Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 7 May 2017

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Wanting a Sign

 

Some people came up to Jesus, saying to him: “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you” (Matthew 12:38). And what they meant was: “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you” – maybe you can multiply food for us or heal someone. These people knew Jesus and they knew his reputation for performing signs and wonder. They honoured Jesus by calling himTeacher”. But Jesus not only denied their request but attacked them with fierce words: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign” (Matthew 12:39).

 

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This was a clearno”. But is itwicked and adulterousto want a miracle from Jesus – a miraculous sign? This morning (in this worship service), do you want something from Jesus that only he can do? For instance, is it wrong to come here for healing in Jesus’ name? Is it a sign of a corrupt heart that we rejoice in the glory glitter and ask for demonstrations of the Spirit’s power in the preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified (as we have written in big letters on the wall up front and we have it staight from the Bible – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5)? Is it wrong to ask for miracles?

There are plenty of Christians that would blow this kind of trumpet. We should be happy with safe and sound church traditions and follow them (just do everything in the right way even when the traditions seem to have become lifeless – repetitious words and actions without power), and not want the excitement of God doing wonderful things in the worship service or during the week. The heart of this criticism comes out in another passage in Matthew:

 

Matthew 14:34-15:2: When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

 

Any sick person that simply touched Jesus’ garment was healed, and all the sick came and everyone was being healed. But the religious leaders did not make a trip from Jerusalem to Jesus to find out and share in the joy of these life-changing miracles. They travelled all the way up to Galilee – that’s over one hundred kilometres and quite a journey by foot or sitting on a donkey – to bring up an issue to Jesus that really had their emotions churning inside of them. “Jesus, why do your disciples break our tradition of washing hands before eating?”

When this happens, you don’t know whether you should laugh or cry. Is this what is really important right now? Miracles happen. The kingdom is being preached. God is showing his hand, and you worry about not washing with ordinary water before a meal? Even if this was an oversight, can’t you see that God’s favour is on the whole movement with Jesus? Are you blind?

This is not in the same category but I have been taken completely by surprise by the charge against Lutheran Renewal and last year’s renewal conference at Mt Barker. There has been no (official) engagement with anything that we have said or that people have experienced – (be it holy laughter, falling down under the power of the Spirit, healings, and becoming free of unclean spirits). Instead, there has been the complaint that Rolland Baker, John Alley and (by association) Lutheran Renewal are involved in NAR (sounds like a nasty virus, cf. SARS). One pastor even claimed that NAR is behind Lutheran Renewal. I did not know how to respond to the charge because I had never even heard of NAR. Have you? It stands for New Apostolic Reformation.

The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is actually not an organization, network or constituted movement. You cannot join a NAR membership roll. The name was created by Peter Wagner to describe (to give a name to) something that he was observing in the world-wide Christian church. This is what he writes (see full article in the appendix):

 

The NAR is definitely not a cult. Those who affiliate with it believe the Apostles’ Creed and all the standard classic statements of Christian doctrine…

The NAR represents the most radical change in the way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation. This is not a doctrinal change. We adhere to the major tenets of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the priesthood of all believers. But the quality of church life, the governance of the church, the worship, the theology of prayer, the missional goals, the optimistic vision for the future, and other features, constitute quite a change from traditional Protestantism.

The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader. I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case. One reason I might be seen as an “intellectual godfather” is that I might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as I saw them…

The roots of the NAR go back to the beginning of the African Independent Church Movement in 1900, the Chinese House Church Movement beginning in 1976, the U.S. Independent Charismatic Movement beginning in the 1970s and the Latin American Grassroots Church Movement beginning around the same time. I was neither the founder nor a member of any of these movements, I was simply a professor who observed that they were the fastest growing churches in their respective regions and that they had a number of common characteristics.

If I was going to write about this phenomenal move of the Holy Spirit, I knew I had to give it a name. I tried “Postdenominational” but soon dropped it because of the objections of many of my friends who were denominational executives. Then, in 1994, I tested “New Apostolic Reformation.” “Reformation” because the movement matched the Protestant Reformation in world impact; “Apostolic” because of all the changes the most radical one was apostolic governance, which I’ll explain in due time; and “New” because several churches and denominations already carried the name “apostolic,” but they did not fit the NAR pattern. Other names of this movement which are more or less synonymous with NAR have been “Neopentecostal,” “Neocharismatic,” “Independent,” or “Nondenominational.”

I am rather fascinated at the lists of individuals whom the media glibly connects with the NAR. I’m sure that some of them wouldn’t even recognize the term. In many cases, however, they would fit the NAR template, but since the NAR has no membership list they themselves would need to say whether they consider themselves affiliated or not…

Apostolic governance. As I mentioned before, this is probably the most radical change. I take literally St. Paul’s words that Jesus, at His ascension into heaven, “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Most of traditional Christianity accepts evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not apostles and prophets. I think that all five are given to be active in churches today. In fact, St. Paul goes on to say, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Corinthians 12:28). This does not describe a hierarchy, but a divine order. Apostles are first in that order.

I strongly object to journalists using the adjective “self-appointed” or “self-declared” when referring to apostles. No true apostle is self-appointed. First of all, they are gifted by God for that ministry. Secondly, the gift and its fruit are recognized by peers and the apostle is “set in” or “commissioned” to the office of apostle by other respected and qualified leaders.

 

None of the Lutheran critics has yet spelled out what precisely is the problem here, but I think that there is an attack on believing that Jesus is still appointing apostles to leadership in his church world-wide. If that was the case, (in a sense) we would be guilty as charged, because the Bible teaches that the risen (!) Jesus appoints leadership in the church, including apostles:

 

Ephesians 4:7-11: But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

However, we have not made this an issue at all in this church, and I could probably not give you a comprehensive definition of what makes an apostle. This has never been a priority or problem for us at Living Grace or Lutheran Renewal. (No matter what I am – apostle, prophet, teacher, pastor or evangelist – I know that my job is to preach the Word of God.) This has never featured anywhere as being on the reform agenda. Rolland Baker and John Alley have not taught on apostles at the renewal conference. This is not at the forefront of the ministry. But the NAR tag now stops people from engaging with Jesus renewing the church. Unnecessary discussions – distractions – prevent people from humbling themselves and seeking more of God for themselves and their churches. And this is what always seems to be happening. A small insignificant side-issue seems to wipe out the greatest miracles. You find one little point of criticism (something that you do not quite understand) that makes you worried about your traditions rather than seeing God at work. (Previously, we had the following on the list of complaints: not following the traditional liturgy, falling down under the power of the Spirit, having non-Lutheran guest-preachers, the gift of speaking in tongues, the miracle of glory glitter, etc.)

And – curiously enough – it is these same people – those that had no interest in the healings by the touching of Jesus’ garment – they were the ones coming up to Jesus wanting a sign from him at other times. But both times (Matthew records two instances but there may have been more), Jesus cut them down and attacked them:

 

Matthew 12:38-39: Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign. But none will be given to it…”

 

Matthew 16:1-4: The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven… He replied, “… A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign…” Jesus then left them and went away.

 

When the religious leaders asked a second time for a miraculous sign, the Bible clarifies that they sought to test Jesus. What does this mean? They asked Jesus to prove himself. (“We are testing you.”) “Do a miracle to give us some kind of evidence that you are the chosen Saviour.” Were they wrong in making a connection between miraculous signs and proof of Jesus’ identify? No, God did precisely that in establishing that Jesus was who he said he was. When the disciples preached the first sermon after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven in Jerusalem, they reminded people of what the miracles were telling them about Jesus:

 

Acts 2:22: Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

 

John 10:37-38: Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.

 

Signs and wondersaccreditedJesus before the people. There was nothing wrong – in fact, it was needful – that people paid attention to the miraculous signs. But it was wrong for the religious leaders to demand them from Jesus when they came to him with their agenda.

What was their agenda? First of all, they wanted Jesus to fail the test. Maybe this time Jesus would fail to do anything extraordinary, and they could finally howl him down. Or he would do a miracle that could be criticized (like when he was healing people on the Sabbath which they interpreted as unlawful healing work on God’s holy day [some people today criticize when people fall backward under the power of the Spirit instead of forward]).

The religious leaders did not ask for a sign in good faith. They did not ask Jesus to help them cross the line and become followers of him. And even if Jesus did not fail the test (he never did in the past), as long as you keep asking for the next miracle, you can remainsitting on the fenceand not make a commitment to Jesus.

We may do this. God is at work in this church – testimonies abound – but we say: “Jesus, I need more from you. You healed this one, but this other person lost their job. Explain this to me. You are not passing my test(s) yet.”

Jesus doesn’t take this at all. He ripped into the religious leadership of the day, saying: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign…” It is wicked not to know your place before God and defy him despite the grace – the healings and mercy – that he does demonstrate. It isadulterouswhich means that your love is not going toward God but you love something else – either yourself (power and position) or another world view (another religion like the religious leaders before Jesus).

When the religious leaders demanded another miracle from Jesus, they tried to make him obey their wishes – jump to their tune – but Jesus’ agenda is precisely the opposite. Miracles – (and this is where we need to be careful and know what is going on) – are Jesus’ (wonderful) way to call us into obedience. Miracles are not his obedient fulfillment of our wishes but he does them to call us into obedience. When you witness a healing by all means gowow”. But know that Jesus has just called you to follow him. Miracles bless us but they are not for our entertainment but call us into obedience.

As Jesus expanded his answer to the religious leaders, his words could not be clearer:

 

Matthew 12:39-42: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it… The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

 

The people of Niniveh and the Queen of the South repented when they encountered someone sent and empowered by God, but this generation is wicked and adulterous, because Jesus is greater than all those that came before him, yet this generation does not repent.

Jesus specifically denounced and judged a lack of repentance despite plentiful miracles:

 

Matthew 11:20-24: Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.  “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

 

One day, Jesus took three disciples with him on a mountain where they experienced stupendous miracles. Jesus’ face began shining like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Elijah and Moses appeared and talked with Jesus. The bright cloud of God’s presence enveloped them. The three disciples knew that all of this was God. This is why they were terrified lying facedown on the ground. And they learned that the entire miraculous experience – all miracles – are meant to point to Jesus and ask for obedience to him. Because God the Father spoke to them from the cloud, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). God the Father accredited his Son Jesus to them in this miraculous experience, and it was all about Jesus’ identity as the beloved Son and the request to listen to him and obey him. Do we obey?

The religious leaders asked for a miraculous sign to test Jesus – (get proof of his identity) – and Jesus judged their attitude because they were not sincere and they were not humble. They had no intention to respond to any miracle with obedience. But does this mean that we can never ask for a miracle from Jesus to test something that we struggle with? Yes, we can and we do this all the time when we ask God for confirmation (miraculous confirmation – have him speak to us clearly) of where we are meant to go. This is not wicked. This is right. Because – contrary to the religious leaders – we ask for another miraculous sign to be certain about our obedience. We are committed to do what God wants and only need proof that we are listening correctly. With the right attitude and heart, we test whether we are in obedience. God gives us permission to ask for confirmation:

 

Isaiah 7:3-17: Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out … to meet Ahaz … Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.”

Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “It will not take place, it will not happen…”

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”

 

Joshua 6:33-40: Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

 

[Notice how Ahaz was careful not to test God unwittingly (but God actually grew impatient with his careful approach), and how Gideon asked for a sign twice with the approval of God.]

 

In a sense, when God confirms his directions to us with signs and speaking to us supernaturally (through visions and dreams, the still small voice of the Spirit, coincidences, etc.), he is not doing anything different from his most basic use of miracles which is to confirm to people that the Good News of peace with him through Jesus Christ is the truth. They can believe in Jesus and follow him. Jesus performs miracles willingly and abundantly (and we perform them by faith asking Jesus for them) to help us with our obedience to him.

 

Romans 15:18-19: I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

 

1 Corinthians 2:2-5: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

 

When we have an attitude of humility and are ready for obedience, Jesus is not holding back with miraculous signs, confirmations and demonstrations of his identity and will. We don’t demand that he keeps proving himself to us (when he had done that already) but we ask for help in following him and mission work.

 

When Jesus had an amazing experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit and hearing the heavenly Father’s voice audibly, he resisted testing the Father in the wilderness experience of temptation. He didn’t want to test the heavenly Father and give in to unbelief and obedience like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. His situation of struggle and hunger in the wilderness was different from the Pharisees and the Sadducees who just opposed Jesus later. This is why I did not list this kind of testing with the motives of the religious leaders earlier:

 

Matthew 3:16-17: As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

 

Matthew 4:5-7: Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

Cf. Psalm 95:9 [AMP]: When your fathers tested me, they tried me, even though they had seen my work [of miracles].

 

Deuteronomy 11:31- 14:12: But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the [miraculous] signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

Deuteronomy 14:20-23: The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors…”

 

When we demand miracles because we struggle with unbelief in hard times, God is not impressed. We are to learn trust and peaceful assurance and, from this place of faith, we expect miraculous provisions in God’s own time.

 

Jesus resisted the religious leaders when they asked for a sign to test him, but even they got something:

 

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Matthew 12:39-41: Jesus answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here…”

 

Jesus promised them thesign of Jonah”. Jonah was a man whom God called to preach repentance to the city of Niniveh but he judged the commission to be too difficult and took a ship that sailed into the opposite direction. Then God sent a storm which Jonah recognized as God’s judgement on him. He was thrown overboard into the water where he was swallowed up by a big fish. He was in the belly of the fish for three days – as good as dead – but then the fish spew him onto land – a resurrection of sorts – so that Jonah could fulfill his mission.

The Bible does not say whether the people of Niniveh knew about his three days in the belly of the fish and his miraculousresurrectionbut it could explain the rapid and complete repentance of the entire city. (A children’s cartoon version of the story speculates that Jonah still smelled like fish.) In any case, Jesus points to Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish as thesign of Jonah” (what honour for a flawed man like Jonah) which they can recognize on him because hewill be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”, foreshadowing that he will die on a cross and be buried and after three days rise again. This is meant to be thesign of Jonahthat leads them to repentance like Niniveh.

 

Jonah 1:17-2:10: Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry…”

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

 

Now I have to admit that I do not quite understand the logic of Jesus is saying. How can his death and resurrection function as thesign of Jonahto the religious leaders before him? For starters, it is still in the future. He has not yet died on the cross and then risen to life after three days. But (I guess) they can remember his words when the time is right. The bigger problem is that the risen Jesus will never appear to them directly. How can Jesus’ death and resurrection function as a sign when Jesus never meets them again as the one risen from the grave? There is never a direct proof for the religious leaders that Jesus conquered death. The disciples ate with him and touched and examined him but not the Pharisees and Sadducees. The proof of Jesus’ resurrection – the “sign of Jonah” – is rather indirect with other miraculous signs pointing to this sign:

 

Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations … And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Acts 2:1-36: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language…”

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” …

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say… Exalted to the right hand of God, Jesus has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

 

The “sign of Jonah” is still a little confusing to me (because there is no direct proof of the resurrection) but I understand one thing. Jesus tells the people that want to test him and have their own agendas that the greatest miracle is always his person. It is always all about Jesus. He suffered and died. He rose again – miraculously conquered sin, death and the devil – and in his name repentance and forgiveness of sins are preached to all nations. The sign of Jonahis his journey from death to life that is the foundation for everything else.

Jesus tells his opponents to focus on him, not other signs and wonders – achievements of another nature. And pointing to Jesus works – even today. This is getting to it from a slightly different angle but (I think) strikes the same core theme. Don’t ask for or promote church wonders that are driven by human agendas. Come back to Jesus. Come back to his person – the “sign of Jonah” that is the power of his resurrection at work in the church.

 

[Show slide.]

 

Neil Cole: Organic Church, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 4th edition, edited by Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, Pasadena: William Carey Library 2009, p643-644: While as seminary student, I was given a definition of church that was really more of a description. Church was explained as embodying these five characteristics:

 

1.       A group of believers gathered together regularly...

2.       That considers itself a church...

3.       That has qualified elders present...

4.       That regularly practices the ordinances of baptism and communion as well as church discipline...

5.       And that has an agreed-on set of doctrinal beliefs and evangelistic purpose.

 

These are all good qualities for any church to have. Most of our churches, in fact, would meet these standards. But my question was still with me, so I turned the question inside out by asking what is missing from this list of five things. Since that time, I’ve put the same list and question before a lot of groups. “What is missing?” After a few minutes of responses, I generally tell them what I think is missing if they haven’t already found it.

Jesus is missing!

One of my respected mentors, a theologian and career missionary, told me that Jesus is assumed to be in the definition because it is believers who are gathered. My response was, “Why would you verify that qualified elders are present but assume that Jesus is present?”

This assumption betrays a problem in our churches, a serious one. The church is often more about the people and the institutions that gather in the name of Jesus than it is about the reality of the risen Jesus, alive and active with His people.

Seeing Jesus – As the world looks at our churches, particularly in the West, it sees only what people have done or what programs they are doing. The world is not impressed. In response, we scheme and plot and plan, “What can we do to make our church more appealing to the people in our community?” This is, once again, the wrong question. It’s as if we we’re trying to boost God’s approval ratings. It is God’s name that is at risk, not ours, and we are not responsible for protecting His reputation. He can handle that, by Himself, just fine.

A better question is, “Where is Jesus seen at work in our midst?” Where do we see lives changing, and communities transforming simply by the power of the Gospel? Where do we see fathers restored to a life of holiness and responsibility? Where do we see daughters reconciling with fathers? Where do we see addicts who no longer live under the bondage of chemical dependency? Where are wealthy businessmen making restitution for past crimes that went unnoticed? These are the questions that lead people to recognize the living presence of Jesus, loving and governing people’s lives as their King. When people encounter Jesus, alive and present as King, they get a taste of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

If Jesus is missing in our understanding of church, He will likely be missing in our expression of church as well.

I have come to understand church as this: the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.

 

Where is Jesus seen in our midst?” This is the key. Look for thesign of Jonah”. What points to the power of Jesus and his resurrection as our Lord and Saviour whom we obey?

I come to a close. This morning, do you want something from Jesus that only he can do? Do you want a healing in his name? Do you want a touch from him?

There is a wrong way to go about asking Jesus for a sign. Awicked and adulterous generationis always asking for another sign because they want Jesus to fail or the sign to be controversial or make Jesus submit to theirtests” (insisting on unbelief and not willing to embrace a time when we are tested in our faith) or simply prolong the stage ofsitting on the fence”. The people have no interest in responding to Jesus with obedience.

But if you are serious and are looking for God (especially when you are new to the Christian faith), you can ask for a sign or confirmation of his identity and power. You expect them – dare to announce them – as you share the Good News of Jesus with others.

As a church – here at Living Grace – we have miracles all of the time and we want more of them – greater ones that make the whole city come and check out what is going on here. Jesus is not against that (on the contrary) but this morning’s Bible passage reminds us to be careful with our attitude. Are we humble and committed to obedience, and is it about Jesus? Miracles are serious business. They call us to Jesus. Are you his – completely? Amen.


 

Charisma News, 8/24/2011, http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/31851-the-new-apostolic-reformation-is-not-a-cult (accessed by 2 May 2017): The New Apostolic Reformation Is Not a Cult by C. Peter Wagner:

 

[NPR on Wednesday published an article called, “The New Apostolic Reformation: The Evangelicals Engaged in Spiritual Warfare.” The article names C. Peter Wagner as the movement’s architect and ties Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other politicians to NAR in a negative light. Wagner has been observing how the media is working to taint Christian political candidates with false notions about the NAR and wrote the following article to explain what the NAR is—and what the NAR is not.]

 

Surprisingly, the New Apostolic Reformation has recently become a topic of discussion in the political media. I noticed some mention of it in connection with Sarah Palin’s run for vice president, but I considered it relatively insignificant. Then more talk of the NAR surfaced around Michelle Bachman, but it soared to a new level when Rick Perry entered the race for the Republican nomination for President in August.

The best I can discern, the NAR has become a tool in the hands of certain liberal opponents of the conservative candidates designed to discredit them on the basis of their friendship with certain Christian leaders supposedly affiliated with the NAR. To bolster this attempt, they seek to accuse the NAR of teaching false doctrine and paste on it the label of “cult.” For example, Forgotten Word Ministries posts an article by Marsha West expressing concerns about Rick Perry’s prayer assembly in Houston on August 6, that uses the title: “Texas Governor’s Upcoming Leadership Event Includes Cult Members.”

Soon after the event, nothing less than Al-Jazeera News picked up on the theme and posted an article on the NAR under the title “America’s own Taliban.” My name comes up in most of the Internet postings on NAR, but in this one I am called the “intellectual godfather” of the movement. When I read that, I felt that I had a responsibility to attempt to bring some clarification as to what the NAR is, what are its goals, and how these goals are being implemented.

 

What Is the NAR?
The NAR is definitely not a cult. Those who affiliate with it believe the Apostles’ Creed and all the standard classic statements of Christian doctrine. It will surprise some to know that the NAR embraces the largest non-Catholic segment of world Christianity. It is also the fastest growing segment, the only segment of Christianity currently growing faster than the world population and faster than Islam. Christianity is booming now in the Global South which includes sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and large parts of Asia. Most of the new churches in the Global South, even including many which belong to denominations, would comfortably fit the NAR template.

The NAR represents the most radical change in the way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation. This is not a doctrinal change. We adhere to the major tenets of the Reformation: the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the priesthood of all believers. But the quality of church life, the governance of the church, the worship, the theology of prayer, the missional goals, the optimistic vision for the future, and other features, constitute quite a change from traditional Protestantism.

The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader. I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case. One reason I might be seen as an “intellectual godfather” is that I might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as I saw them. When this began to come together through my research in 1993, I was professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I taught for 30 years.

The roots of the NAR go back to the beginning of the African Independent Church Movement in 1900, the Chinese House Church Movement beginning in 1976, the U.S. Independent Charismatic Movement beginning in the 1970s and the Latin American Grassroots Church Movement beginning around the same time. I was neither the founder nor a member of any of these movements, I was simply a professor who observed that they were the fastest growing churches in their respective regions and that they had a number of common characteristics.

If I was going to write about this phenomenal move of the Holy Spirit, I knew I had to give it a name. I tried “Postdenominational” but soon dropped it because of the objections of many of my friends who were denominational executives.  Then, in 1994, I tested “New Apostolic Reformation.” “Reformation” because the movement matched the Protestant Reformation in world impact; “Apostolic” because of all the changes the most radical one was apostolic governance, which I’ll explain in due time; and “New” because several churches and denominations already carried the name “apostolic,” but they did not fit the NAR pattern. Other names of this movement which are more or less synonymous with NAR have been “Neopentecostal,” “Neocharismatic,” “Independent,” or “Nondenominational.”

I am rather fascinated at the lists of individuals whom the media glibly connects with the NAR. I’m sure that some of them wouldn’t even recognize the term. In many cases, however, they would fit the NAR template, but since the NAR has no membership list they themselves would need to say whether they consider themselves affiliated or not.

 

Concerns about the NAR
If the critics are using openness to NAR as a slur against conservative political candidates, they obviously need to verbalize what could be wrong with NAR in the first place. To suppose that NAR is a “cult” or that it teaches “heresy” can be attributed only to sloppy or immature journalism. All too often “heresy” has come to mean only that the person disagrees with me and my friends, but the purpose of using the word is to project guilt by association on the politician. It attempts to implant a question: Who would vote for a heretic? But there is little evidence presented that the issue in question incorporates the doctrinal unorthodoxy of a true heresy. Instead, key words are usually dropped which describe legitimate areas of disagreement among Christian theologians on the level of whether or not we baptize infants. Neither of the opposite positions on matters like this deserve to be placed in the category of heresy.

Let me review the media pieces I have collected and pick out some key words in order to clarify my position. I say “my position,” because others in NAR might not agree with me, and they are not compelled to do so. NAR has no official statements of theology or ecclesiology, although a large number of us do happen to agree upon many somewhat radical conclusions. Most of us have long track records of service within traditional Christianity, and we have needed to go through paradigm shifts to get where we are now. Keep in mind that one of the affects of every paradigm shift is that some people get pulled out of their comfort zones. One of the reasons for opposition to some of the more radical ideas of NAR is that certain people have decided not to change and they are upset with those who have chosen to change.

Apostolic governance. As I mentioned before, this is probably the most radical change. I take literally St. Paul’s words that Jesus, at His ascension into heaven, “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Most of traditional Christianity accepts evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not apostles and prophets. I think that all five are given to be active in churches today. In fact, St. Paul goes on to say, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Corinthians 12:28). This does not describe a hierarchy, but a divine order. Apostles are first in that order.

I strongly object to journalists using the adjective “self-appointed” or “self-declared” when referring to apostles. No true apostle is self-appointed. First of all, they are gifted by God for that ministry. Secondly, the gift and its fruit are recognized by peers and the apostle is “set in” or “commissioned” to the office of apostle by other respected and qualified leaders.

The office of prophet. Prophets are prominent in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. As we just saw above, apostles are first and prophets are second. Every apostle needs alignment with prophets and every prophet needs apostolic alignment. One of the reasons why both should be active in our churches today is that the Bible says, “Surely God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). And also: “Believe in the Lord your God and you shall be established; believe His prophets and you shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20). I want to prosper and I want you to prosper.

Dominionism. This refers to the desire that some of my friends and I have to follow Jesus and do what He wants. One of the things He does want He taught us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This means that we do our best to see that what we know is characteristic of heaven work its way into the warp and woof of our society here on earth. Think of heaven: no injustice, no poverty, righteousness, peace, prosperity, no disease, love, no corruption, no crime, no misery, no racism, and I could go on. Wouldn’t you like your city to display those characteristics?

But where does dominion come in? On the first page of the Bible, God told Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, etc.” (Genesis 1:28). Adam, Eve, and the whole human race were to take dominion over the rest of creation, but Satan entered the picture, succeeded in usurping Adam’s dominion for himself and became what Jesus calls “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30). When Jesus came, He brought the kingdom of God and He expects His kingdom-minded people to take whatever action is needed to push back the long-standing kingdom of Satan and bring the peace and prosperity of His kingdom here on earth. This is what we mean by dominionism. 

A theocracy. The usual meaning of theocracy is that a nation is run by authorized representatives of the church or its functional religious equivalent. Everyone I know in NAR would absolutely reject this idea, thinking back to Constantine’s failed experiment or some of the oppressive Islamic governments today. The way to achieve dominion is not to become “America’s Taliban,” but rather to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business so that they can use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God can permeate all areas of society.

Extra-biblical revelation. Some object to the notion that God communicates directly with us, supposing that everything that God wanted to reveal He revealed in the Bible. This cannot be true, however, because there is nothing in the Bible that says it has 66 books. It actually took God a couple of hundred years to reveal to the church which writings should be included in the Bible and which should not. That is extra-biblical revelation. Even so, Catholics and Protestants still disagree on the number. Beyond that, I believe that prayer is two way, we speak to God and expect Him to speak with us. We can hear God’s voice. He also reveals new things to prophets as we have seen. The one major rule governing any new revelation from God is that it cannot contradict what has already been written in the Bible. It may supplement it, however.

Supernatural signs and wonders. I have a hard time understanding why some include this in their list of “heresies.” Whenever Jesus sent out His disciples He told them to heal the sick and cast out demons. Why we should expect that He has anything else in mind for us today is puzzling. True, this still pulls some traditionalists out of their comfort zones, but that just goes with the territory. One critic claimed that the NAR has excessive fixation on Satan and demonic spirits. This is purely a judgment call, and it may only mean that we cast out more demons than they do. So what?

 

Relational Structures
Some of the authors I read expressed certain frustrations because they found it difficult to get their arms around the NAR. They couldn’t find a top leader or even a leadership team. There was no newsletter. The NAR didn’t have an annual meeting. There was no printed doctrinal statement or code of ethics. This was very different from dealing with traditional denominations. The reason behind this is that, whereas denominations are legal structures, the NAR is a relational structure. Everyone is related to, or aligned, with an apostle or apostles. This alignment is voluntary. There is no legal tie that binds it. In fact, some have dual alignment or multiple alignment. Apostles are not in competition with each other, they are in cahoots. They do not seek the best for themselves, but for those who choose to align with them. If the spotlight comes on them, they will accept it, but they do not seek it.

The key to this? The mutual and overriding desire that “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”

 

[C. Peter Wagner is the president of the Global Harvest Ministries and Chancellor of the Wagner Leadership Institute. Established in 1998, the Institute equips men and women for leadership positions in churches and translocal ministries. It is designed especially, but not exclusively, to meet the needs of leaders who have become a part of the New Apostolic reformation. Missions have been a watermark of Wagner’s career. From 1956 to 1971, he and his wife, Doris, served as missionaries in Bolivia under the South American Mission and Andes Evangelical Mission (now SIM International).]