Thursday, June 30, 2016

What Is APEST?

[This is the second in a series. If you haven't read the first please do so before continuing. It is short.]

APEST is an acronym for the gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher.

My views on this topic are heavily influenced by Neil Cole's book Primal Fire, especially Chapter 6. He lists seven characteristics that distinguish the Ephesians passage from the others mentioned in my previous post:

1. The source of the gifts in Ephesians is Jesus rather than the Holy Spirit.
2. The gifts mentioned in Ephesians are people rather than abilities.
3. All the gifts mentioned in the other passages have diverse and unique effects that they cause, but the gifts in Ephesians have a singular and unified effect: They equip the saints to do the work of service.
4. The recipient of the gifts listed in Ephesians is the church rather than individual believers.
5. The gifts mentioned in Ephesians are said to measure up to Christ and are given to bring the church to the full measure of Christ. We believe this makes the list comprehensive.
6. The APEST gifts are more like a calling (vocation) than the other gifts, which emphasize individual service and placement. They are roles to be filled in a person's life rather than a special ability to add to one's life.
7. The intent of the APEST gifts is the equipping of all the saints so that everyone grows to represent Christ completely. Therefore, we assume, there must be a comprehensive nature to them. (Primal Fire, p. 89)

So these gifts (APEST) are mature saints that equip less mature saints for servanthood. Maturity, individually as well as corporately, is the goal. So are there identifiable stages or phases? Cole continues, "There are three phases to our participation in Ephesians 4:1-6. We have a calling (4:1) that grants us a ministry (4:12), but not all will mature to become equippers (4:12). We all need equippers, but not everyone will become one." (ibid., p. 91)

He has this to say about our spiritual development: "Our maturity in Christ can typically be seen in three phases of development, which the apostle John depicts as children, young men (or sons), and fathers (1 John 2:12-14). We might also view these phases as a gender-neutral progression of roles: believer, disciple, equipper." He then includes this graph:

(ibid., p. 92)

Combining his ideas with those of Wolfgang Simpson and Alan Hirsch (ibid., p. 84) I have come up with this graph:

My understanding is that every Christian needs to be apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, caring (pastoral), and didactic. (Although I don't have time to develop it here I believe that Scripture would bear this out.) These do not come naturally anymore than a child being potty trained. For example, if you attend a liberal arts college there are basic courses everyone must take regardless of your major. So it is in the spiritual realm. Christians should learn certain skills.

As we mature we will gravitate toward a ministry corresponding to one of these five. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 we see a list of ministries, one of which is prophet. Verse 29 points out that not all Christians are prophets. However, in 14:1 Paul says that we should all prophesy. What gives? Prophesying is at the first level, something every Christian can learn how to do. A prophet is at the second level. Philip was an evangelist. His daughters were prophetesses. These are legitimate ministries in and of themselves without the need to perform the equipping role.

As apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers mature, they can become gifts to the church as equippers. The 411 prefix to these roles on my graph refer to Ephesians 4:11. (Much more could be said here but I refer you back to Neil's book.)

I believe we can see the phases in Paul's life. Paul spent time in the church in Antioch. I believe he learned the basics there. Later he was sent out into ministry with Barnabas as an apostle. Later in his life he began equipping full-scale in a school in Ephesus.

I encourage you to buy and read Neil's book, Primal Fire. I am so sold on it that I am offering a money-back guarantee. If you will notify me that you have bought this book on my recommendation I will refund your money if you are not satisfied.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Are You Sure You Understand Spiritual Gifts?

From my perspective there are two major mistakes Christians make when reading Scripture. The first is taking scriptures out of their context. Someone once said that taking a text out of context can be used as a pretext for anything. Consider these three Scriptures: “Judas went out and hanged himself”; “Go and do thou likewise”; “What thou doeth do quickly.” Do you see the problem or did you already follow these instructions? Another example is when well-meaning people quote Philippians 4:13 as support for their belief that they can accomplish anything they want, even to the winning of sporting events. If they had only read it in context, Philippians 4:10-13, they would see that they have misunderstood the passage.

The second major mistake is totally relying on English translations. This can sometimes be ameliorated by reading several different translations but what if most of them make the same mistake? Too often different Greek words are translated by the same English word thereby obscuring their meaning. My favorite passage to demonstrate this is John 21:15-17. In this passage, according to most translations, Jesus asks Peter the same question three times—do you love Me—and Peter give the same response three times—I love You. Yet the third time it says Peter was grieved by the third question. Why? One would have to assume that Peter is grieved at being asked the same question all three times. But making that assumption would be in error. There are two different Greek words involved that are both translated as “love” in most translations. Jesus begins with a stronger word for love and Peter responds with a weaker word. Although these may not fully express all the nuances of the two words I will use the words “love” and “like.”

Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
Peter: You know that I like You.
Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
Peter: You know that I like You.
Jesus: Peter, do you like me?
Peter was grieved that the third time He asked, “Do you like Me?”
Peter: Lord, You know that I like You.
See the difference?

Now in applying this to spiritual gifts, too many Christians find various lists of gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; Ephesians 4:11; and 1 Peter 4:10-11) and proceed to compile them into one aggregate list. This violates both principles mentioned above: the lists are ripped out of their contexts and no consideration is given to the fact that several different Greek words (Strong’s numbers 5486, 4152, 1325, 1390, etc.) are used in these passages but are all translated the same as “give” or “gift.” Therefore, I believe that each passage should be studied individually to determine how they should apply to our lives, not lumped into one big list. After all, we are talking about four different epistles, written to four different groups of Christians, addressing four different sets of issues.

I want to focus especially on Ephesians 4. I will do that in my next post called What Is APEST?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Foundation of the Church

Recently, on Facebook, I saw a discussion about the foundation of the church. In Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul says, “Consequently, y’all are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone [NIV with “y’all” added to reflect second person plural].” Since the foundation was/is built by the apostles and prophets, is this something entirely past or do we still need apostles and prophets to lay the foundation today? There were responses on both sides of the question.

In 1 Corinthians 3:10-12 Paul says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ [NIV].” Note that in the last sentence Paul says, “For no one can lay…” indicating a present reality. He then goes on to say, “…the one already laid…” indicating past tense. As this passage points out Jesus Christ is the proper foundation of the church. The apostles and prophets of the first century clearly laid this foundation under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. So is there a present need for apostles and prophets to lay the foundation?

In Romans 15:20 Paul says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation [NIV].” This shows that there is a present need for the foundation (Jesus) to be laid by apostles and prophets in each and every place among each and every people group where it has not yet been laid. It will not be a different foundation than that laid in the first century but the same one in a different place in a different time among different people. It is easy to see where this would apply to many areas where people have currently not heard the gospel. But does it apply in the United States today as well? I would say so because there are people groups in this country who have either not heard the gospel or who have only heard a perversion of it. So to construct a household of God among them, a proper foundation must first be laid.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Evangelism vs. Missionary Work

Hebrews 1:1-2
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (NIV)
John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

Recently I posted the following on Facebook:

For years American Christians have viewed sharing the gospel in America as "evangelism" and in the rest of the world as "missionary work." What we have to wrap our heads around is that NOW it's ALL "missionary work"--even in America.

Several people commented that they thought the two are the same. So I said I would elaborate in a blog post. So here goes.

Our two scriptures above shed some light on the matter. The first verse of Hebrews said that God spoke through the prophets from time to time. That’s how most people do evangelism: from time to time. Let me state up front that my next example is to be explanatory, not critical.

Some Christians, as a part of their ministry, leave their nice, comfortable homes once a week and go to minister to people in an inner-city slum area. After the ministry they go back to their nice, comfortable homes. Then next week they repeat the process. This is evangelism.

Verse two of Hebrews says that in “these last days” (as an aside, note that eschatological terminology) He spoke through His Son. To accomplish this Jesus came to earth and “made His dwelling among us” (or as John 1:14 is rendered in The Message, “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”).

It was through the incarnation that Jesus spoke to us. He came and dwelled among us. This is missionary work—not a weekly visit but full-time “doing life” with the people we are trying to reach. It is very expensive because it costs you everything. However, Jesus requires nothing less.

Jerome and Shanna Crawford are missionaries to Sierra Leone, West Africa. Shanna had this to say about missionary work: “I believe a missionary leaves his friends and family to share the gospel in a place that is not his home.” That’s it!

But you don’t have to leave the United States to do this. Suppose that instead of leaving your comfortable home for a weekly visit to the slums you actually move into the slums and live among the people you want to reach. As radical as that may sound, it is far less than what your Savior did.

Paul said,

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV)

Have you ever noticed that the church in Antioch was different from Jerusalem, the Galatian churches from Antioch, and the Ephesian church from the Galatian churches? The reason is that they were missional-incarnational churches. Paul visited these latter places (missional) and planted the seed of the gospel within the local culture (incarnational). The church that resulted contained both the DNA of the gospel as well as the DNA of the culture, just as a child carries DNA from both parents.

Paul visited each city, studied the culture, and then approached people with the gospel in a way that would be meaningful to them. A clear example was in Athens, Greece (Acts 17:16-34). Paul saw all the gods for whom they had altars including one to “The Unknown God.” He saw that they enjoyed philosophical discussions so he went to the place where this took place. Then he shared with them in a culturally relevant way about the God who was the Lord of all.

To reach even America with the gospel we need to go beyond building buildings and inviting people to come. Many today are open to Jesus but want to have nothing to do with the church—whether through ignorance or past experience. We need to go to them and then “show and tell” the gospel in a way that they can and will receive.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Submission versus Obedience

There’s a lot of controversy over these two concepts in the Christian world. Does submission require obedience? Or is it possible to submit without obeying? Consider this event recorded in Acts:

Acts 5:27-42
27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (NIV)

Here we see both submission and yet disobedience to the Sanhedrin. They submitted by not resisting the punishment for their disobedience. It is possible to both submit to authorities and yet disobey them. The disobedience should be for the right reason, however. Consider this:

1 Peter 2:20-21
20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (NIV)

This was the way of the disciples. A modern day example was Martin Luther King, Jr.