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Thursday, October 18, 2018

What is my spiritual gift?

What is my spiritual gift?

This is a question that arises anytime spiritual gifts are discussed in the church. On Sunday, we saw that Jesus has gifted every believer for the work of ministry.  We find these gifts mentioned in five passages in the New Testament, with some overlap among them:

Romans 12:6-8: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, doing acts of mercy

1 Corinthians 12:8-10: utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healings, working of miracles, ability to distinguish between spirits, various kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues

1 Corinthians 12:28: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, gifts of healings, helping, administration, various kinds of tongues

Ephesians 4:11: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding/teaching

1 Peter 4:10-11: speaking, serving

Given that no two lists are identical, none of the lists can be considered exhaustive.  It may seem peculiar to us, but apparently neither Peter nor Paul felt it essential to give all the gifts in one place.  There are a couple of conclusions that could be drawn from this.  

First, the gifts listed in the NT may or may not be all the gifts there are.  It’s difficult to say with certainty.  Obviously, both apostles listed some gifts, omitting others.  Perhaps this indicates that there are some that are not on any list in the NT.  Still, it could be that the Holy Spirit purposed to sprinkle the exhaustive list throughout the NT without any one list having all the gifts.   

Second - and this conclusion is more significant, in my opinion - it must be the case that an exhaustive list was not necessary for the exercise of the gifts.  If knowing all the gifts was necessary in order to practice the gifts, then we would have to deduce that Paul had no desire for the Romans to practice the gift of evangelism.  This seems highly unlikely to me.

Likewise, if knowing a gift is required in order to exercise it, Peter must have had no desire for any of the gifts to be practiced, except two: speaking and serving.  Even if we understand Peter's two gifts to refer to categories into which all the other gifts fit, we are still left with the same conclusion.  It must not be necessary for the specific gifts to be known in order for them to be exercised.

Ephesians chapter 4 shows this clearly.  As we saw on Sunday, every believer has received a gift for ministry, and yet Paul only specifically mentions the equipping gifts there.  If the individual gifts had to have been known exhaustively in order for them to be practiced, then Paul made a serious oversight by not listing them in a passage where he calls for them to be exercised.

Further, if it is essential for any individual believer to know what his or her particular gift is, it seems peculiar that there is zero teaching in the NT giving instruction about how to determine one's gift.  In each of the above passages, believers are exhorted to serve one another through these gifts, but they are given no direction regarding how to determine the gifts they've been given.  

Additionally, the NT nowhere gives definitions of these gifts.  The nature of some of the gifts may be obvious given context clues and the meaning of the names themselves.  For example, teaching seems to be a no-brainer.  But what is discerning of different kinds of spirits?  What is the difference between an utterance of wisdom and an utterance of knowledge?  What is the difference between helping and serving?  How do we know if we are doing one of these and not the other?  Answers to these questions do not seem to be essential for the exercise of the gifts themselves since the apostles give us no direction on these issues.  (This is why I’m not a fan of spiritual gift assessements/inventories - they fill in too many details left blank by the NT.)

It seems reasonable then to conclude that a believer does not need to know his or her particular gift in order to practice it.  

So how can I exercise a gift that I don’t know I have?  We may find a clue to unraveling this mystery in 1 Corinthians 12:7, where Paul says of the gifts, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  The gifts are manifestation of the Spirit living inside believers.  In one person, He manifests Himself in one way; in another believer, He manifests Himself in another way.  Perhaps this is why it is not essential for an individual to know their gift in order to exercise it - it is the work of the Spirit in them.

With that in mind, I would encourage two actions:

First, walk closely with the Lord.  Since these gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, it makes sense that the more I walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16), the more the Word of Christ dwells in me richly (Col 3:16), the more I am by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13), the more subject to His power and use I will be.

2 Tim 2:20-22 points in this direction: Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  The more I flee sin and pursue faithfulness, the more useful I am to the Lord.  

So walk closely with the Lord that the Spirit may have His way with you.

I have been a believer serving in the church long enough that I have discerned, and the people around me have affirmed, that I have been gifted to teach.  I’ve noticed a pattern over the years.  When I’m walking closely with the Lord, I have a deep desire to teach.  When I’m not walking closely with the Lord, I could take it or leave it.  Again, it is not necessary to know your gift in order to exercise it, but when you walk with the Lord, you’ll likely naturally desire to do particular things as the Spirit has His way with you. 

Second, look for areas of need in the lives of the other members of the body and start to serve them, trusting the Spirit to minister through you in whatever capacity He chooses.  The Spirit will manifest Himself in a particular way through you in your service.  

I saw the gifts of the elders manifesting themselves in natural ways last week as we all moved to minister to the Phillips family.  Biblically, as elders, we all have the same broad tasks.  But in that situation, as we were all shepherding in some of the same ways, our different gifting came out in our shepherding.  Those with the gift of mercy contributed something that those with the gift of administration could not, and vice-versa.  There was no pow-wow on the front end where the six elders got together and said, “okay, y’all are gifted to teach, y’all are gifted to organize, y’all are gifted to show mercy…so here’s how we’ll split up everything that needs to be done to minister to this family.”  No, we all just naturally started working in the area of our giftedness as the Spirit led.  

That same phenomenon took place in the rest of the congregation as people moved to minister in particular ways.  When we get hung up on the question, “what is my gift?” self-focus can tend to be a pitfall.  When we understand these are gifts of the Spirit that will naturally manifest themselves as we submit to Him and serve the body, focus on ourselves is minimized and we’re far more likely to minister effectively.  As we grow, we are likely to discern our gifting, affirmed by those around us.  But this is not necessary in order to begin to minister.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hilda on God's Goodness

We wanted so badly for the Lord to give Hilda more time, more years.  We prayed fervently to that end.  She suffered so well, consistently clinging to the Lord and pointing us to Jesus that it seemed to me hers was the perfect case in which the Lord could bring Himself maximum glory by also granting physical healing.  I was so hopeful that He would, not only because I wanted us all to continue knowing and enjoying Hilda, but also because I wanted to see Him magnified.  With her passing, I initially struggled with the Lord’s course.

But Hilda helped me.  She wrote something on Friday, July 6 that I was blessed to read this week. Hilda wanted to be healed, but more than that she wanted the people around her to know the blessedness of salvation through Jesus.  She wanted them to know that He is good…all the time.  She was willing to suffer illness and death if that meant others would see Him more clearly.  Here is an excerpt of what she wrote:

“As I was driving home yesterday and I was listening to a Christian radio station someone called to say she was cancer free.  She said, ‘God is good.’  Yes, He is good.  But 3 months or years from now, will she still proclaim His goodness?  

I’m not sure about my future/health…I want to praise Him on the good, but just as much on the bad…It’s easy when all is well, but when troubles come we can become afraid and desperate.  So we must live out our faith daily!”   

No one questions God’s goodness during easy times.  Occasionally, He gives us the opportunity to know and show His goodness, His sufficiency during difficulty.  It was Hilda’s privilege to do this.  Throughout the pain and uncertainty, praise for the Lord was on her lips.  She demonstrated that He is good in sickness and death.  

Psalm 63:3 reads, Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  I’m so grateful to have read this sentiment throughout Hilda’s last months.  Hilda was not afraid to die.  Why?  His love is better than life.  Jesus is better than life.  She was certain of this.  Now, she’s all the more certain.

How can we second-guess this course, which has shown a woman praising Jesus from diagnosis to final breath?  He has been maximally glorified in her suffering and death.  May He be glorified as we cling to His goodness in mourning.

I look forward to remembering Hilda and magnifying Jesus with you at her memorial service on Saturday.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Free Money for the Orphan Care Ministry!

Our Orphan Care Ministry servants are on the lookout for ways to raise funds for adoption fees.  We have a new way to receive what amounts to FREE money for our Lifesong Adoption Fund.

Do you ever order anything from Amazon?  Well, Amazon will donate to your favorite charity a portion of every dollar you spend through Amazon Smile.  It's just like shopping at Amazon with all the same products and prices, but you simply shop at a different web address.  All you have to do is go to and choose "Providence Bible Fellowship" as your charity of choice.  Each quarter, the Amazon Smile Foundation will send the donations to the church.  These donations will be added to our Lifesong Adoption Fund to be used to support adoptions.  It doesn't add a single penny to any purchase you make!

We have our own unique link that will take you straight to a page with Providence as the default charity.  Click here to choose Providence Bible Fellowship as your preferred charity.

Keep in mind that in order for the purchase to count towards the funds donated to the Orphan Care ministry, you need to shop at the address as opposed to the normal address.  You don’t need a separate Amazon Smile account.  Just use your normal Amazon account and sign-in at the Smile address.

Here is a screenshot of my page from the normal website:

Here is my page from the website:

They function exactly the same, have all the same products and prices, and are almost identical, except, the top banner of the Amazon Smile page identifies itself in the upper lefthand corner and it shows the charity I have chosen:

Again, this is like free money.  Amazon makes the donation, not you.  Please help us raise support for adoption fees by directing your Amazon purchases through Amazon Smile!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Friendship, Hobbits, and Christ

Last weekend our family celebrated three birthdays. Most importantly, we celebrate our younger son turning thirteen. But as part of that celebration, we had fun on Hobbit Day--September 22--because it's the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, main characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  We ended up eating seven Hobbits meals and watching a four hour edit of the three Hobbit films as he opened presents.

It was a fun time for our family, but it also gave me an opportunity to appreciate Tolkien's view of friendship. Maybe it was the streamlined edit, but the theme really stood out to me as I watched the film(s) this time around.  Some of Tolkien's emphasis on friendship was born out of his experience in the trenches of first world war.  Even more helpful was seeing how so much of what he wrote seems to bleed in from his Christian convictions. 

For example, Bilbo begins his journey with the dwarves just as wary of them as they are of him. Yet over the many months they travel and face adversity together, the company become friends. Such is the friendship that many times they risk their lives for one another. And we're reminded that "a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Prov 17:17).

At the beginning of the film, Bilbo seems motivated in his perseverance out of a desire to prove himself to the dwarves. But by the end, he sees how much he has at his home, Bag End, compared to the dwarves who have no home. This moved Bilbo, and his motivation changed as he began to bear the burden of others (Gal 6:2).

When Thorin is consumed with a desire for gold and power it changes him for the worse. And Bilbo is willing to tell him to his face. This is more than courage on Bilbo's part. It was an act of friendship towards Thorin. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy" (Prov 27:6).

Of course we're only scratching the surface here. But what struck me most was how rare such examples are today in the real world. 

Many sociological reasons could probably be given. Regardless, the point is the same: friendship is weak today, even in the Church.  Yet, that is the very place where it should be strongest. Friendship among God's people should the standard by which friendship is measured. After all, our friendship with others in grounded in a work of God. We have a Friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24), one who was willing to lay down his own life for his friends (John 15:13).

To be sure, there are amazing friendships in the Church.  In fact, most Christians are friendly. They will send kind and encouraging notes on social media, help someone move, come to baby showers with gifts, and cook meals for those going through difficult times. But this is still friendship lite

Imagine what a profoundly Christlike friendship would look like.  Imagine friendships that transcend family relationships.  Friendships anchored in the gospel. Friendships marked by: frequent conversations about eternal things; conversations born of transparency and deep matters of the heart; a common passion for Christ's kingdom; late nights of prayer interceding for others; vacation time from work used to help care for someone fighting cancer; or allowing someone to use a car or sleep in our home for an extended period of time. It's the kind of friendship that joyfully, sacrificially puts others before ourselves (Phil 2:1-11).

None of us will face orcs or goblins on an adventurous quest. Many of us will never have our friendship tested in battle. But all of us are even now having our mettle tested in the everyday experiences of life. Will we be distracted?  Will we be consumed with entertainment?  Will we bow to the idol of convenience?

Or, looking to Jesus, will we find forgiveness for past failures, security in his perfect Friendship even unto death, and follow his example as our risen King with those God has put into our lives?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Blessed Trouble

Last week, one of my kids experienced something very troubling.  After we sought comfort from the Scriptures, I asked, “do you have any idea why the Lord might have allowed this to happen?”  There was no response.  I said, “He’s kind.  You’re clinging to Him far more tightly than you were before this, aren’t you?”  “Yes.”

A few days later, as I lay in bed struggling to put some of my own stressors into Biblical perspective, I was moved by the Spirit to thank the Lord for trouble.  In His kindness, He uses these things to leave us no choice but to run to Him.  

What a wonderful thing if we could regard difficulty, trials, trouble…as a conduit of blessing.  God is the source of all good things, including life, joy, peace, and love.  Fellowship with Him is described as fullness of joy in Psalm 16.  The psalmist also writes there, “I have no good apart from You.”  Closeness to Him is the essence of blessedness.  What draws us into this closeness more swiftly and surely than trouble?

A simple search through the Psalms for the concept of trouble shows that difficulty drives the faithful straight to the Lord’s side, where they find a stronghold of steadfast love, forgiveness, redemption, shelter, preservation, sustenance, comfort, revival, rest, and delight (Psa 6, 9, 25, 27, 32, 34, 41, 46, 50, 54, 71, 77, 86, 91, 94, 107, 119, 138).  In a word, they find help.  The evil of trouble drives them to the ultimate good who is God.

This is not to say that trouble itself should be desirable to us.  We ought not wish for pain because of the pleasure that accompanies it.  We’re not meant to crave trouble.  In fact, our hope is the second coming of Christ when all trouble will be gone forever (Titus 2:11-13Rev 21:4).  However, trouble is tempered by the comfort derived by the necessity of clinging to Him.  We don’t crave trouble, but the peace of fellowship with Him overwhelms that trouble.  Trouble then can be considered a road to blessing in that it brings us to desire Him more than we would otherwise.

Paul’s words in 2 Cor 1:8-9 capture this dual nature of trouble: For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  Trouble is fearsome and it causes us great distress and pain, yet it does us the immense good us driving us to our great God and Savior. 

Those who have walked with the Lord for years will testify that the sweetest fellowship they’ve ever known was during times of difficulty.  On the other hand, times of relative ease are when we find ourselves most likely to drift from Him.

Trouble reminds us how needy we are and how sufficient He is.  It displays how fleeting worldly pleasures are, but how eternal divine pleasures are.  It removes our focus from the empty things of the creation and places it on the excellencies of the Creator.  It gently forces upon us a desire for the one thing that will make the new heavens and new earth so magnificent: the comforting presence of the Godhead.  When trouble drives us to the Lord, it brings a taste of heaven into this fallen world.   

Those of us who are in trouble - in the midst of our lamentation, we should make room for thanksgiving.  We should dare to enjoy the closeness with Him that our difficult circumstances necessitate.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What's the next sermon series?

“So what are we doing next?”  

This is the question I hear repeatedly every time we are nearing the end of another book of the Bible on Sunday mornings.  I like to keep it a secret to build anticipation, and I’ve never been a master of deflection, so my answer is usually something inelegant like, “I can’t tell you.”  Though I'm not usually forthcoming with the new series, I love it that so many people are eager to know what’s in store, and no one looks forward to a new series more than I do.

We’re doing something a little unusual next.  In a sense, we’re going to be considering the entire message of the Bible.  That’s right - the whole counsel of God in four messages.  We’re considering this:  What is the point of everything that God has done and how should we live in light of it?

As you know, our focus this year is on equipping for evangelism.  This sermon series will serve that focus while not zeroing in exclusively on evangelism.  Our aim will be to think deeply about God’s agenda for the world and how this agenda should drive our lives.

In his book, The Course of Your Life, Tony Payne writes: 

“Because God’s agenda for the world is to transfer us into Christ’s kingdom and to transform us to be like Christ, then our agenda is to press forward towards maturity in Christ by prayerfully  setting our minds on God’s word and to move others towards maturity in Christ by prayerfully speaking God’s word to them.”

This is the theme of our next four Sunday’s together in the Word.  It is so easy to miss the forest for the trees when it comes both to reading the Bible and living the Christian life.  The big picture helps us to put everything in its proper place and orient ourselves accordingly.

When we don’t see the big picture, we easily misunderstand any small component of it.  Worse, missing the big picture of God’s plan has ramifications for how we live our lives.  If we don’t understand what God is doing in history, we may view His commands to us as an unrelated collection of moral directives.  We may then seek to obey God as it pertains to spiritual growth, moral purity, discipleship, and evangelism without understanding how those things are related to one another or how they correspond to God’s grand plan for the world.  We may engage in these activities with the mindset that our purpose in them is simply to be as moral as possible until Jesus comes back.  What a tragedy!  God’s commands to us are intended to accomplish something - His grand plan!

This series will help bring all this into focus.  All that God has commanded serves His plan for the world, a plan which He has made known to us.  The Bible reveals what His agenda is and therefore what our agenda should be.  He has also revealed His means for accomplishing this agenda.  

God’s agenda, quite simply, is this: to transfer lost people into Christ’s kingdom and to transform saved people into the image of Christ.  Because we belong to Him, His agenda should be our agenda.  

God’s means of accomplishing His agenda is the ministry of the Word.  Lost people are saved by hearing the Word of Christ; saved people are matured by the Word of Christ dwelling in them richly.  If we would participate in God’s agenda, we must use His means - speaking the gospel to the lost and the saved, and commending that gospel with our lives.  This should our lifestyle.  

Disciples making disciples.  This is precisely what Jesus had in mind when He commissioned us in Matthew 28:19-20, and it is what we'll be considering together for the next four weeks.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Why is it so hard to share the gospel with those closest to us?

In our Home Fellowship Group on Sunday, we talked about which kinds of people it is most difficult to share the gospel with.  While there was no consensus, a number of us felt that family members and close friends are the hardest.

Why it is that sharing the gospel with a stranger can be so much easier than sharing it with a loved one?  It comes down to the fear of rejection, which is simply one manifestation of pride.  What do we care if a strangers rejects us?  We don’t even know them.  There is no sense of loss.  But if a family member or close friend rejects us because we share the truth of the gospel, that is different.  It hurts.  We don’t want to lose them, and conveying the stark demands of the gospel are offensive to those who are dead in their sins.  That loved one will hear the demands of Christ as words of personal attack from us and their rejection of Him will be taken as a rejection of us.

But we have to decide if we love our family’s acceptance of us more than we love Christ.  Jesus told us to anticipate relationships being strained or broken because of His call on us.  He was very upfront about this.  It was not His intention to make us popular.  Remember His words:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:32-37).

If we love Christ we will share the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ with those we love, no matter how they might react.  Our desire to please Him should trump our desire to please them.  If it doesn't, we are not worthy of Him.

In addition to that, we need to realize that if we truly love these people we will be willing to suffer the loss of a relationship in exchange for the possibility of their being saved from eternal damnation.  It’s sobering truth - our reluctance to share the gospel with our loved ones is not based on love for them, but rather on love for ourselves and disdain for the personal discomfort that would come with any rejection.  If we really believe that the gospel saves and if we really love these people, we will share it with them.  Choosing our own personal comfort and acceptance via the path of least offense will always be packaged with a passive resignation to their eternal demise.  My silence is my confession that I am okay with their destruction.  

So who is it in your life?  Who is it in your family or circle of friends who needs the gospel, but you have resisted sharing it with them for fear of turning them off, offending them, or completely losing the relationship?  There is a day set in the future for every one of us when it will be too late (Heb 9:27).  Let’s love Christ enough to make Him known and to trust Him for the grace to endure whatever consequences may come.  Aren’t you glad the fear of rejection didn’t keep quiet the one who shared the gospel with you?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Does the "exception clause" really make an exception?

Here is a question submitted to the podcast better suited to be answered here: 

“I've heard Bible-believing Christians say that divorce is un-biblical, except on the grounds of adultery.  Even those Christians, I feel, would agree divorce should undoubtedly be the last resort, especially if the adulterer is repentant.  For argument's sake, let's assume the adulterer is not repentant, and repeatedly cheats on their spouse.  Does what's known as the 'exception clause' in Matthew 5:32 really mean that?  Is there truly any biblical ground for divorce?”

First, let me agree with the idea expressed - that divorce should always be a last resort.  If marriage is intended to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church, we should fight for marriage and do everything lawful to keep them intact.  Nothing I am about to write should be construed to mean that I am pro-divorce or anti-marriage.

Second, this is an issue about which we can disagree and remain friends.  Good, godly believers hold a range of views on this issue.  

The question refers to a statement by the Lord Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, which reads, "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt. 5:31-32).  

It’s not my intention to fully expose these two verses.  If you’re interested, there is a full sermon on this text on our website.  I’ll assert here one statement that is fully supported in that sermon - and which lies clearly on the surface of the text - if you divorce and remarry, you have committed adultery.  

But there are two biblical exceptions.  The first is Matthew 5:32.  It’s also found in Matthew 19:9 - “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  Common to both texts is the phrase, except on the ground of sexual immorality.  To divorce, except on the ground of sexual immorality, and remarry is to commit adultery.  Therefore, to divorce on the ground of sexual immorality and remarry is not adultery.  If words mean things, it seems to me that divorce and remarriage is permitted in cases of sexual immorality.  

The Greek word for sexual immorality here is broad and covers everything from bestiality to fornication to adultery.  If your spouse commits one of those sins, divorce and remarriage is permissible.  According to Matt 19:1-9, we should believe it may be permissible, but it should never be considered compulsory.  It should be a last resort, not a first resort.

The second exception has been called “abandonment by an unbelieving spouse.”  We find it in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15: To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him…But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.  

If you are married to an unbeliever, and that unbeliever does not want to remain married to you, you are to let them go.  You cannot divorce them, but you cannot deny them a divorce.  If they want to remain married, you must remain married.   

So, yes, Matthew 5:32 really does mean that, and there are biblical grounds for divorce.  But divorce should always remind us that this world is broken.  It should always grieve us and cause us to long for the new heavens and new earth.  

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Why does the Catholic bible have more books than ours?

Here is another good question submitted to the Truth & Circumstances podcast better suited to be answered on this blog:  Why are there books in the Catholic bible that are not included in ours?

Most of the books in the Catholic bible coincide with ours, but depending upon how you count them, there are about 16 books in the Catholic bible that you will not find in a Protestant bible.  These books are referred to collectively as the Apocrypha, which means “hidden.”  The Apocryphal books were written in the intertestamental period, from about 400BC to the time of Jesus.  

There are numerous reasons why the church has historically denied the inclusion (“canonicity”) of the Apocryphal books.  Before we consider these reasons, it may be helpful to identify something that distinguishes the historical church from the Catholic church beyond the mere size of our bibles.   (I’m using the word “historical” rather than the word “Protestant” for two reasons.  First, to use the word “Protestant” when talking about the formation of the canon is anachronistic.  The term “Protestant” came into use during the Reformation in the 16th century, while the formation of the Old Testament canon was settled by the time of Christ and the New Testament canon by 397AD.  Second, the Protestant church was not the creation of a new church, but a return to the orthodoxy of the original, historical church created by the Lord Jesus.  By using the word “historical,” I’m not intending to be offensive to Catholics, but simply to be as accurate as possible.)  An enormous difference between the historical church and the Catholic Church pertains to their respective views of the ultimate source of authority.  In the formation of the canon, the historical church viewed herself as recognizing, by the sovereign leading of the Holy Spirit, those books which contained inherent authority.  In other words, the Bible is a higher authority than the church.  The church does not bestow authority on the Scriptures, but simply recognizes it.  The Catholic church on the other hand sees the church’s role as granting authority to certain books; the bible derives its authority from the church.  This will be an important distinction later on.

A primary reason the historical church rejected the Apocrypha is that it is quite clear that the NT authors did.  The Apocrypha is included by the Catholic church in the OT canon.  However, the Jews of the apostles’ day recognized the historical books of the OT without the Apocrypha.  That is, by the time of the birth of the church all of the books of our OT had been accepted as authoritative, while none of the Apocryphal books had.  This would explain why there are no clear quotation from the Apocrypha by any NT author, while there are many quotations from other OT books.  Catholics would argue that there are a handful of OT books that are not quoted in the NT, like Joshua and Esther.  However, the difference between these OT books and the Apocryphal books is that these OT books, though not quoted in the NT, had been accepted as authoritative by the time of Christ, while none of the Apocryphal books had.

Second, Jesus Himself appears to limit the OT canon to the historical OT when He says in Luke 11:51, “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary; yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.”  Abel and Zechariah are the first and last martyrs mentioned in the Jewish canonical OT, which is ordered to begin with Genesis and end with 2 Chronicles.  That is, Jesus left the Apocryphal books out of his quotation, indicating that they did not belong in the canon.

Third, most of the early church fathers rejected the Apocrypha, including Jerome, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius.  Jerome’s rejection is significant in that his latin translation of the Bible - the Latin Vulgate - is used by the Roman Catholic church!  Yes, though he translated the Apocrypha under pressure, he did not believe it belonged in the Bible.

Fourth, the secular Jewish community around the time of Jesus denied the authority of the Apocrypha.  Philo, who quoted extensively from the OT as Scripture, never once quoted from any Apocryphal book as Scripture.  Josephus explicitly rejected the Apocrypha and listed the canon of the OT as having the same books as the modern Protestant OT.  

But a Catholic might contend that while the Apocrypha did not enjoy early acceptance, that does not mean it shouldn’t be recognized as canonical today.  However, if we use the same criteria used by the   historical church to recognize the books of the NT canon, we find that the Apocrypha comes up wanting.

The historical church used three criteria to recognize which books were of divine origin and should therefore be included in the canon.  These criteria were:

  1. Apostolicity - was the book written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle?  This criteria would not fit as a measuring tool for the Apocrypha since all the Apocryphal books were written prior to the time of Christ.  So we will set this one aside.

  1. Orthodoxy - does the book contradict any other canonical book?  The Apocrypha is rife with teachings that contradict the other Old and New Testament Scriptures, which is another reason for its rejection throughout the centuries.  The Apocrypha fails the test of orthodoxy.

  1. Catholicity - this is “catholicity” with a small “c”.  Catholic simply means “universal.”  This test asks, has the book enjoyed continuous use throughout the universal church?  In other words, has the church wherever it is found always considered the book to be authoritative?  The Apocrypha fails here, too, in that it was so widely rejected for so long.  

Therefore, by the criteria used to recognize the authority of the NT canon, the Apocrypha should be rejected.

To this point, I have leaned more heavily on why we reject these books, but that’s not exactly the question that was asked.  Why does the Catholic bible include these books?

Well, the Catholic church has not always officially accepted the Apocryphal books.  In fact, it was not until the Council of Trent in 1546 that these books were officially accepted.  The Apocrypha was in the Catholic bible prior to Trent, but it was in a different section because the books were not viewed as having equal authority.  You see, until 1546 even the Catholic church denied the full authority of these books.

So why did they change the status of the Apocrypha in 1546?  It was essentially a reaction to the Protestant Reformation.  At the heart of the Reformation was a zeal to return to the authority of the Scriptures.  This jeopardized a number of Catholic doctrines found nowhere in the canonical bible, including purgatory and praying for the dead.  Catholic apologists found justification for these doctrines in Apocryphal books, as in 2 Maccabees 12:40-45.  So at the Council of Trent, all the Apocryphal books were given full authority.  Additionally, the council declared of anyone who rejected these book, “let him be anathema.” 

Here we see the significance of the Roman understanding of authority.  Even though the universal Catholic church had never viewed the Apocrypha as fully authoritative before, it claimed authority to grant that status to the Apocrypha at so late a date.    

While the Apocrypha is not inspired or authoritative, many orthodox believers hold that it does have some devotional value.  There is nothing wrong with reading it.  We simply must recognize that when we read it, we are reading the writings of men, not of God.  The 66 books of the Bible alone are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative for our lives.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lifting Our Voices, Speaking the Word

The church in Acts did two things repeatedly.  

They prayed.  All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14, 24).  And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).  …they lifted their voices together to God…(Acts 4:24).  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6).  So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:5).  When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying (Acts 12:12).  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:3).  And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all (Acts 20:36).  And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed (Acts 21:5).

They shared the gospel.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance…“we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:4-11).  But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them (Acts 2:14).   …they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:2).  “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).  …and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).  Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:19-20).  

These two activities were not unrelated.  In many cases where prayer is recorded, it was in some way tied to the gospel mission.  In chapter 1, they prayed that the Lord would reveal who should take Judas’ place as an apostle, the work of whom would be to spread the Word.  In chapter 4, they prayed for boldness to continue speaking the Word in spite of persecution.  Even in chapter 6, the prayer to ordain the first deacons was at least indirectly for the sake of the gospel - the deacons were to serve so that the apostles could devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer.  In chapter 12, the prayer for Peter was that he would be released from prison so that he could continue to spread the gospel.  In chapter 13, the church prayed to commission Paul and Barnabas as missionaries.  In other words, the early church was in the habit of praying - together - and when they prayed together, they prayed for the gospel to go forth.

We want to do the same.  

These two points of emphasis in the life of Providence Bible Fellowship will converge on Wednesday, September 5 at 6:30pm.  Last year we emphasized the importance of prayer.  Our annual emphasis this school year is going to be the blessed task of evangelism.  On Wednesday, September 5, we want to marry the two concerns by bathing the church in prayer as it pertains to our spreading of the gospel.   

We shared this emphasis on evangelism at the most recent members’ quarterly meeting.  We also shared that our new format for Wednesday nights will include a whole-church prayer meeting on the first Wednesday night of every month at 6:30pm.  We’re asking all members to make this monthly prayer meeting a priority, as prayer must be a vital part of our fellowship in order for us to be a healthy, faithful bride of Christ.  The main focus of our first prayer meeting will be that the Lord would make PBF a disciple-making church.  We will also enjoy a full time of worship and hear a testimony from one among us with the gift of evangelism.  May the Lord hear our prayer and bless the word as we speak it!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Exciting Orphan Care Ministry Announcement!

What if every dollar donated to the Orphan Care Ministry could be used over and over?  What if the contributions you made could help fund not just one adoption, but many?  Well, we’re happy to announce that this is now the case!

We have recently partnered with Lifesong for Orphans, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping churches address the orphan crisis.  Through Lifesong, we will administer the donated funds to adopting families in the form of interest-free loans.  The beautiful thing about these loans is that they can be repaid with the adoption tax credit.  In a sense, we allow the government to fund these adoptions by repaying the loans through tax credits.  The adoption fund fronts the money in the form of an interest-free loan and the government repays the loan in the form of an adoption tax credit to the adopting family.  This means that every dollar you donate to the Orphan Care fund is not used once, but over and over as the money is loaned and repaid, loaned and repaid.  Our adoption fund will continue to grow over time with each contribution.

Lifesong will assist us in managing our donations, administering these loans, helping with additional fundraising, and screening families for assistance.  Lifesong provides this help with zero fees or administration costs.  We are very excited about this.  Please pray that the Lord will use this partnership to facilitate many more adoptions by PBF families!

Check out the short introductory video here: