“People Do Not Come to Faith by Arguments!” 4 Objections to Apologetics

Some time ago, I was in a meeting with pastors and other church leaders from various backgrounds discussing a potential ministry opportunity. I noted the importance that apologetics plays in the realm of collegiate ministries, especially with the mainstream attacks on Christianity from ultra-liberal voices. For instance, the collegiate ministry known as Ratio Christi has held a profound positive influence on the intellectual and spiritual lives of college students across the nation. To my surprise, one particular ministry leader said, “It’s my experience that people are not brought to faith by arguments.” The statement was shocking enough. However, I was even more bewildered by some who seemed to agree with him. I replied, “What do you say of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace who were former atheists and became believers because of the evidence for the Christian faith?” The conversation quickly moved to a different topic.

I do not tell this story to demonize or demoralize anyone. The denominational worker who voiced opposition to apologetics was a good, caring individual who loves the Lord and the people he serves. However, we must engage the question he presented. Do logic and argumentation bring people to faith or are such disciplines useless endeavors? The mission statement of Bellator Christi is that it exists to take up the sword of Christian theology and the shield of classical apologetics in order to take Christian truth into the arena of ideas. But if people are not argued into the faith, this ministry would seem a bit futile, at least in the latter portion of the mission statement. So, are apologetic argumentations necessary? This article will review 4 common objections given to apologetics by the modern church. Each objection will contain an explanation and an appropriate reply.

Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith.

The ministry leader I mentioned posed the first objection against the use of Christian apologetics. This objection claims that arguments do not really bring people into faith. Faith is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

Reply:

One could provide several replies to the first objection. To keep the post brief, I will present only two. First, objection 1 is in reality a self-defeating statement. How so? Well, the objector is presenting an argument to persuade others that arguments do not persuade. The objection is much like someone claiming to be a married bachelor or saying “I cannot speak a word of English” in English.

Second, the Bible presents several examples where people came to faith or were persuaded to faith by various argumentations. For instance, the miracles and teachings of Jesus provided a case for His claim to be Messiah. The miracles served as a sign. Why were such signs offered? Signs were provided to present an argument for the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus argues that “the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). In addition, Jesus challenged His adversaries to “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Other examples could be offered such as Paul’s defense of the faith before various groups of people, including the Athenians. Consider Philip’s argumentation to the Ethiopian that Isaiah 53 referred to Jesus of Nazareth. All such arguments were used to bring people to faith.

Objection #2: The Holy Spirit brings people to faith, so argumentation is useless.

Some people have objected to the use of Christian intellectual arguments due to the assumption that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. If the Holy Spirit leads people to faith, then why should one worry about intellectual argumentation.

Reply:

Let me first say, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. Jesus noted that when the Holy Spirit comes that He would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because you do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). While the Holy Spirit convicts, we are told that we have a part to play in the evangelism process. Jesus also told the disciples before His ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). One could argue; If the Holy Spirit brings people to faith, then why evangelize? Christians evangelize because God commanded us to do so. Through the preaching of the Word, people are convicted by the Holy Spirit to come to faith. The Holy Spirit uses our evangelistic efforts to save people. The same is true for apologetics. Intellectual argumentation is often used by the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith. While the majority of Athens did not follow Christ after hearing Paul’s intellectual defense of the faith, the Book of Acts states that “some men joined him and believed, among whom were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Another problem I have with this statement stems from the spirit of laziness that exists in some Christians today. I heard a person tell a pastor, “You don’t have to study to preach. Just follow the Holy Spirit.” While I wholeheartedly agree that a person should follow the Holy Spirit, I also accept that the Scripture tells us the “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). How does a person test a spirit? One tests a spirit against the Word of God. Testing spirits require study. I truly believe that it is the increased biblical illiteracy and lack of study that has led the modern church into many great heresies.

Objection #3: No one has ever come to faith through argumentation.

Anti-apologetic apologists argue that no one comes to faith through intellectual argumentation. Why bother if no one comes to faith through argumentation?

Reply:

This is an easy objection to answer. The claim is false. Many have come to faith through intellectual argumentation for the faith. Among such converts include: C. S. Lewis (famed English professor and writer), Josh McDowell (author of countless Christian books), Lee Strobel (former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, atheist turned Christian pastor and writer), Fazale Rana (Christian biologist), and J. Warner Wallace (former Los Angeles cold-case homicide detective turned Christian apologist). These individuals only scratch the surface of those who have come to Christ because of the evidence for Christianity.

Objection #4: If someone is argued into faith, then someone could be argued out of faith.

Lastly, objectors to Christian apologetics often claim that if it is by evidential argumentation that one comes to faith, then one could be easily led astray by some other persuasive argumentation.

Reply:

This objection holds two problems in my estimation. 1) The objector does not understand the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christianity is true and a person comes to faith in Christ, then the Scripture states that the Holy Spirit will abide with the repentant person (John 14:15-16). Jesus notes that the Holy Spirit would lead a believer in truth (John 15:26-27). Thus, it would appear that the objector places less value on the power of the Holy Spirit than the advocate of Christian apologetics.

2) In addition, the objector must consider the following point. If Christianity is true, then it will always remain true. The truthfulness of Christianity will never change. Truth is unchangeable. Thus, if a person is truly convicted of the claims of Christianity and truth does not change, then the person (although doubts may come) will not leave the faith due to the truth claims.

Conclusion:

While I respect the objections made and the people who make them, it cannot be said that such objections hold any merit or value. Christianity is true. Period. If Christianity is true, then it is worth defending. If Christianity is true, eternity is at stake. Some people do come to faith when they are met with the evidences for Christianity. It may be true that some people do not require the same level of evidence that other people require. But, refusing apologetics to the one who needs it is like refusing insulin to a diabetic because not everyone needs insulin. It is, to a degree, a categorical mistake. Remember, Peter tells us, as has been noted several times before, that we must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Check out this video by Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason as he engages this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cS2xGUj5KQ

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

© August 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

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The Functions of the Triune Godhead as Seen in the Baptism of Jesus

In Peter Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic, I read the tale of a man who wanted to tell his friend, a farmer, something important. However, the man approached the fence surrounding the farmer’s property and noticed a large dog barking at him from the other side of the fence. The farmer was busy putting out some hay. The man said, “Sir, I have something I need to tell you. Is it okay for me to come over your fence?” The farmer said, “Sure, come on over!” The man said, “Sir, does your dog bite?” The farmer said, “No, he is a good dog. He won’t bite.” The man began to climb over the fence and the dog barked even louder. The man said again, “Sir, are you absolutely sure your dog won’t bite?” The farmer said, “Yeah, come on over. He won’t bite you!” So the man leaped over the fence. However, the dog bit him on the leg and sent him back over the fence. The man said, “Sir, I thought you said your dog wouldn’t bite!” The farmer looked around and said, “Well, that’s not my dog.” Many times a lack of communication can lead to all sorts of problem. Throughout church history, people have mistaken the roles of the Triune God. These misunderstandings have led to various heresies. Today, we will look at the functions of the Triune God. It is my hope that this message will help everyone understand the unity that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have together. The unity of the church is stressed as we should be united together as God is united. Also, we are invited into this divine, eternal relationship through the New Covenant. God is one in three persons.

  1. The function of the FATHER as ARCHITECT (3:17).

In the baptism of Jesus, we see the Father’s divine existence as he speaks from the heavens. The voice said to John, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17).[i] Barker and Kohlenberger note that “The voice from heaven was God’s own voice; it testified that God himself had broken silence and was again revealing himself to the human race—a clear sign of the dawning of the Messianic Age.”[ii] Note, God had revealed his plan. Thus, God is the architect of the entire salvation project. 

It is obvious that the Father is understood to be divine. The Father is known by his personal name Yahweh throughout the Old Testament. As we have noted previously, Yahweh means “I am” or the “self-existent One.” As he pertains to the Triune Godhead, he holds the function of the great planner or even the mastermind, if you will. Wayne Grudem writes, “So we may say that the role of the Father in creation and redemption has been to plan and direct and send the Son and Holy Spirit.”[iii] Norman Geisler writes, “By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.”[iv] If it were not for the Father, then no plan of salvation would be offered.

2. The function of the SON as ACCOMPLISHER (3:16a).

At the baptism of Jesus, we see that Christ was obedient even in an act that was not mandatory. Jesus had committed no sin for which he had to be absolved. Yet, Jesus was obedient in his baptism and was obedient in his death. The baptism of Jesus would inaugurate his ministry on earth. The Father acknowledged his approval to his Son, in part due to the Son’s willingness to accomplish the salvation of all who would receive his atoning work. Barker and Kohlenberger denote that “These things are linked in the one utterance: at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, his Father presented him, in a veiled way, as the Davidic Messiah, the very Son of God, the representative of the people, and the Suffering Servant.”[v]

On several occasions, the New Testament presents Jesus as God incarnate. This is an imperative doctrine to the Christian faith. Jesus himself acknowledged himself to be God come in the flesh from eternity past (John 17:5). Jesus claimed equality with God in forgiving sins (Mark 2:5). Jesus accepted worship by a leper (Matthew 8:2), from a ruler (Matthew 9:19), from the disciples after calming a storm (Matthew 14:33), from a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:25), from the mother of James and John (Matthew 20:20), from a demoniac (Mark 5:6), and from Thomas (John 20:28). The miracles of Jesus demonstrate the divine nature of Jesus as he healed various diseases, performed supernatural works over the natural world (i.e. calming the storm, walking on water, etc.), and even raising the dead. Jesus not only claimed to be God. He proved that he was God. Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated his obedience in fulfilling the plan orchestrated by the Father.

3. The function of the HOLY SPIRIT as APPLICATOR (3:16b).

There is yet another player in this Triune Godhead. The Holy Spirit plays a role. The Holy Spirit played an active role in Jesus’ baptism. Notice that in verse 16, Matthew records that the “heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (3:16b). The Spirit of God plays the role of applicator as the Spirit applies salvation to the person receiving Christ.

Craig Blomberg writes, “the Holy Spirit descends “like” a dove, which suggests that no actual bird appeared but that some visible manifestation of the Spirit led observers to recognize that God was revealing himself through those attributes regularly associated with a dove—e.g., superintending over creation (cf. Gen 1:2), offering peace (as in Gen 8:10), gentleness in contrast to the judgment of vv. 7–12, or as “the loving character of divine life itself.”[vi] The Holy Spirit led Jesus as the Father directed. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” but rather a “he.” The Holy Spirit is the personal mover at creation and is the personal applier of salvation to the repentant soul. Throughout the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is shown to be God himself. In Acts, when Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of stealing money from God, Peter said to them, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?…You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Ananias and his wife died thereafter. Jesus even tells us that all blasphemies will be forgiven expect one: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:30-32).

People have often tried to illustrate the Triune nature of God. But most illustrations fall short. For instance, people have used the three stages of water: solid, liquid, and gas. However, this illustration fails because the water changes forms which leads to the heresy of modalism. Some have illustrated God as three links of a chain. However, the links are three different things which leads to the heresy of Tritheism. Some have used the illustration of different roles that a person plays as I am father, pastor, and husband. However, this does not quite work either since I cannot perform all three at the same time which leads to the Sabellian heresy. Are there good illustrations? Well thankfully there are. Norman Geisler provides three. 1. A Triangle is a good example of the trinity. The triangle is one shape but holds three different sides at the same time. 2. One to the Third Power. 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. You have three ones which constitute one. That is a better illustration for mathematicians. My favorite is the third. 3 Love is Trifold. For love to be love, it must contain three elements: a lover, a beloved, and the spirit of love. These three are necessary for love to exist. Ultimately, we will always have to settle for a bit of mystery in our understanding of God’s Triune nature. But having a grasp on the essentials lets us know four important truths.

 

  1. God is three persons, yet one God. There will always be a bit of a mystery about the Triune nature of God. However, we can accept this truth due to the necessity of the Father’s existence, the historical nature of Jesus’ resurrection, and the historical accounts and personal experience that we have had with the Holy Spirit.
  2. God is an eternal relationship. We are invited into that relationship. When we accept Christ as the Lord of our lives, we have been ushered into the eternal relationship of God—a relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  3. God has made every effort to save us. Our salvation included the architectural genius of the Father, the accomplishing obedience of the Son, and the applicating and loving presence of the Holy Spirit.
  4. God is united. So, should we. If anything, we see the great importance that God places on unity. We should strive to be united with God. We should also strive for unity with fellow Christians.

 Copyright, April 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[ii] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 19.

[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 249.

[iv] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 549.

[v] Barker and Kohlenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 19.

[vi] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary, Vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81–82.

The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee (Part 4: Spiritual Empowerment and Nee’s Impact)

The following excerpt is from the author’s academic paper “The Impact of Watchman Nee’s Pneumatology.” This article will conclude our series.

Hui is correct when he says that Nee “argues that we must distinguish between being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’…and being ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’”[1] While Watchman Nee would be considered charismatic in his pneumatology, one cannot stretch this aspect too far. Watchman Nee writes that

the principle on which we receive the enduement of the Holy Spirit is the very same as that on which we receive forgiveness of sins…Is it possible that the Son of God shed His Blood [sic] and that your sins, dear child of God, have not been forgiven? Never! Then is it possible that the Son of God has been glorified and you have not received the Spirit? Never![2]

In other words, Nee believes in a special fullness of the Holy Spirit, but it is difficult to ascertain whether he believes this to be a separate event as do many Pentecostals. While one may be quick to ask, how is it that one could be less than full of the Holy Spirit; it should be noted that Paul the apostle himself stated that one should not “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). If it is possible to quench the Holy Spirit, then is it possible to lose focus on the Holy Spirit? It would indeed appear so. Paul writes to believers in Ephesus that they should not “get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). That is, the believer’s controlling factor is the Holy Spirit.

While Nee’s pneumatology finds itself well within the network of the Wesleyan tradition and thereby outside of the Calvinist tradition, Nee’s pneumatology is not terribly different than most evangelicals. The focus that Nee places on the Holy Spirit is to be admired. While Nee’s focus on the Holy Spirit would get him through incredible difficulties, Nee’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit would have an impact on the house church movement.

Impact Upon The House Church Movement

Thus far, this paper has examined the life and pneumatology of Watchman Nee. But, what emphasis would this hold on the so-called house church movement? The House Church Movement arose from, as Lee notes, “Tensions and conflicts with the Communist government.”[3] As it was noted earlier in Nee’s biography, Christians in the House Church Movement were met with severe punishment, imprisonment, and even death if caught. Timothy Tennent notes that individuals like Watchman Nee “wrote many Christian books, pamphlets, and hymns that helped to foster and nurture networks of unregistered house churches.”[4] Nee’s emphasis on the spiritual direction and comfort of the Holy Spirit gave the adherents of the church movement hope to endure even the most difficult of circumstances. Nee eloquently states that the “Christian experience begins with sitting and leads to walking, but it does not end with these. Every Christian must learn also to stand. Each one of us must be prepared for the conflict.”[5] The Chinese House Church Movement continues to grow despite mounted efforts to destroy them. The great irony is that the church is at its best when it faces situations at their worst. What impact can modern Western Christian extract from Nee’s pneumatology?

The Modern Impact of Watchman Nee’s Pneumatology

Watchman Nee’s pneumatology holds three important areas of impact for the modern Western Christian. First, Nee’s pneumatology afforded him the ability to endure the most horrific of circumstances. Nee did not possess a self-serving attitude. Western theologies such as the infamous health and wellness gospel promote a sense of entitlement to the degree that no pain is anticipated by its adherents. Yet, Nee demonstrates that authentic Christianity comes with a great price. The Christian may be expected to “deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Luke 9:23) in order to follow Christ.

Next, Nee’s pneumatology focused on the direction and strength given by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Nee depended on God. Western Christianity has become overly individualized. In the land of the so-called “selfie,” many people in the Western world have become infatuated with selfish behaviors and fall down before the altar of their own narcissism. In stark contrast, Nee provides the antidote to such self-serving attitudes—to fully trust in the Holy Spirit. The modern hyper-cessasionalist, to their own detriment, often journeys too far in the opposing direction in order to counteract charismatic ideologies. Spiritual dependency upon the Holy Spirit is a necessity if one is to be defended in spiritual warfare. The work of ministry is also dependent upon the working of the Spirit as attested by all orthodox Christians, Western and Majority World Christians alike.

Finally, the modern Western Christian can learn from the primacy that Nee gave the kingdom of God. This primacy did not make life easy. In fact, the Little Flock ran into difficulties with the Communist Party of China when they decided to focus completely on the kingdom of God rather than secular political agendas. While politics is an extremely important field, Nee’s pneumatology serves to illustrate that the Christian needs to first focus on the “kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). It is easy for one to lose their bearings when the kingdom is not stressed. Nee’s pneumatology demands that God’s kingdom must come prior to the kingdoms of the world.

Conclusion

This paper has shown that the pneumatology of Watchman Nee had a significant impact on Nee’s theology as well as the House Church Movement in China. The paper has also served to show the impact that Nee’s pneumatology can offer for the modern Western Christian. While many theologians may differ with Nee on his soteriology, his ecclesiology, his charismatic beliefs, or even his eschatology; most all Christians can appreciate the dependence upon the Holy Spirit that Nee fervently emphasized through his life. Modern Christians face uncertain times. Majority World Christians face increasing pressures from persecution, whereas Western Christians find themselves a minority as North America and Europe become increasingly secularized. Individuals like Bonhoeffer in Germany and Nee in China serve as fantastic examples in how the Christian can endure in almost any circumstance. The modern Christian would do well to learn from the great persons of faith given to us by God throughout history. Such persons serve as illustrations of what God can do in a person wholly surrendered unto the Spirit of God.

Copyright, February 2, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

Adeney, D. “Nee, Watchman,” Who’s Who in Christian History. Edited by J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992.

Erling, Bernhard. “Story of Watchman Nee.” Lutheran Quarterly 28, 2 (May 1976): 140-155. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Geisler, Norman L. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Hui, Archie. “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee: a New Testament Perspective.” The Evangelical Quarterly 76, 1 (January 2004): 3-29. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock movement in Maoist China.” Church History 74, 1 (March 2005): 68-96. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Nee, Watchman. Sit, Walk, Stand. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1977.

_____________. The Normal Christian Life. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1980.

_____________. The Spiritual Man: In Three Volumes. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1968.

Tennent, Timothy C. Theology in the Context of World Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Endnotes

[1] Hui, “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee,” The Evangelical Quarterly, 5.

 

[2] Nee, The Normal Christian Life, 85-86.

 

[3] Lee, “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China,” Church History, 70.

 

[4] Timothy C. Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think About and Discuss Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 235.

 

[5] Nee, Sit, Walk, Stand, 39-40.

The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee (Part 3: Distinctives–Tripartite View of the Self)

The following excerpt is from the author’s academic paper “The Impact Of Watchman Nee’s Pneumatology.”

Watchman Nee held to a tripartite view of the self, also termed “trichotomy.”[1] That is to say, Nee believed that each person held three distinct aspects of being. The person possesses a soul, a spirit, and a body. Whereas the body is understood to be the person’s physical body, Nee argues that “the Bible never confuses spirit and soul as though they are the same. Not only are they different in terms; their very natures differ from one another.”[2] For Nee, the spiritual aspect of the person is the eternal part of the person. Nee notes that “The spirit is the noblest part of man and occupies the innermost area of his being.”[3] The body is obviously understood to be the person’s physical body. Nee understood the soul to act as a mediator between the spirit and body. Nee believed that before the fall, man’s soul (which consists of the mind, will, and emotions) was controlled by the spirit. After the fall, fleshly desires direct the human soul. Thus, Nee argues that the “soul is the pivot of the entire being, because man’s volition belongs to it. It is only when the soul is willing to assume a humble position that the spirit can ever manage the whole man.”[4] Are there Scriptural reasons to believe that a person is a tripartite being?

The Scripture references spirit, soul, and body in various locations. However, most trichotomists, like Nee, stress two particular Scriptures. First, the writer of Hebrews states that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Christian dualists, who hold that the soul and spirit are part of the same essence, argue that “this apparent contrast between the soul and spirit to be a figure of speech describing the power of the Word of God…it can, as it were, divide the indivisible.”[5] What of the other biblical reference often purported by trichotomists?[6]

Second, Paul’s petition for the Thessalonians is referenced where Paul prays, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The trichotomist will claim that the spirit and soul are divided, thus they must be separate entities within the human construct. Again, Geisler offers a rebuttal claiming that the text “refers to all these dimensions as being part of one whole [sic].”[7] What does one make of Nee’s claims?

On the one hand, a person must acknowledge the differences listed in the aforementioned texts. It does not appear that the division of soul and spirit can easily be cast off as mere figures of speech. But on the other hand, many difficulties arise when the soul and spirit are separated to extreme measures. For instance, if the soul represents the mind and the spirit represents the eternal nature of the person, would the person remain conscious in the intermediate state?[8] What happened to Jesus after giving up his spirit (John 19:30)? Did the soulish part of Jesus’ existence become non-existent between the time of his death and resurrection?

This paper holds that it is best to consider the person’s immaterial being (soul/spirit) as one entity, but holding separate functions. The spirit serves to function as the immaterial portion of the person that communes with God, whereas the soul is the immaterial portion of the person that holds the mind, will, and emotions. Nee is correct to note that the mind must be transformed by the Spirit of God. However, such an admonition does not necessitate an extreme tripartite view. Perhaps Geisler in correct in noting that human beings are “three in direction: They have self-consciousness, world-consciousness, and God-consciousness.”[9] This paper agrees with Geisler’s view as the theory eliminates the problems that stem from extreme tripartism, yet still notes the distinctives of the spirit and soul within the metaphysical aspect of the person.

Copyright. January 26th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

 Adeney, D. “Nee, Watchman,” Who’s Who in Christian History. Edited by J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992.

Erling, Bernhard. “Story of Watchman Nee.” Lutheran Quarterly 28, 2 (May 1976): 140-155. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Geisler, Norman L. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Hui, Archie. “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee: a New Testament Perspective.” The Evangelical Quarterly 76, 1 (January 2004): 3-29. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock movement in Maoist China.” Church History 74, 1 (March 2005): 68-96. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Nee, Watchman. Sit, Walk, Stand. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1977.

_____________. The Normal Christian Life. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1980.

_____________. The Spiritual Man: In Three Volumes. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1968.

Tennent, Timothy C. Theology in the Context of World Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Endnotes 

[1] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 727.

 

[2] Nee, The Spiritual Man, Vol. 1, 21.

 

[3] Ibid., 27.

 

[4] Ibid., 28.

 

[5] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 735.

 

[6] Tripartism and trichotomy are used interchangeably in this portion of the paper.

 

[7] Ibid.

 

[8] Here, the intermediate state refers to the period of time between death and the resurrection.

 

[9] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 740.

 

The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee (Part 2-Distinctives: Sanctification)

The following is an excerpt from the academic paper “The Impact of Watchman Nee’s Pneumatology.”

The most distinctive trait of Watchman Nee’s theology is his unique pneumatology. Yet, it must be considered whether Nee’s pneumatology is truly unique. Perhaps, the perceived uniqueness of Nee’s pneumatology is the focus he places upon the Holy Spirit. Western theologians often place a great deal of focus on the Father and the Son while neglecting the Third Person of the Godhead. For many Western systematic theologians, the Father and Son are given entire chapters and units, whereas the Holy Spirit is lucky to have a footnote referencing his personal work. If Norman Geisler is correct in that the “Father is the Planner, the Son is the Accomplisher, and the Holy Spirit is the Applier of salvation to believers,”[1]—which this paper holds that Geisler is correct in his assessment—then the theologian is obliged to give ample attention to the Holy Spirit. In this regard, Nee’s focus may be better balanced than the Western theologian who neglects the Spirit entirely. Nevertheless, Nee’s pneumatology is marked by three distinct hallmarks: sanctification, the tripartite view of the self, and his focus on spiritual empowerment. How does Nee understand sanctification?

 Sanctification

Norman Geisler defines “sanctification” as the “present and continuous process of believers becoming Christlike, accomplished by the Holy Spirit’s power and presence.”[2] For Nee, sanctification requires an act from God and participation by the believer. First, sanctification requires the working of God, which in turn requires faith for the believer. Nee compares the act of sanctification to that of sitting, meaning that “The Christian life from start to finish is based upon this principle of utter dependence upon the Lord Jesus…‘Sitting’ is an attitude of rest. Something has been finished, work stops, and we sit.”[3] Thus, Nee notes that a person’s transformation occurs when one finds rest in the work of God. From this, one will acknowledge the substantial role that Nee gives to the Holy Spirit in personal transformation, thereby discrediting any accusation of a works-based salvation towards Nee’s soteriological discourse. For Nee, sanctification is a work of God. Nee notes that “the sinner believes in the Lord Jesus he is born anew. God grants him His uncreated life that the sinner’s spirit may be made alive”[4] While sanctification is a work of God, Nee holds that the believer plays a role in spiritual development.

Second, Watchman Nee believed that the Christian played an important role in staying close to the Spirit of God for the development of one’s spirit. Hui notes that Nee held a difference between the “external work of the Spirit which results in the believer’s empowerment for ministry…and the internal work of the Spirit which results in the believer’s spiritual renewal.”[5] Later, Nee’s idea of spiritual empowerment will be addressed. However, for now, one must note the role that the believer plays in their spiritual development according to Nee’s pneumatology. Nee held that “Authentic life can be seen only in the abandonment of self. If the nature, life and activities of the created one are not denied, the life of God has no way to express itself…Salvation, then, is to deliver man from his created, natural, animal, fleshly, and self-emanating will.”[6] Thus, the role of the believer in sanctification is to turn one’s will over unto God, while walking in the Holy Spirit. But, if a person’s will is depraved, how can they continuously turn to God? For Nee, this was possible because “God imparts new life in order for us to abandon our will to Him.”[7] God gave the believer the ability to walk in accordance with his will. Nee notes that “Sitting describes our position with Christ in the heavenlies. Walking is the practical outworking of that heavenly position here on earth.”[8] So, the human effort purported by Nee is not that human beings can save themselves. Rather, Nee follows in the holiness tradition in that a person plays a role in their sanctification. It is this area of Nee’s theology that is given the most scrutiny. Does Nee hold any ground in this area of his pneumatology?

Those in the Calvinist camp will hold the greatest problems with Nee’s theology. Nee enters into the debate surrounding God’s sovereignty and human freedom. In full disclosure, this paper does not hold to either an extreme Calvinist position or an extreme Wesleyan position. Rather, this paper holds to the balanced approach given by Norman Geisler called the “classical view because it was held by classical theologians like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.”[9] It holds that God’s sovereignty and human freedom coexists and works in cooperation to the ultimate end. Nevertheless, Scripture seems to indicate that the believer does work alongside the Spirit to a degree. Paul says that the Corinthians are “being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2).[10] And again Paul writes to the Philippians that they were to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In the end, Nee desired that believers would hold fast to the Spirit of God and strive to life out their lives in such a way that would please God. Ultimately, Nee noted that “Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself.”[11] In addition to Nee’s distinctive beliefs in Christian sanctification, Nee also held a tripartite view of the self.

Next week, we will examine another distinctive of Watchman Nee’s pneumatology–the tripartite view of the self.

 

Copyright January 15th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Endnotes

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011) 549.

 

[2] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 806.

 

[3] Watchman Nee, Sit, Walk, Stand (Carol Stream; Fort Washington, PA: Tyndale House; Christian Literature Crusade, 1957), 3.

 

[4] Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man, Vol. 2 (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1968), 9.

 

[5] Hui, “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee,” The Evangelical Quarterly, 9.

 

[6] Nee, The Spiritual Man, Vol. 3, 82.

 

[7] Ibid.

 

[8] Nee, Sit, Walk, Stand, 16.

 

[9] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd ed (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 145.

 

[10] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

 

[11] Nee, The Normal Christian Life, 119.

 

The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee (Part 1–Introduction and Biography)

The following excerpt is from an academic paper by Brian Chilton titled “The Impact of Watchman Nee’s Pneumatology.”

Watchman Nee was a profound individual. Western theologians have often had a profound impact on the history and theology of the Christian church rather than Majority World Christians. However, as Archie Hui notes, Watchman Nee “has the rare distinction that his influence is felt not only among the Chinese, but also in the world at large.”[1] What is it that makes Nee so influential? What has Nee contributed to the global church? The answer to both questions resides in Watchman Nee’s pneumatology. Pneumatology refers to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Watchman Nee’s pneumatology left an indelible impression upon the global church. What were the distinctives of Nee’s pneumatology? How did Nee transform the church of his day? What can modern Western Christians learn from Nee’s example? These questions will be addressed in this paper.

Thus, this paper will demonstrate that Nee’s pneumatology provided great impact for the House Church Movement in China. To demonstrate the impact of Nee’s pneumatology, the paper will first provide a brief biography of Watchman Nee. Then, the paper will examine the distinctives of Nee’s pneumatology. Next, the paper will observe how Nee’s theology influenced the Chinese House Church movement. Finally, the paper will seek to address how Nee’s pneumatology can help Western Christians as they face a culture that is becoming more and more anti-Christian in its outlook. Before engaging with Nee’s theology, one must first understand Watchman Nee.

Biography of Watchman Nee

Watchman Nee’s real name was “Nee Tao Shu.”[2] Erling notes that Nee was born “November 4, 1903 in Swatow, Kwantung Province.”[3] Both Nee’s father, Ni Weng-hsiu, and mother, Huo-ping, were Christians. Nee would accept Christ as a teenager. During his educational career, Nee, as Erling denotes, was “educated both in the Chinese classics and the Bible.”[4] During Nee’s Christian education, he “was greatly influenced by Margaret Barber, an English missionary who introduced him to the writings of Jessie Penn-Lewis, D. M. Panton, and J. N. Darby.”[5] Barber was an Anglican missionary and had a great impact on Nee’s life. John Darby, also an Anglican, is known for his work in the dispensational movement. Nee’s association with the London Brethren would lead him into a strong complementarian stance on women in leadership. As Erling notes, Nee placed “restrictions on women in his group. They were to wear headgear in church… [and] he argued that women should not engage in public preaching, except to other women.”[6] Other ecclesiastical issues also troubled Nee.

Nee was troubled by the secularism and great compromising nature of the churches of his time. Nee writes that “It is a historic fact that in Christ my old man was crucified, and it is a present fact that I am blessed…but if I do not live in the Spirit, then my life may be quite a contradiction of the fact that I am in Christ, for what is true of me in Him is not expressed in me.”[7] Thus, Nee called for a spiritual reform of sorts. He called for a life that was focused and centered upon living a life directed by the Holy Spirit. The details of Nee’s pneumatology will be listed in the forthcoming section. Before one can understand the impact that Nee has made upon the persecuted church, one must first understand the persecution that Nee endured.

When Nee returned to China, he began a pharmaceutical company. A few years after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the government pressured Nee and his congregants to join the “government-led Three Self Reform Movement (self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating).”[8] Nee, as well as his wife Charity, were falsely charged and imprisoned by the Communist Chinese government. In part, Lee notes that the “proliferation of the Little Flock congregations and their religious activism revealed the failure of the Maoist state to exercise absolute control in the religious sphere.”[9] Nee suffered greatly during his time in prison. Erling notes that in the “Cultural Revolution of 1966 Red Guards broke into the Shanghai prison, and there is evidence that in this episode Nee was violently molested and suffered a fractured arm.”[10] Despite his sufferings, Nee remained steadfast in his dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

Part of the reason that the Communist Chinese government sought to imprison Nee was because of Nee and his congregants’ ecclesiastical viewpoints, which derived from Nee’s strong pneumatology. Their ecclesiology did not imbibe in political infrastructures, but was rather focused primarily on the kingdom of God. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee explains,

Because the Little Flock was Chinese in origin and a truly Three-Self Christian movement, Watchman Nee and his followers refused to be subject to the control of the Maoist state. They strongly believed that they were called out of this world to follow and serve Jesus Christ and that they could exist outside of politics yet coexist with the Communist government in the post-1949 era.[11]

While Nee and the Little Flock were involved in political activism, perhaps it was the views held by Nee and the Little Flock that challenged the power that the communist government sought to enforce. Unfortunately, Nee was never released from prison. Not much is known about Nee’s death outside of the fact that Nee died while still imprisoned. Erling notes that Nee “appears to have been moved from the Shanghai prison to a rural work camp. A letter written in April 1972 refers to his chronic heart condition, from which he does not expect to recover, but also to his continuing joy.”[12] Whatever one makes of Nee’s theology, one must acknowledge the great faith that Nee maintained while suffering for Christ. What were the core distinctives of Watchman Nee’s pneumatological belief structure? The forthcoming section will investigate Nee’s pneumatology.

Next week, we will examine the distinctives of Watchman Nee’s pneumatology.

© January 7, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

Adeney, D. “Nee, Watchman,” Who’s Who in Christian History. Edited by J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992.

Erling, Bernhard. “Story of Watchman Nee.” Lutheran Quarterly 28, 2 (May 1976): 140-155. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Geisler, Norman L. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Hui, Archie. “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee: a New Testament Perspective.” The Evangelical Quarterly 76, 1 (January 2004): 3-29. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei. “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock movement in Maoist China.” Church History 74, 1 (March 2005): 68-96. Accessed November 20, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Nee, Watchman. Sit, Walk, Stand. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1977.

_____________. The Normal Christian Life. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1980.

_____________. The Spiritual Man: In Three Volumes. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1968.

Tennent, Timothy C. Theology in the Context of World Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

 

 Endnotes

[1] Archie Hui, “The Pneumatology of Watchman Nee: a New Testament Perspective,” The Evangelical Quarterly 76, 1 (January 2004): 3, retrieved November 20, 2015.

 

[2] D. Adeney, “Nee, Watchman,” Who’s Who in Christian History, J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, eds (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1992), 501.

 

[3] Bernhard Erling, “Story of Watchman Nee,” Lutheran Quarterly 28, 2 (May 1976): 141, retrieved November 20, 2015.

 

[4] Ibid.

 

[5] Adeney, “Nee, Watchman, Who’s Who in Christian History, 501.

 

[6] Erling, “Story of Watchman Nee,” Lutheran Quarterly, 143.

 

[7] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1957), 119.

[8] Erling, “Story of Watchman Nee,” Lutheran Quarterly, 146.

 

[9] Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China,” Church History 74, 1 (March 2005): 93, retrieved November 20, 2015.

 

[10] Erling, “Story of Watchman Nee,” Lutheran Quarterly, 147.

 

[11] Lee, “Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China,” Church History, 68-69.

 

[12] Erling, “Story of Watchman Nee,” Lutheran Quarterly, 148.

 

A Theology of Missions

When the term “missions” is used, great missionaries such as Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and/or William Carey come to mind. For others, missions may bring the thought of a Christian sitting amongst tribal peoples in a jungle. Yet, the term “missions” is understood to be, as Moreau and his colleagues describe it, the “specific work of the church and agencies in the task of reaching people for Christ by crossing cultural boundaries.”[1] Yet, one must inquire, what theological foundation exists for one to engage in missions? This paper will argue that missions is built upon biblical and systematic theological understandings about God. The paper will first examine two Old and New Testament texts that support missions. Next, the paper will examine the nature of God as he relates to missions work. In addition, the paper will examine two theological attributes of God and how they relate to missions endeavors. Then, two motifs pertaining to mission theology will be evaluated. Finally, the paper will demonstrate that missions should be part of the lives of missionaries, clergy, and the laity alike. In the first section, the paper will provide two Old and New Testament texts that support the field of missions.

Old and New Testament Texts that Support Missions

Strewn throughout the Bible, one will find evidence that God has been involved in missions endeavors since the fall of humanity. The first evidence of God’s mission work is found in Genesis 3:15. Moreau and his fellow authors call Genesis 3:15 the “protoevangelium…the promise that Jesus will come for all people.”[2]

In the so-called protoevangelium, God makes the promise to Adam and Eve, as well as to Satan—the instigator of the fall—that God would “put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, brackets mine).[3] Thus, the passage ensures that God would save humanity from the fall and the separation that exists between God and humanity. This solution would materialize in the Messiah who “takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Yet, within the Old Testament there exists another example of God’s mission mindset.

In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abraham, then known as Abram, to leave his homeland. God promises Abram that he would “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). While God concerned himself with the so-called chosen people, known as the Israelites, God’s mission mindset was demonstrated as he sought to use the Israelites to reach other nations for his glory. As the psalmist recalled, “All of the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27). Whereas the mission-mindedness of God is acknowledged in the Old Testament, the mission-minded nature of God is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament.

Sometime after the resurrection, Jesus meets eleven disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16). Jesus tells them that they are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Particular individuals who hold to extreme forms of cessationalism view the commands of Christ as applicable to only the eleven apostles at the time. Yet, William Carey, the patriarch of the modern missions movement, argued that “if the command of Christ to teach all nations be restricted to the apostles…, then that of baptizing should be so, too…then ordinary ministers who have endeavored to carry the Gospel to the heathens, have acted without warrant…[and] the promise of the divine presence in this work must so be limited.”[4] That is to say, if Christ’s command to evangelize all nations was only given to the apostles, then the promises offered by Christ were only given to the apostles. In addition, one must ponder the following: if the commands of Christ given in the Great Commission only applied to the apostles, then why was Matthew compelled to document Christ’s teaching in the first place?

Before the ascension of Christ, Jesus provides a model by which the apostles were to perform their missions work. Jesus instructed the apostles that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). From the instructions given by Jesus, the apostles were to begin where they were located—“in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). From there, the apostles were to reach outlying areas—“Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8). In the end, the apostles were to reach the world with the gospel message—“to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ command not only provides an example for the great emphasis that God places on missions, he also provides a model by which mission work can be accomplished.

The Nature of God and Missions

God’s attributes are so complex that not even the most brilliant of scholars could traverse the width and breadth of the canyon of his being. Notwithstanding, God has revealed to humanity certain elements of his nature and character. This paper affirms John S. Feinberg’s notion that the “simplest division of the attributes distinguishes those that reflect moral qualities of God and those that refer to non-moral qualities.”[5] The non-moral aspects of God’s character are far more complicated than the moral aspects, as the moral aspects are related to God’s dealings with humanity. Of the moral attributes as it relates to missions, God’s omnibenevolence stands supreme. Omnibenevolence refers to God’s all-loving nature. Geisler denotes that John refers love to God in such a way in 1 John 4:16 as if “applying the term to His essence.”[6] Thus, God’s essence is that of love. It is important to note that God’s love coexists with God’s holiness, thereby discrediting any universalistic methodological interpretations to salvation. Nevertheless, as it pertains to missions, God’s love is central. God does not desire that “any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, one would expect a loving God to be involved in missions activities. One must also query; do the non-moral attributes of God anticipate God’s involvement in missions?

How Mission Relates to God’s Aseity and God’s Omniscience

Two non-moral attributes of God, among many others, relate to God’s involvement in missions. The first attribute may sound bizarre to some readers; nevertheless it is the so-called “aseity of God.” J. I. Packer states that “The word aseity, meaning that he has life in himself and draws his unending energy from himself (a se in Latin means “from himself”), was coined by theologians to express this truth.”[7] Isaiah demonstrates this truth in proclaiming that “The LORD is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). God’s aseity also includes the acknowledgement that “there are not properties independent of God upon which he depends in order to have the constitutional attributes he possesses”[8] as well as acknowledging that God is “totally immune to external influences so that nothing that happens in our world fazes him.”[9] So how does God’s aseity relate to missions?

God’s aseity impacts missions when one understands the concept that God’s salvific emphasis did not stem from something that God was forced to do. No higher authority pressed upon God the necessity to save souls because there is no higher authority than God. Rather, God chose to offer salvation to individuals not for the need or desire that God had in and of himself, but rather due to God’s good pleasure and loving nature. This demonstrates John Pipers’ point vividly in that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”[10] Therefore, missions is performed for the good of humanity not because of some deficiency in God. Missions work brings people to a saving relationship with the God of aseity. Due to this, one should consider it an honor that God would choose not only to save anyone, but to also use his people to do missions work. God relies upon nothing; therefore God does not need human help to reach others, but chooses to allow people the opportunity to reach others as part of his kingdom work.

Another missional aspect of God’s character is God’s omniscience. Timothy George defines God’s omniscience as God’s “comprehensive knowledge of all that was, is, and ever shall be.”[11] George also notes that God’s omniscience is a “corollary of his eternity.”[12] God’s omniscience indicates that God knows all events in the past, present, and future. God knows all contingencies. Therefore, God knows what a person would do, would not do, and would do under certain circumstances.[13] In correlation with God’s omniscience, God is also omnisapient. Geisler defines omnisapience as God’s “unerring ability choose the best means to accomplish the best ends.”[14] Since God is all-knowledgeable and all-wise, then God knows who would be saved, who would not be saved, and what it would take to reach those who would be saved. In combination with God’s power and love, one can clearly note that God’s plan to reach others will always be effective one way or another. God’s choice to use those in missions is an example of the person’s worth to God. Therefore, missions is a high calling for anyone and should never be taken lightly.

Two Key Motifs of Mission Theology: Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Scott Moreau and his colleagues provide six motifs that are fundamental to mission theology—“1) the kingdom of God, 2) Jesus, 3) the Holy Spirit, 4) the church, 5) shalom, 6) the return of Jesus.”[15] While all six motifs are important, two are critical for mission theology.

First, Jesus (i.e. Christology) is essential for missions. Moreau notes that “Jesus is central not only to the Christian faith, but also to the mission that is integrated into the faith.”[16] Jesus is the means by which individuals are saved. Peter and John made it clear before the Jewish council that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Without Jesus, no mission work would be necessary. All would be lost and there would be no plan of salvation. However, because Jesus came, salvation is available to all who would receive the salvation afforded to them by the invitation and revelation of the Holy Spirit. Piper states that “A new day has come with Jesus Christ. The people of God are being rebuilt in such a way that they will no longer fail in the task of reaching the nations.”[17] Jesus is the reason that mission work is possible. Therefore, a proper understanding of the person and work of Christ is of utmost importance as it relates to missions.

In addition, the Holy Spirit is essential for missions to work in the first place. It is impossible for anyone to come to faith without the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit of God. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus noted that “when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). It is impossible to convince someone to come to faith unless the Holy Spirit is drawing that person. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the lifeblood to missions. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no success in any mission effort.

How Missions Relates to the Church

The previous sections have discussed the nature and attributes of God as God relates to missions. Yet, a person may inquire how mission work applies to the individual Christian. The universal church consists of all regenerate believers across the world and is comprised of various individuals in heaven and on earth. The universal church also consists of congregations which themselves contain individual believers. Without the work of each person, missions work would not be accomplished. Geisler is correct in noting that “whereas the universal church contains the whole body of Christ, the local church has only part of it. Christ, the Head of the church, is visible to members of the universal church who are in heaven, but He is the invisible Head of the local churches on earth.”[18] Thus, under the leadership of Christ, church leaders cast the vision for missions to the laity. The laity, responding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, provides means for local and global mission work. Missionaries, who are called by the leadership of Christ, use the means afforded to them to spread the gospel message to particular areas. Great things can be accomplished when Christians heed and respond to the leadership of Christ Jesus.

Conclusion

This paper has demonstrated that the concept of missions is rooted in a proper biblical and theological understanding of God. It is clear that both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate that God has a global purpose to his salvific plan. God’s loving nature demonstrates his desire for people to join him for eternity, while God’s aseity and omniscience provides exemplifies the free choice God made to save the lost. The work of the incarnate Savior provided the means to salvation, thus allowing for missions; while the Holy Spirit is the imparter of grace. Thus, God is the agent who saves and illuminates, yet God chose to use his children to partake of the blessings of the kingdom. Missions is a critical aspect of Christian ministry. When one fails to understand one’s role in missions, one fails to understand the God who made missions possible.

The preceding consists of the academic work of its author. This paper has been scanned and submitted through SafeAssign. Any efforts to plagiarize the content of this paper will be detected by one’s institution of learning.

Bibliography

Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Fourth Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

George, Timothy. “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts.” In A Theology for the Church. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H, 2014.

Moreau, A. Scott, et. al. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

Packer, J. I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1993. Logos Bible Software.

Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. Kindle Edition.

Copyright July 20th, 2015. Brian Chilton

—–Footnotes—————————-

[1] A. Scott Moreau, et. al., Introduction World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 17.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture used in this paper comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed, Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 314

[5] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 237.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 585.

[7] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), Logos Bible Software.

[8] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 240.

[9] Ibid., 241.

[10] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle Edition.

[11] Timothy George, “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts,” in A Theology for the Church. Daniel L. Akin, ed (Nashville: B&H, 2014), 197.

[12] Ibid.

[13] This is also known as Scientia Media, or Middle Knowledge, as popularized by Luis de Molina and philosopher William Lane Craig, a concept that this writer accepts.

[14] Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One, 515.

[15] Moreau, et. al., Introducing World Missions, 80.

[16] Ibid., 81.

[17] Piper, Let the Nations be Glad, Kindle Edition.

[18] Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume, 1146.

The 7 Core Fundamental Doctrines Required for a Salvific Faith

In our day and age, many individuals hold various beliefs concerning various things. Everyone has an opinion about everything. Unfortunately, the post-modern world has elevated every opinion to the level of being factual and concrete. Such a mentality is especially problematic when it comes to religion and philosophy. But, if one is to accept the validity of Christianity, it must be admitted that certain beliefs are fundamental to the Christian construct. As far as this writer can tell, there are at least seven fundamental elements that comprise a saving faith. These seven beliefs are ground zero and cannot be changed without drastically affecting one’s integral belief system. Other doctrines logically flow from these seven (i.e. the Bible is the Word of God). Nonetheless, these seven doctrines comprise the pillars of classic Christianity. It will be the purpose of this article to examine these seven fundamental beliefs and describe how that these seven are non-negotiable doctrines for the believer.

1. Belief in God’s Existence.

Central to the idea of salvation is found the belief in God. Seeing that salvation is fundamentally based upon the notion that humankind is trying to build an eternal link with the divine, the existence of the divine is of utmost importance. Concerning the existence of God, let it suffice to say as does the psalmist that the “fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist’” (Psalm 14:1).[1] As has been noted on previous articles, the existence of God is a necessity since we exist.

2. Belief in Human Sinfulness.

The classic phrase in recovery groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, is “the first step to recovery is the admission that you have a problem.” The same could be said for salvation. Many have criticized what has been termed easy believism. That is, that one can say a prayer and expect to be in heaven while living like one who resides in hell. Such a mentality is not to be found in the pages of Scripture. In fact, one will find words like “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2)! Even in the classic story of Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery, Jesus tells the woman, “Neither do I condemn you…Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (John 8:11). Thus, one must come to the understanding that one is lost in sin and needs to be saved before one can be saved. This requires the understanding that one cannot work one’s way to heaven but that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

3. Belief in Jesus’ True Identity.

Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am” (Matthew 16:15)? The same question is posed to all of us. The New Testament writers make it clear that two fundamental features of Jesus’ identity are mandatory in order to have a saving kind of faith.

            Jesus’ Divinity

First, the order of Jesus’ deity is required. Oddly enough, this has become a somewhat controversial topic even amongst those claiming to be Christians. This was not so much a controversy in the early church. In Romans 10:9, Paul issues to the Church of Rome what is an early creedal statement from the earliest church. Paul writes that for one to be saved, one must confess that “Jesus is Lord.” The term kurios which is translated “Lord” is the same term used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Paul and many of the early Christians) in the place of Yahweh, the personal name for God the Father. Thus, this identification of Jesus as Lord is representative on one’s acceptance that Jesus was in fact God incarnate (God having come to earth in the flesh). If one should require more evidence of Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ divine nature, look at the elevation of Christ in passages such as Romans 9:5 and Colossians 1:15ff. For this reason, many evangelicals (including myself) have stated that denominations and movements that do not accept the divinity of Christ are outside the umbrella of Christianity. I fear that this also may mean that such groups are outside the scope of salvific faith.

            Jesus’ Humanity

Oddly enough, the more controversial topic facing the church around the turn of the 1st into the 2nd century was not the idea of Jesus’ deity, but that of His humanity. Some who were influenced by Platonic philosophy had incorporated an idea that the spirit was good and the flesh was bad. This movement would be known as Gnosticism. While the movement took off in the 2nd century, the Apostle John battled this heresy late in his life. The aged apostle wrote things like “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2-3). John goes on to say that such a notion comes from the “spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3).

Thus, the New Testament writers make it clear that a proper understanding of Jesus’ identity is of utmost importance if one is to be saved. This is far more important than one might think for this reason: if Jesus was only a good man and not God incarnate, then it could be said that Jesus did not bear the sins of the world because He couldn’t. Jesus would have lived a perfect life for God and this would mean that individuals would need to strife to live perfectly for God. However, one sin would automatically disqualify one from perfection. Thus, salvation would be moot under such circumstances. However, if Jesus was God incarnate, then it means that Jesus lived out a perfect life according to His nature and would be able to bear upon His back the sins of the world. The entire basis of salvation hinges upon the identity of Christ.

 4. Belief in Atonement.

Stemming from the last doctrine and from the crucifixion of one Jesus Christ, the natural outflow of the two doctrines lends itself towards the belief that Jesus did come to provide a means of salvation to the one who would trust in Him. On the movie Life of Pi, the aged Pi suggested that the cross made no sense to him as he could not fathom how God would send His Son for the sins of the world. Yet, if one understood Jesus to be God, then one would understand that God did not only send His Son, He came Himself to do what people could not do for themselves.  The cross is the story of loving sacrifice. If one is to receive the effects of the cross, one must place their trust in the One on the cross and in the action that occurred for them. It is essentially comparable to one opening a gift given to them at Christmas.

5. Belief in Resurrection.

The literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central fixed point that separates Christianity from every other worldview in history. No one else can claim that their Savior or avatar literally rose from the dead. Some might suggest that a story was borrowed from Greco-Roman or Egyptian myths; a point unproved as to the writing of this article and astonishing if one would considers that the earliest New Testament church was comprised of mainly Jewish individuals. Nevertheless, what really matters is whether such an event actually did occur. In regard to the resurrection of Christ, little doubt exists as to whether Jesus arose from the dead. While time and space will not allow a full treatment on this issue,[2] let it be said that textual evidence, psychological evidence, extra-biblical evidence, and even archaeological evidence supports the notion that Jesus literally did rise from the dead on that first Easter morning. Why is this fundamental to Christianity? It is fundamental because one must acknowledge the fact that Jesus has defeated death and the powers of Satan through the resurrection event. In fact, Paul adds that “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The resurrection is a fundamental to the faith.

6. Belief in Triune Nature of God.

Some belief in the Trinity is necessary for the Christian, as well. Why is this important, particularly for a saving faith? It is so because it flows forth from identity of God. Throughout Scripture, the Father is identified as Yahweh (meaning the self-existent One). Jesus arrives and is proclaimed as the “beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17) by the Father. Furthermore, Jesus identifies a third person of the Godhead in the Holy Spirit, even going so far as to say that the only unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29); that is to say, the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work in Christ. Jesus also states that the Holy Spirit would remain with believers (John 14:17-18). Thus, if one were to reject any Person of the Godhead, it would not seem that such a person could be in right standing with God Himself.

7. Belief in Eternal States.

Finally, the belief in eternal states is imperative: heaven and hell. It would be quite fruitless if one spent time contemplating the need for salvation only to reject the rewards that stem from such a salvation; that is, heaven. The necessity of repentance would seem quite futile if one rejected the final judgment and the reality of eternal punishment; that is, hell. Whereas many hold various views pertaining to both, some viewing hell as a place of everlasting punishment and others viewing hell as a place of annihilation where a person would be eliminated from existence;[3] nevertheless, all under the umbrella of classic Christianity (in fact those who hold a saving faith) will accept the existence of both eternal realities.

Conclusion

This article has presented seven core fundamental doctrines that are essential for one to possess a saving faith. Other doctrines could be added to this list. In fact, many doctrines outpour from these seven essential wells of truth. Many truths and doctrines may be negotiable and debatable. Yet, the seven core truths presented in this article provide a foundation that is unmovable for the one who holds a saving faith. To tamper with any of the seven provided will create a chain reaction that results in a tidal wave of doubt and apostasy.

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

[2] See articles pertaining to the resurrection of Christ at https://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com for a fuller treatment concerning the evidence behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[3] This writer holds to the view that hell is a place of eternal torment as the writers of Scripture tend to portray hell in such fashion. But, this writer also believes that there may be various levels of rewards (in heaven) and levels of punishment (in hell), something that some do not accept.

The Trinitarian Relationship

Relationships are critical to one’s existence. Individuals need compassion that can only come from companionship. It should not be surprising since the Bible presents God as an eternal relationship, that the Bible also promotes the idea of relationships in general. This post will demonstrate the importance of relationships as it exists in the nature of God, the relationship that the believer possesses with the Triune God, and the importance of an individual to possess strong relational ties to others.

YaHWeH

The Father (Yahweh) is God

While the Scripture does not use the term trinity, such an idea “is a logically warranted inference from what Scripture does say about God.”[1] The Scripture indicates that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), yet consisting of three persons. For example, Yahweh, the Father, is shown to be God. For example, God introduces Himself to Moses and says, “Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:15). Yahweh, also translated “LORD” in some translations, is the personal identification of the Father. Gerald Bray rightly suggests that “God the Father is the person who ordains, establishes, judges and appoints.”[2] Yet, Yahweh is not the only person identified as God in Scripture.

Jesus1

Jesus (Yeshua) is God

Jesus of Nazareth is also identified as God. Identified as the Messiah, Paul writes that “The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever” (Romans 9:5). In the triune relationship of God, Bray identifies Jesus as the one who “appears as the Redeemer, the sacrificial victim and the mediator.”[3] Thus, the Father is God and the Son is God, but there is one more member to the Godhead that is also addressed.

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit is God

The Holy Spirit is identified as God. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of the Holy Spirit’s divinity is found in Acts 5. When Ananias and Sapphira lied about their gift, Peter said to Ananias, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back the proceeds from the field” (Acts 5:3)? He goes on to say, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4)! Bray states that the Holy Spirit “is the Sanctifier, the first-fruits of the inheritance of the glory to come. He dwells in our hearts by faith…and is responsible both for giving us access to the Father and for producing the image of Christ in us.”[4] Therefore, although God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), God is eternally three persons in One entity. It is interesting as God could be said to be an eternal relationship.

Relationship between Members of the Monotheistic Godhead

A special relationship exists between the individuals of the Godhead. In fact, “the doctrine of the Trinity offers an example for interpersonal relationships, not the least is family relations.”[5] In fact, the great blessing is found in that an individual is able to be brought into this eternal relationship. When a believer begins a relationship with God, that one is indwelled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus states that the believer would receive the Holy Spirit and the believer would “know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Therefore, the believer is drawn into a relationship with the Godhead as one is filled with the Holy Spirit, has the Son as an advocate, and possesses the forgiveness of the Father.

Interpersonal Relationships

Since relationships hold such a high value to the Triune God, the believer should place a high value on one’s relationship with others. Christ put such a high value on relationships that He stated that the second highest commandment in all the law, after loving God with all one’s being, was that one should “love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matthew 22:39-40). Unfortunately, Christians, far too often, do not place enough emphasis on relationships. Minor distinctions and interpretations cause Christians to part ways. While it is important to maintain a high level of focus upon proper doctrine, most church splits do not occur over such issues. In fact, this writer knows of a church that split over differences of opinion concerning the brand of toilet paper used in the church’s restrooms. Do such mentalities represent highly valued relationships? Certainly not!

Trinity1

Conclusion

Christianity is about relationships. Theologically, God is demonstrated to be an eternal relationship. Spiritually, an individual enters into a relationship with the eternal God when one accepts Christ. Ethically, a Christian is required to place a high value upon one’s personal relationships with others. Jesus indicated that one would display their faith by demonstrating love to others (John 13:35). The Christian needs to ensure that he or she holds a strong relationship with God and holds strong relationships with those around them. Christian leaders need to understand the Triune relational nature of God and express the need for personal relationships with others.

 Note: This work represents the academic work of Pastor Brian Chilton. The contents of this article have been submitted to the author’s university. Any attempt to improperly use the information found within this article for academic papers without proper citation may result in charges of plagiarism.

Bibliography

 

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

Bray, Gerald. The Doctrine of God, Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove: IVP, 1993.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Christian Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

______________________________________________________________________________________

[1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Christian Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 438.

[2] Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 146.

[3] Ibid, 147.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Feinberg, 441.

Holy Spirit Leadership

bright flamy symbol on the black background

This past week I was responding to a post on a discussion board for one of my classes at Liberty University in Evangelism. The lady who posted a message mentioned that in her opinion, one of the most pressing needs is for pastors to be led by the Holy Spirit. I could not agree more. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the very presence of God in our lives. Yet so often, it seems that individuals seek out their own agendas or their own concerns instead of what the Holy Spirit desires. Paul warns us that it is possible to “quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). So what are some ways that we can become more in tune with the Holy Spirit’s leadership?

 

1.         Follow the Spirit by Spending Quality Time with the Lord in Prayer.

Several times it is reported that Jesus went away to spend quality time with the Lord. Jesus, the Son of God, needed time to rest in the presence of God. In Matthew 14:13, it is written that Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” In Mark 1:35, we learn that Jesus “got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Here is the point that must be learned: if Jesus needed time alone with God, we need even more time alone with God. So many times our spiritual reserves are drained by the problems of life. However, we should know that God provides us rest in the Holy Spirit. Find a time in which you can spend with the Lord and defend that time adamantly. Wilson and Hoffman write in their book Preventing Ministry Failure that one “must maintain strong boundaries around our inner life, for as soon as we relax them we may be attacked by an enemy who sees us as the gateway to hundreds if not thousands of souls” (Wilson & Hoffman 2007, 167). Find a time and place where you can get away with God and spend that time with Him. Leave your pagers, phones, and Facebook accounts in a different place. Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room and pray to your Father, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6). You may find this time with God the most relaxing time you have spent in some time.

 

2.         Follow the Spirit by Spending Quality Time with the Lord in His Word.

Part of your time with God needs to be spent in the Word of God. Do you have a regular Bible reading plan? Even more importantly, do you look and hear what God may be telling you? If you do so, it may be that the Spirit of God convicts you in some ways or perhaps changes your perspectives. If He does, know that you are in good company. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit that He would “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). The Spirit would also convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8ff). The Holy Spirit inspired the writings of Scripture in their original form and works through its words to convict, teach, and lead. Not only should one read the Word, one should meditate on the Word asking the Holy Spirit to guide them into the truth.

 HolySpiritFire

3.         Follow the Spirit by Spending Quality Time with the Lord Resting in the Promises.

I made a startling discovery the past few weeks. Many of the health issues with which I have been struggling have been directly related to anxiety and worry. I found myself recently undergoing a gastric emptying test to check the functioning of my stomach. While in the waiting room, I spoke with two individuals who were in for the same kind of testing. They spoke of their conditions. Admittedly, they have suffered with far more than I have. Yet, a common trend was noted. All of us had undergone stressful events in our lives and none of us had coped with the events very well. Then it hit me…it’s not supposed to be that way. Did not Jesus say “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)? We can find rest in God through the Holy Spirit if we call upon Him.

 

Conclusion

Much more can be said, but this article would become a book if I did. The Holy Spirit of God should have impacted us in a mighty way. But, this spiritual awakening does not have to be a one-time experience only. A Christian should have constant communion with God through the Holy Spirit. A Christian should be led by the Holy Spirit of God and directed in His paths. If the modern church would let go of the things that they cannot change and focus on the things that they have been called to change, then it might just be that we could be on the verge of a Third Great Awakening. That is my prayer. But understand, the Spirit of God cannot be controlled, maintained, and does not operate by the vote of the majority. The Spirit of God is like an untamed lion. Perhaps that is why the Spirit has been symbolized in Scripture by a fire. In fact, God is said to be a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Allow the Spirit of God to take control, you may find yourself speaking to people you never thought you would, doing things you never thought you could, being enlightened to new truths that were previously misunderstood, and seeing former bad things miraculously transformed into good. Because our God can “do immeasurably more than we all ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Are you ready for Holy Spirit leadership? I certainly am!!! Take control Holy Spirit and lead us into the paths of Jesus our Savior.

 God consuming fire

 

Bibliography

 

Scripture taken from the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

 

Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffman. Preventing Ministry Failure. Downers Grove: IVP, 2007.

 

 

© Pastor Brian Chilton 2014.

Hearing from God: Is It Possible to Discern the Voice of God?

Recently, I heard a respectable Christian talk show host claim that it was impossible to hear from God.  He blasted Henry Blackaby’s discipleship program Experiencing God claiming that no one can learn to hear from God.  He also claimed that to say that one could hear from God goes beyond the scope of Scripture.  Is this true?

In my experience as a Christian, I have heard from God on countless occasions and still do.  Without the guidance and direction of God, I would not know how to minister or how to live a life in God’s will.  Furthermore, while I greatly respect the radio host, I fervently disagree with the host on his belief that no biblical evidence exists for the Spirit’s communication to God’s people.  I have found at least five ways that the Spirit of God communicates with His people using biblical texts to present these truths.

God Uses People to Communicate His Will

“So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’  Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:27–31, NASB).  God puts His people…the right people…at the right place, at the right moment, and at the right time to communicate powerful truths to us right when we need it.  With the story in Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch was struggling with understanding a passage of Scripture in Isaiah.  Philip had the answer to the eunuch’s question.  So, God sent Philip to the right place at the right time to minister to the eunuch’s need.  Does this not show the great importance in evangelism and missions?

In my life, God has used the works of apologists to answer my doubts and questions about the faith.  At other times when I have felt down and out and praying that God would give me a sign, God sends a person with a word of encouragement that meets my need.  Even during my graduate studies at Liberty University, God has put the right teachers and the right books in my life to show me His will at the right moment.  God does not only communicate with us through godly people, God also uses another method of communication through the person of the Holy Spirit.

God Uses Circumstances to Communicate His Will

Paul writes, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13, NASB, underline mine).  Through the circumstances of life, God communicated the need to bee content in all things.  Also, God uses these circumstances…especially the bad circumstances…to show the need for Paul to be strengthened in and through the power of Christ.  Many feel that God is entitled to only grant His children good things in life.  However, through circumstances (especially difficult circumstances) the Spirit of God communicates valuable truths to us.  As Paul writes, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NASB).  The Spirit of God pours out truths to us and builds our character through circumstances of life.  If you pray for patience, God will place you through circumstances that will build patience.  If you pray for strength, God will put you through circumstances which will build strength.  If you pray for more faith, God will place you in circumstances where you will be forced to depend upon Him more.  But, God uses a third way of communicating with us through the Holy Spirit.

God Uses Scripture to Communicate His Will

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB).  The psalmist shows that the Word of God gives us insight in how we should live.  Jesus said to the disciples of the Holy Spirit, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26, NASB).  God uses Scripture to communicate His will to us.  Understand also that since the Word of God is God’s word, then it is the standard by which we all should gauge all things.  God cannot lie so if you hear a compelling that is leading you away from what the Bible says, then it is not God.  It could be the self.  God has a way of bringing back Scripture to your mind through the Spirit at your time of need.  In my life, the Spirit has brought Scripture to my mind that I had not even memorized.  That is the power of the Holy Spirit.  This also shows our need to study the Word regularly.  There is yet a fourth way the Spirit of God communicates with us.

God Uses the Still Small Voice to Communicate His Will

At least four times in Scripture, we learn about God speaking to individuals through what many call “the still small voice.”  It is written of Elijah, “Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12, NKJV).   Elijah was expecting God to speak to him in a loud fashion.  Yet the Holy Spirit did not speak by a thunderous earthquake or a powerful tornado, but God spoke through a gentle still small voice.  In Acts, the Spirit spoke to Philip as it is written, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot’” (Acts 8:29, NASB).  The Lord had a reason for Philip to meet to Ethiopian eunuch as we mentioned before.  But, the Spirit communicated with that same still small voice.  Jesus even shows that we can depend upon the Spirit to give us words whenever we are accused, or perhaps in evangelism.  “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11, NASB).  Some will say, “Pastor Brian, the text is referring to the disciples.”  Yes, that is true.  However, should we as disciples of Christ expect anything less today?  I think not.  Another text shows how God speaks to us through that still small voice.  “And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding” (Nehemiah 2:12, NASB).  Some will claim that Nehemiah knew the Lord’s will after the event.  That opinion is guilty of reading more into the text than is there.  God placed the thought in his mind before the event took place.  How else would he know that it was God who placed the thought in his mind?  The Scripture gives us a fifth way the Holy Spirit communicate to us.

God Uses the Compulsion of the Spirit to Communicate His Will

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry.” (Luke 4:1-2, NASB).  Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  There are times when the Spirit of God compels us in certain directions.  It may be to talk to a person at a certain time.  I heard the testimony of a woman who worked at a hospital who was compelled by the Spirit of God to do an amazing act.  The Spirit of God compelled the woman to ask a long haired man if he would like a haircut.  She was compelled by the Spirit to use this act as a means of evangelism.  She did not know why the Spirit of God wanted her to do this act, but she was obedient nonetheless.  As she cut the man’s hair, the man told her that his wife used to cut his hair for him.  His wife was sick and in the hospital.  He had not had his hair cut in a while due to his wife’s sickness.  He then began to speak of Jesus and how Jesus blessed him in his life.  The woman was really stumped as to why the Spirit wanted her to use this act as a means of evangelism since the man already had a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  However, to her surprise, a co-worker approached the woman after she finished cutting the man’s hair.  The co-worker asked the woman, “Why did you cut his hair?” The woman said, “I did so because of my love for Jesus.”  The co-worker said, “Can you tell me about this Jesus?”

It was through the compelling of the Holy Spirit that I was led to a Bible bookstore and guided to a shelf that had several apologetics books that God used to answer my doubts and questions.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the guidance and compulsion of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Does the Holy Spirit communicate with us?  Absolutely!  That is part of the process of prayer.  Prayer is reciprocal.  It is a dialogue.  We speak to God and God speaks to us.  How could anyone deny the Spirit’s power to communicate truths to us?  The trouble is, many of us get into trouble when we do not listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This is not only true for apologists, but for all Christians from all walks of life.  We are so busy in our lives that we do not take time to listen to God.  Maybe the reason we are not hearing from God is that we do not really want to listen to God.  We might be frightened by what He shows us…or where He leads us.

Keep the faith,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Postnote: After further listening to the radio host and reading some of the host’s writings, I do not think that he meant to take such a strong stand against “hearing from God.”  Although I do not agree with his attacks on Henry Blackaby, I do think an area of misunderstanding on my part occurred.  But, I would concede that one must ensure that the direction aligns with the Word of God.  Otherwise, it probably is not God that is leading.