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March 2012

The Gospel and the response

In our local church we have just completed a series of three evangelistic Sunday services. We invited different people from outside our congregations, who we believed have a ministry of evangelism, to preach. Although our underlying church philosophy is each-one-reach-one, we feel that from time to time we need to supplement this with focused services where the Gospel is preached and an opportunity given to respond. This exercise has highlighted an important question – what is the Gospel and how are we to respond to it? The reason this question has come to the fore is that the various evangelists we invited had very different understandings of the essential elements of the Gospel and how we should respond.

One evangelist presented the idea that all that is needed to be saved is to pray a ‘sinners prayer’ irrespective of whether or not the person understood anything of the message of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, the need to repent of rebellion, the need for the rebirth of the spirit, testifying to salvation, being baptised, and so on. Another evangelist didn’t preach a Gospel message at all but simply gave an ‘altar call’ at the conclusion of the service.

So what is the Gospel and how are we to respond to it? In the next few posts I will discuss some very different approaches to presenting the Gospel message and I will give you my convictions on the matter. In the meantime, I would love to read your response to the question ‘what is the Gospel and how are we to respond to it?’ Please comment.

The Gospel and the response Read More »

What is sound doctrine?

Paul warned that the time would come when people would no longer welcome sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3) and most Bible-believing Christians suspect that time has indeed come. The problem though is ‘what constitutes sound doctrine?’

To the Fundamentalist, sound doctrine must include such things as the inerrancy of scripture, a literal six day creation, and so on. A Liberal Christian might argue that sound doctrine is whatever conforms to the law of love. A Calvinist would build a five-point definition around God’s sovereign predeterminism. So what then constitutes sound doctrine?

In First Timothy Paul warned about false teachers of the law and contrasted their legalistic injunctions with, ‘sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me’ (1 Timothy 1:10-11). This statement comes at the end of a passage condemning teachers who promote ‘false doctrine’. We can therefore get some idea of what sound doctrine is by comparing it to what it isn’t. Paul criticises false teachers for devoting themselves to myths and meaningless talk and in verse 7 he describes them as wanting to be ‘teachers of the law’. So, sound doctrine is neither man-made myths nor religious Law, but is something else entirely.
In his statement in verse 11 Paul gives us a rough definition of what he meant by the term ‘sound doctrine’; it is that which conforms to the glorious gospel that God entrusted to him. So, in order to determine further what constitutes sound doctrine, we need to explore what Paul understood by this ‘glorious gospel of the blessed God’.

In Romans 1:1-4 Paul writes that he has been ‘set apart for the gospel of God…the Gospel regarding his Son… Jesus Christ our Lord’, and in verse 9 he writes about ‘preaching the gospel of his Son’. So the glorious gospel is centred on Jesus. In Colossians 1:21-23 Paul makes it even more explicit by writing; ‘Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant’.

So, sound doctrine is that which has its basis in Christ Jesus – in His reconciling act of redemption and in obedience to what He taught.  In the 5th verse of Romans Chapter 1 Paul writes of his commission ‘to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith’. So, sound doctrine includes a call to obedience to Jesus Christ. It is neither myth nor law, but rather the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus and obedience to His instruction.
It strikes me that much of what various groups promote as sound doctrine is more like the false doctrine Paul had in mind. Teaching the dogma of a particular theological persuasion does not in itself constitute sound doctrine. Calling the loyal to obedience to a church hierarchy or to a system of legalistic behavioural patterns does not constitute sound doctrine.

I think that we are living in times where many people no longer teach or receive sound doctrine. It is all too easy to see this in non-Christian religions, cult systems and so on. However, the lack of sound doctrine in the church itself is a bigger, if less obvious, problem. Sections of the church teach easy-believerism masquerading as Grace, others teach name-it-and-claim-it prosperity, and yet others teach complex theological systems and philosophies. Some sections of the church major on moralistic modes of behaviour while others teach that anything goes so long as it is ‘loving’. I think Paul had this sort of thing in mind when he wrote; ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
To restore sound doctrine to the church is to return to a focus on the Lord Jesus Christ; who He is, what He achieved for us, what He taught and practiced, and what He expects of us.

What is sound doctrine? Read More »

Placing Jesus in the centre

I remember a TV advertisement for cheese-filled steaks from the 80’s where the waiter says “It’s in the center Mr. Venter”. Actually I have a vague memory of that expression dating back to my teens when the response was “In the middle Cyril”. Please don’t ask me what it meant though.

What we put in the center isn’t cheesy or frivolous, it is vitally important. The bye-line for both the church and seminary I founded is ‘Bible based, Christ centered, Spirit led’, and even here Christ is placed in the middle.

Carl Barth, a great scholar of the mid-20th century, was known as a Christocentric theologian. This simply means Christ-in-the-center. I too am passionately Jesus-centered and believe that we should interpret all of scripture and life from a Christ-centered perspective. By this I mean that we should seek to understand the Bible and interact with the world around us from the perspective of what the Lord Jesus revealed concerning the values, principles, and priorities of the Triune Godhead. I call this the Christocentric Principle.

Most, if not all evangelical scholars would agree that we should regard the entire Bible as pointing to Christ. We are all familiar with the old adage ‘the new is in the old concealed, the old is in the new revealed’. Most people also know that the Old Testament is replete with prophecies and pointers to Christ. Again, most evangelical theologians would acknowledge that a doctrine is not complete until and unless it includes what Jesus said or modeled concerning it.

Jesus revealed the mind of God because ‘in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), He is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15), and ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:3). If we want to know what God thinks and feels then we look to Jesus (John 14:9). In this way we have the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

A question that many people ask is ‘did God send the Tsunami to decimate northern Japan?’  I have heard and read several answers to this question. They range from ‘God predetermines all things’, to ‘God was warning the Japanese to repent and so let’s pray for them’, to ‘God didn’t send it, bad things just happen in a sin-sick world’. How do we answer such a question?

To seek an answer we look into scripture and find that in the past God has indeed used natural catastrophes to punish people groups (Ezekiel 38:19). Of course this doesn’t mean that God is responsible for all natural calamities although some believe that God is the author of everything that happens in the natural world. This is called determinism which in my opinion is very hard to support from a comprehensive understanding of the whole biblical revelation. It is particularly incomprehensible when we look to how Jesus spoke and acted.

Still struggling for an answer we enquire as to whether God sent prior warnings to the Japanese. The testimony of scripture is that God always warns and allows much time for response before He punishes. Examples range from the great flood of Noah’s time, to the way God dealt with the city of Nineveh. Besides these and other examples, the scripture declares that ‘the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7). As far as I know there is no evidence of God sending prophetic warnings to the nation of Japan.

Another, and for me more decisive, way to deal with the dilemma is to ask ‘would Jesus do this?’ In this particular case the question is ‘would Jesus send a Tsunami to kill thousands, among whom were surely many of His faithful disciples?’ The Jesus revealed in the Bible healed, restored, and raised to life. Indeed He did warn and admonish but never with destruction and death. He rebuked the disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven on His detractors (Luke 9:54). When one of His followers cut off the High Priests servant’s ear Jesus admonished the disciple and healed the ear.

So the answer to the Tsunami question is determined in the final analysis by taking account of what Jesus revealed of the mind of God concerning such things. So no, I do not believe that the recent Tsunami was a divine judgment.

I believe that perhaps we would all be a lot clearer in our thinking about the ways of God if we adopted the Christocentric Principle. I also believe that it would help us agree more and divide less over our interpretations of the scriptures. What we acknowledge is in the center makes all the difference. It’s in the middle Cyril – Jesus is the center.

Placing Jesus in the centre 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.