Saturday, July 14, 2012

Our High Priest of Theology

I've been reading "Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way," by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010). The authors suggest that our question in evangelism and discipleship these days is not "what has the God of grace revealed that his servants should learn in order to honor Him?" but "how much (that is, how little!) do I need to know in order to be saved and live for God?" (pgs. 68-69). We have Vacation Bible School coming up in a few weeks. Our denomination's material has - for over a decade - used the acronym A.B.C. in presenting the Gospel to children. Based on Romans 10:17, "Admit you're a sinner," "Believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins," and "Confess Jesus as Lord" is a good start, but it's not the end of knowledge of God. Sadly, by the way we hear theology bad-mouthed these days, it would seem that "A.B.C." is not just the starting point, but the only point. "Just love Jesus - theology's just divisive trouble that gets in the way of that." This seems to overlook the risen Lord's final command to His disciples in Matthew's Gospel: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (28:18-20).

"A.B.C." or "just love Jesus" may be a good start (though "just loving Jesus" omits our sin and the Gospel's command to "repent"), but we are not obeying the Great Commission with these things alone. There is a "teaching" that is involved that never ends. This "teaching" does not start with our "felt needs" or "life situation" or us at all, but with the One Who "has been given...all heaven and on earth." He is Commander, there are commands, and we are to be the commanded. This is the fullness of obedience to the Great Commission. It starts with knowledge of God and His will for His servants.

Despise not theology, beloved. Jesus Himself, in His "high priestly prayer" in John 17, identifies theology as the key to eternal life: "This is eternal life, that they may know You [theology], the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent" (17:3). The fullness of evangelism and obedience to the Great Commission goes far beyond a bare and basic confession. It continues to be taught and grows in knowledge of the Father and Son through the instruction of the Holy Spirit, Who teaches in and through His Church.

Jesus, as He prays for the apostles and "those also who believe in [Jesus] through their Word" ("the entire number of the elect, all those who have been, who are, or who shall be gathered into one under Christ
," 17:20). This prayer is not just for a bare confession, but for knowledge of God - theology:
  • "...they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You have Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me" (17:7,8). Jesus' giving of the Father's words to the disciples was considerably more than a presentation of "A.B.C." For Jesus, the foundation was to be built upon over an extended period of time - our whole lives from regeneration to the first death. Otherwise, why would the "Spirit of truth" (not the "Spirit of pragmatism") be promised to the Church?
  • "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (17:17). This is a prayer request for the Father - through the "Spirit of truth" by His Word, see 1 John 5:6 - to take the disciples beyond the initial bare confession of faith.
  • "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me" (17:22,23). "Knowledge" is key to evangelism. What knowledge? The fullness of knowledge that the Father gave the Son and the Son taught to the disciples.
  • "O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known; so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (17:25,26). There's a lot of "knowing" going on here for us to just dismiss theology (the science of knowing God).
Packer and Parrett, in analyzing the waning of the Anglican Church around 1600, give two reasons: "...the poor spiritual quality of many clergy plus the obstinate certainty of many parents that learning the Faith with precision was really needless..." (pg. 65). May we avoid both of these weaknesses as the Church, "the pillar of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). Let's "A.B.C." our children (and the adults, as well) all day long, but also teach them theology (which assumes we're growing theologians in Spirit and truth ourselves) continuously. Parents, demand spiritual richness from the leaders of the Church and become growing teachers of theology to your children through catechesis.
This is what Jesus, "the High Priest of our Confession" (Hebrews 3:1), prayed and continues to pray before the Father.

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