Advent Readings

Happy Monday! Yesterday was the beginning of the church season known as “Advent.”  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus which means “coming.”  So during this time leading up to Christmas as we remember the incredible truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man, we also, as Christians living on the other side of Christ resurrection, look forward to our Lord’s second advent. Below are a few available readings you can use during this season of Advent.  A couple from Desiring God (both by John Piper), Good News of Great Joy and The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.  Focus on the Family has an Advent reading particularly for those with young children.  While it doesn’t include all the coloring sheets and stand alone calendar the version here has the message and activity.

“I” is for Inspiration

“I” is for inspiration.  Originally I had planned on addressing infallibility or inerrancy.  The problem with jumping to those without establishing the doctrine of inspiration first is that it is like putting the cart before the horse.

The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is quite foundational to our faith.  You may wonder why we waited until now to talk about it if it is so important.  That is namely because there are eight letters before “I” in the English language.  In all seriousness this doctrine affirms something is true about the Bible, understood here as 66 books (39 OT & 27 NT), that is not true of any other book.  This includes those books that have been written (that we have no knowledge of), all the current books on the market, and all the books yet to be written.  The Christian must affirm that only the Bible is inspired.  Why must the Christian affirm this?  Because the Bible affirms this truth.

In our newsletter this week we will first take a look at a couple of passages that state this.  Then we will follow up with a common objection to the doctrine of inspiration.  We will finish up with our response to that objection and what it all boils down to.

What Does the Bible Say?

Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (emphasis added).  This passage makes it clear that the Scriptures are “top-down,” meaning it is God’s word, His truth, to us.  It is not mans’ opinions about God and what they think God is like.  We hear this a lot today, “I like to think of God as…”  J. Douma says, “The difference between idolatry (worshiping images) and ideolatry (worshiping mental images) is only one letter” (found in The Ten Commandments, 64, a great book on the subject).  But Paul makes it clear here that this idea of “I like to think of God as…” is not what we find in the Scriptures.

What Paul is saying here in 2 Timothy is that the words of Scripture are not merely the product of human writers writing what they wanted to without any guidance so that the end product was their intended goal.  This point is made clear also in 2 Peter 1:21 which says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  This passage in 2 Peter along with the passage in 2 Timothy tells us that the words of Scripture are simultaneously divine and human.  What do we mean by this?  At times God did speak and the authors wrote what God said to them (see Ex. 20:1-17; Is. 8:1-2; Jer. 30:1-3).  But God did not strictly give us His word through dictation, or to verbally order what is to be said, in fact more often than not we are able to see the style, vocabulary, or grammar of any given author.  God utilized the personalities of these authors to communicate His truth.  So the Scriptures are “breathed out by God” but not to the exclusion of human instrumentality.  Most certainly God protected these authors as they wrote so that they gave us what He wanted us to have, but they still put the pen to the paper.  Thus the Scriptures are human and divine.  Today you hear that Scripture is not divine revelation but merely human creation.  God’s word speaks directly against this attack.

One Common Objection

This brings us to one of the most common objections to the doctrine of inspiration.  Some will argue that our belief in God’s word as Scripture is circular.  We believe that the Scripture is God’s word because it claims to be and its claims are true because Scripture is God’s word.  While this is a kind of circular argument it does not render it invalid or false.  To claim anything has absolute authority, as Christians do in regards to the Scriptures, you must appeal to that authority for its proof.  Look at these examples to help make this point clear (found in Grudem, Systematic Theology, 79):

  • My reason is my ultimate authority because it seems reasonable to me to make it so.
  • I know there can be no ultimate authority because I do not know of any such ultimate authority.
  • The findings of human sensory experiences are the ultimate authority for discovering what is real and what is not, because our human senses have never discovered anything else: thus, human sense experience tells me that my principle is true.

These are three of the many worldviews people today are operating from and each one is circular.  On the side of Scripture is the fact that there are external evidences that support its claim of ultimate authority in regards to various prophecy fulfillments that even those opposed to the Scriptures would affirm.  Stephen Nichols points out the fact that, “These things (external evidences) don’t prove Scripture but support the argument the Scripture makes for itself” (lecture from “Why We Trust the Bible”).  And what argument is that?  That “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16a).

What it Boils Down To

Why don’t we all agree about the authority of the Scriptures?  Sin.  Sin has corrupted our perception and analysis of both God and His word.  We could then ask since all of us are guilty of sin, why do any of us hold the view that the Scriptures are God’s word and authoritative for my life?  The work of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit ensured that the words the author’s penned were God’s very words (cf. 2 Pt. 1:21) and enables us to see God’s word for the truth that it is (cf. John 17:17).  Imagine viewing the night sky with your naked eye and then looking at it through a telescope.  Those multitudes of stars that you now see were always there though you could not see it without the aid of the telescope (example from Nichols, “Why We Trust the Bible”).  In a far greater way, the Holy Spirit causes us to be “born again” and enables us to overcome the gross effects of sin and come to an understanding and belief that the Scriptures are the very words of God and His truth for our good and His glory.

“E” is for Ecclesiology

“E” is for ecclesiology.  Ecclesiology is the study of the church.  This would include the mission of the church, sacraments or ordinances, offices (elder and deacon), membership in the church, marks of a true church, worship in the church, and much more.  The word ecclesiology comes from the Greek word most often translated “church” in the NT, ekklesia.  It literally means, “called-out ones.”  The church has been “called-out” of this world to serve the living God and make Him known throughout the nations with the Gospel (cf. Matt. 28:18-20).

The Greek word we get our English “church” from is, kyriakos.  This refers to that which pertains to or belongs to the kyrios, the Lord (BDAG, 576).  The church is described as the body (cf. Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; Eph. 5:29-30) and bride (cf. Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 19:7; 21:2; 22:17) of Christ.

In this blog we will first be taking a look at the distinction between the invisible and visible church.  We will then take a quick look at the three marks that constitute a true church.  Lastly, we will answer the question “What this means to me?”

Invisible & Visible

The invisible church refers to those who make up the true church.  This includes only those who are truly born again (see “B”) across cultures and time.  So the believer in China right now and the believer who died in Europe 1,000 years ago are a part of the invisible church.  The visible church is made up of all who claim to worship and serve the Lord.  Thus in the visible church you will have those who are truly born again and those who are unbelievers (cf. Matt. 13:24-30).

Another way of stating it is that the invisible church is the church as God sees it and the visible church are the local bodies that we see.  However, we shouldn’t see the invisible church and visible church as separate entities since nothing is invisible to God for He knows our hearts.  What we defined above as the invisible church is made up of true believers who are within the visible church (Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, 262).

Marks of a True Church

So “the true church” is the invisible church, but what are marks of “a true church” speaking now of the visible, local body?  Three marks were identified during the Reformation as was seen clearly in the text of Scripture.  The three marks include: the pure preaching of the Word of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 4:6-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-4:5); the celebration and right administration of the sacraments/ordinances (cf. Matt. 26:26-29; 28:18-20; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:20-32; Eph. 4:4-6); the practice of church discipline (cf. Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1).

The pure preaching of the Word includes the essential points of the Gospel being rightly proclaimed.  That is why the Reformers said the Roman Catholic Church was not a true church because it rejected (and still does) justification by faith alone (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1; Eph. 2:8-10).  The Sunday morning worship service centers on the Scriptures being preached and heard because God speaks through His Word.

The celebration and right administration of the sacraments/ordinances is the second mark.  A sacrament or ordinance is an external sign which God uses to seal on the heart of the believer His good will toward us.  And only baptism and the Lord’s Supper are recognized as sacraments ordained by Jesus Christ (see verse references above).

This last mark is one that leaves people scratching their heads at times, the practice of church discipline.  Certainly this does not mean you go looking for someone to discipline if it has been awhile.  However, it does mean that you do not ignore one who claims to be a believer and is in your church but who remains in a constant state of unrepentant sin.  The desire is always to help the person confess their sin to God and repent of it so he or she can be restored to the fellowship of the local body. There have been plenty of bad examples of this mark but that does not change the fact that the church has the responsibility for the spiritual nurture of its members while seeking the purity of Christ’s bride.  It is not healthy for someone to remain in sin for their own sake, nor for the sake of other believers in their local church (see 1 Cor. 5), nor for the churches witness.

Of course there are other things, many listed above, that are marks of a healthy church.  But these are marks of “a true church.”  There will be gatherings who don’t preach the gospel or practice church discipline who will still call themselves a church but that doesn’t mean they are.  Which leads us to our final question.

What this Means to Me?

While the truly born again are a part of the invisible church it is important that you join a visible, or local church.  “Why?” you might ask.  Many reasons, but here are a few.  First, the Lord Jesus Christ established a visible church giving it a mission, sacraments, and gifted men to be leaders of it.  Why would He do that if He only wanted you living your Christian journey alone?  Second, the church is a body made up of many “parts” and each member of the body must use their gifts for the church (cf. Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-13:13; Eph. 4:11-12, 16; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pt. 4:10-11).  How can you do this by yourself?  You cannot.  How can you use these gifts for God’s glory unless you serve in a local church?  Third, to say you love Christ but not His bride is like a friend saying to you, “Glad you could come over but did you have to invite that hag,” while referring to your wife.  What husband wants a friend who always rolls his eyes when your wife comes over with you?  Hopefully no husband.  No local church is perfect, but neither are you.  Let’s grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ together as imperfect people being transformed to become more like our perfect Savior Jesus.  To God be the glory!

“D” is for Doctrine

“D” is for doctrine.  This is a word that arouses all sorts of feelings.  For some it is like a warm breeze on a nice fall day and for others it is like a frigid wind in subzero temps in the middle of winter.  Still for others it is a word that is not well understood.  “Doctrine” is derived from the Latin word, doctrina, which means, “that which is taught.”  In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology he defines doctrine as, “What the whole Bible teaches us today about some particular topic.”  In Webster’s 1828 dictionary he defines doctrine, “In a general sense, whatever is taught…The doctrines of the gospel are the principles or truths taught by Christ and His apostles.”

To unpack these definitions more and its relation to us we will answer a few questions.  First, does doctrine even matter?  Then secondly, why doctrine matters?  Which should not come as a surprise since I am writing this blog post.  This will help you and I wrestle with our feelings about this word (whether good, bad, or indifferent) and see its benefit to our Christian walk.

Does Doctrine Matter?

Looking at Grudem’s simplistic definition the emphasis is on what the Bible teaches on a topic.  That, as you can imagine, looks differently depending on how much the Bible has to say about any given truth.  In the first newsletter of A to Z Theology we looked at the “doctrine of the atonement” and saw what the Bible teaches on this great truth.  This doctrine could fit under the larger category of the “doctrine of Christ” which would also include “the person of Christ” and “Christ resurrection and ascension.”

After giving a general sense of the term Webster focused on Christian doctrine as the “principles and truths taught by Christ and His apostles.”  We can certainly include those truths which are taught in all of Scripture (66 books—39 OT & 27 NT).  A greater understanding of Christ atoning death for our sins comes when we understand the sacrificial system in Leviticus and that Christ is the once and for all sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:11-14).

When we consider the question further “Does doctrine matter?” it may be helpful for you to realize that the gospels are filled with Jesus’ doctrinal teachings.  He taught about redemption (John 3), the nature of God (John 4:24), the church (Matt. 16), and the end of all things (Matt. 24) to list just a few.  Doctrine matters to the God-man and was both taught and lived out by Him.  An important point for you and I to keep in mind.  Doctrine and right living are to go hand in hand (cf. Prov. 8:10-11).

Liberalism in general calls doctrine impractical and says the Bible just wants you to live like Jesus.  Yet in the process of “denying” doctrine liberals have laid out their own doctrinal teachings.  We won’t go into all those here but understand an avoidance of doctrine is not possible.  So will you believe “sound doctrine” as taught in the Bible or not?  Paul speaking to Titus about overseers (or elders or pastors) says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

What many do in our culture today is begin with human experiences and feelings rather than the Word of God (see 2 Tim. 4:1-5).  Thus they come to conclusions and truths that are oftentimes directly contradictory to Scripture.  Experiences and feelings change depending on the situation, the Word of God is consistent truth across space and time.  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).

Why Doctrine Matters?

Now this question may not be one you need to be convinced of.  Whether you have an appreciation for it or your pastor told you it matters so you take his word for it.  Even if you do not need convincing I imagine every one of us has had at least one conversation with someone who has said, “Doctrine divides. Love unites.”  They want to blame doctrine for all the problems in the church.  Who say if we just set aside this “doctrine thing” we could really see God change our community and world.  I guarantee something would change if we laid aside our doctrinal differences and it would be the Gospel that would suffer in the process.  Satan was the first to teach false doctrine about God, man, and judgment (see Gen. 3).  Adam and Eve chose to listen to the teaching of someone other than God and look at the results of that, sin and death.

So the question “Why doctrine matters?” could be answered “Because there is no such thing as non-doctrinal Christianity.”  By definition that itself is a doctrine that some people believe.  Most certainly it is bad doctrine as is any doctrine that twists the meaning of Scripture or avoids it altogether, but a doctrine nonetheless.

Biblical doctrine is not mere theory since Scripture connects sound doctrine and righteous living.  In 1 Timothy 1 Paul mentions various sins and calls them and others not listed in vv. 9-10 as “contrary to sound doctrine” (v. 10).  Bad doctrine corrupts and is oftentimes a one-way ticket to immoral practice.  R. Scott Clark gives us a timely reminder here, “Nevertheless, for all its virtues, good doctrine is not magic. It is possible for someone to profess right doctrine and yet remain an unbeliever. That is called hypocrisy. It is also possible for one to live well and yet confess bad doctrine. That is blessed inconsistency.”  We are reminded that talking with others about true biblical doctrine requires humility.  For we have all seen ourselves living contrary to a doctrine we confess.  Nevertheless doctrine is too important, it matters too much, to just be laid aside.  We cannot avoid doctrine so better for all of us “to hold firm the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9), and thus believe, teach, and live out the truths of the Scriptures alone for God’s glory.

How Are YOU Serving?

Summer is in full swing which means BBQ’s, camping trips (which my wife and I just had), swimming, fishing, baseball, and other favorite summertime activities.  We enjoy the warmer weather and having a cold glass of Arnold-Palmer, lemonade and iced-tea mixed.  While Fall seems miles away let me take a moment to remind you of what else is going on.  During this time of year there is lots of planning and anticipation for ministries starting up again or new ones which will be launched.  While reading in 1 Peter a couple of things stuck out to me in chapter four.  Peter is sharing in the first half of the chapter how the body of Christ is to presently live for God with the end in mind (v. 7a).  Praying (v. 7b), loving each other deeply (v. 8), and offering hospitality (v. 9) are a few of the ways we do just that.  1 Peter 4:10 then says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

  1. We have all received some gift(s) from God.
  2. We are to use our gift(s) to serve others.
  3. We are being faithful stewards of God’s grace by using our gift(s) to serve others.

First, for the believer who has some “beef” with the church and is not interested in trying to get connected this verse is talking to you.  You are unable to use your gift(s) to serve others if you refuse to connect yourself to a local body.  Certainly no body of believer’s is perfect but her Savior is perfect and to say you do not need the church is like slapping Christ in the face.  Know that you are integral to the body of Christ.  It is quite selfish to say I can do this on my own, and quite dangerous too.

Second, God has gifted each of us differently.  Many times people say they do not know what their gift is.  Two things I would encourage you with if that is you.  First, what do you like to do?  The things you enjoy doing very well might be what God has gifted you to do.  Do you enjoy giving, teaching, serving, or being hospitable?  Certainly this is not a hard and fast rule since it is possible you may enjoy doing something but not necessarily be gifted at it.  That is why the second point is important.  How are you serving right now?  If your answer is, “Nowhere,” than let me encourage you to volunteer to serve somewhere before Fall ministries kick-off.  You might serve as a youth leader for a year and find out you love it…or don’t.  That’s ok.  Serving in various ways, without exhausting yourself, is another way to find out what gift(s) you have received.  At the same time you have others who are working alongside you affirming gifts they see in you.

We are the body of Christ and it is important to make sure we use the gifts graciously given to us by God to serve one another.  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  How awesome it is that one of the ways we serve Christ and show our love for Him and for all He has done for us is by serving one another.  “To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pt. 4:11b).