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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The Christian And Alcohol

overchilled wine

Burning Question:  How does the church view members who drink alcohol?

The issue of beverage alcohol as it relates to the life of the Christian has been a topic of much debate and disagreement within Christian circles today.  On one extreme is a position of libertarianism which holds that our freedom in Christ grants us the privilege to enjoy life on our terms . . . of course, to those who hold this position, the drinking of alcohol is a non-issue.  On the other extreme is a position of legalism which treats the drinking of beverage alcohol just a little lower than masquerading as Satan himself . . . those who hold this position often miss the heart of God as they focus solely on the “rules” of the Christian life.

What is often missing in this conversation, however, is the quality of objectivity.  In other words, those who evaluate this issue often begin the discussion from the starting point of their own views and only turn to the Bible when it supports their view.  What I believe is most healthy is to let Scripture speak for itself, then we as believers make necessary adjustments to what Scripture has said.  It is extremely important, however, that we examine Scripture regarding what it explicitly states and regarding what it implicitly implies.

So, the Bible does not state that the drinking of beverage alcohol is a sin (score one point for the libertarians!)  Yes, it is true that Jesus turned water into wine (2-0).  Yes, wine is mentioned in numerous places in the Bible (current score: Libertarians 3, Legalists 0).

When we take the time to examine how the Bible speaks of beverage alcohol, we find that the picture it paints, however, is not necessarily a good one.  Proverbs 20:1 speaks of the lack of wisdom associated with one who is intoxicated by wine and strong drink (don’t think “intoxicated” in this passage specifically refers to .08 blood alcohol content.  Any beverage alcohol affects one’s mental and physical capacities in a negative rather than a positive way).  Proverbs 23:30-35 references in no uncertain terms the damaging and dominating effects of beverage alcohol to such a degree that the admonition in verse 31 is to not even look at it.  Proverbs 31:4-5 gives strong admonition for kings and leaders to leave beverage alcohol alone (perhaps this explains some recent governmental decisions in our country, wink wink!) Combining these passages with the current state of our culture shows that Proverbs has hit the nail on the head . . . alcoholism, drunk driving, and abuse are just a few of the negative ramifications of not avoiding beverage alcohol today.  At its core, even our culture understands this because we allow a young soldier to legally risk his life in our military at the age of 18 but do not allow that same young soldier to take a drink with his buddies until he is 21 in most states.

So it would seem pretty clear that, based on the debilitating and addictive nature of beverage alcohol and these admonitions from Scripture, wisdom would dictate that avoidance is the best policy.

Another perspective that must be considered by the follower of Christ is the perspective of witness.  Does engaging in drinking of beverage alcohol strengthen or weaken one’s witness for Christ as Healer, Life-giver, Savior, and Lord?  Can one knock back a cold one while sharing the Gospel with a lost neighbor and expect to be heard?  Can one teach a Bible study and pause between Bible verses to take a drink without compromising their witness to others in the process?  Does the drinking of beverage alcohol in a public setting risk bringing harm to another who may be privately wrestling with breaking the hold of alcohol in their own life?  Does the drinking of alcohol privately not put one in a position of causing another to stumble or struggle if asked by a teenager, for example, whether or not they drink?  For me as a pastor, would I be more willing or less willing to see real ministry impact through my life if I decided to drink beverage alcohol?  Should others view pastors differently in this area than they view themselves as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)?

Paul unapologetically makes the point of putting certain things away for the sheer sake of our witness in Romans 14.  In that context, the discussion centered around whether to eat meat sacrificed to idols . . . choosing to do so had begun to negatively affect others who could not partake due to their conscience.  However, it easily fits into the discussion regarding beverage alcohol today (in fact, wine is even mentioned specifically in the passage.)  So Paul makes the argument in Romans 14:13, Romans 14:15, and in Romans 14:21 that the proper choice as it relates to witness and causing another to stumble is to abstain.

See, when we place the weight upon the Gospel that we should and when we understand that our lives are not our own but that we have been bought with a price . . . when we understand that a lost world is looking at us from the outside to see what a holy, righteous, set apart life looks like . . . and when we understand what it means to deny and die to self daily (Luke 9:23) for the sake of following Christ . . . and when we understand that the culture in which we live today in this 21st century of life is a culture that is ravaged by the effects of alcohol, then it becomes easier to see that the wise choice and the choice that enhances rather than compromises our witness is the choice to abstain from drinking beverage alcohol.

How does the church view those who drink alcohol?  Hopefully without contempt or bitterness.  But, perhaps the better question would be, “How do those who drink alcohol view their Christian family, the lost community, and the church?”

Evangelism vs. Discipleship

Even scales icon

Even scales icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burning Question:  What is the balance between evangelism and discipleship?

This question, turned in recently as part of our Burning Questions series, is a question that every local church ministry must deal with.  I title this entry “Evangelism vs. Discipleship” not because of the question (which is actually worded very well) but because some view evangelism and discipleship as “either/or”.  According to the Bible, evangelism and discipleship are treated as “both/and”.

In the passage known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus’ perspective is one of evangelism and discipleship.  This passage could actually be used as much as a rallying point for believers and churches to engage in discipleship just as much as it is used to call us to evangelism.  Jesus’ reference to “all the nations” (v.19) aims us outward in evangelism, but His references to “make disciples” (v.19) and to teach new believers to observe and obey His commands (v.20) are clearly emphasizing the real need to nurture new believers in their faith, which is discipleship.

Acts 2:41-42 also shows such a great balance in the early church in Jerusalem.  There was a natural step from evangelism to discipleship and the result was that Christianity rocked the world.

At First Baptist Church of the Islands, our mission statement summarizes what we aim to accomplish in four simple words:  Know, Grow, Show, and Go.  It is under the heading of GROW that we seek to provide opportunities for believers to mature in their walks with God.  This is the discipleship function of our church.  It is under the heading of GO that we seek to provide training and opportunities for believers to GO with the Gospel and to share the life-changing, eternity-altering message of the cross.  From a local church perspective, these two functions are where the rubber meets the road.  Success in our mission is rarely defined by how many attend morning worship services but rather by how many people are truly being reached and matured regarding faith in Christ.

Every church should prioritize these two extremely important functions of evangelism and discipleship.  They never compete with one another but rather fit hand-in-hand.  As people are introduced to Christ in salvation (evangelism), they are then nurtured and cared for (discipleship) in order to grow in their relationship with Christ.  Never a 50/50 balance (or even a 60/40 or some other ratio).  Rather, it should be a 100/100 balance of reaching out with the Gospel and reaching in to disciple new believers in their relationship with the Lord.

By the way, this is not something that we each sit back and wait for the “institutional” church to accomplish.  Every individual believer contributes to make the church what it is.  Our Christian life gets very exciting when we use it to GO with the Gospel and when we invest it to help others GROW deeply in their walk with God!

Voices and Hands

MercyMe

MercyMe (Photo credit: susieq3c)

Burning Question:  Why is the church so quiet and no acknowledging of God’s Word with “Amens” and raising of hands?”

As a collection of individuals who have their faith in and surrender to Christ as their common bond, every local church has its own personality.  Usually, this personality is experienced pretty quickly by those who visit.  Some churches are very warm and hospitable while others are  . . . ahem, a bit cooler, for example!  Wrapped up in a church’s personality is also what could be called a “style of worship”.  Not so much style as it relates to music selection, but rather how a church expresses worship to God.

You may have worshipped with churches that were very expressive in worship and engaged in an almost ongoing conversation with the speaker or pastor throughout the message.  I remember my first experience with this in a small church where I served on staff years ago.  One man in particular, who had such a genuine passion for Christ, was not at all shy about voicing his approval when the pastor made a strong statement worthy of consideration.  You have to be careful here, though, because pastors have a tendency to speak longer when there are a lot of affirmations from those listening . . . kind of like “sic ’em” to a bulldog, if you know what I mean!

Actually, there is some biblical evidence of this kind of thing in the Bible.  Nehemiah 8:6 speaks of how the people lifted their hands and proclaimed “Amen, Amen!” in response to Ezra’s reading of God’s Word.  And this was a little over 400 years before the New Testament church was implemented.

So why not more affirmations and hands raised in church today?  It may have a lot to do with the personality and  worship style of that church family.  It may have something to do with the individuals actually in the worship service and whether they are close to or far from God, whether they are engaged or distracted, whether or not they are still captivated by the incredible-ness (yes, incredible-ness!) of the Gospel and the mere fact that God has adopted them as His own.

Probably any pastor or speaker would say that it is a real encouragement to hear and see people engaged as they hear God’s Word proclaimed, but it is not an absolute necessity.  We have to remember that God is not impressed with any outward expression of our worship.  He always has and still today looks at the heart.  What matters most is that the heart is engaged authentically as one worships God and responds to the proclaiming of His Word.

Polygamy and the Bible

Random Numerals

Random Numerals (Photo credit: andymangold)

Burning Question:  Why are “great men of the Bible” in the Old Testament permitted to marry many women when God’s design is for one man and one woman to be joined as one flesh?

What a great question!  This is probably a question that many have wondered, at least from a curiosity standpoint.  But let me mention that even though this is not an issue that is prevalent in our country today, it is an issue on the mission field.  With that in mind, you may appreciate the humble approach of John Piper here.

Some of the greatest and most prominent men of Scripture actually had more than one wife at one time.  The most obvious examples would be Solomon (with a whopping 700 wives from a variety of backgrounds) and his father, David (who had at least 8 wives and some believe as many as 12)!  But just because a practice is captured on the pages of Scripture does not mean that God condones or directs that practice to take place.  In Genesis 4 for example, Scripture tells of Cain’s murder of his own brother, Abel.  We never equate the inclusion of this horrific sin in Scripture as God’s permission to commit murder.  So, just because polygamy is referenced in Scripture and just because some of the “heroes” of the Old Testament practiced polygamy does not imply that God was in favor of it.

In fact, Deuteronomy 17:17 gives God’s specific command not to multiply wives and even includes His warning of what will happen if one doesn’t follow His command.  Sadly, Solomon’s life is Exhibit A as to the truth of God’s warning (see 1 Kings 11:3-4).  And we can’t afford to forget the very structure of marriage which God put in place back in Genesis 2:24, that marriage is comprised of one man and one woman.

Does God allow a person to make their own choice and commit sin?  Yes, He does.  We have been created with the will to choose whether we will obey or disobey Him.  Does God ever condone sin, including polygamy?  No, He doesn’t.