A Little Time With The 1689: Day 276

Day 276

Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day.

Chapter 22, Paragraph 5.

“…Preaching, and hearing the word of God,…”

Scripture Lookup

2 Timothy 4:2

Luke 8:18

Reflection

Sermons. Sitting and listening to someone talk. To the unenlightened mind, it is one of the most boring parts of a church service. That is why “seeker-sensitive” churches present a “message” with rapid-fire delivery and lots of movement by the preacher. On special occasions, there is no sermon at all, making way for special music, children’s performances, and other exciting events.

Yet preaching, when done correctly, is a strenuous act. It is commanded by the word of God, calling the preacher to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 2:4). More than just someone’s opinion on what Scripture has to say, preaching takes a text from the Bible, clarifies it, and points the listener to worship and obey the great God whose word it is. Because Scripture is most necessary to know the truth and to comfort and establish the Church, preaching should never be allowed to take a backseat to anything else in the worship service.

Rather than waiting for a sermon to end, the Christian ought to examine the Scriptures and listen intently. Yes, listening to a sermon takes work on our part as we reflect on what is being preached. Rather than filling tickling ears with what we want to hear, the sound preaching of the Word nourishes our souls with what we need to grow in holiness. Proper handling of the Bible by the preacher is God speaking to us through His word. The preaching of the Word should be central in our churches. Instead of dozing off, we should be eager to hear what He has to say.

Questions to Consider

  • With what attitude are you listening to your pastor’s sermons?

 

The Recipients of the Gospel (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART II – THE MESSENGERS AND THE RECIPIENTS

Lesson Five: The Recipients of the Gospel

So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Philippians 2:15; NASB).

 

In the world. When Christians in the West consider the work of evangelism, we often think of it in terms of outreach and church growth. As such, the primary focus is often placed upon getting youth and young adults through the doors of the church. We think of the man-on-the-street style of evangelism that most of us have seen on YouTube and other places. We think of knocking on doors, asking our waiters and waitresses how we might pray for them and leaving them a gospel tract with their tip, and having smoke break, coffee break, and water cooler conversations at work. In other words, our focus in much of our talk of evangelism is outward focused.

Today, I’d like to make the argument that evangelism rightly understood ought to be focused both outside the walls of the church and inside them. First, let us consider those outside the church. These are the most obvious recipients of our evangelistic efforts. It is most clearly modeled for us by the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles. We see not long after Pentecost and the gospel being brought to the Jews that it was soon brought to the Samaritans (Acts 8:1,4-25) and the Gentiles as well (Acts 8:26-38; Acts 10:9-48). This expansion of the kingdom of God beyond the borders of Judea was in keeping with Christ’s words:

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come,” (Mt. 24:14; NASB).

And…

“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations,” (Mk. 13:10; NASB).

As Gentiles living in a predominantly Gentile nation, we must recognize that our mere presence in this land is a fulfillment of Christ’s commission to take the gospel to the nations. When we leave our gatherings on the Lord’s Day and go into our homes, the marketplace, and our workplaces, we are going into the kingdom of man. We are entering the nations and bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. We are on mission, witnesses of Christ Jesus in our own context.

We see this idea expressed in Luke’s account of the Great Commission. Matthew is not the only apostle to have recorded the Great Commission for us. In Luke’s account, we see a bit more of Christ’s intent for the gospel. In Matthew’s account, Matthew highlights Christ’s command that we go into all nations in order to make disciples. In Luke’s account in Acts, we get a little more specificity.

7He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,’” (Acts 1:7-8; NASB).

The church was commissioned not merely to go into every nation, but into “even the remotest part of the earth” in order to make disciples. We see in some denominations today a push to plant churches only in urban centers like Dallas, Chicago, New York, Paris, London, etc. Jesus did not only command that the gospel penetrate the urban centers of the nations in which we sojourn, but that it should be taken even to the remote pioneer locations like West Texas, rural China, the mountains of Chile, and even to tribes whose languages we’ve yet to learn.

Christ taught not to forbid even little children from coming to Him. He likened forbidding a child from coming to Him to forbidding every citizen of His kingdom from doing so, because “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it,” (Mark 10:15; NKJV). All who come to Christ are to believe in Him and trust in Him just like a little child. This is one reason we should not be opposed to properly ordered children’s ministries, like catechism classes, as are some in the church. We must labor to minister the gospel to the children in our midst. This is also why fathers and mothers must preach the gospel to and catechize their children. Do you have children at home? There should be no space in your home where the gospel is not being preached.

Are you the only true Christian, or one of only a few true Christians, in your workplace? You have an opportunity there to help your coworkers to understand the lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives and to, Lord-willing, be used of Him to make disciples in that very particular context. What other contexts might lend themselves to the making of disciples? Local political organizations, college classes, sports teams, scout troops, home school communities, etc. For our context, these are our “remotest parts.” Should the gospel have no representation in them? Should these be considered “safe spaces” from our witness to Christ?

In our midst. Certainly, we are called to make disciples of those who are outside of the church. Our gospel ministry does not stop there, though. We are also called to minister the gospel in our midst. Consider the words of Paul as he instructed the church at Corinth on the topic of Christian liberty.

19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you,” (1Cor. 9:19-23; NKJV).

Paul did not merely assume that all of his readers, by virtue of the fact that they were members of a local church, were necessarily saved. This is a common mistake we often make in Reformed churches today. We just assume that everyone is already a believer merely because they profess to be so. On the contrary, Paul encouraged the church at Corinth: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified,” (2 Corinthians 13:5; NKJV). He didn’t just assume that they must necessarily be in the faith.

This is the reason why he wrote three entire chapters on the church’s use of Christian liberty. We are to practice our liberty in Christ with joy and liberality, but also with love toward our weaker brothers. If by our lack of caution and concern for our weaker brothers we cause them to stumble, we might also by the same act prove that we were never truly saved. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:27; NKJV). Therefore, all of us—teachers and disciples—are called to self-examination. We’re all called to make our calling and election sure.

Knowing that many within the church may not truly be saved, it is incumbent upon the church to minister the gospel on a regular basis. This is also why weekly attendance to the preached word is also important. As we sit under the preached word, we get more and more of a full picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is one of the main reasons why I am no longer convinced that we must have a cookie-cutter, five-minute gospel presentation that we preach every time we talk to our lost friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Our job is to make disciples (learners), not converts. Whether someone is yet saved or not, if they are regularly sitting under the preaching of Christ, there is a very real, practical sense in which they are disciples. As these disciples sit and add weekly to their understanding of the gospel of Christ, they are also weekly subjecting themselves to the power of God unto salvation.

It’s not just the lost, though, who need to hear the gospel on a regular basis. We each need to be regularly reminded of the law of God, the gospel of Christ, and our need for continued repentance and belief in Him. So the weekly reinforcement of the gospel through the preaching of the word is not just for the benefit of the lost. It is also for the benefit of the saints. Consider the fact that Paul himself calls the Roman church saints (Romans 1:7). It was only a few short sentences later that he tells them that he is “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome,” (Rom. 1:15; NASB).

Was this because he thought them not to be saved? Surely, based on what we’ve already observed from his letters to the Corinthians, he knew that not all of them were necessarily saved. That was not his primary concern, though. Paul recognized the duel effect of the gospel when preached in the assembly. For the lost, it is the power of God unto regeneration, justification, and adoption into the family of God. For the saints, though, it is the power of God unto sanctification, edification, admonition, and preservation. In both cases, it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).

Also, where the gospel is not regularly preached in the midst of the saints, there is a great danger of a false gospel creeping in. Paul recognized this when he wrote to the churches of Galatia. He assumed that there were faithful ministers still preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, though there were some who were already trying to still them away with a false gospel.

8But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8-9; NKJV).

Let us be careful, then, to preach the gospel to all. Whether we are in the church or outside of the church, whether we are talking to a professing Christian or a raging atheist, let us ever have the gospel of Jesus Christ on our lips. Preaching the gospel to all people in all places, then, we will by exhausting all means at our disposal save some.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section One – Authority, Revelation, and Scripture

Table of Contents

Part I – Prolegomena

  • Section One: Authority, Revelation, and Scripture

Part II – What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God

Part III – What Duty God Requires of Man

  • Section Eight: Introduction to the Moral Law
  • Section Nine: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
  • Section Ten: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
  • Section Eleven: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
  • Section Twelve: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
  • Section Thirteen: The Proper Response to Law and Gospel

Part VI – The Communication of God’s Grace

  • Section Fourteen: The Ordinary Means of Grace
  • Section Fifteen: Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

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There have been several commentaries and helps written on the catechisms of other traditions, especially commentaries on The Westminster Shorter Catechism. Here is a list of some of those that I have found particularly helpful:

  • The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Study Classes by G.I. Williamson
  • The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism explained by The Westminster Assembly (1753)
  • The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism by A.A. Hodge and J. Aspinwall Hodge
  • An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism by Alexander Whyte

One scriptural exposition of Collins’ The Baptist Catechism (1693) in question and answer form has been offered, which I have found immensely helpful:

  • A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism by Benjamin Beddome

I don’t hope to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these men in writing this humble series. What I do hope to accomplish is to make The Baptist Catechism a bit more accessible and clear for my generation. With that in mind, having completed the first series of articles on the Catechism, you may now read it in its entirety below or click on the links to read it question by question.

 

Q.1: Who is the first and chiefest being?

God is the first and chiefest being.1

1Isaiah 44:6; 48:12; Psalm 97:9

In January of 2012, I had the honor of taking a winter course on “The Theology of the Word of Faith Movement” with Justin Peters at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The class was memorable to me for several reasons. I had been following the career of Mr. Peters for a while with great interest. One night, my wife and I even had the honor of having him into our home and serving him chicken pot pie. I recall sitting in my living room laughing and singing Ray Stevens’ The Mississippi Squirrel Revival together while my wife rolled her eyes.

I also recall one of the first statements he made in front of the class. I recall it because I wrote it down. He said, “Your worship of God will only be as deep as your theology.” Then he said, “Let me rephrase that. Your worship of God will only be as deep as your knowledge of Him.” In making this statement, Mr. Peters was answering one of the most important questions a Christian should ask himself: “Why do I study theology?”

What is theology? Theology, simply put, is the study of God. The word is derived from two Greek terms: θεὸς (ha theos) and ὁ λόγος (ha logos). θεὸς means God or the divine, and ὁ λόγος can be translated word, message,knowledge, and many other similar terms. In modern English usage, –ology (derived from ὁ λόγος) has come to mean “the study of. . .” When combined into one word, then, theology means the study of God.

Why do we study God, though? Well, as Mr. Peters so eloquently stated, we study God so that we might deepen our worship of Him. As The Westminster Catechism teaches, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” This is why we study theology. This is our end goal in all our study and apprehension of God and the things of God. If a man is to glorify God and enjoy Him, he must first take hold of some knowledge of Him.

A great many people in this world claim a high level of piety, claiming to have reached new heights of spirituality through private contemplation and stimulating conversation. However, if they have not tapped into the actual truth of God as revealed directly from God, all their musings are a mere pooling of spiritual ignorance. They may speak with flowery language and elevated tones, but they have no real knowledge of the One whom they claim to represent. They have speculation. They have imagination. They have fantasies and rhetorical prowess, but they do not have God.

20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God,”(1Cor. 1:20-24; NKJV).

All proper knowledge of God must have God as its Source. The world will tell us that this is circular reasoning and that we cannot point to God as the authority that establishes His own authority. We must ask in return: “What then stands as the prime authority above God that would be sufficient to establish His authority?” If they answer reason, we must ask what gives reason its authority and, in order to assist them to remain consistent, we must ask that they not use reason to argue for the authority of reason. If they answer evidence, our response is the same. We ask them to prove evidence as a sound authority by which to judge God without the use of evidence.

How is the authority of God different, then, from evidence or reason? While our interpretation of evidence can be flawed and our reason will inevitably fail us, God never fails. Wherever we find God, whether in Scripture, or in nature, or in our own consciences, we find that He always ultimately lines up with what He has spoken about Himself in His word: the Bible. Apart from His word, we are destined to run into error.

“God is the source and fountain of all our knowledge. He possesses an archetypal knowledge of all created things, embracing all the ideas that are expressed in the works of His creation. This knowledge of God is quite different from that of man. While we derive our knowledge from the objects we perceive, He knows them in virtue of the fact that He from eternity determined their being and form,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, Grand Rapids. 1996, pp. 93-94.).

We have limited knowledge; God has exhaustive knowledge. God knows all things perfectly, fully, and truly. There are many things we know truly. There are many things we know falsely. There are many things that are true that we don’t know. There are many things that are untrue that we don’t know. It is not our place to strive to know all things. “It is totally inconsistent with creatureliness that man should strive for comprehensive knowledge; if it could be attained, it would wipe God out of existence; man would then be God,” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith. P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ. 2008, pg. 36). Rather than comprehensive knowledge, we ought to strive after the apprehension of true knowledge. We cannot know all things but, by God’s grace, we can know true things.

All that there is to know, including the depths of God Himself, are known by God. “God’s knowledge is primary, and whatever man is to know can only be based upon a reception of what God has originally and ultimately known,” (Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready. Covenant Media Press, Nacogdoches, TX. 2011, pg. 19). Thus, if we are to have any assurance that what we know about God is true, we must receive affirmation of its truthfulness from Him. We must do the impossible and reach into the heavens to pull down truth. Rather, God must condescend to us in order that He might reveal His truth to us.

The Baptist Catechism starts with the question, “Who is the first and chiefest being?” This question is necessary because it starts with the origin of all proper thought about God: God Himself. “God is the first and chiefest being.” This recognition is key. As finite, material creatures, we are incapable of grasping the truth of an infinite, immaterial God (Isa. 55:8-9; Rom. 11:33-36). We are wholly inadequate for these things, unless God graciously enables us. Out of recognition of our human impotence, The Baptist Catechism begins by highlighting our supremely omnipotent God. We are fallen, sinful, finite beings; God is the first and chiefest Being. Thus, we do not start with man, but with God.

In recognizing God as the first and chiefest of beings, we recognize in Him a particular otherness. He is completely unlike all His creatures. Specifically, He is from everlasting to everlasting. He is the only Being without beginning. Thus, He is the only Being who can rightly claim to be both the first and the last, and He does so time and again.

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

‘I am the first and I am the last,

And there is no God besides Me,’” (Isa. 44:6; NASB; cf. Isa. 41:4; 48:12; Rev. 1:8; 2:8; 21:6; 22:13).

No creature can lay claim to being first and last over all creation. All of creation has a beginning and, were it God’s design, all creation would have an end. God not only created all things, but He sustains and directs them, too (Col. 1:17). All of creation is God’s creation and, with it, He does as He pleases (Ps. 115:3; 135:6). How shall man stand as a mere spectator of the vast scope of God’s creation and not give Him due honor and praise for all of His mighty works?

God is distinct from all of His creation. However, He is not merely distinct from it in His eternality, His creation, and His providence; He is also distinct from it in His majesty. God is the first Being; He is also the chiefest Being. By this, the catechism means to draw our attention to God’s preeminence over all things.

Our tendency, as fallen creatures, is to worship the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). As a Master Artist, God has adorned His creation with His divine signature. We are like art critics who stand in awe of a masterful painting and give credit to the individual brush strokes and arrangements of color rather than to the painter who gave the painting life. Credit for Symphony No. 5 does not go to the individual trumpet blasts, but to Beethoven himself. How much more is the God of creation due His proper exaltation and adoration for the works of His hands?

“For You are the Lord Most High over all the earth;

You are exalted far above all gods,” (Psalm 97:9; NASB).

Let the pagans sing the praises of their false gods, but let our praises of the one true and living God far exceed theirs. Let us exalt Him as the Lord Most High over all the earth! Let us sing with the saints of old:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him, all creatures here below.

Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Let our study of theology always stem from a heart of doxology. Let our pursuit of head knowledge always spring from a wealth of heart praise. Let our desire to take in greater truth about God never be to the end of puffing up the student, but that of lifting up the Creator in praise, and adoration, and worthy exaltation. He truly is worthy, for He truly is the first and chiefest of beings. As J.I. Packer writes:

“We need to ask ourselves: What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens,” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God. IVP Books, Downers Grove, Il. 1993, pg. 21.).

 

Q.2: Ought everyone to believe there is a God?

A. Everyone ought to believe there is a God;1 and it is their great sin and folly who do not.2

1Hebrews 11:6

2Psalm 14:1

 

The world is full of art critics. Everywhere we go, we see people standing in awe of great art. They study it, they marvel at it, and they even try to duplicate it. What they will not do, however, is recognize the existence of the great Artist who gave it birth. This great art of which I speak is the art of creation, and the great Artist, of course, is the Creator. God is not merely an Artist, though. He wears many hats. Like the great Leonardo di Vinci, God assumes the titles of Artist, Engineer, Innovator, Inventor, and a great many others. However, unlike Leonardo, God is the Chief among all others in these fields. He far surpasses all His creatures, as we noted in the previous section.

One great difference between God and all others is that His art, His engineering, His innovation and inventiveness pervades all of His creation. Painters place their signatures in the corners of their paintings. The signature of the Divine is pervasive throughout the vast scope of creation and notable in every detail of every element and atom. God is at once immensely God and intimately God. He is both the God of the stars and the planets (Job 38:31-33; Ps. 8:3; 136:7-9) and the God of our grief and our joy (Mt. 6:25-34).

This God is unavoidable and, as such, He is undeniable. He consumes and pervades all around us and all within us, though He is completely distinct from us. It is at once our familiarity with Him and the odd otherness of Him that bids us recognize Him. This too is by divine design. The signature in the bottom right corner of a painting is not so recognizable because it so readily melds into the motif of the painting. It stands out as different so that it might be recognized, but it is not so different that it does not complement the general beauty of the painting.

In the economy of God’s created order, the highest good for man is that He know God and, as such, honor Him. God’s artful creation, then, does not exist for art’s sake. Rather, God’s artful creation exists to point man to the Artist Himself. As we recognize the art and, more importantly, the great Artist behind the art, we fulfill our great purpose as the only creatures made in His image.

This was the great purpose for which God created man: that we might glorify Him and enjoy Him. However, it is impossible to glorify and enjoy One we do not believe to exist. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him,” (Heb. 11:6a; NASB). Thus, because God loves His creation, He has made Himself known through His creation. God’s existence is evident to all through two distinct witnesses: the internal witness and the external witness.

God reveals Himself internally through our consciences. Each of us has the works of the law written on our hearts from birth (Rom. 2:14-16). None of us can rightly claim ignorance of God before the God who reveals Himself to us through our consciences. None are without excuse, “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them,” (Rom. 1:19; NASB). We are programmed to have an innate knowledge of God’s existence. It is inescapable.

Furthermore, we are programmed to receive knowledge of God’s existence from our surroundings. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse,” (Rom. 1:20; NASB). The sun, the moon, the stars, the planets, and the world and everything in it all call out to us proclaiming God’s divine artistry.

1The heavens are telling of the glory of God;

And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

2Day to day pours forth speech,

And night to night reveals knowledge.

3There is no speech, nor are there words;

Their voice is not heard.

4Their line has gone out through all the earth,

And their utterances to the end of the world.

In them He has placed a tent for the sun,

5Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;

It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.

6Its rising is from one end of the heavens,

And its circuit to the other end of them;

And there is nothing hidden from its heat,” (Ps. 19:1-6; NASB).

If God is so evident in His creation, then, why do men still deny Him? It is not because they are necessarily convinced that He does not exist. Rather, it is out of a willful, sinful, foolish suppression of the truth that men deny Him. “Sin involved every aspect of man’s personality. All of man’s reactions in every relation in which God had set him were ethical and not merely intellectual; the intellectual itself is ethical,” (Van Til, Defense, 70.). Thus, when a man deceives himself by denying God’s existence, he is acting out of a corrupt heart and committing abominable deeds.

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’

They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;

There is no one who does good,” (Psalm 97:9; NASB).

The default belief of man is not the nonexistence of God, but His existence. Out of the corruption of the fallen heart and mind, unregenerate men suppress the truth of God’s existence: “as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” (Rom. 1:17b-18; NKJV). The contrast here is between those of faith and those who suppress the truth. “The just shall live by faith,” but the unrighteous and ungodly “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul means to say that the active suppression of truth required to disbelieve in God is an act of willful rebellion against Him.

Adam and Eve knew of God’s existence, for He walked among them (Gen. 3:10). Godly men of the earliest ages also know God existed and called upon His name (4:26). Men and women of all nations have always known Him, but they do not glorify Him as God (Rom. 1:21). Belief in God, then, is the default (Benjamin Beddome, A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism. Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham. 2006, pg. 3). The suppression of this belief then is absolute rebellion. This is no mere intellectual exercise. This is an active, willful sinning against the God who reveals Himself to us in His creation.

One of the duties, then, that Christians owe to one another is to spur one another on to greater faith (Heb. 10:23-25). If unbelief is sin, then we should seek how we might aid one another in avoiding it. If I, as an ember in the fire of the church, rely on the other embers to keep me burning, with what zeal should I blow on my fellow embers until I feel the return of the warm glow of their faith in Christ? In the same way, it benefits all members of the church to encourage others in their faith and purity, for it will only reap returns of greater faith and purity in their own lives.

 

Q.3: How may we know there is a God?

A. The light of nature in man and the works of God plainly declare there is a God;1 but His Word and Spirit only do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners.2

1Romans 1:19-20; Psalm 19:1-3; Acts 17:24

21 Corinthians 2:10; 2 Timothy 3:15-16

I have long taken issue with the use of the terms nature and natural in discussions of God’s divine revelation. To suggest that revelation can be natural is to suggest that it could be something other than divine in origin. Indeed, nothing about divine revelation is natural. What is meant by many theologians when they refer to natural revelation might best be rendered cosmic revelation.

When referring to natural revelation, what is meant is that which God reveals to us about Himself through His created order. However, post-Darwin, the term nature has come to mean something vastly different than what it once meant. Where the pre-moderns may have been referring to the created order when they referenced nature, Charles Darwin and his humanist predecessors have redefined nature as an undirected, impersonal, random order of events and laws in the vast universe. Thus, the Christian sojourning through a modernist society does himself and the Bible a great disservice to persist in the use of the term natural revelation.

The Baptist Catechism uses a similar term to describe one aspect of cosmic revelation (cosmos from ὁ κόσμος, or the created order): “The light of nature in man…” Another way to describe this is the internal witness. The catechism breaks up cosmic revelation into two categories. God’s existence is attested to us by (a) the internal witness of the conscience and (b) the external witness of God’s works of creation and providence.

“because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse,” (Romans 1:19-20; NASB).

Notice how Paul writes that what is known about God is evident within His human creatures. This line of reasoning refers to the internal witness of the conscience. Because men know right and wrong, and have an innate sense of justice, we can know that God must exist. We are confronted with this undeniable fact every time we read a news story about a child being victimized. Our hearts cry out for justice. We are aware, deep within ourselves, that love demands a verdict.

We also know that anyone who would pass such a judgment, loving though He may be, must be absolutely perfect in order to render such a verdict. As a result, we are struck with a dilemma. If God exists and loves that child enough to punish her abuser, He must in His infinite perfection punish me for the crimes I have committed against Him. Such an undeniable truth causes people to make all kinds of irrational claims.

The first is the outright denial of God’s existence. God cannot exist, goes the argument, or else I would have to be punished. The second is the denial of absolute truth in the realm of ethics and morality. We cannot rightly deny the existence of absolute truth in medicine or physics, because that would lead to utter insanity on those fields. Absolute truth cannot exist, goes the argument, or else there would be one universal standard of justice under which I must be punished.

All that is left is to outright deny justice or love, which only leads to nihilism and the pure futility of an unlivable life. These are all the mere suppressions of the internal witness to God’s existence. All that is within us screams to us that God exists, therefore absolute truth exists and, with it, love and justice.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God;

And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Day to day pours forth speech,

And night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;

Their voice is not heard,” (Psalm 19:1-3; NASB).

Alongside the internal witness to God’s existence is the external witness. Yes, we live in a fallen world, but it is still a universe that undeniably declares the glory of God. The mere existence and grand design of the created order attests to His great work of creation. The perpetuity of the cosmos generally and of humanity specifically attests to God’s great work of providence. Yet, for all of the telling, for all of the declaring, for all of the pouring forth of speech, and for all the revelation of knowledge, there is no speech and there are no words, for their voice is not heard. Men, in our sin, suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.

Paul argued for the existence of this great God in his sermon on Mars Hill. He did not waste time giving an over-abundance of evidence or trying to convince these Roman philosophers of the existence of God. Rather, He recognizes that they must know He exists: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands,” (Acts 17:24; NASB). Paul assumes they have the “light of nature,” that internal witness. He assumes they have looked up at the stars and, perhaps, examined their immediate surroundings and have picked up on the undeniability of God.

Paul’s goal was not to try to argue from a neutral position of, “Perhaps you are right and the Christian God of the Bible does not exist,” to a more Christian position. Paul’s goal was to assert the authority and superiority of the Christian position and to defend that non-neutral position with gentleness and reverence (1Pt. 3:15). Paul understood that they had sufficient witness (both internal and external) to God’s existence. His goal was to remind them of what they already knew and stand firm on it.

Sinful men are accountable for their sinful, foolish denials of God. They are without excuse. What then does cosmic, or general, revelation accomplish? It renders men speechless and excuseless before an eternally holy and just God. This is why we do missions. Some say that men are saved from God’s wrath on the basis of what they do with the light they have been given. If they do not hear the gospel, they may be saved by virtue of the fact that they did not reject it. Were this the case, there would be no reason whatever to do missions.

Rather, the reason we do missions, the reason Christ came as the first Missionary, is because men see the glory and goodness of God in the internal and external witness but, apart from the preaching of the gospel, they cannot turn from their sin and receive the cleansing of the new birth with all that it entails.

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14; NASB).

Men must then have not only the internal and external witness in order to be saved; they must also have the witness of the word of God and His Spirit. Where cosmic revelation falls on ears that cannot hear and eyes that cannot see, God’s word and Spirit open the ears and restore the sight. Where general revelation is only sufficient for the condemnation of men, His special revelation is fully sufficient to save him to the uttermost.

“and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2Tim. 3:15-16; NASB).

However, God’s word alone is not sufficient salvation in the strictest manner of speaking, because God Himself must also attest to it. He does so through His Spirit: “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God,” (1 Corinthians 2:10; NASB). The word of God is merely words on page just like any other words on a page apart from the work of the Holy Spirit to illumine him who reads or hears it.

 

Q.4: What is the Word of God?

A. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, and the only certain rule of faith and obedience.1

12 Timothy 3:16; Ephesians 2:20

In ages past, God revealed Himself in many ways. He spoke through visions, dreams, a burning bush, and even a donkey. At one point, He spoke through a stuttering, stammering prophet. At other points, He spoke directly to people. This same God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world,” (Heb. 1:2; NASB). These words of Christ, by the work of His Spirit, were brought to His apostles’ remembrance and written down in His holy word.

Whether we are referring to the Old Testament or New Testament, all Scripture is the word of God. It is God-breathed, or breathed out by God. This is what Paul meant when he wrote that all Scripture is θεόπνευστος (theo-pneustos, or God-breathed) in 2Tim. 3:16. Most translations render the term inspired. Thus, when the term inspiration of Scripture is used by theologians, they mean to say that Scripture is breathed out by God—the very word of God Himself.

As such, it would be improper to say that Scripture is the word of man, as though God had spoken to man and man, to the best of his ability, conveyed what had been revealed to him. This is the view held by the neo-orthodox school of theologians, like Karl Barth, who argue that the Bible contains the word of God, but is not itself the word of God. As orthodox Christians, Reformed Baptists affirm every word of the Bible, in the original languages, to be the very word of God. However, Barth and his neo-orthodox companions would contend that “the word of God is within the Bible” (Barth,The Word of God and the Word of Man. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. 1957, pg. 43).

This view came to have prominence in some pockets of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), in the mid-to-late 20thcentury. The Baptist Faith & Message of 1963 (BF&M 1963) included language that allowed for such views to be held. This neo-orthodox influence was successfully eradicated from the SBC through an effort spanning more than two decades that would come to be known as the Conservative Resurgence. Compare the first sentence of the BF&M 1963with the first sentence of the BF&M 2000.

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man,” (BF&M of 1963; emphasis added).

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man,” (BF&M of 2000).

 Asserting that the Bible is “the record of” God’s revelation of Himself to man leaves open the possibility that the Bible may not be, in its purest form, God’s actual revelation of Himself to man. Neo-orthodox pastors and seminary professors within the SBC had seized upon this language as justification for teaching that the Bible contains the word of God while not, in total, being the word of God. Dockery and Nelson explain in A Theology for the Church:

“With respect to its nature, Barth distinguished the Bible from revelation itself: ‘Therefore, when we have to do with the Bible, we have to do primarily with this means, with these words, with the witness which as such is not itself revelation, but only—and this is the limitation—the witness to it.’ The Word of God is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ; the Scriptures are witness, however imperfect, to the perfect revelation of the God-man. It is the church’s responsibility to preach the Scriptures; and, Barth contends, as they are preached, the Holy Spirit works such that the Bible becomes the Word of God to the people,” (ed. Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church. B&H Academic, Nashville. 2007, pp. 138-139).

We, as orthodox Christians, affirm what has come to be known as the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture. That is a fancy way of saying that we believe every word of the Scriptures to be inspired of God. Particularly, we look to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. As Jesus taught of the Old Testament canon:

17‘Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,’” (Mt. 5:17-19; NKJV).

Jesus believed that even the most minor of strokes in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament bore with them the very authority of God. This is because they are the very word of God. Intrinsically linked with the 39 books of the Hebrew Old Testament are the 27 books of the New Testament. Peter affirms this fact when he writes: “15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction,” (2Pt. 3:15-16; NASB). For Peter, the writings of Paul were to be included with the “rest of the Scriptures.”

This prestige was not merely meant to be ascribed to the writings of Paul, though, for Paul himself wrote of the church of God:  “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,” (Ephesians 2:20; NASB). How was the church of God built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets? Through their writings and teachings. Notice what we are told of the New Covenant church from her earliest days: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” (Acts 2:42; NKJV). The apostles’ teaching was paramount for the early church.

It was paramount because it, along with the 39 books of the Old Testament, is “the only certain rule of faith and obedience.” It is certain in that it is spoken, through the apostles and prophets, by God Himself. God used the personalities and backgrounds of the authors of Scripture to preserve for us precisely what He desired for us to know about Himself. God, then, is the prime author of Scripture, though He used the instrument of fallen, sinful men to pen it.

God chose Amos and Paul, Moses and Luke, Nehemiah and Peter to write His holy word, precisely because of who they were and the gifts and limitations He had placed in their lives. He used these human instruments to write Scripture much like a teacher or a professor might use different color ink pens to grade a paper. The characteristics of the human authors were as much important for the writing of Scripture as were the words they wrote. Again, there is no undirected molecule in the creative and providential working of God.

Therefore, even though Scripture was written by imperfect human beings, we can trust that its primary Author is perfect and has not spoken a word, through them, in vain. Scripture is the only certain, sufficient, inerrant, infallible rule for all faith in God our Creator and Savior. It is also the only certain, sufficient, inerrant, infallible rule for all obedience to Him.

 

Q.5: May all men make use of the Holy Scriptures?

A. All men are not only permitted, but commanded and exhorted to read, hear, and understand the Holy Scriptures.1

1John 5:38; Revelation 1:3; Acts 8:30

Having conducted a survey into the nature of Scripture itself, we now bring ourselves to the consideration of how men are to make use of it. The question is asked of the catechumen, May all men make use of the Holy Scriptures? What does the catechizer mean by the words “make use”? To make use, according to the answer offered, is to read, hear, and understand the Holy Scriptures. The catechism goes so far as to note that we are not only permitted, but are commanded and exhorted to avail ourselves of the Scriptures in this way.

Before we begin to flesh out this divinely ordained obligation, another question needs answering. In the realm of soteriology (the study of salvation), we often ask what the biblical authors mean when they use the term all men. There are two possible definitions of this term: all men without exception, and all men without distinction. It is not readily apparent which is meant by the catechism, so let us consider the implications of both.

If by all men the catechism means all men without exception, we must give a hardy “Amen!” Every single person everywhere is bid to hear the word of God and repent. “30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31; NASB). The word of God and, therefore, the general call of salvation is to go out to all people everywhere throughout the earth. And, as it comes to each ear, it comes with a divine obligation to read, hear, and understand.

If by all men the catechism means all men without distinction, we must likewise give a hardy “Amen!” for this divine obligation is binding on all men of all positions in all tribes, tongues, and nations. Let us recall the Great Commission:

18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,’” (Mt. 28:18-20; NKJV).

Notice two things. The Great Commission that is given to the church is to go and make disciples of all nations. This means that all men without exception will now read, hear, and understand God’s holy word. Notice that the church is not merely commissioned to make converts of all nations. Rather, we have been tasked with making disciples of all nations. This means that they will partake of at least two local church ordinances. They will be baptized into church membership, and they will be taught all that Christ commanded in the Holy Scriptures.

Read the Scriptures

We can affirm, then, that if by all men the catechism means all men without distinction (people of all positions in every tribe, tongue, and nation) and all men without exception (every single human being on earth), that includes us. How then ought we expected to read God’s word? First, we must have access to His word. That means translation. In order for men and women of all tribes, tongues, and nations to avail themselves of Scriptures, they must have it in the common language of their people. Note what is affirmed in The Baptist Confession (1689):

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read, and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope,” (The Baptist Confession of 1689, 1.8).

Imagine a missionary from England that goes into a foreign land and in order to bring them the gospel of Christ, but who only speaks to them in English with no translation or interpretation. No matter how much he reads to the people or preaches to the people, that man would be speaking only “to himself and to God” (1Cor. 14:28; NKJV). Of course, there are some King James Only movements that would argue for teaching all nations, or at least the most learned among the nations, English so that they can read the King James Version of the Bible.

This mindset is precisely what our Particular Baptists forefathers were hoping to avoid. For centuries the world was shut up in darkness because of this type of thinking. The church had taken a stance that Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was to be the only translation used by the church. As a result, Latin speaking people had the word of God in their language, but the rest of the world had to rely on priests within the church to explain the Bible to them. This period of church history is rightly called the Dark Ages, because the nations were forced to be in darkness as a result of a refusal to translate the Holy Scriptures into their languages. Hence, as Luther and others began to translate the Bible into the common languages of the people, the Reformers coined a new Latin phrase: post tenebras lux, or after darkness, light!

It is important to note, also, that the post-Renaissance education movement was largely started as a biblical literacy movement. Luther is reported to have written to his princes in Saxony demanding that they educate the peasants, because he was finding that none of them could read the Bible he had labored so diligently to translate into their languages. He reportedly told the princes that it was their duty before God to ensure that their people could read His word.

We are not merely exhorted to read the Scriptures in order to have private dealings with God. In reading the Scriptures, we are able to check what is being taught from the pulpit by the very word of God. “10Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so,” (Acts 17:10-11; NKJV). It is when people are robbed of their rightful access to the Holy Scriptures that they accumulate false teachers to themselves (2Tim. 4:3).

Hear the Scriptures

We are not only commanded and exhorted to read the Scriptures, as though the whole of the Christian life were one of seclusion and subjective interpretations of God’s word. Rather, we are also commanded and exhorted to hear God’s word. This brings us to the primary way by which God has promised to work in His church: the public reading and preaching of Scripture.

Over and over again, we are told in Scripture to attend to the public reading and preaching of Scripture. In Antioch, nearly the whole city (Gentiles) came together on the Jewish Sabbath to hear the word of God from the apostles, inciting the Jews to jealousy. Many of the Gentiles received the word with gladness, but they apostles were persecuted and driven out by the Jews (Acts 13:44-50).

Paul binds up saving faith in the preaching of the word of Christ: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” (Rom. 10:17; NASB). For this reason, he exhorts his protégé Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching,” (1Tim. 4:13; NASB). The author of Hebrews goes further by exhorting even the hearers to attend faithfully to the public worship of God:

23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching,”(Heb. 10:23-25; NKJV).

The preaching of the word of God holds a certain primacy in God’s redemptive economy. It is through the proclamation of God’s word, by God’s ordained ministers, that He has promised to unite His people in truth. Paul tells the church at Ephesus:

11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph. 4:11-13; NKJV).

It is thus through the hearing of God’s word that He has determined, primarily, to work in and through His people. When the church is given either to private interpretations or to untested teaching from the pulpit, the church is opened up to error and to division. This is how cults start. Either men and women come up with doctrines that the church has never believed through private interpretations or they give themselves to the teaching of one man without ever searching the Scriptures for themselves to see if what he is teaching lines up with Scripture.

Understand

Along with reading and hearing God’s word, the readers and hearers are expected to understand it. The Christian life is a life of taking in knowledge, understanding it, and walking it out in wisdom. Paul writes about this correlation between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in his letter to the Colossians:

9For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Col. 1:9-10; NKJV).

The hearers of God’s word are to follow this cycle. We take in knowledge. After obtaining knowledge, we couple it with understanding, which is to say that it affects our character and shapes our dispositions toward God and others after Christ’s. Finally, it is to be coupled with wisdom so that we walk according to the knowledge and understanding we have obtained. The result of this taking in of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is that we take in more knowledge (vs. 10).

This is an obligation both on the part of he who preaches and on the part of him who hears. It is the job of the pastor to take the cookies down off of the shelf so-to-speak. It’s easy business to confuse people with overly academic language; it takes great work to convey difficult truths with clarity and simplicity. I have heard James White say that the way one truly knows that he knows a doctrine is if he can teach it to children. This is true. The preacher must do all he can to help his hearers understand the meaning of the text of Scripture.

This obligation is not merely a one-sided obligation, though. Hearers have an obligation as well. When any confusion arises over any teaching from the pulpit, it is the hearer’s obligation to ask the preacher afterward for clarification. No godly pastor would ever be upset to be questioned, if he is approached appropriately, about his interpretation of a particular text. In fact, pastors are encouraged by such active listening on the part of the hearers.

 

Q.6: What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scriptures?

The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man.1

12 Timothy 1:13; 3:15-16

Questions one through five provide the foundation for The Baptist Catechism, in much the same way that the teachings of the apostles and prophets as set down in Scripture provide the foundation for our faith (Eph. 2:20). The answer to question six could rightly be labeled the thesis statement of The Baptist Catechism, insofar as it provides the structure for all the questions and answers that follow.

The catechism could appropriately be said to be structured according to two categories: right believe about God (orthodoxy) and right observance of the duties God requires of us (orthopraxy). The catechism is so structured because it is meant to teach us the Bible, and these two themes are the two primary themes of Scripture. We are taught in Scripture to know the things of God (John 17:7-8; Acts 2:36) and to love God (Exod. 20:6; Neh. 1:5; John 14:15; John 15:10; 1Jn. 5:3). These two commands go hand-in-hand.

A husband cannot rightly say that he loves his wife and yet know nothing about her. At the same time, he cannot learn more of her without being provoked toward greater or lesser affections toward her. As the unbeliever learns more of God, apart from the effectual calling of the Spirit, he will grow in his hatred for Him. As we believers learn more of Him, we grow in our kindly affection toward Him. As we commit ourselves to a study of The Baptist Catechism, let us keep these two commandments in mind. Let us endeavor to know the things of God more, through His word, and so to grow in our love for Him.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section One – Authority, Revelation, and Scripture (Q.5 & Q.6)

Q.5: May all men make use of the Holy Scriptures?

A. All men are not only permitted, but commanded and exhorted to read, hear, and understand the Holy Scriptures.1

1John 5:38; Revelation 1:3; Acts 8:30

Having conducted a survey into the nature of Scripture itself, we now bring ourselves to the consideration of how men are to make use of it. The question is asked of the catechumen, May all men make use of the Holy Scriptures? What does the catechizer mean by the words “make use”? To make use, according to the answer offered, is to read, hear, and understand the Holy Scriptures. The catechism goes so far as to note that we are not only permitted, but are commanded and exhorted to avail ourselves of the Scriptures in this way.

Before we begin to flesh out this divinely ordained obligation, another question needs answering. In the realm of soteriology (the study of salvation), we often ask what the biblical authors mean when they use the term all men. There are two possible definitions of this term: all men without exception, and all men without distinction. It is not readily apparent which is meant by the catechism, so let us consider the implications of both.

If by all men the catechism means all men without exception, we must give a hardy “Amen!” Every single person everywhere is bid to hear the word of God and repent. “30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31; NASB). The word of God and, therefore, the general call of salvation is to go out to all people everywhere throughout the earth. And, as it comes to each ear, it comes with a divine obligation to read, hear, and understand.

If by all men the catechism means all men without distinction, we must likewise give a hardy “Amen!” for this divine obligation is binding on all men of all positions in all tribes, tongues, and nations. Let us recall the Great Commission:

18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,’” (Mt. 28:18-20; NKJV).

Notice two things. The Great Commission that is given to the church is to go and make disciples of all nations. This means that all men without exception will now read, hear, and understand God’s holy word. Notice that the church is not merely commissioned to make converts of all nations. Rather, we have been tasked with making disciples of all nations. This means that they will partake of at least two local church ordinances. They will be baptized into church membership, and they will be taught all that Christ commanded in the Holy Scriptures.

Read the Scriptures

We can affirm, then, that if by all men the catechism means all men without distinction (people of all positions in every tribe, tongue, and nation) and all men without exception (every single human being on earth), that includes us. How then ought we expected to read God’s word? First, we must have access to His word. That means translation. In order for men and women of all tribes, tongues, and nations to avail themselves of Scriptures, they must have it in the common language of their people. Note what is affirmed in The Baptist Confession (1689):

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read, and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope,” (The Baptist Confession of 1689, 1.8).

Imagine a missionary from England that goes into a foreign land and in order to bring them the gospel of Christ, but who only speaks to them in English with no translation or interpretation. No matter how much he reads to the people or preaches to the people, that man would be speaking only “to himself and to God” (1Cor. 14:28; NKJV). Of course, there are some King James Only movements that would argue for teaching all nations, or at least the most learned among the nations, English so that they can read the King James Version of the Bible.

This mindset is precisely what our Particular Baptists forefathers were hoping to avoid. For centuries the world was shut up in darkness because of this type of thinking. The church had taken a stance that Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was to be the only translation used by the church. As a result, Latin speaking people had the word of God in their language, but the rest of the world had to rely on priests within the church to explain the Bible to them. This period of church history is rightly called the Dark Ages, because the nations were forced to be in darkness as a result of a refusal to translate the Holy Scriptures into their languages. Hence, as Luther and others began to translate the Bible into the common languages of the people, the Reformers coined a new Latin phrase: post tenebras lux, or after darkness, light!

It is important to note, also, that the post-Renaissance education movement was largely started as a biblical literacy movement. Luther is reported to have written to his princes in Saxony demanding that they educate the peasants, because he was finding that none of them could read the Bible he had labored so diligently to translate into their languages. He reportedly told the princes that it was their duty before God to ensure that their people could read His word.

We are not merely exhorted to read the Scriptures in order to have private dealings with God. In reading the Scriptures, we are able to check what is being taught from the pulpit by the very word of God. “10Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so,” (Acts 17:10-11; NKJV). It is when people are robbed of their rightful access to the Holy Scriptures that they accumulate false teachers to themselves (2Tim. 4:3).

Hear the Scriptures

We are not only commanded and exhorted to read the Scriptures, as though the whole of the Christian life were one of seclusion and subjective interpretations of God’s word. Rather, we are also commanded and exhorted to hear God’s word. This brings us to the primary way by which God has promised to work in His church: the public reading and preaching of Scripture.

Over and over again, we are told in Scripture to attend to the public reading and preaching of Scripture. In Antioch, nearly the whole city (Gentiles) came together on the Jewish Sabbath to hear the word of God from the apostles, inciting the Jews to jealousy. Many of the Gentiles received the word with gladness, but they apostles were persecuted and driven out by the Jews (Acts 13:44-50).

Paul binds up saving faith in the preaching of the word of Christ: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” (Rom. 10:17; NASB). For this reason, he exhorts his protégé Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching,” (1Tim. 4:13; NASB). The author of Hebrews goes further by exhorting even the hearers to attend faithfully to the public worship of God:

23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching,” (Heb. 10:23-25; NKJV).

The preaching of the word of God holds a certain primacy in God’s redemptive economy. It is through the proclamation of God’s word, by God’s ordained ministers, that He has promised to unite His people in truth. Paul tells the church at Ephesus:

11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph. 4:11-13; NKJV).

It is thus through the hearing of God’s word that He has determined, primarily, to work in and through His people. When the church is given either to private interpretations or to untested teaching from the pulpit, the church is opened up to error and to division. This is how cults start. Either men and women come up with doctrines that the church has never believed through private interpretations or they give themselves to the teaching of one man without ever searching the Scriptures for themselves to see if what he is teaching lines up with Scripture.

Understand

Along with reading and hearing God’s word, the readers and hearers are expected to understand it. The Christian life is a life of taking in knowledge, understanding it, and walking it out in wisdom. Paul writes about this correlation between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in his letter to the Colossians:

9For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Col. 1:9-10; NKJV).

The hearers of God’s word are to follow this cycle. We take in knowledge. After obtaining knowledge, we couple it with understanding, which is to say that it affects our character and shapes our dispositions toward God and others after Christ’s. Finally, it is to be coupled with wisdom so that we walk according to the knowledge and understanding we have obtained. The result of this taking in of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is that we take in more knowledge (vs. 10).

This is an obligation both on the part of he who preaches and on the part of him who hears. It is the job of the pastor to take the cookies down off of the shelf so-to-speak. It’s easy business to confuse people with overly academic language; it takes great work to convey difficult truths with clarity and simplicity. I have heard James White say that the way one truly knows that he knows a doctrine is if he can teach it to children. This is true. The preacher must do all he can to help his hearers understand the meaning of the text of Scripture.

This obligation is not merely a one-sided obligation, though. Hearers have an obligation as well. When any confusion arises over any teaching from the pulpit, it is the hearer’s obligation to ask the preacher afterward for clarification. No godly pastor would ever be upset to be questioned, if he is approached appropriately, about his interpretation of a particular text. In fact, pastors are encouraged by such active listening on the part of the hearers.

 

Q.6: What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scriptures?

The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man.1

12 Timothy 1:13; 3:15-16

Questions one through five provide the foundation for The Baptist Catechism, in much the same way that the teachings of the apostles and prophets as set down in Scripture provide the foundation for our faith (Eph. 2:20). The answer to question six could rightly be labeled the thesis statement of The Baptist Catechism, insofar as it provides the structure for all the questions and answers that follow.

The catechism could appropriately be said to be structured according to two categories: right believe about God (orthodoxy) and right observance of the duties God requires of us (orthopraxy). The catechism is so structured because it is meant to teach us the Bible, and these two themes are the two primary themes of Scripture. We are taught in Scripture to know the things of God (John 17:7-8; Acts 2:36) and to love God (Exod. 20:6; Neh. 1:5; John 14:15; John 15:10; 1Jn. 5:3). These two commands go hand-in-hand.

A husband cannot rightly say that he loves his wife and yet know nothing about her. At the same time, he cannot learn more of her without being provoked toward greater or lesser affections toward her. As the unbeliever learns more of God, apart from the effectual calling of the Spirit, he will grow in his hatred for Him. As we believers learn more of Him, we grow in our kindly affection toward Him. As we commit ourselves to a study of The Baptist Catechism, let us keep these two commandments in mind. Let us endeavor to know the things of God more, through His word, and so to grow in our love for Him.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part I – Romans 1-8

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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In our most recent posts, we have looked to the narrative portions of the New Testament to discover what they might teach us regarding Public Theology. We must caution ourselves not to read into the descriptive portions of Scripture anything that is not prescriptive. Thus, it has been our aim to stick only to examples in the words and actions of Christ and the apostles that can be proven by a closer examination of the more didactic portions of the New Testament. Today, we have finally arrived at those portions: the epistles.

A Preliminary Caution

We must be careful when discussing the different epistles within the New Testament canon, so that we do not speak in terms of a strictly Pauline theology, a Petrine theology, a Johannine theology, etc. The individual writers of Scripture did have different emphases because of their unique personalities and backgrounds. They also had different emphases because of their unique audiences and the occasions of their writings. However, insofar as the apostles were taught of the same Lord, led by the same Spirit, and inspired of the same God and Father of all to pen His holy word, they only confessed one faith.

Thus, as we begin the remainder of our study of New Testament public theology with the letters of Paul, we will take great care that we do not pit Paul’s public theology against any of the other New Testament authors. We will simply demonstrate some of his unique contributions to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, particularly as it relates to public theology. What we will find is that there is much unexpected overlap between Paul’s emphases and those of the other New Testament authors. On the other side of the same coin, we will see that there is much unexpected variety of emphases from one of Paul’s letters to the next.

Romans 1-8

The Thesis Statement of Romans

Providentially, Paul wrote to the church at Rome about his desire to come and to minister the gospel to them and, as we shall see, four other books of the Bible (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) would later be written by Paul from a Roman imprisonment. Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome spilled over into a lengthy and greatly cherished letter. In fact, Paul’s mention of this desire in Romans 1:15-17 has been touted as the thesis statement that provides the structure for all that follows in the letter.

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

Being that these verses set the framework for all that follows, we will use them as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this article, we will focus on principles found in this thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 1-8.

A Gospel for the Church

Notice firstly the fact that Paul is talking to the church of God: “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints,” (vs. 7a; NASB). Paul tells these believers that he desires to preach the gospel to them. He does not say he desires to preach moralism, jokes, stories, or any other thing modern, pragmatic churches might use in an attempt to attract unbelievers. Paul recognized one thing, and he recognized it very well: the corporate worship of God in general, and the preaching of His word in particular, are privileges given to His people. Paul had no desire to preach secular psychology, the traditions of men, or the wisdom of the world. Paul was concerned with preaching that which has the power to save the soul: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sanctification. He desired to preach this gospel to the church, a message that we often relegate to the task of evangelism. Why did he want to preach it to the church? He wanted to do so in order that, through the preaching of the gospel, they might be saved. But aren’t they already saved? I mean, they are the church aren’t they? When we think along these lines, we fall into the error of oversimplifying the doctrine of salvation.

Paul recognized the fact that his readers were already justified through the cross-work of Jesus Christ. He was not speaking of a desire to preach the gospel to them for the furtherance of their justification. Rather, his desire was to preach the gospel to them for their further sanctification (an essential element of overall salvation), that they might grow in their appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ and, thus, walk according to the knowledge they had accumulated.

The sufficiency of the gospel. Now, some may be confused as to how this teaching has anything to do with Public Theology. If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the already saved church, we must be very precise in how we define the gospel. As we will see in our study of Galatians, adding anything to the gospel that is not intrinsic to the gospel makes it no gospel at all.

The first thing we must do is recognize the difference between the gospel and “gospel issues.” There are many pastors and theologians in the blogosphere today who use the term gospel issue as a social justice sledge-hammer to force people to do what they want them to do. We must first recognize that every sin is a “gospel issue,” because the gospel is what holistically saves us from sin. Furthermore, we should not confuse the gospel itself with the fruit that the gospel produces. The mission of the church must be centered on the preaching of the gospel.

Gospel preaching. We say that it saves us holistically, because the gospel saves us from beginning to end. Notice again that the gospel Paul is bringing, he is bringing to the church. Gospel preaching makes disciples; gospel preaching also teaches and guides disciples.

To say that we need anything other than gospel preaching to cure ethnic strife (for example) in Christian churches is like saying, “I stopped spanking my child, because it didn’t work.” Where we do not see immediate success in what God has commanded that we do, we do not have the justification to inject worldly philosophy and the traditions of man. Let us recall that Abraham had an illegitimate child with Hagar, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. Genesis 16). Saul offered the sacrifice he had not been commanded to offer and lost his throne, because he would not wait on the Lord (cf. 1 Samuel 15). We will explore this notion more when we get to our study of Colossians.

The Power of God

Notice secondly that the gospel is the power of God to save. The Law has no power to save (Rom. 3:20, 28). Good feelings have no power to save. A sense of belonging and getting “plugged into a church ministry” have no power to save. The power of God for the salvation of all who believe is the gospel itself.

The goal of every valid, Christian pulpit ministry is wrapped up in this singular concept. Godly preaching has as its goal the salvation of the hearers (1Cor. 1:21; 15:2). There is a definite moment when that salvation is brought to the sinner, when he is called, regenerated, justified, and adopted into the family of God (Rom. 2:29; 5:5; 8:14-17, 29-30). However, the result of that initial grace is that the newly regenerate saint will identify with the visible church through baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then, he will come under the teaching of the word of God and be taught all that Christ commanded. This is true discipleship: that sinners would repent, be baptized, and sit under the preached word of Christ (Mt. 28:19-20). It is that preached word, that gospel of Jesus Christ, that is the power of God unto final salvation (Rom. 8:30; 10:11-14).

Christian discipleship. One thing that often gets overlooked in our discussion of Public Theology is the necessity of discipleship. We must recognize the fact that no one comes to the Christian religion with a philosophical clean slate. By the time we come to faith in Christ, and even after we come to faith in Him, we will have imbibed the world’s way of thinking on a host of issues (e.g. gender, economics, science, ethnic relations, work ethic, etc.). These are all issues on which our thinking must be brought in line with the word of God.

There are two ways in which our thinking on these issues can be brought in line with Scripture: gospel preaching and intentional discipleship. There are at least two terms in the Greek Scriptures that are commonly translated preaching: κηρύσσω, or I herald (proclaim; cf. Lk. 24:46-47), and εὐαγγελίζω, or I bring good news (preach the gospel; 1Pt. 1:12). These are not the only two terms used in the Greek Scriptures, but they will suffice to demonstrate how preaching is discussed in the Word of God. Modern evangelicals, thanks to expository preaching, will be more clear on what we mean by gospel preaching than intentional discipleship. By gospel preaching, we simply mean the week-in / week-out preaching of the whole counsel of God, it’s central, unifying message being that of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Intentional discipleship is less uniform from church to church. Some elders are more drawn to a very intense one-on-one approach to discipleship. Others prefer group settings like Sunday School, small groups, etc. It is not our purpose here to tell pastors which of these is the only right and proper approach to intentional discipleship. The point is that intentional discipleship is a necessary element of church life. If this were not true, Paul might not have written Romans 12-16.

It is this intentional discipleship Paul wrote about when he told his child in the faith, Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2Tim. 2:2; NASB). The term used in 2 Timothy 2:2 for teach is the word διδάσκω from which we get the English term didactic. This approach might be seen as more lecture based. In Romans 2:18 and Galatians 6:6, Paul uses a much more intimate term: κατηχέω, from which we get the English term catechetical. Strong’s concordance gives as one definition: “to learn by nuanced repetition.” Where a more didactic approach might take place in a lecture-based setting, like a small group or Sunday School class, the catechetical approach might be encouraged in one-on-one settings like an intimate fellowship or in the home. Either way, the discipleship of Christians, and children of Christian parents, is essential for the Christian life.

Gospel-centered discipleship. Even the discipleship of Christians is to have the gospel of Jesus Christ as its central focus, because the gospel is God’s power unto salvation and ultimate salvation requires growth in holiness. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” (Heb. 12:14; NKJV). Christians who do not pursue holiness will not see the Lord; they will not be saved. Let us recall what is the power of God unto this salvation: the gospel. So, if salvation requires holiness and the gospel of God is sufficient for our salvation, it is clear that the gospel is sufficient for making Christians holy.

This means that all sin is to be addressed with the gospel, whether in our preaching or in our personal discipleship. When addressing homosexual marriage, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing ethnic strife, we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship. When addressing parental neglect, laziness, drunkenness, abuse, insubordination, etc., we respond with gospel preaching and gospel discipleship.

Conclusion

Romans 1-8 is a thorough teaching on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul labors for chapters to help his readers to understand Christ’s gospel. Why? Simple. He wants them to know the gospel through which they have been justified, through which they are being sanctified, and through which they will be glorified. As a result of having a precise knowledge of the gospel of saving grace, believers are equipped to walk according to the statutes given them in God’s word. Having been declared holy as a result of Christ’s active and passive obedience, Christians are emboldened to walk in holiness by the power of the Spirit through the word preached.

In our next article, we will focus on principles found in Paul’s thesis statement that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 9-11.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Ministry of Paul, Part I

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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In the previous blog, we examined the public ministry of Peter and John in order to develop an understanding of the public theology presented in Acts. As most readers of this blog know, the primary figure in the narrative of Acts switches from Peter to Paul after Acts 13. In this blog, we will begin our discussion on the public theology of Paul as presented in Acts. In particular, we will focus on four events during Paul’s first and second missionary journeys.

Paul at Lystra

We begin by examining the events surrounding Paul’s first missionary journey with Barnabas. In Acts 14:8-18, Luke records the account of a lame man being healed by the hands of Paul (much like the healing of the lame beggar in Acts 3). However, the major difference between Acts 3 and Acts 14 was the audience. In Acts 3, Peter is largely addressing a Jewish audience who has the same essential worldview that he does; however, in this scene, Paul is addressing a Gentile audience whose worldview is thoroughly influenced by the religious pluralism of the Roman Empire. The miracle astounded the crowd and the crowd believed that Hermes and Zeus have appeared in the likeness of Paul and Barnabas, respectively (v. 11-12). This illustrates that the Lycaonians were not intellectual philosophers like the Athenians, Corinthians, or Romans. They were most likely simple villagers who gave a spontaneous instinctive response consistent with their adherence to Greek mythology and superstitions. Based on the belief of the crowd, the priest of Zeus brought animals to Paul and Barnabas (v. 13). As individuals who believed in strict monotheism, Barnabas and Paul found this to be blasphemous and idolatrous. Paul used this example of clear paganism and heathenism to preach to the crowds.

Paul directly confronts the Lycaonians by calling their gods, nothing more than vain idols (v. 15). Here, we see that the preaching of Christ directly conflicted with the religious worldview of the Lycaonians. In other words, Paul’s preaching confronts the idolatry of the Lycaonians and calls them to repentance. Instead of give obeisance to Zeus and the various other gods accepted in the Roman system, Paul calls them to turn to the living God – the Creator of all things (v. 15). Here, we see the general pattern of Paul’s message: the call to repentance and the call to faith in Christ.

Paul at Athens

Some readers may think that Paul’s approach to the Lycaonians is based upon the pretext that he is addressing a religiously primitive people, which would be very dissimilar to a 21st century post-Christian culture. When Paul enters Athens in Acts 17, he enters a city which is renowned for its learning, philosophy, and fine arts, which would be much more similar to our culture today. However, he also observes that the Athenians are functionally just as superstitious as the Lycaonians because the city was wholly given to idolatry and philosophical speculation. In other words, the Athenians fit the description of fallen man as described in Romans 1:22-23

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

As Paul observes the idolatry around him, his spirit was provoked within him, until he could not forbear to speak any longer (v. 16). He immediately begins to reason and debate with Jews, devout persons, philosophers, and all others who would hear him concerning Jesus and the resurrection (v. 17-18). When he was finally brought to the Areopagus, he now gets to opportunity to address the seat of the venerable supreme court of Athens.

First, he directly addresses their superstitions since they have an altar built to the “unknown god” (v. 22-23). Second, he proclaims to them the one, true living God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Third, he directly confronts their folly in believing that “the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” (v. 29). In each of his points, Paul is directly assailing their worldview of the Athenians. He then calls them to repentance because of the testimony of the resurrection. In many respects, Paul’s commentary to the Athenians (who are known as highly educated and philosophically sophisticated) is not much different than his address to the simple Lycaonians.

Paul at Philippi

Not only did Paul’s proclamation of the gospel confront the idolatry of his day, but it also interrupted the commerce in the cities that he visited.

One of the first cities that Paul visits in his second missionary journey with Silas was Philippi. After receiving the Macedonian vision in Acts 16, he begins to preach the gospel in Philippi, which is a major city in Macedonia and a Roman colony. Paul initially preaches the gospel on the Sabbath to god-fearing women who had come together for a time of prayer and the Lord opened the eyes of Lydia in order to pay attention to what was said by Paul (v. 13-14). At this point, it appears that Paul’s preaching did not disrupt the normal activities of Philippi. However, Paul’s consistent preaching of the gospel in this town eventually interrupts commerce in the city.

While preaching in Philippi, Paul and Silas were met by a slave girl who possessed by an evil spirit. Because the slave girl was disrupting the preaching of the gospel, Paul commands the unclean spirit to come out of the girl. This is important for at least two reasons: (1) The casting out of evil spirits is evidence that the kingdom of God is present among the Philippians (cf. Luke 11:20) and (2) The slave girl was believed to have a spirit of divination, which implies that she brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling (cf. Acts 16:16). In other words, men could tolerate varieties of worship or the speculations of philosophers, but they were roused to madness by that which threatened their business. Consider Albert Barnes’ notes on this section:

The charge which they wished to substantiate was that of being disturbers of the public peace. All at once they became conscientious. They forgot the subject of their gains, and were greatly distressed about the violation of the laws. There is nothing that will make people more hypocritically conscientious than to denounce, and detect, and destroy their unlawful and dishonest practices. People who are thus exposed become suddenly filled with reverence for the Law or for religion, and they who have heretofore cared nothing for either become greatly alarmed lest the public peace should be disturbed. People slumber quietly in sin, and pursue their wicked gains; they hate or despise all law and all forms of religion; but the moment their course of life is attacked and exposed, they become full of zeal for laws that they would not themselves hesitate to violate, and for the customs of religion which in their hearts they thoroughly despise. Worldly-minded people often thus complain that their neighborhoods are disturbed by revivals of religion; and the preaching of the truth, and the attacking of their vices, often arouses this hypocritical conscientiousness, and makes them alarmed for the laws, and for religion, and for order, which they at other times are the first to disturb and disregard.  

Paul at Ephesus

The above commentary from Albert Barnes also explains the events which occurred during Paul’s missionary journey in Ephesus. When Paul arrived in Acts 19, he initially preached the gospel and the kingdom of God in the synagogue and due to the opposition of the Jews, he was forced to continue preaching in the hall of Tyrannus (v. 8-10). Unlike many other regions in which he traveled, Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years, which means that the Word of God (accompanied with various signs and miracles) went forth throughout the entire city for an extended period of time. God used the preaching of the Word to bring many of the Ephesians to faith (v. 21). At this point, there is no controversy concerning Christianity within Ephesus; however, as Luke narrates, a number of believers who formerly practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all (v. 18-20).

The preaching of the word of God not only affected the private lives of believers, but it also affected the local commerce in the area. In particular, the spread of Christianity in Ephesus affected the craftsmen who profited from religious pluralism of the day (v. 23-27). Consider Matthew Henry’s commentary of the section:

Persons who came from afar to pay their devotions at the temple of Ephesus, bought little silver shrines, or models of the temple, to carry home with them. See how craftsmen make advantage to themselves of people’s superstition, and serve their worldly ends by it. Men are jealous for that by which they get their wealth; and many set themselves against the gospel of Christ, because it calls men from all unlawful crafts, however much wealth is to be gotten by them. There are persons who will stickle for what is most grossly absurd, unreasonable, and false; as this, that those are gods which are made with hands, if it has but worldly interest on its side. The whole city was full of confusion, the common and natural effect of zeal for false religion.

The threat of the gospel to the business of the merchants eventually leads to a riot in Ephesus (v. 28-41).

Concluding Thoughts

What might we conclude about Paul’s interactions with the public on his first and second missionary journeys? First, we must realize, as Henry van Til famously quipped, that culture is religion externalized. In other words, the conscious or unconscious relationship to God in a man’s heart determines all of his activities, such as philosophy, morality, aesthetics, and other cultural activities. This means that we should observe the culture around us as it truly is – as implications of a society’s religious worldview.

Second, we should reject the notion that any culture (or sub-culture) is religiously neutral and we should engage and confront the people of any culture with Christian truth and the worldview that is consistent with Christian truth. Whether we live in a primitive culture (like the Lycaonians) or a philosophically sophisticated culture (like the Athenians), the preaching of Christ challenges all human cultures because ultimately all human cultures have the same existential problems, which is sin and depravity.

Third, we should note that when God transforms and saves any person, it does not simply affect one’s personal, private life, but it affects the whole person. In other words, we expect that when the word of God transforms the individuals inside of a culture, it cannot be fully contained within the private life of the individual, but rather it will affect his cultural activities and how he relates to a given culture. It’s important to note that Paul did not have to preach on all of the various cultural issues of his day in order for there to be discernible changes within a given culture (such as commerce within Philippi and Ephesus). Paul focused his attention on the preaching of Christ and it was through this preaching that the private life of individuals and the social life of various cities were changed. Therefore, we should not be naïve to believe that public opposition to Christianity is based purely upon philosophical or intellectual reasons. If Christians live in the Kingdom of man as salt and light, then it will have a direct effect on public affairs (with a direct emphasis on dishonest businesses).

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Ministry of Peter and John in Acts

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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In the previous blog, we provided an introduction to the public theology within the book of Acts by examining the historical setting of Acts and by examining how the content of the apostles’ public teaching produced significant clashes with the pluralistic society of the Roman Empire. In this blog post, we will focus our attention on the public ministry of Peter and John after Pentecost. In Acts 3:1-10, Luke records the account of a lame beggar being healed by the hands of Peter. Like all of the miracles performed by the apostles, this healing was done publicly to verify and authenticate the gospel message which Peter preached in Acts 2. The miracle caused all of those who were present to be utterly astounded and this presented Peter with the opportunity to address the Jewish crowd (3:10-11). With this opportunity, Peter deflects attention away from himself and preaches the gospel (3:11-26).

Peter’s Message to the Nation

For the sake of this blog, it is important to note the content of Peter’s message. First, we note that Peter denies that his own power and piety healed the beggar (v. 12), but rather, Peter draws attention that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob glorified Jesus through this healing (v. 13, 16). Second, we note that Peter places the blame of the death of Jesus – the Author of life – at the feet of the Jewish nation (v. 13-15). Third, we note that Peter also proclaims that although they acted in ignorance, the sufferings of Christ were foretold by the mouth of all of the prophets (v. 17-18). After exposing the guilt of the Jewish nation, he calls them all to repentance so that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you” (v. 20). In other words, the absolute necessity of repentance was solemnly charged upon the consciences of all who desire that their sins may be blotted out so that they may share in the refreshment of God’s pardoning love. According to Peter, there is no other option for the people, for Jesus is the great prophet who was prophesied by Moses (v. 22-24). Finally, Peter indicates that Jesus has been raised from the dead and ascended into the heaven until the time of restoration as foretold by the prophets (v. 21). The Jews who heard Peter’s message would have been brought under deep conviction because they knew that they delivered up the Christ – God’s anointed – whom they have been anticipating for numerous generations. Hence, many of those who had heard the word believed.

It’s important to note that Peter’s message was confrontational and it was primarily soteriological in its intent. Any reference to the political impact of the gospel was aimed at eschatological concerns, in which the blessedness of the eternal state and the final judgment was briefly discussed. However, since the ministry of the apostles was done openly and publicly, there was outright opposition against the message. The first group who opposed the apostles was the Sanhedrin, which was the supreme council of the Jewish people. The origin of this assembly is traced back to the seventy elders whom Moses was directed to help him in the government of the Israelites (cf. Numbers 11:16-17). As mentioned in Acts 4, the Sanhedrin appears to be constituted of chief priests, elders, and scribes. This indicates that the Sanhedrin served both a judicial role as well as a religious role to the Jewish nation.

Peter’s Message to the Leaders

After imprisoning the apostles for their teachings, the Sanhedrin inquired by what authority do the apostles perform their works. It’s important to note that a similar disingenuous question was asked of Christ by the same council (cf. Matthew 21:23), which probably indicates that the tone of the question was that of contempt. Instead of being intimidated by the Council, Peter directly addressed the leaders. It’s very important to note that Peter does not change the content or the tone of his message as he addresses the leaders. He proclaims that God glorified Jesus in the healing of the beggar (4:10), calls the council into account for delivering Jesus to death (4:10), and proclaims that there is no other name in which salvation is found (4:12). Moreover, Peter declares that “this Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has becomes the cornerstone” (4:11), which is the same condemnation given to the Sanhedrin during Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. Mark 12:1-12).   

Instead of responding with faith and repentance, the Sanhedrin added to their guilt by charging Peter and John not to speak at all in the name of Jesus (4:15-18). The response of Peter and John has many applications to us today. First, we should note the tone of their response. Peter and John did not treat the council with flippancy, but addressed them properly in accordance with the authority given to the council. Second, their words assert the right of conscience, recognizing that human authorities must be resisted when it opposes divine authority. The apostles are compelled by divine authority to proclaim the gospel. Third, the apostles are willing to accept the punishment that comes from following conscience. In particular, we should note that the disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (cf. 5:41). Fourth, they acknowledge their human weakness by praying to God to give them boldness to continue to speak His Word in spite of the opposition (4:23-30). The prayers of the apostles were answered as they continued to perform signs and wonders among the Jewish nation (5:12-16). The apostles continued to preach the Word with boldness and they continuously faced opposition from the Jewish leaders. They were imprisoned numerous times and yet God delivered them so that they would continue to preach the Word (5:17-26). Their message to the Jewish authorities remained constant: we must obey God rather than men. This is the same disposition that was found from the OT prophetic witness (cf. Daniel 3).

Summary and Conclusions

What can we draw from the public ministry of Peter and John today? First, the message that the apostles were entrusted with (and thus, the message that the Church is entrusted with) is the gospel. It’s a simple, obvious point, but it is a point that many are drifting from today. When it comes to confronting the numerous cultural issues of the day, we must remember that the Church has no other message to proclaim but the gospel. If the Church does not herald this message and explain its implications, then our witness in the world is useless (cf. Matthew 5:13). In emphasizing the centrality of the gospel, it’s also important to recognize the need for law preaching both in the public sphere and in private conversations because the Law, when proclaimed rightly, is the tutor that leads others to Christ. Apart from the Law, the gospel loses its brilliance. This is evident by noting that Peter and John always calls their audience into account for delivering Jesus to death before proclaiming the forgiveness of sins promised in Christ.

Second, we must realize that the message of the gospel applies to every person in every station of life, even if it’s a public official. In other words, the confrontational nature of law and gospel preaching from the Church should not be diluted for those who are public officials. If we are willing to call our neighbors and friends to repentance and faith in Christ, then the same message should be given to our leaders. Third, if we are willing to proclaim this message, we should expect sharp opposition. In other words, the message of the gospel itself will always be opposed because it addresses the common existential problems of all peoples and societies. For some individuals, this opposition may come in the form of physical persecution, but for others, it may come in the form of imprisonment, ostracization, and mockery. Like Peter and John, we should expect this opposition and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that God counts us worthy to suffer dishonor for Christ. Finally, we need to pray for boldness so that we will continue to proclaim the Word. Praying for boldness is a clear and humble acknowledgment that we are prone to fear and intimidation from the world around us. We should pray that we will not fall into temptation of passivity and assimilation in confronting the world around us.

In the next blog, we will focus on the particular interactions of Paul in his public ministry.

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: Introduction to the Book of Acts

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

After examining the continuities and discontinuities associated with the incarnation of our Lord, we will now further ground our discussions on public theology by examining the behavior of the apostles in the book of Acts.

In Luke’s first book (i.e. the Gospel of Luke), Luke reported “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (cf. Luke 1:1); therefore, the implication is that Luke’s second book (i.e. the Acts of the Apostles) will carry the narrative forward, showing what Jesus continued to do and teach after His ascension to heaven. He continues to act through the presence of His Holy Spirit and through the ministry of His apostles (cf. Acts 1:2). This means that the book of Acts is a retelling of the continuation of redemptive history, in which the ministry of the apostles was done openly (cf. Acts 26:26).

Background: Roman Empire and Christianity

Because of the expanse of the Roman Empire, the Roman Empire became a very pluralistic society in which numerous religions existed alongside each other peaceably. During the apostolic period, the non-Roman religions were divided into religio licita (“licensed worship”) and religio illicita (“unlicensed worship”). However, while this distinction officially existed, the Roman Empire was generally very tolerant to other foreign religions. Generally speaking, any people settling at Rome were permitted the liberty of its own native worship in so far as the exercise of it did not interfere with the peace of the state or corrupt the morals of society. Roman citizens soon discovered the fascination of oriental and Greek mystery religions, and devoted themselves to foreign gods while maintaining the necessary formalism towards the religion of the state. Consider the commentary from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

It should not be forgotten that the original moral elements had fallen out of Roman religion, and that it had become simply a political and military religion for the welfare of the state, not for the salvation of the individual. The individual must conform to certain prescribed rites in order to avert calamity from the state. This done, the state demanded no more, and left him a large measure of freedom in seeking excitement or aesthetic pleasure in the warm and more social foreign mysteries. Thus, while the Romans retained the distinction of religiones licitae and illicitae, they seldom used severity against the latter. Many unlicensed cults were never disturbed. In fact, the very idea of empire rendered toleration of non-Roman religions a necessity. Practically, though not theoretically, the empire abandoned the idea of religions illicitae, while it retained it upon the statute-book to use in case of an emergency … Not only the government was tolerant, but the different varieties of religions were tolerant and on good terms with each other. The same man might be initiated into the mysteries of half a dozen divinities. The same man might even be priest of two or more gods… 

This is the background into which the Holy Spirit was poured out among the church at Pentecost. In some respects, our current society’s attitude toward religion is similar to the Roman Empire. Practically, all religions are socially permissible in our society as long as it does not disturb the public order. Perhaps, more accurately, any faith is permissible (or even commendable) as long as it is fully privatized. This is the concept of the “freedom of worship” that has become popularized with the past decade.

Despite the general toleration of religions within the Roman Empire, it was well-known that Christians were persecuted within the Roman Empire. This persecution initially began with the Jewish authorities which providentially forced the apostles to take their message to the Gentiles. The persecution then grew locally and regionally in Gentile regions until it became officially mandated in the reign of Domition. This background and this concept lead to the following question: if the Roman Empire instituted such a universally mild and tolerant policy toward various gods and cults, why was Christianity strongly persecuted? It could not be because it was a religio illicita because other unlicensed religions grew in the empire without persecution. It could not be simply because Christianity believed in proselytism because other religions (like Mithraism) were militant and aggressive and yet were tolerated. In my view, the answer to this question is based on the content and proclamation of the apostles’ message.

The Message of the Apostles

First, it should be noted that the apostles were unequivocal in asserting that the society for which they were waiting and laboring was a kingdom. Note that Luke summarizes the forty days of final instruction from Jesus to His apostles before He ascended: “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (1:3). Moreover, this is the content of the teaching by Philip in Samaria (8:12) and Paul in Ephesus (19:8; 20:25). Luke ends the book of Acts with this account of Paul’s stay in Rome:

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (28:30-31)

It’s important that we don’t forget how dangerous such a message was in the Roman Empire. This point wasn’t missed by an angry crowd in Thessalonica who complained that the believers were causing trouble all over the world and that they were defying the decrees of Caesar by proclaiming Jesus as king (17:7). Much like the apostles did initially, the Roman Empire likely interpreted the Kingdom of God primarily in political terms rather than in redemptive and eschatological terms.

Second, the apostles refused to render formal obedience to the religion of the state, which incensed the Roman governors. This was done by proclaiming Christ as both Lord and Christ (2:36; 5:30-31; 10:36; 11:20; 17:7; etc.). Calling Christ Lord was an affront to the religion of the state (which required the confession Caesar is Lord). Like the prophets before them (such as Daniel), the apostles refused to privatize their faith; rather, they must “speak of what we have seen and heard” (cf. 4:20). Coupled with the preaching on the Parousia of the Lord, this led many (including some Christians) to believe that a new society as a kingdom was to be set up upon the earth with Christ as king, which would in essence overthrow the Roman government.

Third, the apostles were not content with an uncompromising withdrawal from the practices of heathen worship – they also actively assailed the pagan cults by proclaiming that the worship of idols is vanity (cf. 14:15-17; 17:16; 17:23-21; 19:25-27). The apostles clearly disturbed the cozy relationship between all of the various religious cults based on the content and claims of their message. From the Roman point of view, the Christians were considered atheists and since religion was a political concern for the welfare of the state, atheism was likely to call down the wrath of the gods. Thus, when disasters began to fall upon the Roman Empire, the blame was laid upon the Christians. This is part of the reason why Paul was expelled from various Gentile cities.

Conclusion

To summarize what has been said, the apostolic ministry is a ministry of witness. The apostles were eyewitnesses of Christ Jesus and were recipients of the Spirit’s outpouring on the Church. This witness was spread worldwide (i.e. to Judea, to Samaria, and to the end of the earth), was inclusive of all kinds of people (i.e. Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, Samaritans, pagan Gentiles), and was often accompanied by various signs and wonders. The witness to the gospel always called for a response and this is why the ministry of the apostles was a public witness. Because of the claims of the gospel and because of the public nature of the apostolic ministry, it would have been impossible NOT to have the opposition from the surrounding the world.

The same essential message applies to the Church today. When the Church performs the Great Commission, it is always a public ministry. In other words, it is impossible for Church to maintain its faithful witness and character while retreating from the public sphere. We must never assimilate into the religious customs of our day – in which we called to privatize our faith If we are to follow in the footsteps of the apostles, then we must proclaim His Word publicly.

In the next blog, we will focus on the particular interactions of the apostles in their public ministry.

[Repost] Know the Word of God

(Note: These are my modified notes from a Kids’ Catechesis lesson I taught in January 2013 at SJCC)

Q.112: How do we know the Word of God?

A. We are commanded to hear, read, and search the Scriptures.

2Timothy 3:14-17; Acts 17:11; 1Timothy 4:13

Memorize Scripture

2Timothy 3:14-17

14You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB).

Paul’s disciple Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother who cared for him enough to teach him what the Bible said (2Timothy 1:5; 3:15). At that time, the only Scripture they had available to them was the Old Testament, but Timothy was taught from the Old Testament nonetheless. His mother and grandmother read to him and probably had him memorize large portions of Scripture, much like how we have our children memorize things like the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23.

Why do we have our children memorize Scripture? We have them memorize Scripture so that they can have it in their minds and in their hearts for when they need it most. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11; NASB). When we are confronted with temptation, it is good for us to have memorized the word of God so that we can remember it and not sin.

When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, Satan tried to convince Jesus to do what he wanted Him to do by quoting improperly interpreted Scripture to Him. Jesus, having memorized Scripture Himself, was able to respond with correctly interpreted Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). If we want to be like Jesus and not sin, we need to treasure God’s word in our hearts. We need to memorize Scripture.

Search Scripture

Timothy’s mother and grandmother likely used other methods to train him in the word. It is likely that he was shown how to search the Scriptures to see if the things he was being taught were true. After all, Paul wrote to him: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:16-17; NASB). Timothy needed to know how to search “all Scripture.” We also have other examples of godly men and women searching the Scriptures to see if they were being taught truth.

Acts 17:11

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (NASB).

The church at Berea were considered “noble-minded” by Luke, the author of Acts, because “they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether [the things the apostles were teaching them] were so.” No one is expected to just take the teachings of a man at face-value. We must believe only those religious teachings that line up with the word of God. If it does not line up with God’s word, it is not true.

Why do we need to test truth claims with the Bible? God’s word is the final authority on all matters to do with faith and obedience (LBCF 1677/1689, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1). If we want to know what we should believe about God, the Christian life, and the church, we must read the Bible. If we want to know how to obey God and glorify Him, we must read the Bible. This does not mean we cannot trust what men say about God to be true, but God expects us to take what we learn about Him from men and compare it to the Bible to make sure it is the truth.

Read Scripture

Of course, Timothy could not have learned to search the Scriptures if he had not first read Scripture. Many of our children are learning to read. But do we know why we have historically placed such an emphasis on literacy in Western societies? In the 16th century, a man named Martin Luther translated the New Testament into the language of his people. It was the first time since the Latin Vulgate, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, that the entire New Testament had been translated into the common language.

Luther was so eager to see how the people of his country were learning from this New Testament that he went on a tour of his native Saxony. To his surprise, most of them had not even begun to read his translation of the New Testament. The reason: most of the people of Saxony could not read! Appalled, Luther wrote to the princes of Saxony and told them that they had a duty to God to educate the people so that they could read God’s word. This was the beginning of the modern education movement. We need to learn to read so that we can read God’s word.

It’s not just important that we learn how to read God’s word. It’s important that we start to read it regularly. Our church has started a Bible reading campaign this year and many of our members are taking part in it. We are encouraging parents to read the Bible with their families every night. Each of our members is encouraged, regardless of the reading plan they use, to “cherish the word of God,” “teach [their] children the word of God,” and “engage in regular Bible reading.” It is very important that we read the Bible regularly.

Hear Scripture

1Timothy 4:13

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (NASB).

Even if our children can’t read, yet, or if they can’t read well, they can still hear the word of God. They can hear the word of God in their homes, they can recite to themselves the passages we have them memorize, and they can sit under the preached word at church. At SJCC, when our pastor gets up to preach, we read a passage of the Bible, first. Then, he explains what we’ve just read. This is a perfect time for our children to hear the word of God.

Also, as their parents, we all know how to read and yet we come every week to hear the word of God. Why do we come to hear the word of God preached if we can just read it? God speaks to us in a special way when we come to hear His word proclaimed on the Lord’s Day. It is very important that we be attentive in these times. We can listen, take notes, and discuss our families’ questions about the sermon when we get home. These things are very important for our relationships with God. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we will grow in our relationship with Him, too.

Meditate on Scripture

Psalm 1:2

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.” (NASB).

According to Psalm 1, the righteous man meditates on God’s law day and night. If we want to be like the righteous man, we ought to meditate on God’s law ourselves. The Scripture we memorize, the Scripture we search, the Scripture we read, and the Scripture we hear… upon these things we are called to meditate day and night.

In meditating on God’s word, we will have effectively stored it up as treasure in our hearts. We will find ourselves thinking about, talking about, and even singing about God’s word throughout the day. As we learn to think, speak, and do the things written in God’s word, we will draw closer to Him and be less and less inclined toward sin. These are the things Paul wanted Timothy to dwell on as he ministered to the church of God at Ephesus.

Know the Word of God

(Note: These are my modified notes from this past week‘s Kids’ Catechesis lesson at SJCC)

Q.112: How do we know the Word of God?

A. We are commanded to hear, read, and search the Scriptures.

2Timothy 3:14-17; Acts 17:11; 1Timothy 4:13

Memorize Scripture

2Timothy 3:14-17

14You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB).

Paul’s disciple Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother who cared for him enough to teach him what the Bible said (2Timothy 1:5; 3:15). At that time, the only Scripture they had available to them was the Old Testament, but Timothy was taught from the Old Testament nonetheless. His mother and grandmother read to him and probably had him memorize large portions of Scripture, much like how we have our children memorize things like the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23.

Why do we have our children memorize Scripture? We have them memorize Scripture so that they can have it in their minds and in their hearts for when they need it most. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11; NASB). When we are confronted with temptation, it is good for us to have memorized the word of God so that we can remember it and not sin.

When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, Satan tried to convince Jesus to do what he wanted Him to do by quoting improperly interpreted Scripture to Him. Jesus, having memorized Scripture Himself, was able to respond with correctly interpreted Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). If we want to be like Jesus and not sin, we need to treasure God’s word in our hearts. We need to memorize Scripture.

Search Scripture

Timothy’s mother and grandmother likely used other methods to train him in the word. It is likely that he was shown how to search the Scriptures to see if the things he was being taught were true. After all, Paul wrote to him: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:16-17; NASB). Timothy needed to know how to search “all Scripture.” We also have other examples of godly men and women searching the Scriptures to see if they were being taught truth.

Acts 17:11

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (NASB).

The church at Berea were considered “noble-minded” by Luke, the author of Acts, because “they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether [the things the apostles were teaching them] were so.” No one is expected to just take the teachings of a man at face-value. We must believe only those religious teachings that line up with the word of God. If it does not line up with God’s word, it is not true.

Why do we need to test truth claims with the Bible? God’s word is the final authority on all matters to do with faith and obedience (LBCF 1677/1689, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1). If we want to know what we should believe about God, the Christian life, and the church, we must read the Bible. If we want to know how to obey God and glorify Him, we must read the Bible. This does not mean we cannot trust what men say about God to be true, but God expects us to take what we learn about Him from men and compare it to the Bible to make sure it is the truth.

Read Scripture

Of course, Timothy could not have learned to search the Scriptures if he had not first read Scripture. Many of our children are learning to read. But do we know why we have historically placed such an emphasis on literacy in Western societies? In the 16th century, a man named Martin Luther translated the New Testament into the language of his people. It was the first time since the Latin Vulgate, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, that the entire New Testament had been translated into the common language.

Luther was so eager to see how the people of his country were learning from this New Testament that he went on a tour of his native Saxony. To his surprise, most of them had not even begun to read his translation of the New Testament. The reason: most of the people of Saxony could not read! Appalled, Luther wrote to the princes of Saxony and told them that they had a duty to God to educate the people so that they could read God’s word. This was the beginning of the modern education movement. We need to learn to read so that we can read God’s word.

It’s not just important that we learn how to read God’s word. It’s important that we start to read it regularly. Our church has started a Bible reading campaign this year and many of our members are taking part in it. We are encouraging parents to read the Bible with their families every night. Each of our members is encouraged, regardless of the reading plan they use, to “cherish the word of God,” “teach [their] children the word of God,” and “engage in regular Bible reading.” It is very important that we read the Bible regularly.

Hear Scripture

1Timothy 4:13

Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (NASB).

Even if our children can’t read, yet, or if they can’t read well, they can still hear the word of God. They can hear the word of God in their homes, they can recite to themselves the passages we have them memorize, and they can sit under the preached word at church. At SJCC, when our pastor gets up to preach, we read a passage of the Bible, first. Then, he explains what we’ve just read. This is a perfect time for our children to hear the word of God.

Also, as their parents, we all know how to read and yet we come every week to hear the word of God. Why do we come to hear the word of God preached if we can just read it? God speaks to us in a special way when we come to hear His word proclaimed on the Lord’s Day. It is very important that we be attentive in these times. We can listen, take notes, and discuss our families’ questions about the sermon when we get home. These things are very important for our relationships with God. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we will grow in our relationship with Him, too.

Meditate on Scripture

Psalm 1:2

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.” (NASB).

According to Psalm 1, the righteous man meditates on God’s law day and night. If we want to be like the righteous man, we ought to meditate on God’s law ourselves. The Scripture we memorize, the Scripture we search, the Scripture we read, and the Scripture we hear… upon these things we are called to meditate day and night.

In meditating on God’s word, we will have effectively stored it up as treasure in our hearts. We will find ourselves thinking about, talking about, and even singing about God’s word throughout the day. As we learn to think, speak, and do the things written in God’s word, we will draw closer to Him and be less and less inclined toward sin. These are the things Paul wanted Timothy to dwell on as he ministered to the church of God at Ephesus.