The Gospel and the True Apostle
“The first preachers did not go up and down the world, proclaiming an elaborate, artificial system of difficult doctrines and deep principles. They made it their first business to tell men great plain facts. They went about telling a sin-laden world that the Son of God had come down to earth, and lived for us, and died for us, and risen again. The Gospel, at its first publication, was far simpler than many make it now. It was neither more nor less than the history of Christ.”
“Preaching that cannot make the devil growl is worth very little. He preaches only a little truth if the old lion is not roaring against him.”
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Eph 4:11)
Days of Restoration?
This is the day and age of restoration of apostolic truth! Well at least that’s what certain preachers tell us. According to them, God is restoring the five fold ministry of Eph 4:11 and the church is to once more have active apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
The theory goes like this: At the Reformation, God began to restore the church but the restoration is not yet complete. This is evident because we have pastors, evangelists and teachers but where are the prophets and apostles? God is now completing the work of restoration and in these Last Days is giving back apostles and prophets to His Church.
This, by the way, is by no means new thinking. The very same message was taught in 1774. At an associational meeting of Separate Baptists in Virginia, they resolved that all of the offices of Ephesians 4:11, including those of apostle and prophet were for today’s church and appointed certain people to fill them.” They proceeded to elect Elder Samuel Harriss as an apostle and ordained him to this office. At a later meeting, John Waller and Elijah Craig were also appointed as apostles. However, within a year the whole affair had fizzled out. (see History of the Baptists in Virginia (p.80-82) by Robert Baylor Semple.)
Furthermore, in the 1830’s, in England, the Irvingites (properly know as The Catholic Apostolic Church), established Apostles to oversee their churches. Other groups, such as the ‘Two by Two Preachers’ or ‘Cooneyites’, tried the same restoration early in the 1900’s. In addition, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the Latter Rain Movement claimed to have restored genuine apostles to the center of Church life and now at time of writing there are numerous groups of apostles vying for our loyalty and, at times, submission.
If we, therefore, have apostles in this generation it would behoove us to see what genuine apostolic ministry looks like. We would do well to look at the Bible standard for New Testament apostles and measure the modern day apostles accordingly. “We report you decide!”
Paul was, without doubt, the greatest Apostle, apart from Christ Jesus. In 1 Cor. 1:17-18, describing something of true apostolic ministry, he writes,
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
Was Paul writing this on a slow day when there was not much ‘apostleing’ going on? Had he taken off his apostle’s hat when he penned those lines? No, on the contrary, in these verses we discover the heart of genuine and true apostolic ministry. We see that a true Apostle centers his ministry in and on the Gospel embracing it as the very power of God.
Paul makes no secret of the role of a genuine apostle. He reminds the Corinthians of the nature of the apostolic message saying,
"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 1 Cor. 2:2.
Many have, incorrectly, taught that the Corinthians were such babies, he had to preach the simplicity of the cross. Had the Church been matured he could have preached ‘deep things’ to them. But, the truth is quite the opposite; Paul had nothing deeper to teach than the Gospel. Adolph Saphir wrote;
“To know Jesus Christ and Him crucified is not the minimum of knowledge but the maximum of knowledge; that to know “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” is not to know little but to know all; that here is not a descent from a loftier region, but an elevation into the highest sanctuary; that in “Jesus Christ and him crucified” all doctrines, all God’s teachings, and man’s experiences culminate; and from “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” all duties, all works, all ministries are to emanate and to be evolved.”
Adolph Saphir: Christ Crucified: Cpt 1, The Center of the Gospel.
As an Apostle, Paul had no more profound message that Christ and the cross. In fact, in Christ we find the entire five fold ministry of Eph 4:11. Jesus was:
The apostle, Hebrews 3:1
The prophet, Matthew 21:11
The evangelist, Lk 19:10
The pastor/shepherd, John 10:11
The teacher, Matthew 7:29
Furthermore, when Paul determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified he determined to bathe his hearers in the fullness of God. As an apostle, Paul knew that Christ was both the power and wisdom of God (1Cor 1:24). There was, therefore, no more profound an apostolic message than the Gospel. Far from being only for beginners, Paul goes on to explain that the knowing and preaching of Christ crucified was, “the demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:4). As a result of Gospel preaching, their faith would stand, “in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5). The Gospel was, therefore, not merely for beginners but for the building up of all believers to whom he ministered.
Paul, of course proclaimed the Gospel evangelistically (1 Cor 4:15) but as an Apostle his burden was also to establish believers in the faith. This apostolic ministry of establishing, however, was accomplished through the preaching of the Gospel. He writes,
“Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:” (Rom 16:25).
According to this scripture, the Gospel establishes believers. It is the Gospel of Christ which makes the believer stable, steady and established. Paul tells the Corinthians the same thing when he writes,
“Now he which establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; (2 Cor 1:21).
Mark it down, we are established in Christ and no where else!
So today, it is the Gospel of Christ that is the primary force in establishing and confirming the people of God. The Gospel will build Christians and make them sturdy, thus the Gospel is the heart of apostolic ministry! It is when the Gospel is ministered to believers that they find Christ to be precious and the road to holiness, spiritual strength and godly character is discovered.
But of course, many people did not receive the Gospel. They could see no beauty in Christ. Paul says in 1 Cor 1:21,
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
Whereas, the unsaved laugh at the Gospel and are unconvinced, the genuine believer sees it as both the power and wisdom of God. Being the power and wisdom of God, Paul knew better than to restrict the Gospel to evangelistic meetings.
The Gospel is the power of the all-powerful God: So just how powerful is Omnipotence? The Gospel is also the wisdom of the all-wise God: So just how wise is Omniscience? We can not express or fathom such things: But this we know, the power of the Omnipotent and the wisdom of the Omniscient are bound up and manifest in the Gospel. A true apostle knows this and would, therefore, never take believers away from the centrality of Jesus the Christ.
The Folly of Leaving Jesus for the ‘Deep Things’ of God!
It is sad to say, the Gospel is often rejected in many of our Churches. Indeed, the appeal of many modern day ‘apostles’ is to move into the ‘deep revelations’ of God. “We must move on to the deep things of God,” they say as they hurriedly turn to Hebrews 6:1 and following verses. “See what it says,” they declare with full confidence, “It says,”
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ let us go unto perfection not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms and the laying on of hands and of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment.”
Yes indeed, that is exactly what we should do! We are called to go on to perfection and a thorough reading of Hebrews shows us that Christ and His new covenant are the perfection spoken of.
Hebrews, as you remember, was written to Jewish believers who were thinking of going back to Judaism. The writer urges them not to take that wretched backward step. He exhorts them to put the entire imperfect Old Covenant thinking behind them and move fully into the New Covenant, a better and superior covenant. He tells them,
“The law made nothing perfect but the bringing in of a better hope did” (Heb 7:19).
The book of Hebrews is a call to get immersed into Christ our Gospel. In Christ, we have a full revelation of the mind, will and purpose of God (Heb 1:1-2). In Christ, we encounter the very person of God (Jn 14:9). The Old Testament merely pointed towards the Christ but now, in Jesus, we have left the shadows of the Old Testament and have embraced the substance, the fulfillment of all the types and shadows. The Old Covenant was flawed in that,
“ the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect” (Heb 10:1)
But Christ Jesus, by His one all-sufficient offering of Himself, has "perfected forever", them whom God has set apart (Heb 10:14).
We are told, therefore, to leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ. Note, it is the principles of the doctrine of Christ we are to leave and not Christ Himself. The word translated ‘principles’ is the Greek word ‘arche’ which means beginnings or origins. Therefore when we are called to leave the beginnings of the doctrine of Christ we are called to leave the origins and first principles of the Gospel and move into the Gospel itself. These beginnings of the Gospel were found in the Old Testament shadows, types and ritual sacrifices. In fact, this entire catalogue of doctrines presented in these verses of Hebrews 6 is found in the Old Testament. The real giveaway comes when the writer says, “doctrine of baptisms”. According to the New Testament we have but one baptism, not many (Eph 4:5). Furthermore, the word translated as ‘baptisms’ is literally the word for washings (baptismos). These baptisms refer, therefore, to the ceremonial washings under the Law of Moses.
Leave the Old Covenant and get into the Gospel is the message of Heb 6:1-2! Many modern day preachers and apostles have reversed this, teaching we should do the very opposite. According to them, the Gospel is for beginners and now we must move into the deep things of God by the Spirit. God has a deeper work for you by the Spirit they say. But how is this possible? How can God have a deeper work for us than the work which is already finished and complete? How can the Spirit take us away from the One whom He has been sent to magnify? We should ask, therefore, when we are offered any new and ‘deeper work’, will this work of the Spirit take me nearer to the Christ of the Cross or will it once more make me, my life, condition and experience the center of my focus? Anything, which makes my experience, feelings or me the core of my Christian life, must be shunned as sub-standard.
There is no deeper work of God than the Christ event, the Gospel. There is no more profound experience than Christ’s experience on our behalf. How do we improve upon being complete in Christ and blessed with all spiritual blessings in Him? (Note: For a full study and exposition of the meaning of these verses in Hebrews 6 one can do no better than consult, Arthur Pink: Exposition of Hebrews, Chapter 23.)
The Gospel and the Cross
But back to the first chapter of 1 Corinthians! Notice how Paul equates the preaching the Gospel and the preaching of the cross of Christ. He writes,
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:17-18).
There can, therefore, be no fullness of Gospel preaching without the preaching of the cross!
Three Powers of God?
Notice also how scripture designates Christ, the Cross and the Gospel as the power of God. In 1 Cor 1:24 we read of, “Christ the power of God,” and in 1 Cor 1:18 the “preaching of the cross” is also declared the power of God. Furthermore, in Rom 1:16 we see “the Gospel of Christ” likewise deemed to be the power of God. Does this mean there are three powers of God? Certainly not! Paul, having been sent to preach the Gospel, preached Christ and Him crucified. This was and is the apostolic message! Let those who claim to be today’s apostles measure themselves by this standard! Are they Christ centered preachers of the cross?
A true apostle preaches the Christ of the cross. This kind of preaching, however, offends many and causes yet others to stumble. It is a far cry from much of the preaching of today which insists that everyone must be made comfortable and welcome. Although our desire should not be to deliberately offend, if we are really preaching the Gospel, our message will bring offense to many. However, God’s people will see in it the Power and Wisdom of God and as such will grow in their salvation. A great English preacher of another generation said it like this,
“The gospel is a fan that will separate the chaff from the wheat. The Pharisees and philosophers get but little hope from me, and will, therefore, seek more flattering preaching elsewhere.”
(William Tiptaft: Letters of William Tiptaft)
He further states,
“I cut down false religion, and exalted Christ, to the great offense of the pious Pharisees. Flesh and blood are not changed, and where the gospel is faithfully preached there will be the same consequences as in the time of our Savior and the apostles.”
He certainly would not be invited many places today with this following attitude;
“I am offensive in my preaching; I do not try to smooth it and make it palatable.”
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