How to Use Structural Analysis in Sermon Preparation

It often happens that a language once studied becomes nothing more than a fond or not so fond memory. In order to prevent this, Bob Jones University offers a Greek Forum every semester to offer practical help for those who have studied Greek. This semester we invited Dr. Sidney Dyer, who received a Ph.D. in NT Interpretation from BJU in 1984, to speak on how to use structural analysis in sermon preparation for the purpose of accurately proclaiming God’s Word.

Dyer was concerned that people who have studied Greek often neglect this valuable tool. People are either too busy or too timid to use Greek. But if we have spent years in college or seminary to learn Greek, why ignore it? I agree with Dyer that studying a passage in Greek is invaluable to fully understand it. Reading a passage in Greek forces the interpreter to explore the details of the text. The interpreter has to slow down, helping him to figure out how the parts relate to the whole: how subordinate parts of a clause relate to the main clause and how individual parts of a paragraph relate to the main thesis of that paragraph. To understand how the parts relate to the whole is the key to correct interpretation.

When we come to a passage, it is easy to pick out words, phrases, or even entire verses that seem particularly interesting or that support a position we have taken. However, such an approach does injustice to the larger context of the passage. Words, phrases, and clauses are always interrelated. They never exist in a vacuum. In order to understand the relationship between all the elements in the passage, Dyer pointed out that we have to understand how they relate to one another. First, we have to recognize what clause is subordinate to what clause. Second, we have to understand how a clause is subordinate to another, i.e., how does a subordinate clause modify the main clause: does the subordinate clause present the reason for the main clause or the means by which the main clause is accomplished? By figuring out how parts are related to the whole, the main theme of the passage will emerge from the text. Around this main theme everything else in the passage revolves.

If we ignore how the parts of a passage relate to the whole, we cannot accurately interpret the passage. If we devote our time to figure out how every part relates to each other and how they contribute to the whole, the central point of the passage will naturally emerge before our eyes.

Why You Should Buy Logos Bible Software

Among the many desktop applications available for studying the Bible, Logos is one of the three that dominate the market for professional-level study. I have two of the three, and I use them both pretty much every day. I find BibleWorks useful for most teaching, because it’s fast and because it contains a wealth of Bible translations. (Mac users will prefer Accordance for similar reasons.) For personal study, I find Logos all but indispensable, because it brings together a large theological library with powerful tools for using it efficiently.

At its heart, Logos is not so much Bible software as a library management system. The software engine is available very inexpensively—you can get the starter package, which includes the engine and just under 200 books, for about $50—and then you can buy the other books you want in your electronic library and add them to the software. There are several advantages to this approach. First, you’re getting real books, the standard recent scholarship, not the old ones that are available online for free only because they’re out of copyright. Second, they’re cheaper than the hard copies, since the publisher doesn’t have to pay for manufacturing and shipping. I have students who have sold their hard copies as used items for more than enough money to buy the electronic version. Third, they have all the advantages of electronic books: they’re searchable, they take up no shelf space, and they weigh nothing. (You understand the importance of that about the third time you move.) I take my 3,000-volume library to Africa with me most summers, and I’m able to fit it under the seat in front of me.

For personal and professional study—preparation of Sunday school lessons, for example, or of classroom lectures—Logos allows me to focus on the content rather than the process of getting it. I fire up the Passage Guide, type in the passage I want to study (“Jeremiah 41,” for example; or if I can’t remember it, just “Johanan” will get me there), and my resources appear in a neatly organized list: commentaries, cross references, parallel passages, outlines, media resources, related music (nope, nothing for Jeremiah 41), a word cloud, online sermons on the passage, and lots of other stuff. I click on what I want to see, and it’s right there for me. For a deeper study, I open the Exegetical Guide to the same passage, and it takes me through the passage word by Hebrew word, with information on textual variants, lexicons, and grammars at the ready, already opened to the places where they reference the verses I’m studying.

I can’t believe I get paid to do this.

I use Logos for my devotions as well. I’ve used it to create a custom Bible reading schedule (this year I’m reading through the NET Bible, OT and NT every day), and every morning I click on the links for that day and check them off when I’m done. In the next window are the books I’m reading this year (as it happens, right now I’m using Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest as a daily devotional and reading through James Hastings’s The Christian Doctrine of Prayer and Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, one section a day.) I simply work my way across the screen, and the next day it’s ready for me again.

There are lots of powerful features available, which I use as occasion warrants. There are word study and topic study features, a sermon starter (though I prefer to do my own), and some really useful graphical interfaces to help you see patterns in the text that might not be obvious—such as a “Morph River” feature that shows you a color-coded graphical representation of whatever morphological spec you ask for. If you ask for a depiction of verb mood in Ephesians, for example, the dominance of the imperatives in chapters 4 through 6 is hard to miss.

A particular strength of Logos’s data set is the work they’ve done in tagging and in visual representation. The Morph River feature just mentioned is but one example of that; there are all kinds of ways you can see visual layouts based on morphological and syntactical specifics. Want to see what sections of the Bible most often use a name for deity as the subject of a verb for communication? It’s in there.

Of course, this is not the Millennium, and Logos is not perfect. The biggest drawback, in my book, is its speed. Early on the company decided to write for the fastest machines available; as a result, it’s probably going to crawl on your machine unless you have a brand new one. (Did I mention that BibleWorks is fast?) Yes, Logos is doing a lot of stuff in that time, and it’s doing it faster than I could with Strong’s Concordance, but I really wish they’d show a little more stewardship of my clock cycles.

That said, I consider Logos an indispensable tool for my own Bible study. Since you can get in for a very small price, and since adding electronic books is cheaper than buying hard copies, I’d recommend that any serious Bible student, and certainly any professional one, buy it.

Some additional information:

Logos website

Training videos

Sermon preparation with Logos (YouTube, with an older version of Logos)

Why We Have Missions Emphasis Week at BJU

Each Fall Bob Jones University has a week of missions emphasis on our campus. While missions is emphasized in many ways and on many occasions throughout the school year, we set aside one week to specially focus student attention on the opportunities for missionary service around the world. We do this because we understand that making disciples globally is our primary response as obedient, worshiping followers of Jesus.

In Matthew 28:16, Jesus meets with His followers at an appointed location in Galilee following His resurrection. According to the text, those present were those men whom He had appointed to be His disciples. Verse 17 indicates that within that group of eleven men, some responded to Jesus with worship and some responded with doubt.

The fact that Jesus had already more than proven the reality of His physical resurrection from the dead by His earlier deeds performed in the presence of these same men while they were still at Jerusalem signifies that their doubt was not likely regarding the veracity of His return from the grave. It is helpful to note that the word translated doubt in this passage carries the idea of wavering or being unstable.

The only other use of this term in the New Testament is in Matthew 14:31 where Jesus says to Peter, who was no longer walking on water but sinking down, “wherefore didst thou doubt?” Given the fact that Jewish worship often involved some physical representation of inner response (such as lying prostrate, kneeling, or raising hands), I surmise that some of the disciples responded to Jesus on the mountainside in Galilee with visible signs of adoration. Others, however, were doubtful. That is, they were uncertain about the propriety of worshiping Jesus with the same zeal with which they were accustomed to worshiping Yahweh.

It is precisely in answer to that dilemma that Jesus responds in verse 18 by declaring His absolute sovereign rule over the entire universe. In essence Jesus is not only permitting outright worship, He is demanding it!

Based on that foundation, He commissions these men to make disciples of all people. That task would involve going (not a command, but an obvious corollary to global outreach), baptizing and teaching. The essence of Jesus’ mandate on the mountain is that all of His followers from that time forward now have one principle occupation – make disciples everywhere.

That is why we have a Missions Emphasis Week. It is not an attempt to guilt students into becoming missionaries. It is not an emotional appeal for the needs, both temporal and eternal, of the billions of lost people in the world. It is a reminder that those who worship Jesus should be eager to bring other worshipers as well.

Real disciples make disciples.

Every student at BJU has a commission to make disciples everywhere. For some, that will involve going far from home. For most, that will involve using their career as an avenue for Gospel outreach and influence for Christ. For all, that will involve looking for ways new and old to passionately proclaim to this entire generation of people on planet earth that Jesus is worthy of our worship.

For these reasons, we invite around sixty different missionary organizations to campus during Missions Emphasis Week to interact with students and share their stories of how God is opening doors for the Gospel around the world. We hear from missionary speakers in chapel and personnel from the various visiting agencies teach in dozens of classes.

We have Missions Emphasis Week because we want our students to think big, trust God and make disciples everywhere.

 

A Wake-Up Call

It was a bright summer day in the early 1990’s. I was a young teenager learning the ropes of working outside the home. A gentleman in our church had hired me to help him build a fence and do some yard work. I liked the idea of earning some income ($3/hr., I think), but I wasn’t as keen on getting up somewhat early on a Saturday morning to accomplish my tasks. So, instead of respectfully answering my father’s directive to get up and get ready for work, I turned like a door on its hinges and complained aloud that I didn’t want to work for Mr. B that day.

What happened next exemplified my father’s God-enabled wisdom. He calmly responded that he would call Mr. B and let him know that I didn’t want to work that day and wouldn’t be coming. I froze on my bed. Disbelief and shame and regret blanketed me. I recognized the folly of my sluggardly choice, though I briefly protested and didn’t appreciate or even understand all that God was teaching me through my father in that moment. The most glaring lesson I needed to learn was the virtue of hard work. What seem like insignificant, harmless times of relaxation, if a pattern of life, will become self-destructive (Prov. 6:6-11). In retrospect, several other important lessons have emerged, ones that I am endeavoring to teach my own children.

  1. Trustworthiness is developed not granted.

My father taught me to fulfill my obligations faithfully and honestly, as much by his deeds as by his words. He could have assumed or allowed me to assume that his trustworthiness would automatically transfer to me. His genes and his instruction would position me to follow his steps. Yet, I needed to develop trustworthiness myself. I needed to be confronted with my sinful tendency to shirk responsibilities I didn’t enjoy. Studying to earn good grades or practicing jump shots were activities at which I was fairly faithful because I enjoyed them and could see how I reaped the benefits. Driving nails into fence boards wasn’t so obviously advantageous and appealing. But following through on our commitments is critical. I didn’t realize the joy of denying my fleshly inclinations and using this opportunity to subdue the earth. Instead, I looked for a way out. No one, not even my godly father, could hand me faithfulness. If I was to reflect this characteristic of God, I needed to be tested, humbled, and pointed to Christ.

  1. Words are meaningful not empty.

We have all heard of, and perhaps assumed we had verbalized, empty words–patterns of sounds that carry no meaning, like a tractor trailer carrying no cargo. Perhaps your son or daughter has explained that the clear connotation of a statement is not what he or she meant, as I suggested to my father that Saturday morning. In actuality, what we say is meaningful, whether or not we realize it. Sure, there are times when we don’t clearly communicate what we mean or when our audience has difficulty on its end in understanding us. But as we seek to we seek to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), we must emphasize the importance of words.

First, our words are windows into our souls, for “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mat. 12:34). I wanted to believe and lead my father to believe that in a moment of sleepy weakness I had uttered a verbal accident. The truth, which had become apparent to him in part because he observed my life’s patterns, was that what I said that morning was exposing the needs of my sinful heart.

Second, our words are an extension of us and our trustworthiness. God speaks only the truth and demonstrates His faithfulness by invariably performing what He promises. I had agreed to help Mr. B at his home. We had verbally agreed that I would work for him on Saturdays. When I complained about getting out of bed that morning, I was prioritizing expedience over integrity. My father knew that neither rang true in this particular instance nor bode well for my path ahead. Our eternity hinges on God’s dependability. Therefore, imitating our Father requires fastening around us “the belt of truth” (Eph. 6:14).

  1. Consequences are beneficial not obstructive.

It is a natural tendency (at least of mine) to view consequences as barriers rather than potential blessings. Failure and its fallout seem to stand in the way of growth rather than being part of it. However, as Proverbs 6:23 says, “Reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” One of the worst things we could teach our children is that the spiritual laws by which God personally orders His world can be ignored and avoided. My father could have pled with me to get out of bed. He could have bribed me. He could have threatened to take action but not followed through. Instead, he chose to let me have my way and have the opportunity to acknowledge my sinfulness and repent.

I don’t know for sure, but recognizing that my father is human, I’m sure there was at least a passing temptation for him to be embarrassed. It would have seemed quite natural to persuade me to fulfill my duty and save face with his friend. But he loved me more than he loved his image, and part of that love was following our heavenly Father’s pattern of chastening. Discipline is characteristically not joyous in the moment, but “to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

God has been very gracious to me. Mr. B kindly forgave me when I spoke with him the next morning after our church’s service. Even more profound is the reality that God my Father gave me an earthly father courageous and compassionate enough to teach me important lessons like the ones above. Oh that you and I and the coming generations may know the blessing of listening to and imparting (F)atherly instruction!

Pope Benedict XVI

No Popes for You

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

Protestants don’t get to have a pope.

Of course, that sounds backwards; the pope doesn’t get to have us. We don’t want him.

But if you’re honest, there have probably been times in your life when a pope would have come in handy—like when your church split over a particular doctrine, or when your best friend was totally wrong about the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2. It’s tempting sometimes to want another word from God telling us what He really meant with the first Word. And, of course, He’d be on your side—right?

But no popes for you. In good blog form, here’s five reasons why.

  1. As many Protestants have pointed out, having a pope just means you have more authoritative declarations to interpret. Now in addition to 1,189 chapters of divine revelation written in three languages over the course of 1,500 years, you have papal encyclicals and homilies and true ex cathedra pronouncements.* And you have to learn Latin if you really want to get it right.
  2. The existence of a supreme pontiff doesn’t actually create the unity it advertises. Having a holy see certainly hasn’t kept Romanists from disagreeing, even splitting. There are over 200 Roman Catholic denominations, and among those still in the fold there are deep divisions between liberals and conservatives. The Reformers were right to argue that, when it comes to ultimate authority for the local church and the believer, it’s sola scriptura.
  3. Most importantly, of course, the sola scriptura standard won’t allow us to have a pope. We are given men with teaching and ruling authority (Eph 4:11–14; 1 Pet 5:1–5), but their authority is subordinated to the Word, not equal to it and certainly not above it. No one is allowed to add dogma (doctrine you must believe) beyond what the Bible teaches, let alone to pronounce anathemas on the biblical gospel (Gal. 1:8).
  4. Empirically speaking, what has the existence of a mitered man in St. Peter’s done for biblical literacy among his 1.2 billion followers? The 1960s council we call Vatican II has been widely credited with promoting the study of Scripture among Catholic laity, and of course Protestants ought to welcome this reform. The more Bible people get, the better. But—speaking mostly from (multi-national) personal experience but also from some statistical studies I’ve read—it seems clear to me that conservative Protestant groups have done a much better job teaching the actual content of the Bible to their people. We have a long way to go in our work of discipling the nations, but Bible study is one of the most healthy things in Protestant DNA.
  5. Lastly, T.D. Bernard once made a point that I have come back to again and again. It’s dense but excessively rich. Please read the whole thing!

    The writer [of NT epistles] does not announce a succession of revelations, or arrest the inquiries which he encounters in men’s hearts by the unanswerable formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” He arouses, he animates, he goes along with the working of men’s minds, by showing them the working of his own. He utters his own convictions, he pours forth his own experience, he appeals to others to “judge what he says,” and commends his words “to their conscience in the sight of God.” He confutes by argument rather than by authority, deduces his conclusions by processes of reasoning and establishes his points by interpretations and applications of the former Scriptures…. Why all this labor in proving what might have been decided by a simple announcement from one entrusted with the Word of God? Would not this apostolic declaration that such a statement was error, and that another was truth, have sufficed for the settlement of that particular question? Doubtless! But it would not have sufficed to train men’s minds to that thoughtfulness whereby truth becomes their own, or to educate them to the living use of the Scriptures as the constituted guide of inquiry. (The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament, pp. 157-158)

    Protestants don’t get to have a pope because God inspired epistles. And He did it on purpose. The sometimes painful and difficult work of personal biblical and theological study is meant to form us into the kind of people who think like God wants us to—not just who think what God wants us to. A pope can be an unhealthy shortcut. Bible study is a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. Your God-given pastors and teachers should play an important role in your spiritual life, and they do bear genuine authority (1 Pet. 5:1–5; Heb. 13:7–17), but they won’t stand next to you on judgment day (2 Cor 5:10).

No popes for you.

*Not all statements from a pope are technically considered to be equally authoritative, but adopting the title of “Christ’s vicar,” the Son of God’s representative on earth, is itself a claim to teaching authority.

Love Multiplied

Cindy Garland and Grandaughter

A year ago, I found myself holding my newborn granddaughter—only she was not really my granddaughter. I had become a part of this family only seventeen months earlier, and that as a result of another’s death—and I now held that woman’s granddaughter, a little girl that will one day call me “Grandma.”

Though far more common in earlier centuries, remarriage after the death of a spouse is an uncomfortable topic for the church today. It seems—well, awkward. On the minds of many is a question they are afraid to ask: How do you love someone else again? Let me share my story, and in so doing, I hope, glorify the God who multiplies love.

I met my first husband, Steve, here at Bob Jones University. Both of us were pursuing graduate degrees, and our assistantships at the university brought us into close contact with each other. Steve impressed me as no other man had up to that point—godly, intent on serving others. However, there was one potential obstacle. Steve had been diagnosed with Hodgkins disease during his sophomore year in college, and he suffered his first recurrence of the disease during our first year of grad school. Treatments followed, and when he returned to school, we began dating. Despite the cancer, I had no doubt that God had given me a love for Steve, and in time, he had the same conviction. After a second recurrence and subsequent treatments, we were engaged. In 1989 we married, and we enjoyed six months of marriage busily serving the Lord and preparing for future ministry. Those blissful months were interrupted by the news that the cancer had returned, and for the rest of our married life, we dealt with his disease in one form or another. I suppose it was not a “normal” marriage, but I have no doubt it was the path God had for me, and I would not trade the years God gave us for anything. For nearly five years I saw a young man pursue the knowledge of God and ministry to other people despite obstacles that would have stopped many others. God even gave Steve the desire of his heart—a church to

pastor—a task he performed with all of his heart for the final ten months of his life. At the age of thirty-one, God called Steve Home, and at the age of thirty-two, I became a widow.

I will not minimize the heartbreak of losing my husband, but neither will I minimize the grace God poured out on me. Within weeks of Steve’s homegoing, God provided a ministry for me that would bring fulfillment, refining, and maturing, supervising a girls’ residence hall here at the university. Did I think about remarriage? Yes. However, in all honesty, the ministry God gave me provided so much joy and challenge that I did not have time to think much about it.

I walked the path of widowhood for seventeen years before God chose to bring someone else into my life. Doug’s path had been very different from mine. He and his first wife, Joyce, married before they finished college. God blessed them with four wonderful children. They were married for thirty-one years, all spent in Christian ministry. I was a widow for nearly twenty years; by the time we married, Doug had been a widower less than two. The main thing we shared in common was losing both of our spouses after long battles with cancer.

Doug and I were acquainted with each other since we both worked here at the university. After Joyce’s homegoing, Doug sought wisdom via email from other widowers and widows he knew, and I was one of them. Over time, our correspondence grew, as did our relationship. Mutual respect became mutual love, along with a desire to bring together two different personalities, backgrounds, and families into a new union for the glory of God. The result so far has been challenging but oh, so happy.

Shortly before we were married, a dear friend voiced the question others were (understandably) hesitant to ask: “How do you love another spouse?” Before I had a chance to answer, she said, “It must be like having more children. When you find out you’re expecting a second child, you wonder, ‘How can I ever love this child like I do the first?’ But you do. It must be like that.” I have pondered her words many times, and even though I have never had my own children, I think she was right. God’s love is like that—it is never static but is constantly expanding. When believing widows and widowers remarry, they have an opportunity to reflect this aspect of God’s love. And the precious granddaughter that I held in my arms a year ago, though not related to me by blood, has become related to me by love—God’s multiplying love.

Accommodating Evolution and the Problem of Evil

[This is a guest post by Brian Collins, who received his Ph.D. in Theology from Bob Jones University Seminary and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Brian also serves as an elder at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.]

Many Christians believe that it is important to find some way to harmonize the Bible with evolutionary theory. This belief is often linked with concerns for effective evangelism. Since evolutionary science is so widely accepted among scientists today, these Christians are worried that when faced with a choice between trusting the Bible and trusting science, many people will choose science. If conflict between evolution and Scripture can be lessened or removed, a major evangelistic obstacle will have been removed.

If the choice between the Bible and evolutionary science is indeed a false choice, then by all means evangelical scholars should show how the two harmonize. But when the attempt at harmonization is made, the necessity of the choice between the Bible and evolution quickly becomes evident.

First, biblical scholars have not been able to agree on an interpretation to replace a face-value, historical reading of the opening chapters of Genesis. This is clear in books like Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation. The lack of consensus on a replacement interpretation for these chapters raises questions about the viability of the alternative approaches.

Second, attempts to harmonize Scripture and evolutionary theory have profound theological consequences. Sometimes biblical interpretations are revised as scientific theories change. Phrases such as “the rising of the sun” (Ps. 113:3) are now understood as an idiom (one still used today) rather than a scientific description. Importantly, however, no change in hermeneutical approach to these passages was needed to make sense of these passages, and no doctrines are affected. The same is not the case with the most rigorous attempts to harmonize Genesis with the current prevailing theories of origins. Karl Giberson, in Saving Darwin, admits that a historical Adam and Eve, a historical Fall, original sin, and the distinctiveness of humans as made in the image of God are all casualties of harmonizing Genesis with evolutionary theory. All attempts at harmonization face the problem of death prior to the Fall.

Third, the problem of death and suffering before the Fall is far more serious than most theologians seem to realize. The conflict between evolution and Scripture is often seen as the chief apologetic challenge of the present time. But the chief philosophical challenge to Christianity is the problem of evil, and attempts to harmonize Scripture with evolutionary theory make defending Christianity against this challenge difficult if not impossible. The problem of evil has become more pointed as scientists learn more about certain animals’ sentience, capacity to experience pain, abilities to remember, and so forth. This has led many to conclude that animal suffering and death is a great evil. On this point the Bible is in agreement with modern science and philosophy. The Bible evidences concern for the wellbeing of animals (Prov. 12:10). The suffering of the non-human world is described as a condition of bondage, groaning, and pain as a result of sin (Rom. 8:20; Gen. 3:17-19). The earth awaits redemption (Rom. 8:23), and included in that redemption is the end of animal suffering and pain (Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25).

Traditionally, Christians have defended against the problem of animal suffering and death by pointing to the Bible’s teaching that it is a result of the Fall (Rom. 5:12; 8:20). In seeking to defend Christianity against those who say it is scientifically ill-informed, Christians who seek to harmonize the Bible and evolution have removed the biblical explanation of the problem of evil in the animal world. This problem is so significant that theologian John Feinberg, who has focused much of his research on the problem of evil, believes it is one of three theological reasons for rejecting old-earth interpretations of the creation narratives (No One Like Him, 622-23).

The challenges we face as Christians today are really nothing new. Augustine reinterpreted the opening chapters of Genesis to harmonize Scripture with Platonic cosmology. Medieval Christians struggled to harmonize the Bible’s teaching about creation with Aristotle’s teaching that the world is eternal. Modern Christians face the challenge of Darwinism. Though the cosmologies of Plato and Aristotle can be readily dismissed today, they were seen as significant challenges to the Christian faith in their time. In another 1,000 years, if the Lord tarries, Darwinisim will doubtless hold the same place that the cosmologies of Plato and Aristotle now hold, and Christians will face new challenges. This fact argues for resisting calls for exegetically-forced harmonization and theological dubious reworkings of the Christian faith in the face of shifting scientific theories.

Is Purgatory a Biblical Doctrine?

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church for 18 years. During those years my spiritual life consisted primarily in my relationship with the Church. I was planning on spending time in purgatory after my death to pay the temporal punishment for my venial sins before eventually making it to Heaven. After realizing from Scripture that salvation comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13), my faith was placed in the death of Jesus Christ as the full payment for my sin. No amount of suffering on my part can add to the complete forgiveness I now have in the truth of the Gospel(Romans 5:1).   The Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is not only absent from Scripture, but also contradicts Scripture.

The doctrine of Purgatory was first formulated by pope Gregory the Great (AD 590-604) and was confirmed as a dogma of faith at the Council of Florence in AD 1439. Although the Eastern Orthodox Church does not teach purgatory, Roman Catholics believe purgatory to be the state or condition after death where sinners receive temporal punishment for venial sins committed after baptism. “Purgatory (Lat., ‘purgare’, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgression” (Catholic Encyclopedia). Mortal sins are serious violations of God’s law (drunkenness, adultery, murder) while venial sins are less serious violations of God’s law (impatience, ordinary anger, slightly drunk). Mortal sins drive sanctifying grace out of the soul and therefore must be confessed to a priest in order to obtain absolution. Venial sins, which do displease God, only injure fellowship with Him.  The Catholic practice of suffrages, offering prayers and sacrifices for the dead, can shorten the time of suffering in purgatory for these venial sins. Also, the Pope can grant indulgences to alleviate, shorten, or terminate time in purgatory. Canon Law 992 says, “An indulgence is the remission in the sight of God of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has already been forgiven. A member of Christ’s faithful who fulfills certain specific conditions may gain an indulgence and the help of the Church which, as ministers of redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints.”

The Roman Catholic Church uses I Corinthians 3 which speaks of the judgment of Christians at the Judgment Seat of Christ as a proof text for purgatory. In this passage a Christian’s works are  judged according to motive. The good works, gold, silver, and precious stones, are those performed for the glory of God; and the bad works, wood, hay, and stubble, are those done out of selfish motivation. Christians will be rewarded for a life lived to the glory of God and will suffer loss of reward for living for self-glorification. “The fire will try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Paul in Romans 2:7 teaches that God considers those works done out of a passion for eternity as worthy of reward. So the Judgment Seat of Christ understood in its context in 1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 has nothing to do with temporal punishment for venial sins. The future judgment of the Christian’s works is not to pay for sin but to purge impure motives.

Another passage used by Catholics to support Purgatory is found in Colossians 1:24. They claim Paul teaches the temporal suffering in Purgatory is suggested in the phrase, “that which fills up that which is behind (lacking) of the afflictions of Christ.” Did Paul mean the suffering of Christ on the cross does not pay for all our sin? The phrase “afflictions of Christ” is never used in Scripture to express His sufferings on the cross. The suffering of Christ was both unique and complete. Since Christ’s personal suffering for sin was completed on the cross (Hebrews 9:25-26; 1 Peter 3:18), Paul is teaching that the persecution of the Church (body of Christ) today is a continuation of the persecution of Christ. As the hatred of the Head, Christ, is vented upon His body, the Church,His body shares in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). The union between Christ and His Church is a strong one. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13).

Since no amount of suffering on the part of Christians could add to the completed work of Christ on the cross, how could a priest know when enough had been done to release a sinner from his suffering? Paul teaches that as our sins were placed upon Christ so His righteousness was placed upon the redeemed sinner (2 Corinthians 5:21).   God now looks at the Christian as having never sinned, because he is clothed in the righteousness of His Son. The writer of the Book of Hebrews can say, “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” God’s justice has been fully satisfied by the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrew 10:14,17).

This absence of purgatory should not lead the Christian to assume God overlooks sin.   Transgression of the law is sin and God takes sin seriously. The example of Nathan rebuking a justified man, David, demonstrates this accountability (2 Samuel 12). Repentance is necessary for the guilt to be removed and fellowship restored, but our standing before God remains unchanged because the sacrifice of Christ paid the penalty in full. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

May we rest in the blessed comfort expressed in the beautiful words of Horatio G. Spafford’s hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Indigenization in Missions

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The term indigenization is one of those buzzwords in missions that people like to talk about. But what exactly do we mean when we say that our goal is the indigenization of our missionary work on the field? The word indigenous is a botanical term which signifies “native to the soil.” So, for example, orange trees are native to the sandy soil of Florida, but not to the red clay of South Carolina. Ideally, when we talk about indigenous ministry, we are saying that we aspire to establish churches which function in ways that are native to the “soil” of the region where we have invested our missionary labor.

Do we really aspire to that though? Are we eager to develop ministry which can prosper because it is not “a foreign religion” and is not fraught with American concepts of what Christianity should look like? I fear that, more often than not, we simply want the “natives” to pay their own way and provide their own leadership, but we specifically do not want them to develop their own definitions of worldliness, dress standards, or worship style. Those things they must learn from us, because, after all, we have imported the correct biblical pattern for each of these areas. What we fail to recognize with this attitude, however, is that our practices have developed specifically because we have taken the Word of God seriously and applied it to the “soil” of our society and culture. That is to say, our concepts of modesty, appropriate entertainment, and style of worship are never formed in a direct line of adherence to biblical statements. Nowhere does the Bible address hemlines, movies or praise and worship bands, but it certainly does address modesty, holiness and reverence for the Almighty. We have indigenized the Bible’s teaching on those issues for the American church and I wholly subscribe to our fundamentalist perspective in each area. But we shouldn’t want to export to the mission field our experience of indigenization. We should seek to help local people establish their own indigenous Christianity. We should avoid what a close friend who is the director of a missionary agency focusing on advancing the Gospel in the world’s difficult places describes as “franchising” the American church.

If we truly want indigenous churches, we must focus the attention of the target people on Jesus and the Gospel, not on our patterns of church life. Teach them to understand Scripture and to appropriately apply it in their culture and society so that the Christianity that develops there is, in fact, “native to their soil.” This takes time, but it can be done, and is being done around the world. The alternative is to provide financial support for an American missionary who perennially remains as pastor of a church on the field. While he will always claim that he wants the work to become indigenous, he is constantly fearful that if he were to leave, the local people might practice their Christianity in ways that are different than what he envisioned. His problem is that he doesn’t really understand indigenization; he fails to recognize that what he is importing is itself an indigenous version of Christianity and not the ultimate standard for the entire globe.

When I was a kid in Illinois, I planted some orange seeds in a pot and was thrilled when they started to grow. The problem, of course, was that even though I could transplant the fledgling tree into larger and larger pots, I could never transplant it into the ground outside. It might grow for a few months in the summer, but it could never survive the native winter. It was not indigenous. I’m afraid that much of our missionary work is like that. We can get something to grow, but it is stifled because it will never be able to thrive without our supervision. We can delight in and defend our experience of Christianity in America, but let’s be careful to conduct our missionary efforts in a way that produces indigenous Christianity elsewhere rather than a mere transplant of what is indigenous to us.

Four New Books You Have to Know About

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

“New” in American culture means “good,” or at least “better.” It’s a moniker marketers never tire of using, because it works—and as long as it does, Tide detergent will reliably produce “new” formulations every so often.

But “new” is relative. The four brand new books I advertised in my title are startlingly new, but in at least two senses, they’re also quite old.

It’s time you were jolted typographically awake by four very new books rooted in very old traditions. I’m speaking of Bibliotheca, a Kickstarter (“crowdfunded“) project to produce a four-volume printing of the Bible in an innovative old way.

Designer Adam Greene, a young man steeped in the history of typography, is the force behind the project. The best way to communicate to you what’s new and old about his work is to show it to you.

First the outside:

outside

Now the inside:

spread

And again:

spread2

What do you see in this Bible? Or, rather, what do you not see?

You don’t see all the accoutrements you’ve come to view as normal, standard in a printing of the Bible. That’s what’s so new about Greene’s project.

c902_SCOclassic_inside2__4And that’s what’s so old—you see, we all have historical myopia when it comes to Bible editions. We are accustomed to a two-column format in which every verse is a separate paragraph and in which each page is packed with verse numbers and multiple systems of superscript footnoting1 and2 cross-referencing.a b We forget, however, that things were not always so. Verse numbers are a comparatively recent addition to the Bible text. If the Bible were a 65-year-old man, verse numbers were added when he was 56 ½. They’ve been around for about a tenth of the Bible’s history.

What does the standard two-column layout do to meaning? Arguably, it does something very bad: it not-so-subtly leads readers to view the “verse,” whatever that is, as the fundamental unit of Bible statement. (Whenever they’re not viewing the word that way—see Barr quote here.) Making every verse a paragraph is an invitation to atomistic exegesis. It doesn’t help you read with sensitivity to the context.

You simply must try reading a Bible with no chapter and verse numbers at all. It is a beautiful and helpful experience—if initially jarring. I began creating this experience for myself using a Microsoft Word macro about ten years ago. And, providentially, a slow trickle of Bible editions began coming out which made that experience available in codex form. My favorite of the lot is the also-new ESV Reader’s Bible from Crossway (the ESV website also has this functionality), but the Bibliotheca project is even better—it just uses a translation I’m less excited about, the 1901 ASV. (And it would cost me 15 months of my recently reduced book budget…=)

If you’re not sold yet, watch the video. It’s brand new!