Saturday, 23 April 2011

All Things Work Together

Outside the Fossway with Matt Staples
Apologies to my regular readers for the lack of activity on the blog for the last few weeks. Many of you will already know that Living Word Church in York has, for over a year, been trying to gain planning permission from York City Council to turn a disused pub in the city into a building to house our church activities, including new offices and seminar rooms. Much of my time and energy has been spent on trying to see this great project come to fruition, and especially in the last ten days or so, when we finally had our breakthrough.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Understanding the Bible part 1 - Application

The need to understand and apply it.

At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives clear instructions to his followers to "go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them AND teaching them to obey all I have commanded" (Matthew 28:19-20 - New International Version). This tells us that a disciple of Jesus is not merely someone who believes that He exists, but one who has committed to follow Him and obey His teaching. However to fully obey God's word we need to properly understand it so that we can correctly apply it to our lives. We are not just to be hearers of God's word, but doers also (James 1:22).

To come to maturity

The Bible teaches us how to live our life successfully, by which I mean that we come to a place of maturity as a believer. The Bible used terms such as full stature or fully grown, but maturity simply means that we have come to the place in our Christian lives where we not only know the right thing to do, but we actually do it. 
Ephesians 414 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (New Living Translation)

 Mature Christians are those who have built their lives on the sound foundation of God's word. They have learned to feed themselves spiritually and stand firmly in their faith. Spiritual infants on the other hand are easily led away from the truth and can get into serious error. They need someone else to read the Bible for them, and tell them constantly what to do, like a mother with a toddler who has to mash their food up and coax them into eating what is good for them. However the mature believer has moved on from baby food and is able to take hold of the strong meat of God's word, (Hebrews 5:14) and make wise choices as a result.

To avoid heresy or error

Many of Paul’s letters to the churches tackled various heresies and controversies of the time such as Gnosticism, whether there was still the need to follow Jewish laws and customs or the debate over the return of Christ. There were men going around the various churches who would seek to distort the truth for their own ends., however Paul and the other Apostles wanted the churches to come to maturity and be able to discern the truth for themselves. Much of the New Testament writings by those early apostles were to keep the church in line with the truth of the gospel and not to be sidetracked. That is also why we have the creeds of the early church fathers, so that our fundamental beliefs as Christians could be clearly established.

It should be the aim of every Christian to have a sound understanding of the scriptures and to come to a place of maturity in their own life, so that they might be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2) For if we are to make disciples we first need to become disciples.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Should we agree to disagree?

Do you ever wonder why there are so many denominations and factions in the church? I couldn’t give you an exact figure, but I should imagine the number of separate Christian groupings around the world  must run into many hundreds, if not thousands. The reasons for these divisions are manifold, and not merely down to geography. I wouldn’t even attempt to list them, but probably the most common one is a difference in interpretation of the Bible and how it should be applied in our lives. Issues such as the use of spiritual gifts, the mission of the church, spiritual authority and the role of women in ministry, have caused disagreement and division for many years, and have led to people leaving their church, quite often to start one of their own.

Most Christians are resigned to these differences, and console themselves with such statements as “time will tell who is right and who is wrong,” and “we’ll leave the Lord to sort it out.” There are even some people that believe God is going to have separate territories in heaven for different denominational groups, where they can carry on with their disagreements throughout eternity.

A number of years ago I heard a man of God make this statement concerning issues over doctrine in the church. He said “If you don’t believe what I believe, then you must believe something else. Let us open up the word of God together and you can show me what you believe, and I can show you what I believe.”   

If people followed this wise advice, and combined it with a humility of heart that was at least prepared to entertain the remote possibility that they could (heaven forbid) be wrong, then I believe that in every town, city and congregation across the world we would begin to see a unified body of believers taking ground for the kingdom of God, rather than entrenched in their own denominational bunkers.God does not want His church in confusion or discord, for he is a God, not of disorder, but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33)

Paul instructed Timothy, his young disciple, to “study” the word of God, and to learn to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). There is a correct and an incorrect way to approach God’s word, and for the next few posts I want to lay out some practical principles for interpreting the Bible. I believe if we learn how to understand and correctly apply the word of God to our lives then many of the issues that have divided the church could be seen for what they are and overcome.

I hope you will stay with me as we go through this study.