Category Archives: Bible Study

The Gateway to Apostasy

 

Recently, in working again through the controversial warning passage from Hebrews 6, I was struck with the reality that this passage is less a matter concerning salvation for those who may have a false conversion, but simply do not realize it and more about those who have made a willful rejection of Christ, thereby apostatizing.  The difference is this:  Those from Matthew 7:21-23  claim to have a relationship with Christ, but actually don’t vs. Judas, who we may assume claimed, even evidenced, to have a relationship with Christ but willfully rejected Him.  Even less in view are those who have weak faith or lack assurance.  For example, Peter may have at one point lacked faith (sinking in the water and temporarily denying his relationship with Christ), but Judas willfully rejected Christ unto death.

With this clarification in mind, how then does one drift from the point of professing salvation and Christ as Savior to completely denying Him and rejecting anything having to do with salvation?

Let’s look again at the passage:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6

Here we see a list of the positive experiences that this particular case of apostates have participated in, but not really anything explaining how something like a falling away could happen.

Previously, we’ve seen how Hebrews warns against the danger of sluggishness, which opens this warning in Hebrews 5:11 and closes it in Hebrews 6:12.  This could give us some insight into how apostasy occurs.  Working from this earlier post on  sluggishness, and combining what we know from the other four warnings in Hebrews (chap. 2, 4, 10, 12), the pattern towards apostasy might best be described as sluggishness, which lulls a person to sleep,  creates an opportunity for temptation leading to sin, which proceeds to harden the heart, blinding the mind unto apostasy. Sluggishness, temptation, sin, apostasy.  Sluggishness assumes a neutrality in one’s profession, it’s a coasting, a drifting, a lack of concern for advancement, a failure to recognize the essentiality and necessity of Christ.

The author of Hebrews has already warned against drifting, which is akin to sluggishness.  However, as a genuine believer may know all too well, there can be no neutrality or coasting in the Christian walk.  Any such resignation to a position of drifting will inevitably result in at best a backslidden state or at worst a falling away, or what Hebrews describes as drifting past the destination port, missing your harbor.  Temptation thrives on opportunity and sluggishness creates the greatest opportunity for temptation to lead to sin.  Over time, continued sluggishness, a lowered guard, repeated assaults from temptation, and advancing into the depths of sin leads to hardness of heart. Hardening of the heart comes by degrees and drifting into sluggishness is the first sign.  Perhaps this is why Hebrews frames the most severe warning around the concept of sluggishness.

Often when we witness such a departure from fervor and passion in one’s walk with Christ, or even when we examine our own hearts, we are apt to label it as backsliding.  While it is true that such a temporary condition may mark the Christian life from time to time, that is not the condition being described in Hebrews 6, which has likely led to some of the confusion on interpreting the passage.  The condition of Hebrews 6 is willful apostasy, but it too has the similar starting point as backslidding, namely sluggishness.  The apostate does not simply wake up one morning and deny Christ as Savior, rejecting Him as Lord and retracting their profession of faith.  It is a process, and while it may be unwise to place a time constraint on that process, it nevertheless happens over time, whether that be a short period or years.

Commenting on this passage in Vol. 7 of his works, an addendum to his massive commentary on Hebrews, John Owen makes the following observations on this process of apostasy

“For the first I shall offer but one or two texts of Scripture.  Luke viii. 13, “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and have no root, but for a while believe.”  Well!  how long do they believe?  They are affected with the preaching of the word, and believe thereon, make profession, bring forth some fruits; but until when do they abide?  Says he, “In the time of temptation they fall away.”  When once they enter into temptation they are gone forever.  Temptation withers all their profession, and slays their souls.  We see this accomplished every day.  Men who have attended on the preaching of the gospel, been affected and delighted with it, that have made profession of it, and have been looked on, it may be, as believers, and thus have continued for some years; no sooner doth temptation befall them that hath vigour and permanency in it, but they are turned out of the way, and are gone forever.  They fall to hate the word they have delighted in, despise the professors of it, and are hardened by sin.” pg. 102-103

As we are suggesting here, drifting or coasting, i.e. sluggishness, in ones profession creates opportunity for temptation to strike a fatal blow.  The relationship between temptation and apostasy is precisely what Owen is drawing on in the comment above.  In another volume he makes the connection even more explicit, “Entrance into temptation is…an entrance into apostasy, more or less, in part or in whole; it faileth not.” (Owen Vol. 6 pg 103)  Simply stated, temptation is the gateway to apostasy and entrance into it is a terrible malady.  However, make no mistake, sluggishness is the road that leads to this gateway.

It should be noted that apostates are not genuine believers who suddenly wake up one day willfully rejecting Christ, spitting upon Him and His work on the cross, and utterly denying the satisfactory atonement of His death.  They are indeed lost, unbelievers from the start made manifest by descent into worldliness, collapse under trials, or as we are noting here, falling into temptations.  Each or any of these will ultimately reveal the person’s true identity.  Conversely a genuine believer WILL NOT love the world, WILL, by God’s grace, persevere through trials coming out refined, and WILL, through the Spirit, shun temptations.

It is then clear why our Lord teaches His disciples to pray, “lead us not into temptation.”  As Martin Luther famously quipped, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but only let them fly. Don’t let them nest in your hair.”  Sluggishness allows the nests to be built.  Temptation then has a place to rest when it flies by.  It is far too dangerous to assume backsliding instead of apostasy, so don’t assume.  Make every effort to recognize sluggishness and kill it.  But pray against temptation and avoid it.

Kingdom Leaders – Part 2

 

In the first post from this short 2-part series on Kingdom Leadership, which is part of a larger, ongoing study on the Doctrine of the Church (See the Doctrine Tab above – Ecclesiology), we looked at the request of the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, to have her sons sit on either side of His throne in His kingdom.  We saw how this was part of a repeated pattern of the disciples to aspire to positions of authority, which oddly enough followed prophecies of Christ suffering and death.

The passage under consideration in that post was Matthew 20:20-28, where the request for authority was made and subsequently rejected by Christ, who then countered with a rebuke and held up gentile authority as a negative example of authority/leadership.  As we may recall, our Lord pointed out to His disciples not only the dysfunctional nature of gentile leadership, “they lord it over them”, but counters with an example that goes against the structure of worldly leadership altogether, 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”  This was then followed by the ultimate example of Kingdom leadership, our Lord Jesus Christ, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In this post, the subject is once again kingdom leadership, but this time it is not the gentile structure of leadership that draws the condemnation of Christ, but the Jewish leadership, ensuring that nothing apart from the new reality of Jesus’ pattern of Kingdom leadership will suffice.

Matthew 23:1-12 – Religious Leadership

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

In the passage above, our Lord is beginning His discourse of “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees, the unquestioned religious leaders of the day, with an exposition on the nature of the Jews’ religious leadership.  This section builds upon a question posed to the Pharisees concerning the nature of Jesus’ authority (Matt. 22:41-46), bringing the attention and focus upon the present religious structure of leadership.  The fact that the target of much of Christ’s ire was the religious leaders of His day, should cause us to sit up and take notice.

The introduction of this rebuke begins with the recognition that the scribes and Pharisees sit on the Seat of Moses.  This is followed by an apparent commendation of their teaching and a command to obey their leadership.  But this would be an incorrect conclusion.  By stating that the scribes and Pharisees sit on the Seat of Moses, Jesus is not commending them personally, nor their office, but is commending the seat of Moses, which either literally refers to a seat from which teaching took place in the synagogue (probably not) or that in so much as they taught correctly the Law of Moses, do and observe these things (more likely).  Was Jesus instructing the people towards unquestioned obedience of the scribes and Pharisees?  Absolutely not, in fact, just the opposite, in so far as they were correctly teaching what Moses had instructed, this was to be obeyed by the people.  This statement implicitly sets limits on the nature of authority for the scribes and Pharisees, in that it rests not in their person, nor in their position, but from an outside authority, more correctly God’s Law/Word.  Understanding these limits helps provide clarity in our day, as well as further illuminates an oft-abused passage such as Hebrews 13:17.

However, despite teaching the law of Moses, they failed to be an example for the people to follow.  Recall that in a recent post, Follow the Leader,  we looked at Hebrews 13:7 and concluded that the recipients of this sermon were exhorted to remember their leaders, particularly in their teaching of the word, consider their life, and imitate their faith.  They were godly examples of the Christian life which were to be emulated by those surrounding them.  In remembering their leaders, we saw the Hebrews had been taught the word, but that these leaders were not only teaching the word of God correctly, but were putting into practice what they taught, thereby becoming and example to the flock.

This is precisely the opposite of what was occurring with the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  Instead of being an example, they were authoritarian, “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.”  These burdens were the man-made traditions that they had developed which they tacked on to the God-given law. Additionally, they prided themselves in their authority and elevated status as leaders, “they do all their deeds to be seen by others as evidenced by outward symbols of phylacteries and fringes, the former referring to leather boxes containing scrolls of the law and the latter referring perhaps to displays of self-piety.  They enjoyed the privileges that came with their position, “they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues.”  They loved the attention that came with their position, “greetings in the marketplaces.”  And they loved the title that came with their position, “being called rabbi by others.  

This classic example of narcissistic, authoritarian, and abusive leadership is then contrasted with the scriptural model of Kingdom leadership in verses 8-12.

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. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

First, we see Jesus spurning the use of titles, you are not to be called rabbi.  It is noteworthy that this follows upon the statement of condemnation for the scribes and Pharisees love of being called rabbi.  The justification for this is rooted first in the authority of God, you have one Teacher and second in the equality among the brotherhood of believers, “you are all brothers” (note: brothers and sisters).  The hierarchy is not God, then clergy, then laymen, rather it is God then man.  

The familial language of brothers leads our Lord into mention of the Fatherhood of God as the basis for not calling any man father on earth.  It is doubtful that this is a reference to genealogical father’s, as in calling your dad, father, because clearly the context is religious.  While it could in fact be applicable to use this as a condemnation of the Roman Catholic notion of “father”, it could also be a reaction against the notion of spiritual lineage or offspring, apart from God the Father.  In other words, the family tree of God’s children all have direct descent from God the Father, not through descent from other men (note that Acts 7:2; 22:1 are not likely references to ecclesiastical offices).

Next, the title of instructor draws the ire of Christ, as He counters those who would bestow this earthly title on someone with Himself as The Instructor.  The ESV translation of the word instructor could also be guide or master.  While the reference to teacher from earlier likely means one who communicates information, here we have more the idea of a positional leader or guide.  It is beyond dispute that those who function as teachers, or even as leaders, is permissible in Scripture, but what seems to be in the cross-hairs is assuming these positions or having the honor of the title bestowed upon oneself.  It seems then that the elevation of one man above another, within a religious context – including instruction, spiritual progeny (1 Cor. 3:4), and master/guide – is prohibited as the position for each is already held by God.

After condemning the titles of rabbi, father, and instructor, our Lord again responds with a nearly identical statement on Kingdom leadership as the one from earlier in Matthew 20,

The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

As with the previous statement, here again Jesus means that those among you who are serving, literally deaconing, shall be the greatest.  Those who are exalted, as in the titles and positions of honor previously mentioned, shall be humbled or brought low.  Whereas, those who humble themselves will be exalted, though likely this would be by exaltation from God and not by man.

In our modern day society of Christendom, leadership is often determined by placing a man into a position of leadership, which implies that he is a leader, that he is capable of leading, and that in that capacity he actually leads.  Said differently, you’re neither considered a leader or in leadership until you have the official title as such, i.e. pastor, elder, shepherd, deacon, etc.  The most that could be hoped for is the designation of ‘lay leader’.  However, Scripture presents a different concept.  It suggests observing those who are already leading by their service, functionally we might say, and subsequently recognizing that they are the leaders.

Additionally, here we find a note of warning against our modern propensity to elevate men to an official status and title within our churches.  Commenting on this is R.T. France

Jesus thus incidentally asserts his own unique authority: he has the only true claim to ‘Moses’ seat’.  Over against that unique authority his disciples must avoid the use of honorific titles for one another (‘Christian rabbinism’, Bonnard) – an exhortation which today’s church could profitably taken more seriously, not only in relation to formal ecclesiastical titles (‘Most Rev.’, ‘my Lord Bishop’, etc.), but more significantly in its excessive deference to academic qualifications or to authoritative status in the churches. (Tyndale, pg. 325)

Given these two passages, we can now summarize the Kingdom Leadership Paradigm:

  • Leadership is not taken, it’s given.
  • Leadership is not ruling, it’s serving.
  • Leadership is not domineering, it’s submissive.
  • Leadership is not positional, it’s functional.
  • Leadership is not exalting, it’s humbling.
  • Leadership is not authoritarian, it’s exemplary.

Whatever else we read and conclude in the New Testament concerning ‘ecclesiastical leadership’, as such, must flow down stream from both Matthew 20 and Matthew 23.

Who are your leaders?   Look around, it may not be who you think.

Armed and Dangerous

 

One can only imagine what it would have been like to have the Apostle Paul as a mentor and father figure, not only in the faith, but in life as well.  We can observe and note how this may have been through the letters that he wrote to his young protege Timothy.  His care, encouragement, and desire to impart wisdom is evident, particularly in a well-known passage from 2 Timothy 3.  In the midst of encouraging Timothy to follow and emulate the pattern of his life, Paul encourages him to continue in the faith and to recall his younger days when he was acquainted (literally know or understand) with the sacred writings.  Presumably, this mention of sacred writings leads the Apostle into a brief discourse on the nature of Scripture, which is our passage under consideration in this post.

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Two questions immediately jump out at the reader, first is what is defined as Scripture and second, who is the man of God.  The remainder of the passage seems fairly straightforward.  Whatever the Scriptures are defined to be, they are breathed out by God, theopneustos, literally that they are God-breathed or from the mouth of God.  It would not be difficult to see how the parallel concept of Scripture as the Word of God is likewise valid.

Scripture is the generic word, writings, but its contextual use in the New Testament is always a reference to the inscripturated revelation of God.  We find references to Scripture time and again in the gospel accounts of our Lord’s earthly ministry.  Here, as with nearly all of the other uses, it is a reference to the Old Testament or TANAK.  This fact was never in question.  The difficulty comes by way of trying to understand if Scripture can refer to the New Testament.  Without creating a brand new post for that defense, suffice it to say that there is internal evidence that this is indeed the case, particularly when one considers 2 Peter 1:16-21; 3:16; 1 Timothy 5:18 as well as the overwhelming number of references, allusions, and echoes of the Old Testament, not to mention the words of Christ Himself.  It is therefore without question that both Old and New Testament’s collectively may be referred to as Scripture.

We then arrive at four given functions of Scripture.  The Apostle informs Timothy that the Scriptures, which have come from the mouth of God, are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  Strong’s defines profitable as helpful or serviceable, advantageous, each of which help to draw out more clearly the idea that is being conveyed here.  Combining this with our four functions and we see that the Scriptures are a helpful, even more – advantageous, companion for teaching or instruction, which elsewhere Paul has described as communicating doctrine (Titus 1:9).

Likewise, the Scriptures are helpful for both reproof and correction, which sound similar and would seem to be communicating a similar concept.  In reality however, it is likely that the former means the Scriptures are advantageous for correcting doctrinal errors and reproving those who would hold to beliefs that are contrary.  The latter however uses a different word, which the ESV translates as correction, which better communicates the idea of correcting moral behavior.  Together then, we see that the Scriptures are helpful for correcting both doctrinal deficiencies and moral deficiencies of character.

Finally, we arrive at our fourth function of Scripture, that it trains in righteousness.  Elsewhere in Scripture when this word for training is used, it is in the context of discipline and instruction, as with a Father to a son (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5, 12:7, 12:11).  Turning to Strong’s again and we find that it also connotes the idea of cultivation.  In farming, this would include the entire process from plowing the ground to planting the seed and watering all the way to the production of the fruit.  It is easy then to see how the Scriptures would function in this way in the life of a believer, from the rather painful discipline of plowing the hard heart to the joyful producing of spiritual fruit.

All of this brings us to our second question, who is the man of God.  If we relied on some common understandings of this passage, we would be left with a limited application of the man of God referring exclusively to pastors or preachers.  But that’s too technical of a definition and would be a sad outcome leaving the rest of the “lay” population of believers on the outside looking in at this magnificent discourse on the nature and purpose of Scripture.  Along this line of thought, the everyday believer would figuratively hand over the Scriptures to the professional man of God so that they could be used properly for the functions as described.  But though the Scriptures are a sword, they are not the sword in the stone waiting only for the professional Arthur to come along.  The Sword of God fits all hands of believers who by faith wield it in the power of the Spirit, particularly for the functions mentioned here.

The man of God, as the footnote in some Bibles indicate, also means the messenger of God and echoes a common Old Testament reference.  Essentially it is the man (anthropos), belonging to God (possessive) that articulates or communicates the truths of God’s Word, the Scriptures.  This could occur on a street corner, at a dinner table, in a gathering of believers, 1 on 1, 1 on 50, anywhere that a person takes a stand and proclaims the Word of God.  Which brings up a second point.  Anthropos here is not restricted to males only.  It is most often used generically as a reference to mankind.  So, therefore, women need not feel inferior that the power and function of Scriptures are limited to men only.  This promise is for the man or woman of God who communicates the message of God using the Word of God (1 Timothy 2:12 & 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is for another day).

Take heart believers, God has equipped us in this twisted and corrupt generation to proclaim His Word.  Not only has He fulfilled His promise in giving His Holy Spirit, but He has armed us with the Sword of the Lord, His Scriptures, which have proceeded from His very mouth.  These Scriptures complete and equip the man or woman of God for every good work.  We are not adequate for such things on our own, literally we are unarmed.  Thus the power of Scripture to equip, or to furnish us with the means necessary to do the good work that God has set before us.  Be bold and confident in the Lord.