Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15

About Me

I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Do Not Forsake Gathering Together

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
~Hebrews 10:23-25

In his letter to Jewish Christians, the unknown author of the book of Hebrews encourages his readers to do five things in response to the precious truth that we now have direct access to God due to Christ satisfying God’s wrath with His death in our place for our sins. Four of these are positive as the people are instructed to draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (10:22), hold fast the confession of our hope (v. 23), consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (v. 24), and encouraging one another (v. 25). However, notice that one of these commands is placed in the negative. They are told to not forsake our own assembling together (v. 25). Basically, do not forget about gathering together for worship. This must have become a problem for several in the church. In fact, the author points out that this forsaking had become the habit of some.

The author doesn’t tell us the reason that several in this church had quit joining others for worship. It could have been due to the fear of persecution that the church faced during the time. I often wonder how many today would even continue to confess Christ, nonetheless go to church, if they faced death for bearing Christ’s name. (It might turn out that there are much fewer true Christians in the nation than we realize.) Perhaps some decided to stop coming to worship because they had gone back to their life before coming to Christ. One of the main problems that the author deals with in this letter are these Christians who are drifting back to the former practices and traditions of the Judaism that they had left since they realized that Christ had fulfilled such rituals. Or the reason for their neglect could have been due to laziness. Earlier the author warned the people about being sluggish (6:12).

It appears that we have a similar problem in our churches today. Many believers also have been forsaking our own assembling together. Several do not make the time to gather with their brothers and sisters in Christ to worship our great God. It may also be due to going back to old sinful habits of the life they left behind. It may be on account of their own sluggishness. I think one of the biggest problems today is that God does not have the priority in our lives as He should; as He must. People claim to be too busy to make it to church. (Yet they never appear to be too busy for their favorite sports team, television program, or hobby.) The excuse itself does not matter. Remember that the author doesn’t even mention any of the underlying reasons for the neglect of those he references here. The greater concern centered around the issue of their failure to continue gathering for worship regularly.

Worship alongside God’s people under the authority of God’s Word bringing glory to God should not be easily dismissed. It should not occupy the place towards the bottom of our list of priorities. In addition to how vital it is concerning our own spiritual growth, it benefits one another. God never intended for the Christian life to be lived alone. He ordained for Christians to grow and serve together in a body called the Church. A body with many members each given special gifts for a special part to play (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Instead of forsaking this gathering together, the author says his readers should encourage one another. Our worship together as a body on Sunday morning serves as a great way to do just this. It is hard to encourage one another when you are home by yourself!

I invite you to consider gathering together with God’s people this Sunday morning in case you have fallen away from it. For those who do make it out every week, I encourage you to continue such commitment for the glory of God. Let us not forsake the habit of gathering together as several did when this letter was written and others do today but encourage other as each day we are a step closer to Christ’s return.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Birth of the Bible and The Rewriting of History

Perhaps you have heard the claim that the Bible was put together by a church council sometime in the 400s. Often this is brought up by critics of the Bible in order to disprove the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible. However, such a statement is overly simplistic and actual fails to look at the facts. In a real sense it is a revision of history as it occurred. Anyone who makes such a statement needs to do their homework. It is unfair to Christians to have such a mischaracterization argued against them. The following are the facts that many neglect in their discussion concerning the establishment of the canon of Scripture. The term canon comes from a Greek word that means rod, measuring rule, standard. When speaking of the canon of Scripture we are identifying the books that serve as the standard of the Christian faith. Books standardized not by individuals, not by the church, and not by an ancient council but by God Himself.

The Church Does Not Define the Bible to Be God's Word, The Bible Defines Itself to Be God's Word
The reason that the Church identifies the Bible as the Word of God is because the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God and the Holy Spirit inside a believer substantiates such a claim. At least 3,808 times the Old Testament authors refer to a statement as being Thus said the LORD, indicating that these words belong to God and not the human author who recorded them. The prophets are described as having the word of the LORD coming down upon them before they spoke the words preserved for us in the prophetic books of the Old Testament (Jeremiah 1:1-2; Ezekiel 1:2-3; Joel 1:1; Hosea 1:1). The clear implication is that the prophets spoke what God had told them to speak and thus were delivering His message. This is the message written down in the books that bear their name.

The Apostle Paul states that All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). The all Scripture Paul refers to is the Old Testament but would also include by extension the New Testament writings as they began to be acknowledged as Scripture as well. The Greek word, graphe (Scripture), typically refers to written words. Paul consistently uses the word to refer to the Old Testament writings (Romans 1:2; 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; 15:4; 16:26; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4; Galatians 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Timothy 5:18). However, the New Testament authors themselves include each others' writings in the category of Scripture. For instance, Paul quotes a statement of Jesus' recorded by the author Luke and calls it Scripture in I Timothy 5:18. The quote is alongside one from Deuteronomy. Both the verse from Deuteronomy and the one from Luke's gospel are preceded by the statement For the Scripture says. With the two quotes connected by the Greek word for and (kai), Paul appears to identify both Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Luke as being Scripture. Luke's writing is deemed authoritative by Paul in teaching that elders should be paid for their service. Also, Peter explicitly labels Paul's letters as Scripture. He states that the untaught and unstable distort his writings as they do the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). So, according to Peter, Paul's letters are a part of Scripture. Furthermore, these letters were intended to be read aloud to the congregations and admonish them (Colossians 4:16).

Paul acknowledges that these Scriptures are God's very words. He describes them as God-breathed. The underlying Greek word, theopneustos, is a compound word consisting of God (theos) and breath (pneuma). It communicates God breathing out the Scriptures. Thus, the origin of Scripture is God who breathed them out and not man. Peter affirms Paul's point when he says knowing that first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). These men spoke from God, not from their own will.

Further claims of the Bible being God's Word found within Scripture can be seen with the author of Hebrews in quoting Psalm 95. He does not even credit David as writing the poem but the Holy Spirit. In introducing a quote from the psalm, he states: Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says (Hebrews 3:7). He recognized that though David penned the words, the origin of them came from the Holy Spirit of God. Even Jesus identified the Old Testament as God's Word. He stated that David in the Spirit wrote about Him in Psalm 110 (Matthew 22:43-44). His view of the Old Testament serving as an authority can be seen in His use of Scripture to dispel the devil's half truths in the latter's temptation of the former (Matthew 4:1-11).

So the definition of the Bible being the Word of God does not come from the Church or any Church Council for that matter. It comes from the Bible itself. Martin Luther put it well when he stated, "It is not the Word of God because the church says so; but that the Word of God might be spoken, therefore the church comes into being. The church does not make the Word, but it is made by the Word." If one wants to contend the truth of the Bible being the Word of God then they need to deal with the claims of the Bible itself.

The Councils Did Not Create the Canon, They Merely Confirmed the Canon
The claim that a council in the 400s created the canon of Scripture as we have it today is certainly unfounded. It would be equivalent to arguing that America was founded fully as a Christian nation. (While there are certainly Christian elements that can be found in the framing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, one can also find secular humanist views and ideas of moralistic deism.) There is much more to it than simply claiming that the nation was established as a Christian nation. Likewise, there is much more to these councils than that they "created" the canon. It would be better to describe the councils as the process the church went through to "recognize" the canon. The disputes and discussions over what books should be included centered on whether or not the books were God's very words. The criteria that was looked for was whether the book claimed to be God's word, whether it was written by an apostle who would have been sent by God to write His words, and whether it was in accord with the teachings of the books that clearly were God's very words.

Interestingly, many of the books that did not become part of the Protestant canon do not even claim to be God's Word. For instance, the intertestamental 1 Maccabees 9:27 talks of how prophets (those who would have spoken for God) had ceased to appear among the nation of Israel. The book does not claim to be prophetic itself nor does it state that it serves as God's very words. Thus, the Church did not get together and arbitrarily decide that it was not to be included in the Bible. The book excludes itself from being included as God's Word. The Jewish Talmud also indicated an ending to the time of the prophets after the writings of the Old Testament which would further exclude the later writings that comprise what is known as the Apocryphal (meaning hidden) books. It states "After the latter prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel." The churches of the time recognized these apocryphal writings not to be inspired as seen in their not treating them as such. It should also be noted that several of the apocryphal books contain historical errors and contradictions which would clearly indicate them not to be inspired by God who cannot lie or be attributed any falsehood.

An examination of the practice of most of the churches at the time of the councils in the 300s and 400s reveal that predominantly what was treated as God's Word in worship and personal study were the 66 books that we now hold in our hand as the Bible. While a few books were doubted early on, most churches were found to be in agreement later; indicating God's powerful hand of providence at work. Most of the writings that are not included in the Bible today, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, were never read in the churches or ever viewed as authoritative. Eventually the different churches all were identifying the same books as being canonical and thus communicating God's Word. Church leader Athanasius in 367 listed all 27 books of the New Testament as canonical before much of the councils that many erroneously claim determined the books that would be in the Bible. The council simply served as a statement that acknowledge that these are the books that are God's Word. J. I. Packer points out that "it seems that the process involved no more than the explicit recognition of an established state of affairs. It was not a case of imparting to a newly-made collection of books an authority which they had not had before, nor of reminding a forgetful generation what authority the earliest Christians had ascribed to apostolic writings" ("Fundamentalism" and the Word of God, 66). It would better be described as a process of discernment. With the growing persecution and the rising of heretics that promoted books certainly not demonstrating evidence of being God's Word, such a statement was necessary for clarity and to guard the Church from error. They wanted to make sure Christians did not begin to read the wrong books that were not of God and therefore not authoritative for their lives. The Church did not create such authority but merely recognized it. As Rene Pache words it, "Because the writings of the apostles and prophets were canonical by virtue of their intrinsic quality, the canon, in principle, existed from the time these books were written; and it was added to with successive appearances of new inspired works. It happened that the church was a long time in expressing its unanimous acknowledgement of certain of the writings; but when it finally came to it, all it did was bow in recognition of that which already existed" (The Inspiration & Authority of Scripture, 161).

Much more could be said about this and many more specifics pertaining to the debates and discussions over what books were canonical or not could be given but this should suffice for now the point that it would be wrong historically to claim that the councils merely created the canon of Scripture that we have today. That would undermine the testimony of the books of Scripture themselves and the facts surrounding the councils. Let's not rewrite history to make a point but deal with the text of Scripture itself and why Christians really are convinced the Bible to be God's Word.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!