Ichthys Acronym Image

Home             Site Links

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry VIII

Word RTF

Question #1: 

Read your article: You stated that new Christians should start sharing right away. HEY
Jesus didn't send his disciples out for 2+ years.

Need 3 things:
1. Training-enough and proper.
2. Maturity- to know, with experience, God's voice.
3. Wait to be sent by God.
Remember the disciples were told when to go, where to go, AND where not to go. We are called/commanded to be DISCIPLES first. In training.

I have some ministry with vets (and occasionally homeless) for about 10 years now. I had to learn to be sent. I've seen the results of unsent Christians. I've also seen the joy when being sent to a vet. I'm flabbergasted by how many veterans have major hurts because of zealous Christian witnessing. Lots of homeless here in OR. Typical adult churchgoer has no clue why they are homeless. A few it's bad luck/unemployment. Mostly it's mental/social/physical issues (many just don't do well around other people).

First: Train up a child (immature) in the way...and when he is mature...

Done preaching

Response #1: 

Good to hear from you.

Good points!

Let me point out too that what I actually said was "And even new believers will be given opportunities to serve the Body of Christ right from the start – through prayer, witnessing and mutual encouragement in the Lord, for example".

So while I agree with your points in principle and teach much the same thing, the point I was making with this sentence is that no Christian should be led to think that he/she has to wait a very long time before saying a prayer, before living an exemplary Christian life, before telling friends, neighbors and family members who may ask the reason for the light now shining through in them all about Christ who is the reason for it. None of this is the same as launching into a major evangelical ministry, e.g., or getting to whatever it is that our Lord has for said new believer in terms of life-ministry. That is something that is only found out with time and spiritual growth, and something which can only be truly effective once the person in question gains spiritual maturity and is tested in their faith successfully (your three steps in essence).

Believe me when I say that standard evangelical invasive "witnessing" by unprepared Christians who are trying to "count coup" by "saving" more people than the next person is something I have always found perplexing. I don't believe what passes for "sharing Christ" in most groups and ministries today is done correctly or even often for the correct motives. The Spirit honors the truth, even if it is poorly presented or presented from sinister motives (cf. Phil.1:15-18), but that does not mean we should aspire to such things.

To put this in military terms, your step one would be "basic training", step two "advanced training", step three "combat deployment". Ideally we give recruits plenty of training before step three, but that is my point too. Just as we don't expect new enlistees to be in a classroom for two years and then to be dropped directly into combat with no hands-on preparation but instead give them ever-ascending practical experiences culminating in life-fire exercises and the like, so also a little "guard duty" and "rifle range" experience for new Christians is not out of place. And, indeed, it's hard to see how any Christian could go straight from a purely academic preparation into effective ministry.

Recent link:  Ministry and Preparation for Ministry VII

Our Lord weaned the disciples into their first major ministry with practical ministering as they followed Him and learned from Him directly – and even that was preparation for the more dynamic ministries they would have after His ascension.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Hi Robert,

Had time to ponder what I wrote. The impetus came from (since retirement) recognizing, even in my own history, the emphasis, and priority, on service, works, etc.. Well and good. But what was/is missing, is developing an INTIMATE relationship with my God (like husband and wife). Oh yes, it's given a sentence or two in a sermon. But it's sermon after sermon on doing, witnessing, sharing, and yes comments at times about reading and praying, and loving one another (oops, I meant being faithful to your denomination).

Here on the Oregon coast, pastors are scared stiff of losing one parishioner (economics = fear). I've lived here for years, attended 3 churches, eventually talked with the 3 pastors about this subject (intimacy), the 3 mostly agreed, was then asked/told by all 3 not to come back. In general terms, was told their parishioners want to hear what they want to hear. I like being pastor and don't want to leave so...

Very low teen attendance. No kids in 1 church of about 75-100. Have been told the Nazarene church here has a great youth ministry. Not all bad.

You might consider modifying that one sentence. This reader read it as same as what I hear every Sunday.
DO SOMETHING!

In Him, more and more

Thanks for letting me vent a little. God has been really humbling my spirit this last year (a fruit of intimacy?). Moving to Salem next year. Please pray that we will know His will and that He will locate us where He wants.

Response #2: 

I certainly agree with you about local church deficiencies, my friend. But as I often say, that is at least as much a demand problem as it is a supply problem (meaning that a pastor-teacher who actually taught the truth would have a short tenure in the vast majority of US churches today).

I have said a prayer for you. I imagine Salem to be beautiful. It's been nearly 50 years since I've been to the Pacific northwest, but the one time I went through I did love it (to look at, anyway).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Dear Teacher

Please forgive me for not emailing since your penultimate email. I also came down with a cold or it might be something more severe (malaria?). I really would rather not have to deal with any major illness now that might require dedicated care. God has been very generous in keeping me healthy here so that my life is not terribly complicated and miserable.

Thankfully too, things have lightened up with my living situation quite a bit. But the interview was probably the worst experience of an interview that I have had. The weird thing was only that I didn't particularly feel troubled by it.

Although it is well overdue, please accept my thanks for your very thoughtful and clear responses on both of the last sets of questions. I am thankful, very thankful that you take the time to answer them. I know that it is that much more work and that you rejoice in doing it but it is still something that I will try to never take for granted.

Thank you for helping me come to this place where I can ask such questions as you commend. To be able to see things as clearly as I do now was something I didn't even know was possible in this life. Recently, because of a death, a group of old associates of mine came back together (I think I told you about that?) on a group on WhatsApp. When we all discussed some Bible issues, and one asked a question and then said that we aren't supposed to have all the answers after all. That reminded me that there was a time when at least on the surface I scoffed at the notion of actually learning much besides the very difficult questions I had learned needed answers.

I thank God for answering mine and other believers' prayers for your health. Please take it easy until you're all better.

Your student in our precious Lord Jesus Christ

Response #3: 

I'm sorry to hear that you've had health issues too. But I'm glad to hear that you are back on your feet and also that things have gotten a bit less confrontational for you. Thanks also for the update. I think it is very true that those growing spiritually are not necessarily aware day by day of the change – but others see it. And then we do bump into others from the past and notice that they are so different – but it is actually we who have changed, and for the good in every way. So keep pushing forward with your spiritual growth, my friend. That of course is the most important thing, both generally and also in terms for your preparation for ministry. As I have said often enough, I have no idea how the Lord is going to work out the "tent-making" aspect of all this. When I was in seminary and decided I must forgo the traditional track (wherein lay all possible direct support), I too was at loose ends on this point for some time. But the Lord provided, and wonderfully so. Looking back, I wasn't worried about it at all – to the point when I consider some of the things I did and failed to do, well, let's just say that the older, wiser "me" would have taken the younger "me" to the woodshed as we say. And yet the Lord worked it out. I'm not well-to-do by any means; far from it. But I have enough to keep this ministry up on the internet, and I have enough time to keep it rolling along, if sometimes haltingly so. When I consider the apostle Paul and how he, the greatest of the apostles, never had a place of his own to lay his head – just like our Lord – I realize just how gracious and generous the Lord has been to me. I have no doubt that He is working things out for you too. I just don't know the future specifics. So we have to trust Him, and the more joyous we are in doing so – and the more open to the Spirit's guidance as we do so – the better in every way.

Keeping you in my prayers every day, my friend. Thanks so much for yours!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #4:  

Hello, Dr. Bob!

I have not forgotten you my teacher friend, pray for you each day. I was just thinking the other day while reading Psalms 86 (made a habit to read chapters from the OT and NT and Psalms daily) and realized that the Lord God does not receive the kind of adoration, thanks, praise, worship that He deserves from us yet He does not stop inviting people to come to Him and be forever blessed. I just find that incredible, I suppose.

Blessedly guided by scriptures on this narrow road to Zion everyday with my wife and son. We are not going back to unscriptural man-made tradition - not after it became clear as day that people freely choose to belong where they want for whatever reason and the only persons that can change that are their own selves. One son is still with that group. We still pray for them, though, like we used to before we moved away from them. Just like we pray for neighbors - believers and unbelievers. We also continue our family tradition of after-supper Bible study. We are usually done eating by 6.30-7 pm so we have plenty of time left for studying the scriptures and school lessons. After bible history, we have been following the studies in ichthys.com.

Our gathering is both frowned on and made fun of but we got used to those criticisms. Whisperings made intentionally to be overheard. Following the Lord closely is but fair game for attacks, just as He said. We are able to take those blows in stride without being critical in return knowing that one day we are going to exchange the scars for rewards. In our own tiny way we understand what "when I am weak, then I am strong" means. Faithful Christians may be nothing according to the world's (or the lukewarm Christians') standards but they are able to continue being faithful because it is their Lord and Savior who is their strength, wealth, wisdom, and honor.

How are things going, well I hope.

Just touching base with you, sir, and would like to let you know that you are always a blessing and an inspiration for us your siblings in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sincerely,

Response #4: 

Thanks for the update!

I greatly appreciate it. I have been wondering about you as I pray for you and your family daily. I'll add your concern about your son to my prayer list.

You are certainly correct that no praise is too high for our Lord. That would be true if He died for a single one of our sins . . . and He died for them all. Eternity will not be long enough to sing the praises of the One who delivered us from sin and death and won for us eternal life.

I am so pleased to hear that you are fighting the fight and fighting it well in spite of all opposition.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.
Philippians 1:27-28 NIV

Your email is greatly encouraging to me, my friend. Thanks!

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Dear Teacher

Thank you very much, Sir.

I am concerned about beginning full-fledged ministry without Greek and Hebrew. But I trust the Lord to work it all out. I just find it so hard to ignore the way things are among believers today so I keep "butting in".

I am beginning now to make copies of these conversations as you suggest. Thank you for telling me, Sir.

The following was the last installment (3rd) of a series of posts I made about the progression of spiritual growth. I already sent you the first two.

NOTE

One critical lesson about how Truth works however is that the Bible is written like a puzzle. The Lord did that very deliberately. The Bible was written to ensure that only those who truly want to know the Truth will learn it. Those who don't will not. If you remember, the Lord Jesus talked to the multitudes in parables. His disciples were among the multitudes too and they too were taught in parables. But the difference between them and the rest of the multitudes was that they wanted to understand. So they always went back to the Lord to ask Him to explain what He had said in parables. And our dear Lord always did explain.

Beyond very fundamental truths in the Scriptures, like the truth of the Gospel, the Bible does not state any truth expressly. The vast majority of biblical teachings are systems. That means that they are only accessed by combining different passages of Scripture in very specific ways. This is something that only teachers are gifted with doing. Every other believer is only able to discern that the systems are true because they have the Holy Spirit within them to witness to the Truth.

To cut straight or rightly divide the word of truth is actually to properly align different statements of the Bible to produce straightforward teaching that is spiritually functional for those who hear it. This is the job of the teacher and what he is gifted to do.

The problems of truth in churches today come from two sources: false teachers who are deliberately milking and slaughtering the sheep because they have no fear of the Shepherd and untrained teachers who are true believers but who are either not gifted as teachers or not trained to teach. Both situations result in spiritual malnourishment. When believers who truly want to know the Truth and actually take the trouble to read their Bibles run into people like that, they tend to be spiritually uncomfortable (in fact, every believer initially is until they decide whether they prefer to be told things they like to hear or whether they want to learn the Scriptures). This eventually leads to an effort to find good teaching. But with the dismal state of affairs in the Church visible, such believers don't tend to trust teachers easily.

This is both a good and bad thing. Not trusting easily can help to keep us safe from bad and false teachers. But it can also cost us access to good teachers. This again is where the Bible must come in.

It is hard admittedly to identify a true teacher when you are still seeking. But the Lord does offer us help. The Bible is a hard book to twist. I personally know that from testing several teachers in my life. There is always a tell in the Scriptures that warns you that someone hasn't quite got it straight in their teaching. But it is not arbitrary. In other words, you cannot decide by yourself what this tell is. You may find a passage that you feel disagrees with a teaching and decide on the basis of that to reject the teaching and you could be wrong because you misapplied that passage, that is, you used it the wrong way in judging a teaching. So, it isn't always your ability to find some passage that either agrees with or contradicts a teaching that does the job. Rather, it is actually your willingness to humbly ask questions when something confuses you about a teaching and the way it works with what you see in the Bible that does the trick.

At such junctures, a true teacher would actually be more than willing to work steadily with you to see how everything lines up while a bad teacher would make excuses and only muddy things up some more and a false teacher would either dismiss it right out of hand or try to distract you from the matter. This is just a rule of thumb but you will always be better off asking for clarification in humility. Challenging a teacher's authority even when they are false can be harmful to you. Even fully mature and vastly experienced teachers themselves do not frequently do that. There is very little gain in doing so and much loss to risk. Consider that even the Lord Jesus Who opposed the Pharisees rarely ever "took the fight to them". He was more like a Shepherd Who protected His Own Sheep from them so that it was only when His listeners were at risk of being confused or deceived by the Pharisees that He would intervene.

So, if even eminently qualified teachers would not challenge the authority of false teachers, should a neophyte or an immature believer take the risk? It is far better to note the reaction of the teacher to your humble question and subsequently remove yourself from under their authority or continue to follow them as you choose rather than attempt to challenge them.

Then again, it is popular today that believers who want to grow spiritually come together in groups to discuss Scriptures and try to "learn from each other". This does sound quaint and may actually be useful when a believer has matured and is among other mature believers. But not when they are still neophytes or immature. When a believer has become mature, he is much harder to deceive about the Faith (Eph 4:14). So, he can discuss issues of the Faith with other people with considerably less risk. But the neophyte is always at risk unless they are under the authority of a qualified teacher who loves their Lord. So, what I call "spiritual growth by committee" is not possible. It is impossible for believers to figure out what is true and what is false by essentially voting on it. That is not the Way the Holy Spirit works today (Eph 4:11-16). We can only grow to maturity by following one qualified teacher whom we trust (1 Cor 4:15).

It is good to keep in mind that growing spiritually is a lot like going through school today. It is hard for anyone to learn anything in school if they have a teacher who has a vested interest in their ignorance or who does not understand the subject matter or have the ability to communicate it in the proper manner to the student. It is also hard to learn by challenging your teacher perhaps to prove that you are just as smart or knowledgeable as them. It is also hard to learn by jumping between classes and failing to follow the correct sequence. All of these apply to spiritual growth.

If we will learn, we must be willing to be patient to go from one principle to another. We must also be willing to be guided by one person who is specially gifted and well prepared for the job.

STOP

I have been wondering about some things, Sir. I know that you said that all mature believers don't always necessarily agree and I think I can understand and respect that but I'm not sure how to deal with it exactly. I noticed that Pastor Curtis Omo believes that the voting of Matthias as Judas Iscariot's replacement was legitimate and also that the Scriptures do not address the question of the sign-gifts. These positions seem to me to differ significance from yours. And I agree with yours since I find the same thing in the Bible. But, how do you handle that? Do you feel obliged to give his position legitimacy and refrain from debate or do you hold it as wrong and just avoid confrontation unless he were to choose to debate it?

Your student in the Lord Jesus Christ

Response #5: 

As you know, I personally consider knowing Greek and Hebrew to be an absolutely critical skill for an effective pastor teacher. However, there are plenty of people in the history of the church visible who have gained some skill in these languages who were not effective teachers of the Word (that is probably true of the vast majority of such individuals); there have also been some very effective teachers of the Word who either knew little to nothing of the original languages or else far less than it would have been good to know. The question is, what does the Lord have for you personally? If calculations about the end times are correct, it would be difficult for you at this point to, e.g., receive a Ph.D. in Classics or an advanced degree in Semitic Languages, even if money and geography were no particular obstacles. I know that the Lord has a ministry in mind for you, and I expect that once you are fully prepared – whatever that entails in your individual case – He will lead you into it. As much as you can get done before the fact is all to the good, but it's also not as if honing tools ends once ministry begins. I read Hebrew every day, e.g., and Greek of course too (although in the latter case some of this also has to do with the profession I'm in). Time is short. How best to use it is something we all have to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit to discern. But I am convinced that the Lord is grooming you for some position in feeding His flock. This latest piece you include is a good case in point. I found it edifying, and the way in which you explain and describe things holding close to the truth rather than confusing it when you explain it is a definite indication of a special teaching knack. I certainly don't wish to swell you head (whatever we have we have from the Lord, after all: Ps.115:1); in fact such gifting entails greater responsibility to the Lord than is the case with most. I have to confess that I have very little idea of what the best way forward for you is from where you are in terms of practical and worldly considerations which must be addressed; spiritually speaking, you are doing things exactly right, and I encourage you to continue as you are. After all, the Lord can miraculously "fix" any material problem and remove any obstacle with a snap of His fingers (so to speak); but spiritual progress cannot happen without the engagement of the free will of the person concerned, and that is the essential part which is so lacking in the case of most Christians today in Laodicea, clergy (however defined) in particular.

As to your question, of course there cannot realistically be absolute 100% agreement between two human beings on anything, especially when we are talking about a subject so wide and challenging and diverse as all of the truths of scripture. Attention to the Spirit's guidance and a determined effort to the get to the truth should pull us all ever deeper into the vortex of truth as we circle around it ever closer to the center (although for those who are not "homing in" on the truth, it seems believers today are mostly allowing themselves to be pushed away from that common center by an ever increasing evil centrifugal force). Do I have some differences with Curt? You mention a couple I have heard before, and while these are not necessarily what I would consider "major doctrines", of course all points of truth are important. But if we were all going to part fellowship over every single difference of opinion, there would be no fellowship at all. After all, in everything I write or discuss, there are interpretations of passages. It can't possibly be the case, I surmise, that anyone reading this ministry will in every single case agree with every interpretation of every passage I advance. Now for a student of this ministry, it is wise not to get upset about that but to set such disagreements aside. Over time, in most cases, the truth of what has been taught will come out in the end. But what if I am wrong? It is possible. As I tell my students at the university, "there was that one time back in 1975". Seriously, no one can be right all the time. I am learning too every day. What we have in common, all of us who love Jesus Christ and who are committed to serving Him, is that we are striving daily to circle ever closer into that perfect center of absolute truth in every single biblical matter. Our unity is all about the truth. Following those who are dedicated to that principle, those who have shown over time that they really do love the truth above all else – for Jesus is the truth – is spiritual beneficial. I certainly hope I fit into that category. I am sure that you do as well, and I know that Curt Omo of Bible Academy does. Beyond that, I'm happy to let individual believers be led to "make the call" as to what ministry is best for them.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

My first question has to do with the fellowship I have with the believers at Beth Messiah, the Messianic Jewish synagogue here. I found Beth Messiah a few years ago because they offered a 9-month course in Biblical Hebrew at a really affordable price (I am sure it just covered the cost of gas/print materials for the teacher) and I have worshiped with them a few times on Shabbat. I have taken a few other courses over the years from their Messianic Studies Institute. Some of these courses are topical (like what does the Bible say about hell) and some of them are historical or focus on apologetics. I took a class last year called New Testament Environment that examined the entire political situation going on in Israel during Christ’s 1st advent. It actually left me with even more questions and things I want to eventually study, which is good.

Looking back, I am happy that I do have a relationship with them and I pretty sure the Holy Spirit guided me there because He is leading me to witness to unbelieving Jews down the road. It is important for me to know a lot about the religion of Judaism and the Jewish people, their culture and their history.

I just finished reading your recent email responses about Grace and the Law and in the first question you said this:

“I am always careful to say that for those of Jewish heritage, it is not my place to tell them what they can or cannot or must or must not do in regard to the traditions in which they have been reared. It is for this very reason that the 144,000 evangelists of the Tribulation sent to restore Israel to the truth will be of Jewish blood and tradition. It is, however, appropriate for me to warn off any non-Jewish believer from "playing at being Jewish" . . . as so many Messianic type churches and groups are wont to do. There is no spiritual growth down that path, and it is fraught with spiritual peril.”

I have read a lot of your email responses about the dangers of Messianic Legalism. Before I started taking Hebrew at Beth Messiah I prayed about my decision because I didn’t know anything about their beliefs and teaching. The Holy Spirit guided me to start learning Hebrew from them, but He also guided me to be cautious and remember that Jesus is my high priest through the order of Melchizedek, I think so that I would not get too tangled in the way they worship, or as you said so that I would not “play at being Jewish.”

I was raised Lutheran, so I am not a stranger to ritual/tradition while worshiping. I went to a Catholic wedding a few years ago and everyone warned me about how long and detailed the worship would be, but it was almost just like one of the many Sunday morning worship services I attended growing up except there were some readings in Latin and I wasn’t “allowed” to take communion. I’ve also worshiped at friends churches (Methodist). Every group has some kind of ritual/style when it comes to worshiping, but, like you say, most groups are way too focused on this in our day of Laodicea, instead of learning God’s Word. If my Lutheran church had offered more detailed Bible study as I was growing up, I am not sure if I would have strayed so far as a teenager.

I am pretty sure Beth Messiah is a Spirit-filled, believing group. There are Jews and Gentiles there that worship together and many mixed Jewish-Gentile families. Some of the people there worship at Beth Messiah on Saturday, but then also worship at a traditional Christian church on Sunday and they celebrate other “Christian” holidays like Easter and Christmas. They do worship Jesus (Yeshua) as God and I think have an excellent understanding of the Trinity and the true spirit of the Law. Everything they teach, they always relate back to the Messiah.

I have been listening to the Rabbi's podcasts while I drive and have not caught any kind of false teaching so far. His sermons are not “sermons” like one would hear at a lukewarm church – they are continuous lectures about the books of the Bible, actual Bible teaching. Right now the Rabbi has been teaching from the book of Genesis and it’s taking him all year. They have a very robust teaching ministry with Bible study at 9:30 am on Saturdays, then worship from 10:30-12:00. Then they have their oneg (food and fellowship) in which they break bread for communion. Then they do a Torah study from 12:30pm for a few more hours. They also have Bible teaching classes on Monday evenings that you have to pay for, but it is not expensive. Some of the classes are taught by the Rabbi and the elders of the church and sometimes they bring in believing professors from the university for special topics. They also teach Biblical Hebrew and Greek on Mondays. I want to attend some of the Torah studies to see how they interpret/understand the Law and apply it to living in our day/age.

What I find interesting is that they do celebrate all of the Jewish holidays, but they use them to teach about the Messiah and they integrate them with truth from the New Testament. I took a class there about all of the Jewish holidays and attended their Seder at Passover at the end of the class. During the Passover meal, the Rabbi did tell the story of Exodus, but again, related everything (all the symbolism) back to the Messiah. I lot of it I already knew from your studies, but I was seeing it from the eyes of the Jewish culture. It was relaxed, but honoring of God. I could tell it was about fellowship and learning more about God’s plan, not “we have to get all of these rituals correct or else…” From what I can tell, this Messianic Jewish congregation (and others that are actually believing and not a front for false teaching) have taken the holidays and worship style of traditional Judaism and use it as a framework for teaching (correctly) about Jesus. I don’t sense any kind of schism between their understanding/teaching of the Old Testament and New Testament. They are teaching “this is the plan of God, the story of our people and it ends in the coming of the Messiah and our faith in Him, always.” I even caught in the latest podcast I listened to the Rabbi acknowledging their people were still under discipline from God and would be under Yeshua’s 2nd advent.

They use the Jewish names/terms for people and things in their teaching, so it helps me with my Hebrew study as well. I wish I had time to attend more of their worship services because so much of it is in spoken/sung Hebrew and it would help me with pronunciation. I am also learning some Yiddish words here and there! The Rabbi will often comment about the how traditional Judaism falls short of understanding Yeshua as the Messiah. I am learning a lot about how to witness to unbelieving Jewish people just by spending time with believing Jewish people. Also, I am learning a lot about what the Jewish people have had to go through – they have been persecuted so much and have been under steady Satanic attack as a group for so long. Many of these holidays are celebrations of their survival through these times. The teacher of our Jewish Festivals class said that Jewish people say during all of their holidays: “They tried to kill us, God saved us, now lets eat!”

My question is, as long as a Messianic Jewish congregation is focused on God’s Word, teaching it correctly and doesn’t get mired in ritualistic legalism, is there any sort of benefit to Jewish believers (not Gentiles) in keeping to God’s calendar of holidays/festivals? Beth Messiah is not celebrating any of these holidays the way the Israelites did in the Old Testament and they aren’t celebrating them in a traditional Jewish way either. Even if many of them are unbelieving, God has preserved the Jewish people as a group/culture through all of these attacks and through being scattered among all the nations – their rituals and holidays (even their legalism) played a big part in keeping them from becoming absorbed/assimilated into the other cultures of the countries they resided in. If any group has an “excuse/reason” to adhere to cultural festivals/celebrations it makes sense for them. Do you think any of this will come into play during the tribulation, especially since Moses and Elijah will return, and re-instate memorial sacrifices as part of their ministry to unbelieving Jews? I know we are all one under Christ, but the Jewish people are still playing a special role in God's plan.

I was hesitating to write to you on this until I saw your words in the recent email response: “I am always careful to say that for those of Jewish heritage, it is not my place to tell them what they can or cannot or must or must not do in regard to the traditions in which they have been reared. It is for this very reason that the 144,000 evangelists of the Tribulation sent to restore Israel to the truth will be of Jewish blood and tradition.”

Also, from my Daniel studies (and your Coming Tribulation series), I am really starting to understand how the antichrist will use “Messianic Legalism” as a claim to being the messiah, which might be why there have been so many “wolves in sheep’s clothing” labeling their false teaching as “Messianic” or “Jewish Roots.” He is really going to target the Jewish people and try to deceive them politically and spiritually in his effort to deceive the rest of the nations as well. I am starting to pray now that Beth Messiah and every gentile congregation I know of and have worshiped with does not get taken in.

Response #6: 

I'm very interested to hear your report on Beth Messiah. From what you say here, it sounds very much like a standard conservative Jewish synagogue – except that it is populated and directed by believers who are solid on all the main points of doctrine. That is wonderful! I think your analysis of the potential benefits and dangers is precisely correct. No doubt the Lord is working here (and in other similar groups) to prepare the Jewish people for the revival during the soon to come Tribulation. I have no doubt that someone from a Jewish background who is searching for the Lord is going to be MUCH more comfortable in a place like Beth Messiah than in a Baptist church – and no doubt better served as well. As to gentiles becoming anything more than marginally involved, you have my comments on that. For your unique purposes of preparation for evangelism, no doubt it is also a very welcome and useful experience.

Question #7: 

Dear Teacher

Sorry I am only just replying. I ran out of data for a bit.

Thank you for the encouragement, advice and links. They are all very very welcome. I am much encouraged to hear your confidence in me. I have been doing all I have been doing out of a sense of, I don't know, urgency? Or something like it. I thought of stopping myself since I have no Greek and Hebrew yet but it was really hard to ignore the opportunities I kept running into. I'm happy to know that I am not that great a danger to my brothers and sisters because I lack the original languages. I'll keep striving to get both and Aramaic eventually but I'm happy to be useful right now.

Thank you very much, Sir, for your prayers for my fiancée and for putting her on the prayer list on the website. The shooting stopped two nights ago. The city experiences crises like this rather often. There was another in June or July and that was not the only one that occurred since we met. It's a rather tense place to live (which is true of quite a few other places in the country). Their university where she is doing her medical degree is still closed for now because the crisis was connected to it. Still don't know exactly what happened at this point though.

I am very happy for all the good news about your health, very happy indeed. Praise God for His Kindness.

Your student in the Lord Jesus Christ

Response #7: 

I'm (tentatively) relieved to hear about your fiancée's situation. I think someone living in a country like yours has a "leg up" on those of us living in e.g. the US today. We have our "issues", but regular, large-scale breakdown of law and order that goes on for days isn't one of them. So I suppose the "silver lining" is that you will be more ready for the Tribulation as a result (not that this is much comfort for you and her dealing with such things). I am keeping you both in my prayers.

You're certainly welcome, my friend. Aramaic is "nice to have", but Hebrew is much more needful (getting a handle on Aramaic if Hebrew has been mastered is not too difficult).

I'm no prophet so I don't know precisely what the Lord has in store for you in terms of the wheres and the whens of a specific ministry, but I'm dead-certain that you are being prepared for a teaching ministry of some sort. Can't tell you what it will look like. I'm very bad about prediction when it comes to myself (I never ever imagined Ichthys when I was in seminary or before or after until it began to develop many years later). But that doesn't matter: the Lord knows . . . and He will bring it about in due time at the right time.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Dear Teacher

I am too. I think it is a blessing that we can ignore certain things even when they are very real. From childhood, violence has been part of my experience. It's just part of living in Nigeria. But somehow until it erupts, we tend to dismiss it even as a possibility. That is mostly what I couldn't continue dismissing anymore when I decided to try to see to emigrating with her and my parents. And I am not sure that our unique circumstances here makes any of us any more prepared for the Tribulation. There is rampant denial of any possibility of seeing the Tribulation. The "Word of Faith" movement is particularly strong here in Nigeria and that is very indicative of our psychology. The truth of the state of life here is very unpleasant so we buy any lie that can help us ignore it. The affluent live in self-contained gated "estates" (those are like large enclosures with several residential buildings - which tend to look like each other for the most part - possibly with shared facilities and security) and try to work and live away from, well, the rest of us. If they can afford it, they may purchase security from the police or get their own private security detail. I am not sure how common such things are now though. They school and take medical care from the West and just live here because it's cheaper. Down the ladder, it's like violence is just barely restrained. And there isn't much to control it when it does break out. That's what we can't bear to let ourselves believe so those pastors who preach any earthly escape from such things are hailed and loved. Talk about the Tribulation is a fast way to make yourself a friendless heretic. I don't think we are any more ready than your people are, Sir.

Okay, Sir. I am keeping Greek and Hebrew top on my agenda then.

Thank you, Sir, for your confidence in me. I know that the Lord is working things out. I have been mulling a decision to start something online. It's a bulletin board where Nigerians come to discuss all sorts of things and I often find believers asking different sorts of questions. My thinking is to start a thread there to answer questions and deliver material regularly to anyone who is looking for something like that.

By the way, it was my first anniversary with Ichthys two days ago.

Thank you, Sir, for the latest set of answers. For my part, I am just grateful that you have both the time and energy to answer my questions, Sir. I know that it costs you quite a bit to minister to us all. When I think of developing my own materials to give to others now, I am both thrilled and troubled because I know that it is a great deal of work. Writing up these things as they come to me and having to check the Scriptures and what other material I need is like a full-time job on its own. I enjoy it but it is a great deal of work. Added to a full-time job and other responsibilities, it makes sense that we should need the Holy Spirit so much. So, I am grateful and I will continue to do my best to uphold you in prayer too for the work you do for the Lord.

My fiancée and I are well. I was called for an interview with 7Up today. It was for a data analyst role. I told them that while I can learn Microsoft Excel, I'm actually more of a Business Analyst. I'm on my way back from the interview now. They said that they would get back to me. I'm not sure I care very much whether they do or don't. The job interests me enough but I am now committed again to starting my company and only want a job to run expenses as I work toward that. This one demands 11 hours of work everyday including weekends but I was told that I'd get one day off to rest. That is fine with me although 11 straight hours sounds very daunting indeed. I am trusting the Lord to show me how to make it work if this is where He has made provision for me for now. I also have no idea what the pay will be.

Your student in our dear Lord

Response #8: 

Thanks for the most informative email. The kind of communities you mention and separation of rich from poor is also found here in the US, probably just not as common – very few people can afford such things so we're talking probably about the top one tenth of one percent.

Interesting about the spiritual situation. Again, a parallel to the US. The "rapture" is very popular here for the same reasons – as is the prosperity gospel. Church-Christians not interested in either of these heresies are into political action or ritual, and often both. To be frank, I'm not thrilled about the idea of going through the Tribulation either. But I am dedicated to the truth no matter what.

Yes indeed, serious ministry requires commitment. Also, it's not just the effort and the quality of the effort – it's the consistency. But this really is just parallel to the Christian life. In terms of growth, we all have to keep "hitting it" every day, and we can't let one mediocre or bad day become a trend. The fight never ends. So ministry is the same, just on another level, I suppose. This is one reason why our Lord giving us "reward motivation" is so important. We are looking for "escape" too, but in a godly way in God's good time. We want to experience His good pleasure when we see Him and receive rewards that will make all this worth it. And indeed we know completely in our heart of hearts that they will. But continuing to make those choices and keep that spiritual clarity in the midst of the devil's world and through all the shot and shell of the conflict we are in is not always so easy. It is a fight. But just as in worldly combat, the medals go to those who were courageous in that fight.

Congratulations on the potential job. Things really are tough in your country! Every time you tell me about a potential position it seems that the working conditions are inhuman. Not that there aren't people in this country who work 60+ hours – in fact for professional positions that is far from unusual among those who want to succeed. But no one over here would make that a requirement of standard job. So I guess I won't be too upset if I hear you didn't get it.

The plan of God is perfect. He is working things out for you and for me in just the right way. We are tested by the choices we are given to make, but whatever we do, we always need to remember that it is what He is doing that really counts – and what He is doing is perfect in every conceivable way. We just have to trust Him that this is so.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Dear Teacher

I think that one of the vast multitude of things you've taught me is that spiritually, we're all dealing with the same thing. That is one reason I find it hard to decide which set of material circumstances is better than which. Every single permutation still carries a challenge to our faith. Here in Nigeria, lawlessness and economic insecurity are the two biggest concerns that plague us. Many of us are poor enough to worry about whether they will find the next meal. As people's financial circumstances get better here, they start migrating to neighborhoods where they feel safe from the "rabble". Additionally, since we have very little working infrastructure - we have to each get our own clean water, our own electricity, our own neighborhood security (and sometimes city-wide security) and even fix or build our own roads for the most part -, it makes that much more sense for people of fairly close means to live together in clusters and maintain their own common facilities without having to succumb to the conditions that prevail everywhere else or stick out like a sore thumb among the poor and become a target of envy and potential crime (although the more money anyone is thought to have here, the more fear such a person inspires because it is assumed that the system will work in their favor against the less fortunate - and that is not untrue, generally speaking).

It is the lawlessness and the ease with which violent situations occur and degenerate that have advised my own choice to leave. The Law does not mean much here especially to those who have some way to beat it: money, power or political connections. And since our rulers here are generally not shy of crime (and some may actually be members or patrons of violent gangs), even the criminal who attacks you who may be more economically empowered than them may be able to exact significant damage on you if you invoke the law against them because they know or have people in places of power. That is partly why the crisis locally has remained recurrent, in my thinking. When some powerful member(s)/patron(s) of government has vested interest in the violence, then it can never stop.

The rapture doctrine is also very big here. But believers here are getting more and more concerned with politics and a huge desire to "change Nigeria for the better". Churches and big names in Christian circles now are major champions of political involvement, so interest in eschatology is waning, it seems to me, and more and more people are dismissing any talk of it. But for those who care at all, the idea of Christians passing through the Tribulation is pretty much heresy. One seemed upset once when I asked what they would do if the Lord had decided to let them pass through the Tribulation. If I judged correctly, he took my allusion to that possibility as a doubt of his status as a believer.

In many ways, our religious system is very strongly influenced by the American. So, there aren't very many differences between what's happening here and what's happening in your country spiritually.

Thank you, Sir. I needed to hear that. I kept putting "quality of effort" ahead of consistency. I think it may have burned me out at some point. I will try now to just focus on being consistent and trust that eventually, I will arrive at consistency in the quality of effort that I desire.

Thank you again, Sir, for the encouragement. I will continue to try to be faithful to the Lord in the issues that face me.

There is a question that I have, Sir. It just occurred to me today that it may really be direct disobedience to the Scriptures to pursue social and political activism. Could that be true given 1 Thess 4:11, Sir?

Your student in our dear Lord

Response #9: 

Your situation and that of your fiancée and families are on my mind and in my prayers. I dearly hope you are able to get to the west, the US if possible. Nothing is impossible for the Lord and if that is what His will for you is, it will happen. Things are certainly not perfect here, but as I look around the world I see greater problems elsewhere. Western Europe, Canada and Australia all limit what a person can say in regard to the truth without getting in trouble with the state. I want no part of that. Still, the Lord protected the apostles and vindicated and delivered Daniel in comparable situations. We really do have nothing to fear if we revere Him.

As to your question, you know my position on political crusading and this passage is indeed one I quote in this regard (see the link: in BB 6A "Great Matters"). I don't like to tell other Christians what they may or may not do when it comes to matters of application, but I do think that it's beyond any reasonable argument that this passage ought to cause a prudent Christian to think twice before becoming part of mob (no matter how well organized the mob is or how wonderful their cause seems to be).

Thanks for the detailed report, my friend. It's very hard for those like myself who don't have any particular clairvoyance to predict outcomes. If the Lord has a ministry for you there, He will lead you to see so; if you are meant to move, that will be reinforced as well. I very much want you to be happy, successful – and spiritually productive most of all.

I'll be keeping up the prayer.

In Jesus our dear Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Dear Teacher

I'm sorry I am only just replying. It was just a hard few days but I think I am beginning to center again.

I think I know millennials. I think they just continue from where we 80s kids and the 90s kids declined to. Technology appears to these groups as if mankind is automatically smart and does not need to think anymore. It can be pretty frustrating discussing with people like that. That, I think, is why I don't care very much for apologetics now. Things that are obvious don't seem obvious to these generations and the millennials because they are too "smart" to see it.

I thank you very much for your prayers for us, sir. They mean a great deal to us both. I shared your email with my fiancée to remind her that other people are praying for us and encourage her to continue holding out hope. It got quite difficult for her for a while to be separated from me for so long and to not know when anything will change.

Yesterday I officially started a bit of ministry work on the forum I told you about. I intend to write up and post new material there every Sunday and take questions as often as they come...if they come. It may not get any response. But I have seen need expressed there and if it will do anybody any good, I thought I should go on and put it there. Please say a prayer for that work, Sir. I think it will be useful practice and training for me.

How are you, Sir? How is your back/hip?

Your student in the Lord Jesus Christ

Response #10: 

I'm very excited about your new ministry opportunity! I'll try to remember to keep this in prayer also. Please let me know how it goes.

Thanks also for your concern. I seem to be fighting my way back to a measure of functionality. God is good! I appreciate your continuing prayer support on this.

Keeping you in my prayers daily.

Your good friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #11: 

Hello Professor,

Our friend [in East Africa] wrote to me about his experiences and I hope I have been able to provide him with at least some encouragement, especially drawing from very similar experiences of my father who, courageously using every opportunity to speak about the truth in our hometown - a typical Catholic-dominated small town where everyone knows each other - has fingers being pointed at him already too.

Professor - I will pray about these things and please only look at the material at your convenience. It certainly should not be a priority in your schedule and I have my hands full here anyway. In fact, more and more I cannot help but think which direction to take at this stage of my ministry preparation, as there is so much I have to do and so little time. I hope that things are resolved for you and everything settles down as soon as possible.

In the grace of our Lord,

Response #11: 

Thank you!

I do pray for things to work out every more suitably for you in your business so as to have abundant means but with enough time to do all you have in your heart to do. This is always a challenge. The Lord is well-able to liberate your time entirely – mine too, for that matter. But there are reasons why He doesn't do this. Paul also worked for a living even while ministering, and was only completely liberated from work once he was imprisoned (so we need to be careful what we hope for too!).

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #12: 

Hello--I hope you won't mind one more question from me. Again, thanks for your help last week with the plural for "nails." The JW who was insisting it was singular in John's narrative got suspended for 6 months for being so arrogant and obnoxious, and so, though he can read what is written on CARM, he cannot post anything. So I will never know what his reaction was to the fact that it is plural.

But my question is about Hebrew--you used to teach Biblical Hebrew, did you not? And I noticed on your board that you one highest honors for it, in 1984. I think you told me you used to teach it. How long did you teach it? And did you also learn about the OT and the culture of the Israelites and the surrounding countries, their deities, customs, etc. OR did you mostly focus on the language? Also, if you do not mind my asking, why did you stop teaching it? A Mormon I know once told me on the boards--after I posted something you had written about something in Hebrew--that you quit because you probably weren't very good at it. I don't think that is the reason. But if it isn't too personal, could you tell me why you no longer teach it? I suspect it is because you don't have time, with teaching all your other courses, but I await your answer in that regard.

Thanks again and God bless yo

Response #12: 

It's no problem. My CV is available online at the link. As you will see, I'm a Classicist by profession. I did take time out to do an additional degree at seminary focusing on Hebrew, Aramaic and the world of the Bible, and this supplemented the three years of Hebrew I had before going to seminary.

Classicists mainly teach Latin and Greek – and that is exclusively what I teach. Would I be able to teach BH? Sure. I did an informal "pick-up" class for interested students at UC Irvine while working towards my Ph.D. in Classics. But while e.g. law professors here teach three classes a year, I teach 4-5 per semester. In addition to my service and research responsibilities, that is quite a load . . . and then there is this ministry, Ichthys, which takes up a great deal of time (not complaining!). We have other folks here at U of L who could (and have) taught biblical Hebrew, but there isn't much demand. As I probably mentioned, my one colleague got the budget axe last year so now I am the only around to teach five years of Latin and five years of Greek every semester. Had to give up my sabbatical to cover the classes next semester. Doesn't leave much time for Hebrew, were I so inclined, and here they cancel classes PDQ if "not enough" are enrolled. The "not enough" number seems to get steeper every semester. As things stand now, I'll wager BH never gets taught here again (not unless we have a "regime change"). I read my Hebrew Bible daily as I have done for decades, and of course use Hebrew in answering questions and producing Bible studies. Could I teach it? Sure. Is that going to be happening any time soon? No. But not because "I'm not good at it".

In Jesus our dear Savior,

Bob L.

Question #13: 

Dear Bob,

I hope this finds you well.

I am happy to tell you that I now have a bible study plan in place. Based on the log book (link) you've shared on your site, I have decided to read three chapters of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament every day. I picked this ratio as it roughly works out that I will finish both of them around the same time.

In tandem with this I am also reading the Genesis Gap, "Christ In All The Scriptures" and "Unlocking The Bible" by and by and as they relate to the Chapters in the Bible I am reading.

I am also going to use the Bible Academy link on your site.

After I've finished the "Genesis Gap" I will continue with your section on the Satanic Rebellion.

I have also recently bought a facsimile edition of the first KJV (as it is the version I prefer reading) and a Strong's Concordance!

I'm really excited about it all and it has even piqued my partner's interest as he loves literature.

I wanted to ask you on your thoughts on "Universalism" and "Annihilationism"?
Why are there such differences of interpretation on this do you think?

The Pope has recently promoted Universalism and even said he'll doesn't exist! Do you think he said this just to tickle the ear? I am wondering if this has always been Catholic doctrine?

I am really enjoying my studies and find myself really hungry for the Word!

Thanks again Bob my friend!

I will keep you in my prayers.

In Our Loving Saviour, Jesus Christ,

Response #13: 

Great to hear from you, my friend!

I'm very pleased to hear that your are "digging in" to spiritual growth. Good for you! That is the way to please Jesus Christ – and also the only path to true happiness in this life for a believer in Him.

Your plan sounds great! Keeping up with it is the main thing. It's always best to fix on something "doable" so as to not get frustrated or feel bad about not keeping up with an impossible plan when what we are doing ought to be a source of joy at all times.

Of course the idea that all will be saved no matter what makes a mockery of the whole reason we are here in this world, namely, to use our free will to honor Jesus Christ:

"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
John 3:18 NKJV

These are our Lord's own words and they really don't admit of any but the most direct interpretation: believers are saved; unbelievers are not.

It doesn't surprise me that the RCC gets this wrong since they get everything else wrong; best place for details on from our friend Bartek's materials (series on Mary at the link).

Here are a few Ichthys links which I hope will be helpful:

Against Universalism I: Free Will and the Image of God.

Against Universalism II: Only Believers are Saved.

Against Universalism III: Unbelievers in the Plan of God.

Annihilationism, Universalism, Hell and Judgment II

Annihilationism, Universalism, Hell and Judgment

I'm keeping you in my prayers too, my friend.

Keep fighting the good fight for our dear Master!

And thank you so much for your prayers.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #14:  

Dear Teacher

I was sure you were busy with something. Thank you for explaining, Sir. I'm also happy that you have been busy. I will continue to pray that the Lord will give you wisdom and strength to catch up.

As to the new ministry, I find I enjoy discussing the Truth and writing about it very enjoyable. I always have but to be able to do so with confidence that I am not misleading my readers is a joy. I know that I have other responsibilities to the Lord but sometimes I wish it was all I had to do.

Thank you very much, dear Sir, for the connection. I think I told you that the offer was way better than I hoped for. I didn't even expect anything like it. Thank you again, Sir.

And I am very very grateful for your prayers for me and mine, Sir. I know that this is a labor even if it is one of love. I am grateful, Sir. May the Lord never withhold His Hand from blessing you in every way.

Thank you, Sir.

Your student in the Lord Jesus Christ

Response #14: 

I did have a brief look at your links and, as always, you seem to me to be doing an admirable job in defending the truth and leading to the truth. I'm happy that you have an outlet to engage in ministry, and I hope that will be an encouragement for your continuing preparation.

What you are attempting to do is not easy. Most people, in my observation and experience, are incapable of doing anything serious and doing it consistently over a long period of time without what my old pastor-teacher used to call "enforced humility". That is to say, learning Greek in college is for most people much easier than learning it on one's own not so much because there is no one to ask when problems are encountered but because there is no teacher to ask you "Did you do your homework? Please translate section 2B for the class." It takes a great deal of self-discipline to prepare for a lifetime of ministry entirely on one's own without any other human being looking over one's shoulder and monitoring the progress. But of course the Lord knows everything. Add to all this the fact that now you have a responsibility to our friend and the company wherein you are also not being directly and closely supervised. It is also very hard for people to "work and home" and be as diligent as they would be if they were "at the office". Your particular living situation also makes this a challenge too, I know. And I'm also aware that the push and pull of uncertainty and hopes and dreams likewise wages war on straight-line progress. But that is what you will have to figure out how to do.

I'm thrilled at the new development, but I know enough about human nature to feel the need to encourage you to double-down on the self-discipline now and make the most of this new opportunity in a hyper-responsible way. All these decisions are yours, but I will take the liberty to say a few things out of love for you.

First, as no doubt I have mentioned before, we all have limitations and we have to accept that fact. That doesn't mean that we cannot work on our areas of weakness and make them stronger, but it does mean that we are not going to be able to wipe these away overnight because of a momentary emotional surge. And some things can't really be changed. If we really do need seven or eight hours of sleep in order to be cogent in our intellectual pursuits, cutting this in half to provide more time is likely only to make matters worse rather than to help, e.g.

Second, being realistic about priorities is important. Yes, serving the Lord is absolutely first, and all the things that go into doing that should be prioritized. But this principle is easily misapplied. If we miss work because we haven't finished praying yet we should not be surprised if the Lord does not keep us from losing our job. He expects us to be good witnesses in this area of our lives as in all others. Employers have a right to expect good results from all of their employees – how much more from believers? So I will always advise believers never to make their Christianity and Christian activities, be they ever so honoring to the Lord, an excuse for not being the absolutely best employee they can be. Does that mean that we should spend every minute and every ounce of time on "the job" to the detriment of our relationship with Jesus Christ? Certainly not. But we should always do a good job without stinting, accomplishing every task we are given in a timely fashion in a quality way and with a good attitude. If doing this crimps our time and energy for the Lord beyond what is acceptable, then we may be sure that the Lord will lead us into a better job and a better situation . . . while in the meantime we continue to do a good job.

Third, in terms of preparation for ministry, it should be noted that personal spiritual growth is the most important thing, because no amount of academic type work will ever be able to substitute for a close walk with Jesus Christ based upon a deep understanding of the truth. So after we have taken reasonable care of our health, and after we have done our jobs "as unto the Lord", nurturing our relationship with Him in prayer, Bible reading, and Bible study has to be a daily priority, jealously guarded.

Fourth, when it comes to accumulating necessary knowledge and tools for future ministry, those who have to work for a living while doing so are at a definite disadvantage; those who have no formal programing in addition really do have a "hard row to hoe" as we say. Exceptional people do manage it (our friend in England certainly has), and the Lord helps of course. Just as our friend has a somewhat flexible work situation (i.e., not a 60 hour a week job at the Pepsi factory), so it seems that the Lord is providing for you also in a way that will give you some time to work on the things that make for a better pastor-teacher with the tools necessary to investigate the Word on his own. How to acquire them? We have talked about texts. The main thing I would add here is the question of method. Simply stated, "a little is a lot", if done consistently. If you worked on Greek and Hebrew fifteen minutes a day every day, you would make progress. If you spend all afternoon tomorrow working on Greek . . . and then don't get around to looking at it again for a couple or weeks or more . . . you probably will not. Those two languages are the most important tools. Everything else (systematic theology, church and ancient history, principles of interpretation, etc.) can be learned case by case and "on the job" as you prepare ministry materials and engage in ministry – and I certainly hope that as you continue to do Bible study through Ichthys that all of these add-ons will be falling into place in the natural course of things (Bible Basics, e.g., though not complete, is essentially a systematic theology).

Fifth, while we are preparing for something bigger, it is not at all a bad idea to engage in ministry now. That will provide many important experiences from which we may learn (negative no doubt as well as positive). However, if we want to come into the life-ministry the Lord has in store for us, it can be a trap to become over-committed to ministry opportunities now which may eat up all of our time and energy and undermine the first four priorities on this list. It is all a juggling act, but we are responsible for how many plates we throw into the air. I certainly do not speak for the Lord here, but my impression of your talents and abilities suggests to me that most likely a teaching ministry is in store for you, a ministry wherein you teach the Word of God and its principles, illuminating passages of scripture to a group of believers who are eager for the truth and who (for the most part – we are talking about human beings here after all) accept your teaching authority because they realize they can grow under your leadership. Apologetics is a wonderful calling, and no doubt you can hold your own here and do it well. But I would counsel care in balancing this with all of the other things you've got to do.

I rejoice in the good news you've received, my friend! At the same time I am zealous that the evil one not use this against you; after all "for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2Cor.2:11).

And thanks for all of your prayers on my behalf as well; they are greatly appreciated.

This is a fight to the finish for us all, my friend. So "be strong and courageous", knowing that it is the Lord who is fighting for us – if we will only trust in Him to see us through.

In Jesus our dear Master,

Bob L.

Question #15: 

Morning Sir. Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to research and publish your studies.

In particular, Part 4A Christology. I haven’t studied the whole document as I was researching Theophany and Christophany and discovered your study on that. I’m sure the rest of the document is as solid as the part I was reading. I’ve saved it for future study

Response #15: 

Thanks!

I greatly appreciate your kind words, my friend.

In Jesus our dear Savior,

Bob L.

Question #16: 

The only issue that my mind is wrestling with from what you said is I don't see a dividing line between the woman Priscilla teaching Apollos in her home (one man) vs. two or more (i.e. a church).

Response #16: 

The distinction is between formal teaching inside of the formal assembly and informal conversation outside of that assembly. We would not want to say, for example, that a woman could not give the gospel to a man.

I have been praying for you about this too, my friend. I have to say that I had a very LONG wait in between becoming gung-ho for the Lord and the launching of Ichthys (about twenty years); there was a long period of preparation, and there was a Bible study that developed into "Ichthys on the web" (about seven or eight years prior to it), but still. Abraham waited until he was ninety-nine for Isaac – we should be happy that we don't have to have that kind of patience! God does everything perfectly in His perfect timing, and that often requires us to wait longer than we would otherwise want to and often longer than we think we are able to.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4 NKJV

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #17: 

Hello Bob,

I'm a bit under the weather at the moment which is making me low in spirits.

I want to thank you though. My faith means more to me now than silver and gold. I am trying to stick to a study plan (using the excel spreadsheet on your site) and even when I am not in the Word, I am constantly in prayer and dialogue with Jesus.

I try to keep up with current affairs but sometimes find it too depressing. There are times that I wished I lived in the US! For all the divisive politics you have there, at least you have staunch defenders on the faith. I'm afraid England is really showing its pagan roots now, really showing that the Druids are still venerated. Even one of our archbishops was involved in a Druidic ceremony!

We have just managed to get through Halloween without much incident. I was shocked this time how much the supermarkets near me have embraced Halloween as though it was really important. It wasn't really a big deal when I was young. I think it has come over from the States.
I was upset that they are starting to merge the ghoulish decorations to celebrate witchcraft in with all the Christmas decorations. I know that Christmas as well is largely pagan again and these days you are stared down by people if you mention the Nativity, but I was still shocked at the mixing of symbols of goodness and purity with those that are profane.

I am starting to feel a deep and very real urgency to get into the Word of God now. I feel that the Holy Spirit is quickening in me the need for study.

I am hoping to guide my family towards belief and trust in our Saviour. I really understand now about being in the world and not of it. That is happening to me now.

I saw [family member] for the first time in ages. I caught [family member] blaspheming and this is the first time [family member] has ever done that. It really wounded my heart. Whenever anyone takes our Lord's name in vain as a swear word, it is literally a cold knife in my heart. I know why people do it and don't use Mohammad or Buddha, it's because He Is Who He Says He Is and deep down people do know this but I feel that the devil makes use of worldly people to blaspheme.

I am really aware now of spiritual warfare. Sin only leads you to become drawn to darkness. It is a dynamic thing. You can build on iniquity with more and more iniquity. The spiritual fight is very real my friend!

I am learning to rely on myself less and less and to turn to Christ instead. Sometimes, I flop on the floor and say "Please come soon! The world is so wicked and I hate it!"

I don't want to sound gloomy and negative in this letter as the truth is I feel a huge inner peace for the first time in my life. It's the Holy Spirit in me and the love of my Heavenly Father and the teachings of Our Saviour Jesus Christ. I know now that His Word is the only real truth in this world and I hunger for it and find solace in it.

I know that our time is running out here very quickly, the signs are everywhere but I know that Jesus has already overcome the whole world and at the end he will triumph in our last battle.

I read in one of your pages that some people will never see the light no matter how much proof they are given. Even if they have a hundred lifetimes back to back they will still reject Salvation. That saddened me to read that but I know it in my heart to be true. I meet a great deal of people like that and I'm afraid that even some of my nearest and dearest will not submit their will under Our Father's will. It is a terrible curse and burden to have that much pride. Again I realise that pride is a gateway to all other sins.

I feel that although I am just a baby Christian and am learning all the time, I am starting to see and feel and understand truths that I didn't understand before.

Again I want to thank you as you have been hugely instrumental in my growing understanding and the huge peace I feel inside knowing the love and Blessed Mercy from Our Father and the amazing atonement paid in full by the Lamb Of God, Jesus Christ, whom I love with all my heart.

Your friend,

Response #17: 

It's always good to hear from you, my friend. Yes, it is true that this world is a very depressing place. But we believers, while we are "in it", are most definitely not "of it" (Jn.17:16). Being out of this world and with our Lord is most definitely "better by far" (Phil.1:23), but we don't pick our battlefield. The Lord does that for us. As long as He wants us here, He has a purpose for us, and our job is to keep up the fight regardless of how we feel. When we are not at our best health-wise, that affects our mood. And when the forces of evil are pounding on us and things go wrong, it is hard to summon up the supernatural joy that is ours. But we can always take strength in the peace our Lord left us as our heritage as believers (Jn.14:27), focusing on the hope ahead which outshines all the black clouds of this world. And when we regain our spiritual bearings, the joy floods back as well.

From where I sit, you seem to me to be doing wonderfully well with all this, my friend! Keep growing, and I will keep up the prayer along with you.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Romans 8:15-18 NKJV

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #18: 

Thanks for your email Bob!

Do you have any advice about my [family member] being on the wrong path? [details omitted]

I now feel that there is a rebellious spirit which gets into people. Maybe it's the Jezebel spirit that encourages this rebellion, it starts small and then grows and picks up speed.

I saw a Ted talk the other day which described itself as a "Queer reading of the Bible". I'm glad someone in the comments really understood what it was all about. Again it's about the serpent saying "Are you sure that God said...?" It's the same rebellion/ Jezebel/ anti-Christ spirit behind all of these messages.

It's difficult to be the lone voice in the wilderness. Why should my [family member] listen to me, why should anyone, when the whole world is telling you the opposite?

Today the popular message is "If it feels good then do it" and don't judge. As long as they're not hurting anyone, live and let live. Does anyone ever think that they might be hurting themselves?

Is there any chance I can reach my [family member] and get [family member] on the narrow path again? Do you have experience on how to reach the lost sheep? Can a person do it unless the person is willing themselves? Should I be praying for the intercession of the Holy Spirit?

Thanks again for your friendship and support.

In Jesus Christ,

Response #18: 

One thing I think we shouldn't overlook here, something we should be grateful for, is how much YOU are changing in drawing ever closer to Jesus Christ. When we do that, the truth in our hearts begins to penetrate and reveal all of the world's lies. It's like shining a bright light in a dark corner and watching all the cockroaches flee. It may seem lonely to begin seeing the world for what it is in the glorious light of the truth of Jesus Christ, but it really is not lonely at all. As we do this, we become ever more cognizant of the fact that He resides in us and that the Holy Spirit does too. We cannot see our Lord with these temporary eyes, but we see Him with the eyes of faith and feel His presence with all of our hearts. That blessing is worth more than any number of phony friendships based on worldly values. And the Lord also provides us with what we need in terms of others in this world who also see things the godly way. We may have to wait and endure some loneliness, but this only makes us stronger and more appreciative of what the Lord brings our way.

You are exactly right about "rebelliousness". This, after all, was the devil's original sin, that is, his arrogance and desire to do things His way instead of God's way. At the heart of all active rejection of the Lord is that same spirit of rebelliousness which often manifests itself as something directly antithetical to the truth. I think all who have embraced evil hate the truth more than anything, precisely because the truth contradicts what they prefer. And in their hearts they cannot completely eject the knowledge that the truth really is true, and so they hate it all the more. For those who have completely embraced this horrible way of thinking in a headlong rush, there is little hope of recovery because of the insidious nature of the process of hardening the heart – little hope in human terms. But nothing is impossible for God, and many of us have been way far on the wrong side of things when the Lord wooed us back.

From what you have written it sounds to me as if your [family member] is more dabbling in all this than a full-fledged convert. Trust me when I say that if [family member] is a believer in Jesus Christ, this dabbling with fire will result in burned fingers (at least). As those with loved ones who are doing such things, it's always a dilemma as to what we should say or do. If we get "in their face" too much, it will just provoke a reaction . . . the wrong way. My own feeling about such circumstances – very common in our day and age – is that first and foremost we should strive to keep the lines of communication open. If the loved one in question is a believer, what the Lord is likely to do will be much more effective than anything we could even dream up. When and if said person has a crisis, we need to be there to throw a life-saver of faith to them. In the meantime, we can stand up for the truth; not reproving them or making great issues about everything with which we disagree in a negative sense, but putting out the divine viewpoint when opportunity offers. What matters is salvation in Jesus Christ and only believers are saved (not even the best unbeliever who ever lived will be saved for all his/her good deeds, because he/she threw the Gift of Christ right back in the Father's face). For believers, what matters is what Jesus Christ thinks is "good", even the entire world has a different opinion (and perhaps even especially so).

We can also pray. The Lord knows how important your [family member] is to you. And nothing is impossible for Him. So for [family member]'s sake as well as for your sake, your spiritual growth is all that much more important, that your prayers may be all the more effective.

In terms of "brought up Catholic", here is the link to the newly completed "Series on Mary" by my good friend (also an ex-RC); despite the name and the focus, it provides excellent insight into the entire RC mindset versus the truth of the Bible.

I promise to keep fighting this battle with you, my friend – so keep on fighting this good fight of faith.

In Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price for us all that we might be saved through faith in Him.

Bob L.

Question #19: 

Hi Bob,

I saw this already got used in the posting this week -- that was fast!

There are a few things I want to clarify. I appreciate the response you gave: I hadn't realized exactly how nebulous a thing "church discipline" was until I sat down and thought about it, nor had I considered the implicit "confession" therein. Psalm 51:4 comes to mind. But now I'm trying to wrap my head around what the Biblical model should look like, given that most people are going about this in a wrong-headed way.

I'm going to repeat my request for you to comment on my framing briefly. I suppose I should have made this more explicit: I'm looking for confirmation on the ideas in the below block of text (the same as from the first email). As I was preparing for any future conversations on this topic, I decided that I needed to be able to address the question I so often get: "what do you mean your 'church' is on the internet?" So I tried to lay out a rather informal introduction to the idea that the church is supposed to be flexible in how it adapts to changes in technology and forms of information transmission over time.

I've pushed back against pressure to go to local churches "because we are not supposed to give up meeting together" (people misinterpreting Hebrews 10:25), but I've never given much thought to specifically how the offices of elder and deacon have changed in the internet age. It seems obvious that there are still administrative things to be done for an "internet church" (for lack of a better term) -- perhaps organizing a weekly newsletter, maintaining a prayer list, helping a teacher run and maintain a website, organizing money to be given to evangelistic ministries or those in need, and so forth. These are perhaps less "physical" than in the past, but are still service roles outside the scope of teaching. Teachers can now operate at the global level, either through printed works (like Ichthys), videos (like Bible Academy), or even things like podcasts. No need to be overly restrictive -- I would be leery of telling someone they could not have a teaching ministry operating primarily through Facebook or internet forums, for example.

I would say that we are in a completely different "church paradigm" than the church of bygone centuries, and have been for some time. Arguably, ever since the majority of the population became literate and books became readily available through the printing press, the importance of speakers in a local church setting has diminished. It's not that the church doesn't need teachers -- it most certainly does. It's just that teaching is not sermons -- far from it (as you well know and have said many times on Ichthys). Now that we have the internet and reading materials are essentially free (as long as ministries make them so), things are even a bit different than 20 years ago or so, when the World Wide Web was invented.

This isn't quite the same as teachings on dispensations (since we are consistently talking about truth coming from qualified and prepared Bible teachers exercising their spiritual gift by explaining the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit), but I view it in similar terms: the early church functioned differently than Jewish synagogues, and now we function differently than when reading was the province of educated elites and books were so expensive so as to be inaccessible to the average person. The structure of the church has changed as the landscape around us has changed.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having physical meetings and with one gifted and prepared individual teaching from the pulpit. (As long as it is teaching and not vapid sermonizing). The difference is that this is no longer the only way for the church to operate, as it perhaps was in the past, when circumstances were different.

Response #19: 

Apologies for the delay. A lot going on here at present.

On your follow-ups, overall I'd want to make the point that the word "church" means "assembly" or "gathering". THE Church is defined by the Lord. It is His Bride. Local assemblies are only valuable if they are 1) composed of actual believers, and 2) accomplishing what the Lord wants – which, for churches, contributing to the spiritual growth, progress and production of those who attend. So I actually think the shoe is on the other foot. I'd want a formally organized assembly to "show me" that such was the case before I would be willing to recommend it as anything any believer would want to be involved in. And on top of that, I'd also want guarantees and assurances that it was not involved in any of the very many spiritually debilitating practices which plague "local churches" in the era of Laodicea. I doubt it would be possible to find a large number of churches who would even pass the test with a D- (let alone an A+). So if you say "Ichthys is my church", I feel fairly confident that you could affirm #1 above (in terms of the people with whom you've been in contact – not many, I grant you), and also #2 above (in spades, I would hope), and that you could also be comfortable in saying that this "church" does not promote any of the negative practices we've discussed.

People assume that "you have to go to church" – by which they mean attending a service in a physical location on Sunday morning where certain traditional things will take place. But again, what is a "church"? In the Bible it's a group of Christians who meet together to for mutual encouragement and spiritual growth. The Bible doesn't say there needs to be a building. The Bible doesn't say that there has to be a Sunday meeting. The Bible has never even heard of sermons. And the Bible, while it does give rules for appointing deacons and elders, never actually says that they are necessary. That is the pattern – the apostles and their associates appointed them – so we can safely assume that it's a good thing to do. But the reason for having these officials is NOT to establish a self-perpetuating hierarchy; rather it is to 1) to teach the Word (elders) and administer the church's affairs properly (deacons), avoiding either doctrinal or procedural abuses so that wherever Christians meet in the Name of Christ everything will be done "decently and in good order" (1Cor.14:40).

I don't think it's possible to say from scripture that a church which had, say, one elder and two deacons and met every other Tuesday night at various homes of people who came and went as associated with the church could not be a REAL church. In fact, if it were doing what Christ wants, teaching the Word and gaining mutual encouragement thereby, it would seem to me to be more of church than tens of thousands of other places in this country which bear that name but do not actually live up to it. What it is, then, that a "church" on the internet lacks? Clearly, we do not physically meet some place once a week; we do not see each other face to face; we do not eat sweet rolls and drink coffee together before/after services on Sunday; we do not get together as "the building committee" on Thursday night to plan how we are going to replace that old furnace; we do not collect money, count it up, and send someone to deposit it in our bank account; we do not insist that the pastor (or one of the many pastors) come by and visit us once or twice a year; we do not bring our babies down the aisle for a dedication ceremony; we do not invite Christian artists to sing in our special Christmas pageant; we do not associate our organization with others for charity purposes or to promote world peace; we do not tell everyone in the congregation to stand up and turn around and greet all the folks sitting near them, nor do we insinuate that if you're not socializing with other members of our group then you are really falling down on your job as a Christian . . . having lived this much of my live and having observed it all of my life, I assure you that I could go on and on about the things that Ichthys and those associated with Ichthys do NOT do.

But we do learn about the Bible, learn about it's truths, pray for others who are associated with this ministry in their hour of need, grow spiritually, equip ourselves for passing the tests of spiritual maturity, and prepare for ministry and engage in ministry. It seems to me that this is what a church is supposed to be doing, even if it "feels wrong" to those who prefer traditional approaches. No, we do not offer abundant contact with other Christians because of the lack of a physical space. But there is an advantage in that too. I know of Christians who are in touch with other Christians from the US to Africa to Europe to India – because they took an interest and made an effort to reach out. So instead of being pressured to socialize with others even if you'd rather not (that is what happens in almost all brick and mortar churches), what social relationships I've seen develop from this ministry have been absolutely genuine. And anyway, is Christianity a social club? Is that what churches are for? When believers share their trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats (anonymously) at Ichthys, all who read them are encouraged and warned and motivated and helped to grow – without competition or embarrassment or any of the other negatives that this sort of exchange would inevitably produce in brick-and-mortar. Does that mean that the Ichthys model alone is "right" or "the only one"? Far from it! I only balk at the notion that it is "wrong" because it's not the way "it's always been done" – especially when it seems to me that Ichthys is "doing its job", even as most "churches", in my humble opinion, are not. If what Ichthys gives up for what it accomplishes is a lack of shaking a few hands on Sunday morning and verging on the hypocritical in the artificiality of relationships such places often produce, I'm happy with that bargain.

Question #20: 

Without a physical building to maintain, deacons' roles may be less concrete: organizing a weekly newsletter, maintaining a prayer list, helping a teacher run and maintain a website, organizing money to be given to evangelistic ministries or those in need, and so forth.

Response #20: 

If you don't need them, there is no reason to have them, just for the sake of having them. I receive help – in proofreading, in contributions of material from readers, and also in other matters. Our friend in England "has the keys", so to speak, if and when I ever get run over by the bus.

Question #21: 

In our age of global interconnectedness, teachers may operate on a global scale over the internet. There are multiple mediums in this regard (websites, blogs, forums, Facebook, etc.) -- but one thing all internet ministries have in common with other is that they are "non-traditional" according to the give-a-sermon-on-Sunday-morning prevailing norm.

Response #21: 

Since I don't find the tradition in the Bible, and since I don't see traditional churches as doing their job, I'm fine with being non-traditional. If someone does have a traditional (in terms of form) church that really is doing its' job, great! But that doesn't mean that Ichthys is wrong or not doing its job just because some other church in another form is too – and especially not since so many are NOT.

Question #22: 

Widespread literacy and availability of books (should have) reduced people's dependence on individual speakers in close geographic proximity to them. Even more recently, free online materials have reduced the cost of obtaining solid Bible teaching even further. In this way, both literacy/the printing press and the invention of the Web fundamentally changed how the church can operate (i.e., now teachers can write books and maintain websites in addition to/instead of holding face-to-face Bible studies and teaching from a pulpit). Not all teachers have to operate in the same way (1 Corinthians 12:5-6), but now more "ways" are available -- and so we should be open to prepared teachers teaching in whatever manner they feel led to (even if it is not "local" how some people want).

Response #22: 

It's a good point about literacy. Of course not everyone learns by reading as well as the next Christian. Curt Omo's ministry at the link has the advantage of being something listened to, in the main. Of course, thanks to Chris B., one can listen to many of the Ichthys' postings on audio MP3 files now too (at the link) – some other help I've received.

Question #23: 

The mechanics of Bible teaching has not changed since the beginning of the church age (teaching did and still does come from qualified and prepared Bible teachers exercising their spiritual gift by explaining the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit), but as circumstances have changed, so to have the exact forms that this teaching takes. This would seem to be common sense.

Response #23: 

Indeed. But it is important to note the that the "traditional model" eschews teaching for "preaching". There is a big difference as anyone who has heard a sermon and read any Ichthys study can easily see by the comparison.

Question #24:  

Hermeneutics relating to individual vs. group addressing in rebukes, etc.

I've read through your response a few times now, and I see how everything fits together if one makes some particular interpretive calls. I buy your logic here as elsewhere, and have a great degree of trust in your opinions since I've been following you and Ichthys for some time now. But this doesn't help with others.

I've had quite a few conversations with people recently wherein it becomes clear that both parties are (or at least appear to be) interested in what the Bible says (rather than reason, authority, famous people's opinions, etc.), but disagree on hermeneutics to such a degree that different conclusions are reached. It's very frustrating to be faced with the assertion that "it's in the text.. why can't you see?" when really, what "the text" is comes down to interpretation. I could give specific examples, but I think you can probably see the issue.

All this to say, I understand and agree with the view you have put forth, but I would like to get a firmer grasp of why we should take things this way rather than entertaining alternatives.

Response #24: 

On hermeneutics: It's also not just "I read this text differently"; two other important factors: 1) the whole versus the parts: does the interpretation fit into an overall system of theology based likewise on listening to scripture through the Spirit? 2) the character and the quality of those seeking the truth and the individual helping them get there: it's not really fair to compare someone who is genuinely trying to find out what the Bible teaches as their main purpose in life and the similarly dedicated person who is helping them get there with individuals who in fact are mostly lukewarm about the scriptures and who are content with relying on deficient sources as a result; that's a little bit like comparing the training regime of a major league ball club with a company softball team and considering the pitching strategy of each as of equal value.

Question #25: 

Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers,
1 Timothy 5:1 NKJV

This verse seems to make clear a few things:

The singular verb implies a private exchange, rather than a rebuke being given as an objective, impersonal statement from the pulpit (i.e., something leveled at the entire congregation).

Response #25: 

Correct.

Question #26: 

Since this is addressed to Timothy, it seems prudent to think that this verse has in mind a teacher/elder exhorting an older member of their flock. However, as with many things in scripture, a common-sense interpretation would allow for a wider application, wherein younger believers of any persuasion might address erring older people that they are close to in a loving, Christian way.

Response #26: 

This verse is a limitation put on leadership. There are times we may feel led by the Spirit to tell some other brother or sister that they need correction on some point . . . but they really ought to be few and far between and VERY carefully considered before we go that route.

"How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Luke 6:42 NIV

Question #27: 

Positive encouragement is to be preferred over harsh reprimand. What this means will depend on context, but it might take the form of "Take heart in the forgiveness and strength we have been given as men in Christ, and with the Spirit's help, bear up firmly under the constant fire of sexual temptation that faces us in our modern world." vs. "How could you lust after a woman that is not your wife? You are a bad Christian! Be ashamed!"

Response #27: 

I'm glad you asked this one, because in discussions of this sort it's all too easy to let tactics make you lose sight of strategy (or "forest for the trees"; pick your analogy). When I read my Bible, the Spirit convicts me of my shortcomings all the time, and I am reminded, prodded, encouraged, and motivated to do better. A Bible teacher amplifies, explains, connects, and applies the truth of scripture in a way that only someone with that gift and the proper preparation empowered by the Spirit can do. Thus, a Christian who both reads his/her Bible AND is diligent in listening to / reading good, solid Bible teaching, has that experience even more dramatically and effectively than Bible reading alone. For one thing, after all, it's not really possible to understand everything in the Bible without teaching, and even if we are correct in our conclusion when we are trying to figure something out, we cannot really have conviction on some things without teaching – and without believing (and believing things that are actually true), there is no spiritual growth.

Just as all Bible reading should be objective, in the sense that we know that God meant this His Word for all of us, for me but not just for me, so also good Bible teaching must likewise be objective, meaning that I have a pretty good idea that the pastor/teacher is not specifically calling me out personally when he teaching about sin, e.g. But if I as a pastor teacher starts applying things direct to a specific person in the congregation, especially if I do it in the way suggested here, whether positively or negatively, objectivity is out the window. And that is devastating. Why? Because now, the person whom I've called out will either do what I tell them – because I tell them so, not because they are motivated in their hearts by the Spirit to do so – or else they will not do what I tell them, separate from this ministry (and the benefit they were getting from it), and continue to "not do" it, even if it really is a biblical principle, blaming it on me (if only subconsciously). Why would a pastor ever do this individually? It would have to be an unavoidable situation in my view to even think of it (along the lines of 1Cor.5:1ff.). Someone asks your advice; you have to tell them the truth (go the encouraging route to the extent possible); someone does not ask your advice – don't give it. Unless said person is making an issue of some bad behavior, let the scriptures as you teach them in the natural course of teaching the "whole counsel" of the Word correct each of your congregants; let the Spirit smooth out the rough edges. If you have to act, we're usually talking about an extreme case. But the danger in context is the natural human tendency to want to pass a law and institutionalize everything, set up some board or procedures, and have the pastor start correcting people – individually. That is a recipe for the worst sort of legalism.

Question #28: 

If (ii) does have a specific application to pastor-teachers and their flock, how does this relate to online teachers? Would they just pull aside people in their personal lives? But what about people in the church who rely on online teachers exclusively so never really see elders "in the flesh?" Is this just a case of me not viewing God as big enough to provide people to exhort someone when/if it is necessary, despite seeming geographical complications?

Response #28: 

See above. I don't think this is a good idea under any circumstances – except through the teaching of the Word of God. Paul's statement provides limits; it does not encourage this activity. I would expand in English, "If someone asks your advice on a personal issue, or if one of the older men is so out of line that he has to be either brought up short or thrown out of the group, then 'rebuke an older man / elder [privately] . . .' " etc.

Question #29: 

The antecedent of "those" in v. 20 is clearly elders, so this verse only applies to correction of elders, not correction in general.

Response #29: 

Correct.

Question #30: 

The ἵνα (purpose clause) in 1st Timothy 5:1 makes it clear that this correction has as its purpose (or at least one of its purposes) the discouragement of certain types of behavior by observation of consequences. The φοβον ἔχωσιν here doesn't refer to any sort of terror or constant discomfort due to fear of being "called out," but a healthy respect for justice and the purity that the church is called to. Cf. our "fear" of God – here the object of respect is the proper self-regulation of the church by those in positions of leadership and authority.

Response #30: 

If you have one elder who is a tax cheat and somehow thought that was OK or that he could get away with it, then the moral quality of your congregation (and your elders) may be less than you thought; establishing your authority in the biblical way commanded is important because otherwise these people may feel that they can have one foot in and one foot out of doing what is right – and that you are OK with that because you didn't rebuke brother X.

Question #31: 

Accusations should be verifiable and pass muster as evidence in a rigorous sense, to avoid cases of slander. While the context here is talking about accusations against elders (whose word carries somewhat more authority in a "he said/she said" conflict than non-elders), the principle has obvious carryover to disputes of any kind in the church. Before breaking off fellowship with someone for egregious behavior (such as doing drugs and offering them to children), it needs to be established that the egregious behavior is in fact taking place.

Response #31: 

Of course. But we are not EPA or the VA or General Motors or the RC Church. In a small group there will no doubt be no need whatsoever of establishing some procedure for "standards of evidence". If you are teaching the truth, the person caught will admit it, no doubt. If he/she doesn't, take the next step and ask the accuser(s) for more details – maybe they are the ones who need to be thrown out. But, honestly, the Word of God is the best defense against any such concerns in a practical way. If you are really teaching the Word of God, VERY few people will be interested in listening to you. If you are not pandering to the social needs of lonely Christians, but teaching the truth, that will drive away all but the very serious. Not that a person can't be serious and have warts. But the truth is will eventually burn off those warts or drive off the person who doesn't want to part with them. Keep teaching the truth – and don't worry about the loss of those who were not ready to be serious enough to hear the full truth on each and every subject.

Question #32: 

Interpretively, how do we know that the prepositional phrase ἐνοπιον παντων ("before all") is to be taken with τοὺς ἁμαρτανοντας ("those sinning") rather than the imperative ἔλεγχε ("rebuke")? Would we expect the prepositional phrase to follow the imperative if it were modifying it?

Could you run through a brief justification for choosing the "public sinning" interpretation rather than "public rebuke?" Is it just a common-sense thing, inasmuch as humans are petty enough that pride and ego and drama always make public rebuke/exhortation (targeted at a particular individual) a terrible idea?

The presence of the purpose clause seems on the face of it to suggest a public rebuke; I am a bit fuzzy on how elders getting pulled aside privately by other elders is going to aid in creating godly fear. I see the problems with public rebuke (as above: pride, ego, drama), but I'd like to get a better grasp on how a private rebuke fits with the purpose clause.

Response #32: 

In my view, the position of the prepositional phrase directly after the participle phrase means that the two would have been naturally taken together. I am certain this is not the way most (or any) other commentators take it (cf. the versions). My sense of the Greek (phrases are the building blocks and how the language sounds is the key) is that this is the correct interpretation. But, honestly, it can't be the other way. That would mean that anytime an elder committed any sin that he would have to be publicly rebuked. Sin is not qualified here . . . if we take away the qualifier and apply it to the main verb instead. So while I suppose for those who either know nothing much about Greek – or nothing much about the Bible – the guilt-inducing alternative seems better (but that too is an indication of problems). And the fact that a rebuke is not given before the whole congregation does not mean that it can't be done in such a way that the other elders don't know about it as well. Word has a tendency to get around, after all – and, correctly read, the verse says specifically that their bad behavior has already become known: it's not just a matter of something done privately at home; they have "sinned before all".

Question #33: 

The Corinthian man: Given the example of the Corinthian man that gets mentioned in Paul's letters, this is "public rebuke," correct? It seems unlikely that this fellow was an elder, which complicates things further. You did address this case somewhat in your response, but I'm interested in how we might argue that this case is exceptional and not supportive of the "public rebuke" interpretation in 1 Timothy 5:19-20.

Response #33: 

The Corinthian man: In cases of dangerous behavior, public expulsion – of someone who has the gall to keep coming after their dangerous behavior is known – is the only alternative. We can't make more of that particular situation than this because 1) Paul was an apostle and we aren't; 2) Paul had the ability to bring on the sin unto death and we don't; 3) Paul was issuing an apostolic order from a distance via letter – a combination of things that would/could never occur in a present day local church.

Question #34:  

Perhaps sin that has the potential to lead others astray if it is not addressed publicly calls for some sort of treatment? You mention that Paul doesn't call this fellow by name: would this be support for the "objectivity in teaching" view, i.e., that rebukes should be leveled on the body as a whole rather than on specific individuals, even if people could likely infer applicable individuals?

Response #34: 

Everyone in Corinth knew who Paul was talking about; but the absence of the name is for our benefit to demonstrate the principle of objectivity (even though in this case it was hard to achieve).

Question #35: 

Would this example, viz. the Corinthian man, give us support for similar correction ἵνα καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ φοβον ἔχωσινas ("in order that others also may fear") for public sinning on the part of non-elders? It seems to me that 1 Timothy 5:19-20 is addressing the behavior of elders since their mis-steps are more likely to lead others astray, but this doesn't ipso facto prohibit similar correction of non-elder's flagrant behavior (as mediated through objective teaching: 3b?), right?

Response #35: 

To me the cases are entirely different. In the case of the incestuous man, this action of expulsion is taken to protect the rest of the group; in the case of elders doing something unbecoming, the purpose is to demonstrate the necessity of leaders behaving properly if they want to be leaders.

Question #36: 

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,
Titus 1:13 NKJV

In this verse, Paul is clearly telling Titus to rebuke a group. There would be two ways to take this: that Titus should go around individually exhorting people in the manner of 1 Timothy 5:1, or that he should rebuke them as a group collectively.
 

Is this verse the basis upon which you are building the second "type" of rebuke, i.e., rebuke through objective teaching, leveled on the flock as a whole? While I agree with you, it occurred to me that I would have a hard time being dogmatic about this if asked.

The verse does not explicitly state, e.g., "Therefore rebuke them sharply as a whole group, not singling out any particular individuals, but using your authority as a teacher to point out to all in the body the problems with lying and gluttony and other such things -- basing your argument off of scripture and logic (as the exercising of your gift of teaching) so as to be as objective as possible, in order that none may speak ill of your words as being personally motivated -- so that they may be sound in the faith."

Is that more or less what you take this verse to mean, and if so, how do I go about explaining how what is actually in the text truly means what we are taking it to mean? It seems reasonable enough to me, but I'd like to be able to connect the dots more forcefully for parties less inclined to listen.

Response #36: 

This is indeed the rebuke that comes from the Word. When someone writes to me about a political cause and I post a response that makes it plain that engaging in politics is spiritually dangerous and give the scriptural basis for the position I'm taking, how is that not a collective rebuke for all who read it?

Question #37: 

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
2 Timothy 4:2 KJV

Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
Titus 2:15  NKJV

These verses seem straightforward enough, but I want to be able to understand better what "form" of rebuking is in mind here. Your email mentioned two essential types (as discussed above): private exhortation (pulling someone aside, as in 1 Timothy 5:1) or generalized rebuke through objective teaching, leveled on the flock as a whole. Which do you think is in mind in these verses, and why?

Rebuking in 2 Timothy 4:2 immediately follows a command to "Preach the word!", and immediately follows a command to "speak these things" in Titus 2:15.

In context, the ταυτα in Titus 2:15 likely refers to the 4 previous verses:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

But it could also refer to the things in the chapter more generally -- the exhortations regarding various groups (older women, young men, etc.), as well as the above verses. Either way, the things that Titus should be speaking are clearly teachings in a formal sense (i.e., Titus exercising his responsibility as a teacher).

In both of these verses, should the (convincing)/exhortation/rebuking all be taken in relation to teaching? This would support the view of rebuking coming through objective teaching in a way without personality getting involved -- as you argued for in your email.

Response #37: 

2 Timothy 4:2 and Titus 2:15 are most definitely talking about refutation of false ideas and bad behavior. That is what "rebuke" in Greek really means, after all. Perhaps the English word is getting in the way. It happens all the time (e.g., "repent!"; see the link). Since there is no biblical mandate anywhere for going around rebuking (in the English sense) individual Christians who one feels are out of line and doing it as a mainstay of the ministry, that ought to give pause. But the other activities mentioned in these verses are ALL about the objective teaching of the Word of God:

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.
Titus 2:15 NIV

Proclaim the Word! Keep at it, whether circumstances are favorable or not! Reprove, rebuke, [and] encourage with all patience [in your] teaching! For the time will come when they will not put up with sound teaching, but will [instead], desiring to have their ears scratched, heap up by their own [devices] teachers to match their specific lusts. And they will turn their ears from the truth and resort instead to fictions (i.e., made up by these false teachers).
2nd Timothy 4:2-4

Question #38: 

Your email made it pretty clear that in your view, individual or "hidden" sin is not of concern for elders: they shouldn't go following people around keeping notes to beat them over the head with. No, correction should only happen when the teacher happens to learn of of a problem naturally -- because it is so obvious so as to be a threat to the spiritual safety of others if it is not addressed (do correct me if I am reading you wrong). Where is this coming from in scripture? I don't ask because I disagree with you, I ask because the person I was discussing this issue with (and others I have in the past) would in no way buy this view. It is possible this is a matter of pearls before swine (not in the sense of unbelievers per se, but in the sense of people so caught up in accountability power trips that no detailed refutation would budge them regardless) -- which is maybe why you focused so much on the legalism in the church with regards to church discipline, i.e., because it's so pervasive and embedded in the rotting system that it's not something I can realistically expect to have good conversations about?

Response #38: 

"Where is this coming from in scripture?" That's my question. For anyone who has ever heard the word "grace", I would want to know what scripture gives one Christian the right to infringe on his brother Christian's privacy at will? Are we not ALL sons of God? Are we not ALL believer priests? Do we not ALL have the Spirit resident within us? I find it comical that where the Bible does establish authority – in the Word as taught by a qualified pastor-teacher – these sorts of individuals want to claim that their opinion is just as valid "because they have the Spirit"; but where the Bible gives no mandate for taking on this sort of overwhelming authority – to take away the free will of another Christian, the very image of God which constitutes the whole purpose of our being here after salvation – here they are happy to usurp it and allow others to institutionalize its usurpation. Where is this coming from in scripture? From every single verse in every single chapter in every single book from Genesis to Revelation.

"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
Matthew 7:1-5 KJV (cf. Rom.14:1)

Question #39: 

I remain a bit fuzzy on how both types of correction discussed -- pulling someone aside to exhort them, correcting errant behavior in the congregation through objective teaching -- work in an internet church setting where members of the "church" do not know each other in real life. How does one come to know "flagrant" sin in the lives of ones sheep over the web -- sin that is obvious and public and a bad witness (so is of the variety that is grounds for correction), but might not be immediately obvious given an internet relationship?

Response #39: 

I think this is "backwards" as well. The way Ichthys works, since that is our example, if someone is really only putting me on with a view towards suckering in other congregants through some scheme or scam, they have no way of doing so because they have no way of contacting other readers (even I don't know 99% of them because they never contact me). But if a church is meeting in a dedicated building and that same person comes in and flatters the pastor and plays the role of a traditional Christian well (not too hard for a con man to do), then this is where abuse can happen and so this is where the expulsion principle would be needed because the person has already entered the sheepfold. And as to "deacons and elders" who are seriously out of line, that is a problem because of the bad witness it gives to the church; remember, they have "sinned before all". I know that you are in contact with a few folks connected to Ichthys, but it would be very difficult for you, even if we considered you a "deacon" or an "elder" (and gave you some kind of lapel pin or something) to "sin before all". You'd have to do something worthy of being broadcast on every cable news channel for our friend in England, e.g., to get wind of it (and he could no doubt handle it without being tripped up in his faith or tempted to do likewise).

I end with what I ended with last time:

A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Galatians 5:9 (cf. 1Cor.5:6)

When it comes to "church discipline", a very little goes a long way, and that "little", if special care is not taken, can easily morph into full blown legalism which destroys everything.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #40: 

Hi Bob,

What are the distinctions between preaching and teaching? I was doing some research and could not get definitive answers. All most of them said that teachers do more teaching than preaching, and vice versa. This didn't help me at all. Some people believer that Jesus was more of a preacher than a teacher, while others say that He was more of a teacher because He "taught" a lot using parables (Matt.5:14-15; Mk.4:26-29; Lk.7:41-43; 10:25-37; etc.). But I have also noticed that I don't read of any parables in the Book of John at all. He spoke a lot about the Kingdom of God an being "born again". So would this be considered preaching rather than teaching?

Now here is the most confusing part for me when doing research on this. Jesus also told His disciples to "teach" all nations rather than preaching them the Gospel in Matthew 28:19. I looked up the Greek word for "teach" (matheteuo) and it said to "instruct" or "disciple". However, in a parallel passage in Mark 16:15, Jesus said to "preach" the Gospel to every creature, and not "teach". So I checked out the Greek word for preach (kerysso), and it meant to "proclaim" or to "hearald." This still confused me because isn't it so that we can herald or proclaim the truth by "teaching"? This is still confusing to me and I would greatly appreciate your help on this.

God Bless,

Response #40: 

The Greek words are (along with many other related words and phrases) all synonyms in that they all have to do with teaching in one way or another, that is, proclaiming, teaching, instructing, sharing, explaining the truth of the Word of God.

The problem is with the English word "preach". I can't say for certain what it meant in the 17th century, but I do know what "preach" means today, and "preaching" has nothing whatsoever to do with "teaching" – and has no referent to any word used in the Bible. In fact of course, most "preaching" today has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible at all. "Preaching" has to do with sermons; and a sermon is generally a short and highly rhetorical tour de force wherein the preacher attempts to use colorful and emotive words, rhetorical flourish, emotional manipulation, a booming and/or lilting voice, and a dramatic presentation to impress those listening (or make them feel guilty and give more money, etc.). Teaching, on the other hand, could care less about impressing people as long as the information is communicated effectively. "Preaching" seems to have developed in the eastern church of late antiquity in imitation of Greek epideictic speaking (presentation speaking); teaching is something altogether different.

All a person has to do is read one of the gospels to see that Jesus never "preached a sermon".

Good Bible teaching always results in those listening learning something about the truth and thus drawing closer to the Lord.

Preaching usually results in those attending ending up dumber than when they came . . . because they will be emotionally stimulated to think X is right when it is not, or that Y should be done when it is really a questionable thing to do.

So preaching (as the word is understood today) is a concept foreign to scripture, and the present day practice of "preaching" is inimical to good teaching. But many people find it enjoyable and many preachers find it capable of inducing guilt and other unhelpful emotions, wrongly directed (which can lead to greater donations, etc.).

The only advantage to "preaching" that I can see is that 1) it is obvious to anyone listening that preaching is going on; so that 2) anyone who has accidentally strayed into a place where preaching is taking place will recognize, if they are wise, that there is no chance for spiritual growth in this place.

Please see the link:

Red Hot or Lukewarm? Bible Teaching versus Sermonizing.

I do realize that finding good Bible teaching isn't necessarily easy. Even though there is a church on every corner nearly in this country, it might take some searching for a good source (of which I hope Ichthys is one). The fact that some effort may be necessary on the believer's part is not a bad thing. It separates those who are genuinely desirous for the truth from those who are not:

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.
Matthew 5:1 NKJV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

 

Ichthys Home