Priests, Bishops, Elders, Pastors, Popes, Archbishops, Elders… Congregation?

It seems like there are as many church titles as their are churches but you may be surprised to hear that in the Bible their are only two offices given to the church, elders (also called pastors) and deacons.  You may be even more surprised to hear that God has made the individual members of the church responsible for what goes on in the church, not simply the leaders.  So with all the different churches with their own branded form of leadership and decision making, what is the biblical patter of church government? The first issue with church government what are the biblical church offices.

Pastor/Elder

The terms elder, overseer, and bishop are used interchangeably in the New Testament (NT) to refer to the same office in the church (See Acts 20:17-38 and 1 Peter 5:2-5).  These terms refer to the same office of Pastor emphasizing different aspects of it.  Churches in the scriptures always have a plurality of elders who oversaw the church in many aspects. The qualifications for this office are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

Deacons

Next there are deacons who are the church servants.  These individuals did not take part in the official leading of the church like the elders but were in charge of taking care of the physical needs of the congregation (Acts 6:1-6, 1 Tim. 3:8-13).  Many churches have deacons who serve as leaders in the church and this is simply not biblical and unhealthy.

What about Apostles?

Apostles were existent in the early church though this office fell out of use after the eyewitnesses of Jesus all passed away as this was one of the requirements to be an apostle (Acts 1:21-22).  This office was part of the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20) laid in the first century, not intended to continue to the present day.  Even thought there are no more apostles living, a faithful NT church is still led by the apostles through their writings now gathered into the NT.

Who Makes Decisions?

The NT pattern seems to suggest it was the responsibility of the church members to install and remove church leaders (Acts 6:3, Acts 15:22, 1 Cor. 5:4). This fits into the congregationalist form of church government which makes the congregation the final court of appeals when it comes to the decision making of the church.  This reality is seen most clearly in the fact that the congregation is always responsible when there is false teaching in the church (Gal. 1:3), immorality in the church (1 Cor. 5), or the need to excommunicate a member of the church (Matt. 18:15-20 esp. v. 17).  These things are never merely left up to the leaders of the church.  The elders (pastors) of the church are never charged with these things or rebuked for failing to do these things, the congratulation itself was called to do them.  In this form of government, the elders lead the church and present things to the church but the church votes as the final court of appeals.  This means the the elders (pastors) lead and teach the church, the deacons take care of physical needs, and the congregation moves forward with decision making under the guidance and leadership of the elders.

Episcopalian Alternative

Contrary to this form of structure there is the Episcopalian form of government which includes Archbishops, bishops, and priests who preside over the congregations in that order of authority.  This form is built off of presumed church tradition rather than the scriptures as these offices as they are used never appear in the Bible.

Presbyterian Alternative

Then you have the Presbyterian form of Church Government which includes a teaching elder and lay elders that form a session in each congregation and some of these elders are part of a regional presbytery and some of these are part of a general assembly which presides over the local churches.  This form of government is argued largely based on the example of the Jerusalem counsel that is formed in Acts 11:1-18 which was made up of the churches “throughout Judea” (v.1).  This group came to a conclusion that was accepted by the churches through Judea and beyond.  This form of government also is meant to bring visible unity to the global church, stability and protect against false teaching though this is not always effective (look at the PCUSA for example). A big problem with this view, though more biblical than the Episcopalian view, is that the local church in the NT is given responsibility to make decisions under the authority of Christ.   Each local church was autonomous and was responsible to Christ, not to a body of higher leadership.  My opinion, based on what I see in the Bible, is that denominations are good for cooperation, not for control or governing. You can find a more in-depth explanation of this position from a Presbyterian pastor here.

Woman Pastors

The final issues when it comes to church government relates to women in pastoral ministry.  According to the scriptures, the teaching and leading role in the church is reserved for men, not because they are superior in value but rather because God made men and women different in roles both in the home and in the church (1 Tim. 2:11-14, 1 Cor. 14:33-3 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, Eph. 5:25-33).   This practice is rooted in creation as is made clear in 1 Timothy 2:11-14, not in culture or preference. As the text says

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1 Ti 2:11–14)

Notice the reason that Paul gives here. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve”. This makes clear that Gender roles are not a result of the fall but are rooted in the goodness of God’s creation and in the wisdom of God in creating Man in Woman as equal is worth but different in function.  Furthermore, Paul points to the fall as another basis for gender roles as he says “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor”.  This is by no means saying that the woman was gullible and the man was not.  Paul is pointing out that the serpent did not go to the man and try to deceive him.  Rather the serpent usurps God’s good creation order and goes to the woman who is the helper (Gen. 2:20), instead of the man who was called to protect and lead.

I hope this article go your mind thinking about the way God intends his churches to be ordered.  We should be thankful for God’s clarity on this issues and be zealous about patiently bringing purity to the church in this area.

If you are interested in reading more about this issue, check out this book of Church Government that I recommend.  Also check out these books below:






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Gay Marriage and the End of the World (As we Know it)

The news is out: the Supreme Court around 10 am on Friday June 26 declared gay marriage a constitutional right.[1]  This decision has been much anticipated and will go down in history as the Roe v. Wade of marriage.  Though the outcome was largely expected, many are being caught by surprise considering the rapid pace of the cultural shift leading up to this massive decision.  It was not that long ago (2008) that Barack Obama won his first presidential election opposed to same sex marriage.  It was not until April of this year that Hillary Clinton herself changer her position of gay marriage as being a constitutional right [2] having first retracted her opposition to gay relationships even later than Obama in 2013.[3] (most Republicans will follow soon enough).  We should not panic, as far as I know it is not the literal end of the world, but things are changing and we must be prepared for what is ahead by being informed knowing how we should react and interact.

Be Informed

The fact of the matter is that this cultural shift has happened fast and as Christians, we must realize that it is not going to stop.  The push against the biblical worldview and the hostility against it is not going to end.  As a matter of fact, all signs point to it getting worse.  Permitting marriage licenses to be given to same sex couples in all 50 states is not the primary goal of the gay rights movement.   The goal of the gay rights movement is nothing less than the abolition of biblical marriage and the silencing of any opposition to same sex relationships. The expectation is that all people not only allow same sex marriage, but also approve and facilitate it, something we can not do as Christians.  This means, without a shadow of a doubt, that this case on gay marriage is not the last case the court will hear relating to this issue, far from it.  In the coming years there will be many religious institutions, and soon enough even churches that will have to stand before the mercy of the court, the same court that declared ‘marriage equality’.  This has already been happening to some extent on a private business level to bakers and florists all over the United States.

This is not an overreaction.  All you have to do is look at the oral arguments of Obergefell v. Hodges and the preceding news articles.  When Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Virrilli if tax exempt status could be taken away from a “university or a college that opposed same-sex marriage?”.  The Solicitor General said this, “You know, I — I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I — I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is — it is going to be an issue.” More than 70 religious schools, including Southern Baptist Seminaries, wrote a letter[4] to congressional leaders concerned about the same-sex marriage ruling putting the schools at risk of legal issues due to it’s dating and housing policies and losing tax exempt status do to their biblical convictions on marriage.  One article from the New York times stated “Legal scholars said the scenario of schools’ and charities’ losing their tax-exempt status over their policies on these issues was unlikely — especially in the short term.”  Notice that last section, “especially in the short term”.  The issue with this is how short is the short term?  I would argue, not very short at all considering the rapid nature of the moral shift that has taken place before our eyes and the near impossibility of it slowing down any time soon.

How to React

But as Dr. Russell Moore said soon after the case was announced Friday morning, “This is not the time for Christians to panic.  We have a God who is sovereign.  The Supreme Court can do many things but the supreme court cannot get Jesus Christ back in the grave”.[5]   Furthermore we remember the words of Paul, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).  The fact of the matter is, we have lived in an unusual society that largely tolerated Christianity and even encouraged it.  We should not desire opposition, but we should expect it and prepare for it.  The Ethics and Religious Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention along with Alliance Defending Freedom teamed up to create a 44-page booklet titled Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits[6] that helps churches guard themselves from lawsuits to the best of their ability. Every faithful church needs to makes sure they have read and taken this booklet seriously.

How to Interact

On a practical day to day level, what are Christians supposed to do in light of this Supreme Court decision?  The answer is simple, the same things the church has been commissioned to do since the first century: “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), “by the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14), “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and extort with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4: 2), “Speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).  If you get anything out of this post get this: We don not need another gospel that fits better with our changing society.  We do not need another gospel that is more relevant to the LGBT community and the culture that supports it.  We have the most relevant beautiful gospel there is: Through repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ, sinners like us, sinners like them, can be freed from bondage to sin, can be freed from the fear of death, can be freed from the sexual revolution that only gives the appearance of joy. As Albert Mohler said today, “We are called to be the people of the truth, even when the truth is not popular and even when the truth is denied by the culture around us. Christians have found themselves in this position before, and we will again. God’s truth has not changed. The Holy Scriptures have not changed. The gospel of Jesus Christ has not changed. The church’s mission has not changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified,you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

The gospel is real, and it is for all people, including those who are different than us. I pray that you proclaim it with boldness & love to all people.

[1] Here is the full text given by the court; http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/04/28/hillary-clinton-goes-all-in-on-gay-marriage-love-must-win/

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/06/26/obama-and-clinton-love-to-celebrate-gay-marriage-now-heres-how-late-they-were-to-the-party/

[4] http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF15F04.pdf

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsp59P1sFro&feature=youtu.be

[6] http://www.thewhiteheadfirm.com/uploads/Protecting_Your_Ministry_ADF_ERLC.pdf

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The Spark that Brings Renewal and Revival

In the midst of the “decline” of the American church, and the drastic shift of the culture away from Biblical morality, many are tempted to be discouraged and wonder, “What can we do?”.  There is a war going on so what can we do? The answer to what we need to do is this: Pray.  Let me give you three examples from recent history that backs up the Biblical truth that God acts in powerful ways when his people pray for him to act.

  1. The First Great Awakening began largely in North Hamptons MA in 1730s with the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield and the renewed commitment to pray.
  2. The Great Prayer Revival began on Sep. 23, 1857 in New York City when a man named Jeremy Lanphier begins to pray and then invites thousands to pray in a rented tent on Fulton Street to pray. Sadly, only six people show up the first day.  But those six people begin to pray and three weeks later those six people become 40. After 5 months over 10,000 gathered there every day to pray. Over the next three months, revival swept the nations and over 1,000,000 people put their faith in Jesus.
  3. The Jesus movement began in the early 1970s. In this movement of God, like the others, the prayer of God’s people was central. Thousands of young people were coming to Christ through the preaching of God’s word and the prayers of his people. Over 400,000 people were baptized in a single year by Southern Baptist Churches.

If we want to see God move in our community, in our culture, and in our world, we need to start with prayer.  Though God is sovereign, he is pleased to work through the prayers of his people.  So when we pray, God is ready to answer.  So let’s join the saints around the world right now who are praying for the next great awakening.

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Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology

By: John Hammett

After much studies and experience, John Hammett write’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, an in depth treatment of biblical ecclesiology (study of the church).  Hammett makes clear from the start that he is writing from a historical Baptist perspective seeking to argue many of the biblical tenants of Baptist church government and structure, though at times he shows inconsistency between the scriptures and many modern Baptist practices in the church.  Hammett is a professor of systematic theology at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as a pastor and missionary.  His Baptist teaching and pastoral background as well as his strong devotion to being faithful to the scriptures make him well equipped to write this book.

Summary

Baptist Foundations starts with an introduction where Hammett explains why he wrote the book and what makes it different.  He make clear that this book is not pragmatic but rather theological in that it focuses on what the church is and what God intends for every aspect of it.  After this, Hammett splits the book into five parts with a handful of chapters in each part.  In part one; What is the Church? he goes through the basics of the what the “the church” (ekklesia) seems to mean in the scriptures and he examines the various images also used of the church.  Hammett gives info about the way the church over the course of history has viewed itself, giving the marks of the true church.  The final chapter in part one lays out the way the church is an organized assembly, that is primarily local, living and growing, gospel centered, and spirit empowered.

In Part two; Who is the Church? Hammett addressing two main things.  He first argues that the NT views the church as a gathering of regenerate church members.  He makes clear that, “the church must be composed of believers only” (81).  In this he give four biblical arguments for why we should agree with that statement.  His argument is that the universal church is comprised of only believers, the NT calls for church discipline as the means of preserving church membership, the NT assumes that the church is composed of believers only, and finally, the book of Acts recounts only believers as those who are “gathered in” (Acts 2:41, 47, 4:4, 11:21) with believers left out.  Hammett then explains what happened that led churches to abandon this biblical reality and how churches can get it right.

Part three; How is the Church Governed? tackles the issue of church government.  He argues that the church should be composed of a plurality of elders who are in charge of leading the congregation and a group of deacons who are servants of the church but do not directly take part in leadership as the elders.  He then goes through each form of church government that is used today from the Roman Catholic model to the historical Baptist model.  He argues for the traditional Baptist view that each church should be autonomous under the leadership of Christ with cooperation between congregations but without denominational management.

In Part four; What does the church do? Hammett argues for five ministries of the church and then addresses baptism and the lord’s supper.  He uses Acts 2:42-47 and examines the five things that the church does in that text.  They are devoted to teaching, fellowship, worship, service, and evangelism.  All of these activities must be taking place in a healthy church.  Hammett also examines how different churches in our day take part in these activities.  He then moves on in this part to the ordinances of the church; baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  He begins by looking at the sacramental system as a whole, making clear that these do not bring us greater justification, but are a means of grace where we commemorate the blessings of God that we have been given through Christ.  The first ordinance discussed in baptism.  He states that “baptism is the ‘outward sign’ appointed to Scripture by which we make faith visible.  It is the ‘supreme occasion’ for confessing faith in the gospel” (266-267).  He argues that baptism is only for those who can be reasonably evaluated as having a genuine conversion.  This means that infants are not to be baptized, and even young children who make a profession of faith but who may not fully understand the gospel should not be baptized until a later date.  Baptism is to be done by emersion by the local church.  Hammett ends this part with an evaluation of the Lord’s Supper which he calls the ordinance of renewal.  He sees it as being much like the renewing of a wedding vow (278) and it proclaims the gospel in its very essence.  The Catholic idea that each time the Lord’s Supper is taken, Jesus is crucified is inconsistent with the scriptures, and this ordinance is for believers only.

The final section of the book, Where is the Church Going? Looks at the different movements in the American church and then he examines the state of the church oversees.  The first chapter of this section looks at several different directions that the church is taking.  Hammett  first evaluates seeker churches such as Rich Warren’s church and says that the heart of these churches are often positive, but there is a danger of neglecting discipleship and the building up of the body.  He also looks at megachurches and church with multiple campuses, addressing the challenges and the negative aspects that can be associated with them.  Next, he moves onto the postmodern and emergent church movement, having more of a negative perspective of them.  The final chapter addresses the future of the global church, giving some background of missions and the amazing ways we have overcome setbacks and distractions.  Hammett view in this chapter was optimistic and urgent.  The conclusion consisted of a short call for churches to commit themselves to be faithful in all areas.

Critical Evaluation

The main goal of the book, to gives a fully biblical explanation of ecclesiology was accomplished.  Though Hammett wrote from a traditional Baptist perspective, he did not argue anything merely based on Baptist traditions or organizations, but used the scriptures as his supreme authority and guide.  Each section of the book thoroughly addressed the issues that are most important in the church.  These strengths and many others support Hammett’s book.  He was also right in spending extra time and effort arguing for the Baptist tenants that have been largely forgotten such as regenerate church membership, the priesthood of all believers, and congregationalism under elder leadership.  Through many Baptist churches do not go by this perspective, any Baptist minister reading this book would have a hard time disagreeing with the conclusions that were made because they were thoroughly backed up biblically and historically.

This leads to another strength in the book, and that is its dependence on Baptist history.  Hammett argues that even through the scriptures are our authority, understanding how the church in the past has looked at particular issues will protect us from inserting our own cultural perspective on the biblical text.  This is a balanced perspective that is not often argued so well in similar books.  Hammett is completely right in his use of history to help us understand the biblical teachings of ecclesiology while as the same time, not placing too much weight on it.  Another example of him using history to help the reader understand the biblical text and why the church is the way it is comes in chapter three.  Here he explains how “business in American life affected churches in the twentieth century” (71). He points out the way the single pastor model at least partly came from the CEO model of the modern day.

Hammett does an amazing job in part four talking about the ministry of the church to teach by taking present day churches and presenting the methods they use to teach.  By explaining the way Capitol Hill Baptist Church does Sunday school classes through levels called “The Life Development Institute”, and the way other churches have different teaching perspectives, the reader can know what the church is called to do and how to carry it out practically.  The way Hammett did this helped him accomplish his propose of explaining contemporary ecclesiology to strengthen the church.

Hammett’s exegetical research and knowledge was evident throughout the book.  For example, even through many take for granted a proper understanding of the Greek word for church (ekklesia), Hammett goes in-depth into the NT usage and nuances that are present in the biblical text.  The way he split up the word into the way it is used (31) is extremely helpful to the reader, no matter their theological education level.  He made it simple, yet in-depth so that the reader is able to know when reading the Bible, how the biblical author could be using the word church.  In the same section, Hammett also give the images of the church, one again using his exegetical ability in an amazing way.  He makes the information accessible, clear, yet detailed.  There are no examples of him using any biblical text for his only motives, but stays faithful to the author’s intention in every instance.

The book’s evaluation of seeker sensitive churches throughout the book is very gracious but also quite probing.  For example, he states, “Paul’s statement about becoming “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22) was not given as instruction for Christian worship but as a model for Christian living” as a response to seeker sensitive churches formatting there services primarily for unbelievers.  Hammett does not make the mistake of simply bashing these churches, but he rightly gives some guidelines and some minor corrections that need to be considered before orienting a church to be consumed with getting more people inside.

Hammett does a great job correcting unwise practices in the church and giving practical solutions to these problems.  For example, when looking at baptism, he points out that “rebaptism” are unusually high in our day, and many of these baptisms take place in Baptist churches because young people are baptized before they have been regenerated.  He points out that Baptist churches are often doing a similar thing as the Catholics are doing by baptizing children before they are regenerate.  He give the practical solution of waiting until a professing Christian child is older where they can be evaluated before being affirmed.  Hammett’s assessment is right-on and helpful in light of the negative effect that this mistake has been having.  He is also not overly critical or harsh, but is rather strategically gracious in his assessment giving biblical solutions that work.

There was one major problem in the book in one specific place.  Hammett, as he was discussing Elders, did not disagree with the idea of women teaching men in Sunday school classes and other areas of church life.  He states, “The propriety of women serving in such roles is debatable and deepens… what seems clear is the prohibition of women serving as elders” (171).  Sadly, Hammett fails to look at 1 Timothy 2:12 where Paul says, I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over men in the church”.  Though he is right that Paul is limiting the office of elder to men, he fails to see, or at least make clear, that the reason for this is that Elders have a teaching and authority role which has implications for women teaching in a Sunday School class.

Conclusion

Despite my one major disagreement, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches was well written and biblically sound. I would recommend the book to any Christians, even if they do not identify as Baptist.  I am fully persuaded this if every Baptist pastor sat down and read this book, the world would look much different within ten years because of it.  His call for biblically faithful churches is needed so that the church can go fourth in its mission of glorifying God in all areas.

Book Review by Jonathan Ahlgren
You can buy the book here.

Also see Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age and other books also by John Hammett


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What is Regeneration?

Regeneration, also called new birth, is the hidden act of God where he gives new spiritual life to undeserving sinners.  John says that the children of God are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”.  The will of man does not bring about regeneration, it is purely an act of God.  The same thing can be seen in Eph. 2:5 where Paul says God “made us alive together with Christ”.  Peter says that “according to his abundant mercy (God) has given us new birth (1 Pet 1:3).  Regeneration is an act of God’s mercy to undeserving sinners.

The Second issue of importance is one of timing.  Despite much misunderstanding among Christians is part of Conversion, not the result.  God’s work of regeneration is what changes us, giving us the ability to have ears to hear the gospel favorably and a heart that will receive it.  1 Peter 1:23 and James 1:18 reveal the way new birth enables the sinner to respond to the gospel in faith.

The need for regeneration is rooted in total depravity.  As descendants of Adam, we are desperately wicked.  We are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:4 cf. Col. 2:13). “No one understands, no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11).  Unless God changes our nature, we will continue to reject him.  His words will continue to be foolishness to us.  This is why Jesus says “No one can come to me unless it has been granted him by the Father” (John 6:65) and “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

The final issue of regeneration concerns the result of regeneration.  A changed life is always the result of regeneration.  This work of God changes the lost person completely effecting every part of his being.  John says “No one who is born of God will continue in sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).  The reality of new birth makes one seek to do what is right (1 John 2:29), love his brother (1 John 4:7), overcome the world (1 John 5:3-4), have victory over Satan (1 John 5:18, 4:4), and develop the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

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Is the Bible Sufficient for Life’s Problems?

The Bible being sufficient for life means that Christians must rely on the Scriptures to deal with life’s problems.  Holding to the sufficiency of Scriptures makes the Bible the go to place for wisdom, guidance, and direction.  Looking at the biblical texts that support the sufficiency of Scripture can help us understand what this reality means for us.  Paul in 2 Timothy 3:17, states that the Scriptures make one “competent, equipped for every good work”.  Not only is the Bible sufficient to point an unbeliever to salvation in Christ, the Bible also makes that new believer, complete, able to deal with the problems of life to the glory of God.

The next important text comes in 2 Peter 1:3 that states that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us”.   When it comes to helping someone deal with the problems of life and pursue godliness, we must not think we need some new thing as if we did not have what we need.  God has granted to us what we need in the Scriptures; it is up to us to use it.  Another text that is helpful in understanding the sufficiency of the Bible is found in Hebrews 4:12.  There we see that the word of God is able to expose the problems of the heart and bring about repentance.  The text is used to highlight the power that comes through the words of the Scriptures.  The Bible is able to expose the problems we are having so that they can be solved.  No other book or person can claim what the Bible does about itself.  There are many other places in Scripture to point to its sufficiency such as Psalm 19 and 119 but these three texts highlight what it means for the Bible to be sufficient for life.

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What does the Bible mean to me?

A common thing for Christians to say when studying the Bible with others is, “what the Biblical text means to me is…”  or “my interpretation of this passage is…”  The scary thing about these statements, is that they suggest that several people can read the same Biblical text and each of them walk away with several completely different understandings.  The reality is that this should not be the case. In this short blog, I want to reexamine the way Christians often read their Bible.

Every time we read the Bible, we take part in what is called interpretation.  Robert Stein defines interpretation as “the expression of a reader’s understanding of the author’s meaning”.¹  Interpretation is the way in which you seek to express the meaning of the biblical text.  Pay close attention to this, the goal of interpretation is finding the meaning of the text (notice meaning is singular). If this goal of interpretation is misunderstood, then disaster is near because there can always wrong interpretations of any given passage.

For example, a faulty interpretation of 1 Samuel 18:3, “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul” would be that David and Jonathan were homosexuals and were involved romantically.  What is the problem with this interpretation?  It does not match the author’s intention.

This is the goal of interpretation is being faithful to the author’s intention.  When reading a passage of the Bible, always keep that in your mind, what was John’s intention when he wrote this?  What was Paul’s intention? What was Moses’ intention?  When you figure out what the author intended to communicate, you are well on your way to having a correct interpretation.

So you may be wondering why this is important.  This is inexpressibly important because many readers of the Bible, even many pastors, don’t think this way.  They ignore the intention of the author and inject their own opinions and faulty views into biblical interpretation.  That way, they can use the Bible to support whatever sinful desire or unbiblical opinion they may have.  Don’t do this.  2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

¹Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 49

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Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches

By: Russel D. Moore

This book is an excellent resource and encouragement for any Christian. It is helpful because the world, unfortunately, has always had and always will have orphans until Jesus comes back. Children are fatherless as a result of the sin that entered the world through the fall. We are thankful that he has provided governments and private agencies the ability to send these fatherless children to loving homes but we as Christians have a special calling to create an adoption friendly culture.  In Adopted for Life Russell Moore goes through the practical ways that we can be adoption friendly.

Dr. Moore and his wife adopted two boys from Russia carefully and he accurately weaves biblical principles and theology into his own adoption story. He goes through the ups and downs of their
roller coaster of building their family. That alone is encouraging and shows the work of God in their lives. In the Bible it is stated many times that we are adopted from being orphans into God’s family as sons (Eph. 1:5, Rom. 8:15). This is something I have been mindful of and I thought it was a neat concept. However, after reading this book the concept was made so much more clear. When we are born again into the family of God we can remember leaving behind our old life and following Jesus. This is something that Dr. Moore relates to adopting his sons. He says, “The trauma of leaving the orphanage was unexpected to me because I knew how much better these boys’ life would soon be. I thought they knew too. But they had no idea. They couldn’t conceive of anything other than the status quo. My whispering to my boys, ‘You won’t miss that orphanage’ is only a shadow of something I should have known already. Our Father tells us that we too are unable to grasp what’s waiting for us-and how glorious it really is. It’s hard for us to long for an inheritance to come, a harmonious Christ-ruled universe, when we’ve never seen anything like it.”(page 46) This entire book is filled with Gospel connections like this one. It not only pointed me to desire to support adoption but it also pointed me to worship my Savior who adopted me!

The church also plays a big role in supporting, teaching and pursuing adoptions. Talking about the rarity of focus on adoptions in the church nowadays, he says, “It becomes a focus only when a church member personally faces infertility or knows of particular children without parents. Until then, for most of us, adoption rarely crosses our minds.” He encourages pastors and leaders in the church to make a culture that is hospitable to adoption. Dr, Moore goes through how churches can help or hinder adoptions.

In Adopted for Life, Dr. Moore also goes through the ups and downs of the adoption and post adoption process. He talks about the journey the Lord took him on of coming to terms with adopting his children. Many people are similar, as he was, who think that adoption is plan B, a last resort, or long term babysitting. In regards to this he says, “That’s a common sentiment, one that I shared myself at the beginning. Adoption seems to many infertile couples (including Christians) to be a second-best option for those who can’t in any other way have children “of our own.” He talks about how to know if you or someone close to you is ready for adoption. There are many misconceptions about adoption and Moore goes through these as well and he talks about the correct and biblical ways to think about all aspects of adoption. He also goes through life after adoption and what struggles and joys one might face (both child and parents) giving very practical advice and ways to handle these situations.

Overall, I would recommend this book to almost anyone! Even if adoption is not on the horizon for you, it is still helpful beyond words to go through the theology of adoption (ours and orphans), the church’s role in adoptions, and also to know what happens in the process of adoption on so many levels. Russell Moore is transparent and thorough in the book making his book easy to follow and intriguing to read. This is one of the best books I have ever read!

Book Review by Hannah Ahlgren

You can buy the book here.

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If Christ was not Raised is the Gospel Still Good News?

Rudolf Bultmann was a liberal theologian in the early 19th century who believed that the gospel is still important to preach even though he says  the resurrection “simply cannot be a visible fact in the realm of human history”¹, and “a historical fact that involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.”²  Despite hes denial of the resurrection Bultmann still encourages the proclamation of the gospel and even the preaching of Jesus as a crucified, risen savior!

This is such a strange thing for me to understand.  It is strange because the truthful reality that Jesus has been raised from the dead is central to the Christian hope.  If the resurrection were not true, then why preach the gospel?  There is no good news in a dead savior.  Paul says  “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ.”  and “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Co 15:12-15, 32–33). The gospel makes no sense without the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of our resurrection is no way secure if Jesus is still in his tomb.  Going further than this, Rudolph Bultmann’s assumption that Jesus was not raised from the dead is based on his denial of the supernatural based on naturalistic presuppositions that are not compatible with the Christian faith.  Also, with this skepticism of the supernatural and the denial of Jesus’ resurrection, the Christian can have no hope in his regeneration because that in itself is a supernatural work of God that can be likened to a death and resurrection.  If Christ is not raised from the dead, we are still in our sins.

Moreover, when you read through the book of Acts, you can see that whenever the gospel is proclaimed, the resurrection of Jesus and his present reign at the right hand of God is also emphasized.  If Jesus is not the present King from David’s line that will sit on the throne forever, the Kingdom of God has no hope and the Church’s future is uncertain.  On the contrary, because we know that Jesus is alive and ruling from Heaven, we can be sure of our salvation, our future resurrection, the future of His church, our freedom from sin, and the power to do his will.

¹Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols., trans. Kendrick Grobel (New York: Scribner, 1951), 1:3. Rudolf

²Bultmann, Jesus and the World (New York: Scribner, 1958), 8.

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What is Baptism?

Put simply baptism is a picture of death and resurrection/new birth.  With that answer, another obvious question arises, why? Why would anyone want to be a picture of death and resurrection?  Here are the reasons given in the Bible. (These answers assume the one being baptized is a born again believer in Jesus).

  1. They have died and been raised.  Ephesians 2 says that we were dead in your trespasses and sins but God raised us (born again believers) up with Jesus and seated us in Christ Jesus. The one being baptized has been born again. They are now a new man or woman and Christ and their old self has been crucified with Christ. This is not something the christian does to themselves, it is something that the Holy Spirit does in his mighty power. When a Christian goes under the baptism water and comes back up, they are portraying a visible picture for everyone to see what happened in their life.   Upon conversion, the Christian’s old life died with Christ and they are now a new person who has been united with Jesus and given the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in obedience with Jesus.  Has this happen in your life? If not, it can happen to you right not.  Repent of your sins and turn to Jesus, then you can experience what baptism pictures.
  2. They are identifying themselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus. In both Romans 6 and Colossians 2, the believer is described in baptism as dying with Christ and being raised with Christ.  The believer is united with Christ upon conversion and is now proclaiming to their new family, “I am Christ’s! I am willing to die with him, literally and figuratively, in order that I may also be raised with him”.
  3. They are receiving the sign of the new covenant. They are proclaiming to the whole community that they have given their entire life to Jesus, in order to be a child of God.
  4. They are walking in obedience to Jesus. Everyone who is born again is called by God to be baptized.  As a matter of fact, walking in obedience to God by being baptized is a sign of someone who is truly converted.  This is what we see in 2 Peter 3:21 “And that water [of the flood in Noah’s day] is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (NLT)
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