Sunday, September 20, 2009

Apostolic Authority

As we start digging into our study of Galatians this Sunday, the first topic that comes up is one that many would find odd to study from Scripture. Paul, the author of the letter, enters into a lengthy discourse about his own position of authority. In so doing, he describes his independence of the authority of Peter, James, and John--the ones who are called pillars. His claims seem brash, boastful, and downright arrogant. And, in fact, they would be just that if it weren't for one simple fact: he's right!

Apostolic authority is a subject often assumed, but rarely discussed in Bible studies. Why do we care so much what a renegade Jew who traveled Eastern Europe wrote on the matter of Christianity. What gives him the right to dictate for us the doctrines, teaching, and even the very Gospel which cannot be contradicted by any man, nor even an angel from heaven (Gal. 1:8)?

Paul builds his defense first drawing upon the source of his knowledge. Paul was clear in Galatians 1:11-12 that he received this gospel from no man, but from Christ himself. I asked a class, what would have been different if Saul had believed upon hearing Steven's sermon in Acts 7? The answer: he would not have met the qualifications as an Apostle. But when God was pleased to reveal His Son to Paul (1:15), then he received Christ by special revelation from the resurrected Christ.

What Paul so adamantly defends, no other teacher, pastor, missionary, or theologian in the church today can assert. Paul's authority is apostolic. As one who received the gospel direct from Christ, and learned direct from Christ, his office in the church is uniquely authoritative. There were 12 others with the same station in the early church. Some of whom wrote instruction to the early church, along with Paul, that we still have today. And, because of the authority we know to be true in Apostles, this collection of Apostolic writing is counted infallible, as the words of the prophets who came before.

No other Christian thinker, teacher, theologian, clergy, or otherwise has written anything which the evangelical community would consider God-breathed scripture. As we study Paul's authority in the first two chapters of Galatians, then, we study the basis for Biblical authority. This is the reason that we can debate Luther, but not Paul... or that we can dispute Augustine's writings, but not Peter's... or this very blog, for instance, but not the writings of James, John, and the other New Testament writers.

So, knowing the authority with which Paul's words come, how then should we hold these teachings in our own lives? I rarely get more animated in an argument than when someone opposes the clear teaching of scripture. I tolerate direct disagreement from my students gladly, but nothing angers me more deeply than when they refuse to yield to the authoritative, Apostolic writing of Paul, Peter, James, John, or any of those reputed to be pillars.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

An Eternal Perspective

As I have been preparing for this week's lesson from James 5:7-12, I can't help but feel a sense of deja vu. Over the past several years, it seems that in nearly every study I've taught, we come across a passage with a similar theme. Live with an eternal perspective. Hmm... could it be this is a significant theme to the New Testament authors? Likely so.

Peter, in chapter 1 of his first epistle, told his readers to rejoice in their inheritance. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, writes on and on about the vanity of vanities in a life lived without eternal perspective. In a lesson that even predates my blogging archives, I distinctly recall Paul's emphasis on the eternal perspective in his discussion on Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and of course even more directly in chapter 15.

What's this all amount to? We're living in a temporary state. James has already told his readers, "You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14). And, while I can say this and most who read it think to themselves, yes, we already know that. But do we live as though we know it?

There are a small handful of examples James points out in our text for this week. First, have the patience of a farmer. Now, we aren't the landowners, so we don't reap the harvest. We are, as Jesus put it, the workers for the field. But we must be patient. And why is that so hard? Because there's no fun all summer long until the harvest in the fall.

The festival is only when the work is over. Right now, we're sowing and plowing with little immediate payout for our work today--when, oh when, can we finally enjoy the feast of firstfruits that the Church has been awaiting for nearly 2000 years? When Christ returns we will celebrate with unbridled joy. But until that day the sun beats down, weeds keep popping up, and we must live entirely by faith while our wages we await in heaven.

James gives a great example of this sort of delayed gratification--one that we are to take as a model for our ministry on earth. "Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord," James says (5:10). It's the same thing we read in 1 Peter which I commented on in an earlier article called, "Theopneustos."
They weren't serving themselves at all... ever thought about that? Get a message from God, have no idea what it means, and you're pretty sure nobody in your lifetime ever will, but you record it anyways for the benefit of people to come centuries after you. What a task!
It's impossible for us to fully grasp the notion of eternal life. We're told, however, to live as though we do... or at least try. Why? It's simple: because there is no higher hope. There is no better solace for the suffering servant of God than the hope for things yet unseen. In what has become on of my most often quoted passages, Paul writes: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Cor. 15:19).

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

1 Peter 1:10-12 - Theopneustos

Sounds like Greek to me! That is, of course, because it is. The title for this week's lesson from 1 Peter 1:10-12 is the Greek word for "God-Breathed"—the term we use to describe Scripture and it's divine origin.

Our passage is one of those gems where there are multiple nuggets that we can find and explore (and I'll have to resist the urge to go in depth with all of them). First, the mystery of Christ's sufferings and glory. We take for granted today that Christ died for our sins, but it was indeed a mystery for His contemporaries, and just imagine the prophets who wrote of it before even knowing when He would come.

Second, the ministry (service) of the prophets. They weren't serving themselves at all... ever thought about that? Get a message from God, have no idea what it means, and you're pretty sure nobody in your lifetime ever will, but you record it anyways for the benefit of people to come centuries after you. What a task!

And finally, the most paradoxical in these two verses, a prophet's "intent searching" even while it's God's "breath" or "spirit" that is speaking through them anyway. Come ready this Sunday.

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