Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The importance of spiritual authority in the Christian life and the local church

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

Who is in charge? To whom or to what standard do people answer? No one considers the importance of authority until there is either a decision to be made, a crisis or a major transition in life. Today's post will attempt to tease out three distinctions with respect to spiritual authority in the Christian life and the local church. When we speak of spiritual authority, it is helpful to consider three headings:

1. God is the Divine Authority
2. The Bible is His definite authority
3. All other authorities are delegated authorities.

God is the Divine Authority
Ultimate authority is possessed by God and God alone. Psalm 47:7-8 reminds us - "For God is the King of all the earth;Sing praises with a skillful psalm. 8 God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne." Such authority is called by scripture and Bible teachers "God's Sovereignty". Psalm 103:19 for example states - "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all." In the New Testament we find this same truth echoed in 1 Timothy 6:15 - "which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords." The Sovereignty of God is uncontested in the Bible. Most people pay lip service to the idea of God's Sovereign, ultimate authority. People have no problem with a God running the affairs of the world as long as they still retain their own, personal, self-perceived autonomy. The moment God's authority is brought to bear on a personal level - people begin to shift in their seats. Famous general George Patton once quipped: "All human beings have an innate resistence to obedience." 

The defining authority of all faith, practice and life is the Bible
When we speak of God's Sovereign final authority, how is it that such authority is brought to personally bear directly on a person? Certainly God delegates His authority to civil governments to exercise justice and maintain order in societies (Romans 13). A city government can enact laws to tell a man to not spit on the sidewalk, however civil government cannot convince the man that this is the preferrable course of action. At best, government can curb evil behavior and keep crime to a tolerable minimum. The Bible alone has the authority to not only prescribe right behavior, but is vested with God's authority and power to change lives. This is why we can say that Bible has definite authority. We will say more about this in a moment. For now, we have before us God as our Divine authority and the Bible as our definite authority. However, there is a third heading to consider when speaking about spiritual authority.

Delegated authorities derive their authority from the Bible and God
When we come to the church - who is in charge? What holds sway over the conscience of a man - the one place where right and wrong are inscribed? Such authority can be deemed final authority when it wields the same type of authority as God Himself. Pastors are delegated the authority by Christ to lead the church - however they are not the final authority. Pastors are accountable to the churches they shepherd. 

The congregation of God's people function as God's delegated governing authority - however churches need to be led by competent, Biblical shepherds.  Both types of leadership and authority co-exist in a local church as delegated authorities with different roles - and yet neither one can be deemed "final authority". 

Further thoughts on the Bible as the defining authority of faith and life
Having observed the distinctions between Divine, definite and delegated authorities, lets speak further on the second of these - namely that the Bible is God's definite authority. When we say the Bible is God's definite authority, by what do we mean?

First and foremost, the Bible is deemed "The Word of God". The title "Word of God" means that the Bible's 66 books are God's voice in written form. 

Secondly, throughout the Bible on hundreds of occasions we find the phrase: "thus says the Lord" closely attached to the words of the prophets. 

Thirdly, no other book or written document in the world functions in the unique capacity of final authority like the Bible. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 defines in more precise terms what is meant by the Bible being called "the final authority of all faith, practice and life: "Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." The Bible is thus the only authority that is final. It is definite.1

Closing thoughts:
We briefly considered the subject of spiritual authority in today's post. we noted the following distinctions:

1. God is the Divine Authority
2. The Bible is His definite authority

3. All other authorities are delegated authorities.

As we grasp the distinctions between these three and how they relate to one another, we will lead better and more effective Christian lives as Christ-followers and churches. 

1. Theologian Charles Hodge in Volume 1 of His Systematic Theology, page 159, summarizes beautifully how the Bible functions as the written form of God's authoritative voice: "Prophecy, i.e., what a prophet said, was not human, but divine. It was not the prophet’s own interpretation of the mind and will of God. He spoke as the organ of the Holy Ghost."

Hodge then later writes: What the Prophets said God is another decisive proof that the sacred writers were the organs of God in the sense above stated, that whatever they said the Spirit is declared to have said. Christ himself said that David by the Spirit called the Messiah Lord. (Matt. 22:43.) 

David in the 95th Psalm said, “To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart;” but the Apostle (Heb. 3:7), says that these were the words of the Holy Ghost. 

Again, in (Hebrews) ch. 10:15, the same Apostle says, “Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord.” Thus quoting the language of Jeremiah 31:33, as the language of the Holy Ghost."

Hodge then concludes his argument demonstrating how the Bible is the final authority of all faith, practice and life, insofar as it functions as God's verbalized authority to men in general and the church in particular: In Acts 4:25, the assembled Apostles said, “with one accord,” “Lord thou art God Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage?” In Acts 28:25, Paul said to the Jews, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers.” It is in this way that Christ and his Apostles constantly refer to the Scriptures, showing beyond doubt that they believed and taught, that what the sacred writers said the Holy Ghost said."

Friday, May 27, 2016

A children's lesson: How Everyone Knows About the God of the Bible

Psalm 8:2 “From the mouth of infants and nursing babes, You have established praise….”.
Introduction: How children know about God, how they typically react to Jesus and why that is important
Over the past two days we have considered God’s power and goodness revealed in general revelation and the specific revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ and the scriptures. But how can one communicate such vital truths to children? As we reflect on the above opening verse, a very important point is made about how knowledge about God is an inborn knowledge. When this knowledge gleaned from general revelation is brought into contact with the remarkable life and ministry of Jesus Christ - the connection is made that the God of sacred scripture was revealed in the Person of Son incarnating Himself in human flesh. 

Amazingly, little children oftentimes are fascinated by Jesus - even if they are not yet to the point to where we can say they have actual saving faith operating inside of them. Such little ones (at least among Baptist people) are said to have not yet reached the age of accountability - which is defined as that point where a child connects "right and wrong" as having to do with God. Jesus connects this link by citing Psalm 8:4 in Matthew 21:15-16 during His triumphal entry: "But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?”

I have marveled over the years when hearing small children express profound truths about God that is undoubtedly operating at a deeper level than their immediate awareness and reason. Children are the most open to such properly basic knowledge due to the fact that they are operating under what Bible teachers call “common grace”. When we talk about properly basic knowledge, we refer to how we know things apart from arguments and evidence. Common grace is God’s goodness extended to all people whereby that know about Him, even though such grace does not lead anyone to trust in Jesus. 

Such grace operates among all people and includes such things as knowledge about God’s existence, awareness of right and wrong, knowledge about the external world and other such information that does not require argument and evidence to show it as true knowledge (see Psalm 19:1-6; Acts 14:17; 17:22-25; Romans 1:18-20; 2:15).

The knowledge about God ought to be discussed with children, since again, they are the most open. When we consider how we would communicate the posts of the last couple of days with children who are elementary age, where would we begin? Below is a sample lesson that would take the 1st sentence of the Baptist Faith and Message and then break down the posts of the last two days into a format that small children could understand.

Children’s Lesson: How everyone knows about the God of the Bible 

Basic idea: God talked to people about Himself through the Bible. (Note: This basic idea breaks down the first sentence of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 which reads: “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man”.)

First main question: So children, what can we say about this God?

Follow-up question#1: How many of you know it is wrong to lie? Is it wrong to pick on your brother or sister? Should you always be thankful? Is it better to be mean or nice to other people? 

Think about this children, the fact that you know that lying is wrong, or that it is better to be nice to people shows that you know deep down right and wrong. This is because the God of the Bible is real, He is what we call a Good God.

If I had all of you children draw the straightest line possible on a piece of paper, could you do it? Now if I hold a ruler next to each of your lines, do you think your lines would match the ruler. God as a good God is how we know what is good and bad. 

Follow-up question #2: Have you ever looked at the stars at night? Does the sky seem really, really big to you? How big is big? Did you know that God is so big and so strong that He made everything we see, including you?

Conclusion about the kind of God we find in creation and in the Bible: God is all-strong and all-good. Every child and adult knows about God being all-strong and all-good. But how can you know this God?

Second major question: So how does Jesus show us this all-strong, all good-God?

Point #1: Jesus was so awesome in how He made people feel better and no longer be sick. Jesus did the things that only God could do and even claimed Himself to be God. Jesus was a man who was also God at the same time.

Point #2: Jesus’ dying on the cross shows how good God is. God in His love gave Jesus.

Point #3: When Jesus became alive three days after dying on the cross, He showed that the God He claimed to be and the God He talked about to others is real!

Closing thoughts: The God of the Bible is shown through and by Jesus. This same God made everything. God’s goodness is why you and I know right and wrong to be true. If you will trust in Jesus, you will know God and love God.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

P2 The God of the Bible Revealed in General Revelation and in Jesus Christ

Psalm 19:1 “The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork.

Psalm 19:7 “The Law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul”

John 1:18 “….He has explained Him”.


In yesterday's post we began considering the God of the Bible. We noted that God's essential nature as an all-powerful and all-good God can be discerned from observations in both the external world and the moral order. One of my favorite designations for the Bible is “God’s Book”. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 begins its first article with these words: 

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man.” As one goes down through the rest of article, the emphasis is plain: God is the central character and focal point of sacred scripture. The BFM 2000 describes God as the Bible’s “author”. 

Further reading yields that by the principles of the Bible, God “judges” men’s hearts. Finally, all scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of Divine revelation. 

We had also observed that in as much as the Bible is “God’s Book”, we need to also know the “God of the Book”. The above three verses tell us three main truths about this God: 

1). His existence is revealed in the external world and the moral realm

2). He expresses Himself in scripture 

3). He is explained through Jesus Christ. 

God's existence is fundamental to saving faith, along with trust in the specific revelation He expresses in the Bible and in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:6 states: "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."

Today we are going to present a couple basic arguments for God's existence, along with showing how they connect to God's revelation of Himself in Jesus. 
1. God's power is observed in the external world by noting how the universe had a finite beginning
When we consider that the universe is not eternal, but rather began a finite time ago, we can propose the following argument for God’s existence:

Premise #1: Anything that begins to exist, has a cause for its existence

Premise #2: The universe began to exist

Therefore: The universe has a cause for its existence.

This first argument, though not telling us directly the nature of the cause of the universe, nonetheless suggests that the cause of the universe had to be outside of and prior to its beginning. Other arguments can be brought in to demonstrate that this cause is Personal, Eternal and Self-sufficient. 

The way we know that the cause of the universe is Personal is that one cannot get a finite effect (such as our universe) from an infinite cause unless that cause is endowed with the ability to choose when the universe would begin. The universe is an impersonal, material, finite reality. The cause of the universe would then need to be Personal, immaterial and infinite in power. These reflections upon the external world – such as our universe – lead to the conclusion that this Personal, immaterial all-powerful cause is God. 

2. God's goodness is observed in the moral order as the Lawgiver and source of objective moral values and duties
But now what about the moral order that we see in the universe – which is to say – the reality of objective moral values and duties? Again we can offer what is called the “moral argument” for God’s existence:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist

Premise #2: Objective moral values and duties do exist

Therefore: God exists

If people are asked whether or not it is wrong in all places, all times, regardless of cultural context, to harm little children – what will people say? Universally the answer would be: “of course it wrong”. Or again, do people believe in fairness, tolerance, the important of helping out others? When pressed, people will be heard saying things like: “that’s not fair” or “racism is wrong” or be outraged when witnessing a crime and feel the compulsion to decide whether or not to intervene. 

These moral impulses are hardwired into the fabric of humanity. Moreover, humanity has such values because they derive from a Moral Lawgiver. C.S Lewis once remarked that he would not know what a crooked line was lest there be a straight line with which to compare it. The obligation to “do what is right” cannot be explained by scientific hypotheses such as biological evolution. For the sake of argument - even if somebody should subscribe to belief in biological evolution through natural selection and mutation - evolution only serves to explain the biological survival of the fittest, rather than truth. In short, biological evolution has no place for truth - since its aim is not to discover truth, but only to describe what is seen presently and assuming that similar processes were operating in the far past to bring about life. 

On a worldview that believes only in the reality of the natural world, since truth itself is an immaterial property, then one subscribing to naturalism cannot know whether or not their naturalistic worldview is true. God’s existence as a Good God can only explain why there are moral obligations and ethical principles. 

Hence by considering nature and the moral code that the created order has contained within it – imposing itself upon us, we can conclude that the God of general revelation is the all-powerful creator, that is an all-good God.

Romans 1:18-20 expresses the first conclusion, namely that what can be known of God with respect to His Deity and power, is made known to all men. Romans 2:14-25 expresses the second conclusion drawn from natural theology – namely that the moral law written on the heart is evidence from the moral realm that this God that exists is not only all-powerful, but also all-Good.

Connecting God's general revelation of Himself as the All-Powerful, All-good God to the revelation of Himself in Jesus
As we noted at the beginning of this post, God has expressed Himself specifically in the Bible. The Bible is the revelation of Himself to man - as so stated in the Baptist Faith and Message. With that said, the Bible's central character is none-other than the Person of Jesus Christ. 

The remarkable ministry, claims and works done by Christ prefaced His historic death and resurrection from the dead. When we consider the God whom Jesus proclaimed in His earthly ministry as being not only His Father, but also He Himself sharing in the same nature with the Father - Jesus claims nothing less than full-deity (see John 5:18-24). 

Jesus' resurrection demonstrates in both a historical and theological way that the God He proclaimed and claimed to be the incarnation thereof does indeed exist. Henceforth, in Jesus we find general revelation's implicit claims about God and the Bible's specific revelation of God shown to be about the same God. One scholar, Dr. William Lane Craig, has summarized all of this in a fine argument, with which I will close out today's post:

Premise #1 There are four facts which are widely accepted by historians and scholars of different persuasions: Jesus' honorable burial; the discovery of the empty tomb; His post-mortem appearances & sudden faith of the disciples

Premise #2 The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of these facts

Premise #3 The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead entails that God exists

Therefore: God exists

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

P1 - The God of the Bible Revealed in General Revelation

Psalm 19:1 “The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork.

Psalm 19:7 “The Law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul”

John 1:18 “….He has explained Him”.

Introduction:One of my favorite designations for the Bible is “God’s Book”. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 begins its first article with these words: 

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man.” As one goes down through the rest of article, the emphasis is plain: God is the central character and focal point of sacred scripture. The BFM 2000 describes God as the Bible’s “author”. 

Further reading yields that by the principles of the Bible, God “judges” men’s hearts. Finally, all scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of Divine revelation. In as much as the Bible is “God’s Book”, we need to also know the “God of the Book”. The above three verses tell us three main truths about this God: 

1). His existence is revealed in the external world and the moral realm

2). He expresses Himself in scripture 

3). He is explained through Jesus Christ. 

Today’s post wants to consider the first of these - namely, that the God of the Bible is the same God that is discerned from the testimony of the external world and the reality of objective moral values and duties.

Why begin with “The God of the Book” before getting to the “Book of God”
What kind of God is this God? Undoubtedly we have the special revelation of scripture and the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ to tell us the specifics about God. However, we also understand that God has expressed Himself in a general, non-redemptive form of revelation that Bible teachers call "general revelation". 

With the increasing tides of secularism and spiritualism, the God of the Bible needs to be explained for what and Who He truly is: the One All-Good, All powerful God. The exercise of discerning God's nature and characteristics from His general revelation in the external world and the moral realm is called "natural theology". 

Prophets of the Old Testament like David in Psalm 8 and 19 and the New Testament Apostles like Paul in Acts 14 and 17 argued for the existence and nature of the true God from observations gleaned from general revelation. Their strategy was to engage their audiences, who had never heard the special revelation of God in the Bible, with information they already had about God. Romans 1:18-20 and 2:14 state that all men born into this world have an inherent knowledge of both the power and moral character of God. Thus the pattern of beginning with God's general revelation and the insights of natural theology is one that is advocated by the Bible. 

Before we can talk about “God’s Book”, we must first talk about “The God of the Book”. 
As mentioned, the task of drawing conclusions from God's general revelation in both the external world and the human heart what we call “natural theology”. There is an amazing amount of truth we can glean about God, from creation and the moral make-up of man independent from and yet which complements the authoritative Divine revelation of the scriptures. 

Such inferences do not lead one to knowing God, but rather knowing about God. Two of several “arguments” for God’s existence can be drawn from reasonable reflections upon the physical properties external world and the reality of objective moral values and duties. In the next post, we will consider those arguments, their implications and what they tell us about the God of the Book. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

P2 - Five important words that describe the Bible

Genesis 3:1 "Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 

Introduction and Review
Yesterday we began considering five important words or terms associated with describing the nature and character of scripture. As Christians, we need to know that the Bible we carry in our hands is the Word of God.  In today's post we will conclude where we began by focusing in on the two last terms (preservation, illumination) that followed after the three we did yesterday (revelation, inspiration, canonicity).  As we noted yesterday, each of these terms could be given their own post. The point of these two posts is to get into the reader's mind the reliability and sufficiency of the Bible as God's very words.

1. PreservationGod's Providential preservation of the words of the Bible in the hand-copied texts of the Old and New Testament.

We possess more certainty over the words of the Bibles in our possession today as being those originally penned by the Biblical authors than we do of any other ancient document.  Once that original manuscript left the hand of that prophet or apostle, how was its contents preserved as it was copied over and over again? Certainly as the scriptures were copied by hand, minor variations would had entered into the textual stream. However we can be assured that we have the words of God in our manuscripts. Insofar as a manuscript copy and translation represents those words, that copy or translation carries the authority of being God's Word. A whole field of study aims to answer this question.1

Perhaps in illustration I heard one time will aid in this point. Take any dollar bill or paper currency that you have in your possession and ask yourself whether that bill can be used to make a purchase? Of course the answer is yes. That bill is a copy of the original plates on a printing press to produce the bill. Perhaps when you got the paper currency, it was torn, tattered or worn. Despite its condition, that dollar bill is a valuable and carries the authority of a Federal Reserve Note just as much as those original plates. The plates are flawless, and the dollar bill bearing their image carries those flawless elements, despite having tears and signs of use. The authority of such and is for all practical intents and purposes flawless in as much as it represents its original. So it is the same with the copies and translations of the Old and New Testaments. We should have no worries concerning the Bibles we have today - they are the Word of God!  

If God had not guaranteed the preservation of His words down to our day, we would have no idea what He communicated. (Matthew 5:18)  More could be said but we must hasten to the final key term...

2. Illumination - How God the Holy Spirit helps Christians understand the meaning of the Revealed, Inspired, Canonical and Preserved Text

When a Christian is converted by grace through faith, the Holy Spirit enables him or her to understand the meaning of the words of the Bible.  Passages such as 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 and 1 John 2:20,27 give us this promise of the Spirit's ministry in the life of the Christian.  Without the Holy Spirit's work of illumination, I could not preach the Bible with clarity nor could those to whom I preach apply what is preached.  Furthermore, without the proverbial "light-bulb" of understanding given by the Holy Spirit, no Christian could have fruitful study of God's word.2 

As you consider the five terms: Revelation, Inspiration, Canonicity, Preservation & Illumination, you will discover the truth of the matter: the Bible that you and I carry to church and read every week is the Word of God.  I would like to end today's blog with this quote from the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 Article 1 on the Holy Scriptures, of which I affirm: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy."    

End Notes:______________________
1The scholarly field to which I'm referring is called textual criticism. 
 Without going into too much detail, the thousands upon thousands of copies of manuscripts, both Old and New Testament, can reconstruct the original text in over 99,9% of cases, with no variation in the copies affecting any doctrine or teaching.  

2. Often people will confuse the terms "revelation" and "illumination". It is important to keep those two terms distinct, since God is not giving no new revelations today. Any insights people have into the spiritual realm or in guidance for every day life is a result of the Spirit's illuminating work through the scriptures. Even when we hear God's voice and know what He wants us to do, its because at some point we heard a Biblical- based sermon or read a Bible verse that spoke on that subject. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

P1 - Five important words that describe the Bible

Genesis 3:1 "Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 

The first question in the God's Word had to do with God's Word
Everything up until Genesis 3 had been commanded and declared by God. Satan took God's commands and declarations and put question marks on the end.  Sin entered into the world as a result of man losing and refusing to fight the battle for God's Words.  

As Christians, we need to know that the Bible we carry in our hands is the Word of God.  In today's post I want to introduce the reader to five terms that have been used by theologians to describe how the scriptures journeyed from God's mouth to man's hand.  Those five terms of which I speak are the following:

1. Revelation
2. Inspiration
3. Canonicity
4. Preservation
5. Illumination

Each of these terms could be given their own post. However, for today, I just want you the reader to be equipped with brief definitions of the first three so as to get in your mind the reliability and sufficiency of your Bible as God's very words. The next post will deal with the latter two terms.

1. Revelation - Making known that which was previously unknown  
In Bible doctrine we usually distinguish three types of revelation:

a. General Revelation - This is God revealing or making known His glory and power in creation and the conscience  (Psalm 19:7-11; Romans 1:18-31, 2:15)

b. Full Revelation - This is God's revelation of His Person and Majesty through the incarnation of God the Son, Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

c. Special Revelation - This is God's Revelation of His purposes and will through the writing of the Old and New Testament scriptures, of which we are focusing upon in this particular blog today. (Deuteronomy 29:29; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)

God revealed His words to His prophets, by whom spoke and then wrote down the revelation. In the New Testament the terms employed to refer to God's revelation refer to "unveiling that which was previously hidden".  (Exodus 24:4; Amos 3:7; Ephesians 1:10; 1 Peter 1:10-11)

2.  Inspiration - Human authors were given a unique measure of grace through their own writing styles to produce documents free from error and sufficient for faith and practice

Revelation (not the Book but the act of God making the unknown known) leads next to inspiration.  It is in the act of inspiration that God takes His revealed will and superintends over the writing styles of the biblical authors to produce the Bible books. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that "all scripture is inspired", meaning literally that: "God breathed out the scriptures."  Just as He breathed out His breath into the nostrils of Adam and Adam became a living soul, so did the writings of the Apostles and Prophets become living scripture as they wrote.  

With the more than 40 authors, writing on three continents and in three languages, over 1500 years period of time, God used their writing styles and situations to produce a unified library of 66 documents free from error.  Once the last period of the Book of Revelation was completed, the Grace of inspiration would never operate again.  So with God's words written as perfectly true words, how would God's people know which books were God's books as opposed to forgeries?

3. Canonicity - The identification, reception and arranging of the individually inspired Bible books into the official collection of God's words
Virtually all the Bible books were immediately identified, received and collected by God's people for public reading, preaching and application.  The term "canon" literally means "measuring rod", hence the Bible is the final authority or "measuring rod" on all matters.  Not just any book could be considered part of God's Divine Library of the Bible.  Church history tells us that God's people used a variety of tests for recognizing God's words.1

God perfectly inspired the individual Bible books, not the manner of their order or arrangement.  God in His Providence led the people of God to take up the task of receiving and arranging the books of scripture.  Without a doubt the Holy Spirit guided the process, and it must be remembered that the Bible produced the church, not the other way around.  By recognizing the nature of canonicity, we can see why its not a big deal for certain Bibles to have differing order or arrangement of the Bible books.2  In our next post we will deal with two other terms: preservation and illumination. 

End Notes:______________________

1. So what were the tests?  Some examples are as follows:
a. Was the author a prophet, apostle or associate of an apostle?
b. Does the book correspond with previous revelation?
c. Does the Book bring about conversion?
d. Does the book point to Jesus Christ, the fullness of God's revelation?
e. Is the book recognized by virtually all Christians as God's word?

Tests such as these were used, and once individually recognized, the church came to arrange the books for use and preaching purposes.

2. For example we know by Jesus' day that the Old Testament was arranged in a three-fold way (Law, Prophets, Writings). (Luke 24:44) However in our English Bibles our Old Testaments are arranged as: Law, Historical Books, Poetic Books and Prophetic Books (Major and Minor Prophets). These differing arrangements have nothing to do with the words of scripture (inspiration), rather they represent the ways God's people came to organize the 66 Bible books.  Thus we see for instance Catholic Bibles, Eastern Orthodox Bibles and Protestant Bibles (the last which would be to most readers perhaps the most familiar) having their Bible Books in differing order.  

The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox have additional books, of which I will not address right now (these issues have been addressed in other past blogs).  Suffice it to say, all three orderings have in common the universally recognized 66 Books which appear by themselves in such English translation and versions such as KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, NLT. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Empowerment for the Christian Walk - The Spirit-filled Life

Acts 11:22-24 The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23 Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

Introduction: Rechargeable batteries and the Spirit-filled life
It is amazing how many batteries one can go through when raising children as active and fun-loving as our own.  Although it has been several years, when younger children were smaller, they would come to my wife or me and inquire about batteries. Even our older ones - or we ourselves - find the batteries in our devices needing recharged. No sooner do we buy those big packs of 10 or more batteries then to find out that we need to purchase more batteries! For electronic devices, unless you plug them in for a periodic recharge, their performance will degrade. Having available power is important whether we are talking about children's toys, cell-phones or computers.

What ought to characterize the Christian throughout the remainder of their post-conversion life? The Spirit-filled life.
Just as in the illustration above, you and I as Christians - whether new to the faith or converted for years - continue to live life in this world - with the batteries of the Christian walk needing  recharged.  We need empowerment. The Spirit-filled life can be likened to the repeated need to be recharged and influenced by the Spirit following one's conversion to saving faith. To be a Spirit-filled Christian is to be a Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered one.  

Meet a Spirit-filled man by the name of Barnabas
Acts 11:19-30 details the events the were still following from the persecution of Stephen the Martyr in Acts 7-8.  The church had blossomed and grown despite the hardship and tribulations that she endured.  Acts 11:21 records a major development in regards to the progress of the church at Antioch - "And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord." These people were getting converted as a result of the Spirit's work through the preaching of the Gospel. But now with the people becoming new believers, what was going to be needed? How was this fledgling Christian movement in Antioch going to continue on from this point? Enter the man Barnabas and the key trait which he possessed - being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 11:24, quoted at the beginning of today's post, records how Barnabas "....was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."  In the remainder of time that we have I would like us to briefly consider what the rest of Acts 11 (particularly 11:23-25 and 30) has to teach us about the filling of the Spirit in regards to is characteristics.

Characteristics of the Spirit-filled life. Acts 11:23-25, 30
1. Clear testimony  11:23a
2. Confident joy      11:23b
3. Consistent in Faith 11:24a
4. Kingdom fruit 11:24b
5. Counted reliable  11:30

Certainly there are other scriptures in the New Testament that bear out more examples and more traits - yet Barnabas' is a great introduction to the Spirit-filled or Spirit-empowered life in terms of what it looks like, sounds like and acts like.  Barnabas (whose name means "son of encouragement) was the type of Christian you enjoyed being around.  The Spirit-filled Christian not only has enough "rechargable energy" for their own Christian walk but they operate in the "over-flow" of the Holy Spirit to the affecting of others.  

It is only apropos that in the very first place that we find the name "Christian" being used to describe Jesus followers that it should be attached to this idea of being "filled with the Holy Spirit." Just as the new birth or regenerative work of the Holy Spirit constitutes the epicenter of conversion; the filling or empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit occupies the center of the post-conversion Christian walk. The filling of the Spirit enables me to become in experience of my sanctification (i.e progressive Christian growth) whom God has legally declared me to be in justification in salvation. As we find Barnabas to be a grand example of this precious truth of the Spirit-filled life, may those who are Christians heed the admonition of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:18 - to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Understanding the miracle of the New Birth

James 1:17-18 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

Today I wanted us to better understand what is meant when Christians and the Bible speak about the beginning point of salvation - "The New Birth". It can be instructive to grasp how earlier Christians spoke of Biblical truth in order to see whether or not we are on the right track. Such an exercise is what we call "historical theology". Far from being dull and dry, historical theology connects us to Christians of the past. If anything, their insights can aid us in a deeper understanding of Biblical truth. Historical theology's accuracy is measured by what the Bible teaches by way of its major themes and development of doctrinal truth (or what is called Biblical theology). Both types of theological study assist in better comprehending what God has revealed about this truth of regeneration or the new birth. 

How Christians have historically defined the New Birth in Christian Salvation
The above text deals with the beginning of one's salvation - what the Bible calls "The New Birth" or "Regeneration". The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention) defines the "New Birth" accordingly: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace." Henceforth we can see that regeneration is all about a change of heart brought about by God in the sinner, followed by a response of repentance and faith. 

Baptists have come to understand both the individual Christian life and corporate church life as rooted in this entry point of the Christian life. The 1689 Baptist Confession defines regeneration or the New Birth accordingly: "(God) is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God." We can pause here to note how this older Baptist confession includes and enlightening of the mind, as well as a change of heart. The confession goes onward: "taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace." 

One more example, the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, speaks of regeneration in this way: We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life." Here we see how regeneration not only affects the heart (seat of emotions) and the mind with respect to their illumination, but also the will with regards to its inclination. Such is the understanding of God's work of regeneration through some of the thoughts of earlier Christians. But now, the true measure of any doctrine is to see what the Bible teaches. 

The Biblical source, the effects and the activities involved in the New Birth
The New Testament speaks of the beginning of Christian salvation as being that of a "New Birth".  Jesus for example in John 3:1-8 discusses with Nicodemas what it means to be "born-again".  Peter too talks about being "begotten" or "born again" by God in 1 Peter 1:3 and 23.  This language of "birthing" and "regeneration" to describe saving faith is used in Titus 3:5 "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." 

James 1:17-21 is the text I want us to specifically focus upon in drawing to a close today's post on the New Birth, since James was the first New Testament Book.  As you go down through James'  treatment, you discover the following about the New Birth or as it is sometimes termed "regeneration":

1. The New Birth Comes from God. James 1:17
This is clearly the origin of the New Birth.  This tells us that salvation by its very nature is a genuine miracle.  We could call this first thought the "source" of regeneration or the New Birth.

2. The New Birth Brings a change of heart.  James 1:18
The New Birth, being a work of God, brings with it the grace that accompanies salvation.  As we will see in later blogs, whenever you and I have been born again - there must needs had been a change of heart.  We could term this the "effects" of the New Birth or regeneration.

3. The New Birth Involves faith and repentance. James 1:19-21
Any definition of the New Birth must include "faith and repentance".  Apart from faith and repentance, the New Birth simply will not occur.  James speaks about both repentance (James 1:19-21a) and faith (1:21b) in this authoritative definition of "The New Birth".   We could call this last point the "activities involved" in the New Birth. 

I would encourage the reader to study over James 1:17-21 and the other texts mentioned in today's blog to gain a better understanding of this essential truth of Christian salvation - The New Birth. Furthermore, consider again what older Christians taught, since how Biblical truth was expressed in former generations can shine fresh light on current study and application of such truth. One thing is for certain - the New Birth and its attendant graces is a miracle of God wrought in the heart and thus marking the beginning point of salvation. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Keep the fire of the Lord burning

Leviticus 9:22-24 "Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces."

I was thinking upon this particular passage of scripture a few days ago. Aaron, Moses' brother, was chosen by God to be the first high priest of Israel. His family and clan and tribe were the chosen portion of Israel that were set aside by God to represent His interests to the people. The Book of Leviticus represents the Israelite's first month or two of life following their Exodus from Egypt. We see the beginnings of their journeys and the start of a ministry. As God was finalizing all of the instructions to Aaron and his sons through Moses, the one feature of their calling and office as priests had to do with keeping the fire burning upon the altar (see Leviticus 6:13).

Undoubtedly the preparation for the moment recorded for us in Leviticus 9 was momentous. The priesthood of Israel was a special office commissioned by God. Aaron and his sons had experienced the prescribed rituals of anointing and donning of garments. However, one thing was needed - the fire of God. Lest the Spirit of God would come and kindle the altar, the priesthood would remain a ritual - and not a relationship with the covenant keeping God of Israel. 

The scene must had been truly an emotional one as the Jewish Levitical priesthood was getting underway. The people were present. Moses was there. Aaron and his sons were arrayed in their white garments. Then the fire came. The corporate spiritual life of a nation could now officially begin. They had experienced the deliverance by God from Egypt and were at the place God had called them. But until the fire of His presence kindled that altar, the ministry, the life of following God - could not commence nor continue. 

Matthew Henry, the great commentator of old wrote these words: "This fire did, as it were, take possession of the altar. The fire was thus kindled in God’s house, which was to continue as long as the house stood, as we read before, Lev. 6:13. This also was a figure of good things to come. The Spirit descended upon the apostles in fire (Acts 2:3), so ratifying their commission, as this spoken of here did the priests’. And the descent of this holy fire into our souls to kindle in them pious and devout affections towards God, and such a holy zeal as burns up the flesh and the lusts of it, is a certain token of God’s gracious acceptance of our persons and performances. That redounds to God’s glory which is the work of his own grace in us." 

Henry continues: "Hereby we know that we dwell in God, and God in us, because he hath thus given us of his Spirit, 1 John 4:13. Now henceforward, (1.) All their sacrifices and incense must be offered with this fire. Note, Nothing goes to God but what comes from him. We must have grace, that holy fire, from the God of grace, else we cannot serve him acceptably,Heb. 12:28. (2.) The priests must keep it burning with a constant supply of fuel, and the fuel must be wood, the cleanest of fuel. Thus those to whom God has given grace must take heed of quenching the Spirit."

Israel of the Old Testament was characterized by the heavenly fire of Yahweh. Such fire represented the Person of the Spirit of God attending with His people. God was the One that met Moses in the fiery bush and revealed His name as Yahweh (Exodus 3:14). Moses' calling could not commence without that confirmation of God's glorious presence. The beginnings of Aaron's ministry, the ministry of the tabernacle and the much later ministry of the temple built by Solomon had with them the coming of the heavenly fire. 

In the New Testament we see yet again the Holy Spirit descending upon His church. The church worldwide and on the local level is composed of all born-again people who are classified as a spiritual priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus had told his disciples to wait and tarry in Jerusalem until the Power from on High came down (see Acts 1:8). The one crucial difference between the Spirit's ministry in the Old Testament and today is that whilst He dwelt with and among the people in O.T Israel; He now permanently dwells in and through the church. Lest the Spirit comes, indwells at salvation and continues to lead and guide in sanctification - no spiritual life and service to God will commence or continue. The Spirit did come. 

When He comes into our hearts at salvation, simultaneously faith issues forth. True, genuine trust is issued froth by the sinner and they freely embrace Jesus Christ - resulting in their conversion. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour." Scripture describes this miracle as regeneration or the new birth (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3,23). 

When a man preaches a sermon or a anyone serves God in any capacity, they can only do so by the Spirit's continuing work of gifting and empowerment in their post-conversion Christian walk (Ephesians 4:11-12). Today, I simply close with the thought that as Christians, we need to tend to the fire of God kindled in our human spirit by the Holy Spirit. Let's keep the fire burning and thus serve God with joy and gladness!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The God that is knowable and incomprehensible

1 Kings 3:9-14 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. 13 I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. 14 If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.”

The relationship King Solomon had with God in the early parts of his reign as King in Jerusalem is most instructive to believers today. Two truths characterize the Christian's walk with God. The passage above speaks of that first truth: "knowability". Solomon knew His God - and His God knew Him. They talked, listened and communed with one another. Solomon was intimidated by his role in life. As king of Jerusalem - he had big shoes to fill - for David had been his father. Solomon's conversation with God shows how he was going to get the job done. Solomon knew God - and God knew Solomon.

Now we fastforward a few chapters later in 1 Kings. Solomon's major project of building the temple had been complete. The king was dedicating the temple. In 1 Kings 8:27-30 we read -  “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today; 29 that Your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ to listen to the prayer which Your servant shall pray toward this place. 30 Listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive." Here we see the second truth associated with one's walk with God - namely that God is incomprehensible.

When we say God is incomprehensible, we refer to how we in our reason, our thinking and our writing cannot exhaustively comprehend Him. I can know of light for instance - that it illuminates dark places. However the intricacies of the behavior of photons (the particles / waves that make up the light) at the sub-atomic level are still being attempted to be completely grasped. As the late physicist Richard Feynman once quipped: "He who says he completely understands quantum theory (the science of the really, really small sub-atomic world) as shown he does not completely understand it". 

Or take another more concrete example - one's relationship with their spouse. I know my wife. I know her likes, dislikes. I know from the tone n her voice or the gait of her walk what she is thinking. Yet, there is a mystery side to her which alludes full comprehension. I know her enough to want to draw closer and yet she has enough mystery as a woman to make me want to know more about her.

With God, He is knowable and yet incomprehensible. Per Solomon's words, he could hold a conversation with God and walk with Him in the decisions of the moment. Yet, Solomon also knew that the being and glory of God exceeds the physical confines of our universe. To know God is to experience His manifestation to us. Such an incomprehensible God is know by His written revelation and the fullness of His revelation in Jesus Christ. To be in awe of His incomprehensibility is to bow before His majesty. May we today aim to know God, whose incomprehensibility drives us to worship Him. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The God of Revealed Scripture

Malachi 3:6 “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed."

James 1:17 "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is the confessional statement of the Southern Baptist Convention. In its attempt to express what Southern Baptist's teach on matters of doctrine, the Christian life and social issues, the very first article deals with the doctrine of the Bible. In outlining the character of the Bible as being without error (i.e "inerrant") and incapable of leading one astray in matters of life and practice (i.e "infallible") among other traits with respect to its binding authority, the Bible is described as a product of Divine revelation.

The very first sentence of the BFM 2000 article on scripture reads as follows: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man." This first sentence is crucial, since it expresses the Bible being the product of not just any deity, but One True and Living God. 

In our 21st century world we are more aware of other competing worldviews and religions than ever before. In our culture today, and even among Christians, when one says "God", such a term may not be taken to mean the same thing to different people. Furthermore, movements such as Wicca, Buddhism and the New Atheism are very popular among younger North Americans seeking to have a form of spirituality apart from organized religion. In order to communicate why we as Christians believe the Bible to be a Divinely revealed book, we need to first express the Divine source and His identity. In other words, it is crucial in establishing our view of scripture that we first identify the Divine author Himself. What kind of God is this God? 

What kind of God is the God of revealed scripture?
In the second article of the BFM 2000, the nature of the God of revealed scripture, and His identity, is explained. The God of revealed scripture is not some pervasive, impersonal force permeating our universe - as believed by Eastern religions and popularly expressed in the Star Wars franchise (called pantheism). Neither is the God of revealed scripture the immaterial soul of our world, equal to it and thus an impersonal force animating every rock, tree and person - as espoused by such groups as Wicca. The God of revealed scripture is not a collection of deities that extend back into eternity past, with Yahweh and Jesus being but the latest development in that long chain of beings (as in Mormonism). Such definitions are foreign to scripture and such deities are illusions and idols.

Rather, the BFM 2000 offers this following description of what kind of Being God is:

"There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience."

Identifying the God of revealed scripture
In defining the kind of God the God of revealed scripture is, the BFM 2000 goes onto identify this God in its second article:

"The eternal Triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being."

Now we won't go any further into the specific details of how we can reasonably justify our belief in this particular God's existence - but we will make some general remarks. God's existence is revealed through His general revelation in creation (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-31) and the moral laws written into the conscience (Romans 2:14-15). Moreover, God's existence and nature can be inferred through apologetical arguments such as the argument from observations of the universe, the universe's fine-tuning for the existence of life and the reality of objective moral values and duties. Then to specifically demonstrate the reality of the God expressed in the above statements, one can appeal to the resurrection of Jesus as the historical demonstration of the fact that the God of revealed scripture alone exists. 

Reasonable considerations affirm that Christians have justified reasons for believing in the God of revealed scripture. Such considerations bow of course to the Bible, and thankfully, are confirmed and further specified by it. 

Why does this matter to you?
Children, students and adults are called to the Christian life for one purpose: to know and love God. The second, closely related reason is to love other people with this love (see Matthew 22:37-39). The Christian life is not only a conversion of the soul to Jesus (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23) but also is to be a transformation of one's mind (Romans 12:2). To know why we believe why we believe is as important as communicating what we believe. Only when we progressively grasp why we believe what we believe will we then be equipped to answer: "How then shall we live?"  

The Divine authority of the Bible as God's inerrant and infallible revelation of Himself is built upon the premise that God never lies (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18); never fails (Hebrews 13:5) and doesn't change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). All of scripture is predicated and based upon God's character as God. Furthermore, as Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Decisive revelation of God in history, as demonstrated by His resurrection from the dead, then we can consider His remarkable life and death as further demonstration of the Bible's character as revealed written revelation. Jesus Himself taught as much (see Matthew 5:18; Luke 24:44; John 10:35). 

This is an important point, since our view of God drives our view of scripture. Such a foundation can greatly guard our faith in times of doubt, fear and struggle. If we believe that God created our world, and that this God reveals Himself in and through this world, and that the resurrection did indeed occur, then the concept of Divine revelation in written form won't be near as hard to accept. If anything, this God, the Triune God, with the Person of the Son demonstrating such truth by His incarnation, death and resurrection, has inseparably revealed Himself in words. Such words only exist and are codified in one book: the Bible.