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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we pointed out that the biblical view of women is a high view – they are to be capable, strong, educated and wise people. But we then also introduced the idea that women are to be under authority. How do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I first want to say that men are to be under authority too. Every single human being alive is under authority, usually in multiple ways. We are all under God’s authority of course and, in addition, we are under authority in our society and in church, and most of us are also under authority at work as well. In addition, wives and children are under authority in the home.

Near the end of our last session we read 1 Corinthians 11:3, where the apostle Paul wrote, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” [1] And we noted that to be “the head” means to be in authority. We also noted that not every woman is under the authority of every man. Paul is simply giving the normal structure in a family here.

Marc Roby: I know that some have proposed that by head in this passage Paul is not referring to authority, but to the husband as the source of love and service.

Dr. Spencer: That idea has been stated by a number of commentators, but Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology that when an exhaustive search of ancient Greek literature was undertaken to determine how to interpret the word, not a single counter example was found in over 2,000 examples. In every single case, the person referred to as the head was the one in authority. That is also clear when you look at the other passages in the Bible relating to this topic. So there really isn’t any doubt that Paul intended head to refer to authority.

In Ephesians 5:22-24 Paul gave this command, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Marc Roby: That isn’t a popular passage in the modern church.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But it is a part of God’s word and we dare not ignore it. And note that the word head is used here as well. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body. The head rules the body. That is the clear meaning of the term.

And then, immediately after these verses, Paul gives an even more difficult charge to men. In Verses 25-27 he commands husbands, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Marc Roby: That is a very serious charge. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her! I would much rather be told to simply obey.

Dr. Spencer: And so would I. Being a proper biblical leader is not an easy job. It does not mean that you decide everything in favor of what you want to do or that you lord your authority over others, or that they bow and scrape before you and pander to your every desire. A proper biblical leader must work hard to discern the will of God, to know what is going on with those under his authority, and to make the decision that is best for those under his authority, not himself.

Marc Roby: Certainly Christ’s decision to be crucified was not the best decision from the perspective of his immediate personal happiness.

Dr. Spencer: No, it obviously was not. We are told in Luke 22:42 that on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus was on the Mount of Olives and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Marc Roby: The cup of course referred to the cup of God’s wrath, which Jesus endured for the sake of his people.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and what a terrible cup it was. And that is the standard given to us as husbands. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her! None of us succeed in doing that of course, but that is the standard. And Paul said more about the duties of the husband in the verses I read.

Marc Roby: Let me read those verses again in Ephesians 5:25-27. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Dr. Spencer: We are to give our lives for a purpose. It is to make our wives holy. And we are to do it by “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”, which refers to our responsibility to function as a prophet in our home. By prophet here I don’t mean foretelling the future, I simply mean one who speaks the word of God. We are to bring the Word of God to bear on each and every situation. In other words, we have no authority to do what we want to do. We only have authority to see to it that God’s will is done.

Marc Roby: And just as Christ said, “not my will, but yours be done.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And doing that takes serious effort and self-sacrifice. It isn’t easy to be a good leader. And men, in their natural sinful state, rebel against God’s assigned role. Men don’t want to lead.

Marc Roby: And women don’t want to obey.

Dr. Spencer: And neither do children. Sin is universal. We are all rebels in our fallen nature. But when a person is saved, he or she will embrace God’s word and will begin to strive to live the way God tells us to live. And that is for the man to be the head of his home and to rule for the good of his family. The wives are to submit to that rule and to help in ruling the children.

And, after dealing with husbands and wives in Ephesians 5, Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:1-3, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—’that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”

Marc Roby: And in the very next verse Paul again gives instruction to fathers. He wrote in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: Notice that this, in a sense, is the same command given to men in regard to their wives. In both cases we are to turn to the Word of God for guidance. We are to be a prophet in our home. Our authority is given to us by God and must be used in accordance with his instruction. We have no freedom to go outside of that.

Marc Roby: And a wife is under no obligation to obey a command that is contrary to the Word of God. When the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, commanded the apostles to not preach the gospel anymore, they went on preaching. They were then arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin to account for their actions. We read in Acts 5:29 that “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!’” And that principle applies to all delegated authorities; we must obey God if a delegated authority tells us to sin.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. But we do need to be careful, because there are a lot of details not spoken of in the Bible. I don’t want to repeat a lot of what we covered before about authority, but as just one example, if I tell my children that they need to be in bed by 9 O’clock, that is a perfectly legitimate and proper command that they are duty-bound to obey, even though the Bible says nothing about what their bedtime should be.

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s true. And you’re right, we do need to stay focused on the topic at hand, which is what it means to be made male and female in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: And the point I have been laboring to make in that regard is simply that there is an authority structure within the godhead that is to be mirrored in our human relationships. All of us are sinners and our natural tendency is to rebel against the Word of God. So we need to be aware of that tendency and fight against it.

Men must lead. Wives must submit to their husbands, and children must honor and obey their parents. Listeners who are interested in getting more detail about authority in the home can go to our website and listen to Sessions 28 through 30. But I think we’ve said all that needs to be said to establish that our functioning under authority is an important aspect of our being made in the image and likeness of God.

Marc Roby: And before we move on, perhaps we should again emphasize the equality that exists among God’s people. In Galatians 3:27-28 Paul wrote that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great thing to emphasize again. The fact that a policeman has authority over me in some situations, or that my boss has authority over me at work, in no way implies that they are superior human beings or that they are worth more in the sight of God than I am. Authority has nothing at all to do with our value as human beings. Just as the members of the Trinity are all ontologically equal, so are we all ontologically equal.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is a wonderful truth. All people are made in the image of God, whether they are on the lowest rung of a social ladder or they are kings, Nobel laureates or world-famous artists or musicians. But we are all under authority, which has been ordained by God for our good. Dr. Spencer, what else do you want to say about being made in the image and likeness of God?

Dr. Spencer: That we are given dominion over the creatures. Going back to Genesis 1:26 we read that God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Marc Roby: That rule is another example of authority.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. God gave us authority to rule the animals and there is also a clear implication in Genesis 1 and 2 that we are given authority to use the material resources of the earth as well. But in all of this we must view ourselves as God’s representatives. All of creation belongs to God, not to us. And we must be good stewards of what he has entrusted to us. To pollute and ravage the land with no regard for the future would be sin. We should be responsible in our use of the resources God had given to us.

Marc Roby: Are we finished with talking about what it means to be made in the image of God?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. We have, in a sense, the most important thing left to discuss.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: The fact that we have a spirit or soul. Let me quote from the theologian Charles Hodge. In his Systematic Theology he wrote, “The essential attributes of a spirit are reason, conscience, and will. A spirit is a rational, moral, and therefore also, a free agent. In making man after his own image, therefore, God endowed him with those attributes which belong to his own nature as a spirit. Man is thereby distinguished from all other inhabitants of this world, and raised immeasurably above them. He belongs to the same order of being as God Himself, and is therefore capable of communion with his Maker. This conformity of nature between man and God, is not only the distinguishing prerogative of humanity, so far as earthly creatures are concerned, but it is also the necessary condition of our capacity to know God, and therefore the foundation of our religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Genesis 2:7 where we read that “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a wonderful picture of the creation of man. It makes it clear that we have a material part, which came from the dust of the ground, and an immaterial part, that which makes us living beings.

Marc Roby: But there are differing views about the nature of man, even among Christians.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and that is what I want to take some time to consider next. Wayne Grudem does a good job of discussing this topic, which he calls the Essential Nature of Man, in Chapter 23 of his Systematic Theology.[3]

He points out that there have been three different views held by Christians over the years; monism, dichotomy and trichotomy. Monism is the belief that man is essentially made up of just one kind of substance. Dichotomy is the view that man is both body and soul, or spirit. In this view soul and spirit are assumed to be essentially synonymous. And finally, trichotomy is the view that man has a body, soul and spirit and these are three different, distinct things.

Marc Roby: It would seem that monism is the view that an atheist would have to take.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s true. If you have a materialist worldview, as an atheist must, then the physical is all there is and so our physical bodies are all there is to us, and that is monism. There is nothing separating us from animals, or plants, or even rocks, except the sheer complexity of how all the physical elements are put together.

Marc Roby: That has always struck me as really a very silly view.

Dr. Spencer: It strikes most people that way. Even people who do not describe themselves as religious, or spiritual, let alone Christian, do not accept the idea that there is nothing else to being a human being but the purely physical. But even if you ignore the spirit or soul, the sheer complexity of living beings is way too great to be the result of purely blind natural processes. As I said way back in Session 1, I find atheism to be intellectually untenable in part because of the extreme complexity of living organisms, whether animals or people.

It is simply impossible for me to believe that they can arise by any natural process, and the mathematics shows that the probabilities are so tiny that having trillions and trillions of universes with trillions and trillions of livable planets that are trillions and trillions of years old wouldn’t even make a noticeable dent in the probability of producing a living being by natural processes.

Marc Roby: And, even if you did create such a being, there is still the question of how you produce a self-aware, volitional being.

Dr. Spencer: That was another of my reasons for saying I think it is intellectually untenable to be an atheist. All physical laws are either purely deterministic, like the motions of billiard balls, or random. And no combination of randomness and determinism produces real volition. And yet, even atheistic philosophers and scientists have to admit that man appears to have the ability to make real choices; in other words, we have a free will.

Marc Roby: It would seem silly to deny such an obvious fact.

Dr. Spencer: Oh but they do deny it. Notice that I said they have to admit that man “appears” to have a free will. They simply agree that we must keep up the charade.

The late professor Marvin Minsky, a co-founder of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory, wrote that “Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only on these: A set of fixed, deterministic laws. [and] A purely random set of accidents.”[4] He goes on to explain that because this is so difficult for us to accept, “We imagine a third alternative … called ‘freedom of will’”.[5]

And he then explains, “No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will: that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. … We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it is false”.[6]

Marc Roby: Now that is strange. To be forced to maintain a belief that you know is false.

Dr. Spencer: I would say that it is a clear sign that your worldview has a serious problem. In this case, it is a clear sign that a materialistic worldview simply cannot account for free will. If we are truly just a very complex assemblage of chemicals all functioning under the laws of physics, then we have no free will. We make no real decisions. We are just atoms in motion and nothing more.

Marc Roby: That doesn’t strike me as a realistic possibility, and if it is true, then our having this conversation is truly amazing – not to mention completely pointless.

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And so I will not be looking at monism any further. But I would like to discuss dichotomy and trichotomy in the light of what the Bible tells us.

Marc Roby: I look forward to that, but I think that this is great place to end for today. So let me take this opportunity to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 97

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994

[4] Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind, Simon and Schuster, 1986, pg. 306

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg. 307

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Dr. Spencer, last time we showed that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God. What do you want to cover today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to go back to the topic of man being made male and female.

Marc Roby: We discussed that very briefly in Session 98 where you pointed out that since God is triune, man being made both male and female makes us better able to mirror his image.

Dr. Spencer: And I want to explore that further from the point of view God’s defined roles for men and women.

Marc Roby: Well, that should be interesting, our modern society’s ideas about the roles for men and women are very far from the biblical norm.

Dr. Spencer: They certainly are. There seem to be a lot of people who think there should be no difference between the roles of men and women. And many people seem to think that the only reason anyone could have for saying that there should be a difference is a desire to have men dominate women. But that is very far from the truth.

Men and women are different, not just in the obvious physical ways, but in emotional and intellectual ways too. There is a common, but completely wrong, misconception in our society that the biblical view of women is that they should be uneducated and kept busy entirely with cooking, cleaning and having and raising children.

Marc Roby: Yes, I’ve certainly heard people say things along those lines.

Dr. Spencer: But that view couldn’t be further from the truth, so I’d like to take a few minutes to dispel that myth. If you look at the very last chapter in the book of Proverbs, Chapter 31, there is a wonderful section in Verses 10 through 31 which, in modern Bibles, is usually entitled something like The Woman Who Fears the Lord.

Marc Roby: And, of course, we are told in Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”. [1]

Dr. Spencer: And true wisdom could be defined as the ability to apply right knowledge to make right decisions, which are decisions that honor and please God. So a woman who fears the Lord is going to be a woman who possesses right knowledge and knows how to apply that knowledge by making decisions that honor and please God.

The section in Proverbs 31 begins, in Verse 10, by exclaiming, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” And the fact that this verse refers to a wife does not mean that a woman who is unmarried is unimportant or less valuable, or less righteous, or unworthy of praise or anything like that. It simply reflects the fact that the normal situation for men and women is to be married.

Marc Roby: And there is certainly nothing wrong with being unmarried, the apostle Paul was. And he speaks about how unmarried people can focus on the Lord’s business in 1 Corinthians 7:34.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. The passage in Proverbs 31 goes on to say, in Verses 11 and 12, that “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” A woman who fears the Lord will be trustworthy – again we can say that is true whether she is married or not. But, if she is married, her husband can have full confidence in her and so can others. And she does good, being helpful, not harmful, to her husband and others.

The passage goes on to describe what would be considered domestic duties, but is also says, in Verse 16, that “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.” Which certainly represents a woman of noble character as being an able person capable of handling responsibility and making business decisions.

Marc Roby: And she is also capable of hard work, planting a vineyard is not easy! In the very next verse, Verse 17, we read that “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that clearly does speak about a strong and capable person, not someone who spends her time watching soap operas and gossiping with the neighbors, or sitting around fussing with her hair and fingernails. In Verse 18 we read that “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” Speaking of her trading again shows that she is a capable, intelligent and responsible person. And the fact that her lamp does not go out at night speaks of her diligence and hard work.

The passage also speaks of her helping the poor and watching over the needs of her family. In Verse 23 we read that “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

Marc Roby: And surely the implication is that she has something to do with that success.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Our society denigrates the contributions of a wife who doesn’t pursue her own career. But a proper, that is to say a biblical, view of a family is that it is a unit. A family needs a place to live, it needs food and clothing and so on. If you look at a traditional family, where the husband works for pay and the woman works primarily in the home, the work that the wife does is every bit as important. If the man had to take care of all of his own domestic affairs he would not be nearly as successful in his career. So, whatever success the man has in a traditional family is attributable to his wife as well as to himself.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there is nothing wrong with the woman working outside the home as well.

Dr. Spencer: No, there isn’t. But that is not her primary responsibility and, if there are children who are not yet in school, it is certainly best if she can keep such work to a minimum. There can obviously be times when a family needs more income than the husband alone can provide, but there is no doubt that it is better for the family as a whole if the wife doesn’t have to work outside the home too much while the children are very young. Which is also, typically, the time that a man would be in the early stages of his career and would need to put in more hours and would be less able to manage his own domestic affairs.

Marc Roby: And, while it is not politically correct to say this, women are typically better equipped than men to stay home with young children.

Dr. Spencer: We will, unfortunately, probably lose some listeners and make some enemies by saying that, but yes, women do, in general, have better temperaments for dealing with children. There are, of course, huge differences among women and among men, but the statement is so obviously true that it is a very bad sign of the pathological condition of our present society that to make the statement is at all problematic. And I must point out that we are not in any way saying that men are better than women. That kind of thinking demonstrates an extreme lack of respect for all of the women throughout history who have been excellent wives, mothers and housekeepers and a lack of appreciation for the importance and difficulty of that role in society.

Marc Roby: That’s a good point. To insist that women should be the same as men is to hold the traditional role of a housewife and mother in contempt.

Dr. Spencer: And it is damaging to the family, which is the core upon which all societies are built. If the family is destroyed, the society will be destroyed. And we are certainly seeing that in certain segments of our society today.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree. But to get back on track with the biblical view of a noble woman from Proverbs 31, I also like Verse 26, which says that “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Dr. Spencer: Being a stay-at-home mom is not all about cooking and cleaning and changing diapers. Raising children requires wisdom and an ability to instruct, and being a helper to her husband and making the many business decisions necessary to the daily operation of a home also requires wisdom.

Marc Roby: Of course the husband has a responsibility to meet as well. It wouldn’t be proper for the man to leave the child rearing to the wife alone or to abdicate his responsibility in making decisions.

Dr. Spencer: No, that would be completely unbiblical. But the main point I wanted to make from this passage in Proverbs is that the biblical idea of a noble woman is far different than the caricature that is often presented in our culture. A proper Christian woman is a capable, strong, intelligent, educated and hard-working person.

But, and here is where our modern society is opposed to the biblical norm, a proper Christian wife is under the authority of her husband.

Marc Roby: There you go again with that word authority.

Dr. Spencer: It is very important word. And remember that man was made male and female in the image and likeness of God. And if you look at the Trinity, you see authority there as well. Theologians distinguish between the ontological Trinity and the economic Trinity.

Marc Roby: I think we need to define those terms.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Ontology has to do with the essence of something. In their essence, the members of the Trinity are equal. We discussed the Doctrine of the Trinity at some length in Sessions 50 through 56 and I don’t want to go over that material again now, but let cite just one verse. In what is commonly called the Great Commission, Jesus commanded us, in Matthew 28:19, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

This verse clearly implies that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate persons, and yet equal. It also says, “in the name of”, using the singular for name, rather than saying “in the names of” as you might expect. The singular is used, of course, because there is only one God, who exists in three persons.

Marc Roby: And those three persons are ontologically equal. So that leaves us with needing to define what is meant by the economic Trinity, which of course has nothing at all to do with money.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t have anything to do with money at all. The word economy also refers to managing resources or other affairs, so the economic Trinity refers to the different roles taken by the persons of the godhead in relating to creation.[2] And in the economic Trinity there is a voluntary subordination of the second and third persons of the Trinity, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in terms of God’s interaction with his creation.

Marc Roby: I want to emphasize the word voluntary in what you just said. The members of the Trinity are equal, so the functional roles that they fulfill in relation to creation are taken voluntarily.

Dr. Spencer: I’m glad you pointed that out, it is a point that needs to be emphasized. We again discussed this idea at greater length when we covered the Trinity, but let me just cite Philippians 2:5-8, which say that “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

This passage clearly tells us that Jesus was God, but voluntarily took on the nature of a servant. He voluntarily became subject to God the Father.

Marc Roby: Which explains how Jesus could tell his disciples, as we read in John 14:28, that “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s exactly right. There are many places in the New Testament where Jesus’ subordination to the Father is obvious. That verse is one of the best, but we also read in John 15:10 that Christ said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” The subordination is again apparent since Jesus said that he obeyed the Father’s commands.

And the subordination of the Holy Spirit to both the Father and the Son is also clear because we are told that both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to us. In John 14:26 Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” But then in John 15:26 Jesus said, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”

Marc Roby: That is quite clear, both the Father and the Son are said to send the Holy Spirit. There is a voluntary submission of the Son to the Father and of the Holy Spirit to both the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: And because we are made in the image of God we should expect a similar situation to be the case in the relations between human beings. That is why authority is so important. It is ordained by God for our good. And all earthly authority is given by God. We have no authority innately, any authority that we have is delegated authority.

Marc Roby: We read in Romans 13:1-2 that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Dr. Spencer: And we shouldn’t think of authority as something bad. It is in fact very good. Authority is necessary in any organization or assembly.

Given that there are many people on this earth and that we do not always all agree on exactly what should be done and how it should be done, authority is absolutely essential. Without it, all we would have is anarchy. And, even more importantly, we are all creatures and owe our very existence to the God who made us, so he is our ultimate authority and he has shown us in the Trinity, and commanded in his word, that authority is good.

Marc Roby: And that authority exists in the family.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does. In 1 Corinthians 11:3 the apostle Paul wrote, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” This makes it very clear. The word “head” is being used to refer to authority. The head is the part of the body that commands all of the other parts. And Paul even references the economic Trinity in this verse. He says that the “head of Christ is God”, meaning God the Father.

The implication is clear. You could construct an argument from the greater to the lesser from this verse. If Christ, who is God, is under the authority of the Father, how much more should we, as mere creatures, be under authority. And God specifies the order. Man is under the authority of Christ and woman is under the authority of man.

Marc Roby: Of course, that doesn’t mean that every woman is under the authority of every man.

Dr. Spencer: No, it does not mean that at all. We need to look at the entire teaching of the Bible to properly understand this.

Marc Roby: And I think we’ll have to get into that next time because we are out of time for today. So, I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We hope to hear from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] See the short discussion in Session 28 and see John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 683 fn43

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine delegated authority in the church. Dr. Spencer, we finished last time with the topic of church discipline and made the case that, while unpleasant, it is a necessary function of a true church and it is for the benefit of God’s people. But, you said we still need to discuss the limits and abuses of church authority. What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: I think it is very important to establish that authority in the church is not absolute. We already noted that is true of authority in the family and the state as well, but it is important to make this point clear. The Word of God is the only absolute authority for a Christian. We owe absolute unquestioning obedience to the Word of God, but we do not owe absolute unquestioning obedience to any delegated authority; not in the home, the state or the church. If any of these authorities tell us to sin, we must respectfully decline.

Marc Roby: And yet, we established last time that the elders in the church do have authority to interpret and apply the Word of God to the people who are under them, so how does this work in practice?

Dr. Spencer: In practice we must be very careful. The elders do have the responsibility and authority to interpret and apply the Word of God, but each Christian also has a personal responsibility to know what the Word of God says so that we won’t follow heretical teaching or commands. We are commanded by Hebrews 13:17 to obey our leaders in the church and submit to their authority, but that command is null and void if they tell us to sin, as we learn from Acts 5:29.

Marc Roby: Now, telling us to sin is a fairly obvious extreme case, but what if they command something that the Bible does not give them warrant to command?

Dr. Spencer: We are treading on thin ice here, and I want to proceed very very carefully. By far the biggest danger is to undermine proper church authority. There are many things that are not in the Bible that are, nevertheless, within the scope of the proper use of delegated authority.

Marc Roby: Can you give me an example?

Dr. Spencer: Sure. Let me start with a few trivial ones. Just as a father clearly has the authority to decide what time his children need to go to bed, similarly, church leaders have authority to set the times for church meetings. They also have authority to decide a myriad of other things relating to the day-to-day operation of the church, although none of these are mentioned in the Bible.

Marc Roby: What about more important matters?

Dr. Spencer: We must distinguish here between commands and counsel. People in a church may get counsel on any number of issues and should, in general, obey that counsel. But counsel is not a command and it is not necessarily a sin to disregard it. The distinction between counsel and command is very important because church discipline shouldn’t be brought against people who don’t follow counsel. But, counsel is also not usually directive in specifics, it more often takes the form of helping the person properly frame the issues that should be considered in order to make a wise decision that is consistent with biblical values and commands.

With that said however, I certainly can imagine situations where a leader could overstep his proper authority. For example, if a leader actually commanded a member of his congregation to marry a particular person, or purchase a particular car, or give a large sum of money to the church, I would say he has no biblical authority to issue such a command even though none of those actions is, in itself, sinful.

Marc Roby: How would you define what commands are outside of the authority of an elder?

Dr. Spencer: That is a difficult question to answer. It makes me think of the old line from a judge ruling on a pornography case, when he said, “It’s hard to define what pornography is, but you know it when you see it.” Perhaps one way to get at this would be to say the elder should be able to give you a good biblical rationale for his command; if he can’t do that, then his command is inappropriate even if what he said may be good counsel.

Marc Roby: It’s easy to see how this can get complicated.

Dr. Spencer: It can in theory, but I think it is not so difficult in practice. If an elder were to give you a command that seemed inappropriate, you should take it to the council of elders. I find it very hard to believe that a group of godly men will approve an obviously inappropriate command. This is why Christians need to be very careful to find and join a good church in the first place. Cults are generally obvious and you can avoid them by being in God’s Word, filled with His Spirit and prayerfully seeking to know and do his will.

If you are in a good church that truly has the Bible as its ultimate authority, then all problems – whether between individual members or between a member and elder – can be dealt with by following biblical procedures. The church is like a family. Authority is to be used for the good of those who are under that authority. And the authority is to be used in love and obeyed in love. In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul presents us with a great metaphor for the church as the body of Christ.

Marc Roby: And we are all to function as a part of the body of Christ, not as completely independent individuals.

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. That is a key issue. Just as a husband and wife should never think of themselves apart from their union, so members of a church should never think of themselves apart from their local body of believers. The modern church takes the issue of membership way too lightly.

Marc Roby: In fact, many modern churches don’t even have membership, they just have regular attendees.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, and it is completely unbiblical and wrong. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul points out that a body needs eyes, ears, feet and hands. In Verse 27 he says “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” [1] And he talks about the different gifts God has given to people in the church. Earlier in that chapter he was making the point that all gifts come from the Spirit of God and, in Verse 7 he wrote that “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

The point is that we are to view ourselves as part of something greater, which is the body of Christ. Now the body of Christ has many different local congregations, but in each one the people are to view themselves as essential parts of that body and are to use their gifts, whatever they may be, for the common good. We need each other and we need to be involved in each other’s lives. In Verse 26 of that chapter Paul says that “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” We are not simply individuals who come together on Sunday to worship God. We are part of the body of Christ, working together to build each other up, to honor God and to be his witnesses here on earth. So, church membership is very important and should be taken very seriously.

Marc Roby: It is interesting to note that if we look at churches 150 years ago, most of them had membership covenants and the elders carefully examined people who wanted to become members.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And if you had to move from one place to another and it was too far away to keep attending the same church, your home church stayed in contact with you and exercised spiritual oversight until you found a new church and transferred your membership.

Marc Roby: And the new church would ask for a letter of transfer from your previous church indicating that you are a member in good standing.

Dr. Spencer: Yes they would. This all sounds very intrusive and over-the-top to most people today, especially people in the western world, even if they profess to be Christians. But the reality is that this kind of serious accountability is extremely beneficial. I need help to maintain a serious walk with God. I should be grateful for others taking enough interest in me to help me by confronting me if my life gets out of line in some way. That kind of help is simply a manifestation of love, not an abuse of authority.

Marc Roby: Similar to the love parents show for their children when they carefully monitor their activities, friends and so on.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We wouldn’t want to push that analogy too far obviously, since we are talking about adults. But the Bible makes it clear that we never outgrow our need for pastoral care and counseling. Accountability is not just good, but essential to proper Christian living.

Marc Roby: Perhaps a concrete example would be good.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. Suppose my elder knows that I don’t make a lot of money, so just paying my rent, putting food on the table and clothing my family takes most of what I earn. Which, by the way, is something my elder should know. And then he sees me driving a very expensive new car. If he loves me, he should be, quite reasonably, concerned. And it would be perfectly reasonable of him to ask how much the car cost and how I’m paying for it.

Now, if I’ve received an inheritance that he didn’t know about or something else had changed my financial situation, then perhaps he should let it drop. But, if I have put myself in debt and made an already difficult financial situation much worse, it would be appropriate for him to rebuke me and point out that the purchase was not at all wise stewardship of the resources God has given to me, nor was it wise leadership in my family, and the Bible says that we should not be in debt.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that suggestion is not going to sit well with most modern Christians.

Dr. Spencer: No it isn’t, because we live in a time and place where personal autonomy is prized above almost everything else. And I’m not suggesting that serious church discipline would be brought against me in such a situation, but it is true love to help me see that I made a selfish, unwise and ungodly decision that was not in the best interests of my family. My elder would definitely not be abusing his authority by speaking to me.

Marc Roby: Alright, we have established that spiritual oversight is a good thing, not an abuse of authority, and that churches, and their members, should take church membership seriously. What else needs to be said?

Dr. Spencer: I think we should repeat and emphasize something we briefly mentioned last time. The most common abuse of authority in the church, by far, is in not exercising any authority. It is the “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality that many churches have. This is done in the name of personal Christian freedom of course. But the reality is, that while it makes life much easier for the leaders of the church, that comes at the terrible expense of the people in the church, who are not given the help they need to walk in holiness with God.

In the example I gave a moment ago about an elder confronting me over purchasing a car I can’t afford, it would be an abuse of authority for him to not say something. It would be like a parent seeing their child doing something potentially dangerous and not caring enough to do something about it. We have laws that protect our children from that kind of negligence.

Marc Roby: And we should point out that real harm results when people don’t strive for personal holiness.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. Returning to our example again, if I am living in debt, I am not honoring and obeying God, so he is not going to bless me and my family. And that may manifest in different ways, but as one example, if a couple is in debt, that is frequently a source of serious friction. Such friction then causes problems in the marriage. And, even if there aren’t open fights between the husband and the wife, the children pick up on all the small signals of discord, so the children are adversely affected as well. If the church steps in and helps this couple deal with the problem, their entire family benefits. That isn’t abuse, that’s love.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there are also interpersonal problems not just in families, but also in the church at large, which can be between members, or an individual member and an elder, and these often lead to people leaving a church, or even, in extreme cases, to splits in a church.

Dr. Spencer: That is a common problem. If I get offended by someone in church, don’t deal with it, and let that problem fester and grow, I am harming the whole body. If I then leave the church because of this issue, rather than dealing with it biblically, I am sinning against that church and hurting every other member of that local body.

That is also why I need to be exceedingly careful if I think a delegated authority in the church has overstepped his bounds in some way. I can’t simply get up and walk out, I need to deal with the problem biblically. An analogy to marriage is appropriate. Our society says that you can dissolve a marriage for virtually any reason, usually stated as “irreconcilable differences”. But, if we are talking about born-again people, there are no irreconcilable differences; every problem can be dealt with in Christ, not only in a marriage, but in the church. If we all lived that way, we would do away with an awful lot of people moving from one church to another, and churches splitting, all of which is a disgrace to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Marc Roby: But, of course, there are rare situations where it would be appropriate to leave a church.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly are, but I wanted to go through the importance of personal commitment to the local church and to working out problems that arise biblically first. And I want to emphasize that situations where it would be appropriate to leave a church are extremely rare. So, in the first place a Christian has to be very serious about picking a church to join—it must be a church that displays the three marks of a proper church—the preaching of the word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the biblical exercise of discipline. The leadership of such a church will be committed to the Bible as the ultimate authority, and every problem that arises can be dealt with in a God-honoring way. Then, even if one elder should go bad in some way, the others will step in and take care of it.

But, with that said, let me give one concrete example of a so-called church that you should absolutely get away from. Some of our listeners may remember Jim Jones. He was the founder of the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ in Indiana in 1955. At one point he is reported to have thrown his Bible on the floor and yelled at the people, “Too many people are looking at this instead of looking at me!”[2]

Let me tell you plainly, at that point, if not well before, the people should have gotten up and walked out; in fact, they should have run out. That was not a true church, it was a synagogue of Satan. And it did not end well, it ended with a mass murder and suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978.

Marc Roby: I suppose David Koresh would be another extreme example.

Dr. Spencer: Of course. He died, along with 79 others, at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas in 1993 when the buildings caught fire as the FBI was moving in on them. I don’t want to waste much time with his story, but his original name was not David Koresh. He had it legally changed in 1990.[3] He chose Koresh because that is the biblical name of King Cyrus, whom we mentioned in Session 20 was the only non-Jew ever said to be called “Yahweh’s anointed” in the Bible.[4] Suffice it to say that anytime someone has these kinds of delusions of grandeur and uses his position to glorify himself and obtain sexual favors as Koresh did, or any other kind of personal gain, that person is not a God-called minister of the gospel and you should run away.

Marc Roby: Jones and Koresh are both, as you noted, extreme examples. What about more common situations?

Dr. Spencer: Well, there are many churches out there that are false, and you should certainly leave if the church steadfastly refuses to preach and practice the true gospel. If, however, you belong to a church that does preach the Bible as the ultimate authority you should take your commitment very seriously. If you think there is a problem in the church, you need to deal with it biblically as we discussed earlier.

Marc Roby: OK, but what if the elders do not respond biblically?

Dr. Spencer: If you think the elders themselves are in some way violating Scripture, you have a duty to tell them and be very specific. If they disagree with you, you should listen to what they say very carefully and pray seriously about the issue, I would say with fasting – and remember that we all have deceitful hearts as we are told in Jeremiah 17:9.

If however, after serious prayer and consideration, you are certain that the church is simply unbiblical and unwilling to reform, then you would be duty-bound to leave. But, and I cannot possibly emphasize this point enough, you will be held accountable by God on the Day of Judgement for that decision. And if you leave without proper warrant, that is a sin against God and his church. So, you had better be absolutely certain that you are right. Churches certainly can and do go bad, there are examples of that, but it takes time, and it usually follows a change in leadership.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, as individual members of a church, all Christians are, ultimately, personally responsible before God. And, therefore, we have a responsibility to know the Word of God so that we can detect unbiblical teaching or practice.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. If you believe heresy, it is not going to help you on the last day to tell God that you were just believing what some so-called minister was telling you. You have God’s Word, so you have no excuse. But, this is an extremely serious issue. We are all prone to self-deception and self-justification, and we need to be exceedingly careful. You can’t leave a church because the elders didn’t agree to show some movie you thought would be good, or because the youth group doesn’t provide some opportunity you think your children should have, or because the pastor said something you thought was a bit too harsh from the pulpit, or any of a myriad of other reasons people convince themselves are serious issues.

Marc Roby: As you said, church membership is a little bit like marriage, you are making a serious commitment that you may not unilaterally break for just any reason.

Dr. Spencer: That’s absolutely right. God values unity in his church very highly. And he has given us his way of dealing with the problems that are guaranteed to come up. But, unity cannot be purchased at the expense of holiness, so the church must also exercise discipline, which we have noted is for the good of the members as well as the honor of Christ. As members of a church, we need to come under and support the church’s discipline. And, in the extremely rare situation where delegated authority is truly abused, we need to work hard to solve the problem biblically. Only if and when we are completely convinced that the church is operating unbiblically and is unwilling to change are we free to leave; and we will be held accountable by God for that decision, so we had better be very certain we are right.

Marc Roby: I think we have we are finished with this topic, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] See https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jim_Jones

[3] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Koresh

[4] Lisbeth S. Fried, Cyrus the Messiah, Bible Review 19:5, October 2003

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to look at delegated authority in the church and, more specifically, with the unpleasant and difficult topic of church discipline. Dr. Spencer, we closed last time by mentioning the passage in Matthew 18:15-20. Let me read Verses 15-17 from that passage to begin our discussion. This entire passage is spoken by Christ. He said, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: There are a couple of very important principles that we learn from this passage. First, notice that my first response to a brother sinning against me is to talk to him by myself. There is no need to involve others if the issue is just between the two of us. If he responds favorably, repents and asks forgiveness, then the issue is over and there is no need to do anything more.

But, if he does not respond, I have no freedom to just drop the matter. I should now involve others, it isn’t stated, but elders would probably be the best choice here, and then I go see him again. If there is still no favorable response, then it is time to take the matter to the church. Now, that does not mean that I make some kind of public announcement or that I go around behind the person’s back telling everyone what he did. But, it does mean that the authority to adjudicate the matter is invested in the church as a whole. The elders however, are to function as representatives of the church as John Murray argues in Chapter 27 of Volume Two of his Collected Works, which is on The Government of the Church. He writes, “The church in this case need not be the whole congregation. According to the Old Testament pattern the whole congregation is represented as present and acting when the elders act on its behalf.”[2]

Marc Roby: Of course, having the elders deal with an issue also keeps matters confidential as far as possible, which goes along with the principle represented in the beginning of the passage, that I should deal with my brother by myself if possible.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Even if the elders have to get involved, it is usually best to keep sin as private as possible. But, to get back to the authority of the church, notice that at the end of this passage Christ said that if the person who has sinned “refuses to listen even to the church”, then you are to “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector”; in other words, you are to put him out of fellowship with the church body.

Marc Roby: We have an example of that kind of authority being used in the Corinthian church.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul wrote to the congregation about a man who was committing serious sexual immorality and, in Verses 4 and 5 he told them, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (ESV)

Marc Roby: The destruction of the flesh does not sound pleasant.

Dr. Spencer: No, but the purpose of excommunication is very good indeed. It is “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” That is always the hope when church discipline is brought against someone. Our hope and prayer is not that the person will experience trouble, but that the trouble they experience will drive them to repentance and restoration.

Marc Roby: And, in this particular example, that is what happened, as we learn in 2 Corinthians.

Dr. Spencer: True, but we can’t know for sure that it will happen. And, whether it does or not, the church is called by God to exercise discipline. Which, returning to the topic at hand, is a clear manifestation of the authority delegated to the church. In our day and age people don’t think much of church discipline, but it is far more serious than the power of the sword wielded by the state.

Marc Roby: Now wait a minute. The state has the power, ultimately, to put somebody to death. And you’re saying that the church’s power is greater?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” When the church properly exercises the authority given to it, the judgments rendered by the church mirror those rendered in heaven. Let’s go back to Matthew 18 and read the rest of the passage. You read Verses 15-17 before, but in 18-20 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Jesus is clearly speaking here about judgments made by an assembly of Christians, and to say that they are gathered in his name and he is present implies that they are acting in accord with his Word. The issue of binding and loosing is very serious. John Murray explains that this passage in Matthew 18 must be connected with John 20:23, where the resurrected Christ told his disciples “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” With respect to this verse Murray wrote that “No exercise of the power of the keys, no act of binding and loosing in terms of Matt. 16:18, 19, could be more basic or representative than the remission or non-remission of sins.”[3]

Marc Roby: I think we need to explain that a little bit more. Murray is certainly not saying that the church can refuse forgiveness to someone.

Dr. Spencer: That depends. If the person has repented and asked for forgiveness, then of course we are commanded to forgive. But, if the church has confronted someone with terrible sin, as the church in Corinth did, and has properly exercised church discipline in excommunicating that person, then that person’s sins are not forgiven unless and until such time as the person is brought to real repentance. And if that does not happen, then that person will go to hell in the final judgment.

So, let me be completely clear that the elders in a given church absolutely do not have the power to send someone to hell, or to save someone. That power belongs to God alone. But, when the elders in the church properly exercise church discipline, they are implementing on earth the sentence already carried out in heaven. And that is a very serious matter indeed. In fact, the Greek construction in Matthew 18:18, rather than saying “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” as our NIV renders it, would more accurately be translated by saying “whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” In other words, the actions of the church are simply representative of what God has already done.

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good to mention an example or two. What kinds of things come up that require church discipline?

Dr. Spencer: Well, any true church is a mixture of people who are truly born again and people who are not. And even born-again people are still sinners, so just about everything you can think of shows up in the church. But, one of the most common things to occur is sexual sin, which is often mixed with other sins. Let me give a concrete example.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: This example is based on real experience, although I’m mixing details from a few different events so that no one person or situation can be identified. Our town, like many college towns, has some restaurants in town that have bars associated with them and they have in the past had trivia game nights. Now, if a group of young men and woman get together and go have some nachos, and maybe a glass of beer or wine and play trivia for an hour, that is certainly not a sin. But suppose that one of the young men starts to have a few more beers, and maybe something stronger, and ends up getting drunk and then even leaving the bar with different young women he meets there. Further suppose that one or more of his friends confronts him with this sin, but he tells them it’s no big deal, he isn’t really getting drunk and it isn’t any of their business what he does with the young women they have seen him with.

Marc Roby: That sounds like a serious problem. I suppose the friends would then need to bring this up with the elders.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what should happen. Most modern churches however, operate with a sort of unstated “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. They don’t want to know about this kind of behavior because then they might feel obligated to do something, and they don’t have the structure or the fortitude to deal with it properly. What ought to happen though, is that the elders should come to that young man – I’m assuming here that he is a member of the church – and tell him that his life is out of order and he needs to change. If he then refuses even when the leaders explain why his behavior is a disgrace to Christ and his church, he must be disciplined. Ultimately, by being excommunicated from the church.

Marc Roby: Which means, as Paul wrote, that he has been handed over to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh”.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what it means. And, as we noted before, the hope is that he will find himself miserable and will be brought to repentance and be fully restored to fellowship and to walking with God. Just look at Psalm 51, where King David pours out his soul after being confronted by the prophet Nathan and convicted of his sin in committing adultery and murder. True godly repentance is a wonderful thing, and brings real restoration with God and with his people. Unfortunately, there are so many false churches in this day and age, that church discipline is often undermined. Going back to the example of the young man I just mentioned, if he can go down the street, start attending a different church and be welcomed with open arms, then the discipline is not as effective as it should be.

Marc Roby: In a situation like that it is nice to know that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted.

Dr. Spencer: I couldn’t agree more. If God wants to bring that young man to repentance, he will. But, there is still real harm that results. The young man may suffer more than would otherwise have been necessary, and other people’s lives may be adversely affected as well. When the church doesn’t function the way God has commanded it to function, there is a price to pay. Sin always has consequences.

Marc Roby: And there is always the temptation for church leaders to take the easy road.

Dr. Spencer: There certainly is. The proper use of authority takes hard work and it leads to unpleasant circumstances. For example, the parents of the young man in the example we just gave may become very unhappy with the church too, thinking that the discipline was too harsh in some way. So, now you have another problem to deal with. And these people may go and bad-mouth the church to others, causing even more harm. These things have a way of snowballing. And church leaders can avoid many of these headaches by simply not exercising any real authority or discipline.

Marc Roby: But, they will still have to give an answer to God.

Dr. Spencer: They cannot escape that. But, in the meantime, the church will suffer. When authority is not exercised, that is an abuse every bit as real as when someone misuses authority, and frankly, failure to exercise biblical authority is much more common. But, unfortunately, people don’t really see it that way, so the temptation to not exercise authority is very strong.

Marc Roby: And recently that temptation caught up with a well-known evangelical leader.

Dr. Spencer: I’m very sorry to have to say that it did. In our last podcast we quoted, approvingly, from John MacArthur’s commentary on Hebrews 13:17. He did a good job of explaining the delegated authority given to pastors in the church. He wrote that commentary in 1983. But, regrettably, some recent teaching of his on the subject is the exact opposite. On August 29, 2017, the publishing arm of his ministry, Grace to You, published a YouTube video[4] of him answering the question, “How much authority does a pastor have in the lives of his congregants?” His answer is extremely disappointing, and dangerous.

He answered, and I quote, “None. No authority. I have no authority in this church, personally. My experience doesn’t give me any authority. My knowledge doesn’t give me any authority. My education doesn’t give me any authority. I have no authority. My position doesn’t give me any authority. My title doesn’t give me any authority. That’s why I don’t like titles. Only the Word of God has authority.”

Marc Roby: Now, that is an amazing statement. He says the Word of God has authority, but he completely undercuts that authority by then contradicting what the Word says about the delegated authority of church leaders, such as himself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. His answer is contradictory. If the Word of God has authority, then it has authority to say that he, as the senior pastor in his church, has authority. I also think it is sad that he is sending out this video precisely because he has a position of authority. So, paradoxically, he is making an authoritative statement that he has no authority.

But, I don’t want to make light of this in any way because it is a seriously dangerous teaching and it absolutely contradicts the Word of God and the bulk of John MacArthur’s own teaching on the Word of God. If this teaching is followed by people, it can bring great harm to God’s church by causing people to despise perfectly proper church discipline. I won’t speculate on why he has changed his tune, but this is an example of just how strong the temptation can be to compromise on the Word of God. And it shows how thankful people should be if they are in a church where their leaders stand firmly on the Word of God and use their authority properly.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to note that you did try to bring this issue up with MacArthur before we decided to say anything about it on the podcast.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I did. I wanted to follow the procedure we have seen from Matthew 18. So, I wrote a letter to John MacArthur, and sent it by registered mail with return receipt requested so that I would know for sure he got it and so that it might come to him with a flag indicating it was more important than just everyday correspondence.

Marc Roby: And did he respond to that letter?

Dr. Spencer: Not in any way. I also sent a letter to Phil Johnson, who is the executive director of Grace to You, and I sent a second letter to MacArthur himself. I have not received any response from either of them. It is interesting to note however, that if you go to the website for MacArthur’s church, under the headings “About/Distinctives/What we Teach/The Church”, you find the following statement: “We teach that these leaders lead or rule as servants of Christ (1 Timothy 5:17-22) and have His authority in directing the church. The congregation is to submit to their leadership (Hebrews 13:7, 17).”[5] So, at least on paper his church still supports the authority of church leaders, even though he completely denounces that authority in his most recent public teaching.

Marc Roby: We can only hope that people will pay more attention to his statement that the Word of God has authority and will reject his statements that contradict the Word of God. Do you have anything more to say on this topic for now?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. We noted in Session 30 that it should be extremely rare for a husband to overrule a wife, and the same thing can be said about church authority. Although any real Christian is corrected and challenged by the Word of God and their leaders on a regular basis, it should be extremely rare for the leaders of the church to have to bring a serious word of correction or rebuke. I would say that the majority of the time that leaders have to deal with serious problems in the church it is because the people aren’t truly born again. So, if you are a born-again Christian, you have a desire to know and do the will of God, and even though you may initially be bothered by something a leader says to you, when you go home and pray about it and look into it, you should find yourself in agreement. I’m assuming, of course, that the leader is properly interpreting and applying the Word of God.

Marc Roby: That leads nicely into a question I would like to ask you. We have argued that the authority of church leaders includes the authority to interpret and apply the Word of God, so what is the responsibility of an individual member of the church in that regard?

Dr. Spencer: We each have a very serious responsibility. We are to know the Word of God so that we can recognize when someone is teaching heresy. That is why all true God-called ministers of the gospel will tell their congregations, as our Pastor does, to read and study the Word of God seriously and to know it for themselves. And they will stick to those things that are clear in the Word when it comes to personal counsel.

Marc Roby: I have one more question I’d like to ask. Why is church discipline so important for the health of the church?

Dr. Spencer: That’s a very important question. We’ve already mentioned that discipline is always meant to be redemptive, that is to bring about the repentance and restoration of the sinner. But, in addition, it protects God’s glory. The church is to represent God to the world and when the church has open sin in it, it is a disgrace to Christ our Lord, the head of the church. It also impacts the church’s witness. As just one example, when the divorce rate in the church is about the same as the rest of society, as is true in most evangelical churches today, what kind of witness is that? Why would anyone be interested in such a powerless Christianity as that? Also, when sin is not dealt with it tends to fester and grow and infect other members of the church. Sin is never stagnant.

Marc Roby: Well, are we finished with this topic?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. We need to discuss the limits and abuses of delegated authority in the church.

Marc Roby: Very well, but we’re out of time for today, so we’ll have to take this up in our next session. I’d like to remind our listeners to send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 339

[3] Ibid, pg 338

[4] Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X65vspiZLLA&feature=youtu.be

[5] https://www.gracechurch.org/about/distinctives/what-we-teach

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to look at delegated authority in the church. Dr. Spencer, perhaps I should briefly summarize what we covered last time since we are continuing with the exact same topic?

Dr. Spencer: That would be a good idea.

Marc Roby: Alright. Last time we noted that the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 commanded people in the church to avoid things that are not, in themselves, unlawful. But, they were doing that to avoid causing weaker brothers to stumble and sin, which is completely consistent with the biblical command to love our brothers as ourselves and, in fact, is explicitly commanded in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 8:9, which we read last time, and in Romans 14:20, where Paul says “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.” [1] And so, we established that elders have authority to interpret and apply the Word of God to the lives of the people who are in their congregations. We also noted that Paul told Timothy to stay in Ephesus and to command those over whom he had been appointed as an elder.

Dr. Spencer: That is a good summary. And let’s begin today by giving another example having to do with Timothy. Paul wrote to instruct Timothy about how to deal with rich people in the church, who have a tendency to be arrogant because of their wealth, and in 1 Timothy 6:18 he said, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

Marc Roby: Certainly wealth can be a trap; people are more tempted to trust in themselves and this world when they have no material needs.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. But, for our present purposes, the important point is that Paul tells this appointed church leader Timothy to command people to do things, which pre-supposes that Timothy had the God-given authority to do so.

We could give more examples as well. Paul wrote to Titus, in Titus 2:15, that he should “encourage and rebuke with all authority.” And we must again point out that Titus was not an apostle.

And this isn’t just the apostle Paul’s idea either. Peter also wrote about the authority of elders and how it is to be properly used. In 1 Peter 5:1-4 he wrote “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

We see two things in this passage that are relevant to our present discussion. First, Peter was writing to elders who had been appointed in the churches as Paul had commanded Titus to do in Titus 1:5 and as we see in Acts14:23 was common practice in the New Testament church. God’s church is an orderly place and there is delegated authority for the good of the church. Second, an elder is a shepherd who is to lead those under his care.

Marc Roby: It’s hard to imagine how you are to shepherd if you have no authority.

Dr. Spencer: I would say it is impossible. God clearly delegates authority to elders to interpret and apply the Word of God to those who are under them. The leader is, of course, not to lord it over those under him and he is to be an example to them. But we must not limit him to just being an example and speaking in general terms from the pulpit. As the other verses we have looked at make clear, and we could cite many more as well, he has authority to speak directly into their lives individually.

Marc Roby: That goes against the tide of our times, which emphasizes being a “servant leader”.

Dr. Spencer: It goes against that tide because that tide is unbiblical. Now, of course, if the phrase “servant leader” were interpreted biblically, it would be fine. Christ said in Matthew 20:28 that he “did not come to be served, but to serve”, and yet he also told us in the great commission, in Matthew 28:19-20 that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” So, his serving did not preclude his commanding and expecting obedience. We are also told in Philippians 2:10-11 that “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So, Christ’s serving also did not preclude his being given all honor and glory. Therefore, if the phrase “servant leader” is interpreted biblically, it does not preclude authority and honor in any way.

Marc Roby: But, that is not what is usually meant by that phrase in the modern church.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. It is usually taken to mean that the leader has no authority whatsoever, which is unbiblical. The passage I read from 1 Peter 5 a couple of minutes ago did say that a shepherd should be “eager to serve”, and certainly in a sense a leader is a servant. He is serving the people under him by leading them for their good as God has called him to do. But that includes rebuking, correcting and training. These are the same purposes we see the Scripture itself serves in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, where Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

We can also look at Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church. In 1 Thessalonians 4:2 he wrote, “you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” That is a pretty clear and bold statement about delegated authority. And, after reminding them of some of the instructions he had given, he wrote, in Verse 8, that “he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself told us much the same thing in John 13:20, where he said, “I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” So, to receive a Word brought to you by a God-called minister of the gospel is to receive Jesus Christ himself, and the Father.

Dr. Spencer: We could continue to pile up example after example. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Paul wrote, “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” We again see that there are leaders who are “over” the people and who “admonish” them.

Marc Roby: It’s pretty hard to escape the clear teaching of the New Testament that God rules his church through delegated authorities. And we haven’t yet cited the most obvious verse in the New Testament. In Hebrews 13:17 we are told to “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic verse on this subject. And, in context, this verse is clearly speaking about the authority of church leaders. I don’t know how the writer could have been any clearer than this. We are to submit to their authority, and we are to obey them. That should lay to rest any silly notions that the authority of church leaders consists in simply preaching the Word of God in a general way from the pulpit.

Marc Roby: It is also interesting how that passage concludes. It says that we should “Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very interesting, and important, conclusion. The writer puts it in a negative way, that if you don’t obey it will be “of no advantage to you.” But, we can restate that in a positive way and say that if we obey our church leaders it will be to our advantage! Remember that a leader is to use his authority for the good of those under him. If he is doing that properly, it logically follows that obedience will bring blessing.

Marc Roby: But that doesn’t always mean that I will initially be in agreement with the command.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, one can reasonably argue that if I obey a command I agree with, that isn’t really obedience, it is simply agreement. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with agreement, so long as we are agreeing with God’s will, but true obedience is displayed when I obey a command I do not, at least initially, feel like obeying.

Marc Roby: That’s a good point. And it certainly helps to remember that God will bless us if we obey.

Dr. Spencer: That does help a lot. As always, we are ultimately trusting in God. We are trusting that he can use fallible men to speak to us from his word. Of course, since Christians are continually being sanctified and changed more and more into the likeness of Christ, if we obey a proper command even though we may initially disagree with it, we will usually find that our own attitude is changed, perhaps gradually, but nonetheless changed so that we eventually are in agreement with the command.

Marc Roby: We just had a testimony in our church that provides a marvelous example of the blessing that comes from this obedience.

Dr. Spencer: Your right. There is a relatively young couple in our church who came to faith a few years ago and, shortly after coming to faith, realized that their financial situation was not right. They were in a significant amount of debt. So, they came to the elders and asked for counsel. We don’t need to go into all the details, but suffice it to say that some of the counsel was pretty difficult because their situation was severe. But, they embraced that counsel and have been greatly blessed. What appeared to be an impossible situation has been reversed, to God’s great glory and their great peace and freedom. And their elder also testified that their obedience made his life a joy – which is precisely what is supposed to happen as we just read from Hebrews 13:17.

Marc Roby: I think that John MacArthur did a good job of explaining the importance of that verse, Hebrews 13:17, in his commentary on the book of Hebrews. He wrote, “God mediates his earthly rule, secular and spiritual, through various men. Even pagan rulers who have no use for God are nevertheless used by Him … But, for believers, God’s most important rule is through Spirit-controlled men. Someday God will rule all the earth through His Son, the King of kings, but in the meanwhile He rules His church through godly men. Submission to these men, therefore, is submission to God.”[2]

Dr. Spencer: That is a clear statement about God’s rule in his church. And MacArthur went on in that section to add that “The leaders of the church are called elders (presbyters) or overseers (bishops), the titles being interchangeable.  These mature men are ordered by the Spirit of God to rule over His church on earth until Christ returns.” [3] So, independent of the specific title given to the leaders in the church, they are called to rule.

And MacArthur usefully goes even further. He continues, “In many churches today, the congregation rules the leaders. This sort of government is foreign to the New Testament. Church leaders are not to be tyrants, because they do not rule for themselves but for God. But the command in unqualified: Obey your leaders, and submit to them. It is the right of such men, under God and in meekness and humility, to determine the direction of the church, to preside over it, to teach the word in it, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort (Titus 2:15). They are to ‘shepherd the flock of God …’. [and] Just as church leaders are to rule in love and humility, those under their leadership are to submit in love and humility.”[4]

Marc Roby: The idea that we should “submit in love and humility” is certainly foreign to most in the modern church.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And that is a shame because we forfeit some of the blessings that God has in store for us when we don’t come under his rule. The example I gave of the couple in our church getting out of significant debt is a clear example of the blessing that follows obedience.

Marc Roby: When we spoke about the authority of the state, we noted that the state was given the power of the sword to back it up, and when we spoke about family structure we noted that parents are given the power of the rod. What is the power given to the church?

Dr. Spencer: The most frightening of all powers, the keys to the kingdom.

Marc Roby: Which, I dare say, most modern churches would say refers only to the preaching of the gospel.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that. Now, we must agree that the preaching of the gospel is included. When we present the gospel, if someone responds in faith, he or she is saved and becomes a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. But, if he rejects the gospel, he remains in his sins and is outside the kingdom. So, the preaching of the gospel is certainly part of what is meant by the keys to the kingdom.

But, it is not all that is meant. There is also a need for discipline in the church. We don’t have time now to go into this in detail, but there are several passages that are important to take note of. In Matthew 18:15-20 we are given instructions for how to deal with professing Christians who sin against us, and the final step is for the church to get involved in adjudicating the case and, if necessary, putting someone out of fellowship.

Marc Roby: I think we are getting into a very important discussion, which we don’t have time to complete now, so perhaps this would be a good place to end for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Hebrews, Moody Press, 1983, pg. 444

[3] Ibid, pg 445

[4] Ibid, pg 445

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to look at delegated authority. We have already examined delegated authority in the state and in the home. Dr. Spencer, is there anything else you want to say about those topics before we move on to discuss delegated authority in the church?

Dr. Spencer: There is. In looking over our last session I realized that there is a point I should have emphasized even more.

Marc Roby: What point is that?

Dr. Spencer: It has to do with the authority of a husband. The husband is clearly called to be the head of the family, and even though I noted that he is to rule for the good of those who are under him and must not be abusive in any way, I think I need to further emphasize how extremely rare it should be for a husband to overrule his wife. If a marriage is working properly, it should be possible to arrive at most, if not all, decisions jointly.  The Holy Spirit speaks to and through our wives and it is a dangerous thing to proceed on a course of action with which your wife does not agree. I’m not saying it will never happen, but it certainly should be extremely rare.

If a husband and wife find themselves disagreeing about the proper course of action, they should pray together about it, ask God to reveal his will to them, and then talk it over. If this is done and both of them are sincerely seeking to know God’s will, they will almost always be able to reach an agreement as to what that will is. And, in fact, unless there is some situation that absolutely requires action within a certain time frame, I would say that you should never do something if your wife disagrees. And, if you do need to act quickly for some reason, then the two of you should probably meet with the elders in your church to help determine God’s will.

Marc Roby: Can you give an example of the type of thing you are talking about?

Dr. Spencer: Sure. Suppose you and your wife have been discussing the possibility of buying a smaller home. Maybe your children have all grown and you want to downsize. So, the two of you go out and look at homes and you see one that you’re completely confident would be the right one to buy and you want to make an offer on it, but your wife doesn’t agree. You might be tempted to tell yourself that a decision has to be made quickly or someone else will get the house, but in fact, you should not move without your wife’s agreement. God may be speaking through her and it would be dangerous to overrule her. It may be true that you will lose that particular house, but there will be others. It’s not a situation that absolutely requires you to act, and so acting when your wife disagrees would not be wise or godly leadership.

Marc Roby: We must remember that God does speak through our wives.

Dr. Spencer: And he can speak through an unbelieving boss or acquaintance, or even through our children as well. We need to be listening for God all the time, and he has given us the Bible as the standard by which we are to test everything we hear. If our wife tells us to curse God and die, as Job’s wife did, then we should rebuke her rather than obeying her. But, there are things, like the example I just gave, where the Bible is silent. It says nothing about purchasing or not purchasing a particular house. Although it says much about the various motives you might have for wanting one house over another.

I should also point out that this goes the other way too. A wife should never act on something unless her husband is in agreement.

Marc Roby: OK. Are we ready to move on and discuss delegated authority in the church?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think we are. And it is a very important topic. We live in a time and a culture in which authority in general is despised, as we’ve noted several times. And there is no sphere of activity in which it is more despised than the church. Most people see the need for the state to have some authority, and most people see the need for parents to have authority. And, even though the authority of a husband over a wife is not generally acknowledged, I would say that the authority of the church is acknowledged less often, even among professing Christians.

Marc Roby: I’m sorry to say that, based on what I have observed, I have to agree.

Dr. Spencer: It is common in modern churches to say that only the Word of God has authority and, thereby, to limit the authority of a pastor or elder to simply presenting the Word of God from the pulpit in a general way and then leaving it up to everyone in the congregation to apply it to their own lives. But, that is not what we see in the Bible, and it is not what is best for Christians. We have many examples in the New Testament, as well as the Old, where church leaders use their authority to give very specific counsel to people in the church.

Marc Roby: Do you have a particular example that you’d like to look at?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s look at the example in Acts 15.

Marc Roby: Alright. Let me set the stage for our discussion by reading Acts 15:1-2, which tell us about the issue that was dealt with. We read that “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: This idea that Gentile believers should first become converts to Judaism by being circumcised and obeying the ceremonial laws was common in the early church. The first thing we should notice in this passage is that the believers in Antioch recognized the authority of the apostles and elders. It is especially important to notice that it was not just the apostles. Elders in the church have authority too, and that continues to this day even though we no longer have any of the apostles with us.

When we go on and read the rest of the chapter we learn a great deal. The elders and apostles met together and each side was allowed to present its case in an open discussion to determine God’s will. Peter presented evidence based on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Gentile believers in Caesarea, with whom he had shared the gospel, and Paul and Barnabas also shared about the signs and wonders that God had performed among the Gentiles through them.

Marc Roby: And then James, the Lord’s brother, spoke last.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. He appears to have been the head of the church in Jerusalem, even though he was not an apostle. In any event, he summarizes what has been said and points out that what Peter and Paul said is in agreement with the Scriptures. In other words, everything was being tested by the Word of God, which alone is our standard for truth.

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good to note that it was an Old Testament prophet that he quoted!

Dr. Spencer: That is important. As we have mentioned before, the Old Testament is still relevant to modern Christians. We see that fact clearly because it was quoted as the final authority in deciding issues in the New Testament church! They didn’t restrict themselves to quoting the words of Jesus. In Verse 19, as James announces his decision, he says “It is my judgment, therefore …”. The word “therefore” harkens back to what he has just quoted from the Old Testament. So, the point he is making is that since the argument presented by Peter, Paul and others is in agreement with the Bible, it is the right position, in other words, it is in accord with the will of God. But, the specifics of the final conclusion they reached are illustrative of a couple of important points.

Marc Roby: Let me read that conclusion now. In Acts 15:19-21 James says, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Dr. Spencer: The first important point that we can make about this conclusion is that the Jerusalem council had authority to consider the issue and determine how to properly apply the Word of God to the situation. This is a clear example of the authority of the church. Look at how the letter they wrote began. In Acts 15:28 we read that it began by saying, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:”. Note two things here. First, they had consulted the Word of God, so that they could say the counsel they were sending seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and second, they were sending requirements, not suggestions. The Greek word used actually means things that are necessary.

Marc Roby: And what you said earlier bears repeating; the council was not just composed of apostles. In fact, it was headed by James, who was not an apostle.

Dr. Spencer: Right, that point is very important because it shows that we are not just talking about authority that was given to the apostles and no one else. The second thing we learn from this proclamation is also very important, and somewhat surprising.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s first note that it is not at all surprising that they should tell the Gentile Christians to abstain from sexual immorality. That is, after all, everywhere and at all times, sin. But, what is very interesting is that they also decided to tell them to abstain from food polluted by idols, the meat of strangled animals and blood. None of these things are, in themselves, sins in the New Testament age.

Marc Roby: Can you explain that statement? Certainly, worshiping an idol is sin.

Dr. Spencer: It definitely is. But, at that time there was meat sold in the marketplace that had been sacrificed to some idol, but could be purchased by anyone. Just purchasing and eating the meat did not involve worshiping the idol in any way. Paul wrote about meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:8, where we read that “food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” But, he also goes on in the very next verse, Verse 9, to say, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” And he then goes on to explain that a weaker brother, who does not understand that an idol is nothing, may see a more mature Christian eating the meat and may himself eat some even though he thinks that doing so is, or may in some way be, idolatry. And so, this weaker brother is led into sin. So, in this particular case, the Jerusalem Council decided to command these Gentile Christians to not eat this meat because it would likely be a stumbling block to their Jewish brothers, who were still very sensitive to the Jewish ceremonial laws.

Marc Roby: But, the council did not have the writings of Paul to look at.

Dr. Spencer: No, they didn’t, those didn’t exist yet. But they were interpreting the same Old Testament teachings that Paul had available, and they knew the teachings of Christ as well. In Leviticus 19:18 God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And Christ told us that to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves are the two greatest commandments. Also, in Luke 17:1 Christ tells us that “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.” Putting these things together, we get the principle Paul gave us in 1 Corinthians 8:9 as we just read, “Be careful … that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”

Marc Roby: OK, what about the other two things listed, eating the meat of strangled animals and eating blood?

Dr. Spencer: Those are both things that are prohibited by the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, which was done away with when Christ fulfilled the law and gave himself as the final, perfect sacrifice. The entire Old Testament sacrificial system and ceremonial law pointed to the need for a sacrifice of atonement for our sins, and Christ was the final sacrifice. We are told in Hebrews Chapter 10 that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were not ultimately efficacious, but were an “annual reminder of sins”. Then, in Hebrews 10:10 we are told that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Marc Roby: I’m reminded that Jesus Christ himself said from the cross that “it is finished.”

Dr. Spencer: And, praise God, it was finished. In Verse 14 of Hebrews 10 we are told that “by one sacrifice”, which is speaking of Jesus Christ, “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” There is nothing left for us, or anyone else, to do to atone for our sins. But, we are, as the verse says, “being made holy”, so we are to live holy lives out of thanksgiving to God and because we want to. Anyone who has truly been born again has a desire to please God. If you have no desire to know and do the will of God, then you are not born again. But, even truly born-again people still have sin living in them and waging war against them, so we need each other and we need the church. And we need the church to have authority to speak into our lives.

The important thing to note about this example though, is that the answer the Jerusalem council gave included these commands, which we are told elsewhere in the New Testament are no longer things required of all believers. That clearly shows the authority possessed by the leaders of the church; they exercised their God-given authority to tell the believers how to apply a biblical principle to their specific situation.

But, we must be clear that they did not command anything that is contrary to the Word of God. Quite the opposite in fact, the principle they were upholding, that of not causing your brother to stumble, is a command of God and is an application of the principle to love your brother as yourself. So, the elders have clear authority to interpret that principle and apply it to this specific instance. The specific commands they gave in this letter having to do with food, meat, and blood are not binding on all Christians at all times; rather, these commands instructed the Gentile Christians of that time how to love their Jewish brothers in a specific context– one in which many newly converted Jewish believers still thought of the Jewish ceremonial laws as being binding on God’s people.

Marc Roby: This episode reminds me of what Paul wrote the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:11-13 he wrote that Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great passage. Pastors, teachers and elders are gifts God has given to us to help us understand and apply his Word. But we must be clear that they have authority to speak into our lives. In 1 Timothy 1:3 Paul told Timothy, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer”. So, Timothy, who again was not an apostle, but was an appointed leader in the church, was told to “command” people. You see this word command often in Paul’s writings. In fact, he uses the word seven times in first Timothy alone.

Marc Roby: I look forward to continuing with this topic next time, but I think this is a good place to end for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by looking at what the Bible says about delegated authority. Dr. Spencer, how do you to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 28:18. He said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” [1] Now this is a very interesting statement when you consider that it is made by Jesus Christ, who is the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity. In other words, he is God. Clearly all authority belonged to him, after all, he is the author of creation. So, we should ask why Jesus says that all authority has been given to him. Who can give to God? The answer is that God the Father gave all authority to the Son who, although he was eternally God, had become the unique God-man, our Redeemer. It was in this capacity as God-man that all authority was given to him. There is order within the godhead. While the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in essence, there is nonetheless an agreed upon order in their relations.

Marc Roby: What theologians call the economic Trinity.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And, of course, it has nothing to do with money. Nowadays the word economy is used almost exclusively in relation to money and the generation of goods and services, but it also used to refer to the management of affairs. That is why there used to be college degrees, for example, in Home Economics, which referred to managing the home. In the case of the economic Trinity, it refers to the roles taken by the three persons of the godhead in relation to creation.[2] We don’t want to dwell on this now, although we’ll get into it more in a later session, but theologians rightly distinguish between the ontological equality of the three persons of the godhead and their economic relations.

Marc Roby: I think it would be good to define a term that you just used. The word ontology refers to a branch of metaphysics dealing with the fundamental nature of things. So, by ontological equality, you mean that the three persons of the godhead are equal in their being, or substance.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly what it means. And the economic Trinity refers to the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed in eternity past to take on different roles in relation to creation. So, while there is always cooperation among the persons of the godhead in every act, nonetheless, the Bible teaches that it is primarily the Father who planned our salvation, the Son who accomplished our salvation, and the Holy Spirit who applies salvation to individual believers. We will again get into this more in a later session, but it is important for our present discussion because it shows that having ordered relations does not necessarily imply any essential difference in being or honor. When Jesus says, for example, that “the Father is greater than I” in John 14:28, he is not in any way denying his own deity, he is speaking about his voluntarily assumed position of subordination in the plan of salvation.

Marc Roby: That is a difficult concept for someone who has been raised in our present egalitarian culture to understand. We are immersed in a culture that virtually despises any notion that one person can be called greater than another unless that person actually is greater in some sense.

Dr. Spencer: You’re absolutely right about that. And when we talk about authority, we specifically mean that someone is greater in the sense of being over me. In other words, that person has a right to expect obedience from me, at least in some limited sphere of activity.

Marc Roby: There you go with that word obedience again – you are not going to make us popular.

Dr. Spencer: Authority and obedience are not popular ideas in our culture, but they should be, because authority is given by God for the good of those who are under it. In some cases we can be forced to obey; for example, young children can be forced by their parents to obey, and police are given power by the state to force you to obey in some situations. But the proper position, as given to us by the Bible, is that we should voluntarily come under those in authority and should be thankful for it.

We should respect those who are over us, whether it be our parents, our boss, our pastor, a policeman or whoever. When I was young a boss or someone else in authority was sometimes called a “superior”.

Marc Roby: That word would be very politically incorrect to use now.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure it would be. People don’t like to accept any notion that a father, a mother, a boss, a policeman, or anyone else should be thought of as superior in some way. But we impoverish ourselves when we think this way. Authority is necessary and it is good. This is true within a family, within the church, and within the state, all three of the spheres of society that the Bible delineates. Someone may be my superior because they truly are superior to me in some way, such as a parent, teacher, or boss who may know a lot more than I do, but even if I know more than they do, or am naturally superior in some other way, they are still my superior if they have delegated authority over me in some situation. To say they are superior to me is not a value judgment, it is simply saying that they have a right to expect my obedience and I should respect and obey them. Without authority you have chaos.

Marc Roby: And I might argue that our society is in chaos even now.

Dr. Spencer: I would agree with you. And I think a large part of the problem is a complete lack of respect for authority. A lack of respect for the authority of both individuals and institutions. But I will resist the temptation to dive into that topic further for now because I want to go back to what the Word of God tells us, and it tells us that we must submit to all delegated authorities.

Marc Roby: You are, I suspect, referring to Romans 13:1, which says “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the classic verse with regard to the civil authorities, but let’s go on and read Verse 2 as well, because it makes a very important point. It says, “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

God is very clearly telling us that he has established all delegated authorities and that to disobey them is to disobey God and it will lead to judgment.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that many people will bristle at that statement. What about when the commands we are given are unreasonable?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible doesn’t tell me to obey only reasonable commands or to obey only reasonable rulers. Think about who the ruling authorities were when Paul wrote Romans. He probably wrote Romans around 57 AD, when Nero was the emperor of Rome. Now, admittedly, Nero was not as bad as he became later, but we are still talking about a wicked government, and yet, Paul says we must submit to its authority. There are, of course, limits. We see in many places in the Bible that if we are told to sin, we must refuse.

Marc Roby: I think it would be good to go through some examples. The one that comes to my mind immediately is Acts 4 where the apostles Peter and John were commanded by the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to stop preaching in the name of Christ. In verses 19-20 they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the first verse that comes to mind. But there are other examples as well. We can go all the way back to the Israelites time of bondage in Egypt. We are told in Exodus 1 that a new ruler came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph, who our listeners may remember had risen to be second in command under Pharaoh. In any event, this new ruler looked at the Jews and was worried that they were becoming too numerous, so he commanded that all Jewish baby boys should be killed. In Exodus 1:17 we are told that “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” We are also told that Moses’ parents did not obey this edict. There are a number of other biblical examples of refusing to obey a command to sin, including Daniel’s three companions refusing to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s image and the wise men not going back to Herod to tell him where the infant Jesus was. The excellent commentary on Romans by Pastor Mathew lists nine such examples.[3]

Marc Roby: Alright, we’ve established that a Christian is duty-bound to disobey if he or she is commanded to sin. But, is that the only circumstance in which we can or should disobey?

Dr. Spencer: In general, yes. We could also add, I suppose, that we may disobey when someone gives us a command but has no standing to do so. For example, if some stranger on the street demands to see my ID, I don’t think it would be at all wise to obey. But, if a police officer asks to see my ID, I should comply. At some point it gets pretty silly though looking for exceptions to the rule, so let’s not bother.

Marc Roby: That sounds like a good idea. So, the basic principle is that we should obey all proper delegated authorities unless they tell us to sin. But, earlier you said that authority is good. Do you want to say more about that?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I want to say a great deal more about that. God gives authority to people for the good of those who are under their authority. Sticking to the civil authorities as a first example, let’s continue in Romans 13 and look at Verses 3 and 4, where Paul tells us that “rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

We see three very important points in these two verses. First, we see that civil leaders, whether they are Christians or not, are God’s servants, which implies that they will have to give an account to him for how they do their jobs and that he can sovereignly overrule them at any time.

Marc Roby: I’m confident that very few civil authorities believe that.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But, whether they know it or not does not change the reality. The second important point we see in that passage is that civil authorities are to do good to those who do what is right. In other words, they are to rule for the benefit of those who are under their authority. And, thirdly, we see that the state is given the power of the sword, which can be taken in two ways. First, the state has the sword to defend its citizens from foreign powers who seek to harm them, and secondly, the state has the power of the sword to punish wrongdoers.

Note that this power to punish wrongdoers is part of how the state does good to those who do what is right. It’s for our benefit that we have laws that punish people who murder, rape, rob and so on. As Pastor Mathew put it in his commentary on Romans, “Government exists to ensure order and peace, not tyranny or anarchy.”[4]

Marc Roby: Order and peace are certainly good, and it is hard to imagine how you obtain them without the state having authority.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, I would say it is impossible to imagine maintaining them without authority. The simple fact is that we are all sinners. Because of that, we need locks on our doors, passwords on our accounts, laws, police, jails and so on. We can, of course, have legitimate and fruitful discussions about the best way to implement all of these things, but if the state has no authority, you would have anarchy. And that would not be conducive to a productive, safe or enjoyable life for anyone.

Marc Roby: Nor would it be conducive to our coming to know Jesus as Lord and Savior and to tell others about him.

Dr. Spencer: Which is certainly a good part of the reason God provides civil governments. But, authority is not limited to the civil government. As we noted earlier, there are three spheres of society, and the most fundamental of these is the family. So, there must be authority in a family as well. The classic passage about this is in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that you are talking about Ephesians 5:22-33, right?

Dr. Spencer: Right. This is a passage that is much despised outside and even inside the church today. Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Marc Roby: I’m sure some of our listeners are again bristling. I’ve noticed the looks on the faces of guests in the audience when we read a portion of this passage during a wedding service at our church.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve seen the same looks. The idea that a husband would have any authority in the home is almost completely foreign to our society and sounds very chauvinistic, if not downright abusive.

Marc Roby: And yet, it is the man who is commanded to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”, which is a pretty high calling.

Dr. Spencer: You make a very important point. If authority is used in the way it is supposed to be used, it isn’t just not abusive, it is a great blessing to those who come under that authority. And the husband who does not discuss things with his wife and carefully take her thoughts and desires into account when making decisions is a fool and is not governing properly. And his decisions are always to be what he thinks best for the whole family, not just for himself.

Marc Roby: When people think that Bible-believing Christians want to keep their wives ignorant and dependent, I always think it is good for them to read Proverbs 31.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great passage to show the ideal Christian wife. Starting in Verse 10 that chapter says, in part, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. … She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. … She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” That is not the picture of a person who is subjugated and treated as some kind of slave.

Marc Roby: No, it isn’t. But I think we’ll need to continue to look at authority in the home next time, because we are just about out of time. I’d like to remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 683fn43

[3] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Life (Volume 2), Grace and Glory Ministries, pp 373-375

[4] Mathew, op. cit. pg. 375

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Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God and should therefore submit to its authority.

Dr. Spencer, we have been addressing the Bible’s testimony about itself, and last time we discussed the fact that a central issue in this regard is authority. God has ultimate authority and, therefore, his Word has ultimate authority. We ended by noting that Jesus himself spoke with authority and not only affirmed the Ten Commandments, but gave us a deeper understanding of them. What else do we need to say about this topic?

Dr. Spencer: I think the main point is that the Bible speaks with authority and we need to take its claim seriously; it is God speaking. Jesus Christ himself spoke clearly about the authority of the Old Testament as we discussed in Session 4. We noted then, for example, that in John 10:35 Jesus said that, “the Scripture cannot be broken”. [1] But, there are many other verses we could cite. For example, in Luke 22:37 Jesus said that “what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

His point was that the Old Testament was a completely reliable witness to future events, and more specifically, that it had in many places and in many details prophesied his coming and what would happen to him in some detail. When Jesus spoke with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, we are told, in Luke 24:27, that, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” The main topic of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. The Old Testament tell us about sin, and about God’s plan to deal with sin. There is a progressive revelation of God’s eternal plan of salvation in the Bible.

Marc Roby: And that revelation begins in Genesis 3, right after the fall, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In Genesis 3:15 we have what it is sometimes called the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message. Most people have heard the story, but before I tell it I want to emphasize that this story is factual, not mythological.

After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But, when God called to them and they confessed their sin, he then pronounced the curse that would fall on them and their posterity as a result of their sin. That curse was death, both spiritual death and physical death here, and eternal hell hereafter. Adam and Eve immediately lost communion with God, which is the result of spiritual death, and they immediately started to age and move inexorably toward their physical death as well. And, finally, and worst of all, they, and all their natural descendants became subject to eternal punishment in hell.

But, God also pronounced a curse on Satan, who had appeared as a serpent. And, that curse included the gospel, which means, “Good news.” In verse 15 God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This statement that the offspring of Eve would crush Satan’s head is a reference to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he would defeat Satan totally by freeing his people from their bondage to sin and Satan. So, when God pronounced his curse on man, he gave them the gospel of salvation at the same time. There was hope.

Marc Roby: And, as you said, there is a progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: There most definitely is. This isn’t the time to go into it in detail because we want to stay focused on what the Bible claims about itself, but I think this deserves mention now, and it provides an important piece of evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible’s claims. What needs to be mentioned at this point is that this progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament includes dozens of detailed prophecies about the Messiah, or Savior.

Messiah is a Hebrew word, which means anointed one. And, while a person can be anointed for various different offices, such as a priest or a king, the Old Testament also speaks of the Messiah, who is God’s anointed savior of the world. For example, we read about him in Psalm 2, where we read, in verses 1 and 2, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” The “Anointed One” in this verse is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good for some of our listeners to explain who “the LORD” is in that verse. I think most have heard Jesus called “the Lord Jesus Christ”, so there may be some who are confused when we hear the LORD being spoken of one person and “his Anointed One” being spoken of another person.

Dr. Spencer: The word LORD in this passage, which is in all capital letters in our English Bibles, is the Hebrew tetragrammaton, which simple means four letters. Biblical Hebrew writing did not use vowels, so we aren’t sure how to pronounce the word, but it is usually rendered as either Jehovah, or Yahweh. In any event, it is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. It comes from the Hebrew verb “to be”, and so we can translate it, if spoken by God, as “I Am”, or if spoken about him, as “He is”. In either case, the point is clear. God is the only one who can say “I am” in an absolute sense. He is eternal and unconditional. We, on the other hand, like all creatures, have not existed eternally, nor do we exist independently. We will cover the nature of God in later sessions, but the Bible reveals to us that God is triune; meaning that he exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp, but it is absolutely not a contradiction, and it is a clear teaching of Scripture as we will see later on.

Marc Roby: Alright, so you were speaking about the Messiah, or God’s Anointed One, who is referred to in Psalm 2.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And my point was simply that the Greek word for anointed is Χριστός (Xristos), which is transliterated into English as Christ. So, when we speak of Jesus Christ, we are speaking about Jesus, the Anointed One, or, in other words, the Messiah. All of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the son born to a young virgin named Mary, who was engaged to be married to the carpenter Joseph. And the Old Testament revelation includes more than just a lot of details about his birth, life, death and resurrection, it also includes a tremendous amount of information about the justice of God and how the death of Jesus can serve as an atonement to pay for the sins of his people. This is, again, not the time for us to get into that in detail, but I want to clearly make the point that the Old and the New Testaments are part of one revelation. They are not two separate revelations. It is all the revelation of God, telling us who we are, where we came from, what our problem is, and how God has solved that problem.

And, in speaking about the detailed prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, I’ve always thought that they are truly amazing evidence for the fact that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word. How else could you explain the detailed fulfillment of these prophecies about Christ? Only God can accurately tell us about the future. And we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that these prophecies were truly written long before the time of Christ. No reasonable argument can be made, as it used to be, that someone cooked the books to make it look that way.

Marc Roby: Certainly, predicting the future requires authority!

Dr. Spencer: Yes. And thank you for bringing us back to our topic of authority. Only God has the power and authority to bring about what he intends, and so only God has the ability to accurately tell us about the future.

Marc Roby: I notice that you didn’t say God can accurately predict the future!

Dr. Spencer: You’re quite right, and that was – as you surmised, deliberate. To predict the future would imply that God can look ahead and see what will happen, which is certainly true. But the Bible goes much further and tells us that God has ordained what will happen. But we’ll leave that for a future session and get back to this issue of authority.

We have been making the case that the Bible claims authority, and have extended that case to show that Jesus himself claimed authority. In fact, one of the most wonderful examples of this is the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. The story is told to us Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5. There is a paralytic who has four wonderful friends. These friends have heard about Jesus and have seen him perform miracles, so they want their friend to be healed. They carry him to the village of Capernaum, at the north end of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is teaching and healing. But, there is such a crowd gathered that they can’t get near Jesus. So, they go up onto the roof of the house Jesus is in and they make a hole in the roof and lower their friend on his mat so that he is in front of Jesus. Just imagine how everyone’s attention would be riveted on this man! This was certainly a pretty bold maneuver. And what did Jesus say to the man? We are told, in Luke 5:20 that Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Marc Roby: I’m going to hazard a guess that this was not the response he and his friends were looking for!

Dr. Spencer: I think your guess is a good one. Jesus often surprised people, but always with a purpose. And we quickly find out what the purpose was in this case; it was to reveal his authority, that he is God. We read in the very next verse that, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” And, of course, that was precisely the point. Then, in verses 22-25 we read, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.”

Marc Roby: I would say that Jesus made his point pretty clearly.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking and, far more importantly, he has authority to forgive sins. So, the Bible has authority because it is the Word of God, and Jesus has authority because he himself is God. And Jesus gave authority to his apostles to preach the gospel and to rule the church.

Marc Roby: OK, now you’re treading on thin ice with many modern Christians again. They don’t like the idea of the church having any real authority. What would you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would turn to the Word of God, as always. After Jesus’ resurrection he gave his disciples what is called the Great Commission. We read in Matthew 28:18-20, that “Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” And he goes on to say “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”

Notice that Jesus didn’t make suggestions, he commanded. And the church is to teach people to obey these commands. And the church is clearly given authority by God to do so. For example, we are given a command in Hebrews 13:7, which says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” This clearly establishes that this section in Hebrews 13 is speaking about leaders in the church. Then, in verse 17 we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” We are to obey our church leaders and submit to their authority. But, notice that they are men who must give an account. And it is God to whom they will have to give an account. So, they should lead for the benefit of those who are under them. And that is why the writer says it would “of no advantage” to us if we don’t obey.

Marc Roby: And, of course, it isn’t just church authority that we should obey. In Romans 13:1-2 Paul wrote that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Dr. Spencer: And we need to remember that he wrote this while living under the very wicked rule of the Roman Empire! As that passage notes, there is “no authority except that which God has established.” God has given us clear lines of authority. A husband has authority over his wife, a father and mother have authority over their children. Church leaders have authority over the members of their church. And civil leaders have authority over their citizens.

Marc Roby: Since this idea of authority is so alien to our society, I think it would be good to remind everyone of one thing you said earlier; biblical authority should always be exercised for the benefit of those who are under you.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Our culture has a problem with authority, but authority is necessary, and it is good if it isn’t abused. Someone has to have the final say. Think about a company for example. If you get all the managers together to make some decision and they cannot come to a consensus, someone has to have the authority to make the final decision. And, if the company is operating properly, the others will all get behind that decision and do everything they can to make it work.

I think we are near the end of our time, so I’d like to read a passage from the book I mentioned last time, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The book is called Authority, and on page 60 he has a wonderful summary about the progressive revelation we have discussed in the Old Testament, and the gifting given to the apostles and others for writing the New Testament. He says,

“Here is God’s revelation of Himself, given in parts and portions in the Old Testament with an increasing clarity and with a culminating finality, coming eventually ‘in the fulness of the times’ to the perfect, absolute, final revelation in God the Son. He in turn enlightens and reveals His will and teaching to these apostles, endows them with a unique authority, fills them with the needed ability and power, and gives them the teaching that is essential to the well-being of the Church and God’s people. We can build only upon this one, unique authority.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful summary to end our discussion of the Bible’s teaching about itself.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

 

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Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Dr. Spencer, last time you made the argument that the Bible itself claims to be the Word of God and, since the Bible is our ultimate standard, we must accept what it says. It seems that the real issue here is one of authority, wouldn’t you agree?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Authority clearly is the key issue. And authority is a bad word in modern society.

Marc Roby: It certainly is. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker you occasionally see that says “question authority”.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, I’ve seen that bumper sticker. I also remember a cartoon I saw once though. It showed a guy who had obviously just died and was in line waiting to see St. Peter at the gate of heaven. He had on a T-shirt that said “question authority” and the person in front of him in line looked at his shirt and said something like “bummer of a shirt to have on today.”

Marc Roby: That would be an unfortunate choice of clothing. And God is the ultimate authority imaginable.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We should never approach him without fear and trepidation.

Marc Roby: In fact, Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the Bible repeats that idea in a number of places. I think the key notion here is one of humility. As we discussed in Session 2, one of the most important things we need to grasp is the creator/creature distinction. God is the creator, we are just creatures. We are, to be sure, marvelous creatures. When you look at what a world-class scientist, or musician, or artist, or athlete can do it is truly amazing. But, rather than idolize the person to whom such gifts have been given, we should stand in awe of the one who gave him such amazing gifts.

Marc Roby: But, sadly, man most wants to exalt himself and refuses, in his natural state, to willingly submit to the authority of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has a wonderful short book on Authority[1] and I am going to draw from it in what we discuss today. He makes the point that much of what is wrong with the modern church is its lack of authority. He suggests, I think quite rightly, that one of the things that attracts some people to the Roman Catholic church, and to various cults as well, is that they speak and act as if they had authority.

It is somewhat paradoxical, but in spite of our natural aversion to being under authority, most people actually desire authority; at least in the sense that they desire an authoritative statement about the purpose of life and how they are to live it. We tend to not like uncertainty, but to have certainty requires authority.

Marc Roby: Of course, many people today would deny that objective truth even exists, but without objective truth, you can’t have certainty.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Although, such people often contradict themselves because they are quite certain of the absolute objective truth of the statement that absolute objective truth doesn’t exist. In any event, Lloyd-Jones makes the point that people throughout history have been trying to find ultimate truth through their own efforts.

Marc Roby: But, of course, they have miserably failed.

Dr. Spencer: Yes they have. And the Bible deals with this issue in the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is one of the most quoted and misrepresented books in the Bible because it deals with an honest attempt by the writer to figure out the meaning of life. He is called “The Teacher” in the book, and many think that it was Solomon who wrote it. But, independent of who wrote the book, it was someone who had achieved great success, fortune, power and fame in this world, and yet found it all unfulfilling without God.

Marc Roby: I can relate to that feeling; there are many things in life that you look forward to and, then, when you achieve them, you find that they aren’t nearly as wonderful as you thought they would be.

Dr. Spencer: I can second that comment. And the Teacher in Ecclesiastes states it very clearly at the start of the book. In Ecclesiastes 1:2 he says, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” [2] That word “meaningless” can also be translated, as it in the King James Version, as vanity. It can also be translated as breath, as it is, for example, in Psalm 39, verse 5, where we read “Each man’s life is but a breath.” So, the idea is clear. The Teacher is saying that life is like a breath, here one moment, gone the next. It is of no real consequence or significance. And then he goes on to explain why he says this. Beginning in verse 3 he writes, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.” And he goes on in this vein for some time.

Marc Roby: Not exactly an uplifting passage, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it’s not uplifting at all. And it isn’t meant to be. It is, however, an accurate picture of the way things are if we imagine a world where there is no God. The Teacher goes on in the book to consider the meaning of gaining wisdom, or riches, or of indulging in every pleasure imaginable, and he concludes that none of it has any real deep, lasting significance. A phrase that is repeated nine times in the book sums it up well, he says it is all “a chasing after the wind”.

Marc Roby: Now that is a great image. You can chase the wind all day long and you’ll never catch it.

Dr. Spencer: True. It’s a fabulous image to have in mind. But, it also conveys a serious message. Life without God is meaningless. If the materialistic worldview were correct, and I argued in Session 1 that it is not, then we would be left with despair and depression. In fact, there is a great quote from Bertrand Russell, the great English philosopher and mathematician of the early 20th century. In his essay “A Free Man’s Worship”, he wrote about a materialistic view of life with unusual and insightful candor. Let me quote a few snippets to put in context the quote I really want to get to. He wrote, “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving”[3], in other words, we are result of blind evolution. And he went on to say that “no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; [] all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system”, and then he concluded this passage with the quote I want to examine. He wrote, “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Marc Roby: Wow. I hope you don’t mind if I stay out of that building, it doesn’t sound safe to me.

Dr. Spencer: You don’t have to worry Marc. That building is only entered by those who deny the existence of God. But, as I said, he wrote with uncommon candor and insight. His statement lines up quite nicely with statements by the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. If you try to find meaning and purpose in life without God, you end up frustrated and in despair.

Now, we must admit of course that the mere fact that life without God is meaningless does not in any way prove that God exists. There are many today who would say, in essence, that we just need to suck it up and deal with the unpleasant realities that when we die we’re gone and that life has no intrinsic value or purpose. But, as I argued in Session 1, an atheistic worldview is, I think, intellectually untenable in light of all that we now know about the world we live in. And, further, as the Bible itself tells us, everyone knows that God exists, although many will deny that they know it. So, rather than building on the “firm foundation of unyielding despair” as Russell counsels, I prefer to build on the firm foundation of God’s Word – which is why, by the way, the theme music for this series is the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The first line reads, “How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

Marc Roby: That is a great hymn. And Russell is a great example of what Paul tells us in Romans 1 – that men suppress the truth; and it seems that some, like Russell, are much better at suppressing it than others. But, how does this all relate back to the topic of authority?

Dr. Spencer: I think it relates very directly. You see, the issue is that man wants certainty, and he wants to believe in a benevolent and almighty protector and a wonderful life after this one and so on, but he does not want anyone telling him what to do, and he certainly does not want to be judged. So, he suppresses the truth he knows – that God exists – and searches for some kind of certainty apart from God, which drives him to Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair”. I don’t know a great deal about Russell’s life, but I do know that he was divorced three times and married four times, so I’m going to hazard a guess that he wasn’t too thrilled about God’s view of marriage, to point out just one example of why people don’t like authority.

Marc Roby: I’m reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s response to his vision of God on the throne, he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips”.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse. I also think of the apostle Peter. Remember the story in Luke, Chapter Five, where Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing, and then Christ told him to lower his nets and all of a sudden he had such a huge catch that the nets began to break and the boat began to sink? He had some glimpse of who Jesus really is and his response was to say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

That is the response of any reasonable person when he contemplates coming before a just, holy and omnipotent God. God knows everything I have ever done, said, thought or felt. And he will bring all of it to his perfect bar of justice. That is terrifying. It should be terrifying, because we are sinners who deserve God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: And God is the one with authority, and power, to judge our sin. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes came to the right conclusion in the end, we read in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly the right conclusion. So, authority is, as you said at the beginning, the issue of central importance. It is also why we are spending time in these podcasts to establish the authority of the Bible as the Word of God and why we are interested in then exploring what God commands us to believe and do in that Word. It is only in his Word that we find out that we can escape this terrifying judgement by placing our trust in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think it is important to note that God does not request, or suggest that we do, or don’t do, certain things; he commands.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very important distinction. And to command requires authority. As I said early on, in his book on authority Lloyd-Jones points out that a major problem with the modern church is a lack of authority. And I think that, in large part, that lack of authority stems from a lack of faith in the Word of God, which is also one of the points Lloyd-Jones makes.

But, if we believe in the authority and infallibility of the Bible, and I do, then when we speak about what the Word says, we are speaking with authority. The modern church should not approach preaching as though we are just offering people one idea out of many, which they are free to examine and decide, with human reason as the ultimate authority, whether it’s right or not. We must preach the truth with conviction and clarity, and with authority. If God opens a person’s eyes to the truth, then they will respond. If he doesn’t, then they will not respond.

But, when we preach the Word of God we must speak with authority. The Bible tells us who God is, what he loves and what he hates, and it is filled with commands for his creatures to obey.

Marc Roby: And Jesus sets the example for us, doesn’t he? He spoke with absolute authority when he was here on earth.

Dr. Spencer: He certainly did. One of my absolute favorite passages of Scripture is in Luke 8, where we read about Jesus and his disciples heading out to sail across the Sea of Galilee. On the way, Jesus fell asleep, which is clear sign that he was fully human. But then, we are told that a squall came up, the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. So, we read in verses 24-25, “The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’”

I love that passage because, in addition to showing that Jesus was fully human, it also clearly shows his divinity. You notice that he didn’t pray for God to quiet the storm, he simply rebuked the wind and the waves himself. Only God can do that! And so, it shows how Jesus spoke with authority, even authority over the inanimate creation.

Marc Roby: I’m also reminded of the end of the Sermon on the Mount, where we read in Matthew 7:28-29 that, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Dr. Spencer: And there are many other places too. In the Sermon on the Mount you just mentioned, Jesus gave authoritative interpretations of the Ten Commandments to show the people they were wrong in their understanding. For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, we read that he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We see a number of places where Jesus says similar things, “you have heard”, followed by “but I tell you”. He is claiming the authority of God himself. He is making his own words and interpretations equal to the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: When I read passages like the one you just quoted, I’m always surprised to hear people who call themselves Christians and think that Christ did away with the Old Testament law.

Dr. Spencer: So am I. It is relatively easy to not commit the physical act of adultery, but to avoid even a lustful look? That is much, much harder I’m afraid.

Marc Roby: I agree. And yet, the Bible presents us with a holy God who commands us to live holy lives as well.

We are out of time for today, and we’ve taken a bit of a detour to discuss this issue of authority, but I think it is an important topic. I look forward to continuing our discussion next time.

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Ed. By R.E. Egner & L.E. Denonn, Simon and Schuster, 1961

 

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