ďMere ChristianityĒ††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††August 4, 2013

1 Timothy 3:14-16

 

SI:1 Timothy is a pastor to pastor letter about church life.

Timothy was a young pastor in the church in Ephesus.

 

Paulís main point to Timothy is that anything in the life and teaching of the

†† church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.

And on the positive side, the church must be organized and guided in such a way

†† that the Gospel is adorned and magnified.

 


 

INTRO:As you know, a few weeks ago Allison and I were up in Michigan

†† in a little town on the shore of Lake Superior.

One afternoon I was sitting in front of the cabin we rented,

†† and I was reading a book titled, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

A woman who was staying in another cabin walked by noticed the title.

†† She said:You must be a believer.

I said:Yes, I am.You must be a Christian too.She said, I am.

†† And we talked for a little while about things that interest fellow Christians.

 

Another time we were at a gas station and while I was pumping gas Allison

†† got into a conversation with one of the mechanics.

His name was embroidered on this shirtóTomóand he had a little cross tie tack

†† on one of his shirt collars.

Allison asked him:Tom, I see your cross, are you a Christian?

†† He said, Yes.Are you?Allison said, yes.

They talked for a few minutes and then when we were ready to leave, Allison said:

†† Tom, I doubt we will ever be in your town again, so I guess Iíll see you in heaven.

†† He said, with his Michigan accent, You betcha.

 

What was it that passed between us in those two conversations?

†† What was it that instantly established a connection with total strangers?

Was it the secret Presbyterian handshake?

Was it the Westminster Shorter Catechism password?

Was it an inside joke about infant baptism or predestination?

 

I have no doubt that if we had gotten into a nitty-gritty doctrinal discussion,

†† we would have had some significant disagreements about what the Bible teaches.

The woman at the cabin told me she was a member of Fundamental Baptist church.

†† Right off the bat, I could name doctrines we would have butted heads on.

I have no idea what church Tom was a member of, but it seemed like the only

†† churches in the U.P. were Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, and more Lutherans.

If I was a betting man, I would say Tom was not a Reformed Presbyterian.

 

And yet, for all of our differences, when we asked each other the question:

†† Are you a believer?Are you a Christian?

†† We had a common understanding of what we were asking.

†† And we connected.We were mutually encouraged.

Iím sure all of you have had similar experiences with fellow believers.

 

Thatís what this passage is about.Itís about the rock bottom foundation of faith.

†† Itís about the very heart and soul of what it means to be a Christian.

 

Paul wrote this letter because the church where Timothy was pastor had problems.

One of the big problems was that there were people there who were teaching

†† and advocating what Paul called different doctrine, undermining the Gospel.

†† Paul tells Timothy early in the letter that he has to deal with those people.

Then Paul goes into detail about how Timothy should organize and lead the church.

†† He gives instructions for worship, explains qualifications for elders and deacons.

 

All of these instructions are part of dealing with this problem of people teaching

†† different doctrine.Good church order, good church officers, biblical worshipó

all of these things will help keep the church on track and keep these problem

†† people from gaining influence with their teaching.

 

Here in this passage Paul explains:This is why Iím writing this letter, Timothy.

†† So that you will know how people ought to behave in the church.

He calls the church the household of God, church of the living God,

†† and a pillar and buttress of truth.

 

You would think that at this point, at this very point, where Paul has said that

†† a primary identity of the church is a pillar and buttress of truth,

†† that Paul will bear down and give a detailed theological analysis of these

†† different doctrines.

That he will explain why these people are wrong, where out of step with Scripture.

†† Paul was a man of theological precision.And we expect to see it here.

†† Like he does in some of his other letters.

 

But he doesnít do that at all.Rather than going into detail and getting down

†† into the nitty-gritty, he does the exact opposite.

†† He says, Timothy, donít forget, itís all about Jesus, bro.

Verse 16.ďGreat indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness.Ē

†† Hereís the heart of it all.Hereís the rock bottom foundation of all we are and do.

†† Jesus born, Jesus risen, Jesus ascended, Jesus believed.

 

We must be precise in our theology, we must have convictions concerning the

†† whole counsel of God, we must take the full scope of doctrine seriously.

And, at the same time, we must be Christians and a church who can say simplyó

†† itís all about Jesus.Two points:

1.Why we must affirm, why we must confess, that itís all about Jesus.

2.How a Christ-centered confession shapes us.

Credit where credit is due:Sermon by Dr. Robert Rayburn.

 

MP#1Why we must affirm that itís all about Jesus

Itís a common belief today that all religions are the same.

†† You choose your path, Iíll choose mine, all heading to the same place.

In this view, Jesus is put in the same list as founders of other religionsó

†† heís like Buddha or Mohammed.

Thatís a very popular view.It seems reasonable to many people.

 

There is a sense in which all religions besides Christianity are the same.

†† All other religions are manís quest for God.

All other religions present a plan or way of life for achieving salvation

†† as they define it.

 

Islam has the Five Pillars of the Faith, which are five practices you must follow

†† in order to receive Godís mercy and a place in Paradise.

Buddhism has the Eightfold Path, which are 8 ways of living for achieving Nirvana.

†† A very different view of salvation, but still a personal quest.

Hinduism has 10,000 rituals and the caste system you follow for reincarnation

†† into a better form of existence.

 

Even secular religions are a quest for salvation.

Communism is a quest for a utopian society through workersí control of the means

†† of production.Environmentalism is a quest for oneness with the earth through

†† correct behavioródriving the right car, eating the right food, and so forth.

All religions are manís quest for God.Paths to get the salvation you want.

 

But the Christian faith is not one more version of manís quest for God.

†† Itís the true story of Godís quest for man.Itís not a program you follow.

It is an announcement of events in history when God himself entered

††† the world to secure the salvation of the human race.

Christianity is particularly the announcement of a series of events

†† that happened 2000 years ago in the days of Caesar Augustus.

 

Bible scholars agree that verse 16 is a creed or part of a hymn of the early church.

†† Itís like an early version of the Apostles Creed.

†† Paul didnít write it himself, heís quoting it.

Itís written in a very tight, balanced poetic form in Greek.

†† Six lines, three words in each.Same verb ending in each line, same preposition.

Easy to memorize, easy to recite in unison or sing together.

Paul introduces it by saying:Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

†† Itís also translated:Without any doubt, by common confession, we all agree.

†† Itís a phrase that signifies acknowledging something together in public.

Perhaps these were the words the worship leader would use to guide congregation,

†† like when I say:Christian, what do you believe?

 

What is the mystery of godliness?What does that phrase mean?

†† A mystery in the Scripture is something that God has revealed.

†† Godliness is the path to God, the true religion.

So what is the path to God that God has revealed?

†† Is it another list for us to follow, another program?

†† Is it five pillars, eight steps, 10,000 rituals of Christianity?

Itís not another program, itís a man.Look at the very next word:He!

 

He was manifested in the flesh, Vindicated by the Spirit,

†† Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations,

†† Believed on in the world, Taken up into glory.

The great mystery of godliness is not our quest for God,

†† but Godís quest for us through Jesus Christ.

 

Itís obvious a lot of work went into this early creed or hymn.

†† Great attention to lyrical excellence.Bible scholars are amazed at all packed in.

Itís a simple yet magnificent summary of the life and work of Jesus

†† as he is presented to us in the Gospel.

In just six lines, it presents the history of his quest for us

†† from his birth to his resurrection to his coming again.

 

Paul says:This is our faith.This is the mystery of godliness.Just six lines.

†† Paulís not concerned that there are so many important things left out.

There is nothing here about the Old Testament, about creation, Abraham, David.

†† Nothing about divine election or salvation by grace.

†† Noting about being born again, nothing about justification or sanctification.

†† Nothing about baptism or the Lordís Supper or Lordís Day worship or church.

†† Nothing about the Ten Commandments or the Bible.

 

Itís all about Jesus.Itís only about Jesus.What he did and what he will do.

It affirms his incarnation as the Son of God, his resurrection,

†† his ascension into heaven, and his coming again.

The only thing mentioned about Christians is what?

†† That they are believers in Jesus.Thatís it.

 

This creed was not detailed enough to deal with the problem people in Timothyís

†† church who were undermining the Gospel with their bad teaching.

Paul knew that.

†† He was theologically savvy enough to know that it would take a much more

†† detailed argument to deal with their problematic doctrines.

 

He certainly knew that those troublemakers would take a simple creed like this and

†† use it to their advantage.They would say:Why are you criticizing us?

†† We believe the creed.We believe in Jesus.

People can and people have affirmed the creeds and then undermined

†† the Christian faith by teaching falsehoods.

It often takes works of theological depth to confront those falsehoods.

†† Paul does that in other letters.He doesnít shy away from deep theology.

†† And we shouldnít shy away from it either.

 

And yet, at the same time, the Apostle Paul wanted Timothy to know

†† that a healthy church affirms the simplicity of the Christian faith.

It all comes down to this:

†† Faith in Jesus as your Savior is all that is needed for salvation.

†† Thatís the rock bottom foundation.

I had a friend in Florida who liked to say Bible can be summarized in four words:

†† Jesus says, trust me.

 

Itís that ultra-simple statement of faith in Jesus as he is presented in Gospel

†† that binds us together with all other Christians.Thatís how the woman at the

†† cabin and Tom the mechanic and Allison and I connected.

She saw the name of Christ on my book, Allison saw the cross tie tack on the collar,

†† and the connection is made.You bump into a stranger at airport and start to talk.

You donít have any idea what this person believes about baptism, or end times,

†† or Sabbath keeping, or speaking in tongues, or sanctification, or the atonementó

†† more than likely, if you got into those things, you would have big disagreements.

But you can say:Youíre a believer, arenít you?

†† And you both get itóbecause itís all about Jesus.

†† Not manís quest for God, but Godís quest for man.

Now letís work this out for ourselves and our church.Letís consider . . .

MP#2How this Christ-centered confession shapes us.

†† I have three applications.Iíll give them to you as we go.

Affirming that our faith is all about Jesus should first . . .

Make us respectful of other believers.

I have a Catholic neighbor named Kevin.

†† Over the years, we have gotten into debates about the Christian faith.

One time after I pulled out several Bible verses to support my position, Kevin said:

†† Thatís what I admire about you Protestants, you know the Bible.

†† You know it much better than most Catholics.

It was a genuine compliment and I appreciated it.

 

We should love and know the Word from Genesis to Revelation.

†† The reason we canít be Roman Catholics is because we donít find taught in

†† Scripture much that is taught and practiced in Roman Catholicism.

To a lesser degree, we canít be Baptists, because we donít think they have correctly

†† understood the Bibleís teaching regarding the covenant.

And we canít be Pentecostals, for other reasons we find in Scripture.

 

But we must hold our convictions in such a way that does equal justice to the fact

†† that simple faith in Jesus Christ as Savior is our rock bottom confession.

And that simplicity of our fundament confession means that we must respect as

†† fellow believers those with whom we have very big disagreements in other areas

 

Listen to the way Dr. Robert Rayburn put it in his sermon on this passage:

†† We must live according to the light that we have. We cannot stop thinking as we read the Word of God that Roman Catholics make some ghastly mistakes in teaching the Christian faith to their people or that the Baptists have misunderstood the Bible in a vitally important way. But honesty compels us to admit that there are many more Baptists than Presbyterians, many more Pentecostals than Presbyterians, and vastly more Roman Catholics than Presbyterians. Counting noses is no way to discover the truth.But the question is not: Who is right and who is wrong about this doctrine or that. We have studied the Word of God and believe we know what it teaches about these large issues. The question is rather: Why did God put so many of his people in the Roman Catholic Church or why did he make so many of them Pentecostals and not Presbyterians?I do not know the reason! Iíve wondered many times why the Lord has done that. But I am no closer to knowing the reason. But that he has done so has convinced me and ought to convince you that what matters most is belonging to the household of God and what determines whether one belongs to that household or not is not his view of sovereign grace or baptism or church government, but whether and only whether he or she can say from the heart concerning Jesus of Nazareth:He was manifested in the flesh, Vindicated by the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.

A Christ-centered confession should first

†† make us respectful of other believers, and second . . .

Make us realistic about our differences.

I titled this sermon ďMere ChristianityĒ and as many of you know, thatís actually

†† the title of a famous book by C.S. Lewis.

What C.S. Lewis does in Mere Christianity is present the basics of the faithó

†† mere Christianityóbasic Christianity, not the particular doctrines of a particular

†† branch of the church or denomination.

 

He takes a 1 Timothy 3:16 approach.Hereís what we all believe.

But in preface Lewis anticipates some Christians are going to read book and say:

†† Canít we just get rid of all the distinctive teachings and views of all the different

†† denominations and just come together in our common belief in Jesus?

Canít we just all live and work together as Christians.

†† You believe in Jesus, I believe in Jesusóthatís enough.Itís attractive, isnít it?

 

Listen to the way Lewis uses our common confession of Christ

†† to then make us realistic about our differences.

(Mere Christianity) is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can

†† bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in

†† the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.

The fundamental confession of faith in Christ is like the hall in a house.

†† But there are doors in that hall that open into roomsórooms are particular

†† churches.Thatís where you are fed, warmed, and enjoy fellowship.

†† In particular churches with their particular beliefs.

 

The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.

†† For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.

Itís better to be in a bad church, connected to a particular fellowship of believers,

†† than to say:Iím not into denominations, Iím just a follower of Jesus and never

†† make deep connections with any church.It seems like the high road, but itís not.

 

All Christians are bothered by the fact that there are different branches of the

†† church, different denominations when we trust the same Savior.

Our lack of unity is sometimes caused by sinful divisions.

†† But more often itís caused by the effect of the fall on our minds, and our inability

†† to understand the Bible as we ought to.But that doesnít mean we stop studying.

Try to sweep all our differences under the rug.

 

No, our common confession of Christ should enable us to recognize those

†† differences, and debate and discuss them with each other in a brotherly way.

†† Thatís a pathway to real unity under the Word of God.

 

A Christ-centered confession should make us respectful of other believers,

†† realistic about our differences, and third . . .

Reassured about the future of the church.

Unless your head is in the sand, you know that in Europe and North America,

†† the church is under attack, religious liberty, particularly Christianity under attack.

Even in Cullman this week, there is all the conflict over Billy Coleman and the

†† Prayer Caravan.That may seem like nothing new.There has been conflict over

†† presence of prayer and religious activities in the public schools for a long time.

But there is a cold wind blowing.Secularism is on the rise.

†† Christians are being marginalized for their faith.

†† Attempts to criminalize certain Christian teachings through hate speech laws.

Itís happened in Europe and Canada.The First Amendment offers more protection.

†† However, its sobering to hear church leaders in America who are balanced men,

†† not alarmists, saying that this where we are heading.

 

But even though we may be concerned about America and our times,

†† we have to take a bigger view.I heard an interesting statistic recently.

All the major religions in the world besides Christianity have 80% of their

†† adherents on one or two continents.

†† HinduismóIndia.BuddhismóAsia.IslamóAsia and Africa.

Even places where Islam is spreading outside Asia and Africa,

itís almost entirely ethnic Muslims moving to Europe and North America.

 

100 years ago, that was true of ChristianityóEurope and the Americas.

†† 100 years ago, 600 million Christians, now over 2 billion.

Much of the growth has been in Africa and Asia, so roughly speaking,

†† 20% of Christians in North American, 20% in South America,

†† 20% in Europe, 20% in Africa, 20% in Asia and Pacific.

†† And the untold story of our time is the massive growth of church in Asia.

Whatís behind this amazing growth of the church and the ability of Christianity

†† to reach all people everywhere?Not whatówho.Jesus Christ.

 

Steve Saint is a missionary in South America.

In 1953, when he was two years old, his father Nate, was speared to death by

†† Indians along with Jim Elliot and three other young missionaries.

Steve returned to the jungle to be a missionary to the tribe that killed his father.

†† And through his work and the work of others, that tribe came to faith in Christ.

Steve was once leading group of 34 college students from Washington State U.

†† on a tour of Amazon jungle.Their Indian guides were Christians from this tribe.

Steve could tell these students had grown to respect these Indian guides.

†† They were sitting around the campfire one night and a student asked Steve.

†† Where are the savage Indians that we read so much about in preparation for trip?

 

Steve pointed to the smiling, gentle Indians and said, these are the savages.

†† Just ask them where their fathers are.

He pointed to one of the Indian women and said, ask her.So they did.

†† Steve translated.The woman said.My parents were both speared and died.

†† They went around the circle, and every one told stories of violence and murder.

†† Some would stand up and point to scars on bodies where had been speared.

 

They came to the last woman, she pointed to her husband, an old Indian, she said:

†† He speared my father, brothers, mother, baby sister nursing, forced me to be wife.

At that point, Steve put his arm around old Indian and said, He killed my father too.

†† There was dead silence, until someone asked:What changed these people?

 

Steve translated questionóIndians began to talk about their brutal life.

†† Throw babies into jungle if not convenient, buried sick alive, killing and revenge.

ďThen they explained to our 34 highly educated young people from the most technologically advanced society in history how they learned from the missionaries that the Man Maker sent his Son to die for people full of hate, fear, and desire for revenge.Ē

 

After presenting the Gospel, they challenged these college students to follow Christ.

†† ďIn a fleeting but eternal moment, I had seen Godís Great Commission coming full circle.Ē

Why are we reassured about our future as the household of God?

†† Because the great mystery of godliness that is not a program or a plan that only

†† works in certain placesóthe mystery of godliness is a man.

A man who all people can know and trust and identify with.

†† He is our confident hope.

 

He was manifested in the flesh, Vindicated by the Spirit, Seen by angels,

†† Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.

Letís rejoice that we know him,

†† and that we have many brothers and sisters who know him too.