October 2010

What we need most

When I look at the state of the world and our nation, and hear the contentions of Evangelical world church leaders that much of the church has fallen asleep, then I have great hope.

Sounds strange, but that is the truth of it. However, my hope is not that the nation will suddenly change from corruption, violence, and general indolence, to heaven-on-earth. Nor is my hope that the churches of South Africa will structurally unite and exercise major social transformation initiatives. No, my hope is that God the Father will take mercy on His people, that the Lord Jesus will intercede for us, and that the Holy Spirit will overwhelm the church with … Revival! We need nothing less at this time, and nothing less will do.

Jonathan Goforth was instrumental in the Manchurian revival of 1908 and he is quoted as stating that the three key precursors to revival are (i) prayer, (ii) a return to the authority of the Bible, and (iii) placing Jesus at the centre as Saviour and Lord. In this article I would like to briefly explore what these mean at a practical level.

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high and so they waited and prayed. This seems to be a common preparatory feature in the historic revivals I have studied. God instructs a few to expect revival, and they wait and pray until it comes as promised. During revivals, prayer is usually intense and all inclusive. What starts with a few people praying ends with whole congregations, and even regions, on their knees in intense prayer. My dilemma is whether to attempt to organise people to pray. My natural inclination is to exhort folk and to set up regular prayer meetings. My spiritual intuition says no, step aside so that God can do what only He can do. Perhaps when people start to come to the church building to pray, without being obligated to do so, then is the time to announce that the Holy Spirit has organised a regular prayer meeting.

Concerning a return to the authority of the Bible, that is something I do not need to return to because I believe and teach this concept. However, this may well be a challenge for some reading this article. Topical preaching is powerful in the hands of a master of the scriptures, but dangerous in the hands of anyone less.

When using the topical approach to preaching it is too easy to justify one’s own ideas from selected texts. Expository preaching, on the other hand, gives full honour to the authority of scripture and compels the preacher to deal with what a given portion of scripture says. So, to experience full revival perhaps we need to revive expository preaching.
The Bible is the written Word of God, but Jesus Christ is the Living Word. A core issue for me has always been the centrality of Jesus. Most, if not all, Evangelicals will gladly embrace this and claim it as their central tenet. However the truth of this claim lies in how we apply the concept. Is what Jesus said and did the prime determiner of our doctrine and practice? Do we interpret the Bible and seek to apply it in the light of the revelation of the nature and character of the Godhead as revealed in and through Jesus? One example will have to suffice. In Acts chapter five Luke records the sad and confusing tale of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. Almost every commentator I have read claims that God slew the two, and they give a number of reasons. Few ask the question, ‘would Jesus kill His own disciples?’ Later in Acts, Luke records how Paul dealt with a man called Elymas, who he described as ‘a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! (Acts 13:11). His punishment was to be struck blind for a period of time, but the punishment for Ananias was instant execution! Elymas’ sentence was reasonable, appropriate, and redemptive, while the sentence passed on the disciples appears not to be. The couple were children of God while Elymas was a child of the devil. Difficult as it may be to interpret Acts 5, the question that must be asked and answered if we are to honour the Christ-centred principle is, ‘would Jesus do this?’ Another way of asking the question is, ‘is this consistent with the nature and character of God as revealed in and through the Lord Jesus Christ?’

The solution to the woes of the church, and hence our country can, I believe, be addressed only by a genuine and powerful Holy Spirit revival. Revival is an act of God. The sovereign Lord has already spoken to several of His people about His intention to send revival. Our response is to pray and to recommit ourselves to the authority of the Bible and the practical centrality of Jesus in our churches and lives. In this lies our hope for our nation at this time.


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The Biblical Structure of Society

Series Five – Structure
Theme = God’s way for family, church, and society
‘Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors…’ 1 Peter 2:13-14
“I tell you what, I might be a Christian but I don’t care what the foreign exchange regulations say, I am going to get the money out of the country. Hang it all, it’s my money! I earned it and I paid tax on it, and I will take it out with me when I immigrate whatever anyone says!” A man I know made this kind of statement not so long ago. I admit, it just doesn’t seem right that a man cannot take all his hard earned money with him when he leaves the country. Yet the regulations prohibit the expatriation of more than stipulated amounts of money – that’s the law.
All over the world Christians are being confronted with the terrible dilemma of how to respond to unjust government. What are we supposed to do when a large part of the taxes we pay is going into the pockets of corrupt government officials, and when most of the balance is squandered or poorly used? What should you do when the police are either corrupt or massively incompetent and the men who raped and murdered your daughter walk away from the courts as free men? Why shouldn’t you take the law into your own hands?
These are terrible realities that many people have to deal with in many different countries. Yet in His written Word God instructs us to submit to our governments. Why is this and how are we to comply?
I guess the why of it is as follows. The system of human government is patterned on the headship and submission structure of the holy Trinity and is the best way for human society to function. Consider what it would be like to live in a state of total anarchy – roaming gangs taking whatever they want, warlords killing all who oppose them, no usable currency other than what you grow or make, no stability, no reasonable expectation even to stay alive, let alone prosper. Strange as it is to concede, even bad government is better than no government. This is why Paul instructs us to intercede ‘for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’ (1 Timothy 2:2)
Submission does not always equate to obedience. On one occasion Peter proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29) That still holds good for us today. If anyone in authority demands that we do something that violates what we believe to be the clear will of God, then we must respectfully refuse to comply. Ideally we should state why we are not complying and appeal to our national bill of rights. However, we should be prepared to accept the consequences for our disobedience to governmental law.
The foreign exchange circumvention I mentioned did not turn out well for anyone. The man in question, despite being warned not to, persuaded some gullible people to send his money out of the country in their names. He used the funds to buy into an overseas finance company of which he became a director. Just months later, the world financial crisis hit and the company concerned went belly-up. The man lost all of his money. Several months after that one of the poor ‘mules’ he used to get the money out of the country came running into the church office, ashen faced, and clutching a letter from the Revenue Services. He wanted advice and prayer because he now had to face the consequences of his actions.

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Church Structure

Series Five – Structure  
Theme = God’s way for family, church, and society
‘The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.’  Titus 1:5
It’s quite amusing to see two pastors meeting for the first time. “Hi, what church are you from?” “The church of glory and healing power on the holy mountain” (it’s an African Pentecostal church). “Oh great, and how many people do you have?” If the man gives a number of anything under a thousand then he is likely to get a fleeting sympathetic yet superior smile as his questioner moves on to find someone more influential. 
We pastors tend to be size sensitive and also rather proprietorial. We speak proudly of ‘my church’.  But of course local churches do not belong to pastors, although I know of a few where the pastor actually owns the property and everything in it. Churches belong to Jesus! He is the invisible yet real head of every church and church group. And because of this, the church should be structured in accordance with the pattern of the Holy Trinity.
In the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate together in headship and submission yet are equally divine and one in unity and essence. So in the church, three structural elements exist: The Lord Jesus Christ who is the head, the Elders, and the Members. The Elders are in submission to the Lord Jesus and the members are in submission to both the Lord and His Elders. This doesn’t make the Elders more important or of greater status than the members but it does mean that they have a particular functionality in the household of God. Ironically, Elders, who I believe are biblically mandated to be men only, take the role of ‘mother’ in the extended family of the church. In the family, the children are in submission to father and mother, and the father is the head. In the church, the members are in submission to Jesus and the Elders, and Jesus is the head.
In the New Testament, Elders are always presented as a group, not as individuals. My understanding is that a local church needs to be led at a human level by a group of at least three. Together they govern the church under the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. One of them, sometimes called Pastor or Lead Elder, establishes doctrine and vision and leads the group, but all major decisions are made by a genuine group consensus.
Churches, like families, are imperfect and experience disorder from time to time. However, the church splits, Pastor firings, and major church calamities that I have come across have all been in churches where one man rules. This is very common in charismatic circles. The Pastor is the boss and the members are his not so happy helpers. This is not the structure modelled in the Godhead and it is no wonder that ill health so often results.
What is your church structure? How closely do you think it matches the biblical pattern?

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The role of the child within the structure of the home

Series Five – Structure
Theme = God’s way for family, church, and society
‘Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.’ Colossians 3:20
“Just you wait until your father gets home! He will give you such a hiding!” 
The disobedient little tyke looks up at his mother and you can almost see the thought bubble above his head. Thinks: ‘Yeah right! Mom has no power over me. I think I will do what I want right now and take my chances with dad later. ’
Children are supposed to submit to both the father and the mother. As the Holy Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son, so should a child submit to both parents. Only, in the case of children, the primary responsibility is to obey, not simply acquiesce. If a child disobeys his mother, then the mother should immediately exercise her authority and impose whatever corrective measures she and her husband have generally agreed upon.
In our postmodern society, particularly in westernised cultures, children are often treated as equal partners in the home and full citizens in society. There are cases where young children have sued their parents because they expected the child to obey them! Obviously parents are supposed to nurture, protect and lovingly develop their children. Why? Because children are neither equal partners in the home nor full citizens in society. They are vulnerable and not yet able to function as adults. Paul writes, ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4).
The biblical structural roles within the family are as follows: Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and self-sacrificingly assume the role of head of javascript:void(0)the home. Wives, respect your husbands and submit to them as the church submits to Christ. Parents, train, discipline, and instruct your children in the Lord. Children, obey your parents in the Lord. This divine pattern is based on the structural unity of the Trinity and when implemented it brings harmony and health to all members of a human family.
What does your home structure look like and how does it work for you?

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Submission within the family partnership

Series Five – Structure  
Theme = God’s way for family, church, and society
 ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’ Ephesians 5:22-24
Before conducting a wedding service I spend a few hours with the couple discussing the logistics of the service, the biblical basis of the marriage covenant, and the roles within a Christian home. On one occasion I was preparing two very nominal church goers for their wedding. When we got to the bit about how the wife should submit to the husband she exploded with, “Are you kidding. Do you really think that I would submit to this jerk!” I had no option but to back out of my involvement in their wedding. At the end of the Ephesians passage Paul states that the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). Respect is the godly response to godly headship.
The problem is that so many women regard submission as an expression of subordination. In the business world the worker is subordinate to the boss, and so many women believe that husbands often perceive themselves as the ‘boss’ and their wives as the ‘workers’. This might be the perception, and it might be the reality in some marriages, but it is not God’s intended structural pattern.
If God has ordained that the man assume the headship role within a marriage, then the woman must assume the role of submission to that headship. If she doesn’t, then the structure will break down and it will only be a matter of time before the relationship will suffer in one way or another. Two magnets stick together when their poles are correctly aligned, but try to align them the other way around and see how they repel one another.
What is important to understand is that a wife’s submission implies neither servility nor inequality. Men and women are ‘one in Christ’ (Galatians 3:28) – husbands and wives are equal in the eyes of God, the church and society. Submission is the free-will decision to respect the husband’s ultimate judgement for the sake of family health and harmony. Submission is a choice and an evidence of strength of character and respect for biblical authority. It does not evidence weakness or inferiority.
I understand that sometimes things get complicated. What about the woman whose husband is not a Christian, or a believing husband who just does not exercise biblical headship? In my opinion, these are exceptions that in no way disprove the rule. God’s ways are best and when we live within unbiblical structures then we should not be surprised if we encounter problems.
If you are a woman married to an unbeliever, how do you handle the biblical call to submission? If you are struggling in this area then why not comment on this blog and I or others can reflect on what you say and respond in some positive way?

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.