Sunday, November 01, 2009

Should 1 Timothy be Normative for Us?

Are Paul's Instructions to Timothy and the Church in Ephesus Normative Us?
Another way to ask the question is "So what, Paul taught Timothy and the church in Ephesus these things, that doesn't mean it applied to all the churches then, and it doesn't mean that it applies to all churches now, right?"

Well, that's good question, but the conclusion and the underlying assumption is dangerous and terribly wrongheaded. The assumption in this question follows this logic that, "because we are separated by time and context these instructions don't apply to us." The conclusion of this assumption says that, "we are not obligated in any way to apply these instructions to our present context." This thinking is dangerous because it wrongly concludes that Scripture's teaching about all of life, especially the church, is dependent on context when it's not. Praise God that the gospel is not limited to first century Jews & Gentiles who were living in the Roman political context of their time! The gospel is relevant to every time and place. It is relevant in every socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-cultural context. Similar to the gospel, Paul's message is prescriptive & descriptive rather than merely descriptive.

1 Timothy Is Normative for Us
I've been having a conversation with a friend about if the great commission is binding on believers. His question about this is coming from the observation that Jesus was speaking to the disciples and not us in Matthew 28:18-20 and John 20:21. The reason that all believers in all times are called to fulfill the great commission is both explicit and implicit in the command. Here's my response to his question:
So here's the text:

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

You're right that Jesus was saying this to the eleven disciples, but look at verse 19 "make disciples of all nations." They are making disciples of what exactly? They are called to make disciples of Christ, like them. There is nothing inherent in this passage that seems to limit this to their uniquely apostolic calling. So they are to train others the same way that they have been trained. Can we agree on that?

Verse 20 then says that the eleven disciples are to teach the disciples that they are making to "obey all that I have commanded you." So they are first to make disciples (baptizing them in the name of the Trinity). Second, they are to teach them that the commands that Jesus issued to the eleven disciples apply to the disciples they would make. If the great commission is part of the "commands" from Jesus to the eleven disciples then it is not stretching the text at all to say that the great commission then applies to the disciples of the disciples who then make disciples etc. etc. etc. all the way down to those who would become disciples today, hence me or you...Can we agree on that?
While 1 Timothy is not a "command" directly from the lips of Jesus Christ, it is God-inspired, God-breathed, sufficient for life and practice, and completely inerrant or without error (in the original manuscript). Paul writes about this thinking more clearly in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Since Paul's words here are Scripture (1 Peter 3:16 implies that they are) breathed out from the Holy Spirit, then they are authoritative for the Christian life and for the practice of corporate worship (this phrase can be nuanced to) in the local church.

How Does 1 Timothy Inform Our Worship of God?
Paul's instructions to Timothy are instructions to us how best to build up the church with good materials that last (1 Cor 3:12-15). His instructions to Timothy lay out a structure of offices in the church that enables churches to fit into the description he describes in Ephesians 4:11-16. Paul's instructions lay out the structure that enables the church to effectively carry out Christ's commands; therefore, these instructions should be our aim in regard to how we should structure our local churches.

Subjective/Normative/Regulative Principles
This isn't going to be exhaustive, so please don't read it like it is. That said, I'm writing all of this with the conviction of the regulative principle, not necessarily the normative principle or the me/subjective principle. An exhaustive discussion of this is for another day, but generally speaking the me/subjective principle would be that I worship God on the grounds I define and determine are best. The normative principle is generally defined as, "Whatever is not expressly forbidden in Scripture is an allowable practice in corporate worship." J. Ligon Duncan III defines the regulative principle well by writing the following:
"Worship in its content, motivation, and aim is to be determined by God alone. He teaches us how to think about him and how to approach him. The further we get away, then, from his directions the less we actually worship (Give Praise to God, 27)."
Regarding the grey areas that aren't explicit in Scripture Duncan writes that, "thinking in accordance with the general principles of Scripture and sanctified common sense, in the absence of positive scriptural warrant," should be our approach (Ibid., 21). Also, David Peterson expresses the nature of Christian worship well by writing, "the worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible (Engaging With God, 55)."

All of this considered I believe that Paul's instructions to Timothy are authoritative for us and our church practice.

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