07 June 2007

Smarter than Paul?

by Frank Turk

Having kidnapped Phil and put Dan on the injured-reserve so I could dominate TeamPyro this week, I wanted to really sew up all the loose ends of the "How to read your Bible" series and the "Should I quit my church" series because a lot of the questions overlap. There's one, in particular, that interests me enough to blog about it and then see where the chips fall.

Some of you have had your gears grinding over these posts because they make you feel uncomfortable. You know: if the Bible has to be read as a whole thing, as one message even if it is a lot of different types of literature, and the church (as a result) turns out to be not optional but necessary (which is different than mandatory, but that's for another post), it may turn out that you're on the hook for a lot of things which, previously, you thought were good and Godly ways of acting.

Well, yeah. That is the point.

"But cent," comes the voice of a sincere fellow who all these has kept from his youth, "your point about the church in Acts seems pretty good on the front side, but they didn’t know all the things we know today. For example, they didn’t know about modalism; they didn’t know about the prosperity gospel; they didn’t know about emergent or Rob Bell. The spiritual environment in the world has changed, and we know a lot more than they did at the time of the Apostles – and we have to be careful not to fall into error. If we stay in a church where they are veering toward these things, we're doing something the Apostles never intended. We have to use all the things we know that they didn’t know to make sure we keep ourselves pure."

My first reaction to this sincere objection is, well, you're actually very pure anyway, are you? I mean, what this imaginary objector is saying is that he's more pure than a pastor who doesn’t understand the difference between modalist theology and Trinitarian theology and in ignorance starts preaching unnecessarily-reductive sermons to try to explain how the Father, Son and Spirit can be three and yet one. He's no more pure than Rob Bell and his symphony analogy or his giving analogy or his "breathe" analogy or his questioning the necessity of the virgin birth.

But factually, none of us have attained a state of grace in which we are not actively sinning every day, have we? I'll admit to you: I'm not there. I sin every day – and the more I uncover one sin and try to route it out, the more I uncover the roots of my own sin digging down deeper. My righteous is not something I know or something I do but something I receive from God by grace through faith, and that righteousness is Christ's righteousness – the obedience He had and has, the perfection before the Father He presents, to which I contribute not even a footnote or a bit of bandwidth.

So the question is not, "which of us is more pure?" None of us – me, the guy who blogs about the Bible and the church as if they are necessary but still sins daily; the other guy, a pastor who maybe isn’t equipped to be an apologist in the broadest sense but only a pastor who handles God's word for the benefit of God's people who is also mostly alone because of the kind of understanding he has of the Bible today who makes an earnest mistake; the imaginary objector – is pure. Pure is not a word that should enter into it. When the rich young man called Jesus "Good teacher", Jesus (who was actually good) told him that only God is good. No man should think about talking about himself or what he does as "pure".

The question is actually, "what does the Bible tell us to do about this stuff?" See: it's a false view of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit did not do what Christ said He would do. Christ said, "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14) And again, "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning." (John 15) And again, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (John 16)

And the result of this work of the Holy Spirit, my dear readers, is Scripture. We may not have Apostles among us, but we have Scripture. We have their witness. We have their testimony. And this testimony is all things which we need to grasp Jesus Christ and be what He has called us to be.

We are not smarter than Paul. We are beggars before the wisdom which Paul was given – we do not grasp what he wrote and taught, so we do not do the things Paul (or Peter, or the Evangels, or James, or the others) was exhorting the believers to do.

If we think Paul didn’t know all the errors we face, maybe we ought to go back and look at who and what Paul was talking about as he wrote his letters to the various churches.

In Romans, Paul decries legalism, libertinism, pride, racism, and anarchy – and he was writing to people whom he longed to see, and thought highly of in terms of the faith.

In 1 & 2 Corinthians, Paul decries exalting teachers, intellectual and spiritual pride, lax church discipline, sexual immorality, material squabbling, seeking recourse in secular venues outside of the church, false views of marriage, both idolatry and being a slave to the fear of idolatry, false views about Christian liberty, abuse of the Lord's Table, abuse of common worship in the demonstration of spiritual gifts, false views of the Gospel, church discipline which does not aim to redeem but seeks only to punish, the fear of death, stingy giving, and interestingly those who think they know more than the Apostles do about the Gospel, Christ and the church. His view of what to do about false teachers is especially useful if you care to review it in 2Cor 10 & 11. And these were people whom he himself established in the faith – people who literally got it from the bondservant's mouth.

In Galatians, Paul decries adding works to the Gospel, and showing partiality based on observances, and rejects circumcision as necessary, and underscores the necessity of unity under truth in the church – in spite of the fact that he had to defy Peter to his face to do it! He didn’t say, "and I never set foot in any house with Peter ever again." You know: Peter who got the vision from God, "take and eat"? Nobody abandoning the Galatian church in spite of that.

In Ephesians, Paul expresses the fully-orbed Gospel and uses it to say, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." And leaps off from there to exhort to personal holiness, submission to each other, the true nature of marriage and the roles of husband and wife, the roles in family and society, and the method by which we are girded up against the temptations of the world.

Listen: that's not even all of the letters Paul wrote, and almost all of the problems in the modern church are actively and openly addressed. If you're worried that he doesn't list Joseph Smith or Benny Hinn by name, maybe what you ought to do is see if he mentions you by name and wonder if there are any logical implications to that.

See: the foundational premise of Scripture is not that we should read it. The foundational premise of Scripture is that it is sufficient for our equipping; reading is a consequence of sufficiency. And the equipment in Scripture says that the church is necessary and that this is the place where we first and foremost stand for the truth of the Gospel, and in standing for truth we stand together.

If you are holed up in your study in your robe reading and writing blogs, but you can't find a church that suits you, you are not standing on the sufficiency of Scripture: you are sitting in your robe. If Scripture is sufficient to tell you that Your Best Life Now is a fraud and that no pastor should emulate it to his congregation, it is also sufficient to tell you – and let me make it clear that I mean you personally, you the one who is unable to find one believer over whom you do not have parental authority over with which to fellowship -- that you belong joined together with other believers in a visible and social way which demonstrates the glory of God to the world.

We are not smarter than Paul. We have a lot to learn still from him and his fellow workers in God's field. May God be merciful that we have open ears and open hearts to listen to them, the ones God chose from the womb to be His messengers to the ends of the Earth.


Tyler said...

If the problems we face in the modern church are not actively and openly addressed, then we really wouldn't have any right to quibble over them, would we?

Kim said...

The longer I read the bible, and the more I look into the history of the church, the more I see the reality of there being nothing new under the sun.

Paul may not have mentioned emergent or Rob Bell by name, but the issues remain the same: the chuch battles against those who would fight against the truth of God's Word in all shapes and forms.

I really enjoyed reading this post, Frank.

Touchstone said...

Good post, Frank.


DJP said...

Just, Dude. What a great series. I should not-post more often.

centuri0n said...

My readers are suffering because I don't have time to finish the Jon Zens paper I started critiqueing, but I feel pretty good about this.

Mark B. Hanson said...

Good work. Just because particular modern errors are not mentioned explicitly in Scripture doesn't mean the Bible is silent about them. Using the example of Mormonism, we have Paul's words in Galatians, "If we or an angel from heaven..." Sounds like a Moronic reference (pun intentional) to me...

And beside the egregious errors represented by the cults, there are the more subtle inward ones that Paul identifies (how many of our modern church conflicts have covetousness at their root?). These affect us all (and to some degree, infect us all).

And so part of the reason for the Church is iron sharpening iron - grinding off the rusty parts and honing the impurities out. This is true both for our own local churches and the church through history.

David said...

Imaginary objector: If you're so pure, why are you not an elder in a church? Could it be that you're contentious and divisive? Them are scriptural disqualifiers.

If you aren't an elder, you're pretty much scripturally required to be under the authority of one, 'less you're maybe an apostle who appoints them.

Great series, cent.


I'll be all sad when you get back to blogging about esoteric minutiae.

David said...

This whole series seems to be preaching to the choir - if even I have jumped churches only twice in 24 years (moved 150 miles away each time), I am willing to assume most of your readers are about the same - we switch churches only when we move so far away we cannot commute.

So this message is not getting to those who really need it.

If those assumptions are true, my question is then - how do communicate this message to those who need it?

Or am I wrong about the majority of your readers?

Sewing said...

David, just my 2 cents' worth, but would it be fair to assume that even if most of the regular readers here do not leave their church on a whim, there are:

(a) Some readers here who are stuck in a church teaching error and who need some encouragement and support to stay and stand up for the truth, and

(b) People the rest of us know now or will come to know in the future who may come to us for advice and guidance on this topic. Or maybe some here might end up in a church that's drifting in the wrong direction and they choose to stay, but some of their brothers and sisters are tempted to bail.


A couple of other notes:

* Most beautiful Team Pyro graphic ever! (The dove, not the milkshake.)

* Quite apart from practical matters of church governance, etc., all this New Agey stuff that's creeping into evangelicalism today is evidently very old. The Kabbalah apparently has its roots in ancient Chaldean religion, and evidently contaminated Judaism at a very early date; may have inspired ancient Gnosticism, and definitely inspired mediaeval European hermeticism, which by twists and turns inspired theosophy, "metaphysical" stuff, and the like...and ultimately, the New Age, culminating in its latest incarnation, The Secret. In other words, extra-Biblical ideas have been lingering around Jews and Christians since...well heck, since God called Abraham out of Ur. Some of the stuff that was going down in the early church was no doubts manifestations of these kinds of pseudo-Jewish, pseudo-Christian movements...so in that sense, the Apostles really are directly tackling the same kinds of problems as we face today. The Adversary is always trying to find ways to undermine faith in God.

centuri0n said...

david (not pretty david but the other one):

With 2000+ readers every day at TeamPyro, I suspect there is more than a few who are, as we say in the blogosphere, truly reformed and unable to find a church they think is pure enough to join and stay at.

Personally, I know more people who are likely to change churches over small changes and relatively-minor issues than I do people who are fully committed to make thier church something which glorifies God. I wish that wasn't true, but there you go.

centuri0n said...

I also wanted to mention something, since it's along those same lines: this is one of those series which, if you think it doesn;t apply to you, maybe you don't understand the series very well.

Not to make people angry or anything -- I just think that if the issue of what is the church and what it's there for isn't a big issue for you, maybe you haven't given it enough thought. I know a lot of SBC people who would say that they care a lot about what the church is, and they don't need this series to tell them about church, and it would be clear in reading what they write that they needed this series more than most.

St.Lee said...

I for one can attest to the fact that this issue of joining a church after leaving another one is an important one. I left a church about 15 months ago for what I consider to be a very good reason. The last thing I wanted to do was find myself in that position again. My wife and I spent the next year "searching" for what I hoped to be the "perfect" church. Guess what? We didn't find it. But what we did find, was a small church that had enough right things about it that we decided that we could live with the minor points we disagree with.

During the course of that year of searching, it was often tempting to just keep attending various churches without becoming members. After all, I could just find too many little things wrong with each church we visited. Should we really become members if we did not agree on everything?

Various posts here at Pyromaniacs did help nudge me in the direction of membership over just attendance. I am happy to report that just about a month ago we became members of a local church and we both look forward to becoming more and more active in the work of that church. So...thanks guys!

philness said...

I say the problem with the church past, present, future is a stubbornness to discipleship. You would think that the last thing Jesus tells us would be pretty important. Consider Mathew 28:18-20 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So really its all of you pastors fault for not promoting such. There, put that in your pipes and smoke it.

David said...

Ugly David here.

I agree it is a huge issue. And very important to address. Just want sure how much it applied you your readers.

I sit corrected

David said...

want = wasnt

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

I have disagreed with you in the past on some of your be-a-missionary-in-your-apostate-church views but I am very much in harmony with your overall point. God has used your series in my life to expand my thinking. Having just completed a move to another state we are in the process of joining ourselves to a church with which I am not in complete theological agreement. That being said, I agree that my need to be joined with other believers outweighs my reservations about what some of these people believe.
I also love your point that we often want to sit around as if we have ALL the answers and look down on anyone who has not arrived on our mountaintop. There has to be some kind of submission to fellow believers as long as it does not compete with our submission to Christ and the Word of God!

centuri0n said...


It's nice to be appreciated. :-)

jsb said...

Cent, great, great series!

Question: Supposed someone decides to START a church? Independently. He is doctrinally correct and builds, starting with a gathering in his household.

Knowing there are several risks involved, how about this as a true option? It appears in the NT they had house churches under Apostolic authority. Now can we have house churches under Scriptural authority?

Any part of this issue I'm missing? (I say this as a happy church member, 23 years same place; just interested)

centuri0n said...


Stay tuned for tomorrow ... it's the last post in the "Can I leave my church" series as far as I have planned.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Mr. Cent...

Amen, and amen. Look forward to your final entry on this series (not because it will then be over, mind you).

Although some have put forth that you and I are on opposite sides on this issue...I think we are actually quite lined up together in our positions.

Keep fighting the good fight!

centuri0n said...

I am sure many people are looking forward to me being done talking about this ...

... :-)

donsands said...

Edifying post. We need to call for commitment, and we need to be committed.
Keep it coming.

Rebekah said...

This series (and what you've been saying over at your blog) has been extremely helpful at a time I greatly needed to hear it - even when it's been hard to hear, I needed it. Thank you for sharing it, and I look forward to reading the last post.

Anonymous said...

We should never misunderestimate Paul. That would be quite a misadventure! He's the Captain of all Captains Headknowledge!

To appeal to the fact that modalism, for example, wasn't around in his day, doesn't make Paul's writings irrelevant, because it's his writings and those of his fellow New Testament authors which provides the only effective corrective to errors such as modalism. We stray from the truth when we don't slavishly consider and properly systematize every detail of Scriptural revelation. The less our mind is regulated by God's Word, the more we veer off on our little heresies. It's easier to get distracted by and to build on those, because we don't have to study, we just need a little imagination!

The Misadventures
of Captain Headknowledge www.capthk.blogspot.com