Ask a Pastor Ep. 49 - Inter-denominational, Adding Books to the Bible
Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.
This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Director of Young Adult Ministry, Josiah Leuenberger, about what inter-denominational means and why new books aren't added to the Bible.
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Kurt Bjorklund: Hi, welcome to Ask A Pastor. Today I'm joined by Josiah Leuenberger, who serves on our Wexford campus, at our Wexford campus as one of our adult ministry pastors. Works especially with young adults, does some teaching and many other things. Welcome, Josiah, glad to have you here.
Josiah Leuenber: Thank you, great to be back.
Kurt Bjorklund: And so we're going to jump into a question. If you're new to this podcast, we just take questions really from people in the church, beyond the church, who have some things that they say, "I've always wondered about this or I'd like to know your church's take." And so today we have this question and I'm going to read this. This is a little lengthy, but I think the whole thing's helpful just to hear the tone and idea.
Kurt Bjorklund: Says this, "I've listened to your broadcast on Word FM for quite some time. I appreciate your often unique way of approaching God's word," thank you, "and have enjoyed your Friday, Ask A Pastor feature. I am writing this to open a discussion on a topic I have not yet had an opportunity to talk about with someone from your kind of church." I'm not sure exactly what your kind of church means here, but maybe it will become obvious in a second.
Kurt Bjorklund: "I was raised and I'm currently attending an independent Baptist church. I graduated from an Assembly Of God school and have grown in my faith and enjoy preachers and theologians from Presbyterian and reform faiths and have Methodist as well as nondenominational churches, as Methodist and nondenominational churches. And we'd stand alongside Catholics in certain areas. All these views share Christ at the center. Though other fundamental beliefs differ greatly from each other. These differences have in the past and been seen in history to shatter individuals, destroy families, split churches, and in some cases cause wars.
Kurt Bjorklund: I understand the modern and postmodern trend of nondenominational churches to avoid certain doctrines and topics, so as to not turn people away or to be associated with specific denominations that may differ from their church's stand on some doctrine. Some of these churches, at their core may actually hold to very specific denominational view, whether in ignorance or purposeful silence. Churches that call themselves interdenominational seem confusing to me. It sounds like they may accept differing views that would not or could not possibly mix or coexist in the same church's doctrinal statement.
Kurt Bjorklund: For example, origins, dispensation, eschatology, how and when to baptize, eternal security, Christ position and communion, sovereignty and free will, the freedom in Christ, are all valid and arguably biblical reasons to leave, divide or reform a church. What I am asking is where you, your staff and elders draw the line on points of theology that differ to determine what will and will not be accepted as your belief in your church as to not have two opposing views, which would cause confusion to your congregation?" All right, so Josiah, tell us how you see it.
Josiah Leuenber: All right, well let's answer that in a few pieces. I guess first the interdenominational piece, something that's important to us here at Orchard Hill, is to be a place where anyone can come and take steps of faith and learn about Jesus, regardless of their background, whether that's religious or irreligious. We want to be a place where people can come, hear a biblical teaching, ask questions, take steps towards Christ. And so when we say that we're interdenominational, we want to be a place where people from any religious background within Christian faith or even someone who's outside of the faith can come and explore.
Josiah Leuenber: So that's not to say we don't have theological values or convictions. There are certainly things here at Orchard Hill that we would hold fast to. Those things include the belief that all people have a spiritual need for a savior. We believe that the Bible is clear. We're lost in sin, we need someone to rescue us from that state, and we believe that God has provided us with a savior in Jesus Christ. Very clear in scripture and saying that, it's also clear that we believe that the Bible has authority for us as believers. We believe that God has revealed who he is to us, how we might live in the world that he's made.
Josiah Leuenber: It's also a standard for us to think about how we can live together as a community in the church. So that's another value that we certainly hold fast to here at Orchard Hill. Something else absolutely central to us, is a belief that God's grace in Jesus is something that determines our entire Christian life. We're not just saved by God's grace, but God's grace really determines the way that we live out our faith in every area from beginning to end. We rely on God's grace in providing us the Holy Spirit to become people who honor God with the way that we live. And we believe that He'll sustain us from beginning to end. So I guess that's kind of my introduction at least.
Kurt Bjorklund: So it seems like the question is not, "Okay, do you hold those certain things?" Because I think that was the point of saying all of these churches hold some of them. But then there are a host of things that any church comes to believe and believe is right or proper and its interpretation. And how then do you hold yourself as an interdenominational church, when you hold these views and then when and where do you start to draw some lines to say, okay this view is one that we'll say, "Hey, it's good, anybody believes it here. But this one... this one we're drawing a line on." I think that's really the essence of the question.
Josiah Leuenber: Yup, where do you draw the line? And this person stated, when you have multiple views in one church, sometimes that can cause confusion. But I guess what I want to say is sometimes the Bible is confusing because there are more than one view that can be taken. Multiple views can be taken on some specific issues and so it can be a challenge for us, as a community to sort out where our belief is exactly going to lie. But I guess what I want to say is I think it's important for us in the church to avoid creating division or excluding people unnecessarily.
Josiah Leuenber: And we need to be careful not to draw lines where the Bible doesn't necessarily do so. Like I said, there are absolutely areas where there is one position on the truth to be taken, but I think there are also a number of areas where believers who say, "The Bible is our authority, we look to scripture in all that we do as our authority." We can come to different conclusions and many of them were named, just to bring a few of these up. I think that, that's a very exhaustive list in what is covered.
Josiah Leuenber: But I think many of the things we separate over, they're more matters of opinion or personal convictions about an issue that is not necessarily essential to our Christian faith, they're more theological choices or preferences. The truth isn't necessarily being compromised and for some of those specific areas I would first say baptism. Here at Orchard Hill we believe that the Bible is clear that we can baptize believers when they come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. And so we allow parents to choose whether or not to baptize their child as an infant or as a believer.
Josiah Leuenber: So we would say both of those are valid biblical views when it comes to infant baptism. We root that back in a covenant understanding of God's grace and the Old Testament saying that in the same way that the people of Israel used circumcision as a way of marking them for faith. We believe that so baptism can mark a child as belonging to the family of God. There are some other issues that can be pretty contentious. In the church, where people would say, "You've got to choose one or the other." I think another of those would be origins, young earth creationists to the spectrum of theistic evolutionists. I think people can be at different places on a range of belief when it comes to their conviction on the origins of the earth.
Josiah Leuenber: So let me stop you there for a second. One of the ways I've thought about this, that is helpful for me and I think has become part of the thinking at Orchard Hill, is that there are some positions that are held and we say as a church we hold this, this is essential. So deity of Jesus Christ, salvation through faith alone by grace alone, not by works, some of those things, it's like there's no equivocation. And then there are things that we would say, okay, there are a lot of views in the broader Christian world. In one church we can all hold these.
Josiah Leuenber: You used the example of baptism. I would say at Orchard Hill eschatology would fit in that. Eschatology is the study of last things. So there are people who will come here and say, "I'm really passionate about this view." And somebody else who says, "I really believe this." We say, "You know what? When we teach this, we're going to teach it as here are acceptable views in the overall realm of Christianity. We don't feel the need to take a strong position. Yeah, we have a leaning."
Josiah Leuenber: But then there are things and, and I think this is probably where this question is best answered, there are things where we would say we do take a teaching position even though we don't insist that everyone who attends the church believes the teaching position. So I would put something like reform theology in this. If you're not familiar with the idea of reform theology, like we would be gently reformed, graciously reformed, we like to say. Meaning we would hold to a lot of the tenants that people would say are inherent to reform theology.
Josiah Leuenber: But there's a lot of people who attend Orchard Hill, who would say, "You're what? We're what? You believe that? That's crazy talk and I don't buy that." We're okay with that. But as a teaching position, we won't have somebody on our stage who teaches the exact opposite of the reform position because we believe to a degree, we believe that, that's a teaching position, but we don't say, "You can't worship here, fellowship here," any of those kinds of things or, "you're wrong." Even if you hold a different position.
Josiah Leuenber: Now, we would say that one's clear because we have a extensive doctrinal statement, that's in our doctrinal statement. Therefore, it makes sense that we would say that's part of our teaching position. Eschatology is not in our doctrinal statement, therefore... I mean it's in there, but not in the ways that a lot of people utilize it. It's in there that Jesus is coming back, he's returning, he wins in the end, all of that. So that would be a teaching position, but it doesn't have to be universally insisted on.
Josiah Leuenber: And we can have strong convictions on those beliefs. On how we view this doctrine as portrayed in scripture, but on things such as end times, origins, mode of baptism, I think it's important for us to remain united as the body of Christ in the church. Saying that it's the cross that makes us one and we can agree to disagree on some things that are even important to us.
Josiah Leuenber: Now, I would say that if someone would choose to go to a different church as a result of those convictions, that's just fine, that's okay. However, if you say, "Oh I can't have respect for another believer if they would choose to say that a view on a nonessential doctrine is outside of my own, so we're going our separate ways." That would be an issue-
Kurt Bjorklund: And I would even be cautious on the use nonessential because I wouldn't think any doctrine falls into totally nonessential. I think what you're saying and I agree with what you're saying in a whole, is there are some doctrines that don't go to the heart of our eternal standing with God. But that doesn't mean that they don't have an essential nature to them in terms of that and maybe I'm nitpicking, but I... yeah, I-
Josiah Leuenber: I get where you're coming from. I think that's fair. There are a few tricky issues though that I think do come out in the topics that were brought up of sovereignty and free will and also the issue of freedom in Christ because I think those two issues in particular are so closely linked with the value that is salvation, that salvation is a work of God's grace alone that we received through faith in Jesus Christ. That those are things that I would be willing to push a little bit more strongly on because I think that what is at stake is that in our tradition that we would describe as reformed, we believe that salvation is a work of God from beginning to end.
Josiah Leuenber: And what that means is we are spiritually dead in our sin. There's nothing that we can do to save ourselves apart from God's work on our behalf. That means the Holy Spirit comes to us while we're lost and in a way that I don't completely understand, wakes up our heart, so that we would come to faith in Jesus Christ. So the reality is that apart from God's saving work on our behalf, I don't think that scripture indicates there's anything we would choose to do to believe in him on our own. That's not to say that human choices do not matter, but it is to say that salvation is not our work. It's the work of God alone that saves us.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, well and that might go to what I was saying about not wanting to use this phrase nonessential because I think everything ultimately does ripple back. And again, that's where I would say that's part of the teaching position idea of saying, "Am I going to say it's unbiblical or wrong for somebody to hold to a view of salvation that doesn't encompass election in the way that I might hold it."? I would say, "Well I do have a take. I do think the Bible speaks to it. Hence we have a teaching position, but I wouldn't want to say that's heir heresy, you don't belong in the church."
Kurt Bjorklund: Whereas I know that there are churches like that and I think what this question is driving at is how do you teach a unified doctrine while at the same time... And my answer is it's the teaching position and to your point that's the... there will be people who will say, "I don't like the teaching position here on X," whatever that issue is, "therefore, I'm going to go to another church." And I think you're right, at that point our answer is, we would like to think that you could overcome that and worship here and and be unified, but if that's an important enough issue to you that you say, "I have to be in a church that teaches that differently."
Kurt Bjorklund: Then We would say, "Absolutely you should go and find that church that then you believe that, that issue is that way." The only caution I would give to that, when somebody has that mindset, because I think people search for the designer church that has everything just the way they want it and at some point what any church becomes is a place of holding the historic doctrines of the faith and interpreting it to our current age and to the degree that you decide to sit in judgment on the teachings of the church and say, "I'm going to find a church that I like."
Kurt Bjorklund: Especially on freedom and Christ or moral issues, lifestyle issues, what you're doing is, you're saying, "I'm just going to find something that I'm comfortable with." And if you're really following God, there will be some things that cross your will. There will be some things that cross our cultural understanding in how God has instructed us. So to too quickly go to, "I don't like the teaching position. I'm going somewhere else where I favor it." What you may be doing is short circuiting God's work in your life to shape and mold you to something.
Kurt Bjorklund: Now, having said that, I do agree that there a time to say, "I can't in good conscience support this, I need to move on or I just prefer something else." But I think it's really easy in our consumeristic culture to treat churches like we do the difference between Costco and Sam's. I got a slightly better price over here this week, so I'm going over here instead of over there. Instead of saying, "I'm part of a community of faith that interprets it for time."
Josiah Leuenber: Yeah, absolutely. Good stuff, yeah. I'm content with the way we covered that.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay, so here's a question and this deals with a revelation and how do we understand that there is not ongoing revelation coming into our world? I mean why would we limit God's revelation to the Bible? Especially when it comes to people feeling as if they get a word of prophecy, a word of... Slide forward a little bit if you would, sorry.
Josiah Leuenber: Thanks.
Kurt Bjorklund: A word of instruction. A word of whatever from God.
Josiah Leuenber: Yeah, I guess the first thing I want to say is that if Jesus showed up tomorrow in a miraculous way, I hope we would be willing to hear from him. That's the first thing I want to say. I hope that we aren't completely closed off to the possibility that God would choose to communicate himself to us in a radical way. The second thing I would want to say is that up to this point in history, there has not been such a wide consensus of the Christian church that an act of God, a work of God, a revelation of him in the world was so clearly from him that the church worldwide, directed by the Holy Spirit inside of us as individuals, as a body, has said, "This is something we all need to listen to."
Josiah Leuenber: That just hasn't happened and so I believe that there is something to be said for that authoritative presence of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, recognizing if something is from God and that has not happened. So I think that, that's a clear reason for why we have not added any additional text. When I hear this question, why have we not added any additional text? It seems to me from the way that it was asked, that it was asked by a believer. So I guess what's kind of on my mind is I just wonder what it is that's motivating this question. I think personally, I can say there are things that I would like to know about God that I do not see in the Bible personally.
Josiah Leuenber: We all have questions that we wrestle with. But what I do believe is that how God has revealed himself in the Bible, even though it does not necessarily answer every question we might want to know, it does give us the truth that we need to know. The Bible is sufficient for us and so what I'm saying is that the Bible tells us what we need to know about God to understand his character, to understand his actions. And it tells us what we need to know in order to have a right relationship with him. So while the Bible is not exhaustive and everything I might be interested to know about him, I do believe that it's complete and giving us the information we do need to know.
Kurt Bjorklund: So one of the movements that's afoot today in the Christian world is this idea that there are still apostles, as there were apostles in the time of Jesus. So in other words, people who can speak definitively for God moving forward. You see this, there's a church in California that's well known, Bethel Church, Bethel Music, all of that Redding, California, that's very big on this. But behind that is the idea that they're getting direct revelation and giving it to people today just like, just as much authority as the Bible apostles in that time. What's your answer to that then?
Josiah Leuenber: Yeah, I think that God's word pretty clearly tells us that it's the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us in scripture. I don't see anywhere in scripture indicating that there will be further revelation received in such a manner as we could receive it as direct word from God coming through the mouths of people. And so I would be very hesitant about taking any word of a human being as direct word from God.
Josiah Leuenber: I would also just respond to this question by saying, why have we not been given any additional texts? Only God knows the answer to that. Only God knows why he's chosen to reveal himself to us the way that he has. Personally, I'm choosing to trust in him and the way that he's chosen to show us who he is and how we should live. To conjecture any sort of reason for why God has chosen to reveal himself the way he has, would be nothing more than a guess on my behalf. I certainly wouldn't want to put any stock in that.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right, yeah, no. Although I'll make a guess and that is, I think that what happens if you move beyond scripture is there's no way to validate it. This allows the fact that it's written, anybody has access to all the revelation that God has given. There's not some special class that can say, "Well God told me and since I'm here with God, I get to tell you." You get to go and say, "Well, you can only tell me what I can verify through scripture."
Kurt Bjorklund: I think in the living of community, that's important. If you look at some of the cults that have formed, some of the way that happened is somebody claimed to have a direct revelation from God, and then they would tell people crazy stuff. Like, "You should give me your daughters and let me sleep with them, you should..." I mean that's true. I mean that's like David Koresh, stuff like that. That's exactly what happened-
Josiah Leuenber: Yeah, absolutely, I've watched the documentaries.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, that's right. They're saying, "I know because God told me." and everyone's like, "Well, God told all them, it must be." The publicness of the scripture allows us to say, "You can't tell me anything that I can't verify that God gives to you." And so it puts into question that whole idea of revelation. Again, that would be a whole nother conversation about how then do we hear from God?
Kurt Bjorklund: Is it appropriate to say I sense God leading in a way as opposed to just reading scripture? But certainly the way that apostleship is presented today, I would be very uncomfortable seeing as from God in this day and age. So, Josiah, thank you. If you have questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for spending part of your Friday or whatever day you're listening with us here today and we hope you have a great day.