Confusion Explosion

For the last couple of weeks nothing less than an explosion of confusion has manifested itself in my head. Sounds lovely, isn’t it! The funny thing is that although there is much confusion there is much clarity on what the confusion is about. In other words, the confusion explosion is not an all encompassing confusion across the whole line of my life, but is quite focusing itself in one particular area. And that area is called my life with Jesus (no, not my life in Jesus. There is no confusion there). It is my life with Jesus and how it manifests itself in life and what we call the local church (as opposed to the universal church). I am sure by saying this that you are as confused about what I am talking about as I am about what I am confused about, so let me try to explain (hoping that by explaining my confusion the Holy Spirit is able to shed some light).

Several events led up or contributed to my confusion. These are: church structure discussions with the deacons, listening to a missiology teaching by Jeff Vanderstelt, participating in a three day European Church Planting (ECPN) conference, re-reading Neil Cole’s book “Organic Church,” preparing a teaching on being a disciple of Jesus, and a serious look at my own life in reflection to all of the above. The point is actually quite simple. What does it mean to be a true disciple of Jesus? What does it mean to “do” church? These are the two questions that are pounding inside of my skull for the last couple of weeks, forcing its way out the hard way.

What does it mean to be a true disciple of Jesus?
Without giving too much away from the forthcoming teaching, I have been challenged on my definition of a disciple. Maybe I should say that my definition has been stretched or has become clearer in the process of studying it out. It is not that I had a wrong definition at first, just an incomplete one. But I have been challenged by the question to what extent I actually am a disciple of Jesus. Sure, I believe in Him and I make feeble attempts to study His words and imitating His life. But this is not wholehearted submission to Him, right?! It’s a 21st century version, an extract of a lesser kind, customized and contextualized to my convenience, made fit to be part of my life, but certainly not be a starting point or center point from which my life emanates, right?! This is not about trying and failing. This is about not having Jesus at the center of my life. This is about not deeply studying, meditating on, and applying the Bible in my life. This is about about not trying to imitate Jesus’ life, character and ministry in every aspect of my life, regardless of cost. This is about “doing” the 21st century Christian thing: believe in Jesus, read your Bible, go to church, do the programs, get immersed in ministry life, be busy with all these things, and in the mean time Satan is laughing his butt off, because in all the doing you forget about being a Christian, being a disciple of Jesus. This sounds all very similar to a post from little over a year ago, called “I Wanna Be!” I am doing so much. My agenda is completely overbooked with all Christian activities, but because of that my relationship with Jesus is swept under rug for the sake of ministry. I am reading books which count as input to my activities or discussions or meetings (examples: I read “Clusters” for the ECPN conference; I read “Feed My Sheep” as input for ongoing discussions about the necessity of preaching in the church; I read “Vintage Church” for ongoing discussions with the deacons about church structure). Now, these are all great books, but all the hours reading these books are hours I am not reading the Bible. And Satan is laughing. In all the activities which should facilitate making disciples I forget being a disciple. And it’s frustrating the heck out of me… Now, you may ask: “what’s the confusion here?”. And that would be a good question to ask. My answer would be that the confusion is how to change it around. At the ECPN conference I learned to ask two really important questions. What do I need to start doing? What do I need to stop doing? I need to start to center my life on being a disciple. The confusion is about what I need to stop doing in order to facilitate the start doing.

What does it mean to “do” church?
This is a much more confusing question to be sure. Although I have no church background growing up, my input and experience so far has been the “traditional” model of “doing” church on Sunday and “doing” church through means of a small group on a weekday. Both are church, meaning the church gathers on Sunday for preaching and worship and scatters throughout the week for living life in community. Lately I have been really challenged in this whole concept. Why? Simply by asking myself the question about fruit. In other words, the good seed on the good soil. And the point is, I don’t see it. I fail to see fruit on many different levels. And so I am asking the question whether this is because of good seed on bad soil or because of bad seed on bad soil or because of bad seed on good soil. And I haven’t figured that one out yet, but my first guess is that it is to some extent bad seed on bad soil. To some extent. In any case, I feel that my life has been taken over by programs and meetings and is completely void of any form of natural or organic Kingdom living. Everything is planned out, programmed. And I feel it’s sucking the life right out of me. And I cannot imagine that this is what Jesus had in mind.

So what am I saying really? Well, let’s go from big scale to small scale. On a big scale there is the “church” gathering (traditionally on Sunday). Why do we have these gatherings? What’s the purpose of the “church” getting together? Is it not to raise up holy hands worshiping  the LORD our God? Is it not equip, edify, correct, encourage the local body of Christ? Is it not to experience the body at large? Then why do we program it all? Why is there a worship band practicing to “perfect” the songs instead of musicians getting together to simply worship through music? Why is there a professional teacher/preacher in the pulpit who spend 15 hours preparing his notes, based on preaching schedules and series, in order to share instead of those leaders (read: elders) who are gifted at teaching naturally arise to teach the body (for “let the elders who rule well be considered of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17))? Why are there serving teams and greeting teams and cleanup teams, etc., instead of a natural outworking of these things for if we disciples of Jesus we are servants of all and thus each other as well. Why is there so much programming needed and so little natural or organic outworkings because of who and what we are in Jesus?

On a smaller scale there is the outworking of what are called community groups or gospel groups or cell groups or home groups or something like that. These are groups of people coming together based on either geographical location or based on missional focus or just based on existing friendships, and experience the Christian life together. Here again I ask the question. What is the purpose of it? Does it need to be programmed or should it be naturally flowing out of our identity and desires in Jesus? By that I mean, it is clear that the early disciples of Jesus came together in houses to “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42), but was this not something natural that happened instead of something programmed? By programmed I mean there is a designated leader or facilitator who prepares a teaching on some occasions, and on other occasions there is an evening of prayer and worship and communion organized, and on another occasion we organize an evening which focuses more on sharing our feelings, etc. How did the early disciples in for instance Corinth organize themselves? I find it hard to believe they planned and programmed it all out. My guess instead is that they naturally came together in houses, based on geographical location – because why travel all across town, and did whatever the Holy Spirit led them to, and just lived out community together, seeing each other every day because they were simply neighbors or co-workers etc. I doubt that all the “leaders” of these house groups would gather themselves for mutual edification, but that it found its outworking in city-wide gatherings (in temple courts), and that these leaders where actually the elders/pastors/shepherds/overseers which is talked about in the New Testament. Not a hierarchy of leaders, but apostolic leaders, like Paul, instructing his apprentice apostolic leaders, like Titus, to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5).

On an even smaller scale, there is what Neil Cole calls “Life Transformation Groups” (LTGs) which are same-gender groups of two or three people who come together regularly (read: weekly) to hold each other accountable for reading the Bible, confessing sins to one another, and pray for there non-believing friends. Excellent principle and very much needed in itself, but why turn it into a program that has to occur on a weekly basis? Are LTGs nothing more than friends getting together and having fellowship with each other. Should Bible reading not be something you want to do out of a passion for Jesus and His Word instead out of necessity or guilt for not wanting to disappoint your LTG buddies? Is confessing sins to one another not a natural outworking of your life with Jesus (James 5:16)? Is praying for non-believing friends not something you are doing out of a passion for Jesus and a desire to share this with others?

All of this should be happening out of a love for Jesus and a love for your neighbor. If it needs to be programmed because otherwise it doesn’t happen then there is something terribly wrong and I dare say that if the latter is the case then maybe it is better to just stop it all and start from scratch (meaning, becoming a disciple of Jesus, and out of that let Him be the one who runs the program. He is far better at it for He is the only one who has the grand overview.

I must that I have no clarity yet on a couple of things in particular: a) how did true leadership and leadership gifting (E4 gifts – apostle,prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher) work itself out in biblical times (within a city, for a city, and for a region)? b) what about preaching and teaching – especially dealing with false doctrine and church discipline – in an organic structure? c) what about the mission and vision of the local church (i.e. should their be)? d) what about paid professionals – for the Bible does talk about financial enumeration for elders only.

So, what does this all mean? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers (hence the confusion explosion), but I have stopped being afraid of asking the questions for the sake of “tradition” or “because it is like it is” and instead put Jesus above it all and right in the center of it all, for He is my prophet and my priest and my king. Programs and structures are not. Does this mean I stop/drop everything I am doing for the sake of organic outworkings? No, but there is an order to things. First, I am a son of God, second I am a husband, third I am a father. Only after these come other things. And if either of these are lacking or failing for something which is outside of the top 3, then will not hesitate to have the order restored.

Breathed Out By God #1 – An Introduction

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra — which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 3:10 – 4:8)

Don’t you think it’s ironic that I that present seven topics that are on my list for possible next series, and then introduce something completely different? I think it is, but such is life. It is full of surprises! Yet don’t think it’s the end of that list… Please comment still on your favorite topic here.

Anyways, the reason for this series may not be so apparent, but I used the “famous” 2 Timothy 3:16 verse this last Saturday during a meeting, and spoke on Sunday with my good friend and participant of that meeting, Patricia about this verse. She wondered about the deeper meaning of this verse and its application. We did not have much time then to go deep into it, but I must admit that I too am intrigued about the depth of it. Hence, this short series.

The verse of 2 Timothy 3:16 is pretty consistent across the different translations. Let me try to summarize it: “All Scripture is [God-breathed (NIV), inspired by God (NASB), breathed out by God (ESV), given by inspiration of God (KJV)] [and is useful for (NIV), and profitable for (NASB, ESV, KJV)], [teaching (NIV, NASB, ESV), doctrine (KJV)], [rebuking (NIV), reproof (NASB, ESV, KJV)], [correcting (NIV), correction (NASB, ESV, KJV)], and [training in righteousness (NIV, NASB, ESV), instruction in righteousness (KJV)]

I prefer a combination of the ESV and KJV, which ends up like this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The apparent consistency in the different translations seems to indicate that it is clear how to translate it, but what does the verse actually mean? And how and where does it apply to our lives? This introductory post will attempt to take a look at the verse as a whole, and the first half of. And then subsequent posts will deal with the four individual aspects it is useful or profitable for.

The Big Picture
As with most, if not all, verses in the Bible, this verse should be looked at within the context it is written. Although the verse itself, apart from the context, holds true and should be adhered to, it is the context which gives insights into the reason why. The verse is pretty much right in the center of a section of Scripture going from 2 Timothy 3:10 through 2 Timothy 4:8, and deals with an exhortation from the apostle Paul to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, in contrast to the false teachers which Paul warns Timothy against in the first nine verses of chapter three. It addresses directly on how Timothy must resist the opponents and remain faithful to the gospel. It is an exhortation based on Timothy’s already established faithfulness (verse 10: “you, however, have followed my teaching…“).

So in order to fully understand this verse we need to take a look at the whole picture it is part of. In 2 Timothy 2:14-26 Paul introduces the false teaching (irreverent babble) and explains how Timothy should respond to it and be different from the false teachers. In 3:1–9 Paul describes the false teachers more extensively. Having exhorted Timothy to steadfast endurance, Paul now begins to address the problem directly. He speaks of “the last days” which according to Acts 2:17 are the days after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and are thus also still the present day, and the false teachers are the people who “will be lovers of self, a lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, b disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” for they will “creep into households” and lead people “astray by various passions“. Paul commands Timothy to avoid such people (verse 5), which most likely most involves excommunication if it pertains to those who remain obstinate. Paul then goes on to explain that Scripture is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

We first need to realize that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy. Paul sent Timothy to the church in Ephesus to deal with false teachers. Both letters from Paul to Timothy deal with this aspect in various form, although the second letter seem to focus more on exhorting Timothy to persevere. False teaching is corrected by correct teaching (next to church discipline and possible excommunication), and so Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is to persevere in teaching. We should in any case combine verse 16 with 17 in order to get the actual full sentence. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” So for who is Scripture profitable? So that the man of God may be competent and equipped. Who is the man of God? This is an Old Testament phrase. For instance, Moses is called a man of God (Deuteronomy 33:1, Joshua 14:6), angels of the LORD are called a man of God (Judges 13:6;8), and prophets like Elijah (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 1) and Elisha (2 Kings 4 – 7) are called a man of God . Overall, we can say that the “man of God” is indicating a messenger of God. Both the background of the Old Testament and the context show that Paul sees Timothy as his delegate and a leader over the church. A shepherd/pastor. A preacher. Paul provides a basic framework for Timothy on how to preach. Sinclair B. Ferguson, distinguished visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminister Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas says of 2 Timothy 3:16, “Thus informed, we come to see that preaching to the heart will give expression to four things: instruction in the truth, conviction of conscience, restoration and transformation of life, and equipping for service […] Preaching, therefore, involves teaching – imparting doctrine in order to renew and transform the mind. It implies the inevitable rebuke of sin, and brings with it the healing of divine correction.” If the man of God approached the Scripture with humility, he himself will be instructed, convinced, restored, transformed and equipped in the process of preparing. If that happens, and it should, then in turn he will be able, by the Holy Spirit, to do the same when he is preaching.

Of course this is not the only application of this verse as a whole, for the Holy Spirit does not need a preacher to accomplish His work (although John 14:26 does say that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance all that Jesus said, hence Jesus’ words must be proclaimed first), but Paul, a preacher, is charging Timothy as a preacher, to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2) in order to overcome or correct false teaching.

All Scripture
What is considered all Scripture? First off, it seems evident that the Old Testament books are implied, but there are references in the New Testament which refer to itself as Scripture as well in two occasions. First, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul says, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” Although the command to not muzzle an ox is a quote from Deuteronomy 25:4, the command that a laborer deserves his wages is a direct quote from Luke 10:7, and Paul refers to it as Scripture. Secondly, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter says, “And count l the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” And so it seems that both Paul and Peter refer to the NT writings to be inspired by God at a very early date, considering that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy around 64–65 AD, and Peter wrote his second letter around 64-67 AD.

Breathed Out By God
Paul is using a Greek word here (theopneustos) which does not occur anywhere else in the Bible. I actually read that this word did not occur anywhere in Greek texts outside the Bible prior to this letter. That is quite remarkable to say the least! The word is a combination of “theos” (meaning: God) and “pneō” (meaning: to breath). In any case, Paul is clearly pointing to the fact that God breathed out the Scriptures, and does not point to the human authors of Scripture as inspired people.

In the next session I will attempt to unravel the word “teaching,” its implications and its applications.