The Authority of Scripture and the Christian Mission: A Closer Look
This week's essay is from my friend David Hesselgrave. David is something of the "dean" of evangelical missiologists. Having served in Japan and then written several of the textbooks that most evangelicals use, he is an incredibly influential figure in the field. Here is a story about David and a video tribute we did in his honor:
By David Hesselgrave
Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus constitute what is usually called the "Pastoral Epistles." With equal validity they could be called "Missional Epistles." Timothy and Titus were members of Paul's "missionary team" assigned to instruct, organize, and appoint leaders in fledgling churches in Ephesus and Crete. This was to be done in contexts of persecution and the kind of struggles between true and false religion inherent to missionary work.
Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Of the latter we know little but we are told that his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice had instructed him in the Sacred Scriptures. These writings are crucial to missionary ministry. In the text before us the Apostle Paul explains why.
The Message of Scripture.
The world of the first century was well supplied with a wide variety of so-called holy books. The Scriptures to which Paul refers were writings of an entirely different genre-- namely, the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets of the OT. He refers to them as "holy writings," a rabbinic expression associated with Hellenistic Judaism and for that reason especially appropriate in that missionary context. Even though they antedated the birth of Christ, the OT writings were able to instruct Timothy concerning salvation that comes through faith in Christ because they prophesied Christ's coming and redemptive work. The message of Christ is one of inestimable value to people of all times and places because Christ is the only way to salvation (Jn 14:6; Ac 4:12).
The Inspiration of Scripture.
The books of the NT, including Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, were received as Scripture. All biblical books taken together constitute the "Canon" or "measure" by which all truth claims are to be tested. Rival books such as the Hindu Vedas, Buddhist Sutras, Kojiki of Shintoism, the Qur'an of Islam, and the Book of Mormon are of human origin. Ongoing investigation of Bible manuscripts and biblical history reveals that the Bible is completely trustworthy and true. The Apostle Peter writes, "No prophecy of Scripture comes from one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pt 1:20). The Apostle Paul says, "All Scripture is inspired by God" (2Tm 3:16). The Greek word theopneustos literally means "breathed out" by God. Because that is so, God intends Scripture to be carefully expounded, faithfully obeyed, and fervently defended.
The Dynamic of Scripture.
The Bible is not only true; it is also powerful. When God breathed into Adam's nostrils Adam became a "living being" (Gn 2:7). Similarly, as the product of the creative breath of God, Scripture has the ability to effect the salvation of sinners. Now Paul adds another dynamic. He adds that Scripture is beneficial in spiritual ministries designed to produce healthy believers and healthy churches. These ministries include: (1) teaching: teaching is the primary means of discipling believers in accordance with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20; (2) rebuking: the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to rebuke or convict us concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment according to John 16:8; (3) correcting: the Greek word contains the root ortho indicating that God's people are to "measure up" biblically and be "straight," or orthodox, in doctrine and practice; and, (4) training in righteousness: in the context of Scripture, righteousness has to do not only with a right relationship with fellow human beings but also and especially with God Himself as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Finally, Paul adds still another dimension to the dynamic of Scripture: the Bible is profitable for the man of God because when God's messenger employs Scripture in the foregoing ways he himself is made "complete" or "competent" and "equipped for every good work" (2Tm 3:17).
Application and Conclusion.
Leaders of the ancient church grappled with the doctrine of Incarnation-- that, as the Son of God, Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God. However, both Scripture and Christ Himself taught the doctrine and it has been confirmed repeatedly in Christian creeds and church councils, including the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In recent times leaders of the modern church have grappled with the doctrine of Inspiration-- that the original texts of Scripture could be the words of human authors as well as the words of God. However, both Christ and Scripture teach the doctrine and it has been confirmed repeatedly in Christian creeds and by various Christian councils, including the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978.
The Incarnation of Christ and the Inspiration of Scripture are interwoven and interdependent doctrines. Both are quintessential to missions and God's plan for world evangelization. It was in obedience to God the Father that Jesus came to accomplish redemption. It is in obedience to God the Son that disciples herald the Christian gospel by reducing oral languages to writing; translating the Bible into new languages; revising archaic translations; preaching, teaching, and modeling biblical doctrine and righteous living; and planting, organizing, and enabling leadership in newly planted churches. This is a daunting task made all the more difficult by virtue of the fact that, until Christ returns, our world continues to be a world of heart-rending needs of all kinds-- economic, educational, medical, social, and political as well as spiritual. Responding to these needs with ameliorative deeds is inherent to missionary work because Christ commanded His followers, "Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Mt 5:16). Indeed, Paul's exhortation is, "As we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith" (Gl 6:10).
But first things first! The essence of the task to be carried out by God's "messengermissionaries" is to employ Scripture to the salvation of sinners, the formation of the church, the defense of truth, and the unmasking of error. That is what makes missionaries (and pastors, and all of "God's messengers" for that matter) competent and that is what equips them and those who hear them to do "every good work" as well as to share every good "word" (2Th 2:17).