(4/6/2019) 7:45 AM The theme of my lectureship at Piedmont International University next week is “Proclaiming the Faith.” This was the theme given to me by the administration, and I’m utterly delighted with it. I’m determined to stay within the 30-minute time limit I have for the Thursday and Friday sessions, though I do have an entire hour to speak over the lunch break on Thursday. In due course I’ll post my Power Points here. I think one of the best ways we can nurture young Christians is through missions training. It enables them to share in the spreading of the Good News and see it take deep root in their own lives. But it needs to be modeled in their own churches and in the lives of their pastors. All Christians are called to serve the Lord, whether in the land of their birth or in ministry overseas (or both). It’s in serving the Lord through serving others that we develop spiritual muscles. We can serve Him through deeds of compassion or cheerful acts of helpfulness in the workplace or through undaunted witness but mostly, I think, through conforming our lives to His. Love shows itself in a myriad of ways. But if it’s going to attract anybody to the Master, it must embody that practical care for others that characterized the life of Jesus.
Just a brief word about my lecture last week in my NT class, which centered on the history and theology of Pentecostalism and the question of the sign gifts and their use (or nonuse) today. As I mentioned in class, I’m not fond of the term “Charismatic Movement” for the simple reason that all evangelicals — whether Charismatic with a capital “C” or not — are or ought to be charismatic in the sense that we all believe the Holy Spirit is given to equip us for service and mission, for love and worship. The Holy Spirit can’t be muzzled or contained. He blows where He wills. And we should celebrate that. The Charismatic Movement is a challenge to unbelief and intellectualism in the church. A true movement of the Holy Spirit always combines intellect and charism, knowledge and power. Not some but all are called to serve. We all have a ministry to perform. And, as the Book of Acts shows, the Spirit is given primarily for witness-bearing. All Christians have a story to tell, and the Holy Spirit is given to fuel our story-telling until we become enthusiastic witness-bearers. Even if we believe, as I do, that the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” refers to our initial encounter with the life-giving Spirit of God, we still need His love and power for continued witness and service. I know from sad personal experience that it’s possible to possess the Spirit of God and not be led by the same Spirit. One example will suffice, and that is prayer. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God, but prayer is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom. 8:26-27). We can’t achieve anything in the service of God unless we are open to the living God acting and working in our lives, and yet how abysmal is my prayer life so often. I don’t know about you, but at least once a day I have to invite the Holy Spirit to full me afresh with His power for holiness and service.
Any believer who does not do that regularly is doomed to powerlessness and ineffectiveness. I fear that much of our trouble goes back to over-intellectualism in our classrooms. A radical reform of theological education is one of the most urgent tasks of the church if it is to provide leaders whom people are willing to follow.
(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org)
(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)
8:30 AM This morning I was reading several blog posts that basically said that the pastor is the ultimate authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The essays extolled the “teaching office” of the church and asserted that laypeople are essentially to hang on every word their pastor says. I plan on getting to the problem of biblical illiteracy in my book Godworld, but today I want to note my concern with such notions. Actually, I agree that formal teaching in the church is an absolute necessity. I’ve been teaching in local churches since I was 16. (Unusually what I do is called “preaching,” but I prefer the term “teaching” in accordance with Eph. 4:11 and 1 Tim. 3:2.) I also agree that many Christians in America have unfortunately become their own sole authority in interpreting the Bible. But could anything be more contrary to the teaching of the New Testament than to say (or imply) that pastor-teachers are the ultimate authority in interpreting the Bible? One thing we learn from reading the New Testament is how varied the teaching ministry of the early church was. I doubt if there was the pulpit-centricity in these early congregations such as we find today in so many of our churches. Formal teaching undoubtedly existed. But this does not mean that the leaders did all the talking. To say this is not to belittle the ministry of pastor-teachers. I have trained a good number of them during 38 years of teaching Greek. Nor am I pleading for an “anything goes” mentality when it comes to our gatherings as believers. I am simply pleading for such a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that it should not be impossible for the Holy Spirit to get a message across to the people through any member of the congregation He should inspire to speak. This is no pipe dream on my part. I have seen it happen in many congregations, my own included. I believe that most churches could do a great deal more to encourage this outlook. In this way many in the congregation will be prepared to put into practice the teaching of Heb. 10:24-25. The gathering would move from being a time of passive listening to an opportunity to engage in mutual edification.
And what of 1 John 2:27? Here the apostle John is emphasizing the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit when it comes to knowing spiritual truth.
But the anointing that you have received from the Holy Spirit remains in you, and you do not need for anyone to teach you.
Do we as evangelicals truly believe this statement? It is the Spirit who grants us understanding of the Scripture. It is He who allows us to grow in knowledge and in spiritual stature. It is He who illuminates to our hearts and minds not only the person of Christ but His will for our lives. The Spirit is thus the supreme interpreter of God’s word. Once you understand this, Bible study will become an important part of your life, a discipline that you can hardly afford to neglect. This means that once we come to faith in Christ, we need never be dependent on human teachers to lead us, helpful though they may be. As our “anointing,” the Holy Spirit not only teaches us the truth of God but guides us as we seek to live out that truth in our lives. We have in the Spirit a teacher who is resident within us to show us the mind of the Lord. Little wonder that increasing numbers of Christians today are finding they have a new love for personal Bible study.
Put all this together and you arrive at the conclusion that God has provided multiple teachers in His church: gifted leaders, our fellow Christians, and ultimately the Holy Spirit Himself. I “preach” regularly in churches. But to be honest with you, I would never want anybody to hang on my every word. I would rather point them to the only infallible source of knowledge about God and His will for us, and that is the Bible. It is this Bible that we are to teach one another. We need each other, not least when it comes to understanding and obeying God’s word. I urge you to find a church home that encourages this kind of mutual edification. If there is a strong teaching ministry where you attend (and hopefully there is), make sure the teaching is sound and feedback encouraged. (A monologue need not exclude audience participation.) Make a point too of participating in small group Bible studies. Remember that believers are all on a par with each other: teachers and taught alike are fellow-sinners and fellow-learners. If possible, make room for more formal courses in the Bible. If a local church is to make a significant impact in its community, it must become a learning center, a place where truth is valued and taught. (In my book The Jesus Paradigm, I devote an entire appendix to the theme of “Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church.”) My prayer is that God will use His word to prepare all of us to fulfill the vital role He has for us in the kingdom movement He’s inspiring in our day.