July 2011

Jesus, the centre of our faith

Series: Who is this Jesus?
The other day my wife Pat heard a Mormon scholar on the radio saying that they are very Jesus-centred and so are therefore, to all intense and purposes, just another branch of the evangelical church. Ignoring for a moment the various doctrines, rites, and practices of modern day Mormons which differentiate them from evangelical churches, the central issue is Jesus. Is the Jesus of Mormonism the same Jesus who the Bible reveals as God incarnate?
I cannot even attempt to offer a comparison between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity in a short blog post like this. However, my understanding of Mormon teaching is that they believe Jesus to be the first naturally procreated son of the union between a god of flesh and bone, and Mary. (http://wri.leaderu.com/mormonism/jesus-refs.html). Traditional Mormons also appear to teach that Jesus Christ is actually a god named Jehovah, a different god to The Father, who is better known as Elohim. This Jesus/Jehovah is, they claim, actually our elder brother who evolved and became the god of this world. He is also Lucifer’s brother! Now this is a very different Jesus to the Jesus of the Gospels.
I am not concerned in this posting about critiquing Mormonism and I am using their doctrine of Jesus simply to point out just how central the biblical Jesus is to our Faith. Jesus Christ could not have legitimately paid the penalty of death for humanity if He were anything less than fully God and fully man. Jesus could not be our supreme example if He were not fully man. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is central to the Christian faith.
Because God the Son became a man, humanity was able to see Him, learn from Him, and relate to Him. The New Testament is therefore not a literary work about a religious concept, but an account of God Himself who came to earth, died for our sin, and returned to Heaven in bodily form where He reigns right now.
Jesus, the Word of God, is also the one who inspired the scriptures to be written, He is their subject matter, and He is their interpreter. In my next posting I want to explore this idea. In the meanwhile I leave you with this quote to ponder;’The most pressing question on the problem of faith is whether a man as a civilized being can believe in the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, for therein rests the whole of our faith.’ Fyodor Dostoevski

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Jesus, the head of the church

Series: Who is this Jesus?
‘And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead.’ Colossians 1:18
I suffer from sleep apnoea. What this means is that sometimes when I am very relaxed my lungs do not respond to my brain’s instruction to breathe. As a result I wake several times during the night with a gasp and often get out of bed in the morning with a headache, feeling more tired than when I lay down to sleep. My poor wife not only has to adapt to snoring but also to periodic protracted silences followed by loud gasps!
Jesus is the head of the church, the Body of Christ. When the church does not respond to its head then it too experiences pain and exhaustion, a sort of ecclesiastical apnoea.
Most, if not all Christians, accept that Jesus is the head of the church, and that we are meant to respond to His headship, but what do we understand by this and how do we evidence it?
If we view the church as an institution, then perhaps we understand Jesus’ headship as titular and ceremonial. The Queen of England is the ‘head’ of the country but everybody knows that the prime minister and his government direct the affairs of the state. Some church denominations are hierarchical with a pope-like figure right at the top. Who is the effective head – the official, or Jesus? Many local churches are equally hierarchical with a single pastor as the chief executive. Again, who is the effective head of such a church, the pastor or Jesus?
Of course the Bible describes the church as a body, not an institution, and an extended family rather than an enterprise. Leaders in a church body are not substitute heads but rather parts of the central nervous system that conveys inputs from the brain and feedback from the various parts of the body. In terms of this analogy, any hierarchical system of leadership creates either a two-headed creature or a human-headed organisation. Two-headed creatures are unnatural and dysfunctional. Also, anyone who has been in business management knows the problems with one-on-one management structures. By this I mean a structure which has a manager (manager one) over only one subordinate (manager two), who in turn has the remaining managers under his or her control. This generally gives rise to one of two scenarios. Either manager two filters everything to and from manager one and generally gets in the way of efficiency and productivity, or she becomes the effective boss and manager one becomes an interfering and unwanted piece of corporate baggage.
Some churches try to eliminate all and everything between Jesus, the Head, and the people, the Body. In this model, direction, policy, priorities, and so on, are set by the full membership of the church in general meeting. The result is often paralysis, where the body can’t grow or change fast enough to sustain health and functionality. Alternatively, the congregation elects leaders and hands over effective headship to them. Often in cases like this they endow one Pastor with most of the authority and attempt to hold him periodically to account. In effect they evolve into a sort of pseudo-hierarchy.
So what is the solution? In my opinion the best form of church government is a plurality of Elders. This is a group of three or more men who have been approved by the members and who are mandated to manage the church together as a team. One is appointed as Lead Elder and given the responsibility of leading and envisioning the team. However, the team together seeks direction from Jesus, the head of the church, and together comes to full agreement on policy, direction, and so on. When they make important decisions, they announce it in the same way as the Elders and Apostles in the days of the early church – “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28).
I don’t suppose any system of church government is perfect and without flaws. However, our task is to search the scriptures and attempt to ascertain which form of government will best honour and implement the effective headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over the church. If we do not attempt to do this then in effect we are saying that Jesus isn’t the head of the church in any real way. What do you think of this statement? Please comment and let me know how you would set up church government so that Jesus, the head is best glorified.

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Jesus, the pre-eminent one

Series: Who is this Jesus?
‘He is… the firstborn over all creation… all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things.’ Colossians 1:15-17
I had only been pastoring a church for a few years when I was introduced to the wallet test. I was discussing with a more experienced fellow minister how best to introduce the congregation to a new way of approaching outreach. He said, “Of course you will only know if they believe it when they pass the wallet test.” I asked him what he meant and he patiently explained that he had found through years of pastoring that the real test of belief and commitment is when people are prepared to pay for something. I was shocked and argued that this was very ‘unspiritual’ and cynical. He smiled, shrugged and said, “You will learn soon enough.”
I have learned, although my understanding is not as cynical as that of my friend. I have learned that we reveal our true values and priorities through how we use our resources of time, talent and money. If something is important to us then we expend time and energy on it, or we allocate finances to it. Take for instance the schooling of our children. If good schooling is important to us then we buy the best education we can afford and sacrifice other lesser important things in order to be able to afford tuition fees. We also spend time involving ourselves in the education process by attending school meetings, checking homework, taking the children on educational outings, and so on.
So here is the question; if we claim that Jesus is number one in our lives, then does our use of resources support or give the lie to this contention? The scriptures declare that Jesus Christ is pre-eminent in all things. He has the rights of a firstborn son over the household of God, of which we are members. We are included in His creative plan and therefore we are made to be His. Theoretically, Jesus should have pre-eminence in our lives – but does He?
To truthfully respond to this question it is helpful to conduct a resources inventory. Construct a pie chart of your budget and note the percentage spend in the various areas. How do these percentages reflect on the pre-eminence of Jesus in your life? Do something similar with your time. Analyse a typical week and determine where your discretionary times goes. You can ignore the reasonable time required by your employer because that translates into money, and you have already analysed your spending pattern. You can also conduct a similar exercise on the use of your talent. You have abilities, experiences, and giftings – where do you deploy them?
I have to concede that my friend was partially right and that the wallet test does give at least a strong indication of our true values and priorities. I am not suggesting that it is as simple as it may appear. At different times of our lives we have various priorities that demand our resources. For instance, family is important and we would be violating the scriptures if we neglected our responsibilities to our aging parents or our young children. By the way, this is one of the reasons I am not in favour of legalistic tithing to the church. But whether it is the church, parents, children, or whatever else is urgent, there is always someone else who is most important of all… Jesus. However we allocate our resources, it should be in consultation with Him. “Lord Jesus, I want to honour you in everything I do, and I want to evidence your pre-eminence in my life through how I spend my time, talent and money. This is how I see my obligations, dreams, and challenges at this time. Does my allocation of resources to them reflect your pre-eminence in my life Lord?”
Frank Viola writes in Revise Us Again, ‘Only a recovery of the greatness, supremacy, sovereignty, brilliance, and “allness” of Christ will lead us to restoration and even revival. The wonder of Jesus as “all in all” is the only hope for igniting the flame of a new reformation and resuscitating a church that’s presently on life support.’

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Jesus, the fullness of God

Series: Who is this Jesus?
‘For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.’ Colossians 1:19
It delights me when scientists discover or invent something that helps me better appreciate spiritual realities. The holograph is an example. A holographic image is created using laser light, reference beams, interference patterns, and so on, but the end result is a three dimensional presentation of the original. You can walk around a hologram and see the image of the original from all angels and perspectives. But this is not the part that intrigued me most when I first learned about holograms. What fascinated me was the fact that the whole holographic image is encoded into every part of the record. In other words, if you take just a fragment of the image medium and shine the laser reference beam through it then the full hologram will appear in all its details. Every part of the medium contains the full image.
Star Wars – always fun watching holograms in the movies
This helps me to understand something about Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ, while He was on Earth, was a man, yet He contained the full image of the Godhead; He was fully man and fully God. As a fragment of a holographic medium contains the full image of the original, so Jesus Christ in His limited humanity presented the fullness of God. Colossians 2:9 records that ‘in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.’ The ‘laser’ light of Heaven shone through the man Jesus and we saw the full representation of God.
I used the past tense in the previous paragraph, but Jesus still exists as the eternal God-man and He is still the full presentation of the Godhead to humanity. If we want to know what God is like we still look to Jesus. But, now that Jesus no longer walks on earth in the flesh, how do we see Him? We perceive Jesus, the full image of the invisible God, with the help of another sort of holograph, a literary holograph.
The Bible is, in a sense, a sort of holograph. The revelation of Jesus is encoded in it. His image is in all its parts and we can perceive Jesus when the laser light of the Holy Spirit shines through it. The image of Jesus, projected through the medium of the scriptures, reveals to us who God is, how He thinks, what His values and priorities are, and what His attitude is towards us and the world.
So, if you want to know God then look to Jesus. If you want to know Jesus look to the Bible.

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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.