Archive for December, 2019

No Loose Canons

According to the Reformation principle of “Sola Scriptura”, the Scriptures alone are the rule of faith and life. But Scripture is not just one book. Scripture is a small library of books! So how do we determine which books are in the canon of Scripture? Do we need a church or a man to tell us what should be included? It is my position, and the historical position of the church, that the Holy Spirit reveals what is God-breathed, not any man or organization. In this way, one can say the canon of Scripture is self-authenticating. Do assume otherwise is to place a man or an organization above the Scriptures in authority. 

The best way to put it is the way the Second London Baptist Confession put it in 1689 (my apologies to those who are confession averse).  Section 1, Paragraph 4. “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.” (See 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 John 5:9)

There are two components to the “Canon of Scripture”, which can be referred to as the “Macro-canon” and the “Micro-canon”. The Macro-canon is the list of exactly which writings were to be regarded as Scripture. Basically, your bible’s table of contents. The Micro-canon is the actual verses that are part of the writings in the Macro-canon. The early church fathers of the first few centuries quoted extensively from the canon, and in fact there are quotes from every book in the New Testament within their writings. This is pretty impressive since they didn’t set out to make sure and quote everything so we would know they approved of it!

While most would agree with the Macro-canon, there are issues with the Micro-canon. Apart from minor textual variations, there are those men and women who advocate for the “Critical Text” that regard parts of the Micro-canon that was accepted as authentic by centuries of Christians as spurious. Not only are there several individual verses, there are entire passages such as the longer ending of Mark and the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The traditional Greek text has these passages included, but they date later than the Alexandrian manuscripts and papyri that omit them. The issue with these Alexandrian texts is that they have survived solely through an accident of climate, as drying air is more conducive so document preservation. Unfortunately, this area was also a hotbed of heretical activity among people like Arius and the Gnostics. And since these portions and were found in trash piles, I find them to be untrustworthy.

But of greater importance is the attack, whether intentional or not, on the self-authentication of the canon. If we accept the critical text over the traditional text, we are de facto admitting that 1.) there are men that have veto power of the Holy Spirit when it comes to authenticating Scripture, or 2.) we really do need an ecclesiastical authority to determine the Macro and Micro canons for us. In either instance, they place either a man or an organization in judgment over Scripture. This is not acceptable.

So does that mean we go “King James Only”? Not necessarily.  What it does mean is that we should use translations of the traditional text over those of the critical text. To their credit, many critical text translations include traditional text readings, albeit in brackets or footnotes. But there are also good translations that use the traditional text that the Holy Spirit has authenticated to believers over the centuries. These would include the King James, 21st Century King James, King James-Easy to Read, the New King James, and the Modern English Version.

Bible software has also made access to multiple versions much more convenient, so you can read different translations side by side. 

But my personal conclusion is this:  If the Scriptures are self-authenticating (and they are), then I should study from translations that use the text that the Holy Spirit has witnessed to over the last 20 centuries over a critical text that depends on human wisdom and academic argument. To do otherwise is to subjugate the determination of the Micro-canon to the academic “experts” instead of the Spirit. No Thanks!

The Top Four Church Activities

What should “doing church” together look like? Many in the modern Christian community have pondered this and tried to pattern themselves after what they see in the New Testament. Unfortunately, with the consumer mindset of many in the West, this model is considered too basic and incapable of attracting new members to your congregation. There is a stark difference between “make disciples” and “attract people to come to church”.   But that is another subject for another time.

In the Old Testament, when giving the Law to Moses, God was very specific about exactly what should be done, what materials were to be used, what order things were to be done in, and how everything passed muster as being an acceptable act of worship. This is something Nadab and Abihu apparently forgot about in their drunken stupor before God literally fired them!

But we have no such list of specific acts and exact instructions for worship in the New Testament Church. What we have instead are principles and categories of worship that can be applied. We now have the Word written on our hearts instead of engraved on tablets of stone.  Still, there are outlines of what the early church did in worship that we can adapt for our use. The first mention of this is the general categories listed in Acts 2:42 laying out what their priorities were. Since they had the Apostles to consult directly, these categories should weigh heavily on our minds when deciding what constitutes New Testament worship.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

Many in the past have said there were five acts of worship authorized in the New Testament. But upon close examination, those five things fit easily into the categories of activity in Acts 2:42.  In fact, some of them fit across categories!  Here is what the Apostles made a priority in the new Church in Jerusalem:

  1. The Apostle’s Doctrine
  2. Fellowship
  3. Breaking of Bread
  4. Prayers

When the church today “continues steadfastly in the Apostles’ Doctrine”, they do so by both teaching what it contained and doing what it commanded. The teaching portion can be further divided into internal and external teaching.  Part of the commission given to the Apostles in Matthew 28 was to “make disciples, teaching them”. They were not only to carry the message of salvation to the lost, but to make disciples by “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  Another way this teaching was to occur was in their singing (Colossians 3:16). We would do well to consider carefully what the songs we use in worship are teaching, and ensure it is teaching the Apostles’ Doctrine.

Fellowship has sadly become social activity in many, if not most, churches. It is relegated to a human, not a spiritual, activity. But the New Testament does not support this. Fellowship, or Koinonia in the Greek, was much more than social interaction. It is supposed to be a spiritual activity where we encourage one another and build each other up in the faith. Our shared covenant bond with God and with each other makes fellowship a truly spiritual activity. To relegate fellowship to just social time and make it something we don’t intentionally facilitate is to fail to follow the New Testament pattern. When we realize what fellowship should truly be, the arguments about whether fellowship time should be facilitated by spending money on a fellowship hall or a small kitchen become moot. A love feast, aka pot luck, where all food is held in common and shared is a spiritual act of worship where we please God and edify each other.

Breaking of Bread has two meanings. In many places it definitely refers to sharing the Lord’s Supper. When we participate in this act of worship every week, we not only remind ourselves of the sacrifice on the cross that made our redemption possible, but we also are engaging in another act of fellowship.

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the

communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

As part of our practice of spiritual fellowship, we also break bread when we share common meals together. Once again, this is not a social function, but is rather a spiritual time of bonding and unity within the Body of Christ.

Prayers are something that we should be doing in all three of the other categories. We pray for open minds and hearts when we teach the Apostles’ doctrine. We pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of each of our brothers and sisters in Christ during times of fellowship, singing, giving, and discipleship. Prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian life, when combined with the Apostles’ doctrine. Otherwise we will not know how to pray in accordance with the will of God.

In seeking to follow after the teaching and practice of the apostolic church, let us always remember the importance and spiritual significance of all four of these categories of church life.

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