Thursday, 11 February 2016


Despite being a creationist, I managed to go to the same university as Rupert Myers. And despite being a creationist, I managed to have a number of friends while up at Cambridge – several of them scientists – who were also creationists. Being a creationist does not rot the brain. It does not make one incapable of rigorous academic work. It hasn’t stopped my scientist friends from excelling in their fields. Yet, if a certain Daily Telegraph columnist had his way, it would certainly limit one’s opportunities in life. 

Rupert Myers takes issue in the Telegraph with the BBC’s appointment of a creationist (Dan Walker of Football Focus) as the new presenter of BBC Breakfast. Apparently creationists can’t be trusted to present the news. Now, normally I’d probably just roll my eyes at Mr Myers ridiculous column. (I’m not even linking to it, as it seems clearly designed to be the sort of piece that’s been posted to gain a high click count through controversy.) However, Mr Myers has managed to wind me up. Not with his silly dismissal of creationists as untrustworthy, but with something else. Myers writes:
‘As a Christian, I hope society continues to protect my right to hold beliefs and to express them.’
But immediately follows this with a ‘but’. Freedom of belief and its expression are important, but only as long as one’s beliefs match up with what Mr Myers deems acceptable. Despite his professed Christianity and his desire for freedom of belief and expression, Myers insists:
‘To believe that God literally created the earth in six days is to deny basic elements of logic. It may not be as offensive or insensitive as holocaust denial, but it is as logically indefensible.’
So, the belief of the majority of Christians around the world throughout history (not to mention the plain teaching of Scripture) can be compared to holocaust denial and apparently should be looked upon with almost as much suspicion by the BBC! But, yeah, freedom of belief and all that!

Towards the end of his piece, he exclaims:
‘A belief in creationism may be a religious belief, and we must allow generous margins to the holding of such beliefs, but creationism falls beyond the spectrum. It should be consigned to the bin of unreasonable, untenable fact-allergic nonsense. Creationists cannot be trusted to report objectively, or to interact reasonably with their interviewees and with the public.’
Here Myers explicitly says that some religious beliefs should not be tolerated. Creationism is beyond the pale. So what about the Bible’s teaching on marriage? Or the church’s opposition to abortion? Or the belief that one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh for us and for our salvation? Who gets to choose which religious beliefs fall within the ‘generous margins’ and which fall ‘beyond the spectrum’? What Myers is presenting is not the freedom ‘to hold beliefs and to express them’ of which he writes at the beginning of his article, but rather a situation where either the state or the media will get to decide which beliefs are to be tolerated and which are not. Perhaps that might be a tolerable state of affairs for Mr Myers, as long as the powers that be broadly tolerate his Christianity, but what will happen when they do so no longer?

(Oh, and by the way, all orthodox Christians are creationists. Yes, some may disagree on the 6 days, but all confess, ‘I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.’)

Beyond the Pale?: On Freedom of Belief, Football Focus, BBC Breakfast and the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Read More

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

I was away at an ordination at the weekend, so over dinner the night before I was chatting to the apostle who had come to preach at the ordination (and who happened to be a former National Leader of the Apostolic Church). One of the topics that my interlocutor brought up was the need to read Scripture as a confessional theologian, and thus the importance of the role of systematic theology in our hermeneutics.

This evening I’ve been reading The Holy Trinity Revisited, a collection of essays in response to Stephen R. Holmes book The Holy Trinity. This got me thinking again about the conversation at the weekend, for in Kevin Giles’ contribution to the volume, he points out three principles from Athanasius for reading Scripture theologically, from which ‘we contemporary evangelicals have much to learn’ (p.46). 

Firstly, Athanasius teaches that we must read Scripture in harmony with the body of teaching which has been handed down to us (essentially the Creed). This isn’t an appeal to a tradition independent of the Bible, but rather it means reading the Bible, not idiosyncratically and individualistically, but together with the great teachers Christ has placed in the Church before us. The Creed, after all, is simply the summary of what the Bible teaches.

Secondly, Athanasius teaches us that we can’t set an isolated text over against what the whole of the rest of the Scriptures teach. If something’s plain in all of Scripture, then it can’t be contradicted by one or two verses. If we read that verse or two that way, then we’re misunderstanding them. Instead, those verses are only rightly understood in harmony with the rest of Scripture.

Thirdly, Athanasius says that sometimes we need a doctrinal rule that comes from Scripture as our hermeneutic to understand something properly. So, for example, texts about Jesus, Athanasius points out, should be read remembering that there is ‘a double account of the Saviour; that he was ever God and is the Son, being the Father’s Logos and Radiance and Wisdom; and that afterwards for us he took the flesh of a virgin’ (Contra Arianos, 3.26.26-9). When texts about Jesus are read with this ‘double account’ in mind, then we can see the consistency between those texts which speak of Him in His majesty, and those which speak of Him as being hungry or tired. (For a discussion of Augustine doing the same thing, have a look at pp.805-806 of this article by Keith Johnson in JETS.)

Athanasius’ three principles for reading, then, show us that we need to read any passage of Scripture in the context of the whole of the Bible’s teaching, or, in other words, in the context of the whole of Christian doctrine. Whether it’s the Creed (principle 1), the whole teaching of Scripture (principle 2), or a doctrinal rule (principle 3), Athanasius points us to the importance of a decent working-knowledge of Christian theology for rightly understanding the Bible.

Which brings me back to my chat over dinner on Saturday night. You see, systematic theology is still as important and useful in rightly understanding the Scriptures today as it was back in the days of Athanasius. (And any cry of Sola Scriptura which would seek to eliminate this hermeneutical role of Christian doctrine is a false cry, alien to what the Reformers meant by Sola Scriptura!) In Athanasius’ day, the heretics – the Arians – claimed to be building their teaching only on Scripture. The heretics could produce their proof-texts without any problem. But the orthodox teachers (like Athanasius) saw the necessity of theology. And so the orthodox read Scripture theologically, to guard against verses torn out of their whole-Bible context or the misinterpretation of individual passages.

And we need to do the same today. So, when an influential Pentecostal leader says something like ‘knowing the ways of God and walking in them brings us closer to knowing Jesus’ or ‘God’s favour and blessing are on the other side of our obedience’ and justifies it with a proof-text, we can reply that, despite his proof-text, he’s not being biblical at all. Rather than engaging in a competition to see who can pile up the most proof-texts torn out of context, a theological hermeneutic allows us to assess the claim by looking to the whole of what the Bible teaches.

The Creeds are carefully prepared statements of theology which the church accepts as true summaries of the Scriptures. Within various evangelical traditions, we also have our own confessional statements, which we accept within our own communions as summarising the teaching of Scripture. For those of us who are Apostolics, that means we recognise the Tenets of the Apostolic Church as ‘the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith’ which are summarised from ‘the Holy Scriptures.’ And so, the Creeds and the Tenets can help us as we read the Scriptures, for they are not independent authorities being imposed upon the Word of God, but rather faithful summaries of God’s Word which help ensure that we are reading the part in light of the whole. That’s what it means to read the Bible as a confessional Christian: we do not lay aside our confession of faith (i.e. the Tenets and the Creeds) when we open the Scriptures, but rather hold onto them as safety rails which guard us from dangerous, unbiblical interpretations.

Tenets, Creeds, and Hermeneutics: How Systematic Theology helps us read Scripture faithfully

Read More

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

After lots of questions last night about the 3-fold Word, I thought it might be useful to repost this old post from a few years ago on the Word of God.

Surely everyone knows what the Word of God is – the Bible is the Word of God! Yet, ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). And when Paul and Barnabas were on their first missionary journey, newly saved Gentiles ‘glorified the word of the Lord’ (Acts 13:48). The Word ‘grew mightily and prevailed’ (Acts 19:20). And the Word of the Lord gets preached and spoken a lot in the Bible too. Sometimes people even do things ‘by the Word of the Lord’ (e.g. 1 Kings 13:1) without that particular Word of the Lord being written down in the Word of the Lord! Confused yet? 

So, the Bible is the Word. Yet Jesus is also the Word. And preaching and prophesying are the Word too. (For ease, let’s just group preaching and prophesying together as proclamation.) But the Bible isn’t Jesus, Jesus isn’t proclamation, and proclamation isn’t the Bible. So what is the Word? 

Lest you think I’m just trying to confuse you today, here’s something that will hopefully help – the concept ofthe threefold Word. Basically the idea of the threefold Word is that the Bible, Jesus and proclamation are distinct yet inseparable. The Bible is a book about Jesus which is to be proclaimed. Jesus is the subject of Scripture and the content of true proclamation. Proclamation, if is to be true Christian proclamation, is proclaiming Christ biblically. The three go together. 

So, we don’t have three different words; they’re all saying the same thing. The threefold Word is a unified Word that comes to us in three forms. 

Okay, okay. So maybe this threefold thing sounds interesting. We know that Scripture is the Word of God, and we know that Jesus is the Word of God. We’re probably even willing to say that prophecy is the Word of God. But preaching? How can preaching be the Word of God? 

These days we tend not to talk like that so much about preaching. Instead we seem to talk of ‘explaining the Scripture’, ‘sharing what the Lord has laid on your heart’ or something else that sounds a lot less than ‘the Word of the Lord’. Yet, in the past, Christians weren’t afraid to talk of preaching as the Word of God. Perhaps most famously, the Second Helvetic Confession declares that ‘the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.’ That might sound rather bold and daring to us today, but it wasn’t at all for Reformation times. Luther said that ‘the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s, and the word which he preaches is likewise not the pastor’s or preacher’s, but God’s.’ Calvin put it like this: ‘When a man has climbed up into the pulpit it is so that God may speak to us by the mouth of the man.’ 

How could they say such things? Well, because that’s what the Bible says. Think about Matthew 10:40 where Jesus says to His disciples, ‘he who receives you, receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me.’ Jesus isn’t simply talking about hospitality. If you’re not sure, then flick over to a parallel in Luke 10:16 – ‘He who hears you hears me, he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me.’ People who reject the words of Christ’s messengers (that’s you and me when we share the gospel with them) are actually rejecting Christ. Those who receive our message don’t just receive a message about Christ, they receive Christ. 

Hebrews speaks of the elders as those ‘who have spoken the word of God to you’ (Heb. 13:7) Paul writes to the Thessalonians about how they ‘received the word of God which [they] heard … not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God’ (1 Thess. 2:13). The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. 

So does that mean that every time someone stands up in a pulpit their words are somehow magically transformed into God’s words? Is it some sort of oral transubstantiation? Not at all. It’s easy enough for someone to get up in a pulpit on a Sunday morning and speak nothing but their own words. And it’s also an uncomplicated matter for any of us to speak the Word of God on a Wednesday afternoon to a friend over coffee. It’s not about location, formality or time; it’s about proclaiming Christ biblically. That’s how we know our word is God’s Word, when we proclaim Christ biblically. Anything else isn’t the Word of God. 

God’s Word is a threefold Word. Jesus is the Word. Scripture is the Word. And proclamation (in preaching, prophesy and sacrament) is the Word. And when you’ve got these three together, what you’ve got is the Word. So, on a Sunday morning, the true ministry of the Word is proclaiming Christ biblically. That is the Word of God. 

(By the way, lest anyone try to dismiss the threefold Word as ‘Barthian’, Luther taught it, as did D.P. Williams. Just because Barth said something doesn’t make it wrong!)

The 3-Fold Word of God

Read More

Saturday, 30 January 2016

And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. (Gen. 1:29)
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:4)
Life and eating go together. Without eating and drinking, life can’t continue for very long. Now, we might be tempted to think that’s merely a biological fact, and thus totally separate from spiritual reality, yet the Bible tells us that the world, with all its biology, was created for Jesus (Col. 1:16). Every single thing that exists, exists for Jesus. And all creation points us to Jesus (Rom. 1:18-21, Ps 19:1-4 – for the God of creation is not a Jesus-less God!). Our sin blocks our ears to what creation is saying about Jesus, but that doesn’t stop the fact that it was all made to point to Him. And when our eyes are opened to the glory of Jesus in the gospel, then we can begin to see how creation points to Him too.

Like in eating and drinking. God has designed His creation so that we can’t live without eating and drinking. And so we spend our days working hard to buy food. And, when we’re not working, we spend hours preparing meals that will be wolfed down in a few minutes. Because we need to eat.

Yet, the LORD teaches us that ‘man shall not live by bread alone’ (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). Although the physical bread for which we work might nourish and sustain our physical bodies, it doesn’t offer true life. Sustained by bread alone, we continue our lives ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1). Physical bread alone is mere zombie-food: food for the living dead.

What we need is the food that gives life. Through His good creation, God teaches us that we need food to live. But by His Word He tells us that the true food that gives life isn’t bread – or rice, or pasta, or potatoes. Instead the food we need, the food by which we live, is the Word of God.

And at the Lord’s Table we see that afresh. For there, the Word of God is joined with physical bread so that we can be fed with the Bread of Heaven. The minister takes ordinary bread, and speaks Christ’s Word over it – the Word of the Living Word – and so we receive, not bread alone, but the Word which proceeds from the mouth of God. When Christ’s words – ‘This is my Body, broken for you’ – echo at the Table, we hear again that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ For Jesus – the Word – is ‘the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die’ (John 6:50).

Come to the Table 5: Of Zombie-Bread and Living Bread

Read More

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The God of the Bible is the Triune God. The God of the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the Triune God. And so, just as we read of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testament, we also read of the Holy Three-in-One in the Old Testament as well. (Otherwise we’d be reading of a different God altogether!)

But, for a variety of reasons, some Christians just aren’t used to reading the Old Testament that way. So, if you’re more used to reading the Old Testament simply in terms of ‘God’ rather than the Trinity, here’s some help for you from Martin Chemnitz (a great theologian from the second generation of the Reformation – although, Martin would want you to know that this isn’t something new he came up with, but rather he’s boiling down the principles passed on by a millennium and a half of theologians and Bible teachers before him into 4 rules).

1. ‘When Scripture speaks of God in the plural, it is certain that there is a reference to the plurality of persons.’

The Hebrew word for God – Elohim – is actually a plural (Gen. 1:1). And God at times talks about Himself in the plural, such as when He says ‘let us make man in our own image’ (Gen. 1:26; see also Gen. 3:22; 11:7).

Chemntiz insists we should understand these plurals as indications of the Trinity. And he wasn’t blindly holding onto some sort of naïve, pre-critical idea when he argued this. Chemnitz was quite aware of contrary arguments (like the idea of a plural of majesty) but shows that these are ideas that have been ‘recently dreamed up’ in order to find a non-Trinitarian alternative reading.

Instead of turning to such novelties, we should hold onto the ancient understanding of the Christian church, that the plural references to God are ‘hinting at the Trinity in unity and the unity in Trinity.’

2. ‘Wherever you read in Scripture that God is speaking about God, as a person about a person, there you are safe in affirming that the three persons of the Deity are indicated. For when two persons are named at the same time, the person of the Holy Spirit who is speaking in the Scripture is indicated.’

The ‘Second Martin’ (Chemnitz) gets this rule from ‘the First Martin’ (Luther – specifically his Treatise on the Last Words of David). Some passages of Scripture that fall under this rule include Hosea 1:7 (‘Yet I [God] will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God’) and Gen. 19:24 (‘Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens.’).

3. ‘When the name of God (Jehovah, Kyrios, LORD) is repeated two or three times in the same sentence, it is certain that a difference in persons is indicated even though obscurely, as in Ps. 67:6-7; Deut. 6:4; Is. 6:3; Num. 6:23-27; Is. 33:22.’

Chemnitz does admit that these ones are a bit more obscure. But his example from Numbers 6 gives a good idea of what he means here. It’s the Aaronic Blessing:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.
Compare this threefold benediction from the LORD with the Trinitarian benedictions of the New Testament.

4. ‘Often not only the repetition of names hints at the persons of the Trinity in the Old Testament, but the description is such that of necessity it is manifest that the context pertains to the differences of the persons in the unity of the essence.’

Here, not only is God’s name repeated, but both persons do what only God can do. A very well-known Scripture that demonstrates this rule is Ps 110:1: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’ (cf. Matt. 22:41-46 and parallels; Acts 2:34-36), where the LORD is distinguished from, and speaks to, David’s Lord, who sits with Him at His right hand, sharing His power and authority!

The Angel of the LORD is also an example of this, for He is sent from the LORD and yet He shares the name of the LORD (e.g. Ex. 23:20-21), speaks as the LORD (e.g. Gen. 22:11-12), and delivers as the LORD (e.g. Josh. 2:1).

So there you go, 4 rules for reading to help you see the Triune God in the Old Testament. (If you want to see a bit more of what Chemnitz has to say about these rules, and some more Scripture passages he gives as examples, you can find that on pp.90-91 of the first volume of his Loci Theologici.)

Seeing the Trinity in the Old Testament: 4 Rules for Reading from Martin Chemnitz

Read More

Monday, 25 January 2016

Over the last month or so, the statement by a lecturer at an evangelical university in the United States that Christians and Muslims worship the same God has stirred up rather a lot of controversy. But this isn't a new question for the 21st century that's never been raised before. Back at the time of the Reformation, for example, Philip Melancthon addressed the issue in his Loci Communes (the first Protestant work of systematic theology). Here's what Melancthon had to say:
Thus since Christ has been delivered, crucified, and raised again, and since the light of the Gospel has been recognized, we make this witness our own, we keep our gaze on this Son, and we learn from Him these two points: who God is and what His will is. 
Thus we wisely and eagerly separate our worship from that of the heathen, the Turks, and the Jews. For true worship differs from false worship particularly in these two very important points: the question of the essence and the question of the will of God. Even though the Turks say that they worship the one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, yet they reject the true God because they deny that He who sent His Son as the Mediator is the true God. Thus they do not worship correctly. For there is an eternal and immutable rule, set forth in John 5:23, “He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father.” The Turks err first in regarding the essence of God because they create for themselves a god who is not the Father of Jesus Christ. 
On the other hand, the church of God affirms that He is God and Creator of all things who has revealed Himself in the Son whom He has sent, in the Gospel which He has given, and in the great testimonies which He has made and which are recorded in the writings of the prophets and evangelists. Thus a person first judges concerning the essence of God not on the basis of human imagination but on the basis of the Word of God and the sure testimonies which have been revealed to us in the Word. … 
The three persons of the Godhead, although in the first chapter of Genesis they are referred to in a rather obscure way, yet are gradually revealed more and more clearly. The Father, by speaking, begets the Word who is the image of the eternal Father. And of the Holy Spirit it is expressly said, “And the Spirit of the Lord was moving over the surface of the waters” … Finally, in the New Testament the three persons are most clearly revealed in the baptism of Christ, where the Father says, “This is My beloved Son,” and the Son is seen standing publicly in the river, and the Holy Spirit sits in visible from upon the Son. We should look carefully at this revelation, separate our thoughts about God from pagan, Turkish, and Jewish notions, and worship only the eternal Father who has revealed Himself in sending His Son Jesus Christ and in showing His Holy Spirit. … 
We should also think of Him as He has revealed Himself. The heathen and the Turks also boast that they worship this God who created heaven and earth, but they boast in vain because they err in their minds and do not wish to listen to the Creator as He reveals Himself in His Word and by the sending of His Son. Therefore they stray from the true Creator and make for themselves creators according to their own speculations. Thus in every thought about God and in all of our worship we must keep our minds on Christ, who has been sent in the flesh and was crucified and raised from the dead. We must firmly believe that He is truly God the Creator, who has sent this Son and has given the church His Gospel.
(From Melancthon's Loci Communes, Locus 1)

For a 21st century answer to the question, have a look at Glen Scrivener's 'Is the Allah of Islam the Father of Jesus?'.

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?: An Answer From the Reformation

Read More

Saturday, 23 January 2016

They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light. (Ps 36:8-9)
Jesus Christ Himself is the fountain of life. On the last and greatest day of the feast He stood up in the Temple and proclaimed: ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink’ (John 7:37). To the Samaritan woman at the well, He said: ‘whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’ (John 4:14), for the water He gives is ‘living water’ (John 4:10). Jesus is the only source of the living water, the water that wells up to eternal life. So Jesus Himself is the only true fountain of life.

But unlike in legends of the fountain of youth, there are no heroic tasks or epic challenges for us to fulfil in order to drink from the fountain of life. We don’t have to voyage across the seven seas, collect the tears of a mermaid, fight pirates, or prove ourselves by our valour and efforts in any more mundane ways. Instead of sending us to find the fountain and work hard for a drop of its life-giving water, the Lord Himself simply invites us to come to Him and drink. The valour and the work, the merit and the conquest are all His (not ours!). But as a generous and gracious host, He invites us to His Table to drink from the river of His pleasures.

For this life of which He is the fountain isn’t a dreary life. It isn’t a long, hard slog. It’s a life filled with His pleasures. It’s a life of joy and satisfaction in Jesus. It’s a life in which we’re blessed ‘with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph. 1:3). It’s a life in which we know the pleasure of resting in Jesus. For as He invites us:
Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
And Jesus invites us to come and experience this life as we drink. So as we lift the cup to our lips at the Breaking of Bread, we drink knowing His promise of a life in His pleasure. As we drink the New Covenant in His Blood, we know that this New Covenant means a new life, an abundant life. Our old life has been put to death through the death of Jesus. And so, through His Blood, we have entered into that new life in the blessing and joy of Christ. The life of which He is the fountain.
O Christ, He is the Fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love;
The streams on earth I’ve tasted,
More deep I’ll drink above;
There to an ocean fulness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

Come to the Table 4: Fountain of Life

Read More

Saturday, 16 January 2016

They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. (Ps. 36:8)

Those who know the Lovingkindness of the Lord shelter under the shadow of His wings. And there the Lord gives them food and drink. Not simply a snack to keep them going for a while, but a satisfying banquet of delights which come from the Lord Himself. He feeds them with the fullness of His house.

But what is the fullness of His house? For the Lord God is not like the gods of the heathen nations who surrounded Israel. Those gods had physical houses upon the earth – their temples – where their devotees brought them food to eat. But our God does just the opposite. Instead of demanding that we feed Him, He feeds us. And not with a stock that’s built up in a cupboard in the temple, because people have brought it along. No! He feeds us, not from an earthly house, but from the true House of God: the true Temple, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (John 2:21; cf. Col. 2:9).

As we come to this Table, we receive from the Lord ‘true food’ and ‘true drink’ (John 6:55). Not the leftovers He doesn’t want, or the stale stocks in the temple larder, but the food by which we taste the life eternal (John 6:53-54, 57-58). This is the only food which can satisfy us abundantly for all eternity: the food that is the Lord Christ Himself, the Living Bread of Heaven.

This satisfying food from the house of the Lord is food which comes from His fullness. It’s from the fullness of the Incarnate God we receive ‘grace for grace’ (John 1:16), and His eternal purpose is that we ‘may be filled with all the fullness of God’ (Eph. 3:19; cf. Eph. 4:10, 13). As the Lord feeds us now along our earthly pilgrimage from His fullness, He is fulfilling His eternal purpose in us, His redeemed and well-beloved sons and daughters by adoption and grace.

The Lord alone can abundantly satisfy our hunger. And He invites us to come and feast upon His fullness at the Table. Come and eat, and know the satisfaction and filling that comes from Him alone.

Come to the Table 3: Fed from His Fullness

Read More

Friday, 15 January 2016

(Today the Apostolic Church is giving thanks in Penygroes for last week's centenary. So, instead of me writing something for you, I thought it only appropriate to give you an article from the pen of D.P. Williams instead.)

‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.’ (Isa. xl. 5)

The object of revealing God’s glory is presented to us very frequently in the sacred page. ‘And all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.’ What then are we to understand by God’s ‘Glory’? Is it the Divine and glorious essence whereby Jehovah is what He is? – Infinitely blessed and glorious, transcendently above all else, and comprehended by none but by Himself; in His Being and perfection, infinite, eternal and unchangeable?

‘No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see.’ He alone hath immortality, and dwells in that Light which is inaccessible and full of glory. He is King Eternal, Immortal, and Invisible, as He declared unto Moses: ‘No man can see My face and live.’

Truly we read of His Glory (as it has appeared from time to time) as a luminous object, the brightness of which surpasses the sun at mid-day, attracting and commanding the attention of the spectator with its dazzling power. This appearance to the senses of the human was very common under the Old Testament economy, when the Angel of the Covenant (our Lord Jesus Christ) appeared. On that account the language of our text primarily refers to His appearances of old, pointing on however to the time when the Glory of the Eternal Son of God would be clothed in the flesh, as Son of Man. We read of Him in Exod. xxiv. 16, 17. ‘And the Glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day He called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the Mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.’ It is for the same reason that the Ark is styled ‘the Glory of the Lord,’ and when the Lord permitted the Ark to be taken by the Philistines, it was declared by the dying wife of Phineas (Eli’s son) ‘Ichabod.’ ‘The Glory is departed from Israel: for the Ark of God is taken.’ (1 Sam. iv.22). ‘And delivered His strength into captivity, and His Glory into the enemy’s hands.’ (Ps. lxxviii.61). The cloud that filled the Tabernacle and the Temple at their dedication is expressed to be the Glory of the Lord, which filled the House of God. The Shekinah, the symbol of His Divine Presence, was a bright illumination between the cherubim, but in that fashion it has long since disappeared, together with the furniture of the Temple.

What, again we may ask, is ‘the Glory of God’? What do we mean by the Glory of Man? Do we not conceive that it is some excellent and honourable quality in Him whereby He is distinguished from another? The glory of the wise man is his wisdom. The glory of the mighty man is displayed in his strength. The glory of the first distinguishes him from the rude, foolish and illiterate: the glory of the second marks him out from the weak and the timid. Any excellent glory found in man as a finite being is surely resident in God as Infinite, above all His creatures and His works. The glory of the sun is not only in the brightness of its rays, as it appears filling the day from dawn to dusk, but its components, the harmony of all that composes the light and the heat, make up that glory.

By the immediate revelation of God’s Glory is meant what He makes known of Himself to us directly, without the intervention of man. A mediate revelation is the conveyance of God’s counsel to man by means of men – by prophets, by His Son, by the Holy Spirit, and by the various administrations in His Church. It was the revelation of God’s Glory that made Israel a peculiar and distinguished nation above every other nation. ‘He gave His statutes to Jacob, His commandments and judgments to Israel. He hath not dealt so with any other nation. Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee!’ All the Jewish economy was a symbolic revelation of God’s Glory. The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed in the preaching of the Gospel. ‘The heavens declare Thy glory, and the firmament Thy handiwork.’ The sun and moon and stars express His glory, but the glory of His counsel is not there. It is the revelation of God in Christ which reveals that. It is the privilege of God’s servants to declare the glory of His plan of salvation, and the work of reconciliation. In that plan God reveals Himself in the fulness of His glorious character, as the eyes of man are able to bear the radiance of His glorious Light, and as His saints, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, are enraptured by the transcending glory of His Person, in redeeming grace. This alone is the knowledge which cures souls of all their moral maladies and deadly distempers.

Other knowledge adds only to the intellectual pride: this settles and composes them. Other knowledge is apt to swell men to high conceits and opinions of themselves: but this makes them to think soberly. The value of all other knowledge can be ascertained, but the value of this cannot be told. St Paul said, ‘God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ We as Apostolic servants and saints can glory in the same. Herein all who are divided can be united; jarring interests and discordant attributes (though commenced by grace, but having lost the divine purpose of that grace) blend here at the Cross. We behold the blending of Deity and dust, majesty and meanness, life and death at the Cross, for here the interests of the Creator and the creature meet, the sovereign and the subject. Heaven and earth, time and eternity, grace and mercy kiss each other, righteousness and peace embrace each other on Calvary. Spotless justice, incomprehensible wisdom, infinite love shine together on a guilty world, their beams mingling with eternal splendour. Nowhere else does justice appear so awful, mercy so amiable, or wisdom so profound. Here shines the noonday of eternal love, the meridian of melting and everlasting mercy.

It is easy to conceive the righteousness of God in the punishment of sin, but the Cross declares His righteousness in forgiving sins; for there the Son of God magnified justice and forgave sin in one act. Justice receives its due reward, and is made honourable; and mercy smiles on Man. Both the Law and the sinner glory in the Cross, for there both receive eternal glory and honour. Here the sinner reads of his fall and of his rise, his ruin and recovery, his deserts and deliverance; of what sin hath done, and what Christ can do. Here he sees the enormity of guilt, and excellence of forgiveness; the price and the purchase, the cup of wrath and the cup of salvation. Here the works of the devil are destroyed, and the principalities and powers vanquished. Well may we join the saints of all ages in sacred transports of ecstacy and of rapture, to express high esteem, exalted sentiment, and profound veneration for all that has been revealed to them and to us in the glory of the Cross.

O grand, mysterious and glorious wisdom of the Cross! In this do we not see created and uncreated excellences? All the glories of the Godhead are here mingled with the gentlest beauties of a perfect Man. Are not all the attributes of the Divine Nature here eminently displayed towards us to their uttermost extent, perfection and harmoniousness? The attractive influence and power of the Cross within us has caused us to triumph gloriously. Our present state determines what amount of that glory has been revealed to us; if in part, then our victory also is in part; but if this glory has blinded us to all that concerns our earthly fallen state, and if it has transfigured our lives to the heavens, then indeed we have allowed its influence to take its predetermined course. For God has purposed that the Holy Spirit sent from the Glory should bring that Glory to indwell us as a Body, the Church. It is a heavenly heritage not of earth. For the nature, power and purpose of Salvation is to find His Redeemed fully conformed to His Image. When He shall appear to His saints in glory, He shall be glorified in the glorious company that He will present to Himself, and to God the Father. We shall behold His Glory, for we shall see Him as He is.

The Glory of the Lord (by D.P. Williams)

Read More

Thursday, 14 January 2016

On 8th January 1916, D.P. Williams and the Welsh churches that were connected to the Bournemouth based Apostolic Faith Church led by William Oliver Hutchinson broke all ties and fellowship with Hutchinson and the movement he led. But why? (And that ‘why?’ is an important question, because the answer determines whether what the UK Apostolic Church is celebrating this year is something good or something bad.)

In his history of The Origins of the Apostolic Church in Great Britain, James Worsfold seems to put the break with Bournemouth in 1916 down to Welsh national sentiment (and particularly to the issue of the Welsh language), along with the centralising of control of finance in Bournemouth. In other words, Williams and the Welsh couldn’t cope with English control. As his book is the most detailed and widely read account of the origins of the movement, Worsfold’s interpretation of the events of January 1916 have had a wide influence, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s correct.

Luke Worsfold (James’ son) actually charges the Apostolic Church with being ‘schismatic’ (a charge of a very serious sin indeed!) for breaking with Bournemouth. He seems to attribute a lot to jealousy and rivalry (e.g. between D.P. Williams and Andrew Murdoch for who would be Hutchinson’s ‘right hand’; over which prophets would be favoured – Jones Williams or James Dennis and Mrs Kenny). And, again, like his father he brings in the charges of Welsh national sentiment and the increasing institutionalisation and centralisation of the AFC.

Both Worsfolds rely heavily on anti-Apostolic souces. There was no great love for the AC from the AFC after 1916, therefore AFC sources are unlikely to be objective or sympathetic. AFC propaganda painted the AC as enemies. Worsfold spoke to children of AFC leaders, who inherited the story of the split from their parents: not eyewitness accounts, but inheritors of a very-likely rather biased account.

In fact, the accusation of Welsh national sentiment from the Worsfolds just doesn’t make sense. Within a month of the split, the Williams brothers had gone to England to minister to people there who had also come out of the AFC. So the parting of the ways wasn’t only confined to Wales, and the Welsh ministers were concerned for the well-being of their English brethren. In March 1916 – only two months after the split – a convention was held in Penygroes with English and Scottish preachers. In fact, during that convention Robert Jardine, an Englishman, was called through several prophets to the apostleship, and ordained by D.P. Williams and Thomas Jones (the Apostolic Church’s only two apostles at the time). Therefore, the very first apostle ordained in the Apostolic Church after the break with Bournemouth was an Englishman working in England!

In the summer of 1916 the Williams brothers ministered at conventions in Bedford and Smethwick, and during that year an Apostolic assembly began near Dover with cottage meetings. Also, the first issue of Riches of Grace (April 1916) is half and half Welsh and English, despite the overwhelmingly Welsh-speaking membership, so that demonstrates that they were looking out beyond their own familiar Welsh-speaking environment. Within the first year of its existence, neither the Welsh language nor Welsh national sentiment seem to have been a factor at all!

As for Luke Worsfold’s insinuations of jealousy and rivalry, they just don’t match up with any accounts of D.P. Williams from people who knew him. Donald Gee (a significant early AoG leader) knew both D.P. Williams and Andrew Turnbull and, despite serious theological disagreements with the Apostolics, he could only say good things of those two early leaders. About D.P. Williams, Gee wrote: ‘Mr Williams proved himself a Christian of sweet and gracious personality, and no mean ability in spiritual ministry and organising gifts.’ (Wind and Flame, p.104)

Gee’s outsider account of 1916 is also of interest (as he wasn’t a fan of either the AC or the AFC). Gee attributes 1916 to ‘grave errors and extravagances on the part of Hutchinson.’

AC sources were reticent to speak of the split, yet also made very plain that they had no connection with the AFC (e.g. first issue of Riches of Grace). So, although the separation was clear, there was no construction of an anti-Hutchinson/AFC propaganda narrative.

In fact, Hutchinson and the AFC were already alienated from the rest of British Pentecostalism long before 1916, and in subsequent years any Pentecostals who had had a connection with Hutchinson or the AFC tended to try to keep it very quiet (e.g. George Jeffreys, founder of Elim, who was probably ordained by Hutchinson and it also seems may have been baptised in the Spirit through prayer from Hutchinson) due to Hutchinson’s ever-increasing doctrinal error. So it is unsurprising that the early Apostolics were reluctant to speak about their former connection to the AFC.

While T.N. Turnbull is very reticent in mentioning Hutchinson and the AFC in his books, I think the hints he gives are significant. In Brothers in Arms (p.44) he makes clear that the break with Bournemouth wasn’t simply a decision of D.P. Williams, but of the presbyteries of the Welsh assemblies. He also mentions both wisdom and guidance. Given the context, and who is writing (Tom Turnbull was a prominent prophet in the Apostolic Church), I suspect that he meant that there had been wisdom and guidance through the Voice Gifts. In What God Hath Wrought (p.20) he simply says that the link was ‘terminated because of several things that the Welsh assemblies disagreed with in church administration.’ While that could be read in a way that supports the Worsfolds, going by the other evidence available, I think Turnbull’s talking about something rather deeper than constitutions or centralisation – I think it’s to do with theology and principles of church government.

Certainly, that’s what’s apparent in D.P. Williams’ accounts. His focus is not on centralism or constitutions, but on the role of Hutchinson as ‘Chief Apostle.’ Hutchinson claimed infallibility for himself and denied prophets the right to speak unless everything they said agreed with him. Neither could other apostles disagree with his pronouncements. Therefore, the other apostles weren’t allowed to bring Scripture to bear on Hutchinson’s pronouncements. Hutchinson was setting up a system of government vested in one (supposedly infallible) man, and a system which abandoned Sola Scriptura by subordinating the authority of Scripture to the authority of the ‘Chief Apostle’.

D.P. Williams, on the other hand, insisted on the right of the prophets to prophesy, and always advocated collegiate apostleship and plurality of elders, standing strongly for the supreme authority of Scripture. (Hence the significance of the first post-January 1916 apostle being ordained, not just by D.P. Williams, but by D.P. Williams AND Thomas Jones, as well as Turnbull’s insistence that the split was the decision of the Welsh presbyteries.)

Furthermore, I think the ‘Apostolic Vision’ played a significant role here. In my PhD research I’ve traced D.P. Williams’ reception of the Glorious Vision to sometime between 1914 and the beginning of 1916. The Apostolic Vision is centred on Christ the Head and the Church His Body. So D.P. Williams’ new understanding of Headship and the Body would tie in with the disagreement between one-man infallibility and collegiate apostleship. For D.P. Williams, collegiate apostleship is always tied to Christ’s Headship: Jesus is the true apostle, and all human apostles simply share in His apostleship; thus no single human apostle can exercise the fullness of the ministry that is in Christ.

If the Worsfolds are correct and 8th January 1916 came about as a result of jealousy, rivalry, pride and national sentiment, then it was something to be lamented rather than celebrated. But the evidence doesn’t stack up in favour of the Worsfolds’ interpretation. Rather, the evidence points to January 1916 as a theological stand against a leader and a movement who were quickly drifting into serious doctrinal error. On 8th January 1916, D.P. Williams and the Welsh assemblies made a stand for a biblical ecclesiology and Sola Scriptura. They rejected non-biblical claims of Hutchinson’s infallibility, of one-man governance of the churches, and of the subjection of the Word of God to the office of chief apostle.

And so what they did is indeed something to be celebrated, for they stood for the authority of the Word of God, and removed from fellowship those who set themselves up above the Scriptures and sought to lead God’s people astray. In January 1916 D.P. Williams and the Welsh presbyteries dealt with a serious threat to the church from false teaching, and pointed the church instead to the unassailable authority of Scripture for every aspect of her life, and to Christ as the one true Head of the Church.

Why What Happened in 1916 Happened: D.P. Williams, Hutchinson and the Parting of the Ways

Read More

Copyright © Apostolic Theology | Designed With By Blogger Templates
Scroll To Top