Monday, November 5, 2012

Dear Ethan: a response to why churches need to be Bible focused.

The following letter is addressed to a fictional character. However, the letter is addressing a very real mindset, plaguing and unhealthy mindset that some have in our churches today. 

Dear Ethan,

This letter is a response to the concern you sent regarding the emphasis our church places on the Word and your desire that we “focus more on practical matters like loving our neighbour and transforming Peterborough”. First off, it is encouraging for me to hear that you have a heart for loving your neighbour and a desire to see Peterborough transformed. It has been such an amazing gift to see God’s work in your heart these past 5 months that you have been attending The Gathering; it’s wonderful to see his desires become your desires. I also have a desire to see both the local and universal body of believers become more intentional about loving others, as commanded by the Lord Jesus (Mark 12:31). I also love Peterborough and want to see it transformed for God’s glory. What an amazing thing it would be to see all of Peterborough saved and transformed by the Gospel!

However, the answer to loving our neighbour and seeing the city transformed is not to move beyond the Word of God, but instead to go deeper into it. In fact, to say that we must move beyond the Bible and on to loving our neighbour actually does not make sense. This is because both the ideas of “loving your neighbour” and of transformation are rooted in the Bible. To divorce these ideas from the Bible means to divorce them from being a Christian message altogether. A teacher from any religion could preach a sermon on loving our neighbour and seeing a city transformed. What makes it distinctly Christian is that it is from God’s Word and is centered in the Gospel. In the context of the rest of Scripture, we know that loving others and seeing our city transformed has only been made possible because of God’s Gospel. Because he loved and served us first, we can now love and serve one another selflessly. We are thankful and humbled because of God’s grace, which gives us the fuel and motivation to go into the world with grace. Likewise, only the power of God’s Son through God’s Holy Spirit can transform a city. Therefore, the Word of God must be central to the people of God. It must be central because by it God creates, God sustains, and God transforms.

To begin with, how do you even know that we are supposed to love our neighbour? You know that because you have seen and heard it in the Word. The Bible tells us about who God is, what he is like and how he should be worshiped. It’s his Word that informs our practice. The very source of this command IS the Word; the Word is the root and source of the actions that we make as Christians. Therefore our focus should not be primarily on the fruit, but to first look at the root! When we go deep into the Word, we see much more than we can when we choose one or two select verses to focus on; we see the fullness of the Christian life as God intended it. The Word is the standard for every teaching, doctrine, philosophy, practice, and life.

Now that I’ve discussed why the Word should be central to our ministry, I’ll share with you three things I have seen in the Bible that occur when the Word is central. Throughout Scripture, we see the Word creating, sustaining, and transforming.

It is by God’s powerful and gracious Word that all things exist. One of the first things that we learn about God in the book Genesis is that God by his Word creates existence out of nothing.1 Eight times2 in the first chapter we see “God said” followed by something being created. When God speaks things happen, and this great truth is affirmed hundreds and even thousands of times in the rest of Scripture. Throughout the Scriptures, we see that God acts through his Word3, God’s Word is an extension of God himself4, and God establishes relationships through his Word.5 A few examples: By his Word he calls Abraham out of pagan6 worship to follow after God.7 By his Word he promises the creation of God’s people8, and by his Word he does create the people of God through Jacob. By the Word of the Lord Moses was called to be the deliverer of God’s people from slavery.9 By God’s Word, Israel was given the law as a gift to be shown how to live as God’s people.10 By the Word of the Lord the prophets were called to speak, warn, and remind the people of Israel about their sin and rebellion and what it would lead to.11 The Word of the Lord incarnated himself in the person and work of Jesus, so that he could be fully known.12 And finally, in Revelation we see the picture of Jesus returning with the name “The Word of God”.13

As Jonathan Leeman wrote in his book Reverberation, “This same power that the Word has to create in Scripture is alive in our ministry as well. True spiritual life is produced in the heart only when the Father speaks with creation power through his Son and by the Spirit.14 God’s Word produces actions, and then those actions and words work together to give witness to the power of God’s salvation.15 Lives begin to be shaped by words, so that people begin to live differently at work and at home. They discover that these words are life giving, hope-giving and love producing.”16 In sum, “spiritual Words create spiritual actions”.17 So on our topic, it is only because God has spoken “love your neighbour” that we should actually go and do it.

Jesus had just been baptized by John and led into the wilderness for forty days, where he was “tempted in every way”.18 In the midst of so much suffering, Jesus counters temptation from quoting from the Scriptures, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”19 Jesus is quoting what Moses said to the people in the wilderness about the manna that God had provided for them. Although God provided the manna and they could physically see it on the ground, they still had to believe and trust that God’s Word was trustworthy for their existence. They were commanded to only take what they needed for one day and they had to trust that God would continue to provide for them. They needed to believe that they would not die in the wilderness and could depend on God and his Word for sustenance. Notice that he does not say that man “should” not live on bread alone, but rather he says man “does” not live on bread alone. In quoting this verse to counter Satan, Jesus shows us the true sustaining power of the Word of the Lord. Jesus knew he would not die in the wilderness and trusted in the Father and his Word for sustenance. We also see in Scripture that Jesus himself “upholds the universe by the Word of his power”.20 So like the Israelites and Jesus in the wilderness, we are also sustained by the Word of the Lord. The Word should be like food to us, keeping us going in times of trial and temptation, and filling us first before we go to fill other people. If we are not sustained by the Word then we go hungry, and our actions will be equally empty.

Probably the greatest example in Scripture in which the Gospel transformed a city is found in Acts 19. In only 3 short years the entire socioeconomic system in Ephesus shifted as Paul proclaimed the Word of God. The Spirit transformed the people in the city in a way that those who were profiting off of selling idols and magic books, cheating, stealing and exploiting could no longer make money in those sinful ways.21 There was no longer anyone to buy from them because the Word of God had so transformed the hearts and lives of people in the city. Within this short period of time, a number of those who practiced magic art burned their books. The value of 50 thousand pieces of silver would come out to about fifty thousand days’ wages for an average worker!22 Within three years of the gospel first entering the pagan city of Ephesus, all the residents of Asia had heard the good news.23 Those of other religions even saw and acknowledge the power of God.24 The city of Ephesus was turned upside-down because of the proclamation of God’s Word! In this example from the Bible, we see  “God’s Word working through God’s Spirit which is God’s primary instrument for growing God’s Church.” 25

Paul also tells us in Romans 12:2 that we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. Transformation isn’t something that happens by trying harder or being focused on our actions. God transforms us after he first speaks to us and renews our mind through what we know of him in his Word. All of our actions come after God speaks. This Word that has the power to transform us also has the same power to transform our city. The people of Peterborough need to be won to God’s Word, not to an empty religion of good works. They need to be renewed in their minds and transformed by the Gospel before any true and lasting social transformation can take place in our city. All of our efforts to transform this city should be based in proclaiming and obeying the Word of the Lord. We should then have great hope for our city, because we know that the Word is powerfully able to save and transform!

Ethan, I hope I have helped you to see that first and foremost, “God’s people listen to God’s Word.”26 Gods Word is God speaking to us. Everything we do is guided by the bible; everything good is a result of the truth of the Word being used by the Holy Spirit to change our lives so that we look more like Jesus. The Bible alone teaches us what we need to know about God, how to come into relationship with him, who Jesus is, what he has done for us. Therefore, the Word of God must be central to the people of God. I encourage you to read the Bible. See how the Word creates, sustains and transforms. Get into it, meditate upon it; memorize, study, share, and apply it. Allow it to create in you good works, let it sustain you, and let it transform you. Let us be people who love our neighbour and who long to see the city of Peterborough transformed, not despite the Bible, but because of the Bible! I love you and so excited to be on this journey with you!

Your Brother in Christ,
Chance Faulkner
1 Mark Dever, 9 Marks of A Healthy Church (43), Genesis 1:1 2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001(Genesis 1:3, 1:6, 1:9, 1.11, 1:14, 1:20, 1:24) 3 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (51) 4 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (48) 5 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (52) 6 Joshua 24.2 7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Genesis 12:1) 8 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 ( (Genesis 35:22-26) 9 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Exodus 3) 10 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001(Deuteronomy 5) 11 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jeremiah 1.4, Ezekiel 1.3, Hosea 1.1, Joel 1.1, Jonah 1.1, Micah 1.1, Zephaniah 1.1, Haggai 1.1, Zech 1.1) 12 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (John 1.1-13) 13  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Revelation 19:13) 14 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (21) 15 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (20) 16 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (20) 17 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (21) 18The Holy Bible: New International Version 1984 (Hebrews 4:15) 19 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Deut. 8:3, Luke 4:44, Matt 4:4) 20 The Holy Bible: New International Version 1984 (Hebrews 1:3) 21 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Acts 19.27) 22 The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ac 19:19–20). 23 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Acts 19:10) 24 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Acts 19:13) 25 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (19) 26 Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (31)