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Monday, June 20, 2022

Faith For Our Times - Trusting Biblical Authority to Lead Us Through Troubled Times

Happy Father's Day!  I talked with my Dad recently about his challenges of living in the 60s when there was so much turmoil in our world with politics, the Vietnam war, civil rights, and the cultural revolution.  He was in the Army from 1962-1964, as soldiers were training and ramping up to go over to fight.  

I guess every generation faces challenging times in different ways.  We live in very challenging times today.  You can't help but see all the things happening in the news and be concerned.  Today, I want to share about how the Christian faith can help us through these dark days.  

Paul, a seasoned Christian leader, wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, to give him an important warning and advice to encourage and guide him through the difficulties of his day.  I believe Paul's words to Timothy can guide us too.

2 Timothy 3:1-5
You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

[Having warned Timothy what he is facing, Paul now gives his son in the faith some important advice about how to navigate the treacherous dangers of an ungodly world.]

2 Timothy 3:14-17
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Our Times
Is there any doubt we live in crazy times?  On top of the hyperinflation, wars and civil unrest, we are seeing sweeping changes in societies morals and rampant mass shootings in schools, hospitals, and even churches.  What kind of world are we living in.  It sounds so much like the "difficult days" Paul described to Timothy, doesn't it?

As crazy as it may sound, we may not be living in times as crazy as what Paul and Timothy faced.  They were a tiny religious minority living in a overwhelmingly pagan world.  At least most people today (even if they aren't Christian) accept many of the universal values Christianity has instilled in our world over the last 2,000 years.  Paul and Timothy did not have that advantage.  Yet still, our times are crazy enough. How can we get through them?

I believe Paul's words to Timothy give us many clues.

Paul said, "Remain faithful to the things you were taught."
Timothy was raised in a spiritual home. He was taught the Holy Scriptures by trusted family members. Paul says, "You know what they taught you is true. You can trust those who taught you."

Perhaps you grew up in a Christian family.  Perhaps your father or mother or grandparents taught you some important lessons--maybe even the Christian faith.  Or maybe it wasn't your biological family, but a spiritual family.  (Remember, Paul was not Timothy’s biological father, but  a spiritual father to him.)  Have you had someone who was an important Christian mentor for you?  Can you trust what they said?

Our world today is blessed with 2,000 years of Christian heritage--Christians who faithfully followed Christ and helped transform our world for the better.  We have much Christian tradition to draw from to help guide us.  

The most reliable Christian tradition and teachings are firmly founded upon the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  

The Authority of the Bible
2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

Scripture is inspired by God.  These aren’t merely human words.  God gave Scripture to His people and preserved them to guide us today.  Scripture corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  

However, to truly be guided by Scripture, we have to humble ourselves under Scripture.  There is a way we sometimes approach the Bible where we have already decided what we believe.  We may come to the Bible merely looking for texts that will prove what we already believe.  So we can say, "Look!  See!  The Bible says this!  That proves my argument!"  That will never do.

We must come to the Scriptures with humiliy, with a heart open to hear what God wants to say and not what we want it to say for us.  We must be willing to obey God’s Word in Scripture, even if it's not what we wanted to hear.  And we must be sure the Church's beliefs and actions are firmly founded upon the Bible.

The Bible Is An Anchor
Just because all faithful Christians base our beliefs and practices on the Bible, doesn't mean all Christians always interpret the Bible the same way.  Honest people can come to different conclusions about non-essential elements of the Christian faith.  That is why we have different denominations--Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians and Pentecostals, etc.

A good analogy of how Scripture works is a ship on the ocean attached to an anchor.  The Bible is an anchor that keeps the ship from floating away.  The Bible doesn't change.  It says what it says and God's Word in it hasn't changed in thousands of years.  However, the Bible allows room for different interpretations. The interpretations are the ship floating on the surface of the water.  The shift may drift this way or that way, but it doesn't drift off into oblivion.  It stays attached to the unmoving anchor even as it may move around a bit.

So, in terms of Biblical Christian churches, Methodists may interpret the Bible one way and Baptists another, but we are attached to the same Holy Book and we do not simply make up our beliefs to be whatever we want.  The Bible keeps us anchored.  And in humility, we recognizes our interpretation of Scripture could be wrong and another's could be right.  So we don't have to fight about it.  Let those who believe the Baptist interpretation be Baptist and let Methodists be Methodists.  There is freedom to allow different interpretations. 

However, what happens if you cut the line to anchor?  If you cut the anchor, the ship will drift off wherever the wind and waves push it or wherever the captain drives the ship.  In terms of the Christian faith, if you cut away your reliance on the Bible then people will  make their religion whatever they want it to be--even if it has no real connection to Christ and His teachings at all.  And unfortunately, the human heart is such that it can and will justify anything it wants--especially without Scripture to restrain it.

Furthermore, there the winds and waves of cultural whims and  evil influences and dark spiritual forces constantly pushing people here and there.  Without the firm foundation of Holy Scripture, people are driven before the storms of their times and may easily have their faith shipwrecked.

The UMC in the News
At annual conference in Georgia this year, 70 United Methodist Churches disaffiliated from the UMC.  News outlets reported these churches disaffiliated over the issue of homosexuality. 
This is misleading and inaccurate.  Secular news doesn't understand or take the time to dig down to the real issues--nor is the general non-Christian, non-Methodist public capable of understanding the deeper roots of the disagreement.  

The real issue is not homosexuality.  The real issue is biblical authority.  Seventy churches broke away from the United Methodist Church because the UMC wants to disregard God’s clear teaching in the Bible.  Seventy churches in our annual conference do not want to be part of a denomination that has cut the anchor to Scripture.  I believe many more churches will disaffiliate from the UMC in the coming year because faithful Christians still believe the Bible is the essential, firm foundation of a true Christian Church.

Homosexuality only enters the current debate in the UMC because the Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is not God’s plan for His people.  The same Scriptures that forbid gay sex also forbid idolatry, stealing, greed, drunkenness, abuse, and cheating.  Progressives in The United Methodist Church have no problem calling out a long list of sins, but it is very unpopular in the world right now to say homosexuality a sin.  Many progressives in the UMC would rather follow the world than follow God’s Word.  So, they say, “Well, Scripture is wrong about homosexuality.” 

You need to understand the division in the UMC is not about homosexuality, it’s about the Bible.  Is the Bible still authoritative for Christians in the 21st century?  This is the real issue at hand.

If you abandon Scripture on the issue of homosexuality (as these progressives in the UMC want to do) then where do you stop?  Why not turn away from Scripture when it teaches Jesus is the Son of God?  That he died and rose again?  Or other essential Christian doctrines.

There are some progressive United Methodist clergy who now teach that Jesus was not really born of a virgin or that he literally rose from the grave.[i]  Other progressive United Methodist pastors are actively denying biblical truths such the reality of sin, the necessity of being born again, salvation through Christ alone, heaven and hell, or an afterlife.[ii]  If you are not anchored to Scripture, then you can drive off (or float off or be driven off) into an oblivion of teachings, beliefs, and actions that have no connection to Christ or the historic Christian faith whatsoever. 

The history of the Church shows again and again that the Church always makes the world a better place when it is faithful to God’s Word in the Bible.  So many of the important values our modern world cherishes as were not always universally appreciated--values even non-Christians see as essential.  For example almost everyone today believes in the sanctity of all human life.  Prior to Christianity, it was not so.  Children, handicapped adults, the elderly or infirm could be and were routinely discarded by society and even their families if they were deemed not valuable or productive.  Christians came along and challenged the pagan world on this issue.  Christians taught that every person is made in the image of God and of sacred worth regardless of their potential or abilities or productivity.  2,000 year ago a pagan world thought those Christians fight for the sanctity of all human life were crazy and their ideas were pure foolishness.  Yet those Christians saints stuck by their beliefs because of what the Bible says and they eventually won the pagan world over. That's why almost all people today agree that every human life is valuable.

The list of virtues and justices Christians brought to the world through their faithful Scriptural Christianity are long and include such things as women’s rights, the abolishment of slavery, civil right, equal opportunities for all people, hospitals, orphanages, etc.  

On the other hand, the church has also done terrible evil in our world whenever it has strayed from the clear teachings of Scripture.  For when you break free from the restraints of the Bible, you can make religion whatever you want and can justify anything.  Thus, unbiblical, counterfeit Christianity has justified the selling of indulgences, the oppressions of the poor, the inquisition, colonialism, and even the killing of Jews in Nazi German.  

Stay Anchored to Jesus in the Bible
It is essential that we stay anchored to Jesus in the Bible.  We must make sure our congregation remains a church firmly faithful to the Scriptures.  As individuals, we must also listen to God’s Word in Scripture.  We must read and study and know our Bible.  We must humble ourselves before it.  We must let it correct us when we are wrong, teach us what is right, and change us to be more like Christ.  We must be faithful to what the Bible teaches—even if it conflicts with the prevailing views of our world.



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