Tag Archives: Sufficiency of Scripture

2 Non-Negotiables for a Healthy Church

 

There are a lot of opinions circulating for what constitutes a “healthy church”.  Over the last few years, as I’ve been thinking through how the Scriptures define a church, both its form and function, it seems clear that there are two non-negotiable guiding principles that rarely get the attention they deserve.

Typically, when we read of the marks of a healthy church, we see lists that skip right to the “to do” rather than pointing out the corrective lenses that would allow one to see clearly what this list should include.  These two lenses are Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principal of Worship.  Let’s briefly define them and see how they impact the progression and development of everything else that would build a healthy church.

First – Sola Scriptura.  God’s Word is foundational because it reveals who God is and who we are in light of the knowledge of Him.  Sola Scriptura is a principle revived after the Reformation (though named and defined a couple centuries later) which is Latin for “Scripture Alone”.  This little phrase means

the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture. (ref)

Additionally, the sufficiency of Scripture or Sola Scriptura, assumes the inerrancy of Scripture.  The final statement in the definition cited above, that sola Scriptura “is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture” is an exhortation against Solo Scriptura, a danger that all professing Christians must guard against.  A good, biblical starting point for defining the sufficiency of Scripture may be found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17

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.

As it pertains to a local church, “a practical denial of Sola Scriptura“, even among those who profess adherence to it, is the chief malady in today’s churches.  It’s bad enough when a church is ignorant of this principle, but it’s perhaps worse when a church is knowledgeable of it, yet abandons the practical application of it.

Too often it seems that churches grant themselves Christian liberty to form and function a church how, either as an individual or small group of individuals, best see fit and then the congregation decides if they will go along with this or not.  This is often referred to as “vision casting”.  The problem is that the vision has already been cast by God in His Word and it is often being improperly adhered to.

For an application of Sola Scriptura in a church, we may first look at the qualifications of an elder to find out who should/shouldn’t be leading, 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Any step around or outside these requirements is a practical denial of Sola Scriptura.  In another application, we  may ask who holds the keys of the church, the congregation or the “clergy”, as it pertains to matters of admittance and discipline, Matt. 18:15-20.  Denying or failing to recognize who God has given this authority to is again a practical denial of Sola Scriptura.  A final example is in matters concerning the mission of the church, which is clearly defined in the words of our Lord from Matthew 28:18-20.  Ignoring this and focusing on matters of politics, redemption of society, or establishing social justice as primary importance, is again a practical denial of Sola Scriptura.

The most common objection to Sola Scriptura is another Latin phrase, Sola Ecclesia, which states that the Church is the final authority in all spiritual matters.  Historically, this has been the chief error of the Roman Catholic Church.  Likewise, abandoning Sola Scriptura and embracing tradition has become one of the primary reasons why so many people are leaving Protestantism for Roman Catholicism.  Practically speaking, most churches do not rely on either of these two, but are instead the product of tradition, sometimes without even realizing it.  This, not the Scriptures, becomes the guiding principle for how and why a church is formed and functions the way that it does.

Proper application of Sola Scriptura in the development of a healthy church means that the Scriptures should be the guide and final authority for how a church is formed and for how it functions.  Tradition, opinions, including “God told me”, and the church down the street must all yield to the authority of Scripture, either its prescription (command) or description (example) with respect to a “healthy church”.

Second – The Regulative Principal of Worship.  This principal, while distinct, flows right out of the application of the previous principal.  The Regulative Principal of Worship summarily states that God has determined how He will be worshiped.  RPW concludes that anything not expressly commanded by God in His Word is strictly prohibited, as it relates to His worship.  This principal has often been called “the foundation of all Puritanism”.  Writing against a popular objection to this principle, Puritan John Owen provides a common definition

That nothing ought to be established in the worship of God but what is authorized by some precept or example in the word of God, which is the complete and adequate rule of worship.

Conversely, the Normative Principle of Worship, largely held to by Martin Luther, and later the Anglican Church, states that whatever is not strictly prohibited in Scripture is allowed, as it relates to the worship of God.  As you can see, the former principal is much more limiting while the latter may open up the floodgates to what is allowable worship.  What’s to prohibit dancing or a play in worship, or elephants and motorcycles for that matter?  More practically, what determines whether you sing hymns or Contemporary Christian Music?

The most familiar examples of the RPW occur in the Old Testament as God clearly establishes the how, when, where, and who for His worship, c.f. Exodus 25:40.  Those who ignore this, such as Cain (Gen. 4:3-5) and Nadab and Abiuh (Lev.  10:1-3), paid the ultimate price for violating God’s prescribed worship.  In the New Testament, the principle can appear to be less clear, which has given license to many to worship God however they see fit, but this is not the case.  In fact, Christ rebukes the Pharisees for the vanity of their worship in following traditions and the commandments of men, Mark 7:1-13.  Additionally, we are given a clear command that constrains what is allowable teaching, Matt. 28:20.

In practice, most churches function under the much more liberal Normative Principle, essentially working from either a traditional, preferential, or pragmatic base, one in which everyone does what is right in his/her own eyes, i.e. popular opinion.  If the RPW is valid, and it seems that it clearly is, then the great duty of all churches, indeed all individuals within them, is to search the Scriptures to find how it is that God has ordered His worship.  Commenting on this, John Owen writes

This, then, is the church’s duty, to search out the commands of Christ recorded in the gospel, and to yield obedience unto them.  We are not, in this matter, to take up merely with what we find in practice amongst others, no, though they be men good or holy.  The duty of the church, and consequently, of every member of it in his place and station, is to search the Scriptures, to inquire into the mind of Christ, and to find out whatever is appointed by him, or required of his disciples, and that with hearts and minds prepared unto a due observation of whatever shall be discovered by his will.

It’s beyond the scope of this post, but we must seriously examine the Scriptures to ask has God either prescribed or described the form and function of His church?  Has God regulated His worship?  If so, how?  Turning once again to Owen we read

Take care that nothing be admitted or practised in the worship of God, or as belonging thereunto, which is not instituted and appointed by the Lord Christ.

The Word of God is sufficient for us in all matters of faith and practice, including the basis for the form and function of a healthy church, but do we practically operate this way?  Additionally, God has prescribed how He will be worshiped, but have we given this due attention and then obediently put it into practice?

One final exhortation from God’s Word, which should regulate our worship:

Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. Deuteronomy 12:32

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 1 Corinthians 4:6

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Revelations 22:18-19

Reading Plans for the New Year

 

In a recent post, I offered some encouragement on how to avoid failing at your New Year’s Bible reading plan.  Here I’d like to recommend one of the plans that was included from the links referenced in that post.

This particular reading plan may help you avoid some of the issues and frustrations discussed in the previous post, that often lead to reading plan failure.  The title of this plan is called the Legacy Reading Plan.

Designed by the folks at the Christian Research Institute, the Legacy Reading Plan “is an innovative approach to reading…strategically designed to empower you to ‘eat the elephant ‘one Book’ at a time’.  The Format is specifically formulated to make your time in God’s Word the best it can be.”

Legacy is an acronym that stands for:

L – Location: an isolated place where you can hear from God through His Word.

E – Essence: Comprehend the essence of “God as communicated by reading each Book as a whole.”

G – Genre: “To understand Scripture in the sense in which it is intended, it is important to pay special attention to the genre we are reading.”  This is largely how the plan is organized.

A – Author: a further organization of the reading plan is authorial.  This allows the reader to develop familiarity with a particular author’s style, terms, theology, etc.

C – Context: this rounds out the logic of the reading plan organization; “Context has an impact on how you contextualize one set of biblical Books in relation to another.”

Y – Years: “The overarching objective of the Legacy Reading Plan is to read through the Bible once a year, every year for the rest of your life. The reading calendar is naturally segmented into seasons and the seasons into months.”

As you may have gathered from the description above, this plan is different than some of the other yearly reading plans in that it doesn’t have a rigid schedule to follow.  Instead, it organizes Scripture reading logically, seasonally, then monthly.  Likewise, it allows flexibility in the amount of Scripture that one reads, but still keeps the reader on a general schedule so that they can accomplish their goal of reading through the Bible in a year.  So for example, one day you may have time to read 10-12 chapters, while another day maybe only 1 or maybe you’ve had to skip for one reason or another.  This is flexible enough to avoid what has been a major hindrance for some who follow a stricter plan, i.e. once you fall behind on chapters or days, its nearly impossible to make them up and then the inevitable reading plan failure ensues.  The Legacy Plan may help alleviate that obstacle.

What I like about the Legacy Plan:

  • Daily readings in Proverbs
  • Consistent, regular readings in the Psalms throughout the year (3 chapters per week)
  • Flexible reading allows for more reading on days when time is available, yet guilt free reading should a day or two be missed
  • Logical ordering
    • OT
      • Similar to the Hebrew canon (Tanak)
      • Hebrew Pentateuch and Hebrew Poetry
      • Hebrew History
      • Hebrew Prophets
        • The Prophets are in monthly proximity to Revelation
    • NT
      • Begins with the writings of the Apostle John allowing for consistent familiarity with his terms, writing style, etc.
      • Moves to the collection of Pauline and Pastoral epistles
      • The three synoptic gospels along with Acts are reserved for the Advent Season

If you are looking for a year-long reading plan, but have been met with some of the frustrations, obstacles, and ultimately failures that I’ve mentioned before, then The Legacy Plan may be a reasonable option to consider.

PDF Link Here: http://www.equip.org/PDF/LRP-WBG.pdf

http://www.equip.org/article/legacy-reading-plan/

 

*feature image reference: happynewyears2017.org

The Deceitfulness of Sin

 

Hebrews 3:13 “…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

“Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, if it has its own way it will go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could, every thought of unbelief would be atheism if allowed to develop. Every rise of lust, if it has its way reaches the height of villainy; it is like the grave that is never satisfied. The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its first proposals but when it prevails it hardens mens’ hearts, and brings them to ruin.”[1]

These words from John Owen, in his masterful treatise on The Mortification of Sin, highlight for us the deception through which sin operates in the heart of men. Sin is a deceiver and has been a deceiver of man since the fall in garden. In the passage from Hebrews 3:13, the Preacher instructs his hearers to avoid hardness of heart brought about through the deceitfulness of sin. We may ask, in what ways does sin deceive? In answering this question, it seems reasonable to first turn to the occurrence of the original sin, alluded to earlier, to find out its modus operandi.

From Genesis 3 and the Serpent’s encounter with Adam and Eve we read,

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

In this original sin, how did sin deceive? Observe four particular ways, though certainly more may be discovered:

  1. Sin distorts the Word of God in calling Him a liar (vs. 1, 4)
  2. Sin distorts the law of God in calling what is evil, good (vs. 3-5).
  3. Sin distorts the grace of God in calling what is good, evil (vs. 3,5).
  4. Sin distorts inherent desires by promising what it cannot deliver, satisfaction (vs. 6).

In our passage from Hebrews, we see that this original sin, though foundational and perhaps a typical pattern for future sins, was not called into recollection as the basis for the exhortation. Instead, he draws upon a rebellion more fully discussed on the pages of Scripture and perhaps more relevant to his exposition on the comparison and contrasts of the Old and New Covenants.

In this particular passage he turns to the wilderness generation of Exodus through Deuteronomy, specifically noting their history of rebellion and lack of faith culminating in a disinheritance of the Promised Land. His citation in Hebrews 3:7-12 comes from Psalm 95 but has much of the Torah for its background concluding in Numbers 14 with the curse brought on that generation of disobedience.

Observing the deceitfulness of sin in this account, we see much overlap from the Edenic sin and that in the “Wilderness of Sin.” It is likely there can be no greater contrast between the “Garden of Eden” and the “Wilderness of Sin” than in their physical appearance. One was lush with vegetation the other a desert with thorns and thistles. In one the animals are submissive to man, in the other wild beasts run rampant. These dissimilarities aside, the common denominator is man, specifically his rebellious heart against God. Note the summary given in Hebrews 3:7-12:

7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Israel has sometimes been referred to as a type of corporate Adam, this is fitting given the failure of each in their own “garden”. However, unlike Adam’s single rebellious act, Israel’s repeated testing (10 times – Numbers 14:22) of the Lord reached its culmination on the threshold of the Promised Land. In their testing, noted above, they were recipients of God’s grace in provision over the course of the exodus from Egypt on the way to promised land. Yet this was not enough to prevent the swelling of rebellion in their hearts.

The citation from Psalm 95 indicates that the “hardness of hearts” took place in Meribah (rebellion) and the day of testing was in Massah (wilderness). Turning to these occurrences in their Old Testament context, we arrive at Exodus 17:7, And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Specifically, this particular episode of quarreling and questioning of God by Israel was in relation to their lack of water, which would eventually be resolved by Moses’ striking of the rock at God’s command (Exodus 17:6; 1 Corinthians 10:4). Notice however the central thesis of the Israelite murmur, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Fundamentally, this is an example of premise #1 from above on the deceitfulness of sin in the garden, Sin distorts the Word of God in calling Him a liar.

God’s initial commissioning of Moses included the promise below:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’’” Exodus 3:16-17

We are told in Exodus 4:30 that the Word of God was given to the people, via Aaron. Therefore, when we read of their murmuring and questioning whether God was with them, they were in essence doubting the promise of God and by doing so calling Him a liar. Thus the deceitfulness of sin.

Much more could be said regarding this Wilderness Generation and their rebellion against God, specifically as it relates to the deceitfulness of sin. The author of Hebrews uses their experience as a negative example of those who have heard the Word of God, but didn’t believe it and didn’t obey it.

Sin misrepresents reality. It removes or distorts the corrective lens of God’s Word to prevent clearly seeing it, along with its dangers and deceptions. Owen offers some helpful comments on the deceitfulness of sin. He writes:

“It [sin’s deception] consists in presenting unto the soul, or mind, things otherwise than they are, either in their nature, causes, effects, or present respect unto the soul. It hides what ought to be seen and considered, conceals circumstances and consequences, presents what is not, or things as they are not, as we shall afterward manifest in particular. This is the nature of deceit; it is a representation of a matter under disguise, hiding that which is undesirable, proposing that which indeed is not in it, that the mind may make a false judgment of it.”[2]

Venning notes that sin is crimen laesae Majestatis “high treason against the majesty of God”[3]. Sin in its deception is likewise high treason against the authority of the Sovereign King. Fundamentally, its purpose is to distort the Word of God. Its power is in its deception because it promises what it cannot deliver. Sin promises satisfaction; it promises the fulfillment of our most intimate, innate desires, yet it has no power to deliver on these promises. In the end, sin is a flash in the pan though is fool’s gold. It always leaves the sinner wanting more, hungering for the wrong things because it can never satisfy and quench the desires that man has.

Only God, through His Son Jesus Christ can satisfy every desire that we have. It is Christ that promised the woman at the well “living water” so that she would never thirst again. It is Christ who declared Himself to be the bread from heaven, satisfying the inmost hunger pangs of the soul. Understanding the deceitfulness of sin and the satisfaction that can only come in Christ serves believers well as a precious remedy against sin’s deception.

Like sand grains hardened into stone through the internal workings of cementation and the external pressures from nature, so too is the heart hardened through the internal workings of sin’s deceitfulness and the external temptations of the world. Be vigilant in your perseverance dear saints, that your hearts be not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

 

[1] John Owen Volume 6 pg. 12

[2] John Owen, Volume 6, Pg. 213-214 This is compilation of various quotes from Owen on the subject.

[3] Ralph Venning The Sinfulness of Sin