Why Not Use The Apocrypha?

Burning Question:  Why is it that we have the specific 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, but ignore the Apocrypha and other “gospels” and “epistles”?

For those who come from a Catholic background, there is often greater familiarity with the Apocrypha than for those from a Protestant background.  What exactly is the Apocrypha?  In a simple explanation, it is a collection of books written by men but without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Some of the books contain doctrinal and historical inconsistencies and others are outright heretical in their content.  Though the Roman Catholic church includes the Apocrypha as part of Scripture, the Protestant church does not.

In the Catholic church, some of the more aberrant theological positions that are found nowhere in the Old or New Testaments (prayers for the dead, justification by faith plus works, etc.) are supported by the Apocrypha.  However, the books of the Apocrypha should not be considered as part of inspired Scripture.  According to notable theologian Wayne Grudem in his book Systematic Theology (p. 59), this is so for the following reasons:

1)  The books of the Apocrypha do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the Old Testament writings;

2)  The books of the Apocrypha were not believed to be God’s Word by the Jewish people from whom they originated;

3)  The books of the Apocrypha were not considered to be God’s Word by Jesus or the New Testament authors;

4)  The books of the Apocrypha contain teachings  that are inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.

In addition to the Apocrypha, we sometimes hear of other books claiming to be considered God’s Word.  Sometimes these are presented as the “lost” books of the Bible or the “other” books of Scripture.  We must keep in mind that the canon of Scripture is closed.  We can have complete confidence that the 39 books which comprise the Old Testament and the 27 books which comprise the New Testament are the only books rightly considered to be “God’s Word”.

Interestingly, the Bible supports itself internally as God’s Word.  In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Greek word “graphe” is translated for us as “Scripture”.  Each time this Greek word is used in the New Testament (over 50 times), it refers to the Old Testament writings.  So Paul is saying in this verse that the Old Testament is God-breathed, or inspired by God, and this inspiration did not include the writings of the Apocrypha.  Obviously, we can also see this passage as supportive of the New Testament, as well.

Concerning the New Testament, 2 Peter 3:15-16 affirms the inspiration of the New Testament as Peter equates Paul’s letters with God’s Word.  1 Timothy 5:18 also affirms the inspiration of the New Testament books as Paul affirms Jesus’ words with Scripture.  The Old Testament prophets often recorded or spoke “the word of the Lord”.  Again, in each of these instances, the writings of the Apocrypha were not included but only that which we consider to be the 66 books of Scripture.

Do not be led astray when new voices today claim new inspiration on level with Scripture.  Whether a counter-Christian cult group that embraces “another” book of authority outside of the Bible, a popular preacher claiming a “new” word from God, or a New York Times bestseller that puts outside writings on level with Scripture, remember that we only have one Word of God.  Thankfully, well translated and presented in 66 books written by over 40 human authors across a span of approximately 1500 years, inspired by the One, True God with the overarching theme of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

So what are you waiting for . . . go read it today!

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Deacons

Burning Question:  Is there a biblical reason that women cannot be deacons?

For most churches, part of their organizational structure includes not only a pastor or pastors, but also deacons.  Across denominational lines, practices vary as to who “qualifies” to serve as a deacon.  Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the qualifications for deacon pertains to whether the position is open to women as well as men.

First of all, the Bible makes it very clear in Genesis 1:27 and elsewhere that men and women have been created equally in the image of God (that started with God, not Thomas Jefferson!).  However, the Bible seems to draw distinct conclusions as to certain limitations as it relates to leadership within the local church.  Passages such as 1 Timothy 3:8-13 speak of the expectations of a deacon and these expectations also include certain understandings.  One is that the deacon is to be a man specifically, as we see in verse 8 (“men of dignity”), verse 10 (“men“), and verse 12 (“husbands of only one wife”).

Understandably, there has been much discussion about this topic of whether women are biblically allowed to serve in the position of deacon.  Some very well-respected evangelical leaders who hold to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture come down on opposite sides of the fence in relating to this topic.  Sadly, this discussion in our evangelical culture today has often evolved into outright hostility with both men and women giving full vent to their anger.  What is often lost in the rhetoric is that God has all right to place parameters upon the leadership structure of the local church.  These parameters have nothing to do with who can do a job better (every believer has unique gifts and equipping by the Holy Spirit).  These parameters also have nothing to do with whether one gender is any better than another (for all are created equally in the image of God).  It would seem, however, that the parameters God sets for pastors and deacons traces back to the creative order in Genesis 1-2.  It is there that God places the man in a position of leadership and accountability and this placement is affirmed in the New Testament in Ephesians 5:23.

In the end, we are all called to serve others and to serve God.  Whether or not a title is attached to that service is not nearly as important as whether we render that service with joy and humility.

Gluttony and Romans 14

Burning Question:  Why is it that churches tend to overlook gluttony?  With the obesity epidemic going on in this country and the challenges that believers and nonbelievers face regarding this issue, should we (believers) address this issue during our fellowship times and the grand feasts that accompany them?

Sometimes finding balance can be a challenging thing.  The tension in dealing with the gluttony issue is that it involves the overuse of something (food) which is a daily necessity in our lives.  This sets it up as a challenging issue in a very unique way.  Overuse of cigarettes carries no challenge . . . cigarettes will kill you via lung cancer or any other variety of ways, so the amount of use is not up for debate.  Wisdom dictates that they be avoided.  Overuse of alcohol leads to drunkenness and a wide variety of dangers to the drinker and any who cross their path.  Alcohol is not a daily necessity and if it is, there are bigger issues to be addressed!  But the challenge with gluttony is that the one who struggles with it can never remove themselves from the temptation . . . a person has to eat to live.  Herein lies the tension.  So how does a church address the issue of gluttony and where is the balance between offering fulfillment to one’s need (food) even in the context of fellowship, yet not causing a person who struggles to be unduly tempted?

Romans 14:13-23 would seem to speak into the situation when it states that we are not to cause a brother (fellow believer) to stumble and be tempted for the sake of something we do not find offensive.  The context here is not specifically a reference to food in general but to food that had been offered to idols which, in a first century context, carried the notion that one was partaking in idol worship by eating the leftovers of what had been offered to the false gods.  There was a lot of baggage associated with eating this food.  Paul says that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating that food because false idols are not even gods at all.  However, if eating the food caused issues for a weaker believer, then just abstain out of love for the weaker brother in Christ.  Harming a man’s walk with God is not worth the 120 seconds of tasty goodness that would come from eating some leftover food from a pagan worship service!

For us today, this context is not so much the point.  I haven’t noticed any daily specials on leftover idol-meat in the butcher department at Publix.  So how do we balance showing love for one who may struggle with gluttony while providing a daily necessity (food) in a way that facilitates fellowship?  After all, there is something incredibly bonding about sharing a meal with others and you even see this in the New Testament (think Lord’s Supper here!)  Even more, at what point is the “struggler” responsible to manage their decisions and how far does a church go to be mindful of their need?  Does a church disallow women in attendance because of the presence of men who struggle with lust?  Does a church refrain from passing an offering plate because of the presence of redeemed thieves who once stole before they met Jesus?  You may think, “Ok Brooks, you’re getting sarcastic now!” but really, I am just painting a picture of the tension that surrounds this.

So what are some options?   Here are a few to consider . . . we can call it “food for thought” (pun intended):

1.  Consider the inclusion of certain healthy food choices for those who desire to fellowship around the table but want to be conscious of their food choices.  At FBCI, we often have fruit, yogurt, bottled water, and other options available during this time between our two morning worship services;

2.  Provide the fellowship in a setting where it is not mandatory that one attend.  At FBCI, this location is in our fellowship hall and falls between our two morning worship services.  It is in an “out-of-the-way” location and certainly does not require that one attend between the services;

3.  Be mindful that food is not a necessity for fellowship.  Regardless of popular belief, “food, fun, and fellowship” should not be the mission statement of the local church!  We can enjoy one another without food or drinks and should keep this in mind when planning events.

Gluttony is an often-overlooked challenge for some and our culture reflects that.  Perhaps we can keep in mind the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.  Even though we are each individuals, we are also all “one” in the body of Christ.  Sometimes loving our brother means we adjust some things for the sake of others, not just in the area of food but in other areas, as well.