues. But to move away from faith, to move away from the hope of the gospel, is to move away from the salvation proclaimed in the gospel. In 1 Cor. 15:1-3 Paul similarly tells us that we’re saved ‘if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain’, that word being the gospel word of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

In Hebrews again we’re warned of unbelief.
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end. (Hebrews 3:12-14)
Again, it’s unbelief that causes one to depart from the living God. (And notice, it’s not sinful actions on the outside that make a heart ‘evil’, but what’s on the inside – unbelief!) We partake of Christ as we ‘hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.’ In other words, we partake of Christ through faith. But we depart from Christ through unbelief. We are Christ’s dwelling, not if we’re really good all the time and avoid sinning, but rather ‘if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end’ (Heb. 3:6). It’s not what we do that keeps us in the faith, but rather it’s the One in whom we trust.

Hebrews goes on to give a very strong warning about falling away in chapter six:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
The people in view here were believers. How do we know? Well, they were ‘enlightened’, whereas unbelievers are in ‘darkness’ (John 12:46; Acts 26:18; Rom. 1:21; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13;1 Thess. 5:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:6). They’ve ‘tasted the heavenly gift’, which could either be a figurative reference to experiencing salvation or a reference to partaking of the Lord’s Supper (which is only a heavenly gift to those who eat with faith; for those who eat without faith, to partake of the Supper means condemnation and judgment – 1 Cor. 11:29-32). In either case, those who have ‘tasted the heavenly gift’ are Christians. As Hohenstein puts it:
To “taste the gift from heaven” is to possess it and to experience it in the fullness of its sweet and saving power … [It] involves much more than a passing touch of its blessing. It involves much more than just “catching the crumbs” which happen to “fall from the Master’s table,” the “leftovers” of His meat of mercy and love. Tasting the gift implies a happy and hearty feast upon that “living Bread which has come down from heaven.” Cf. John 6:50-55. This is a keenly conscious tasting of the sweetness of the Lord’s grace (1 Peter 2:3). (Hohenstein, ‘A Study of Hebrews 6:4-8’, Concordia Theological Monthly, xxvii.6, p.438)
The same is true for those who ‘have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.’ Those who do not have the Spirit do not belong to Christ; conversely those who partake of the Spirit belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). These people have tasted of God’s Word and found it to be good. The Greek phrase translated ‘the good word of God’ here is used in the LXX in Joshua 21:45 and Zechariah 1:13 for comforting words from the LORD (rather than words of judgment). So what they’ve received is the goodness and comfort of God’s Gospel Word. And, in the Holy Spirit, they have experienced the in-breaking of ‘the powers of the age to come.’ (Also, they had previously repented – otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense to talk about renewing them ‘again’ to repentance in v.6.) So, there can be no doubt that this passage is speaking of Christians.

And yet, we’re told, that it’s possible for them to ‘fall away’. And this falling away is not light matter. It’s a crucifying again of the Son of God, putting Him to an open shame. In fact, it’s impossible to renew these people to repentance, and their ‘end is to be burned’ (Heb. 6:8).

In the context here, to ‘fall away’ can mean nothing other than apostasy. This is the only time the word is used in the New Testament, but in the LXX it’s used for people falling away from trust in the LORD or from worshipping the LORD. But what does it mean that they ‘crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame’? These are the reasons they can’t be renewed again to repentance, but what do they actually mean?

Well, remember, a huge focus in the letter to the Hebrews is the uniqueness of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. So a re-crucifixion is just unthinkable! As O’Brien explains it: ‘They totally reject the saving work of the Son, and show their contempt for him … putting themselves in the position of those who had him crucified.’ Or as Hohenstein paints the picture:
Through the medium of faith, or lack of it, men transcend the boundaries of space and time and still stand before the Crucified. To that cross men may react in one of two ways. Either they will confess [Jesus is Lord] or say [Jesus is Anathema]. The first is faith, the second unbelief. And even as the believer benefits from the blessings bestowed in that redemption, so the unbeliever, by his rejection, actually repeats the same crime of [those who crucified Christ] and with them brands Christ as a cursed criminal and pseudo-Messiah. In this sense an unbeliever, a fallen Christian, can be said to “recrucify the Son of God.” To recrucify Christ is to deny His claim as God’s Messiah sent from above to reveal God and to rescue men from this present, perishable creation to that new world which knows no slavery to pain and death. To recrucify Christ is to say “No!” to the “Yes!” of God’s Son. It is to attempt to enter life by another door, another way, another truth, apart from Christ. It is the futile effort to find salvation in a name other than Jesus. (Hohenstein, ‘A Study of Hebrews 6:4-8 (Concluded)’, Concordia Theological Monthly, xxvii.7, p.541)
(I wish all technical exegetical papers were written like that!)

But not only do they crucify Christ again, they also ‘put Him to an open shame.’ So their recrucifixion is not just a private thing, but it publicly brings dishonour to Christ. When people fall away from the Gospel, the church sees it and the world sees it (and the principalities and powers as well).

So how do these people fall from grace? They fall from grace by going from clinging to the Crucified to crucifying Him all over again; by going from trust in Jesus who shed His blood for us to contempt for Jesus and His precious blood. In other words, by abandoning their faith in Christ and returning to unbelief. And that’s just what we’ve seen in all the other texts we’ve looked at so far.

Now, I think that’s enough for today. So next time we’ll continue with a closer look at a few more Scriptures.

Previous posts in this series: 
Part 1: Scriptural Assurance and Scriptural Warning
Part 2: Holding the Assurance and the Warnings Together
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