Religious Convictions, by Christopher Pope (Half the Battle)
This is a full statement of my beliefs about Christian faith and practice. Not all my beliefs are held with equal certainty or equal priority. The things the Bible presents as essential matters of faith are foundational to my life. On subjects where the Bible's stance is not obvious, I seek to remain teachable and will hopefully refine my understanding and how I express it as I continue to learn.
On style: This is mostly for my own reference, and I have chosen to be relatively concise and precise at the expense of readability. Also, others have articulated their faith better than I could, and so I freely adapt language from classic confessions, systematic texts, and other sources. This results in an admitted inconsistency of style in order to achieve better substance.
Table of Contents
- I. Christian Faith (Doctrinal Issues)
- A. Theology and the Word of God
- B. The Existence and Attributes of God
- C. The Works of God (The Supernatural/Creation and History)
- D. The Doctrine of Humanity
- E. The Person of Christ
- F. The Work of Christ
- G. The Person of the Holy Spirit
- H. The Work of the Holy Spirit
- I. The Doctrine of Salvation
- J. The Doctrine of the Church
- K. The Doctrine of Last Things
- II. Christian Practice (Worship and Moral Issues)
- A. God's Requirements for Mankind (What Morality Is)
- B. Walking with God (Worship and Trust)
- C. Walking in Holiness (Right Living)
- D. Walking in Love (Justice and Kindness)
I. CHRISTIAN FAITH
I.0. SUMMARY STATEMENT
As a Christian, I believe there is one true and living God, whose word to us is the Bible. I strive to believe all that the Bible says, and I believe that salvation from hell and eternity in heaven belong only to those who live to follow Jesus and trust in His death and resurrection for their peace with God. A genuine trust in Jesus bears the fruit of repentance from sin and obedience to God's will as it is revealed in the Bible.
I.A.1. Divine Revelation
Definition of Truth
- Truth is that which corresponds to reality, as God knows it to be. It is thus objective and universal. Christians should regard truth as a unified whole, in which there is no sharp dichotomy between secular and sacred, between reason and faith, or between virtue and economy, in which down-to-earth life decisions are not religiously neutral and moral lessons can be drawn from history.
Truth and Pride
- Firm convictions are not arrogance, only so long as our confidence is located in God and not in ourselves. We are all frail creatures who, at our best, try to use our corrupted faculties to grasp what God has graciously revealed to all people. While it is possible to know truth, far too many Christians give an appearance of pride or superiority related to their denomination, theological system, or stance on controversial issues.
- For the sake of our unity and as bearers of Christ's love to the world, we should recover the biblical message that God gives His truth to the humble and hides it from those who are wise and understanding in their own eyes. There is nothing holy in being smart or well-connected, only in submitting one's self to God and in caring for and respecting others.
Doctrine of Revelation
- All truth is equally God's truth and, if understood rightly, never contradicts itself regardless of its source. God reveals truth generally and providentially through creation and wisdom, and specially through messages given to His people.
- The creation God made is true to its own self and reliably gives its own testimony of who God is. But for truth that is specific, concrete, and objective, we need words. And God gave those words through prophets and ultimately through Jesus and His disciples—what we now have as the Bible. This is our resource to check the things we believe and the teaching we hear.
- God uses all sorts of means to encourage us, bring us insights, and move us to follow His will. But the normative way for believers to hear God's voice is to search the Scriptures.
- Since the completion of the biblical canon, special revelation has ceased, in the sense of theological doctrine and specific divine commands to believers individually or collectively. This is by design for the health of the church: We can test teachers because God's revelation is publicly accessible; we don't have to just trust claims of private inspiration.
Revelation and Worship
- God revealed Himself to His people on Mount Sinai not in visible form but by audible words, to teach them that He was to be worshiped not by honoring images but by heeding His word. This principle provides the foundation for worship by God's people in both the Old and New Testaments.
I.A.2. The Nature of the Bible
Inspiration of Scripture
- The Bible is not the product of Israel or the church; it is God-breathed and entrusted by God to His people. The Bible is the Word of God given through men, by measure over many ages and in many ways, and whether by dictation or through their own composition, God superintended their writing to ensure that all the Scriptures as they were originally given to the people of God are, word by word, exactly what He intended them to be, and exactly as reliable as He is, so that to believe and obey God's Word is to believe and obey Him.
- The biblical writers were aware that they were delivering an inspired message to God's people.
Purpose of Scripture
- Every bit of the revelation that God chose to preserve in the Scriptures is there for a reason, for people in every time and place, to point the way to salvation in the Messiah, calling all people to repent and giving instruction ultimately to Christians, so that by its teaching and example they would know how to follow Jesus in a way that pleases God.
Authority of Scripture
- As the Word of God, the Bible carries God's absolute authority in all its assertions of what we ought to think or believe. In matters of faith and religious practice, only the Bible has final authority over what churches must do and what churches may not do. In matters the Bible does not address, there is liberty, although even in those matters we should act according to the principles of righteousness and wisdom the Bible teaches, and in imitation of God's good character as the Bible reveals it.
- Although the Bible contains many divine commands given to particular people to be followed at particular times, general instructions given by Jesus in His teachings and to the church at large by His apostles are to be followed by all churches today. We should, of course, distinguish between actions and situations the Bible merely faithfully describes, and what the Bible prescribes for us by teaching and example.
Inerrancy of Scripture
- The Bible is faithful in its entirety and in every detail. As our final authority for doctrine, refutation, correction, and training in righteousness, Scripture as it was given to the People of God (i.e., in the original manuscripts) does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact, on any subject. Whatever it says, explicitly or implicitly, is true in the sense intended by its authors, when rightly understood.
- The Bible's faithfulness is not diminished by the fact that it was written long ago, was penned by imperfect human writers, was given in the ordinary language of everyday speech, contains unconventional grammatical constructions, and includes loose or free quotations and summaries of discourse and dialogue.
- The Bible's narratives are history and not legend, its recorded authorship is honest, its chronology and genealogies true according to the customs of the time, its visions actually given by God and not from human imagination, and its morality and insights in harmony with God's character and wisdom.
- It is possible for a Christian to be genuinely saved but ignorant and misled about the inerrancy of Scripture; these we should correct with mercy. However, inerrancy is absolutely essential to any theology that would call itself Christian, and as the church is the pillar and buttress of God's truth, any congregation that departs from biblical inerrancy has left the foundation of its teaching and become apostate.
Necessity of Scripture
- The world needs the Bible because it is the only source of sure and specific knowledge about God, and for the knowledge and saving power of the gospel. Spirituality detached from Scripture may bring a sense of meaning and purpose but will not reconcile a person to God or provide true fellowship with Jesus and His people.
- Believers need the Bible because the gospel undergirds the Christian's daily life, provides the foundation for our identity and purpose as believers, and is our standard for how to worship God and our means of knowing His will. The Bible is our principal source of spiritual nourishment and is useful for guidance and defining Christian virtues. As Christians, we should therefore submit our thought and behavior to reading and hearing Scripture with a spirit of humble teachability and prayerful recognition of the ever-present influence of sin on our attitudes and reasoning.
- Whatever revelation was preserved in the Bible, including the Old Testament, is vital for Christian instruction and example.
Sufficiency of Scripture
- The Bible contains all the truth and instruction necessary for a Christian to come to faith, to grow in faith, and to trust and obey God in this life, as well as all the truth and instruction necessary for a church to conduct itself in good order, accomplish its purpose, and worship God in ways that please Him.
- The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture does not diminish the value of perceiving God's truth and learning lessons in creation, by experience, and through the use of human reasoning and conscience. Confessions, catechisms, and theological formulations are helpful, and observations and study of life and the world are important for living earthly life, fulfilling earthly duties, and addressing earthly needs in the course of ministry. But all our thoughts and experiences are subject to correction by the Bible as the supreme standard of truth.
Canonization of Scripture
- The sixty-six books of the Bible were preserved as the Christian Scriptures because God's people recognized them as God's Word based on divine attestation. By God's providence, only inspired books entered the canon, and none were left out that God would have us to follow.
Copying and Translation of Scripture
- God chose to preserve the Scriptures through the widespread copying of many manuscripts and their translation into many languages. The processes of copying and translation are subject to human error, but while the precise reading and meaning of words, phrases, and sentences may be disputed, the thousands of ancient witnesses available today permit us to be totally certain of the correct reading in the vast majority of instances, and reasonably confident of the rest. No historic doctrine of the Christian faith depends on a disputed text. I believe the Alexandrian textual tradition generally represents the original form of the New Testament better than the other traditions.
Recommended Versions of Scripture
- Recognizing that every word of Scripture is inspired, faithful translators of the Bible seek to represent the meaning of every word in the original in some way or other in the resulting translation. A faithful version should convey both what was said and how it was said, so that the meaning is governed by the syntax and semantics of the original rather than the translator's own interpretation. When possible, this should include allowing style, register, figurative language, word play, interpretive ambiguities, and important repetitions to show through.
- Our English Bibles are God's word to the extent that they convey what was originally written. Some do this better than others, and none is perfect, so it is good for Christians to compare multiple versions as part of careful Bible study.
The Endings of Mark
- While the evidence is not quite conclusive, I believe Mark originally and deliberately finished his Gospel with 16:8, and that both 16:9-20 and the shorter ending were uninspired additions made by early Christians to provide a sense of closure to Mark's book.
The Pericope of the Adulteress
- I am convinced that the passage that appears in our Bibles as John 7:53-8:11 (and in ancient manuscripts also appears in other places and in the Gospel of Luke) was not originally part of John, but is an inspired account of a real historical event, written by one of the apostles and originally circulated independently from the Gospels.
I.A.3. The Meaning of the Bible
Hearing of the Word
- The heart's attentive, reflective, and submissive response to God's Word is the very essence of Christian worship.
- Elders have prayer and the preaching of the Word as their highest priorities, and the Bible blesses the hearing of the Word preached. The preacher's authority in teaching is derived solely from Scripture itself, so that only what is really present in Scripture is binding on the believer to believe and obey.
- Congregations are called upon to weigh proclamations of God's Word and test them by the Scriptures to determine their validity. God holds church leaders accountable for right teaching, and also holds Christians accountable for obeying the things rightly taught.
Audience of Scripture
- Inasmuch as our fellowship with God comes through His Word, and He has called to Himself the lowly and least of mankind, Christianity is a reading and thinking religion for every sort of person, not just intellectuals, avid readers, scholars, or clergy. Every member of God's church should read and hear the Bible, both at home and with fellow believers, both devotionally and in close study, for their establishment in the gospel and growth in the faith.
Clarity of Scripture
- The Old Testament contained many shadows and mysteries that could not be fully understood until the coming of Jesus, but now that God's written revelation is complete, the fundamental truths of the gospel are publicly proclaimed and may be understood even by young children. An adult believer of sound mind, with the illumination of the Holy Spirit and under the church's training and preaching of the Word, is capable of understanding from the Scriptures all that God requires him to believe and do, and to know what God would have him to understand about himself and about the Godhead.
- The distance of time, language, and culture may leave us with uncertainty about the precise meaning of certain words and phrases, and our own sins, presuppositions, and attitudes may blind us to some of the Bible's truths. But one reason the Bible should be studied together by congregations and taught by trained men is to bridge those gaps, and any deficiency in our understanding of the Bible is the fault of ourselves and not of Scripture.
Jesus as the Focus of Scripture
- God's ultimate self-revelation is in Jesus. Moses realized and taught that the laws and institutions of the old covenant pointed ahead to something greater than themselves. The ultimate goal of God's covenant, God being one with His people, could not be achieved while prophets and priests stood between God and His people. Thus many of the Bible's promises to David, to Israel, and to all mankind went unfulfilled until the coming of Christ, as a testimony to what He would accomplish.
- When Christ came, God inspired the New Testament as the apex of Scripture to clarify the good news of Jesus and the nature and mission of the church.
Interpretation of Scripture
- The goal of Bible interpretation is faithfulness in our understanding for the sake of faithfulness in our thoughts, words, and actions, for the glory of God.
- I support inductive study of Scripture in which, applying what we understand the Bible to be and what we know from previous study of the whole of Scripture, we primarily let the Bible interpret itself, observing what a text explicitly said to its original audience, the original import of that text, its timeless message, and its significance for our own beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.
- Study of the Scriptures is aided by the illumination of the Holy Spirit in response to a humble and teachable attitude and is enhanced through prayer, meditation, and trial.
Purpose and Context
- Christians interpreting a passage should pay attention to why the author wrote to the original audience, why the book is where it is in the biblical canon, and how the book fits into the story of creation, fall, and redemption in Christ. They should bear in mind the structure and flow of the surrounding argument, the ways the author chooses words and phrases to evoke previous Scriptures, the context of commands and promises, and the distinction between subject matter and main point.
- Since it is the words of Scripture that are God-breathed, the meaning of any biblical text is governed by its grammar and vocabulary. It should be interpreted according to, and never contrary to, its structure, connecting words, marked word choices, emphasis, the function of phrases and clauses, and uses of parallelism and repetition.
- Likewise, the structure of a sermon on a text should follow the structure of that text.
- I interpret the Bible literally in the sense that I seek to understand every text as its author intended, based on the words of that text. I am not a literalist in the sense of taking the most concrete or non-metaphorical meaning whenever possible. I do take such a "literal" approach to texts whose genre, context, and use of language indicate this is what the writer intends. However, the Bible is rich in vivid imagery, figures of speech, perspective-dependent language, poetry and song, and even hyperbole and wordplay. But even in such places, we are not free to impose meanings on the text that are not evident from the text itself.
Divine and Human Intent
- David, Isaiah, and other Old Testament prophets foresaw Jesus' coming, understood His divinity, and deliberately had Messianic import in their writings. Even so, since much about Jesus' nature and work as the Messiah was not yet revealed prior to His coming, the divinely intended timeless meaning of Old Testament texts may transcend the intention of the human author in ways that original author did not grasp. Yet that divine meaning is in addition to, and not contrary to, the human meaning or the grammar and syntax of the text.
- The New Testament writers understood the gospel of Christ and the realities of the church age, so there is no warrant to expect a difference between divine and human intent in the New Testament.
- I strongly believe that God by His inspiration prevented any of the human authors' biases, prejudices, misconceptions, or errant values from entering or influencing the text of Scripture.
Historicity of Scripture
- The Bible has to do with God's dealings with mankind. God's plan of salvation plays out across history, climactically in the earthly ministry of Jesus, and the stories of people and nations in the Scriptures are given for our moral and theological instruction, and even happened as a testimony to the truths of the gospel.
- The biblical writers give every indication they intended their audience to understand the narrative sections of Scripture as the real history of God's people. For all these reasons, it is vital to understand the narrative accounts of Scripture to be a record of events as they actually happened, whether a passage contains miracle stories, prophetic oracles, or down-to-earth accounts of wars or construction projects.
Interpretation of the Law
- As was common in ancient law, the Old Testament regulations were paradigmatic, giving instances of behaviors and punishments as models of guiding principles that could be generalized into broader rules of behavior.
- The law of Moses was given as a whole for the people of Israel and was not intended to be divided into ceremonial, civil, and moral categories or followed only in certain parts. Thus, while the "threefold division of the law" is a helpful topical arrangement, I do not believe such a difference has any bearing on the law's application to the Christian life.
Use of the Law
- Even in the time of the Old Testament, there has only ever been one way to be saved, by trusting in the work of the Messiah to free people from sin.
- The law restricts evil, reveals the nature of sin, and convicts hearts in a way that points to Jesus as the only and sufficient Savior. By His superior and eternal priesthood and by fulfilling the law, Jesus has instituted a new covenant so that none of His people, Jew or Gentile, are bound by any of the old covenant's regulations. The law calls for humility as it informs everyone of the nature and will of God, and of man's duty to God and others, exposing everyone's inability to please God apart from His grace, thereby showing their need for the perfect obedience found only in Jesus. For believers, the law also has the effect of increasing our esteem of Jesus in His sinless perfection.
- Christians are not under the "moral" portions of the law of Moses—indeed the entirety of the law is fundamentally moral—but instead are under the law of Christ, which consists in a clear sense of trust in God and of loving God and neighbor, as written on the mind by God's Spirit and demonstrated and defined in all of Scripture.
Poetry and Wisdom
- Many portions of the Bible are written in poetry so that the reader will strongly feel the truths those passages express, especially through imagery, generalization, and figurative language.
- Biblical wisdom is living out the truth through moral action, specifically the truth of life and the world grounded in God's design for creation and in the reality of Jesus' death and resurrection. The Bible's wisdom literature recognizes that life is affected by injustice, persecution, and disaster, all according to the will of God, but that it is still to our advantage to live by the principles of wisdom and righteousness, and that things that do not appear to balance out in this world will be set right in eternity.
- The proverbs of Scripture are lessons and observations about life that typically deal with only one factor at a time and are true in that sense (i.e., all other things being equal).
- Prophecy in Scripture is more about trusting and obeying God in the present than describing future events. At the center of all prophecy is God's sure directing of history toward the summing up of all things in Christ.
- Prophecies are often fulfilled in multiple stages, sometimes having unspoken conditions, and with distant events sometimes viewed through the window of nearer ones. The manner of their ultimate fulfillment is usually not evident until they are fulfilled. Nevertheless, even as the strange visions, symbols, and riddles of prophecy left the literal details unclear, the original audience was (and the present generation is) able to know what to do and how to live while awaiting prophecy's fulfillment.
I.A.4. The Bible and Other Sources
The Bible and Extrabiblical Knowledge
- Human fields of study may enhance the understanding of certain Scriptural details or answer questions left unanswered by the text, such as the location of cities on a map, the recorded history of surrounding nations, the military strategy underlying biblical campaigns of war, the logistics of the Israelites' travels through the wilderness, or scientific processes of events described in non-scientific language.
- However, the essential doctrinal and practical point of any text can be understood without additional materials, provided the Christian reader has an accurate translation of the Scriptures and the company of a faithful church.
- Bible reference materials, commentaries, creeds, sermons and the like can be immensely helpful in aiding private Bible study, as can reliable observations about life and the world. But in all this, scientists, historians, commentators, and theologians (and we ourselves) are fallible humans, and no human striving toward truth can hold authority over the Word of God, which is truth itself.
The Bible and Church Tradition
- Churches should allow differences of opinion on the reliability and value of long-past Christian writings and traditions, as well as the claims of more recent scholarship, and should not be insistent on matters the Bible does not address with regard to the date and authorship of books, the fate of the apostles, and the larger timeline of biblical events. The organization and customs of God's people beyond what is given in Scripture are valuable for study and example but holds no authority over believers and churches.
The Bible and Science
- Too often, some have opposed scientific progress based on incorrect interpretations of Scripture, and others have compromised or forsaken the true Scriptures on the basis of the erroneous claims of scientists. The Bible contains many miracles and supernatural events that are beyond finding out by human sciences. The natural events it records are described in ordinary, earthbound, non-scientific language, not only because the Bible was penned by ancient writers, but so that it could be meaningful to people of every age and culture. Yet this accommodation does not relegate extraordinary passages to legendary "Just So Stories" or literal affirmation of myths and primitive models of the world.
- Creation as it really is and the Bible as it really is can never contradict, but both human sciences and traditional interpretations of Scripture are fallible. Though both science and theology can lead us to know many things with reasonable certainty, neither holds divine authority in itself. We should therefore approach scientific Bible questions with humility and caution, and the focus of teaching in the church ought to be on what God would have us believe and do based on what He has revealed in the Scriptures themselves, not on answering questions whose answers may be lost to history, yet to be discovered by science, or simply hidden with God.
- The Bible is meant to be read and studied with a sense of unity amidst diversity, as the single multifaceted story of God's glory in Christ, and how that glory plays out in the redemption of God's people. Churches should therefore learn biblical theology as a study of the biblical writers' themes in their historical context, their own particular styles and use of language and imagery, and how all this fits together into a progressive revelation of the divine narrative across history from Eden to Patmos.
- The Bible's imperative can be stated most simply as, "Know the Lord," and that knowledge and its implications are meant to be applied to every aspect of life and thought. Churches should therefore learn systematic theology as an orderly and comprehensive summary of what the whole Bible has to say on any given topic, especially on the nature and character of the Godhead and the working out of salvation.
Historical, Natural, and Speculative Theologies
- The history of churches' interpretations of the Scriptures—their successes as well as their failures, and disputes—is an important part of the theological task, since one generation may see truths that another may not. Historical theology is therefore an aid to biblical study. But insights from natural theology or speculative theology provide no sure help to a systematic understanding of the Bible's teaching.
I.B.1. The Nature and Identity of God
The Divine Trinity
- It is important to specify that the Trinity is not merely how God reveals Himself, but is the way God really is.
- There is one God, who is revealed in the Bible to be three eternally distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, eternally equal in all their attributes, each being autotheos (self-sufficient in divinity), and all of equal glory, majesty, and lordship. Yet They exist as one eternal Being, with the Son freely submitting Himself to the Father, and the Spirit to the Father and the Son.
- While Christians in many times and places have struggled with the most helpful ways to understand how the Father, Son, and Spirit relate, the personality, full deity, distinctiveness, and unity of each of the Three are clearly set forth in the New Testament and are necessary for the biblical gospel to make sense.
God as Personal
- God is eternally personal and social by nature, as is clear from the fellowship among the Persons of the Trinity, in which God manifests love, assistance, cooperation, support, honor, communication, and delight. God is likewise Personal in His relationship with His creation.
God as Spirit
- As a spiritual being, God is without parts, dimensions, or size. He does not need a body composed of matter. God makes Himself known as He pleases, but creatures are unable to perceive the full essence of God by natural senses. Uses of body language for God in the Bible (such as finding favor in God's eyes) are figures of speech.
- Visions of God in the Scriptures describe various forms, usually heavy with symbolism and using distant language. God is instead known by His words and through His Son.
- Jesus' body is part of His human nature, and humanity bears the image and likeness of God by way of representation rather than physical resemblance.
God as Masculine
- Though God does not have a biological sex, gender is ultimately a component of personhood, and God reveals Himself to be masculine with regard to person. God gives Himself masculine names and relates to His people as a husband to a wife, or in the manner of a Father. Using masculine pronouns for God also preserves the concept of God as specific and personal, rather than a generic Deity or an impersonal divine force.
Names for God
- God names Himself variously in Scripture as God (El or Elohim in Hebrew, Theos in Greek), God Most High (El-Elyon), and God Almighty (El-Shaddai), and by His covenant name LORD (Yahweh or Yah in Hebrew, Kyrios in Greek) or LORD of Hosts (Yahweh-Sabaoth). He is also lauded with many titles and descriptions in praise of His attributes.
- God invites His people to address Him by name and as Father, and it is good to reflect on the nature of God revealed by those names and titles. But speaking God's names and titles does not carry any mystical or magical power to affect reality, or add power to our prayers and pronouncements.
I.B.2. The Greatness of God
God as Self-Sufficient
- Self-sufficiency is the most fundamental concept in understanding God's greatness. God is self-existent, self-sustaining, and fully satisfied in Himself, not needing His creation for anything. Although creation glorifies Him and brings Him joy, He is not dependent on creation to be infinitely glorious and joyful. He is also self-sufficiently good, unlike any other creature, as even in eternity, our purity will come from God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible so as to let him do it.
- Thus God was never lonely. Though we owe Him worship and praise, He does not need it. He does not need our help. He could, if He so desired, do all His work without us, but He permits us unreliable sinners to be fellow workers with Him as a gracious and merciful privilege. Even this involves no self-limitation on His part, simply that much of what He has chosen to do, He has chosen to do through us.
God as Immutable
- God is eternally unchanging in His nature, attributes, plans, and promises. Our relationship to God may change, as when sinners repent and are reconciled to Him. He may do one thing and then another, and merit a title by virtue of what He has done, as when Jesus became our risen Savior when He rose for our salvation. And our understanding of God and of His will may change due to our creaturely limitations, and as God reveals Himself gradually and selectively. But God is always the same in who He is, what He can do, and what He desires, and He never grows old or becomes lesser or greater than what He has always been.
God as Infinite
- God has every kind of natural and moral excellence incomparably, in full, and without limit. I deny that there is or can ever be any limitation or variation in quality in God's nature and attributes, and He is neither confined to creation nor constrained by anything or anyone in it. He is therefore impossible for any creature to fully comprehend, even in eternity, and is known and understood only insofar as He reveals Himself.
God as Transcendent
- God transcends space, time, and any other dimension of creation. He is distinct and separate from His creation, such that nothing in all creation may be called God or a part of God, nor does God's existence consist of moments coming one after another. God is "present at every point of space with His whole being," yet God acts differently in different places, being present in a special way to interact with His creation.
- Likewise, God equally perceives what to us is past, present, and future, and He acts in time as a way of relating to His creation. So God is above all things, God everywhere and also God with us. This does not mean that God is detached or inattentive to His creation, but rather that He is always watching and ready, and His presence and power are always present to help us and deliver us from evil.
God as Immanent
- God is continually active and intimately involved in His creation, in both nature and human affairs, so that all things are dependent on Him and He is knowable through the revelation He gives to His creatures.
God as Omnipotent
- God is able to do anything He pleases, in situations of every sort, no matter how difficult, and He works mightily even on human hearts. What God does or not do is never a matter of limitation but of choice. This gives us great comfort and boldness, and a great sense of awe at God's power.
God as Omniscient
- God has complete and infallible knowledge of all things actual and possible in the past, present, future, and timeless, eternally and all at once. The Bible presents God's certain knowledge of the future, including human actions, as a proof of His divinity. Further, the Bible speaks of God's foreknowledge as determinative; God knows what will happen because He has decided that it will happen. All our ideas, thoughts, impressions, emotions, attitudes, motives, and plans are plain to God, so that God knows who we really are more fully than we ourselves do.
God as Sovereign
- God acts in accordance with His holy, wise, and loving will, exercising complete rule over all His creation as He pleases, to accomplish His purposes without hindrance or constraint. His will is inviolable, and His providence is meticulous, involving not only large events in history but everything that takes place.
- The doctrine of divine sovereignty does not mean God will get things done "anyway" while His people are neglectful and disobedient, but that God will act by the means He has revealed in His Word. The Word speaks of the church as the body of Christ, and so it is the primary means by which God works in the world.
God and the Problem of Evil
- God is not the author or creator of evil. Ultimately evil comes from creatures' sinfulness. He does not directly add to the evil within a person, although the Bible describes occasions where He indirectly arranges it. God allows evil only deliberately and for a specific purpose, and not with a hands-off policy that would frustrate His plans for our lives. Nor is God coldly calculating in His use of evil; He always acts, or declines to, based on His holy, wise, and loving will. No one has suffered undeserved evil more than Jesus, and yet He endured it for our sake and sacrificially, "in exchange for the joy that lay ahead of Him."
I.B.3. The Goodness of God
The Glory of God
- God's glory is all that is awe-inspiring and wonderful about who He is, a glory that cannot be added to or taken away. At times in the Bible, God manifests His glory with a literal brightness that showed God's dwelling (shekinah) among His people. In worship, God is glorified in the sense of having honor and worthiness ascribed to Him by His creatures. All people ought to glorify God by living lives that are an acknowledgement of who He is, that reflect the glory of His character, and that direct wonder and recognition to Him and not to ourselves.
God as Responsive
- God acts and feels, and He does so differently in response to different situations. Yet God is not controlled or swayed by fallible and transient emotions as we are. God is a God of delight, of pleasure, and of joy, loving what is good and having a fatherly disposition. He is pleased by willing and faithful service and is a rewarder of those who please Him. The Bible also ascribes to God righteous anger and hatred of sin in believers and unbelievers alike, as well as grief and sorrow at sin and the suffering and destruction it causes. God is the tenderhearted Father of compassions who is moved by the cry of the weary, the sick, the blind, the unclean, the confused, the misled, and the bereaved. In all this, God's heart remains in accord with His holy, wise, and loving will.
God as a God of Order and Harmony
- God's holiness places Him above disorder and confusion, such that He acts with wisdom, keeping His creation under orderly control, to His glory and for the well-being of His people, pursuing the highest ends by the best possible means. God's salvation brings believers to peace and harmony with God, with one another, and within themselves, and ultimately with creation.
God as Holy
- God is holy, set apart from His creation both in terms of His essential being and in terms of His morality, untainted by sin or imperfection. All that comes from God is good, and all that is good comes from God. People and things that encounter God or are claimed by God are sacred, either consecrated to His service or devoted to destruction. God's holiness demands holy fear, true spiritual worship, and true repentance.
God as Just
- God intensely delights in all that is good, and just as intensely despises iniquity, and as the Judge of all creation He ultimately rewards all good and punishes all evil. God's glory is chiefly displayed through His justifying work of ending the cosmic rebellion against Himself whether through judgment or salvation.
- Justice requires payment for wrongs done, and the price for sins against a holy God is as severe as the forfeiting of one's only sacred life. God provides just redemption by the substitution of His Son, and for those whose penalty is thus satisfied, God's justice means salvation and life.
- In His justice God not only cancels sin's debt but breaks sin's power by enabling us through His Spirit to serve God as we ought, and over time we are conformed to the just character of Jesus Himself.
God as Jealous
- God's justice means that He cares about the wrongs done to His people, and will both avenge the persecuted and vindicate the righteous. He protects the people He has claimed and ensures that no promise of His fails, that no purpose of His is thwarted.
- God continually seeks to protect His own honor and will not finally allow His glory to be given to another.
God as True
- God is as He presents Himself, and all His words, whether spoken or written, given directly or indirectly, are incontrovertibly true.
- Our conviction that ours is the true God, and that He is the universal standard of truth, is not a matter of pride or self-righteousness, but the humble submission of our judgment and perception to what God has seen fit to reveal to us by His grace.
God as Faithful
- God is faithful in an absolute sense; He is authentic, reliable, and consistent in all things. He will always do precisely what He has said and will fulfill all He has promised. When He speaks, we should believe, and regardless of our perceptions, our faith in Him and His promises should hold strong. However, He need not accommodate Himself or His actions to false expectations concerning Himself and His promises.
God as Benevolent
- God is fatherly and kind in His disposition toward creation. He provides for creatures' needs and seeks their happiness, providing animal enjoyments, supplying the joy of learning and discovery, and giving His people both the ability to obey and a delight in obeying. However as a just God, He places a higher priority on our holiness than on our happiness, and He cherishes our eternal enjoyment of Him over our temporary enjoyment of the things of this world.
- God takes no pleasure in destruction or in the propagation of evil, but is grieved by the suffering of His creatures, even as He rightly uses these things to bring about His own higher purposes.
God as Gracious
- God is characteristically good toward humans in distress, even though they deserve punishment. He extends a common grace toward humanity in general, restraining people from sin, withholding judgment and giving time to repent, inviting all people to repent and believe the gospel, and even honoring temporary repentance with temporary mercy.
- God also demonstrates a special grace to His people by His effectual work of salvation, by which they enjoy all spiritual blessings. God's grace is the sole determining factor in His people being chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and born again by the Holy Spirit. Due to our imperfection, our service to God is accepted and rewarded only as a matter of grace.
- The death and resurrection of Jesus is the means by which all divine grace is bestowed, both the common and the special.
God as Patient
- While God decides for Himself when to be patient and for how long, He is characteristically long-suffering, putting up with lost sinners in understanding of their weakness and as a matter of grace to allow them time to repent. God is also persistent in His appeals and bestowing of kindness, and tolerant in accepting the imperfect worship and service of His redeemed people by virtue of the righteousness of Jesus imputed to them.
God as Loving
- God's love must be understood in light of His other attributes as revealed in Scripture, and is itself the standard for our understanding of human love. God sacrificially gives of Himself to others for their benefit, motivated by genuine compassion for them and sincere valuing of them in themselves. That which God finds valuable in His creatures is only what they have received from Him.
- God has from eternity set a special love on His people and demonstrates that love by redeeming them through His work of salvation. That redeeming love is not unconditional; it is conditioned upon holiness, and Jesus has interposed Himself to meet that condition.
I.C.1. Celestial Beings and the Supernatural
- Some time before humanity, God created personal celestial beings the Bible calls angels, so designated for their function as messengers and agents of God. They are superior to humans by virtue of their current rank, their immortality, and their dwelling in God's presence, but they are overwhelmed with awe of their infinitely superior God and will be subject to judgment by God's people in eternity. They are mighty and lethal but are limited by space and time. The majority of angels are chosen by God to be holy and morally perfect. The Bible teaches that angels' ministry includes ensuring the salvation of God's elect, but it does not teach that every individual has a specific guardian angel for physical protection. Angels must not be the objects of worship, prayer, or devotion, nor should they be mocked or railed against. The angels that are seen in the Bible appear most often as men, occasionally as other sorts of creatures, but never have the appearance of human women or children.
The Angel of the Lord
- I believe the angel of Yahweh in the Old Testament was an angelic being who mediated the presence of God more closely and directly than the angels who guided prophetic visions. Though this angel speaks for God in the first person and even receives sacrifice offered to Yahweh, I do not believe this angel is God Himself. The title "angel of the Lord" given to Gabriel in Matthew and Luke may indicate that Gabriel was also the Angel of Yahweh in the Old Testament.
- The Bible teaches that demons are angels who have sinned against God and have their allegiance to Satan. They are subject to the same limitations as the holy angels. Demons are associated with idolatry and false doctrine, but the Bible does not indicate that the false gods dreamed up by men are actual existing demons.
- Demons did in biblical times, and do still today, afflict humans with sickness and even control their bodies to harm them and others, which we often call possession, but the Holy Spirit protects believers from ever being possessed, and believers can be demonically afflicted only by the gracious will of God for their betterment. The Bible does not support the existence of territorial or generational spirits, or demonic influence behind every sin, disaster, or physical or mental illness.
- The consequences of sins and of a sinful family environment may pass from one generation to the next, but aside from original sin itself, there is no such thing as a "generational curse" that afflicts people with sinful habits or demonic afflictions inherited from their parents.
- Bible readers should endeavor to discern when the Bible is speaking of an "evil spirit" in the sense of a demon, or an "ill spirit" in the sense of depression or other psychological issue, since both are described by the same Hebrew phrase.
- Satan, also called the devil, is the serpent of the Garden of Eden and is an actual personal, celestial being created by God. Though he is in rebellion against God, he is subject to limitation by God and cannot help but further God's purposes and engineer his own defeat, as most clearly illustrated in the crucifixion of Jesus. Satan is nevertheless a powerful being and not to be mocked or opposed by any authority other than that of God Himself. Satan's original state and first sin are not clearly described in the Bible; I believe the denunciations of the kings of Babylon and Tyre in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are not descriptions of Satan's fall. Satan is currently at work in the world, deceiving the nations and tempting people to sin, but his destiny is not to rule hell but to be tormented there, and it is for this purpose that hell was created.
- The books of Daniel and Revelation suggest some degree of active conflict between God's angels and evil beings who are associated with human powers. This conflict is beyond human perception or participation, and angels do not depend on humans for their power or their victory.
- Satan and his forces are the only true enemy against which Christians wrestle. He wars against believers by afflictions and schemes to tempt them to sin against God. Believers' authority over demonic affliction or possesssion is the authority of Christ in them, is conveyed through the spoken Word of God, and is dependent on the sovereign will of God. Satan's forces are resisted not with ceremonies or incantations, but with prayer to God, intake of God's Word, and practice of humility and self-discipline. The believer's protection in spiritual warfare is first of all salvation from God's wrath, then truth, righteousness, faith, and a solid grounding and preparation in the gospel.
- Superstition and occultic practices in which one attempts to contact, communicate with, or be controlled by spirits or the dead are dreadfully evil and extremely dangerous, making a practitioner susceptible to demonic affliction or possession. Counterfeit miracles may even occur through the means of false religion and occultic practices, fueled by demonic power rather than the power of God.
Ghosts and the Paranormal
- At death, human spirits leave this world either to a place of comfort or a place of judgment. They have no communication with or influence over this world. Thus, there are no true human ghosts, and any effort to contact the dead or pray or speak to departed ancestors is hotly condemned by Scripture. Since demonic power is real and dangerous and Satan's forces are known to be deceptive, it is possible that demonic power may be behind some ghostly or other paranormal events. Nevertheless, such appearances are not spoken of in Scripture, and I doubt demonic beings take visible form without purpose. I believe it is more likely that paranormal encounters are either hoaxes or mistaken perceptions.
The Raising of Samuel
- The Bible teaches that Samuel actually appeared in a seance after his death. In that incident, Samuel functioned as a prophet, and we know from other Scripture that God can send His prophets back as He wills, as with Moses and Elijah at Jesus' transfiguration. The shock of the diviner and the death sentence pronounced on King Saul for his participation make it clear that Samuel returned by God's power and not by the power of their forbidden and wicked act.
I.C.2. Providence and Miracles
The Nature of Providence
- Providence is the work that God does upon, through, and for His creation, and especially in providing for His creatures. God's knowledge and rule extend to all things; He brings about all things in accordance with His will, and no purpose of His is ever thwarted.
The Pattern of Providence
- God is not arbitrary in His exercise of providence. He often provides a need, then a prayer, and then a solution, and God very often uses people to provide that solution. The Lord's power is "made perfect in weakness" as He chooses us, who could never do anything of ourselves, and works mightily through us; as we face situations only He could ever get us out of; and as He conquers sins in our lives that had previously held us captive.
Providence and Prayer
- God knows our needs and desires, is perfectly wise without our input, and can do anything He wishes, yet He calls upon His people to pray. Prayer fosters a relationship and helps us recognize our dependence on Him. It guides us in aligning our desires with His. God delights in answering prayers, in using people as a means to answering prayers, and in receiving glory and gratitude when prayers are answered.
The Wills of God
- The Bible sometimes speaks of God's revealed will and sometimes of His secret will. God has revealed what pleases Him: the exaltation of His Son, the well-being of His creatures, and His demands for absolute, perfect righteousness. His secret will has to do with His plans, kept hidden from human understanding, which may involve evil and sorrow for a higher purpose. The fact that a sinner's wicked act fulfills God's secret will does not in the least bit mitigate the sinner's guilt in acting contrary to God's revealed will. Nor has God granted humans the right to do evil that good may come.
Discerning the Will of God
- God does not call upon us to guess at His secret work and the future He has laid out for us. He rather calls upon us to follow Jesus by obeying His revealed will, to make decisions according to principles of wisdom and righteousness as they are taught in the Bible. As we walk with God and follow the Scriptures with the care, trust, and humility that He honors, His providence will guide us along the path that He knows is best for us, working all things together for the good of those who love Him, frequently in ways we could never have asked or imagined.
- The "relenting" passages in the Old Testament indicate not a sense of divine regret as though God did anything unwise or wrong, nor a change of God's purpose, but instead a previously planned change in God's actions resulting from His sorrowful disposition toward a changed situation. The events displease God by the evil and suffering they involve, despite the fact borne out by Scripture that He has brought those events about as necessary to His larger purposes. This disposition is part of a relationship with His creatures that unfolds in history for our sake.
- God has endowed humans, within their natural limitations, to choose the thoughts they entertain, the attitudes they hold, the words they speak, and the actions they take, and those choices are made according to their highest desire of the moment. Lost sinners walk according to the desires of the flesh, which overpower any desire to do what is right, and so the lost are morally unable to please God; their will is "bound" to follow those desires, though they are free in the sense that they are doing what they desire. Believers instead have the Holy Spirit, who gives them a hunger for righteousness and whose conforming work frees them to do good by faith for God's glory. Being still in the flesh this side of heaven, believers still experience fleshly desires, but they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who inclines their heart to greater desires by which they resist temptation and do God's will.
- Because humans act on their desires according to their natural ability, deciding with intentionality and a particular purpose, they are accountable to God for the good or evil of their actions. A sin is blameworthy not only for the nature of the action itself but also for the wicked desire that gives rise to it, and the foreseeable destructive consequences of it. Our most righteous acts on earth are still tainted by the stain of sin, but God graciously accepts and ultimately rewards the willing service of believers in Jesus' name, and all human goodness arises by God's provision so that He alone merits the glory for it.
- The Bible testifies clearly and often to the practical significance and moral accountability of human actions, and just as clearly and often to God's power over and action upon the human heart. Since the Bible is faithful and true in all its teaching, there can be no final contradiction between human agency and divine sovereignty, even if we struggle to fully understand how they work together.
God and Physical Laws
- God endowed creation with natural properties which He preserves, and He typically sustains interaction of created things according to cause-and-effect relationships that we know as physical laws. Our understanding of these laws, especially at the quantum level, is very incomplete, and those things we have discovered pose no threat to the validity of the doctrine of divine providence or the reality of miracles.
The Nature of Miracles
- According solely to His own sovereign will, God sometimes acts upon nature by His power in ways that would not arise from the normal operation of physical laws, including creation, causing events, moving or modifying objects, and enabling living creatures to do what they would never otherwise be able to do. The processes of conversion and sanctification are technically miracles by this definition, but it is usually acts such as these in the physical realm that are properly called miracles.
The Purpose of Miracles
- In Scripture, God most commonly used physical miracles among men to establish His identity as the one true God, to attest to His word and the prophets and apostles who delivered it, and to confirm the salvation of new categories of converts in the early church. Miracles typically evoke wonder, fear, and glorifying of God, and are often motivated by compassion for people suffering or in danger.
The Continuation of Miracles
- Physical miracles outside the delivery of new prophecy are rare even in the Bible. God generally sustains the normal operation of creation and predictable consequences of human behavior for the sake of our moral and rational decision-making and accountability. But God may still enact miracles on occasion in the present day, and believers need not shy away from making humble requests to God for miracles, recognizing that He will do what is best. I firmly believe that God does not tie His miracle-working to the ministry of any particular person.
I.C.3. The Beginnings of History
The Creator as Lord of History
- All that has ever come to pass has done so by the will of God through Jesus Christ. The goal or purpose of this creation and history is that God would be glorified in Jesus, most especially as Savior of a redeemed people who would reign with Him in the eternal kingdom of the new creation.
History and Prayer
- Literally from Genesis to Revelation, prayer plays a vital role at every significant point in the unfolding of God's plan of redemption. Nearly every saving act God performs for His people involves someone praying about it. It seems God determined that His most important work, His justifying work, His great acts of compassion, His covenant faithfulness itself, would be in response to prayer.
God and Creation
- God is Creator of all that is, and He alone, through His Son and by the power of His Spirit created he first things that ever were and fashioned them into the universe that now exists. God created, by the simple assertion of His will, both heaven and the physical realm in which we live, unopposed and without any obligation to create in any particular way.
The Processes of Genesis 1-2
- The Genesis creation account describes events in ways that would come naturally to a human observer, using poetic language that is faithful and beautiful in simplicity, but non-scientific for the sake of comprehension for people in all times and places.
The Appearance of Age
- I acknowledge God's power to create anything He wished, which could theoretically include buildings that were never constructed by men, tools and machines that were never manufactured, adult creatures who were never born, meat and bones that were never living creatures, and likewise a "mature" universe and earth with its apparent history ready-made. I believe, however, that the Bible indicates the universe is true to itself when carefully observed, and that it would be outside God's truthful character to build into the universe a very detailed and wondrous apparent history, and then call upon us to believe a different history that is at odds with that appearance, especially based on accounts that are open to interpretation at many points. It is more sensible to believe that a careful reading of the Bible and careful observation of the universe will be harmonious in their indications of the age of creation.
The Age of Creation
- The creation account of Genesis 1:3-2:4 is presented as a week of days to provide a framework for the Sabbath week in the law of Moses. Peculiarities in the vocabulary and grammar of the passage, comparison with day references in end-time prophecy, and other descriptions in the Bible all suggest the earth is far more ancient than humanity. Day six includes all the events of Genesis 2:4-25, and day seven is still in process per Hebrews 4. There is therefore no biblical reason to resist observations of nature that indicate an old age for the earth and the universe as a whole. However, the biblical clues are subtle, and as the Bible does not specify the date or age of creation, differences of interpretation are a matter of Christian liberty and should not be a cause for division, discipline, or limitation of ministry and fellowship.
The Beginnings and Diversity of Life
- The Genesis creation account indicates separate origins for sea, air, and land animals, and the best interpretation of "each according to its kind" rules out the notion that one kind of animal descended from a previous kind. I therefore reject the theory of evolution. Natural variation and natural selection may account for differences within a species or other small category of life, but these principles cannot explain the complex and interdependent machinery of organisms, nor can scientific inquiry distinguish between diversification by common descent and diversification from God simply creating animals that are similar to one another.
The Beginning of Humanity
- Affirming a historical Adam and Eve as our common ancestors, created separately from the animals, is essential to biblical faithfulness and the story of the gospel. The Bible affords no other reading than that Adam was an individual created fully human from dust (non-living material), that Eve was created from Adam's body, that they were the very first fully human beings, and that all humans from that time forward are descended from them.
Death and Decay in Creation
- The Bible does not indicate that the fall of mankind brought drastic changes to the laws of physics, introduced new plants and animals, or entailed a redesigning of herbivorous animals into carnivores. Instead, there is much evidence in the Bible that the temporariness of nature, its decay and corruption, its need for cycles and balance, including day and night, summer and winter, life and death, predator and prey, are built into the fabric of this creation from the beginning as part of God's design, and that these realities glorify God in their own way. As the ground was cursed in Adam's stead and mankind abdicated his role, there is mutual hostility between nature and fallen man, and creation groans as it awaits the restoration of mankind and his harmony with nature.
The Genealogies of Genesis
- I am fairly confident that the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 are actual counts of individuals' lifespans, measured in years. They are not entirely successive generations that would allow one to "walk back" a date for Noah's flood or the garden of Eden, but instead are trimmed or representative lines of descent as often occurs elsewhere in biblical chronologies.
The Beings of Genesis 6
- The "sons of God" of Noah's time who gave rise to the Nephilim were angels who rebelled and committed sexual sin with human women. Their precise connection to the Nephilim is left unstated. The letters of Peter and Jude indicate these angels are currently held in a place of darkness awaiting judgment.
- The Great Flood of Noah's time was God's righteous judgment on rampant human sin, and occurred as described in the Bible. It was of sufficient extent to destroy all mankind on earth, apart from Noah's family, but the language of the narrative does not necessarily mean that water covered the entire planet. The animals that would need to be saved from a Flood universal in human scope would have fit in the ark without prohibitive difficulty. There is no evidence, whether biblical or physical, that any flood was the cause of continental drift, the formation of mountains and deep canyons, strata and features of sedimentary rock, magnetic pole reversal, or the creation of fossils and oil deposits.
The Tower of Babel
- The precise wording of the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11 leaves open the questions of whether it describes the original founding of the famous city of Babylon or an even more ancient site, whether the project involved all the peoples of the region or all the peoples of the world, and whether it is meant to describe the origin point of all the languages of humanity or only a disruption of that project. My interpretation is that some centuries after the time of Noah, humanity was largely contained in the Near East, still speaking a common language, and God replaced this language with the seeds of the world's language families, whereupon mankind finally began to spread over the face of the earth. The city of Babylon founded no earlier than the 2200s B.C. shares Babel's name in Hebrew but in not continuous with it, as evidenced by the fact that Genesis 11 reports the abandoning of the earlier building project.
- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were real individuals whose lives are faithfully described in the Book of Genesis, and the Israelites, Edomites, Ishmaelites, Moabites, and Sons of Ammon were Abraham's physical descendants. Likewise, modern Jews are descended from the Israelite tribes that rose from Jacob. I date Jacob's move to Egypt at around 1876 B.C., as the Exodus is dated 430 years to the day after that event. The birth of Abraham was 290 years before this, so about 2166 B.C. This is the earliest biblical event that can be firmly dated.
The Setting of Job
- Job was a real individual who lived in Edom prior to the time of David, as a worshiper of the one true God, and his life was as it is described in the Book of Job. In light of the poetic customs of ancient sages, it is my opinion that the poetic passages of Job represent actual poetic responses (translated to Hebrew from Edomite) that Job and his companions presented to one another during Job's time of suffering. In any case, these passages at least faithfully represent in great detail what these men said to one another, and the ideas contained there are those of Job and his companions and not of a later author.
I.C.4. The History of Israel
Dispensations and Covenants
- I reject dispensationalism but also find fault with elements of Reformed (i.e., covenant) theology. I prefer instead what is called new covenant theology or progressive covenantalism, in which the old covenant was given to set the stage for the coming of the Messiah and governed the people of Israel from the Exodus until the coming of Jesus as the "Prophet like Moses." The terms of that covenant were material, shadowy, and symbolic of the new covenant that forever replaces it. Since Pentecost, God's people are now constituted eternally as the church, who live in a time of fulfillment as the heirs of the full and spiritual promises to which the ancient promises pointed.
- The Exodus from Egyptian slavery is the true historical origin of the nation of Israel. I date the Exodus around 1446 B.C., since I take literally the 480 years the Bible says elapsed between that event and the groundbreaking of Solomon's temple. It is my very tentative opinion that the Pharaoh who reduced the Israelites to harsh slavery was Ahmose I, and that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Thutmose III. I am highly skeptical of David Rohl's New Chronology for Egyptian history and believe it creates as many problems as it claims to solve in reconciling biblical and extrabiblical history.
The Conquest of Canaan
- The tribes of Israel came out of Egypt into the promised land of Canaan and settled there as described in the Books of Joshua and Judges. God's command to destroy the Canaanites was just on account of that people's cruelty and immorality, and as described in Genesis, God waited until the Canaanites were wicked enough to merit such destruction before bringing the Israelites in. The Israelites nevertheless failed to eradicate Canaanite influence and instead imitated them, and thus soon fell into idolatry.
The Chronology of the Kings
- For the kings of Israel and Judah, I generally follow the chronology of Edwin R. Thiele, except that I believe Hezekiah held a co-regency with his father so that his reigning activity began before the northern kingdom of Israel fell.
Prophecy and the Return from Babylon
- The Jews' resettlement of Judah after the Babylonian exile was only a foreshadowing of their eventual return to God and recognition of the Messiah, a revival prophesied in both testaments, which will bring an end to their true exile after the full number of Gentiles have come into the faith.
The Source of Old Testament Writings
- I believe Genesis through Deuteronomy were penned by Moses, with minor editorial updating due to changes in some proper names and the development of the Hebrew language over the centuries; no such editorial changes affect the substance of the Pentateuch. I suspect (but have no firm opinion) that the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were set in their present form by one author to explain how the Jews came to be in exile. I believe David wrote at least the psalms ascribed to him by the New Testament, and almost certainly the other psalms said to be "of David." I understand Solomon to be the author of his section of Proverbs, as well as Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, but I believe Ecclesiastes received substantial updating of vocabulary and grammar due to its late entry into the canon. I believe the first-person prophetic books were written by the prophets who bear their name, including Daniel and the whole of the Book of Isaiah. (Jonah's narrative is not in the first person and is therefore technically anonymous.) Chronicles was the last inspired Scripture of the Old Testament, and was written to testify to God's faithfulness to the house of Judah and the line of David.
I.C.5. The History of the Church
The Time of Jesus' Birth
- Matthew and Luke both have entirely faithful accounts of the events surrounding Jesus' birth, only with a different selection of details. Based on the traditional date of Herod the Great's death, I am of the opinion that Jesus was born around 5 or 6 B.C., probably in the late winter or early spring. I am aware of the theory that Herod died in 1 B.C. instead of the more traditional 4 B.C., but I have not yet studied the issue.
The Chronology of Jesus' Ministry
- John the Baptist began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius, who became emperor in August of A.D. 14. I therefore believe Jesus' ministry began late in A.D. 29, and I date His passion to A.D. 33. I believe Jesus was crucified on Friday, the day the Passover lambs were sacrificed, and was raised from the dead before dawn on Sunday morning.
The Beginning of the Church
- The church was a new reality instituted at Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit indwelt those who were in covenant with God by their faith in Jesus. These early believers had accepted Jesus' offer of a spiritual kingdom and salvation in Him consisting in the forgiveness of sins, an offer most of Israel had rejected. The church thereby laid claim to the ancient legacy and promises of God's people Israel, whereas those who rejected Jesus were outside God's covenant because of their sins, just like rebels and idolaters in the Old Testament. God confirmed this new reality by many signs and wonders, just as He had used miracles for confirmation in the time of Moses and Joshua, and again through Elijah and Elisha during Israel's time of idolatry.
The Writing of Galatians
- While the evidence is divided, I prefer the North Galatian theory, in which Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians early during his three years in Ephesus, after the Jerusalem Council and his second missionary journey. Accordingly, the Jerusalem Council took place during Paul's visit to Jerusalem that is recounted in Galatians chapter 2.
- The Book of Acts ends with Paul being chained and guarded under house arrest for two years. I believe Paul was released from Roman custody for a time, during which he made the journeys described in Titus and First Timothy. He was then imprisoned again in Rome where he wrote Second Timothy before being executed.
The Source of New Testament Writings
- I believe Mark was the first gospel written, and that Matthew and Luke were written separately from one another, each using Mark and another common source. John's gospel was written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem, with the expectation that his audience was aware of the main events common to the other three Gospels. I accept the traditional authorship for all the Gospels and Acts, and Pauline authorship for his thirteen canonical letters. I do not pretend to know who wrote Hebrews, though I think Silas ought to be considered as a possible author. I believe James and Jude were written by the half-brothers of Jesus, Simon Peter wrote his two letters (with the help of an amanuensis for the first), and the apostle John wrote his letters as well as Revelation. I believe Revelation was written under the reign of Emperor Domitian as the final inspired writing of Scripture.
Church History and the Seven Letters
- I am firmly convinced the letters of Revelation 2-3 are not intended to prophesy seven eras of the New Testament church.
The Protestant Reformation
- I believe the Protestant Reformation was a gracious provision of God to re-establish an institution of gospel-preaching churches following centuries of corruption of the Western church at large. The Reformation is carried forward by an adherence to the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, on the basis of Scripture alone, and a determination to be "always reforming" our beliefs, lives, and church practices by the light of Scripture.
The Origin of Baptists
- I reject the "Trail of Blood" view of Baptist history, believing instead that Baptist churches arose out of English separatism in the 1600s, as various groups of believers rediscovered the Bible's teaching about the ordinances and regenerate church membership.
I.D.1. Human Nature
The Purpose of Mankind
- The goal of God's creation of mankind is to have a people redeemed from darkness to be His own possession, who will glorify and enjoy Him forever in worship and service. He therefore rescues a remnant of people from the sin into which all have fallen, selected from every tribe, nation, and language. As the Second Adam, Jesus is the standard and living example for the behavior of perfected humanity.
Man as a Living Soul
- Mankind is a living soul, meaning an embodied spirit. The normal state of a human is as a material unitary being, but in death the immaterial aspect of the person lives on even as the material decomposes. At the resurrection, we will resume a material condition as the body is miraculously reconstituted and rendered incorruptible.
The Capacity of the Spirit
- The human spirit consists of the intellect, emotions, and the will, all of which interact mutually with the body. Unlike animals (whom Scripture also calls living souls), the human spirit is capable of fellowship with God. But it has no ability to perceive natural things beyond the senses or know the future, or to affect reality apart from the body's natural capacity. Even our knowledge of ourselves consists of conclusions we draw indirectly from observations and reasoning based on our sensations and reflections.
The Image of God
- Mankind is uniquely made in the image and likeness of God; every human person is such an image from the moment of conception. Being images of God means we all have a divine mandate: to fill, subdue, and cultivate the earth, which includes the building of culture—family, church, business, and government—as a way of using our talents and gifts to foster godly values, to create, innovate, and make the world a better place; and most supremely, to make disciples of all nations as divine ambassadors by sharing the word of God and the love of Jesus. The divine image also means everyone has sacred dignity, such that what we do to another person, we do to God in a representative sense. And the divine image means every person is exactly equal to every other in their value and essential rights as people.
Sinners and the Image of God
- Original sin has marred every aspect of the human person. Nevertheless, the fall does not erase God's image in us; lost sinners still have human dignity, and reflect God's likeness by their creative capacity and some appreciation of goodness, truth, and beauty. Mankind's progress in the arts, science, technology, and humane institutions are reflections of God's image, even as human nature remains as sinful and primitive as it ever was. Sinners are even capable of love for others and great acts of kindness and generosity. Many even believe they are serving God by their actions. But good works do nothing to erase the guilt of sin, and only once born again can they be reconciled to God.
The Balance of Reason and Emotion
- People of sound mind are endowed by God with the ability to reason and to experience emotions. People believe things for more than just the logical validity of an argument, because God has designed us so that we cling to and live out the truths we cherish, and in reflection of His justice we are concerned with not only how things are, but how they should be. Because sin corrupts our whole being, both our intellect and our emotions are defective, and as believers we must work to bring them into line with God's will through Bible intake, prayer, discipline, and cooperation with God's Spirit within us.
The Human Conscience
- God has placed within each person an inner sense of His law, which we call the conscience, whereby we have some sense of right and wrong, though that sense is fallible and incomplete. We require God's Word to fully understand His will, but our conscience gives light enough to leave us without excuse for our actions.
The Beginning of Human Life
- The Bible is crystal clear that life begins in the womb, and that this life is spiritual: Humans are marred with sin from the time of conception, and yet the Holy Spirit filled John the Baptist before his birth and caused him to leap for joy at the sound of Mary's voice. Gabriel's words to Mary also make no sense unless Jesus was Himself while still in her womb. The unborn in Scripture are called children and are each crafted by God for their own purpose, and they were given explicit protection in the law of Moses. Christians in the early centuries of the church, as well as Jews of the time, were known for opposing abortifacients and the practices of abortion and infanticide popular in their time, even rescuing discarded children and raising them in the church.
I.D.2. Gender and God's Design
Mankind as Male and Female
- From the beginning, God has made each individual, body and spirit together as a whole person, either male or female, and a person's true gender identity is both divinely ordained and unchangeable. The differences between the two sexes are not merely anatomical but include characteristic tendencies of thought and behavior. The Bible presents traits of masculinity and femininity not as virtues to be explored but as realities that naturally exist as a typical function of a person's gender. While the Bible teaches a gender-based difference of roles in certain contexts, the virtues and moral expectations toward which people ought to strive are identical for men and for women. Men and women are equally created in the image and likeness of God and are of equal general ability, so that neither sex is more rational, emotional, wise, moral, or spiritually sensitive than the other.
Masculinity and Femininity
- Man was created with his role of covenant headship in mind, and woman was created as a helper suitable for him. It is evident from Scripture that man's inherent masculinity equips him to be what a husband and father ought to be, and woman's inherent femininity equips her to be what a wife and mother ought to be. It is difficult to distinguish the inherent differences between men and women from traits learned by culture and upbringing, and we should be careful to avoid stereotypes. In brief, it seems to me that men are gifted for covenant headship by a greater proclivity for initiating, protecting by offensive action, testing, leading, and approaching needs as problems to be solved, and that women are equipped in a complementary fashion by an opposite proclivity: for listening, protecting by defensive action, trusting, following, and approaching needs as opportunities to cultivate relationship. These capacities are not only pragmatic but help illustrate the gospel relationship between Jesus and His church. However, we must remember that there is rich diversity among men and among women. Just as some women are taller than some men, even though men are taller than women on average, so a particular man or woman may not share the traits we associate with men as a whole or women as a whole. This does not make them any less masculine or feminine, nor does the Bible call upon them to be "more of a man" or "more of a woman." Their calling is to be more like Jesus, and to fulfill their responsibilities in all areas of life according to the gifts they already possess. Both men and women should be bold; both men and women should be tender-hearted, etc.
Gender Roles in the Family
- One of the fundamental purposes of marriage is to represent the union of Jesus with His church in the gospel. Accordingly, the Bible places the husband in authority over his wife by calling on wives to submit themselves to their own husbands "as to the Lord." The husband likewise is to use his position to sacrificially love his wife "as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her." The husband thus does not have rightful authority to treat his wife as a servant, to exploit or abuse her, or to use his authority for his own satisfaction and advantage, nor does his authority over her include rights of discipline or enforcement. God also treats the man (if present) as the representative head of his household. While fathers and mothers will naturally tend to parent in different ways, the Bible does not prescribe any substantial differences in the duties or priority of child-rearing between fathers and mothers. The Bible does not assign any occupational or household duties to one spouse over the other, nor does it restrict women to doing their work at home; it rather entrusts the management of the home to the wife, among the many other things godly women in Scripture are shown to do.
Gender Roles in the Church
- All believers have God-given gifts that are necessary to the spiritual health of the congregation, and as a matter of obedience to Scripture, each congregation should seek means for all their members to use their gifts to build one another up. This includes gifts of teaching and leadership possessed by both men and women. Even so, the Bible restricts positions of authority within the church to men. Inasmuch as teaching is the primary way authority is exercised in the church, and indeed most of the qualifications for church leaders relate to their ability to teach effectively by words and by example, this restriction extends to roles that involve regularly teaching adult men in a congregational setting. All aspects of congregational ministry that do not entail teaching or having authority over men should be open to women, including facilitating discussion, moderating meetings, practical organizing and leading of ministry teams, and the teaching of women and children. In light of the Bible's support of women prophesying and praying in church, the women among the Spirit-filled preachers of Pentecost, and the example of Aquila and Priscilla teaching Apollos together, I do not believe Paul's instruction is meant to prohibit women from giving testimonies, biblical instruction, and exhortation on an occasional basis, or where there are no qualified men able to do so. Nor do I believe that women are prohibited from the work of evangelism, missions, or Bible teaching outside the church. I interpret 1 Timothy 3 to recognize the existence of both men and women as deacons. Men who preach the Word as elders in the church have a special, indispensible, God-given role for the congregation that is superior to every other mode of teaching. But placing gifted women in ministry positions in obedience to Scripture does not set a church on a "slippery slope" to disobeying Scripture.
Gender Roles in Religious Education
- Pastoral experience is desirable for teachers who train prospective ministers in specifically pastoral duties. For all other scholastic training, there is no rational or biblical reason to prefer men over women in teaching biblical languages, biblical interpretation, theology, church history, or any other religious subject in Bible colleges and seminaries, or for restricting schools' administrative posts to men.
Gender Roles in Society
- Outside the church and the family, there is no biblical delineation of gender roles. Though Scripture calls on wives to submit to their own husbands, it does not call women in general to submit to men in general, or indicate that men should dominate in leadership and representation. The Bible faithfully describes the unfairly patriarchal culture of its time but does not prescribe it. It rather affirms and often draws attention to the inclusion of both men and women in societal leadership, business, education, defense of family and country, social events, public addresses, charity, and personal discipleship.
I.D.3. Sin and the Fall of Mankind
The Original State of Humanity
- Adam and Eve had the same anatomy and abilities as ourselves, but they were originally sinless and in peaceful harmony with life in the garden of Eden, a place exempted from the wild and dangerous world outside the garden. Adam and Eve were originally innocent of sin but not self-sufficiently good. Their life was sustained by food from the garden, but when they sinned, they were bound to eventual death by being cut off from the Tree of Life whose fruit would have kept them immortal.
The Fall of Mankind
- The sin of Adam and Eve brought God's active curse: on Satan the tempter, dooming him to ultimate humiliation and defeat, and on the ground in mankind's stead, resulting in hostility between mankind and nature. The pain involved in the divine mandate to multiply and to cultivate the earth was increased, and mankind was expelled from the garden, cutting them off from immortality. But most tragic was the immediate consequence of the sin itself, which broke mankind's fellowship with God and brought spiritual death into the world.
The Purpose of the Fall
- Although it is not stated directly, various strands of biblical evidence seem to indicate that God's plan of salvation was not a response to the fall, but rather the fall was part of the larger plan, a necessary element of God's objective in creation: that He would dwell in eternity with a people He had redeemed from darkness.
- When Adam sinned, he did so as representative of all humanity, so that all his descendants begin life already under condemnation and inherit a nature in bondage to sin. This depravity corrupts every aspect of our person and disrupts our relationships to God, others, ourselves and the rest of creation. Apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we are held captive by our own sinful desires; unsaved people are dead in sin, not meaning that all are equally bad, or that any are as bad as they could be, but that they are "actuated by the wrong principles" and thereby morally unable to please God, or even truly desire to come to God on His terms. Even we who are saved have those desires within us as long as we are in the flesh, and our most righteous acts are tainted by impurity and are accepted by God only by His grace in Christ.
The Nature of Sin
- Sin is a lawless disposition, where by action or neglect we displace God's will with our own, resulting in thoughts and actions that are contrary to God's good character and disobedient to God's expressed will. Biblically, the word "sin" can refer to that disposition within us that drives us to act sinfully, to the sinful act itself, to the guilt of having sinned, or to the sin offering necessary for that guilt to be removed.
The Severity of Sin
- God hates and judges all sin. The Bible indicates that there are degrees of sin and that some incur greater judgment, based principally on the knowledge and willfulness of the sinner. (Ignorant and unintentional sins are consistently given leniency.) But any amount of sin makes one guilty before God and is only forgiven by His grace on account of Jesus' atoning death. Because sins are traitorous acts against a holy God, the full weight of sin's severity is infinite and beyond human comprehension.
The Effects of Sin
- Sin is addictive and conscience-searing for the sinner, and is destructive both to himself and to others. A Christian's sin disrupts harmonious fellowship with God, bringing about God's fatherly displeasure and often His discipline. It also impedes the Christian's growth in the faith and hinders prayer, as well as his right understanding of Scripture and receptivity to it.
Sin and Sickness
- The fall of mankind has left all people subject to physical and mental illness, which come for any number of natural and providential reasons. While God does at times use such illness to punish or to discipline, the Bible makes clear that not all such maladies are a consequence of particular sins but may instead serve a higher purpose. God makes people as they are and directs their lives as He will for His own reasons, which may have nothing to do with their own choices. All will ultimately be for God's glory and the believer's good, even when it involves deep suffering.
- God is the healer of all sickness and human frailty, and delights in bringing healing and salvation in response to prayer. Subject to His own sovereign will, God occasionally heals miraculously. Most commonly, God heals through the actions of people, whether through medicine, counseling and other therapy, and the uplifting intervention of friends and family. Some are not healed in this life, but full healing comes to all God's people in the resurrection, when all pain, sickness, and suffering will be eternally gone.
The Unpardonable Sin
- Countless people have committed the most heinous of sins and resisted the gospel message many times with varying degrees of ignorance or hostility, and yet have later come to Jesus by God's mercy. The sin which Jesus says will not be forgiven, which John calls a sin unto death and Hebrews identifies as impossible to restore to repentance, is rejection of the message and ministry of the Holy Spirit through a willful and final renunciation of salvation in Christ, with full knowledge of what is being rejected. Those who choose this path will find no salvation outside of Christ, and place themselves outside God's established means of reconciling sinners to Himself.
Repentance from Sin
- Repentance from sin involves confessing and purging away evil, and turning from it to pursue obedience, as the result of an inner change. That change results from saving faith, which recognizes God's justice and mercy as displayed in Jesus, and responds trustingly to Him with grief and hatred of sin along with a desire to please God. Repentance is beyond the moral ability of an unsaved sinner, but is graciously granted to sinners by God, through blessing, affliction, the preaching of God's Word, remembering the Lord, and godly fear.
I.E.1. The Nature of Christ
Our Knowledge of Jesus
- Our standard for knowing who Jesus is, what He did and taught, what He thinks of things, and what He would do or say in various situations, is not our own sensibilities or imagination, nor our traditions, but the whole of Scripture, which presents God's united testimony about His Son.
Jesus as the Messiah
- Jesus is the Spirit-anointed Messiah (from Hebrew) or Christ (from Greek) promised in the Old Testament, being the Prophet like Moses whose teaching supersedes the law, the undying great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, and the Son of David who fulfills the Davidic covenant and reigns forever.
The Deity of Christ
- Jesus is God the Son, who exists from eternity, ever unchanging in His full divinity. He shares the one divine essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit and is thus of the exact same nature, possessing equal attributes and equal Lordship with them, and sharing with them the divine will. Genuine believers may fail to comprehend or adequately express the full deity of Christ and its implications, but believing and confessing that Jesus is the God alongside the Father is necessary for salvation.
The Humanity of Christ
- At the right time, God the Son added to Himself a whole human nature, body and spirit, by being conceived from the substance of Mary in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit while she was still a virgin, and thereby became the Son of Man, fully human not only in body but with a distinct human will, mind, and emotions, and subject to real temptation, yet without any taint of sin. He was named Jesus at the time of His birth and circumcision. Jesus' full humanity was a necessary prerequisite for His priesthood, so that He would be both a fitting sacrifice and a fitting representative as the one Mediator between God and mankind. Genuine believers may fail to comprehend or adequately express Jesus' full humanity and how it relates to His deity and the unity of His person, but believing and confessing that Jesus came in the flesh (i.e., became a real human being) is necessary for salvation.
The Unity of Christ
- Since His incarnation, Jesus is fully God and fully man, possessing each of the two natures inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably. In a manner incomprehensible to us, Jesus is one undivided person even as He has two such different natures at the same time.
Submission of Christ to the Father
- While the two are equal in nature and Lordship, God the Son eternally and happily exists under the headship and authority of God the Father, such that He calls Him "My God." This structure, which is also evident in the Holy Spirit's submission to the Father and the Son, is not one of subordination of nature or being but an ordering of roles and relationships. This ordering implies that humans too can have distinct roles and hold varying positions of authority while still being equal in value and dignity.
Christ as Begotten by the Father
- Jesus is eternally begotten in the sense of being eternally God the Son and being chosen by the Father to be the Christ before the foundation of the world. When the Psalms and Hebrews speak of the Father "begetting" Christ on a certain day, it is a reference to His exaltation upon His resurrection from the dead.
I.E.2. The Incarnation of Jesus
Old Testament Christophanies
- Although God took symbolic visible form in certain prophetic visions in the Old Testament, I do not believe God the Son ever walked as a human on earth prior to His incarnation, neither as Melchizedek nor as the Angel of Yahweh, both of whom are instead created beings.
The Incarnation of Christ
- The Son of God emptied Himself in that He added to Himself a human nature in His incarnation along with all its weaknesses, yet without sin, and, though retaining His full divinity, forwent the riches and glories of heaven and performed miracles not by His own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Virginity of Mary
- The Bible testifies clearly that Mary was a virgin until the birth of Jesus. It is implied that she had a normal marital relationship with Joseph from that time forward, and bore other children whom the Bible calls Jesus' brothers and sisters.
The Role of Mary
- Mary is blessed for her trust and obedient submission to God. She knew His identity as the Messiah and believed in His miraculous power, she supported Him at the beginning and end of His years of ministry, and she is named among the first members of the church after His ascension. Yet she was not sinless, nor was she ever a source of grace and salvation. Christ alone is our Mediator and Redeemer, and it is idolatry to direct toward Mary any divine titles, prayer, worship, or veneration.
The Peccability of Christ
- Jesus inherited neither the sinful bent nor the condemnation of Adam. He endured to the fullest extent every sort of temptation that is common to man, and chose not to sin, and made that choice because of His moral perfection.
The Passion of Christ
- After His arrest and trial, instigated by Caiaphas and aided by Judas Iscariot, Jesus was crucified by order of Pontius Pilate. While on the cross He was separated from His Father and bore the divine wrath for sin, and then died, completing His atoning work. These events were predestined by God the Father and were permitted by Jesus' willing obedience. Jesus' body was buried, while His human spirit was in paradise, and He remained dead until shortly before dawn on the first day of the week. At that time the Father raised Him from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, returning to the same body in which He died, yet made incorruptible.
The Exaltation of Christ
- God raised Jesus from the dead, publicly affirming all Jesus' claims about Himself and demonstrating that His payment for sin was accepted and His sacrificial work was finished. Jesus was thereby exalted as "Son of God in power" and became the only source of everlasting salvation, the great High Priest who has accomplished purification for sins. In His exaltation, Jesus did not undergo any change in who or what He already was, but earned these titles and roles by fulfilling all their qualifications. The public nature of Jesus' exaltation means that no longer can anyone come to God through hope in an unnamed Messiah to come someday, but only through Jesus whom God has named as the only Savior.
I.F.1. Jesus as the Suffering Servant
The Obedience of Christ
- Jesus lived a sinless and perfectly obedient life on earth, observing all the ceremonial and moral demands of the law as they were intended, though not by the Pharisees' erroneous tradition. Though Jesus abrogated some elements of the law for others, as by declaring all foods clean, He Himself met all the law's requirements. Jesus' most important obedience was His submission to the Father in bearing all the penalties of the law for our sin in His suffering and death on the cross.
The Necessity of the Cross
- The Bible does not state that the death of Jesus was the only way God could have provided salvation, but that it is the only way God has provided salvation. The cross was therefore necessary because it is what God chose.
The Cosmic Scope of the Cross
- By His death, Jesus brought glory to the Father, demonstrated God's character and the nature of salvation, defeated Satan, secured His resurrection and exaltation, and served as the means by which God loved the world He created.
The Cross and Sin
- By His death, Jesus united Himself with us as our covenant head for our justification. He paid the penalty for our sins and died as a ransom on our behalf, taking our sins away and bringing forgiveness. This is what we mean when we say Jesus died "for our sins." Jesus' death also justified God's forbearance of sin as well as His judgment upon those who neglect so great a salvation. Jesus' death was not forced upon Him by sin or by the plots of men; rather, He died of His own volition by His agreement with the Father's merciful plan to save us from our sins.
The Cross and Israel
- By His death, Jesus saved and redeemed His people as the suffering Messiah, fulfilled the requirements of the law, fulfilled the promises and prophecies of the old covenant, and united people from every tribe, tongue, and nation with Israel as fellow heirs of God's covenant of salvation.
The Cross and the Church
- By His death, Jesus purchased the church as His own, giving Himself up for her, established the new covenant, laid the churches foundation, secured the gospel's power to draw people to salvation, reconciled us to peace with God, and granted us access to draw near to the Father as a priesthood of believers.
The Cross and Christian Identity
- By His death, Jesus brought all spiritual blessings to His people. His death was necessary for the sending of the Holy Spirit, and by His death He secured our rebirth, our saving faith, and our spiritual understanding, giving us everlasting life and making us heirs of His glory.
The Cross and the Christian Life
- It is Jesus' death by which we have died to sin, and by which Jesus instills Christian virtues in us and provides us with spiritual gifts through the Holy Spirit. Jesus' death alone makes our imperfect worship and service to God acceptable. Jesus' death gives us the opportunity for fellowship with His sufferings and has made us kings, priests, and co-laborers with Him in the work of building God's kingdom.
Nature and Extent of the Atonement
- Jesus clearly taught that a people were given to Him by the Father to be given life, and that all whom the Father gave Him would come to Him. He told His disciples that He was laying down His life on behalf of His friends, whom He then specified were those who do His commands. Jesus prayed expressly not for the world but for those the Father had given Him. He gave Himself up for His bride, the church, whom He bought with His blood out of every tribe and language and people and nation. The many blessings and mercies secured by Jesus' death were therefore effectually obtained for His people, not merely made potential or available for any who might receive them.
Descent into Hell
- I see no persuasive biblical evidence that Jesus descended into hell following His crucifixion, and every indication that He instead went to His Father in the paradise of heaven, as He assured the thief on the cross. Peter's reference to Jesus preaching to spirits in prison alludes to His spiritual presence in the preaching of Noah (the preacher of righteousness) to the wicked prior to the Flood, and the "lower parts" to which Jesus descended in humility were the earth itself.
I.F.2. Jesus as the Risen Christ
- By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father proved that Jesus' sacrifice was accepted, and endorsed all Jesus' claims about Himself. Jesus' resurrection grants every believer a new life upon their conversion and marks the beginning of the end-time resurrection, thus assuring that believers, being united with Him, will themselves be raised when Jesus returns. Belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus and in the promise of everlasting life with Him is necessary for salvation.
Ascension and Intercession
- Jesus ascended into heaven with an undying priesthood wherein He eternally intercedes for His people before the Father, no longer suffering for sin but demonstrating that the payment for sin has been made and there is no condemnation for those who are in Him. Jesus is also preparing a place for His people, to be revealed when He returns as judge of the living and the dead, and His saints are raised to reign with Him forever.
Personhood of the Holy Spirit
- The Holy Spirit is not a force, element, or attribute of God but is a person revealed in the Scriptures to have a mind, emotions, and a voice.
Deity of the Holy Spirit
- The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, sharing the divine essence and equal in divinity and Lordship with the Father and the Son.
Submission and the Holy Spirit
- In His role as the Spirit-anointed Messiah, Jesus submitted to the Spirit's wisdom and leadership and relied on the Spirit's filling and power during His earthly ministry. This was part of His humbling of Himself as well as His example for us. Outside of this, the Spirit carries out the will of the Father and the Son, proceeding from them both, particularly in the life of the church, since Jesus requested the Father to give the Spirit to Him to then pour out on His people at Pentecost.
I.H.1. Activities Done by the Spirit
The General Work of the Spirit
- The Spirit conveys God's power such that the works of God are generally said in Scripture to be done by means of the Spirit. The Spirit also conveys God's voice, having inspired the prophets and apostles and even directed Jesus' teaching during His earthly ministry. The Spirit gives life, both physically and spiritually, and is the ultimate source of human reason, wisdom, talents, creativity, and innovation.
The Spirit in the Old Testament
- The Holy Spirit was not yet given under the old covenant as the church has Him now, but He was active in the time of the Old Testament. He came upon certain people, empowering them for particular tasks and sometimes controlling them against their will. The faith and obedience of Old Testament saints came by the grace of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, but He did not indwell and gift all believers then as He does today.
The Spirit-Filled Messiah
- As the Messiah or Christ, both of which titles mean "Anointed One," Jesus walked the earth as the Spirit-anointed Messiah, being empowered, guided, and instructed by the Spirit in all He did and said. Whereas a measure of the Spirit is now given to every believer, Jesus had the Spirit without measure. The Spirit characteristically directs glory and worship to Jesus, to the ultimate glory of God the Father.
The Spirit and the Spread of the Gospel
- God has seen fit that the gospel is conveyed only through the words and actions of humans, but the Holy Spirit is behind every aspect of the gospel going forth. The Spirit directs the church in its sending of messengers, gives the messengers the will to go and the words to speak, and prepares the hearts of those who will hear. Most importantly, the Spirit empowers the gospel by mixing it with faith within the elect hearer, as one might mix two drinks together into one. From a human perspective, we often fail to share the gospel as we ought and face many obstacles and hindrances, and we are often frustrated by the response it receives. But from the Spirit's sovereign perspective, the gospel is completely unhindered, and God's Word never returns to Him void, always accomplishing precisely what God intended.
The Spirit's Work in the World
- The Spirit is at work in the world, restraining sin in the hearts of sinners and convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. This work may be resisted, and is resisted to the end, apart from the converting grace of God. Yet the Spirit converts sinners whom the Father has given to Christ, making them born again through their hearing of the gospel, a work the Bible calls regeneration.
The Spirit's Work in the Church
- The Spirit constantly indwells all believers and consecrates them for God's service, sealing them for salvation as a down-payment of God's promise that He will complete the work He has begun in them. Being a follower of Jesus means having the Holy Spirit, and vice-versa. The Spirit also fills believers as they avail themselves of His power to resist sin and serve God as they should, and by this filling He illuminates their understanding of the Scriptures and gradually conforms them to the character of Jesus, producing virtues in them as fruit, as they walk in step with the Spirit's leading. The Spirit gives believers, collectively, unity, guidance, and encouragement, and enables the church's leaders to equip the church for service and godly life. The Spirit also gives every believer gifts to minister to and edify one another. Part of the guiding ministry of the Holy Spirit includes opening believers' eyes to needs they should meet, sins they should repent of, and ministries they should fulfill.
I.H.2. Activities Given by the Spirit
- The spiritual gifts are activities manifesting the presence of the Holy Spirit, given by God to each believer for the church's benefit, according to the Spirit's intention. The Bible does not exhaustively list the gifts but classifies them as gifts of speaking (such as teaching, exhortation, and faith-building) and gifts of serving (such as leadership, service, giving, and acts of mercy). All gifts should be used to glorify God, unite believers, prepare them for service, and repair the wayward.
- The Bible also speaks of sign gifts that appear only in particular contexts and seem to disappear from view by the later books of the New Testament. Until the completion of the Scriptures, the church depended on apostles and prophets, and supernatural gifts of discernment, for doctrinal and practical guidance, and the newness of the gospel necessitated divine endorsement through gifts of tongues, healing, and miracles.
The Purpose of Tongues
- Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 explains that tongues were a sign to unbelievers of the legitimacy of the gospel, and by comparison with Acts, it is evident that Paul was miraculously enabled to share the gospel in new areas first in the local language of the people, as a demonstration that the gospel was divinely intended for them and as a rebuke to Jewish opponents who saw salvation as belonging to the Jews alone. Some of the Corinthians had this gift but somehow found a way to abuse it in their worship services, which is why Paul regulated its use to either keep it private or maintain self-restraint in public worship.
The Present State of Tongues
- Speaking in tongues as an ecstatic utterance bears no resemblance to the Spirit-given activity in the New Testament and is not unlike mystical practices attained through agitation as practiced in Sufism and many ancient and folk religions. It is therefore not a work of the Holy Spirit and has no place in Christian worship.
The Present State of Sign Gifts
- I firmly believe that miracles occur in the world today, providentially most commonly in societies that are more open to believing in supernatural activity. Yet I do not believe God invests any particular believers or ministers with the ability to perform healings and miracles or to speak in tongues as was done in New Testament times. However I am cautious in this belief, since while all claimants to these gifts that I am aware of are associated with fakery and heresy, much of God's work is not made public and the Bible does not specify that these gifts would cease. I am, however, firmly convinced that God no longer reveals doctrine or gives prophecy or verbal instruction apart from Scripture, nor does anyone qualify to be an apostle since the time of the first century.
I.I.1. Salvation as a Decree
- As everyone is conceived in sin and is without excuse for sins done in the body, and as God judges all sin, anyone who is saved from God's judgment on sin is saved only by God's mercy and grace, and particularly the grace obtained by the death of His Son Jesus. The divine favor upon which God determines to save someone is by definition unmerited, not bestowed on anyone based on their ethnicity, parentage, inner morality, good works, religious rituals, wisdom, spiritual sensitivity, or even their desire to be saved. Even a person's positive response to the gospel is given by the grace of God through regeneration, "For it is God who produces in you both the desire and the action for the sake of His good pleasure."
Salvation and the Trinity
- In short, believers are chosen by the Father, bought by the Son, and made holy by the Spirit. The Bible speaks of the Father loving, sending, choosing, planning, establishing covenants, and forming relationships. The Son is the Prophet, Priest, and King of the gospel, proclaiming liberty by bringing the news of salvation, atoning for sin and securing all spiritual blessings on the cross, interceding for believers as the High Priest of the new covenant, and reigning over the church with the promise to return and bring His kingdom to its fullness. The Holy Spirit applies to us the blessings secured by Jesus, inviting sinners through the gospel, regenerating them to supply their faith and repentance, and sealing, sanctifying, and preserving them throughout their Christian life.
- In eternity past, the Father determined a plan of salvation, from the death of the Son "slain from the foundation of the world" to the eventual holiness and blamelessness of a people "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world." Prior to creation, God determined all that was necessary for the salvation of every individual He would save.
- God saves an elect, not an elite. Believers are, in and of themselves, "even as the rest," being no better or worse than other sinners prior to their regeneration, and faring no better or worse in their salvation than other sinners would if God had chosen them instead. God chose every believer for salvation personally and individually, based only on His own will, which is not arbitrary but is holy, wise, and loving. The eventual faith of the believer is a result of this election, not the cause of it or the basis for it. Therefore the difference between the person who dies saved and the person who dies lost is not within them but is God's sovereign choice.
- As the term is used biblically, God's foreknowledge is not His knowledge of the future, but knowledge in the sense of personal involvement with people or situations, as when He "knew" Israel in the wilderness or inversely when Jesus tells sinners, "I never knew you; depart from Me." Thus Jesus was "delivered up by the determining intention and foreknowledge of God." God identifies Israel as His people "whom He foreknew" and Christ as "foreknown before the foundation of the world." Therefore, the foreknowledge by which God predestines the salvation of the elect is His setting His special redeeming love on them, deciding to claim each of them as His own for His name's sake.
I.I.2. Salvation as an Event
- In the work of regeneration, the Holy Spirit changes the sinner's heart, an act variously pictured as opening the heart to believe or removing the heart of stone and replacing it with a malleable heart of flesh. This change is nothing less than spiritual life from the dead, so that whereas before the sinner—on account of his captivating love of sin and fear of death—would never have responded in faith and repentance, once converted this is his natural and guaranteed response, and he embraces Christ willingly and eagerly. Regeneration is necessary for even the nicest and kindest person to be saved, and sufficient for even the meanest and most wicked.
- While sinners naturally resist the work of the Holy Spirit, regeneration is a wonderfully overriding grace which overcomes sinners' resistance and guarantees their conversion. They therefore are converted willingly and eagerly, just as they had sinned willingly and eagerly when held captive to sin.
- Conversion is the sinner's response to the gospel in saving faith and repentance whereby he accepts Jesus as Savior and Lord. It is the result of the radical transformation of the sinner's heart, mind, and will by the Holy Spirit's regeneration, and is a permanent change in the direction of a person's life.
- It is fitting that God saves those who trust what He has done to save them. Saving faith is a firm trust in the saving power of God in Jesus Christ. It entails both a cherishing of the fundamental truths of the gospel and a reliance on the work of Jesus for one's salvation from judgment and right standing with God. True saving faith recognizes the Bible as the Word of God worthy of all trust, and always bears the fruit of true repentance and good works. Faith is a matter of personal trust, and the vital element of sincere devotion to Jesus cannot be coerced by families, churches, or governments. Saving faith is a miraculous gift from God that does not come about through human manipulation, argumentation, or the presenting of evidence, only by an appeal to the gospel of Jesus.
Beliefs Necessary for Salvation
- The doctrines the Bible says one must believe in order to be saved are all integral to the gospel. We must believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who please Him, and that Jesus is the "I AM" (i.e., the Lord God) who really became human to accomplish the work of salvation. We must believe God's testimony about our own sin, the gospel of finding our refuge from sin in God Himself, and Jesus' role as the Messiah who saves from sin. We must believe that Jesus died for our sins and was raised physically from the dead, with the promise of our own resurrection. And we must believe that salvation comes by grace through faith. A Christian may err doctrinally in many ways due to ignorance, sin, and poor discipleship and yet be truly saved, but no one is saved while rejecting any of these fundamental truths.
- The Bible expressly identifies repentance as a grace granted by God, and it is the natural and inevitable outgrowth of saving faith in Jesus, wherein we gain a sense of the magnitude of our sin and a hope in God's mercy to forgive, and with grief and hatred of our sin, turn away from it in order to pursue obedience to God. As believers still struggle with temptations and proclivities to sin, the life of every believer on earth involves continual confession, repentance, and restoration.
- Jesus does not save us in our sins but from them. True faith in Jesus by definition involves trusting Him as a matter of personal commitment, and recognizing Him as the Messiah necessarily includes His appointment by the Father to have power, dominion, and rule over human affairs and especially over the people who are His own possession. All true believers are therefore disciples because they have been purchased by Jesus to serve God.
The Sinner's Prayer
- Prayer does not make us born again, but being born again makes us pray. God responds immediately and savingly to the penitent condition of a convert's regenerated heart of faith. But genuine faith expresses itself in words and actions, and Romans 10:9-13 promises salvation not only for believing in the risen Christ but for an initial act of confession that He is Lord and an ongoing life of calling on the name of the Lord. Confession, which may be offered in the form of a public prayer, is therefore an indispensable part of any real response of faith.
Justification in the Broad Sense
- Broadly speaking, the Bible uses justification language to encompass all of God's dealing with sin and establishing of righteousness on a cosmic scale.
Justification and Forgiveness
- The Bible says sinners are justified on the basis of faith in Jesus, as God recognizes the payment of their penalty by Jesus' sacrifice and they are thereby reconciled to God. This has do to with God's perspective toward us, and so is not something we experience, sense, or feel in this life. It is the removal not of feelings of guilt, but of the guilty verdict. By this justification, sins are fully forgiven not because God ignores them or entertains a legal fiction, but because He has identified and dealt with them in His own Son according to a legal framework explained in the Book of Hebrews.
Justification and Imputed Righteousness
- Justification also entails the believer's perfect righteous standing before God, which righteousness is not properly ours but is an alien righteousness found in Jesus' perfect obedience by virtue of His uniting Himself with us. The "work" of faith and the works that faith produces are therefore Jesus' works and not our own. This is the new creation which is already present in Jesus, and is a foretaste of the moment our righteousness will be publicly declared before God at the final judgment. At that time, the justification outside of us in Jesus will have been fully applied within us upon our resurrection from the dead.
Faith and Works
- Although faith necessarily produces the fruit of repentance and good works, justification comes in response to the faith itself and not the fruit, whether baptism, the Lord's Supper, good deeds, or ceasing of bad ones. Likewise, in the final judgment we will stand before the Lord by faith, "dressed in His righteousness alone," receiving an inheritance He has obtained for us. We are saved, from beginning to end, by grace through faith, apart from works, even the works that faith produces.
- God in His extravagant mercy not only pardons traitors but adopts them into His family and makes them His heirs. This adoption is enacted in response to saving faith, since "as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God," and believers are "all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." This makes God our Father in a way that does not apply to unbelievers, and the Holy Spirit within the believer provides an internal witness to the intimacy and fellowship we have with Him. God offers a special fatherly love, responsiveness, and guidance to His children, along with the privilege of sharing in Christ's labor, suffering, and ultimate glory. The Christian ethic is one of imitating God's good character as sons should resemble their fathers, and the dynamic of God's church is one of respect, priority, unity, and fellowship that ought to characterize a family. This adoption is also a royal son-placing as it makes us co-heirs in eternity with Jesus, who is not ashamed to call us brothers.
- The anointing that John says belongs to believers is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who testifies to the truth and significance of the Scriptures and guides believers toward it by His illumination so that they need no teaching or revelation in addition to or contrary to what the Spirit has already given in Scripture. A humble and teachable devotion to the Scriptures is therefore an evidence that someone has the Spirit of God.
Assurance of Faith
- Assurance of salvation is very different from faith; it is possible to have genuine faith and yet have certain doubts. False assurance is also possible. The question of genuine salvation is not whether the convert "meant" his response, but whether it has arisen from a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. The visible evidence of this is a changed life, and only once the fruits of repentance are there can anyone (including the convert) say with confidence that the conversion is genuine. The Holy Spirit sometimes gives believers an internal certainty about their salvation, but still, whether this is actually from the Spirit is proved by the evidence of the Spirit's work in the believer's life. If we trust and cherish what God has said, cling to Christ's righteousness for our salvation rather than our own or any other, and characteristically struggle against sin rather than revel contentedly in it, we have strong evidence to be confident that our salvation is real and that by God's strength we will endure to the end.
I.I.3. Salvation as a Process
- Jesus' work for us secures the Spirit's work in us, so that God does not merely remove sin's penalty but breaks its power over believers. From the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit begins a gradual, lifelong process of conforming the believer to the character of Jesus. Though every believer has momentary failings and periods of sin and doubt, there is a general upward trajectory in maturity and holy living, as all God's people are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Unlike other elements of salvation that are wrought by God unilaterally, the Bible speaks of sanctification as a matter of effort and diligence as we keep in step with the Spirit and avail ourselves of His power, yet it is always the Spirit's power and not our own that enables us to resist sin, obey God, and cling trustingly to the gospel.
- Only those who faithfully endure to the end will be saved, but that endurance depends wholly on the Lord. Jesus has an eternal ministry of intercession as our High Priest, such that He saves absolutely, completely, and forever. Everlasting life, in fact, already belongs to the person who hears Jesus' word and believes Him who sent Him; the believer has already passed from death into life and will never come under judgment. The Spirit uses every means possible, most especially the power of God's Word, to keep believers in the faith. Bible passages that warn against departing from the faith are one such means, which believers will heed, but also serve to expose the nature of those who attach themselves to Christianity apart from genuine salvation only to abandon the gospel later on.
- Believers never reach moral perfection in this life but look forward to a future when God completes His work in them so that they are forever sinless. Believers from every era will be resurrected when Jesus returns to earth, they will be claimed publicly as God's own, and they will spend eternity with God among them in the new creation. Much about resurrected existence has not been revealed, but risen believers will have incorruptible bodies, with no death, grief, or pain, and unhindered fellowship with God and one another.
The Means of Salvation
- As God's will is inviolable, all the elect must finally be saved; likewise, all whom Christ purchased on the cross must finally be saved, and all in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as a seal of salvation must finally be saved. This is no contradiction, nor does the divine guarantee obviate the need for human action. God's predestination provides the means of salvation as well as the ends: election by the Father, atonement by the Son, the founding of the church, the proclamation of the gospel, the Spirit using that gospel to convert sinners, sinners' response to the gospel, their trust in Christ and repentance from sin, their justification and adoption, their growth in grace, their endurance of many hardships, their perseverance to the end, their being raised at the last day, and being claimed at the Last Judgment as one of God's justified children—all are necessary means by which every New Testament believer attains their place in eternity.
- As all people are conceived in sin and inherit Adam's guilt, no one at all is saved from the wrath of God apart from His mercy in Christ. Even the smallest children are selfish and retaliatory, and are dishonest as soon as they can communicate. Yet the Bible repeatedly indicates a merciful attitude toward children too young to understand right from wrong, and Jesus freely blessed infants who were brought to Him during His ministry, saying, "of such is the kingdom of God." I conclude that God has made it so that those who die as children who are too young to express faith still receive full salvation, though I cannot say whether they are saved without faith of their own or are given a faith that doesn't express itself in ways we can see. This would also apply to people with such severe mental disabilities that they only ever have a child's level of understanding. I am sure the salvation of the parents and the question of baptism are immaterial to the spiritual state of the child. Most assuredly, in any case, God will do what is right, according to His holy, wise, and loving will.
Age of Accountability
- There is no set age at which every child becomes accountable for sins done in the body, but reliable testimonies I have read or experienced lead me to believe children are able to grasp the basics of the gospel around the time they begin to be able to read, to distinguish fiction from reality, and to comprehend the concept of death. The authenticity of gospel responses at such an early age will be tested by time; children who grow up to forsake the gospel, neglect religion, or indulge in a lifestyle of sin, thereby show evidence they were not saved. But those truly saved as young children will give over to the Lord new facets of their life as they develop and refine their beliefs as they grow.
I.J.1. The Church as an Institution
The People of God
- God has preserved one people, chosen and purchased as His possession, continuous from the time of Abraham and once consisting mostly of Jews who were Abraham's physical descendants. He made this people into a nation under the old covenant from the time of Moses until the coming of Jesus, who enacted a new covenant under which the Gentiles were grafted into this continuous line, so that God's people, reconstituted as the Spirit-empowered church, now includes believers of every tribe, nation, and language. Those who keep covenant with God by faith in Jesus Christ are the heirs of all that was typified in the old covenant; they are the sole Israel of God and are reckoned children of Abraham, whether they are ethnically Jewish or Gentile, and they alone can lay proper claim to the heritage of Old Testament saints.
The Church Defined
- As the term is commonly used in Scripture, a church is a congregation, a community of believers who covenant together as brothers and sisters in the gospel to gather at least weekly for corporate worship as God's temple and for ministry as the Body of Christ. As an institution it is the headquarters of Christian religion and instruction, and is the pillar and buttress of God's truth, the light of the world by word and example with regard to God's revelation of Himself to mankind.
The Church as the Body of Christ
- The introduction to the Book of Acts says that the earthly ministry of Jesus prior to His ascension was what Jesus "began to do and teach," implying that Acts' record of the church's history documented a continuation of Jesus' earthly ministry. The church is therefore, as Paul calls it, the body of Christ, the instrument by which Jesus' kingdom work is now accomplished in the world. As Jesus holds the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, so believers have a prophetic role in communicating God's Word to one another and to the world; believers are a royal priesthood, having access to perform religious service to God through Christ, ministering to one another and bearing one another's burdens, and mediating His love to the world; believers will also reign with Christ when He returns to bring the kingdom to its fullness on earth.
The Universal Church
- In thirteen instances, the New Testament uses the word church to refer not to a congregation but to the people of God at large, believers in all times and places, at least since the time of Pentecost. The Bible grounds the unity of this "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church" in the unity of the Godhead, the one gospel all true churches uphold, and their common recognition through baptism of the terms by which a person enters into the fellowship of God's people.
Unity of the Church
- Unity does not require uniformity. Churches that share a common faith in the essentials of the gospel still differ in their understanding of important issues of doctrine and practice. There is no divinely ordained structure or organization of which all churches need be a part, no human authority rightly set over them, and no obligation to sacrifice their conscience for the sake of unity by setting aside their convictions of what Scripture teaches. Unity is however, a reality that God's people are one, which is expressed as churches recognize one another's legitimacy, cooperate in worship and ministry insofar as conscience and practical differences allow, and hold forth the one true gospel in their common testimony to the world.
The Church and the Law
- Jesus fulfilled the old covenant in its entirety, and since His priesthood replaced the priesthood of Aaron, the old covenant that operated under that priesthood has necessarily been replaced by the new covenant Jesus enacted by His death. The law of Moses is therefore not binding on the church as a covenant in any way, whether the subject matter is ceremonial, civil, or moral. The Old Testament remains the Word of God and is authoritative as a testimony to Jesus and as a faithful record of God's dealings with His people. Our emulation of God's character should take into account how that character is presented in both testaments, including in the legal/covenant sections. But the church is now under the law of Christ as a norm for behavior. To say the Ten Commandments are the rule of law for the believer is to make Moses head of the church rather than Christ.
The Law of Christ
- The law of Christ is love: first for God and second for our neighbor. As explained in the New Testament, this love finds expression and definition not only in the example of Christ but in the commands of God, which include many things that were also addressed in the old covenant. Prohibitions against such things as adultery, murder, or stealing, are binding on believers not because they are in the law of Moses but because they express the character of God.
I.J.2. The Church as a Congregation
Marks of a True Church
- A congregation claiming the name of Christian is a true church to the extent that it exists for the proclamation and living out of the one true gospel of Jesus Christ. In light of what Jesus commanded, this has a number of key implications, including the preaching of the Bible as God's Word, a recognition of who are fellow believers, the practice of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and efforts to carry out the Great Commission. All churches fall short of these marks to some degree, but gatherings that lack such necessary elements altogether are not true churches.
- All churches are started by Christians, and most churches are started by other churches or associations of churches. But a church does not receive its authority or legitimacy from a pre-existing church or from a lineage of churches. If a distant tribe found a Bible floating down a river and many were thereby converted, they could gather to worship as a true church even if they had never even met other Christians.
Mission of the Church
- God established the church for His own sake as a living and growing community of believers who assemble to worship God in Christ as they make disciples of every sort of person, teach all that Christ has commanded, which is given to us in the Old and New Testaments, and deepen their fellowship with God and one another.
New Testament Priesthood
- When Jesus as our High Priest presented Himself to God as our sacrifice, He entered the heavenly tabernacle as our forerunner, granting all believers access to God, and His blood has consecrated us as priests to offer service to God without mortal mediation. The church is therefore a holy priesthood, so that we offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, and have God's Spirit to help interpret God's Word among ourselves to discern His will. We also act as priests to one another as we teach, admonish, care for, and intercede for one another, other churches, and the world.
Keys of the Kingdom
- As Jesus directed and by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, a visible congregation holds the Keys of the Kingdom to receive in or shut out of salvation. The power of the keys is exercised in the church's definition of what is a saving response to the gospel, by its policies of membership and discipline, and by its decisions of who may receive baptism and the Lord's Supper.
- As the church is founded on the Word of God, it should derive its doctrine and practice from the Bible to the best of its ability. Historically orthodox church traditions rightly follow the Bible's teaching of the nature of God and of Christ. Historically evangelical church traditions also rightly follow the Bible's teaching on the nature of the gospel. And in addition to these, historically baptistic church traditions rightly follow the Bible's teaching on the polity and ordinances of the church.
I.K.1. Death and the Afterlife
The Moment of Death
- A person dies when the soul departs the body and goes to await the body's resurrection. From a medical standpoint, death may be assumed to coincide with the point where consciousness is no longer naturally possible.
The Value of Life
- The holiness of God is of higher value even than that of life, but human life is sacred and is a blessing in and of itself. Despite the troubles of this world, the Bible consistently presents survival, longevity, and procreation as blessings and causes of celebration. Self-harm, wishes to die, accidental deaths, and mercy killings are always presented as highly negative occurrences and occasions for mourning, not as escape or relief, even in old age.
The Nature of Death
- Death serves God's purpose as the just consequence of sin and by restraining the commission and effects of sin. It likewise removes the believer from the presence of temptation, sin, and distraction. The believer has no cause to fear death, but it is an enemy in that it separates the believer from loved ones on earth and ends the opportunity to praise and serve God or proclaim the gospel in this life. Death is also a defeated enemy for believers, such that they can depart this life in hope that they will experience no more sorrow and will enjoy new fellowship with their believing loved ones and with Jesus Himself in eternity.
Knowledge of the Afterlife
- The Bible's descriptions of the afterlife and the eternal state are simple, undetailed, heavy with symbolism, and suggestive of realities beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless, the Bible is given by God for our instruction, and so those things it does say, we can be certain are true, not mere speculations or imaginations of men. Further, any ideas that would render biblical statements about the afterlife necessarily false have no basis in truth.
Previews of the Afterlife
- As Paul's experience in Paradise was summed up as things it is not permitted, or possible, for a man to speak, and even the revelations to Daniel and John were restricted in their scope, I do not believe any reports of visions and visits to the afterlife, or near-death experiences to that effect, are real or trustworthy, even if they are sincere beliefs. God will not disclose now what He expressly declined to reveal in Scripture.
The Afterlife in the Old Testament
- It can be easily inferred from the justice of God and the injustice of this world that there must be an afterlife where justice and recompense are meted out. Since little if any detailed knowledge about the afterlife was revealed prior to David, references by the patriarchs and others to Sheol simply acknowledge that necessity by faith without specificity. From David and Solomon's writings forward, a delineation between realms of blessing and curse emerges, so that Sheol designates a place where the evil suffer. I believe the latter use of Sheol is continuous with the hades or hell of the New Testament. Old Testament saints went to be with God in heaven upon death, as indicated by Ecclesiastes and by Jesus' association of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the paradise of heaven in His teaching. I deny that Old Testament saints were separated from God prior to Jesus' death and resurrection.
The Intermediate State of Paradise
- The only substantial biblical depictions of the paradise of heaven are the parable of Lazarus and Paul's statements in 2 Corinthians 5 and Philippians 1. These indicate that believers there are comforted and present with the Lord and with other departed saints, and are evidently provided with some sort of physical body, though they still await the completeness of resurrection. The Bible's presentation of the afterlife makes clear that the dead have no further communication or influence on this world and do not hear prayer or serve as intermediaries for the living in any sense. They do not have the omniscience of God, and it is my tentative view that departed believers do not observe events as they happen on earth.
The Intermediate State of Hell
- I do not distinguish between hades, hell, the lake of fire, and the second death; I believe they are interchangeable references to one place as used in the Bible. I believe the best reading of the parable of Lazarus indicates that the wicked find themselves in hell's torment immediately upon death. I believe the rich man's ability to have dialogue with Abraham is a story element for the sake of the parable, but it is reasonable to infer that they will have some understanding of the cause of their torment. As with departed saints, I do not believe the wicked dead have any contact with this world.
I.K.2. Principles of Eschatology
The Kingdom of God
- The Kingdom of God is His authority as manifested in worshipful submission to Him as Lord and King, and is advanced by the Holy Spirit by this means: the magnification of the glory of God in Christ through the faithful, aggressive, and persuasive communication of His Word by the priestly heirs of His kingdom.
- In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus brought the kingdom of God to earth, so that the church occupies the time of fulfillment that the Bible calls "the last days." Yet for the sake of sinners of all nations, while there are places the gospel has yet to be preached, end-time realities are present only in part. Thus we are living in a time when this age and the age to come overlap. There is tribulation in the world now, the beginning of birth pangs, but a great tribulation is yet to come. There are antichrists in the world, but the "man of lawlessness" is still on the horizon. Jesus reigns over the church, and His dominion expands as the gospel advances, but only His return will bring the kingdom in its fullness. Believers now are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, but in the resurrection they will be glorified, body and spirit, unto perfect holiness.
- In biblical prophecy, distant end-time events are often seen through the window of the near future. The fall of Chaldean Babylon foreshadowed the fall of Revelation's Babylon. Daniel interweaves foretellings of Antiochus with warnings of the antichrist. The return from exile under Zerubbabel was a foretaste of the return of Israel to God described in Romans 11. Jesus in the Olivet Discourse portrays the Tribulation associated with His return through the window of the Romans' destruction of Jerusalem. The Book of Revelation's many allusions to Old Testament words and imagery confirms this dynamic in biblical prophecy.
Signs and Predictions of the End
- The Bible repeatedly cautions against false teachers in the context of end-time prophecy and specifies that no one can know the time Jesus will return. Anyone who predicts that Jesus will return on a particular day or year should be regarded as a false prophet, not an expert on Bible prophecy. As for signs, aside from realities that characterize the entire church age (since the whole era is technically "the end times"), the New Testament's references to signs of the end, including the salvation of Israel and the preaching of the gospel to the ends of the earth, have corollaries in the Great Tribulation passages of Revelation. While some signs may possibly be fulfilled prior to that time, it is likely the revealing of the antichrist will be the first identifiable end-time event. The chaos of those days will be too great for believers to begin preparing if they have not already, and the shortening of those days means there can be no "countdown" to Jesus' return.
I.K.3. The Book of Revelation
Sequence and Symbols of Revelation, Part 1
- My interpretation of the symbols of Revelation is tentative, and I don't pretend to know how each particular event will literally unfold, only that the Bible is faithful in all it tells us. I believe chapter 12's image of the woman represents God's people's awaiting the coming of the Messiah, Jesus arising from Israel, and Jesus defeating Satan's forces by His death and resurrection, which is depicted as a war in heaven. The mention of Satan's defeat by martyrs suggests this war extends into the church age. The Son is snatched away to God's throne in Jesus' exaltation to the right hand of the Father. I believe the two witnesses represent the church in its sufficient testimony, nourished by God in the midst of the world's hostility, and that the church is also the great multitude no man can number from every nation, who are symbolically counted as 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel. I further believe the first five seals represent initial judgments on the unbelieving world during the church age, as well as the present persecution of the church.
Sequence and Symbols of Revelation, Part 2
- I believe the years preceding Jesus' return begin with seal six, in which both God's wrath and Satan's fury are at hand. The world is presented as two cities: the saints are Jerusalem, and the unsaved earth-dwellers are Babylon. The saints are protected from God's wrath on earth but subjected to severe persecution by a beastly antichristian power that rules the world; this persecution is illustrated in the death of the two witnesses. Mankind is unrepentant during this time despite the worldwide spread of the gospel. Throughout this period, the trumpets introduce unprecedented, though still limited, outpourings of God's wrath on the world as a final call to repentance. The seventh trumpet brings the harvesting of the earth in the bowl judgments, with a repeated refrain of earthquake and storm. As bowl six is poured out, the kings who gave power to the beast stage a revolt, which is the Battle of Armageddon. This is followed by the seventh bowl, the final announcement of judgment, proclaiming that Jesus' return is at hand.
Sequence and Symbols of Revelation, Part 3
- As Jesus returns, the first resurrection, that of the saints, occurs, portrayed as the raising of the two witnesses. (The rapture coincides but is not mentioned in Revelation.) After the beast is defeated and the kingdom of mankind falls, Jesus reigns on earth with His saints, and Satan is bound during this time, though 2:27 and 12:5 support the premise that Jesus' kingdom includes rule over surviving unbelievers. At the end of this period of many centuries, Satan is released and leads unbelievers in a final rebellion, which is crushed. Sinners are raised in the second resurrection, and the final judgment occurs. I understand the Wedding of the Lamb to represent the eternal fellowship of saints with Jesus forever in the new creation, while the unrighteous are "outside" in the lake of fire.
I.K.4. The Consummation of the Age to Come
The Salvation of Israel
- Moses and the prophets prophesied the scattering of Israel for their sin, along with the promise that they would remember their God and repent, and God would regather them to the Promised Land as a holy people, settling them in security, never to be uprooted again. Paul in Romans 9-11 explains that a partial hardening has come upon Israel to motivate the Gentiles' salvation, and he prophesies that God's mercy to the Gentiles will stir a Jewish revival when "the full number of the Gentiles has come in." The last three chapters of Zechariah associate the Jews' revival and recognition of the Messiah with His end-time coming to fight the climactic battle against His enemies. I therefore believe this revival will shortly precede the return of Christ. The details of this revival and whether it will take place before or during the Great Tribulation are not revealed in Scripture.
The Present State of Israel
- The gospel is to be proclaimed indiscriminately to Jews and Gentiles alike, and Christians should remember that ethnic Israel's current hardening is only partial; there are many Jewish Christians across the world. When Israel's end-time revival comes, it will be through Christians' sharing of the gospel as with all conversions. Until that time, with the old covenant abrogated and Israel disobedient, they have no divine right to the Promised Land. I believe the present State of Israel occupies the land rightly, but for reasons that are historical rather than theological. I am convinced the Bible did not prophecy the formation of the present State of Israel, which so many false prophets have used to predict the year of Jesus' return. Nor do the Bible's prophecies require the rebuilding of a literal temple in Jerusalem.
- The Psalms and other passages refer to a "time of tribulation" or "day of tribulation" as periods of personal or national hardship. The New Testament chiefly uses the word tribulation more specifically for hardship and persecution endured by the church. It is part of the believer's calling and a feature of this life.
The Great Tribulation
- The Olivet Discourse, the middle section of Revelation, and 2 Thessalonians 1 speak of a time of tribulation in which the wrath of God is poured out on the world prior to the return of Christ. During this time, the world is deceived by a power called antichrist or the man of lawlessness, whose government is called the beast and has imagery associated with Babylon, Rome, Sodom, and Egypt. The beast is divinely permitted to put the saints under heavy persecution, but the saints are protected from the many miraculous judgments God pours out on the ungodly.
- The Bible is repeatedly promises the return of Jesus Christ to earth as an essential element of the gospel. This return is consistently portrayed as personal, physical, and public, to rescue God's people and judge the earth, and is the great hope of the church. Prophecy generally associates this Parousia with a great battle between the wicked and God Himself; I am cautious about whether this means Jesus will literally make war against the militaries of the world, or put an end to mankind's rebellion by some other means. But when Jesus comes, the world will enter a time of peace as His visible kingdom on earth is set up.
The End-Time Resurrection
- When Jesus appears in the clouds at His return, all the saints of all the ages, from Old Testament times until that time, who have died will be resurrected, their bodies being miraculously reconstituted and reunited with their immortal spirits. Seeing Jesus as He is, they will be morally perfected, and their resurrected bodies will be glorified and incorruptible. Thus they will meet Jesus in the air as He returns to earth, and they will live and reign with Him in His kingdom and in the new creation. This is the first resurrection spoken of in Revelation 20.
- Paul's letters to the Corinthians and Thessalonians clarify what the end-time resurrection will mean for believers who are alive at that time. Our being gathered together to Jesus at His appearing will not come until the man of lawlessness is revealed, whom Jesus will defeat upon His return. Immediately after the resurrection of the righteous, all living saints will follow them to meet Jesus in the clouds as He descends to earth. As this happens, they will be glorified and perfected just as the rest. This rapture will be a quick and glorious way to bring the church into Jesus' physical presence immediately and forever.
- The church fulfills many Old Testament kingdom prophecies in some sense, but Jesus sets foot on earth so that the government would be on His shoulders here, to liberate the earth from its bondage to decay at the revealing of the sons of God, and to fulfill God's promises to set His name on Jerusalem and dwell among a people made holy. For a time said in Revelation to be a thousand years (which may be symbolic of an even longer period), God's people will be united under the Son of David, with no distinctions between Jewish and Gentile believers. Jerusalem will be the religious and political capital, and prophetic language reflecting the lushness and harmony of Eden indicates a time of peace and prosperity. God's people will be perfectly holy and undisturbed by enemies. Among resurrected saints, there will be no marriage or reproduction in the kingdom, nor any need or desire for it, since they will be glorified and immortal like the angels.
The Wicked in the Millennium
- The resurrection of the wicked will not occur after the thousand years, but several kingdom prophecies indicate that some who are unsaved who are alive at Jesus' return will survive into the kingdom period. As Jesus will reign and Satan will be bound from deceiving the nations, they will cause no trouble, but they will still have mortal bodies and unperfected hearts. Their descendants will rise up in revolt against Jesus and His people at the end of the thousand years when Satan is released, but Jesus will put an end to this rebellion before any of His people can be harmed.
- The second resurrection, in which the wicked dead will return to physical life, is associated with a final time of judgment in which everyone who has ever lived will receive God's verdict as to their eternal destiny. The Bible uses various images, most involving courtroom language, to describe this meting out of judgment, but the literal setting and procedure are not revealed with clarity in the Scriptures. Each individual's deeds, words, and motivations will be publicly exposed and weighed, and God will pardon those who stand in the righteousness of Christ by virtue of their union with Him, those written in His book of life, and pass sentence against the rest. It is at this time that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, and that there is no other Savior.
Judgment for Believers
- While God disciplines His people in this life, there will be no condemnation, punishment, or painful purging of saints, either in the afterlife or in eternity. Nevertheless, the judgment passages suggest that when standing before God, we will have an awareness of the full gravity of all our sin, and therefore will comprehend for the first time the magnitude of God's mercy toward us. There may be different assignments and positions of authority in eternity, but my tentative belief is that there will not be different degrees of reward given to believers based on their actions in this life. Rather, the reward for which believers strive is Jesus Himself and eternal fellowship with Him, which all believers will have equally. I interpret the outcome of 1 Corinthians 3 to involve the number of people faithful ministers will have brought to salvation with them.
Judgment for Unbelievers
- At the final judgment, the wicked will see that there is such a thing as true grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, glory, blessing, and unending fellowship—and that they will have none of this, and that this is their own doing. The wicked in their resurrected bodies will have an inglorious but unending physicality in which they will suffer conscious torment in hell, bearing the full, undiluted wrath of God both physically and spiritually. What hell will be like in a physical sense is as uncertain as that of the new creation, but Jesus indicated that it would be better to suffer maiming or drowning, or to never have been born, than to suffer the wrath of God in hell. No one will be consigned to hell for mere ignorance, but because they willfully sinned, rejecting what they knew was required of them.
Degrees of Punishment
- While it is not abundantly clear from Scripture, there are passages that suggest there will be degrees of suffering in hell, that some who sinned defiantly will have stored up more wrath for themselves than others who sinned in ignorance.
- After the end of the millennial kingdom, this creation will have fulfilled its purpose and will be refashioned into a completely new creation beyond our comprehension. The whole universe will be perfected, free of any decay, unpleasantness, or cause for fear. The varying depictions of this time in biblical prophecy, being so loaded with imagery and symbolism, should give us pause about declaring what the literal setting will involve. John even warns that "what we will be has not yet been made apparent." Rather than speculate, we should focus on the clear promises that all God's people will be perfectly united, perfectly holy, and in perfect fellowship with God, whom we will worship and serve forever, free of any pain, sorrow, or death. This will not be a static existence: As God is infinite, we will always have new things to learn about Him. As His servants and co-regents, we will join Him in the new works He does. And the glories of this new existence will far outweigh all the suffering and evil that characterize the old creation and our lives here. It will all be worth it, and we will praise God forever for having done precisely the right thing, everywhere and every step of the way.
Diversity in Eternity
- In eternity, all believers will be perfected, but the Bible still speaks of them as bought from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation." This implies that their diversity is retained in eternity in some sense. As we continue to be ourselves in eternity, our personalities and varieties of giftedness will also persist, untainted by sin and deception. Certain disabled communities have expressed concern over losing their distinctiveness in heaven since all will be healed. To this I would say that the Bible's promises joyfully rule out the possibility of saints going through eternity being unable to do what everyone else can, but that there may still be a diversity of abilities and sense, perhaps utterly unlike what we have in this life, and that "every language" would include sign languages, Braille, and other specialized forms of communication.
The End Times and Our Understanding
- Life is a gift from God to be enjoyed and made the most of, and everything after this life is set by what we do now. For believers, to die is gain because it brings us into uninhibited fellowship with God. End-time prophecy reminds us that dark forces are furious over the fact that Jesus has accomplished His saving work and defeated them, and sets about troubling believers, but that God's kingdom is advancing in the midst of it all, so that the highest highs and the lowest lows of all of history are taking place in these last days in which we live. Above all, we know the events of this world are under God's control and are being moved toward His glory and salvation.
The End Times and Our Present Life
- Most end-time references in Scripture are given with an imperative to be obeyed in the present time. Such passages call on us to stand ready as we eagerly await God's salvation and long for a release from sin and sorrow. We should labor, striving to join Jesus in the fellowship of His suffering and resurrection, assured that our kingdom-work will not be in vain. We should keep watch and pray, and serve our Master well while we wait for His return at a time we do not know.
II. CHRISTIAN PRACTICE
II.A.1. Obeying God, the Lord of All
Man as Creature and Subject
- As God is creator and ruler of all that is, all people belong to Him and exist for His pleasure, and are on this earth to serve His purpose in their generation. It is the task of every person, regardless of their personal beliefs, to find that purpose, fulfill their service to God, and live by His requirements. God has made His existence and the basic principles of morality evident enough that all people are without excuse. He understands human frailty and sinners' bondage to sin, but these do not moderate God's command for all men everywhere to repent.
God's Revealed Ethic
- Conscience is an unreliable guide for the sinner. Even though warped by the fall, the human conscience is divinely endowed with the capacity to grasp the value of friendship, kindness, respect for others, self-discipline, and in some measure integrity. Some virtues, such as love, wisdom, and contentment, are matters of conscience but are limited by the sinner's earth-bound perspective. For matters relating to a person's attitude toward God and matters of personal holiness, especially sexual purity, the conscience of sinners tends to deviate drastically from the will of God.
The Scriptures and the World
- While the Bible is primarily addressed to God's people, it records many prophetic rebukes of the sins of the nations and of God's enemies. An important element of the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations is to call them to repent of sin and worship the God of all the earth. Christians should communicate this message humbly, lovingly, and graciously, with a view to their opponents' salvation, and should use the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, rightly interpreted, as the ground and authority of their call to the world.
Sin and Judgment
- The entirety of a person's sin places that person under divine condemnation and liable to eternal punishment in hell. All people are "children of wrath" in that sense, but some are saved from God's wrath by the power of the gospel. The rest are duly condemned for their sin. It is therefore not correct to say that sinners go to hell for rejecting the gospel; they were condemned already and go to hell for their sin. Rather, saints go to God for being saved by the gospel, though their sins (including prior rejections of that gospel) had deserved punishment even as the rest.
II.A.2. Obeying God, the Father of His people
The Christian as Son and Servant
- As a people bought for the Father as His own possession by the blood of His Son, we have special reason to devote our lives to doing His will, pleasing Him and reflecting His character. Serving and worshiping God as we ought is the purpose of our salvation. It is why we are being saved from sin, no longer to serve our fleshly desires but to do the good works God has arranged in advance for us to do. Yet we walk with our Master freely, not as slaves but as children loved by the Father and as heirs of His kingdom.
The Debtor's Ethic
- God's grace toward us does not lay upon us a debt we can never repay, but instead cancels that debt and saves us to a state of liberty. We are debtors to grace only in that we acknowledge that we love because God first loved us, and that all the glory for our salvation belongs to Him and not to ourselves. But our service to God is done not as a feeble attempt at repayment but in love and gratitude for the magnitude of His mercy.
- Works show the genuineness of our faith and are therefore the basis for our assurance that our faith is true faith. But works are not the basis for God's acceptance or approval of us; faith is. It is legalism to seek to establish our own righteousness before God, whether before or after conversion. It is also legalism to put burdens on other believers beyond the law of Christ as given in the Bible. We may place special limitations on ourselves to guard ourselves from sin and temptation, or to avoid placing a stumbling block before others. But to impose such limitations and other merely human traditions on others as necessary to their Christian walk is prideful and unloving, and is condemned in Scripture.
- The gospel cannot be reduced to improvements in behavior, nor is pious living the goal of our salvation. Obeying authorities, respecting one's neighbors, and being religious are only a shallow mimicry of the Christian life. God's greatest desire is that we would know Him, which includes trusting Him and depending on Him for our salvation and the strength to live it out. Even as we learn lessons and apply diligence to add virtues to our faith, our service to God arises out of a loving desire to please Him, and not a desire for self-improvement as an end in itself. Likewise, a parent's greatest desire for their children should not be that they would be good and well-behaved, but that they would come to know Jesus.
Resting in Christ
- The Bible calls us to diligence in living out our faith, and so resting in Christ does not mean ceasing from good works or being complacent in our sin. To rest in Christ is to embrace the peace of remembering that Jesus has done all the work for our right standing with God, and that the fulfillment of our salvation depends on Him and not on ourselves. It means, further, that when faced with overwhelming challenges in a broken world, we are only expected to do what is right based on the principles of wisdom and righteousness set forth in Scripture, and can leave the outcome to God. And as believers, we have the power of God's Spirit indwelling us to empower our obedience to God and our resistance to temptation, and Jesus has promised that anything we need to follow God's will for our lives is ours for the asking.
II.A.3. Classifying Right Practice
The Greatest Commandments
- Jesus named as the greatest commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," and the second, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." All God's commands define and apply these two commandments to the various areas of life and thought. Love for God and one another is ultimately all that is asked of us, but because of our imperfect understanding of love, we need those commands to show us what love is.
Imitation of God
- Jesus orders us to be sons of our heavenly Father by way of imitation, and God repeatedly gives the command, "Be holy because I am holy." Paul tells his readers to imitate him as he imitates Christ, and the Spirit is molding us into Christ's image. John's first letter has as its main theme that the more we know Jesus, the more we become like Him, which is the evidence of genuine faith. The Triune God is therefore our standard and example for behavior. We should love as God loves, be holy as He is holy, forgive as He forgives, etc.
Vice and Virtue Lists
- The Bible includes over sixty lists of practices to avoid and traits that characterize godly people. From the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes to the fruit of the Spirit, no single list is exhaustive, but all together they lay out a fully-orbed application of God's character that consists in virtues that characterize the thoughts and actions of a heart aligned with the will of God.
Morality Inside and Out
- Jesus teaches that words and deeds arise from the heart, which is where God places His focus when looking at us. He says what makes a man unclean is what comes out of him, not what goes into him. The Bible in numerous places condemns worship in rituals and words by those whose hearts are far from God. Yet the Bible also cautions against claims to love God and man that are not backed up by action. Goodness therefore consists in right conditions of the heart—virtues embraced, cherished, and developed—that express themselves in specific attitudes, words, and actions as we walk with God. Sins, then, are wrongful conditions of the heart, deprivations of those virtues that, through seduction and fear, express themselves in evil attitudes, words, and actions.
- There is never a situation in which we must sin. In any situation we face, there is a solution that is right and pleasing to God, though it may come with painful consequences and may not be seen as right by others. When faced with morally complex situations, we need never choose "the lesser of two evils," and should not try to do evil that good may come. We should instead rely on prayer and our knowledge of God and His wisdom and righteousness as set forth in the Scriptures, speak and act as we believe God would have us to do, and trust Him with the outcome. God will judge our hearts according to His perfect wisdom, justice, and mercy, and will honor our reliance on Him.
II.B.1. Worship and Religion
The Nature of Worship
- God is worshiped when His glory is praised, in word or in deed, by submissive hearts in response to God's Word. The praise of God's glory is the purpose for which His people exist.
The Nature of Religion
- Religion, often derisively called "organized religion," is instituted by God as the way men, women, and children should approach Him as a people. While false, manmade religion is abhorred, true religion is not to be confused or equated with legalism. God calls all His people to worship Him through gathering as churches, observing the ordinances, hearing and responding to His word in sermon and song, and living obedient lives. The acts of compassion, holiness, and praise that constitute God-given religion are not contrary to a personal, saving relationship with Jesus grounded in faith. In fact, they flow from it so surely that those who do not have religion, do not have the relationship.
Reverence in Thought
- Reverence before God is the humble condition of a contrite heart that takes God and His holiness seriously, recognizes the severity of God's wrath against all sin, and gives a high priority to doing what pleases Him. It is not in the least bit contrary to love for God and is the mark of all true worshipers of Him. As reverent followers of Jesus, we determine to make the gospel the foundation of our lives and the center of our attention, cherishing God's Son, God's Word, and God's people. Reverence should motivate us to take care in discovering and preserving right doctrine and right practice as believers.
Reverence in Action
- Reverent living has as its highest priorities worshiping God and serving His people with sincerity, love, and cheerfulness. As reverent believers we seek supernatural help only in God, find our Sabbath rest and eternal hope in the finished work of Jesus, and test those who claim to speak for God. Reverent worship is not to be equated with formality or coldness but is dignified, orderly, and considerate of other people—all in ways that are harmonious with spontaneity, expressions of joy, and diversity of styles and personalities.
The Object of Worship
- Yahweh is the one true and living God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alone are the proper recipients of all our acts of worship. All other gods are nothing more than the imaginations of men, nor will God give His glory to another. Neither worship, prayer, nor any sacred veneration should be given to any earthly creature or celestial being, including angels, ancestors, departed saints, and the Virgin Mary. Inasmuch as Jesus our great High Priest is the only Savior and Mediator between God and man, no person or thing should be approached as an intermediary or co-redeemer with Christ.
- Both testaments forbid attempts to harness or control powers that are supernatural or paranormal, and the reality of demonic power makes such activity potentially very dangerous. I see no harm in mere illusion, sleight-of-hand, and fictional fantasy as long as there is no actual deception. But people should not seek to use unseen powers for their own ends, nor to command angels or other celestial beings.
- I reject the conspiratorial view that Masons seek to control world events or are demonically powered. They are not a cult and have unfairly been the targets of many hoaxes and misconceptions. However, the organization's oaths, rituals, and symbolism and their genericized conception of deity, along with claims to special knowledge and the exclusion of any other talk of religion, make it a quasi-religious endeavor that is incompatible with the practice of biblical Christianity and the life of the church.
- Modern yoga as practiced in the West typically combines stretching and breathing exercises derived from hatha yoga with more conventional gymnastics for the purpose of exercise and relaxation. I believe this strictly physical activity carries no spiritual harm. But believers should beware of the older and more authentic traditions of yoga that constitute a philosophical school of Hinduism. Christians should not seek any deeper consciousness, higher awareness, or spirituality outside of the gospel, and our only meditation should be on the truths of the Bible.
Images of God
- God revealed Himself to His people on Mount Sinai not in visible form but by audible words, to teach them that He was to be worshiped not by honoring images but by heeding His word. God does not accept worship offered to idols or images, and it is contrary to His will to place images of God or of Christ in places of worship, or associated with churches. Since Jesus became man and thereby took visible form, I see no such violation in visual depictions of Jesus in works of art and media such as films, with the understanding that they are only imaginative depictions since Jesus' true appearance is unknown. But such portrayals should be both respectful of His Person and also not used in association with worship.
II.B.2. Private Worship
Private and Family Worship
- God desires worship above all else, and He has promised to be with us wherever we go. We ought therefore to integrate worship and prayer into our home life and conversations, to prepare our hearts before gathering for corporate worship, and to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God's presence should be continually on our minds, and we should discipline ourselves to make our worship and submission to Him a matter of the heart as we direct our words and our labor toward Him.
- Catechisms and other teaching tools are useful for discipling new believers, raising up children in the faith, and explaining the faith to curious outsiders. As these have the purpose of introducing a person to the truths taught in the Scriptures, they should not be held as an authority above or in place of the Bible, nor should they venture beyond organizing, summarizing, and explaining the teachings of the Bible.
The Christian Disciplines
- The Bible calls us to train ourselves for godliness, and so we should direct our energies toward growing in grace through disciplined lives. The disciplines are not burdensome obligations to be laid upon believers or matters of guilt or drudgery. They are quite the opposite: paths to the spiritually abundant life Jesus desires for us, practices which liberate us from the sins and distractions that weigh us down when we are not focused on following Jesus.
- The most directly indispensable discipline is the hearing, reading, and study of the Bible. Believers should study the whole of Scripture, seeking what God would have us to believe and do from each passage, properly applying Scripture's intended meaning to their own lives and thoughts.
- Memorizing Bible verses and passages is a habit best established in childhood, but our efforts at internalizing the Scriptures should increase into adulthood and throughout our lives. Since verses are usually not intended to stand by themselves, those we memorize we should also try to understand within their context so that we grasp their meaning and proper application.
- Besides study and devotional reading, it is good for Christians to set aside time for biblical meditation: to focus their thoughts on a single truth in the Scriptures, a doctrine or a work of God, and use their whole mind to reflect on its meaning and implications for their lives.
Silence and Solitude
- The Bible does not mandate a daily "quiet time," but it is good for believers to seek out frequent, regular times of silence and solitude for the purpose of devotional Bible reading and prayer, so as to escape the cares of the world, better set their minds on God, and achieve more intimate worship and prayer.
- I acknowledge the testimony of Jonathan Edwards that time spent in private with God can be so emotionally and mentally captivating as to have physical effects that are often confused with mysticism. Such experiences may arise from meditation on the truths of Scripture but should be carefully assessed by their fruit before ascribing them to acts of God. Such "holy affections" are based on spiritual convictions about God and His moral excellence rather than being self-focused, are well-balanced and not disruptive of one's own duties or those of another, produce gospel-centered humility and tender-heartedness, lead to higher esteem of Christ and of the Bible, increase one's wariness and conviction of sin, and demonstrate their good effect by loving acts and practical kindness.
- I understand fasting to mean temporarily forgoing one's normal habits and temporal needs (such as eating) for a higher spiritual purpose. The Bible commends fasting in times of repentance and seeking to make decisions wisely according to the will of God. It demonstrates a prioritizing of the spiritual over the physical. Biblically, fasting is always joined to prayer. Fasting in the New Testament is always presented as a voluntary act and is not required of believers as an end in itself.
- Prayer is worshipful communication to God, whose presence is perceived only by faith and whose voice is located in the Scriptures. As an act of worship, prayer is done principally for God more than for ourselves, as God cherishes the time we spend with Him and delights in hearing and responding to the prayers of His children. All prayer offered to figures other than God is idolatry.
The Significance of Prayer
- When we pray, we are not only obeying a command and exercising a privilege. We are taking part in God's work in the world and the carrying out of His plan. If we are praying and serving as we ought, we are participants in the salvation of souls and the settling of God's dispute with His rebellious creatures.
- Through prayer and thinking on the Scriptures, Christians ought to maintain an ongoing conversation with God throughout the day. The well-prayed prayers that please God follow the Bible's many examples: In times of peaceful devotion, exuberant joy, and desperate sorrow, we pray to cultivate our relationship with God, to seek His will, to appeal for His justice, and to present humble requests to Him. In prayer we make worshipful affirmations of God's truth, ask God to keep His promises, offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise, perform priestly intercession for fellow believers and for the lost, and ask God's blessing on future generations.
Prayer and the Trinity
- In prayer we normally address God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, and in the name of Jesus, through whom we have access to the Father's throne of grace. Prayer and praise are also offered to Jesus in the Bible, so we need not shrink from addressing the Son when we pray. The same would presumably apply to the Holy Spirit as well.
Prayer and Sin
- The Bible teaches that sin hinders prayer, specifically the prayers of Christian men who mistreat their wives, and that God is far from the wicked and rejects their worship while hearing the prayers of the righteous.
- Proclaiming the gospel is the principal earthly task of every Christian, for the purpose of making new worshipers for God, to the praise of His glory. As our commission is to make disciples who make disciples, and since the gospel grounds our daily existence and decisions as Christians, we must declare this gospel to the saved as well as to the lost.
The Necessity of Evangelism
- God commands the gospel to be offered indiscriminately to all, for His people consists of a remnant of every sort of person. God has ordained that salvation comes only by faith in the gospel as communicated by believers as the word and love of Jesus are delivered together to the lost. God's power unto salvation is invested only in the gospel of Jesus.
The Gospel Defined
- The gospel is the good news that God has wrought salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. It encompasses the meaning of Jesus' passion in uniting Himself with us to atone for our sins and to bring us everlasting life; as well as the implication that we ought to trust in this saving work for the forgiveness of our sins, and, recognizing God's judgment of sin and His mercy in Christ, repent of those sins to serve God in love, gratitude, and holy fear. We have not faithfully shared the gospel if we only tell the story; we must also call the hearer to respond in repentant faith.
- By the biblical pattern, we primarily evangelize more by going to sinners in the world than by inviting sinners to church. In sharing the gospel, we should pray; ground ourselves in our own firm understanding of the gospel; maintain credibility in our lives; go to the world and engage with them; gain a hearing with love and consideration; explain the gospel simply and positively, tuned to the understanding of the hearer, yet without compromise; and call upon the hearer to believe. The precise outline for explaining the gospel does not matter as long as it is faithful, intelligible, and truly loving.
- No one is won to the gospel without words, since the gospel is by definition the message of what Jesus has done and how we should respond. Faith comes through hearing, not by seeing. Nevertheless, Christians should follow Jesus' example in backing up their words by loving actions, in compassion, respect, and considerate behavior. A condescending, demanding, or hostile attitude to the world will only harden sinners and bring shame on the gospel. Instead, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that when they see your good works, they will glorify your Father who is in the heavens."
- I believe most conversions to Christ take place within the context of trusting relationships, and that befriending the lost is one of the main purposes for which God has scattered the church among the world. Such relationships should be authentic, not merely a pretext for sharing the gospel, nor should we forsake such friendships if a sinner rejects a gospel invitation. Rather, the believer sincerely shares the love of Jesus and sets an example of the humble and caring behavior of true followers of Jesus, and should look for opportunities to converse about religion (and more specifically about Jesus and salvation) in a natural dialogue as the relationship grows strong enough to bear the weight of truth. This is not the only kind of evangelism Christians should pursue, but sharing the gospel with one's lost friends and family has the advantage of making follow-up and discipleship much easier.
Evangelism and Prayer
- The key difference between those who reject the gospel and those who respond is that in the latter case, the Holy Spirit mixes the gospel with faith in the hearer, opening their heart to believe. Our confidence in God's power to save should motivate us to share the gospel more, not less, and to do so prayerfully. Since conversion is God's action, we should rely not so much on skill in our words but on prayers to God for the effectiveness of our work. We must still communicate the gospel clearly and accurately, and call on the sinner to embrace it. But knowing God's power, we can ask Him not merely to try or to help, but to decisively draw the sinner to Himself and make him born again.
The Value of Apologetics
- Apologetics, in the sense of explaining persuasively why the gospel is true, is valuable for teaching Christians the grounds for their own belief, for distinguishing between true and false teaching, and for helping the lost understand our faith. Generally, people who embrace the gospel do so not based on arguments and evidence but through relationships with people they trust. Apologetics addresses objections to the faith so that the lost would confront their real, moral reason for rejecting Christ.
Common Ground for Apologetics
- Lost sinners retain the image of God, can think, reason, and perceive God's creation, and have consciences. They are therefore superficially right about many things while having wrong commitments at their core. Believers, meanwhile, are still in the flesh and struggle with fleshly thoughts as they are only gradually conformed to the image of Christ, and so they are superficially wrong about many things while having right commitments at their core. Both are therefore inconsistent in their understanding, but in opposite ways.
- I favor an essentially presuppositional approach to apologetics that sets the Scriptural basis for our own beliefs, and then seeks to address the lost person's perspective with reference to the principal gospel truths of God's worthiness, mankind's weakness, and Jesus' saving work.
- Loving action toward one another is the mark of genuine discipleship. We prioritize one another more highly than ourselves and serve one another in gladness and humility, for the glory of God and not for the purpose of recognition or earthly reward. The service to which God calls us may involve sensational results or acts of heroism and great sacrifice, but more commonly involves the daily mundane, ordinary, and trivial work of God's kingdom.
Finding Places of Service
- God providentially gifts every believer and prepares works in advance for that believer to do. Believers can identify their God-given places of ministry by their desires, abilities, potentially available resources, opportunities to serve, and affirmation by Christian friends. Generally speaking, ministries that can be done by anyone, we should willingly do as we go, while the ministries for which we are specially gifted, we go out of our way to do.
- As a matter of planning and discipline, Christians should manage the time, money, talents, and possessions that God has entrusted to them for His glory, to build His eternal kingdom by sharing the word and love of Jesus. This includes not only earning one's living through labor and cultivating one's family, but also contributing to the work of the church, growing in faith, and giving compassionate care to fellow believers and the lost in the world.
- By both example and direct teaching, the Bible commends learning and study regarding the things of the world. Great personal and practical benefit comes from gaining knowledge in mathematics, business, history, philosophy, art and literature, the physical and social sciences, and other fields. It is especially important for a preaching elder to be familiar with the basics of any area in which he counsels or gives advice.
- The observance of any holidays, whether sacred or secular, is a matter of Christian liberty. Whether they are highly significant times of spiritual reflection and growth, or a busy distraction from regular Christian living will vary from person to person. When celebrating, Christians should seek to maintain a gospel focus in the ways they observe Christmas and Easter. I believe Halloween as commonly observed in our culture is sufficiently distant from actual paganism as to be harmless. I caution against teaching children that Santa Claus and other mythical figures are real at the same time as they teach about God, angels, and other unseen biblical realities, as the inevitable reveal that the former are mythical may diminish children's trust in what their parents have said about the latter.
Disciplines Within the Church
- Some disciplines that aid growth in grace are not private but practiced within the life of the congregation: hearing the preaching of the Word, joining in corporate worship and prayer, sharing the Lord's Supper, group Bible study, fellowship with the saints and service toward them, giving to the work of the church, evangelism and missions as teams of believers, mentoring and other structured discipleship relationships, and serving as role models for children present in the life of the church.
II.B.3. The Church as a House of Worship
II.B.3.a. The Church as a Congregation
Worship Together as God's People
- Corporate worship involves declaring God's worth or glory in submission to Him, as an assembly of His people, before God, to one another, and as a witness to the world. God has directed that corporate worship should be built upon hearing and responding to His word.
The Weakness of the Old Covenant
- Faithful saints under the old covenant were servants of God whose worship was mediated by imperfect, mortal priests and veiled in shadows, symbols, and types. Their ability to do service to God was at the same time meager and burdensome, as they offered inadequate sacrifices for only temporary and incomplete expiation from sin. The covenant entailed earthly, material promises and curses that were usually applied collectively to the whole assembly. They nevertheless recognized God and His law as beautiful, glorious, and just, and sought unseen, heavenly rewards and promises whose fulfillment lay far ahead of them.
The Superiority of the New Covenant
- Our new covenant is not simply a way to receive the blessings of the old covenant apart from the law. The temporal, material promises are more perfectly fulfilled in the eternal, spiritual promises to which they pointed. These have to do chiefly with our more intimate relationship with God, the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the fellowship of the church, and our greater understanding of the ways of God since the coming of the Messiah. The uniting of people of all nations into the church is a bond closer than blood ties and frees us from the presumption that salvation is our natural birthright. This is what abundant life means, and it is the possession of all believers.
- As the church is a community of believers who covenant together to become a congregation of God's family for worship and ministry, it is good for churches to express that covenant in writing. A written covenant setting forth their purpose and structure makes the nature of the church plain to outsiders, and it provides a concrete basis for believers to decide whether to join their number and know what may be expected of them as members.
Creeds and Confessions
- Historically, most Christian churches and traditions believe and claim their doctrine is built up from the Bible, but they differ radically in their understanding of biblical teaching—not only in matters of church practice but often in the nature of God and mankind, and elements of the gospel itself. It is therefore necessary and useful for churches and other Christian organizations to lay out in writing what they believe biblical doctrine is, in a way that permits Christian liberty in non-essential matters but clarifies the boundaries of fellowship that define their common faith and practice. Yet the church must be always reforming, endeavoring to understand Scripture more faithfully and to address new issues in the congregation and the surrounding culture. Therefore confessions should be periodically revisited and updated as needed, and should never be held in a way that resists correction by the Scriptures themselves.
- As bearer of the Keys of the Kingdom, the local church should have clear borders, a bright-line delineation between those who are part of the covenant community and those who are not. Unless providentially isolated from any other genuine believers, every Christian should promise to regularly gather with a particular congregation, hear its preaching of the Word, build it up and be built up by the use of spiritual gifts, and submit to that church's oversight and discipline. Fellow believers' affirmations and investment in one another's lives are grounded in the fact that they have committed to worship and follow Jesus together. Churches should also count homebound Christians among their number and find ways to include them in the life of the congregation.
Laying On of Hands
- The New Testament indicates that the laying on of hands was performed not only for clergy but for converts entering the church and for ministers entering the mission field. This symbolic practice in which elders affirm someone's fellowship in the Holy Spirit and empowerment for ministry should therefore not be restricted to ordination but should be a regular part of the new member process and of commissioning members for new areas of ministry.
- Jesus set down the basic rules for church discipline even before the church was founded. Within a congregation, believers should be invested in one another's lives, not as busybodies but to provide encouragement, bear one another's burdens, and help overcome temptation and sin. When sin threatens the fellowship, either by wronging a fellow church member or by public division or disrepute, the matter should be resolved between those involved. If the dispute persists, one or two witnesses should be brought to confirm the matter and seek reconciliation. If the member persists in sin, heresy, or discord after this, the congregation—not a distant authority but the peers who worship and serve with the member from week to week—should judge the situation and issue a final call to repentance. The congregation is invested with Jesus' own authority to judge someone to be an unbeliever if they reject a call to repentance at that stage, and unbelievers are by definition not part of the fellowship.
- At all stages of discipline, the goal should be restoration, which may be evangelistic in nature if the sinner is in fact not genuinely saved. Even those removed from the membership should still be objects of prayer, though the only fellowship that church members should give such a person is a loving appeal to be restored. The only biblical exception to restoration is the "sin unto death," or final repudiation of the gospel itself. Those who reject Jesus' sacrifice in favor of another path to salvation cannot be restored through the normal means of church discipline.
Removal for Non-Attendance
- The Bible has no category for members of a congregation who do not congregate. Unless homebound or away on mission, believers should regularly attend the local congregation of which they are members. A church's membership roll should therefore generally not include people who do not attend that church. Churches should follow up with absentees from the very beginning, and members who fail to attend for an extended period should receive invitations and appeals, and ultimately decide whether to continue as members by participating in the life of the church, or not. Such appeals must be made graciously and with consideration for a host of circumstances that may make attendance difficult; many churches have managed "roll purges" very poorly. Rightly handled, such an effort will help restore wayward believers while also cleansing the congregation of people who have attached themselves to the church without being truly saved. Believers who simply prefer to attend a different church should be affirmed in that pursuit as long as it is a church that holds to the gospel.
- What the Bible calls heresy is the effort to draw a following away from the leadership of the church through false teaching. While all misinterpretation of the Scripture is an error that ought to be corrected, such correction should not be more disruptive to the peace of the church than the error itself. The bar for addressing errors as "heresy" should therefore be high, involving only false teaching that rejects the essential truths of the gospel, such as rejecting the Trinity, denying Christ's deity, humanity, and sinlessness, denying the need for repentant faith in Christ for salvation, teaching that religious rituals are a necessary part of salvation, doubting the resurrection of Christ or His promised return, denying the faithfulness of the Bible, questioning the reality of heaven and hell, etc.
Protection from Harassment and Abuse
- The church should be a refuge from the sins and evils of the world. Harassment and other violence has no place there. Teachers in the church should impress upon the congregation that such misconduct is sadly common, whereas false allegations of such are extremely rare by comparison. All staff, as well as the security team and members who work with children, should be trained to recognize harassment and abuse, including grooming behaviors, undergo safety training, and implement policies to protect vulnerable members of the congregation (e.g., background checks, all doors without windows remain open, etc.). Churches should have a caregiver team of men and women ready to walk alongside survivors of harassment and abuse: meeting their needs, protecting confidentiality and safety, and arranging for recovery through an after-care ministry or referral to another local resource, with appropriate follow-up. Care for and protection of survivors is a matter separate from the question of church discipline toward the offender.
Reporting of Harassment and Abuse
- Sexual abuse and harassment are not only sins against God but also crimes against the civil order. In every case, if there is suspected sexual abuse of a child the church is required by law to report the incident to the civil authorities. For any harassment and abuse, churches should know and abide by legal requirements for disclosure; it is unbiblical to keep such affairs in-house where offenders can escape justice, retaliate, find other victims, and carry their habits to other churches. Covering up or failing to follow reporting requirements should be grounds for removal from one's ministry position.
Church Discipline and Harassment and Abuse
- For reasons of safety, victims of harassing or violent behavior should not need to confront the offender one-on-one to begin the discipline process. In all such cases, the church's priority should be to protect both past and future potential victims. Reports from children should be deemed credible unless outside professionals demonstrate otherwise. Adult victims should be trusted for the sake of protection and support, and disciplinary action should proceed upon verification by another person, civil authorities, or any other corroboration or evidence, so that "every matter may be established by two or three witnesses." It is not the burden of offended members to prove their complaints, nor should they be deemed liars if the offense cannot be firmly established, only if the allegation is conclusively proven false. Offenders who confess, repent, and own the professional and legal consequences may be restored to fellowship as members, but no one who has committed such offenses should ever be in any ministry arena where such could even conceivably happen again.
II.B.3.b. Church Leadership and Administration
- God has established His Son Jesus as the only head of every church, and the apostles set the churches in order according to Jesus' design as recorded in the New Testament. Each congregation is to obey the elders it has appointed over itself, and there is no valid earthly authority over multiple congregations. Christians should zealously guard the autonomy of the local church. Moreover, the church is to be elder-led and congregation-ruled, meaning that God's will is discerned corporately: The elders as leaders provide teaching, guidance, recommendations, and day-to-day administration, and the body of the church, who regularly worship and minister together, use democratic processes to make decisions about their doctrine, practice, membership, and other major business by weighing the recommendations of the elders by the final authority of the Scriptures.
Selection of Ministers
- The call to ministry is not hereditary, nor should outgoing ministers be permitted to choose their successors. As needs and opportunities arise, churches should appoint new elders and deacons in a manner consistent with the concept of an elder-led, congregation-ruled body, and with reference to the model given in Acts 6. The elders should identify the need and ask the whole congregation for nominations. The nominees should then be examined by a congregation-determined process (such as a search team) and set before the elders, who will then recommend candidates to the whole congregation for final appraisal and approval. The Bible affirms the appropriateness of fasting in preparation for this choice. The congregation's approval should be at least nearly unanimous; if after the congregation has had time to know a candidate, there is significant division about the choice, even through no fault of his own, that candidate should not serve in that position at that time, for the sake of congregational unity. If the candidate was declined for prejudice, factions, or other unfair reasons, that is a deeper matter in the life of the congregation that should be addressed with urgency so that ministers are assessed fairly in the future.
Personal Divine Call to Ministry
- I believe Christians generally find their God-given areas of service by assessing their desires, abilities, potentially available resources, opportunities to serve, and affirmation by other Christians. But in addition, both biblically and in common experience today, I believe devotion to full-time Christian service, especially in leadership positions, almost always accompanies a sense of personal divine calling. Since the completion of Scripture, God no longer gives verbal instructions or particular divine commands, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, He often opens believers' eyes to their proper place of service and gives them that sense Paul had when he said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." A belief that one has experienced such a divine calling should be tested against biblical qualifications (God qualifies everyone He calls) as well as affirmation and reception by a church.
Nature and Duties of Elder Ministry
- The New Testament instructs that elders should be appointed in every church, and their primary duties are the ministry of the Word and prayer on behalf of the congregation. They are called overseers, leaders, and shepherds (pastors), which indicates their responsibility to guide, protect, and steward their congregation as men who will give an account to God. As teachers, they are to teach the whole counsel of God, mature and equip the congregation toward unified ministry, and guard them from false teaching. The Bible emphasizes the importance of humility and servant-heartedness in leadership, and places the elders underneath the authority of Scripture. Elders should therefore seek congregational input, maintain the unity of the congregation, and vocally ground their decisions in biblical wisdom and righteousness. Elders also serve as examples to the congregation, especially to its young men.
Submission to Elder Authority
- Except in matters of sin, I do not believe the Bible intends for elders to direct the lives and decisions of individual members and families. But the congregation as a whole should follow its elders' leadership unless they have determined it to be unbiblical, and once the congregation has made its decision, they should move forward unanimously and without complaint. I believe elders may also conduct the day-to-day administration of the church as an institution according to their own judgment (though accountable to the congregation). The congregation should still vote on major decisions such as staff changes, membership and discipline, budgets and debt, building and remodeling projects, changes to the confession or covenant, constitution and bylaws, etc. In such cases, members should vote in line with the elders' recommendations unless there is a clear and relevant reason not to.
Elder Ministry and Gender Roles
- Based on principles grounded in creation, God has instructed that only men should hold positions of authority and teaching over other men in the church. This effectively constrains the office of elder to men, and indeed an emphatically gender-specific word for men appears in the Bible's lists of elder qualifications.
The Elder as a "One-Woman Man"
- The phrase translated "husband of one wife" does not rule out widowers or single ministers like Paul, but does exclude anyone whose way of life is lately characterized by promiscuity, adultery, or serial monogamy. In light of the fact that Paul as a former murderer was yet called to ministry, I do not believe a candidate's failures prior to conversion or otherwise in the distant past should disqualify him from ministry, and in no case should a candidate be disqualified because of his wife's past marital or sexual history. That a minister and his family have been gloriously saved out of darkness and have overcome sins and trials makes him all the more qualified to be a good example for the congregation.
Celibacy in Full-Time Ministry
- I believe it is good for the elders to represent the diversity of their congregation with regard to age and life experience, and so among the elders, it is useful to have at least one who is married and at least one who is single. But beyond this, neither celibacy nor marriage should be required, expected, or preferred for elders, missionaries, and others in full-time ministry.
Other Qualifications for Elder Ministry
- For the sake of the congregation's safety, if an elder has ever abused the power of his office to harass or abuse women or children, he should be permanently disqualified. Otherwise, all ministerial qualifications regard what characterizes the candidate since entering the ministry or at the time of consideration, not matters long-past. To be qualified to lead, an elder must be gracious, peaceable, and sensible in his decisions, and should not be a bully, stubborn, or quick-tempered. A candidate need not have children, but success in parenting is an indicator of how well he can manage people under his charge. Paul thus requires that the elder's (probably grown) children be believers who are themselves respectful of authority and living respectable lives. To set a proper example for the flock, an elder must have some years of experience living the Christian life, be respected both inside and outside the church and not open to scandalous revelations. He is to love what is good and live a life that is righteous, holy, and self-controlled, actively welcoming of outsiders, and free of addictions and substance abuse. Since an elder's leadership and his teaching are inseparable, he should be apt to teach, "labor in word and doctrine" and be skilled at proving sound doctrine and refuting those who oppose it. Since elders may be paid for their work, they should not be lovers of money or easily tempted toward dishonest gain.
Source of Elder Candidates
- Even in the first century, apostles and their associates often moved from place to place and served in new churches. However, the instructions for elder appointments suggest (even more strongly than for deacons) that elders were selected from within the congregation. I firmly believe that elders should be devoted to the congregations they already have for as long their leadership is being followed there, and that Christians called to full-time service should seek first how they might serve in their own congregation rather than look elsewhere. Further, I believe a preference for choosing elders from within would help steer us away from "shepherd-stealing" and the pervasive and unbiblical professional/corporate approach to pastoral ministry. I wonder how much things would change if, when a congregation voted to call an elder from outside, the elder's old congregation also had to vote whether to let him go?
Number and Ranking of Elders
- The Bible consistently presents each congregation as having more than one elder, and with the exception of the apostles, there is no biblical indication that elders had differing levels of authority. Not all elders have a ministry of regular preaching, but there is no biblical precedent for "senior pastor" or other officer who has precedence over the other elders in a church. The number of elders depends on their balance of gifts and the needs of the congregation; I believe the maximum practical number would be about twenty, since any larger would exceed their ability to meet and reach consensus as a single body.
Pay Elders and Lay Elders
- Elders have a biblical right to financial compensation for their ministry, first by the direct statement of Scripture, second because we owe financial support to those from whom we benefit spiritually, and third so that elders whose ministry requires a full-time commitment may devote all their time and energy toward it without the distraction of an earthly job. Elders also have the right to decline financial support, and some elders may have less time-consuming duties that permit them to earn a full living outside the church.
Delineation of Elder Duties
- All elders have some duty of prayer, teaching of the Word, leadership, guidance, and personal care for the families of the congregation. Beyond this, the elders should divide up their labor according to their various gifts and experience, and the needs of the congregation (e.g., pulpit ministry, music, adult education, children and youth, outreach, small group ministry, office administration, etc.).
Differences and Teaching with the Church
- The entire congregation should be united on matters of doctrine and practice that are necessary to the gospel or to the life of the congregation. The Bible is the standard for all teaching in the church, and while one can teach without being an elder, all teaching in the church derives from the elder's teaching authority. For this reason, anyone teaching in the church should teach in accord with the doctrine and practice of the elders. Differences of interpretation should be on secondary matters only, and should be discussed cautiously and humbly after conferring with the elders, and according to their instructions. Where there are differences on secondary matters among the elders, they should endeavor peaceably to reach as much unanimity as possible. Any remaining differences need not be volunteered to the congregation, but they should be honest with the church about such differences if the question arises. Teachers who insist on teaching contrary to the elders should be removed from teaching positions but should not be brought through disciplinary procedures unless their teaching rises to the level of heresy or unless they continue to sow discord within the church.
Nature and Duties of Deacon Ministry
- The name, origin, and qualifications of deacons suggest their purpose is to serve the congregation in practical matters that would otherwise draw the elders away from their chief responsibilities of prayer and the ministry of the Word. This would include meeting the material needs of the congregation, both inward and outward benevolence, preparation for the ordinances, and upkeep of the church facilities. They also serve as examples to the congregation and may also provide positive representation of minority or neglected groups within the congregation. Though not necessarily an inherent element of the office, deacons in Scripture also engage in evangelistic preaching and apologetics with the world outside the church, including missionary activity.
Authority of Deacons
- The modern concept of deacons functioning as a guiding body akin to a Board of Directors is directly contrary to the Bible's assignment of leadership to the elders. Deacons are properly under the authority both of the elders and of the congregation, and (under that accountability) should have oversight only over the ministry work within their care.
Qualifications for Deacon Ministry
- The main qualification for deacons is that they be exemplary Christians: Spirit-filled, respected people of proven integrity, with wisdom and experience as believers, and free of substance abuse or addiction. Their family life should also be exemplary, as with elders. Though the evidence is divided, I tentatively believe 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to women who serve as deacons, and if so, their duties would include ministering to the women of the congregation as described in 1 Timothy 5 and Titus 2:3-4. Given the nature of their work, all deacons should be eagerly available to address unforeseen needs in the life of the church as they arise.
The Practice of Ordination
- As elders and deacons each hold a special office within the church, one that defines their identity and ministry, they should be formally ordained (elders and deacons alike, men and women alike) by the whole congregation when they begin their time of service there. That ordination should include the laying on of hands and of prayer, as well as a word to the ministers and the congregation so that their qualifications and duties are well understood. Just as member candidates should be received by approval of the congregation even if coming from another church, so elders or deacons coming in from outside should be ordained for the new congregation in which they will serve, even if they were previously ordained in another church.
Administration Within the Church
- Besides the elders who oversee the church's doctrines, ministries, and policies, and the deacons who focus on the material needs of the church, churches often require teams of selected members to accomplish certain tasks. I support the idea of ad-hoc teams put together for a specific project such as the annual budget or to study the prospect of a new facility, as well as teams that manage ongoing ministries such as child care or a library. Such teams would function under the oversight of the elders. I do not support the making of policy and personnel decisions by standing committees; that authority should rest either with the elders or the whole congregation.
Sources of Church Funding
- Following the biblical model, all funding for church activities should come from believers—primarily from the church's own members, though it is good for one congregation to support another and for churches to pool their resources for joint ministry. It is unseemly for the church to seek its funds from the community at large, nor should churches and the charities they establish rely on funding from government, for a host of reasons. Aside from special offerings (such as for missions or benevolence), I believe a church should receive members' offerings for its general budget rather than allow designated giving. For reasons of accountability, I believe treasurers and finance clerks should not be related to staff who are on the church payroll, and that the church's finances should be periodically audited by an outside agency.
Allocation of Resources
- Congregations should operate on a budget and determine what ministries within their reach are most appropriate for them to fulfill their God-given tasks and give them proper priority, safeguarding all resources from waste, fraud, abuse, and redundancy. Godly ministers receiving pay should be paid at a level that demonstrates the church's honoring of their work and with due regard for their years of education and experience, as well as the needs of their family. Any work the church sees fit to do should be funded enough to accomplish its purpose, and every ministry should have its efficiency and effectiveness assessed at least annually. Churches should devote necessary attention and resources to shore up struggling ministries that have demonstrated true disciple-making potential. But resource-heavy programs and projects should be phased out if they exist mainly for the sake of tradition, entertainment, or popular interest and which are not making disciples.
- Both small house churches and somewhat larger gatherings are exampled in Scripture (though none meet in thousands after the scattering of the Jerusalem church), and all church sizes have their own unique set of challenges. The smallest churches may be able to support only bivocational or circuit preachers and may struggle to meet one another's needs. Mid-sized churches often field ministries that compete with one another for personnel and resources. Larger churches can undertake major programs and projects for good purposes but which may distract from their God-given tasks as a church. But I am most concerned for the difficulty megachurches have maintaining congregational polity, united fellowship of the congregation, and every-member ministry, and avoiding overreliance on the power and charisma of their leadership.
Multisite and Multiservice Churches
- In short, churches should divide as they grow. The very essence of the church is that it is a congregation, and assembling together before God is the purpose of its existence. Its handling of matters of membership, discipline, and minister selection, and its decisions regarding baptism and the Lord Supper, all presume the whole body is regularly gathering together, worshiping and ministering together, knowing one another, and investing in one another's lives, and making those decisions based on that fellowship. Churches that share staff but meet at multiple sites are really multiple churches under common leadership. Since God calls no minister to have authority over multiple churches, they ought to find a way to meet together or be autonomous. Similarly, churches divided into multiple services should do so only temporarily and plan either to reunite or divide into two or more congregations. There is nothing at all negative about a church dividing into two for reasons of size and space. In fact, I believe it should be a growing church's aim from the outset. It is both practically better and more biblical for churches to multiply this way than to grow too large to function as a single congregation.
- It is a dereliction of the church's duty to use marketing and consumer-minded strategies to attract sinners to church meetings and preach to their felt needs. The Great Commission is primarily fulfilled outside the church walls, while church services exist for the body of believers to worship God. Even so, the Bible supports the idea that services should be welcoming of outsiders and intelligible to them. The Bible also advocates that a congregation should worship in their own language and according to familiar customs. I therefore support churches' sensitivity to the musical styles, dress habits, and tone of preaching that fit the "worship language" of the congregation and its local potential converts. What is most crucial is that worship be done to please God and not the people present (whether worshipers or visitors); that the gospel, kept fully intact, saturate every service; and that the church trust God to grow His church as it pursues its biblical purposes by biblical means.
Tasks of the Church
- The Book of Acts gives the tasks of the church as worship, evangelism, fellowship, teaching, and service, all of which serve the church's purpose as an assembly of disciple-makers to glorify God in the world.
II.B.3.c. Worship in the Church
- God's instructions as revealed exclusively in the Bible are the final and only binding authority for Christian worship. Tradition, creativity, and contextualization all have their place, but only Scripture dictates what we must do or what we cannot do. Scripture's overall principle for worship is that it involve hearing and responding to God's Word, and so the emotions, symbols, and aesthetics of our worship should underline and strengthen the verbal, biblical message and in no case be contrary to it.
- Worship should be the most God-centered thing the church does, as it is the abasing of ourselves to magnify Him and direct glory to Him alone. Since God is the audience of our worship, the preferences that dictate what we do in worship should be God's preferences and not our own. By teaching and example, the Bible commends worship that is Spirit-directed and sincere, and effortful to the point of being costly, but not drawing attention to ourselves in outlandishness and outward beauty but to God in a way that promotes humility and conviction of sin. It should be both intelligent and intelligible enough to be of benefit to the church as well as to outsiders who witness it.
The Gospel in Worship
- The message of the church is the gospel of Jesus Christ: the good news that God has wrought salvation through Jesus' death and resurrection, and now calls all people to repentant faith in Him. This gospel is portrayed symbolically in baptism and the Lord's Supper, and should also saturate the preaching, music, prayers, and other acts of worship offered by the church. It should not simply be tacked on at the end of a service. A clear and constant unpacking of the gospel is important both for the congregation's appeal to lost sinners but also to teach and admonish one another, as the gospel is the foundation of every believer's daily life.
Authenticity in Corporate Worship
- As the church worships, every member should understand what the church is doing and why they do it, and comprehend the singing, the preaching, the Scriptures read, etc., so that their participation and agreement in the service may be heartfelt. The church must also be united in performing an act of worship together; truly Spirit-led self-expressions in corporate worship will unite and build up the congregation rather than bring division, distraction, or confusion.
The Purposes of Corporate Worship
- Worship is a blessing given to us to enjoy; if our attitude toward God is right, worship is something we will want to do. Worship instructs and transforms: As we hear and respond to God's Word, we are sanctified by His truth, and the more we know God, the more we are aligned with His will and character. Worship is an expression of the loving relationship between God and His people, as well as the fellowship we have with one another.
Regulative vs. Normative Principles
- I follow the modern Baptist tradition of seeking a middle ground between the normative and regulative principles: I believe churches are free to apply the New Testament's principles of worship in innovative ways to an extent, but that the basic means used ought to have some Scriptural foundation somewhere and must always fulfill a purpose that is grounded in Scripture.
Non-Believers and Worship
- Biblically, outsiders are not only welcome to observe the church in worship, but God's people are commanded to magnify Him to the nations. But non-believers themselves are separated from God by sin and have no access to Him until they are born again. Access to God in worship and prayer comes only through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit given to believers.
- The New Testament gives strong evidence that Sunday has been the day for Christians' weekly worship from the beginning, in celebration of Jesus' resurrection on the first day of the week. Having every Sunday, or the entirety of Sunday, free from work is neither biblically required, nor is it practically feasible for all professions. But one of the top priorities in any believer's life should be to manage a pattern of life that leaves him or her free to join a church regularly for a service of worship on Sunday.
Churches and the Sabbath
- The Sabbath was put in place under the covenant of Moses so that Israel would rest in God's salvation and provision, and as Christians we find that rest in Christ. As the Book of Hebrews explains, the Sabbath-keeping that remains for the people of God is our assured faith that Jesus has accomplished purification for sins, and our taking hold of the access to God's grace and abiding in it, as the Israelites should have taken hold of the Promised Land. As saints who by our fruit-bearing faith have the assurance of our salvation, we thereby join God in the ongoing seventh day of rest He has enjoyed since the finishing of creation. Whether we demonstrate that by regarding the Lord's Day as a Christian Sabbath is, by Paul's explicit statement, a matter of Christian liberty. While it is not my tradition, the practice of a Christian Sabbath is one I respect, so long as it is a matter of personal choice and is not made a test of fellowship nor imposed on others against their conscience. Per Jesus' teaching, acts of ministry, mercy, and necessity always take precedence over Sabbath observance regardess of one's tradition.
Old Testament Institutions
- As the old covenant has been abrogated, Christians are under no obligation to observe the festivals and other traditions of the law of Moses, but nor are they forbidden for Christians. The New Testament teaches that continuing such observances is a matter of Christian liberty, as long as Jesus is glorified and acknowledged as the fulfillment of their symbolism. However, there should never be any attempt to return to the priesthood of Aaron and its sacrifices, as Jesus is our only High Priest and there is no more sacrifice to be made for sin.
Style and Selection in Worship
- Each congregation has a "worship personality" within which they worship effectively together, involving the range of style that the body as a whole is familiar with or willing and able to learn, how much and how fast they can reasonably change, and the direction they are heading under the leadership of their elders. This personality should and will change over the years. Worship leaders ought to bring to worship what is broad enough to include the whole range of the congregation that is willing to worship, minimizing anticipated disagreement or unfamiliarity. Even so, the worshipers should be flexible and willing to learn how to worship with the rest of the congregation, including those most unlike themselves, adapting to one another and not being overly strict in what they will join in. We all have our limits, but any sentence that begins "I can't worship unless..." is a manifestation of spiritual immaturity.
- The preaching of God's Word is the centerpiece of any Christian worship service, which the other elements of worship ought to support. Preaching occurs when the preacher reads the Scripture, explains its doctrine (how to believe the text) and exhorts the congregation to action (so that they obey the text). Preaching should set forth the Scriptures honestly, wrestling with tensions and difficulties in the text, while confidently affirming the clear message of the text and driving home its main point. The hearers worship by receiving God's Word with submissive hearts and weighing what the preacher says by the standard of the Scripture itself.
- All preaching ought to exposit one or more texts of Scripture, and in true exposition, the structure of the text dictates the structure of the sermon. Preaching verse-by-verse through biblical books has the advantage of ensuring all issues are addressed and weighted in proportion as the Bible presents them. Such preaching should be common in every church, but should also include reference to systematic concepts and themes that run across the whole of Scripture. Care should be taken not to neglect the Old Testament in general or the longer books of Scripture in particular.
- Topical preaching is important for applying all that the Bible says toward a doctrinal or practical question. It should not use isolated verses as a jumping-off point for the preacher to speak his own mind on a topic, but should exposit an assemblage of selected verses and passages, showing how they relate and taking care to respect their original context.
Preaching and Application
- Preachers should not shrink from applying the Bible to the needs and sins of its congregation. Both the encouraging and convicting elements of the text should receive the same weight in the sermon as in the text. Focus should be more on the sin in their own hearts than denouncing the sins "out there" in the world. Likewise, preachers should not give the appearance of having perfected their own understanding and obedience, but should be contrite, humble, and publicly repenting where they have fallen short.
Preaching and the Will of God
- The preacher's task is to exposit and apply God's revealed will as set forth in the Scriptures. In doing so, he should avoid speculations or assumptions about the secret will of God, in terms of the purposes behind events in the news or in people's lives, or God's plans for the future, beyond what is stated in the Scriptures themselves. At times, God's providential hand is obvious from the fruit of events, particularly in past history, but preachers should be careful to distinguish firm convictions and right application of what God says in Scripture from presuming to know God's secret will.
Preaching and Politics
- The Bible speaks to many issues relevant to politics, from integrity to the role of government, to respect for authority, to questions about taxes and private property, to issues of sex, violence, and social justice. Preachers should educate their congregations on the biblical view of such topics, and may with sensitivity apply the Scriptures to current events. However, the Bible should not be used superficially to support political stances and ideologies that are far afield from the intent of the text. Preachers should take special care not to give the appearance of partisanship in their selection of issues and personalities to address from the pulpit. In no case should elders use their positions or pulpits to endorse candidates, to convey that Christians have a duty to vote for one candidate or to vote against another.
Worshiping in Bible Reading
- Worshiping God is the natural thing to do when He speaks to us, and it is through Scripture that He speaks to us. As the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets," too much of worship depends on God's Word to save the Bible for the sermon time. Nearly every worship gathering described in the Bible includes the reading of the law or delivering the message of Jesus. The hearing of God's Word forms the basis of our unity, the boundaries of our fellowship, and the root of our joy.
Worshiping in Prayer
- Christians grow in grace and bond in fellowship when they pray together. Every congregation should address God frequently in their services, in worship, praise, and devotion, in confession of sin, and in priestly intercession for one another and for the world. The Bible supports both men and women leading in prayer and participating in congregational prayer.
Worshiping in Testimony
- From time to time, medium-sized and smaller churches may devote a portion of their service to permit members to share their own praises, insights, and testimonies with the congregation. Such times should be kept orderly and on-topic, and the ideas shared should be kept in line with Scripture and reflect biblical priorities.
Worshiping in Music
- Music helps us feel and remember truth, and the Bible commands churches to instruct one another "by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing music with your heart to the Lord." Our worship should therefore include songs sung primarily by the congregation to the Lord, with distinctly Christian lyrics that aid the congregation's understanding and appreciation of the truths of God's Word. The Bible leaves the question of musical style and instrument choice open, but the musical form should match the content and tone of the lyrics, which is good reason to have a range of styles in the church's repertoire.
- Leading music in worship is an inherently pastoral task, and so whoever leads the music should meet all the biblical qualifications for an elder, even if they are not yet an official part of the body of elders. The leader should prepare the service in coordination with whoever is preaching, and the music's lyrics should primarily focus on the gospel and the themes of the service. The leader and other musicians should present themselves not as performers with the congregation as audience, but as directors and prompters of a congregation of performers, with God as the audience.
- Most singing in regular worship services should be done by the whole congregation. Members should sing effortfully and earnestly, preparing themselves to respond to God's Word, and seeking a fresh sense of the sweetness of God and a deeper understanding of His will. Members should enjoy their worship in song together in a way that unites and does not hinder worship, and being expressive but not out of control or distracting.
Special Music in Worship
- Choirs and praise teams have a history going back well into the Old Testament, and there are many kinds of music that are appropriate for corporate worship but are not well fit for congregational singing. According to the gifting of the congregation, choirs, ensembles, soloists, and instrumentalists may use their gifts to edify their congregation by presenting new or highly skilled music. Since worship should glorify God rather than men and women, special music in worship services should minimize showmanship and self-focused ostentation, but musicians may still sing and play with expressiveness and enthusiasm.
Concerts and Musicals
- I support the presence in churches of dramatic performances such as cantatas and Christmas programs, concerts from musical guests, and other extended artistic presentations, provided these are kept distinct from the worship service proper, and that their contribution to the tasks and mission of the church is worth the necessary budget, time, personnel, and other resources. If, for example, the money could be better used for a ministry project to the community that would reach more people for Christ, or if the church lacks the talent or equipment required for the performance, the church should reconsider its allocation of resources.
Clapping in Worship
- The Bible commends clapping in worship, and the closest contemporary application of those references would be clapping in time to music as appropriate (preferably on 2 and 4). While the glory in worship goes to God alone, I do not object to applauding to express gratitude for service to the church or for someone's contribution to the church's worship. Applause is best directed as a praise offering to God, such as in response to the joyful event of baptism, and done in gratitude to people only insofar as we recognize that God is the giver both of their gifts and of their willingness to give.
Dancing and Lifting of Hands in Worship
- The Bible contains many examples of dancing in worship, and of several prayer and praise postures that involve raised hands. While these expressions are mostly outside my personal church experience, they are thoroughly biblical and appropriate expressions for congregations to use in their worship. For the sake of unity in corporate worship, individuals should endeavor to join the congregation in its own natural manner of expression in worship, whether it be energetic or reserved.
- Worship in Scripture is often spontaneous, but it is always intentional. The Holy Spirit produces self-control and Christlike behavior in believers, in contrast to spiritual intoxication and altered states of consciousness common to pagan religions and heretical movements. Churches should therefore shun the phenomena of glossolalia, paralysis, holy laughter and shrieking, spiritual birthing, and other disorderly behaviors.
Invitation to Believers
- Seeing that every passage of Scripture has something for Christians to believe and obey, I strongly believe every sermon should bring people to a point of decision. Early Christian worship included a time of personal response when members would take oaths of repentance before the congregation, and so even now it is fitting for part of a church's worship to be either a whole-congregation response (as in song) or an opportunity for individuals to make responses (publicly or in prayer), to God's commands as they have come through the preaching of His Word.
Invitation to New Converts
- Clear statements of the gospel should permeate all Christian worship, and worshipers should appeal to sinners to respond to that gospel. However, great damage has been done by the use of revivalistic altar calls, which inevitably confuse coming forward and praying a prayer with being saved, often involve emotional manipulation ("begging" people down the aisle in a momentary flash of sorrow), and sometimes work to create doubts about salvation in the minds of believers for the sake of recording a high number of "decisions." The greatest danger comes when the preacher assures those who come forward that they are saved before their decision has had any opportunity to show its fruits. Many churches manage to make gospel presentations, bring sinners to Christ, add new members, and have new converts give testimonies and present themselves for baptism, without ever using an altar call to do so.
Worshiping in Giving
- God has gifted every Christian with time, talents, energy, money, and other resources to contribute to the life of the church, and each should be willing to make available what he has as it is needed by the congregation. The church's needs are best met by giving money that can be used to fund the work of the church, and indeed the operations of a church cost a lot of money. Such giving is a way of submitting to God's Lordship by actively making what He has given us available for His use. The Bible establishes the Sunday gathering as the time Christians ought to give for both the local church and the churches it partners with. As believers are not under the old covenant, they are under no obligation to give ten percent or any other specific amount, but should give as they are prospered, cheerfully and sacrificially, motivated by love and gratitude toward God.
- Baptism is a single immersion in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a public testimony that a convert has been cleansed from sin upon his conversion. It does not save, but Jesus commanded that every believer be baptized as our public profession of faith and commitment to repentance. It is a picture of one's death, burial, and resurrection with Christ and enters a person into membership in the church. In baptism, the church acts as witnesses to the convert's profession, and the act confers both honor and obligation on the witnesses. Baptism should be accompanied by a charge upon the newly baptized to live out his commitment, and upon the congregation to actively encourage and disciple the new believer as he comes under the discipline and guidance of the church.
Baptism and Salvation
- Baptism in water does not save; justification, cleansing from sin, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit belong to the believer upon being born again and converted, which the Bible refers to symbolically as baptism in the Holy Spirit. Baptism (and the entrance it brings into the life of the church) is a defining public act of repentance and is Jesus' direct and explicit command to every Christian. In fulfillment of the Great Commission, the church should therefore impress on every convert Jesus' command to be baptized, and should make baptism available to any convert upon a credible profession of faith. I believe that no genuine convert will refuse baptism if it is presented biblically as commanded by the Lord, but I also believe Christians whose church tradition neglects baptism or teaches it incorrectly may go unbaptized out of ignorance and yet be truly saved and even mightily fruitful in their faith.
The Mode and Timing of Baptism
- Immersion is the very meaning of the biblical word for baptism. Sprinkling and pouring are not baptism any more than tossing bread in the air or spilling wine on the floor are taking the Lord's Supper. The christening of infants is even farther removed from biblical baptism, as they are not making a public profession of their own faith and cannot yet be part of the priesthood of believers that is the church. Churches should therefore require new members to be baptized by immersion if they were not previously immersed as believers. I also recommend baptism for those who are convinced their former profession of faith was false and are only just now converted, but I do not believe it is necessary for members who are merely uncertain about when their true conversion took place. In the rare case that sufficient water cannot be obtained for baptism, it is better to postpone baptism until such water is available than to substitute an act that is not biblical baptism.
The Validity of Regenerational Baptism
- Inasmuch as baptismal regeneration is a heretical doctrine, I believe baptisms performed by churches that teach it are not valid, regardless of their mode, and prospective members from such churches must indicate their understanding of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone before being biblically baptized and admitted to membership.
The Lord's Supper
- The Lord's Supper is the fellowship meal of the new covenant, in which the congregation has real communion with Jesus and with one another as they celebrate their place in God's kingdom. It is also a gospel message that life is found only in the sacrifice of Christ, and all who would be saved must take hold of Him actively. By breaking and eating bread and drinking wine, believers symbolize their partaking in the breaking of Jesus' body and spilling of His blood—both in culpability (as He died for their sins) and in benefit (since all spiritual blessings were secured for them by His death). Christians should take the Lord's Supper reflecting on what the bread and cup represent, and should not take it lightly or thoughtlessly. Unrepentant sin stands in the way of all worship, and so that reflection should include repentance from any sin, but in Christ there is a blank slate the moment a believer repents, and so the Supper can be taken worthily once that repentance has taken place.
Prerequisites for the Lord Supper
- As one of the Keys of the Kingdom (along with baptism), the Lord's Supper is shared with those the church has determined to be Christians. This should of course include the whole gathered congregation, minus any who are in unrepentant sin or whose salvation is officially in doubt via church discipline. In deference to other gospel-believing churches, the table should also be shared with visiting believers whose churches have attested to their salvation through baptism. For practical and interpersonal reasons, the church should explain the nature of the Lord's Supper and who may take it, and then trust each person of age present to make their own determination whether they should take it. For believers who have not been biblically baptized but who show evidence of genuine faith: If they are willing to join with the church in baptism, I am happy to join with them in the Lord's Supper.
II.B.3.d. Discipleship in the Church
- The disciple-making duty of the Great Commission involves not only bringing sinners to conversion but moving converts into membership, through maturity, and onward into ministry and missions. Discipleship therefore includes evangelism but also requires the tasks of fellowship, teaching, and service.
Evangelism and Missions
- Local evangelism takes place primarily outside church programs, as members share Christ with their family, friends, and others in the community. But the New Testament commends organized efforts to set the gospel before communities and carry it to the ends of the earth. Churches, individually and cooperatively, should make it one of their highest priorities both to train their members in effective evangelism, and to recruit, field, fund, encourage, and pray for missionaries.
Evangelism as a Congregational Task
- Elders and other teachers in the church should have the gospel as the focus of their message, both for believers and for any lost who are present to hear. I also believe each elder should set an example for the congregation by regularly (at least weekly) engaging unbelievers with the gospel outside the walls of the church. Even so, evangelism is not principally the job of the elders, but of the congregation. The main task of the elders is toward their congregation of believers, praying for them and ministering the Word to them, so as to equip them to share the gospel and serve one another. Churches should instill an expectation that the members will carry out the bulk of the church's evangelistic work in their lives over the course of the week, as well as through organized times of visitation and follow-up.
Evangelism and Diversity
- Evangelism and church growth efforts should absolutely not restrict themselves to particular demographics for the purpose of maintaining or steering the makeup of the congregation. God will add to the church as He sees fit, and as the gospel is for all people, evangelism should be done organically and indiscriminately. Churches should be eager to bring in any who are converted and who wish to covenant with the church in its mission, regardless of age, marital status, family size, race, class, language, disability, or the life of sin from which they have been saved.
- As a rule, the people most responsive to the gospel are children, especially those being raised in the faith, but also children from unchurched families. The latter group are often a bridge to their unsaved parents. Children are also at an age where they readily memorize information and lay the foundation for their moral values. Churches should therefore make special efforts to make gospel appeals to children at their level of understanding, to provide biblical instruction for them, and to provide a safe and attractive environment for children. However, the gospel should not be diluted or sensationalized so as to bring inauthentic decisions, and the primary responsibility for raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord rests solidly on believing parents.
- I have seen very few tracts that present the gospel biblically, and in fact most I have encountered seem tailored for people who are familiar with church vocabulary but haven't "made it personal." God has occasionally used tracts that contain the biblical gospel to bring people to faith with no other Christian contact. But I believe the best use of tracts, if they are clear and accurate, is to give to friends after having presented the gospel in conversation, so that they will have something in writing to come back to or ask questions about later.
- Street preaching may be effective when it is part of a culture where spontaneous public presentations are common and where there are pedestrians open to hearing such messages. In our culture, this practice is unfamiliar in most areas, except for protests and other demonstrations by hate groups that masquerade as churches. For this reason, I believe street preaching, particularly of the "hellfire and brimstone" variety, is not an effective way to present the gospel in the contemporary US.
Home and Foreign Missions
- The planting of new churches and the sending of the gospel to all nations is grounded not in the goal of reaching as many individuals as possible, but in sharing the word and love of Jesus with every people group and saving people from every class, culture, and background. Consequently, our missions work should not focus only on major cities and dominant cultures but go out into the country, into the bush, to sparsely inhabited islands, and among people groups that have been isolated from the gospel.
- I believe the Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program, together with the SBC's two special missions offerings, is the most efficient missions funding method ever devised, in that it allows believers to support home and foreign missions (and other cooperative efforts) as they give to their local church, without having to find and research many different agencies and ministries to sponsor. As this cooperative arrangement is the basis for the SBC's very existence, every church that identifies as Southern Baptist ought to contribute substantially to the Cooperative Program and the SBC's home and foreign missions offerings. However, I also heartily approve of smaller-scale missions work that relies on a few willing sponsors, for their diversity of approaches and emphases and the flexibility they offer.
- By virtue of their fellowship with God in Christ and through their common faith, believers have fellowship with one another that expresses itself in a life of love and service together. Real fellowship requires time and personal involvement, bonding explicitly over matters of God and their faith and not merely earthly socializing. The sharing of meals is one of the primary ways fellowship is exampled in the New Testament; such meals should be open to believers of every social status, including those unable to pay or bring food, but should exclude members whose sinful habits or false teaching has brought them under discipline.
Small Group Ministry
- For medium-sized and larger churches, I recommend weekly opportunities for believers to gather in small groups for fellowship, prayer, and spiritual discussion, separate from the worship service and teaching-oriented Bible studies. These groups, meeting in homes if possible, provide a structured way for believers to be in each other's homes and lives, and to be the first to respond to one another's ministry and prayer needs, especially when those needs are deeply personal or otherwise sensitive.
Teaching and Preaching
- Preaching and teaching in the church should both involve reading, explaining, and applying the Bible to enhance the church's right understanding of a text and prepare them to rightly obey it. Both may be impassioned; both aim at the heart as well as the head; both should be doctrinal and applicational; both are revelational and informational. Both may even be interactive, eliciting questions and insights from the congregation. Preaching is, in fact, a form of teaching. Preaching, as distinct from other teaching, is a heralding of the truths of Scripture and a direct call to heed what God has declared. Other teaching, as distinct from preaching, is not necessarily expository but may include instruction on church history, practical ministry, and other church-relevant topics that are not per se derived from the Bible.
Sunday School and Bible Study Classes
- Religious education of the congregation, which should consist primarily of direct study of the Bible, is best done in small groups of 5 to 20 people, where there is an opportunity for interaction, sharing of insights, and personal attention. Whether through a Sunday School regimen or another scheduled time of Bible studies or teaching-oriented small groups, churches ought to expect and encourage their members to involve themselves in this sort of teaching. Bible study classes should also incorporate prayer, fellowship, and service if these are not accounted for by other programs.
The Goal of Church Teaching
- Teaching and mentoring within the church should have as its goal moving converts into membership, through maturity, and onward into ministry and missions.
- For teaching to be effective: The teacher must know the material and be skilled in communicating it in a way the learner can grasp; the learner must listen, think, and rehearse/practice what is to be learned; and the learning should be constructive: building on what is already known and familiar, reminding and repeating as new ideas are introduced, and assessing learning by having the learner reproduce and explain what has been taught.
Marks of a False Teacher
- There are many ministers who are well-meaning but who make theological errors out of ignorance. But false teachers can be distinguished by several marks: They tend to follow their own wisdom and rely on their eloquence and impressive arguments for the effectiveness of their teaching. They use deception and manipulation to exploit their followers, and value gaining a following after themselves over helping the people they teach. They also tend to direct their harshest criticisms toward the most faithful ministers while telling their people what they want to hear.
Extrabiblical Teaching in the Church
- Beyond expository and Bible-survey classes, churches should provide and enthusiastically promote opportunities for members to learn about the history of the church at large and in their country, their denomination, their local body, and associated confessions and catechisms; about vital topics in systematic theology; and about how to apply biblical truth to issues and realities in today's world. These study opportunities should not displace the weekly preaching of God's Word, and teachers should make clear that only God's Word is divine, authoritative, and infallible.
Churches and General Education
- I embrace the old formula that theology is "the Queen of the Sciences," and that science and Western philosophy depend on biblical truths for their stability. Education in the Western World has historically been provided by schools operated and/or founded by churches. But for over a century now, childhood education has been largely in the hands of the state and in many places is becoming not only politicized but hostile to Christianity. Churches therefore must work hard to maintain and demonstrate by example Christianity's traditional valuing of scholarship and general knowledge, and should continue to provide godly alternatives to secular education, whether by establishing schools of their own or by facilitating homeschooling.
The Usefulness of Seminaries
- The academic work done by seminaries exists to serve congregations, not the world of academe. They are important as a way to provide a level of scholarship and access to training resources that are beyond the reach of most congregations, as well as providing an opportunity to form lifelong connections with ministers from diverse localities and backgrounds. Members who aspire to be preaching elders, highly-trained teachers, missionaries, church planters, denominational leaders, etc., should be sent by their congregations to study at seminary. Those sent to train for local church ministry should ideally return to serve in the congregation from which they came. Seminary-trained teachers best apply their academic study when they place the useful things they have learned on the "bottom shelf" for members of the congregation. They should always remember that non-seminary-trained Christians are often as well-educated and knowledgeable in their own careers and interests as seminarians are in the Bible and church ministry.
- As God has made all Christians members of a body—the body of Christ to continue Jesus' ministerial work on earth—and has gifted every Christian with talents to build it up, every member of the congregation should participate in the support and work of the church. Churches should find places of service for every member, young and old, rich and poor, including the physically and mentally disabled, according to their talents and degree of spiritual maturity.
Ministry vs. Administration
- To operate, a congregation must manage its office, finances, facilities, and programs, and so members with administrative gifts are needed for these duties. But the "meat" of church work consists in acts of love as members invest in one another's lives: in teaching, mentoring, mutual accountability, fellowship, prayer, and acts of mercy and service. Programs can jump-start this process, but much of this can and should occur naturally and take place "off the grid" of the church's programs and calendar, so that often the most devoted and influential members of a church might not hold official positions but simply be discipling and loving others on their own initiative.
Permission vs. Accountability
- To encourage a volunteering spirit among the congregation and a quick response to needs as they arise, as well as to free the church from a program-and-schedule mindset toward ministry, ministerial oversight should have an atmosphere of accountability more than of permission: Rather than needing to seek prior approval for obvious solutions to problems and clearly commendable acts of service, members should generally be free to put their gifts to biblical use on their own judgment, and be accountable to leadership as they do. This is a general approach rather than a strict rule; church administration should, of course, facilitate proper coordination in the use of the church's resources and facilities, and ensure against conflicts on the church calendar for scheduled events.
Caution in Benevolence
- The financial need in the world far exceeds the budget of all the churches, and many with no interest in Christ see the church as a source of free money. While individual Christians are called to give to the needy expecting nothing in return, the New Testament's presentation of mercy ministry by the church as an institution is based on the principle that major financial support is given in return for spiritual benefit. This principle is the basis for Paul's collection for Jerusalem, and underlies his advice that widows receiving regular support from the church have a record of kindness and service to believers, and if not should find other means of support. The same passage indicates that the church should insist people seek financial help from their families before seeking it from the church.
Effective Mercy Ministry
- An effective way to provide real help to families in need is to partner them with self-sufficient families in the church who can help them over the long term as they heal broken relationships and work on income, debt, and budgeting issues, coupling their kindness with the message of the gospel. The needy within this program would be eligible for a certain level of financial assistance from the church for a set time, subject to their satisfactory participation.
- I believe Christian food pantries, shelters, and other ministries that provide emergency assistance to people in need are best operated as charities with their own budgets, rather than out of a general church budget, even when they are maintained by the congregation. This frees them to seek personnel and donations outside the church and avoids competing with the church's other ministries for funds. Churches should encourage their members to support, staff, promote, and pray for Christian charity work as part of their mission of sharing the word and love of Jesus with the world.
- Beyond simple benevolence, churches of adequate size should provide ongoing ministry to members recovering from poverty, abuse, divorce, addictions, and other traumas, as well as ministry that provides teaching and service to members whose mental health requires special accommodation. As distinctly discipleship-focused ministries, these efforts should supplement and not replace professional counseling and other support and treatment, for which the church should refer out unless it has the personnel, training, and certification to provide it directly.
II.B.3.e. Ministry Beyond the Local Congregation
Cooperation of Churches
- It is good and biblical for churches to pool their resources for the work of large-scale ministry, and to do so in an orderly fashion as associations, conventions, or other denominational structures. Such cooperative organizations should exist as servants and agencies of the member congregations, not holding authority over them, but operating as advisory and administrative bodies to gather and direct resources for the carrying out of ministries such as missions, evangelism, church planting, ministerial training, the development and publishing of teaching and worship resources, large-scale mercy ministry, and general cooperation and fellowship.
Boundaries of Cooperation
- Conventions and associations of churches should be united not only on the essentials of their faith but on their weighting of theological issues and on matters of Christian practice that permit them to worship and serve together from a practical standpoint, and to consider one another to be faithful and biblical churches. There is no obligation for all churches of like faith and practice to be members of the same organization, nor to recognize only the churches of one's denomination as true churches. Churches should decline fellowship with congregations that significantly depart from the established agreement of faith and practice, replace the word and love of Jesus with political activism or a message of condemnation, celebrate or condone lifestyles of sin, or knowingly tolerate or cover up harassment and abuse.
Local Non-Church Gatherings
- The brotherhood of all Christians means that believers need not restrict their fellowship, service, and teaching to their own congregation. Without forsaking their commitment to their own churches, believers may use their gifts to build up genuine believers from any denomination (and to evangelize those not yet saved) through home Bible studies, charitable ministries, Christian schools and colleges, and other ventures. It is good for such entities to set forth their understanding of the gospel and the essentials of the faith as the boundaries of their fellowship.
The Distinctness of the Church
- Whether large or small, Christian gatherings that are not churches should not act as a substitute for the churches themselves. Groups that have only attendees rather than members, that do not include preaching and worship, that do not practice baptism and the Lord's Supper, or whose principal task is other than the Great Commission, may still be worthwhile ministry endeavors but are not churches.
Churches and the Community
- In keeping with the example of Scripture, churches should be respectful of civil authorities, and their members should be peaceful and productive within the local community. Where possible, it is good for the churches to be on friendly terms and cultivate cooperative ministry efforts with schools, parks, and recreation centers, not to promote the church as an institution, but to demonstrate that Christians are good citizens and to make the gospel available to those who might otherwise have no contact with Christianity.
Churches and the Larger Outside World
- Even as the making of disciples remains the church's focus and highest priority, sharing the word and love of Jesus means we are not merely to preach to the world, but to care for the world as well. The duty of God's people to care for the outcast, the needy, and the marginalized is a major theme across the whole of Scripture. Churches, individually and cooperatively, should be major players in addressing poverty, widowhood, and elder care; needs for adoption and foster care; ministry to refugees, immigrants, and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation wrought by war and natural disasters. If possible, the church and other Christian organizations should outpace the world's governments and charities in showing love to people in need. But also, people receiving the love of Christ through the church should receive the word of Christ along with it.
Churches and Persecution
- When persecuted, congregations may require secrecy and extra security; they may need to operate underground or even to flee. In cases of deadly violence, members may defend one another from lawless attacks. But the church must not fight physically against civil authorities. Churches should, however, make use of the courts, appeals to public officials, and other peaceful means of recourse to preserve religious liberty and prevent persecution. In all cases, ministers should preach without compromise, and members should give worship to God alone and safeguard their copies of Scripture, and be willing to suffer for doing so rather than betray the cause of Christ.
Clarification on Religious Liberty
- Defending the right of Christians to live out their beliefs does not mean restricting the right of non-Christians to live out theirs, nor should the church seek a right to separate itself from the lost in the world or to discriminate against sinners, as the church is called to love and engage the world, not to shun it. Believers should certainly not appeal to the government to give Christians favorable treatment over non-Christians.
Churches and Politics
- I support efforts by the church to apply the truths of Scripture to political and cultural questions as part of its task to teach and disciple its members; this is a critical element of declaring the whole counsel of God. Much of the church's positive influence on the world comes through a sensitive and gracious setting forth what God's mercy and justice ought to look like in real-world terms, and through its example of God's principles at work in the lives of believers. Churches also ought to pray for their leaders, by name and regardless of their political persuasion. I do not support churches or denominational meetings inviting officials or candidates for debates, rallies, or other public addresses. I also oppose tendencies in churches to use rhetoric implying a cultural war to be fought against sinners on political terms. Our struggle is not against sinners, but for sinners and against Satan's forces, and that battle is waged with prayer, the gospel, and resistance to temptation.
- God calls us not to ground our confidence in ourselves but in Him, submitting our weaknesses and doubts to God's power and faithfulness.
Walking by Faith
- Walking by faith means (1) rejecting fear to trust in God's power, (2) rejecting despair in favor of a firm hope in God's promises, and (3) devoting ourselves to doctrine, endeavoring to know what God has revealed while letting go of questions about what God has kept hidden.
Faith as Courage
- Christians should be marked by purposefulness and resolve, doing what they do boldly. True faith expresses itself in steadfastness in doing what is right and leaving the results to God, rather than doing evil that good may come. As we mature in faith, we grow in our capacity to make wise and considerate use of our Christian liberty.
- Humility means giving proper consideration of our own low estate and of God's grace in the lives of others. A humble believer has a mind set on rightful self-evaluation and poverty of spirit in the sense of brokenness over sin. Humility in action gives proper place and thought to others, associates with the lowly, and rejects arrogance, having no eagerness for glory and boasting except in the Lord and the gospel.
Humility in Life Decisions
- We were created not to live for ourselves but to exist in relationship. As we consider how best to serve God's purpose in our generation, we should value the good of our family, our church, and our nation above what we might by ourselves dream of being or doing—to seek not what we want to do, but what we are called to do. Husbands should seek what is best for their wives, elders for their congregations, businesses for their communities and the larger society, churches for the gospel and God's kingdom, and even our country should seek what is best for the world.
Confession of Sin
- In humility we should confess our sins to God and, as appropriate, to one another, recognizing that our culpability increases in strictness based on our knowledge of God's truth and our influence on others.
II.B.5. Submission to God
- One of the most important biblical virtues is willingness to learn, grow, and receive correction. Following Jesus requires a teachable, transparent spirit that readily discards our accustomed ways in preference for the ways of God. As members of God's church we open our lives to accountability, examination, and correction, and when we become aware of our ignorance and wrongdoing, we respond with a contrite heart and an eagerness to know God more fully, understand His word, and pursue holiness.
- The believer's whole life is to be characterized by repentance, turning aside from habits, worldly distractions, and impure motives that detract from the faithfulness of our service. We should confess our sins and shortcomings to God, and to one another as appropriate, and knowledge of our faults should drive us to God's mercy found in Jesus. We therefore follow hard after Jesus, endeavoring after further trust and a new and more consistent obedience.
Obedience to Human Authorities
- It is a virtue to follow human leaders in recognition of their appointment by God and their accountability to Him. As much as it lies with us, we should place ourselves under wise and just leadership. Even so, with fear of God and a submissive spirit, we should have proper consideration and reverence for those who lead us and the institutions to which we belong, even when they are unwise or wicked. God calls us to yield to authority, serving and obeying our leaders as we serve and obey God. We should pray for their life, health, wisdom, and success, and show them honor and respect, despite the world's fondness for mocking leaders with whom they disagree. Christians express their submission to God's delegation of authority by submitting to all lawful ordinances and decrees, by paying taxes, and by seeking lawful and peaceful means to challenge abuses of authority before resorting to any form of resistance.
- When authorities require us to sin, or forbid us to follow the command of God, we must obey God as the higher authority rather than human institutions. Where laws are found to be unjust, we should seek remedies through peaceful and lawful means where possible, whether by new legislation, the courts, or pardons. Where civil disobedience is truly necessary, it should be carried out peacefully, in obedience to all just laws and with respect for the authorities and public servants whose job it is to enforce the law. The government must still enforce the laws as they stand, and their enforcement should not be resisted by unlawful means.
II.B.6. Waiting on God
Suffering as a Christian Calling
- It is through many trials that we must enter God's kingdom. Part of our calling as Christians is to endure crisis, suffering, and times of lack and dullness with a Christlike spirit. In times of trial, we should seek opportunities for growth and repentance, viewing hardship as discipline.
- One fruit of the Spirit is patience, in which we wait for the Lord to act in His own time and way, with responsible diligence and a grateful heart toward God who gives and takes away.
- True faith always results in perseverance, and so we will not renounce Jesus or give up the Christian walk in the face of hardship or persecution. Mature perseverance remains calm and trusting, holds fast despite fear and anxiety, and strives to conquer the temptations for grumbling, pessimism, and worry. To persevere also means to return a soft and gracious response to provocations.
- The peace of God-centered joy comes from finding satisfaction in God and holding what He has entrusted to us as stewards happy to be in His service. We should make God Himself the center of our delight, with happy confidence in God's provision and in His choice to entrust us with some gifts and blessings and not others. To be content also means to honor God's entrusting of others with their own supply and opportunities, according to His gracious kindness and wisdom.
- God has made us stewards of all He has given us. In dependence on God, we should derive our living as the fruit of honest labor by using our talents for others' benefit. Our plans and decisions should reflect heavenly priorities in the stewardship of our time, opportunities, and resources. Even as we enjoy what God has provided, we should hold our earthly possessions and involvements lightly, willing to return them to God or give them to others as He directs.
II.B.7. Joy in the Lord
- Joy is both a moral virtue and a fruit of the Holy Spirit, consisting in the cherishing of God and of life in Him. A joyful heart delights ultimately in God Himself, and also in His people and in all that God has provided. Joy should encourage us to action, so that we embrace opportunities God brings our way. We should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, showing mercy with cheerfulness and hope. Recognizing that there are times to express grief, confide in friends and family regarding our fears and sorrows, and confess sins with contrition, our general public disposition ought to be positive and reflect the peace that passes all understanding.
- We should exercise both our Christian duties and our Christian liberty with a grateful heart toward God, responding to God and others with appreciation for all that has been done for us and how little is asked of us. This includes appreciating the beauty, creativity, and innovation with which God has blessed mankind, and considering how God has used others to bless us and make straight our paths in so many ways. We should put our gratitude into practice by giving private and public thanks and praise to God and others, bestowing gifts on those we love and giving material support in return for the spiritual blessings we receive. Thankfulness in prayer includes presenting our requests to God in a way that cultivates our dependence on Him.
The Holiness of the Believer
- God's people are holy by virtue of their contact with Him; He has claimed them as His own and called them to live according to His purposes. They are therefore called to rise above their animal instincts and live as sons of their Father by reflecting His good character and following Jesus' example.
Holness in Thought
- A holy mindset means godliness in our thoughts, moods, and attitudes. In holiness we strive to hate evil and love good, delighting in God's law and rejecting worldly self-indulgence and economic materialism.
Holiness in Action
- As holy people, we should endeavor to live blameless lives, not to earn favor with God, but in keeping with the fact that we have been freed from our slavery to sin so that we may use our bodies as instruments of righteousness. We therefore strive for godly behavior and actions that leave us with a clear conscience. Holy living precludes entertaining temptations, fantasizing, and scheming toward sin, even if we have no intention of following through.
Being a Living Sacrifice
- To present our bodies as living sacrifices to God is to make ourselves available for God's use. This requires rejecting a worldly perspective on our habits and decisions and instead being renewed in our minds so that our priorities and delights are aligned with the will of God.
- Being filled with the Holy Spirit does not override our control of ourselves, but precisely the opposite: the Spirit produces self-control. As believers, we should make every effort to cooperate with the Spirit's work in establishing the image of Christ in us. This requires focus in steering the path of our emotions and patterns of thought toward that which is noble and constructive. Exercising self-discipline keeps us in step with the Spirit in our delights and priorities. Self-controlled Christians seek not their own interests but the interests of others, to the glory of God. Self-control also presumes some measure of self-determination, which requires, as far as we are able, avoiding addiction, dependency, co-dependency, and oppressive relationships. Our degree of self-control manifests itself most clearly in how we manage our time and money, in times of irritation, and when opportunities to help others interrupt our own plans and projects.
- Jesus requires every disciple to deny themselves, which first of all means yielding our ways to the laws of God and in consideration of others. We deny ourselves by our willingness to suffer for Christ, by fleeing wild and lowly passions, and by not making provision for improper cravings of the flesh. However, the self-denial Jesus demands is not a pursuit of suffering or an abstinence from physical satisfactions.
- The physical world is good, and God has given us all things richly to enjoy. He provides birds, beasts, and mankind with pleasure and has designed us with emotions and passions for a purpose. Further, the Bible teaches that depriving one's self has no spiritual benefit. Neither should we make self-indulgence in earthly pleasures the driving force of our life. We should be content to suffer as God wills, but our enjoyment of the earthly pleasures He provides glorifies Him when it is sanctified by a prayerful and thankful heart that seeks its ultimate delight in God Himself.
II.C.2. Family and Sexuality
II.C.2.a. Love of Family
- Part of our holiness is to exist in relationship with others as God does in the Trinity, and in ways that mirror God's relationship with His people. For all people and not Christians only, placing the needs of one's family above one's self is not only a moral virtue but a matter of basic decency. Believers' living out of the gospel should, above all else, be toward their own household and other close relatives. They should demonstrate the gospel picture that God has established in marital and parental relationships, cherishing family in a special, exclusive way that is readily sacrificial and maximally accepting.
- Every member of the familiy has a divine calling to offer their family provision, protection, care, leadership, and submission, according to their God-given role in the family and their abilities and opportunities. Parents should nourish the family spiritually through evangelism, teaching, and practice of the Christian disciplines within the household. Adult children should also provide a proper return to their aging parents in the form of financial support and other forms of care. In no circumstances should the elderly be neglected by their families.
Marriage as Companionship
- While not all people are called to marry, man and woman were, by God's design, made as they are in order to go through life together. Marriage is a complementary companionship in which the wife was made a "suitable helper" to assist in the areas where her husband needs it, with the man's masculinity equipping him to be what a husband and father ought to be, and the woman's femininity equipping her to be what a wife and mother ought to be. It is a companionship of equals, in which both spouses are of equal value and neither is to be dishonored, degraded, or objectified, and believing spouses are fellow heirs of the grace of life. Life-long marriage is to be the norm, and God has designed it to involve the forming ofa new household from two. Marrying someone of another class, race, or nationality is commendable as an expression of the gospel's breaking down of barriers between people and groups. Marriage unites the man and woman so that they "become one flesh," not merely joining in sexual union but standing before God together and belonging to each other, so that everything each has belongs equally to the other.
Marriage and Child-Rearing
- As the fundamental unit of society and its most indispensable institution, marriage is the vehicle through which man and woman are to fulfill God's command to be fruitful and multiply, and so is the divinely intended context for raising children. The man is to leave his father and mother, having been raised by the two of them together, and cling to a wife, knowing what marriage is from their example.
Marriage and the Gospel
- Marriage is a picture of the gospel in many ways, as illustrated by the abundant wedding and betrothal imagery in Scripture. The husband is to lovingly give himself up for his wife as Jesus did for the church, and the wife is to lovingly submit to her husband as the church does to Jesus. Marriage also signifies our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection, with the husband acting as the federal head of his family much as Jesus is the federal head of His people as the Second Adam.
Marriage and Cohabitation
- Insofar as it is possible for them, a married couple should live together. Exceptions such as for business or military training, moving in the middle of a school year, etc., should be for short periods, and reuniting should be one of the couple's highest priorities. Conversely, a man and woman who are neither married nor related by blood should not share quarters as roommates or live together as a couple.
Barriers to Marriage
- Marriage is a covenant institution entered into by consent of both parties. Given the purposes of marriage, there must be two only, a man and a woman, both of age, not close family to each other, committing to love and live at peace with each other. The Bible also teaches that believers are forbidden to marry outside the faith. Yet believers who are already married to an unbeliever, by whatever circumstance, should continue in that marriage as long as their spouse is willing to live with them in peace, since the presence of the believer sanctifies that household and provides an opportunity for the unbelieving spouse to be won though the believer's quiet faithfulness. A believing couple should hold at least enough common beliefs about doctrine and practice that they can unreservedly be members of the same congregation. The Bible recognizes no barrier to marriage or other fellowship on the basis of class, race, nationality, or disability; in fact, transcending such supposed barriers is a testimony to the unifying power of the gospel. Age difference among adults should also bring no prohibition or suspicion on the couple as long as their motives for marriage are pure.
Church Marriage Policies
- As a gospel institution, marriages within the faith ought to be recognized formally by the couple's congregation, and the congregation is accountable as witnesses to the couple's vows in much the same way as when they witness a baptism. Couples should also commit to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; this does not require committing to raise them within a particular denomination. It is reasonable for the elder presiding over the wedding to restrict marrying to those whose relationships he has observed (such as through counseling) and whom he concludes are ready to marry in a way that honors God, and to maintain a policy on whether to perform weddings for the divorced according to his conviction on what the Scriptures teach. Churches and their elders should not raise unbiblical barriers to marriage (such as class or race), but in no case should an elder be pressured or compelled to marry a couple he believes ought not to be married.
Gender Roles in the Famly
- One of the fundamental purposes of marriage is to represent the union of Jesus with His church in the gospel. Accordingly, the Bible places the husband in authority over his wife by calling on wives to voluntarily submit themselves to their own husbands "as to the Lord." The husband likewise is to use his position to sacrifically love his wife "as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her." The husband thus does not have rightful authority to treat his wife as a servant, to exploit or abuse her, or to use his authority for his own satisfaction and advantage, nor does his authority over her include rights of discipline or enforcement. God also treats the man (if present) as the representative head of his household. While fathers and mothers will naturally tend to parent in different ways, the Bible does not prescribe any differences in the duties or priority of child-rearing between fathers and mothers. The Bible does not assign any occupational or household duties to one spouse over the other, nor does it restrict women to doing their work at home; it rather entrusts the management of the home to the wife, among the many other things godly women in Scripture are shown to do.
- The only marriage God commends consists of one man and one woman. While the Bible acknowledges the pervasive sin of polygamy among the wealthy in Ancient Near Eastern culture, it is always presented negatively and often with disastrous consequences for the family. The New Testament makes clear God's disapproval of polygamy by Jesus' teachings on marriage and the requirement that officers of the church be "the husband of one wife."
- Married persons must restrict to their spouse all sexual activity, romance, and strong emotional attachments with the opposite sex. Adultery is a breach of the marriage covenant, and even polyamory by consent of the spouse still undermines the fundamental purposes of marriage and damages its stability. Adultery and polyamory are as incompatible with the nature of marriage as heresy and unrepentant sin are to the nature of the church. Just as heresy and unrepentant sin may necessitate removal from the church, so adultery may necessitate the tragic breaking of the bond of marriage.
- Where the Bible mentions divorce, the main point is generally not the rightful grounds for divorce, but how honorable marriage is and how rare divorce ought to be. Like war and capital punishment, divorce is always a tragic and terrible result of sin, though sometimes necessary to correct the harm done by sin, usually for the woman's protection. God's law limited divorce by permitting it not only on very restricted grounds, but by requiring a formal process, by making divorce irrevocable once a partner remarries, and by classifying remarriage after a frivolous divorce as adultery. Biblically, divorce and remarriage are justified only by an innocent party in response to adultery, abandonment, or abuse. Even in these cases, divorce is not mandatory, though separation may be necessary in cases of abuse for the sake of protection. Except in those cases, the Bible regards adultery as a dishonoring, defiling, faithless, hateful, and violent act that is contrary to God's prohibition against separating what He has joined together.
- A person who has been divorced through no fault of their own, or whose divorce was made necessary by their partner's adultery, abandonment, or abuse, and who cannot be reconciled to their partner, is free to remarry. The guilt for such a separation attaches to the spouse who made the divorce necessary. Otherwise, the union of marriage has not been truly broken, and the couple should seek reconciliation. A spouse should not end a marriage to return to someone to whom they were married previously, and the death or remarriage of a spouse frees the surviving spouse for remarriage in all cases.
The Value of Children
- All people have sacred dignity by virtue of being created in God's image, and every child is (and should be valued as) a blessing to the parents, regardless of their abilities, personality, medical or psychological condition, or the circumstances of their conception. The value of any child infinitely outweighs the trials of pregnancy and childbirth or the cost of raising the child, and is independent of the child's potential contribution to society or the actions they might take as an adult.
- Married couples should face no stigma or social pressure for the number or timing of the children they bear, foster, or adopt. There should be a general expectation that healthy married couples ought to seek to raise at least one child unless this is impracticable or providentially hindered. Yet given the abundance and personal nature of possible reasons why a couple might not have children, it is improper to question a particular couple's lack of progeny.
- Given any family's finite resources of space and money, among other factors, it is reasonable and wise for married couples to take into account their capacity to bear and raise children, and to manage the timing and number of conceptions accordingly. There is no biblical reason why they may not use birth control methods for this purpose, as long as those methods are not designed or used to destroy children who have already been conceived. Fertility aids have the same moral status: permissible for married couples but only with the guarantee that any children conceived be brought to term.
- Adoption is highly commended in Scripture and is its own picture of the gospel. If true religion means helping widows and orphans, then adoption and foster care are among the most loving and selfless examples of true Christian religion believers can practice. As children are best raised by a father and a mother, adoption by a husband and wife is preferable, although in some circumstances even a single adoptive parent may be preferable to a child's pre-adoption situation. There should be no stigma attached to placing one's own children up for adoption if life circumstances make it the best course of action for the sake of the child.
The Raising of Children
- Parents have the primary responsibility to provide for their children's physical well-being, including exercise, medical care including vaccinations, and a proper diet, as well as their spiritual upbringing, and to provide a home that is a peaceful haven from the dangers and stresses of the world. Second to this, but also indispensable, is the parents' responsibility to train their children in knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and moral and social behavior. Parents' greatest desire for their children is that they would know God through the gospel of Christ, and secondarily that they be kindhearted and well-behaved; these priorities should take precedence even over their children's health, financial and professional success, and freedom from suffering and persecution.
Obedience to Parents by Children
- The Bible commands children to obey their parents and submit to their discipline, and to speak of and to them with honor and respect. The only instance in which pre-adult children should not obey their parents is if the instruction is abusive, sinful, or criminal in nature, in which case the child should seek guidance from another adult authority. The command to honor father and mother does not rule out reporting abusive or criminal behavior by one's parents.
Honoring of Parents by Adults
- Adults should continue to provide their parents honor and respect, and adults should support and care for their parents in old age or disability. Since adults must conscientiously follow God as they truly believe they ought, they may come to different convictions and make different life decisions than their parents would prefer. This is right and honorable, and should be respected by the parents, but the adult child should still speak respectfully of the parents and not publicly voice disagreements with them on matters of conviction.
- The Bible commands parents to use preventive, supportive, and corrective discipline to train their children toward mature attitudes and behavior. Though discipline is necessarily painful, parents are also commanded not to raise their children in a harsh manner that fosters bitterness, resentment, or rebellion. Discipline should be harmonious with the message of the gospel: not a reflexive act of anger, not meted out unfairly, not arbitrary or capricious, not showing favoritism, not publicly shaming, and not a lasting punishment that persists long after the child's repentance. Corrective discipline should also be age-appropriate and accompanied by an understanding of what wrong was done and how that wrong can be corrected. Where misbehavior is a child's attempt to solve a legitimate problem, parents should help the child to address the problem constructively; but recognizing their children are fallen, parents should be wary of their children taking advantage of their leniency by pretending to be well-intentioned. Persistent behavioral issues should be addressed not merely with punishment but with a well-considered plan to instill right patterns of behavior and to remove temptations to sin. Parents' right to discipline a child ends when the child reaches adulthood.
- I believe spanking, when done humanely and under the right circumstances, is not in itself a form of child abuse. It is only appropriate for children from toddlerhood through pre-adolescence and should be a previously understood, last-resort consequence to outright defiance against authority, not simple misbehavior, accidents, or sins of ignorance. Parents should observe the apparent impact of spanking and other disciplinary measures to determine what is most effective in correcting a child's behavior and instilling a proper attitude toward authority.
Discipline by Non-Parents
- To accomplish their tasks, teachers, daycare workers, babysitters, and other caregivers have a need to keep children in order, and this may require rules of behavior and some sort of discipline for breaking them, with compliance being a prerequisite for their services. (In school, for example, this may mean being sent to the principal for disrupting the classroom environment.) Parents should be aware of the rules and disciplinary procedures their children are subject to. That discipline should not extend to spanking or other physical discipline; any perceived need for such measures should be referred to the parents. Adults with no special status over a child may take action to keep a child safe, break up fights, bring a child to parents or authorities, or report bad behavior, but should not attempt to discipline the child by themselves.
Natural and Individual Behavior
- Children have natural exuberance, playfulness, and spontaneity that should not be unduly constrained by parents' rules and discipline. Even as children must be steered to learn what behaviors are considerate and socially fitting in different contexts, parents should also provide sufficient outlets for their energy and imagination, and find ways for the children to engage social environments rather than simply attend and observe. Parents should not use discipline to constrain a child's uniqueness, personality, and lawful aspirations.
Guiding Children's Life Decisions
- As children grow, parents should teach them how to determine God's calling for the jobs and ministries they should pursue (by taking into account their desires, abilities, feasibility of means and opportunity, and affirmation by others) and how to know whether their life path should include college, military service, etc., as well as whether to marry and the wise methods and priorities for finding a spouse. They should kindly and gently offer guidance to these ends as their children approach the age to make those decisions. But they should not make those decisions for the child except to keep them from grave physical or spiritual danger, nor may parents demand obedience in the life decisions of their adult children.
- Parents should respect their children's natural interest in particular school subjects, college majors, and potential jobs and careers, and should not criticize their children's life decisions after they have been made.
- The Bible strongly condemns abuse and cruelty toward children, whether physical, sexual, or verbal. Abuse is a destructive and evil practice that must not be tolerated in the church and is a crime against society. Churches and Christian ministries should report any suspected abuse to civil authorities, confront abusers within the church, and protect and care tenderly for the abused.
- The Bible does not mandate a timetable for when people ought to marry, and it even commends singlehood, whether temporary or lifelong, as a gift with its own spiritual advantages and opportunities to serve God. Just as marriage is a gift with special challenges, so singlehood brings struggles with loneliness, self-centered living, and lack of sexual fulfillment. Single adults should strive for a heavenly mindset and find contentment in Christ, using their freedom and flexibility for godly purposes and taking advantage of the availability they have for ministry and stewardship. Even if they wish someday to be married, singles should place a higher priority on following Jesus than on seeking a potential spouse or trying to somehow prepare for marriage without having met one. Churches should publicly repent of assuming single Christians ought to be married, and of treating single Christians as lesser, immature, or suspicious. Churches should instead be the family for single adults, affirm the biblical value of their choice, and treat them as well as married believers within the fellowship.
- As both singleness and marriage are gifts from God for the opportunities they afford, it is as legitimate for a person to commit to a life of permanent singleness as to a life in marriage, the main difference being that the single adult may reverse that decision at any time. I would only advise a commitment to celibacy for believers who can support themselves financially, are not particularly burdened by temptation to lust or sexual immorality, and will use their singleness to be more devoted and flexible in their service to the Lord.
Dating and Courtship
- The customs by which a man and woman move from singleness to marriage are culture-bound, but cultural customs are not morally indifferent. While it is proper for Christians to value their life testimony and respect their neighbors by dating according to custom, they should not do so in ways that invite temptation or play with lust and enticement. I am in favor of social dating in late adolescence as a way of learning how to relate to the opposite sex in a romantic context, albeit with an appropriate level of accountability. I also believe it is important for dating couples to seek friendly terms with each other's families. However, an adult couple should have the privacy to develop emotional and spiritual intimacy in their relationship as they move toward marriage. Requiring the permission of parents before committing to marry is a matter of custom, not an inherently moral matter.
- God gently cares for single parents and their children, and the church ought to be the instrument of God's love to single fathers and mothers inside and outside the congregation, and help them to find their identity and their rest in Christ. The church should offer forgiveness rather than stigma for single parents' past sins, and affirm that their children are a blessing. The Bible counsels that it is better for non-elderly single women who are unable to support themselves financially to seek an honorable marriage than to rely on the financial assistance of the church.
Sexuality as a Revealed Ethic
- The value of monogamy and the link between love and sexuality are evident from natural law and embedded in any healthy human conscience, but the divine sanctity of sex and the gravity of taking it outside its intended context are known only by God's revelation in Scripture. The Bible's grounds for sexual responsibility is not bodily autonomy or mutual consent, but the fact that humans are sacred creatures whose bodies belong to God the Creator, and sexual sins are ultimately sins against Him.
- Human sexuality has a holy and divine purpose, not only in bonding a husband and wife together, but inasmuch as marriage is a picture of Christ's love for His bride, physical intimacy represents the sweetness of worshipful fellowship with God. The Bible illustrates this most especially by its characterization of idolatry as spiritual adultery or fornication. The highly personal and unifying nature of sex serves to make it the ideal expression of love between a husband and wife and is in perfect accord with the holy and blessed action of bringing a new life into the world. That same intimate nature is what makes sexual immorality and sexual victimization so personally destructive and traumatic, and why it is morally harmful to make sexuality so public that individuals are continually confronted with sexualized images and messaging.
Sexual Sin and Condemnation
- The Bible plainly states that those who pursue lifestyles of sexual immorality show that they are not yet saved, since a heart of saving faith will bear the fruit of repentance from sin. Sexual sins are not unique in this regard; the Bible says the same of such sins as idolatry, sorcery, greed, murder, lying, verbal abuse, and cowardice. The aggravating factor is the willful and unrepentant nature of comfort in sin. However, the kingdom of God consists of people who have been forgiven and set free from these very sins, and so the sexually immoral and others should not be written off by the church or treated as the enemy, but instead as prime candidates for evangelism and as people who should be loved, befriended, and introduced to God's abundant mercy.
- Whether single or married, people should use their bodies not as vessels for sensuality but as instruments to serve God, and forsake lust and crude conceptions of sexuality in favor of true beauty, love, and honor. Within marriage, couples should consider God's design for sexuality as a bond of love, unity, and mutual joy and not as a matter of self-gratification or manipulation.
Definition of Lust
- Believers may be tempted to redefine the lust condemned in Scripture too narrowly, so as to justify their thoughts and actions. Jesus' teachings condemn not only wrong actions and plans to carry them out, but the underlying attitudes and thought patterns that give rise to immoral actions. Sinful sexual lust may therefore be defined broadly, as sexually desirous curiosity, imaginings, fascinations, or intentions toward any person (real or fictional) other than one's spouse. Any actions, habits, or affections that involve or cultivate that lust are dangerous and unwise, and are contrary to Jesus' teachings.
- We should restrict our sexual expressions and interactions to their rightful context within marriage. Given the intensity of sexual cravings and the many sources of temptation that seek us out, we must employ self-discipline, accountability, and whatever boundaries and barriers are necessary to successfully guard against sexual sin. Within marriage, chastity means faithfulness and resolve for mutual satisfaction within marriage, and requires accountability and openness about opposite-sex friendships and anyone making improper advances. We should both reject degrading acts and perversions condemned by Scripture, keeping ourselves unstained in the midst of the world, and also seek to deliver to Jesus those who are caught in sin's enticements.
- In its sexual ethic, the Bible places its focus not on modest dress but on commands against sinful thoughts and actions. However, the Bible also warns us not to exercise our own liberty in ways that may lead others into sin. Not in the least diminishing others' responsibility for their own thoughts and actions, we should be mindful of the effect we have on others, and should certainly not go out of our way to act, speak, or dress in ways that are enticing or seductive.
- It is natural that a romantic relationship being developed toward marriage will cultivate affectionate desires. While cultural attitudes about public and private displays of affection vary widely, there is nothing biblically objectionable about simple hugs, kisses, holding hands, etc., and the passionate nature of such affection and romantic conversation may reasonably increase with the closeness and commitment of the relationship. But unmarried couples should avoid any affection or interaction that either is sexual by definition (essentially anything involving areas of the body that would normally be covered by the average swimsuit), stirs up lust, or causes a loss of self-control. Susceptibility to lust and loss of self-control will naturally vary from couple to couple.
- People of the opposite sex may have close, loving friendships marked by a sweetness of fellowship, friendly affection, and deep emotional bonding. This is love and is pleasing to God. However, since God restricts sex to a husband and wife, it is deeply sinful for man-woman relationships other than marriage to involve sexual activity, nor should they be romantic in nature if either friend is married or if for other reasons they cannot feasibly develop toward marriage, since there is no scenario in which the sexual feelings that would inevitably arise could be rightfully expressed. Moreover, married individuals should take great care to avoid personally intimate or emotionally dependent friendships with the opposite sex, reserving such close companionship for their spouse alone.
- People of the same sex may have close, loving friendships marked by a sweetness of fellowship, friendly affection, and deep emotional bonding. This is love and is pleasing to God. However, since God restricts sex to a husband and wife, it is deeply sinful for same-sex relationships to involve sexual activity, nor should they be romantic in nature since there is no scenario in which the sexual feelings that would inevitably arise could be rightfully expressed.
- Many people, including a significant number who identify as Christians, experience romantic/sexual attraction to people of the same sex, and such desires feel natural for them and have often been present since childhood or early adolescence. I accept that homosexual and bisexual orientations are sincerely felt inward drives and are not a choice or a conscious rebellion against God. Notwithstanding their sincerity, people experiencing same-sex attraction are under the same obligation to God as everyone else to live according to His will, which means refraining from sexual expression outside of marriage between a man and a woman. This does not mean that homosexuals should seek heterosexual attachments, but rather that they have the same duty to God that all singles have, to refrain from lust and remain celibate in their singlehood unless they are naturally drawn toward marriage. Believers experiencing same-sex attraction may still live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus as long as they walk in purity of life. Yet that attraction is not part of the natural goodness of God's creative design, but is instead the result of our sinful fallenness.
Gender Identity Issues
- Beyond genetic and medical anomalies and gender dysphoria, there is much cultural confusion surrounding gender identity. God created mankind male and female as fixed binary identities, integrated as such in body and soul, but with great diversity of personalities, strengths, weaknesses, interests, and aspirations within each group. Someone who fails to fit cultural stereotypes of masculinity or femininity is no less a man or woman personally than they are biologically, and God calls it detestable for a man to present as a woman and vice-versa. The right response of family, close friends, and professionals to individuals who believe they are transgender or genderfluid is to help them recognize and correct their underlying thinking and find their God-given identity, rather than to validate their distorted understanding.
Response to LGBT Acquaintances
- It is sinful to celebrate or approve of sin, but it is also sinful to be self-righteous or condemning in our treatment of other people. Sinful lifestyles, especially when followed in ignorance by those who are not conscious of their sinfulness, are best addressed within loving relationships whose established trust is strong enough to bear the weight of hard truth. When we encounter strangers or have acquaintances and casual friends with sexually immoral or visibly unbiblical lifestyles, we should treat them with love, mercy, and unreluctant courtesy, not affirming their immorality, but demonstrating the love and kindness of Jesus in our words and actions. We should remember that their greatest need is not to repent of one sin, but to embrace Jesus in saving faith and be delivered from all sin. If we speak to them on spiritual and moral terms, then, our purpose should be not to deliver reprimands and mocking, or to win an argument, but to direct them toward Jesus and the gospel. In no case should LGBT people or other unbelievers be shunned, shamed, or mistreated, or disowned by their families.
Sexuality and Consent
- Consent is not a sufficient criterion on which to build an entire sexual ethic, and sexual activity between consenting adults is still a sin against God outside the context of marriage. Even so, engaging a person sexually without their consent is detestable, whether the action is classified as unwanted advances, lewdness, harassment, voyeurism, exhibitionism, assault, or rape. Egregious and predatory behavior of this sort should have serious social, professional, and legal consequences, especially when directed by adults against minors or when the action is an abuse of power or celebrity.
Claims of Sexual Victimization
- Sexual harassment and assault are a gravely serious problem in our society, far more prevalent than false allegations thereof, and skepticism and victim blaming prevent the misconduct from being addressed and subject survivors to revictimization. Quickness to believe victims should be the general rule; what few false allegations there are tend to arise from fairly transparent motivations and fall apart soon enough, whereas true allegations tend to be corroborated as more victims are emboldened to come forward (since assailants rarely limit themselves to a single victim). Both in court and in public discourse, victim and eyewitness testimony constitute evidence, and multiple independent testimonies corroborate one another. It is ignorant and improper to discourage alleged victims of harassment, assault, or bullying from making their stories public for lack of proof, to confront them as liars, or to disbelieve them based on the timing of their coming forward or their subsequent interactions with the accused. Above all, it is simply not the case that women level false allegations out of desire for attention or to jealously tear down successful men.
Consensus within Marriage
- A hubsand and wife are united in such a way that they have mutual ownership of their bodies and an obligation to express their love to each other sexually. The Bible forbids spouses from depriving each other of sexual satisfaction over extended periods but also calls them to deal gently with each other and to be at peace. A husband and wife should therefore seek a consensus on their exchanging of sexual and non-sexual affection, and should bear a deferential attitude toward each other's needs and reservations. This necessarily involves some degree of give-and-take and occasional negotiation. But rape and abuse are abhorrent sins, as much within marriage as outside it, and neither spouse should ever force sex or other affection against the other's will.
II.C.3. Respectable Living
- God calls believers to live lives worthy of emulation as images of God and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
- With a good-humored attitude about ourselves and about life, we should take seriously the things of God and maintain a sense of reverence about all that is holy. We should prefer a reputation for righteousness and a winsome Christian spirit over being attractive or impressive in worldly ways.
Respect for Others
- As all people are created in the image of God, we should treat people with respect and the benefit of doubt by default. We should especially honor people who have blessed others, and those who have suffered well and for good cause.
- Our lives should express a moral dignity which transparently shuns self-righteousness and self-importance, but which shows that we take our Lord and our faith seriously. We should live above reproach so that others expect the best of us and glorify our heavenly Father for the good works they see us do, and we should share our experiences and lessons learned so that our growth in the faith may be passed on.
- As all people are created by God in His image and exist for His glory, all people should honor the rightful use of the mind and body by pursuing the upward call of loving God and neighbor rather than a downward path of following their animal instincts.
- God calls us to be sober-minded, to maintain right priorities and purposes in the things God has provided for our pleasure and help, and to have proper regard for the effect of our speech and actions on other people. We should not only resist temptation but have an active distaste for excessive or immoral pursuits of passions and pleasures.
- We should keep our minds and bodies sober for the sake of prayer, self-control, and wisdom and good judgment in our decisions. This means keeping ourselves free from chemical abuse and addiction to drugs or alcohol. I do not believe the Bible forbids all consumption of alcohol, and so abstinence or moderation is a question of Christian liberty. However, I am convinced a common habit of social drinking in American culture gives an appearance of licentious behavior that may entice others to sin, and serves no good purpose in the midst of so many other options. Christians should certainly abstain from any recreational use of tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs, even if legalized, because of their addictive and poisonous potential.
- God's call to clean living and self-denial does not mean abstaining from secular entertainment, things pleasing to the senses, or the basic enjoyment of life. In moderation, even as we enjoy with thankful hearts the things God has given us, we should live not to indulge our impulses but for God's higher purposes, keeping ourselves free from degradation or compromise in our reason and judgment.
- The New Testament does not dictate a "Christian dress code" other than a warning against ostentatiousness in worship and a general awareness of one's effect on others. Also, the Bible generally speaks of jewelry and other ornamentation positively, and adorning the body expresses a joyful, celebratory attitude to life experienced as good. I therefore see no reason to forbid the use of cosmetics, jewelry, piercings, tattoos, and other decoration of the body, and even plastic surgery, as long as they are according to established biblical principles on the right practice of Christian liberty and well-considered good judgment. Even so, in their adornments believers should take care not to give the impression that they are obsessed with their appearance or unhappy with how God has made them.
- Manners are often important but should not be confused for morality. Social rules of etiquette and ritual are in themselves not a matter of accountability before God, especially not when their function is to preserve or sharpen differences of social class or to place one type of person in subservience to another. Nor should we use the appearance of politeness to insult or irritate someone in a passive-aggressive manner. The etiquette that matters arises out of consideration for others. Love for our neighbor requires that we be conscientious in monitoring our speech, behavior, hygiene, etc., with due thought for their effect on others' comfort and convenience, that we be gracious and courteous toward others, especially those in authority, and that we take care not to offend without a holy cause. This often requires adhering to general cultural norms, but Christians' behavior need not be dictated by status or fashion.
- In general, what we choose to say should be—in substance and tone—honest, helpful, and encouraging. Anything that is potentially discouraging or offensive should be shared only when truthful and necessary, in an appropriate manner and time and between the appropriate people.
Profanity and Crudeness
- Christian disapproval of profane speech is grounded not in the offensiveness of a particular set of words and gestures, but the general principle that we should refrain from crudeness that demeans, provokes, or entices other people, or profanes their thinking. We should not offend others without a holy purpose, nor should we degrade people by slurs and insulting jokes against any gender, race, nationality, religion, or disability.
- Gossip is commonly recognized as a vice, but we often fail to realize when we are gossiping. We should not speak negatively about a person except under very narrow circumstances: After purifying our own attitude toward the person, without making unjustified negative assumptions, having first approached the person if reasonable and possible, and to accomplish a good purpose. If we speak, the context and manner of our speaking should add to and not detract from that purpose, the statement should not be more public than necessary, and we should be more sure of the facts of the situation the more public our statement is. If we are trying to warn someone or hold someone accountable, we should do so by sharing the right details to the right people, at the right time and in the right way. In all this, we should withhold the name of the person if it is not necessary information, convey whether the negative situation was resolved, and consider what it will take for us to put the issue in the past. When approached with gossip, we should ask the gossiper why they are telling their story, and if it is without good reason, ask to change the subject.
Manner of Life
- The Bible commends a way of life that is peaceable, responsible, and productive, working to provide one's own living, devoting one's time to good works, and meeting others' pressing needs. It likewise condemns debauchery, sensuality, and excessive partying and feasting.
Separation from Sinners
- The old covenant was designed to keep the people of Israel from socializing with idolaters, but under the new covenant God's people are scattered among the world for the purpose of engaging sinners with the word and love of Jesus. We are commanded to withhold fellowship from people who claim to be believers yet live comfortably in sin, but explicitly not to keep separate from sinners in the world. Believers are therefore free to be part of the larger culture and to form friendships within it. As we do, we should take caution to be "innocent as doves but shrewd as serpents," not to be gullible or corrupted by sin and deception, not to form business partnerships with people who lack integrity, and not to marry outside the faith.
- The Bible, either expressly or by example, condemns separating one's self from others based on their poverty, disability, race, or religious tradition. It is especially sinful to separate from such people in order to avoid offending those who support such separation, since this reinforces a social expectation that spreads the hurt and is sure to lead others astray as well. Also, while cultural norms about interaction between the sexes vary widely, the principles of Scripture do not require men and women to keep separate from each other in social, non-intimate situations.
Content of Entertainment
- The books, music, movies, TV and radio programs, games, online content, and other media we enjoy are generally a matter of Christian liberty, when received with discernment and an honorable intent. In selecting what to enjoy, we should be mindful why we are choosing it, what its messages are, and how it is affecting our thinking, recognizing that we are accountable to God for the delights of our hearts and the use of our time.
- I do not believe there is a particular musical style, instrument, or rhythm that is inherently evil or corrupting, or that is irredeemably associated with evil. The question of whether a piece of music is beneficial or harmful derives primarily from the lyrics: the message the lyrics seek to convey and the feelings the piece as a whole seeks to associate with that message.
- There is nothing inherently sinful or undignified about moving in rhythm to music. The Bible commends dancing both in worship and in secular celebration. Dancing is only morally problematic when it is intended to be erotic or sexualized.
- The Bible forbids trying to communicate with or harness spiritual forces or magical powers in real life. However, sleight-of-hand performance magic, simple role-playing, and games and stories of imagination and fantasy are not necessarily wicked and do not make one vulnerable to demonic influence, even if they include celestial beings as fictional characters, or depict magic as part of the fictional world and an element of story or gameplay. Yet the believer should read, watch, and play with discernment so as not to be deceived or influenced to errors in thinking and departures from the truth revealed in Scripture. In particular, I believe franchises such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pokémon, and Dungeons & Dragons are harmless if enjoyed with discernment.
- A hysteria about Satanism and satanic messages in popular culture pervaded the church in the late 20th century, fueled by hoaxes, rumors, and urban legends. While there is a Church of Satan, and some music groups have used satanic imagery to appear "edgy," I do not believe that backmasking, subliminal messages, lightning bolts, rainbows, and unicorns were part of a serious effort to convert children and young people to Satanism or New Age religion, nor do I believe that actual Satanists or neo-pagans in the US practice ritual abuse, violence, or cannibalism.
- God calls us to acknowledge and confess reality as it is, as we speak to God, to others, and to ourselves. In doing so, we should recognize our limited perspective and the greater knowledge and wisdom around and above us. We should endeavor to guide others toward a right and true understanding of things.
- In consideration of others' feelings and as socially appropriate, we should endeavor to make a genuine presentation of ourselves to others, without hypocrisy, flattery, false humility, or ulterior motives. The confidence we present in our convictions and beliefs should be in accord with the certainty we are justified in holding them and the importance they carry for us.
- The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth, and so we must be very careful not to confuse faith with gullibility. Propagating rumors, hoaxes, legends, misattributed quotes, and other falsehoods, even innocently, damages the credibility of our testimony. We should therefore take reasonable measures to verify stories before passing them along, and openly confess our error when something we have said is found to be untrue. We should also not make predictions of the future, but acknowledge that the future depends on the will of God, and make plans tentatively and contingent on His divine sovereignty.
- Devotion to God's truth requires kind-hearted loyalty and faithfulness toward God and in our dealings with others. This is the loyalty the Bible speaks of as covenant love (chesed).
- The treasuring of education, in both academic and applied knowledge, is a mark of good character and should be a fervent desire through the whole of a person's life. Learning is of greater value than money or material possessions, and is fully worthwhile for its own sake, as long as the learner maintains a sense of humility and lives out the good he knows to do. However, knowledge is fruitless in the absence of love for other people.
- Biblical wisdom is a maturity of understanding and character by which we act on the truth God has revealed, whether in the Bible, in nature, or through other people. The wisdom of God should never be confused with sophisticated rhetoric or with sophistry masquerading as logic.
- Wisdom in thought means having the good judgment to appreciate things for what they really are in every area of life, realizing their purpose and giving them the proper priority. This includes valuing reading and thinking in pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and rejecting worldly wisdom and elitism in favor of godly humility.
- Wisdom applied practically means developing and maintaining skills to do what we do well, to act responsibly in ways that are helpful, efficient, constructive, and timely. We should choose our course of action with discernment and thought, and share with others the knowledge and wisdom we have acquired and the questions we have yet to answer.
- All children should be taught a base level of knowledge in their primary language, in math, science, and the history and culture of their own society and of the world at large, including music and other arts. As they grow, they should expand that knowledge and learn how to apply it to be functional adults and productive members of society, including the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. All this should be provided to all children, from the richest to the poorest.
- Young people approaching adulthood should not simply assume that they should continue into college after high school, even if this is the best path for most students. Instead, with guidance from their parents and due consideration of their own abilities, interests, and opportunities, they should choose an occupational path and determine what sort of education, training, and other preparation are best to pursue that path, and decide whether, where, and when to attend college accordingly. College is most valuable for those who desire a specialized or professional career, or who want an advanced academic understanding of how the world works and how various disciplines fit together. Able-bodied individuals should also contemplate whether they might be willing to enter military service.
- The arts have a solid foundation in Scripture and are part of a living tradition in the Christian church. In a healthy culture, art gives a pleasant texture to everyday life. Christians should celebrate art and other products of human culture as reflections of God's own wisdom and creativity. We should endeavor to see God's glory in the excellence of successful songs, movies, and other works. And while style and taste may vary, we should promote art that encourages subtle contemplation rather than instant and superficial entertainment value, and whose beauty is that which appeals to the intellect rather than to the carnal appetites.
Productivity as a Virtue
- Our productivity is a biblical concern and a fundamental issue before God, because He has prepared good things in advance for us to do and holds us accountable to do them. This is why He has placed in us an innate desire to be productive and to do useful things.
- Diligence is a grace that God grants to believers as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and is therefore an evidence of genuine faith. Diligence is satisfying to the soul and makes precious the things we gain by it. The Bible calls us to be diligent in planning and working with our hands to supply our needs, in remembering the poor, and in watching how we live. Within the church, we should be diligent in maintaining unity, in leadership, in serving the Lord, in visiting believers in need, and in restoring those under discipline. Above all things, we should be diligent to present ourselves as approved to God, to rest in Christ by an assured and persistent faith, and to add virtue to our faith by pursuing godliness.
- God has designed us to be satisfied when what we most value matches how we spend our time. It should be our fervent desire to see God's will done on earth as it is in heaven, and to be the instrument of His will according to His calling on our lives. We should develop, maintain, and employ our energies to that end above our own dreams, desires, and impulses. This requires managing our time and resources to optimize our readiness for the opportunities God brings our way, to increase our ability to do good for others, and to maximize our efficiency in doing good. Self-denial is a vital element of diligence, since the limits on our time require us to forgo activities that distract or detract from our righteous work.
- The Bible commends hard work and the dignity of labor, so that even charity given to the poor is typically given in response to some effort or contribution on their part. When not working, we should devote reasonable energies to discipline ourselves in study, training, planning, and preparation to effectively do good and escape temptation. In our employment, we should serve our employer and coworkers well by mastering the skills of our jobs and carrying our share of the work load, as a way of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- While the Christian's duty of Sabbath-keeping is fulfilled by our rest in Christ, God compassionately counsels a balance of work and rest. In reasonable measure and as providence allows, we should grant ourselves time for rest, refreshment, hobbies, and entertainment to maintain our health and strength for the purpose of readiness and efficiency in our service. The hobbies we engage in are best chosen when they benefit others and not only ourselves.
- Not all people have the privilege of selecting their life's work, or even obtaining a job. But those of us who have that privilege should select and pursue our work with the understanding that it is part of our service to God. In working for a living, we spend nearly half our waking hours using our talents and skills to provide goods and services for the betterment of others. It is by this divinely ordered arrangement that we earn the right to control and enjoy the fruits of our labor, and it comes with the responsibility to voluntarily help those who are unable to provide for themselves.
- Times of unemployment are an opportunity not only to seek new employment, but to serve God and others in ways that are often not possible when we are working full-time. I have no objection to making use of the short-term unemployment benefits we have paid for during our years of labor. Over the longer term, we should find ways to do something in return for the help we receive, and seek that help first from family before turning to one's church. Public assistance should be a last resort for long-term support, but should carry no stigma for those who genuinely need it.
- I believe the Bible does not require women with children to stay at home, but I recognize that it can have great advantages in the raising of children. I therefore affirm the choice of either mothers or fathers to work from home, or to devote themselves full-time to parenting and homemaking, so long as the family is adequately provided for and the other parent is not thereby forced to be an absentee parent. I do believe those who plan to be full-time homemakers should nevertheless acquire the education and skills needed to find employment outside the home if it becomes necessary.
- Some careers require especially strong bodies, agile minds, or intense commitment that befits only a set number of years of service, or work until a certain age. (The Bible demonstrates this by enlisting Levites for service between the ages of thirty and fifty.) I do not believe there is anything unbiblical about retirement from employment after spending the majority of one's adult years at work. Yet retirees should spend their remaining active and healthy years in service to God and others, taking advantage of their freedom and savings to help those in need, strengthen their family's spiritual legacy, and share the word and love of Jesus.
- The Bible instructs us to owe no debt to anyone except the debt of love. Sadly, custom in our culture generally requires borrowing money for home ownership, transportation, and sometimes for adult education, and a credit card is recommended for security and convenience. However, we should save money in advance for purchases, strive not to take on debt for frivolous reasons, and pay the debts we owe to the best of our ability rather than seek forgiveness of debt when we can obtain the means to repay it.
- Gambling is a major social ill because of its addictive nature and its close association with crime and extortion. Whether through gaming, lotteries, or other betting, gambling is deceptive and predatory towards the poor and desperate in holding out the promise of easy wealth. Believers should oppose society's dependence on gambling and should seek to earn their living by fair exchanges and contributions of labor, goods, and services for the good of others, not by chance or at others' expense.
II.D.1. Love as a Virtue
- God is the standard for any proper understanding of love. Loving as God loves means sacrificially giving of one's self to others for their benefit, motivated by genuine compassion for them and sincere valuing of them in themselves.
- Compassion is love heartfelt, and as such is the fuel for living out the commandment to love one's neighbor as one's self. Genuine love for others arises naturally from something appealing we see in them, and what ought to appeal to us is the divine image we share with them and the love God has demonstrated toward them along with us. In compassion we rejoice in others' welfare even at our own expense, and are moved by their suffering and disappointments even when they are necessary or when we stand to benefit. The test of true compassion, rather than mere pity, is an active willingness to give up our own good for theirs. God even calls us to have compassion on our enemies, desiring their betterment and their repentance, rather than their defeat and judgment.
- Generosity is love in action, and feelings and words of love are meaningless if we will not give of ourselves to help those we say we love. We should be generous with our time, money, energy and possessions, but also be mindful to give people due positive attention, credit, and praise, even to our own neglect and disadvantage. Our generosity should not favor those who are like ourselves or be lent only to those with the ability to reciprocate; rather, we should actively seek out opportunities to care for disreputable sinners, for prisoners, for the poor and sick, the persecuted, the unlovable, the ungrateful, and those who are not managing their trials well. Generosity also involves giving up our comfort and facing potential confrontation or rejection in order to rescue friends and family from their faults through "tough love" exercised with grace and wisdom.
Giving to the Church
- I believe the tithe was an element of the old covenant that is not required of believers today. We are instead called to make our talents and possessions available for the fulfillment of the church's mission, and to provide financial support in return for the spiritual blessing of ministry through the church. Since the church is to be funded by the voluntary donations of its members, all believers who have the ability to give should do so as God has prospered them, and we should do so cheerfully and sacrificially, motivated by love and gratitude toward God.
Giving Outside the Church
- Paying taxes and supporting the work of churches does not fulfill our whole obligation to love our neighbor. We should therefore structure our schedules and budgets around a productive and giving lifestyle, rather than a consumptive one, and seek opportunities to serve and give to people in need in our daily lives.
Wealth and Poverty
- The Bible acknowledges the moral pitfalls of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, but also contains examples of godly and faithful people among both the very rich and the very poor. There should be no envy or stigma in the church aimed at anyone for their wealth or income, or lack thereof. We should be content at whatever level God has placed us, strive to meet our own material needs by working as we are able, and manage what we have been given to His glory and others' good.
- Believers who find themselves especially tempted by wealth and pride may benefit spiritually from divesting themselves of all possessions that are not necessary for them to support themselves. I do not believe this is morally obligatory unless by the strong conviction of the Holy Spirit, nor should we willingly place ourselves in positions where we must live off the charity of others for no good purpose.
- Throughout Scripture, God calls His people to defend the cause of the afflicted and establish justice for the needy. As the world is now a place of human civilization, God's original command for mankind to subdue and cultivate the earth implies a cultural mandate to make our societies just: to cultivate equity in creation by subduing unfairness inside and outside ourselves.
Reservation in Judgment
- The Bible cautions us not to judge the unseen motivations of others or to be overly strict and condemning in our moral evaluations. We should instead submit to the Bible's wisdom and the right of God alone to be the judge of the living and the dead. We should develop a straight sense of judgment in terms of fair-mindedness regarding ourselves and our own circumstances; impartiality in regarding the circumstances of others; and a cherishing of equitability over our own advantage and influence.
Justice and the Government
- God has given us the institution of government primarily for the purpose of providing some measure of justice in this life. Government achieves this purpose best by ensuring the equal rights and equal liberties of the people under its care.
Justice and the Church
- Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, and His church should not seek political power to impose its will or compel sinners to behave like Christians. Nor are Christians to engage in a "culture war" against unbelievers regarding sin in the world; we are instead engaged in a spiritual battle against Satan regarding sin in the church and in our own lives. The church can serve as a model of God's justice and mercy by example and by humbly setting forth how God's wisdom and righteousness could be applied to address the world's injustices.
Justice and the Christian
- Each of us should be even-handed in our dealings with others, doing business without deception, exploitation, or other injustice. We should also speak out and defend the oppressed, calling out oppression in a constructive manner, while also taking appropriate direct actions to alleviate injustice and prevailing inequities.
- Christians in the United States and other democratic nations should consider how they might best use their political rights—to vote, donate money, speak to political questions, run for office, etc.—for the flourishing and peace of their society, and to uphold liberty, personal responsibility, and freedom from oppression. In our political speech, we should take great care not to make Christianity a partisan matter, or to suggest God requires a vote for or against a particular candidate. Our advocacy on morally critical issues in our society should be persistent, positive, and peaceful, visibly driven by compassion and vocally connected to the implications of the gospel.
- Biblical patterns assure us that fighting power with power as culture warriors will not work. As citizens of a democratic nation, we have a say in our nation's politics, but only revival will heal the moral problems of our country. In practicing their citizenship, Christians should not neglect their duty of prayer for their leaders and their country. Meaningful, large-scale moral reform in a society begins in the hearts of the people, and the Spirit's answer to the prayers of His People can accomplish more such reform in a moment than decades of political mobilization and petitioning of human powers could ever achieve.
- The foundational idea of human justice is that we should treat all people as images of God whose lives are equally sacred. Any biblical concept of humanity must affirm the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death. The gospel affirms the equal value of all people, and that equality has many practical implications for every aspect of society, whether government, law, business, education, the church, or the family. Within our own minds, a proper respect for life means rejecting apathy and hatred, and repenting of mocking and dismissive attitudes toward others, including our enemies.
- As part of God's call on His people to do the good works that He has prepared for us, we should cooperate with all people of good cause in efforts to promote and preserve life and to reduce death, violence, and inhumane treatment. Given the proper abilities, interests, and opportunities, it is highly honorable to seek a life-preserving profession in medicine, hospice care, counseling, law enforcement, military service, or the anticipation and handling of natural disasters.
Respect for Life in Government
- The most basic purpose of government is protecting the lives of the persons within its jurisdiction, including those not yet born. In recognition of the equality of all people, a government ought to operate by the consent and representation of its people and permit society to develop organically rather than be engineered by an elite class. Government should recognize and preserve an equal right to the free exchange of ideas and the free practice of religion, and secure the equal treatment of men and women of all races and backgrounds.
Respect for Life in Law
- God has granted government the power of the sword to avenge wrongdoing and protect the innocent. That power must not be abused in brutality or corruption, or be defiled by discrimination and favoritism. Laws should apply to all the people equally, citizens and non-citizens alike, and matters of due process, prosecutorial discretion, burden of proof, and standards of evidence should not depend on the class of the person being investigated or judged. In the carrying out of its duties, law enforcement should take reasonable precautions to respect the lives, bodies, dignity, and privacy of the people it engages. Public officials and law enforcement should be equally as accountable to the law as common people.
Respect for Life in Business
- Businesses should operate with the understanding that employers, management, employees, and customers are all of equal value as people and are worthy of equal respect and consideration. Leaders should provide their workers with fair compensation for their labor and not seek to deny them work or compensation through lean-staffing, benefit dodging, mandatory unpaid overtime, or other immoral practices. Companies should always be mindful of the health, safety, and environmental effects of their operation, should protect their employees from hostility, harassment, and abuse, and should not punish or refuse reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, medical issues, or disabilities.
Respect for Life in Education
- Educators show their respect for all people by striving to provide equal access and equal quality of basic education to rich and poor alike, and regardless of age, race, gender, disability, intelligence level, learning style, or other classification, and to make higher education accessible to anyone with the desire and capacity to succeed. Education should be inclusive of the history and contributions of people from various cultures and backgrounds, and honest in the positive and negative contributions of both Western and non-Western cultures to the state of the world.
Respect for Life in Science and Technology
- God has enabled us to invent tools and methods that can save and enhance our lives, but that also have the potential to destroy life or render it empty. We should promote a respect for life in our science and technology by exploring the mysteries of life, health, and death, and by finding new ways to preserve, prolong, and enhance life, with respect for God's creation and for the lives of the subjects and objects of our research.
Respect for Life and Reproductive Technology
- We should respect God's design for reproduction by making use only of methods that join the sperm of a husband to the egg of his wife, and that do not entail the destruction of embryos. There is no moral cause to oppose surrogate motherhood, as it is essentially a form of adoption, which the Bible highly commends.
Respect for Life in the Church
- The sacred dignity of all people is evident in the fact that the church consists of people bought by the blood of Jesus from every tribe, nation, and language; and in the structure of each congregation as an autonomous priesthood of believers operating voluntarily under the servant-leadership of men who are accountable to God and the congregation for their leadership.
- Churches should strive to be integrated and maximally inclusive of fellow believers of all sorts with regard to its membership, worship, and discipleship opportunities, engaging members in ministry according to their gifts and not neglecting the particular needs of any portion of the congregation.
Respect for Life in the Family
- Families manifest their respect for life by the mutual love and harmony that exist between husband and wife, by the support of aging family members, and by parents' unconditional love, care, and encouragement of children from the time of their conception.
Repect for Our Own Lives
- Recognizing that our lives belong to God and that our bodies are His instruments for the purposes of righteousness, we should seek to maintain our physical and mental health, giving proper attention to diet, exercise, and the support of family and friends, and seeking medical attention, counseling, and other treatment as necessary. We should put aside gluttony, addictions, self-harm, and other destructive habits, and thoroughly cultivate our own appreciation for the life God has given us and the opportunities it provides us to do good in this world.
- We should prayerfully seek wisdom in deciding whether to undergo risky medical treatments and how to balance quality of life with length of life when a medical condition requires a trade-off. I believe it is within the realm of Christian liberty to decide whether to request resuscitation in cases of old age, terminal illness, or severe incapacity, and I do not believe there is any moral good served in artificially keeping the body functioning after the permanent cessation of consciousness. However, we should not request that any action be taken to end lives unnaturally, or that doctors not provide basic life necessities such as air, hydration, and nutrition. Palliative care is appropriate in cases where curative treatment is impossible or exceedingly traumatic and survivability is near zero. Whatever our decisions about the end of life, we should record and legally establish our intentions so that they will be heeded if we become unable to communicate our wishes.
Respect for the Dead
- The Bible honors the integrity of the whole person by commending the respectful disposal of the bodies of the dead. I do not believe there is a strong moral or spiritual distinction between burial and cremation, or any reason to forbid permitting the late use of one's body for research and education.
The Injustice of Sexism
- I believe that both men and women in American society have suffered greatly from an association of femininity with the home, children, emotions, fragility, and spirituality, and of masculinity with the outside world, business, practicality, toughness, and carnality. Without forsaking God's biblically indicated design for men and women and their different roles in the church and family, churches should stand up for the equality of men and women in value and virtue, and for their equal treatment and access to all areas of society.
- Racism—encompassing any prejudice, stereotyping, dislike, fear, mistreatment, or segregation of people based on their racial, national, or ethnic background—is a grave sin that contradicts God's design, His express commands, and the fundamental truths of the gospel. While American culture has achieved many legal and structural reforms and improved much in its attitudes, racial prejudice and disparate treatment are still rampant in our society, and churches should address racial disparities in their preaching and discipleship. In opposing racism, the church should be careful to do so from a biblical perspective that sees sin itself as the problem, and not from the world's power-focused ideologies that pit races in an eternal struggle against one another.
Justice and Evangelism
- Since all people are equal before God, and His power to convert is absolute, our sharing of the gospel should be indiscriminate. God saves every sort of person, but the Bible reveals His pattern of choosing the least desirable people and His power to win even the least winnable.
Evangelism and Political Persuasion
- It is not unbiblical for Christians to participate in a society's political discourse as long as it is done in a gracious and non-partisan manner. But as our approach to all wisdom ought to be grounded in the wisdom and character of God, it is more consistent and more fruitful to seek the conversion of the lost, and to disciple the converts to understand how to apply the principles of Scripture to political questions, than to expend our energies trying to convert lost sinners to our politics.
- We should be kind-hearted toward all people and seek opportunities to do good and alleviate suffering, considering the best way to offer help in a given situation. In kindness we respect others' divine image, upward call, and equal worth, and acknowledge our own limited perspective of their faults and trials, granting them the benefit of reasonable doubt.
Acts of Kindness
- It should be the pattern of our lives to take the initiative to engage others for their good and to be a blessing, investing in others' lives in a way that respects their independence and dignity. We should be friendly toward strangers and practice true friendship toward our friends, sharing hardship and helping fulfill their needs and good desires.
Kindness and Faith
- The Bible instructs those gifted in acts of mercy to administer that gift with cheerfulness. We should therefore minister to people with a trust in God's wisdom and power to heal every need with perfect compassion and at the perfect time. God knows the needs of the afflicted and is in control of the abilities of those who seek to administer help, and He stands ready to guide His people as they seek His leadership in applying their skills to the need at hand.
Kindness and Acceptance
- Counseling and other ministries of mercy should provide an environment of total acceptance, since the same guilt and shame that is at the heart of many people's stresses may also scare them away from getting help. We should not look down on those we assist, since the reason we reach out is to help free them from their past problems, and to establish them in a healthy way forward. That path may involve course corrections in attitude and behavior, but not dwelling on what came before.
- Gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit means engaging people with a light touch, having proper concern for others' feelings in any situation. It does not mean being a people-pleaser or a slave to others' demands, but having a sense of when to confront others and when to given them a break, and knowing how to manage a confrontation appropriate to the situation. In our standing for truth and justice we should not be callous, selfishly demanding, or needlessly temperamental or uncooperative.
- We should exercise restraint in our engagements by asserting ourselves in ways that are friendly, gracious, and clear, insisting only that others do what is fair, what they have committed to, and what God commands of them in Scripture. We should press into people's lives for their good, in humility and with proper regard for their receptivity.
- Jesus explicitly makes our forgiveness of others a test of genuine faith, and a lack of forgiveness hinders our worship of God. Forgiving as God forgives means restoring peace with someone after their wrongdoing, in response to a credible promise of restitution and repentance. We should accept one another, giving first thought to our own debts and transgressions, and the mercy God has shown to us, and tolerate one another's faults, eccentricities, and limitations with a gracious spirit.
Forgiveness in Action
- We ought to respond to mistreatment with mercy and wisdom in the interest of an offender's good. When wronged, we should seek out an offender and offer reconciliation and peace on the same terms God offers peace to us.
- Forgiveness may accompany measures of accountability and wise boundaries, and does not require naivete or perilous entanglements with someone who has proven dangerous or untrustworthy.
- When reconciliation is denied or impossible, we should nevertheless forgo grudges. In all cases, we should resist temptations for revenge by giving place to God's wrath and being content with His mercy.
- Jesus prayed that the people His Father had given Him would have a unity and oneness of spirit: a common mindset with other believers and a shared vision based on their common doctrine and grounding in the gospel. We maintain unity by building bridges to others, emphasizing points of commonality and consensus over minor disagreements.
- We should embrace one another's God-given differences in acknowledgement of His wisdom in bringing together people of complementary gifts, personalities, and perspectives. The diversity among God's creation is a thing to be celebrated, and our differences, exercised harmoniously, strengthen rather than inhibit friendship and equality.
- Unity manifests itself in friendly cooperation, as we worship, learn, grow, and serve with a broad spectrum of believers. In unity we recognize that we all have need of one another, and are equally willing to use our gifts to serve one another and to be served by others' gifts.
- Unity requires coming alongside the wayward, lovingly and graciously appealing to the Bible to guide them onto the right path, with a view toward their restoration to the fellowship. God commands that we reject strife and root out factions and dissension that would threaten the unity of the church.
Peace as a Virtue
- The peace that is a fruit of the Spirit is a characteristically calm confidence that trusts in and reflects the order and purpose of God. Submitting to the Spirit brings a settled heart that remembers the promises and presence of God in times of disorder.
- A life of peace is an examined, quiet, and orderly life that contributes productively to society and honors God's design for creation by considering the purpose and consequences of one's actions. Peace is not merely an internal mindset but requires seeking to live at peace with one another and making peace between others in discord.
- Anger often arises from a selfish and self-righteous mindset, and if prolonged or unrestrained, gives rise to hatred and bitterness. As weak and fallen creatures, we are prone to frustration, and God understands this, yet He calls us to peace and provides peace to His children.
- Inasmuch as we should imitate the example of Jesus in our attitudes, we should seek to keep our anger constructive and under control: being angry only at the right things and the right people, for right reasons, in a right manner, to the right degree, at the right time, and for the right length of time.
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