Acts The Church and Ministerial Training

Kaitiaki's picture

Basically this is just a "what do we learn about the Church from Acts?" thread. As we watch Paul and Barnabas and then Paul and Silas building the Church in Acts, what can we learn about their concept of the Church as a whole? Robert suggested my original plan was too cumbersome so asked me to create new threads.

Thread Moderator: Kaitiaki

There are two aspects to this thread: the training of the local congregation (for the work of ministry - as in Ephesians) and the theological training of ministers (or pastors).

Acts shows us local congregations that trained young men (and women) for every appropriate aspect of Church work. That included the work of ministry and missions. Discuss this statement. Do you think it is valid? What implications (if any) are there for the present system in almost every denomination of sending young men to a seminary to be trained? How does your Church seek to apply those implications in the way they train ministers and missionaries?


serious questions

I really enjoyed reading your post, and I want to tackle several of the things you said, because I think there is fertile ground for conversation here, and because I'm always glad to clarify my opinions on the Bible :) It is something I'm training to teach and study and write about professionally, and the framework of interpretation surrounding biblical passages is crucial, fundamental, foundational in any interpretation or application of the scriptures. To continue our dialog, you will be bold and I will be regular. This takes some of the structural forcefulness out of my replies, among other things.

... I ask whether you have thought through your position on the Bible? What can you hide in your heart if you dont have anything you can call scripture? The living Christ? Yet without scripture you cant know whether it is the Christ of God or a false Christ.

I've spent A LOT of time thinking through these positions. Let me first offer a quote from NT Wright which addresses your concern about false Christs, which is contingent upon the proposition that proper data produces salvific faith.

But justification by faith tells me that if my Roman neighbour believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead then he or she is a brother or sister, however much I believe them muddled, even dangerously so, on other matters.

Click Here for the whole speech: NT Wright Speech.

How do we know if a person has right faith? Not by their mastery of the Bible, or their agreement with cultural orthodoxy, or their correct profession of doctrines and religious tenets. The just shall live by faith, and when they accept that the resurrected and ascended Christ is Lord, and submit to that Lordship, they are Christians regardless of their agreement with my alternative understanding of God. 1 John 2:29 says, "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him." The scriptures are a witness, and like any good witness they are aimed to tell a story, the truth of the matter, to communicate what an audience needs to know. The scriptures are written to show that the crucified Christ is righteous, being vindicated by the resurrection and instituting a new People of God on the face of the earth; a kingdom, not of this world, found among his followers.

Now I'll take it from the top, rather than the bottom.

If the passge in 2 Tim is authentic but not inerrant, then how can we claim it to be divinely authoritative?

1) Part of the issue here is that you are operating with the assumption, commonly held, that inerrancy is the same thing as divinely inspired or divinely authoritative. Inerrant means many things to many people, though. To some it means "The authors made no technical, historical, or factual mistakes." To others it means "I can apply every scripture literally because they're never wrong." But God can inspire in many ways, and one of those ways is His Spirit.

It is the observation and application of the Spirit, rather than the literal commands of scripture ("Don't eat pork"), which results in the extrapolation of the divine Intent, or Spirit, from scripture. "Don't eat pork" IS inerrantly true, when understood as "God desires you to put away uncleanness," or "God wants holiness in your life." If scripture could be applied literally or taken at face value (the "appearance," see John 7.23-24) just because it was Divinely Inspired, then the New Testament, the gospel, is totally irrelevant, false, and damnable (see I Corinthians 3; "The letter killeth (ie, would kill the gospel because the gospel is not supported by literal interpretations of scripture) but the Spirit giveth life (ie provides a paradigm in which we can understand the Lordship claims of Jesus to be true)." That really is what 1 Corinthians 3 is about).

2) IF we determine that all of what we have identified as scripture is inerrant, and then look at II Timothy, we conclude ONLY that, according to scripture, scripture is useful (profitable) for the ministry, for illuminating Christological mysteries, for putting the gospel in a broad theological context, and especially for motivating, with those contexts and illuminations, people who have accepted Jesus as Lord to serve him as he would be served--with works of righteousness, peace, and charity.

We could not, however, based on the passage alone, conclude that scripture is inerrant. My earlier point was that II Timothy 3.16 does not prove inerrancy, which was but one step in my argument that inerrancy as we understand it is not a biblical proposition about the bible, but an Enlightenment fantasy of observational power--the Enlightenment determined that inerrancy was a particular type of knowledge, knowledge which is verifiable through natural observation (science). That type of knowledge has become a substitute for truth. Truth, inerrancy--these are not things found on the page of any book, alone; one must have also the Spirit of God to lead one into understanding. The words alone inform us; the Spirit of the Letter directs us. These are important distinctions.

While I treasure the Bible deeply and see it as a holy, inspired book, I treasure Jesus Christ more. I believe in the authority of the Spirit above letters in a book. And I believe that these statements are healthy, proper, and especially biblically sustained statements, and are in fact the biblical, New Testament instructions for submitting to divine authority.

If it isnt then how do we have a basis to accept the Old Testament as authoritative?

Without the Old Testament, the claim "Jesus is Lord" makes no sense. Without the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of David and Solomon, of Hezekiah and Ezra and Joshua and in fact the entire roster of Hebrews 11, "Jesus is Lord" demonstrates a discombobulated Christology founded on little more than the (quite insufficient) premise, "Jesus is God because he was raised from the dead." Other people were raised from the dead--no one calls them God. No, the resurrection is a statement of conclusion, the finishing of a long historical narrative which is represented in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is authoritative in the lives of Christians and in the praxis of the Church not because it demonstrates inerrancy, but because it provides context, shedding light not only on the topics contained therein, but also upon the beliefs of those waiting for fulfillment. From the Old Testament we learn what people were expecting, and can understand why Paul had to argue as he did regarding the nature of the gospel. The Old Testament is authoritative because it is informative, not inerrant. Why do we make inerrancy a criteria for authority? Because we never want to have a wrong opinion, and figure by studying a perfect document we have a better chance of formulating perfect opinions, opinions that are in really hard & fast fact. But even an inerrant document can be misunderstood, and doubly so, if the nature of its inerrancy and relevance is misconstrued.

Have you really thought through the slope this creates and where it leads? Christ is God. All He said in the Gospels are directly from God Himself; but if we reject the inerrancy of that witness how can we accept their authority?

I've thought it through, and am thinking it through. I try to change my opinions when I reach better conclusions. To the frustrations of my friends, I'm too willing to admit I'm wrong and embrace new perspectives. My buddy Mickey said indignantly, "That's not what you thought last week!" I'd come to a better understanding.

"Christ is God." No argument here.

"All He said in the Gospels are directly from God Himself." Now this is a claim which is unfounded. Though Christ is God, who said He alone wrote the New Testament? That was a decision reached by later church councils. But let's not belabor this point, and accept that it is true, or true enough, that we could proceed with further discussion. Still, the inherent assumption in this statement is that the transmission of inspiration from God is tantamount of the transmission of information from God. Inspiration, the breath of God's Spirit, is not the same thing as technical correctness. And truth is not contained in technical correctness--that's a modern assumption rooted in empiricism, and Christianity is not an empirical activity. We (ought to) accept the witness of the Old Testament, and indeed all of scripture, not because of their inerrancy, but because of their inspiration, not because of the information contained therein, but because of the revelation of God it brings to the Body of Christ through the Spirit.

Further, then we also open the door to spurious books that were rejected in the Old and New Testaments. Now we have to open the door to the Gospel of Judas, which some suspect may very well be authentic !!!!

Even if I believed for one minute that the Gospel of Judas was possibly an authentic historical document, I can rule it out as inspired by God if it openly and irreconcilably conflicts with the gospel message. It is not a document's proximity to the sacred which makes it a candidate for authoritative consideration. Rather, I think, an authoritative document elucidates the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. "No man can by the Spirit call Christ accursed." Paul's pragmatic answer settles it--what works are produced when the book is applied? Destruction and corruption? Or goodness, meekness, gentleness, love--the works of Spirit? Actions count, and scriptures count when they through the Spirit guide actions. They don't "count" in the same way when we going mining for historical data on the Canaanites or the Sea People or the Nephalim, or when we try and construct, from the fragmented worldview claims of documents later bound together, a systematic theology which strokes our ontological ego.

If one rejects the new testament as scripture then one must reject the Gospels and the passage to Timothy that says the Old Testament is scripture. IN that case the world is not left with a written revelation but only the mystical Jesus living in each person's imagination. No !

I agree. No! Those are faulty conclusions. I will pretend for the moment that "scriptures" means "inerrant authority," although I think by now I've made it pretty clear that the two are not the same unless we let the paradigm of empiricism set the ground rules. Even then, the world is not left without the revelation of Jesus Christ. That revelation is seen even in nature (Romans 1) but also in the Body of Christ, living epistles and witnesses to the power of God and to the truth of the resurrection and Lordship of Jesus. And you unnecessarily degrade the validity of personal encounters with Christ Jesus--the "mystical" Jesus does not live in the imagination; he lives IN and THROUGH us (John 15.4-5); he does not live, according to scripture, IN and THROUGH scripture; he is merely revealed there, among other places. I quote this point in nearly every post I make, because it's a vital lesson to learn if one desires a vibrant spiritual relationship with Christ, to see and know him as Lord and God.

When Peter says Paul's writings are like other scripture, Christ empowered these 12 to uniquely represent Him after His departure. They recorded their revelation forever in teh New Testament so if it is authentic it is authoritative

How many Apostolic writers are found in the New Testament? Concretely? Two. Paul, and Peter. Stretch a little, and you've got four. But Mark and Luke were not apostles. John? Maybe. Matthew? Maybe. Their names were attached to the writings, but the documents themselves make no such indication. The Gospels (all, at least) WEREN'T written by the Apostles. That's just tradition. And even if they were, what makes you conclude that everything they did and every opinion they held can be codified and collected and serve as a universal authority? When we filter which part of a person's deeds we will accept as divine, we are making ourselves the judge of the Spirit--when we say, "In this aspect of their ministry they failed, but in their personal activity of ministering through writing they could not have failed if they tried," aren't we acting a bit presumptuously? Turning ourselves into the authority?

Nevertheless, it is again a faulty premise at work. "If it is authentic (ie, comes from a trustworthy source), then it is authoritative," assumes that authenticity results in applicability. Authority answering a situation might well answer a different situation differently--we have written documents addressing certain situation; but the relevance of these documents does not extend to every situation. BUT the SPIRIT of these documents DOES extend to every situation, and are observed and fulfilled not in ritual but in action, not in obedience to the instructions given, but in obedience to the intent of the instructor. A document or collection of documents alone`can't provide that kind of authority, no matter how inspired--that's just not what "inspiration" means.

I will give you that the Old and New Testament may not be as scientifically accurate in some areas as some scientific fact today (like quantum mechanics) but it was for the understanding of these people. If the people of the Bible believed the earth was flat then obviously that is not scientifically correct by today's knowledge. That is irrelvant to the inerrancy of scripture as pertains to faith and practice.

We're on the same page here (which might convince you to retreat ;). What I am arguing is that what you have acknowledge here should be extended to the whole of the Bible, and not scientific issues alone. The truth of the Bible may not be that the world was created in seven days, but rather that the reality we experience comes from and returns to God, that there is more beyond us. The truth of Genesis may not be that Moses and his scribes sat down one Friday night and banged it out--perhaps Genesis IS the synthesis of several cultural perspectives and traditions. By what token does this make Genesis less inspired? Is the Spirit incapable of working through history in creating an authoritative revelation of truth bound within the cultural contexts of a particular people? No, the Spirit can work through and be present in JEPD; the Spirit will work as God wills, not according to our preferences and desires to have a book which gives us the answers we seek. It is often the things that rile us the most that God uses to draw us close to Him, and this means He aggravates us by forcing us to question those standards which we hold that prevent us from embracing Him further and fully.

Respectfully is it possible that not having a complete Bible which is trusted as inerrant and authoritative, on which to base one's theology and practice, could lead the professing Christian to tremendous identity issues?

Yes. It's very possible. I've seen and experienced deep identity issues taking place among Christians who are wrestling with what they believe and how they understand and apply the Bible. It is dangerous to take away a person's comfort and give them nothing in return; this is why personal relationships between Christians are so important. Unfortunately, the Church in America has a bent toward teaching the Bible as the inerrant authority which reveals Christ, and when people start to understand this as a false claim, they can let go of their faith altogether.

But if they could be led to see that inerrancy and authority are not the same, they could then be led to understand that the Bible is truly the Revelation of Jesus Christ, that the Bible is strong in the Spirit even when the Letter fails. Sometimes, people have identity issues because they have weak identities easily torn apart when challenged. What they need is not to never be challenged, but to be led to the right conclusions or, even better, taught the right ways to start. The process is painful and sometimes spiritually fatal--but God has a way of working through pain and death.

The Bible became just another religious book. I see that same pattern in some of what you say Justin, and that is why I ask whether you have thought through your position on the Bible? What can you hide in your heart if you dont have anything you can call scripture?

I'm a big fan of textual criticism and form analysis; I think that it sheds light on what an author intended, and that intent is in my mind just as or more important than what the author actually wrote. Again, I see this a fundamental principle of the New Testament, the axis on which the whole thing spins, the justification for the gospel and the proof of its truth. This is what it means to see with eyes of the Spirit, to listen with ears to hear, to have the mind of Christ--not "mystical" contemplation of the scriptures, but an understanding so thorough that you can see beyond the words of the Messenger and into His heart. This is the Spirit of God. You ask me what I can hide in my heart, if I have nothing to call (inerrant) scripture? (For I do have scripture, but of a different quality).

Romans 8:14-17 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

God did not send perfect knowledge of God into my heart when I accepted the gospel--quite to the contrary of my fleshly inclinations--that Jesus Christ was, in spite of all appearances, actually Lord. But God did sent His Spirit into my heart, and with other Christians leading and supporting me, and with the examples of the scriptures, and most especially by the leading of the Spirit dwelling in my heart, I attain unto that knowledge.

Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life;
And these are they which bear witness of me;
And ye will not come to me, that ye may have life. (John 5:39-40)