Philosophy of Ministry

February 17, 2015 8:42 pm

 

Preaching and Teaching

I believe the Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired Word of God. The Bible is inerrant, infallible, and sufficient to address all matters of life. All 66 books of the Bible constitute the complete revelation of God’s will for the salvation and sanctification of individuals and the nourishment of the corporate church.

God is the ultimate authority, but that authority is mediated to us through God’s written word, the Bible. Because the Holy Spirit worked through the biblical authors to write down the words of Scripture, the original manuscripts are inspired in every word, without error, and God-breathed. Therefore, the Scriptures are truth, and anything that speaks contrary to the Word of God is error and falsehood. The Bible accomplishes its purpose with and is binding on people of all time periods, which makes the Word of God timeless in its ability to bring universal conviction of sin, lead sinners to eternal salvation, and sanctify Christians to the degree that they may be presented as complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28).

Because of my high view of Scripture’s unbending truth, transforming power, and clarity, I faithfully adhere to the teaching of God’s Word through expository preaching, guided by a literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture. I believe that this method does the most justice to discovering the truth of God’s will for humanity and to transforming the church in the most effective way. This method of teaching leaves less room for error in the church than pop culture trends of topical preaching, pragmatic sermonettes, or any human wisdom-based teaching that does not interact with or is loosely based on Scripture. Whether it is chapter by chapter or biblical topics supported by relevant Bible verses, my philosophy in preaching is based on three simple goals: exegesis of the texts, explanation and dynamic presentation of its meaning, and application that seeks to challenge congregants and transform lives.

My desire is for the church to be supportive of Bible preaching and strive to be faithful to teach the entire counsel of God. The church is not to shy away from any topic or section of the Bible. It should teach such topics as sin, repentance, heaven and hell, angels and demons, church discipline, end times prophecy, the trinity, evangelism, persecution, apologetics, and any other theological matters that prove relevant to the life of the Christian. In doing so, the church should seek to call the unconverted to repentance and faith and equip the regenerate with the richest understanding of God’s character and will. Such illumination leads to a more sanctified life and a well-informed worship for God.

Although the church should value the idea of tradition and reason being used in God-honoring contexts, it should not exalt them to be on par with the authority of God’s Word. The church’s ultimate submission is to God, who is mediated through Scripture alone. Therefore the church should strive not to rely on human wisdom, secular theories, and extrabiblical resources to instruct and hold sway over the lives of Christians. To do so would prove to be detrimental to the lives of individual believers, diminishing the work of the Holy Spirit in the church and leaving the unregenerate in ignorance and complacency.

As evident in our identification with the orthodox, biblical approach of expository preaching, the church should not teach prosperity theology, universalism, pluralism, faith word theology, works-righteousness theology, social justice gospel, liberation theology, feminist theology, or anything that claims to be the gospel, the message of Scripture, or mission of the church. The church must be guided by Scripture alone and the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I desire to teach only what God has commissioned and restricted the church to teach, which is the Word of God found in Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. This defines teaching according to Jesus.

 

Discipleship and Counseling

When a sinner is justified by faith and made righteous through the Holy Spirit, he is positionally sanctified before the Lord, which is an instantaneous and unrepeatable occurrence. However, this differs from progressive sanctification, which is the lifelong discipline of conforming a born again believer to the image of Jesus Christ. Though the believer will never attain sinless perfection in this life (which only happens upon glorification of the body), he is still called to be holy and to walk in the image of Christ so he may honor the Lord, be a shining testimony to the world, and be equipped to do the work of ministry, whether it be evangelism or discipleship. The believer is sanctified and grows by obedience to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to conform a believer to Christ’s image, which is the essence of holy living. Because of this, there must be a heavy emphasis on discipleship and counseling to help sinners combat the temptations of the fallen flesh and progress in their walk toward Christ-likeness.

Being committed to reading the Bible regularly is the foundational step in effective discipleship. My goal is for the church to encourage weekly Bible studies which are designed to not only teach congregants the meaning, importance, and application of Scriptural passages, but to inspire them toward daily devotionals themselves. My commitment to expository preaching and other forms of teaching that is faithful to the Bible is also designed to model the importance of studying and relying upon God’s Word for knowledge, guidance, and growth in the Christian faith. Without regular feeding on the Word, there is no beginning to progressive sanctification or proper discipling of others.

My goal is for the discipleship groups to be aimed at teaching, mentoring, and modeling what it means to be like Christ through teacher / student relationship. The church should seek to have qualified leaders who will train congregants on how to live a complete and well-rounded Christian life, holding them accountable to holiness and encouraging them to use their God-given spiritual gifts to edify others, contribute to the church through serving in ministry, and bring the lost to saving faith. The aim is to grow believers in their understanding and participation of righteous living, godliness, combating sin, giving, evangelism and missions, apologetics, anticipating the second coming of Jesus Christ, teaching, etc. The ultimate goal is to make disciples who will, in turn, disciples other believers with the fullness of biblical knowledge. The church should strive to make this model effective and duplicable, doing their best to make sure that no Christian is unattended to and “falls through the cracks” when it comes to his growth in the Christian faith. As much as the church is to value the salvation of the unbeliever, it must also value their sanctification to the degree that God informs us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. This, I believe, is the essence of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19), which the church is to value since it is its mission.

  In this fallen world, issues, setbacks, and sin will arise in the life of the believer. This is why I value the importance and existence of a counseling program in the church. The content of the church’s counseling must be based purely on the Word of God and not on secular psychology or worldly methods that may run contrary to the wisdom found in Scripture. On the condition that the counselee’s problems do not need to be referred to a physician, the church should use Scripture to counsel its counselees for whatever problems that are stunting them from growing in the Lord and serving Him. I believe that non-medically proven conditions that are, in reality, a sin issue is clearly matters of morality and ethics, and should be handled by biblical counselors and not by secular psychologists. The expectation of the church’s biblical counseling is for the counselees to faithfully submit to the remedial words found in Scripture. Any resistance to God’s truths will only hinder the counselee from recovering spiritually and physically (if applicable). Unrepentant believers should lovingly, but purposefully, called to church discipline.

Finally, the church must keep in mind the theology, purpose, and outcome of biblical counseling as opposed to pop psychology or “Christianized psychotherapy.” Biblical counseling is mainly for believers, since biblical truths can only be comprehended by those born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. However, the church can invite unbelievers to its biblical counseling program. Such sessions will be devoted to applying biblical truths to practical circumstances and problems for the unbeliever, but the ultimate purpose of the sessions will be to evangelize the counselee with the hope that he or she will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Only when the counselee is saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit can he or she fully comprehend the value of biblical truths and be willing to follow it.

 

Outreach and Missions

Jesus’ final words to His followers are as follows: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19), “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creations” (Mark 16:15), and to be His witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Since these are Jesus’ last words, they indicate the importance of evangelism and outreach for both the individual Christian and the church. Evangelism is the main mission of the church here on earth, and that mission is to be a witness for Jesus Christ to all unbelieving people and nations. All the knowledge and experienced gained in discipleship must lead Christians to the ultimate goal of seeking and saving the lost so that unbelievers can be saved and likewise discipled, as implied by the Great Comission of Matthew 28:19-20.

As such, I want the church to highly value evangelism, outreach, and missions, for in reconciling the lost onto God, the church paves the way for more people to wholeheartedly “confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). God desires the lost to be saved and reconciled to Him, and He mainly uses the church to accomplish this task, which is why the church must be passionate about this sober, yet God-glorifying mission.

I want one of the church’s significant departments to be the local evangelism ministry, which should be established if the church doesn’t have one already. This team is to be devoted to going out weekly into the streets, neighborhoods, and commercial centers to proclaim the gospel message to the lost. The church, in accordance with biblical teaching on the nature of outreach, is to use all available methods in evangelism as the opportunity allows us: apostolic-style preaching (open air preaching), one-to-one conversations, and gospel tract distribution. The church should faithfully proclaim the full, unadulterated gospel to the unbeliever and plead with them to believe in Christ, but leave the result of conversion and rebirth in the hands of God the Spirit.

The church must acknowledge that an unbeliever’s desire to repent and believe in Jesus is not based on human wisdom, ingenuity, or clever tricks, but it is the work of God in the hearts of the unregenerate (1 Corinthians 3:16, John 6:44). I encourage this to be a preventative measure on the church’s part to not twist or water-down the gospel message and not to use unbiblical, pragmatic approaches to obtain a visible result of conversion, which may in reality be no conversion. The church’s approach to evangelism results is to simply acknowledge that a conversion cannot be forced or manipulated, but is brought about by God’s sovereignty in the matter.

I believe that evangelism must be a pursuit of every individual Christian outside of church programs. Therefore, the church should be committed to having seasonal evangelism training courses to equip laypeople to evangelize their family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Whatever evangelism work that is done with the weekly local evangelism team, Christians should be encouraged to do the same in their everyday lives, finding opportunities to proclaim the gospel to the lost and even modeling such behavior to inspire observing Christian friends, disciples, and family members. I want this practice of evangelism to be an especially important feature of the church’s discipleship program and should be evident in the lives of teachers and students.

Along with neighborhood outreach, I desire the church to find opportunities for special outreach projects, church planting, and international missions.  Special outreach projects include events such as homeless shelter feedings, rescue missions, and city improvement. The two-fold purpose of these projects is to show the love of God through our acts of service to our society and to find creative, accessible ways to share the gospel message to unbelievers so that they may be saved, plugged into the church body, and be sanctified in the faith. Church planting should be guided by the church’s desire to see healthy, biblical churches planted in needy areas, and to reach the unchurched in that particular community with the powerful gospel message that leads to eternal salvation. Church planting requires great time, commitment, and effort, which is why the church should encourage the congregants and leaders to find their divine calling for such outreach efforts. Lay people are always encouraged to attend short-term missions to aid ministers in other parts of the world in their needs. It is a good opportunity for evangelism of the lost and for edification and refreshment of the minister being served.

 

Giving

Generosity is essentially giving, of both the self and the resources. Since Christ gave Himself to us first, we are to give (John 15:13). In Christ, we have the basis for our generosity and gracious acts towards others. One of the greatest ways to give is through monetary offering to assist the church, Christian organizations, and brothers and sisters in need.

I believe giving should be an indispensable part of Christian living. Both in the Old and New Testament, God commands giving to support the body of believers with their resources. However, believers are commanded to give joyfully with a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving not only demonstrates our thankfulness to and dependence on God, but it also opens up the door for us to be more blessed and used by God in this life and the next. Luke 6:38 affirms this truth as it states, “Give, and it will be given to you…For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” The church should not construe this to be a formula that supports the health-and-wealth gospel or prosperity theology, but it is a biblically based assertion by our Lord Jesus Himself as part of our spiritual growth in Christlikeness.

God promises to give to those who give to Him so that they may continue to give to the kingdom in higher capacities as wise, selfless stewards of God’s resources. With great power comes great responsibility, but it all must begin with the giver’s attitude and commitment, trusting always in the Lord’s providence. Although financial returns are not a perpetual guarantee in this world, other forms of blessings are (Proverbs 3:9, Malachi 3:10), most specifically the eternal blessings and honors. The Apostle Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 9:6 regarding the blessedness of financial giving: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

With this biblical theology in mind, the church should encourage congregants to give of their financial resources to the church every Lord’s Day, as well as any other time that may be pressing on their hearts for whatever causes. Believers may consider willfully supporting are evangelism ministry, missionary fund, mercy ministry, building fund, and other church departments in need. Financial generosity can be directed toward online giving or in-person donations, which can be directed to a particular department or where most needed. The church’s biblical guideline for giving, which is to be taught and even documented, should be as follows:

  1. Give generously (Mark 14:9)
  2. Give regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2)
  3. Give voluntarily (Exodus 35:21, 2 Corinthians 8:4)
  4. Give sacrificially (2 Samuel 24:24, 2 Corinthians 8:2-3)
  5. Give excellently (2 Corinthians 8:7)
  6. Give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  7. Give worshipfully (Acts 10:1-4, Matthew 5:23-24)
  8. Give proportionally, not fixed (Acts 11:29, 1 Corinthians 16:2)
  9. Give quietly (Matthew 6:1, 4)
  10. Give deliberately, without hesitation (2 Corinthians 8:11)

Concerning the debate about whether or not an offering should be at the Old Testament tithing rate of 10 percent, I believe the church should first and foremost teach congregants to go beyond this number and give wholeheartedly what they can sacrifice to God’s kingdom for the sake of their own blessings. However, there are no fixed percentages for a church gift. If Christians feel in their conscience that a 10 percent giving rate should be regularly honored, then the church must allow them to honor the voice of their conscience. The 10 percent rate is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 14:10, Leviticus 27:30-32); therefore this number is an indicator of what God feels is manageable for the average believer to contribute to His kingdom work while still sustaining his everyday life outside of church.

I believe the church must always make it a duty to use such monetary gifts according to how Scripture teaches it to use them. The money must be allocated to faithful ministers and elders so they can commit full time to the faithful work of preaching the Word, discipling Christians, and participating in the Great Commission. The monetary gifts should also be used to evangelize the lost in the community, help the poor and needy within the church, support missionaries and church plants, and fund all other efforts to advance the cause of the gospel in the community and the world.

Church Membership

When a person is saved, he is immediately justified in God’s sight and is included in the body of Christ. The believer is expected to join a local church and be an active member in it. Members of a church are essentially believers. Therefore, I believe all who have experienced God’s saving grace should be members of a church so that they can publicly identify themselves as children of God and members of Christ’s body, the church. The Christian life is meant to be lived individually, selfishly, and in isolation, but as part of a corporate body that serves to edify and hold each other accountable in spiritual growth.

I encourage the church to strongly implement a philosophy that emphasizes

membership for every soundly saved Christian who attends our church on a regular basis. These are three good reasons for the church to implement and stress membership:

  • It helps Christians to know the certainty of their salvation. In joining a church, being baptized (if he hasn’t been already), and becoming a member, the Christian can interact daily with other Christians and be held accountable for his spiritual walk and health. Under the teaching of the pulpit or through the discipleship process, the Christian can come to an understanding of whether or not he is saved, or whether or not he is living the correct Christian life according to God’s will. This is something that can be severely missed when one excludes himself from the body, interprets Scripture on his own, and follows no authority.
  • It helps Christians be aware of and be on guard against false teachings and a false gospel. Through the preaching of the word and sound doctrine that is evident in all areas of the church, the Christian can more easily identify false teachings in the world and have a passion to stand up for the true gospel. He can be lead to a right understanding of whether or not his own life exemplifies the true gospel.
  • It helps Christians be able to use their gifts and resources to edify the church. This helps combat individualism, and the Christian benefits from the corporate nature of Christianity. He is able to use his spiritual gifts to contribute to the body, whether it is in the area of teaching, administration, or evangelism. He is in the position to edify others who are weak in the faith, and be edified at the same time for his own shortcomings. This benefit is non-existent if one does not include himself in church.

I exhort the church to follow three basic steps to determine whether a person is eligible for membership: The first step to becoming a church member is to get saved. The church should not grant membership to those who do not profess Christ or do not appear to have experienced God’s saving grace. The church must do all it can do to ascertain that the believer has been saved, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and has been included among the priesthood of saints. When that has been affirmed through deliberation and prayer, the church should move onto the second step, which is to publicly baptize the believer to affirm his salvation in Christ and his commitment to growth in the Lord. The third step is for the believer to learn and affirm all the central tenets of the Christian faith, comply with the doctrinal stance of the church, and learn what being a member entails for their life. After all these things have been accomplished, the believer should be ready to be publicly sworn in as a member of the church, being able to have all the access, benefits, and opportunities of church membership. These church benefits should include serving in departments and ministries and having access to the deacon’s funds in case of financial shortcomings.

 Although church membership is taught in Scripture through the concept of the universal church and fellowship (Romans 12:5, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), the church should also teach it to be a privilege. It cannot be treated flippantly or lightly by the member. Members of the church are expected to attain services regularly, participate in communion, attend member’s meetings, pray regularly, give faithfully, read the Word of God regularly, and be committed to either discipleship or serving in some capacity in the church. The church should grant patience and grace to those who may falter in some of these areas from time to time, but a blatant negligence of or wholesale rebellion against the expectations of church membership should not be overlooked. Failure to abide by the philosophy of church membership and living in unrepentant, wanton sin should consequently lead to counseling or even implementation of church discipline, which can lead to forfeiture of the privilege of church membership if repentance does not occur.

 

Church Discipline

Though people of all socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and moral backgrounds are welcome in our church, the church should not be a seeker-sensitive congregation that tolerates unrepentant sin and heresy. Unbelievers of all backgrounds are encouraged to come and openly seek for forgiveness of sin and salvation in Jesus Christ, but they are expected to count the cost of discipleship and what it means to be transformed and grow in Christ, which entails a firm commitment of turning away from the former life of sin and following Christ in holiness. This is not to say that congregants are expected to be entirely sinless in their lives, whether in church or out of church, but Scripture teaches that believers should immediately recognize and repent of their sin should they fall into visible transgression (Matt 3:8; Rom 7:15). Any professing Christian who practices unrepentant, habitual sin, whether in church or out of church, should be subject to church discipline, according to the guideline of Matthew 18:15-20.

The purpose of church discipline is not to harm, embarrass, or condemn professing believers, but to restore them back to peace with God and maintain the purity of the church fellowship. This should be the aim of church discipline and why the church needs to implement that system. When a sinning believer is rebuked and he turns from his sin and is forgiven, he is won back to the fellowship with the body and with the Lord. He is essentially restored to holiness and into a pure relationship within the assembly.

I seek to implement or define church discipline within the church according to the biblical principles outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. This involves four fundamental steps that should be followed for a sinning, unrepentant member of the church:

  1. An individual is to go to a sinning brother privately and confront him with a spirit of gentleness and humility. This confrontation involves clearly exposing his sin and calling him to repentance. If the sinning brother repents, that brother is forgiven and restored. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent but persists in his sin…
  2. The individual is to take two or three Christians to confront the sinning brother, exposing the seriousness of his sin and calling him to repentance. If the sinning brother repents, that brother is forgiven and restored. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent but persists in his sin…
  3. The individuals are to report it to the church, and the church is to confront the sinning brother and call him to repentance. If the sinning brother repents, that brother is forgiven and restored. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent but persists in his sin…
  4. The church, after several attempts of calling an unrepentant member to repentance, is to publicly announce the removal of the sinning brother from church membership and fellowship until he comes to sincere repentance. If the sinning brother repents even after this final stage of removal, that brother is forgiven and is to be restored to the church fellowship. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent, then he is to left in the world, under God’s sovereign control, until he comes to a position of repentance.

The church is to remember that the goal is not to embarrass the sinning brother or practice a misguided sense of legalism, but to protect the purity of the church (1 Corinthians 5:6), to warn the assembly of the seriousness of sin (1 Timothy 5:20), and to give testimony of righteousness to a watching world. When a sinning brother is cast out of fellowship at step four, the church should follow the biblical guidelines of making no attempt to dine with or fellowship with such a brother (e.g. giving approval or endorsement of his lifestyle) until he repents and is officially restored back to fellowship by the church. If the sinning brother is unregenerate, God may use this opportunity to bring such a person to true saving faith. If he is a true believer, God will not cast him out, but bring him to the position where he will eventually turn from his sin and learn from this experience. Whatever the situation, the church should always be in prayer, especially for those who have been excommunicated because of failure to respond to the biblical principles of church discipline.

The church should practice patience, mercy, and understanding as much as possible so as not to exercise church discipline for the repentant and struggling sinner. However, blatant unrepentant sin should be confronted according to the mandates of Scripture. The church should recognize and document, through teachings and church membership guidelines, that such sins include an unrepentant and/or habitual practice of any of God’s commandments, including theft, gossip, hatred toward another, sexual immorality (unbiblical divorce, adultery, homosexuality, pedophilia, fornicative relationship), idolatry, and using the Lord’s name in vain. Such sins, if unrepented of, must be confronted according to the guideline of Matthew 18:15-17. This principle applies to any person in the church, whether they are laypeople or people serving in the congregation. Although church discipline is definitely applicable for church membership, it shall be enforced on non-memberships who attend the church on a regular basis and act as if he is a definite part of the church.

 

Worship / Music

No church service is ever complete without the incorporation of worshipful music to render praise onto the Lord. Corporate praise with music has been a recurring practice in both the Old and New Testament. Psalm 98:4 states, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord, with the lyre, melody, with trumpets and the sound of the horn…” In the New Testament, Paul commands the church to be “filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God…” Therefore, singing songs onto God with musical instruments is a necessary expression of worship in the church. Singing songs of praise should be practiced on the Lord’s Day gathering, in various fellowship gatherings and events, and in individual lives.

Though music is an integral part of worship, it is not the totality of worship. Despite the common notion in the evangelical world today, worship time does not equate with music time. In other words, worship is not just the music. Worship is the believer’s heartfelt response to pursuing the glory of God in every imaginable way, as he was created to do (Isaiah 43:7). Worship includes holy living, evangelism, discipleship, giving, fasting, prayer, and many other acts devoted to the Lord. Believers do not cease to worship after they finish the time of singing praises, but are commanded to continue worshipping by their continuous actions of thought, word, and deed. This is why singing sessions named as “time of worship” must be properly identified and taught as “time of singing praises” onto the Lord as an act of worship, not the act of worship, so that congregants will not get a wrong idea of worship is and whether or not they are worshipping outside of singing time.

As much as musical worship should be done with sincere passion and emotion, songs of praise must also be done in truth, as evident by Jesus’ teaching on every aspect of worship (John 4:23-24). This is why discernment must be exercised when choosing songs for the time of musical praise. Songs must not be crude, blasphemous, and sacrilegious. They must not teach false doctrine or display any sense of doctrinal error. Finally, songs must not be man-centered and cater sentimentally to the whims and emotions of the listeners. Rather, true spiritual songs must be Christ-centered and aimed at instructing the mind as much as they touch the heart. Songs of worship must be both inspirational and instructional in teaching about the cross, the Person of God, man’s spiritual condition, heaven and hell, and other important theological themes.

With the importance of the music ministry spelled out, I exhort the church to be faithful to incorporate songs of praise, with varying musical instruments, at the beginning of church services and possibly at the end. Songs of worship should also be incorporated in the church Bible studies and fellowship gatherings and events that are devoted to some form of preaching or teaching. Singing praises onto the Lord should also be taught as part of an individual Christian’s devotional life, as we should encourage Christians to sing songs (either with or without instruments) onto the Lord during prayer, driving, and various activities in life.

In terms of musical style, the church should be as accommodating as possible to play both contemporary and traditional songs, both pop songs and hymns, as long as they are doctrinally sound and theologically rich. The church should, if possible, have a music director who is Christian, knowledgeable in Christian doctrine, and skilled in selecting music and arranging musical programs. The church should also seek to actively call for volunteers (soundly saved Christians) who can contribute their God-given talents to the music team, and, if budget and resources allow, to make the music production as epic and God glorifying as possible (choir, orchestra, and individual vocalists). Regardless of the music team’s size, instruments, and capability, the important point to stress is commitment to singing songs of praises in spirit and in truth, aimed at edifying the saints and encouraging them to a life of heartfelt singing onto the Lord.

 

Corporate / Individual Prayer

Many practices define a Christian’s active relationship with the Lord, but none is more pressing than the act of prayer. Prayer is important to the life, health, and power of the church, no less the lives of individual Christians. Prayer is personal communication with God, where Christians acknowledge their dependence on the Lord, trust in His sovereignty over their lives and the affairs of world history, and are involved in activities with eternal significance. When Christians pray, the work of God’s kingdom is essentially advanced. That is why it is important for not only individual Christians to pray outside of church, but for the corporate church itself to pray during service, fellowship events, Bible studies, and even special sessions devoted to corporate prayer.

There is a right way and a wrong philosophy for Christians in the church to pray. The wrong, unbiblical way is to seek according to sinful motives and to ask God to abide by our will and desires at the expense of God’s sovereign plan (James 4:2-3). Another folly of prayer is praying hypocritically with empty hearts and false motives, praying for public display of piety rather than for heartfelt obedience to the Lord. The correct way to pray is to align one self and the church’s desires and plans with that of God’s as He has revealed Himself in Scripture (Matthew 6:9-15). It is to pray in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), without which there is ineffective worship of God. Prayer must be done with a heart that has not only been regenerated, but one with a proper attitude (Matthew 15:8) that is inclined towards obedience and righteousness (Matthew 23:23). Prayer must be done for the sake of glorifying God and not oneself.

Praying in unity as a church has vastly increased power. God delights in the unity of His people, which is why corporate prayer is imperative. Matthew 18:19 is one of the great examples of the blessing of united prayer. Where there is real agreement and where the Spirit brings two believers into perfect harmony as concerning that which they may ask of God, there is absolutely irresistible power.

First off, I desire to implement prayer during church services, where corporate prayer should be lifted up before the start of the service, the offering, the sermon, and the close of the service. Prayer should also be practiced in small groups, Bible studies, various church events, and before and after evangelism events. The church should ideally have a once-a-week day, for about 30 minutes to an hour, devoted to prayer, where both church staff and laity are invited to pray for various concerns on the church’s agenda.

The church should not keep a narrow focus on things to pray about, but must foster a wide range of aspects and attitudes in prayer according to the range in prayer that is depicted in Scripture. The aspects include petition (ex. daily food, forgiveness of sin, ability to keep faith promise), intercession (ex. the salvation of lost sinners, the edification of saints, God’s favor upon evangelistic organizations and churches), confession (ex. sins, shortcomings), praise (ex. affirmation of God’s good character, thanksgiving, songs), as well as attitudes of meditation (on God’s Word), waiting (ex. provision, the Rapture, rent money), and watching (ex. praying defensively for the halt of lawlessness in society, looking for opportunities to be a witness to the lost, being on guard against Satan’s tactics).

These aspects and attitudes that make up the powerful and dynamic prayer should be done on both a corporate and individual level. They should be kept in mind during service prayer, but especially taught, encouraged, and practiced during the weekly prayer meeting. This biblical model of prayer should also be taught to the congregants, either through Bible study or special seminars, so church members can be effectively trained for a powerful and satisfying private prayer life. Individual prayers should be encouraged as part of daily Bible devotionals or as part of a set-time in which the individual Christians prays for as long as God puts in his heart (although long and passionate prayers are encouraged for one’s growth in spiritual capacity and blessings).

Although the church values the prevalence of prayer within the congregation and individual lives, it should not allow unbelievers to pray publicly in representation of the church, whether for the Sunday offering, the opening of the service, or small groups. This would give unbelievers a false sense of assurance of their status before God, and represents an unbiblical notion that there is access to the Father through an unregenerate heart (John 14:6). However, the church should encourage unbelievers to pray if it regards matters of his/her salvation, which would then, upon the person’s conversion, qualify him to properly represent the church in prayer since he is now part of the church and is capable for a life of sanctification.

 

Baptism

Baptism is essential to the life of a believer and the practice of the church. Since the New Testament depicts the practice of baptism from the ministry days of John the Baptist in Matthew 3, and Jesus underwent water baptism as a model for the church to follow, it is imperative that the church honor this biblical model in presenting new Christians onto God.

It is important to note that baptism is not a means, or a work, by which a Christian is saved. In other words, a sinner is not saved through faith and water baptism. Baptism is not efficacious to wash away sins or to improve one’s merit and standing before God. Salvation is by repentant faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, through grace alone and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9). Baptism is depicted in the New Testament as the outward testimony of what has occurred inwardly in a believer’s life, which is salvation. In other words, baptism is the public declaration of one’s repentance, regeneration, and commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, and illustrates a person’s identification with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The church must abide by these two requirements for baptizing a person: 1. The person must have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, been regenerated, and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This means that baptism must follow salvation and not vice versa. 2. The person must understand what baptism signifies. In baptism, the person testifies that he knows Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and has made a lifelong commitment to follow Him, and to serve and be accountable to the body of Christ (the church). Christian baptism is a step of obedience in publicly proclaiming his faith in Christ, which is a visible indicator of his desire to truly follow Christ and be held accountable to his walk in the faith.

Because water baptism is symbolic of the inner baptism of the spirit (regeneration and salvation), it can only be applied to true, born again Christians. This means unbelievers cannot be baptized. There is also not enough biblical warrant to baptize infants since babies cannot make a profession of true faith at such a young age. Water baptism on infants would go against the meaning of baptism since the water would be applied to an unregenerate heart. Water baptism is never mentioned in the New Testament as a sign of the New Covenant, much like circumcision was to the Old Covenant. It cannot join a person to the New Covenant of salvation in Christ along with its blessings. Only faith in Christ produces such blessings (1 Corinthians 11:25). Therefore, infant baptism, and any baptism of apostates and false converts, should be not be practiced within the church or actively encouraged.

I exhort the church to regularly baptize Christians, at least on a once-a-month basis. Because it is a public profession of one’s faith and commitment to Jesus Christ and His church, baptism should be done during Sunday service. If not, then baptism should be done on a special event day where family, friends, and especially the church body can be present to witness the baptism and keep the baptized Christian accountable to his growth in the Christian faith.

Since regeneration of the believer should be ascertained as much as humanely possible, it is best not to baptize a new professing believer right away, but to take some discretionary steps to observe any discernable fruits of conversion. The believer should ideally take a one day baptism class so he can understand the genuineness of his faith, what baptism is, and what the life of a Christian entails. After the believer finishes the course satisfactorily, then he is ready to be baptized. During baptism, the Christian should give a brief public testimony of his faith, and the church must affirm likewise to hold him accountable to his spiritual growth and service to the church. Only full-immersion baptism, as depicted in the New Testament, will be practiced, since it is the most biblically observed fashion of baptism and leaves the smallest room for mistake when in doubt.

 

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper (Communion) should be practiced in the church since this was a significant new fellowship meal introduced by Jesus on the Passover before His crucifixion on the cross. It has been practiced throughout Christian church history as a memorial in remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice, which is justification, righteousness, and eternal life.

Like water baptism, the Lord’s Supper is not a requirement for salvation and is not efficacious in removing sin and conferring grace upon an individual. Communion is a public declaration and identification with Christ and His church, in which a believer not only affirms His salvation and commitment to the Son of God, but also remembers Christ’s death and celebrates the salvation he has in His name, looking forward to the day when Christ will return to the earth to consummate the salvation of Christians and to set up His eternal kingdom. Therefore, a person must already be saved and in Christ before partaking in communion. An unbeliever or false convert must not partake in the Lord’s Supper since he has not experienced the benefit of what the communion signifies. Furthermore, those who observe communion with an unrepentant heart or treat it as an empty external ritual (with no heart obedience) invites the Lord’s chastening upon his life, as evidenced in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, which gives a proper, biblical guideline on observing the Lord’s Supper.

Contrary to some popular opinion, it is imperative for the church to acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper does not indicate the actual or spiritual presence of Jesus Christ within the bread and the wine. To believe so would be to believe in the idea of Christ’s continual death and sacrifice played out in the Lord’s Supper and the conferring of “grace” to the recipient by his eating and drinking of the physical substance. However, this is an unbiblical view of the Lord’s Supper and of salvation, because the “eating” and “drinking” the Son of Man’s flesh is symbolic of the believer’s spiritual internalization of the gospel, or justification by faith alone (John 6:53-58). The Lord’s Supper is merely symbolic of that inner reality. Therefore, communion is memorial in nature, and celebratory in that it is an act of worship onto God.

I believe the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated continually in the church, preferably once a month during Sunday services near the close of the service. However, number of communion practices is discretionary. Too many times of practice may cause some within the church to see it as “ritualistic” and it may quickly lose its meaning, appeal, and inspiration. However, too few times of observances per year will deprive the congregation of the celebratory power that the Lord’s Supper produces and may leave the congregants without proper focus on their salvation, their identity as Christ-followers, and their longing for the Lord Jesus’ return to carry out His salvific and kingdom promises.

When communion is practiced, the minister must be dutiful to briefly explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and what one needs to do to partake of it in good conscience so as not to render judgment upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29). Unbelievers must be instructed not to partake in the communion since the celebration does not apply to them. After having time of confession and repentance before God, the congregation is ready to partake in the memorial. In following the biblical model in Matthew 26:18-30, the bread (representing the broken body of Christ) should be distributed and partaken of first. Then the wine (representing Christ’s blood) should be distributed and taken in last. It is fitting that the celebration ends with a song (preferably a hymn), as Jesus did with the disciples (Matthew 26:30).

 

Church Government / Leadership

A biblical church polity is crucial to the maintenance of a healthy church, which is why church government should be done faithfully according to the model presented in the New Testament early church. Proper church leadership allows for proper allocation and distribution of authority to the right party, a strong government to the sustenance and direction of the church, and the Lord’s blessing upon the church’s unity and growth.

The Bible presents a clear picture of what a church government should look like. The first fact to remember is that Jesus Christ is the head of the church and no other (Ephesians 1:22). To Jesus and the Word of God alone does the church submit and find legitimacy in its teachings and practices. Second, the church is to be free and autonomous from any external control or authority, which includes control from the government, a single individual, or a hierarchy of leaders and organizations (Titus 1:5). Third, the church must be governed by a leadership committee composed of two main offices – elders and deacons. Though the Bible teaches the universal priesthood of all believers and that all men are created equal, Scripture does give a clear command regarding the distinct roles of church leaders and laity, and for laity to faithfully submit to the rule and leadership of the church government (1 Peter 5:5). There is no biblical evidence of an assembly ruled by majority lay opinion or by a single pastor.

1 Timothy 3:2, 8 and Titus 1:5-7 outline the qualifications of elders and deacons. Strong godly character must be observed in elders and deacons in order that they may faithfully serve the Lord and be an example of purity and integrity to the entire body. A plurality of elders should be evident, in which each elder is encouraged to exercise his gifts to contribute to the church (ex. administration, prayer, evangelism). Within this plurality there must be a pastor/teacher whose responsibility is to be the main teacher and shepherd of the flock (Ephesians 4:11). The pastor has privileges of decision making and guiding the direction of the church, but does not possess sole “dictatorial” authority, since authority should be centered on the elder and deacon board. Furthermore, the office of pastor/teacher must be filled by men alone, since Scripture makes clear commands that women are not to teach or shepherd over men (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34). This biblical mandate applies to any position of eldership and overseer in the church.

In staying true to the biblical mandates of church leadership, I exhort the church to be faithful to this biblical model by creating a clear distinction between elders and laity, men and women’s roles in the church, and defining the functions of elders and deacons. All elders and deacons must be qualified according to the character guidelines of Titus 1:6-8 and affirmed by the church government through contemplation and prayer. There must be a plurality of elders so as to prevent an abuse of power from one influential individual within the church and to allow the Lord to work mightily through the collective wisdom of the church government.

The elders’ main task is to manage and care for the church. However, each elder’s duty varies according to his gifts. Elders must take responsibility in creating official church policy (Acts 15:22), ordaining ministers (1 Timothy 4:4), exhorting and refuting (Titus 1:9), and acting as shepherds as examples to all (1 Peter 5:1-3). There must be one elder who serves as the main pastor/teacher whose duty it is to preach on Sundays and on other service occasions and events.

I believe the church should also seek deacons to care for various church duties by assisting the elders and serving the laity. Deacons are responsible for administrative and organizational tasks, ushering, being responsible for building maintenance, and being treasurers of the deacon’s fund to care for the poor and needy members of the church. Deacons must also be men of integrity (1 Timothy 3:8-12) and should be evaluated according to character guidelines.

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Ask Steve: What Characterizes a Great Preacher?

February 16, 2015 10:39 pm

God's Love

 

God’s Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children

by R.C. Sproul

Category: Theology

2012, David C. Cook

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, there are Christians who tell me that “this pastor’s sermons are good” or “that pastor is a good speaker” or that pastor “has entertaining messages.” What defines a great preacher?

Answer: People define great preachers in different ways – some for the right reasons and some for the wrong reasons. There are preachers or speakers in modern evangelicalism who provide entertaining messages, feel good stories, on-stage charisma, intriguing topical messages, and intellectual exercises. Some of these things are good, but they do not necessarily make a person a great preacher. And then there are speakers who are faithful to expository preaching, exegesis of the text, and accuracy, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a great preacher either.

Preaching 5So what makes a person a great preacher? We understand what characterizes a great preacher by the examples of exemplary men in the New Testament, including Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and Stephen. We also see the picture of what an extraordinary preacher looks like by examining model preachers of church history, such as John Calvin, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and Martin Lloyd-Jones.

 

There are several factors that define a good preacher:

 

  • Integrity. A great preacher must first and foremost be a man of God. He must be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). He must be one who is “above reproach,” (2 Tim 3; Tit 1:6-7), and not living a debauched or immoral lifestyle. It is very difficult to take a preacher’s talents with much gravity if he is not a man of God, either in his salvific stance or in his sanctification. The preacher not only preaches the word of God to others, but first preaches it to himself. He lives it out, not only for God’s honor, but so that there is no cause to bring accusation or slander against him (Acts 25:7; 1 Pet 3:16).

 

  • Bible-Centered. A great preacher must be committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the preaching of the word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). This does not mean that a good preacher always has to do sequential, verse-by-verse expository preaching, but that he must use Scripture as his basis and authority in whatever theological or thematic messages he preaches on. A man who does not rely on Scripture for his preaching, but bases his sermons on his opinions, philosophies, and stories is not a great preacher. As 2 Timothy 2:15 teaches, the preacher must be diligent to present himself as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth [emphasis added].

 

  • Passion. A great preacher must have contagious passion. This is something that is missing in much pulpit preaching, no matter what denomination or traditions of the church. John the Baptist (Matt 3) and Peter (Acts 2) were known for proclaiming the word of God with much passion and conviction, and so should faithful preachers. Passionate preaching does not mean constantly yelling or being jumpy on stage, but implies that the preacher/speaker will speak with real conviction and urgency in his message. He will put the life into his sermons so it will not be unnecessarily boring or tedious. It must engage the listener, especially in our day and age of easy distraction.

 

  • Accessibility. A great preacher must be an understandable speaker. He must not only be a good orator, but one who speaks on a level that is accessible to people who are physically young (children) and spiritually young (new converts). The Bible speaks to us comprehensibly and simply starting from Genesis 1:1, and so should preachers of God’s message. This does not mean that a preacher should water-down the message, but to make a profound and deep message adaptable to all kinds of people. Paul was not eloquent in speech (1 Cor 1:2), but he was still one of the great preachers of the faith because of the fact that he was able to get the message across well to people from all walks of life. Preachers who preach in the style of academic lectures, overreaching philosophical exercises, or overemphasis on Greek-Hebrew exegesis, are not great preachers.

 

  • Content. A great preacher preaches sermons/messages with extraordinary content. For the most part, it has great introductions, brilliant illustrations and analogies, good biblical exposition, accurate theology, passionate exhortations, pleas, and applications, and a memorable conclusion. These things characterized the preaching of Jesus, whether on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) or Olivet Discourse (Matt 25-26), and characterized many great preachers in church history.

 

  • Defense. A great preacher will always defend the faith. He will not simply preach messages on topics that are agreeable to the ears or that only concerns matters within the church. He will address trends and attacks that threaten the welfare and life of the church, including evolution, abortion, anti-inerrancy trends, false doctrines in the church, sexual immorality, and government issues. The preacher does this not to stir up unnecessary debate and criticism, but to guard the sheep by informing them, cultivating discernment, and urging them to greater devotion to God (Jude 3). If there is a Satan working in the world to destroy the church, then preachers must do what they can to guard the church against attacks from both within and outside the church.

 

  • Impact. A great preacher makes a powerful impact on his listeners. Although a preacher can do everything right according to the rulebook, it is ultimately God who establishes the power of the preacher by producing a harvest of saved souls and sanctified saints (1 Cor 3:7). Are the preacher’s messages having a real impact on the congregants? Does it cause many to be saved? Does it inspire people to greater godly living? Does it help people to understand the depths of God and worship Him with greater passion?

 

These are some of the main factors that define great preachers of the past and great preachers of today. These are guidelines that an elder or speaker should keep in mind when seeking to honor the Lord, and edify the saints, in His calling as a preacher. It is a terrible thing when preachers are immoral, passionless, topical message centered, hard to understand, inaccurate, compromising regarding attacks on the church and the Bible, and does not make any real impact in the lives of the listeners. The pulpit is a high calling, therefore it must be treated with the utmost importance, since souls are on the line (1 Tim 4:16).

This answers the question of what a great preacher is, in contrast to a great lecturer, speaker, teacher, devotional person, or storyteller. There are great preachers today, some of whom are not widely known and some who are. Some examples of great preachers today include Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Paul Washer, Voddie Baucham, John Piper, and Alistair Begg.

Recommended Resource: The King of Preaching God Blesses by Steven J. Lawson

 

Book Review: Contagious Disciple Making by David and Paul Watson

February 15, 2015 10:19 pm

Contagious

Contagious Disciple Making is a book on discipleship, most specifically in the context of church planting and church growth. It is a short, but practical, book that teaches you many essential components that go into planting churches, helping them grow, and maturing believers in the faith. The book speaks about attitudes of a Disciple maker, practices such as evangelism and prayer, and discovery groups that help make the connect people to the local church.

This book is a helpful resource on discipleship and church ministry. Even Chapter 2’s discussion on contextualization of the gospel to foreign cultures are quite insightful. It’s not about watering down the message or making the church like the world in order to draw it in. Rather, it is about removing the non-essential barriers that would hinder non-Christians (in certain cultural contexts) in coming to Christ. Although the book is a little methodized at times in speaking about its discipleship process, it is still a helpful resource to take into consideration when doing church planting.

Note: I got this book complimentary from booklookbloggers.com. I was not obligated to give a good opinion, but only my honest response.

Book Review: Pillars of Grace by Steven J. Lawson

February 7, 2015 8:45 pm

Pillars

Steven J. Lawson is not only a great preacher, but an avid studier and writer of famous church historians. Pillars of Grace is a compilation of every major theologian and church figure from 100-1564 who stood up for the truth of the gospel. It is a marvelous effort from Lawson, who writes one of the most riveting church history books in recent memory.

Pillars of Grace is not a typical church history book that exhaustively documents all the teachings or life events of every major player in early or Medieval church history. Rather, it is selective in who is exactly discussed, and what makes their contributions to Christianity so special. Lawson sets out to prove that the church figures who made the most impact in church history and were emblems of faithfulness to God were those who held to what Reformation doctrine calls the Doctrines of Grace, which includes radical depravity, definitive atonement, sovereign election, irresistible call, and preserving grace.

            Beginning from Clement of Rome all the way to John Calvin, we see a marvelous and inspiring picture of these beliefs in each person. These are the components that describe the truth, depth, and necessity of the gospel, and each figure exemplified these traits in some way or another. Of course, the criteria is not to base the church figures beliefs out of the TULIP formula, but to base it on the teachings of Scripture. Does the Scripture affirm the corruption of man and the sovereign election of God in salvation? Does it teach that God preserves the saints? Lawson is able to make an adequate case from even the time of Ignatius and Justin Martyr (who did not have as fully developed of a systematic theology as later generations) that these teachings in the Bible are both true and necessary for the life of the Christian and the church.

            This book is a valuable resource in how it documents the line of godly men in church history. It provides good autobiographical detail, church figure’s work, their theology, their battles, and their commitment to the biblical teachings concerning the doctrines of grace. The book even has a unique study guide at the end of each chapter that challenges the reader to remember and recite the importance of each church historian’s ministry and doctrine. Pillars of Grace is, by far, the most exciting church history book I’ve read. It does not come off at dry or meandering. Rather, it is thematic, purposeful, and inspirational. Through the examples of these church historians, we understand the central doctrines of Christianity and why they must be cared for, especially in our day of apostasy, lukewarm feelings for doctrine, and defense against the claims of skeptics. This book should be on the shelf of both laypeople and Christian scholars.

Note: I received this book as a complimentary copy from Reformation Trust Publishing. I was not obligated to give a good review, but only my honest opinion.

Ask Steve: The Doctrine of Inerrancy

February 7, 2015 8:00 pm

Contagious

 

Currently Reading:

Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery

by David L. Watson & Paul D. Watson

Category: Christian Life / Ministry

2015, Thomas Nelson

 

 

 

Question: Steve, can you explain to me the doctrine of inerrancy? Summarize historic and contemporary challenges to this doctrine. What implications does this doctrine have for pastoral ministry?

Answer: The doctrine of inerrancy is one of the most important teachings that a Christian and the church can hold to. It is the foundation for understanding every major (and even minor) doctrine of the Christian faith. It affirms the truth of who God is – impeccably sovereign, true, and faithful. Without believing in the essence of inerrancy, we are left with doubt concerning the truthfulness of God’s revelation and the power of His sovereign preserving of His word. Without inerrancy, there is nothing really to define what the gospel is and whether it can be trusted or not.

Inerrancy is the simple and timeless fact that Scripture contains nothing that is contrary to reality. It is without error in not only the facts concerning salvation and Christian living, but also historical, scientific, prophetic, and geographical details. It must be clarified that inerrancy of Scripture applies exclusively to the autographa (original manuscripts), and not the subsequent manuscripts, translations, or commentaries that have come from it. The inspiration of Scripture only applies to those works which were penned by the original authors (moved by the Holy Spirit), and not to the works of the manuscript copyists or translators. However, this does not mean that the Bible we have today is hopelessly full of error or is untrustworthy. Through the science of textual criticism (the practice of reconciling textual variants in ancient manuscripts), we have come to recover approximately 99.5% of the autographa.

Picture 1This roughly 0.5 percent of the Bible difficulties – often called technical scribal errors – do not in any way influence the major – or even sub-major – doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the meaning of the gospel, God’s eternal attributes, the essence of Christian living, etc. Even if the 0.5 percent of the scribal discrepancies did not exist, it would not have any noticeable impact on the Bible that we have today. It would not have changed the course of Christianity or given greater power to the gospel, Christian living, and church growth. This reality attests to the faithful hand of God to preserve His word throughout history so it can accomplish its purposes, which is convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8). Therefore, the church can have confidence that even though the physical autographa is not with us today, the contents of that autographa is essentially recovered and available worldwide in our Bible.

Many verses in the Bible demonstrate the truth of inerrancy. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired [God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, rebuke, and training in righteousness.” This passage not only demonstrates the infallibility and authority of Scripture, but also its total truthfulness, because of the Agent of truth who inspired it. Jesus affirms in 17:17, “Sanctify them in Your truth; Your word is truth.” Psalm 119:160 states, “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” Last, but not least, 2 Peter 1:20 declares, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Picture 2The inerrancy of Scripture, as established in such verses like 2 Timothy 3:16, encompasses many truths concerning the Bible. Because the Scripture are without error, it implies that the Bible is authoritative in all areas. That means every principle in the Bible has authority over a person’s life; there is no such thing as picking and choosing what is true or what to follow. Because Scriptures are without error, it is sufficient in all areas. It is complete and enough to guide a sinner to eternal salvation and effective worshipful living before God. Because Scriptures are without error, it is infallible in all areas. It will accomplish its salvific and sanctifying purposes in the church throughout history. Because Scriptures are without error, it is clear in all areas. It speaks on all major matters in a manner that is comprehensible to every man on the planet so they can understand the truth of Scripture and obey it.

The doctrine of inerrancy has had many challenges throughout history, therefore it has major implications on pastoral ministry. There are quite a number of people who do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, even within evangelicalism. It is a problem amongst many Christians and churches. It’s even an issue with many liberal seminaries (like Princeton and Fuller). Even if professing believers hold to inerrancy (for the sake of appearing orthodox or reverential to God’s character), their definition of “inerrancy” is completely misleading because of how they redefine or twist the meaning and intent of Scripture. By reinterpreting sections such as the 7-Day creation account (into theistic evolution), Jonah and the big fish (into a parable), and even the gospel message (into social or dominion theology), the so-called inerrantist defies the Bible’s clear teaching on perspicuity (Ps 19:7; 119:160) and indirectly pronounces Scripture to be in error. This does not mean that all Christians who deny inerrancy are heretics and apostates. Yet a word of caution should be applied here. The degree to which “Christians” deny the inerrancy of Scripture, and teach aberrant doctrine, can very well reveal the true condition of his heart and salvation. As Matthew 7:16-20 says, “You will know them by their fruit…”

A denial of inerrancy has major effects on pastoral ministry and church. For one, it causes elders and laypeople to be distrustful of the Bible. They will not have as much faith in the authority, truthfulness, and sufficiency of Scripture as they should, which is exactly what Satan and the secular world want. Some errantists believe that the Bible is only infallible when it comes to teachings on salvation and Christian living (e.g. faith and practice), but not on technical details of science or prophecy. If that is true, what does this really say about God’s truthful nature? What does it imply about His sovereign power to guide men’s writings or preserve His word? This idea of a “canon within a canon” just does not correlate to the Bible’s clear teaching regarding the integrity of His written revelation.

Picture 3Denying inerrancy opens the floodgates to many possible dangers. Because the Bible is not completely true in all areas, who is to say what is true and what is false? Who is even to believe that the Bible’s teaching on salvation and Christian living are true and timelessly binding? Who is to say that we cannot lie or be negligent on small matters as well? The problem with those who oppose biblical inerrancy, especially by historical critical scholars, is that they elevate academic scholarship, feelings, and novelties over the Lordship of Christ. Instead of humbly submitting to Christ’s lordship, these Christians believe themselves to be above God’s word, which is why they cannot accept it for what it says. The word of God is only meant to be understood through the normal, clear, and (at times) literal sense of the language, which precludes the idea that the words of the Bible are esoteric and known only to the readers or audiences of their time. Otherwise, it cannot be a light or a tool to make the simple wise (Ps 119:160).

It is important to hold to the doctrine of inerrancy, especially when pastoring in churches. Without it, expository preaching is in vain (since much of it is either not true or not applicable to us). Trust in God’s faithfulness is shaky. Futile speculations and theories about the possible meaning of Scripture leads to doubt and lack of conviction, which is a slope that eventually turns to liberalism, agnosticism, and atheism.

Book Review: Churchless by George Barna and David Kinnamon

January 28, 2015 10:45 pm

Churchless

The number of churchless adults in the US has increased by nearly 1/3 in the last decade. Statements arise such as “I’m not interested in church” or “I used to attend, but it’s been years.” George Barna and David Kinnaman documents this alarming trend in the new book Churchless, which gathers together a number of research statistics (by Barna) and objectively analyzes the downward trends of churchlessness and Bible illiteracy in the US. It is a unique book and an insightful one as well, documenting many interesting subject polls (such as the number of churched in the US, salvation methods, Bible inerrancy, views of the afterlife) and describing how they differ from results a couple decades ago. The numbers make the message clear: the Christian influence is rapidly waning in the US.

 Churchless does not propose to be the solution. Rather, it documents the figures and describes what we can learn from the mind of unbelievers so we can get an idea of why they fall away from the church or what issues they are struggling with in life. In this sense, this is a good resource in order to understand issues that we should be aware of (as well as those doctrines that we should never compromise). This is one of the most thorough books that describe the state of the unbeliever’s thoughts concerning many biblical issues.

Ask Steve: Genesis 1-11: Fact or Fiction?

January 28, 2015 12:23 am

Genesis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Do you believe that the events described in Genesis 1-11 are historically factual or symbolic? Why?

Answer: The historicity of Genesis 1-11 is often debated by secular humanists, which in turn has influenced the thinking of many evangelicals since the early 20th century. There are two popular thoughts concerning evolution: 1. an unknowable force brought about life through the process of evolution (atheistic evolution), and 2. God used the process of evolution to bring about life as we speak (theistic evolution).

If this is true, then what can be said about the events portrayed in Genesis 1-11? Is the Bible wrong? Or does this section meant to be figurative – verbal expressions are not meant to be taken literally, but are employed to communicate the higher purpose of a story or lesson? Despite what humanists and liberal scholars theorize, I believe Genesis 1-11 is meant to be taken historically, which means that the section speaks about true events that happened at the beginning of world history. There are a few good reasons to support this view.

Genesis 2The first reason is that it is presupposed by the integrity of Scripture. If God exists and He had given His special revelation to us (which is timelessly binding on all humans), then that document (the Bible) can only speak truth, since God is truth (Jn 1:14; 17:17). Genesis 1-11 reveals the historicity of the 7-Day creation account, Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Some argue that this section of the book is symbolic, or even poetry. However, this theory cannot be verified. The genre of the book of Genesis is historical narrative, which means that the whole book (including Genesis 1-11) is meant to be taken as history. There is also no identifiable difference of writing style between Genesis 1-11 and 12-50 that would categorize one as a totally different genre from another. To deny Genesis 1-11 while affirming the general historicity of Genesis 12-50 is to have a strong anti-supernatural stance (and possibly even a bias against the universal depravity depicted in Gen 1-11). However, if we believe that God exists and is omnipotent, then we should logically conclude that He can perform supernatural deeds, which includes creating the world and even overriding the fixed order of the universe if He so chooses.

The second reason to affirm the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is that it attests to the way that God meant Scriptures to be read and understood for both salvation and sanctification. Psalm 119:130 states, “The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” The Bible is meant to be understood by even the simplest of people so they can obey it. Its meaning cannot be so esoteric, or be relative according to the times and cultures, that the simple-minded is required to go to a learning institution in order to decipher its meaning. When read based on the normal sense of the language, Genesis 1-11 clearly reveals the historicity of creation, the Fall, the Flood, the long life spans of people, and the Tower incident. This attests to the integrity of the grammatical-historical hermeneutics, which is the method that Christians use to interpret all of Scripture. We come to understand the intended meaning of the Bible by the logical rules of grammar in the text and the historical and cultural contexts in which those words were penned. The result is a Bible that reveals its meaning in the normal, obvious sense, and has principles whose meaning to the original recipients are binding and understood by all generations. In other words, the Bible communicates literal truth, and not allegory (or at least allegory that is not explicitly explained by the authors of the text).

Genesis 3As with other texts or principles in the Bible, Genesis 1-11 has only one meaning and intention, which is to communicate the beginnings of life. This is the way the Israelites in Moses’ time understood this text, since there was no indication from other texts in the Old Testament, New Testament, or apocryphal writings that the Israelites and other biblical figures understood the world to be made through an evolutionary process. To claim that God perfected the world through evolution and hid this truth from Moses (because the evolution concept was too “difficult for them to grasp at the time”) is to cast suspicion on God’s truthfulness and even the Bible’s perspicuity. How likely is it that such important truths are unexplained to godly men like Moses but providentially revealed to God-hating atheists like Charles Darwin? The fact that the theory of evolution has done more damage than good to the cause of the gospel (since it is supported and lived out by many non-believers) is already a serious indicator of its erroneousness.

Even the meaning of the Sabbath in the 4th Commandment is based on the creation account. Because God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day, the Israelites were expected to honor this creation account as part of their allegiance to Yahweh. The 4th Commandment would have no real meaning apart from the historicity of the creation events. Such a command for the Israelites would be quite mysterious, if not arbitrary.

A third reason to understand Genesis 1-11 is based on empirical observations. Skeptics claim that the world evolved through billions of years, and that there was never such an event as a worldwide flood or the scattering from Babel. Once again, such claims are based on the presupposition that there is no such thing as the supernatural, which includes God and all He is capable of doing. If evolution is true, then life in the world should continually be evolving into a better, more beautiful, and more advanced state. That is not what we see today, as we observe the order and beauty of this world degrading and running out of usable energy. This is the 2nd law of thermodynamics – that all things in the world tend to go from order to disorder, and not the other way around. Just the fact that there are no verifiable evidence that evolution is happening right now, that cells mutate drastically as to change into another species, or that life arises instantaneously from non-life, is an indicator that life must have been come from a first Cause who designed it the world in a certain manner. The Bible reveals that God created everything ex nihilo (out of nothing) (Gen 1), according to its own kind (Gen 1:12; 24), and instantaneously in order to demonstrate His power, glory, and purposes for people. In fact, God revealed this truth to Moses so that the Israelites would understand which God it is that created the world, how He did it, and why He did it so they could understand the truth of God, sin, tribes and languages, and God’s redemptive promises for mankind.

The historical accounts in Genesis 1-11 is reasonable in many different ways. If there was no God who created the world in 6-days and rested on the 7th, why does the world run on a weekly cycle of 7 days (in which people find it an inclination to typically rest one day from work)? Why is the world created good, but there is evil and suffering in it? Why is there such thing as death and not everlasting life? Can this be explained by the fall of Adam and the consequent curse? Why are there fossil records all over the world, even on mountaintops? Can this be explained by a worldwide flood which speaks of God’s judgment on the sinful world? Why are there flood accounts in many early traditions of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures? Does this point to the ancestors’ familiarity with a global flood, which people kept as an oral tradition from the time of the flood to the Tower of Babel? Why are there various languages in the world? How did they originate (instead of just one language to unite all communication between mankind)? Is this an indication of the historicity of Babel and God’s judgment on the sinful pride of man by creating disunity in language and scattering the people worldwide?

The final reason for the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is the theological issue. If the skeptic’s analysis of Genesis 1-11 is true, then most major doctrines of the Christian faith is distorted. If man was not created by God, but evolved, then who exactly is Adam? Was there really such thing as a fall and entrance of universal sin? If Adam was one of many Neanderthal men who evolved over time, does this mean that only Adam’s line fell into sin while the other Neanderthal were unaffected by sin? Of course, this poses problems to the gospel message and the necessity of Jesus’ atonement on the whole human race. If Adam was not a real person, who is to say that Jesus was real either. If the original man did not fall into sin, then who is to say that we need the righteousness that Jesus provides through His death and resurrection? This would make the Apostle Paul’s theological treatise of Adam and Jesus to be utterly vain (Rom 8:12-20), since they don’t correspond with reality. If the historical creation account were not true, then who is to say that marriage is exclusively between man and women (Gen 2), or that marriage must be lifelong? If the Tower of Babel incident is not historical, then what is the real significance of Pentecost (Acts 2) – an event in which Peter spoke in various world languages that indicated God’s desire to bring together what He once scattered through those same languages?

Much more can be said to prove the legitimacy of Genesis 1-11. But the real issue (for both skeptics and professing Christians) is submitting to the Lordship of Christ. Are you submitting to God’s word and His rule, or are you caving into academic respectability and cultural relevance? Are you desiring to obey God or be a man-pleaser? To deny the historicity of Genesis 1-11 poses theological problems and strikes at the foundation of God’s word. If one gets Genesis (the beginning of the book) wrong, then there is no telling how much more he will get the other parts of the Bible wrong. This is why it is important for Scripture be the interpreter of life’s mysteries, and not the other way around. True science and history will also be validated by the words of Scripture, as many historical discoveries have attested. The problem is not the clarity of Scripture, but sin in men’s hearts, which leads to distrust of God and compromise with the world’s system.

Recommended Resource: The Battle for the Beginning by John MacArthur

Ask Steve: Divorce and Remarriage

January 11, 2015 10:43 pm

Divorce 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is your view of divorce and remarriage? How strictly will you follow this view in practice?

Answer: Divorce and remarriage is a popular, if not touchy, subject in the world today. Societies try to redefine the moral boundaries of divorce and remarriage, as if the standard is entirely based on the person’s emotional preference or life circumstance. However, the Bible has definitive teachings on this matter, which no man can change. Marriage, divorce, and remarriage are defined by God. Therefore, to go against God’s timeless principles as it regards divorce and remarriage would constitute sin – a rebellion against God’s intentional order.

My view on divorce and remarriage is what I believe God’s word teaches about this matter – that it is permissible, but in limited circumstances. The Lord directly states in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce.” It is evident since the book of Genesis that God intended marriage between a man and a woman to be lifelong. It is not in God’s desire that marriages end in divorce, especially sinful divorce. Jesus the Son of God affirms this when He answers the Pharisees’ question concerning the legitimacy of divorce: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:5-6).

However, this does not mean that divorce is not permitted or sanctioned under any circumstance. In the same passage, Jesus provides a helpful commentary on the ancient Mosaic practice of a husband writing a certificate of divorce and sending his wife away (v. 7). Christ explains that Moses did not command or encourage that a husband divorce his wife after her unfaithful act or habit. Rather, Moses merely permitted it as a last-resort response to the spouse’s hardened heart. In other words, divorce (and remarriage) have been permitted by the Lord to accommodate to certain occurrences that happen as a result of living in a fallen, sin-cursed earth. Jesus teaches that a man cannot divorce his wife unless she has committed physical adultery or vice versa (v. 9). A person who divorces his spouse (without the proper biblical reason) and marries another woman is guilty of committing adultery (v. 9), because the marriage pact of the original couple is still divinely intact, no matter if the world separates them by a legal divorce.

Divorce 2Other sections of Scripture comment on the biblical legality of remarriage. Divorce is permitted if an unbelieving, unrepentant spouse wants to separate from the Christian spouse (1 Cor 7:15), although the Christian should attempt to keep the marriage intact if possible, for the sake of God’s design of marriage. In any case, the Christian should not be the one to initiate the divorce from the unbelieving spouse, especially if the unbeliever wants to keep the marriage binding (1 Cor 7:12). As the passage states, “…if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband…”

If the Christian has no choice but to agree to the legal divorce because the unbeliever cannot tolerate the spouse’s faith, then it is permissible for the Christian to let the unbelieving spouse go for the sake of peace in the family (Rom 12:18). In this situation, the Christian can either remain single and devote his life/her life exclusively to the service of Christ (v. 34-35) or he can remarry, but only to another Christian (v. 39-40). In fact, the marrying option was encouraged for widows who continually burn in their desire for a man (1 Tim 5:17), especially if it is evident that they have a greater desire for marriage than an exclusive, full-time service to the Lord in ministry.

Finally, remarriage is legitimate if the spouse dies. As Romans 3:3 says, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.” In this case, the spouse is freed from the spiritual liabilities and penalties of God’s law in marriage, since the statutes of marriage are only binding for this life. Marriage is not intended to go into eternity, but ends at death. The purpose of marriage is that it points to a greater reality: Christ. The picture of marriage is ultimately fulfilled in the final marriage between Christ (the groom) and the church (the bridge) (Eph 5:26-27; Rev 19:9). In fact, the entire gospel (man’s salvation and union with Christ) explains the mystery behind the human institution of marriage.

Divorce 3Why is there such thing as marriage in the world? Why is marriage supposed to be between man and woman? Why is marriage supposed to be lifelong? Why does marriage involve festivities? Why is marriage exclusive, in which partners cannot seek other “loves” outside of the two-party union? Because it is modeled on the future covenant between Christ and the church. The picture on earth is a type that points to the future heavenly reality. We see God’s faithfulness to the elect in that those who are saved by faith will not fall away from His forgiving grace, no matter how much Christians have sinned after their justification. In other words, Christ does not “divorce” or cast off those whom He has elected and justified. We see the picture of the marriage in heaven between Christ and the church (Rev 19:9), in which Christ promises to be their God, and they His people, forever.

This is the reason why marriage is to be permanent. Marriages cannot be broken because a husband is “bored” with his wife, desires a more compatible mate, or even because of constant conflicts or domestic abuses. “Irreconcilable differences” does not fit the biblical permission for divorce. Remarriage is only permitted when the spouse is unfaithful, dies, or the unbelieving partner leaves. Other reasons for remarriage are not permitted in the Bible.

Some dilemmas typically arise with these mandates. One of the prevalent reasons that people divorce is incompatibility or domestic abuse. Many see this as a legitimate reason to divorce. However, the Bible does not entertain this reason. The principles in Scripture are timeless and do not change based on unique circumstances. If a wife is suffering abuse from her husband, the most appropriate course of action is to seek biblical counseling for the marriage and/or enter into a period of separation (not divorce) from her husband for safety’s sake. She is to pray that the Lord would bring her husband to saving faith or repentance from his actions. If he repents, then reconciliation and healing takes place. If he does not repent and files for divorce (which demonstrates that he might not truly be a believer), then she is not obligated to remain with him. Remember, the Christian should not be the one to sin and initiate the divorce, but to do what is right and trusting in the Lord’s providence.

Another popular situation involves a person who becomes Christian after he has been divorced from his wife. Should he pursue reconciliation with his wife? What if she is an unbeliever? Though the man’s past sins (including unjust divorce) have been forgiven through his salvation in Christ (Acts 2:38; Col 1:14), he should still do what most honors the Lord and upholds the testimony of the gospel message. He is free to remarry another Christian woman, but he should seek to reconcile with his wife if it is possible. Even if she is an unbeliever, it is more appropriate to first pursue marriage amendments with her. If that reconciliation is not possible because she adamantly declines or she has remarried and/or started a new family with another person, then the Christian is under no obligation anymore in God’s law to pursue reconciliation with the former spouse (1 Cor 7:15), but is free to remarry. This same principle applies in the case of newly converted Christian women attempting to seek reconciliation with her unbelieving husband.

Another question that is typically asked, “Should I keep the marriage intact even if my adulterous wife genuinely repents?” Even though adultery provides the legitimate grounds for divorce, we must keep in mind that God’s intention from the very beginning is that marriages remain intact, since He hates divorce. Therefore, if an adulterous spouse genuinely repents from his/her actions, it is better to forgive, pursue reconciliation, and keep the marriage together. I say this not only for the peace of the family (including the children), but because such display of grace and mercy brilliantly captures the grace that Christ shows to His church (even when we sin in multiple ways against Him everyday, some of which includes idolatry).

Since Christ promises to commit to Christians until the end, so should we toward our spouse, even in severe times of conflicts. The preservation of the marriage, in the spirit of love, testifies to the grace that God provides for marriage, and is a sound testimony to the gospel itself. We love our wives and serve them selflessly (despite their difficulties) because Christ loved us (despite our daily disobedience to Him). We stay with them to the very end because Christ promises to be with His church to the very end.

My convictions regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage impacts how I teach this principle and counsel others who are not living out the biblical guidelines concerning divorce and remarriage. Because these principles are grounded in God’s revealed will, it will be the basis for which I conduct marriages and remarriages. It will be the standard for which I advise couples concerning divorce.

Recommended Resource: God, Marriage, & Family by Andreas Kostenberger

Ask Steve: What Characterizes a Great Theologian?

January 4, 2015 5:46 pm

Uneclipsing

 

Currently Reading:

Uneclipsing the Son

by Rick Holland

Category: Christian Living

2011, Kress Biblical Resources

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am slowly becoming familiar with such great church theologians as Clement, Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Martin Lloyd Jones? Can you explain to me what characterizes a great theologian (in contrast to a poor one)?

Answer: Theology comes from the Greek word theos (God) and logia (words, oracles, sayings). Theology is basically the study of God, which includes the study of man, life, purpose, and other importance doctrines of the Christian faith. A theologian is a man who is involved in the science of spiritual studies. He not only understands the things of God, but skillfully teaches it and knows how to apply it.

Because all Christians are commanded to know the truth of Scripture in order to grow in Christlikeness, we are all called, to some degree, to be theologians. We should make it a life’s mission to study the things of God in order to know and obey Him. However, there are Christians who are theologians vocationally (whether pastor, writer, or professor) and become of major influence to the Christian community, and even church history, in understanding who God is and what He requires of us. He seeks to make the entire Bible known to us so that we can better understand the depth of God’s word.

There are a few factors that characterize a great theologian:

Integrity. As with any vocation in the Christian faith, a great theologian must be one who is a man of God. He must be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). The filling of the Holy Spirit is the means by which He is experiencing great sanctification, which leads to a life of holiness. If the man is continually grieving the Holy Spirit and is living a debauched lifestyle, he does not qualify as a great theologian, no matter how much he knows. The man whom God uses in this field must be an exemplary theologian who not only teaches theology, but does theology with his life.

Knowledge. A great theologian must have a near encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and key doctrines of Christianity. Because a theologian is essentially a teacher of God’s word gifted to the local and/or universal church (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11), he must be able to understand the word of God, explain its meaning, and apply it to everyday life. A theologian should have the gift of knowledge (1 Cor 12:28), or else he would be bereft of the ability to know Scripture enough to explain and teach it.

Accuracy. A great theologian must have a truthful understanding of what the Bible says. Even if the theologian errs in minor or undeveloped parts of Scripture (ex. the destination of OT saints before Christ, the exact timing or nature of the kingdom of God), he must be able to discern all the major teachings of Scripture, which includes soteriology, ecclesiology, missiology, and, to some degree, eschatology. In other words, a great theologian should have the gift of discernment (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor 2:14), distinguishing between truth and error as much as possible, in order to be a good teacher of God’s word.

Insight. A great theologian has deep insights into the word of God. He does not merely restate what the Bible says or make general observations about God or the matters of the Christian faith. The great theologian understands the theology behind passages or verses in the Bible. He understands the original languages, cultural and historical contexts, and divine principles of the passage based on careful exegesis, and exposits it skillfully in order that we better understand the word of God. A great theologian can exposit a text and articulate doctrine that clearly explores, defines, and defends the Christian faith. A great theologian’s exploration of the Bible is profoundly deep but understandable, thought provoking but not esoteric, unique but not heretical, brilliant and not dull.

Defense. A great theologian defends the Christian faith against attackers, from both the secular world and professing evangelicalism. In other words, a great theologian is also an apologist. Studying and understanding Scripture theoretically leads the theologian to understand truth and error. Scripture commands the teacher of God to rebuke error and defend the faith (2 Cor 10:5; Jd 1:3), since the devil seeks to destroy the Christian faith, especially through distorting God’s truth. There are many Christians who teach God’s love, the beauties of salvation, and the benefits of Christian living, yet hardly speak on the dangers of heretics and compromise with the world. A great theologian does not ignore the world and the church’s battles. In fact, most of the doctrines we hold to this day (ex. Trinity, total depravity, justification by faith) were defined by great theologians who stood for the integrity of God’s word in the midst of concerted efforts to distort it.

Response. A great theologian is able to produce work that elicits response. I do not mean a response to the theologian’s great talent, but a response to the word of God. Does the theologian’s work cause men to love God more? A theologian can state facts or systematic theology of the Bible, but these things alone do not necessarily transform men or cause them to want to worship God. The question is, Does it cause believers to worship the Lord better because of a deepened understanding of men’s sin, the gospel of Christ, and the consummation of God’s plans for history? If the theologian’s work does not compel Christians to seek God in salvation or sanctification based on the greatness and wonders of God’s character, then he is not a great theologian. A great theologian’s work will influence many towards spirit and truth worship (Jn 4:24), and is usually used by other Christians in their teaching ministry or personal devotions.

These are some of the few main attributes of a great theologian. Authors, life inspiration teachers, pastors, and seminary professors may know much about the Bible and obey it, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a great theologian. In fact, there are many in the last 2,000 years of church history who were characterized as theologians. But there are theologians in the past and present who are known for teaching false doctrines (especially in core issues of the Christian faith), do not have an accurate understanding of Scripture, attack the trustworthiness of Scripture instead of defending it, and do not elicit a response of obedience for and awe of God from the audience. However, a great theologian will do as the commands teachers to do (understand the faith, explain the faith, defend the faith, exhort in the faith, and live out the faith).

This is what characterized fine theologians of the past like Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, Thomas Aquinas, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, George Whitefield, and what characterizes great theologians of the present like J.I. Packer, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, and John Piper.

The Doctrine of Hell: Eternal, Annihilation, or Restoration?

December 29, 2014 2:03 am

Hell 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: What is the biblical teaching about hell? Is it never, forever, of just for a while? Who is it reserved for?

Answer: The doctrine of hell is one of the most difficult ones to fathom. It is so unimaginable and frightening that it has caused many liberal Christians (and even some conservatives) and heretical groups (ex. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses) to redefine this teaching according to their preference and reason. However, hell is one of the most important doctrines in Scripture because it is directly related to the gospel message. Any tampering, miscommunication, or misunderstanding of this teaching is a serious offense to God’s revealed word, and may even reveal a professing Christian to be a false teacher, if not a false convert.

The debated question concerning the duration of hell is, “Is it never, forever, or just for a while?” Based on the grammatical-historical (literal) method of interpreting Scripture, the most obvious answer is that is it forever. Eternal. The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the greatest theologians in church history attest to this view of hell, not because it is the most emotionally preferred or pleasurable view, but because it is evident in accordance with the perspicuity of Scripture. The Bible speaks clearly and understandably on this issue. Although the eternal nature of such torment is hard to fathom (as is other concepts in the Bible such as the Trinity, God’s unconditional election), it does not make it any less true. We must humbly accept the reality of this truth, and use it as a platform for urgent evangelization of the lost.

Who is hell reserved for? It’s interesting to note that hell was originally created for Satan and the fallen angels (Matt 25:41). Their act of defiance against a holy, infinite God brought about not only their exile from heaven (Ezek 28:17-19), but future punishment in eternal hell, with no hope of redemption or parole. That is what sin – which is an abominably infinite offense against God – deserves. Likewise, this is the punishment that awaits guilty humanity. They, like angels, have been made with an understanding of God’s law (right and wrong) and are held accountable as moral agents for their course of action. Mankind will also spend eternity in hell with the fallen angels. However, mankind is different in that they are made uniquely in God’s image. This is one of the reasons that God decreed in His plan to redeem some from the penalty of their sin, while the rest will die in guilt and be the recipients of God’s justice, which testifies to the glory of His righteous character.Hell 2

The concept of hell is implied in a few places throughout the Old Testament, but given full light in the New Testament due to progressive revelation. The Hebrew word Sheol has often been noted by biblical scholars as referring to hell (a.k.a. the abode of the dead) (Deut 32:22; Ps 88:3; Isa 7:11). However, this is not a definite reference to hell, because Sheol at times refers to merely the physical grave that people go into when they pass away (Job 10:21; Eccl 9:2-3; Ps 89:48). The Old Testament does make two good references that point to the reality of hell, both of which are found in prophetic passages.

The first one is in Isaiah 66:24, which speaks about Jerusalem’s future when Christ sets up His millennial rule on earth. The verse reads, “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” This prophecy clearly explains the nature of God’s future punishment on the guilty – that they will suffer non-stop punishment. “Their fire will not be quenched” is the exact phrase that Jesus used to describe the duration and horrors of postmortem judgment on sinners (Mk 9:48).

The second reference is found in Daniel 12:2, which speaks about the resurrection of all mankind in the last days. The verse reads, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” The word of Daniel prophesies of eternal life for the saints, but eternal damnation for the reprobates. What exactly does “everlasting disgrace and contempt” mean? If Isaiah 66:24 is not enough to qualify this description, many passages in the New Testament do just that.

Jesus Himself was the most prominent preaching concerning the topic of hell. He preached about it more than eternal heaven. He preached about it more than any other topic in His ministry, because it is directly related to why He came to earth, which is to die as the penal substitution for the believing in order that they be saved from their sins, which result in the just punishment of eternal hell.Hell 1

Jesus presents hell graphically as a place of undesirable torment. It is described as fiery (Matt 5:22), where the worm never dies (Mk 9:48), and a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12). Although some claim that these descriptions are merely figurative, it does not downplay the horrors of hell in anyway. Even if by chance Jesus was using figurative language, and not speaking about the objective sights and experiences of hell, His descriptions make it crystal clear that it is not a place that anybody wants to go. It is a destination to be avoided at all costs, which is shows how costly Christ’s sacrifice was and how important it is to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers.

Finally, Jesus presents hell as eternal (Matt 3:12; 25:41; 2 Thess 1:9). Some Christians try to argue otherwise. Annihilationists believe that sinners suffer temporary in hell before going out of conscious existence, while restorationists believe that the guilty will ultimately be restored to eternal fellowship with God, with hell serving as a type of temporary purgatory. However, the case for these two views are weak and without much clear biblical support in contrast to the more lucid statement by both Jesus and the apostles concerning the eternal nature of the unbeliever’s afterlife. Even looking at the nature of Gehena in Matthew 5:22 (which unorthodox Christians have used to debunk the literalness of eternal hell) is actually a solid case for the eternity of hell. Gehena (the Valley of Hinnom) was a valley southwest of Jerusalem. It was a valley used to burn refuse from Jerusalem, in which the fire burned day and night continually. Jewish apocalyptic literature even deemed this valley as the entrance to hell, later hell itself (4 Ezra 7:36). Jesus used this imagery as the perfect metaphor for hell – the eternal fiery judgment that unbelievers, or the refuse of humanity, will face if they die in their sins.

The last, and most potent, argument for everlasting punishment is found in Revelation 20:11-15. This prophetic passage speaks about the coming Great White Throne Judgment, when all who die in their sins will be judged by the ultimate Judge of the Universe and cast into the lake of fire forever, where the smoke of the inhabitant’s torment goes up forever and ever (Rev 20:10). This event is God’s ultimate solution for dealing with sin once and for all. It is cast away forever while the sons of righteousness dwell with God in His holy habitat of the new earth forever (Rev 22).

The eternality of hell is the most biblically supported view, which I hold to. I don’t believe in the eternity of hell because I enjoy the thought of people suffering for all eternity. If I truly had it my way, I would much rather go with the annihilationist view of hell. But I cannot do this as a Christian because God’s word does not teach such a thing. The perspicuity of Scripture (Ps 119:130; 2 Tim 3:16-17) makes the message of salvation and Christian living obvious to every person on earth (so they are without excuse), although that doesn’t mean that every doctrine is easy for me to grasp or digest. Nevertheless, I must trust in it with utmost humility, with the faith such results will bring the most glory to God and testify of His eternal attributes.

It is important to get this doctrine right. Distorting the teaching of hell does a major disservice to the sacrifice of Christ, the high cost of the gospel, and what is really at stake in the life and soul of an unbeliever. It gives sinners a false sense of complacency concerning their eternal fate, as well as a low regard for the seriousness of their sin and the majesty of God’s righteous law. At many times, the eternality of hell versus the temporary or non-existent nature of hell could really make the difference in man’s decision to come to faith in Christ, if not come to the right gospel.

Recommended Resource: Hell Under Fire by Christopher W. Morgan