What does it mean to be biblical?

In my last post, I spoke about the danger of zeal without knowledge.

Ironically, those who feel most strongly about the church’s health can very often become a hindrance to it. If we are passionate Christians, the onus is on us to make sure that our passion is both formed and informed by a solid biblical framework.

The question, then, is how do we make sure that our strongest convictions are truly biblical? The reality is that in the Christian world, everyone thinks that they are biblical. This is especially true in the Evangelical world. Yet what is painfully obvious that too many of those claims prove to be false.

I want to propose a few simple questions to help discern the biblical strength of our convictions.

1. Is it what the Bible teaches?

This question is, in some ways, a lot more complicated than it sounds. My aim at this point is not so much the fine-points of biblical interpretation, but rather to ascertain whether our concerns reflect the Bible’s priorities or merely our own hobby-horses.

a) Does the Bible actually say it?

If no, then you have probably found your first problem. If the concept that you are most concerned/passionate/agitated about in your church is not even mentioned in the Bible, the alarm bells should be ringing. It sounds so obvious doesn’t it? As a pastor, I hear people voicing their opinions, some negative and some positive, on a regular basis. I would say that 80% of those opinions concern matters that the bible does not explicitly address.

For example, many Christians have strong opinions about the style of music within the church service, and the instruments that accompany the singing. Yet how many of those opinions arise out of anything taught in the Bible? Better that we call it what it is…personal preference.

b) Have I made sure that I have understood the verses correctly?

Once you’ve made it past this first step, there is another worth asking: am I using the Bible responsibly? The simple principle behind sound biblical interpretation is whether or not we are “reading the Bible as it was written to be read.” You might call it reading the Bible in context or even just using common sense. There are many excellent resources available to us that can offer a great deal of help in our study of the Bible and, at the very least, it is worth referencing a good commentary or study-Bible before calls others to join our campaign.

c) What does the Church have to say about it?

The Church is a wonderful God-given resource to help us understand the Bible. Interpreting the Bible is a community affair…you do not have to do it all by yourself. In fact, you should not. Cross examining your interpretations against how Christians have understood the Bible past and present safeguards us against pride and error. It is not a good sign when you arrive at an interpretation of the Bible that is rejected simultaneously by the leadership of your church (assuming your leaders take the Bible seriously), all of your friends at church as well as orthodox Christians in church history.

2. How important is this issue in the Bible?

a) How often does the Bible mention it?

If the Bible only says something once, it does not make it any less true but it might make it less important. So it is worth asking not just whether or not our passions and concerns are found in the Bible but whether or not they are shared by the Bible. This will protect us from “majoring on the minors” or focusing all of our energy on the least important issues.

b) Are there any warnings or promises associated with it?

It is, of course, not simply about repetition. It is more about the weight that the Bible places on its doctrines. Repetition is one way to discern this but it is not the only way and it is not fool-proof. Another way is to ask whether or not there are any promises or warnings associated with this particular aspect of the Bible’s teachings. We know that the deity and humanity of Christ are important because we are warned that anyone who says teaches anything contrary is, according to 1 John, a false teacher. We know that justification is important because Paul tells us in Galatians that anyone who teaches another way to be justified is anathema.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list so I would be interested to know what questions, or principles, you would add to those mentioned above . My prayer is that these questions would lead to fruitful meditation and increased discernment.

 

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Pitfalls in the Pursuit of Godliness

Are you a passionate Christian? Are you passionate about evangelism? Are you passionate about holiness? Are you a threat to the health of your church?

Does that last question seem out of place to you? I’ve started to notice a strange phenomenon in the Christian life: the most zealous people in the church can often be the biggest threat to the church’s health.

It’s true that we should never be lacking in spiritual zeal. The pursuit of holiness and concern for evangelism, for example, are right and good. However, it seems frighteningly easy to allow our passion for godliness to run away with us to the point where we end up with something much less biblical.

The issue I think is that sometimes our zeal is not grounded in knowledge. Our passions are not held in place by a mature understanding of the teachings of Scripture. Here are a few examples.

Pelagius was a heretic (condemned at the Council of Carthage in 418 AD) who asserted free will and denied predestination to such an extent that he reduced the work of Jesus to mere moral example. Pelagianism is the view that we all have the ability within ourselves to obey God and earn salvation; we only needed Jesus to show us how. According to this view, salvation is comes through our successful imitation of the life of Christ. I trust we can all see that this is obviously not what the Bible teaches.

What does this have to do with being passionate about holiness? Here is the interesting thing about Pelagius…he was widely known, even by his opponents, as a godly man who was passionately concerned for the Church’s holiness. He formulated his theology and defended it because he believed that those doctrines would lead to reform. Somewhere along the line, his passions distorted his understanding of the gospel. His zeal was not grounded in knowledge and so it distorted his knowledge.

A few years ago I heard a series of talks by a church planter in Australia who described evangelists as some of the most dangerous people in the church. The church planter’s story was remarkable. He started with a handful of people and the church grew exponentially. A few years later the church was a couple of thousand strong. Yet the journey was plagued with difficulty because those in the church who were most interested in reaching out were also most prone to lead the church into compromise. The desire to reach out was so dominant that it began to replace and distort other biblical imperatives. Everything inside the church had to appeal to those outside the church.

I can see how this happens. Passionate Christians feel very strongly about the problems in the church today. It is only natural that this would lead to opinions on how to solve those problems. The pitfall in the pursuit of godliness lies in our failure to test both our diagnosis and proposed cure against the Bible.

What is the solution? Well, first we need to say that the solution is not that we become less passionate. Passion is a good thing. We are commanded in Romans 12:11 to “never be lacking in spiritual fervour.” The solution is to make sure that our theology is biblically robust enough to handle our passions.

Are you a passionate follower of Jesus Christ? Then work hard to make sure that your passion is firmly grounded in the Bible.

How do we do that? Stay tuned for the next post.

 

Can you be a churchless Christian?

No.

Let me explain.

Normally when you hear this question, the answer goes something like this:

“Yes you can be a Christian and not go to church because being a Christian is not about religion but about having a relationship with Jesus. You don’t have to earn your relationship with Jesus, he gives it to you as a free gift. So technically you can b​e a Christian but you really should go to church.”

This explanation is usually followed up by an illustration of how lumps of coal, when plucked from the fire, grow cool or how sticks, when bundles together, are stronger.

These sentiments, although a bit cliché, are nevertheless true. However, they can also distort our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?

First of all, the phrase “relationship with Jesus” is misleading because everyone has a relationship with Jesus. Not all relationships are healthy or positive. Some people may have a relationship with Jesus Christ as their enemy but they still have a relationship with him, and even a personal one.

The question we need to ask isn’t so much whether or not we have a relationship with Jesus but what kind of relationship with Him is unique to the Christian?”

The briefest summary I can think of is that a Christian is someone who relates to Jesus Christ as their King, Saviour, and Treasure.

If Jesus is our King, who commands us and leads us, then that would show itself in our lives through and attitude of obedience. If we truly understand that Jesus has saved us from our sins then gratitude and repentance will be present. If we have come to see that knowing Christ renders all else rubbish in comparison then we will long to walk closely with him and grow in our knowledge of him.

Putting aside for a moment the handful of exceptional circumstances where joining a church is simply not possible (such as being stranded alone on a desert island), let us look at what makes it so difficult to reconcile “churchless Christianity” with the Bible.

It begins with the way we think of our churches.

WHAT IS A LOCAL CHURCH?

A local church is not simply the collective noun for a group of Christians: A swarm of bees, a school of fish, a church of Christians…

If two or three Christians go play golf together they are not a church.

Rather, a church is the gathering together of Christians in Jesus’ name in order to worship God and encourage one another through the ministry of the Word.

There is more to say on this about elders, discipline and the sacraments, but for now, I merely want to point out that by “church” the Bible does not mean a trip to the local coffee shop, cinema or football game with another Christian.

So how does this definition of church affect our claim to follow Jesus?

OBEDIENCE TO OUR KING

Can we really claim to have sworn obedience to our King and yet disobey his clear instruction that we should not give up meeting together?

All of us fail in our obedience and trust in his grace to forgive us. That is a very different to constantly and deliberately ignoring his explicit commands without repentance.

This is not to mention the many implicit problems churchlessness creates for our claims of obedience. The commands to love one another, submit to the elders, participate in the Lord’s Supper together are all placed in jeopardy by our simple refusal to commit to a local church family.

TRUST IN OUR SAVIOUR

Likewise, can we really claim to have put our trust in Jesus to save us if we do not love to join together with the church?

Jesus not only reconciled us to God but to one another as well. To be saved is to be brought into the Body of Christ by the blood of Christ. Ignoring the local Body of believers, and yet claiming to believe that Jesus saved you, makes little sense when one considers that the church is what we have been saved for.

LOVE FOR OUR TREASURE

Jesus told his disciples that whenever two or more gathered in his name (local church), he would be with them. Jesus is especially present with his people when they are gathered together, just as he is present among the lampstands in Revelation.

If I claim to love Jesus why on earth would I not want to be where he is? If I love Jesus then my place is with his people who gather in his name. If I have no interest in being in His presence with His people…well, it doesn’t sound right does it.

Arguing with temptation

Last night in our Bible overview series at Bethesda Baptist Church we were considering the effects of sin in our world and in our lives. This morning I came across this excellent post on Tim Chester’s website and I reblog it here to help you defend yourself against the deceitfulness of sin.

Tim Chester

The Puritan John Flavel identified six arguments which Satan uses to tempt as long with model responses. Here I’ve abridged and updated what Flavel says. See if you can spot the voice of temptation in your life and identify how you should respond.

 

  1. The pleasure of sin

Temptation: Look at my smiling face and listen to my charming voice. Here is pleasure to be enjoyed. Who can stay away from such delights?

The believer: The pleasures of sin are real, but so are the pangs of conscience and the flames of hell. The pleasures of sin are real, but pleasing God is much sweeter.

 

  1. The secrecy of sin

Temptation: This sin will never disgrace you in public because no-one will ever find out.

The believer: Can you find somewhere without the presence of God for me to sin?

 

  1. The profit of sin

Temptation: If you just stretch…

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