Christocentric

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Walking With Jesus

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The events of the first Resurrection (Easter) Sunday started just before dawn when the Lord of life broke out of the tomb, and it ended at dusk after two disciples had the privilege of walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

Every year at this time, we commemorate the most important day in human history. Peter stated its significance when he wrote that God ‘has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3).

Early in the morning of 6th April 30 AD Jesus of Nazareth rose up through his burial clothes and walked out of a sealed tomb. By the way, the angels did not roll away the stone securing the tomb to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in to see that Jesus was no longer there.

Later that day, two disciples left Jerusalem to go back to their home in the little village of Emmaus some 11 kilometres away. The story of their journey is told in Luke 24:13-22, but let me recount it to you.

On the Road to Emmaus

One of the disciples was Cleopas and we can deduce that the other was his wife, Mary, because John 19:25 records that Cleopas’ wife Mary was with the other women observing the crucifixion. Although tradition holds that the ‘Clopas’ of John 19 is not the same person as the Cleopas of Luke 24, I believe that they were a married couple walking with Jesus to Emmaus.

The two of them were sad and confused and as they journeyed they were discussing the events of the weekend. Jesus walked up and joined them but they did not recognise him.

He asked them what they were talking about and Cleopas rather rudely retorted that he must be the only person in Jerusalem that didn’t know what had happened there.

They told him that they had hoped that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Then they recounted all that had befallen him, Jesus… while he, the risen Lord, was walking with them. Jesus responded by rebuking them: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

Then comes a most significant statement in Luke’s account:

‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.’

What a bible study! What a privilege to have the author and subject of scripture teaching them! It is no wonder that later on, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”

Just as it was getting dark, they arrived at Emmaus and the couple invited Jesus to stay and eat supper with them. They gave him the honour of breaking the bread. The account merely says that as Jesus was breaking the bread and giving it to them ‘their eyes were opened and they recognised him’. It is quite possible that as Jesus did this his wrists were exposed to view and they saw the fresh nail wounds. Jesus broke open through the grave clothes, broke open the scriptures, and opened their eyes as he broke the bread.

Recognising Jesus

We need to recognise that this Jesus, who opened the scriptures to those two disciples, is the same Jesus who opens them to us today.

This Jesus is ‘the fullness of the Deity living in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), and ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:30. This same Jesus stands before us today and says something like: “Here I am! I am your creator and the source of all knowledge and wisdom. So listen to me, copy me, obey me; and welcome my living my life in and through you.” Now, what would you call a bible-believing Christian who disregards this? We would have to call such a person what Jesus called the two disciples who walked with him; foolish and slow of heart to believe. For surely, what HE said, did, modelled, and revealed MUST be our primary guide to faith and life!

The Christocentric Principle

What I call this the Christocentric Principle is an approach to understanding the bible and life from a Jesus-perspective.

To be Christocentric, Jesus-centred is not just a matter of talking about him, or adding his name to the end of our prayers, or wearing a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet. Nor is it just trying to find references, types of, or actual appearances in every book of the bible.

No, it is more about viewing the bible and life through Jesus-spectacles, the lens of what he said, did, modelled, and revealed. I do want to stress to you the importance of interpreting the bible Christocentricaly.
Other Lessons from Luke 24
While this is my main learning point for this article, we can draw several others from the narrative of walking with Jesus.
  • Firstly, God initiates encounters and we respond. He is neither evoked nor persuaded to appear to us. It was Jesus who approached the disciples on the road and not the other way around.
  • Sometimes we fail to recognise him when he does approach us because we don’t expect to encounter him. I remember, many years ago, what happened when I flew down to Cape Town to conduct my niece’s wedding. As I drove into the venues parking area in my rented car I spotted my elderly father being helped out of the car that had brought him and my mother. I rushed over to him and said “Hello there!”. I guess he hadn’t been told that I was flying in to conduct the wedding because he looked at me quizzically and asked, “and who might you be young man?” He didn’t recognise me at first because he wasn’t expecting to see me.
  • Thirdly, when we do encounter Jesus we tend to talk too much and listen too little – just like the two disciples.
  • Something else to note is that bible study is not just about Jesus but with him. We should commune with him as we read the bible, interacting with him in the context of the text and our lives.
  • Lastly, the Lord’s Table, Holy Communion, is not a ritual tagged onto the end of a church service. It should be what its ascription implies, communion with the living Lord of all – and it can be an eye-opening experience.
Examples and Applications

I want to move Christocentricity from the realm of theory to practice by giving a few examples of how it is applied. The main idea is to determine what Jesus taught or modelled either directly or indirectly concerning the text or life situation before us.

One issue that Jesus addressed directly is ADULTERY. As part of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 15) he explained the extent of the 7th Commandment, ‘you shall not commit adultery. So we don’t need to go further than this to know what it is and that it is prohibited.

But what about an issue that Jesus did not address directly, like HOMOSEXUALITY? Well, he didn’t teach on it but he did model how we should treat people involved in sexual sin. John 8 contains the story of how the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by bringing him a woman caught in the act of adultery. The question was would he condemn her to death by stoning or would he pardon her? Jesus challenged any among them who was without sin to throw the first rock at her. They pondered this and then slunk off leaving the woman lying among their discarded rocks at Jesus’ feet. He asked her where those who had condemned her were and she observed that they had all gone. Then Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.

If we apply this to the issue of homosexuality, the lesson is quite clear; extend dignity and human worth, refrain from condemnation, but challenge clearly for changed behaviour in the future.

One last example that is also relevant to us today: May Christians arm themselves for SELF-PROTECTION. Well, just before he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane he told his disciples that their lives were about to change radically. He said that if they didn’t have a sword then they should sell their cloak if necessary to acquire one. (Luke 22). The disciples responded with “See Lord, here two swords” and Jesus retorted with “That is enough”. A short while later when the rabble came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and cut off the High Priest’s servants ear. Jesus immediately rebuked him with the words, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

I know that there have been several attempts to reinterpret this text, but for me the message is clear: We may protect ourselves but we may not attack others: self-defence but not aggression.

In these and other matters, there are many other aspects we need to consider and other scriptures we need to reference. However, we are bound to start with what Jesus said, did, modelled, and revealed and to use this as our primary method of determining correct interpretation and practice. If we did this consistently there would be less confusion and fewer squabbles over doctrine.

Conclusion

So then, Easter Friday is all about Jesus dying for our sin of rebellion so that we could be forgiven and restored. Resurrection Sunday morning is all about his rising from the dead to provide us with the template for new spiritual birth into eternal life.

Resurrection afternoon is all about Jesus walking with us and us with him along the road of life.

Jesus died for us and all we can do is believe and accept. He rose for us and his spirit alone gives us new birth into a living hope. Our life with him on this planet starts with our salvation and ends with our passing on into glory. However, between the start and the end, WE need to walk with him in trust and obedience. This walk would be so much more significant if we would make it too all about Jesus – walking out life by living out a Jesus-centred understanding and application of scripture.

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Legalism, License, Lodges, and LGBT

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I have called this ‘Legalism, License, Lodges, and LGBT’ because the former two are the main subject matter of this article and the latter are current examples of how these apply in the world today.

In 2010 I wrote an article that I ended with these words: ‘I have been involved in pastoring for over three decades, and in that time I have seen the problems that license and hyper-grace can produce, yet

nothing compares to the ubiquitous ravages of legalism that I have observed in the Body of Christ’.

I haven’t changed my opinion in this regard over the last 10 years. So, although I will reflect on ‘license’, the focus of this article is more on ‘legalism’

What is Legalism?

In its narrowest sense, legalism describes the attempt to put works above the gospel of grace.

Christian Legalists attempt to earn God’s favour by observing what they understand to be the Law of God.

In its broader sense, however, legalism is the practice of judging one’s self and others against a narrow understanding of biblical prescripts. This approach to Christian life invariably results in judgementalism, censure, and separation.

Two Examples

A short while ago I had a lively interaction with a friend and fellow Christian concerning Freemasonry (The “Lodges” in my title is because Masons meet in what they call lodges). Then, just a few days after that another friend and I discussed the question of ‘Can a gay person be a Christian?’ In the first of these interactions, my interlocutor ended his comments on the possibility of a Mason being accepted as a member of the local church with the words: “[a church member] who continues to practice Free Masonry is committing idolatry and should be challenged in my opinion and booted out of our church if he continues to be part of Free Masonry”. So let me start by responding to this and then move on later to the question of homosexuality and the church.

Free Masonry

My view is that the practice of Free Masonry violates several important biblical doctrines. It invokes God by names that do not pertain to the God of the bible (therefore idolatrous); their secret oaths contradict Jesus’ teachings; their way of salvation is not exclusively through Jesus alone, and so on.

I would certainly advise any Christian committed to the Masonry pseudo-religion to leave it.

I would also point out that in practising Masonry he is compromising or even contradicting key biblical doctrines. The point at issue though is would I deny that he is born again of the Holy Spirit and thus disqualified from being a member of the church either universal or local?

The New Birth is a metaphysical/spiritual gift of God giving new life to a human spirit.

It is conditional only on repentance from the sin of rebellion against God, firm belief in the deity of the Lord Jesus and his exclusive role as saviour, and a sincere request to the Holy Spirit that he breathe life into the very core of the person’s existence.

Nothing more is required for a person to be born again. Baptism expresses obedience and the reality of new life in Christ but is not a prerequisite for salvation. Confession of a few or many ‘sins’ is not required but only the confession and renunciation of rebellion against God. Just to make clear what I mean by ‘rebellion against God’ I understand this as the core sin of trusting in anything other than God for eternal life.

Would I automatically judge that a man practising Free Masonry is not born again? No, I most certainly would not. However, could he, if indeed born again, be a formal member of a local church? The answer is obviously ‘no’ if the membership requirements of that church specifically excluded any practising Masons. Most churches, in fact, all that I know of personally, do not specify Masonry as a disqualifier. Rather, they simply require that a member accepts their doctrines and practices.

The constitution of the local church to which I belong states that a person may be accepted into membership if he professes repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, seeks to lead a consistent Christian life and has expressed a desire to become a member of the church.

The point that may be debated is the ‘seeks to lead a consistent Christian life’ bit. This would require a discussion with the individual concerned to seek to understand how he views the practice of Masonry and why he does not see it as contradicting or compromising his Christian beliefs. This would reveal the conflicts between a consistent Christian life and the practice of Free Masonry. This might mean that he forego membership status in the church.

As a matter of interest, in 1993 The Southern Baptist Convention in the USA investigated Free Masonry and identified eight tenets and teachings of Freemasonry that were not compatible with Christianity. A later report ended by noting that, ‘while many Christians and leaders have been and are Masons, several points of the lodge’s teachings are non-biblical and non-Christian.’ It also stated that ‘while Freemasonry encourages and supports charitable activities, it contains both multireligious and inclusivist teachings that are not Christian in its religious instruction.’ The final recommendation was that the issue is left to the conscience of the believer. In 1985 The Methodist Church (UK) issued a condemnatory report on masonry, but no prohibition exists within that denomination. However, in the USA the Assemblies of God, the Lutherans, and the Presbyterians have all taken a negative position on Masons being church members.

SIDE NOTE: Now, dear reader, if you are getting a little agitated about now. If you find yourself muttering, “But, but what about…” then please reserve judgement until you have read what I say a little further on under the heading of ‘However’.

Homosexuality

My second recent discussion was about whether a practising homosexual could be regarded as born again. This applies to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people by and large (Hence my article title).

Once again, my position is that biblically approved sexual preferences do not constitute criteria for salvation.

Church membership, as in the previous example, is another matter. The issue here is the willingness to seek to live a consistent Christian life in a particular local church. As in all things in a bible-believing church, the criteria for this is laid out in scripture. I do not believe that a person who continues to indulge in homosexual relationships should be accepted into local church membership.

They should be accepted as people of worth and value and treated with dignity and consideration but denied membership and all that goes with that. They, as would all people, be welcome to attend the worship services and perhaps even the fellowship groups but they would be prohibited from ministering in any way. However, would I automatically judge that a practising homosexual is not born again? No, I would not. That judgment call is entirely and only God’s prerogative.

A Jesus-centered approach

The key question to ask is as always,

‘what did Jesus reveal of the nature and character of the Godhead concerning this?’

He did not address the issue of secret societies, although there were several in his day, and nor did he directly address the question of homosexuality. However, John Chapter 8 records the story of a woman caught in the act of committing adultery and dragged before Jesus. He turned the tables neatly on her accusers and when they had slunk off he said to her: “Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  This both captures the heart of God towards such people and sets a precedent for us in the church of  Dignity and Personal Worth, Compassion, Discussion, Instruction and a Call to Change.

Some Other Examples

I have written so far only on two issues that regularly face the church. However, others are even more common.

A man abuses his wife – the same principles must surely apply. A person repeatedly cheats or steals – the same principles must surely apply. A spouse commits adultery, does not repent and makes little effort to prevent repeat occurrences – the same principles must apply.

However, there are more common misdemeanours in the church of our day. For instance, what should we do about the person who repeatedly sows fear in others lives by circulating rumours, myths and conspiracy theories? What about the people who act as religious policemen regularly taking others to task and judging them for what they perceive to be ‘unbiblical’ ideas or behaviours? Well, I believe that the same principles outlined in this article should apply to them as well.

However

I mentioned that there were ‘howevers’ to what I have set out so far, and here they.

Firstly, Jesus is our prime interpreter of the bible but he honoured and authenticated all of scripture. Therefore, we cannot ignore what the scripture as a whole says about the issues before us. For instance, the Law of the Old Testament strongly condemned both idolatry (this has a bearing on Free Masonry) and homosexuality (Exodus 20:3-5 Leviticus 18:22 etc.). Paul also dealt with these and other prohibitions, some of which I will refer to further on.

Secondly, we need to be careful to differentiate between ‘saved’ and ‘church member’. They have a bearing on each other but, as I have already pointed out, the conditions for being ‘born again’ are articulated in the bible. On the other hand, leaders who understand the bible in various ways establish the conditions of church membership.

Thirdly, we need to apply what we understand as a Jesus-centred understanding of scripture to the full range of ‘sins’ and not just the few we choose as our focus. For instance in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 Paul lumps together all of the following: sexual immorality, idolatry, male prostitution, homosexual offences, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindle.

So, what applies to one applies to some extent to all.

This highlights the need for careful evaluation, counsel, and grace together with compassionate confrontation and bible-honouring remedial action. (Other applicable passages are Galatians 5:16-21 and Ephesians 5:5-7).

Paul makes a sharp distinction between people who claim to be fellow Christians and those who do not claim to be born again (1 Corinthians 5:11).

It is not our responsibility to judge the unsaved, but we are required to set boundaries on what we accept for ourselves and fellow believers.

In this respect, grace describes what we extend to one another within these boundaries while licence describes what we allow beyond those boundaries.

During my decades of church leadership, I was constantly seeking to embrace both grace and righteousness. It is a very challenging task that involves bringing into dynamic balance more than just the factors I have mentioned in this short article. However, and this my final ‘however’,

I will always favour mercy over judgment just as I consistently rely on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ to primarily determine my understanding of the entire bible.

What Angered Jesus

The Lord Jesus was sometimes frustrated with his disciples but he reserved his anger for one class of people only – the Pharisees. These men were typical examples of legalism and their constant rule-keeping and judging of others made him nearly apoplectic – just read Matthew 23:13-36 if you are in any doubt about this.

The Conclusion of the Matter

If a person has genuinely been born again of the Spirit, then no life condition can annul this. 

‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-39)

However, when it comes to local church membership the matter is more complex. A local Christian community has the right and indeed the duty to determine criteria for membership and accountability. But, and it is a big but, the overriding principle must always be biblical Christocentricity (Jesus-centredness). For instance, Jesus told his detractors to “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice .’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:13) He was quoting from Hosea 6:6, which reads, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offering.’

My friend ended his statement on Free Masonry with, “Do you agree or not? It seems crystal clear to me. I don’t believe this is a grey area”. So what do you think dear reader?

I confess that I reacted badly to my friend’s comments. It was not because I did not agree with much of what he said, but because the spectre of legalism loomed so large over our conversation. I have seen, first hand, how all and any forms of legalism hurt the church, destroy relationships, and leave many bitter and offended.

License, expressed as turning a blind eye to unbiblical and un-Christlike behaviours, does harm to Christians and the church, but nothing like the carnage that legalism leaves in its wake.

‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

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TruthTalks: Sabbath Sticks, Stones, and Sacraments

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Dealing with things like the Sabbath, Sticks, Stones, and Sacraments through the Jesus Perspective.

This TruthTalks podcast is based on THIS post and deals with two troublesome passages of scripture by looking at them from the perspective of what Jesus taught. Dr Christopher Peppler talks on the incident of the man stoned to death because he worked on the Sabbath. He also deals with the passage in 1 Corinthians describing the fate of sacrament violators.

Simply click on the play button below to listen to this enlightening talk.

Please feel free to comment or subscribe to the podcast feed or the post.

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Jesus-centered

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.

For me, though, the Christocentric Principal is more; it is all I have described but more. It is not only a case of seeking to answer the question, ‘what did Jesus say or do concerning this?’ It goes further and deeper by asking another question; ‘how do I understand this from what Jesus reveals of the mind of God?’ By ‘mind of God’ I mean the worldview, character, values, and priorities that Jesus evidenced.

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 are asking recently 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.

 

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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.