Post Tagged as ‘Bible study’

Don’t Wait Until New Year’s; Start Reading Your Bible Now! (With A Good Resource for Bible Reading Plans)

It is fairly customary for Christians to make a New Year’s resolution to read through their Bible in a year. I have been there personally. You make a decision, starting January 1st, to read a few chapters a day for the whole year. Everything starts off well. Genesis isn’t all that bad. There are a few genealogies, but it’s mostly written in story form. The same goes for Exodus. But then we reach Leviticus, that venerable killer of Bible reading plans and New Year’s resolutions. We get bogged down in the difficult reading. We miss a day–then two; and the […]

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On Titles for Church Leadership

Texts

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23:8-11 ESV)


But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness intohis marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)


Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:23 ESV)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— (Titus 1:5 ESV)

Commentary

As recorded in Matthew 23:8-11, Jesus prohibits His followers from distinguishing themselves by the use of honorific religious titles. Jesus’ words in this passage come in the context of denouncing the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees- in view of their hypocritical and self-serving religious activities- so it is clear that religious titles are the subject of this passage (in other words, the Lord is not here prohibiting children from saying “Daddy” to their earthly fathers). Specific religious titles that the Lord prohibits for His followers are “rabbi,” “father,” and instructor.”


As the direct commandment of Jesus prohibits any Christian minister taking on “father” as a religious title, clear New Testament teaching also speaks against any specific group of Christian ministers distinguishing themselves from other church members by taking on the title of “priest.” As Skarsaune notes in relation to 1 Peter 2:9,

“The new people of God are not in a temple, attending a service led by priests, they are the temple and they are its priests, themselves conducting the service… since the whole people is priestly, all leadership ministries are called by entirely non-priestly, non-cultic terms.” [Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple, 162. Quoted in James M. Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old And New Testaments (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 123-124.]


The prohibition against honorific religious titles, and the lack of “priestly” or “cultic” terms for church leadership does NOT mean, however, that the church has NO way of speaking about the men who help teach, counsel, and guide church members. All things must be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40), and if the church lacks recognition concerning WHICH men were qualified for leadership roles, then orderliness will quickly vanish. And so the Lord, through His apostles, has given qualifications for church leadership in passages such as Titus 1:5-9. Church leaders are referred to as pastors, overseers, bishops, or (perhaps most commonly in the New Testament) elders.


Application


Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ obey His commands. Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who are in church leadership will not insist on being addressed with an honorific religious title such as “rabbi,” “father,” or “instructor” in DIRECT VIOLATION of Jesus’ command. Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ will not follow someone who refers to himself as “Father [So-and-So],” etc., because they will recognize that man as someone who does not care about the clear command of Christ.


As the New Testament avoids priestly terms in referring to church leadership- calling the entire church “a royal priesthood,” and naming Jesus as the ultimate high priest who fulfills all the sacrificial functions once and for all (Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:11-14)- followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should avoid systems of religion in which the ministers are referred to as “priests.”


Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should seek out churches in which the congregational leadership actually meets the qualifications for church leadership mentioned in the New Testament and churches in which leaders are called by simple, New Testament terms such as “pastor,” “elder,” etc.

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Works That Validate Living Faith

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “Faith alone, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).It is spiritually instructive to examine exactly what kinds of actions, according to James, prove that belief is true. James mentions the follow…

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Jesus’ View of Scripture

The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s Word? This is a question that every person must deal with: Is the Bible the Word of God or is it a book of human origin? I was brought to this question forcibly as my faith was vigorously attacked when I entered college at Georgia State University. In class after class the Bible was presented as presenting just one human idea about God among many other (at least) equally valid ideas that people have about God. This is now the question that I challenge YOU to deal with: is the Bible just one point […]

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Jesus’ View of Scripture

The Bible: God’s Word or Man’s Word?

This is a question that every person must deal with: Is the Bible the Word of God or is it a book of human origin?

I was brought to this question forcibly as my faith was vigorously attacked when I entered college at Georgia State University. In class after class the Bible was presented as presenting just one human idea about God among many other (at least) equally valid ideas that people have about God.

This is now the question that I challenge YOU to deal with: is the Bible just one point of view that people have developed about what God is like, or is it the very Word of God Himself, to which we must all submit in order to live out the purpose for which we were created and to enjoy everlasting life?

In this context, there are only three possible answers to this question:
1. The Bible is the Word of God.
2. The Bible is the words of mere men only.
3. The Bible is a mixture.

Throughout Church history, until about the 18th century with the rise of so-called “higher criticism,” all who wished to share in the name of Christ by calling themselves “Christians” held that the Bible is the Word of God. Before the rise of “liberal” theology, even groups with radically divergent views– even groups who were eventually condemned as heretics– held that the Bible is the Word of God if they wished to be called Christians (though upon closer scrutiny it is obvious that all truly heretical groups deny the plain teaching of the Bible).

In our present society, the list of people who claim that the Bible is ‘the words of mere men only’ would include adherents to other religions who claim belief in a god other than the God presented in the Bible and atheists who claim that there is no God.

Those that would hold to the last position listed above– that the Bible is a “mixture”– would include deists who claim that there is a God, but that the transcendence of the supernatural God makes it impossible for people to have direct communication with God, and also “liberal” theologians who would not necessarily claim that we are unable to have direct communication with God, but just that God has not chosen to communicate with people directly through the Bible in the way that the Church has historically affirmed. In the view of both the deists and the liberals the Bible is a mixture of writings that correspond in varying degrees with principles that God wishes to communicate. For both of these groups scholarship must sort out the truth in the Bible from the error (you can see why this view may be popular in a university setting).

The Question Raised

There may be someone reading this post who could identify with the following statements:

All of your life you have been handed a set of beliefs by your church, your family, and your friends, and so eventually you came to accept these beliefs on a certain level. But when you began to really think about why you believed what you believed, you could give no satisfactory answer. And so now you have described yourself as searching for what you really can believe in.

My reply to someone in this situation is that this is an excellent place to be at: the place where you can struggle with your personal convictions, develop them, and then begin to live life wholeheartedly following what you know to be true. So many people out there are content to live with the beliefs that they have been given throughout their childhood and so their beliefs remain childish: unexamined by the light of sound reason (and Scripture!). These people are living half-heartedly because they are really trying to live out someone else’s beliefs rather than their own. It is only those who have come to know why what they believe is worth believing (in contrast to other systems of belief) who are empowered to live consistently: in a way that truly glorifies God and benefits others as well as themselves.

I remember when I was an underclassman in college and I came to a crisis of belief in some ways similar to the one described above. I was a philosophy minor and two of the classes I elected to take were ‘Church and State’ and ‘Augustine and Aquinas,’ both of which were taught by Dr. Timothy Renick. Dr. Renick mentioned the canonization of Scripture a few times in these classes, and every time he did, it was with a certain level of contempt. He quoted a bishop named Jerome, who lived, I believe, in the late 300s-early 400s, as saying that the reason we have four Gospels is because there are four cardinal directions and four winds. In short, Dr. Renick was saying that the books chosen to be in the Bible were picked arbitrarily at best and based on political motivations at worst. In relation to the political motivations of the church beginning in the 300s-400s, Dr. Renick often spoke of the influence that Emperor Constantine had on the Counsel of Nicea.

So, in this environment, my beliefs were questioned and I had to find out for myself why I believed what I believed. I’ll not go into the whole process and all the conclusions I came to at this time, but I’ll summarize by saying that through diligent searching of Scripture, through earnest prayer, and through careful study of early Church history (from both Christian and secular sources) I have become convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the collection of books we call the Bible is, in fact, God’s Word. I have also come to conclude that much of what the Bible actually has to say has been obscured by political motivations, that this kind of politically-driven error was dealt with, to a large extent, during the Reformation of the 1500s, but that there are still tendencies within the church to be overly political (rather than Gospel-oriented) as sometimes seen in the religious-rightwing movement.

And I would like to add that struggling with beliefs– or even with God Himself– is not condemned, but rather commended by the Bible. This is demonstrated in the life of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel all night to gain God’s blessing (see Genesis 32:22-30). This is seen often in the life of Moses, who continuously brought his fears and doubts before God, refusing to leave his time of prayer until he was sure of an answer (see Exodus 3:1-4:17; 33:12-23). Job, too, struggled with God in prayer, asking for understanding concerning his afflictions and finding satisfaction– though not the answers to all his questions– in the word of God (see Job 30:20-31; 38-42). The struggle with God is writ large in the Psalms, with David offering up prayers such as:

How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?


Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
My enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.


But I trust in Your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
For He has been good to me.

(Psalm 13 NIV 1984)


Ultimately, this struggle with God– with knowing and doing His will– is seen in the life of Jesus, who, always perfectly knowing the will of the Father, still had to struggle with the implications of His will as any other man would. This is seen in His prayer on the Mount of Olives, about which the Bible records:
And being in anguish, [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44 NIV)

Jesus’ View of Scripture

In my own struggle over whether the Bible should unequivocally be thought of as the very Word of God, one particular line of evidence struck a particular chord in my heart and mind. This positive reason for trusting the Bible as God’s Word is an examination of Jesus’ view of Scripture and was explained by by James Montgomery Boice in his book Standing on the Rock as follows:

1. If Jesus is who He claimed to be, and if Jesus truly gave the teachings attributed to Him in the Gospel accounts, then we can believe the Bible to be the Word of God because Jesus believed it to be the Word of God.

2. Jesus taught that Scripture is infallible, saying, “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18 NIV 1984), and, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 NASB).

3. Jesus taught that each letter of Scripture was inspired by God as seen in Matthew 5:18, quoted above. This is not an isolated example and it is not hyperbole, as demonstrated by Matthew 22:23-32, in which Jesus points to the particular form of the verb “to be” used in a certain verse to prove the doctrine of resurrection.

4. Jesus saw His life as the fulfillment of Scripture, beginning His ministry by quoting Scripture (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19), appealing to Scripture to silence His critics (John 5), and quoting Scripture while dying on the Cross (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46). After He rose from the grave, Jesus explained His work to His disciples using Scripture (Luke 24:25-27). And Jesus prophesied the writing of the New Testament (John 14:26; John 16:12-14).

This is NOT circular reasoning

At this point a skeptic may object that by using Bible passages to demonstrate that the Bible is God’s Word, we are engaging in circular reasoning. But under closer inspection, you will see that this is not the case. For the first stated assumption here is not “the Bible is God’s Word” but rather that “Jesus is presented in the Gospel accounts in an accurate, historical way”. By their own account, these narratives are meant to tell of events that really happened in particular times and particular places (see Luke 1-3; John 20-21). The assumption here is simply that the Christian men who wrote these books are not bald-faced liars.

So, how do these reliable, historical books present Jesus?
1. They present Him as God Incarnate (John 1:1, 14).
2. And God– in order to be God– must speak the Truth (Hebrews 6:18).

So, what does Jesus teach about the Bible?
As examined above, Jesus teaches that the Bible is infallible, perfect in every letter, and that it is fulfilled in Him.

Concluding Questions

In conclusion, I would like to challenge you with these questions:

1. How carefully have you examined your beliefs? Have you thoroughly contemplated life, death, the afterlife, and the authority on which you base your decisions? Have you come to the point of personal, whole-hearted convictions on these issues or are you lazily depending on the ideas of others without checking the facts?

2. What is your view of the Scriptures? Do your views line up with those of Jesus? If not, do you realize that you are rebelling against your only hope for peace with God and everlasting life? I urge you now to call out to God now for His mercy:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10 NIV 1984)

[Adapted from a post originally published on 7/15/05.]

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universal atheism

Psalm 14:1, which begins with, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’,” is often a text cited by Christians when speaking against atheism. But, while this verse certainly has a valid application regarding atheists, I wonder if we do not regular…

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not just a Book of Virtues

Responsibility. Courage. Compassion. Honesty. Friendship. Persistence. Faith. Everyone recognizes these traits as essentials of good character. In order for our children to develop such traits, we have to offer them examples of good and bad, right and wrong.

The above quote is from a synopsis on The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. This book contains stories from American history, Greek mythology, English poetry, fairy tales, modern fiction, and the Bible.

The synopsis continues:

[T]hese stories are a rich mine of moral literacy, a reliable moral reference point that will help anchor our children and ourselves in our culture, our history, and our traditions — the sources of the ideals by which we wish to live our lives.

Now, the point of this blog entry is not to throw rocks at Bill Bennett’s book. Rather, this information about The Book of Virtues is given because just as Bible stories are given in this book to provide moral examples for us to follow, many people seem to think that the point of all the Bible is to give us instructions on how to live good, virtuous lives. But this thinking is fallacious to the core, as explained by Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

You cannot view the Bible the way a rabbi would. You view the Bible the way Jesus does: it is about Him. And yet so much that we see in terms of the teaching and the preaching and the discipleship of the Bible is not really Christ-focused. And when you remove Christ from the picture, what do you have left? You have moralism. You have exactly what so many of us have seen in childrens’ Sunday School. Jesus calls the disciples– Jesus had friends — you have friends. The little boy gives to Jesus the loaves and the fishes– he shared– you share [you see how this kind of teaching subtly and consistently shifts the focus away from Jesus and on to people]. The little boy gave the little dab that he had and Jesus was able to multiply that– you give the little dab that you have and Jesus is able to multiply that– that’s true; that is not the point of the passage. Indeed, for all that we know, this little boy is screaming on the ground, ‘Don’t take my fish and loaves away from me!’ He’s not presented as an example! That text is about something: it is about Christ.

You see this whenever we go through the Bible and you’re using the Bible simply as examples of the way that we really ought to act. Whether that’s in a liberal church going through the Bible and saying, ‘Now, all of you know that you should be recycling,’ or whether it’s in a conservative church where we’re going through the Bible teaching on sexual abstinence without explaining why.

But the Bible does not do this. Notice, for instance, in the book of Ephesians, in Ephesians chapter 5, when the Apostle Paul starts talking about marriage and sexuality– starts talking about this one flesh relationship and he says, ‘I’m speaking to you about a mystery.’ Now, Paul here is not stopping his discussion and saying, ‘OK, now we’ve talked about all the purposes for the universe, now I want to give you marriage tips.’ He doesn’t do that. He says, ‘I am speaking to you,’ in verse 32, ‘a mystery that is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.’ What Paul is not doing is saying, ‘You know, you really ought to be faithful to one another, you really ought to have a good marriage, and a marriage between a man and a woman is kind of like– I don’t know– the sun and the moon/the stars and the ground, no, that’s not it– it’s kind of like Christ and the Church, that’s it!.’ That is not what Paul is doing. Paul is not using Christ and the Church as an illustration. Paul is saying, ‘When God designs a man and a woman and puts them together in a one-flesh relationship: that is the illustration.’ It is pointing you to a mysterious relationship between Jesus and His body. It is about Christ.

[Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 2004 Collegiate Conference, Plenary Session 1, MP3]

In all of the Bible the focus is on Jesus- on who He is, on what He has done, on what He is doing now, and on what He will do. If you do not understand this, then you do not understand the Bible at all. When this truth is understood, it becomes obvious why biblical theology must be Christ-focused theology and why right actions must flow from right beliefs.

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The Subject of Scripture

It has already been asserted on this blog that the great purpose of all the Holy Bible is salvation: to proclaim the message of reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ.As my brother-in-law once pointed out in a comment on this blog, the great themes…

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