April 2011

The real meaning of Easter

Definitely yum, but nothing to do with Christ

A friend of mine asked me to read a comment someone had made on his Facebook page about how Easter was a vernal pagan festival marking the change of seasons, which Christians hijacked and converted into a vicious blood memorial. I am pretty sure that most folk reading my blog are Christians, but I thought that it might be good, this ‘Easter’ Monday, to comment.

In all probability the word ‘Easter’ is a corruption of Ishtar, a pagan goddess also known as Astarte or Beltis the queen of heaven. Yes, Easter Eggs were used by pagans as fertility symbols and hot cross buns were most likely part of their rituals fifteen hundred years before the advent of Christ. By the way, Jeremiah was probably condemning this practice when he wrote, ‘the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven’ (Jer 7:18).
But here is the thing. We Christians do not celebrate the changing of the seasons at Solstice. We do not bake hot cross buns as votive offerings to the queen of heaven. We don’t even use eggs as fertility symbols or eat chocolate bunnies to gain virility (I guess that would make the poor things hot cross bunnies). No, we honor the death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary and we celebrate His rising from the tomb three days later.
We do this every year at roughly the same time as our Jewish cousins celebrate Passover. Why? Because Jesus died over the Passover of 29AD in fulfillment of the original Hebrew Passover held around 3,500 years ago when God delivered His people from Egypt. Jesus Christ died to redeem humanity from bondage to sin and death and rose again so that all who believe in Him can have eternal life in His name. This is what we celebrate!
I dislike the word Easter and would much rather call the Sunday service at this time each year ‘Resurrection Sunday’. We are not aping pagan tradition when we meet; we are commemorating the most significant event in all of Earth’s history, the death and resurrection, not of the queen of heaven, but of the Son of the Most High God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
While I am at it I may as well say that I also dislike the use of the phrase, Good Friday. ‘Good’ may be a corruption of ‘God’ or of the German ‘gute’ (possibly meaning ‘holy’) but I still don’t like it. Jesus could not have been crucified on a Friday because then the third day, the day of resurrection (Matthew 17:23), would be a Monday.
We know that the early church met weekly on the first day of each week, Sunday (Acts 20:7), and so Jesus would have been crucified on a Thursday, not a Friday. (Yes I am familiar with the alternative calculations for the crucifixion and resurrection but I am convinced that Jesus died on a Thursday and rose on a Sunday.)
So dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is nothing pagan about Passover or the day we have chosen to honor what Jesus Christ has done for us. But, hey, eat as many hot cross buns and chocolate eggs and bunnies as you think your waist line can stand. They are only spicy buns and sweets after all.

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Reforming structure for revival

Theme: Doctrine and structure in times of revival
“…how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Timothy 3:15
Since the days of Charles Finney pastors have engaged in the following sort of discussions – I certainly have. “If you want revival then you need to hold a revival.” “What do you mean by hold a revival?” “Well, advertise that you will be holding meetings every night for twenty-one days. Get in a top class evangelist from overseas. Hire a group of professional musicians for the duration. Things like that.” If you study how many of the recent ‘revivals’ started, you will find something very similar to this method. But is this God’s way? I don’t think it is.
The great revivals of modern history were characterised by spontaneity and divine initiation. Men and women didn’t decide to ‘hold a revival’; God decided to revive His church according to His methods and His timetable.
In my previous blog post I wrote of David’s Tent as a type of the church and I made the point that revival of the presence of God must be accompanied by a restoration of truth and a reformation of structure. The biblical history of David’s Tent is fascinating. Originally, the Ark of the Covenant, representing the presence of God, was in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle. The structure of this mobile temple was quite complex. There were three areas: an outer court, an inner court called the Holy Place and a restricted area called the Holy of Holies. The outer court contained the brazen alter of sacrifice and the laver of water. These stand as types of salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and water baptism as the initiatory rite of the church. The inner court contained the Table of Shewbread, The Golden Minora, and the Incense Altar. These stood as types for communion with God and each other, the Word of God, and Prayer and Worship. Behind a thick curtain, in the Holy of Holies, stood the Ark of the Covenant as a type of the presence of God.
Working model of the Tabernacle – Outer court is seen here
One day, when the Canaanites were at war with the Israelites, and winning, the people of God rashly decided to carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them. They hoped that the enemy would flee when they saw the Ark, but instead they captured it and drove the Israelites back. From that day on the Tabernacle was without the Ark of the Covenant. It had the structure, the form, and the contents but it lacked the one vital element, the presence of God. What a picture of religion – rites, rituals and regulations but no presence of God!
Sometime later the Canaanites returned the Ark and David gave instructions that it should be brought up to Jerusalem. However, the Tabernacle was someplace else, and so David built a tent to house the Ark – the Tent of David. By all accounts this was a very simple structure with the sole purpose of providing a place for the presence of God. This to me is a type of the sort of structure we should have in times of revival – simple, uncomplicated and dedicated solely to providing a place for the glorious presence of God. Instead of setting up endless meetings, importing preachers and laying on professional musicians, we should be getting out of the way and keeping it simple. What do you think? I would love to hear your views so please post a comment or two on the blog.

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A restoration of key doctrines

Theme: Doctrine and structure in times of revival

“In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its damaged walls. From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.” Amos 9:11[/su_note]

I have been giving a lot of thought recently to the subject of revival – but of course you know this because that’s all I have been writing about lately. However, what I have come to realise is that any true revival must bring with it both restoration and reformation. Amos spoke of restoring David’s fallen tent to its former glory. In Acts 15:16-18 James quoted Amos’ words in the context of the church, and so I feel at liberty to take David’s tent as a type of the church. He used three words to describe what was needed to return David’s tent to its former glory – repairing, rebuilding and restoration. It seems to me that today’s ‘tent’, the church, also needs three things – revival, restoration and reformation.
Revival, in its absolute essence, is the return of the presence of God to the church. Restoration is the return of the key truths of God to the church. Reformation is the return of the structures of God to the church. So, restoration is about doctrine and the way we think.
Of course it makes sense. If the presence of God returns (revival) then restoration of doctrine and reformation of structure must follow. In truth, if these two do not follow then the revival is probably not genuine. God comes with glory to His church to change our thinking and practice.
What then are the key doctrines that need to be restored to the church? All Christian doctrine is important, but what are the few that just MUST dominate our thinking at this time? I believe there are only three – the trustworthiness of the Bible, the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ and dependence on the Holy Spirit.
If we are to comprehend, appreciate, and respond correctly to revival then we must fully accept that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, and therefore fully trustworthy. When God returns to His church in revival some of the first words we hear from His lips are “I tell you the truth”. In David’s fallen tent the theologians argue about the cultural conditioning of scripture, the pastors debate whether or not they can teach tithing and the congregation fusses about how to be prosperous. In David’s rebuilt tent the focus shifts to what the scriptures reveal of Jesus, how we may give our lives to Him and the call to make disciples in His name.
Similarly, there is only one lord of David’s rebuilt tent. It isn’t me, I or even we… it is JESUS. A revived church is full of praise, worship and adoration of Jesus. As Michael W Smith wrote in that great song of his, “It’s all about you Jesus”.
Dependence on the Holy Spirit is the last of the three key restoration doctrines. Pentecostalism focused on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Weslyanism focused on living holy lives by the power of the Spirit, and the Charismatic movement focused on the Gifts of the Spirit. In David’s rebuilt tent the call comes once again to live in dependence on the Holy Spirit: dependence for power, for holiness, for gifts, for fruit and for disciples.
I have been encouraging folk to cry out to God for revival and now I want to add the plea that we also cry out to Him for restoration and reformation. “O Lord, please rebuild David’s fallen tent in our day!”

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Jesus’ words to His church

Theme: Doctrine and Structure in times of revival

“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” Revelation 2:5[/su_note]

The deadline for my next article in Joy! Magazine was fast approaching and I still didn’t know what to write. I asked my wife Pat and she said, “Why not write about what to do when we just aren’t feeling on fire and ‘revivalized’?” Ok, so what do we do? For anyone who has been a Christian for many years this can be a real issue at times. Well, Jesus had something to say about it.
Keep your passion for Christ alive
The first church Jesus addressed in the book of Revelation was Ephesus. He admonished them to remember their condition when they first came to know Him. He described this as a spiritual height and told them bluntly that they had fallen from this state. Then He gave them the antidote to their condition. ‘Repent and do the things you did at first’.
Revival is a word we use to describe when the glory of God returns with power to His church. However, it has a human side; revival is also when the people of God return to Him. The sovereign Lord initiates revival and fuels revival but we, the children of God, need to respond with an exercise of our wills and energy.
Firstly we need to repent. Now, repentance is essentially a change of mind. We realise that we are falling short of God’s expectations of us and we decide to change. When we realise our apathetic condition we do feel sorry and remorseful, but this is of little value unless it leads to a decision to be different.
Once the decision is made, we then need to act. But what are we supposed to do? Jesus’ answer to this question is “Do the things you did at first.” So, what did I do when I first came to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord? Here are a few of the things that occupied a lot of my time. I read the Bible with expectant spiritual and intellectual hunger. If it was a loaf of fresh bread I would have eaten it all. Actually, it was fresh spiritual bread to me, and so I consumed it mentally and spiritually. Whenever I met mature Christians I would invite them to have a cup of coffee with me and then I would ply them with a barrage of questions about the Bible. Why, what, howcome, please explain and run-that-by-me-again-please.
I also witnessed to my family and friends about my relationship with Jesus. I wrote long serial letters to my sisters who both lived in another city to me. One responded positively and soon came to know Jesus for herself. I sent the other sister a Bible and a long letter but she returned the Bible and told me to … well, it’s not polite to repeat what she wrote.
I loved going to church services, and fellowship group meetings. I wanted to get involved so I taught the youth and played in the worship group. I spent time talking to Jesus and He often responded with miraculous acts of kindness that astounded me.
These are the things I did at first.

Jesus’ words to the church of Ephesus highlight the link between doctrine and practice. Doctrine = Repent; Practice = Do the things you did at first. Revival is not just a time when we sense the glorious presence of God in a powerfully life-giving way; it is also when we hear His call to change and respond with obedient spirit-filled actions.

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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.