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Q&A: Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?

Q. Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?

A. Confessions are good and have biblical precedent. Humans, however, are fallen and as 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” People are lovers of self rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:2-4). That is why there are problems with heterodoxy and heresy, even where there are solid confessions in place. Confessions may not keep false teaching from emerging but it is helpful to have them in place to quench the spread (like gangrene) of unhealthy teaching.

One lesson we learn from the prevalence of unhealthy belief and teaching is the importance of qualified leaders. It is vital that pastors/elders be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and correct opponents of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). We also see the important place of church discipline. The church is set apart as the light of the world and the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) if the truth is not proclaimed and protected by the church how dark will the darkness be?!

The second lesson is that churches must work hard to be watchful and stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). If someone is contradicting orthodox teaching and causing division then they should be removed from the church community (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10). The church is to be the set apart people of God (Eph. 1:4; 5:27). Thus, Paul writes “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).

Baptism

What does baptism mean? 

In Scripture, we see that believers are called to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16) but what does baptism mean? First, let’s consider the etymology; where the word came from and what it means. The English word “baptize” comes from the Greek word baptizo. Many believe that this word is correctly translated as “immerse” or “dip.” That is, in part, why we practice baptism by immersion. Also, submersion under water and raising out of it best pictures what baptism represents. What does baptism represent? Let’s look at Romans 6:3-8:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” 

Baptism is a proclamation of the believers union with Christ, in His death and resurrection. When the believer goes under the water it shows that in Christ they have died to sin. When they raise out of the water it shows they have been resurrected to a new pure (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11) life in Christ. Baptism is an outward sign of an inner reality. Baptism pictures many things.Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 11.41.43 PM

  • Death with Christ, death to sin 
  • Union with Christ
  • Identification with the body of Christ, the church 
  • Proclamation of the work of the Trinity (“In the Name of…” cf. Matt. 28:19) 
  • Purification, the washing away of sins
  • It looks forward to the resurrection, new creation, and going through the waters of judgment and being raised to new life justified

Should I be baptized? 

Like many areas of baptism, there has not been uniform understanding on who should be baptized. We believe, however, that a clear case can be made biblically and historically for believer’s baptism. “Believer’s baptism” means only those who believe in Jesus and repent of their sins should be baptized (i.e. credobaptism instead of paedobaptism).

We see no scriptural support leading us to believe that non-believers were baptized. On the other hand, we have clear scriptural support to baptize believers. Peter preaches in Acts chapter two and says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… So those who received his word were baptized” (38, 41 see also 8:12-13). 

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Is Jesus Really the Only Way?

A lot of people believe that all “good” people go to heaven.

“After all, isn’t being good[1] what really matters? If someone is good and sincere in their beliefs then they should go to heaven. Plus, aren’t all religions basically the same?”[2]

“How could a good God allow people to go to hell?”

However, it should be asked, does God want those people to go to hell?[3] And has God provided a way for them to be saved? The answer to the first question we’ll see is no[4] and the answer to the second question is yes.

First, Scripture repeatedly says things like God desires all humans to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Here are three more:

“The Lord is… not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?… For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezek. 18:23, 32).

“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).

So, God’s desire is for people to come to a knowledge of the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins and be saved. That is God’s desire. However, that’s not it.

Second, God has also provided the way of salvation. The one God has provided the one way of salvation through the man Christ Jesus who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

Imagine we were all on an island that a very wealthy and magnificent man owns. It is on fire and we all have to get off or we will die. Now, imagine that the owner of the island built a very large and sturdy bridge to the mainland so that people could escape. And in making the bridge he himself died.

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Why should we read the Bible?

Church Leadership

What is an elder? A biblical elder is a godly qualified man that labors and serves the local church through leadership and teaching. He meets all the qualifications outlined by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. He is an under-shepherd that seeks to exalt Christ in all he does. He is not the head of the church but seeks to faithfully carry out the will of Christ.
 
I believe the terms “pastor/shepherd” (poimen Eph. 4:11), “elder” (presbuteros Acts 14:23, 20:17, Titus 1:6), “overseer/bishop” (episkopos Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:2), and “minister” (diakonos 1 Timothy 3:8) all mean the same thing (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-3) and only serve to emphasis different aspects of an elder’s calling. Senior pastor, youth pastor, lead pastor, lay pastor are all contemporary terms. They may not be bad in themselves but are not biblical. They reflect contemporary culture more than they do biblical teaching. In this paper, I will be referring to the office as simply elder.
 
Why elders? Although the form of church government is nowhere commanded in the Bible, it at least clearly appears that in the majority of situations a plurality of qualified elders shepherded the church. This is seen from various places. In fact, I cannot think of a New Testament example where it appears that there was not at least two elders. Although there is no explicit text commanding this form of government we feel it is the best option since it appears that this is the form of government in the New Testament church.
 
Biblical examples of a plurality of elders. In the Old Testament we see examples of shared godly leadership. “Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people” (Ex. 18:25) as his father-in-law suggested. There are also other examples of elders in the Old Testament (Lev. 4:15; Ex. 3:16–18; Deut. 21:18–21; 27:1; 31:9; 2 Sam. 5:3; 1 Kings 20:7-8).
 
In the Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the “Statement on Church Government” “a foundation for strengthening the role of elders” is laid (p. 205). It is pointed out that 
 
“The synagogue was under the management of “elders” (Luke 7:1–5) who seem to have had disciplinary and administrative authority as well as religious…
Because of their heritage, New Testament leaders likely knew and used the synagogue models for the organization of the church… This might explain the fact that the New Testament gives no historical record of the institution of the eldership as it does with the Seven (Acts 6). Much of the church’s organization is assumed in the New Testament rather than argued… However, development in the church’s organization is found in the New Testament.
Christian elders are first mentioned in Acts 11:30 as an existing institution. It is possible that some of the first Christians were already (Jewish) elders and continued in a similar capacity in the early church… Throughout the Book of Acts the elders are seen to be leaders of the church (Acts 14:23, 15:2, 20:17, 21:18).”
All over the New Testament we see that churches didn’t have an elder (sg.) but elders (pl.) (cf. Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1; James 5:15). In fact, Paul didn’t think a church was as it should be until it had a plurality of elders (Titus 1:5). Paul left Titus in Crete that he “might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town.” The churches were therefore out of order it seems until a plurality of elders was established there. We also see shared leadership in various other New Testament passages (1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7,17,24 and Paul was almost always accompanied by another leader on his missionary journeys cf. for ex. Acts 13:1-5, 13; 14:14; 15:35-41; 16:3,19; 17:1,10,15-16; 18:2-3,18 not to mention Luke) so this teaching does not arrive from some isolated passage. Rather, we see a good case can be made for shared leadership, i.e., a plurality of elders.
 
What are the biblical qualifications for an elder? Paul gives a fairly long list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 yet his list is not exhaustive. An elder must be (1) above reproach, (2) a one woman man, (3) sober-minded, (4) self-controlled, (5) respectable, (6) hospitable, (7) able to teach, (8) in good standing with outsiders, (9) gentle, (10) able to manage his household well and have faithful children (or child), (11) disciplined, (12) upright, (13) holy, and (14) firm in the faith and thus able to teach, exhort, and rebuke (Titus 1:9). Further an elder must not be (15) addicted to substances, (16) violent, (17) argumentative, (18) greedy, (19) a new Christian, or (20) arrogant.
 
What is a deacon? The book of Acts tells us that the Apostles were dedicating so much time to serve tables that they didn’t have enough time to do what the Lord had called them to do and thus they had neglected “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Therefore, they appointed seven men that would serve the church’s needs and thus free up time for the Apostles (Acts 6:2-4). This, you could say, is the first installation of the office of deacon. It is here that we most clearly see the rule of deacons. They serve the external needs of the flock so that those entrusted with the task of ministering to the internal needs have the time to do so. That is not to say that deacons cannot also teach, they can (see Acts 6:5; 7:2-53) but their primary role is to serve the church to free the elders for prayer and the ministry of the word.
 
After Paul told Timothy what the qualifications for elders were he said, “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well (1 Tim. 3:8-13).
 
Therefore, although it is often confused, in Scripture deacons and elders have different but complementary roles. Elders are to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). The elders primary ministry is “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Whereas, for deacons there is no qualification regarding teaching because that is not their main responsibility, they serve the church in a different way.
 
The practical advantage to having biblical functioning deacons and elders is that it frees the elders up to do what they are called and responsible to do: pray and teach. It is also practical because you have the elders, i.e. overseers and shepherds, overseeing the direction of the church. This is significant because it is the elders and not the deacons that have been formally recognized to “hold firm to the trustworthy word” (Titus 1:9). Elders have proven themselves able in both character and scriptural wisdom to guide the church. Thus the office of elder and deacon is different but complementary.
 
What do elders do? To arrive at the precise function of this elder-overseer-shepherd we must look at various texts and descriptions. Elders are to protect (Acts 20:28–31), shepherd (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1–3), teach (Titus 1:9), anoint the sick (James 5:14), represent the congregation (Acts 11:30), and make policy decisions (Acts 15:6, 22). An elder is to intercede in prayer on behalf of people (Acts 6:4). He is to plead with people on behalf of God (Acts 6:1-7). He is to preach, teach, rebuke, and counsel with love and patience (2 Tim. 2:4; Col. 1:28-29). He is to oversee, lead, and protect the flock. In all of these things he is to humbly and happily serve (Jn. 13:14-15; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Those who labor especially hard at preaching and teaching are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).
 
Woman elders? Probably the most debated topic here is whether or not women can be elders. This post can only briefly discuss this subject.
I am convinced that Scripture does not allow women to hold the office of elder though there is a lot woman can do. We do not want to minimize the rule of woman, they are vital and a vast blessing to the church! For example Paul had woman co-laborers (cf. Rom. 16:1-15l Phil. 4:2,3). And I would like to see an increase in women practicing the teaching that Paul talks of in Titus 2:3-5.
 
Let’s briefly look at some of the relevant passages. First, an elder is supposed to be a one woman man (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:5) which a woman obviously cannot be. Second, Jesus set the precedence for male leadership because He called twelve men as His apostles (Lk. 6:13) although he had close relationships with women (e.g. Mary and Martha). Even when Judas’ spot as an apostle had to be filled only men were considered (Acts 1:24). This was in keeping with male leadership established at creation (cf. Gen. 2:18-25). Third, every passage in the New Testament that deals with marital relationships says that a wives should submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:1,4,5; 1 Peter 3:1-6). This should lead us away from saying that wives submitting to their husbands was merely based on the cultural context. Further, Paul takes us all the way back to Genesis in his argument, which in my opinion means that woman submitting to their husbands is not just a cultural mandate. It is rather the way it was from the beginning. If Paul says that woman should not exercise authority over men in the context of the church and grounds it in Genesis than he applies it to various churches in his own day and various cultures. If what Paul says holds true from Genesis to his own day than it surly applies to ours as well (Gen. 2:20-23; 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 14:34-38; 1 Tim. 2:11-14).
 
Of course, submission does not mean that women are any less than men in person or character; only that they have a different role. Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God. Similarly, Jesus is not any less than God His Father yet they have different roles. Jesus submits to His Father (Jn. 3:35; 8:21-47; 14:41; 17:1-5; 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:24-28).
 
Practical advantages to a biblically qualified plurality of elders. A qualified plurality of elders is very practical in the life of the church. First, there are many advantages to qualified leadership. If the elders are biblically qualified than the church should have mature and loving Christians leading the direction of the church rather than some who may be less spiritually mature. If elders are holy and able to teach than they should have biblical wisdom and be able to make good decisions for the church. On the other hand, if the general members are making the majority of the decisions then at least some new Christians (contra 1 Tim. 3:6) will be influential in guiding the direction of the church.
 
Second, a plurality of leadership is helpful for accountability. I, for instance, have been under two pastors that fell to grave sin and left their families and church. They were the sole pastor of their church and didn’t have the accountability that they should have. I believe that if they had fellow elders to encourage them and keep them accountable things may have been very different. A plurality of leadership is also very helpful in decision making. The Proverbs attest to this: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” and “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; cf. 10:17; 12:15; 19:20; 20:18; 24:6; Eccl. 9:17-18).
 
Conclusion. Although there is not a formal command saying that churches must have a plurality of qualified leaders I believe that it is in fact the most biblical model and thus it the best and has the most practical advantages.

A Prayer Thanking God for Adoption in Christ

Father, we thank You that through Jesus Christ we can come to You as Father.
We thank You that we have been adopted through Jesus and are even fellow heirs with Him. Because if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
We thank You that to all those who have believed in Jesus’ name,
You have given the right to become children of God.
And we acknowledge that we are born not of natural origin, nor of human will,
but we are born anew by Your will.
It is You God who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world for adoption.
God, we thank You for sending Your Son,
to redeem us that we might receive adoption to sonship.
We thank You also for the Holy Spirit.
We know and rejoice that those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. We thank You that the Spirit we have received brought about our adoption to sonship.
And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
O’ God we thank You.
We are amazed that You God care for us and welcome us in through Jesus.
We are amazed that You, the Lord Almighty, say that You will be a Father to us,
and we will be Your sons and daughters.
You, the LORD, are the One who defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow.
And You are our God, and through Christ Jesus, You are our Father.
We confess together that we do not count on anyone or anything else to save us.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made,
for in You the fatherless find compassion.
God, we trust You.
You are the One who cares for us.
We trust You who we cannot see,
and not what we can see.
You God, are our good Father.
It is those who hope in You, LORD, who will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
So Father, we trust in You.
As Your children, we know we need You.
LORD, we know it is You that watches over us,
but You frustrate the ways of the wicked.
You see our trouble when we are afflicted;
You consider our grief and take it in hand.
And so, we commit ourselves to You;
You are the helper of the fatherless.
We come to You Father, in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Some of the most significant theological books I have read…

Here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the most significant theological books I have read.*

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*This is a personal list of books that helped me in a particular way at a particular time. This is not a list on the best and most significant theological books; that list would look different.

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