Captivated By Jesus, An Interview with Alexander Venter

Lance and I are very pleased to start the Captivated By Jesus series by presenting an interview with Alexander Venter. I have known Alexander for well over twenty years and have observed him to be a genuine follower of Jesus with the ability and experience to present the importance of the centrality of  Jesus.

Alexander has been in the ministry since January 1975 and has gone on to plant and pastor churches in Zimbabwe, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Soweto.  A formative scripture for Alexander is Matthew 13:44,  “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a person finds the treasure, they joyfully go and sell all that they have in order to buy the field to explore and share the treasure. His passion is to make the treasures of the kingdom available to all who want to follow Jesus in the hope that the Holy Spirit will use them for spiritual formation towards Christ’s likeness and effective life and ministry in God’s kingdom. His life mission is to follow Jesus and make followers of him, learning to live a life of love just as Jesus left us.

If you want to know more about Alexander and access his many books and teachings then just click on this link: https://alexanderventer.com/

In this interview, Alexander shares with us

  • How he became a believer,
  • How he loves Jesus,
  • The role of Jesus in the church, and
  • The impact on the church and world if Jesus was made the centre and focus of the church.

Here is the transcript of the interview. The next post will be the audio, TruthTalk version.

 

Alexander Venter: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it, Lance, and lovely to be with you and all your guests. Thank you.

Lance Peppler: Thank you very much for joining. So Alexander, I’ve got a set of questions that I’m going to ask all the people that we interviewed during the series, and the first one is how did you become a believer?

Alexander: Well, I was raised in a non-Christian home, we didn’t go to church. And my folks were basically, I would guess, agnostic.  Although my father’s Afrikaans, and came from a traditional Afrikaans church background, but we weren’t active church members. So I didn’t really know much about Jesus, until at school at high school, at Cambridge High School in London, this young guy in my class, David Gornitzky, who is currently a pastor in East London, spoke to me about Jesus.  I was sitting there and I had to ask him all sorts of questions as to who this man was.  It took about six months of him talking to me about Jesus and then they invited me to the First Baptist Church youth meeting in East London and Uncle Rex Mathie was the pastor, the senior minister at First Baptist churches, East London.  One Friday night, he preached to all the youth, and I just felt the prompting and my heart, it’s time to give my life to Jesus.  So I raised my hand when he asked for those who want to do give their lives to Christ and he prayed with me. That was a massive turning point.  So it was the seventh of June 1968.  A weight lifted off my shoulders, and I felt, inwardly, somehow clean, and different and excited, and my journey with Jesus began.

Lance: Fantastic. Thank you, Alexander. Now, the series is about Jesus. Can I ask you when I mentioned the name Jesus to you? How did that make you feel? What do you think of Jesus? Both intellectually and emotionally?

Alexander: Well, great question. Before I became a follower of Jesus, if you had mentioned Jesus to me, in my young, teenage years, I probably would have been very indifferent, and perhaps a little curious, but now, after all these years, since 1968, of basically being a follower of Jesus. Now, if you mentioned Jesus to me, emotionally, it just makes me all warm, and soft and tender inside, where I just have such a deep sense of respect, and admiration for that young man from Nazareth, the young, 30-year-old Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth and who is has risen and alive by the Spirit in me.

So emotionally, I just relate to him and love him, honour and respect them. And intellectually, I really am so engaged with Jesus who lived 2000 years ago, and in terms the men of history, Jesus, the historical Jesus, living in his context was such unbelievable presence of mind with a deep sense of identity and destiny, in God’s kingdom, to bring God’s kingdom and salvation to Israel.

And with all that he went through, so intellectually, I am just pursuing the studies of the historical Jesus, to get to know him better. And as intellectually, one is, is so deeply stimulated by this man, through the Gospels and other literature, that the more I know him intellectually, and understand them in his context, the more emotionally, I cannot but fall in love with him, and admire him at ever-deeper levels.

Lance: That’s amazing. Fantastic, thank you.   So part of the interviews that we’re doing is looking at Jesus and his role in the local church. Now, you’ve been a church planter and a pastor, for many years, like you mentioned, January 1975. And so, Alexander, what role do you think Jesus has in the church in general, what is his role?

Alexander: Well, Lance, I would say, the role that Jesus ought to have in the local church is the role that Jesus does have in the local church by default.  The role that Jesus ought to have in the local church, biblically, is that He is head over the church. And because he is head of the church, the church has been bought with His precious blood, and he is risen and ascended into the heavens.  As the head of the church, His Holy Spirit is Lord within the church, in the church, and Jesus is Lord over the church. So, therefore, Jesus should be the centre, the heart, the heartbeat, and the mind of the church, and by the autonomic nervous system, as it were of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of Jesus in the church makes Jesus central to the church giving us the mind of Christ, and the heart of Christ, the compassion of Christ. That is what ought to be but, in my estimation, and evaluation of contemporary Christianity, and generally in local church, is that is far from the case.

We live, I think, with a lot of mixed wheat and weeds, and a lot of mixed theology and mixed practices of local church where Jesus is not really the centre.  The Holy Spirit is also not really the coordination of the indwelling presence of God in His Church.  We don’t really exercise the mind of Christ. We don’t exercise the heart of compassion and mercy, of grace, that Jesus exercises.  There’s a lot one can talk about in terms of what we could say is the experience in local church today versus the biblical vision of Jesus and His Church. 

Lance: I wanted to ask you that, Alexander. Why do you think that is? It seems obvious that Jesus should be the centre just like you’re explained. Why do you think that isn’t the case? Why do you think that a lot of churches don’t have Jesus at its centre?

Alexander: Well, I think that we, obviously, all are broken human beings. We are sinners, saved by grace declared to be saints, through the blood of Christ. So we live in this, this eschatological or Kingdom tension of sinners that are saved and we sayings that are not yet perfected. And this tension means that we have all sorts of mixed motives still and brokenness unresolved in our lives.  The church is a divine organism, instituted by Jesus through His death and resurrection and infilled by the Holy Spirit, but it is equally also a very human and earthly institution.  So this divine reality of the church, born of Christ and the Spirit, and the very human reality of broken human beings that make up the church and form it and lead it and create policies and structures, and have meetings, that I think, for me accounts for this, this very mixed experience that we do have. So, therefore, depending on local leadership, and local philosophy of ministry, how local leaders do church, that for me, largely determines whether Jesus is actuality in real terms, centre of the church, or he is the centre and the life of the church, or whether he is marginalised to different degrees and in which ways he is marginalised, is as an example of unresolved ego needs in leaders. I mean, that is a lot of posturing of personality, and selfish ambition.

Often churches are built around not the dynamic of the invisible presence of Jesus, by his indwelling Holy Spirit but the dynamics of church that are both around the personality, the charisma of the preacher, and to an extent of the service-oriented type, church, to meet the needs of the people and all sorts of other dynamics of so-called human excellence, that draw people and make church function.

So Lance, just briefly for me, if I had to put it this way, in the book of Revelation, chapter 3:20, Jesus is speaking to the church at Laodicea and he says – “Behold, I stand at the door knock, and if anyone hears my voice, I’ll come in, and I will sup with them.” Jesus is writing to a church through John, the Revelator.  He is writing to that whole church and he says, essentially, to put in modern terms, ‘He says, hey, you guys, on the inside there, Can anyone hear me?  This is my church, I’ve bought this church with my blood, it belongs to me, it doesn’t belong to you elders, or to you people, let me back into my church, if you open the door, and it may come back into my church, and give me the reins of my church, and let me rule and reign, and lead this church and be the centre of the church, then we will come near together, shared life with a trinitarian life in the power of the Spirit, and the kingdom will full this church and overflow through this church, into the world around it being a fundamentalist, the fundamental catalysts for change in the world around it.”.

So I think we’ve locked and marginalised Jesus. And in many churches, Jesus is standing outside the church and knocking trying to get back in. And the church continues business as usual, because it’s bolted on every other dynamic, other than the manifest presence of Jesus, church, local church, or to be such that if Jesus is not manifestly present, everything collapses. And we should face reality, and close church and go home and have coffee. Why?  Because church is about the reality of the indwelling presence of the king.

Lance: You say that Jesus should be the centre of the church. It’s easy to say that, but I think more difficult to actually implement. You have been a pastor in South Africa. I’m presuming that you’ve always tried to have Jesus as the centre of the churches that you’ve been the pastor of?  How have you tried to do that?  What have you put in place to try and make sure that Jesus was at the centre of everything that happened in the church, from the worship to the preaching to all aspects of the church?

Alexander: Again a very penetrating question, because when it gets to practicalities, one could list a lot of things. But I guess the longer I’ve planted in pastor churches, and the more I understand and know Jesus personally, the more I’ve come to an understanding, to continually hold up the vision of Jesus before the people. So through my preaching and teaching, and the diet, that are feed into the church, I watch what I teach. I try to avoid teaching my pet doctrines. I try to avoid teaching kind of esoteric, interesting motivational stuff, but continually come back to holding up the vision of Jesus consistently before the minds of the people that they see Jesus ever more clearly for who he is. The more clearer we see Jesus progressively, the more deeply we fall in love with him.  The more meaningfully, we are transformed into his image from one degree of glory to another. So for me, a primary thing of leaders, I have always said, from the Great Commission, where it says when they saw Jesus on the mountain, and Matthew 28, is when they saw Jesus on the mountain, he told them to go, when they saw him, they bowed down and worshipped him. So the clearer we see Jesus, the more it just draws from us, deeper levels of surrender, in true worship, and then we collaborate with his authority, because he said, “All authority is given to me go and make disciples”. So for me, it’s seeing Jesus and upholding the vision of Jesus, then it is making disciples of Jesus.

Church is not to make church members, churches, not to make converts, churches to make passionate, disciplined learners of Jesus. 

I can only make disciples to the extent I myself am a disciple. So spiritual authority in real terms are not notional terms, as a theological idea, but in real, tangible terms.  Spiritual authority operates to the extent I myself, am a disciple of Jesus, I can point people to Jesus as the centre and the heartbeat of their lives, and of the finances, of their sexuality, of their thought life, of the work-life of their marriage and family, and Jesus as the centre of the church.  I can only impart that which I am becoming personally, by having Jesus the centre of my own heart, and life and marriage and leadership, and philosophy of ministry, as a senior pastor, so that for me, also then converted to worship, our worship around me, myself and I.  So the feel-good gospel of Western therapy is a lot about ‘How do I feel?’  ‘Was worship nice?’, and we measure things by feelings of wonderful, warm, fuzzies.  The gospel, we preach as a self-improvement. Where worship must be focused on Jesus, and His needs, and my healing relies on Jesus, and his glorious kingdom, and all that he has done for us.   So I’ve worked with worship teams, to focus on Jesus, I’ve worked with sermons to keep coming back to and focusing and refocusing on Jesus. And then also, I think, through lived life, and spiritual practices.  So the corporate prayer meeting, corporate worship, corporate ministry, to the poor, all the motivation is to keep pointing to Jesus, and hopefully, together listening to Jesus and his agenda for the church, because Jesus has a dream and a calling for each local church, and the extent to which the leaders truly listen to Jesus by His Holy Spirit, and implement the vision God has for their church, then I believe it will be Jesus focused, and Jesus centred and less leadership focused and leaders centred.

Lance: That makes sense. I want to ask you, Alexandra, another question around that, and maybe from your experience of leading churches, has the Holy Spirit applied his blessing on a church and enabled a church in, just like individuals that are Jesus Centred?   I guess the question I am asking is do you think that the Holy Spirit would be more active and pour more of his power on churches that are focusing on Jesus?  That’s the first part of my question.  The second part is, how do you think that actually looks like when the Holy Spirit is blessing a church?  Have you seen that play out in churches that you’ve led?

Alexander: Yeah, look, I think that the Jesus expressly taught in John 14 to 16, before he was crucified, that he was departing, so that he could give the Holy Spirit to live in them.  He continually said that when the Holy Spirit comes, the Holy Spirit will not speak of himself or herself.  In the Old Testament, this Spirit of the Holy One, in Hebrews, is consistently feminine and in the Greek New Testament is neuter. It’s neither masculine or feminine. In the context we understand. So, therefore, when I refer to the Spirit as He then it is also She.  But that’s just as an aside, the Holy Spirit that comes from Jesus will speak of Christ and glorify Christ and bring us the things of Christ and reveal the things of Christ to us.  So if we truly lift up Jesus, Jesus Himself said, ‘If I am lifted up, I will draw people to myself’, and I assume that is by the power of the Spirit. So the more we lift up Jesus in worship, and the words in our worship, and all glorifies him, and not ourselves or our needs, or whatever, the more we preach and teach Jesus and lift them up.  Then I think that the Holy Spirit just automatically is poured out.  Jesus said that ‘when I’m lifted up, and I ascend, then I will pour out the Spirit upon you.’

So the more we glorify Christ and lift them up, the natural consequence is the outpouring of the Spirit with great joy.

Speaking in tongues like at Pentecost, I believe that the gift of tongues was a joyful overflow of the kingship of Jesus, his coronation in heaven. The coronation of Christ at the right hand of the Ascended Christ at the right hand of the Father, was manifest on Earth, with this intoxicating, new one of overflowing joy in all different languages to reach all nations, with the good news that Jesus is king.

And Jesus reigns he rules and reigns over sin, and sickness and demons, and death, and pain and poverty and injustice, and his kingdom has come, it is coming, and it will come. 

And so, for me, what it looks like, practically, is that in Paul’s theology in Galatians, when he speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, as love, joy, peace, patience, meekness, long-suffering, self-control, etc, he uses the singular fruit of the Spirit, which is the character of Christ. So when we lift up Jesus and make him Centre, the evidence of the Holy Spirit is filling the church and using the church. For me, it is this fully character of Christ, and the fully orbed grace of Christ, the gifts of the Spirit. So you have the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is the character of Jesus, and then the gifts of the Spirit, the charisma, charisma of the Holy Spirit, which is the power of Christ, the character of Christ and the power of Christ, by the Spirit. So gifts of healings, faith, miracles, discerning of spirits, knowledge, wisdom, all of the gifts of the Spirit together with this qualitative Christ’s likeness. This is progressively is evident among Christians in the local church, love, people of love, joy, peace, patience, that then just overflows for me. And the mark, the ultimate fruit or ultimate mark, of a truly spirit full, Christ centred church is missions and sharing the gospel.  People come to Jesus. And then actually we become agents of change in the community around us both where we are in Johannesburg, where you’re then starting in South Africa, then Africa and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. So I think they are very clear.

Fruit are characteristics that we can point to by saying this church evidently has Jesus relatively at the centre, and is a truly because Jesus is at the centre.

It is a spirit-filled church, because of these following characteristics that we see. And it’s holistic. It’s not one dimensional, you know, dawns  and closings. I think some people think if we make good as the centre, then it’s all about just Jesus in me and my forgiveness of sins to get me a ticket into heaven. And it’s this personal evangelical gospel of Jesus and me. But it’s not. It’s a holistic gospel that includes justice. It includes forgiveness of sins. It includes healing of the emotions, as well as healing of the body.  It includes church planting, and missions and social transformation. It is a holistic gospel, or holistic engagement, for holistic transformation, not only of the individual but of the church and the community and the nation.  That, for me, is the mature result of a truly Jesus centred church that will then be a Spiritual church.

Lance: Wow, wonderful. And, Alexander, since you’ve been a pastor, you know, from 1975, like we’ve mentioned, have there been times when you were the pastor of a church that you’ve specifically seen the holy spirit being poured out more than others? And maybe, could you give us an example and recount some examples of when you’re where the pastor, and how you’ve seen the Holy Spirit part on the church that you’ve been a pastor off?

Alexander: Thank you, Lance, I’m happy to do that. So I would say what comes to mind is that, if I look back on the years of ministry, which has been 46 years of full time, church, planting and pastoring now, and there clearly, there have been different seasons of the Holy Spirit, breaking through being poured out in fresh and new ways. And I could describe one or two of them. But what I have learned over the years is that when the Spirit breaks through and stuff starts happening, the temptation or the danger becomes that what is manifest that what starts happening and taking place, becomes the new thing, that then we build our church practices around, and then we justify theologically.  It becomes our new little idol that we worship, as opposed to remaining Jesus focused and centred, and living the Holy Spirit, who is the wind of God, the breadth of the resurrection, that blows here and there, with no waste coming from within always going. But those who are born of the Spirit of the people of the wind, who feel the wind, moving this way, then moving that way.

For me, the only predictable thing about the Holy Spirit is that he or she is unpredictable.

Yeah, because we’re in my ministry experience, the Holy Spirit broke out in the early 80s, within my own heart, and among friends around me.  We were taken into Soweto, out of a deep conviction of being born under apartheid, as white people on the side of privilege and power, and the need to go and find our black brethren and sisters, and reconcile with them in a profoundly, deeply divided hateful society in the early 1980s.  So for 12 years, I was involved in Soweto, when I look back on that I tell you Lance, that can only have been a real move of the Holy Spirit. Because it was what we did was beyond our natural ability, beyond our natural protection, there were so many situations in which I saw the evidence of the sovereign hand of God.  On the other hand, the Spirit when he moves, it’s manifest injustice and social engagement, for transformation. But on the other hand, I’ve had seasons of healings, and wonderful manifestations and signs and wonders of the Spirit.  Once again, in retrospect, way beyond my own level of faith, my own experience as a pastor, and sometimes I would stand and people would be crying, and crying out to God.

I’d be looking around and scratching my head and saying, Lord, I don’t understand but I just know it’s you. And it’s beautiful and wonderful. And I’m not going to put my fingerprints on it.  I’m just going to stand back and let God be God. 

So I’ve learned that the spirit moves in different ways at different times. But the danger in church life is when we make this healing, healing move of the Spirit, the thing that begins to define the church, and we have to be extremely careful, Jesus and the kingdom is the lens through which we see all the holistic dimensions of the gospel.  If you make the one part, the whole, then you become a social activist church, or you become a Healing Church, or you become a spiritual, spiritual formation church or holiness church, or you become an evangelistic church, or you become a church-planting church because you make the one dimension into the hole, and then you actually lose it.  It’s no longer Jesus focused solely be Jesus focus, they still hold all the different aspects of the gospel intention, and let God be God, and the spirit moves this way, then that way, then this way, then that way, according to what is needed at different times in the life of the church.

Lance: Wow. Yeah, that’s absolutely, absolutely helps.  The last question, Alexander is, and I’m trying not to put my own thinking into these interviews, but maybe I, from my experience when I go to churches, a lot of people are there, as sort of spectators and often just came to church and not being involved intimately with worship and pushing out and trying to, you know, reach out to Jesus and experience Jesus.  The last question is, what do you think churches could do that are actively trying to, you know, be Jesus focused? What can they put into place that can encourage their people to worship Jesus and experience Jesus in the services?

Alexander: Well, again, it’s a good question. I think, for me, your question assumes an expression of church that needs to perhaps be commented on. So New Testament wise, the essential gathering point of the church was in the homes. And then the home churches used to gather together in Solomon’s portico in the temple in Jerusalem as a public celebration or gathering of the small groups. They broke bread from house to house.  Paul in Corinthians speaks about the church in the home and the public gathering. So when we meet on Sundays as church, it’s more of a passive experience of the people, because it’s a larger meeting of 100, 200 or 500+ people. And so worship is facilitated from the platform. But how then to get people to engage in that worship, I think we can mix worship up to get our people actively engaged, they’re not passively receiving.

And so perhaps, in worship, is to try different things, where people just pause, and for two, three minutes, turn around with twos and threes around there, and just pray for each other as an act of worship, and then re-engage in worship, or read a scripture, I think there are ways and means to engage the people more actively in public worship. But obviously, the ideal is home church, because in home church, you have eight or 10 people in a lounge, weekly, or bi-weekly. And to worship together requires everyone to participate and to share and to gather around God’s word and to share a word and ask about each other’s lives, and then to pray for each other and encourage each other. That is very much people participation.

So for me, the ideal is discipling people by active, incremental participation in into small groups.

And then the gathering of the small groups in the bigger congregation limits active participation, although if we think creatively, as past as leaders, we can draw people out even in the public service into more active engagement. So one last comment is that I’ve been with Vineyardsince 1982. And when it came to after the preaching, teaching time, I, I used to sometimes open it up for comment if need be or Q&A, to get some feedback and some participation, which was very unusual and could be controversial. Secondly, when we had when we prayed for people for different needs, I didn’t do the praying upfront as the man of God, but we invited people in the congregation to pray for one another. There are different needs and so we did it in different ways. But we tried to open up the environment, from sitting looking at the back of someone’s head as a spectator to what’s happening on the platform to turning around and engaging people around either through praying for each other little discussions, small group discussion around the sermon, where I give two or three questions and circuit break up into small groups and discuss these two or three questions around what I’ve taught this morning. So there are creative different ways to get people engaged, even in a larger crowd context on a Sunday morning. So my dear friend, I hope that that helps.

Lance: It definitely does. So to end this interview, and it’s really been fantastic. Alexander, would you mind closing and pray for us? Can I ask you to do that?

Alexander: I would be honoured to do so. And again, Lance, thank you for this opportunity to be with you. So,

Lord Jesus, King of kings, Lord of lords, and especially the head of your church, we honour you, we exalt you, and we lift you high. Because, Lord, You are the reason for our living. You’re the reason for our believing. And you’re the reason, Lord for, for the existence of church. And so we receive you, Jesus, by your art poured Holy Spirit, into your church, into our minds, our lives, our bodies, and local church, and please, Jesus, have your way. We give the church back to you. We hear your knocking at the door, and we go to the door, we open the door, the local church and we say, Jesus, we hear your voice. You are welcome. Come into this church, which is your church board with your blood. And Jesus be in charge. Have your way. Do what you want to do with this church. Please, Lord, we need you. We need you more than we would ever realise. Your church needs you, Jesus. Come by your Holy Spirit. And fill your church again, I pray in Jesus name. Amen. Amen.

Lance: Alexander, thank you for joining us today and thank you for all the years for helping us to love and be in love with Jesus. And obviously, you haven’t stopped yet. You’re very, very involved store. And thank you so much for being involved in this captivated by Jesus series. We really appreciate it. Thank you very much, Alexander.

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