Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Keep the Cross Central

Follow-up: Keep the Cross Central

In surveying Paul’s letters to churches he planted, I have been pointing out lessons we can learn about following up with churches we have planted. In studying 1 Corinthians, we see two primary concerns that Paul sought to clarify and correct. The first is the need to keep the cross central and is the focus of this post. The second is the place of culture in Christian proclamation and life and will be the subject of the next post.

The cross was central to his message

Paul summarized his message as “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). As he said just a few verses earlier (1 Cor. 1:17), it is the power of the cross that is central to the Christian message. The word of the cross is the power of God that saves us (1 Cor. 1:18). This message that Jesus Christ was crucified distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and all other religions. In writing about the uniqueness of the gospel message, Leon Morris notes,

It was the place of Jesus that made the difference. To see him as Messiah was to put everything in a new perspective. Not only did the Christians see him as Messiah, but as the crucified Messiah. For them the central thing was the cross, so that Paul could sum up the message he proclaimed in the words, ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Whatever subordinate and incidental issues were involved, the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity was the cross (for that matter it is the cross that is the difference between every other religion and Christianity). 1Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its meaning and Significance, p. 11.

Follow-up of church plants

Follow-up: Making sure they get the Gospel right

As I said in a previous blog post, follow-up is an important aspect of the missionary task — not just follow-up with individual new believers, but follow-up with churches that have been planted. I want to look at several of Paul’s epistles to see how Paul did this follow-up for churches he planted.

Galatians provides us with an example of the need for church-planting follow-up, as well as a model of how to do it. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia was probably written about a year after he and Barnabas planted those churches on their first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14.  Elders had already been appointed (Acts 14:21-23). The disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Yet, a year later the purity of the gospel was under attack.

Book Review: Against the Darkness

How long has it been since you read a theology book? I lament that reading theology does not appear to be a priority among missionaries. In Mere Christianity, C .S. Lewis comments on the importance of theology and doctrine:

 . . . if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayer and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who have lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

Mere Christianity, Kindle loc. 1601.

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Gifting

It happens every year: the gift that no one else wants finds its way under my Christmas tree. One year it was an electric hot dog cooker. The contraption had twelve metal prongs that sent electricity through the meat—I felt like Dr. Frankenstein every time I plugged it in. Another year I received a box of homemade cookies regifted to me because the original recipient thought the treats “tasted like smoke.” They did.  And who hasn’t received a perfect candidate for an ugly sweater contest? Confession: I’m sure I’ve given a few poorly chosen sweaters, too.

These experiences, along with the commercialization of Christmas, sometimes make me want to give up gift giving altogether. I wonder how all this madness celebrates Christ. It’s so easy to forget the real reason for the season in the rush to get the best bargain online or at the mall. Is it possible to find the Savior somewhere in the mix of shopping, wrapping, and exchanging presents? Would it be better to eliminate the tradition in order to focus on Jesus? In my search for answers, I decided to turn to the Christmas story for insight. I was surprised to discover how much gifting occurs there.

The Church is God’s Household

In this series of posts on the letters to Timothy and Titus, I have emphasized that Timothy and Titus were co-workers with Paul in planting churches in Ephesus (Timothy) and Crete (Titus). These letters are Paul’s instructions to his co-workers for dealing with various issues such as teaching sound doctrine and warnings against false teaching. About halfway through 1 Timothy Paul expresses another purpose in writing:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14,15 (ESV)

Behavior is very important in the letters to Timothy and Titus and in a future post, I will explore “good works” as a component of church planting.

Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

Rebuking False Doctrine

The original temptation was framed “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). Throughout biblical and church history, false doctrine surfaces whenever God’s Word is questioned and other sources of doctrine/teaching are embraced. Evangelical Christianity believes that the Bible is the supreme and final authority in matters of faith and conduct. The Bible is what God actually says. False doctrine/teaching is departing from what the Bible affirms. Not all doctrinal matters have the same critical importance and we must practice what Al Mohler calls “theological triage” (see my post on “How do we decide whom we can work with”). But first-level doctrines define Christianity and departure from the Bible’s teaching on these matters results in a different religion. So false doctrine is an important matter.

False doctrine/teaching is a prominent theme in Paul’s letters to his church-planting partners, Timothy and Titus, yet we never find the phrase “false doctrine” or “false teaching.” He does describe it as “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). Paul simply refers to the false teaching as a “different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3, 6:3) or sums it up as “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10). In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul warns against a “different gospel.” There is an authoritative message of the Apostles that is not to be changed and is to be guarded and passed on to others. A “different gospel” or a “different doctrine” is to be avoided and rebuked vigorously.

Teaching Doctrine in Disciple-making: Academic elective or life-giving essential?

In contemporary literature on church planting and disciple-making doctrine is often downplayed. Doctrine is seen as secondary or primarily the intellectual concern of academics. But Paul put great emphasis on doctrine when he wrote to his church planting partners, Timothy and Titus. Kevin Vanhoozer writes,

Christian doctrine is the disciple’s meat and drink. You may think that I am overemphasizing the role of doctrine in the Christian life because I am a theologian, but doctrine is biblical. The Greek term didaskalia (teaching; doctrine) occurs twenty-one times in the New Testament. Fifteen of these occurrences are found in the Pastoral Epistles alone, which strongly suggests that doctrine finds its fitting place in the church, as a means to pastor congregations and teach disciples. Indeed, Paul says Timothy’s duty is to teach (didaskô, 1 Tim 4:11; 6:2).

Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers, 206. See book review on this blog.

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