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September 2014

REKINDLING THE FIRE

Why the Church Needs Living Apostles, Prophets, Teachers and all God’s Gifts Now

By John Carter

 
When the holy fire goes out, the church grows cold. Eventually it becomes a sepulcher where are stored the skeletons of yesterday’s triumphs. Talk replaces action and politics the place of the Holy Spirit.  Today the Church in much of the Western World is on life support.
 
True evangelism is God’s way of keeping the fire burning.  Even when the fire smolders on the altar, a revival of Gospel preaching will breathe life into dying embers and members.  History shows this is true: witness the mighty display of Pentecostal power that accompanied the Gospel preaching of John Wesley.  He attacked the lame legalism of his church, and the lewd lawlessness of society with an assault of Holy Spirit anointed evangelistic sermons.  These Bible-broadsides were delivered for the most part, outdoors, to crowds of the unchurched.  Church and society in Britain were transformed.
 
“So what is true evangelism?” you ask. The word evangelism comes from the Greek New Testament word for the Gospel.  To evangelize literally means to “Gospelize.” If I am against true evangelism, it’s because I am against the Gospel.
 
“So what is the Gospel?” another interjects. The Gospel is God’s Good News.  The Gospel is not about us, it’s about Him.  It’s the amazing good news that the Creator became a man.  It’s the good news that Christ, unlike us, was without sin, but voluntarily took our sins upon Himself.  This happened on the cross when He became “sin for us.” (2 Cor. 5:21)  The Gospel is the good news that if I, a lost and condemned creature, truly trust in Him alone for salvation, I am acquitted of the charge of, “GUILTY!”  Because He took my place, my judgment, and experienced damnation for me, I am free from condemnation the moment I believe and repent. I pass from death to life.  (See Rom. 3 and Rom. 8, Good News Bible)
 
This Gospel, in spite of a million sermons to the contrary, is not good advice.  Advice tells you what to do.  News is about what someone has already done.  The Gospel is the good news that God has invaded time and space, and become my Savior.  Jesus is the only name under Heaven whereby we can be saved.  (See Acts 4:12)  This one true holy Gospel looks forward to the Great Consummation when the King of the Universe will return with power and great glory to take His people home to a place beyond the stars called Paradise. 
 
What does the Bible say about evangelism, the proclamation of God’s Good News?  Much, as you will see:
 
1.     Jesus commanded His Church to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. 
(Lk. 24:46-48, Matt. 24:14, Matt. 28:19, 20)  He didn’t command us to build hospitals, churches, schools, conference offices, or welfare centers, good and needful as those things may be. He told us to proclaim the Message of Salvation wherever men and women, boys and girls are found.  The early church had no buildings we know of, yet they conquered the mighty Roman Empire because they preached with passion the Gospel of Christ.
 
2.     People are lost without the Gospel.  “No! No!” you say, “People are saved if they live up to the light they have.”  With that viewpoint I respectfully disagree. The truth of Scripture is plain: you cannot live up to the light you have until you are saved.  Remember, you don’t have to be good to be saved, but you do need to be saved to be good.  Salvation is not found in my good works or the sincerity of my devotion.  Salvation is found in Christ alone, not in a creed and not in a religious system.  (See Rom. 10:5-15, Eph. 2:8-13,19)  Paul the great evangelist says that men and women without the Gospel of Christ are “dead in…transgressions and sins,” “by nature objects of wrath,” “separate from Christ,” “without hope and without God,” “far away,” and “foreigners and aliens.” The popular idea that these lost souls are somehow saved in darkness and ignorance without Christ is one of the blackest lies that ever came out of hell. It is an opiate that has drugged the church into a state of careless indifference. We are called to proclaim Christ’s Gospel because it is God’s means of saving the lost.  While this truth is abhorrent to the ears of the worldly wise, it is indeed the truth of God because the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
 
3.     The most important gifts God the Holy Spirit bestows upon His people are given for evangelism.
 
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.”
(1 Corinthians 12:27-31)
These gifts are available today.

•  APOSTLES: HEAVEN’S HIGHEST CALLING.

An apostle is God’s man or woman, doing God’s work in God’s way in God’s place in God’s time. The Greek word for apostle is apostolos (απόστολος) and means “one who is sent.” An apostle is therefore a man or woman on God’s mission, sent from God to search for and win the lost to Christ.  It is listed first because it is of first importance. The modern day equivalent for apostle is “missionary,” and is Heaven’s highest calling.  When and where this truth is accepted, the Church storms Satan’s strongholds and sets the captives free.

 
In the New Testament Church, the Twelve Apostles were Christ’s chosen companions, His inner circle, who later testified to the truth of His death and resurrection. Some of them, with the Apostle Paul, wrote the New Testament. Paul undoubtedly took the place of Judas, in spite of the premature judgment of impulsive Peter and the 120 disciples. (See Acts 1:15-26, where the vote is taken before the coming of the Holy Spirit.) The “Twelve” were a special group and held a unique place in the church. Other apostles, distinct and subordinate to the Twelve Apostles, included Barnabas, Apollos, Silvanus and Timothy. (See Acts 14:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:6; 1 Corinthians 4:6,9.)
 
Crudens says concerning the word apostle, “used as referring 1. Chiefly to one of the twelve disciples of Christ, Matt. 10:2; or 2. To any of the various other followers of Christ who did evangelistic work, Rom. 1:1” (emphasis mine)
 
Read that again, friend.  God still has His apostles today!
 
•  “PROPHETS” — WITH US UNTIL THE END.
 
A prophet, gift number two, in the New Testament setting is a chosen, anointed, born again believer, gifted by the Spirit to proclaim God’s Living Word and build up the church.
 
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.”  (1 Corinthians 14:1-5)
 
There are “big” prophets and the “little” prophets. The most important prophets were those who wrote the Holy Scriptures, along with Enoch, Elijah, and John the Baptist.
 
(See 2 Peter 1:21.) The Sacred Canon closed with John’s Revelation. The inspired canonical prophets include Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, Malachi, Peter, John and Paul. Two mighty prophets who did not write portions of holy Scripture are Elijah and John the Baptist, almost in a class by themselves.  Lesser prophets mentioned in the New Testament include Agabus, Judas and Silas. (See Acts 13:1, 15:32, 21:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29-31.) The great radio broadcaster HMS Richards talks about Pedan The Prophet in his book for preachers, “Feed My Sheep.” This obscure but important character proclaimed God’s Word many years ago when the Papacy ruled the world and persecuted the saints of God.  Prophets may appear when least expected and shake us out of our comfort zone.  They will be with us until Christ returns for His people.
 
And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.” (Joel 2:28-30)
 
If we learn anything from the history of Israel and the Church, it is that God sends prophets but His professed followers too often fail to recognize them and thus reject their message.
 
But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” (Matthew 17:12)
 
I therefore ask the pertinent question, “If apostles and prophets are the first two gifts in order of importance and if these gifts endure to the end of time, where are God’s apostles and prophets today? Could it be we are quenching the Holy Spirit?”
 
God’s apostles and prophets are not spineless armchair generals.  Certainly they are not power hungry, overfed and under-read clergyman, “fox hunting parsons,” such as plagued the church in Wesley’s day.  They are fighting soldiers of the cross, not hirelings who lead the troops from behind.  They are out front where the battle rages the fiercest, preaching the Word and doing the work of evangelism.
 
Seventh in God’s hierarchy of spiritual gifts is administration, not in any way to be disparaged. Indeed administration is God’s glue that holds all the gifts together and coordinates the progress of the church. Worth repeating are Bill Hybels words, “Not all leaders are administrators and not all administrators are leaders.” Woe unto the church when God’s order of spiritual gifts is violated by manmade laws and the apostles and prophets are stoned or crucified. 
 
Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.” (Matthew 23:34)
 
It is tragic that many have turned God’s program on its head, and relegated evangelism to the basement, sometimes to the dungeon.  Evangelists are a dying breed, and in the Western World so is the Church.  It will take a mighty spiritual revolution to change things.  Churches have an almost overwhelming tendency to settle down in complacency and go the path of least resistance.
 
Individuals can make a powerful difference.  Around the world there are no monuments to committees.  God uses people, not vast corporations of religious power.  One person, clothed with the spirit and power of Elijah, can shake up the system and change the world.  God did it with Luther, Knox, Wesley, and Ellen White.  He can do it again.  He will do it again.
 
You could be His special person for this tremendous hour.  God has your name on one of His spiritual gifts.  Evangelism started the Christian Church; it most certainly will finish God’s Work in these Last Days.

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