Challenging the System

Challenging the System
An excerpt from my latest book Televangelicalism 
Robert Wurtz II

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) was first a non-conformist and later a prominent Puritan colonial leader who founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. In 1633 he was made pastor of Newtowne, Massachusetts. The church was composed of men that had been his followers in England, who had crossed the ocean, established themselves at Newtowne, and called him to be their preacher while he was still in exile in Holland. His concern was religious liberty. He did not find it in Massachusetts. What he did find was a theocracy and consequently an aristocracy. Here the church ruled, almost as the church ruled in Rome, only it was another church and there was no Pope. No man could vote unless he was a church member. No person could be a church member unless they could give a conversion narrative. Only one in ten men of mature age was qualified to vote. [1]Though a minister, Hooker carried his gun in one hand and His Bible in the other; and is assigned the title, “The First American Democrat.” He preached on Sundays and fought Indians on weekdays.[2]We must bear in mind that this was a different time, not far removed from the violence that attended the enforcement of established beliefs up to this time. Hooker moved his family from Massachusetts so that his posterity would not grow up under their theocracy, but in liberty. He was considered a man of valor, in a time when it took more courage to speak the truth than to bear ones chest to the sword of the enemy.

A taste of preparation narrative

 For all that America is indebted to this man for his ideals concerning liberty and democracy, there is another aspect to Hooker that we must consider at this juncture. In 1632 in London and again in 1638 in the Netherlands, one of Hookers most significant preparationist writings was published. It was entitled, THE SOULS PREPARATION FOR CHRIST: Being a Treatise of Contrition. Wherein is discovered how God breaks the heart, and wounds the soul, in the conversion of the sinner to Himself.  This protracted title was followed by the text in Psalm 51:17: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou will not despise. He begins the work with the text from Acts 2:37, Now when they heard this they were pricked in their hearts, and said to Peter and the other Apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?  Hooker’s view of awakening sinners was as follows: “A special application of particular sins, is a chief means to bring people to a sight of their sins, and to a true sorrow for them. The Apostle does not in a general sense set forth their sins; but he comes home to their hearts, and it is not only done in this place; but it has been the practice of all faithful ministers heretofore. As John the Baptist, he goes not cunningly to work, secretly to intimate some truths; but he deals roundly with them, and says, O generation of vipers, who forewarned you to flee from the wrath to come? And he shows them their sins in particular. And when the publicans came to be baptized, he says, Receive no more then is appointed for you; and he says to the soldiers, do violence to no man, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:13, 14); he was the minister of humiliation and preparation: and therefore he deals thus plainly with them. When Ahab had slain Naboth, the prophet Elijah came to him and said, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, Shall dogs lick thy blood: Ahab said, Hast thou found me out, o my enemy? And he said, I have found thee out, because thou hast sold thy self to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord (I Kings 21:20); and the text says, when he heard this, he put on sackcloth and went softly. This was the power of a particular reproof, though he were a miserable, wicked man. Thus did Paul deal with Peter, when he halted before the Jews, he did plainly reprove him to his face, and that not secretly, but because he had sinned openly, therefore he reproves him openly: so also our Savior Christ shakes up the scribes and Pharisees. And this is the rule in general, as the Apostle says; Reprove them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:13). 

Many ministers can tell a grave tale, and speak of sins in general; but these common reproofs, these intimations of sin, are like arrows shot low or over their heads, they touch no man; but when a minister makes application of sin in particular, and says, oh all you drunkards and adulterers, this is your portion, and let this be as venom in your hearts to purge out your lusts. When our Savior Christ lapped up the Pharisees all in one speech, it is said, that they heard the parable, and knew that he meant them (Matthew 21:45). When particular application comes home to the heart, and a minister says; this is your drunkenness, and your adultery and profaneness, and this will break your neck one day: what assurance have you got of God’s mercy? And what can you say for heaven? Then men begin to look about them. There was never any convicting ministry, nor any man that did in plainness apply the Word home, but their people would be reformed by it, or else their consciences would be troubled, and desperately provoked to oppose God and his ordinances, that they may be plagued by it. The Word of God is like a sword; the explanation of the text is like the drawing out of this sword and the flourishing of it, and so long it never hits: but when a man strikes a full blow at a man, it either wounds or puts him to his fence: so the application of the Word is like the striking with the sword, it will work one way or other, if a man can fence the blow so it is: but if not, it wounds. I confess it is beyond our power to awaken the heart, but ordinarily this way does good.”[3]After the person has been made to see their sins, it was expected that they meditate upon them in order to gain a right understanding of the crime committed. Hooker made use of means in order to prepare the unconverted for receiving Christ.

Thomas Hooker pastorally

Although Hooker was straight forward in bringing a person around to Christ, he did not agree with the strict requirements for church membership that characterized the New England Puritans. He believed that if a person was required to give an account of their conversion it should be done with “rational charity” because one man cannot know the heart of another, nor truly discover it.[4]  Even at that, Hooker was criticized for making the standard of grace too high. Some believed he had made “rules” that amounted to legalism that risked overshadowing a person’s legitimate conversion experience. This is overstated, as Hooker believed that a person’s sorrow for sins would be proportional to their severity and aggravations. Nor did he believe that a person needed to be seized with fear for their soul in order to be saved. He believed God deals with people where they are. “If a man have been an outrageous, rebellious wretch, alas it is not a little matter will do the deed, it is not now and then a gracious promise that will break his heart; but the Lord must come down from heaven and break open the door by strong hands, by awakening his conscience, that all the country rings of him.”[5]Hooker gives an example of Lydia that underwent no such pains, but she was willing that the Lord should open her heart to receive the Word of God. At any rate, man must be willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He brings him to Christ. As a pastor he admitted external covenanters on the basis of preparatory “motions,” or a charitable “hope.”

[1] Edward Hooker. The Descendants of Rev. Thomas Hooker in Hartford, Connecticut 1586-1905. 1909, P. xix
[2]Ibid. P.xxii
[3] Selections for the Soul’s Preparation for Christ. Para 1. International Outreach, Inc.
P. O. Box 1286, Ames, Iowa 50014
[4] Norman Pettit, The Heart Prepared P. 92
[5]The Souls Preparation, quoted in Pettit, P. 95. 

Partakers of the Divine Nature

Partakers of the Divine Nature
Robert Wurtz II

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3, 4)

The late G.W. North once stated that, “It’s not preparation of the message- it’s preparation of the messenger.” When God got ready to begin this great building project known as the Church, He had to prepare His ministers. This preparation began with around three years of intensive training that we find recorded in the Gospels. Here the disciples learned what God is like by living with Him day and night. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. His teachings, His behavior, His disposition and attitude were all demonstrations of the personality of God. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, God spoke in various ways to the saints of old by the prophets, but now He is speaking directly by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). This means that Jesus Christ is the ultimate standard of what it means to be righteous, holy, godly, humble, meek, compassionate, merciful, benevolent and all other important qualities. He demonstrated, as His walk of life, how His disciples are to love righteousness and hate lawlessness. He is the living expression of what it means to walk in the Spirit. As the tree of life clothed in flesh and blood, He yielded the fruit of the Spirit in every circumstance. He taught the disciples by example to live by every word that is proceeding from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). 

The Divine Nature 

They heard Him, they watched Him and they received from Him; but they were not yet ready for the great task at hand. Before Jesus ascended into heaven in the book of Acts, the disciples were instructed to wait on the promise of the Father. This promise was the baptism in the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist foretold and Paul the Apostle explained. Paul said in Ephesians that there is “one baptism,” and that baptism is when we are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. John the Baptist was clear that Jesus would baptize not in water, but in the Holy Spirit and with fire. This great baptism in the Holy Spirit was initiated on the day of Pentecost after several week of preparation before the Lord. It was in an “upper room” that the Church was born- the Temple of God made without hands. It consisted of the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20) and the one hundred and twenty “living stones” that were present (1 Peter 2:5). Upon receiving this experience the one hundred and twenty were finally qualified to be witnesses unto Christ (Acts 1:8). 

A tale of five firsts

Every first occurrence in the Bible is worthy of our attention. Acts 2 marks five great “firsts” I wish to look at briefly: the first baptism in the Holy Spirit, the first evangelistic message, the first response to that message, the first counsel given to anxious sinners, and the first addition to the Church. 
The first baptism in the Holy Spirit not only equipped the one hundred and twenty to be the first evangelists, but it radically changed their spiritual condition. They that were in Adam were now in Christ and all the benefits of the cross was made effectual to them. Peter had failed miserably at his first real attempt to be a witness, even swearing with a loud oath. The Peter after Pentecost was nothing like the Peter before Pentecost. He was suddenly enabled, by the Spirit, to be Christ-like. On top of this radical change was a boldness that allowed him to do our second “first,” preach the Gospel. 
Peter prepares for the first major evangelistic message that would set more stones in this Temple project. He begins by explaining to the people some of the things that were going on with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They assumed the people were drunk, but Peter took that misunderstanding as an occasion to expound upon the prophesies related to the events of the last fifty days. He boldly preached Jesus Christ to the people (Acts 2:22f) and then he fearlessly set forth their sins for having crucified the Savior. His message then opened a door of hope showing the people that it was all predestined of God. Christ’s death was for the redemption of fallen humanity. 
The people then showed forth the first response to a post-Pentecost evangelistic message: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NKJV) The Holy Spirit was at work convincing them of the truth that Peter proclaimed. They knew that they were guilty before God. They understood that they needed to do something, so they asked. Notice that Peter did not manipulate the people or put words of repentance in their mouths. It was very simple. He preached, the Holy Spirit convicted, and the people enquired as to what they needed to do. 
Peter is the first person post-Pentecost to counsel anxious sinners. They responded wanting to know what they should do and he responded saying; Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Peter begins his counseling session with the imperative, repent. The word of repentance is the first word of the Gospel. Although some would suggest repentance is not necessary for salvation, even using Paul’s epistles to explain such a need away, we have Paul’s own words to testify to the contrary; I declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance (Acts 26:20). It is a historical fact that Paul preached repentance everywhere he went; and not just repentance in a modern day sense, but repentance in the John the Baptist sense. Secondly, Peter instructed the enquirers to be baptized in water. This is an act of obedience that none need to understand in order to do it. Peter did not explain baptism because the people already understood baptism. Thirdly, Peter told them that they will receive the Holy Spirit. If you will repent and be baptized in water, you will receive the Holy Spirit. We will not explore the details and implications of this, but the basic pattern will be followed throughout the book of Acts. The scripture summarizes the rest of his counseling session saying; And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40 NKJV)
Lastly, we have the second response of the people: Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them (Acts 2:41 NKJV). A staggering three thousand souls (living stones) were added to the Temple. This is God’s estimate. It all began when Peter learned of Christ for three years and later prepared himself to receive the Holy Spirit. The minister was ready, the message was powerful, the people were cut to the heart, they enquired what to do, the minister gave counsel to the anxious, the ones that gladly received the word were baptized (suggesting others did not gladly receive it), and by inference three thousand received the Holy Spirit becoming living stones in the Temple. 
The fruit of this type of evangelism was that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42 NKJV). These folks were truly born again of the Spirit. They had an appetite for the things of God and a desire to fellowship with believers. They continued also in prayers, evidence that they were living now under His Divine guidance.     

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