The Academic Definition of the Office of Missionary

The following is an Excerpt from chapter 3 of “The Great Enterprise from a Reformed Perspective: Bringing Modern Missions Back to the Bible” by J. N. Bolt.

One can go to ten different churches and ask a pastor or elder from each church to define the missionary role, and he will end up with ten different answers. At times, even elders from the same congregation will provide differing definitions. Assuming these are biblical churches, this is not the case when the question pertains to the role of the pastor. There may be some varied nuances, but there is widespread agreement within orthodox Christianity that the role of the pastor is to shepherd the flock through the teaching and prescribing of doctrine and to act judiciously in matters of disagreement and discipline. With the evangelist listed alongside the pastor in Ephesians 4:11, there should be a common understanding regarding both roles. The office of evangelist itself, however, is commonly neglected and/or rejected, thus leading to widespread confusion as to who the evangelist is and what he does.

The offices of the church are found in Ephesians 4:11–12, which says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” The focus of this chapter is the office of evangelist, but the other offices will be considered in order to understand the office of evangelist. Let it also be noted that there are differing views concerning the office of pastor/teacher and whether it is only one office or two. Tere are also those who include the deacon in the list of church offices. However, it is not the purpose herein to address these issues but rather to simply observe the offices listed in Ephesians 4:11 only insofar as they shed light on the office of evangelist.

Before continuing, some context is necessary. God’s visible covenant people have always been ruled by elders. The governmental framework of Presbyterianism, rule by elders, is not a New Testament idea. That God has used elders in the governance of his people throughout history is clear from the biblical record. It is no surprise, then, that this continues in the New Testament church. God has always governed his people through representative elders who act on behalf of the people in the prescribing of God’s ordinances as received from him and the execution of the means of grace, such as the ceremonial law of the Old Testament and the sacraments of the New Testament. Rule by elders was the accepted reality among the early church at the time Paul wrote to the Ephesians.

Therefore, it is my argument that all of the offices listed in Ephesians 4:11 fall into the general eldership category. The four positions mentioned were the four functions of the eldership at that time. In order to shed light on the third one, I will address the first two and then the last one and their roles within the church. First, though, it should be noted that all elders at the time fell into one or more of the four categories. All elders functioned in at least one of those four offices. However, not everyone exercising those gifts necessarily operated as an elder. In other words, all elders were apostles, prophets, evangelists, and/or pastors and teachers; but not everyone who exercised the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and/or pastor and teacher was automatically an elder. Meaning, it was possible for someone to prophesy without being a prophet (viz., John 11:51), do evangelism without being an evangelist, or teach without being a teacher. Paul is not referring to certain people who may, at times, exercise certain gifts. Rather, he is referring to the specific offices or functions of the ruling elders who were to govern God’s people. This is made clear beginning in Ephesians 4:7, where Paul references the grace that was given to each of the saints according to Christ’s gift . The context here is the visible church, the body of Christ, and Paul is talking about grace coming to every member of the body through Christ’s gift . In Ephesians 4:11, Paul outlines the gift of Christ through which grace is administered to his people. The gift of Christ is, namely, the various functions of the eldership. Paul then continues in Ephesians 4:12, saying that all this is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

So, Paul has in mind here something that is for all the saints and that serves to build up the whole of the body of Christ. This necessarily excludes certain people who, at times, exercise particular gifts for the benefit of particular people. While a gifted woman teaching her children and other women in the church is a God-given blessing, it is a blessing given for the building up of particular people, as opposed to the building up of the entire body of Christ. Paul has in mind here the ordained office of elder that has served and continues to serve the building up of the whole of God’s visible people; and in Ephesians 4:11, he mentions the four functioning operations of the eldership at that time. To this we now turn, keeping in mind that the ultimate purpose of all four was the same—the building up of the body of Christ.

The Offices of Apostle, Prophet, and Pastor/Teacher

The elders who served as apostles for the building up of the body of Christ were those men who were commissioned by Christ to set the foundation of the church (viz., 1 Cor 3:10; Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14) and pass down once and for all the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord (viz., 2 Pet 3:2; Jude 1:3). This was done mostly through the writing of the New Testament canon as the apostles remembered the things that Christ spoke to them (viz., John 14:26) and wrote down that which Christ commanded them to write (viz., Rev 1:1–2) and also through verbal preaching and teaching (viz., Acts 2, 19:9–10). This function of the eldership necessarily ceased in the first century, because the apostles were, by definition, commissioned by Christ and given the job of building the foundation of the church. It should be noted, though, that not all churches had elders who were apostles. Proportionally, there were only a few apostles, while there were many churches.

The elders who served as prophets for the building up of the body of Christ were those men who, again, helped lay the foundation of the church (viz., Eph 2:20) through the proclamation, both verbal and written, of that which God had spoken directly to them. Prophecy functioned identically under the old covenant as it did at the time Paul wrote to the Ephesian church. Peter made this clear when he united the Old and New Testaments in Acts 2 by saying that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a fulfillment of the prophesy in Joel 2. Prophets were for the edification and exhortation of the church, speaking that which God revealed to them (viz., 1 Cor 14:6). All apostles served as prophets in that they relayed that which Christ had spoken to them, but not all prophets were apostles. As stated above, not all churches had access to the apostles in the first century and were, thus, left wanting of the will of God as it was progressively revealed. This is why, as Ephesians 2:20 states, the household of God was built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The apostles had the word of God as spoken to them by Christ himself, and the prophets had the word of God as spoken to them through direct revelation. The word of God as revealed through the apostles and prophets, then, was the foundation upon which the church was built. Like the function of the apostle, the function of the prophet also ceased once the revelation of God had been perfected or accomplished with the completion of the New Testament canon (viz., 1 Cor 13:8–10). The church is no longer dependent upon the partial prophesy of men, for the complete revelation of the will of God pertaining to all matters of faith and practice has been given to the church in the form of the Bible and can be approached objectively. Saints no longer have to go to the prophet to inquire of God’s opinion concerning something. They only have to open and read the pages of Scripture.

The elders who served as pastors and teachers for the building up of the body of Christ were those men appointed within every church (viz., Acts 13:23; Titus 1:5) to shepherd the flock by guarding against false doctrine (viz., 1 Tim 4:6) and holding fast the faithful word (viz., Titus 1:9). This is the one function of the eldership that must be present in every church. These are the men charged to preach the word—namely, in reproof, rebuke, and exhortation with much patience and instruction (viz., 2 Tim 4:2). They apply the word of God to their flock and watch over their spiritual well-being (viz., Heb 13:17). All elders necessarily fall into this category, for being able to teach is listed as a universal prerequisite for an elder (viz., 1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:24). This is the reason all churches must have the office of pastor/teacher and why the office has remained in the postapostolic age.

The Office of Missionary/Evangelist

We now turn to the third office listed in Ephesians 4:11, the office of missionary/evangelist. I call it the “office of missionary/evangelist” as opposed to just the “office of evangelist” because the missionary office is a subset of the office of evangelist; and our concern is with the office of missionary, which makes it necessary to deal with the office of evangelist in general before we deal with the office of missionary in particular. I call the office of missionary a “subset of the office of evangelist” because all missionaries are necessarily evangelists, but not all evangelists are necessarily missionaries. This distinction will be dealt with shortly, but we shall first deal with the general office of evangelist.

The elders who served as evangelists for the building up of the body of Christ were those men commissioned by Christ (viz., Matt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8) or the church (viz., Acts 13:3) to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ (viz., Acts 8:4). Like all elders, these were ordained men set apart for the purpose of bestowing grace upon the saints through the building up of the church. They too were required to be able to teach and handle the word of God accurately. Where the function differs is in its focus, which is, namely, on the proclamation of the gospel. All newly organized churches require the presence of an evangelist in order for the gospel to take root (viz., Col 1:6–7), but established churches can survive without an elder functioning as an evangelist. This is why passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:28 mention apostles, prophets, and teachers, while omitting evangelists. However, some established churches must have elders operating as evangelists, because evangelists necessarily come from established churches. The office of evangelist is, therefore, a nonessential office that continues in the postapostolic age. By “nonessential,” I do not mean that evangelists are not needed. I only mean that they are not needed for the functioning of an established church.

There are only two accounts in Scripture that actually refer to an individual as an evangelist. The first is in Acts 21:8, where Paul entered “the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven.” The reference to Philip being one of the seven is a reference to Acts 6, where seven men from among the brethren of the disciples were selected to serve tables. This makes the Philip of Acts 21 the same Philip as in Acts 8, who began proclaiming Christ in the city of Samaria (viz., Acts 8:4–5), preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch (viz., Acts 8:35), and continued preaching the gospel in all the cities until he came to Caesarea (viz., Acts 8:40). In fact, all of Acts 8 is a record of Philip’s evangelistic ministry. Philip went to Samaria, a place where the church had not yet spread, and preached the good news of the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus Christ (viz., Acts 8:12). The Lord sent him “to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza” in order to preach to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26). The Spirit of the Lord then snatched Philip away and brought him to Azotus, and he preached the gospel in all the cities until he came to Caesarea (viz., Acts 8:39–40). As one can see, the ministry of Philip the evangelist was focused primarily on the preaching of the gospel. However, it should be noted that some twenty years passed between Philip’s arrival in Caesarea in Acts 8 and when Paul entered Philip’s house in Caesarea in Acts 21. Presumably, Philip remained in Caesarea that entire time. This indicates that the office of evangelist focuses on the proclamation of the gospel but does not work exclusively among unbelievers.

This reality is also clearly seen in the Bible’s second reference to an evangelist. In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul writes to Timothy, saying, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Doing the work of an evangelist is included in the fulfillment of Timothy’s ministry. Paul also exhorts him not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord but to join with Paul in suffering for the gospel (viz., 2 Tim 1:8) and to entrust to faithful men the things that he had heard from Paul (viz., 2 Tim 2:2). Under the umbrella of the work of an evangelist, then, is a passion for the testimony of Christ to the point of suffering on account of the gospel and a handing down to faithful men the teachings of the apostles. This can take place, first, among unbelievers with the initial preaching of the gospel, as seen in Acts 8, and, second, within an established church such as at Ephesus, as those who have responded to the message of the gospel are taught to obey all that Christ has commanded. Therefore, an elder holding the office of evangelist focuses his preaching on the proclamation of the gospel but is also ready to feed the saints with the whole counsel of God’s word.

The Evangelist As a Missionary

With the general function of the office of evangelist defined, we can now turn to the particular subset of the office of missionary. It should be noted that everything that is true and required of an evangelist is also true and required of a missionary. He must meet the qualifications of an elder and be ordained by the church and set apart for the purpose of preaching the gospel for the building up of the body of Christ. The difference between the office of missionary and the general office of evangelist has primarily to do with those among whom the missionary preaches.

While the term “missionary” or “missions” was popularized by the Jesuits in the late 1500s when they sent members abroad, it originates from the Latin word missio, which means “to send.” Variations of this word are found in the Latin Vulgate, referring to the disciples and/or apostles being sent. In Matthew 10:16, Christ said to the disciples, “Behold, I send (missio) you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Mark 6:7 states that Christ “summoned the twelve and began to send (missio) them in pairs, and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Jesus said to the disciples in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent (missio) Me, I also send (missio) you.” So, the core meaning of missio, or “missions,” is “to send” or “to be sent.” However, there is more to the biblical definition of “missions,” for the emphasis in the text is not simply that sending is taking place. Rather, the emphasis is on to whom the person is being sent and what it is that he is being sent to do. Paraphrasing Christ’s statement regarding him in Acts 9:15, Paul is quoted in Acts 22:21 as saying, “And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Paul states explicitly in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Christ sent him “to preach the gospel.” As a missionary, therefore, Paul was sent to the Gentiles in order to preach the gospel. The Greek word translated as “Gentiles” is ethnos, and it literally means “nations.” While the Latin missio is not found in Christ’s commissioning of his disciples just prior to his ascension in Matthew 28, Luke 24, or Acts 1, these passages have come to symbolize the missionary calling, as they do contain the commissioning of the disciples to go throughout all the nations preaching the gospel.

With this definition as the foundation, a missionary is an elder who is sent by Christ or his church to preach the gospel among the nations. Later chapters will address the manner in which he is sent, what it means to preach the gospel, and who the nations are, so not much detail will be presented here about role of the missionary. Suffice it to say that the particular function of the missionary is to preach the gospel among the nations. This is where the distinction between the missionary and the evangelist is found. Both are ordained elders with the particular focus of preaching the gospel. The evangelist may preach the gospel among un- believers, within an established church, or a combination of the two. The missionary may also, throughout the duration of his career, preach the gospel initially among unbelievers and then within an established church as God’s elect respond in faith to the initial preaching, but the missionary is sent to do this among the nations. He preaches the gospel among other peoples because Christ has purchased for God, with his blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The evangelist is to preach the gospel wherever he finds himself, but the missionary is to continually push his preaching to the ends of the earth so that “they who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand” (Rom 15:21; Isa 52:15).

We now have a brief yet biblical understanding of the role of the missionary. He is an ordained elder who is to preach the gospel among the nations. As stated at the beginning of the chapter, however, this understanding is often neglected or rejected outright within the modern church. This has led to a gross misunderstanding of the missionary office, leaving ambitious saints stunned by hardships and the nations wanting of the gospel.

The Word of the Lord Always Prevails

But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

–Acts 19:34 (NASB)

 Paul spent three years in Ephesus during his third missionary journey. These were fruitful years. So fruitful, in fact, that Luke tells us everyone in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10). As commonly happened, though, opposition arose. This time it was the Gentiles. They were concerned that the success of Paul’s ministry was leading to the downfall of their goddess Artemis and all the businesses associated with her temple.

Luke recounts one particular event in Acts 19 where the whole city is thrust into confusion and uproar. A crowd fills the amphitheater, hoping to have Paul brought before them. Paul isn’t there, so the Jews put forward someone else. The crowd then explodes in an uproar and chants, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” for two hours!

In one sense, the crowd was right. Artemis, or at least the temple and cult of worship surrounding her, was great. The famed Temple of Artemis is now known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. No one knows exactly what it looked like, but most representations look something like this.

One of the major themes of Acts is the expansion of the kingdom of God, often in spite of such opposition. Given that Paul was never able to confront the crowd, one might wonder what history has to tell us about the greatness of Artemis in the face of the advancing Christian church.

There is a reason the temple in Ephesus is a wonder of the ancient world and not the modern world. It was severely damaged on several occasions and met its final end around 400ad. In its place today is an open field with a few broken columns laying around, one of which has been pieced back together and propped up.

It is believed that several of the columns were transported to Constantinople to be used in the construction of the Hagia Sofia, the Roman Empire’s first Christian cathedral that stood at the center of the eastern church from the 6th century to the 15th century.

Maybe Artemis isn’t so great after all, and those Ephesians who chanted her name for two hours surely know it by now. Just before Luke tells the story of the riot in Ephesus, he observes that “the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (Acts 19:20). Luke’s commentary was accurate in the first century, and it is accurate today.

Were I to stop here, though, this article would just be a cheesy Christian anecdote that sounds nice to those of us who agree with it but doesn’t really hold any water, for just over the hill from the rubble of Artemis is a church. It was built by the Byzantines, supposedly over John the Apostle’s tomb, and its proximity to the site of the pagan temple surely once demonstrated the church as superior to Artemis. The only problem is that the church today is in the same condition as the pagan temple.

One could easily take this evidence and make the same argument about the church that I have made about Artemis, but my conclusion is not that church buildings are superior to pagan temples. Rather, it is that the word of the Lord always prevails, and the rubble of St. John’s Basilica proves it.

Subsequent to Paul’s ministry in Acts, John made his way to Ephesus, which had become one of the more significant Christian communities in the known world. That, however, does not mean that all was well in the Ephesian church.

From John’s exile on Patmos, he wrote to them to give them a warning from the Lord Jesus himself, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (Rev 2:4–5, NASB). No one knows exactly what became of the Ephesian church of the first century; but by the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks had conquered Anatolia, and the Christian church was virtually extinguished.

The lampstand of the Ephesian church was removed, just as Jesus said it would be, and the rubble of St. John’s Basilica lays on the ground as evidence that the word of the Lord always prevails.

This ought to be a stark warning to every Christian community today, no matter how great or small. If we lose our first love, if we turn from the God who saved us, if we lose our affection for the God-man who laid down his life for us, we will be reduced to rubble.

How Important is Baptism?

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

–Matthew 28:19 (NASB)

What level of importance should baptism hold in the Christian pantheon of doctrine? According to Jesus in Matthew 28, a pretty high level of importance. The fact that he chooses to include it in his final instructions to his disciples before his ascension is significant. To baptize the nations is one of the central commands that Jesus gives to his church.

So, how does this help us answer to question? Saying that baptism holds a high level of importance doesn’t actually tell us anything. What exactly is that level, and what is it about baptism specifically that clings to that level?

Well, that level is one of essentiality. Jesus says that the church is to baptize the nations. Therefore, the church must baptize the nations. There is no discussion to be had on whether the church should or should not. It must. Baptizing is essential; and if it is essential for the church to baptize, then it is also essential for the nations, more specifically the disciples who come from the nations, to receive baptism. And the fact that Jesus commands it is what holds baptism at that high level of importance.

However, one would do well to notice that Jesus says nothing of the mode, timing, or frequency of baptism. So, is there a logical link between the essentiality of baptism itself and the level of importance of the way it is done, when it is done, or how often it is done? In other words, is it also essential that baptism be done a certain way, either by pouring or dunking, or that it happen on a certain day of the week or at a particular moment in a disciple’s life, or that a person only receive it once?

Drinking water is essential. Man cannot live without it, but does that mean he must drink it a certain way or at a certain time or with a certain frequency? Of course not. Earning a living is essential, but does that mean that money must be earned in a certain way or at a certain time or with a certain frequency? Of course not. There is no logical connection between the necessity of an act and the necessity of that act being done in a certain way, at a certain time, or with a certain frequency.

While baptism itself is important, the mode, timing, and frequency aren’t. In fact, I would say that the mode, timing, and frequency have such a low level of importance that they really don’t even matter.

So, depending on which aspect is being discussed, baptism is either essential or irrelevant. It is essential in that it must be done; but it is irrelevant how it happens, when it happens, or how often it happens.

Now, think of all the arguments over baptism that have divided Christian brothers and sisters. How many have been about the essential aspect of baptism, and how many have been about the irrelevant aspects of baptism?

The answer is shameful.

Selective Precision

While seeking to rectify Priscilla’s teaching of Apollos in Acts 18:26 with Paul’s ban on women teaching or exercising authority over men in 1 Timothy 2:12, I came across a very interesting website that explores the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism. As I read through several of the articles, a completely separate issue began to make its way to the forefront of my mind.

Marg Mowczko very rightly and accurately points out in her article Were There Women Elders in New Testament Churches? (Part 2) that the word used for “elders” in the New Testament is a third person plural adjective. Just like English, the Greek third person plural is gender neutral, which means that, in theory, “elders” could be a group of men, a group of women, or a mixed group. The precision with which Mowczko analyzes the word’s use in the New Testament and the instances in which it almost certainly includes women in the group is commendable.

She then says in her article 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context (Part 5) that “difficulties and uncertainties should preclude 1 Timothy 2:12 from being used as a definitive text or proof text on the issue of women in ministry.” In other words, Paul’s intended meaning is unclear, and one cannot claim to know with certainty how 1 Timothy 2:12 impacts the issue of women in ministry.

Then, only two sentences later, she says, “The language shows that it [1 Timothy 2:12] was not intended to be a universal, timeless ban on all women as teachers or leaders.” Wait a minute. I thought there were difficulties and uncertainties associated with 1 Timothy 2:12 that preclude anyone knowing whether Paul intended his ban to be universal or not.

As I contemplated what I had just read, it dawned on me that all Christians want the Bible to teach what they believe, but the real question is whether we want to believe what the Bible teaches.

It is very easy for us to come to the Bible looking for justification for our beliefs, applying exegetical and theological precision when it benefits us and then using more pliable methods when the text does not quite fit with what we already think. The real challenge is to recognize what we bring with us to the text and then analyze precisely how that presupposition influences our interpretation and then determine whether or not that presupposition has helped us arrive at the author’s intended meaning or whether it has prevented us from arriving at the author’s intended meaning.

No one comes to the Bible with a blank slate. We all look at the text through a particular lens. Our summons as those who desire to follow Christ is to ask whether our lens brings the meaning of the text into focus or whether it blurs the meaning. At different times, it will most certainly do both. When the lens clarifies the author’s meaning, we must by all means keep looking through that lens. When it obscures the author’s meaning, we must seek a new prescription or be in danger of following our own preconceived notions that were hatched somewhere in the recesses of our own psyche.

Receiving the Word With Great Eagerness

“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

–Acts 17:10–11 NASB

All Christians should “receive the word with great eagerness,” but what exactly does that mean? If we were to take the phrase by itself, we might conclude that it means taking the word at face value and not asking any questions or applying any critical thought. Fortunately, though, Luke does not give us the phrase by itself. He provides an additional qualifying phase that tells exactly what he means by “received the word with great eagerness.”

Luke tells us that the way the Bereans received the word with great eagerness was by “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [spoken by Paul] were so.” Think about that for a moment. Examining the Scriptures to determine whether the things spoken by the minister of the word is the way in which the word is received with great eagerness.

The lesson here is short and simple. Anyone who hears the word of God proclaimed by the mouth of a man has the obligation to examine the written word of God in order to determine whether the words spoken by the minister are congruent with the written word of God.

Tyrants would have us think otherwise. They wish us to accept their spoken word as if it were the very word of God without asking any questions. While it is true that we must accept the spoken word as if it were the very word of God, we must only do so when the spoken word is actually the word of God. There is only one way to determine if the spoken word is the word of God. That is by examining the Scriptures to see if the things spoken are congruent with what is written.

So, I encourage all Christians everyone to be Berean and accept the word of God with great eagerness by examining the Scriptures carefully to see if the things spoken by the minister are congruent with the words written in the Bible.

Reasoning From the Scriptures

“Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”

–Acts 17:1–3 (NASB)

What is most striking about this passage is that the Apostle Paul, the man who had the risen Lord appear to him and commission him as an apostolic missionary, reasons with the Jews from the Scriptures. What this tells the modern reader is, in short, that any theological conclusion we reach must come from the Scriptures.

For those within the various Christian traditions who still hold a high view of the Bible, this lesson is well-understood and embraced. What may not be understood as clearly, though, is Luke’s intended meaning of “from the Scriptures.” Everyone within my own theological tradition agrees that the Bible is the authoritative rule for all matters of faith and practice; but the Bible is sixty-six books, written in three different languages by more than forty authors over a period of more than a thousand years. All of which means that the Bible lends itself to various methods of interpretation.

So, the question I want to pose is this. When Luke says that Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures,” does he mean that Paul took information contained in Scripture and extrapolated from it, thus reaching conclusions that are not specifically written in Scripture but that have Scripture as their foundation, or does he mean that Paul reasoned with them to accept what God specifically says in Scripture? Luke does not feel the need to provide an answer to that question, but it is one that we must ask ourselves as we formulate our own theological beliefs.

The issue of baptism is a good example of what I am talking about. God does not specifically say anywhere in Scripture that infants of believers should be baptized. Yet, pedobaptists will argue that God says other things that, when put together, lead to the conclusion from the Scriptures that infants of believers should be baptized. Is that what Luke has in mind when he says, “from the Scriptures”?

Matthew Henry believes it is. He says in his commentary on Acts, “The preaching of the gospel should be both scriptural preaching and rational; such Paul’s was, for he reasoned out of the scriptures: we must take the scriptures for our foundation, our oracle, and touchstone, and then reason out of them and upon them.” In other words, we have the duty to take the information contained in Scripture and make rational arguments and conclusions based upon that information.

Though he would agree with Henry on the issue of Baptism, Calvin offers a much narrower definition of “from the Scriptures” in his commentary on Acts, saying, “The proofs of faith are to be sought only from the mouth of God. When we discuss human affairs, human arguments have their place; but in the doctrine of faith, only God’s authority must reign, and we must rely on it.” I admit that it is somewhat unfair to pit Henry and Calvin against each other as they would almost certainly agree on this issue if they were to sit at a table together and discuss it. Nevertheless, Calvin’s words highlight the fact that there is a difference between the authoritative words spoken by the mouth of God (and written in the Bible) and human arguments. It is one thing to reach theological conclusions based upon the inspired words of God, but is it another thing to reach theological conclusions based upon human reasoning that begins with the inspired words of God?

As I said earlier, Luke does not feel the need to answer this question. Yet, we must answer the question for ourselves if we are to trust the theological conclusions we reach. Christians have answered the question in different ways throughout history, so I will not say that one answer is right while another is wrong. Rather, my aim is merely to encourage all Christians to determine for themselves what they mean by “from the Scriptures.”

End Notes

John Calvin, Acts, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), Ac 17:2.

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Ac 17:2.


Doctrine Always has a Place

The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.    –Acts 11:23–24 (NASB)

There are a number of really interesting things going on in Acts 11, one of which is what we see in Barnabas when he arrives in Antioch. The apostles in Jerusalem did not know anything about the church there. They had only heard that a great number of Greeks had turned to the Lord. So, they dispatched Barnabas to investigate.

Luke tells us that when Barnabas arrives, he witnesses the grace of God and is glad. This means that he observed the fruit of the Spirit among them. Somehow, apart from the direct work of the apostles, the gospel had reached the ears of the people in Antioch, and Barnabas was happy to see it. In other words, the gospel had been faithfully preached in a way that bore fruit. Barnabas surely would not have been happy if it were otherwise.

What he does next is a relatively small detail in terms of the overall message of Acts 11, but sometimes the minor points can be just as important as the main point. After approving of the teaching they had already received, Barnabas teaches them. Luke does not use that terminology, but encouraging “them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord” is nothing less than teaching.

In modern times, doctrine can sometimes be seen in a negative light, but doctrine is merely a word that refers to the content of what is taught. Barnabas came across a group of sincere believers whose doctrine was in order, and he gave them more doctrine.

Surely the lesson here for the modern church is that doctrine is important. Most doctrine is not essential, but neither is changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles. I had a Buick LeSabre in college that would regularly go 10,000 miles or more without an oil change. Just because it is not essential does not mean it is not important. If it was good for Barnabas to give more doctrine to the church in Antioch, shouldn’t it be good for all churches everywhere to study doctrine?

The saying “doctrine divides” is catchy but untrue. The reality is that people divide because we think we are more important or better than others, sometimes because our non-essential doctrines are different from theirs. Doctrine itself does not divide. It edifies and therefore always has a place, and important place, in the church.

Jesus Came To Call The . . .

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. –Luke 19:10 (NASB)

This simple statement has to be one of the deepest truths known in the universe. The Son of Man, Deity incarnate, came to earth not just to seek that which was lost but also to save that which was lost. And what was lost? Mankind was lost.

There are a few elements that set Christianity apart from all other religions, and this is one of them. God took it upon himself to enter our world, become one of us, and drag us out of this world and into his. This is the exact inverse of what the natural mind would expect. While other religions spur men to take it upon themselves to enter God’s world, Christianity rejoices at the fact that God has entered ours and delivers us into his.

As startling as this may be, there was no other option. A lost man does not even know where he is, much less where God is. It is easier to grasp water with the hand than for a natural man to seek and find God. If God and man are to be united, it can only be through God seeking and finding man.

Those who have spent time in the wilderness know that the most important thing is to remain aware of one’s location. If a man becomes lost yet refuses to acknowledge it, he has no hope of getting un-lost. The same is true on the spiritual level. When the scribes and Pharisees grumbled at Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus responded by saying, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). The “righteous” were just as lost as the sinners and tax collectors. They just didn’t know it. The sinners and tax collectors knew who they were, and they knew what they needed.

Christians live in the interesting situation of having been found, forgiven, and legally justified through the life and work of Jesus Christ, yet our need of a physician persists. Fortunately, we remain in the care of the Great Physician. He has begun his work in us, but he is not finished. We remain just as dependent on him today as when we were lost in the wilderness. We knew what we needed then. Do we know what we need today? Sometimes, the simple Sunday school answer is the right answer.

The Trinity in the Resurrection

One of the most amazing statements to come from Jesus is found in John 2:19. In reference to his own body, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (NASB). He echoes the same theme in John 10, saying in reference again to his life in verse 18, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

Who talks this way? Some men may talk about laying down their life for a cause or another person; but no one talks about taking up us life after he has given it as a sacrifice, except Jesus. There are many unique things about the person of Jesus Christ, but one of the most extraordinary has to be his willingness to give up his life and his ability to subsequently walk out of the grave.

As profound as this is, there is something even more elaborate going on here. While Jesus claims to be the one who brings himself back from the dead, Paul clearly refers to the Father who raised Jesus from the dead in Galatians 1:1. So, we see both the Son and the Father depicted as the one who resurrects Jesus body.

Yet, there is still more. In Romans 8:11, Paul refers to the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Now, we have three actors in the play . . . the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . and all three are said to be the one who raises Jesus from the dead.

The obvious conclusion, as Peter says in 1 Peter 1:21, is that God is the one who raises Jesus from the dead. While succinct teachings on the Trinity are hard to come by in the Bible, this is once instance in which all three Persons are described as engaging in the same act, an act that is distinctly reserved for deity.

So, while Easter is typically and rightly focused on the Son and his victory over death, let it also be a reminder that the God of the Bible is triune. He is one God who exists in three persons, each of whom act in harmony and agreement with one another in laying the cornerstone of the Christian faith . . . the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Filled With the Spirit

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father. 

-Ephesians 5:18–19 (NASB)

There are a few different ways in which a believer may be filled with the Holy Spirit. Those who began speaking in tongues at Pentecost are described as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Peter is described in Acts 4:8 as being “filled with the Holy Spirit” as he proclaims God’s word to his accusers. Stephen is said to be “full of the Holy Spirit” at his stoning (Acts 7:55).

Setting aside the debate over the continuation of the charismatic gifts (it is safe to conclude that the total of four tongues events in Acts do not constitute everyday activity), there are two remaining ways in which believers may be full of the Holy Spirit today. They may be empowered for ministry, as Peter is in Acts 4; or they may be given strengths or abilities to help them in their personal life, as Stephen is in Acts 7.

All believers experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit on that personal level, beginning with regeneration and continuing on through the process of sanctification. Whether everyone is also equipped by the Holy Spirit for ministry is a topic for another day. The point of this article is to highlight the fact that every believer, in some way, is filled with the Holy Spirit.

What is most interesting about this point is the Greek word pleroo that is translated into English as “filled.” In all of its uses in relation to the Spirit in the New Testament, it is used in a metaphorical sense and carries the meaning of being generously supplied with something. In other words, the Holy Spirit does not literally fill up the body of the believer. Human bodies are actually full of tissue, bone, blood, and water (and some other physical stuff). Rather, when the believer is filled with the Spirit, he is generously supplied with the Spirit. In other words, the believer has generous access to God the Spirit. Do not take this as just a general reference to “the believer.” The reality is that every individual believer, including each one reading this article, has generous and direct access to God the Spirit.

Consider the implications of this for a moment. The Creator of the universe, the one who holds the breath of all mankind in his hand (Job 12:10), the one who spoke everything into existence and sustains it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3), he gives all Christians generous access to himself through his Spirit. The is an amazing truth that brings to life the promise that God himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

This promise is true at all times, in all places, through all circumstances, for all of God’s people. Through trials and hardships, in times of apparent setbacks in maturity and sanctification, in times of rejoicing and times of grief, nothing can separate God’s people from his love (Romans 8:38–39) because he has, of his own volition and for his own joy, decided to generously supply his people with the Holy Spirit.

So, be filled with the Holy Spirit; and out of that fullness, speak to your Christian brothers and sisters in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and rend your hearts to God as the symphony of his people, always giving thanks to God for all things.