There are many diverse callings for us to be involved in as Christians. In our modern world, we are aware of needs through modern media that we would not even have known about in former ages. One of the needs that the Christian Church is beginning to address is the overwhelming need of orphans in our own country and around the world. In Psalm 68:5-6 God is called “The Father to the fatherless and the defender of widows. This is God whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families;” Having adopted three children, I can personally attest to the life changing ministry that adoption provides to children who need parents. Over the last two years, as my family has grown from three to six children, my wife and I have experienced all the ups and downs of joys and struggles imaginable. We have been stretched beyond our limits and also known the joy of literally changing the lives of kids who were destined for a different life without our intervention. It is still very difficult for me to put into words. My wife Kelli and I try our best to describe it like this: We say that there have been three events that have drastically altered our lives: 1) Getting saved. 2) Our decision to home school our children. 3) Adopting children.
In adopting kids, we have learned how drastically a family environment in Christ can change the life of a child. We have also learned how drastically a child needing love can upset the regular balance of a normal family. I don’t say these things to scare you off. But I am very serious about the reality of adoption. It is a life changing calling, much like becoming a missionary to a foreign culture would be a life changing calling. You should not enter into it without much prayer, thought and counsel from those who have already adopted. But before I scare you away from adoption, let me say this: God drastically gave up everything for us in Christ. Jesus came to the earth and became one of us so that we could come to know God. Through Christ, we have been adopted into God’s own family. I believe that God will call many Christian families to adopt children in order to picture the life altering benefit we have received in Jesus. There are many different types of adoption and many different experiences of adoption. There is international adoption, relinquishment and adoption from the foster care system, to name just a few. Each type of adoption has its own joys and challenges. In thinking about whether adoption is right for you, consider the following suggestions:
-Do you have a strong walk with Christ?
-Do you have a healthy marriage?
-If you have children, do you love parenting?
If you can’t answer yes to those questions, you may want to re-consider adoption. Not everyone is called to adopt children, but some are. Are you called? In my own personal experience, adopting my three younger children was the fulfillment of a dream that God gave to my family and the cause for tremendous spiritual growth. It has also caused three young children to come into the kingdom of God.
If you would like more information about adoption, please visit the Orphan Sunday web site.
Or, email me at Matt@ranchodelreychurch.org, I would love to talk with you about it.
(This blog is from the upcoming Rancho del Rey Church email newsletter, Fall 2011)
When I was young, my friends and I made our ultimate all-star teams from our baseball card collections. We’d spend hours laboring over which players to include on our teams. When we were finished, we’d compare and contrast each team, endlessly picking over the finer points of each player’s batting averages and home runs. We were only eleven years old, but it was serious business to us. Of course, the selections we made involved some interpretive decisions on our part. There was always room to criticize each other’s decisions because we all came from a biased viewpoint. I don’t think any of us ever completely agreed on anything.
When it comes to the Bible, how did the church, with so many leaders, ever agree on the sixty-six books that would make up what we consider the Old and New Testaments? In this blog, I wanted to give you the background on how the books of the Bible came together in the first place.
Ultimately, the books in the Bible are there because God directly inspired them. He directed and guided their writing to such a degree that the men who wrote them were writing from their own perspectives but writing timeless and divine truth. How that happened is still somewhat of a mystery. We do know that the Holy Spirit led the authors of Scripture as they wrote (1 Pet. 1:21).
However, from a human perspective, how did the Bible get put together, and who decided it should be the books we have today? Can you be sure that the books you have in your Bible today are really the ones that are supposed to be there? To answer that question, we must go back to the beginning of Christianity ― actually, to the one who began it.
Christianity began with Jesus, and Jesus was a Jew. Jesus believed in the Scriptures of the Jewish nation, which we now call the Old Testament. Jesus taught from the Old Testament and considered it the supreme guide for life. He said in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
In his day and age, the Jewish Bible was known as “The Law and the Prophets.” When Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, he didn’t question their origin. He knew they were from God. Whenever Jesus talked about the Old Testament, it was with the utmost reverence. Therefore, because of Jesus’ high view of the Old Testament Scriptures, the apostles continued to use the Old Testament when teaching about Jesus. To them, it was a given that the Old Testament was God’s Word.
In the first years of the church, all the Christians were Jews. They already believed and revered the Old Testament as Scripture. They believed that the Old Testament Scriptures spoke about Jesus, and they spent their time convincing other Jews of this. The book of Acts contains many examples of Paul going into Jewish synagogues and preaching Jesus as the Christ, using the Old Testament Scriptures. Acts 17:1-3 provides one such example.
“Paul and Silas…came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.”
I could cite many other Scriptures as well, but I think you get the point. The early Christian church used the same “Bible” as the Jews. We now call it the Old Testament. The real question is, “how did they come up with the belief that certain books should be placed alongside the Old Testament Scriptures to form a new portion of the Bible?” In studying church history, it seems that the early church had one main test that a book had to meet before they considered it worthy of being Scripture. Was the book written by an apostle or a close friend of the apostles? Along with this one test, they had some rational criteria for whether it should be included or not. These can be stated as:
The Test – “Was it written by an Apostle or close associate of an Apostle?”
Additionally, it seems that they worked through a couple of other questions in determining if a book was truly scriptural. First, they thought, “Is it accepted by the whole church?” They also asked, “Is it consistent with the Old Testament and other New Testament Scripture?” and lastly, “Does it have the “feel” of Scripture?”
Let’s briefly examine these four questions and why the early church asked them.
Was It Written by an Apostle or a Close Associate?
It was important to the early church to keep a record of the teachings of the apostles, and it was vital that the church have a direct link to Jesus. If a book was being considered for Scripture, it had to have been written by an apostle or someone in their circle of friendship and influence. The apostles Peter, John, Matthew, and Paul account for twenty-one of the twenty-seven New Testament books. James and Jude, the brothers of Jesus, account for two books. Luke and Mark, friends of the apostles, account for three, and the book of Hebrews, whose authorship is debated, rounds out the list of books. Even in Hebrews, there is evidence that the author, whoever he was, was close to the original followers of Christ, for he wrote, “I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released from jail. If he comes here soon, I will bring him with me to see you” (Heb. 13:23). This verse shows that the author of Hebrews was a friend of Timothy, who was a close friend of Paul. All the authors of the New Testament pass the test of either being an apostle or being well within the sphere of the apostle’s friendship.
For instance, church history records that the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark as he followed and wrote down the sermons of the apostle Peter. Peter called Mark “my son” in 1 Peter 5:13, so we know that Peter and Mark had a close relationship. Although an apostle didn’t write Mark, someone close to an apostle did.
Another example is the book of Acts, which was written by Luke. He was not an apostle but was a traveling companion of the apostle Paul. In the later chapters of Acts, the travel log of Paul and his companions switches from a “they” voice to a “we” voice, as in “we traveled to such and such a place.” Luke was with Paul on some of his journeys, which provides evidence that Paul approved of Luke’s writings. In addition to this, Paul mentions Luke as one of his companions in chapter 4 of Colossians. While Christians wrote many commendable documents in the years after the church started, the only ones that made it into Scripture were those written by apostles or close associates of the apostles.
Is It Accepted by the Church? The reason I underlined the word “Church” is because I’m not referring to one church or a group of churches in an area, but to the leaders of the entire church in the Mediterranean world. The leaders of the church did get together and talk. They also wrote letters to one another. It was a foregone conclusion that a book was Scripture only if the entire church recognized the book’s importance. Certain books had an appeal to a group of churches in a certain area, but only the books that everybody knew about made it into Scripture. It’s not just that a certain book was more popular or appeared on a first-century version of the New York Times best-seller list. Rather, it needed to be both well-known and highly valued by the church. Remember, there were only twelve original apostles. When Paul or John wrote a letter to a church, it was so important that church did everything it could to get that letter reproduced and into the hands of the other churches. In Colossians 4:15-16, Paul wrote, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”
From the earliest times, Christians have been voracious copiers of Scripture. This may not seem amazing in our day of Christian bookstores and twenty different Bible translations, but it was extremely important before the invention of the printing press and in a culture in which Christians were persecuted. I once read that the English word “traitor” comes from a word meaning “hander over,” referring to Christians who handed over copies of the Scriptures to the Roman authorities who arrested them for their faith. The early Christians were intensely committed to the Scriptures. Also, the church was not divided into Catholic, Protestant, and various other denominations until hundreds of years after the apostles died. Therefore, the unity of the bishops or pastors of the churches was more important than it might seem today. The early church consisted of people from places as diverse as Rome, Italy, and Alexandria, North Africa. A book was confirmed as Scripture only when it had a majority of support from a wide spectrum of the church. When they all agreed about something, it was significant.
Is It Consistent with the Old Testament and Other New Testament Scripture? The document in question had to line up with the other Scriptures already accepted by the church. If a book or letter contradicted the teaching of Jesus or the record of the Old Testament, it was not considered Scripture. When you read the book of Romans, you see that Paul had a firm grasp of the Old Testament law and its relationship to our hearts. Paul accurately described the role and purpose of the Old Testament law as seen through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Acts 7 records a long sermon from the deacon Stephen, in which he accurately recounts Israel’s history and comes to the same conclusions as Jesus did in Matthew 23:29-36. Stephen’s speech is consistent with both the Old Testament and with Jesus’ words about the current leaders of Israel. Hebrews 11 lists what many consider to be the “hall of faith” of Old Testament heroes. It accurately describes the lives of Abraham, Moses, and many others. All the books called Scripture by the early church had an accurate view of the Old Testament Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus. This point is important because the early church leaders faced constant opposition from the Jewish leaders. They needed to prove that Jesus and the church he started correctly interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures about the Messiah.
Does It Have the “Feel” of Scripture? Early Christians spent hours committing the Scriptures to memory. They could tell the difference between profound writing and something that was not. You do essentially the same thing when you distinguish great fiction from dime-store fiction. Early Christians were better at it because the leaders of the church read Scripture all the time and they regularly read, out loud, entire portions of the Bible to their congregations. A lot of people back then couldn’t read, and they didn’t have their own Bibles at home anyway. If they wanted to remember something about Scripture, they had to memorize it. The early church leaders spent their lives, their time, their energy, and their intellects devouring Scripture. Even most pastors today don’t have the memory for Scripture that those men had. The early church leaders didn’t have five hundred other books on ministry in their personal libraries. Before the printing press made the printed word widely available, everything had to be copied by hand. Parchments were expensive and time-consuming to produce, so the only books church leaders had were usually Scripture or writings from the previous bishop of their church.
Consequently, when they read a fake letter or even good Christian teaching, they could usually tell right away that it wasn’t the same as the Holy Bible, inspired by God. A good example is the letter to the Corinthians from Clement of Rome (not the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians written by Paul). Clement was an early church leader, but his letter to the Corinthian church did not pass the tests, or criteria, of being divinely inspired scripture. Historians believe the author was the same Clement mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3, and his letter was read in some early churches; but it never gained the status of Scripture precisely because it isn’t Scripture. It was not divinely inspired, and it didn’t pass the four tests. Therefore, even though it’s good reading, it isn’t contained in the collection of inspired literature, our Bible. The bishops who read it over and over came to the conclusion that it didn’t have the feel of Scripture, and they were right.
In conclusion, it is better to say that the early church discovered which books should be counted as Scripture rather than that they decided upon Scripture. There was never a group of people who came together and said, “Let’s make these books our sacred writings.” Instead, they came together and agreed that the stamp of God’s hand was obvious on certain books.
It did take more time for a few New Testament books to be agreed upon than others. Serious debate took place on only five of the twenty-seven New Testament books that we now have in our Bible. In the end, the church agreed that those five books were also divinely inspired. There were other books that were written by early Christians that did not make it in as scriptural. Two of those are I Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas. If you wonder whether they should be scripture, my encouragement is that you should read them. You will see very quickly that although they contain some good material, they are nowhere near the books of the New Testament in spiritual value.
I hope this has helped you understand why the books in the Bible today are the ones God intended us to have. You can be certain that what you are reading is, in fact, the inspired Word of God. It was tested by the early church and found true. The writings of the Old and New Testament are what God intended the church to have.
The question of the identity of Jesus has long been discussed. Ever since he appeared on a Galilean hillside healing the sick and speaking unparalleled words of significance, people of every race and culture have wondered about him. Jesus is without par in the world for his ability to reach the heart’s deepest feelings with the simplest statements and for his ethic of non-resistance to his enemies which was matched only by his own ability to live by this ethic even when it led to his own death. It is easy to see why Jesus is the most talked about person ever to live on planet earth.
But there is something more to Jesus. He claimed some incredible things about himself. There were times when he spoke as if he had a certain divine privilege to circumstances and knowledge. His own followers, the disciples, clearly taught that he even believed himself to be God. This is what divides people about Jesus. It has long been acknowledged that Jesus was a remarkable figure, but God? People are divided on this topic. To the point of today’s question, the attributes of God are usually listed as being someone who knows everything and someone who has the power to do anything. Jesus did not exhibit either of these traits. Wouldn’t this immediately disqualify Jesus from being God?
The New Testament authors seemed to think about this question and write about it a good deal. The Christian belief is that Jesus is God, but that he came to earth in order to offer himself as the sacrifice for our sins. In order to be the sacrifice, he had to be a human. But to be human, and experience life as one of us, he would need to somehow “limit” himself. Without going into a long theological controversy about how Jesus took on the limits of humanity, I will quote Philippians 2:5-11 which succinctly lays out what Jesus voluntarily did for humanity by coming to earth:
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This is just one of the passages in the New Testament that addresses the mystery of what happened when Jesus came to earth. He was the Son of God in power, but he came as the Son of God in humility and lowliness, bowing so low as to become one of us. And it is true that in that form, there were certain things that Jesus did not know at that time. While he was on earth, he didn’t know the exact day or hour of when he would return to earth a second time.
And yet, at the same time, he displayed knowledge that could have come from nothing else but a connection with, or attachment to, God the Father. He knew the thoughts of others. He knew exactly how he would be put to death. He knew things about the past of other people that he had never met. He was more than just a prophet with a lot of knowledge, he had access to the very mind of God himself and no mere human can claim that. In addition to this, he performed unparalleled miracles and even rose from the dead.
C.S. Lewis put the question of Jesus in such a way as to make it simple. Jesus was either who he said he was, or he was a liar, or a crazy man. His ethical teaching realistically rules out him being a liar, and he gave us such intelligent, insightful teachings about our lives that it is impossible for him to have been crazy, so that leaves only one option: Jesus was who he said he was. He was the eternal Son of God.
Read the Gospels accounts of Jesus and read for yourself what people around him thought. Jesus was the most remarkable person that has ever lived on planet earth. He deserves a closer look.