Truth Is The Word

Month: August 2014

More Mission Impossible – an unforgettable Sunday

As I recounted in my last blog post, the high point of these missions is the Sunday morning service. This service was the culmination of meetings on both Friday and Saturday nights as well as a small group session on the Saturday morning.
On Sunday morning everything is drawn together in a service of worship and Gospel testimony. On that day the resident minister graciously yields the pulpit to the leader of the visiting team; in this case, me.
Although I was a trained preacher at that time, the idea was not to deliver a sermon but rather to testify to what God had done in my life and how I had come into a saving relationship with Jesus.
As I spoke that morning,  I was deeply conscious of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. My hands trembled and I was close to tears as I recounted the wonder of how Jesus had reached out to me through my best friend when I was 30 years of age.
I could see that He was moving in the hearts of the congregation as well, for a holy hush enveloped the building like a soft cloud and every person in the considerable crowd was focused in rapt attention.
At the end of my testimony I articulated the Gospel as clearly as I could so that everyone there would understand and be able to respond.
I have never been keen on the, “While all heads are bowed and every eye closed” altar call, so I simply said something like; “If you would like to respond to the offer of life in Jesus’ name then get out of your pew and come to the front so I can minister to you personally.”
It was a traditional church building and I came down from the pulpit and stood just behind the communion rail facing the people. For a while nothing happened. Nobody made a sound, but the very atmosphere in the sanctuary was charged with expectant tension.
Then an old man stood up and walked as rapidly as he could to the front. He was very old, yet he threw himself down on his knees at the altar rail. His face was upturned and tears poured down the deep wrinkles in his cheeks.
With a loud voice he cried out to the Lord to be saved.  At that moment it was as if a sluice gate had opened and people poured to the front from all over the sanctuary area. There was not enough room for them all at the altar rail but still they came, kneeling on the carpet right back to the first row of pews.
I will never forget this sight! What started with a vision of a young boy drowning in a submerged bus and crying silently for help, had ended with an old man kneeling at an altar rail crying out loudly for salvation.
Thank you Lord Jesus for allowing me to witness this; I will forever be grateful.

Mission Impossible?

With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.Matthew 19:26 
 
Before taking up the role of pastoring a local church, I was involved in an organisation that arranged for teams of lay people to conduct week-end missions at various more traditional churches. 
 
At that stage they had two basic mission formats; one to evangelise and the other to encourage members to join church fellowship groups. On this occasion I was asked to lead the second of these missions to a church in a town just to the East of Johannesburg.
 
Before assembling the team and communicating with the church leadership, I prayed earnestly for the Lord’s direction. At that time the newspapers were full of the story of 39 school pupils who had drowned when their school bus plunged into a dam – trapping them onboard. 
 
As I was praying, a vision suddenly swept into my consciousness. I was under water and the bus was right there in front of me. A boy, his longish blond hair wafting in the water, had his face pressed up against the window. The look on his face was desperate and his mouth was moving. Although I couldn’t hear him I knew he was screaming, “Help me!”. 
 
Then as suddenly as it had come, the vision left me and I dissolved in a paroxysm of tears and grief. I realised that the Holy Spirit was showing me that the people of the church we were to minister at, did not need to be encouraged to join fellowship groups; many were drowning spiritually and in desperate need of Jesus as Saviour.
 
After liaising with the mission organization and recipient church it was agreed that the mission should change to the evangelistic format. When my team and I arrived in the town, a couple of months later we were full of expectation and excitement. Surely the Lord wanted to do something extraordinary!
 
As customary, each member of the visiting team was hosted by a family of the recipient church who provided meals, transport, and accommodation. The team leader was usually placed with a couple that were either prominent within the local church, or in need of special spiritual attention. 
 
After the Friday night introductory session in the church hall I was introduced to my hosts, Henry and Eve (not their real names). They took me to their home and we sat in their lounge chatting for quite a while, although it was already late. As I gently probed their church backgrounds it became obvious to me that, although they were members of the church, they were not born again: they did not have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We talked frankly about this and I explained what the Bible revealed concerning the Gospel. 
 
They were both so open to hear that the Holy Spirit began ministering powerfully. We knelt together around their glass coffee table, joined hands, and prayed. As Henry confessed his sin and cried out to Jesus for salvation, he suddenly pitched forward under the strong anointing of the Spirit. The bowl of fruit on the table shot up into the air and there was a moment of holy surprise. He straightened up and the three of us beamed at each other with joy.
 
God goes before us to prepare the way; He guides and orchestrates; He creates a new spirit in those who cry out to Him; and He sustains and keeps us from spiritually drowning.
 
Many years have passed since then, but Henry and Eve are still passionate about their relationship with Jesus. Henry became an elder in that church and more recently both have become involved in an evangelistically orientated non-conventional church in Johannesburg.

 

In my next ‘What the Pastor Saw’ story I will write about what happened on the Sunday of that memorable mission.

Biblical Spectacles

I have been asked to address the question, ‘why do different people understand the Bible so differently?’ Well, it’s really quite simple; it is because they wear different spectacles to read the Bible.

One set of ‘spectacles’ we often wear is Tradition. Those who have been in a particular church tradition for a long time tend to ‘read’ the scriptures through the lens of that tradition. The approach to preaching, the liturgies, teachings, and practices of the tradition create a sort of spiritual optical prescription. Methodists will ‘see’ differently to how, say, Baptists will. Our traditions constitute spectacles that many have fashioned over long periods of time. They are thick-lens spectacles that are really quite heavy.

Another set of spectacles is Dogma. Church dogma forms a strongly tinted lens through which we view the Bible. Five Point Calvinism, for instance, is a pervasive dogma that strongly influences how people interpret the biblical text. Dispensationalism is another dogma that tints the spectacle lenses. If Calvinism forms a blue lens, then those wearing such spectacles will not be able to read anything printed with light blue ink. If Wesleyan dogma forms a red lens then light red print will be invisible… and so on.

Perhaps the most common pair of spectacles found today is what I call Contextualisation.
Instead of viewing the current social context through biblical lenses, many people tend to view the Bible through contextual lenses. The issues, conditions, and values of current society form the lens through which they see. In my opinion, this is the main cause of the current foment in some denominations over the issue of homosexuality. The same can be said of the current divisive debate concerning female bishops. The conflict arises when one group, usually within a church tradition, view modern life through biblical spectacles while another group view the Bible through the lens of modern life. What I mean by this is that one will seek to apply biblical principles and values to life, while another will try to find scripture to justify modern values and practices.

Our presuppositions are another reason we see things differently. We all wear spiritual spectacles of some sort; no one can claim to read the Bible from a totally unbiased and objective perspective. We come to the Bible with an existing set of assumptions that we have built over our lifetimes. Assumptions concerning the authority of the scriptures, what constitutes truth, and so on. If my starting assumptions are different from yours then we will undoubtedly differ in the way we understand scripture.

The last set of spectacles I will touch on is Exegesis. Some people wear very tiny spectacles that only allow them to see one verse at a time. As a result they build doctrine on words and phrases taken out of the context of the passage, the book, and indeed the whole of the Bible. Others wear very narrow yet wide spectacles that allow them to see only the horizontal humanist dimension of the text.

So then, its all a matter of what spectacles we wear. I believe we could resolve a lot of the difference between Christians if we all chose to wear cross-shaped spectacles. If we focused our interpretation of scripture on what Jesus said and did, then we would soon find ourselves largely in agreement with one another (or am I looking through rose-tinted glasses?). Christ-centred spectacles are of course biblical spectacles. If we insist on viewing the Bible through the lens of current culture, then we will continue to divide over issues such as the role of women in the church, same sex marriage and so on.

Jesus said, “… everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
A whole section of my book ‘Truth is the Word’ is devoted to the issue of Christ-centred interpretation. If you would like a copy, you can purchase it HERE or read more about it at www.truthistheword.com.

 

Between crucifixion Friday and resurrection Sunday

I am writing this on the day after Resurrection Sunday. I don’t like to call it Easter Sunday – why should we give the pagan goddess Ishtar any credit. Friday embodies the glorious truth that Jesus settled the penalty clause of the violated covenant between God and humanity. I guess that is why some call it ‘good’ Friday. Sunday represents the equally awesome truth that through Jesus we can be born-again of the Spirit. On the cross of Calvary Jesus Christ brought to an end the line of Adam’s sin. As He walked out of the tomb, He started a new spiritual lineage for all who will believe. ‘So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.’ (1 Corinthians 15:45)

The message of Friday is clear. The truth that Sunday conveys is equally obvious. What, though, is the significance of Saturday?

According to the Apostles Creed, as we now have it, after dying on the cross Jesus ‘descended into hell’. However, the earliest versions of that creed do not contain this clause. When Rufinus introduced it in 390AD it seems that he understood the word ‘hell’ simply to mean ‘grave’. Notwithstanding this, some theologians have developed a complex doctrine of Christ’s decent into the devil’s abode. The primary texts they use are Acts 2:27, Romans 10:6-7, Ephesians 4:8-9, 1 Peter 3:18-20, and 1 Peter 4:6. Wayne Grudem has an excellent section on this topic in his ‘Systematic Theology’ (pages 586 – 594). His concluding sentence reads, ‘concerning the doctrinal question of whether Christ did descend into hell after he died, the answer from several passages of Scripture seems clearly to be no.’

From the descent into Hell doctrine has come the teaching that Jesus had to die both physically on the cross and spiritually in Hell. Saturday, for those who believe this, stands for Jesus’ torment in Hades and his eventual victory, as He was ‘born again’ from the devil’s dungeon. There are plenty of problems with this view. Was Jesus then less than ’God’ that He could be tortured by the devil? Was His death on the cross less than adequate for our salvation? (See 1 Corinthians 1:17)

Colossians 2:13(b)-15 contains a more satisfactory explanation of what Passover Saturday represents. ‘He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’ The language used in this passage evokes the scene of a military court-martial. They bring the offending officer to stand before his troops. The supreme commander then strips him of the symbols of his authority and expels him. Jesus settled the death penalty of the ancient covenant and proceeded to the heavenly throne room of God the Father. There Satan stood in shame before all the angels of heaven. Jesus stripped him of his authority and expelled him from heaven. The accuser of the brethren no longer has access to the presence of God. Hallelujah! This is what the Saturday between Crucifixion Friday and Resurrection Sunday stands for.
So, instead of descending into Hell, Jesus ascended into Heaven! Instead of the devil tormenting Him, He expelled the devil! How could some get it so wrong? Part of the answer lies in how we interpret the Bible. I deal with this in the second half of my latest book ‘Truth is the Word – restoring a lost focus’.

From prison to powerful ministry

prison-bars

A couple in our church went through terrible emotional pain when their son was arrested and incarcerated in a South American jail. They tried everything they could to have him properly represented but it was a slow and heart-breaking process.

At that time we were holding quarterly celebration meetings in any venue big enough to accommodate our five or so congregations. There is a large prison in our vicinity and on one occasion we hired their hall for our combined Sunday service. It was a wonderful occasion, but a high point for me was when this distressed mother and father stood up during the service and announced that the Lord was calling them into a prison ministry. Right there in the heart of a prison the Holy Spirit turned their heartbreak into a passion for helping those, like their son, who were in jail.

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Many years have passed now. Their son was eventually released because he was terminally ill and they sent him home to die. But the prison ministry didn’t die! It has flourished and now impacts prisoners throughout South Africa. In fact it has expanded to include the rehabilitation of released offenders, care for the children affected, and prevention training among high risk teens. From prison to powerful ministry indeed!
‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ Romans 8:28

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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. I have started a site called Classical Guitar SA to serve classical guitar enthusiasts in South Africa.