Monthly Archives: September 2011
“The Holy Spirit of God, in and through the word of God, establishes and strengthens the people of God.” David Helm
“God’s Spirit uses God’s word!” Mark Dever
What does a person need to advance in Christ-likeness; to move forward as a disciple?
We in the United States have so many resources and opportunities to facilitate gospel growth, and yet what do we have to show for it? In some cases there is much fruit to behold.
But we have many Bibles in many translations – do we need more when some have no Bible in their language? We have more books than anyone can read – except maybe Albert Mohler. We have instant access to the most gifted and successful pastors, leaders and speakers via the Internet. We have the best conferences and the ability to attend them. We have freedom to gather, fellowship, edify, teach and worship.
But are we any better off than the First Century Christians like Timothy?
Here’s a verse that jumped out at me as we have been methodically preaching through the book of Acts.
“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, name Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman (2 Tim. 1:5) who was a believer, but his father was Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium (20 miles a part).”
What’s here that’s worth a blog?
Consider this: Paul, on the First Missionary Journey, came through Lystra around 47 A.D. and preached the gospel. Timothy and his mother came to faith in Christ either during Paul’s mission through Lystra or shortly thereafter. Paul then returned to Antioch and spent “a long time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:28) He then made a trip to Jerusalem (331 miles) to solve a dispute with those who said the gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Custom of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1). After an undisclosed amount of time he came back to Antioch with Barnabas, Silas and Judas and stayed in Antioch teaching and preaching the word of the Lord (Acts 15:35). Around 49 A.D. Paul then decides to take Silas with him and go back to see the churches he planted on the First Missionary Journey.
Let’s suppose then that Paul returns to Lystra around 49 to 50 A.D. That means it has been anywhere from two to three years since Timothy has come to faith in Christ, and Timothy has not only come to faith in Christ but he has matured to the point that he is “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.” Remember Paul was run out of Iconium by Jews and stoned in Lystra because of the Jews. It seems likely that Timothy and other believers would have faced some opposition for their faith (2 Tim. 3:12). But not only does he possess gospel-character, but Paul sees potential in Timothy and wants to take him as a disciple and partner for the gospel. Consider for a moment that Paul refused to take another young guy (John Mark) with him on the Acts 16 journey.
Paul hasn’t been to Lystra in over two years and Timothy has gone from a newborn Christian to a maturing disciple. What did Timothy have that would cause him to grow in this potentially hostile environment?
- Timothy had the gift of salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). Timothy was indwelt by and empowered by the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11).
- Timothy had enough Spirit-inspired scripture. By this time, Timothy might have had access to Paul’s letter to the Galatian Churches, which would have been written around 48 A.D. at Antioch (Acts 14:27-28). Additionally, he also had some of Paul’s apostolic teaching since it was Paul that planted these churches and strengthened them on his way back to Antioch. And finally, Timothy no doubt had at least some of the Law and the Prophets.
- Timothy had the local church. On the way back through the cities of the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (Acts 14:23). That is worth stopping and thinking about because it means Paul won some disciples on the way through and then on the return trip had enough time to disciple them to be able to meet the standard of 1 Timothy 3:1-7. But the main point is that Timothy had a prescriptive biblical leadership that is an authenticator of a true New Testament Church.
What else did he have? I don’t know. But I am certain he had these three basic things and my guess is that this is about all that he had and needed.
We have programs, curricula, facilities, conferences, podcasts, elaborate strategies, marketing and every other 21st Century Advantage you can imagine. We have redeemed much of the culture to engage the culture and yet I wonder if we are any better off. I wonder whether we aren’t distracted by many of things that are not essential. It may be true that a lot of our disciple-making endeavors are culturally missional and it may be true that they are not bad things and they may be even helpful things, but they are no good to us if we abandon the essential components of God’s plan.
Whatever we do in the Christian life to make disciples, we cannot forget that God gave us the gift of salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Christ. He gave us the scriptures and the apostolic teaching. He gave us the local church with gifted leaders.
It was that simple and it is that simple, and it seems to have been enough for Timothy.
I’m not against all the things we do today. As a matter of fact, I like a lot of it and have benefited from it. I just think we need to think long and hard about whether we are distracted from necessary biblical things by lesser things. God gave Timothy enough, do we need more?
Some things are important enough to get worked up about. Most things probably are not.
Most of what people get riled about in Christianity is superficial, distracting the church and even hurting the unity and the mission of the church. Choosing what battles to fight and having a paradigm to discern what we ought to prioritize is important so we don’t elevate our agenda and preferences above God’s Will and the good of others. Many times, what someone likes is the motivation for what they approve or don’t. Affinity is not irrelevant, but it can’t be what drives us (Romans 15:1-7).
It’s not wrong to have an opinion. It can be wrong to hold an opinion in such a way so as undermine the clear teachings of the Bible. We need to know the difference between what the Bible holds as first importance and what we think is first importance because that’s the way we like it.
People seem to especially struggle in discerning the difference between theology and methodology. Methodology is important, but not more important than Theology. Theology drives methodology. But sometimes we are more concerned about how something gets done than the substance of what is taught and done.
The point is simply this: Know what’s worth fighting about and for and leaving a church over. Most of the time people don’t. If you have to fight and disagree, do it with humility and love. It’s hard, but doable.
One other thought. A lot of leadership decisions are decisions about opinion and preference. This must be acknowledged by the leader and the people who are to follow the leader (Hebrews 13:17). A leader must be able to lead and a leader must be able to trust God that when he/she makes a decision, that the method or preference is something that is best for God’s people and God’s glory. The leader must also be willing to admit that his preference is not God’s word and may not be best for God’s people and therefore God’s glory. Leaders have to be able to lead and a lot of leading happens in the gray areas of opinions and preferences.
Which begs the question: “If a person doesn’t agree with the leader, is it the person who disagrees or the leader that’s being stubborn and unwilling to give?” A suggestion: “We might then look to God’s people, and let them decide.” If there is a groundswell of dissent against the leader’s leadership preference, the leader should pay attention and retreat. But if the people of God (local church) seem to understand the choice(s) and support the leader, it might be time for the the dissenting person to submit to the leader and the people of God. On occasion we might find a Jeremiah situation, but God does speak through the people of God. God has ingeniously put in a series of checks and balances to protect His plan, the Church – The Bible, The Holy Spirit, Biblical Leaders, the office of Congregant – if you find yourself fighting all, then you are……..?
Here are some categories from Albert Mohler (He Is Not Silent; Preaching in a Postmodern World) for discerning what we should disagree about and how we should disagree. It’s this simple and then it isn’t. But at least it provides a reference point for thinking and acting.
Primary Doctrines: These doctrines are essential to distinguish the true gospel from false gospels (Gal. 1:8-9.) They include: The Trinity, the person of Christ, the character of God, the sinfulness of man, the atonement of Christ and the necessity of faith as the proper response to the gospel of Jesus. We must be willing to fight for doctrines like these and even break fellowship/partnership over them. Example: 2 John 1:7
Secondary Doctrines. These doctrines are essential to church life and necessary for ordering the local church for effective gospel witness, but do not change the true gospel. This is why we have denominations. We can still be brothers/sisters, but disagree on issues like infant baptism, church governance, cessation of miraculous gifts, etc.
Opinions and Preferences. Ideas that are not clear and not worth dividing over because they don’t compromise the gospel or limit church effectiveness. Examples: Music Style, ministry methods, homeschooling, use of technology, use of money, etc. Too many people split churches and leave churches because of this category.
These categories require a thorough knowledge of the Bible, and must be applied with much prayer and wisdom. They provide a way of thinking about what is worth fighting and dividing over and what hurts the church because we make our own preferences and opinions more important than they really are. Even when we have these categories to help us, we still have to pray for humility and wisdom. After all, it’s both amazing and troubling to think about history and remember what people have made to be the will of God. The Crusades still haunt us today.