6/28/2012

WILL AMERICA SURVIVE?

The Master Key for America Recovering Her Greatness
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
And from the hole of the pit from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father and Sarah who bore you.
(Isaiah 51:1-2)
Even as we celebrate the 236th birthday of our homeland, America is being reshaped into a politically correct, secularist, socialist nation with obvious anti-Christian overtones. This is happening because we lost sight of our national roots, i.e., of our radical Christian heritage. Karl Marx once said, “A people without a heritage are easily persuaded,” and that is certainly the case in America today.  Because we lost sight of our profound Christian past, an America president can tell a foreign, Muslim audience, “America is not a Christian nation,” with hardly a peep of protest from back home. Because we lost sight of our radical Christian heritage, deviant, immoral behavior is daily piped into our lives and homes by the mass media; and such behavior is protected by the state and promoted in colleges and public schools as the norm while expressions of faith in God are suppressed. Because we as American Christians did not preserve our nation’s heritage, a radical, secularist minority has rewritten and reinterpreted America’s history and, thereby, convinced judges, politicians, and the American people that the First Amendment was put in place to keep religion out of government and the public arena. We are now facing a crossroads in our history as a nation and there is a question whether the American republic founded in 1776 will survive.
We Must Recover our Past
I am convinced that the key to America once again being a beacon of hope for the rest of the world lies in us revisiting and recovering our past. At a critical moment in Israel’s history, God instructed His people through the prophet Isaiah to revisit their past. Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you (Isaiah 51-1-2). By revisiting their past, they would receive the inspiration and information needed for facing the challenges of the present and the future.
We face a similar situation in America today and if we are to survive we must revisit our past and see the hand of God in our beginnings as a nation. We must recover the truth of our Christian heritage—a heritage that is being taken from us by secularist historians who are creating an America in their own image. This is crucial, for as the noted Danish Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said, “Life can only be lived by looking forward, but it can only be understood by looking backward.” As we pause this July 4th and take a look backward to the place from which we emerged as a nation—to the rock from which we were hewn--we will be inspired to rise up in a new boldness of faith and lay hold of our future.
America Emerged Out of a Great Spiritual Awakening
The truth is that America emerged out of a great Spiritual Awakening that transformed the thirteen Colonies. As a result of this Great Awakening, entire towns repented, denominational walls were broken down, regional conflicts were healed, and for the first time the scattered Colonists began to see themselves as “one nation under God.” One of America’s best known Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, told how his hometown of Philadelphia was transformed by this Awakening. In his Autobiography, he wrote,
From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious so that one could not walk through the town in an evening with hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.
Further north in New England Jonathan Edwards said that the entire town of Northampton, MA, “seemed to be full of the presence of God” and that “a loose, careless person could scarcely be found.” In nearby Westfield a Rev. Bull told of the sudden transformation of his town and said that more had been done in one week than in seven years before. There were so many conversions associated with this Awakening that a number of colleges were formed to train ministers for the new churches that were springing up. One of these was King’s College (now Columbia University) and at the time of its founding in 1754, an advertisement was posted in New York papers stating;
The chief thing in this college is to teach and engage children to know God in Jesus Christ and to love Him and serve Him in all sobriety, godliness, and richness of life with a perfect heart and willing mind.
There is no question that most—if not all—of the Founding Fathers were profoundly influenced by the Great Awakening. This meant that their Christianity, for the most part, was not a dry, formal orthodoxy based on church membership, but was, instead, a vital faith that was both known in the head and experienced in the heart. This is why prayers and Bible readings, along with other expressions of faith in God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ permeate their writings. In fact, a recent, ten-year study project to discover where the Founders got their ideas for America’s founding documents revealed that, by far, the single, most-cited authority in their writings was the Bible.
This vibrant Christian faith of the Founders was confirmed by Patrick Henry (1736-1799) who declared, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why the late Harvard professor, Perry Miller, said, “The Declaration of Independence of 1776 was a direct result of the preaching of the evangelists of the Great Awakening.” The following is a small sampling of the faith of just some of the Founding Fathers.

The Faith of the Founders

George Washington, the first president, took the oath of office with his hand placed on a Bible, signifying his recognition of the Bible as the source of guidance and inspiration for his administration. This was no mere political formality, for Washington believed that, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” After his inaugural address, which was filled with references to God and the Bible, he and the Congress proceeded to St. Paul’s Chapel to participate in a worship service. He once publicly prayed, “Bless O Lord the whole race of mankind, and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy Son, Jesus Christ.” Did Washington want to exclude Christian influence from the political or public arena? Hardly!
John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers and the 2nd president of the United States, gave a moving account of the First Continental Congress that was convened in September of 1774. The Congress was opened with an extended time of prayer and the reading of four chapters from the Bible. When Psalm 35:9, 23 was read, many were moved to tears and spontaneous expressions of prayer. The passage reads, My soul shall be joyful in the Lord; it shall rejoice in His salvation. . . . Awake and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord! In a letter to his wife Abigail about this event, Adams wrote,
Who can realize the emotions with which they turned imploringly to heaven for divine interposition and aid. It was enough to melt a heart of stone. It seems as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read that day.
Did Adams envision Christian influence being banned from Congress and government institutions? Obviously not!
Benjamin Franklin is often pointed to as one of the non-Christian founders of this nation. In his early years Franklin did entertain Deistic views, but through the years his views changed; a fact attributable to the Awakening and his friendship with George Whitefield, the most prominent preacher of the Awakening. In his Autobiography Franklin tells of attending Whitefield’s meetings and of Whitefield staying in his home. He also tells how Whitefield often prayed for his conversion but says he never lived to see his prayers answered.
But on June 28, 1787, seventeen years after Whitefield’s death, the Constitutional Convention was about to be suspended because of unresolved dissension. It was a very critical moment. It was at this time that Franklin, now 81 years of age, rose to his feet and addressed the Convention president, George Washington, with these words.
How has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly appealing to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business. 
According to those present, “An atmosphere of reconciliation seemed to settle over the convention hall.” Petty grievances and local interests were laid aside, and the delegates went on to complete their task of formulating the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. I think Whitefield must have smiled and all heaven with him.
Thomas Jefferson is also often pointed to as one of the non-Christian Founders, the champion of the separation of church and state, and an advocate for keeping religion out of government. Nothing could be further from the truth!
It is true that, later in life, Jefferson had questions about the trinitarian nature of God and the deity of Christ (some think brought on by the tragic loss of his wife, his mother, and a friend). Nonetheless, he never considered himself a Deist, confessing instead, “I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” As president, Jefferson closed all presidential documents with the words, “In the year of our Lord Christ.” He was a life-long member of the Anglican Church and attended church on a regular basis. In fact, as president, he sat on the front row of services that were convened each Sunday in the chambers of the House of Representatives. At one point, dissatisfied with the music, he ordered the Marine Band to provide music for these church services—a band that was paid out of the Federal treasury
Jefferson was convinced that human rights are derived, not from the state, but from God, and he expressed concern that Americans must never forget this fact. He once said,
God who gave us life, gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and that His justice cannot sleep forever.

The Truth about the “Wall of Separation”

In a letter dated January 1, 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, Jefferson referred to a “wall of separation” between the church and state. The letter was a response to Baptists who were concerned about their status in the new nation and how they would be treated. They had reason for concern, for throughout Europe, Baptists had been an outlawed, religious sect, severely persecuted by the State and the State Churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant.
To alleviate their concerns, Jefferson quoted the First Amendment, enacted December 15, 1792, that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." He then assured the Baptist Association that this meant that, in America, there would be “a wall of separation” that would protect them and any other religious group from the interference of the state. Jefferson’s “wall of separation” was obviously unilateral—there to protect the church and people of faith from government intrusion.
Modern secularists and revisionists have turned Jefferson’s statement on its head by reinterpreting it to mean a “wall of separation” to keep expressions of faith out of government. Jefferson would turn over in his grave at how his statement is being distorted and misapplied today.

Will America Survive?

In 1831 the French sociologist, Alexis d Tocqueville, visited America to study its institutions and culture. He was profoundly impressed with the spiritual vitality of our land and wrote, “The religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me on arrival in the United States.” Somehow, I think he would have an opposite impression if he visited America today and encountered the moral decadence expressed in the media and on the streets of our major cities.
Another statement that has been attributed to Tocqueville goes to the heart of the problem today and reveals why America’s only hope is another Great Awakening—an Awakening that will only occur as we revisit our past and learn our true Christian heritage.
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers - and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution - and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

This article is derived from Eddie Hyatt’s latest book, America’s Revival Heritage, available from Amazon and from www.eddiehyatt.com/bookstore.html.

6/22/2012

RELEASERS OF LIFE


Order vs. Life: Directing Our Attention Where it Really Matters
For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (II Corinthians 4:11).
The New Testament Church is not to be identified with a certain order, program, liturgy, or structure. The Church of the New Testament is recognized by the life of Jesus Christ being expressed through its members. As Professor Burnett Streeter, in his classic work, The Primitive Church, wrote,
Whatever else is disputable, there is, I submit, one result from which there is no escape. In the Primitive Church there was no single system of church order laid down by the Apostles. During the first hundred years of Christianity, the Church was an organism alive and growing—changing its organization to meet changing needs. Uniformity was a later development (Streeter, 267-68).
Streeter is correct as is borne out by the fact that the New Testament itself bears witness to a variety of church forms and order. The order of the church in Jerusalem is different from the order of the church in Antioch. The order of the church in Corinth is different from either Jerusalem or Antioch, and the order of the churches of the Pastoral Epistles is different still. Commenting on the diverse forms of order and ministry in the New Testament, Michael Harper says it only makes sense, “If you view them as the ad hoc promptings of the Holy Spirit amidst the most taxing circumstances.” David Scholer, late professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote,
The patterns of authority in the early church are varied and fluid. There are no fixed patterns, terms or offices. No single church structure and/or pattern of authority or office is validated by the New Testament. The patterns of authority in the early church are determined and described primarily by the functions they served within the church (Scholer, 28).
Why does the New Testament reflect such diversity in outward form and order? The answer seems clear. The New Testament writers are obviously more concerned with the inward life of the Church than with the outward form through which that life is expressed. After all, Jesus came to bring us life, not a particular ecclesiastical system (John 10:10). We might also recall the words of the angel to the New Testament apostles when, in Acts 5:20, he freed them from jail and instructed them to, Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.
If life rather than order was the emphasis of the New Testament Church, should it not be the emphasis of the Church today? Should not the churches today, therefore, be seeking a revival of New Testament life rather than some elusive government or order that cannot be found in Scripture? And if, in the first century, this life of the Spirit was expressed through a variety of outward forms, should we not expect it to be expressed through a variety of forms today?
The insistence by some on a particular church order may, in fact, be the major hindrance to the life of God being expressed through genuine revival in the Church today. Professor James L. Ash, Jr. says that virtually all historians of early Christianity agree that the institutionalization of early Christianity (the implementation of a rigid church order) was accompanied by the loss of Spiritual gifts and power.
In the 1970s a number of Christian leaders, including well-known teacher Bob Mumford, talked of reviving and restoring the New Testament Church, and were focused on implementing a particular church order that they believed was revealed in Scripture. One day Mumford heard the Holy Spirit say, “Bob, to have a New Testament Church you must have New Testament people.” Mumford suddenly realized that they were wrongly preoccupied with establishing an outward order and form, when God would have them focused on helping His people to know and experience the life that Jesus came to give. He realized that “church” would not be realized by a particular organizational structure, but in a living, functioning body of Spirit-filled believers bringing glory to Jesus Christ.
Those who claim to have discovered the divine or Biblical order, and want to impose that order on everyone else, have been hoodwinked. The Church is not like a McDonalds franchise where uniformity of food, surroundings, and service are the same everywhere. Big Macs look and taste the same in Caribou, ME as they do in Paris, TX. Not so the Church! At its very core, the Church is an organism--not an organization--alive and growing, changing its form to meet changing needs.
The Church exists to communicate Christ and His life to this world. If we are not doing this, our church programs, titles, forms, and structures are absolutely meaningless and have become a curse instead of a blessing--a hindrance instead of a channel for the life of Christ to flow out to the world.
We must always remember that the life of Christ flows through people, not a particular organizational structure. So, as we create new forms and expressions of “church” let us follow the words and pattern of Jesus who taught that leaders in His kingdom are not rulers of God’s people but are diakonoi—servants—who will use their God-give gifts to help others become (Mark 10:35-45).
This means that we will not be seeking office, status, and importance, but we will use our leadership gifts to serve others. We will create structures, not as a goal or an end, but as a means to facilitate and nurture the gifts and callings of God’s people. This will, in turn, facilitate the flow of the life of Christ and will result in what has historically been called “Revival.” We will be “Releasers of Life.”

WORKS CITED

Harper, Michael. Let My People Grow: Ministry aNd Leadership in the Church. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977.
Scholer, David. "Patterns of Authority in the Early Church." Vol. 1 of Authority and Governance in the Evangelical Covenant Church. n.p.: Covenant Publ., 1993.
Sreeter, B. H. The Primitive Church. New York: MacMillan, 1929. 

by Eddie L. Hyatt

6/15/2012

LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY FATHER

Obedience Brings Blessing * It Pays to Persevere in Prayer * The Value of Self-Discipline

Lesson #1
Obedience Brings Blessing
The bottom line of advice that my Dad would always give was, “You obey God.” This was not a glib cliché on his part for, like Jesus, he had learned obedience through the things that he suffered (Heb. 5:8). For example, when I was 3 weeks old my family lived on a large farm in west Texas where “Daddy” worked as a farmhand. One day while plowing in the field he noticed a tractor with plows attached to it, that he had parked in our yard, moving around the yard in a circle. Knowing that something was not right, he turned his tractor toward home and arrived to find my mother, sitting on the porch, holding my 7 year old brother, Pete, in her lap and sobbing. Pete and my 4 year old brother, Belve, had been playing like they were farming and, somehow, had started the tractor and it had run over Pete.
Daddy said that when he looked at Pete, he looked flat as a pancake. He was still breathing, but blood and water were bubbling out of his mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. He carefully picked Pete up and laid him in the back seat of the car. While Mother remained behind with me, Belve, and my 9 year old brother, Harvey, he rushed Pete to the nearest hospital.
At the hospital, 3 doctors looked at Pete and told my Dad that he would not live for more than 10 minutes. They explained that, even without xrays, they knew that he had, at least, a broken rib that had punctured a lung. This was the reason, they said, for the blood and water coming out his passages as he breathed.
The only thing on my Dad’s mind at that moment was that he had not been obedient to God. For 5 years he had had this unmistakable and growing sense inside that God was calling him to full time ministry. But having no Bible school training and only a 4th grad education, this seemed like an impossible assignment, and he had shared it with no one. But after hearing the doctors’ prognosis, he stepped into a restroom, raised his right hand, and said, “Lord, I’m ready.” At that moment, he became obedient to the heavenly call.
Suddenly, a supernatural faith dropped into his heart. As he described it, “I didn’t know how I knew, but I suddenly knew that Pete was going to be alright.” He went back to the hospital lobby and had to wait for an hour; but all that time he had an unshakeable assurance in his heart that everything was OK. Finally, one of the doctors walked into the room and said, “Mr. Hyatt, there has been a higher power here tonight.” He went on to explain that they knew that Pete had a broken rib that had punctured a lung; “But,” he said, “We have completed xrays, the bleeding has stopped, and there is not a broken bone in his body.”
Pete came home in a couple of days and is well and healthy today, serving Jesus. Hallelujah! Daddy learned in a very dramatic way that there is blessing in obedience. Yes, I believe in God’s grace and mercy, and where would any of us be without it. But never attempt to use God’s grace as a justification for disobedience. As the old hymn says,
Trust and obey, for there is not other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey
Lesson 2
It Pays to Persevere in Prayer
When I was 11 years old my family was living on another farm near Tipton, Oklahoma where Daddy was still working as a farmhand. When God had miraculously healed Pete 11 years before, he had brought his call from God out into the open; but ministry had eluded him and he had only preached on the very rare occasion. Our family attended the Assembly of God church in Tipton, and we were there every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.
Dissatisfied with his situation on the farm, Daddy began making plans to move to Dallas, Texas and work as a bricklayer. But as he made his plans to move, he heard the Holy Spirit speak in his heart, “What about pastoring this church?” This again, seemed like an impossible call. The people in this “nice” church did not see him as a pastor. To them, he was just an uneducated farmhand. He said to the Lord, “If this is you speaking to me, let this pastor resign before the first of the month.” He was shocked when he went to church on Sunday and the pastor got up and announced his resignation.
Knowing that God had spoken, my Dad went to the church secretary and said, “I would like to submit my name to be the pastor of this church.” The church had a process in place for finding a pastor and it consisted of allowing anyone who was interested to preach in a service and then afterwards the members of the church would vote. If the preacher got more than 50% of the votes, he could become the pastor. The secretary replied, “You are the first one to inquire so your name is at the top of the list.”
About three days later, an older gentleman, who was the chairman of the board of deacons/elders, visited my Dad and informed him that he had talked to all the members of the church. “We are all in agreement,” he said, “That you are not qualified to be the pastor of this church.” He then asked Daddy to withdraw his name for consideration because, he said, “No one will vote for you.” Well, what do you do now? He was  between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.” God had clearly spoken for him to pastor this congregation, but now they are all in agreement that they did not want him as their pastor.
Not being a politician with a plan to sway votes, Daddy went to prayer. He prayed all night, but heard nothing. What now? Do you throw in the towel and move on? Something inside would not let him quit, so he prayed all night the second night; but there was no voice, no guidance, and no direction. Virtually everyone advised him to withdraw his name and forget about pastoring that church. One of his relatives poked fun, saying, “The Lord told Clarence to go plow, and he thought He said to go preach.” But I remember him saying that my oldest brother, Harvey, said to him, "Daddy, if God told you to do this, you need to obey God." He had already learned the importance of obedience, so he prayed on, all night for the third night in a row.
Again, there was nothing from heaven—until dawn began to break. As the first rays of the morning sun were coming over the horizon, Daddy turned to look out a window. Suddenly, something unexplainable happened. He said that as the first rays of the morning sun hit him in the face, “I felt like I was turned into another man.” All of sudden, he did not care what anybody thought of him. Human opinions no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered was that he obey God.
He went out and found the secretary of the church and the chairman of the board of deacons/elders. He said to them, “Brethren, whatever you do is between you and God, but I have to go through with this.” They said OK, and arranged for him to preach the following Sunday night.
I still remember the message that Sunday night, and there seemed to be special anointing from the Holy Spirit as he preached from Haggai 1:5, “Consider Your Ways.” After finishing his sermon, our family retreated to our home, now about a half block from the church, while the church members had their business meeting and voted.
About one-half hour later, someone came from the church and told us he had been voted in as pastor with 100% of the vote. WOW!! They then proceeded to explain that, after we left, Brother Cook, the chairman of the board, had gotten up before the congregation weeping and said, “Folks, I have been wrong about this man; he is supposed to be our pastor.” Everything suddenly changed. Hearts were melted across the congregation. And whereas everyone there had come prepared to vote against him every single member voted for him.
From that time forth, except for brief intervals between pastorates, my Dad was in full time pastoral ministry for the rest of his life. The last church he pastored was the Assembly of God in Chicota, Texas, which he pastored for 27 years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if he had given up after the first night of prayer or the second night of prayer. He learned—and I learned from being there—that it pays to persevere in prayer. He persevered in prayer and changed his destiny and mine.
Lesson 3
The Value of Self-Discipline
My Dad was from the “old school” and would agree with the adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” We had lots of freedom growing up, but there was a discipline or certain behavior that was expected of my brothers and I; and the possibility of physical punishment was further motivation to adhere by those rules and expectations. It was through this outward discipline that I learned to exercise a self-discipline, or what the New Testament calls “self control” (Gal. 5:23).
An example of this occurred when I was about 3 years old and we lived in Dallas, Texas and attended the Gospel Lighthouse pastored by J. C. Hibbard. I do not remember this incident but I heard my Dad laughingly tell it on more than one occasion. In one particular church service I would not be quiet so he took me outside and gave me—what we called in Texas-- a “whuppin.” We did not “spankings” or “whippings;” we got “whuppins.”
Anyway, Daddy said he got me quieted down and then returned inside to take his seat. As he walked through the church foyer he asked, “Are you going to be quiet now?” He said I replied, “Nope!” He immediately turned around and started out the door again. I obviously knew what that meant—another “whuppin.” He said I began to cry out, “I won’t do it any more! I won’t do it any more!” In other words, I began to exercise some self-discipline. My Dad laughed as he took me back inside where I was very good and quiet until the service was over. I exercised self-discipline, i.e., self-control for the rest of that church meeting. 
Now I know that there is a problem with child abuse in our society, which, to some degree, is actually a result of parents who never experienced any loving discipline themselves; and so never learned to exercise any self-discipline, or self-restraint. Child abuse is inexcusable but should never be associated with corporeal punishment that is administered in wisdom and love. In other words, the “whuppin” my Dad gave me was not given to vent his anger towards me (that’s abuse), but to direct a certain desired behavior and self-discipline in me.
The more disciplined we are from within, the less discipline we will require from without. As I point out in my book, America’s Revival Heritage, people who are self-governed from within according to Christian principles, will require less outward governance and regulations. This is why John Adams, the 2nd president and one of the Founding Fathers, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.” In other words, the American Constitution was designed for a self-disciplined people. May God give us more fathers and mothers who will have the wisdom and courage to inculcate and nurture a self-discipline in their children.


My Dad passed away in 1994 at the age of 82. He was home recovering from hip surgery but was not sick. My mother said that one day he called her from the bedroom. She asked, "What do you want?" He said, "I'm going home." She thought maybe she misunderstood him and so went to the room and said, "What did you say?" He replied, "Bye bye, I'm going home." And in a few hours, that very same day, he was gone. But the lessons from his life remain.

6/11/2012

INSTITUTIONAL VS. NON-INSTITUTIONAL CHRISTIANITY


Institutional Christianity is concerned with organization, authority, order, offices, titles, etc. Non-institutional Christianity is concerned with relationship, life, freedom, function, etc. Institutional Christianity tends to confine and squelch the life of the Spirit in individuals, while non-institutional Christianity tends to make room for the individual expression of Spiritual gifts and callings in both men and women.

I was confronted with the difference shortly after graduating from Bible school and marriage to Sue. We had moved to Canada and were staying with her parents and two brothers until we found a place of our own. Being a Bible school graduate, I was looking for an institutional ministry position that would offer me a position, a title, a salary, and a group to whom I could preach and teach. One morning, during my prayer time, God clearly spoke to me through Acts 20:28, “Take heed to yourself and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer.”

I knew immediately that God had called me to pastor a group of people, consisting of Sue’s immediate family, her aunt and uncle, and a few of other people. Some of these were not Christians and all would have thought this newly arrived Texan was a little “wacky” if I announced, “I am your pastor.” There was no position, no title, no salary, and no “church” meetings. etc. “Pastoring” was completely relational, taking place around the dinner table, going to the beach, conversing in the living room, and time on my knees. But I took my pastoral calling seriously and within a year all had come to Christ and lives had been forever changed.

My word of encouragement to you today is that you do not have to confine your gift and calling to an institutional setting. Yes, God works through institutions but He has not confined Himself to institutions. Furthermore, we cannot say that He prefers institutions. In fact, virtually all historians of early Christianity agree that there was a loss of Spiritual life and power when Christianity moved from being a non-institutional movement of the Spirit to an institutionalized religious system. True revival will break forth when women and men began to obey the Lord and “function” in the gift and calling God has given them both inside and outside the institution.

6/05/2012

APOSTLES OLD & NEW

5 Reasons I Have Not Aligned Myself with the Modern Apostolic Movement
In his latest book, An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit, Pentecostal-Charismatic leader/historian, Dr. Vinson Synan, tells of his involvement in the 1990s with certain pastors and Christian leaders who were talking about restoring the office of the apostle and apostolic church order. It was during this time that he received an invitation to join the newly formed Int’l Coalition of Apostles, founded by C. Peter Wagner. New apostles could join this association and maintain their membership by paying a monthly fee of $69.00 per month. Having deep concerns about the direction of the movement, Synan wrote a letter declining the invitation and wryly added, “Besides, at $69.00 per month I cannot afford to be an apostle.”

In this book, Synan also expresses concern for what he calls "outlandish" claims that have been made, such as the one that apostolic government is now in the Church for the first time in 1800 years. Not wanting to condemn the movement outright because he considers many of the leaders to be good and sincere people, he, nonetheless, was so concerned that he convinced his own denomination, the Int'l Pentecostal Holiness Church, not to adopt the contemporary model of apostolic church order.

 

I agree with Synan that there are good and sincere people in the contemporary apostolic movement. That, however, is not the issue for there are good and sincere people to be found in all denominations and religious persuasions. Our concern must be for truth and we are commanded in Scripture to test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (I Jn. 4:1). We must be at least as diligent, in this regard, as the believers in Ephesus who were commended by Jesus because, You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.

My concern is that the teachings that are central to this movement cannot be collaborated with Scripture. Delineated below are 5 reasons that I have not aligned myself with the contemporary apostolic movement. The 5 reasons are 5 misconceptions about apostles and apostolic ministry that are promoted in the movement today. In the final paragraph I offer my view of what it means to be “apostolic.”

Misconception #1
God is Restoring Apostolic Government to the Church

No such order or government is either delineated or prescribed in the New Testament. The New Testament writers, in fact, show very little concern for church offices and organizational structure. This is why New Testament specialist, Dr. Gordon Fee, says that the New Testament is full of surprises, “but none is so surprising as its generally relaxed attitude toward church structures and leadership.” He and others point out that, excepting Phil. 1:1, Paul never addresses himself to a leader or group of leaders in any of his letters to the churches (Fee, 120). Even in Corinth where there are so many problems, Paul appeals to the entire congregation rather than to a specific leader.
John Wesley, who as an Anglican minister initially held to the episcopal form of church government, found his views refined in the fires of the 18th century Methodist revival, which he spearheaded. Through his diligent study of the New Testament and after observing the Holy Spirit raise up powerful ministries from the ranks of the common people outside the Anglican Church hierarchy, he declared that ”neither Christ nor his apostles prescribed any form of church government” (Wesleyan Theological Journal, 116). In his classic work, The Primitive Church, Professor Burnett Streeter asserts,
Whatever else is disputable, there is, I submit, one result from which there is no escape. In the Primitive Church there was no single system of church order laid down by the Apostles. During the first hundred years of Christianity, the Church was an organism alive and growing—changing its organization to meet changing needs. Uniformity was a later development (Streeter, 267-68).
Streeter is correct as is borne out by the fact that the New Testament itself bears witness to a variety of church forms and order. The order of the church in Jerusalem is different from the order of the church in Antioch. The order of the church in Corinth is different from either Jerusalem or Antioch, and the order of the churches of the Pastoral Epistles are different still. Commenting on the diverse forms of order and ministry in the New Testament, Michael Harper says it only makes sense, “If you view them as the ad hoc promptings of the Holy Spirit amidst the most taxing circumstances.” David Scholer, late professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote,
The patterns of authority in the early church are varied and fluid. There are no fixed patterns, terms or offices. No single church structure and/or pattern of authority or office is validated by the New Testament. The patterns of authority in the early church are determined and described primarily by the functions they served within the church (Scholer, 28).
Why does the New Testament reflect such diversity in outward form and order? The answer seems clear. The New Testament writers are obviously more concerned with the inward life of the Church than with the outward form through which that life is expressed. After all, Jesus came to bring us life, not a particular ecclesiastical system (John 10:10). We might also recall the words of the angel to the New Testament apostles when, in Acts 5:20, he freed them from jail and instructed them to, Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.
If life rather than order was the emphasis of the New Testament Church, should it not be the emphasis of the Church today? Should not the churches today, therefore, be seeking a revival of New Testament life rather than an elusive apostolic order that cannot be found in Scripture? And if, in the first century, this life of the Spirit was expressed through a variety of outward forms, should we not expect it to be expressed through a variety of forms today?
The insistence on a particular church order may, in fact, be the major hindrance to the life of God being expressed through genuine revival in the Church today. Professor James L. Ash, Jr. says that virtually all historians of early Christianity agree that the institutionalization of early Christianity (the implementation of a rigid order) was accompanied by the loss of Spiritual gifts and power.
Both the New Testament and church history indicate that the key for the church in the 21st century will not be found in an outward order or form, but in an inner attitude of faith in Christ and an openness to the wind of the Spirit that blows, not where He must, but where He wills. Commenting on the fact that early Christianity was not tied to a particular outward form for its expression, Professor Streeter says:
It is permissible to hint that the first Christians achieved what they did because the spirit with which they were inspired was one favorable to experiment. In this—and perhaps in some other respects—it may be that the line of advance for the Church of today is not to imitate the forms, but to recapture the Spirit of the Primitive Church (Streeter, 267-68).
Misconception #2
Apostles are to Govern the Church.
According to Matt. 20:25-26, apostles are not governors of God’s people, but servants of God’s people. Jesus, in this passage, used the word diakonos to describe the primary characteristic of leaders in His kingdom; a word which referred to a household servant and carried no connotations of status or authority. Jesus presented this new and radical model of leadership to the Twelve when they were vying for, what they thought would be, positions of authority in the kingdom. Jesus clearly explained that in His kingdom, leadership would be characterized, not by governing, but by serving—by diakonoi. John G. Lake, a modern apostle to South Africa, said,
The modern conception of an apostle is usually that he is a big church boss, but that was not the conception Jesus left. An apostle was not to be a big boss; he was to be like his Lord--a servant of all.
Interestingly, the word “office,” with its inherent connotations of permanence and authority, is never used in the Greek New Testament. Although 1 Tim. 3:1 has the English word "office," it is not in the Greek and has been added by the translators. In the New Testament, the apostle’s authority was not derived from an “office,” but was directly related to his/her commission. For example, in his letters to the churches he founded, Paul speaks with authority, albeit an authority that appeals rather than commands. But when he visits the church in Jerusalem and when he writes to churches he has not founded or visited, such as his letter to the church at Rome, there are no such expressions of authority. This shows that Paul’s authority was relational and functional rather than official, and related to his commission. He even admitted, in 1 Cor. 9:2, that there were those to whom he was not an apostle. If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you.
In his book mentioned above, Vinson Synan tells how, from the beginning, his greatest concern was the authority that the modern apostles claim for themselves. He writes,
From the outset, I was concerned about any movement that claims to restore apostolic offices that exercise ultimate and unchecked authority in churches. The potential for abuse is enormous. Throughout church history, attempts to restore apostle as an office in the church have often ended up in heresy and caused incredible pain (Synan, 184).
Synan is absolutely right. The emphasis in the New Testament is not about authority—even for apostles—but service. This is why the Catholic reformer and expert in New Testament Greek, Hans Kung, says,
In the New Testament, not only is the word “hierarchy” consistently and deliberately avoided, but so too are all secular words for ‘office’ in connection with church functions, as they express a relationship of power. Instead of this, an all-encompassing term, diakonia, service (really ‘serving at table’), is used, which can nowhere evoke associations with any authority, control or position of dignity and power. (Kung, 321-22).
The idea that an apostle has some sort of inherent, boundless authority does not come from the New Testament. Henry Nouwen got it right when, in his little book, In the Name of Jesus, he wrote, “Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead.” Those who are preoccupied with governing, rather than serving, are not apostles of Christ.
Misconception #3
“Apostle” is a Title to be Worn in Front of One’s Name
At no place in the New Testament is “apostle” placed in front of someone’s name as a title. Although Paul, at times, identified himself as an apostle in the introductory part of his letters, in normal conversation he was never known as “Apostle Paul.” Paul refers to himself numerous times in his letters and always by his name, “Paul.” When he refers to other apostles, such as Peter, James or John, he does so by merely mentioning their name, and never with any title in front. Paul’s favorite word for describing himself and his ministry is diakonos, a word that referred to a servant and had no associations of authority, dignity, or honor.
In Acts, Luke mentions Paul by name more than 120 times and not once does he say “Apostle Paul,” but merely “Paul.” In 2 Peter 3:14, Peter refers to our beloved brother Paul. In Rev. 1:9, John the apostle, in his letter to the churches, refers to himself as your brother and companion in tribulation.
This obvious avoidance of titles is understandable in light of the words of Jesus in Matt. 23:6-12 where He warned his disciples about adopting titles that would set themselves apart from other believers.
But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called “teacher,” for you have one Teacher, the Christ.
A title may be appropriate if it serves some practical purpose such as helping those in an organization understand a leader’s role and responsibility within that organization; but the handing out and the adopting of honorific titles that serve no purpose except to give status and prestige flies in the face of the spirit of the New Testament and the words of Jesus Himself.
Misconception #4
A Second Apostolic Age Began in 2001
This claim is made on a prominent apostolic website. The Bible, however, says nothing about a Second Apostolic Age or, for that matter, a First Apostolic Age. As I point out in the “Conclusion” below, the word “apostolic” is not even found in the Bible. Although the New Testament speaks of the “age to come,” this new era is inaugurated by the coming of Christ, not by an elite company of apostles.
This sort of grandiose pronouncement is disturbingly similar to claims of past individuals and movements and is indicative of an unhealthy elitism. Throughout church history, there have been individuals who declared the dawning of new eras and dispensations, but none proved to be true. I am reminded, in particular, of a 16th century apostolic movement in Europe that had many similarities with the modern movement, including the claim that it represented the dawning of a new age.
During the Reformation, particularly the period of 1517-1537, individuals began to arise proclaiming themselves to be special end-time apostles and prophets endowed by God with miraculous power to usher in His kingdom upon the earth. Dissatisfied with the supposed limited reforms of major reformers such as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, they launched forth with misguided zeal to bring about the restoration of their vision of New Testament Apostolic Christianity.
One of the most prominent of these “apostles” was Melchoir Hoffman, a powerful preacher and teacher who gained a large following. His status was further enhanced when a prophetess announced a vision she had seen in which many swan were swimming in a lake, with one large, beautiful white swan that stood out from all the rest. She said it was revealed to her that the large, beautiful swan represented Hoffman and that he was the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5 where God said, Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
Emboldened by such prophecies, Hoffman began ordaining others to the apostolic office, including Obe Philips, and commissioned them to ordain others as well to the apostolic office. Later, after this movement disintegrated with much agony, suffering, and death, Philips wrote a very moving account in which he clearly delineated how pride and arrogance opened himself and others to be deceived by the sensational prophecies that came forth predicting great success and world-wide dominion for them and their movement.
In the meantime, Hoffman moved to the city of Strassburg based on prophecies that said he would be imprisoned for preaching in that city. The prophecies also said that after six months he would be released and would depart Srassburg with 144,000 true apostles endowed with such miraculous power that no one would be able to resist them, and that their ministry would spread over the whole earth and usher in a new age of the kingdom.
The first part of the prophecy was fulfilled when Hoffman was arrested and imprisoned for preaching in Strassburg. However, the second part of the prophecies never came to pass and he died in prison a very disillusioned man. In his account of these events, Philips said, “Everything that he so boldly professed from the prophets and prophetesses, he, in the end, found it all falsehood and deception” (Philips, 221).
In spite of Hoffman’s experience, another group of apostles set off another tangent--seeking to set up the New Jerusalem in the city of Munster (Germany). Spurred on by dreams, visions, and prophecies, these apostles led a group of armed men and took the Catholic city of Munster by force. They renamed it the New Jerusalem and declared that from here the kingdom of God would spread over the whole earth.
Their time in the New Jerusalem, however, was short lived for the Catholics quickly regrouped, overpowered the apostles and their followers, and regained control of the city. They wasted no time executing the apostles (of which two claimed to be Enoch and Elijah) and slaughtering the people who had followed them. Philips tells of walking in the midst of these friends and acquaintances, whose bodies lay scattered and dismembered on the hillside. He wrote, “See, dear friends, how we have here the beginning and end of both Elijah and Enoch with their commissions, visions, prophecies, dreams, and revelations.”
In his very moving account of this 16th century apostolic movement, Philips bares his heart and tells how he and others were so distressed and disillusioned at the annihilation of their utopian dreams, and at the suffering and deaths of their companions. He obviously took personal responsibility for the disaster, and wrote,
And when I still think of the resigned suffering which occurred among the brethren my soul is troubled and terrified before it. At the time I took leave of these brethren I had warned Menno and Dietrich and declared my [apostolic] commission unlawful and that I was therein deceived. I wanted to free my soul in confession of this before God, acknowledging my guilt and deception. I thank the blessed, gracious, and merciful God with all His mercy, who opened my eyes, humbled my soul, transformed my heart, captured my spirit and my downcast mind and soul, and who gave me to know my sins. I shall be silent about all the false commissions, prophecies, visions, dreams, revelations, and unspeakable spiritual pride which immediately from the first hour stole in among the brethren (Philips, 224).
It has been said that “one thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history,” because we keep repeating the same mistakes. This 16th century prophetic movement highlights the need to "test the spirits" and to judge prophetic utterances according to the Scriptures. For the most part, these were sincere, seeking people who suffered much pain, grief and even death because they neglected this Biblical admonition. It also highlights the need to nurture the attitude of a diakonos (servant) and to avoid the temptation to think too highly of ourselves when God chooses to bless us and use us. May we learn from their example and not repeat their mistakes.
Misconception #5
Apostles (along with prophets) are the Foundation of the Church
This may be the most serious misconception and is based on a faulty reading of Eph. 2:20 where Paul tells the Ephesian believers that they are being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets . . .. In the Greek, “apostles and prophets” is in the genitive case, the case which shows possession. It is like saying “the car of John Doe.” Although the car and John Doe are related, it does not follow that the car is John Doe or that John Doe is the car.
In the same way, it does not follow that the foundation is identical with the apostles and prophets or that the apostles and prophets are identical with the foundation. Paul is actually referring to the foundation which is laid by the apostles and prophets as is borne out in his 1st letter to the Corinthian Church; a church that he, as an apostle, had founded. In my article, “The Church’s One Foundation,” I show why Paul, in this passage, is most likely referring to the Old and New Testaments and their testimony of Jesus Christ (http://www.eddiehyatt.com/article12.html).
In 1 Cor. 3:10-11, Paul refers to his founding of the church at Corinth and says, I have laid the foundation and another builds on it. What foundation did Paul lay for the church in Corinth? It was certainly not himself, for he says in vs. 11, For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ. The foundation of Paul the apostle in Corinth was Jesus Christ.
This coincides with Jesus’ response to Peter’s revelation of Him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God in Matt. 16:13-18. The Greek word for Peter is petros and, with a play on words, Matthew has Jesus saying to Peter, You are petros (a small rock or pebble), and on this petra (a large massive stone) I will build my Church. The foundation on which Jesus said he would build His Church was not a little rock like Peter, but the massive foundation stone which is the revelation of who He is, i.e., Himself.
There is an old hymn entitled “The Church’s One Foundation” The first stanza begins, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord . . ..” Those who would claim a foundation for the Church other than Jesus Christ are in serious error.
Conclusion:
Finding the True Meaning of “Apostolic”
The word “apostolic,” meaning “of” or “like” the apostles, is not found in the Bible. No one in the New Testament described their ministry as “apostolic.” None of the apostles set themselves up as examples and encouraged the people to be like them. In fact, it was the very opposite. When Peter and John ministered healing to the cripple man in Acts 3 and a crowd gathered looking upon Peter and John in amazement and awe, Peter answered, Why look so intently at us as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? He then proceeded to point the people’s attention away from themselves to Christ. This is typical of the New Testament, which is Christ-centered from beginning to end.
The disciples of the Lord were first called Christians by unbelievers in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because their lives and their message were so centered on Christ. “Christian,” meaning “of” or “like” Christ seemed an appropriate designation for those earliest followers of Jesus. Yes, Paul in I Corinthians 11:1, said Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ; but we must remember that Paul did not have New Testaments, books, or DVDs to leave with people in the places where he preached. He could only leave them a memory of how he had conducted himself in their midst. The example he left for them was that he was a follower, or imitator, of Christ. To the Colossians, who had lost their focus on Christ and were being led astray by the pursuit of esoteric experiences and knowledge, Paul calls them back to a focus on Christ, reminding them that they are complete in Christ and that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3, 9-10). This centrality of Christ was also highlighted in the vision John saw of Jesus standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands, which represented the churches, declaring, I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of death and hell. (Revelation 1:17-18).
I am convinced that what the Church needs in the 21st century is not an “Apostolic Reformation” but a “Jesus Revolution.” We must cease drawing attention to ourselves and return to the Christocentric mission and message of the New Testament Church. This is what C. S. Lewis was referring to when he said,
The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men to Christ, to make them little christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time” (Lewis, 167).
As we commit ourselves anew to the mission and message of the New Testament that is centered in Jesus Christ, we will find His Holy Spirit empowering us in ways we never dreamed; for the Holy Spirit is here to lift up Jesus (John 16:13). We will find that church is not defined by a particular structure or order, but by the words of Jesus Himself who, in Matthew 18:20, said, For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. This gathering might be in a cathedral, but it might be in a home, a coffee shop, or an open field. What determines its validity as a church is not the kind of order they practice or the kind of building in which they meet, but the fact that they have been led together by the Holy Spirit to worship and honor the name of Christ. As the Church in the 21st century lives out this reality, only then will she be like those apostles of old and only then will she truly be “apostolic.”



Works Cited
Fee, Gordon D. Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991.
Harper, Michael. Let My People Grow: Ministry and Leadership in the Church. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977.
Kung, Hans. Christianity: Essence, History, and Future. New York: Continuum, 1996.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. Glasgow, England: Fount Paperbacks, 1977.
Philips, Obe. “A Confession,” Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, George H. Williams, Ed. (London: SCM Press, 1957), 206-225.
Scholer, David. “Patterns of Authority in the Early Church.” Vol. 1. Servant Leadership: Authority and Governance in the Evangelical Covenant Church. n.p.: Covenant Publ., 1993.
Streeter, B. H. The Primitive Church. New York: MacMillan, 1929.
Synan, Vinson. An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids, Chosen, 2010.
Wesleyan Theological Journal, Spring-Fall, 1988.