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Discussing Doctrine and Theology

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Practical Ministry Skills:
Discussing Doctrine and Theology

  Contents......................................................................................... page
Leader’s Guide.................................................................................... 2
Tips for Facilitating DiscussionsHow to Lead a Group Discussion
   by JoHannah Reardon................................................................... 3–4Handling Theological Conflicts in a Small Group
   by Joel Comiskey............................................................................ 5–7Essential Characteristics ofa  Small-Group Facilitator
   by Reid Smith.................................................................................. 8–9Why We Don’t Know All the Answers
   by Philip Yancey......................................................................... 10–11Doctrinal Guidesby Heather Zempel Introduction to Christian Doctrine.................................... 12–13The Doctrine of the Bible....................................................... 14–17The Doctrine of God................................................................. 18–21The Doctrine of Man................................................................ 22–25The Doctrine of Christ and Salvation................................. 26–31The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit............................................ 32–34The Doctrine of the Church................................................... 35–37The Doctrine of the Future.................................................... 38–41
ResourcesFurther Exploration..................................................................... 42


|   | Leader’s GuideHow to use “ Discussing Doctrine and Theology “ by SmallGroups.com in your regularly scheduled meetings. |

Welcome to SmallGroups.com. You’ve purchased an innovative resource that will help you train and direct the leaders of your small-groups ministry. The material comes from respected thinkers and church leaders, and has been selected by the editors of Leadership Resources at Christianity Today International.

The theme of this download is “Discussing Doctrine and Theology.” All of the material for this resource has been adapted from the Theology 101 Bible study series, produced by Heather Zempel and National Community Church.

“Practical Ministry Skills” training downloads are completely flexible and designed for easy use. The handouts give a succinct and practical overview of the issues most relevant to your goals. They can be used as part of a training session for large groups of leaders and facilitators, or as a way to encourage and educate people individually. Simply print the handouts you need and use them as necessary.

For example, to learn about the basics of facilitating a group discussion, see “How to Lead a Discussion” by JoHannah Reardon (p. 3–4) and “Essential Characteristics of a Small-Group Facilitator” by Reid Smith (p. 8–9). To feel better about not being able to answer every question your group throws at you, see “Why We Don’t Know All the Answers,” by Philip Yancey (p. 10–11). And the Doctrinal Guides on pages 12–41 will give you a wealth of information for the questions that your group is able to explore.

Our prayer is that this material will ease the fear that often accompanies doctrinal and theological discussions. We hope it will help your group leaders and facilitators dive deep into God’s Word and enjoy every minute!

Need more material, or training on another small-groups ministry topic? See our website at www.SmallGroups.com.

To contact the editors:

            E-mail  SmallGroups@christianitytoday.com

            Mail      SmallGroups.com, Christianity Today International

                        465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188


|   | How to Lead a Group DiscussionFollow these basic principles to start and maintain a         productive conversation.Hebrews 5:2 |

The first small-group discussion I led took approximately 15 minutes. No one had explained to me how to get a discussion going. Instead, I was handed a list of questions and Scriptures to look up. My goal was to get through all of it as quickly as possible so that we could have our snacks and go home. Needless to say, no one was very excited about coming back to my group the next week!

Since then, I’ve learned a few principles about how to lead a good discussion.

It’s About Questions, Not Information

Any good discussion is dependent upon the questions. A good study will include open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. However, you can have a great question that is perfect for garnering all sorts of discussion—then kill it in an instant by providing the answer.

Sometimes we leaders prepare for a study with anticipation, looking up the answers ahead of time so that we feel qualified to teach. And that’s great. But if you are so anxious to provide an answer that you don’t allow discussion, you will kill the effectiveness of the question.

Another problem is when you assume you understand a Scripture passage better than you do. Suppose your text is Matthew 6:14–15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. And your question is, “What do you think this verse means?”

Perhaps you’ve been taught that this verse means that you have to make sure you have nothing against anyone the moment you die, or you’ll go to hell. But maybe someone in your group thinks it means more generally that we are not to knowingly hold grudges, or we won’t know and experience Christ’s forgiveness in this life. If you push your point of view without allowing the others to express their points of view, you will not win them to your side; you will simply discourage them from speaking what they think. Better an all-out discussion where everything is on the table—and you can support your point of view with other Scriptures—than to assume you know all the answers.

In fact, as a leader you should avoid giving your opinion until the end of the discussion. Be willing to let God’s Word and Spirit be the ultimate teacher. Encourage the further study of God’s Word and offer advice on where to find more information without giving pat, simplistic answers.

Re-State a Question That Goes Nowhere

Sometimes you may have a fantastic question that no one answers. Find another way to state it so that it penetrates. Maybe the question is, “What role does organized religion play in the development of a national moral consciousness?” Give your group members time to think about it. Pause for a while, and if you still don’t get an answer, rephrase it. You might say, “Can the church as a whole influence what our nation thinks is moral? If so, how? If not, why not?”

Don’t just skip a question no one is answering unless even rephrasing it doesn’t get a response. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to think through a question when the group leader moves along too quickly. Most of us have to process questions a bit before we can answer—at least to answer wisely.

Communicate Love, Not Judgment

Your group members are not going to want to answer questions honestly if they are ridiculed or shot down for their answers. In fact, they may not even come back. Look for ways to show that you care about the person and not just a right answer.
  

If a group member answers a question with an obvious heresy, then you have to address it. If the person is not in the group to win recruits to his point of view, then you want him to stay in the group so he can learn the truth. To do that, you are going to need to learn how to correct while showing love.

So instead of saying, “That’s heresy,” say, “Even in the early church they had this debate. Let’s look at the Scriptures they used to come to the conclusion that Jesus is God.” If you need time to look up those Scriptures, as most of us would, tell him you’ll come with them next week. In fact, you may want to meet with him outside the group if the rest of the group doesn’t have the same question. That way, you can move the group along but still show the person that you care about him and his ideas.

Keep the Discussion on Track

In the first study I led, I had no trouble keeping us on track. In fact, we didn’t deviate an iota. When I learned to allow true discussion, I had trouble keeping us on the subject. But the group leader has to learn that fine balance. You must allow discussion while making sure it stays on the subject. If it wanders, you need to gently bring it back.

Back to the question, “What role does organized religion play in the development of a national moral consciousness?” Suppose Nancy answers that the church could affect things at a grassroots level, such as Christian teachers in the public school system influencing their students. That’s a good answer that fits the subject. But Joe says, “You know, I don’t like that new teacher the school system hired.” This is off the topic and can lead to a complete disintegration of the study. As a leader, you need to get it back to the subject at hand. An easy way to do that is to restate the question, “Can anyone else think of ways that organized religion can affect the moral consciousness?” That way Joe isn’t allowed to take over the study, and it continues in a direction that people can learn from.

Finally, bathe the whole thing in prayer. As you let God influence your preparation and discussion time, you will create an environment that allows the Holy Spirit to transform people’s lives through God’s Word.

—JoHannah Reardon; copyright 2006 by the author and Christianity Today International.

Discuss:

1.       What kinds of feedback tell you that a discussion is going well? Is going poorly?

2.       What should a group leader do when a question is met with a period of silence?

3.       How should a leader guide the discussion when two (or more) opposing opinions are presented in  response to a question?


Handling Theological Conflicts in a Small Group


Five approaches that will help you and your group deal with doctrinal strife.1 Timothy 1:3–7 |

John was ready for the upcoming small-group meeting. Prayed-up and prepared, he was especially looking forward to seeing Tom and Nancy, a couple who had been attending the group for four months, but were not yet connected to the church. When the meeting started, the icebreaker was great, as was the worship time. Then the kids went to a separate room for their lesson, and John told everyone to turn to Matthew 28:18–20: Christ’s famous commission to make disciples of all nations. John shared his conviction that without Christ people are eternally lost, and that Christ expects all believers to evangelize and make disciples.

That’s when Tom blurted out, “I believe that Jesus only died for the elect, and that he predestines only elected people to be saved. God will bring to me those he wants me to talk with. So I don’t believe in witnessing.”

The rest of the group froze in silence. The question on everyone’s mind was, How is John going to respond?

Get Ready

Let’s face it, doctrinal conflict can and does occur in small-group ministry. Ideally, churches have structures in place that will answer most theological questions. But if such documents do exist, group leaders usually don’t have immediate access to them. Similarly, a lot of churches don’t have a workable coaching structure in place to help group leaders deal with doctrinal questions. All of this means that too many small-group leaders are left to address theological issues on their own.

Dealing with doctrinal conflict is a diverse problem, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Yet as the leader is armed with various options and responses, the Holy Spirit can more readily remind him or her which option best fits the situation. With that in mind, here are some possibilities:  

The “Can We Talk at Another Time?” Approach

This is often the best approach. Most small-group lessons last around 45 minutes—a time period in which the group can cover only a limited amount of ground. Consequently, one of the chief jobs of the small-group leader is to keep the discussion on track. When a doctrinal issue comes up, the leader can say, “Tom, your point about Christ dying only for the elect is a good one. Thanks for sharing it. But this is not the time to debate eternal security and predestination. Let’s have that conversation another time—perhaps we could meet afterwards. Right now, let’s look at what Christ clearly says here in the Word about making disciples. Now, let me repeat this question….”

At these words, the group will likely heave a collective sigh of relief. Remember that group members often feel uncomfortable and un-edified when wandering down the path of a tangled doctrinal discussion. Granted, there’s a time and place for such discussions, but it’s usually not in the middle of a small-group gathering. The “Can we talk at another time?” approach allows you to positively respond to the person with the doctrinal issue, yet firmly remind him or her that it’s best to discuss the matter outside of the group.

Here’s another example. George, a church member and regular small-group attender, believes that women in the church should be seen, not heard. In Tuesday’s small group, he’s still fuming that Jane, a missionary from Gabon, preached last Sunday’s message. During the lesson George blurts out, “Scripture tells us that women should be silent in church. I don’t believe Jane should have preached the Word on Sunday morning. She was going against Scripture.”

Dave, the small-group leader, is taken by surprise. The lesson is on trials and is based on the Book of James—not women in ministry. And even though Dave considers himself well read on doctrinal issues, he feels totally inadequate to discuss what the Scripture says about women in ministry. The way out for Dave—and the best solution for the rest of the group—is for him to say, “George, I realize you have a strong conviction about women in ministry, but this is not the best time to talk about those convictions. Our lesson is on how to find victory through trials.”

The “I Don’t Know” Approach

Here is a blessed phrase: “I don’t know, but I will check on it and get back to you.” That is a phrase of honor, not disgrace. Small-group leaders are not supposed to be theological experts. They are trained in other professions. Pastors, on the other hand, go to Bible school and seminary in order to study theology. So when the small-group leader says, “I don’t know the answer to that theological question, but I’ll find out and get back to you,” he or she is manifesting the humble attitude of a learner.

Pride tempts many group leaders to act like they know the answer to any question. But the results of giving in to such pride can be disastrous. How often have you seen group leaders think they remember a Scripture verse that addresses a theological question, only to spend five or ten fruitless minutes hunting for it? And answers given under pressure usually ring hollow.   

The “Brief Answer and Continue” Approach

When a potentially conflictive doctrinal issue can be easily explained, and the leader feels the group might also be helped by the answer, he or she can give a brief answer and move on. This is a good approach when the question comes from a sincere member who is known and respected in the group. Note that the leader should be sufficiently confident in the subject matter to give a brief answer—it’s often harder to give a concise answer than a long, rambling one.

The “Go with the Flow” Approach

I remember one meeting in my living room in which first-timer Mary, a nominal Roman Catholic newcomer, blurted out her frustration with the Catholic Church. She wanted to discuss what was boiling inside her heart—the doctrinal differences between the Catholic Church and evangelical Christianity. In this case, Mary sincerely wanted help. I allowed her to share her doubts, and we as a group answered her questions.

I chose this option because, first, she was the guest of a faithful member of the group. Second, she asked sincere questions that demonstrated a desire to know Christ—not just debate doctrine. Third, the maturity level of the rest of the group was high enough to warrant a free-flowing exchange with Mary.

We spent most of the lesson discussing her issues, and she came back week after week with more and more of her questions answered. Eventually she received Christ, was baptized, and even became a small-group multiplication leader. Sometimes the leader should see a doctrinal discussion as an opportunity to minister to doubting or seeking people. 

The “Talk to the Person Afterwards” Approach

My wife Celyce invited Lily to her women’s small group with the hope that she’d become a believer. Unfortunately, Lily’s doubt and unbelief disrupted the love and community in the group. She liked to bring up arguments for the sake of debate. Her constant doubt and questioning around doctrinal issues caused disruption and consternation. She would even attack other group members if they disagreed with her. Celyce reminded Lily in the group about the need to stick with the topic. She even tried giving a brief answer and moving on. Nothing worked.

Celyce decided to have a serious talk with Lily after the group. The direct approach helped for a while, but the contentious narratives continued during lesson times. Celyce was eventually forced to ask Lily not to come back. “I think it would be best if I talked with you one-on-one, rather than in the group,” Celyce graciously told her. “Next week, why don’t we meet together for breakfast?” We later found out that Lily had a history of mental problems. Celyce made the right decision.   

Conclusion

Experience is often the best teacher when determining which approach to take with doctrinal conflicts. Small-group leaders should not be afraid of failure—it will occur. But there’s no one who can help make sense of the diverse experiences better than the Holy Spirit.

I encourage small-group leaders to take time before each meeting to pray, meditate, and get in touch with God. Small-group leadership is an exciting adventure in trusting the living God for answers. He’s the One who will give wisdom to make the right decisions in dealing with theological conflicts in your small group.

—Joel Comiskey; copyright 2008 by the author and Christianity Today International.

Discuss:

1.       Was the last doctrinal discussion in our small group a positive or negative experience? Why? Could the leader have benefited from any of the approaches above?

2.       Have I tried any of the above approaches in my own small group? What was the result?

3.       What steps can our church take in training our group leaders to address doctrinal conflicts and questions using these five approaches?


|   | Essential Characteristics of a Small-Group FacilitatorQualities to look for in the people facilitating small-group discussions.Mark 13:35–40 |

First-class small-group facilitators should demonstrate the following eight characteristics when leading, and preparing to lead, group discussions.

Spiritual Characteristics

Ø  Love. The most important requirement for somebody who wants to serve as a small-group facilitator is that they hold the Greatest Commandment in their heart: love for God and people (Mark 12:29–31). When a facilitator’s leadership finds its source in this love and shares it with others, he or she is bound to be strong and successful.

Put simply, there is no better bonding agent than love. When group participants feel loved by a facilitator, they’ll be content. They won’t want any other facilitator in the world—even if someone else is more confident in leadership or more competent in understanding God’s Word. Just as love covers a multitude of sins, so love covers a multitude of misgivings facilitators often have about their own skills.

Ø  Prayer. Prayer is essential to our communion with God and others. It overflows from the small-group facilitator’s love for God and people. Prayer expresses our dependence on the Lord, mediates the flow of his grace into the small group, strengthens our receptivity to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and teaching, and shields the group from the enemy’s attacks (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Make no mistake about it: any person serving as a small-group facilitator is at war with the Devil, who wants to throw apart what God has set apart (made holy) in order to bring together. God will powerfully reveal his faithfulness to the group when facilitators demonstrate their faithfulness in their role through prayer.

Ø  Humility. This is a key attribute to any person who imitates Christ’s example, as all facilitators should. It allows the facilitator to hear from the Lord, receive his wisdom, serve others, and model spiritual intimacy with the Lord. Good facilitators prioritize the needs of others above their own desires and agenda.

Most people can only be themselves when they feel safe, and a safe environment is born out of humble leadership. Truth and trust go hand-in-hand. Humble people have a way of disarming others and helping them be truthful about who they are and where they need spiritual encouragement.

Humility also communicates that all of us are equally in need of God’s grace—that no person is better than another or is loved any differently by God.

Finally, humility is a reflection that a person is teachable, which good facilitators need to be if they are going to hear from the Lord and truly partner with others in building biblical community.

Practical Characteristics

Ø  Authenticity. Authenticity is essential to the success of all small-group facilitators. People will not tolerate for long a small group where members are not real with each other—they have better things to spend their time doing each week.

Arguably, the greatest influence on the dynamics of a group discussion is how real the facilitator is with the other participants. The health of a small group can be directly linked to how free people feel they can be with one another—especially during group discussions. People want to go someplace where they are loved for who they are, rather than who they feel they are supposed to be. Demonstrated vulnerability from the facilitator has tremendous “imprinting power” that ensures the health of the group for the life of the group.

Ø  Inclusiveness. Effective facilitators convene and care for people. They intentionally draw participants into the discussion and include them in prayer because they know this enhances their spiritual growth. They find ways to play to people’s strengths during a lesson. They look for ways to give everybody a voice and a purpose to fulfill within the group because they know that building biblical community takes all of the parts working together.

Small-group facilitators who are inclusive resist the temptation to be guarded about the dynamics within their group. Instead, they trust the Lord with those he wants to gather to himself. They understand that shepherds are to protect their flocks from decreasing because of wolves, not increasing due to more sheep.

Ø  Encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement at some point in their life. Small-group facilitators will most likely use encouragement as a primary catalyst for calling out people’s gifts within a discussion and prodding them to participate. Encouragement enables people to hear God’s Word for their lives and helps them to see themselves the way God sees them.

In general, people respond positively to facilitators with positive attitudes. Hope and faith resonate from a facilitator who is encouraging, while a discouraging person dampens the hope and faith of others. A splash of humor doesn’t hurt, either—this doesn’t require wit as much as an ability to look optimistically at life and its challenges.

Ø  Consistency. It is vital for group facilitators to follow-through on what they say and promise to do. Showing integrity in word and action creates structural integrity for group life and group discussions. For example, if the facilitator promises to provide time for a member to express an opinion later in the discussion, he or she must do it. Otherwise, the participant becomes disheartened.

A lack of consistency also demolishes one of the pillars that biblical community is built upon: trust. The old adage of “do what you say and say what you mean” is a maxim for group facilitation as well as life in general. Your consistency reveals your commitment to the discussion, and ensures group participants that they can rely on you.

Ø  Listening. Of course we understand that communication is vital to the role of a small-group facilitator. But listening is the key to good communication (James 1:19). One of the best ways facilitators can love the people in their group is to really listen to them.

Listening to others shows respect and increases each person’s sense of self-worth within the group, as well as builds greater cohesion or bonding among group participants. Cohesion brings encouragement and motivation for true discipleship. As a group’s cohesion increases, so does its level of communication and positive interaction.

Reid Smith is the executive pastor of Southlake Foursquare Church in West Linn, Oregon. He is also the founder of 2orMore—a consulting organization dedicated to the growth of biblical small groups.

— Reid Smith; copyright 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International.

Discuss:

1.       Which of the above characteristics am I strongest at?

2.       In which of the above characteristics can I use the most help?

3.       Which of the above characteristics are most important for me in my role as facilitator of my particular small group?


|   | Why We Don’t Know All the AnswersWhy God doesn’t always speak in crystal-clear commands.1 Corinthians 1:20–25 |

I am the proud owner of The Oxford English Dictionary, which contains every word in our language. Instead of the 20-volume version that retails for $3,000, I got a special one-volume edition for only $39.95 by joining a certain book club. It contains the full text of the dictionary, with the drawback of typesetting shrunken too small to read. Next, I purchased a splendid magnifying glass, the size of a dinner plate mounted on a swivel arm with a fluorescent light built in. When I train the magnifying glass on a word, the tiny marks show up crisp and clear in the center, or focal point, while the edges grow progressively distorted.

The Centrality of Christ

In an exact parallel, for me Jesus has become the focal point of faith, and increasingly I am learning to keep the magnifying glass of my faith focused on him. In my spiritual journey I have long lingered in the margins, puzzling over matters like the problem of pain, the conundrum of prayer, providence versus free will. When I do so, everything becomes fuzzy. Looking at Jesus, however, restores clarity. For example, the Bible leaves many questions unanswered about the problem of pain, but in Jesus I see unmistakable proof that God is the God of all comfort, not the author of our pain.

I admit that many orthodox Christian doctrines bother me. Will hell really involve an eternity of torment? What of those who live and die without hearing about Jesus? I fall back on the response of Bishop Ambrose, mentor of Saint Augustine, who was asked on his deathbed whether he feared facing God at judgment. “We have a good Master,” Ambrose replied. I learn to trust God with areas I do not understand by getting to know Jesus—and if that sounds evasive, I suggest it accurately reflects the centrality of Christ presented in the New Testament. With Jesus as the focal point, we let our eyes wander with care into the margins.

I have often wondered why the Bible does not give clearer answers to those questions at the margins. God had the opportunity to address the problem of pain in his speech at the end of Job, and yet avoided the topic entirely. The Bible treats other issues—free will, infant salvation, annihilation—with clues, not direct pronouncements. I have a theory why.

The Danger of Certainty

On a shelf near my dictionary sits another book titled The Encyclopedia of Ignorance. Whereas most encyclopedias compile information that we know, this book outlines the areas science cannot yet explain. Perhaps God has fenced off an area of knowledge—The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance.

Consider infant salvation. Most theologians have found a few clues that lead them to conclude God welcomes all infants “under the age of accountability.” The biblical evidence, however, is scant. What if God had made a clear pronouncement: “Thus saith the Lord. Every child under the age of ten, I will welcome into heaven”? I can easily see crusaders of the tenth century mounting a campaign to slaughter every child under the age of ten in order to guarantee their eternal salvation—which, of course, would mean that none of us would be around a millennium later to contemplate such questions.

In view of the mess we have made of crystal-clear commands—the unity of the church, love as a mark of Christians, reliance on God’s grace and not our works, the importance of personal purity, the dangers of wealth—I tremble to think how we might act if some of the ambiguous doctrines were less ambiguous. We dare not repeat the error of Eden by assuming prerogatives in realms we cannot fathom.

Take the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, taught in the Bible in such a way that it stands in creative tension with human freedom. The perspective of an all-powerful being who sees all history at once rather than unfolding second by second will always baffle theologians because that point of view is unattainable to us, even unimaginable by us. A humble approach accepts the difference in perspective and worships a God who transcends our limitations.

Hyper-Calvinists take on the prerogatives that no human can bear. Thus Malthusians opposed vaccination for smallpox because, they said, it interfered with God’s sovereign will. Calvinist churches discouraged early missionaries such as William Carey, ignoring the obvious fact that we are the ones chosen by a sovereign God to carry the good news worldwide. On the other hand, in their doctrine of “perseverance of the saints,” Calvinists correctly expressed the biblical tension between eternal security and the need for God’s followers to persevere in their faith.

Obviously, we must and should investigate some of the issues in what I have called “the margins.” I have been greatly helped, for example, by C. S. Lewis’s depiction in The Great Divorce of hell as a place people continue to choose even when they end up there. As Milton’s Satan put it, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

Still, I must insist that the most important questions about heaven and hell—who goes where, whether there are second chances, what form the judgments and rewards take, intermediate states after death—are opaque at best. Increasingly, I am grateful for that ignorance and grateful that the God who revealed himself in Jesus is the one who knows the answers.

— Philip Yancy; excerpted from our sister publication Christianity Today, ©1999 by Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit Christianitytoday.com.

Discuss:

1.       Which “on the margin” theological questions would I like answered most?

2.       Do I agree with Yancey that having solid answers to some of these questions might be more harmful    than helpful? Why or why not?

3.       How can I keep my focus on Jesus when theological questions come up? How can I help my group do    the same?


 

  Introduction to Christian DoctrineA starting point for what theology is and why we should study it.Ephesians 4:14–15

Definitions

“Theology” is derived from two Greek words: Theos (God) and Logos (speech or reason). Therefore, theology in its simplest terms is rational discussion about God. In secular Greek, the word theologia referred to the discussions amongst the philosophers about divine matters. Plato called the stories of the gods “theologies.” Aristotle considered theology to be the greatest of all scientific studies since its subject, God, was the highest reality.

B. B. Warfield promoted a classic definition as follows: “Theology is the science of God and his relationship to man and the world.” In greater detail, it is the discipline which 1) presents a unified formulation of truth concerning God and his relationship to humanity and the universe as this is set forth in divine revelation, and that 2) applies such truths to the entire range of human thought and life” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology).

Here are some other key terms when it comes to what Christians believe:

Ø  Systematic theology: Any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” This definition indicates that systematic theology involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly, so that we know what to believe about each topic (Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem).

Ø  Doctrine: What the whole Bible teaches about some particular topic (Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem).

Ø  Major doctrine: A doctrine that has a significant impact on our thinking about other doctrines, or that has a significant impact on how we live as the Christian life. (Examples include the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and justification by faith.)

Ø  Minor doctrine: A doctrine that has very little impact on how we think about other doctrines and very little impact on how we live the Christians life. (Examples include differing views of the future, forms of church government, and forms of communion and baptism.)

Ø  Paradox: A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true (for example, the doctrine of the trinity).

Ø  Apologetics: A defense of the Christian faith for the purpose of instructing believers or convincing unbelievers.

Ø  Ethics: The application of God’s Word to real-life situations, problems, and questions.

Why Study Theology?

Scripture itself gives us several compelling reasons as to why we need to study theology. For example, Ephesians 4:11–16 says: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Similarly, Hebrews 5:13–14 tells us: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

Broadly, we need to study theology for these reasons:

Ø  Clarification (Ephesians 4:14)

Ø  Correction (1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 4:3–5; Hebrews 5:13–14)

Ø  Declaration and unification (Ephesians 4:13)

Ø  Obedience (Psalm 119:11; Matthew 28:19–20; 1 John 2:3)

Ø  Growth (Ephesians 4)

Ø  To love and glorify God (Matthew 22:37; Philippians 1:9–11)

In addition to telling us why we need to study theology, the Bible also gives us some good ideas when it comes to how we should study:

Ø  Biblically (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

Ø  Guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; John 16:13)

Ø  Humbly (2 Timothy 2:23–25; 1 Peter 5:5; James 1:19–20)

Ø  With discernment (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 1:17–19)

Ø  In community (Proverbs 11:14; 1 Corinthians 12:27–28)

Ø  Prayerfully (Psalm 119:18)

Ø  With application to life (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 2:1)

Ø  With a familiarity of church history

Ø  With worship and praise (Deuteronomy 6:1–9; Psalm 119:14; Psalm 119:162)

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       How much do I know about the various doctrines of the Christian faith? About which areas would I like to know more?

2.       In what ways can the study of theology be a distraction? In what ways can it be beneficial?

3.       How can I help our small group approach doctrine and theology in the ways outlined above?


 

  The Doctrine of the BibleUnderstand what God’s Word is and how it affects our lives.2 Timothy 3:16

As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The National Community Church Statement of Beliefs says: “The Old and New Testament are verbally inspired by God, the only written revelation from God to man. The Bible is infallible and the authoritative rule of faith and conduct for mankind.”

The Authority of the Bible

In Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem says, “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”

Authority of the Old Testament

Ø  The religion of ancient Israel was founded upon the written words of the Old Testament.

Ø  The concept of written revelation may have derived from God’s inscribing of the Ten Commandments.

Ø  Hundreds of Old Testament writings begin with “Thus says the Lord” (examples: Exodus 4:22, Joshua 24:2, 1 Samuel 10:18, Isaiah 10:24).

Ø  Old Testament writings often indicate that God spoke through prophets (1 Kings 4:18, Jeremiah 37:2, Zechariah 7:7)

Ø  Jesus viewed the Old Testament Scriptures as authoritative (Matthew 19:5, Luke 24:25, John 5:45–47)

Ø  2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” (The word “Scripture” is translated from the Greek word graphe, which occurs in the New Testament 51 times. In each instance, it refers to the Old Testament writings.)

Authority of the New Testament

Ø  1 Timothy 5:18 says, “For the Scripture says, ‘(a)Do not muzzle the ox while it is reading out the grain,’ and ‘(b)The worker deserves his wages.’”

·         (a) is from Deuteronomy 25:4

·         (b) is from Luke 10:7

·         Both are referred to as “Scripture”

Ø  2 Peter 3:15–16 says, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

·         Peter speaks of Scripture and Paul’s letters

·         Peter shows a willingness here to classify Paul’s letters as Scripture

Ø  1 Corinthians 14:37 says, “If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.”

·         This verse is evidence that some New Testament writers were aware that their own writings were the words of God.

·         See also 2 Peter 3:2 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15

The Three “In” Words

The Bible is Inspired, Infallible, and Inerrant.

Inspired

According to Wayne Grudem, inspiration “refers to the fact that the words of Scripture are spoken by God” (Bible Doctrine). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines inspiration as, “A supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit upon divinely chosen men in consequence of which their writings become trustworthy and authoritative.”

The word inspired comes from the Greek word theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.”

Ø  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Ø  “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Ø  “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Even when we understand that the Bible is inspired by God, we still wonder how it happened. What was the method? Actually, according to Hebrews 1:1, there were several methods:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (Hebrews 1:1).

Ø  God spoke directly to the writer (Revelation 2)

Ø  God spoke through author research (Luke 1:1–3)

Ø  The Holy Spirit reminded the writer of events (John 14:26)

Infallible

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology describes the infallibility of the Bible in this way: “As it is wholly trustworthy regarding its truth, so must it be wholly reliable regarding its facts. And because it is both, it is our divine authority in all things that pertain to life and godliness.” In Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem defines infallibility as “the idea that Scripture is not able to lead us astray in matters of faith and practice.”

The Bible also has a lot to say about its own infallibility:

Ø  John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” The word Jesus uses here is the noun aletheia and not the adjective alethes (“true”), to say that God’s Word is not just true, but the truth.

Ø  Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Inerrant

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology has this to say about the inerrancy of the Bible: “The view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences.” Wayne Grudem describes inerrancy as “the idea that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Bible Doctrine).

Inerrancy emphasizes truthfulness. Infallibility emphasizes trustworthiness.

Ø  “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)

Ø  “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged” (Hebrews 6:18).

Ø  “A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…” (Titus 1:2).

Characteristics of Scriptures

There are several characteristics, or principles, that are always true about the Bible.

Clarity

“The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, Bible Doctrine).

Ø  “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

Ø  “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

Ø  “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The doctrine of clarity does not mean that all believers everywhere will agree in their interpretations of the teachings of Scripture (see Acts 15:7 and Galatians 2:11–15). However, the doctrine does tell us that the problem lies not with Scripture, but within ourselves. The doctrine of clarity also affirms that the writings of Scripture will not be clear to those who are unwilling to receive them or obey them (1 Corinthians 1:18–25, James 1:5–6).

Here are some questions to consider when faced with interpretation differences:

Ø  Am I trying to make a statement on an issue where Scripture is silent?

Ø  Have I made a mistake in interpretation?

Ø  Is there a personal inadequacy (moral, sin, or personality issue) or a lack of prayerful study?

Necessity

“The necessity of the Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowledge of the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for certain knowledge of God’s will, but it is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws” (Grudem, Bible Doctrine).

Romans 10:13–17 says: “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

God reveals himself to us in two main ways: general revelation and special revelation.

Ø  General Revelation is knowledge of God from general observations of nature (Romans 1:18–20) or from one’s own conscience (Romans 2:14).

Ø  Special Revelation is God’s words addressed to a specific people—in other words, Scripture.

These two forms of revelation create a specific tension—if we can find some understanding of God through the world he created, what happens if we don’t have access to his special revelation? The Bible addresses this tension, but doesn’t resolve it:

Ø  “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

Ø  “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Sufficiency

“The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, Bible Doctrine).

Ø  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Ø  “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9).

Applying God’s Word

Once we get a good understanding of what the Bible is and what it means for us, we need to encounter it on a regular and personal level. Here’s how:

Ø  Reading. Devotional reading allows us to grasp the big picture of the biblical story by reading large chunks of Scripture in one sitting.

Ø  Study. This is the systematic dissection of Scripture through a process of observation, interpretation, and application.

Ø  Meditation. This is the process by which we allow Scripture to dissect us as we let God’s word soak into our imaginations. It is not a process of emptying the mind, but of filling it with God’s truth.

Ø  Memorization. Committing verses and sections of the Bible to memory enables the Word to become a living and active part of our lives. We grow closer to God as we internalize his truth.

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       Do I believe that the Bible is true? Do I believe that it is inspired, infallible, and inerrant? Why?

2.       How have I found the Bible to be necessary for my relationship with God? Have I found the Bible to be sufficient?

3.       In what ways would I like to be applying the Bible to my life? What is stopping me from doing so, and how can I remove those obstacles?


 

  The Doctrine of GodUnderstanding the central qualities and doctrines of the Almighty.Deuteronomy 6:4

One of the core beliefs of Christianity is that there is only one God. Here’s how we phrased that idea in the National Community Church Statement of Beliefs: “There is one true God. God is called by many different names because of the different dimensions of his personality, but God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). God is super-dimensional and eternally self-existent (John 8:54–59). God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1–2). While God is one, he has revealed himself in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).”

Does God Exist?

From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, Christian thinkers developed three basic types of theistic proofs for the existence of God:

Ø  Ontological Argument. This basically states that God must exist; his nonexistence is inconceivable. Man cannot consider the finite without at the same time thinking of the infinite, which bounds and determines the finite. This argument was devised by Anselm. (For more, see Georg Hegel’s The Phenomenology of the Mind or Theology for the Community of God, by Stanley Grenz.)

Ø  Cosmological and Teleological Argument. God must exist as the cause of the world, or as the cause of what we observe in the natural world. Thomas Aquinas used this argument in Summa Theologica.

Ø  Moral Argument. The practices of all social communities reveal a universal code of morality. Immanuel Kant was the first major philosopher to use the moral argument. The moral argument has been popularized in modern times by C. S. Lewis.

Romans 1:19–20 says: “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

The Trinity

The concept of the Trinity is one of the more difficult Christian beliefs to wrap our minds around, but it is vital to our understanding of God. In Theology for the Community of God, Stanley Grenz says, “The concept of tri-unity lies at the heart of the Christian understanding of God and therefore is necessary in order to maintain the central message of the Bible.”

According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, the Trinity is “the term designating one God in three persons. Although not itself a Biblical term, ‘the Trinity’ has found a convenient designation for the one God self-revealed in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It signifies that within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three “persons” who are neither three gods on one side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God.”

One of the more confusing aspects of the Trinity is how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit interact with each other. Wayne Grudem explains it this way in Bible Doctrine: “The only distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and in the ways they related to the creation.” He says the three persons have “ontological equality but economic subordination.” In other words, they are “equal in being but subordinate in role.”

Presence of the Trinity in Scripture

The concept of the Trinity is not clearly spelled out in Scripture. However, this truth is illustrated in several passages of Scripture, including the following:

Ø  Creation. Genesis 1:26 shows the Father’s part: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness.’” The Holy Spirit was “hovering over the face of the waters” according to Genesis 1:2. And in John 1:3, Jesus’ role in creation is revealed: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

Ø  Birth of Jesus. Luke 1:35 says: “The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Ø  Baptism of Jesus. Matthew 3:16–17 says: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (See also Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22; and John 1:32–34.)

Ø  The Great Commission. Matthew 28:19 says: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Ø  Paul’s Blessing. 2 Corinthians 13:14 says: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Ø  Salvation. In John 14:26, Jesus says: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Scriptural Support for the Doctrine of the Trinity

Ø  God is one: Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 3:30; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 1:17

Ø  God is three: John 1:1–4; John 20:28; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8 (Jesus is God); Acts 5:3–4; 1 Corinthians 2:10–11; 1 Corinthians 12:4–6 (The Holy Spirit is God)

Ø  God is a diversity: Matthew 11:27; John 14:26; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 1:2

Ø  God is a unity: John 17:22–23

Three Trinitarian Heresies

Ø  Tritheism. The belief that there is not one God. God is three persons, and each person is fully God.

Ø  Modalism. The belief that there is only one person who appears to us in three different forms, or “modes.”

Ø  Arianism. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not eternally and fully God. Only the Father is truly God.

Attributes of God
The characteristics of God are sometimes divided into two categories: incommunicable attributes and communicable attributes.

Incommunicable attributes are aspects of God’s character that he less fully shares with us. These can include self-existence, immutability, infinity, and unity. Communicable attributes are aspects of God’s character that he more fully shares, or communicates, with us. These arise out of God’s spiritual, intellectual, and moral nature and include knowledge, wisdom, truthfulness, goodness, holiness, righteousness, and sovereignty.

We can also divide the attributes of God into categories of eternality and goodness.

Attributes of Eternality

Ø  Independent. God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything. (John 5:26; Acts 17:24–25)

Ø  Infinite. God is unlimited and unbounded. He transcends everything in his creation. (Genesis 14:18–22; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 145:3; Nehemiah 9:5; 1 Corinthians 2:10–12; Romans 11:33)

Ø  Unchangeable. God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises. Still, God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations. This attribute is also called immutability. It means there is a dependability, constancy, and stability in all that he is and does. (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8)

Ø  Spiritual. God exists as a being that is not made of any matter, has no parts or dimensions, is unable to be perceived by our bodily senses, and is more excellent than any other kind of existence. The Bible doesn’t give us a definition of “spirit,” but it does give us descriptions—immortal, invisible, and eternal. (John 4:24)

Ø  Invisible. God’s total essence, all of his spiritual being, will never be able to be seen by us. Still, God shows himself to us through visible and created things. (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; John 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:16)

Ø  Omnipresent. God does not have size of spatial dimensions, and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places. All things are present to God in and of themselves, whether they be events past, present, or future. (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 139:7–10; Jeremiah 23:23–24; Colossians 1:17)

Ø  Omniscient. God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act. (Job 37:16; 1 John 3:20)

Ø  Omnipotent. This is God’s ability to bring completion to his design for creation. (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Ephesians 3:20)

Attributes of Goodness

Ø  Holy. God is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. (Exodus 3:5; Leviticus 11:44; Psalm 71:22; Isaiah 6:3; Isaiah 43:3; Luke 4:34)

Ø  Knowable. Humanity will never be able to fully comprehend God. However, he has shown himself at different times and in various ways, indicating that it is his will for us to know him and to be in right relationship with him. (Psalm 46:10; Jeremiah 9:23–24; John 1:18; John 17:3; Philippians 3:10; 1 John 2:13; 1 John 5:20)

Ø  Wise. God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals. (Job 9:4; Psalm 104:34; Romans 8:28; Romans 16:27; James 1:5)

Ø  Truthful. God is the true God, and all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth. (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 141:6; Jeremiah 10:10; John 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:9)

Ø  Good. God is the final standard of good, and all that God is and does is worthy of approval. (Psalm 100:5; Psalm 106:1; Luke 18:19)

Ø  Love. God is centrally the God of love, and love is the very essence of the divine nature. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8)

Ø  Righteous and Just. These two terms are actually the same word in both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek. God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 25:8; Psalm 89:14; Psalm 97:2)

Ø  Jealous. God continually seeks to protect his own honor. (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; Isaiah 48:11; Revelation 4:11)

Ø  Wrathful. God intensely hates all sin. (Exodus 32:9–10; Deuteronomy 9:7–8; Romans 1:18; Romans 3:25–26; Colossians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Revelation 6:16–17)

The Creator God

God first revealed himself to us as Creator (Genesis 1:1)

Ø  God created out of nothing, or ex nihilo. (Psalm 90:2; John 1:3; Colossians 1:17)

Ø  God created by speaking the universe into existence. (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6,9; Hebrews 11:3)

Ø  Jesus and the Holy Spirit played a role in creation. (Genesis 1:2; Job 26:23; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16)

Ø  God is distinct from creation, but he is involved in creation and creation is dependent upon him. (Ephesians 4:6; Acts 17:25, 28)

Ø  God created the universe to show his glory. (Isaiah 43:7; Psalm 19; Revelation 4:11)

Creation Theories

Creation theories seek to answer two basic questions regarding creation: 1) Age—how old is the Earth? 2) Method—how was the Earth created?

Ø  Young Age View. The days mentioned in Genesis are literal, successive, 24-hour periods of time. Therefore, the world is no more than 10,000 years old.

Ø  Day-Age View. The “days” in Genesis are best understood as indefinite periods of time.

Ø  Restoration View. This is also called the “gap theory,” and argues that a large gap of time occurred between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. The original creation, therefore, may be very old and the “days” of Genesis may be literal, 24-hour days or more indefinite ages.

Ø  Literary Framework View. This theory proposes that a literal reading of the text as a chronological order of events is not the purpose of the text. Rather, the purpose of the creation account was to establish monotheism in a polytheistic context. The creation account is organized thematically, not chronologically.

Ø  Theistic Evolution. God directed the evolutionary process to bring about all life forms on earth.

A good overview of these theories can be found in the book Across the Spectrum.

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       How do I understand the existence of God? Do I have evidence that he exists, or do I believe through faith alone?

2.       Which of God’s attributes do I appreciate most from the list above? Which ones were new to me?

3.       Which of the creation theories listed above is closest to my own view?


 

  The Doctrine of ManWhat the Bible says about the station and purpose of            human beings.Psalm 8:4–6

The first thing to note about human beings is that we are creations of a good and loving God. The second thing to note is that we continually reject and turn away from God, which is called sin. Stanley Grenz puts it well in Theology for the Community of God: “We may encapsulate our human identity as God’s creatures in three postulates: We are the good creation of God, we are marred through our fall to sin, but we are also the objects of God’s redemptive activity.”

The National Community Church Statement of Beliefs says it this way: “Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 2:26). However, by a voluntary act of the will, Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6). That first sin had several repercussions. Man was excommunicated from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23), a curse was pronounced (Genesis 3:14–19), the process of physical death began (Genesis 2:17), and man died spiritually (Romans 5:12–19). Sin separated humankind from God (Ephesians 2:11–18) and left man in a fallen or sinful condition (Romans 3:23).

The Purpose of Man

The first question in the Westminster Larger Catechism is, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer is, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and to fully enjoy him forever.”

The Bible is pretty clear about the purpose of human beings. For example, Isaiah 43:7 says, “Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made” (nasb). First Corinthians 10:31 is even more to the point: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (nasb).

But this doesn’t mean our lives have to be devoid of happiness or joy. In fact, the opposite is true. In Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem writes: “When we realize that God created us to glorify him, and when we start to act in ways that fulfill that purpose, then we begin to experience an intensity of joy in the Lord that we have never before known.” (Grudem, Bible Doctrine, p.189)

The Image of God

Genesis 1:26–27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

So human beings have both the image and the likeness of God. And because that is true, we learn more about ourselves as we learn more about God. But what does it mean to be created in God’s image?

The Substantival View

The Substantival View holds that the imago Dei, the image of God, is located in our essence or being—that humans alone stand above the rest of creation in the possession of an eternal soul. And within our soul lies our ability to reason, to communicate, to love, to sense God, and to make moral judgments. This view locates the divine image in what God has called us to be.

Theological proponents of this view include St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin.

The Functional View

According to the Functional View, the image of God lies within our God-given authority. This view locates the image of the divine essence in what we are called to do. This idea is reflected in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”

The Functional View is also reflected in Psalm 8:4–6: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.”

The Relational View

In this view, the image of God is our relationality. Martin Luther advocated this position. It is reflected in two places in the creation account: “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26) and “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

In additional, Jesus’ words in John 17:20–23 reflect the Relational View: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The Constitution of Man

What are human beings made of? Beyond the flesh and blood that we can touch and see, what makes us who we are? There are several views on this question.

Ø  The trichotomist view. The belief that the human self is composed of three distinct constitutive elements: body, soul, and spirit. This view had many advocates in the early church, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Didymus the Blind.

·         1 Thessalonians 5:23—“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

·         Hebrews 4:12—“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Ø  The dichotomist view. The belief that the human person is composed of two fundamental substances: body and soul. The dichotomist view dominated the early church after the Council of Constantinople in 381. Theologians that have embraced this view include John Calvin, Charles Hodge, and A.H. Strong. Dichotomists believe that the “spirit” and “soul” are used interchangeably in Scripture and are indistinguishable in nature and function. In this view, Scriptures that speak of both soul and spirit (Luke 1:46–47) are employing a Hebraic literary device called parallelism.

Ø  The monistic view. The view that asserts that there can be no final distinction between the body, soul, and spirit of a human being. A human being is fundamentally one unitary entity.

The following verses also apply to this issue:

Ø  Ecclesiastes 12:7—“Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (nasb).

Ø  Matthew 10:28—“And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (nasb).

Ø  2 Corinthians 5:1—“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (nasb).

Ø  Philippians 1:23–24—“But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (nasb)

The Responsibilities of Man

Man was created to know God and enjoy him forever, but there’s obviously more to it than those two statements. Related responsibilities include the following:

Ø  To reflect God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26–27; Ephesians 4:23–24)

Ø  To represent God on earth (Genesis 1:28; 2 Corinthians 5:20)

Ø  To be stewards and caretakers of creation (Genesis 1:26; Psalms 8:6)

Ø  To live in community with others (John 17:20–23).

The Fall of Man

Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Genesis 3:1–19. Their sin was rooted in three areas:

Ø  It struck at the basis of knowledge by giving a different answer to the question, “What is true?” (Genesis 2:17 vs. Genesis 3:4)

Ø  It struck at the basis for moral standards by giving a different answer to the question, “What is right?” (Genesis 2:17 vs. Genesis 3:5)

Ø  It struck at the basis for personal identity by giving a different answer to the question, “Who am I?” (Genesis 1:26 vs. Genesis 3:5)

The vocabulary of sin

There are several different ways to define sin. In Christian Beliefs, Wayne Gruden says that “Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.”

The word used in the Old Testament for sin is chatha. It means “to miss the right point,” “to deviate from the norm,” or “to depart from God’s purpose.” Chatha refers to specific actions, whether of thought, word, or deed. Only rarely does it describe a state of being. Other Hebrew words for sin include awon, meaning “crooked or twisted”; avar, meaning the crossing of a boundary; and resha, meaning wrong or injustice.

The New Testament word for sin is hamartia—”to miss the mark” According to Gottfried Quell in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the word refers to “an offense in relation to God with emphasis on guilt.” Hamartia can refer to a specific act (Mark 1:5; Acts 2:38; Galatians 1:4) and to the defective, internal dimension of the human person (Romans 6:6; Hebrews 12:1).

Ø  Sin of commission: an active sin, doing something that is wrong

Ø  Sin of omission: a passive sin, not doing the right thing (Luke 10:30–37, James 4:17)

The effects of sin

The immediate effects of sin were recorded in Genesis 1:14–19. Salvation through Christ’s sacrifice corrects our legal standing before God, but sin continues to damage our relationship to God, our relationship to our physical surroundings, and our relationship to others.

Here are some important things to keep in mind regarding the effects of our sin:

Ø  Sin damaged our legal standing before God. However, when a Christian sins, his legal standing before God is unchanged (Romans 8:1- there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus).

Ø  Sin damaged our relationship with God (Ephesians 4:30; Isaiah 59:2)

Ø  Sin damaged our relationship with our physical surroundings (Genesis 3:16–19)

Ø  Sin damaged our relationship with others (Genesis 3:16)

Original sin

Sin entered the world through Adam’s disobedience. And because of Adam’s sin, we are all counted guilty (Romans 5:12, 19). We have inherited and are born with a sinful nature (Romans 7:18; Psalms 51:5; Psalms 58:3; Isaiah 64:6).

Here’s what Stanley Grenz says about original sin in Theology for the Community of God: “The theological concept of original sin, therefore, carries several connotations. It refers to the ‘original’ or first sin. It denotes the depraved nature or ‘pollution’ that forms the origin or source of our own sins. And it can encompass the origin or ground for the declaration of condemnation, the guilt that hangs over us.”

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       What are some ways that people can glorify God? How have I participated in this, and how can I do so more fully in the days to come?

2.       What does it mean to be created in God’s image? How does this affect how we should view ourselves?

3.       What responsibilities do we have as God’s people? How am I fulfilling those responsibilities?


 

  The Doctrine of Christ and SalvationExplore two central elements of the Christian faith.John 1:14

The National Community Church Statement of Beliefs does a nice job of summarizing the doctrines surrounding the Son of God:

Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God. The Scripture declares his virgin birth (Matthew 1:18–23); his sinless life (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:4–5); his miracles (Acts 2:22; 10:37–38); his substitutionary death on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Corinthians 15:4); his bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:1–6; 1 Corinthians 15:4); and his exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 1:9,11; Philippians 2:9–11).

Christology

In Matthew 16:15, Jesus asked his followers, “But who do you say that I am?” This is the most important question we will ever answer. And the way we answer that question will have profound personal and eternal consequences.

Stanley Grenz defines Christology as “the study of the identity and mission of the Christ whom Christians proclaim is Jesus of Nazareth.” In Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem provides a nice summary of the biblical teaching about Jesus: “Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be so forever.”

The following are important doctrines and characteristics relating to Jesus Christ.

Humanity

Jesus was fully human. The Bible provides several points of evidence for this fact, including:

Ø  Jesus was born.

·         Matthew 1:18—“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

·         Luke 2:7—“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Ø  Jesus had a human body and experienced physical limitations.

·         John 4:6—“Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.”

·         John 19:28—“Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’”

·         Matthew 4:2—“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

·         Luke 23:46—“When he had said this, he breathed his last.”

Ø  Jesus grew intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

·         Luke 2:40—“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

·         Hebrews 5:8—“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”

Ø  Jesus expressed human emotions.

·         John 12:27—“Now my heart is troubled….”

·         John 13:21—“Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified….”

·         Matthew 8:10—“When Jesus heard this, he was astonished.”

·         John 11:35—“Jesus wept.”

Ø  Jesus was sinless.

·         Hebrews 4:15—“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

·         1 Peter 2:22—“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

·         1 John 3:5, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.”

Because Jesus was fully human, he has the ability to act in the following ways:

Ø  Jesus represents us. Romans 5:19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Ø  Jesus pays the penalty for us. Hebrews 2:17 says, “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for[a]the sins of the people.”

Ø  Jesus mediates for us. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Ø  Jesus serves as our example. 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Ø  Jesus understands us. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Because Jesus was fully divine, he has the ability to act in the following ways:

Ø  Jesus bore the full penalty of sin (Isaiah 53:6).

Ø  Jesus offers salvation to man (Jonah 2:9).

Ø  Jesus mediates between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).

Deity

Jesus was fully God. The word incarnation refers to the fact that Jesus was God in human flesh. In Bible Doctrine, Grudem defines incarnation as “the act of God the Son whereby he took to himself a human nature.”

Ø  Jesus’ birth was supernatural.

·         Matthew 1:18—“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”

·         Galatians 4:4—“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.”

Ø  Scripture claims that Jesus is God.

·         Colossians 1:19—“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”

·         Colossians 2:9—“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

·         Hebrews 1:3—“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Ø  Jesus claimed that he was God.

·         John 8:58—“‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’”

·         Revelation 22:13—“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Ø  Jesus displayed attributes of deity and performed miracles.

·         He changed water into wine (John 2)

·         He multiplied food (Matthew 14)

·         He calmed a storm (Matthew 8)

·         He knew people’s thoughts (Mark 2; John 6:46)

·         He forgave sins (Mark 2:5–7)

Fully God and fully man

As hard as it might be to understand, Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Romans 1:3–4 says: “Regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Throughout history, there have been four main heresies when it comes to the question of Jesus’ divinity and humanity:

Ø  Arianism. Jesus was not fully God; he was created by the Father.

Ø  Apollinarianism. Jesus had a human body, but not a human mind or spirit. His mind and spirit were part of his divine nature.

Ø  Nestorianism. Jesus was comprised of two separate persons—one for the human nature and one for the divine nature.

Ø  Monophysitism or Eutychianism. Jesus had a hybrid human and divine nature.

Wayne Grudem sums up the importance of Jesus’ divine and human status in Bible Doctrine: “The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.”

Atonement

Jesus’ death on the cross provided atonement for the sins of humanity. Wayne Grudem describes atonement as “the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.” In Systematic Theology, Stanley Horton defines atonement as “the act of reconciliation to God by covering with a price, the blood of a substitute, so that no punishment is necessary.

There are several views of how Jesus’ atonement of our sins actually works:

Ø  Ransom Theory. Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated Satan and set humankind free of his oppressive rule. Thomas Finger, Gustaf Aulen, and Gregory Boyd are modern proponents of this view.

Ø  Satisfaction Theory. Jesus’ death brought “satisfaction” between God and humanity by paying the penalty that humanity’s sin deserved. Anselm offered this theory in the 11th century.

Ø  Governmental Theory. Jesus did not literally take on the sin of the world and suffer God’s punishment on behalf of humanity. He did suffer, but only as a demonstration of God’s wrath against sin. Thus, the cross preserves God’s moral government in the world. Hugo Grotius presented this view in the 17th century. Gordon Olson and George Otis, Jr. are modern proponents of this view.

Ø  Moral Influence Theory. Jesus’ death provided us with an example of how to live. The perfect love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross is a model for us to emulate. It is also called the subjective view of atonement. Abelard proposed this view in the 12th century.

Ø  Penal Substitution Theory. Jesus bore the sin of humanity and took the punishment that humanity deserved. This view was advocated by Martin Luther and John Calvin and has been defended in recent years by Leon Morris and John Stott. This is the view most embraced by the evangelical community.

·         1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

·         2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In the book Who Needs Theology?, Stanley Grenz states, “We might say that each of these theories presents a dimension of what remains a mystery greater than any single explanation—the mystery of salvation.” There are elements of truth in each of these views. Christ’s death does ransom us from the grip of death and Satan. Christ’s death does provide satisfaction and give us an example of how to live. However, the Penal Substitution Theory most adequately and completely describes the biblical view of atonement.

The Salvation of Man

Here’s what the National Community Church Statement of Beliefs has to say about our salvation:

“The only means of salvation is Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). He died on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins (1 Peter 2:24). He offers each of us a pardon for our sins (Hebrews 9:26) and wants us to become children of God (John 1:12).

When we put our faith in Christ, it triggers a spiritual chain reaction. We become the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 3:5). We become citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20–21). We are given eternal life (John 3:16). We are adopted and become children of God (Galatians 4:4–7). Our sins are forgiven and forgotten (Hebrews 8:12). We are credited with the righteousness of Christ (Romans 4:4–5). We are born again (John 3:3). God takes ownership of us (1 Corinthians 6:20). We receive an eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13–14;                      1 Peter 1:3–5).

The evidence of salvation is twofold. The internal evidence is the direct witness of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). The external evidence is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). We become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and are transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

We find forgiveness of sins and peace with God through the sacrificial death and victorious resurrection of Jesus alone. Our salvation is entirely a work of God’s and God’s alone. The following passages from Romans summarize Evangelical beliefs about salvation; you may find it helpful to memorize these verses so that you can use them when sharing your faith and beliefs with others.

Ø  Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Ø  Romans 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ø  Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Ø  Romans 10:13. “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Ø  Romans 10:9–10. “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

Components of Salvation

No one verse or passage of Scripture contains the chronological order of salvation. However, we do see several steps in the process.

Election

Stanley Grenz explains the concept of election in Theology for the Community of God: “We experience salvation because the triune God, who is relational in his own nature, chooses to enter into relationship with us his creatures. He calls sinful humans to share in the divine fellowship. This central dimension of God’s eternal intention leads us to the concept of election.

Ø  John 15:16. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”

Ø  Ephesians 1:4–5. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

The questions and debate surrounding the doctrine of election revolve around how election works, when it occurs, and on what basis it occurs.

Calling

The Holy Spirit calls us into relationship with God, not other people. However, the Gospel call is often made in the proclamation of God’s Word. Stanley Grenz says, “Calling involves illumination and enablement. Illumination enlightens the minds of the hearers of the Gospel to see the divine truth disclosed therein. Additionally, the Holy Spirit enables an individual to respond to the Gospel call in repentance and faith. Illumination is directed primarily at the mind while enablement is directed primarily at the will.”

Ø  1 Corinthians 1:9. “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Ø  2 Timothy 1:9. “Who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”

Regeneration

Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us; this is sometimes called “being born again.” It effects a change in our deepest nature.

Ø  Ezekiel 36:26–27. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Ø  1 Peter 1:3. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Conversion

Stanly Grenz refers to conversion as “the life-changing encounter with the triune God which inaugurates a radical break with our old, fallen existence and a new life in fellowship with God.” Grenz goes on to state that “exactly how this ‘great transaction’ transpires—how God brings us to know him—is beyond our comprehension.”

Wayne Grudem adds, “Conversion is our willing response to the Gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of our sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation.” Conversion involves conviction, repentance, and faith. It is a turning from sin and a turning to Christ.

Ø  Conviction. The work of the Holy Spirit to expose sin and foster within us an awareness of our need for forgiveness.

Ø  Repentance. A heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ. Repentance is an intellectual understanding that sin is wrong, an emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and a hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead).

Ø  Faith. Trust or dependence on God based on the fact that we take him at his word and believe what he has said. This is also called “saving faith,” and it involves knowledge, assent, and trust.

Justification

In Christian Beliefs, Wayne Grudem identifies justification as “an instantaneous legal act of God in which he 1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and thinks of Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us and therefore, 2) declares us to be ‘just’ or morally righteous in his sight.” Stanley Grenz adds, “Justification is a forensic term, referring to a change in our legal standing before God.”

Ø  Romans 3:24. “And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Ø  Galatians 2:16. “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Adoption

Adoption is an act of God whereby he makes us members of his family (Grudem, Bible Doctrine).

Ø  John 1:12. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Ø  Romans 8:14–17. “Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Sanctification

Wayne Grudem says, “Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” In the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell adds, “Sanctification is the Holy Spirit accomplishing God’s purpose in us as Christian life proceeds.”

Ø  Romans 12:2. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Ø  Ephesians 4:24. “And to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Perseverance

Stanley Horton writes, “Perseverance refers to the ongoing operation of the Holy Spirit through which the work of God begun in our hearts will be carried on to completion.”

Ø  John 8:31. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’”

Ø  Ephesians 1:13. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

Glorification

Wayne Grudem defines glorification as “the final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunites them with their souls, and changes the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own.”

Ø  1 Corinthians 15:51–52. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Ø  Romans 8:11. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       Which of the doctrines above are hardest for me to understand? What parts are particularly confusing?

2.       What difference do these doctrines make in how I choose to live? What difference should they make?

3.       What do I anticipate most about the final step in salvation: glorification?


 

  The Doctrine of the Holy SpiritUnderstanding the work and gifts of the Counselor.John 14:26

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He comes from the Father and is sent by the Son. Symbols of the Holy Spirit include wind and breath (Genesis 1:2; John 3:8; John 20:22; Acts 2:2), water (John 4:10, 15; John 7:37–39), fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3), oil/anointing (Exodus 29:7; Acts 10:38; 1 John 2:20, 27), a seal (Ephesians 1:13–14; Ephesians 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22), and a dove (Luke 3:22).

Each of these symbols gives us a window into the personality and work of the Spirit.

The Work of the Spirit

Ø  Creation

·         Genesis 1:2—“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

·         Ezekiel 37:14—“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.”

Ø  Conviction and calling

·         “The Holy Spirit works in the conversion process as the agent who fosters conviction of sin. In addition to convicting people of sin, the Spirit is at work in conversion as the agent of God’s call directed towards sinful humans” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God).

·         John 16:8—“When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”

·         John 15:26—“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”

Ø  Adoption

·         Adoption is the act whereby the Spirit makes us members of God’s family.

·         John 1:12—“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

·         Romans 8:14–17—“Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Ø  Sanctification (spiritual growth)

·         In sanctification, the Spirit of God works to make us more and more like Christ. “It is our cooperation with the Spirit in living out in daily life the regeneration, justification, freedom, and power which is ours through conversion, so that we grow into Christlikeness and service to God” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God).

·         Galatians 5:22–23—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

·         The Holy Spirit helps us in prayer (Romans 8:26–27) and illuminates Scripture for us (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10).

Ø  Empowerment

·         “When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and thereafter, he gave power that enabled the ministry of Christ to be carried forward. It was not power in a general sense—that is, an increment of supernatural strength that could have many uses—but power for ministry that flowed from the Father through the Son” (Williams, Renewal Theology).

·         Acts 1:8—“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

·         Romans 15:18–19—“I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”

The Gifts of the Spirit

In Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem writes, “A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church.”

The gifts of the Spirit are listed in the following passages:

Ø  1 Corinthians 12:8–10

Ø  1 Corinthians 12:28

Ø  Ephesians 4:11

Ø  Romans 12:6–8

Ø  1 Corinthians 7:7

Ø  1 Peter 4:11

The “charismatic gifts” are referenced in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10: “To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.”

At National Community Church, we believe that the Holy Spirit continues to grant all gifts to the church. We believe the spiritual gifts:

Ø  Are designed to build up the body.

·         1 Corinthians 12:7—“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

·         1 Corinthians 14:26—“What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

Ø  Should be actively sought.

·         1 Corinthians 12:31—“But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

·         1 Corinthians 14:1—“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.”

Ø  Should be exercised in an orderly way.

·         1 Corinthians 14:26–33—“What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”

Ø  Should be exercised in a context of love.

·         1 Corinthians 13:2—“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Spiritual gifts are given for the following purposes (Grudem, Bible Doctrine):

Ø  To authenticate the Gospel message throughout the church age

Ø  To help those in need, thereby demonstrating God’s mercy and love

Ø  To equip people for ministry

Ø  To glorify God

There are two main views on whether the charismatic gifts should still be practiced today. Cessationsism claims that the charismatic gifts were intended to cease after the New Testament. Continuationism claims that the charismatic gifts were intended to continue throughout history. Therefore, contemporary believers should be open to them and seek them. 

For additional reading on this topic, see Across the Spectrum, Chapter 15—The Charismatic Gifts Debate.

Being Filled With the Holy Spirit

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon particular people at particular times for particular tasks. These included Bezalel in Exodus 31:3–5; Gideon in Judges 6:34; Samson in Judges 15:14; and Isaiah in Isaiah 61:1–2.

Ever since the early church, the Holy Spirit is no longer reserved for particular people at particular times for particular tasks. Rather, he is poured out on all who follow Christ. Joel 2:28–29 says, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

There are several examples of the Holy Spirit being poured out on believers in the early church, including:

Ø  The disciples. John 20:21–23 and Acts 2

Ø  The Samaritans. Acts 8:14–18

Ø  In Ephesus. Acts 19:1–7

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       In what ways have I experienced the Holy Spirit?

2.       Which gifts of the Spirit have I received? How do I use them now, and how can I develop them even more?

3.       How can our small group experience the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit on a higher level?


 

  The Doctrine of the ChurchWhat it really means to be part of the Body of Christ.1 Corinthians 12:12–27

The Church is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12–27) and has a three-fold purpose: To evangelize the world (Acts 1:8; Mark 16:15–16), to worship God (1 Corinthians 12:13), and to equip God’s people for ministry (Ephesians 4:11–16; 1 Corinthians 12:28, 14:12).

Wayne Grudem defines the Church as “the community of all true believers for all time. Stanley Grenz adds that the Church is a collection of “people standing in covenant, who are a sign of the divine reign and constitute a special community.”

The Identity of the Church

The New Testament gives us several pictures of how Jesus intended the church to look. There are several relational metaphors, including a body (1 Corinthians 12:12–31; Ephesians 5:22–23; Colossians 1:18), the family of God (1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:19; John 1:12), the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22–32; Revelation 21:9), and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9; Hebrew 10:19–21).

The New Testament also uses agricultural pictures such as branches on a vine (John 15:5), an olive tree (Romans 11:17–24), and a field of crops (1 Corinthians 3:6–9).

Here are some additional definitions to keep in mind:

Ø  The Mystical Church: the one body composed of all believers of all ages (Hebrews 12:22–23). This has also been called the “invisible church” because it transcends time and spatial boundaries.

Ø  The Universal Church: the Body of Christ followers on earth at any given time. It transcends spatial boundaries.

Ø  The Local Church: the visible fellowship of believers gathered in a specific location. This is the most concrete expression of the “church” and has been referred to as the “visible church.”

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the church can be separated into three large categories: our outward mission of evangelism and service, our upward mission of worship, and our inward mission of discipleship.

Evangelism

Put simply, evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel to unbelievers.

Ø  Acts 1:8—“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Ø  Matthew 28:19–20—“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But evangelism is more than just speaking the Gospel; it is also demonstrating the love and mercy of God through action (Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 1 John 3:17).

Worship

Worship is the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his “worthiness” becomes the norm and inspiration of human living. (Ralph Martin, The Worship of God).

Ø  Colossians 3:16—“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Ø  1 Corinthians 10:31—“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Discipleship

In Growing True Disciples, George Barna defines discipleship as “becoming a complete and competent follower of Jesus Christ. It is about the intentional training of people who voluntarily submit to the lordship of Christ and who want to become imitators of him in every thought, word, and deed. It is about being and reproducing spiritually mature zealots for Christ.”

Ø  Ephesians 4:12–13—“To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Ø  Matthew 28:20—“and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The Ordinances of the Church

In Theology for the Community of God), Stanley Grenz says: “The acts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist, etc.) are symbolic acts through which we celebrate God’s salvation, declare our allegiance to Christ, and affirm our presence in his church.”

Those who hold to the sacramental view of baptism and communion believe that these practices are gifts of God to his church by which he conveys grace and blessing. Those who view the practices as ordinances view them as practices that were ordained by Christ and the church—practices that need to be followed as obedience to him.

In the sacramental view, baptism and communion are vehicles of grace. In the ordinance view, baptism and communion are symbolic of the grace we have already received.

In Theology For the Community of God, Grenz argues for a balanced approach: “We continue to observe these acts because Christ ordained their use. Our Lord gave us the ordinances for a purpose, namely, to be the means to express our loyalty to him in a vivid, symbolic manner. Because they are oaths of loyalty—beautifully symbolic vehicles for confessing our faith in Christ—they are closely bound up with the reality they symbolize and are channels of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. And they are sermonic pictures that graphically depict the truth we verbally declare in the gospel message.”

Baptism

We must consider two primary questions when it comes to baptism: what is the appropriate mode of baptism, and who should be baptized?

Baptism has taken three primary modes, or forms: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. At National Community Church, we embrace baptism by immersion.

The term baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo—a non-religious term meaning “to dip, dunk, immerse.” The word was originally used to describe sunken ships, a person who had drowned, a person deep in debt, a dyed cloth, and so on. Until New Testament times, it was used to describe dipping or dunking a substance in a liquid. Full immersion paints the most vivid picture of what baptism is—the identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection

Ø  Romans 6:4—“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Ø  Colossians 2:12—“Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Full immersion seems to have been the practice of the early church, as reflected in certain Biblical passages:

Ø  Mark 1:10—“As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

Ø  John 3:23—“Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized.”

When determining the candidates for baptism, there are two main camps:

Ø  Infant baptism. Infant baptism is practiced by many denominations, but they vary quite significantly in their understanding of its meaning and purpose. For instance, Roman Catholics baptize infants in order to remove original sin. Eastern Orthodox traditions baptize infants as a rite of joining them to the church. Protestant paedobaptists embrace the covenant view of baptism and argue their case on the basis of three things: 1) baptism is an initiation of children into the covenant of God, 2) the Book of Acts records household baptisms, and 3) baptism is the New Testament form of circumcision.

Ø  Believers’ baptism. Proponents of this view believe that baptism was intended to be a part of the disciple-making process after an individual crossed the line of faith. Scripture passages to support this view include Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 10:44–46; and Galatians 3:27. These passages all assume that the baptism candidate has already made a personal decision to follow Christ.

In Theology for the Community of God, Grenz argues, “baptism is the God-given means whereby we initially declare publicly our inward faith. If this is the case, believer’s baptism is obviously superior. Infant baptism simply cannot fulfill this function. Because it cannot be an outward expression of an inward faith, infant baptism also loses its value as a day to be remembered. Believer’s baptism, in contrast, does offer the means to confess personal faith. For this reason, it deserves to be the standard practice in the church.”

Communion

While baptism is experienced once as a public expression of faith and identification with the church, communion is a regular, ongoing experience that Christians celebrate to signify their continued fellowship with Christ and his followers. Stanley Grenz calls it “a repeated affirmation of what we initially declared in baptism—namely, our new identity in Christ.”

Communion was instituted by Jesus on the night before he went to the cross (Matthew 26:26–29). Paul teaches about it in 1 Corinthians 11:23–29.

There are several purposes inherent in the practice of the Lord’ Supper:

Ø  It functions as a memorial meal—“do this in remembrance of me.” In celebration of it, we symbolically enter into the story of our Lord.

Ø  It is a proclamation of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 11:26)

Ø  We participate in the benefits of Christ’s death (Matthew 26:26)

Ø  It spiritually nourishes us (John 6:53–57)

Ø  It brings the followers of Christ into unity around the table (1 Corinthians 10:17)

In Theology for the Community of God, Grenz argues, “The Lord’s Supper is not a means of grace that works apart from faith (ex opere operato). Instead, it is a symbol of spiritual truth and a reaffirmation of his loyalty to Christ. Only believers can testify to the gospel reality depicted by this act. Likewise, only those who are in fellowship with God are able to reaffirm personal loyalty to Christ by this act. For these reasons, only Christians ought to partake of the elements (1 Corinthians 11:27).”

At National Community Church, we engage in communion regularly to remember the sacrifice of Christ and to live in the fullness of the new life he has given us. The table is open to all who profess their faith in Christ.

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       How do individual Christians contribute to the three-fold purpose of the Church?

2.       How am I contributing? How does our small group contribute?

3.    Do my views on baptism or communion differ from any listed above?


 

  The Doctrine of the FutureA broad look at what happens next and why it’s important.Romans 13:11–14

The Final Judgment

The National Community Church Statement of Beliefs has the following to say about the final judgment of this world: “There will be a final judgment in which the dead will be resurrected and judged according to their works (Matthew 25:31–46; Romans 2:1–9). Everyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life, along with the devil and his angels, will be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15). Those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be resurrected and stand at the judgment seat of Christ to be rewarded for their good deeds (1 Corinthians 4:5).

Eschatology is the study of what happens in the afterlife and what happens at the end of the age and in the final state of both the righteous and the wicked. A distinction can be made between personal eschatology and general eschatology.

Ø  Personal eschatology is the quest to know what lies beyond death. It is the study of future events that will happen to individuals—such as death, the intermediate state, and glorification.

Ø  General eschatology is the study of future events that will affect the entire universe, such as the second coming of Christ, the millennium, and the final judgment. It is the quest to understand God’s intention for humankind and for human history.

Why Study the Last Things

Because the apocalyptic writings are so difficult to understand, and because there are so many interpretations, one may wish to avoid the study of these things. If the timing and purpose of these events is largely irrelevant to our salvation, why should we consider them important? Stanley Grenz offers three reasons:

Ø  Evangelism. The imminence of Christ’s return should move us to evangelism

Ø  Holiness. The imminence of Christ’s return should move us to arrange our lives for holy living.

·         “Eschatology is not a projection into the distant future; it bursts forth into our present existence, and structures life today in the light of the last days” (G. C. Berkouwer).

·         Romans 13:11–14—“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

·         1 John 3:2–3—“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Ø  Steadfastness and courage. The imminence of Christ’s return should summon us to live life with a steadfastness and courage that is built on the firm belief that Jesus wins.

·         1 Peter 4:13—“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

·         1 Corinthians 15:58—“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

The Elements of the Final Things

The following events are mentioned in the Bible and are components of the last things:

Ø  Christ’s Return

Ø  The tribulation

Ø  The millennium

Ø  The resurrection of the dead

Ø  The final judgment

Ø  Creation of the new heavens and the new Earth

The debate revolves around when, how, and why these things will occur.

Christ’s return

Matthew 24:30–31 gives us some interesting information about Jesus’ future return to the Earth: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16 gives us some more: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Stanley Grenz adds, “The goal toward which all history is rushing is the return of Christ, which will mark the establishment of community and hence the ultimate realization of God’s will, which is his reign.”

Here’s what we know about Christ’s return:

Ø  Christ’s return will be sudden, personal, bodily, and visible.

·         Matthew 24:44—“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

·         Acts 1:11—“‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”

·         Revelation 1:7—“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”

Ø  The timing of Christ’s return is unknown.

·         Matthew 24:36—“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

·         Mark 13:33—“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.”

Ø  Christians should eagerly expect Christ’s return.

·         Philippians 3:20—“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

·         James 5:7—“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.”

The millennium

“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4–5).

This passage in Revelation is the only time that the millennium is referenced in the Scriptures. Throughout church history, theologians have debated the interpretation of John’s millennial vision. There are three primary views:

Ø  Premillennialism. Jesus returns prior to the thousand-year reign; he will be physically present on the Earth to reign during these thousand years.

·         Pessimism: “The world gets worse.”

·         A type of premillenialists, called dispensational premillennialists, divide human history into distinct periods, or “dispensations.” They assert that there are two different plans for the church and for Israel, and they believe that a pre-tribulational rapture will remove the church prior to the tribulation and the millennium. Dispensational premillennialists tend to take the most literal approach to prophetic Scriptures.

·         Proponents: Don Carson and Wayne Grudem. John MacArthur is a dispensational premillennialist.

Ø  Amillennialism. There is no future millennium. Rather, Revelation 20 is now being fulfilled in the present church age. All major future events (Christ’s return, resurrection, judgment, and establishment of new heaven and new earth) will occur at once.

·         Realism: “The world is what it is.”

·         Proponents: Louis Berkhof, John Calvin, and other reformers.

Ø  Postmillenialism. Jesus returns after an earthly golden age which is brought about by the work of the Church and the Holy Spirit.

·         Optimism: “The world gets better.”

·         Proponents: Augustine and B.B. Warfield.

The final judgment

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matthew 25:31–33).

Judgment is a recurring theme in the Scriptures. New Testament passages that refer to the final judgment include Revelation 20:11–15; Acts 17:30–31; Romans 2:5; Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:22–24; Matthew 12:36; Matthew 25:31–46; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Hebrews 6:2; 2 Peter 2:4; and Jude 6.

Scripture leads us to three definite conclusions concerning the final judgment:

Ø  Jesus will judge.

·         Acts 17:30–31—“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

·         2 Timothy 4:1—“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge.”

Ø  Unbelievers will be judged.

·         Revelation 20:15—“If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

·         Romans 2:5—“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

Ø  Believers will be judged.

·         Romans 14:10–12—“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

·         2 Corinthians 5:10—“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Hell is a place of eternal, conscious punishment for the wicked. Passages that speak of hell include Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:43; Luke 16:22–24, 28; and Revelation 14:9–11.

Hell is a place of burning fire (Matthew 18:8; Matthew 25:41; Jude 7), but that is likely a metaphorical picture of the “anguish generated by the awareness that a person has invested his entire life in what is perishable rather than imperishable and eternal (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God). Hell is a place of isolation, estrangement, and loneliness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless. It is in heaven where God most fully reveals his glory and where angels, other heavenly creatures, and redeemed saints all worship him. Scriptures that speak of heaven include Acts 1:9–11; Acts 7:55–56; and John 14:2–3.

There are two other views of the fate of unbelievers that have surfaced often since the early church:

Ø  Universalism. Ultimately, all people will be saved. Hell exists as a means of turning sinners toward God.

Ø  Annihilationism. Our punishment for sin is eternal in consequence, but not in duration. We cease to exist.

Creation of News Heavens and New Earth

Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

Romans 8:19–21 adds, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

The new creation will be a place of God’s presence (Revelation 21:3), a place of community (Revelation 22:2–3; Isaiah 65:25), and a place of glorification (1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Peter 1:4; Revelation 21:4–5).

— Heather Zempel; adapted from the “Theology 101” Bible study series produced by National Community Church. Used with permission.

Discuss:

1.       Which of the doctrines or ideas above is most confusing to me? Where can I go for more information?

2.       Does the vision of God’s eternal and glorious future compel me to live differently in the present? How so?

3.    What does the reality of hell mean for my everyday life?


|   | Further ExplorationWebsites and books to help ease the pain of doctrinal and theological discussions |

SmallGroups.com. Small-groups training resources from Christianity Today International.


   -”Small-Group Facilitator“ Orientation Guide
   -”Small-Group Leader“ Orientation Guide
   -”Answering Tough Questions“ Practical Ministry Skills

LeadershipJournal.net. This website offers practical advice and articles for church leaders.

Wineskins for Discipleship. Heather Zempel provides support and practical advice for those involved in small-groups ministry.

Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem. Abridged from Grudem’s Systematic Theology and made accessible to the average reader, this book covers the same essentials of the faith (Zondervan, 1999;                               ISBN 978-0310222330).

Christian Beliefs by Wayne Grudem. Twenty basic ideas and principles that every Christian should know (Zondervan, 2005; 978-0310334910).

Theology for the Community of God by Stanley Grenz. Blending biblical, historical, and contemporary concerns, Grenz’s insightful analysis transcends today’s radical individualism and postmodern fragmentation and provides a coherent vision of the faith that is both intellectually satisfying and expressible in Christian living (Eerdman’s, 1999; ISBN 978-0802847553).

The Portable Seminary by David Horton. In this one-of-a-kind book, lay people and pastors will find the major topics included in a typical seminary masters program, including surveys of the Old and New Testaments, systematic theology, church history, apologetics, missions, ethics, Christian education, and more (Bethany Publishers, 2006; 978-0764201608).

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