Authority for Always

Recently I have found myself in more than one worrying discussion with a friend. It seems there are points I have left to assumption without prying enough along our journey as fellow church-goers. Unfortunately, on these particular occasions my concern has been for their belief in the doctrines of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. I say unfortunately because I believe these doctrines to be foundational, not only as a basis by which to confidently believe the others, but in that it is only on the shared ground of submitting to the same higher authority that we could ever progress in our spiritual relationship with one another.

Nothing New

I would pour over texts and apologetic material to try to concisely and satisfactorily present a case to sway them, but the more I did the more helpless I felt to do so; not because of a lack of evidence (on the contrary, it is overwhelming), but rather because the evidence itself kept attesting to the fact that this kind of wisdom will always appear foolish, and that it requires the work of a better spiritual teacher than I. Humanity has always struggled to submit to the authority of God’s Word, even since the very first man and woman. Whether it presents itself as doubt, faithlessness in the God who has always been faithful, or by appealing to another convincing influence that dilutes the Scriptures claim over us, people have always been defectors of heaven. But why would a skeptical reader even take notice of those warnings and patterns in the Bible that are so perfectly descriptive of our imperfection. We would arrive again at the point of never having adequate evidence to convince, since the evidence we have are the very Scriptures they doubt.

Earlier this year I looked at the Apostles’ Creed, one of the first official declarations of faith used throughout the early church. This creed was significant in that it united the church, and still does, by affirming the essential matters of faith which hold us as one universal church. Surprisingly however, the early church generally seemed to be in agreement over what was and was not considered to be the authoritative Word of God for defining doctrine and divine revelation. That fight would be fought later during the sixteen century. During that time, the reformers would declare “ad fontes” calling the church to return to the primary and only source of divine revelation. And so, standing on the authority of Scripture alone, the protestant church returned to the patriarchs while Catholicism remained within the grip of tradition and papal authority.

500 years later and, although we might be proudly protestant, the church is now being lured away by another appealing influence. It may not be a religiously pompous person, or something paraded with carefully constructed liturgy; we might not be in danger of submitting to papal authority, but our enemy has snuck in as private authority. In refusing ex cathedra many have simply replaced it with themselves.

Repackaged

In my research on the Apostles’ Creed, I was glad to come across Sproul’s treatment in ‘What We Believe’. Here was a commentary on the particulars of our faith as presented in the Apostles’ Creed (which, remember, says nothing explicitly about Scripture itself) and in the opening chapter on the repeated credo ‘I believe’, he discusses this point of the authority of Scripture. Of course he should! Like many others, Sproul recognized that in order to discuss any set of beliefs or to definitively have answers to anything pertaining to God and his salvation, we must know and agree on where we should get this information from, and be confident not only in it’s reliability but it’s authority. As he notices the pride of man to determine what is correct for himself he calls it the “authority of private opinion” and concludes that “on that highway, the only possible destination is ecclesiastical anarchy”. I believe many churches have arrived.

One of the additional problems with this particular opponent to ‘Scripture Alone’ is that our culture douses us with self-centered propaganda every day. We are easily persuaded that we are the master of our own destiny and that we have some kind of innate goodness as we appeal to our apparently flawless reasoning. Pride is not something we struggle to have, as if we needed the additional affirmation of this modern worldview. Too many believe that truth belongs to each one and is defined privately; a consequence of tolerance I think. The melting pot of positive thinking, the vague affirmation of a god, and the stronger affirmation that we are all actually good at the core, moulded into a great idol. When the music plays, we feel the pressure to worship. Each one’s truth for themselves.

Forever True

No, dear reader. Your truth will only get you as far as your own feet can carry you, and for every traveller who has chartered their own course, they have all confidently arrived at the grave.

I am still compelled to try to persuade you, to muster up all my arguments that you would submit to the authority of God’s Word alone. It is good that I feel this way. But my helplessness in being able to do so points to precisely the reality that it is only God’s Word that can do it. You may not submit to it yet, but my confidence rests not only in it’s authority possessed, but in God’s power to wield it precisely when he would see fit. ‘It is not as if the Word of God has failed’. While I must depend on his power to work, all I can do is point you to the that one and only authority great enough to command your affections, devotion and mind. The very Word of God, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). 

“Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
By your appointment they stand this day,
for all things are your servants.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.” Psalm 119:89-94

Should We Still Say The Apostles’ Creed?

I grew up in a confessional church, but that is not to say that we were familiar with our confessions. They were those documents that were only made available on request. In such cases, I have little faith in the inquiry of adults, much less children. I left my childhood not being able to express with clarity what it was that I truly believed. But perhaps even worse than poor articulation, was not knowing the indispensable truths about the gospel. My confession then was simple: I am a Christian. And while that was true, it was self-centered and scant.

Compared to my immature confession, we find one far superior in Romans 10:9, “Jesus is Lord”. It was perhaps the simplest and earliest creed used in the early church and is one which does not merely point away from self to the only true savior, but it pierces beyond religion into culture, politics and every area of life. This was not a cheap phrase indicating denominational preference. On the contrary, this creed could cost you your life.

There is another creed which has been universally accepted as a declaration of Christian belief — the Apostles’ Creed. Before the New Testament writings were readily accessible, such a concise presentation of Christian beliefs would have been a useful servant to evangelism and was used as a confessional interrogation at baptism. But should we still be using it today?

Indisputably True

 

When you recite a creed you are setting yourself apart from those who do not. However, across the broad spectrum of churches and denominations, the Apostles’ Creed has always united. While I have used the terms freely up until now, a creed is in fact distinct from a confession. A ‘confession’ dives deeper into the specific doctrines that divide groups while a ‘creed’ expresses precisely what all the associated groups have in common. When we say the Apostles’ Creed we are speaking with one voice across all Christian groups, throughout time, declaring the irrefutable truth of Scripture. As believers we must, with confidence, be able to say it.

But what about the virgin birth? Is it really such an essential doctrine? Is Jesus coming back in judgement, or will just love win? Do I need to believe in the church as well or is Jesus enough?

These are not minor open-handed issues. The virgin birth, the death, resurrection and return of Christ, even the holy universal Church, are essential to the faith and have been throughout the ages. Let’s not be foolish to think that our latest church experience, some new trendy philosophy or societies fluctuating tolerance levels could ever shake that.

Indiscriminately Authentic

While we declare these beautiful truths found in the Apostles’ Creed, we might not always feel very passionately about them. In fact, we may not even be reflecting on the truth we are saying at all. Unfortunately, our culture has pressed us to value sincerity and authenticity above all things. In fact, it unashamedly denies truth every day for the sake of ‘feelings’, and not only as it combats religion but has even turned to deny the science it has so long sponged off. Science and religion must now make way for authentic feelings. What rubbish! I digress.

In response to this I want to first say how much I do value feelings. Feelings are a blessing and a grace, especially when they prompt us to align ourselves with God’s Word. They are a reminder that God is concerned with all of man and not just our minds. In fact, I have found that when information has been accompanied by the appropriate feelings, together they have been a far greater teacher than had the truth come alone. But our feelings are not always faithful. Truth however is always true and the inauthenticity of our delivery cannot touch the authenticity of the truth we declare. We believe the Gospel because it is true, and we declare the Creed because it expresses that truth.While we should always challenge ourselves to be thinking deeply on the words we say, we do not stop saying them if we feel otherwise today, because our feelings do not determine whether the words are worth saying or not.

Indispensably Vocal 

My final point is brief. The Gospel must be said. Truth must be said. The Creed must be said. “Jesus is Lord” is not something just to be believed in the secret places of your heart. You must also confess with your mouth. “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10). Words are not the things we only ‘use when necessary’. Spoken words are indispensable both in salvation and evangelism. Just four verses on in Romans we read “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (10:14). You see, audible words of truth being declared individually or together with the congregation is a tradition we have not just received from church history, but from God’s Word itself – “proclaim it from the rooftops” (Matthew 10:27).

Let the Women Teach

I am not a feminist in the modern use of the word but I reserve consistent views in the traditional pursuit for the equality of women. There is no doubt that we live in a man’s world but the west is quickly changing our perceptions on what is acceptable as far as women’s rights are concerned.

Mockingjay-coin-katnissConsider the strong & authoritative roles being depicted as women on the recent stage of teen sci-fi: Chancellor Ava Paige in the Maze Runner Trilogy; Katniss & President Coin in The Hunger Games Saga; and the 3 leaders depicted in the Divergent novels, Beatrice, Jeanine and Evelyn. If those are too unfamiliar, consider the depiction of women in series like Bones, Castle and others: Dr Saroyan in Bones as the head of the forensic division; Victoria Bates in Castle as Captain of the 12th Precinct. We are subtly or perhaps not so subtly, being taught about the equality of women.

Coming to the discussion as a reformed evangelical, I believe what most reformed evangelicals would teach; that is, that the role of pastor and elder is reserved for men. In our society, where we feel an overwhelming pressure for equality, we like to explain that these positions are not a matter of equality but of calling and function. The man functioning as pastor is not ‘better’ than the women functioning as Sunday school teacher; they are equally performing their respective roles. Just as the pen and paper cannot do the others job they work best performing the part that they were designed to play.

But this post is not purposed to persuade you on the above matters. However, if you are persuaded I am glad. This post is primarily presented to those who already believe this model for gender participation; to those who teach it and affirm it strongly, not only negatively by prohibition (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” 1 Timothy 2:12), but also positively affirming the many excellent and note-worthy tasks that women are called to (“Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live… to teach what is good.  Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.” Titus 2:3-5). If this is what you teach at your church then please read on.

Rekindle FB Blog - women teach (1)Why, for the love of honour and integrity, do you ask men to speak at a women’s event/bible study? If these men are such excellent teachers then by all means, ask them to preach on Sunday so all can benefit. Why, in the only context for a woman to teach an expository, well-reasoned, adult-appropriate message, do you invite a man? You cannot continue to positively affirm the teaching role of women to other women without actually allowing it to happen. Do you believe women to be so weak, naive and emotionally unstable that they are incapable of teaching other women adequately? Or do you have such little confidence in them since they have not been discipled or fed enough meat? Let the women teach.

And why, for the love of Christ’s exposure of the excessive Pharisaic laws, do you create ‘laws’ in your churches about what could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered teaching/holding authority. If a woman should stand up at the beginning of a service, welcome the congregation and pray, and be perceived by a handful as authoritative, will you make a rule to protect the more important rule? And if a woman should say anything ‘spiritual’ when leading the church in song and be perceived by a handful as authoritative, will you make a rule to protect the more important rule? And if a woman should write anything pertaining to the Word, and be perceived by the reader as authoritative, will you make a rule and stop reading?

Perhaps I have gone too far. Please don’t misunderstand my point. I simply long to see a women’s spiritual contribution taken seriously in the church. If you affirm that women are equal to men (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28) and that women are given tremendous gifts from God to be used for the edification of the body (“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:7), then please do not win our favour in theory only to disregard these principles in practice. The point is not to permit all things for women but to take decisive action on what you already affirm. Women should not be pushing that all can equally use their gifts in the church; it is the leadership role of godly men. That is your mandate. Please play your role well, so that we can play ours.

For more on women in ministry, click here to read ‘The Workings out of Women’s Work’.

Praying for your Church with Joy

writingThe book of Philippians opens with a lovely greeting and prayer for the church, as we see in so many of Paul’s other letters. But there is one word which this letter particularly emphasises. Joy. It is subtly seen in this greeting, not demanding much attention but, considering the overall thrust of Philippians, not to be overlooked. As per usual, Paul’s greeting is filled with many encouraging words making it difficult to notice if there’s any particular point. Here’s the opening…

I [Paul] thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your [church] partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he [God] who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me [Paul] to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me [Paul & church] of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I [Paul] yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my [Paul] prayer that your [church] love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you [church] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [church] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

It’s a busy greeting, which well describes the busyness of church. Paul prays for the church with thanks and joy. The church is encouraged to grow in love. The church must be discerning and wise. Both Paul and the church are working and suffering for the gospel. Paul feels a deep affection and love for the church. Both Paul and the church need grace to face the trials that come with gospel work. Looking ahead they anticipate the day of Christ and so pursue their sanctification.

Reflecting on joy, John Piper writes, “One of the reasons I am the kind of Christian I am, with the theology that I have, is that I know the Bible requires of me things that I cannot myself immediately produce by my own power. I am fallen. I am sinful. And yet I know I should be feeling the emotions the Bible expects me to feel. I know myself guilty.”

The question is, how can we feel this joy? How can we pray with joy for a church so erratically engaged in ministry, meetings and, most volatile of all, people. We know we must pray, we know we must rejoice always. But how?

Here is the answer. It is that among all the happenings there is one most comforting assurance that we see in verse 6. It is God’s guaranteed work. “I am confident of this: That he who has begun a good work in you shall bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. As with all matters pertaining to joy, it is and can only be found in Christ.

church2Although Paul & the church are striving for the gospel, thank God that the assurance of that work is God himself. What is progressing and growing, what emotions of affection you feel in your heart, what strivings of bitterness and hardship you endure and what prayers of joy you cherish, they are all the work that is being brought to completion in Christ Jesus. It is the erratic activities of the church functioning within the assured work of the divine.

Joy is such a deep seated emotion, rooted in something far more certain than our own feeble hearts. It is found in the soul, activated by the Spirit, and initiated by Christ and his work. The work that Paul so delights in is that, in the church itself, he can see a work being done for the gospel. But this is not just a church work, it is a Christ work which will continue to progress until completion. That is how we can share in this joy.

But the question that naturally follows is, do we? When we see the church engage in gospel work, do we feel joy? Do we pray for the church always with joy? We can often become over-critical of church, trying to find the perfect blend of fellowship, discipleship and evangelism based on our own meter that we overlook what work Christ is doing. May we never fall into such blindness that we see church as a group of people who do things for Jesus, but always see that Christ is the primary doer making the church joyously worth praying for.

For the Illumined Mind

augustineThere is a special breed of Christian, well at least in my opinion, who were brought to life from a state that appeared quite alive to begin with; those people who were actively searching for truth but were unable to grasp it by their own pursuit.

Of course we understand that they were not truly living since all things apart from Christ are spiritually dead, but a special type of person I still feel. The kind of person Paul preached to in Athens, who groped around in the darkness for the Truth who was not far off (Acts 17:27). People like Augustine who reflect: “I enjoyed the books, while not knowing Him from whom came whatever was true or certain in them. For I had my back to the light and my face to the things upon which the light falls: so that my eyes, by which I looked upon the things in the light, were not themselves illumined.”

There is a world of information and knowledge, where truth can be discovered, with many thinkers, readers and writers operating in it; intelligent people who have studied broader and deeper than I ever think I will. But there is one supreme truth that many of these intellectuals will continue to fumble in the darkness for, one that many simple minded men have taken hold of: Christ Jesus! “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18).

But by the mercies of God, “he saves us, not because of the works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5-6).

This special Christian, who once pursued knowledge by the pattern of the world, is now set free by the mercy of God to think and reason and calculate in truth. I love to watch this person, who so loves to think, suddenly understand the information he has curiously stored up all his life. Their minds reboot and now direct them on a path of living out the will of God. David Peterson in Possessed by God writes,

“It is a fundamental principle of Christian spirituality that God does his sanctifying work through our minds. In so doing he works with our conscious cooperation and permission.”

A great reversal has taken place, the Romans 1:21 man now becomes a Romans 12:2 man and the instruction is to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is.”

But caution, there is still the warning to not be conformed to the world, because the wisdom and influence of the world is very appealing. It draws out our old compulsive nature and deceives us once again into thinking that it is true wisdom. But it is folly because worldly thinking has not been thought through to completion. The godless man looks at life as it is now, as if this is all there is and ever will be. There is no vision of a perfected world; no decision made in light of the eternal. Whether consideration has been given for an entire lifetime or for one-hundred lifetimes, it is still too short-sighted to be fully good, perfect or true. How difficult it is to keep our minds set on things above, allowing the prospect of eternity to shape our perspective. This short life is so distracting and enticing; to pursue comfort, worldly knowledge and acclaim. As explained so well from the pulpit recently, the only gain in death is if to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). Any other life pursuit will end in loss and prove you to be the greatest fool.

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!” To paraphrase Ephesians 4:18-23: Your mind is no longer futile, ignorant of the eternal or darkened in its understanding. You have heard about Jesus, you were taught in Jesus, as the truth is in Jesus. Therefore, put off your old self, be renewed in your mind and put on the new self.

foreverIt is no wonder that it is the Spirit who works this out in us. He is from the eternal, sets our minds on the eternal and makes us into a new self, preparing us for the eternal. We are being made into forever beings, in the image of our creator, and the preparation begins in our minds (Colossians 3:10). It is amazing that God would go through so much effort to acquire for himself someone like you for forever!

Reader, fabulous and most brilliant mind, be renewed so that your discernment will be clear to see that the most reasonable offering to God is yourself.

Rejoice in Adoption

When I was a child I remember feeling a sense of scandal when I found out that someone I knew was adopted. Perhaps the emotion was evoked because, more often than not, it was a fact kept secret; it was never public knowledge, it was never spoken about and many times the reality was even hidden from the children themselves. adoptionOver recent years however, I have come to meet and get to know many who have either adopted or been adopted and, my perception has changed drastically to an overwhelmingly positive one. Not only have I found adoption to be more celebrated in particular circles but I have come to understand that adoption in and of itself is one of the most beautiful expressions of love that we are able to witness or, for some of us, have the privilege to be a part of.

‘Adoption’ is a word we seldom come across in the Scriptures but the reality of it is taught and alluded to often. Our identity as children of God is one we regularly turn to and rejoice in but the doctrine itself is one that has been desperately ignored. As the arrogant and often disillusioned people we are, we are very quick to claim our right as sons and daughters of God but seldom consider how we are so. We are so by adoption. Not by any birth right that we could claim what is genealogically ours.

In the ancient Roman world adoption was a failsafe method of ensuring an heir where there was none and, when it was practiced it was only a privilege extended to those who had proven worthy of the family name. Adoption was earned, and only because a father had no alternative. If you were adopted, you were Plan B, and loved for your achievements or potential. This was most likely the context in places like Rome, Ephesus and Galatia that Paul addresses in his writings.

But something is different about our adoption into God’s family. When we are saved it is not simply a single solution but rather a beautiful spectrum of salvation. God calls us, he justifies us, he regenerates us and he adopts us. While we may experience many of these simultaneously, it is constructive to view each one in turn. R. A. Petersen helpfully points out how each gift of grace answers a different and specific need. He explains how justification, for instance, is a response to our condemnation, while sanctification is needed because of our contaminated nature. Regeneration is the gift of spiritual life to people who were spiritually dead and it is adoption that rescues us from our state of slavery (Adopted by God: from wayward sinners to cherished children). However, I would add that not only were we slaves and orphans but we belonged to the family of the devil and were by nature children of wrath. When God saves us he does not reboot or press rewind so we can start again and live better lives, but he addresses our every area of need and transforms us.

fistpumpIf we are astounded by our redemption and justification – Christ taking the place and payment of an undeserving and unlovable people – then consider one step further. Not only did God love his enemies and give his only Son to death, but he gave those rebellious and undeserving people His name and made us his sons and daughters. He adopts the slaves he sets free. It is not as if God has no heir to inherit the kingdom – Christ is the perfect son who was perfectly obedient to the Father. In fact it is not as if our eternal God would ever need an heir. And even if he did we would never qualify as candidates for divine adoption given our wretched states. We have never and could never live up to God’s standard to be honorable heirs of heaven.

How deep, how unfathomable and how great is the love of God that we should be called his children (1 John 3:1). Our adoption into the family of God is such an excellent display of the purest and richest love we could ever know.

I find it remarkable that we get to see glimpses of grace in the ordinary patterns we witness every day. As God’s people and as redeemed image-bearers of the Divine, we have the privilege of displaying it to those around us in our relationships: our marriages, our churches, our roles and responsibilities, our giftedness and in every relationship we engage in – and if you have adopted or been adopted, then delight in that picture of grace as well. I don’t pretend that all families have practiced adoption well, but in redeemed God honoring families, I’d invite you to look in and notice a divine parallel. Often people minimize the relationship to a sympathetic gesture or simply a solution to infertility, and often openly question their legitimacy as family members (shame on you). Would we say the same about our adopted status in the family of God? Adoption holds the potential of being a beautiful picture of the love God has for us. Our adoption into God’s family was a love choice, not some desperate desire for legacy. Children of God, rejoice in adoption!