February 2012

What we need most is revival

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.

What we need most is revival Read More »

Restoring Truth to the Church

I once attended a wedding where the minister was a pleasant young man from a traditional denomination. He conducted the service well enough but he made no reference whatsoever to the Bible, and the name of Jesus came up just once in a casual aside. A Christian marriage is based on the covenant between God and man as fulfilled in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is described and prescribed in the Bible. 
How then can a minister of the church conduct a Christian wedding without reference to either the Lord Jesus or the Bible? 
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This is by no means an isolated incident but is rather indicative of the sad lack of connection between Jesus and the Bible evidenced in much of the church of our day. This central ‘truth’ connection needs to be restored and I am committed to playing a meaningful role in the process. 

This statement demands an answer to at least two questions; what do I mean by truth, and why does it need to be restored? To many the idea seems nonsensical. It is popular today to regard truth as relative and individually or group determined. If this is so, then truth isn’t an absolute that would ever need to be restored. However, I believe that truth is a person rather than simply personal, and eternally established rather than relative and transient. 

What do I mean by truth being a person? Well Jesus claimed to be truth itself when he declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). On many occasions he used the phrase “I tell you the truth”, but here he went beyond that to proclaim that he was the embodiment of truth. This was a central idea in early Christianity. The first century disciples were more followers than learners. They witnessed to a relationship with the Son of God and sought to emulate him rather than just study his teachings. But then things started to change.

By the middle ages, Christian maturity was gauged by knowledge of doctrine and church protocol instead of the quality of a living relationship with Jesus Christ. And things haven’t changed much since then. 
In traditional churches the priest, pastor, minister is required to hold a bachelor of theology degree. This is good in itself but surely a mature relationship with Jesus is of greater importance? 
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The answer to that question is often negative because the criterion for ministerial success has become what you know rather than who you know.

Ask an average gathering of Christians if they are currently discipling anyone and a typical positive response would be one in a hundred. Jesus commissioned his followers to go into all the world and make disciples but so few of us do. Why is this? Again, ask a typical congregation this question and one of the most common responses is, “I don’t know enough”. What they mean by this is that they don’t have in-depth knowledge of the doctrines of the Christian Faith and nor do they have answers to the many objections they imagine others will raise. 
But Christianity is not a knowledge-based religion; it is a word that describes a relationship with Jesus and with other disciples. It is not a system to be sold, but a life of relationship to be offered.
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A central truth that needs to be restored to the church is this; Jesus is the truth and Christianity is about a relationship with him and his followers. Paul captures this central idea when he writes about ‘God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.’ (1 Tim 3:15). Then, in the next verses he writes; ‘Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.’ The truth… He (Jesus) appeared in a body. Jesus is the truth the church is to uphold.

Of course we only know of Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the scriptures. If Jesus is the incarnate Word of Truth, as He is, then the Bible is the written Word of Truth. But here is another central concept; we can only really understand the Bible with reference to Jesus. The written word is not so much a collection of propositions as it is a revelation of the person, nature, purpose, and teachings of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, because of the misconception that Christianity is a knowledge-based religion, the Bible is regarded by many as a sort of theological dictionary. Of course it does contain commands, concepts, and principles. It also contains guidance for daily living, but it is first and foremost a revelation of Jesus (Revelation 1:1). This too needs to be restored to the church.

Doctrine is important, but it needs to be Christ-centred doctrine. Holy living is important but this too must be Christ-motivated and Christ-pleasing. Healthy church practice is important but here again the focus needs to be on Jesus, not on protocol, ritual, or tradition.

Would we see the sort of maniacal antics on display at many of the so-called ‘revivals’ of our day if we were centred on Jesus and His ways? I don’t think so, and in any event we would not flock to these displays like confused sheep if we knew the real shepherd! And how could the great divides between Calvinists and Arminians, cessasionists and charismatics, and so on, continue to exist if both sides were thoroughly Christ-centred in doctrine and practice? Perhaps I am naïve, but I am convinced that we won’t even  make real progress in these areas until we embrace the restoration of the centrality of Jesus.

So, when I hear the Lord’s voice calling for the restoration of truth to his church, I don’t think of a particular doctrine or tradition, I think of Jesus, for Jesus is The Truth.

Restoring Truth to the Church Read More »

The Word became flesh

Ask most Christians to quote their favourite verse and a good number will cite John 3:16. One of my favourite verses is John 1:14 ‘The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us…’ I thrill every time I read those words. God the Son chose to take the very form of a man! (Philippians 2:7) Because of his love for us he voluntarily laid aside his divine powers and became like one of us! He who existed from eternity past in unimaginable glory was willing to live for a while on this dark planet. More than that, he was prepared to suffer terribly and then be put to death in the most barbaric way so that we could have life in his name!
I don’t understand how God accomplished the feat of incarnating divinity into human frailty. Over the centuries theologians have tried in vain to explain this mystery. Most of these attempts ended in some or other heresy. Ebionism, docetism, monophysitism, applonarianism, nestorianism, kenoticism… the list goes on – one unpronounceable formulation after the other! I confess that I don’t even understand the Chalcedonian formula that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father, according to his divinity, and consubstantial with us according to his humanity. Consubstantial means ‘having the same substance’ but, to be frank, this doesn’t help me much. However, this I know – Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). I know further that God the Father was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Colossians 1:19) and that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3).
I baulk at the idea of trying to explain how all this can be. We exist at present in what Einstein described as a space-time continuum. God is not limited to the dimensionality of this world. His ways are so much higher than our ways. I can’t even explain how light can simultaneously exist as both a wave and a particle. I am told on authority that it does. I choose to believe that it does. The biblical statements are clear – Jesus was and is both God and man. I choose to believe this. I feel no more need to know how God achieved this than to know how light can be both quantum and wave.
Just when did this miraculous union of God and man take place? Most scholars are unanimously of the opinion that it didn’t happen on the 25th December. A far more probable date is Jewish New Year of 3 BC. However, the Holy Spirit chose not to record Jesus’ birthday. Perhaps so that we would not overemphasize his humanness to the detriment of our appreciation of his divine pre-existence.
It is quite popular in some church circles to scorn December 25th. We are told that it was an ancient pagan ‘holy’ day and that we shouldn’t associate ourselves with it. But allow me to let you into a secret. It seems that something very special did happen on 25th December 2 BC. On that day, fifteen months after the birth of the messiah, wise men from the East arrived at a little village called Bethlehem. Any of the computerised astronomy programmes available will confirm that on that night there was a significant stellar event. The planet Jupiter reached the end of its procession through the heavens and appeared to stand still in the constellation of Virgo. From the vantage point of Jerusalem the planet would have seemed to be hovering brightly over Bethlehem! That same planet, which the ancients called a wandering star, was in conjunction with Regulus in the constellation of Leo fifteen months earlier. Jupiter was the king of the gods in the Roman pantheon. Regulus was a royal star of the Persians, and Leo was the constellation of kings and was particularly associated with the tribe of Judah.
What thrills me about Christmas is that on that day the world still comes to bow before the king of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ! Two thousand years ago the Magi brought him their worship and gifts. Their modern counterparts are still doing so to this day. Every Christmas the churches, all over the world, are filled with politicians, bankers, scientists, and scholars. Many of them don’t come near a church building at other times of the year, but on December 25th they flock in to sing carols of worship and to drop their money into the collection bag. One of the hymns sung in most churches on this special day is ‘Hark the herald angels sing’. Its second verse contains the words ‘…veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.’
Immanuel means ‘God with us’. The wonder of the incarnation is that God came to be with us. Through the Holy Spirit he is still with us. Because he came, we can be with him, both now and eternally.

The Word became flesh Read More »

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.