Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 09/25/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. Series of lessons in Christlike love exhibited by 19th century pastor R.C. Chapman.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” the Apostle Paul admonished the believers at Corinth. Charles Spurgeon, who considered Robert C. Chapman “the saintliest man I ever knew,” might well have also said of Chapman, “Be imitators of R.C. Chapman, as he is of Christ.”
Chapman was a typical upper-class product of late Georgian England. Upon reaching the age of 15, he moved to London in order to take up a clerk position in the legal profession, attaining the bar in 1823. The very same year he was converted to Christ, and immediately threw himself into the work of serving London’s poor. Just short of a decade into his legal career, he retired from law in order to go into full-time ministry, taking on the leadership of a Strict Baptist congregation in Barnstaple, Devon. Over time the congregation began to pattern itself after George Muller’s Brethren assembly in Bristol. Along with Muller, John Nelson Darby, and Benjamin Wills Newton, Chapman became an extremely influential figure in the Brethren movement, to the extent that when relations soured between the other three, Chapman was uniquely positioned as conciliator and go-between. After a long and fruitful ministry, the remaining years of which were devoted to unceasing intercession, Chapman fell asleep in the Lord at age 99, in 1903.
Aware that all known Chapman biographies were out of print, the leadership of Lewis & Roth Publishers commissioned Robert L. Peterson to research and write a new biography. Peterson rose to the task admirably, which resulted in Robert Chapman: Apostle of Love. However, concerned that Chapman was nowadays too obscure to foist upon the Christian reading public, the publishers commissioned prolific author Alexander Strauch (Meetings That Work, Biblical Eldership, The New Testament Deacon, The Hospitality Commands, Men and Women: Equal Yet Different) to distill Peterson’s book into an smaller book that constituted a sort of literary advance media campaign. Thus Agape Leadership was born.
This little book, which is extremely readable, consists of thirteen chapters. Most of the chapters’ contents are self-explanatory by virtue of the chapter headings:
1. Agape Leadership: The need to demonstrate Christlike love of others above all else.
2. Love for God’s Word: To read the Bible not to be able to teach it, primarily, but to know Christ through it.
3. Spirit-controlled Character: In Chapman’s own words, “To reform the Church of God we should always begin with self-reform. Schisms and divisions will increase so long as we begin with reforming others. Wisdom is only with the lowly.”
4. Being Patient and Gentle: For example, in the midst of baptism controversies, “…the only solution was patient, prayerful teaching of the Word of God, not exclusion from membership and Communion.”
5. Maintaining Unity: As Peterson/Strauch report, “Chapman’s personal view was that all Christians should, as an act of obedience and public witness, be baptized by immersion following conversion. He did not, however, find scriptural evidence that baptism or a certain mode of baptism was necessary for church membership or participation in Communion…”
6. Disciplining and Reconciling: Between himself and other Christians, as well as between various strong-willed personalities such as Darby and Newton, as outlined above.
7. Forgiving and Blessing Others: Following Christ’s injunction to forgive seventy times seven, no matter the gravity of the sin.
8. Hospitality: Not simply for a meal, but lodging for weeks and months if there was need.
9. Giving to the Needy: In London, in Barnstaple, and in the far reaches of Spain.
10. Working Together in Love: Chapman ministered to Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Nonconformist alike, even while evangelizing in sectarian Ireland during the Potato Famine.
11. Vision and Evangelism: In Chapman’s words, “If we act only because our path is clear of difficulty, this is not Faith. Faith acts upon God’s Word whatever the difficulty; and to walk by faith brings highest glory to God.”
12. Self-discipline: Chapman rose at 4am to commune with God and observed the Sabbath for rest without fail.
13. Prayer and Worship: When too frail to carry out regular ministerial duties, Chapman ministered through prayer.
I recommend Agape Leadership as a useful resource, but it is only an appetizer for Peterson’s longer work on Chapman’s life, Apostle of Love. These two books, along with such books as Paul Miller’s Love Walked Among Us, and Alexander Strauch’s dynamic duo Love or Die and Leading With Love, will remind the Christian that Christ is the cornerstone of the Church, and that above all, Christ is love.