Why Trust the Bible?

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Foundational to Christianity is certainty that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. It is a human but also a divine product written without errors and transmitted reliably to us today. Questions concerning this abound: Why Trust the Bible? Can I trust the Bible? Why do you trust that the Bible is the Word of God? How do we know it is true and reliable and understandable? How did we get the Bible?

Christians believe that the Bible is trustworthy, reliable, and the Word of God. This means every book and every word it contains in the Bible is believed to be directly from God Himself. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. Therefore, the Bible is the sole and final authority for all of Christian beliefs, doctrine, and practice, both personally and in the church. Why should anyone trust the Bible? There are many reasons, primarily historical and theological.

Reliable Transmission. The Bible records people’s interactions with God. The Bible is the best-preserved text in history. Ancient texts were very expensive and difficult to make, so they were written and made with care. Then they were copied with extreme care, especially the Old Testament (OT) & New Testament (NT) because the copiers believed them to be the very words of God. The OT was meticulously copied, even to the point where every book had a number count for the number of words it contained. If a copy was found to be lacking a word, often the entire copying process was started again and flawed copies were destroyed! The NT has over 5,700 Greek copies of the text known in existence, a large portion of them dating to between the second and fifth centuries (along with translations and quotes from the early church fathers). All of these manuscripts have been collected and then compared with one another to determine the original reading of the manuscript written by the apostles themselves! It is stated that the NT is 99% accurate to the original writings and that none of these differences affect any major biblical teaching.

Historically Accurate. The Bible is also a historical document in that it mentions people’s names, actions, city names, cultures, customs, major world events, economics, religions, etc. Historians have studied the Bible in depth and have found it to be extremely accurate in everything it claims historically (there are some things that are contested, but this is because the evidence may be incomplete, or historians are biased against the Bible). The Bible has been proven time and time again to be historically and archeologically accurate in what it records, therefore this lends credibility to the belief that it is accurate in everything else, especially theology. Conservative Bible scholars do not believe there are any historical inaccuracies or errors in the Bible of any kind.

Trustworthy NT & Eyewitness Claim. As mentioned, the NT is the best supported text in history. The Gospel records claim to be eyewitness accounts of the life, death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus Christ (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The early belief that Jesus died for sins and rose from the dead in the Christian church was universal and central. Christians were even being put to death in the 60s AD in Rome for this testimony. This powerfully points to the reality of what Christians believed, especially since eyewitnesses would have still been alive, including the original apostles, during this time. The apostles were willing to suffer and be put to death because they would not deny they saw Jesus risen from the grave. It is radical to doubt that Jesus never existed, never did any miracles, never claimed to be the Son of God or to be the payment for sins, or could not possibly have risen from the dead.

Unity of Doctrine. One of the most astounding features of the Bible is its unity in teaching. The Bible was written over 1500 years with around 40 different authors, and yet they tell one story of redemption and present the exact same message of salvation by faith and repentance. They have the same view of God, sin, salvation, end times, the Word of God, morality, etc. We would expect this because they are all testifying to one God and one way of salvation. Plus, we would expect that God would consistently say the same thing and not contradict Himself (e.g., morality, statements of fact), and this is exactly what we find in the Bible over a long period of time with different authors.

Bible’s Claims for Itself. If we are starting to trust the Bible, then we have to start examining what it says about itself. The Bible claims to be the very Words of God. The OT says over 1,000 times “the Lord said,” recording exactly what God then said. The OT says that no one is to add or to subtract from God’s Words other than God Himself through prophets who spoke for Him (Deut 4:2). The OT teaches that every Word recorded from God is absolutely true (Ps 119:160; Prov 30:5; John 17:17). The NT’s main claim is that all Scripture, considered sacred words of God, has been inspired by God and is to be obeyed, taught, and preached, and teaches the way of salvation (2 Tim 3:15-4:2). Inspiration mainly means that the Bible is viewed as having its source in God, therefore it comes with His authority. These are very strong claims and should be considered.

Jesus Trusted the Bible. Additionally, it does not make sense to claim belief in Jesus Christ or that He was a good man and teacher if one does not agree with how Jesus viewed the Bible. Jesus absolutely trusted the OT Scriptures He had at the time. He spoke with authority and claimed what He said was equal with what God said. Then He gave this authority to the apostles who wrote or oversaw the writing of every book in the NT. Jesus quoted most OT books, showing He believed them to be trustworthy and accurate as being the very words of God. Jesus mentions the law, the psalms, and the prophets, covering all of the books of the OT (Luke 16:16; 24:27, 44). Jesus said the OT was the Word of God written by the Spirit of God (John 10:35; Mark 12:36). Jesus claimed that not one jot or tittle from the OT law or prophets would fail to be fulfilled (Matt 5:17-18). The jot and tittle were the smallest markings on Hebrew letters (like dotting the I or crossing the t), therefore Jesus’ trust that the OT was the authoritative Word of God is extremely precise and comprehensive. If anyone is beginning to think that Jesus was a good teacher or the Son of God, then we should accept that He absolutely trusted the OT and commissioned the writing of the NT. We should not trust Jesus’ teaching in one area but then reject His teaching on the reliability and authority of the Scriptures. We cannot separate our view of Jesus from His view of the Scriptures.

The Bible bears all the marks of being the very Word of God. Christianity is a faith based in history with events verified by eyewitnesses and the power of the Gospel saving and transforming lives that has impacted the whole world and continues to do so today.

- Pastor Spencer Carpenter

ENGAGE: YOUTH MINISTRY AND THE STUDY OF GOD’S WORD

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One of the major changes that happened in my life when I became a Christian in my early teens was my interest in knowing the Bible. My curiosity compelled me to read through the Bible several times while I was in high school. I was helped by mentors in the church, the pastor, and my youth pastor to understand basic Christian teaching and to answer questions that I had. I had family members who gave me daily devotional books and study Bibles as gifts for Christmas or for my birthday.

Curiosity, interest, and reverence for the Word of God is something to be prayed for and modeled before the youth. One of my main ministry goals is to instill in our youth a curiosity that causes them to study the Bible and a conviction that it is the authoritative Word of God. Ministry priority number one is clarity of the Gospel message, followed closely by trust in and obedience to the Scriptures, because the Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to mature and disciple our youth for the rest of their lives.

So how does one teach the Word of God in such a way so that it engages the youth? How does one foster curiosity and reverence for the Word of God so that motivates students to read and study on their own? The main method given in Scripture is expositional preaching and teaching, which is instruction that lays out the meaning of the God-inspired text plainly (1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 4:2). The expounding of the Bible provides the truth that edifies and matures young Christians into Christian adulthood. Commitment to expositional teaching will instruct students on the authority of the Bible, theology, how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied, and the teachings of Christ which will cultivate devoted, committed, and mature Christ followers.

Making truth that is expounded during preaching and teaching times engaging has several different components. Prayer is primary, that the Holy Spirit will be opening young eyes and minds and hearts to receive the Gospel, truth, insights, wisdom, and applications from Scripture (1 Cor 2:1-16; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 John 2:20, 27). The Holy Spirit actively brings understanding, conviction, and a heart that yearns to learn and study more. The biblical teaching concerning the nature of the Word of God and how it should be viewed by believers is extremely high (see Ps 119), therefore it is right to pray that this same exalted and reverent view becomes pervasive among God’s people. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent who makes the Word of God engaging and transformative.

Teaching the Bible to junior high and high school students is a joy and challenge. Plenty of energy is expended in keeping the youth focused on the message and explaining the Bible and theology to them in understandable ways. One of the delights I have as a teacher of God’s Word is the opportunity to ask and answer challenging questions from the Bible. Most of my lessons and the lesson sheets I hand out have questions based on the text that include factual questions, meaning questions, and application questions. I’m not after what the Bible means subjectively to various students, but what God intended by the language and context of the Bible passage at hand. But I certainly do want the students to learn to think critically about the Bible and to apply it specifically to their own lives. I also invite any question they may have that is relevant to the lesson because it is often an indicator of where they are in their biblical understanding and spiritual maturity.

Another way to engage students in the study of God’s Word is gathering together in small groups with leaders who have relationships with the students centered on Christ and God’s Word. This is an extremely helpful practice to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly” among the students and to direct them to discipleship relationships where the commands of Christ are taught clearly (Matt 28:19-20; Col 3:16-17). Within this is the training of small group leaders as well, as they guide discussion on context, observations, meaning, and application from the passage. I usually plan on having a small group time regularly in youth group if there is time, with prayer suggestions, questions, and applications from the passage on sheets I hand out.

Small groups ideally foster rich interaction with the Word of God on a personal level. It is my prayer that these groups and the discipleship relationships that come out of them include personal sharing, confession, accountability, admonition, and encouragement. These small groups should foster a transparent atmosphere of trust where honesty about questions, doubts, sins, and struggles are welcomed. The Word of God does the work of God through the Spirit of God, but we cannot overlook how this happens within the context of deep discipleship relationships.

What are some practical steps I have taken to guide the youth in the study of God’s Word? First, in every teaching time I strive to model my reverence for the Word of God, my commitment to getting the meaning right, and the necessity of applying what is learned. These attitudes and practices are both “taught” and “caught” in the sense of young people absorbing positive practices and attitudes in studying, revering, and living out biblical truth. These attitudes and practices are also what I require of anyone who desires to serve as a student leader in our youth ministry. Second, I have endeavored to give every one of our students a plan to read through the Bible in a year and to get students who do not have quality Bibles a study Bible. Again, I was greatly aided by family members giving me study Bibles and devotional books, which is a ministry practice I want to emulate.

Third, I have been moving forward with trying to meet with every student individually once or more each semester (with another ministry leader present for the girls). These times have been very profitable for clarifying the Gospel, taking prayer requests, answering questions, handing out Bible reading plans, etc. I want to start challenging individual students to read certain portions of Scripture and then to come back and tell me what they learned and what questions they have. I particularly want to focus on the reading of the Gospel accounts or Proverbs. Fourth, as mentioned above, I hope to have more small group Bible study times as a part of our regular youth group time. The youth are naturally inquisitive, and yet they are also naturally prone to have questions they are too afraid to ask in large groups. This also offers the opportunity for our youth helpers to personally connect with students and become fellow teachers and guides in biblical instruction.

- Pastor Spencer Carpenter

Youth Ministry and Missions

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This month I spent a good amount of time thinking about and reflecting on missions. Missions was the theme of our youth winter retreat this year. The goal was to give the youth a passion for the Gospel so they would share it with everyone they know and have a greater vision of what God is doing all over the world in reaching people with the Gospel who have never heard it. This gave me a great opportunity to be crystal clear on the Gospel message, because if the Gospel is unclear in students’ minds, then they won’t have a passion for it and they won’t be able to obey the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). This emphasis has been a reminder for me to have an evangelistic focus in youth group, instilling a clear message and mission to live, share, and support those who proclaim this message all over the globe.

The Christian mission is to obey the call of Christ to proclaim the good news of salvation in His name to every person in every nation and people group. The Great Commission and God’s sovereign plan to use missionaries to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth must also be clearly understood (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). First, Jesus says He has all authority, which is the omnipotent power of God because He is God! The task to make disciples of all the nations appears hopeless and impossible, but the One who sends us has all power and authority! Missionaries therefore look to Christ to be given the strength and resources needed to accomplish this great task. The Great Commission then says “Go,” a continuous action, meaning as we are going, whenever and wherever we are going. We may be going to work, or school, or to the market or a store. We are on the move and we should be evangelizing and seizing opportunities to share the Gospel. We may be going locally or some may be led to go far away from home to share the Gospel.

Next, we often miss the point that our main mission is to make disciples. A disciple is someone who has believed the Gospel and repented, but it also means someone who has submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and is committed to following His teachings and example. Saving faith may happen at one time, but discipleship is lifelong involving faithfulness, growth, and sacrifice. Baptism is also mentioned, which is a public testimony symbolizing the reality of what has happened in Jesus Christ. Going down into the water pictures death and being cleansed of sins. The Christian was dead in sins, but now is made alive by the Holy Spirit with the blood of Jesus Christ washing away all iniquities. Rising out of the water symbolizes unity with Christ and having the hope of resurrection. Spiritual resurrection has already occurred, but full physical resurrection will happen at the return of Christ. Baptism also occurs in the name of our Triune God.

It is also underemphasized that what is required is teaching Christ’s commandments with the goal of obedience. Jesus’ teachings are God’s standards, the qualities of character and commands to be obeyed to live righteously and to grow in holiness. Faith and repentance mean salvation with the fruit of true faith being obedience, so all Christ followers are required to learn and obey. Lastly, we should be encouraged by Jesus’ presence with us! In the Old Testament God would encourage His servants (like Moses and Joshua) with His presence (Ex 3:12; Josh 1:5, 9). God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are with us, guiding us, providing for us, and empowering us to proclaim the Gospel and to make disciples!

I have also been greatly impacted by learning about God’s heart for the lost. It is extremely important that we understand why everyone should be passionate and motivated to proclaim the Gospel to everyone everywhere: because of the love of God for the souls of people lost and hopeless sinners. The reality is that people are enslaved to their sins and estranged from God. People are spiritually dead and helpless in this state and only look forward to condemnation for their sins and eternity away from God in hell. God and Christ have expressed their love at the cross (John 3:16; Rom 5:8). God planned it and Jesus the Son accomplished it. God’s sacrificial love and grace should motivate us to proclaim the Gospel. We should always remember we are talking about eternal destinies, either in heaven or hell. This life may be difficult, so there is nothing more important than knowing there is hope and eternal life in heaven with God (John 6:67-69; 17:3).

The Bible says that God does not take pleasure in the death or eternal condemnation of the wicked, but desires that all would repent and be saved (Ezek 33:11; John 3:17; 1 Tim 2:3-5). In the book of Jonah the heart of God for the lost is expressed clearly: “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2b). In examining this verse we see that God is gracious, freely giving favor and blessing to all people who cannot earn it and who do not deserve it, offering the gift of salvation for those who repent and believe (Eph 2:8-9). God is merciful, meaning He is just and must punish sin, but He is merciful in offering forgiveness when faith and repentance occur.

God is slow to anger, which is actually His just and righteous anger against rebellion and sin. God may often appear angry in the Old Testament, but this overlooks His graciousness and patience with sinners, sometimes for centuries as entire nations and the Israelites participate in ongoing sin and idolatry. God is not quick to anger and judgment; instead He gives time for repentance, but His patience in offering repentance does not last forever (2 Pet 3:9). God’s lovingkindness is His loyal and committed love. It is love that lasts and a kindness that has compassion upon those to whom it is shown. Lastly, God relents from doing harm, showing that the message of salvation is the same in the Old Testament as in the New Testament. God is not looking to destroy people, but to save them (John 3:17). From Genesis to Revelation, God is ready to forgive and save those who turn and repent.

I encouraged the youth in some practical ways to get involved in missions and evangelism. The reality is that everywhere is a mission field. Our neighbor, family member, or friend who does not know Christ is just as lost as a soul anywhere else. Therefore, whether we call it missions or evangelism, we have the responsibility to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Every Christian must know that missions and evangelism are based on God working through prayer, whether praying for our neighbors or coworkers, for countries opening up for the Gospel, or for specific missionaries (Matt 9:37-38). Missionaries are also constantly looking for support by specific prayer or financially to advance the mission. I encouraged the students to look at the board of missionaries we have here at the church and to think about writing them a letter of encouragement. I also want to do a “missionary spotlight” during youth group from time to time to remind our students of our missionaries all over the world. Lastly, I encouraged the students that some of us would sense the calling to share the Gospel with people groups who have no Gospel witness.

The Great Commission is not an option; it is a command. We are always going and we are always sending so the Gospel message spreads to the ends of the earth.

- Pastor Spencer Carpenter

Partnering with Parents

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Children and teens are gifts from the Lord to parents, to the world, and to the church (Ps 127:3). Parenting is a full-time job as young people require continual support and guidance physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Children are natural-born disciples: they are avid learners and students, constantly absorbing life-lessons from the conversations and examples surrounding them.

Parents are vital in the spiritual growth of their children, while the church plays a supporting role. Parents have the primary charge of being good Christian examples for their children, discipling them, disciplining them, and instructing them in the Word of God (Deut 6:4-9; Eph 6:1-4; Col 3:21). Parents are the main spiritual mentors and shepherds influencing a young person’s faith formation and spiritual foundation leading into adulthood and for the rest of their lives. Parenting is an awesome yet challenging responsibility, that with the Lord’s help and biblical instruction, has the potential of bearing the fruit of mature and committed Christians.

My heart as a pastor goes out to parents as they have these tremendous responsibilities. Parents have the natural desire to raise their children well and to pass on their faith in Jesus Christ. I am honored and excited to see parents actively send or bring their children and teens to church so that they can be shepherded and discipled here at Congregational Bible Church. God indeed has given a community of faith and a spiritual family who should all be working together to influence children toward Christlike maturity. It is always encouraging to see families and members of the church welcome young people in as if they are their own.

The church assists parents in their task by preaching, teaching, and modeling the Word in an effective, edifying, and engaging way to the youth. Youth ministry seeks to get young people plugged in to the church and active in regular worship, prayer, discipleship, service, and fellowship with the church at large so that they will be receptive to remaining plugged into a church even after they graduate. Youth ministry provides focused teaching and discipleship of the youth to help parents as they raise their children into mature Christ followers. The church serves as a resource for parents in this task, and their input, feedback, and participation are always desired.

Effective family ministry involves closing the gap between families and the church so that both partner together in the discipleship of young people. Regular church attendance, gatherings, and participation connect young people with godly and mature Christian examples. Children are master imitators, and the church joins together in providing Christ-like examples by living in a manner worthy of imitation (1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17). The church is the family of Christ and participates in the discipleship of young people by informal example, speech, counsel, and love (Eph 4:17-5:1; Tim 5:1-2). Pastor Chap Bettis says, “Disciple-making parents actively connect their children to other godly examples.”

A connection with the youth is a connection with their parents. Therefore, the discipling of parents and students is at the heart of my ministry philosophy, and the church joins in this endeavor. Our goal is the same: to disciple young people so that they mature into devoted, committed, and serving adult Christians. Children’s and youth ministries intend to partner with parents, making every church activity and gathering spiritually enriching for the whole family, as well as offering pastors, elders, and mature believers for support, help, and resources.

I believe this is how God intended it to be: one generation of Christian fathers and mothers investing biblically and by example in the next generation of Christian parents who ardently desire to raise their children in the instruction and fear of the Lord (Titus 2:1-8). Even within the last week I have witnessed a new mother overjoyed to have biblical advice and encouragement anytime from other mothers in the church.

Discipleship in youth ministry and through the church truly extends to parents as well. Partnering with parents means encouraging them in their profound responsibility and influence on their children’s spiritual growth, surrounding them with a caring, wise, and helpful church family full of spiritual fathers and mothers.

I close with the wise words of pastor Richard D. Phillips:

“One day, your children will encounter outside the home temptations and spiritual attacks of substantial power. The toxic youth culture they will discover can threaten to overwhelm by sheer force almost any child’s desire not to disappoint his or her parents. But we have a greater hope. A passion for the glory of Jesus and a living awareness of gospel realities will provide our children with both offensive and defensive capabilities they otherwise never would have possessed. This is why the greatest, most powerful, and most valuable passion [parents] can give their children is a passion for the Lord and His gospel of grace.”

- Pastor Spencer Carpenter

Sola Scriptura

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From the time I was saved in my early teens, God has instilled in me a curiosity of His Word, the Bible. Of all the subjects to be learned I believed biblical studies to be most important. This conviction led me not only to regular reading of the Bible, but also to higher education in biblical studies and my passion for preaching and teaching God’s Word.

Around five centuries ago the leaders of the Protestant Reformation quickly came to the similar conviction of Sola Scriptura (Latin for Scripture Alone), which was one of the foundational pillars of the Reformation. After more than a millennium at that time, the Bible had been mediated by many secondary authorities: popes, priests, church offices, councils, creeds, and traditions. There was tremendous spiritual darkness because the light of God’s Word was but a flicker. Most churches did indeed have a Bible on the premises, but it was the 1,000-year-old Latin version called the Vulgate. It was in a language the common people did not know and it was often chained to a table so that it could not be removed. But the driving conviction of Sola Scriptura was the primary catalyst for the Reformation: the driving view that the Bible is the sole infallible authority on matters of faith and practice concerning Christian theology and living.

Because of the primacy and importance of the doctrine of the Word of God, it has often come under attack. This is not surprising since the most devastating tactic of Satan is to sever people from God’s revelation, authority, and truth to lead them into sin (Gen 3:1-4). The 66 books in the Bible are God’s authoritative revealed truth to humanity. Revelation means “disclosure” or “unveiling,” which is where God discloses His character, plan, purposes, and promises that would otherwise not be known. Since the source of the biblical writings is God Himself, they are authoritative in such a way that to disbelieve or to disobey them is to disbelieve or to disobey God Himself (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21). The Bible is also truthful in that every word is dependable, accurate, and trustworthy, making propositions that correspond with reality (Ps 119:160; John 17:17). These truths about the Bible led theologian B. B. Warfield to say, “The Bible is the Word of God in such a way that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.”

Thankfully, conservative theologians have worked hard to refute skeptical and critical claims made against the trustworthiness of the Bible by developing clear doctrines on the Word of God. The doctrine of inspiration clarifies the process by which God’s written revelation was accurately received. Inspiration means the Holy Spirit superintended the writers so that they wrote according to their own styles and personalities with the result of God’s written Word that is free from error in the original autographs (2 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 1:21). Inerrancy means that in these original autographs there is nothing untrue or contrary to fact regarding any topic (theology, history, science, geography, etc.; Ps 116:160; John 17:17).

Additional doctrines include the clarity of Scripture, which means the main teachings of the Bible are written in such a way that they are readily understood by those who read it and seek God’s help in believing and obeying it (Ps 119:130; 1 Cor 2:10-16). The sufficiency of Scripture means that the inspired writings contain everything God’s people need for salvation, faith, and practice (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3). The canon of Scripture means that God led His people to discern and recognize the inspired writings comprising the 66 books in the Bible (Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18-19). The transmission of the Bible means that God providentially oversaw the copying of the original manuscripts and preserved them so that they can be accurately reproduced in our time with certainty. God also blesses His people with illumination, which is the ministry of the Holy Spirit where the mind of the believer is enabled to understand the Word of God (1 Cor 2:10-16; 1 John 2:20, 27).

Another important point on understanding and interpreting the Word of God is the practice of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. I have always been amazed by cross references and different passages that state the same truth again, expand an idea, or develop a topic from a different angle. Scripture will interpret Scripture, and the more familiar we are with the entirety of God’s Word, the more connections we will make, and the more clarity we will have. God’s Word is a unified whole speaking with a unified voice because it was superintended by one divine mind, therefore it is never going to contradict itself. It is also helpful to let clearer passages interpret difficult or hard to understand passages and to be suspicious of teachings that lean heavily on one passage but fail to find support in any other passages in the Bible. It is with great confidence that I can say every main Christian doctrine (Bible, Trinity, Salvation, Church, Future) is supported and developed by numerous passages from Genesis to Revelation.

With the new year beginning, I am once again motivated to make a renewed commitment to reading and studying the Word of God. As a pastor, I want to encourage my family of faith here at Congregational Bible Church in the same practice. We should be excited to start off this new year looking forward to all the spiritual growth God wants to do in our lives when we let His Word dwell in our hearts richly (Col 3:16; 1 Tim 3:16-17).

Youth and the Family of God

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Since becoming a pastor, one area of theology God has put upon my heart is the nature and function of the church. The church is a great blessing from God. It is called the body of Christ, a God-ordained institution where individual Christians come together to form a Christ-centered Gospel community. The Christian church was established by Jesus upon the profession of Peter that affirmed Jesus as the Christ (the prophesied Anointed One), the divine Son of God, Savior, and Lord (Matt 16:15-18). The word “church” means the “called out” ones, those whom God calls unto salvation in Jesus Christ to be in the local assembly, congregation, or community of Christians. Those who are in the church of Jesus Christ make the same profession as Peter, and that is what binds them together. Christians are not called to live their life alone but are called to remain in constant fellowship with God and with one another (1 John 1:1-7).

The blueprint for the church is given in the New Testament where it is pictured as a community of the redeemed who come together primarily to exalt God (John 4:24; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 1:3-14; Col 3:16), to edify believers (2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:12-16; Col 1:28), and to evangelize the lost (Matt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 5:11-21). Our church has developed these same directives under the headings of celebrating God, cultivating believers, caring for one another, and communicating Christ. Acts 2:40-47 is a wonderful picture of what the very first Christian church did: they believed Jesus was Savior and Lord, repented of their sins, and were baptized; they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (now the Word of God in the New Testament), they prayed, fellowshipped, and shared communion; they shared their possessions with those who had need; they opened up their homes and lives to each other; and they praised God, worshipping together, while having an impact on everyone in the community. This was the work of God as it says He was the one who added to their number those who were being saved.

One of the most endearing and profound pictures of the church is that it is the spiritual family of God (1 Tim 5:1-2). God is the Father who loves and who saves through His Son Jesus Christ (Matt 6:9; John 3:16; 1 Cor 8:6). Jesus said this bond of spiritual family unity is even stronger than that of biological families (Matt 12:50). Everyone is an adopted child into the Family of God, with the Holy Spirit working in us so that we cry out to our Father in heaven (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:4-7). Christians, whether older or younger, are united to form a spiritual family that is passionate about fulfilling the will of God and participating in the ministries of the church, again being the worship of God, the edification of brothers and sisters, and the discipleship of the lost.

With only a brief glimpse into our culture and society around us, we can tell that families are broken, hurting, fractured, and disintegrating. Families suffer from parents who are absent, abusive, or uncaring. These observations may be bleak, but I speak as someone who grew up as a teenager mostly with one parent who was constantly working to make ends meet. These are the realities of our time. So, speaking from personal experience and from a heart informed by the biblical picture of the family of God, our church has a tremendous opportunity to help struggling families and especially to reach out to and to invest in the youth.

Christian fellowship means adoption into the family of God. Therefore my ministry goal is not just to facilitate a separate small group with the youth one day a week, but to connect them with the wider body of the church. Sometimes it is easy to get sidetracked into thinking greater attendance or general moral improvement means success, while instead, success means the youth are engaged and maturing members of the corporate church family. It is a constant theme in my teaching that God’s love has not only saved people as individuals but has united them to Christ and to every other Christian in the bond of a loving family. Youth events, retreats, and activities are geared toward fostering this mindset with the involvement of older, more mature believers connecting with the younger generation (Titus 2:1-8).

Reflecting on the family of God in the church and how it can impact the youth warms my heart. The challenge to grow and to build this family means it takes prayer, initiative, and intentionality to act as an impassioned congregation of believers who want to draw in and draw closer to others and bond like a family. What spiritual parent or mentor or leader can we honor and thank today? What youth can we invest in as family? What brother can we reach out to? What sister can we serve? These questions are the ones we should be asking and acting on as they arise from the profound truth that the church is to be the close and loving family of God in Jesus Christ.

- Pastor Spencer Carpenter

Preaching God's Word in Youth Ministry

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Pastors called to shepherd God’s people will be marked with a passion to study and to share the Word of God with others. Pastoral ministry centers on the Word of God. The apostles, who were the church’s first pastors, summarized their ministry as one of prayer and preaching the Word (Acts 6:2, 4). Teaching the Word was so closely connected with being a pastor that these two roles are presented as one with pastor-teachers (Eph 4:11). Paul described preaching the Word of God as a charge to be undertaken before God Himself to be carried out at all times with patience and persistence (2 Tim 4:2). Preaching is presented as the leading responsibility of the pastor, who strives to be both a man of God and a man of the Word.

The main content of preaching is the Word of God: inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, one hundred percent true and vital for spiritual growth and maturity. Biblical truth is the nourishment for starving souls: as important as food is for the body, so our spiritual lives are dependent on the regular intake of the Word (Deut 8:3). Constant meditation on God’s Word results in abundant joy and growth and even prosperity and success if God wills (Ps 1:1-3). God’s Word is described as perfect, certain, right, pure, clean, and true, giving the benefits of wisdom of the mind, joy of the heart, revival of the soul, practical righteousness in life, and enlightening of the eyes to understand more truth (Ps 19:7-9). The Bible is the means God uses to grow people in faith and holiness, as Jesus Himself said: “Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

These verses help clarify my pastoral role in ministering to the youth and the best use of youth group time, events, and special meetings. The main ministry of the church as a whole and of youth group specifically is the diligent teaching and preaching of the Word of God. The expounding of the Bible provides the truth that edifies and matures young or new believers into Christian adulthood. Commitment to expositional teaching instructs on the authority of the Bible, theology, how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied, and the teachings of Christ which will cultivate devoted, committed, and mature Christ followers.

The method for expounding the Word of God to the youth is expository preaching and teaching. Expository preaching is the clear and accurate explanatory proclamation of the Word of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Christian man of God acting as His herald, with the aim of inducing understanding, obedience, salvation, sanctification, and true worship of God among hearers.

Expository preaching is expositional in that it strives to explain, make clear, make plain, and elucidate the meaning of the biblical text and set forth its main message and points organized following the content and structure found in the text in a highly understandable and memorable way. Preaching is the public proclamation, declaration, communication, and conveyance of God’s Word in a dynamic, engaging, and persuasive manner through the man of God who has first personally applied it and then is appointed to act as a mouthpiece for God’s message expressed in the biblical text. (See Neh 8:8; Acts 2:14-40; 6:4; 10:42; Rom 10:15; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Eph 4:11-16; Col 1:28; 1 Tim 3:16-17; 4:2)

What is the best way to convey God’s Word to the youth in the church? Preaching and teaching the Bible to the youth has its special challenges, and yet it also has is special opportunities. As youth pastor, I first and foremost want to teach and to preach the Bible with great clarity by having clear points to outline the passage and explanations for what each verse, phrase, or word means. I want students to be encouraged that the Bible is straightforward in its main message and teaching, and that there are plenty of resources for them to learn more.

The youth certainly have a great amount of energy and it takes teaching the Bible in a clear and engaging way to keep their focus. Asking practical questions from the passage and opening it up for brief discussion often draws out interest and curiosity. Prayer before and after the lesson based on the passage helps to focus their minds and to personally apply its practical points, even as God is petitioned to aid in these very areas. Ideally, there is time left after the main teaching for small groups where volunteer leaders go through questions on the lesson, which helps with further understanding and application.

Ministry of the Word to the youth is happening all the time when discipleship and fellowship take place outside of normal youth meetings and the Sunday service: special events, informal meetings to fellowship as friends, or even seeing each other at School or around town. The Word of God is preached and then practiced at all times. Adults and youth leaders should actively strive to proactively engage students for the purpose of edification in the truth while also being consistent Christian role models practicing the truth. All of these considerations work together so that the Word of Christ dwells richly in the heart of every student in youth ministry (Col 3:16-17).

My passion is to instill in our students the same conviction and curiosity in the Bible I had when I was a young believer in my teens. When I was growing up in my youth group, I was convinced that the Bible was God’s Word, so I desired to read and learn more about it constantly. It was my curiosity in knowing biblical truth that led me to discover the delight of learning more and growing in my faith. In the end, it is truly the sharing of this delight in God’s Word that will ground students firmly in truth and root them for ongoing life-long spiritual growth.

-Pastor Spencer Carpenter

DISCIPLES MAKING DISCIPLES

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Followers of Jesus Christ will be marked by their passionate priority to make and multiply Christian disciples. Jesus’ central command in the Great Commission was to make disciples, and the going, baptizing, and teaching the commandments of Christ explain how to fulfill this task (Matt 28:19-20). The term “disciple” means a pupil, a student, a learner, an apprentice, or an adherent. Being a disciple means one who is a close follower of a certain teacher, advocating the same teachings and striving to apply them to every area of life.

The Great Commission applied specifically to the youth means making disciples of Jesus Christ by shepherding the youth to mature into devoted, committed, and serving adult Christians. The foundation of discipleship is the formation of relationships between Christians with the intention of helping believers grow in maturity, learning and applying Christ’s commandments and the principles found in the Word of God to all of life. Discipleship relationships in the church, and specifically in youth ministry, need to be intentionally fostered between students and more mature believers.

The purpose of discipleship is to cultivate lifelong-learners who will follow and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Christian mentors are to lead, teach, and model, but the most important need is to direct disciples to know and to grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Phil 3:8; 2 Pet 3:18). Information, teaching, organization, and programs are important, but their goal is to encourage students toward greater submission, obedience, and devotion.

The pattern for discipleship is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus initiated the relationship with His first disciples by calling them to a radical commitment to follow Him (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-34; Luke 5:1-11). Calling others to follow is evangelism and then every step of growth and commitment starting at saving faith and repentance is discipleship. Disciple-makers therefore need to take the initiative: evangelizing for new disciples, following up on evangelism, asking and arranging meeting times, inviting to events or service opportunities where spiritually enriching conversation and fellowship take place.

Discipleship with the youth or otherwise has never been easy: it takes reaching out; it takes time and resources; it takes transparency investing spiritually in others; it takes persevering sometimes even when growth appears very slow or non-existent. But such is the mission of the church, and for every strong Christ-follower, you can guarantee that they had strong Christian mentors discipling them in their walk of faith along the way. Disciple-makers are not passive, but active in initiating, inviting, and investing regularly in the lives of those they have sought out and have committed themselves to mentoring.

The most powerful mentors and disciple-makers are those who can personally identify with those they are mentoring. It is wise for those who have gone through the same seasons of life and struggles of the Christian faith to reach out to those just beginning these same experiences. The Bible says that there should be discipleship relationships established between older men and women in the church with the younger generation concerning the practical realities of the Christian life (Titus 2:1-8). In fact, the Bible states the church is a family, and everyone should view others as fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters (1 Tim 5:1-2). Our church as a family needs to be purposeful in establishing these connections. Who in a different season of life, in the older or younger generation, are you pursuing for the sake of discipleship? I pray that these connections between the wiser and more mature generation and the youth flourishes here at Congregational Bible Church.

Identifying with others also means coming to the discipleship relationship knowing everyone has sin, immaturities, strengths, and weaknesses (Rom 3:23; 1 Cor 3:1-3; Eph 4:13-15). No one wants to open up about their temptations, sin struggles, or life difficulties to those they view as strangers who do not or cannot identify with them; on the contrary, the strongest and most endearing friendships are possible and should happen in discipleship. One can tell when a discipleship relationship has reached maturity when honest and transparent accountability begins to happen and admonition, correction, and confrontation takes place with the mutual understanding that it is based on love and concern (Gal 6:1-5; Eph 4:15; Col 3:16; James 5:16; 19-20). When the youth sense you love them, it is amazing how they will open up and seek biblical counsel.

Discipleship with a busy schedule will always be difficult, but it does not need to be complicated. Preplanning meetings together with the purpose of prayer, Bible study, devotionals, or asking and exploring questions on faith and practice should be straightforward. Three major points of focus are helpful for discipleship meetings: the love of Jesus, the love of others, and the love of mission. The first priority is the love of Christ: how much Jesus loves them, and in response one’s love toward Jesus shown in affection, submission, obedience, and service (John 13:1-20; 14:15; 15:9-17; Eph 5:1).

Loving others in general fellowship and service will serve to enhance and strengthen Christ-centered discipleship (John 13:34-35; Eph 4:2-3; 1 Pet 3:8; 1 John 4:12-13). The opportunities for the youth to serve are very important for their growth as they build connections with other church members who are serve alongside them. Love of mission means stirring up the passion to make more disciples who in turn go, baptize, and teach obedience to the commands of Christ (Matt 28:19-20). Mission does not only mean going on a mission trip, but instead encouraging fellow Christians, and especially the youth, to view their schools, athletic fields, workplaces, and homes as rich mission fields.

In the end, discipleship needs to be a priority, because it is the primary mission of the church and every ministry it undertakes. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the beginning, middle, and end of discipleship. Jesus’ call for radical commitment, obedience, service, sacrifice, and heartfelt worship has not changed (Matt 4:18-22; 5:10-12; Mark 10:45; 12:30-31; Luke 9:23; John 4:24; 14:15). As disciple makers we endeavor to follow in the footsteps of Christ and become examples to help others along the path with us (1 Cor 11:1). Are we making disciples?

- Pastor Spencer Carpenter

Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

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How do I as a youth pastor work to make the youth ministry at Congregational Bible Church Gospel-centered? How is ministry conducted so that the youth come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that will then be cultivated to mature into committed faith for the rest of their lives? God’s working and power in salvation are sovereign, but every pastor and every ministry have a responsibility to be proclaiming the Gospel and calling people to fix their eyes upon Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of faith (Heb 12:2).    

Step one is understanding the sins and life difficulties that are prevalent among the youth. It is naïve to think that young people sin less or face lesser hardships than adults. God’s Word reveals the true nature of people young and old: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Teenagers and younger experience every temptation, trial, and issue of adults. The youth are exposed to divorce, alcohol, drugs, materialism, profanity, pornography, promiscuity, sexual and physical abuse, suicide, violence, and death. The picture is bleak, and the Bible says sin enslaves, but such has been the case since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen 3; Rom 5:12-6:23). 

Teenagers’ sins may be viewed as arising from three general issues: a wrong view of God, the Bible, and themselves. First, the youth are plagued with faulty and hazy views of who God is and His character. From not believing God exists all the way to viewing God as a cosmic Santa Clause, the loving, good, sovereign, and holy God must be presented as the one and only true God (Exod 20:3-7; 34:6-7; Deut 6:4; 1 Cor 8:4-6). The background and foundation of the Gospel is a good and loving God who sent His Son to die on behalf of sinners; essentially a heavenly Father desiring to be reconciled to His lost and wayward children (Luke 15:11-32; John 3:16; Rom 5:8-11).

Second, the youth fail to understand that the Bible is God’s authoritative truth that speaks into their lives and confronts their sins (Ps 119:9-11, 160; John 17:17). There is a battle raging over the hearts and minds of young people, but the issue is no different than what happened in the garden with Adam and Eve: truth versus lies and error (Gen 3:1-5). The Bible must be continually presented as the inerrant source of truth that comes directly from God (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21). It must also be taught in such a way that the youth realize it is sufficient for guidance spiritually and practically for the issues they face; this is the cultivation of Bible study that builds maturity with wisdom (Prov 1; 2 Pet 1:3).

Third, the youth fail to understand themselves in terms of their sin nature and who God made them to be. God made every person in His image with dignity, value, and personality (Gen 1:26-27). But then the fall of humanity into sin defaced this image. The forces of evil and depraved culture press hard to confuse the youth and to cause them to define themselves according to their sinful and false identities. Those who are young are intuitively asking the deepest question: Who am I? The Gospel message is rooted in the truth that God is the good Creator who made them fearfully and wonderfully with limitless value and dignity in His eyes, for He sacrificed His Son Jesus Christ for them out of love to pay for their sins (Gen 1; John 3:16).        

Step two is understanding how the power of God in the Gospel unto salvation directly saves and transforms the souls of lost sinners. The cross of Jesus Christ shows the depth of everyone’s sin problem: it cost God His precious and sinless Son Jesus Christ to save sinners (Isa 53:1-12; 1 Pet 1:18-19). Jesus Christ stood in the place of sinners bearing their sin, guilt, and punishment in order to satisfy the wrath of God (Mark 10:45; Rom 1:18; 3:21-26; 2 Cor 5:21). Jesus’ death was a sacrifice, and by the shedding of His precious blood, atonement was made unto forgiveness (Matt 26:28; Heb 9:22, 26). Redemption means the price for sins was paid on the cross, both the penalty of sin and its power, bringing about forgiveness and the Holy Spirit empowered ability to live righteously (Matt 20:28; Rom 6:18; 8:1-2; 1 Tim 2:6). Reconciliation is the greatest blessing, meaning that in the work of the atonement the enmity between a holy God and sinful people because of sin has been removed, resulting in peace and joy in restored fellowship (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-19). 

The before mentioned problems and sin issues are overwhelming and unsolvable apart from the Gospel message and its transforming effects: sinners dead spiritually in sins are made alive, old creation becomes new, separation becomes reconciliation (Eph 2:1-10, 16; 2 Cor 5:17). The greatest need for youth leaders and students therefore is the Gospel, with leaders growing in their knowledge, depth, and clarity of this message, and proclaiming it as the only message God’s empowers to save souls and transform lives.       

What specific steps are taken to make the youth group Gospel-centered? First, the Gospel is proclaimed whenever the opportunity arises: during lessons, during special events, and in private conversations. It is my practice periodically to give a Gospel presentation that interrupts our regular study though a book, or to proclaim it at our special events. Second, continuously seek Gospel clarity and understanding among the youth. I find it helpful to ask the youth to explain the Gospel to me, and then I can tell what is clear or unclear in their minds. Third, minister the Gospel personally. Food, activities, and group lessons are great, but one on one time with pastors and volunteers connecting with students is going to be most effective in presenting and guiding the youth to believe the Gospel and to personally trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.      

In the end, ministry of the Gospel remains straightforward: proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ dying to pay for sins and rising again on the third day in season and out of season (1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Tim 4:2). This must be done at every opportunity, with razor sharp clarity, and personally. Gospel witness remains the same, but with a special awareness of the particular struggles affecting young people and a higher sensitivity to how clear or unclear the Gospel is in their minds. I pray to God that the youth ministry here at Congregational Bible Church maintains this Gospel focus and bears a rich harvest of souls being saved into the kingdom.      

-       Pastor Spencer

Shepherding the Youth with Purpose and Care

What does it take to shepherd the youth at Congregational Bible Church and in the community of Shafter with Bible based purpose and pastoral care? This important question is on the forefront of my mind as I begin this exciting season of my life as youth pastor here at Congregational Bible Church.

As it is with all the ministries in the church, youth ministry needs a clear purpose statement. Christian youth ministry exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ, shepherding the youth to mature into devoted, committed, and serving Christian adults. This purpose statement follows the charge of the Great Commission and of pastoral ministry (Matt 28:19-20; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 5:2-4). 

The following are specific areas of youth ministry that will be pursued under the purpose statement:

Expositional Bible Teaching. The main ministry of the church as a whole, and of the youth group specifically, is the diligent teaching and preaching of the Word of God. Youth ministry centers on Bible teaching and preaching that is understandable to this age group, which creates a discipleship atmosphere where young men and women learn, are challenged to live in accordance with God’s Word, and are encouraged to grow into mature Christian adulthood (Ps 119:9; Prov 1-9; Matt 28:19-20). The expounding of the Bible provides the truth that edifies and matures young Christians into Christian adulthood. Commitment to expositional teaching instructs on the authority of the Bible, how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied, theology, and the teachings of Christ, which will cultivate devoted, committed, and mature Christ followers. Such a commitment to in-depth and comprehensive Bible preaching and teaching is my commitment and charge as youth pastor.    

Discipleship. Discipleship is the formation of relationships between Christians with the intention of helping believers grow in maturity as committed followers of Jesus Christ. Disciples are followers who desire to learn more about the teachings of Jesus Christ and want to obey and to skillfully apply His teachings to every area of life. Discipleship relationships will be intentionally fostered in youth ministry between students and more mature believers. Adult volunteers are always welcome, and student leaders are always being mentored, bearing the fruit of mature followers of Jesus Christ who continue in lifelong faithful Christian commitment and service (Matt 28:19-20).     

Peer Fellowship. Discipleship happens continually in the life of the church and during every meeting and activity of the youth group. It is vital for young Christians to have peers to fellowship within Christian community in similar stages of life. Peer fellowship helps the youth to mature in the Christian faith by offering the encouragement and edification of peers. Youth ministry serves to intentionally foster these relationships between students during youth group, special events, and Sunday service. As youth pastor, it is my special concern to facilitate meetings and events that balance enjoyable recreation and focused times of ministering the Word of God, but with peer fellowship in mind; every moment of both contribute to growing Christian community and relationships.   

Church Attendance and Service. Participation in youth group will always be presented as the first step in membership and service to the church as a whole. Students will be taught that being a Christian means being a part of the body of Christ, meaning they are vital members united to all those who proclaim Christ and are committed to assembling together as a local congregation. Students will be taught that God has established Congregational Bible Church as their family of faith in which they are to participate in and serve regularly. Those involved in service in youth ministry will be encouraged to help students to regularly attend church service and events in terms of offering rides. Youth ministry will strive to be integrated and not segregated when it comes to the connection, attendance, participation, and service the youth have in the church body (Heb 10:24-25).

Evangelism. Youth ministry is one of the most fertile fields for sowing the seed of the Gospel message and gathering in a harvest of saved souls and transformed lives. As youth pastor, I long to see young people trust in Jesus Christ personally so that they are born again, redeemed, and spiritually healed, and great joy comes when they then go on to live as witnesses to a dead, lost, and broken world. It is understood that many who may attend youth group do not have any background in understanding the Gospel message. Believing students are encouraged to bring their unbelieving friends to youth group or certain events for the purpose of evangelism. Proclamation of the Gospel will be central: leaders will be equipped to share the Gospel; students will become equipped to share the Gospel; and all those who attend are encouraged and welcomed to ask questions about the Gospel message (John 3:16; Rom 1:16-17; 1 Cor 15:3-4). 

In the end, shepherding the youth is fundamentally the same as ministering the Word of God to saints of Congregational Bible Church of all ages, but with special care for the specific needs, levels of understanding, and various stages of maturity of young people. My heart as a pastor is challenged to be engaged in the work of the ministry to such a precious group of people, shepherding them from first-faith to a firm and vibrant faith that brings glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.      

-    Pastor Spencer Carpenter