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His Story – My Story

1 Peter 1:22-25   |   Shaun LePage   |   August 24, 2008

His Story – My Story

1 Peter 1:22-25   |   Shaun LePage   |   August 24, 2008

I.       Introduction

A.    Bible-believing, Bible-teaching churches tend to function with a couple of major presuppositions (things we assume about those who join and participate).

1.     The first is the presupposition of context. In other words, we who teach and preach tend to assume that you understand how a book or a chapter or a person or a command fits into the larger context of the Bible. But not everyone has been given the Big Picture (for whatever reasons) and it can be enormously helpful in understanding the verses, chapters and books. It’s not just a story, it’s His Story—God’s work in history! A masterpiece! I want to spend the next several months exploring the big picture of this masterpiece—the narratives, the poetry, the letters—from Genesis to Revelation. I’m very excited about it because it has been enormously helpful to me in my own life. I also believe this will give birth to praise—seeing in a new way, or being reminded of, the beauty and perfection of God’s Word gives us a renewed appreciation for God Himself.

2.     The second presupposition is that you want to know what the Bible has to say—because you believe it. You trust it. But, of course, there are many who don’t or aren’t sure if they can—maybe this describes some of you. But also, you and I can have a great impact on their lives if we can help them see that the Bible is trustworthy. I think it will be an extremely valuable exercise to address this presupposition first—before we look at the Big Picture.

B.    Think about it: The Bible tells us how the universe came into existence. How the universe fell into its current condition. What God intends to do about it. It tells us about ourselves—our special role in the world and our destiny. It tells us—most importantly—about our God. Our Creator. Our Sovereign. Our Lord. His nature. His attributes. His commands. His work. His plan.

1.     If this book is not true, we are hopelessly lost on an ocean of ignorance, confusion and relativity. We don’t know who we are or how we got here. We know almost nothing about anything more than a few miles above our atmosphere. We can’t agree on a system of morality, how we should govern ourselves or what is ultimately valuable. If we can’t trust this book, history is meaningless confusion leading into a frightening darkness. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is no truth. There is no point.

2.     But, if…if it is true. If it can be trusted, the implications are staggering! Truly life changing! If this book is true, there is a God who is both far beyond us as well lovingly concerned with our lives. If this book is true, the universe was created with order and design and purpose. Mankind has inherent dignity and worth as the only creature created in the image of God and can—therefore—relate to God in a personal way. If this book is true, there is such a thing as sin, and its consequences are death and separation from our Creator. If this book is true, God Himself—the Person of Jesus Christ—stepped into history and provided the one and only way to be rescued from sin, reconciled to our God and assured of eternal life in His presence. If this book is true, history is guided and purposeful and leading to a glorious climax. If this book is true, there is truth. There is absolute truth for all people, of all times and in all places—if this book is true. If it can be trusted.

II.     I doubt any of you would be surprised to know that I believe with all my heart that this book is the inspired, inerrant, sufficient word of God. It was given by God and it has been preserved by God. It is true. It can be trusted. But, if 30 years ago you had asked me this question: “Can We Trust The Bible?” I would have said something like, “I don’t know—I suppose.” I want to share my story with you today. My story of how I came to believe that this book can be trusted.

A.    I am not Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell or Frank Morison—these men (and many others like them) were intellectuals who set out to disprove the Bible. To debunk the Christian faith.

B.    But, I have always had a positive view of the Bible. I grew up in a religious environment and we always had a Bible lying around some where. The problem was, in the Roman Catholic world I grew up in, the Bible was no more special than our traditions. I was given this Bible (New American—a Catholic translation) at my confirmation when I was 12 or 13, but I never read it unless I was in trouble or very, very bored. What I did read I didn’t understand and if I did, I didn’t find it to be particularly relevant to my life. I went to 12 years of Catholic school, and I remember seeing Bibles on shelves, but I have no memory of ever opening one and studying it. I had a very high opinion of the Bible, but just didn’t know much about it or what was in it. George Barna did some research and found that almost 7 out of 10 people say that the Bible is very important to them. But when these same people were asked a series of questions about the orthodox, biblical faith, only 8% were able to give answers which were biblically sound. That was me! High opinion, but no understanding. If Jay Leno would’ve come up to me on the street and asked me a Bible question, I would’ve been one of those embarrassed, Biblically illiterate knuckleheads.

C.    But, when I was in high school, I met someone who believed and understood and could explain the Bible—my (now) brother-in-law, Larramie Crumpley. He and my sister Mary began witnessing to me and when I was a freshman in college, I understood the gospel and recognized my need for Christ and one night—April 9, 1982—trusted Christ and received eternal life. Larramie and my sister gave me this Bible (Open Bible—New American Standard Version) and I began reading it. I now had a desire to read it, but I still felt lost. I still found it hard to understand, but the more I read, the more it came alive for me. I noticed someone else’s Bible had tabs at the start of each book and since I didn’t know where any of the books were located, I found a Christian bookstore and bought these tabs to mark the first page of every book of the Bible. At that trip to the Christian Bookstore, I also bought and started to read this book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. It was at this point that I discovered there was a debate going on. In fact there are many, many debates going on about the reliability of the Bible. I don’t think it would be unfair to use the word “attacks”. I learned that especially over the last 150 years or so, there have been several different attacks on the Bible. I learned that there are attacks from outside Christianity as well as attacks from within the broad umbrella of Christianity. Let me walk through some of these—I will address most of them in the weeks ahead (Note: No handout today, manuscripts available on information table and website).

1.     Attacks from outside Christianity include…

a)     Banning and burning. This is the technique employed by communists and fascists.

(i)    A few years after I became a Christian I read this book, God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew. The back cover gives a great introduction to the story: “‘Lord, in my luggage I have Scripture that I want to take to Your children across this border. When You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see.’ Brother Andrew prayed, and the guards passed his car bulging with Bibles across the Yugoslav border in 1957. He began his mission to bring the Word to worshipers cut off from their religion. It was a mission fraught with peril and pathos, financed by faith, supported by miracles.”

(ii)  But this attack didn’t end with the fall of the Iron Curtain. I’ve got two news articles I found just this month (opening paragraphs of articles):

(a)   Headline: U.S. group leaves Beijing without Bibles—By The Associated Press—Published: Friday, August 22, 2008. BEIJING. A group of American Christians who had more than 300 Bibles confiscated by Chinese customs officials left the airport Monday after a 26-hour standoff, saying they realized officials would not change their stance.

(b)  Headline: Eritrea Shuts Christian Students into Shipping Containers—Aug 11th, 2008—LOS ANGELES, August 11 (Compass Direct News)—Authorities on Tuesday (August 5) locked up eight high school students at a military training school in metal shipping containers for objecting to the burning of hundreds of Bibles... The eight male students from the Sawa Defense Training Centre in Sawa, near Eritrea’s border with Sudan, were incarcerated after military authorities confiscated more than 1,500 personal Bibles from new students arriving for the 2008-2009 academic year.

(c)   I won’t spend much time on this.

b)     Destructive or Radical Higher Criticism. Many critics of the Bible have an anti-supernatural presupposition when they study the Bible. So, they start off in unbelief. Then, using little more than pure speculation, they say the ancient manuscripts (copies) of the Bible aren’t reliable and there’s no way we can know what was in the original version. This is a complex attack (addressed in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume II, The Text of the New Testament, A General Introduction to the Bible, Revised and Expanded by Norman Geisler and William Nix as well as seminary-level texts like Donald Guthrie’s New Testament Introduction), but I think it will be beneficial to spend some time on it because many people today assume these critics have proven their case. In reality, they have not.

c)     Religious pluralism—Many people look across the religious landscape and see the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witnesses), the prophecies of Nostradamus, Kama Sutra—all these mysterious, “sacred” texts and think the Bible is just one of many sacred texts—not unique at all. What I have found is that the Bible is extremely unique and even though we can’t do a compare-and-contrast with every one of these sacred texts, one of the most important discoveries for me personally was the uniqueness of the Bible.

d)     Cults. One of the first books I read as a new believer was Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults. I learned that almost every cult out there has two common denominators: 1) they deny the deity of Christ; and 2) they reject the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice.

e)     Postmodernism. This is not a direct attack on the Bible, per se. But, one of the predominant beliefs of our post-modern culture is relativism. So, those who think this way reject the idea of absolute truth. I’d like to spend some time on this next week.

2.     Attacks from within “Christianity” (under the broad umbrella of Christendom)…

a)     The attack on inerrancy. There are those who attack the authority of the Bible. They say reason and experience are just as authoritative as Scripture.

(i)    This thinking is represented primarily by Liberalism. It started in the late nineteenth century in Germany and later in the U.S. where it infected, then split every mainline denomination and seminary I’m aware of. The Bible Church movement was born out of this conflict—men who eventually called themselves “Fundamentalists” (though that word has morphed in the years since), stood up and said, “We believe the Bible is inerrant” (without error). These men are my heroes. One of them was Lewis Sperry Chafer who started DTS.

(ii)  This attack on the inerrancy of Scripture comes primarily from seminary professors, theologians and pastors who tell us the Bible contains truth, but we can’t trust every word; they claim that the Bible has too many problems to be considered “without error”. Some of the specific problems I want to look at are…

(a)   The Problem of Inspiration: The claim that God could not have inspired the Bible because it was written by imperfect men.

(b)  The Problem of Interpretation: The claim that it is impossible to really understand the Bible because there are so many different interpretations.

(c)   The Problem of Science: The belief of many that science has proven the Bible to be in error.

(d)  The Problem of Ethics: The claim that the Bible endorses genocide and slavery and the oppression of women, so it obviously contains moral error.

(e)   The Problem of Apparent Errors and contradictions.

(f)    The Problem of Canonicity: This is DaVinci Code stuff—how do we know the early Christians picked the right books to be in the canon (the New Testament)?

(g)   The Problem of Miracles: The belief that the Bible’s miracles prove it is mythical.

(iii)          Shortly after Beth and I arrived in Dallas to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, I saw on the news that another seminary—a Southern Baptist seminary which I had considered attending—was in the middle of a major confrontation over inerrancy. The president would not sign a document saying he believed in inerrancy, so the Board of Trustees fired him. The news stations showed sympathetic students protesting that decision. I admire those men, however, because the Southern Baptists have recaptured most their seminaries—they’re now teaching that the Bible is without error.

b)     The attack on sufficiency. Many say that the Bible is the Word of God, but it’s not sufficient or the final word of God. It has major gaps and doesn’t tell us all we need to know.

(i)    I came into contact with this view first of all through the charismatic and Word-Faith movements. Most in the charismatic “camp” love the Word of God and would never say it is insufficient, but the logical deduction—I believe—if we say God still needs to give us private revelations through dreams, voices and impressions, is that the Bible is not sufficient for our daily living. We need more. Many in the charismatic camp have begun to recognize this shortcoming in their understanding of the Bible and are turning back to the sufficiency of Scripture. In the Hank Hanegraaff book, Counterfeit Revival, pastor Tom Stipe wrote the forward. He was a pastor in the Vineyard Movement of the ’80’s and ’90’s that looked like it was going to sweep the planet. Instead, under the leadership of so-called prophets, the movement simply became more and more bizarre and eventually devolved into chaos. Listen to how he describes this and what he eventually decided to do: “One director claimed God had told him that the pure church was the cell church, and that we should abandon public Bible teaching and evangelism altogether for small group meetings. Some heralded the position that real evangelism takes place through “signs and wonders,” when people are attracted to the Kingdom of God through “demonstrations” of power. Some scorned the idea of evangelistic crusades. Some supported the ministry of the prophets. Others presented evidence regarding the trickery and manipulation often used by the prophets in their meetings. Finally, after a week’s worth of sometimes heated discussion, prayer, and meetings, it was all summed up by the dream someone shared the last night. The dream, related as though it were from God Himself, instructed us to do nothing, to make no decisions, but to “wait and see.” Frustrated, I returned to my own church in Denver. I had just witnessed close friends, colaborers in Christ, legitimate Christian leaders being “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.” Our corporate ministry seemed like a laboratory test gone awry. The adoption of subjectivity as the primary source of guidance had reduced us to complete ineptitude as pastors and leaders. What had happened? Why were these Christian men and women “hearing” so many contradictory messages from God? I knew without a shadow of doubt that it was time to begin the process of getting the church God had given me to pastor back to basics. At that moment, truth became more important than relationships. My wife and I spoke with our remaining congregation. We knew that if they would commit to going back to the basics of Christian practice with us, the Word of God guaranteed that the Lord would work more powerfully and more legitimately in our lives than ever before. The congregation agreed. I went back to teaching the Bible in the most basic fashion I could, verse by verse. When I first announced that we were going to go through the Gospel of John for the better part of the year, the response of some was, “Why the Book of John? I read that when I was a baby Christian.” Others were horrified that I would discourage shaking and twitching “in the Spirit.” What had been a church of 4,400 shrank as people left to join the “holy laughter” movement. My hate mail grew to enormous proportions. Even the movement’s leader publicly denounced me, predicting that God would kill me for my “sin.” God was true to His word in the midst of the storm that our congregation endured during what we later called “the year of slander.” Within a few months, several hundred people came to a saving knowledge of Christ. Baptisms increased simply because there were new converts to baptize. People’s lives were radically changing, and the church was becoming healthy again. Attendance increased almost overnight. Within a year, we added a third service to our Sunday schedule. Currently our congregation is moving past 6,000, and our struggles are with ordinary, normal issues of Christian life. All of this because of the basics. It’s really that simple.” (p.XVI-XVII)

(ii)  Later, I learned that many in the Christian psychology movement promote the idea that the Scriptures are not sufficient. They will say that the Bible is true, but it is unsophisticated when it comes to the complex psyche of the human mind. It is insufficient to help us with many of our social and relational problems. Again, many well-intentioned people are involved in this movement, and don’t realize the implications of their teaching. But, that does not make it okay. It amounts to a back-door attack on the sufficiency of Scripture.

c)      The attack on relevancy. This is the approach of the Seeker Movement—another back-door attack at the hand of well-intentioned people. They taught numerous pastors to limit the Bible by avoiding potentially offensive subjects—such as sin and repentance. Focus instead on felt needs and culturally acceptable subjects. This has led enormous crowds of people into an anemic form of Christianity. Bill Hybels, who many consider the father of this movement, is the pastor of Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church. Last year, Willow Creek released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. A new book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Hybels and a few Willow Creek staffers, states that the so-called “Seeker model,” popularized by Hybels, is a “failure.” Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking” and “mind blowing.” Hybels said: “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services…”

d)     The attack on clarity. This is the emergent or emerging movement. It is difficult to nail down any particular specifics from this eclectic movement, but one that seems to be dominant is the charge that the Bible is not clear. That we really can’t be certain about anything—except that we can’t be certain about anything. The only people the emergent leaders debate or criticize or ridicule are those who claim any level of certainty about what God has said. They are eager to embrace all others—unrepentant homosexuals, radical liberal theologians, even people of false religions.

(i)    Ironically, this idea that the Scriptures are unclear is an ancient Roman Catholic teaching. The difference is that the emergent people say no one can understand the Scriptures. The Catholic magisterium (highest ranking bishops and cardinals) taught that only they could rightly interpret the Scriptures. This is why the Reformers’ lives were literally at stake for interpreting the Scriptures into the languages of the people. The Reformers taught the perspicuity of Scripture—that the meanings of the text can be clear to the ordinary reader, that God uses the text of the Bible to communicate His person and will. Ordinary people, who approach it in faith and humility, will be able to understand what the Bible is getting at, even if we meet with particular points of difficulty here and there.

(ii)  The emergent church is simply a return to liberalism. It was started by liberal theologians who began “repainting” (their word) Christianity with evangelical language and seduced many youth pastors and college students who were ill-equipped to discern the problems with this theology. I was exposed to this attack while I was a new youth pastor—through various popular books and national youth ministries. Fortunately, I had a mentor who helped me recognize the problems and stay grounded. Before I left our church in Texas, we began to see several families joining our church who were leaving a nearby megachurch that was becoming emergent.

(iii)          The good news is that many—like Pastor and Author Mark Driscoll—have begun to distance themselves from this movement (attack). But there are a few emergent churches in this area which are drawing large numbers of college students.

D.    So these are some of the attacks I’ve witnessed and struggled through. I’ve found that through each one, my faith in the reliability of the Scriptures has only become stronger because it has driven me back to the Bible itself. My hope is that as we look at some of these in a little more detail in the weeks ahead, you too will be strengthened in your faith and become better equipped to defend your belief in the Bible.

E.     Turn to 1 Peter 1:22-24. A sermon like this is rare—95% introduction and a couple minutes with an open Bible. But, today I felt it was necessary ground work. In Peter’s first epistle, I want you to notice two things:

1.     The Word of God will last forever. Look at the words he used: “imperishable…living and enduring word of God…endures forever.” And he’s not talking about some abstract idea or something that was so far beyond his readers that they could not understand it. “This is the word that was preached to you.” Now notice another thing.

2.     The ideas of men will fade away. He speaks of “all flesh”—this is a quote from Isaiah 40 and “flesh” clearly refers to people. People who oppose God, His Word and His righteousness will soon fade away and nothing will come of their ideas and false doctrines and attacks on the Bible.

F.     Ultimately, God’s Word will stand up to these attacks—any attacks. It can be trusted because God gave it. It is eternal because He is eternal. It is without error because He is perfect. It is sufficient because He is sufficient. It is relevant because it comes from our Designer. It is clear because God’s point in giving it to us was to “explain” Himself (John 1:18).

III.   Closing

A.    I am convinced that this question, “Can We Trust the Bible?” is one of the most important questions of our time—and any other time—because it is His Story. It is what God has revealed to us about Himself. It has ultimate relevance for us today and eternal importance for the future.

B.    G. Campbell Morgan—former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, considered one of the greatest Bible teachers of the past century—grew up in a Christian home, never questioning that the Bible was the Word of God. But in college, his faith was severely challenged and he began to entertain doubts. “The whole intellectual world was under the mastery of the physical scientists,” he later said, “and of a materialistic and rationalistic philosophy. Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, Spencer, Bain. There came a moment when I was sure of nothing.” In those days, opponents of the Bible appeared every Sunday in great lecture and concert halls across England, attacking Christianity and the Bible, and these brilliant atheists and agnostics troubled the young student. He read every book he could find, both for and against the Bible, both for and against Christianity, until he was so confused, so riddled with doubt that he felt he couldn’t go on. In desperation, he closed his books, put them in his cupboard and turned the lock. Going down to a bookshop, he bought a new Bible, returned to his room, sat down at his desk, and opened it. He said, I am no longer sure that this is what my father claims it to be—the Word of God. But of this I am sure. If it be the Word of God, and if I come to it with an unprejudiced and open mind, it will bring assurance to my soul of itself. As he looked into the book before him, studying its form and structure and unity and message, he was amazed. He later said, That Bible found me. I began to read and study it then, in 1883, and I have been a student ever since.”

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