In my previous blog, we explored how we have truly been set free in Jesus but also explored some passages of Scripture that need to be reconciled. I want to continue to explore that topic here.
So how do we reconcile these passages? In later half of Romans 7 Paul is employing a rhetorical literary style to better communicate to the reader the real sense of anguish that comes from knowing the requirement of the law, desiring to live it, and yet unable to do so. He was not describing his present state of life. (See also N.T. Wright, The Letter to the Romans, in the NIB Commentary series, C.G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Pillar Commentary Series). Paul is speaking from his pre-conversion perspective as a Jew trying to follow the Law. He is leading the reader to the conclusion that no law can adequately deal with the human condition – no matter how good, how perfect or how ‘spiritual’ that law may be because of the weakness of the flesh.
If it is not the old sinful nature that we are battling against how do we process our experience of sinning and falling short of God’s will? I think Paul foresaw this question and answered it Romans 8. “That the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:4). “… if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live” (8:13). In this present age we have been born again by God’s Spirit, but our body has yet to be redeemed (8.23), and our mind needs renewing (8:6). These are the ongoing sources of unrighteousness, not the presence of the old nature, which is sold into bondage to sin.
If we are in Christ that nature died! We live righteously for God by the power of the Spirit – that is the main point of Chapter 8.
So rather than looking at our struggles against the deeds of the body as a sign of our being slaves to sin, we need to look at it as a need to grow in faith and mature in being led by the Spirit. When Paul writes “Consider yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) he is not suggesting some type of wishful thinking or espousing the power of positive thinking. He is telling us to believe, to have faith, in the absolute truth of what Jesus has done for us. The righteous will live by faith – we need to have faith that we have been set free from bondage to sin just like we have faith that Jesus’ blood is sufficient to cover our sins. It should not be surprising that this is a battle set squarely in the arena of faith, and not a battle of addressing the flesh by setting regulations that have an appearance of wisdom but don’t actually do any good when it comes to restraining indulgences of our old flesh (Colossians 2:20-23)
We still identify sin as sin and maintain a need for repentance, but the opposite of sin is not virtue or morality, it is faith - “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Knowing right from wrong has never been sufficient in order to live righteously – we need the Spirit to write God’s law on our hearts just like He promised (Jeremiah 31:33). Immorality is a consequence of sin – so addressing sin by our own attempts to be better or act better morally is at best cutting off the shoot and leaving the root intact. This kind of thinking is a different gospel than what Paul preached. When we come face to face with our failure we are encouraged by the author of Hebrews in 4:16 to boldly approach the throne of grace. Not just for forgiveness and a clear conscience but also for power and strength to live for God the next time we are tempted. We must be wary of a gospel in which confidence in our ability to improve our virtue (or at least sin less often) through human effort (i.e. the flesh) becomes an idol. That’s right, attempting to establish our own worth is idolatry.
Christianity is not about managing our sin by our own efforts to crucify the flesh, it is about walking in the Spirit. I would go as far as to say that if we fight the battle from the perspective of the flesh using rules and regulations rather than by faith in Jesus’ work that already set us free from slavery to sin then we are indulging our flesh. We may even be sowing into a righteousness apart from faith in the work of Christ. This is just the kind of thinking Paul so adamantly opposed in his letter to the Galatians – it is different gospel. I don’t want to lead anyone into an over-realized eschatology of sinless perfection, but nor do I want to leave someone in an under-realized eschatology that falls short of the whole Gospel, dooming people to a life of feeling powerless in the face of fleshly desires. We must receive the absolute radical nature of the Gospel – we are new creatures – having died and now born again of the Holy Spirit.
We started out by considering the often-used analogy between our salvation and the exodus of Israel. How silly would it be for Moses to declare that Yahweh had delivered Israel and then leave them in Egypt continuing to be enslaved? It would be pure nonsense. Israel was delivered from Egypt and slavery so that they might worship God. It is the same for the new covenant believer – we are set free from slavery to sin and made alive to God in order to live lives that worship God. Is unrighteous behavior an issue in the Christian life? Certainly, it also was for Israel after their deliverance! But we must be renewed, growing in maturity, learning to walk by the Spirit and thereby put to death the evil deeds of the body which has yet to be redeemed (Romans 8:13) and the mind which is in a process of renewal (Romans 12:2). Just as with Israel, salvation starts with our deliverance but continues so that we may more fully follow God in devotion and worship.
Leader Hangout is a monthly conversation on leadership and mission in the church. This month, leaders from Newfrontiers churches in the US join Tim Chambers who leads Christ’s Church in Joplin, MO. Tim leads a discussion on how we can cultivate a love for the Bible in our churches. How we approach a text and an attitude of humility when teaching are essential to encouraging others to love the Scriptures. If you’ve hoped to grow in your love for God’s word and wrestled through how to lead others into that, this is a helpful Leader Hangout for you. To register for our next Leader Hangout, please visit: bit.ly/leaderhangout
I am currently reading a book by Mike Wilkerson entitled “Redemption” in which he draws parallels between the New Testament believer’s salvation and Israel’s Exodus. He observes that during the Israelite’s 430-year sojourn in Egypt there was a period of time spanning generations when the Israelites cried out to Yahweh because of their suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. Although deliverance did eventually come, delay and prolonged suffering was the experience of many who cried out. This is a shared experience of God’s people - crying out for God to intervene and yet having no deliverance from unjust circumstances. In the midst of my reading I felt like God connected some dots for me regarding how we process our suffering in a way that builds rather than erodes our faith in God.
I want to start by considering a description Wilkerson uses for the Exodus as well as Christian salvation - that being saved can be understood as giving up our life story and being added into God’s big story. Therefore, making sense of our life can only really happen in the context of God’s big story. This idea reminds me of the struggle astronomers in the 15th century experienced trying to find an mathematical explanation for planetary motion. It wasn’t until they put the sun, rather than the earth, at the center that a coherent explanation was possible. Similarly we struggle to explain our lives until we find the correct center from which to view all of life. It is in losing our old, individually-focused life that we actually find true life (Luke 17:33).
And what is God’s big story? It is summarized in various ways in scripture including 2 Corinthians 5:18-20,
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
If we see ourselves as being added into the big plan of God, then we understand that we have become a part of God’s big story of reconciliation. This reconciliation came at great cost to Jesus, and it should not be a stretch to imagine that while living in our broken world that injustice will at times prevail and suffering will result. When we experience injustice there is going to be a need for mercy and forgiveness, not just from God, but also from us as individuals as well – so that through forgiveness, evil ends with us, or as Tolstoy said, let us forgive, for to forgive is to swallow evil and prevent it from going further (Wilkerson, p.81).
By choosing to “swallow”, as Tolstoy said, the cost of injustice done to us we follow in the footsteps of Jesus who also paid the price and took the punishment for the injustice we perpetrated on others. I think this idea is what Paul is trying to communicate when he writes in Colossians 1:24
“… in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions …”.
Paul is not saying that the redemptive, atoning sacrifice of Jesus is somehow incomplete, he is speaking of tribulations that are inevitable and necessary as God’s kingdom faces the opposition of the dominion of darkness (v. 13). As members of Christ’s own body, his people participate in the sufferings of Christ himself. (Douglas Moo, The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (p. 152), Pillar Commentary Series).
In the next post we will bring these thoughts back to the Exodus and our own salvation where we began.
“I entrust to you Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:18-19).
In his 2nd letter to Timothy, Paul uses himself as an example, for he had fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul was writing during a period of transition and crisis.
We also are to fight, contend for, be alert to and keep believing in God and his promises to us. Like Paul, we are living in a time of crisis; both social and economic crisis, where the god of mammon has proven to be fickle and not worthy of our trust.
There is also a crisis of biblical faith today. Several voices call out during such times. The internet gives people access to multitude of ideas. As the gospel spread and churches were planted, Paul was clearly aware of issues that could take Timothy ever so slightly off course. A fraction of an inch off course today leads to miles down range.
Doctrinal issues arise in our world today. I have a friend who has planted several churches and is presently planting in Seattle. He now leads a family of churches. He had been a part of a family of churches that had lost their way following the death of their founder. Doctrinal issues that are more politically correct were adopted and a floodgate of issues arose for this group. Amid that trial years ago, he was in great pain when he phoned me in order to process the steps he needed to take to leave that movement.
Paul feels the weight of this period of transition. He sensed his need to be a spiritual father to young leaders like Timothy; to encourage, exhort, instruct and remind them to remain true to “the faith” and to “fight the good fight” of faith.
We are aware as a movement of our own transition as pioneering, foundation-laying fathers have, are and will pass the baton on to the next generation of leaders.
We are in a place similar to Paul and his instruction to Timothy. Fathers must mentor and instruct spiritual sons in values and foundations. Our present time is not unlike the time in which Paul penned this letter. We also experience many voices calling out to us. Multiple attractive voices offer alternative styles and emphasis, with systems and methods that appeal for the present and emerging generations of leaders.
We should have a passion to constantly learn from the wider body of Christ and a flexible wineskin to embrace new methods in order to be culturally relevant. However we must guard our distinctive shape and remember the prophecies from God. Our values of Word and Spirit, Grace as a foundation, our Holy Spirit expression, Ephesians 4 apostolic leadership, our view of church as a community of God’s presence and the source and vehicle of mission must remain.
We believe the expression of Jesus (as given in scripture) along with the activity of the Holy Spirit continues. We are not cessationists in doctrine or practice. Practice is the apologetic for what we say we believe.
Along with this, we should embrace the wider body and receive from others who have excelled where we have not. We are seekers and want to continue to learn from others. We have fought and battled, bled and paid a price for our biblical convictions and practice. We have also enjoyed God’s favor. When receiving from others, many are certainly capable of knowing the difference between the baby and bathwater. A foundation is under us.
This is the first in a series of posts from John Lanferman out of the book of 1 Timothy.
Paul establishes that faith is a “good fight” in two key passages found in his first letter to Timothy. In chapter 1, Paul seems to address the issue of personal or subjective faith whereby Timothy is to not lose heart but keep believing God, to believe what God has spoken to him through prophecy (1 Timothy 1:18,19). Paul also addresses objective faith as it pertains to “the faith” that is to be guarded (1 Timothy 6:12).
The battle before us today is both a battle to personally believe God in the face of contrary realities that tempt toward doubt and secondly to keep “the faith.”
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, ESV)
One aspect of the battle is to not move away from the gospel and centrality of Christ. The aging Paul sends this letter to a young leader, Paul’s spiritual and gifted “son”, Timothy. Timothy had been assigned by Paul to lead the church at Ephesus, a church being threatened by influences of the day. The book of Timothy is a Leadership Manual.
Paul instructs him in this lifestyle of “fighting.” Timothy would be aware of Paul’s apostolic doctrine, passion for mission, his passion for the Holy Spirit, church and grace and freedom in Christ, of one new man in Christ. Timothy would also know of Paul’s life and practice. Paul had given things to Timothy that he expected would continue to be passed on in his absence to other faithful men.
One of the great characteristics of Paul’s many-sided life was his interest in youth. Paul manifested an abiding interest in young people. His earlier impatience with Mark has given way and he now excelled as a spiritual father as evidenced in his two letters to Timothy, the young preacher.
Paul gives Timothy instruction regarding some of these issues. The central theme in this battle is the gospel and a pure faith in this gospel that is to be fought for. The young leader was to avoid the temptation of getting off track by any alternative to genuine faith. True faith impacts a variety of church issues, including worship, doctrine and practice, prayer, leadership development, order and practice within the church and the leader’s own personal life of conduct.
Paul instructs Timothy regarding things to flee, to pursue and to fight for. He gives him a challenge to fight the good fight of the faith in the face of so many competing alternatives to faith. Today we face several challenges to “the faith” that we hold. We too are called to “fight the good fight” of faith in our generation….
This is a series of posts about the authority of Scripture. You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here. In my last post, we discussed the work of the Spirit in the revelation of Scripture. But what do the Scriptures say about themselves? This post will explore an important passage of the New Testament and its influence on our perspectives of the sufficiency of Scripture.
It is fascinating to see clearly here the evidence for what we call the sufficiency of Scripture. Alongside all attempts of fallen and sinful man to deny or denigrate the inspiration, infallibility and authority of Scripture, sin finds its greatest anger poured out in reaction to this issue in particular.
Wayne Grudem defines the sufficiency of Scripture in this way, ‘The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words God intended for his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.’ (‘Systematic Theology ’ p.127) Only in Scripture are we authorized to find the words God has spoken to us, and those words are enough for us. All other beneficial words are but the explication and reflection of those words.
In 2 Tim. 3:15 Scripture is said to be able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, so that in Scripture alone is to be found the words we need to hear in order to be saved. And similarly, we need nothing more than Scripture to equip us for living the Christian life wisely and ethically pleasing to God, which is only another way of saying the living of all of our life. For here alone is the source of the tools to achieve the goal that the man or woman of God may be equipped for every good work. It is that important. Scripture is not inadequate but sufficient at every point. If there is any good work God has intended us to do, then God has made provision for our training to do it, here in his word. These ‘good works’ are not just religious activities performed in congregational life, they are everyday activities performed in all of life.
This is vitally important, because for several generations there has been, for the most part amongst evangelicals an abject failure to think broadly and holistically about life in a radically biblical way. We have accepted that what ‘is’ is equivalent to what ‘ought’ to be. We too readily accept the status quo, and marry the spirit of the age. Sometimes it shows up in a lively pietism that makes much of worship and charismatic life but seems either compromised with the world or ghettoised and cut off from that world. Other times it manifests in a ‘dead orthodoxy’ that is strong on doctrine but has little or no impact on life in the world, so that it considers itself irrelevant to its media, social activities or parliamentary legislation. Here Paul wants us to be both. Paul saw no such dualism between thought and action. Here he refers to their relationship.
Paul wants us to be aware of two aspects of his ministry:
1) ‘My teaching’ (v.10) – and so become Radical Thinkers, and
2) ‘My way of life’ (v.10) -and so become Radical Livers as well, because both are to be derived from Scripture in its wide scope of authority over the whole of life. God’s word affects the whole of life and society for the better. Historically this has always been the aim of our forefathers in the Reformed faith, from Calvin’s Geneva, to the Scotland of Knox; from the Puritan revolution under Cromwell in the 17th Century, to the founding principles of America in the 18th Century; from the work of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London to the mighty influence of Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper in Holland, at the end of the 19th Century. Kuyper is particularly interesting. Abraham Kuyper (19th C. theologian, university founder, college principal, founder of national newspaper and eventually Prime Minister of Holland’ “It is sad to see how even the theology of the Reformed churches has in so many a country come under the sway of wholly foreign systems. But at all events, theology is only one of the many sciences that demand biblical treatment. Philosophy, Psychology, Aesthetics, Law, the Social Sciences, Literature and even the medical and natural sciences, each and all of these…go back to principles, and of necessity the question must be put with more penetrating seriousness than hitherto, whether the …principles that reign in the present method of each of the sciences are in agreement with the principles of the Bible, or are at variance with there very essence.” (‘Lectures on Calvinism’ p. 194)
Of course to become invasive and intrusive in this way will not be easy (v. 11-13). It will invite criticism and physical persecution.
But Paul knows that such ‘salty’ and ‘light bearing’ witness, both arresting the progress of decay in the world and positively expelling and supplanting the darkness is exactly what the Scriptures themselves mandate us to do. Paul then makes three vital assertions concerning Scripture, which should for us become three vital assumptions. With the Apostle Paul himself, we believe and therefore assume in all of our thinking three vital convictions.
1. v.16a Confidence in the Bible’s Inspiration and Inerrancy – it’s ORIGIN
2. v.16b Confidence in the Bible’s Authority – It’s PURPOSE
3. v.17 Confidence in the Bible’s Sufficiency – It’s APPLICATION
In my next post, we will explore these three ideas. Check back soon!
// Originally posted on Theology Matters //
This is a series of posts about the authority of scripture. You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here.
In my last post, we saw that God's total purpose for our lives individually and corporately is invisible, inaudible and inconceivable. That is why it has to be revealed. But what the eye, the ear and the mind cannot conceive, God can reveal to all three faculties by his Spirit (v.10). The rest of the passage explains the process. We can put it under four phases each connected with the work of the Holy Spirit.
Since our little minds cannot fathom the infinite mind of God we need the assistance of Someone who can. Only a Person can search out the thoughts of another person, so the Spirit is personal. Just as you alone have access to your own mind and know to some degree what is going on in it, so the Spirit of God has complete access to God’s mind and is prepared to ‘search the depths’ of God on our behalf, and disclose them to his chosen prophets and apostles like Paul, so that they could be disclosed to others in Scripture. The word ‘search out’ here was used of customs officials who rummaged through the bags of travellers at border crossings. And the ‘deep things’ was a word hijacked form Gnostic terminology boasting of an elite knowledge of divine things. Only God’s Holy Spirit has that knowledge. The Holy Spirit is God who alone can explore and fathom the depths of the mind of the infinite God. He alone has access to the ‘things’ of God, for He is God.
What the Holy Spirit finds out he wants to make known. He has done this with the Apostles (the ‘we’ who both ‘received’ and ‘understood’ this data as it was revealed to them). God gave them both salvation, and the ability to understand that salvation in all of its fullness and vast implications. Paul’s understanding is a wonderful illustration. He had a personal revelation of the Saviour on the Damascus Road, and in the years following he saw the meaning of such things as the Cross, the Resurrection, the two age eschatology, faith, baptism, the giving of the Spirit, the two Adams, sanctification, the future resurrection and glorification of believers, the Parousia etc. All of this wonderful doctrine, and more, came to him from the Spirit.
That same Spirit then enabled him to ‘speak’ and ultimately to write these things for their accurate preservation and transmission to others. There is a chain of transmission from God to the Spirit, from the Spirit to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to others in the pages of the New Testament. Inspiration is thus verbal and supernatural. It is ‘Spiritual truths’ in ‘Spiritual words’. The inspiration was not left to chance, but actually involved the very words the Apostles chose, to communicate what they had seen and heard. This is essential because words matter and they must be used precisely for meaning to be conveyed accurately to others.
This was not a process of dictation, for the human personalities of the authors were preserved intact rather than bypassed in the process of inspiration,. This was an organic or concursive rather than coercive operation, employing the faculties, thought patterns, characters and vocabulary of the human agents. The result was that the literally style and particular theological emphasis of each author were preserved not destroyed in the process of inspiration. They even did their own historical researches and edited their own literary sources (Lk. 1:1-4). Yet the Holy Spirit spoke through each author according to their particular literary genre, and this is to be understood according to the plain natural meaning of the words used in the unique historical context and peculiar circumstances and intention of the writer.
a. Not that ‘every word is literally true’ – for there are at least 20 kinds of literature in the Bible (history, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, letters, proverbs etc) and we must interpret their words accordingly.
b. Not that every text is true apart form its context – for false statements are quoted in the Bible in order to highlight the truth contrasted with that (e.g. Job).
c. Not that its words were dictated by God – As though the Biblical writes were mere amanuenses, their experience, personalities and gifts totally bypassed and their agency was limited to that of mere reportage of God’s word. The Scriptures themselves indicate a more concursive operation of man and God combined, such that the unique identities of the human authors is conspicuous in the books attributed to them, but that they were preserved from error in that special role.
d. But that what God spoke through the human authors, correctly interpreted is true. This means that the Scriptures are thus infallible in their inspiration, in that it can never deceive us for it is the God of truth who speaks in its pages. Second that its inspiration is clearly verbal in the sense we have explained it, and finally inspiration is therefore plenary or full, inspired in its entirety by God so that whatever the authors intended to say and teach – on history, on ethics, on cosmology, on origins – is all covered by inspiration and is as a consequence, inerrant or infallible.
Which brings me to the fourth and last operation of the Spirit spoken of here.
We are not left to ourselves in the attempt to understand what the Apostle and others have written in Scripture. The Spirit works at both ends, in the writers and in the readers. NIV footnote to v.13b says ‘interpreting spiritual truths to spiritual men’ as an alternative translation to ‘expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words’, and therefore connection with the doctrine of illumination not inspiration, v.14 ff not v13a. The verb sugkrino meaning ‘to combine’ can mean ‘to explain’ or ‘to interpret;, and ‘spiritual truths’ (pneumatikois) can mean ‘spiritual men’ – hence ‘explaining spiritual things/truths to spiritual men’ i.e. ‘those who possess the Spirit’. Revelation and Inspiration are to be distinguished from Illumination in this way. Revelation and Inspiration removes the veil over objective realities placed by God before the mind of man so that he sees and understands what he sees. Illumination removes the blindfold on the eyes of others yet to be caught up with such things and that prevents them from understanding what has already been revealed to his apostles. It conveys subjective insight and understanding to them.
This section teaches that God illuminates our minds as we read the Scriptures so that we may understand them. And this is said to be a privilege inaccessible to the unspiritual or unregenerate man (or psuchikos), who does not have the Spirit (v.14). He regards such things as both ‘foolish’ and ‘incomprehensible’. But this is a primarily a moral blindness and incapacity in the first instance, and a culpable one at that, a work of the flesh. This fact goes a long way to explains the natural man’s resistance to the authority and sufficiency of scripture in the quest or pursuit of truth, particularly in the ethical sphere.
It is the man with the Spirit (the pneumatikos) v.15, the born-again believer, who, in dependence on the Spirit, can discern and evaluate things and make proper sense of them. In this way, in submission to the Scriptures, the spiritual man can bring their authority to bear on ‘all things’, assessing and discerning truth and error, right and wrong in all spheres without regard to the artificial boundaries or limits falsely imposed by special interest groups, since nothing is off limits to or segregated from God. God is intrusive in the whole of life and we need to take note that He makes his will known through the intervention, active agency and involvement of his people (v.15-16).
This fact does not guarantee our omniscience, or our infallibility, but it does grant us the right to be heard, insofar as we accurately interpret and apply scripture to each given situation – scientific, political, philosophical, social and moral, and thus bring to bear ‘the mind of Christ’ on that issue. The issue of Spiritual Authority for the believer then, lies in a coalition of the objective and subjective work of the Holy Spirit in relation to Scripture. The objective Word, the written, inspired Scripture, together with the subjective word, the inner illumination and conviction of the Holy Spirit, constitute the authority for the Christian.
In my next post, we will explore the evidence for the sufficiency of Scripture. Check back soon!
I don't think I'm a sycophant. On the personality spectrum, I lean towards the relentlessly critical rather than the naively enthusiastic end, and that often ends up as the source of frustration for those I work with. On this blog, I've continually poked and critiqued the usual Newfrontiers view on all sorts of things - high Calvinism, baptism in the Spirit, the nature of apostolic ministry, "Word and Spirit", the sacraments, creation, war, spiritual gifts, and so on - although hopefully in as friendly and irenic a way as I can. I even managed recently to get called "a pain in the bottom" by Terry Virgo on Twitter (though I'm pretty sure from the context he was joking), and my views on various things have prompted a few leaders in the network to suggest I believe in cessationism, baptismal regeneration, Roman Catholicism, liberalism, and probably one or two other things. In other words, despite the melon-slice grin on my photo, I'm not the party-line, tub-thumper type.
But I love being part of Newfrontiers. I’ve been in four different Newfrontiers churches since 1990, and preached in dozens of others, and I can honestly say it is one of the greatest joys of my life to have been part of a family like this. So I thought it might be edifying for me, if not for you, to give a few reasons why that’s the case. (These will be general statements, obviously, rather than naive pronouncements that everyone who has ever been in Newfrontiers is like such-and-such, so please don’t feel the need to point out in the comments section that Harry Blowfly once preached justification by works, lost his temper with your sister and then went on a rant about the Illuminati). Anyway:
People in Newfrontiers really love God. I mean, I know that should go without saying, but they really do. They love God with their minds - they think, read, study, reflect, theologize, discuss, wrestle and meditate on truth, and all over the world they remain completely committed to the authority of God in scripture. The love God with their hearts - they are emotionally excited by, moved by, intimate with and reverent towards him, and when you participate in a corporate worship time with them, you really get that. They love God with their strength - they work hard, give lots, serve the poor, plant churches, sacrifice comforts, preach the gospel, stand firm in the face of persecution, and travel across the world to reach those who don’t know Jesus. They’re not perfect, of course; nobody is. They really do love God, though.
I’ve talked about this before with reference to Terry Virgo’s “I was praying, obviously”, but it’s worth mentioning anyway: Newfrontiers people pray. The hub of the movement, for as long as I’ve known it, has been the days of prayer and fasting that the leaders have together; virtually all gatherings and conferences involve prayer; and you will almost never encounter a Newfrontiers church that doesn’t have a regular prayer meeting as part of its corporate life together. Just yesterday, I was reading a vision and strategy paper for one of the largest churches in the movement, and there was an extended section in it on the importance of prayer (which doesn’t always come through from the church growth gurus), along with some superbly helpful guidelines on how to lead a prayer meeting. I love that.
All Christians believe in grace. Marcion did, Pelagius did, Tetzel did. But for a tragic number of Christians across history, the experience of grace has not been in line with the experience of Peter, Paul and the rest, either through poor teaching, ungodly examples, or legalistic traditions and practices. When you’re with Newfrontiers people - and here, as throughout this post, I generalize - you’re with people who don’t just believe in grace, but who experience it. They celebrate it, contend for it theologically, write and sing songs about it, talk about it incessantly, and live in the good of it, without swinging too far into legalism on the one hand or hyper-grace on the other. No doubt there are some nuances missing here and there, and some individuals who don’t have the balance right. But in Newfrontiers churches, a lack of grace will be seen as a calamity, not a quirk.
Charismatic baptists have often, in our pursuit of personal experience of the Spirit alongside our belief in the priesthood of all believers, ended up with an anti-institutional, anti-ecclesial individualism, in which words like “church”, “authority”, “elders” and “membership” have been downplayed, and in some cases rejected altogether. In Newfrontiers, you’ll almost always find a high view of the local church, a commitment to qualified leadership, a desire to live out the Christian life together and not just in isolation, and a resolution to give local churches the best of our people, energies and finances - effectively, the best bits of Presbyterianism, without having to baptize babies. I remember asking one Arminian, egalitarian friend of mine why he was still in Newfrontiers despite his theological differences, and he said simply, “because they build strong churches.” That counts for a lot.
Everyone does this, I’m sure. You couldn’t survive as a denomination if you didn’t. But it seems to be amplified in Newfrontiers. More pastors would own Lloyd-Jones on Romans, or Grudem’s Systematic Theology, than anything Terry Virgo or David Devenish have written. In the 1990s, the two biggest influences on the movement were John Wimber and John Piper, and I doubt there are many groups of churches for whom that would be true. In the 2000s, consecutive leaders conferences featured two people who might well have ended up in a fight with each other: Mark Driscoll, who basically said we were so obsessed with charismatic gifts that we weren’t being missional, and Rob Rufus, who told us at one point that we needed “to strap glory bombs to our chests and then go out into our communities and let them go off.” (I know). Listening to, disagreeing with and learning from such diverse characters makes a movement stronger, and although there’s always room to improve, I regard this as a real strength of Newfrontiers as a whole.
Say what you like about complementarian theology - and I’ve got an article coming out soon in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which pretty much shows you where I’m coming from - but nobody holds to it because it’s fashionable or popular; in Western cultures it’s too restrictive, and in many Eastern cultures it’s too liberating. One of the delightful side-effects of the complementarianism you find in Newfrontiers churches is the almost flagrant boat-burning it requires when it comes to being invited to the cool kids’ table - if you’re prepared to say that men should lead their families and women shouldn’t be elders, the chances are you won’t cave if someone asks you whether you think abortion is wrong, or hell is for real, or gay sex is OK. I love that when Premier Radio or Christianity magazine want a robust defence of traditional evangelicalism, they talk to Adrian Warnock about Love Wins or to Greg Haslam about The Lost Message of Jesus, and I love that the Resurgence publish P-J Smyth, and Desiring God invite Tope Koleoso. In my experience, Newfrontiers leaders aren’t fluffy, and that really matters.
Many movements begin with missionary fire, and then peter out as they expand, so it’s encouraging to me that the trajectory in Newfrontiers is going the other way. I don’t know many churches that are better at mobilising people to reach their neighbours than GodFirst in Johannesburg, and I don’t know many churches in the Middle East that are reaching local people better than Yasam Kilisesi in Īstanbul. Every time I hear another story of a young family who are moving across the world to plant a church in a defiantly secular, Islamic or Communist city, I marvel at the courage and passion it takes - but I am also encouraged by the fact that the churches sending them are not sitting on their hands, but taking seriously their responsibility to walk across the street, or the room, to reach their own towns and cities. It bodes well, whatever “boding” is.
For all I’ve said before about relationship being an excuse for doctrinal or missional muddle, I can’t deny the simple power of being together on a mission with friends. This is thoroughly subjective, of course, but I don’t apologize for that: I love being part of Newfrontiers because I love the people, and the gospel camaraderie that comes from shared history, shared theology and shared vision. I love being recognized, by a total stranger at midnight in Donetsk airport, because I’m wearing a standard Newfrontiers pastor’s shirt; I love having kebabs and watching football outside the Galatasaray stadium with Turkish guys I’ve known for a few hours, yet have more in common with than I have with my next-door neighbor; I love driving through the Negev in infantile hysterics with fellow pastors and teachers; I love being in hospital in another city with my epileptic daughter, and being visited by the local Newfrontiers pastor, who has somehow heard on Facebook that I am in the area; I love eating shwarma, sadza, plantain or tapas with people from nations I’ve only visited because of the group of churches I’m part of; I love hugs, and banter, and facetious tweets and in-jokes and awkward cross-cultural moments, and the international network of praying men and women who support each other in ways that only brothers and sisters can. I imagine every group of churches has those things, and I sincerely hope they do. But for me, those joys and privileges have come to me within the Newfrontiers family of churches, and I will always be thankful for that.
There, I’ve gone all misty-eyed. Anyway: if you’re part of a Newfrontiers church and you’re reading this, even if we’ve never met, I’m really grateful for you. And if you’re not, and you’re part of the massive worldwide family of which we are just a tiny fragment, I’m grateful for you too. One day we’ll meet, at the biggest party there’s ever been, and the odds are I’ll hit you in the face with a palm branch by mistake, and then we’ll raise a glass of “aged wine well refined” and share our redemption stories. See you then.
This is a series of posts about the authority of scripture. You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here.
Now, our doctrine of Scripture is, in common with all other doctrines essential to the faith, derived from Scripture itself. It does not require the philosophical seal of approval from men, no matter how devout or able they may be. For us, whatever God says is truth, for God is truth itself. He cannot lie. There are two classic places in the epistles of Paul where that doctrine is laid out clearly in all of its essentials.
1. I Corinthians 2:6-16 - From an epistle written very early on in Paul’s Apostolic Ministry
2. II Timothy 3:10 – 4:2 - From the very end of that ministry when Paul was facing imminent death. The consistency is amazing.
By the inspiration of scripture, we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit upon the scriptural writers which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or which resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God. This passage is one of the most important passages in the NT with regard to the relationship between the HS and the Word, resulting in the production of Holy Scripture. This passage is also one of the clearest we find anywhere in scripture detailing the process by which this result came about. It is fascinating that it occurs in a broader context discussing the contrast between God’s wisdom and human folly. We may base our religious convictions on only two alternatives: human speculative philosophy and divine revelation, sometimes a curious mixture of both. But we are not left to depend on the emptiness and only relative value of human philosophy, since God is a God of revelation. He has given to his people a ‘wisdom’ (Sophia) that is far superior to that which can be obtained from merely human resources. Three things about this wisdom:
Gk. Teleios, ‘the spiritually mature’; it is not for the unregenerate or mere babes in Christ who need milk not solid food. It is a childish or carnal thing to engage in when we dispute the wisdom of scripture.
Therefore it was long hidden to the unaided intellects of men. It is not a passing fashion in philosophy nor is it the world’s accumulated wisdom. Its source is entirely from God, secret unless revealed. And so we do not allow competitors or rivals, let alone imagined successors to be placed alongside of it in terms of its authority.
Gk. Doxa, for our ‘eschatological glorification’, dealing not just with the beginnings of the Christian life in justification, but the ongoing process of sanctification culmination in eternity at our glorification. There is a difference between our evangelistic message in winning converts and our Christian nurture of those same converts, between our kerugma and our didache. It is a serious thought that our spiritual development may be retarded or even halted by finding ourselves at odds with the teaching of Scripture.
The understanding of God’s total purpose for our lives individually and corporately can only come by revelation. The necessity of that revelation is spoken of in v.9 using a loose translation of Isaiah 64:4. It tells us of the completely inaccessible nature of this information to the unaided human intellect. It is
Check back next week for the next series in this post!
// Originally posted on Theology Matters //
The question of Authority has become an increasingly crucial issue to be faced today, since its absence, abandonment, or lack of clear basis, has thrown up huge intellectual and ethical problems both in the church and society in general. We live in an extremely anti¬authoritarian climate that has questioned the right and validity of all sorts of claims to truth and right to government over the lives and thoughts of free men. External authority is often refused recognition and obedience, in favour of accepting one’s own judgment as final. In this series we will look at this topic of the authority of Scripture.
We may define ‘authority’ simply in this way: Authority is a relational word. ‘It is the right to rule’, or more fully, ‘Authority is the right and power to command belief and/or action.’ Where it is accepted, authority is acknowledged by compliance and conformity. Without the right or permission to rule being granted, power becomes despotic and dangerous. Without the power to exercise it, authority becomes ineffectual and weak. Both power and authority are ultimately derived from God.
As Christians we believe that God has the right to determine what we are to believe and how we are to live and that furthermore, he has delegated both power and authority to men to enable them to operate in many spheres under his jurisdiction in order to bring about his will, the visible manifestation of his kingly rule. These areas would include such spheres as those that concern the authority of a husband in the home, of parents over their children, of the State over a nation, of teachers in a school and of the leaders in a church.
Governing the actions and conduct of all of these authoritative agents, working as they are by God’s appointment, direction and final control, should be the authority of God himself speaking in his Word. This is the Authority of Scripture. Without this, authority tends to become authoritarian. Authoritarianism appears when the submission demanded cannot be justified in terms of truth or morality. Scriptural truth alone warrants and sets proper limits to the exercise of legitimate authority – or as the apostles put it in a situation of tension involving the tyrannical governments of their day, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’ sight to obey you rather than God.’ (Acts 4:20)
But the matter of the Authority of Scripture itself arouses considerable contention and debate today. It would be no exaggeration to say that it is almost completely ignored in formerly Christian societies like America and Europe, largely because it has been significantly attacked and eroded within the Church itself in these nations.
For those of us in Newfrontiers, seen as both as local churches and as a movement, the conviction needs to be continually recovered and carefully maintained that Holy Spirit renewal and revival as well as Church reformation and restoration, cannot be long sustained without at the same time recovering and sustaining our belief in the Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, in the way that the Scriptures themselves define those terms. To us, it is plain that God does not primarily exercise authority in the direct fashion of speaking to us by his Spirit in prophecy and other leadings; he has supremely created for us a Book, the Bible. Because the Bible conveys his message, it carries the same weight God himself would command if he were speaking to us personally. It is where his voice is heard with the greatest clarity and the greatest authority. This can be said of nothing else, not even the gift of New Testament prophecy which is a mixed phenomenon of the human and the divine and requires testing in a way that the Holy Scriptures do not.
As Calvinists we share so much in common with other streams of Christianity. We affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, salvation by the atoning blood of Christ, the Creation as God’s handiwork, the availability of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit and so on. But one of the great distinctives of the Reformed faith is its vigorous adherence to Scripture. Of course we hold in common with many other evangelicals, belief in the full inspiration, infallibility, authority and inerrancy or scripture. But the Reformed tend to give it a prominence and priority lacking in many other systems.
We hold that our view of God and our faith in general is utterly dependent on the Bible, hence the priority of the Bible among us. It is foundational to our belief and practice.
Our foundation is not religious experience for that can be dangerously subjective even deceiving, and tends to set too much store by private revelation.
Nor is it based upon human reason. Indeed we mistrust reason given man’s fallen and frail nature and the moral culpability that causes men to ‘hold down the truth in unrighteousness’ as Paul puts it (Rom. 1:18ff), suppressing its claims and implications because they are unjust and in sin.
We are equally wary of human tradition, even religious tradition, because it tends, according to Jesus (Mk 7:8), to be so valued above the living word of God so as to eventually supplant it in the loyalties of men. Tradition is often transmitted by and filtered through the biases of sinful men and thus becomes ‘traditionalism’ – ‘Tradition is the living faith of those now dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of those now living.’ The Church is not our authority, nor do we submit finally to the authority of any individual within it. We have higher authority than that.
The Bible, by contrast, is God’s word, given by him, protected and preserved by him, and still speaking for him. Its final truth and its complete authority, finally depend on the fact that it has been given to us by God. Any of the subsequent investigations, discoveries or affirmations of men do not confirm this, for that would be to concede to mere men an authority on a par with or superior to, the authority of God himself. Instead we presuppose the existence of God and the fact that he has, as he himself has claimed, spoken to us in his Word. It would be an amazing arrogance on man’s part to insist that either God or his word stand in need of any verification other than the verification they both already possess by reason of their nature, and confirmed by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit himself, at work in the hearts of believing men and women.
Check back next week as we continue to look at this question of the authority of Scripture.
// Originally posted at Theology Matters //
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
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