January 31, 2017

Pondering the supernatural

Supernatural metaphysical faith relationship

Supernatural metaphysical image

In today’s world, most people associate ‘supernatural’ with ghosts, séances, and Harry Potter. To say that Christianity is a supernatural relationship sounds both confusing and heretical. But it is!

The meaning of the word ‘supernatural’ is ‘relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe’  The Bible is full of accounts of supernatural events. Jesus ministered supernaturally, and the re-birth of the spirit is a profoundly supernatural phenomenon. The word ‘metaphysical’ is more or less a synonym for supernatural and is defined as ‘relating to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses’ Yet, here again, it is usually connected in Christian circles with cult systems or Word of Faith extremes. Yet, Christianity is metaphysical. We cannot see God, who is Spirit, yet we have a relationship with the triune Godhead in and through Jesus Christ.

We cannot test or measure the manifestations of healing and miracles yet we experience them and gladly accept them… or do we?
Some Christian folk reject outright anything, spiritual gifts included, that appear to be supernatural. Words of Knowledge are to them simply intellectually informed teachings, Words of Wisdom are wise utterances, Prophecy is preaching, and so on. Such people are commonly termed cessationists in theological circles; they believed that the ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ have ceased.  I have read as much as I choose to about the justifications for holding such a belief, but I find them wanting. Although theologians of this persuasion often claim that their theology is based on a sound exposition of scripture, nothing could be further from the truth. The New Testament is replete with references to the supernatural, and the claim that 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 supports cessationism is, in my opinion at least, just foolish and irresponsible. Actually, the real argument that the supernatural Gifts of the Spirit have ceased is based on a selective reading of history and not on biblical interpretation.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who claim to operate supernaturally as disciples of Jesus, but evidence magical manipulation rather than spiritual ministry. I am referring here to such things as crowd mesmerising, leg-stretching, mantra shouting, gold dust materialising, angel feather falling, religious slight-of-hand. I regard this as a perversion and not a spiritual reality, and as mind-craft, not supernatural ministry. Neither cessationism nor charismania are valid expressions of biblical Christianity.

If these two positions represent the end-points of a horizontal line, then the middle point, pulled up to form a triangle, must be intellectual knowledge-based pseudo-Christianity. In terms of this belief system, re-birth is just a euphemism for commitment of the will, spirituality consists of Bible study and prayer, church is an organisation akin to a school, and evangelism is a call to embrace a way of living and a denominational doctrinal statement. To my way of thinking, this too is a parody of New Testament Christianity. Cessationism, charismania, and intellectual pseudo-belief form a baleful triumvirate in current Christendom.

Jesus modelled a supernatural faith relationship with His Father, the Holy Spirit, and His disciples.
Read through the Gospels and observe how He ministered supernaturally, and how He positioned faith, not as a force to be manipulated, but as a the catalyst of metaphysical relationships. Take note of His profound lecture to the intellectually religious leader Nicodemus. Read on through the book of Acts and note how the early church functioned. Note also how Paul explained the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the church (1 Corinthians 12 & 14).

Surely, Christianity is essentially a supernatural metaphysical faith relationship with the triune God in and through Jesus Christ, and with others in and through the Body of Christ the church.

 

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Why Hell?

Over the last few years Hell has become quite a hot topic (please excuse the pun but I just couldn’t resist it).  Rob Bell stirred up the flames of controversy with his book ‘Love wins’ and more recently Francis Chan has responded with his ‘Erasing Hell’. Bell and others claim that Hell can’t possibly exist as a ‘place’ of endless punishment because God is all loving. Chan, and most other evangelicals, claim that although the idea of eternal Hell is disquieting to say the least, it is unequivocally taught in scripture. I am not going to add to the debate concerning the biblical validity of Hell. I am satisfied that the scriptures, and Jesus in particular, provide ample evidence of its existence. I believe in the inspiration, authority, and trustworthiness of the Bible and so I see no point in re-asking the question ‘does Hell exist?’ because the biblical answer is a clear ‘yes it does.’ I want rather to ask, and attempt to respond to, a related but different question; why does Hell exist?’ A reasonable answer to this question will help those of us who are struggling to evaluate the various alternative theories that form the basis of the current debate. The immortality of the soul/spirit is one such theory – if the immaterial component of human nature does not exist eternally then perhaps there is no need for Hell and God could simply annihilate ‘sinners’. Another strand is Universalism – everyone will ultimately be saved, perhaps even the devil, and so Hell is redundant. I won’t attempt to address these issues in this short article but Bell and Brian McLaren have stated why they believe there is no purpose to a hell, so I want to state two reasons why I believe there is a need for Hell.

One reason Hell exists is because God is righteous and just. In Deuteronomy 32:4 God is described as, ‘a faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he’.
Again, Abraham appeals to God’s character of righteousness with, ‘Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ (Genesis 18:25). We come to understand what is right and fair because God has established the standard of justice and righteousness. Yet we know through observation and logical deduction that great injustice is not always punished, or even accounted for, in this life time. However, if God is righteous and just then how can a Hitler, Stalin, or Bundy receive the same eternal treatment as a Billy Graham? If there was no Hell then there would be no reason to believe that God was righteous and just.
Another reason Hell exists is because of the consequence of sin, which is death.
God told Adam that he would die if he chose to sinfully rebel against Him. Thousands of years later Paul wrote that ‘sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.’ (Romans 5:12). Unregenerate humankind exists in a state of separation from the presence, life, and wisdom of God. Unless people are spiritually born again (John 3:7) they remain separated from God. There is no biblical indication that this separation does not continue after physical death and there is ample biblical evidence that it does (Matthew 25:41-46 et al). This on-going, post-earth separation makes Hell a necessity. By the way, on earth nobody is totally separated from the influence of God because He is present by His Spirit through the church. However, Hell is characterised by an absolute separation from God. God is good, merciful, and loving so a state devoid of His qualities is indeed hellish.

I am a passionate advocate of Christocentric interpretation of scripture (see http://www.satsonline.org/userfiles/Peppler,%20The%20Christocentric%20Principle-A%20Jesus-Centred%20Hermeneutic.pdf) and it is significant that Jesus spoke more about Hell than anyone else recorded in the Bible. He taught, alluded to it, and told several parables concerning it. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3) and in Him ‘all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). So what Jesus said is definitive, and He said that the original reason why Hell was created was to provide an eternal abode for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Unfortunately, He made this statement in the context of the fate of those who do not live out a relationship with himself and His disciples.

Does Hell exist? Yes I surely believe it does. Is Hell necessary? Yes it is, as an eternal consequence of Gods righteousness and justice, and man’s rebellious separation from Him.

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The Mystery of the church

In Ephesians Paul uses the word ‘mystery’ four times. He writes of ‘the mystery made known to me by revelation’, his ‘insight into the mystery of Christ’, and how God has appointed him to ‘make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery’. In verse six he states the mystery in plain terms; ‘This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus’.

To us modern day multi-cultural Christians this hardly seems a mystery at all, but to the Jews of Paul’s day it must have been a shocking revelation.
The Jews were the chosen few and the Gentiles were the lost many, and now Paul was saying that these blasphemous goyem were included through Christ Jesus in the people of God! What an outrageously radical idea!

Paul’s mysterious revelation goes even deeper. He was a student of ancient Jewish mysticism and would have been familiar with the concept the Rabbis’ called the Adam Kadmon, the Heavenly Man, or what later became known as the Cosmic Christ. This mystical being was believed to be the final revelation of God, representing the fusion of the divine with the human. His head was in the heavens and his body was on the earth and as such he filled the entire cosmos. Paul uses ‘Cosmic Christ’ type language extensively in Ephesians and is suggesting to those in the know that the church, the mysterious body made up of all types of people, is the Adam Kadmon. That’s why he writes that God’s intent was that ‘now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Ephesians 3:10-12). Jesus is the head in heaven and the church is the body on earth!

Now, it may not be particularly relevant, or mysterious, to us today to accept that Jews and Gentiles alike make up the Body of Christ, but it is certainly relevant to know that the church is in some sense part of the mystical co-joining of divinity and humanity. Now we can understand why Paul wrote  that ‘God placed all things under his (Jesus’) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way’ (Ephesians 1:22-23).

So the Gentiles as well as Jews are part of the church, and the church is the Body of the Cosmic Christ. But there is more, there is a third level of mystery that Paul is revealing in Ephesians. He writes of the riches of God’s ‘glorious inheritance in the saints’ (1:18) and he ends his wonderful prayer in chapter three with ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus’. The blessings of Israel are now the blessings of the church. Ephesians 3:6 states that ‘through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.’ They are therefore the blessings of each of us who are part of the church. But here’s the thing; the promises and blessings that Paul prays for are for us, not in isolation, but as members of the church. The blessings set out in Ephesians, and elsewhere, are corporate! He writes that we (plural) ‘may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (3:19), and in chapter four verse thirteen he continues, ‘until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ Do you know of any single person apart from Jesus himself who has attained to this? No, because the promise applies to us corporately as part of the church, and not to us as independent individuals.

This idea of our corporate identity is as shocking to many of us today as the revelation of Gentiles being included in the church was to the people of Paul’s time. Why do I say this? I believe this because for centuries now Christians have been taught that Christianity is all about ME; what I can have, my health, wealth and happiness, my eternal destiny, and my personal relationship with God.  Yet this idea is utterly alien to Jesus’ message because He said that it’s all about others, giving, and community.

Now, if I believe the ‘I lie’, then what is the church to me? Well, it’s a supplier of services of course. It’s there to supply me with life principles, friendships, music, community projects, and so on. The church is a supplier and I am a religious consumer. No wonder church leaders moan about the fact that only 20% of their church members are active, committed, and growing spiritually. No wonder Christians move from one local church to the next when they feel that their needs are no longer being met. Why not, because if one supermarket no longer stocks the brands I like, or raises the prices, then I move to another supermarket without a thought – so why not with church?

What a tragic misunderstanding! We miss God’s purpose for us almost entirely, and we miss so much of His blessings, when we fail to see that we are saved into the body of Christ, the church, not into a self-centred consumerist individuality. This is indeed a mystery, but a glorious and blessed mystery!

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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.