The Bible is a book. It may be called a collection of books compiled into one majestic volume. As a book it is designed to be read. In this respect it is like all other books. But in important ways, the Bible is not like any other book. It is the Book of books. We customarily call this book the Holy Bible. Its holiness is found in its otherness. It is a sacred book because it transcends and stands apart from and above every other book. It is holy because its ultimate Author is holy. It is holy because its message is holy. And it is holy because its content is designed to make us holy.

The Bible is an inspired book; that is, it is “breathed out” by God (2 Tim. 3:16). It is inspired in a way that reaches far beyond the inspiration of human artists. The Bible offers more than brilliant insight, more than human sagacity. It is called “inspired” not because of its supernatural mode of transmission via human authors, but because of its origin. It is not merely a book about God; it is a book from God. Therefore, the true church confesses its trust and confidence that the Bible is the vox Dei, the veritable “voice of God.”

The Bible is a normative book. The church has rightly declared that the Bible is the “norm of norms, and without norm.” A norm is a standard, a measuring rod by which things are judged. We may use many lesser standards to regulate our lives, but all such regulations must be subordinate to Scripture. To be the “norm of norms” is to be the superlative norm, the standard by which all other norms are measured. The Bible is not simply “first among equals”; other standards have no parity with it. As Jesus is exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords, so we submit to His Word as the norm of norms, the standard of truth, and the one infallible rule for the people of God.

God is the Lord of heaven and earth, and He alone is able to impose absolute obligation upon His creatures. He does this through the written Word. The Reformers of the sixteenth century recognized this unique authority of the Bible, expressing it in the motto sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone.” The Reformers did not despise other authorities or deny the value of tradition and the creeds, but they distinguished the singular authority of the Bible, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

God calls every Christian to pursue righteousness. Our trust is to be childlike, but our understanding must be mature. Such trust and understanding require study of God’s Word. The authentic disciple meditates on it day and night. Our goal is more than knowledge; it is wisdom, the fruit of inward and outward obedience. It is our prayer that the Reformation Study Bible will aid students of the Bible in their understanding of Scripture that they might walk wisely before the Lord in all wisdom.

The Reformation Study Bible is so called because it stands in the Reformed tradition of the original Geneva Bible of the sixteenth century. In modern Geneva, Switzerland, a memorial wall has been built and dedicated to the sixteenth-century Reformation. This International Monument to the Reformation is adorned with statues of the great leaders John Calvin, Theodore Beza, William Farel, and John Knox. Surrounding these figures is the phrase Post Tenebras Lux—“After darkness, light.”

The light of the Reformation was the light of the Bible. Luther translated the Bible, which in his day could be read almost exclusively by professionals who knew Latin, into everyday German that could be read by ordinary people. John Wycliffe and William Tyndale translated the Bible into English. Yet there was substantial opposition to these efforts in England. Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536, and later, the Reformation was suppressed during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553–58). The Roman Catholic Mass was enforced, services could not be conducted in English, and priests were forbidden to marry. Two hundred eighty-eight people were burned alive, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.

These persecutions drove exiles from Britain to the European Continent. Many of the most capable scholars among them came to Geneva. There they undertook the task of preparing a new translation of the Bible in English. This new translation, the Geneva Bible, was published in 1560 and was carefully designed to be accurate and understandable. It was the first English Bible to use verse divisions, as “most profitable for memory” and for finding and comparing other passages. It included study notes explaining Scripture based on the interpretative principles reclaimed during the Reformation.

The Geneva Bible was the most widely used translation in the English-speaking world for a hundred years. It was the Bible used by John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, and William Shakespeare. Though the King James Bible was published in 1611, it did not supplant the Geneva Bible until fifty years later. It was the Geneva Bible that the Pilgrims and Puritans carried to the shores of the New World. It was used by many American colonists who read it, studied it, and sought to live by its light.

Since the Geneva Bible was published, a multitude of English translations and study Bibles have appeared. This present volume intends to return to the clarity and power of that important translation. By presenting a modern restatement of biblical, Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes, the Reformation Study Bible aims to carry on the legacy of the Geneva Bible in shining forth the light of biblical Christianity, which was recovered in the Reformation.

The Reformed tradition understands biblical Christianity as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This faith, we believe, is expressed in the ecumenical creeds common to all Christian traditions, together with the Reformation distinctives that are the result of accepting the Bible as the supreme and only infallible authority for faith and practice. We believe that these ecumenical creeds and the Reformation confessions provide the church with a full-orbed summary of the doctrine of Scripture. The words of the Bible are true, and its message is powerful. It conveys the infallible promise of God, its Author, that it will not return to Him empty but will certainly accomplish His intended purpose (Is. 55:11).

From the Introduction to the new edition of the Reformation Study Bible, written by Dr. R.C. Sproul, general editor. Dr. Sproul is also the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries.

New from Reformation Trust. The new edition of the Reformation Study Bible has been thoroughly revised and carefully crafted by 75 theologians and pastors from around the world under the editorial leadership of R.C. Sproul. Pre-order by February 18 and receive free shipping anywhere in the continental U.S. Visit ReformationStudyBible.com.

John Stott
John Stott

I ought to be continuing my series on bestselling Christian books this morning, but found myself taken with this prayer from John Stott. It was apparently a prayer he would use to begin his day, and it’s a sweet one.

Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
Amen.

 

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Day eleven comes courtesy of a guest writer: David Murray.

This day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:9).

Holiness and happiness are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. Holiness produces true happiness, and true happiness strengthens holiness. The proof?

In Nehemiah 8, God’s people had rightly mourned over their sins. But there came a point when their weeping went on too long and too deep, and God said through Nehemiah, “This is a holy day. Therefore let it be a happy day.” The logic is inescapable. Happiness is not only compatible with holiness, it is an essential part of it. Without happiness, holiness is incomplete. Indeed, it is no longer holiness.

But what kind of happiness are we talking about? Nehemiah defines it as “the joy of the Lord.” It is a joy that comes from God and is centered in God. God gives it and God is it.

And as if we needed another reason to pursue, accept, and enjoy the happiness of holiness, Nehemiah adds the motive: “For the joy of the Lord is your strength!” Holy joy, Christ-centered joy, strengthens us. It produces defensive and offensive strength. It powerfully protects us from evil and it empowers us to fight for good. Holiness, happiness, and hardiness. A blessed trinity from the Blessed Trinity!

Ever blessed God, You are so holy and so happy. Help me to believe that my greatest happiness is found in holiness, and that happiness, true Christ-centered happiness, is my greatest help to holiness. Increase my joy in Jesus that I may increase my strength to resist sin and fight for purity. Amen.


What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Today’s devotional comes from David Murray, a pastor, professor, author, and dear friend. He blogs at HeadHeartHand.

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers and to examine the false doctrine each of them represents. Along the way we have visited such figures as Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Ellen G. White (Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking) and Benny Hinn (Faith Healing). Today we turn to a man who pastors a mega-church, whose sermons are a staple on TBN, and who has written a long list of bestselling books.

T.D. Jakes

TD JakesThomas Dexter Jakes was born on June 9, 1957 in South Charleston, West Virginia and grew up in nearby Vandalia. As a teenager he was charged with supporting and caring for his invalid father and dedicated himself to that task. While still a young man he felt that the Lord was calling him to ministry so he enrolled at West Virginia State University and began to preach occasionally. Before long, though, he dropped out of school to work at Union Carbide, while continuing to preach on a part-time basis. In 1981, at the age of 24, he married Serita Ann Jamison.

Around this time Jakes, still eager to be a minister, founded Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith, a small, independent, Pentecostal congregation in Montgomery, West Virginia. The church quickly began to grow from the ten founding members meeting in a small storefront to two hundred and then three hundred attendees. Jakes soon came into contact with Bishop Sherman Watkins who had founded the Higher Ground Always Abounding Assembly, which at that time was an association of more than two hundred Pentecostal churches. Watkins ordained Jakes and suggested that he plant a church in the Charleston Area.

In 1990 Jakes moved to Charleston and began to focus on the spiritual concerns of the women in his church, many of whom were in abusive or other otherwise difficult relationships. He called his class “Woman, Thou Art Loosed” and this later became the title of his bestselling book and the name of an annual conference. By 1993 he had moved his congregation to Cross Lanes, West Virginia, where the mixed-race congregation exploded to more than 1,100 people. The next year he established T.D. Jakes Ministries to produce televised sermons and conferences. In 1996 he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he founded the Potter’s House. Today some 17,000 people call it their home church. His television broadcast “The Potter’s House” appears on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and other networks around the world, making him one of the world’s most prominent and recognizable preachers. His annual MegaFest event draws up to 100,000 people each year. He has written more than 30 books, many of which have appeared on the lists of bestselling Christian books.

A gifted speaker and excellent communicator, Jakes has been widely praised for his teaching and his leadership. In September of 2001 he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine with the title, “Is this man the next Billy Graham?” He has also appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s network and has reciprocated the invitation, inviting her to appear at his MegaFest event. He has acted in or produced several movies including the currentHeaven Is For Real. Among his acquaintances he counts both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

False Teaching: Modalism

T.D. Jakes is associated with several troublesome teachings including the prosperity gospel and positive thinking. For our purposes, though, we will look at his teaching on the Trinity. Jakes has long been associated with Oneness Pentecostalism which holds to an unorthodox position on the Trinity. This position is known as Modalism or, historically, as Sabellianism.

Modalism holds that Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not refer to distinct persons in the godhead, but to different modes of existence of a single person. It teaches that in ages past God manifested himself as the Father, during the incarnation of Christ he manifested himself as the Son, and subsequently he manifested himself as the Holy Spirit. As one of its key tenets it states that God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time. So while this teaching does hold to a form of trinitarian theology and while it does proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ, it denies that there are three distinct persons who together make up the godhead. Hence the belief statement at the Potter’s House says, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Formerly the statement was even clearer: “We believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation, being both Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority.”) The important word here is manifestations. Where historic Christianity affirms persons, modalism demands use of manifestations or modes.

Followers & Adherents

Jakes has wide influence in many circles. Some 17,000 people attend his church on a weekly basis and millions more encounter his teaching through his broadcasts, conferences, movies and books. He is one of a few Christian figures who has a voice that extends into the broader culture through association with Oprah Winfrey, American presidents, and other leaders.

What the Bible Says

These minor distinctions in trinitarian theology, a word here, a letter there, actually represent colossal differences and even eternal differences—the difference between heaven and hell. Modalism has long been labeled as a heresy meaning that if you believe it in place of the biblical understanding of the Trinity, you are not and cannot be a true Christian.

We can define the Trinity, as the church has historically understood it, through a series of seven simple statements: There is one God; The Father is God; The Son is God; The Holy Spirit is God; The Father is not the Son; The Son is not the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Father.

In all that is, in all that exists, there is only one God. No truth was more precious to the Israelites of old. In Isaiah’s prophecy God records:

There is no other god besides me
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21-22)

It could hardly be clearer. The New Testament is equally explicit. Paul writes, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). James agrees: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).

There is one God. The other six statements affirm both unity and diversity within the godhead. There is one God who exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet each of these is distinct from the others. There is unity here, but there is also diversity. There is a real sense in which God is one, and there is a real sense in which God is three.

To summarize those seven statements, we might say, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” In all that we believe, in all that we affirm or deny, we must hold these seven statements together. If we take away one, the entire structure collapses. In fact, every time the Trinity comes under attack, or every time the Trinity is denied, it is because one of these statements has been taken away or tampered with.

What words can we use to describe this quality of one-ness and this quality of three-ness? God is one (blank) and three (blank)? Christians came to use the term essence to describe the one-ness of God, and the term person to express the three-ness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one essence and three persons.

Though he has recently denied being a Modalist, T.D. Jakes continues to use manifestations in place of persons and continues to affirm the faith of those who remain ardent Oneness Pentecostals. This is no minor quibble in theology because it contradicts and confuses the orthodox and accepted view of the Trinity. Until he clearly affirms the orthodox definition of the Trinity and denies the Modalist definition of the Trinity, we must regard him warily as a false teacher.

 

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day four, and today we have a guest writer: Dr. Joel Beeke (whose preferred translation is the KJV) who, with his love of Puritan writers, is particularly well-equipped to write on putting sin to death.

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. -Romans 8:13

Every Christian finds himself living out two realities: what he is in Christ, and what he is at present, wherever he happens to be in his earthly pilgrimage. The one reality is the fact of his justification “by faith alone in Christ alone” from the guilt of all sin and his personal union with Christ crucified, risen again, and received up into glory. The other reality is the Christian’s degree of personal sanctification. Unlike justification, sanctification is never complete in this life. A substantial first step is the regeneration of the heart that marks the beginning of all true Christian life. But the way forward is rife with difficulties. We can go backward as well as forward in this way; and we all pass through seasons of stagnation and declension.

The Christian learns early on that sin still has a hold on him and remains in him, even “besetting” him, dogging his steps and burdening him with guilt and shame. Paul describes this remaining sin as “another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:23). How does the believer respond to this “law of sin”?  We must mortify (put to death) what Paul calls “the old man and his deeds,” and “the lusts of the flesh” (Rom. 8:13, 13:14; Col. 3:15). This mortification is both a gift (of the Holy Spirit) and a duty (ours). In our own strength we cannot accomplish any lasting mortification, without the Spirit’s grace. But by the powerful and enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, we may and must hate sin, strangle it, and put a sword through it. We must meditate often on the horrific consequences of sinning against our beloved, triune God and Savior. We must know our own hearts and weaknesses, and avoid those situations that tend to promote the temptations that we are weakest in battling against. We must cast off all remnants of the life we left behind when we began to follow Christ. We must put ourselves under the death-dealing power of the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14) so that the Spirit of Christ may put to death what is earthly in us.

The Spirit of Christ focuses us on Christ when teaching us how to mortify sin. Mortification begins when we condemn our sins as transgressions of the law of God. We confess these sins to be forgiven by God and cleansed by the blood of Christ. Then we forsake these sins for Christ’s sake. Paul tells us to fight against sin from a position of strength (Rom. 6; Eph. 6). Know what you are in Christ. In Christ we have died unto sin. In Christ we have been raised again to newness of life. In Christ crucified we have been set free from sin’s dominion and continue to die to sin, so that, as John Owen emphasizes, we experience the death of sin in the death of Christ. Sin may assail but cannot master us, so long as we stand firm in Christ, calling upon His name. In Christ we are assured of God’s help in striving against sin. Though we may fall and lose various skirmishes against sin, because of our union and communion with Christ we have by faith the promise of ultimate victory and final deliverance, which, more than anything else, gives us hope and sustenance in the daily fight against sin. The only sin fatal to our cause is unbelief. Unbelief alone can rob us of God’s grace and shut us out of His kingdom.

Ever blessed Triune God, in the light of Thy holy law, I confess my sorrow of heart that I have provoked Thee by my sins. By Thy Holy Spirit, deepen in me more and more the hatred of these sins, and the desire to flee from them, dying unto sin with Christ, and rising again in newness of life, to live unto Thee in righteousness and true holiness, for His sake. Believing Thy gospel promise, I ask Thee to forgive my sins and help me by Thy Holy Spirit to fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion, as a follower of Christ, and one who bears His name before the world.  Amen.

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a new series of articles through which I intend to scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Arius, Pelagius, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We continue this morning with a false teacher whose name has been nearly forgotten even though his followers regularly knock on your door. He is Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Charles Taze Russell was born on February 16, 1852 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the second of five children born to Joseph and Ann Russell. Charles grew up in a devout home and his parents were respected members of the Presbyterian church. When he was young, his family moved to Pittsburgh, where his father came to own a number of haberdashery stores. In his early teens Charles became a partner in this business and soon owned several of the locations.

As a boy Charles had a great deal of religious enthusiasm, and while still only a teenager left his Presbyterian congregation to attend a Congregational church. As a form of evangelism he would often go to public locations and use chalk to write out Bible verses related to sin and damnation. But then, at the age of sixteen, he engaged in a debate with a friend that led him to question the reliability of the Bible and the validity of the Christian faith. He embarked on a period of religious searching and dabbled in many Eastern religions before determining that they, too, were empty and unsatisfying.

Charles Taze RussellWhen Charles was eighteen he encountered Adventist preaching and began to regularly attend a Bible study. It was not long before he determined that he could not reconcile an eternal hell with a merciful God. Over the next two years he came to question many other historic Christian doctrines and became convicted that the historic creeds betrayed true Christianity. At the same time he adopted Adventist teachings: that the end times had begun in 1799, that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and been crowned King of Heaven four years later, that all Christians who had already died would be resurrected before the end of 1878, and that 1914 would mark the end of a harvest period and usher in Armageddon. He sold his five clothing stores, an act that generated a substantial amount of money (today’s equivalent of several million dollars), and committed his life to writing, publishing and funding the propagation of the message of Christ’s imminent return. He did this at first through a partnership with Nelson H. Barbour and his Adventist periodical Herald of the Morning.

When 1878 came and went without any of the predicted events, he was forced to re-examine his beliefs and to distance himself from some of his Adventist peers, including Barbour. He founded his own periodical which he titled Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. At this time he also married Maria Frances Ackley in an apparently celibate union that would last until 1897 before ending in an acrimonious divorce.

In 1881 Russell founded the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society which grew to a substantial publishing venture, and there were soon some 16 million of his books and booklets in print. His ministry and his opportunities to preach grew exponentially and Pastor Russell, as he became known, soon had followers all over the Northern and Eastern states. He preached and wrote constantly, his sermons were printed in several thousand newspapers around the globe, and he became one of the most famous preachers in the world. He eventually moved the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society to Brooklyn, New York, where they remain today.

Russell died of cystitis on October 31, 1916, near Pampa, TX, as he attempted to return to his home in Brooklyn. By the time of his death, his writings had become among the most widely-distributed works in the world. Some estimate that when he died, only the Bible and the Chinese almanac were in greater circulation than his myriad books and pamphlets.

False Teaching

Unlike so many other false teachers before and after him, Russell did not rely upon visions or other extra-biblical revelation. Rather, he simply interpreted, and misinterpreted, the Bible. While claiming to be a Christian and, in fact, a Christian who was restoring the faith of the New Testament, he denied many key Christian doctrines including eternal punishment, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the existence of the Holy Spirit.

Russell, as with most Adventists, denied the existence of hell as a place where the wicked face God’s wrath. He also held that the soul simply ceases to exist after death.

As with Arius centuries before, he held that Jesus was a created being, and was actually Michael the Archangel in human form. While he taught that this Jesus died on behalf of humanity, he also taught that Jesus rose only spiritually rather than physically. While he denied the divinity of Jesus, he denied the existence of the Holy Spirit, teaching that the Spirit is not a person, but simply a name given to express a specific manifestation of God’s power. In denying the divinity of Jesus and the existence of the Holy Spirit, he necessarily denied the Trinity.

Followers and Modern Adherents

Those who followed Russell during his lifetime referred to themselves as Bible Students. In the years following his death, Joseph Franklin Rutherford succeeded him as president of the Watch Tower Society. Despite many people withdrawing from the Bible Study movement, and despite those who remained splitting many times over, Rutherford’s followers maintained control of the Watch Tower Society and officially renamed themselves Jehovah’s witnesses in July 1931.

The Watch Tower Society remains the official religious body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though both their beliefs and their structure have evolved in the past century, they continue to state that there is one God in one person, that there is no Trinity, that Jesus was God’s first created being, that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, and that there is no hell. While Russell is honored among Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not refer to him as their founder. Rather, they hold that Jesus is their founder while Russell was simply a man used by God to restore beliefs that had been lost.

Today there are some 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world.

What the Bible Says

The Bible teaches clearly, forcefully, and repeatedly that hell is real and that in hell God’s wrath is poured upon out upon the wicked in conscious, eternal punishment.

The Bible teaches with equal force and clarity that Jesus is co-eternal with God, uncreated, and in all ways fully divine. This is proven in a host of places in the New Testament. Among them are John 20:28, where Thomas exclaims to Jesus, “My Lord and my God;” Acts 7:59 where Stephen prays to Jesus; and John 10:30 where Jesus claims, “I and the Father are one.” John 1 is a key text that the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has modified to make Jesus “a god” rather than “God.”

That the Holy Spirit is a person rather than an impersonal force or manifestation of the power of God is attested in many passages that refer to the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A host of verses speak to his personhood, including Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Spirit is a person who can teach, be grieved, be resisted, speak, help, and so much more besides.