Don’t Share Your Faith?

Sharing the gospel isn’t only a biblical imperative, it’s also something every Christian should instinctively want to do.  If you love your Saviour, why wouldn’t you want others to hear about him?  However, someone could be held back by a Scripture passage which, at first glance, seems to tell us not to share our faith.  I’m thinking of Romans 14:22a, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.”  That could be understood as saying Christians shouldn’t evangelize.

When faced with an interpretive issue like this, it’s a good idea to look at other Bible translations, especially if you don’t know the original languages of Scripture.  Above I quoted from the ESV, a translation which attempts to be both literal and readable.  The New King James Version is similar:  “Do you have faith?  Have it to yourself before God.”  While the first clause becomes a question in the NKJV, it still represents essential a literal rendering of the Greek. 

This is an instance where the New International Version is helpful.  The NIV leans more to a “dynamic equivalent” approach to translation.  In this approach, being literal is less important than being understandable.  This approach has its pros and cons.  But in Romans 14:22a, the meaning is clearer in the NIV:  “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”  This translation makes it clear this has nothing to do with evangelism. 

With the ESV and NKJV, it is possible to discern that from the context of Romans 14:22.  The context has to do with convictions about eating clean and unclean foods.  However, the word “faith” usually refers to faith in God or in Christ and that can throw us off in verse 22.  Sometimes the word “faith” can also refer to the whole body of Christian teaching, as in “the Christian faith.”  But the Greek word pistis can occasionally also mean “conviction” or “belief about something” and so it is here in Romans 14:22a.

We can learn two things here. 

First, we’re reminded again that “a text without context is a pretext.”  You could remove Romans 14:22a from its context and make it sound as if God is telling us not to evangelize.  The context helps us see how such an assertion would be erroneous.  So remember to always study the context.

Second, we see that there are no perfect Bible translations.  I appreciate a lot of things about the ESV, but its literal approach sometimes hinders understanding.  I appreciate some things about the NIV, but its dynamic equivalent approach sometimes forces readers to adopt a questionable understanding.  The takeaway here is, if you have no training in the original languages, don’t study with just one Bible translation.  By using two or three together, you may be able to compensate for the blind spots of each one.  Bible Gateway has a great tool where you can easily add parallel translations to a passage you’re studying.  I’ve highlighted (in red) the button for this function in the screenshot below – it’s in the upper left hand corner of the tool bar. 


I Recommend

This past week, I shared the following links on social media and I think they’re worth sharing here too:

Women Pastors, Women Preachers, and the Looming Test of the Southern Baptist Convention

“This past week, Saddleback Community Church in California ordained three women as pastors. In a development described by the church as “historic,” the church posted a photograph of the ordinations with the text: ‘Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren and others pray over the first three women the church has ordained as pastors.'”

Covenant Eyes launches new program to help men break free from porn use

CE keeps breaking new ground in helping in the fight against this plague.

Trauma retreat for military sex assault survivors used sex offender as ‘peer mentor’

Unreal. This would be like your ward elder or pastor being a convicted sex offender and you, as an abuse victim, are expected to seek pastoral care from them. What was that doctor thinking?

6 Sins that Enable Abuse

We, the church of Jesus Christ, have to keep kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. It starts with this kind of self-awareness.


Jesus Said Nothing About Homosexuality?

Some claiming to be Christians assert there’s nothing wrong with homosexual lusts or behaviours.  Sometimes such “Christians” identify themselves as “progressive Christians.” At other times they refer to themselves as “sex-positive Christians.”  In a previous post, I addressed one of their arguments, namely that the Bible never spoke about homosexuality until 1946.  In this post, I’ll tackle a different one:  Jesus said nothing about homosexuality.

There are two ways to disprove this claim.  One is to consider how this claim has a far too narrow understanding of how Jesus speaks.  Simply by virtue of his divinity, the entire Bible is the word of Christ.  Because of his deity, Jesus Christ stands behind everything written in the 66 books of the Bible, including what the Old Testament and the New Testament both teach about homosexuality.  If Jesus is God, and if the entire Bible is the Word of God, then the entire Bible is also the word of Jesus.  So, when Romans 1:26-27 speaks of homosexuality in terms of “dishonourable passions” and relations “contrary to nature,” that is Christ speaking.  When 1 Timothy 1:10 includes “men who practice homosexuality” among those who are “ungodly and sinners,” that is our Lord Jesus speaking too.

The other way to disprove this claim is to actually look at the spoken words of Jesus as he carried out his ministry on this earth.  In other words, let’s look at the spoken words of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and John.  We can readily grant that Jesus never used the word “homosexuality” in his teaching.  We can also readily grant that he never directly spoke of homosexual lusts or relations.  This can be explained quite easily from his context.  Jesus was ministering primarily in a Jewish context where it was a given that homosexuality was out of accord with God’s will – after all, the Torah was clear in Leviticus 18 and 20.  Analogously, I’m quite sure that if you were to jump in a time machine and travel back to listen to Reformed preachers in the nineteenth century, there would likewise be very few mentions of homosexuality because of the broader cultural consensus on it.  There wasn’t a pressing need to address it.

Jesus did indirectly address homosexuality, however.  Amongst the Jews of his day, Sodom and Gomorrah were renowned for their sexual immorality.  The nature of that infamous immorality is described in Jude 7 as the pursuit of “unnatural desire.”  This type of desire and behaviour was regarded as repugnant.  So, when a teacher like Jesus invoked the names of Sodom and Gomorrah, he was calling up that reaction in his listeners.  Jesus does exactly that in Matthew 10:15.  He’s speaking there about any Jewish town which refuses to welcome the preachers of the kingdom of heaven.  He says, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”  This is a remarkable statement.  For the Jews then, and for God’s covenant people today, Jesus was saying there is a sin worse than homosexual lusts and behaviours:  rejecting the preaching of the gospel.  Covenant unbelief is more abominable than homosexuality!  However, don’t miss the fact that the surprising nature of this teaching is based on an acceptance of what the Old Testament teaches about homosexuality:  it is an abomination.

We could also refer to what Jesus teaches about marriage and divorce in Matthew 19.  The Pharisees asked him whether divorce was lawful for any cause.  Before he answered, he affirmed what the Old Testament taught about the institution of marriage:  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mt. 19:5).  Jesus here affirmed that God designed marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.  He affirmed heterosexual marriage as the only context in which sexual intimacy (“shall become one flesh”) ought to exist – consistent with the teaching of his Word elsewhere.

To claim that “Jesus said nothing about homosexuality” is just not honest to the facts of the Bible.  I’d therefore propose a new name for “progressive Christians.”  Let’s call them what they are:  “wishful thinkers.”  They just wish the Bible would support their easy-going acceptance of what the world holds about sexuality.  Then they create for themselves their own personal Jesus who will approve of their worldliness.  It’s just as Christ told us in his Word:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false prophets among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  (2 Peter 2:1-2).        


I Recommend

This past week, I shared the following links on social media and I think they’re worth sharing here too:

How the Church Can Help in Suicide Prevention

This one hits close to home for me, but I know it does for others too. Christians should do everything they can do address this horrible tragedy.

Why Pastors Should Use More Historical Illustrations in Sermons

I’ve always used a lot of historical illustrations. I’ve been starting to rethink it, but this blog post made me see that perhaps it’s a good practice after all.

Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You’ll Ever Have Time to Read

I love books and I have a daughter who loves them too. She shared this link with me — it makes sense!

How to Protect Your Church from Abusers

Churches are often safe places for abusers, but not for the abused. This ought not to be! Every church should have an abuse policy. If you need to see a sample, contact me and I’ll send along what we have at our church.

Some libraries stand strong against calls to remove books telling truth about transgenderism

The banning of books should concern us all. If they’re going to demand the removal of this book, how long till they want the Bible removed?

Last of all, I came across this short film. It’s only about nine minutes (to the credits), but in that time it raises interesting questions about where people “go” during a coma. It’s also really well-produced. H.t.: Evolution News.


Training New Leaders – How?

One of the common features of our Reformed churches is the annual election for office bearers.  In some places, the process goes smoothly; there’s no shortage of qualified and available men.  In other places, especially in smaller churches, it can sometimes be a struggle.  The church I currently serve was in this situation in 2018.  There were older men who were qualified and experienced, but no longer able to serve.  There were younger men available to serve, but not qualified and definitely not experienced.  There’s nothing you can do about the older men, but there’s certainly something you can do about the younger. 

This was the genesis of our church’s Service and Leadership Training (SALT) program.  Our consistory developed this program to address the need for a new generation of qualified leaders, not only in the church proper, but also in our church community.  SALT is directed towards men aged 25-35, to equip them for service in terms of both doctrine and practice.

Investment

How do you motivate people to be invested in training offered by the church?  In some cases, individuals will be self-motivated enough to sign up for such training and then follow it through to the end.  However, my experience has been that there’s often an initial surge of interest in a program offered to everyone, but then that soon drops off and you’re left with a remnant. 

One way of addressing is this is to charge a fee for training.  Putting money towards something definitely motivates an individual to be more personally invested.  However, as effective as it might be, that’s not necessarily sending the right message in a church context.

There’s a better way.  The better way is to have the elders select the individuals for the training.  That’s what we’ve done with our SALT program.  For each training year, our elders have nominated approximately 5 young men between 25 and 35.  These individuals are selected on the basis of greatest leadership potential.  This approach has borne fruit in terms of completion of the training.  Over three training years, we’ve only had one individual not complete the training and that was on account of his moving inter-state.

Mentoring

There are two components to our SALT program.  The first involves one-on-one mentoring.  Each participant meets three times individually with me.  This is another reason why we keep the cohorts to about 5 – a total of fifteen meetings is feasible.

Essential to the mentoring is something called a Spiritual Growth Plan.  This was introduced to me by Dr. John Smith from CRTS as something they do with the seminary students in Hamilton.  We’ve adapted it for SALT.  The Spiritual Growth Plan has the participants identify their spiritual strengths and weaknesses, and asks them to develop a plan to address their weaknesses.  We go over this plan together at the first mentoring session, then in the two subsequent sessions we discuss it and there’s accountability for following through.      

Classroom Training

The second component involves approximately 2 hours in the classroom every two weeks.  In preparation for each classroom session, the participants are given assigned readings on the topics to be covered.  To help the readings are done, every participant is required to prepare a one paragraph summary of each reading.

The topics covered divide up into doctrinal and practical matters that are essential for church leaders.  In both areas, the teaching advances one step up from what the men would have received in their pre-confession instruction. This is the complete list of doctrinal topics:

  • Scripture and hermeneutics
  • Creation
  • Doctrines of grace
  • Regeneration
  • Justification
  • Sanctification
  • Covenant theology
  • Sexual ethics
  • Women in office

Here’s the complete list of (more) practical topics:

  • Personal devotions
  • Family worship
  • Ecclesiastical offices
  • Church Order
  • Ecclesiastical assemblies
  • Home visits
  • Counselling
  • Church discipline
  • Sermon evaluation
  • Evangelism
  • Union with Christ
  • Discipleship

Ample opportunity is provided for discussion and questions.  I try to use as many real life examples as I can.  We also have at least one “field trip” – in connection with learning about ecclesiastical assemblies, the participants attend a joint elders-deacons meeting.    

Finally, because “leaders are readers” (Albert Mohler), almost every session includes a number of recommended books to “build a leader’s library.”

Outcomes 

So, has SALT achieved its goals?  Since 2018, several SALT “graduates” have been nominated as elders or deacons.  Some have been elected.  Additionally, some are now serving in leadership roles in our Christian school association.  So, with thanks to God’s blessing, I think we can say it’s been working as we intended.

I’ve had inquiries from several people about SALT.  The concept should be easily transferable to other churches.  In the beginning of 2019, I offered an intensive SALT course (without the mentoring) to a group of men in Cagayan de Oro, the Philippines.  The feedback was positive about that, so I imagine it could work elsewhere.  If anyone is interested, I’m happy to share all the materials I’ve developed.  My prayer is that what we’ve done here will perhaps help other churches in raising up another generation of faithful, well-equipped leaders who can serve the cause of the gospel.