Archive for April, 2013

The Church As Missionary: Considering Missional Applications for the Local Church

By Chris, Missionary Serving in East Asia

Captain James Cook was the famed 18th century British naval explorer, who sailed across thousands of miles of previously uncharted territories. He published maps and writings of the exotic peoples and places he discovered as he went. During that time, as many faithful followers of Jesus Christ began to gain access to Captain Cook’s discoveries, God began to stir in them a swirling storm of conviction to get the gospel to these previously unknown regions of the world.  Each man’s work continued to build on another: from David Brainerd to Jonathan Edwards to William Cary, until the modern missionary movement was birthed. Today, there are hundreds of missionary organizations in existence sending thousands of missionaries all over the globe.

While there are many things to celebrate in the current state of the modern missionary movement, there is also some things that should cause concern. For example, nearly every modern definition of a missionary focuses on the task of sending an individual across geographic and/or cultural boundaries to live out the Great Commission among a population segment that has little to no access to the gospel message. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many fail to see the inherent danger with this definition.

Consider the following scenario with me:

The Wright family goes to serve in a country that’s officially closed to the gospel. They go to work with a people group that does not have a single known believer. They win some people to faith and gather them together. After a while the group begins to mature and forms into a church.  Even though they are young, they want to do what the Bible says in all matters of faith. Not wanting to create dependency from the church on outsiders, the Wright’s provide increasingly less support for the new church, and instead continue the same church planting model in new areas.

On the surface, this seems like a commendable plan. The Wright family has done a great job in evangelism and getting this church formed. However, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Is this church equipped to be self-sustaining and self-theologizing? Is this church equipped to deal with difficult persecution? Is it equipped to develop new Christian traditions that completely replace previous pagan ones? Is it equipped to help women who are abused physically, emotionally, or sexually? Is the church able to correctly discern truth from the errors of false doctrine? And most importantly, even if the Wright family continues to help this young fellowship, are the Wrights alone equipped to provide all that is needed to help this church mature? Remember, in this scenario, this is the first church planted among that population segment. There are no other neighboring churches they can go and talk with to learn how to deal with certain trials that might arise.

Every year there are hundreds of churches that are reportedly planted on the mission field that begin like one I described above; however, an alarmingly significant percentage of these churches will no longer be in existence two years later.

If we want to plant churches that are going to stand the test of time—churches that will also be able to plant other church-planting churches—then we need to stop looking at individuals as missionaries and begin to look to the local church as the missionary. While there might be individuals that go out from us for certain portions of the church planting efforts, the work of church planting is better understood to be the work of the local church.

Three important implications for the church as missionary paradigm:

1) From Hearing to Maturity: While individuals sent out from the local church might be well equipped to initiate the church planting process, precious few are able to give a new church (in a cross-cultural context nonetheless) everything they need to be healthy and self-sustaining. Imagine the training needed for a context in which no previous believers in the entire population segment existed! All members will be brand new believers and must grow into their positions of church leadership and service. The parent church can nurture the daughter church in this process in ways that individuals cannot.

2) The “Homogeneous Unit” Principle: This principle focuses on the fact that demographically similar people tend to flock together. This can lead to the ostracizing and neglect of certain segments of the target population and does not well portray the differences in the body of Christ that is characterized all throughout the Scriptures. If individual missionaries are very intentional, they will be able to share the gospel with all types of people. However, if they want to follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, they will only be able to spend consistent one-on-one/life-on-life training with a fraction of those they see come to faith. This normally ends up being those who are in the same gender and phase of life as the missionary. Therefore, regardless of the cultural differences, the church plant tends to look very much like the missionary.  If the missionary is not an individual, but a church body, the Homogeneous Unit problem can be replaced with a healthy church planting model.

3) The Church/Parachurch Relationship: The prefix ‘para’ can have several similar, but different, definitions. In regard to para-church the suffix takes on the meaning ‘distinct from, yet providing assistance to’ the church. Therefore, it is important to remember that such an entity is not only distinct from a church, but it exists to assist the church. With the church seeking consultation and training from parachurch organizations for specific elements of the missionary task, the church can maintain its position as missionary while receiving much needed help from others who are more experienced or equipped in certain areas.

While there are numerous tracking systems for the number of churches being planted globally each year, there does not seem to be much effort given to the tracking of the growth of such churches. Not too long ago, I was part of a group that was studying the elements behind three different movements where churches were rapidly planting new churches. While there was certainly much to celebrate, I was deeply grieved to discover that more than eighty churches reported in these movements were no longer in existence before their second birthday. If we are sowing our seeds a mile wide but only an inch deep, is there any wonder that persecution and the worries of this world are choking the life out of these young fellowships (cf. Matt 13:1–23)? It’s similar to this old, oft-quoted African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

In following posts, we will look at each of the aforementioned implications for local church mission work, and consider how a US-based local church can practically apply them by serving as a missionary in a global context.

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Christ Proved His Deity By a Single Word of Scripture

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

On the doctrine of Christ, orthodox Christians have always believed the Scripture teaches the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ. In this post, we’ll consider how Jesus sought to prove his deity by a single word of Scripture, which will again demonstrate Jesus’ high view of Scripture.

One of the common titles for the Messiah was “the Son of David,” since, as expected, the Messiah would fulfill the covenant made with David in 2 Samuel 7, which is also referred to in Isaiah 9:7. Many times in the Gospels, Jesus is referred to as the Son of David. As a matter of fact, this is demonstrated even in the very first verse of the New Testament: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1).

Yet, Jesus knew that the Jews of his day were missing a key link when they were looking for the Messiah to be the Son of David: i.e., they were missing the deity of Christ, the fact that the Messiah would also be the Son of God. They missed the incarnation, that the “word became flesh” (John 1:1), and they considered such a concept to be blasphemous in the extreme. Therefore, in order to reach them, Christ had to use the Scriptures to prove that the Messiah would be greater than David, thus opening their minds to accept the deity and the humanity of Christ. In order to do it, Christ reached for a single Hebrew word in Psalm 110. Here’s the exchange he had with the Pharisees in Matthew 22:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The Son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Vv 41–46)

The following are the key ingredients to the point Christ is making:

First, David wrote Psalm 110, or else the argument would fail.

Second, David was “speaking by the Spirit.” This is the essence of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. David spoke, but he did so “by the Spirit,” thus preserving Psalm 110 from human error.

Third, in Hebrew thinking, a son is normally never considered greater than his father. The Ten Commandments ensure this in some since, for all sons must honor their fathers. The kingly line functions in this way as well—as long as the father is still alive, he is king; only after the father dies can the son become king in his father’s place.

Fourth, David was writing about the Messiah, the one who would reign on David’s throne forever.

These four key ingredients add up to one unsolvable problem for the Jews: i.e., why did David call his own son “Lord”? In Psalm 110:1, David wrote that very thing: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’”

The expression “my Lord” is the one that causes all the trouble. It blows the circuits of the Pharisees’ minds, for the Messiah was at the same time the “Son of David” and David’s “Lord.” We Christians solve the problem by accepting the mystery of the incarnation—that Christ was at the same time God and man, at the same time the Son of David and the Son of God. This is the very thing the angel said to Mary, Jesus’ mother in Luke 1:31–32: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” You see, “Son of the Most High” and “his father David” are mentioned together in the same sentence of Jesus. Jesus was to be both Son of God and Son of David. Since he was the Son of God, David will call him “my Lord.”

In the Hebrew, the expression “my Lord” in Psalm 110:1 is “adonai,” a single Hebrew word. By the weight of that single word, Jesus silenced his enemies with a conundrum that unbelieving Jews have not solved in twenty centuries, and never will solve until they recognize the truth of the incarnation. That is why none of Jesus’ enemies could answer his simple question: “If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Jesus’ use of a single Hebrew word to prove his deity shows his perfectly high view of Scripture, and we, his followers, should have a similarly high view of Scripture.

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4)Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment  by All Scripture; and (6) Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God.

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Christ Staked His Life on the Word of God

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

You know what, Scripture makes it plain that Christ staked his life on the Word of God. But how about this?: even more, Christ staked his life on even obscure details in Scripture. Some scholars have occasionally accused conservative Christians of being too detail-minded about Scripture, too focused on the minutia. Now, it’s no doubt that such a thing can happen, as Jesus’ strong attack on the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23 proves. In that text, Jesus charges,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt 23:23–24).

Very strong words. When Jesus said in verse 24 that they “strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel,” his charge is that they have been so focused on tiny details of Scripture that they completely missed the bigger picture. Some scribes in Jesus’ time, for example, were given astonishing assignments, like counting the number of letters in a book of the Bible and marking the middle letter. That kind of time-consuming frivolity is surely not the reason Scripture was given by God to people. A modern day equivalent might be seen in Grant Jeffrey’s book The Mysterious Bible Codes, in which computer analysis of letter intervals in the Hebrew text reveals the Hebrew names for Hitler, Eichmann, and Auschwitz.

However, just because Jesus wouldn’t have supported counting letters for bizarre statistics and findings like that, that doesn’t mean he would have supported any of God’s letters dropping out from the text. Letters make up words, words make up sentences, sentences make up paragraphs, and these paragraphs were given by God to transform our minds. The One who constructed this massive, amazing universe out of tiny atoms knows the significance of single letters.

And that’s what we get from Jesus in Matthew 5: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (vv 18–19).

The NIV translation “smallest letter” and “least stroke of a pen” might better be understood literally as “jot and tittle” (or “iota and dot”). The “jot” is the translation of the Greek word “iota,” which is how the Hebrew letter “yodh” is translated. And the “yodh” looks much like a tiny apostrophe. The “tittle” is the serif or little hook-like projection at the end of a Hebrew letter—a small stroke of a pen that may distinguish one letter from another. Jesus says all of those pen strokes will be preserved by the power of God until the end of the world.

No one can then argue that Jesus didn’t think details were important. As a matter of fact, three straight examples will show that Jesus though every part of Scripture was equally the Word of God—from the most obscure (Psalm 82) to the smallest (one word in Psalm 110) to the details (one verb tense in Exodus 3:6). In this post, we’ll deal with the most obscure—Psalm 82. In two later posts, we’ll deal with the others.

In John 10, after Jesus made his extraordinary claim to deity—“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)—the Jews then picked up stones to try to kill him. Jesus’ life was being threatened, and he was under immense pressure. What did he reach for to save his life? Nothing more (or less) than Psalm 82. Now, Psalm 82 is not one of the most famous psalms in the Bible. Psalm 23 is probably that. Others, like Psalms 1, 8, 22, 24, 27, 32, 37, 51, 84, 100, 103, 119, and 139 have some very well-known passages in them. Very few people have ever considered Psalm 82 their favorite Psalm. It’s truly obscure, yet it’s truly part of inspired Scripture. Jesus, in the midst of the threat of stoning, reaches for a passage from Psalm 82 to save his life.

The text states, “And again, the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? When then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?’” (John 10:31–36).

When Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 for his defense (“I said you are gods”), he is seeking to save his life from stoning. Yet it was about this Scripture that Jesus said what we quoted in an earlier post: “Scripture cannot be broken.” The argumentation is somewhat difficult to follow, but Leon Morris explains it like this: “His argument runs not ‘Psalm 82 speaks of men as gods; therefore I in common with other men may use the term of myself.’; but rather, ‘If in any sense the Psalm may apply the term to men, then how much more may it be applied to him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world’” (The Gospel According to John, NICNT, 527–28).

Whether we can follow Jesus’ argument or not, it’s still astonishing that—at such an incredibly tense moment, with his life hanging in the balance—Jesus reaches for a single phrase in an obscure psalm, saying of that single phrase, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” How, then, can Jesus’ view of the perfection of all Scripture be any clearer?

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Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; (4)Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture; and (5) Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment  by All Scripture.

Image credit: searchthebible.com

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“Jesus Wants My Heart”

By Daniel Renstrom, Assistant Pastor

Editor’s Note: Daniel Renstrom is a pastor at FBC Durham, and leads the worship ministry. In a few days, Daniel’s fourth album, “Jesus Wants My Heart,” will be released and will be available for purchase. With the release date near, Daniel has written the following post, expressing some of his hopes for “Jesus Wants My Heart” to be a blessing to families.

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About three years ago, I began the process of writing a kids’ worship album. At the time, I hoped to write songs that were more in the genre of The Wiggles, but also something parents would like to listen to. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I’m not that good at writing The Wiggles-type songs—which was bad for my wallet, but good for my pride!

Still, I loved writing songs that kids and parents might enjoy listening to together—songs that lyrically would provide opportunities for families to have great theological discussions together. So we decided to switch gears from a kids’ project to a family worship album. Right now, it looks like the CD will come out really soon, and we couldn’t be happier about that! Releasing this CD has been three years in the making, which is the longest any of my CDs have taken me to release.

Anyway, I wanted to write a blog post here and mention a few things I hope will happen as a result of this project.

First, I hope that families will have rich theological discussions because of the songs on “Jesus Wants My Heart.” It’s amazing how God made our minds to be sponge-like when it comes to music. Kids can easily sing songs about ideas that they can’t fully grasp, just because they’ve learned the melody. We’ve been praying that dads and moms will ask question about these songs and help their children think through the implications of the theological ideas in the songs. One theological idea, for instance, is the idea of Jesus being our substitute in the song “Love Love Love.” Now, obviously substitutionary atonement is a weighty concept for kids to grasp, but I think this song gives us an opportunity to help our kids think about how God lovingly put Jesus forward as our sin substitute.

Second, I hope that families have fun listening to these songs. As I wrote these songs, I knew pretty quickly if a song was a dud or heading in the right direction by the way that my daughters responded to me playing it. If they danced and sang along almost immediately, I knew it would probably stick for other kiddos as well. Some of the most fun our family has had over the last three years have been dancing and laughing in our living room while we were singing these songs together. I hope that your families experience the same joy that ours has in listening to these songs.

Third, I hope that these songs give your kids good categories to love God and fight sin. This is closely tied to my first hope above, but just a step further. We have prayed that—just like Scripture memory—these songs would be a means of grace for our kids as they call them up from memory in moments of temptation. One example might be when they are feeling discouraged that their sin is keeping them from coming to God in prayer, but then remembering the line from one song: “Rest Your Little Soul that the … Father’s perfect plan is to give his Spirit as our guide, to lead us to the throne of love.”

Fourth, I hope that these songs help parents fulfill Deuteronomy 6:6–7. Moses’ words to Israel’s parents was that they were to tell their children about God during every situation of life. Whether they were at home, or walking or when they were going to sleep. Parents were commended to take every opportunity to tell their children about God. As a parent of three little girls (6, 4, 3), I can tell you that this is hard. Historically, I know it’s hard because Israel failed to do it. Experientially, I know this is hard because I fail weekly and daily to do this as well as I should. I’m not able to offer any “three-step” program to cure you and me of our spiritual laziness, helping people to shepherd their kids to love God. But, I can tell you that songs with spiritual depth have been a real blessing to my wife, Danielle, and myself, as it provides us an opportunity to ask our girls questions about what they are learning in one of these songs. Those questions have often led to fruitful conversations. My hope is that the songs from JWMH will help good conversations happen.

Fifth, I hope these songs will have evangelistic fruit. This certainly wasn’t the only purpose I had  in writing these songs. But I can’t help but think and pray that one of these CDs will end up in the hands of a family who doesn’t know Christ, and that God might use some of these songs to open their eyes to the gospel. There are a lot of La La’s and Ohh’s and Ahh’s in these songs, but in between all of that are words explicitly about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m praying that God would see fit to use these songs to bring people to himself.

Thank you so much for supporting our music. Danielle and I feel blessed beyond words that so many of y’all have expressed excitement about this CD.

Update: “Jesus Wants My Heart” is now available on iTunes. Check it out!

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The Differences Between the “Two Ways to View Work”

By Matthew Hodges, Director of City Outreach

On Tuesday, I posted on the “Two Ways to View Work.” Today, we’ll round off that topic with some further commentary on the various differences between the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) and the “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) of work, and along the way, we’ll consider some of the ways a consistent, biblical worldview of work should apply to one’s everyday work life.

In my earlier post, I defined the “success ethic” view of work as one that sees a job as a means to attaining the “good life,” a life of having all the material possessions, leisure, and financial security that most of us all want. Now, material possessions, a desire for some occasional leisure, and financial security aren’t bad things in and of themselves. But, for those who live by the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview), we can see how their work ethic is linked to their theology in the following four categories:

First, those who live under a “success ethic” must know that their view of work is linked to their view of God. Under this work ethic, one’s ultimate allegiance is to material things, personal accomplishments and attainments—i.e., the “good life”—not God. They will chase after, and will be defined by, but will never be totally satisfied with their social position, toys, networks, living conditions, savings in the bank, clothes, gadgets, awards and accolades.

Second, it is also linked to their view of man. Under a “success ethic” of work, one sees himself as a basically good person, free to make their own choices and decisions in life in order to gain whatever personal pleasures they could possibly want in life.

The third category is death, which, like the others will be linked to one’s worldview perspective on work. For those who live under a “success ethic,” they simply don’t have death on their radar screen; instead, they just have in mind the next thing they want to accomplish, or the next idol they want to possess.

Finally, the fourth category is the afterlife. What does the person who operates under the “success ethic” worldview think of the afterlife? Well, not a lot, but they act as if they could never be kept out of heaven, even though they’ll admit they’ve made some “slap on the wrist” kinds of mistakes in life. They’ll insist that they’ve simply been living the “good life” (eat, drink, and be merry!), or that they didn’t know that God exists, and that we are accountable to him.

The bottom line for the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) worker is that they’ll work hard in order to enjoy personal satisfaction in this life—no matter the cost to family and work relationships. And, if they fail to find happiness this way, it can be a very despairing view of life and work.

Now, you may be thinking, “That’s the way I work, so what’s wrong with that view of work?”

Think of “worldview” as the lens by which we make sense of the world. The problem with the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) of work is that it essentially operates through a lens that’s distorted and cracked. The crack in the lens originates from the four categories being essentially self-centered. As I hinted at above, the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) of work does not guarantee success, but for many, it may produce temporary success. But the reality is that this particular work ethic is trying to sell a bag of goods that it ultimately cannot deliver. This work ethic cannot produce joy, relational peace, satisfaction, and peace with the living God. In the end, the “success ethic” of work will fail everyone whose lives are built upon it.

In Luke 12, Jesus teaches the Parable of the Rich Fool to two brothers who were arguing over the proper distribution of their inheritance. In the parable, the rich man is the one who was living by the “success ethic” (American Dream worldview) of work and life, thinking little if at all about the brevity of life. After he had amassed a great amount of wealth, he expects to be able to rest in a life of endless pleasure and leisure from then on—that is, until God bursts through his thoughts of retirement and declares to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (12:20).

Thankfully, there is another way to work.

Let’s consider each of the above-mentioned categories now from a “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) of work.

First, under the “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) of work, one’s relationship with God is properly understood. Our Lord God is the creator of heaven and earth, and he is the sovereign ruler and sustainer of all things, and able to accomplish all of his purposes. We’re called to work in light of this biblical view of God, his nature and his character.

Second, a biblical worldview helps us to work for the glory of God because it provides us with a biblical understanding of man. Man is created in the image of God in order to show and demonstrate God’s greatness in his creation in every area and sphere of our lives. Because man is corrupt in the heart by sin, we must understand that apart from God’s gracious work of salvation through faith in Christ alone, man is unable to show God’s greatness in any consistent way on his own.

Third, a biblical worldview of death will shape our thoughts of work, knowing that Jesus Christ perfectly showed the greatness of God through his perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus laid down his life as the price to pay for our sins. His death makes it possible for us to live in Christ and do all things to the glory of God, and it gives us hope for eternal life.

So finally, fourth, a biblical worldview of work when we consider the afterlife would be that Jesus Christ’s death satisfied the wrath of God, and, therefore, anyone who believes in Christ can be immediately justified, and will one day be glorified—never to face the eternal wrath of God.

And what does this mean for the “sanctification ethic” (biblical worldview) worker? It means that they can now work hard—whether they get paid or not—in order to bring honor and glory to the living God. As mentioned above, the American Dream worldview has a crack in its lens, rendering work under that view as ultimately lacking. But, such a distorted view can be replaced by a biblical worldview of work that is seen through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The work of Christ to live a perfect life, die on the cross for sin, and be raised from the grave is the game-changer between these two ethics of work.

The biblical work ethic is centered on God (not the self) being honored, while the “success ethic” is centered on the self (not God) being honored. The biblical work ethic has eternity in view, while the “success ethic” is shortsighted.

The only thing that changed my work ethic, from the way I worked in my early years to the way I work today is Jesus Christ, his perfect life, death, and resurrection—and the knowledge that I should live and work for the glory of God. I’m still growing in this area of my life, as I hope to honor and glorify my Master in heaven by obeying earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, or being a people-pleaser, but by working with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord (Col 3:22).

So, friends, work hard in every area of life. Don’t chase after fool’s gold. But rather, work and chase after the glory of God.

Image Credit: Work, Life Signs.

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Is Baptism a Secondary Doctrine

By Nathan Finn, Elder

Note: On Monday, I offered some brief thoughts on baptism. I mentioned in that post an earlier article from Between the Times on the topic “Is Baptism a Secondary Doctrine?” I have re-published that earlier article below, with some very minor edits.

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SBTS President Al Mohler

Several years ago, Southern Seminary president Albert Mohler wrote an influential essay titled “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.” In that essay, Mohler argues that a key to spiritual maturity is being able to distinguish between primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrines. According to Mohler, primary or first-order doctrines are those that are essential to the faith—you cannot reject these beliefs and still be Christian in the biblical sense of the term. Mohler’s examples include such matters as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus, justification by faith alone, and the full authority of Scripture.

Secondary or second-order doctrines are those that generate disagreement among authentic Christians and typically result in an inability to be a part of the same denomination or often even the same congregation. Mohler’s examples of second-order doctrines are gender roles and baptism.

Tertiary or third-order doctrines are those doctrines that engender disagreement, but do not normally prevent two Christians from being part of the same church or group of churches. Mohler’s cites disagreement about the finer details of eschatology, presumably the nature of the millennium and the timing of the rapture, as textbook tertiary doctrines.

Southern Baptists have responded in a variety of ways to Mohler’s paradigm. Some argue it is a helpful way to think about the nature of Christian cooperation. They claim we all do theological triage, even if subconsciously and without using the label. Others voice concerns that Mohler’s views, or at least some possible applications of his views, lead to a downplaying of important theological convictions. They claim that theological triage results in our picking and choosing which biblical commands we will obey and which we will fudge on for ecumenical purposes.

For my part, I am firmly in the camp that agrees that theological triage is a helpful term that describes what all Christians already do, even if they don’t know it. I reject the notion that categorizing doctrines as either primary, secondary, or tertiary in principle necessarily leads to some sort of inappropriate compromise. When I choose to work with others with whom I disagree on secondary or tertiary convictions, I am not endorsing their convictions—I’m simply recognizing that what I believe to be their error doesn’t preclude us from working together in certain matters.

I think one reason the idea of theological triage raises concerns for many Baptists is because ecclesiological distinctives, and particularly baptism, are almost always considered second-order doctrines. Mohler himself uses baptism as one of his examples as a secondary doctrine. How should Baptists, and particularly Southern Baptists, think of the doctrine of baptism (and ecclesiology in general)? Is baptism a second-order doctrine?

I think the answer is both yes and no. There is a sense in which baptism is most certainly a secondary doctrine because a certain form of baptism is not necessary for salvation. In other words, you can be really converted and really love Jesus and really be growing in your faith, yet hold to an erroneous view of baptism. It is a secondary doctrine.

But as Southern Baptists, it is important to recognize that a particular understanding of baptism—the full immersion of professed believers—is a core distinctive of our churches and our denomination. While every Southern Baptist I know would agree that baptism doesn’t contribute to our salvation, almost every Southern Baptist I know would argue that confessor’s baptism by immersion is the explicit teaching of the New Testament and that other Christians who sprinkle babies and call it baptism are in error, even if they don’t know it.

Baptism is a secondary doctrine, but one that Baptists honestly believe is taught in the New Testament and should be embraced by other believers. To argue baptism is a primary doctrine is sectarian and smacks of a bapto-centric spirit that values the sign of the new covenant over the realities of the new covenant, even if implicitly. But to argue that baptism is unimportant or a matter of adiaphora is to disregard a doctrine that Scripture ties to the gospel (Rom 6), missions (Matt 28), and the church (Acts 2). Baptism is very important, but it is not of first importance.

For the record, I think Mohler would likely agree with my argument (though he’d no doubt make it more eloquently were he writing this). I don’t see anything in his essay that hints at the idea that baptism—or any other secondary or even tertiary doctrine—is unimportant. In fact, he argues that disagreements about secondary doctrines help define denominations and churches. Baptists give special emphasis to the secondary doctrine of baptism, which necessarily helps distinguish us from other types of Christians.

Southern Baptists should not retreat one inch from our commitment to New Testament baptism. But neither should we act as if an erroneous view of baptism necessarily calls into question one’s regeneration and/or his gospel usefulness. We should speak prophetically to our brothers and sisters in Christ when it comes to baptism (and ecclesiology in general), but we should also humbly recognize that God is working among those who are wrong on baptism, sometimes to a much greater degree than he is working among Baptists. I hope we will work with them in every way we can without sacrificing our baptismal convictions.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted at Nathan Finn’s personal blog and at Between the Times;  Image Credit: Al Mohler.

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Christ Lived Sinlessly Moment by Moment by All Scripture

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

In any treatment of Christ’s view of the Bible, we should also consider his actions in obedience to what it says. We dealt with one aspect of this in an earlier post: “Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture.” Here, we’ll consider how Christ’s sinless life was lived moment by moment in obedience to the Word of God, and how that was absolutely essential.

As I have stated in previous posts, my basic persuasive argument in this series goes like this:

Premise 1: What Jesus believes should be what Christians believe;
Premise 2: Christ’s view of Scripture is that it is the perfect Word of God;
Conclusion: Therefore, all Christians should have the same view of Scripture as Christ’s

Hills in the Judean Desert

Central to Christianity is our firm belief that Jesus was without sin his entire life. In fact, it was absolutely essential to Christ’s ministry that he live a perfect, sinless life—so that he could stand in our place as our perfect, spotless Lamb without blemish. Were Christ tainted with sin even in the least, he would be disqualified from being our Savior. Yet this is what the wicked tempter, Satan, tried to accomplish. If Satan could somehow successfully tempt Christ and get him to sin, Jesus couldn’t be our substitute and Savior.

Jesus’ sinless life is exemplified in his resistance to the temptations from the devil while Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days. These days—and Jesus’ obedience to the Father in the face of the devil’s temptations—were essential to Christ’s mission on earth. What is important for our present consideration is not only that Christ remained sinless in the face of Satan’s attacks, but that he defeated each of the devil’s temptations by quoting Scripture.

We see this point established at the very onset of the wilderness temptations: “And the tempter came and said to [Jesus], ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:3–4).

In his response to Satan’s temptation, Christ proves the immeasurable power of the written Word of God in resisting temptation and in causing the devil to flee. In doing so, Christ is not only our King, he’s also our example. No doubt Christ could’ve pulled rank on the devil. He could’ve countered, “I am the King of kings, the eternal Son of God. You cannot compel me to do anything I don’t want to do.” That would have been true, right, and appropriate for him to personally respond to the devil that way. But it wouldn’t have been nearly so beneficial for us. We are besieged daily by temptations and tests from the devil’s evil regime, and, if we are to stand and fight successfully, we must know how to wield the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” spoken of in Ephesians 6:17.

In Matthew 4, Christ answers all three representative temptations with the same introduction: literally, “It stands written.” There is a sense of absolute finality to Christ’s quotation of Scripture in every case.

Even more, in the first temptation, Christ shows his view of Scripture at a deeper level: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). The scriptural quote is from Deuteronomy 8:3, the passage about manna. There, according to Moses, before any Scripture had been written, God tested the Israelites to see if they would follow his every command. They were trained to listen to God’s words, to cling to them as if they were life itself. They were taught that it was not the manna per se that was keeping them alive in the desert, but God’s word by which the manna had come. They were being trained to look to God’s mouth for their every command, and their life.

Now that we have the Scripture, Jesus points the way to a life of constant holiness, of resisting temptation. We are to live moment by moment by the Word of God. And, we are to cherish every word from God, every command, promise, warning, history lesson, poem, prophecy, and epistle. Jesus’ perfect high view of Scripture can be found in this one quotation of Deuteronomy 8:3. And so we also should know that we live, exist, stay alive, and live holy and pleasing lives to the Lord, only by eating “every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

In recent years, attacks on the Old Testament have continued by Liberal scholars, and that includes their critical analysis of texts from the book that Jesus quoted from in the wilderness temptation: Deuteronomy. One of the more famous attacks on the Pentateuch by scholars still taught in universities and seminaries is the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis, a theory which calls into question the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy in particular). This so-called JEDP theory of collaborative authorship and questionable authority of the Pentateuch supplanted for decades at least thirty-five centuries of Judeo-Christian tradition. But you know what, if Satan had wanted to question the authority of Deuteronomy, the desert encounter with Jesus would have been a prime time to do it. Instead, Satan moved on with a second temptation, quoting Scripture that time himself. In other words, there would have been no point in trying to refute Christ’s view of the inspiration and authority of the Bible. It’s well established in Scripture. Christ believed it, and so should we.

So after the second, and then the third temptation the devil hurled toward Christ, our Savior refuted each temptation by the Word of God. And he continued to daily live by “every word … from the mouth of God.” As he declares in John 8:29, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” And by using a powerful technique (i.e., “It is written”), Christ leaves us a pattern of holiness to follow. Christ’s pattern of fighting temptation thus reveals his perfect view of, and attitude toward, Scripture.

Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture; and (4) Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture

Image credit: Hills in the Judean Wilderness.

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Some Brief Thoughts on Baptism

By Nathan Finn, Elder

Recently, The Gospel Coalition published two short articles about baptism. In the first article, Gavin Ortlund, a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary, shares his journey from a pedobaptist to credobaptist position. Gavin was nurtured in a prominent Presbyterian family, but in college embraced a Baptist understanding of baptism. In the second article, my friend Sean Lucas, senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hattiesburg, MS, shares his pilgrimage from credobaptism to pedobaptism. Sean has been around the block, denominationally speaking, but after several years in Baptist circles he landed in the Presbyterian Church in America. Both of the articles are very thoughtful.

I think this is an important discussion. Baptism matters. Unfortunately, there is an tendency among contemporary evangelicals to downplay ecclesiological matters, including the ordinances, because differing opinions about ecclesiology lie at the heart of many different denominational traditions. Ecclesiologically, most all Protestant denominations are “lower-case” congregationalists, presbyterians, or episcopals, even if they don’t choose to self-identify as “upper-case” versions of those broader traditions. From the standpoint of the ordinances, almost every denomination at least leans toward either pedobaptism or credobapism as the preferred (often exclusive) practice, even if many of the latter do not own the “Baptist” label.

Baptism is also relegated to the doctrinal back bench by some folks because of a misapplication of Al Mohler’s concept of “theological triage.” Mohler rightly points out that baptism is a secondary doctrine, which means it is a doctrine that normally divides sincere Christians into different denominational traditions and local churches. Unfortunately, many evangelicals, including some Baptists, seem to equate “secondary” with “peripheral.” Though it’s difficult to document, there seems to be a growing willingness to at least entertain, if not always embrace, an “open membership” position among many Baptists. A far greater number of Baptists hold to the traditional position that believer’s baptism by immersion is prerequisite to church membership, but they rarely emphasize this doctrine. I frequently witness this latter mentality among younger pastors. They assume a Baptist view of the ordinance, but they make little effort to defend and commend credobaptism. (For what it’s worth, I weighed in on this specific question a few years ago with a post titled “Is Baptism a Secondary Doctrine?,” which was published at Between the Times.)

Many Baptists have written helpful defenses of believer’s baptism. Some of the classics have been written by Paul Jewett and George Beasley-Murray, while lesser-known, but useful works have been written by Fred Malone and Erroll Hulse. I believe the very best recent book defending the credobaptist position is Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (B&H Academic, 2007). This volume includes exegetical, historical, theological, and practical essays written by several Baptist scholars and pastors. Though all of the essays are very good, I believe the most compelling is Stephen Wellum’s “Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants,” which is available online.

Editors note: This article was originally posted on Nathan Finn’s personal blog.

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Christ Taught the Unbreakable Authority & Permanence of Scripture

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

This is now the fourth post in our series on Christ’s view of the Scripture. I hope this series has been helpful so far. The basic purpose of these posts has been: (1) to encourage faithful Christians to remain committed to the Bible despite the world’s attacks; and (2) to provide helpful medicine to any Christians who feel harassed by doubt due to Liberal attacks on the Bible. My basic persuasive argument has gone like this:

Premise 1: What Jesus believes should be what Christians believe;
Premise 2: Christ’s view of Scripture is that it is the perfect Word of God;
Conclusion: Therefore, all Christians should have the same view of Scripture as Christ’s

In what ways did Christ teach that Scripture’s nature is unbreakable? In the midst of Jesus’ claim that he and the Father are one, Jesus makes the statement that the “Scripture cannot be broken” in John 10:35. Quite literally, Jesus means that it is impossible to destroy the Scripture. Created man can try his hardest to destroy the Word of God, but he will fail. That is an important and encouraging truth in the face of the world’s attacks against the Bible, and it can help Christians withstand and combat the devilish claims that are made in an effort to undermine its authority.Here in today’s post, I want to show that Christ believed and taught the unbreakable authority and permanence of Scripture. This gets to the heart of Christ’s understanding of the nature of Scripture.

In addition, Jesus taught extensively on the permanence of Scripture’s authority. Sometimes Liberal Christians try to claim that the Bible’s historical interpretation or intent is something that needs to be left behind as culture and society has progressed beyond the primitiveness of the ancient world. But Jesus totally disagrees with such arrogant reasoning. In Matthew 5, Jesus declares to his listeners, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:18–19). In this confident statement, Jesus is claiming that Scripture will outlive heaven and earth. And, the inference he makes as a result of the reality of the lasting permanence of Scripture’s authority is that those who “relax one of the least of these commandments” are doing violence to the Scripture, and will suffer consequences for their mistaken relaxing of its authority in their application of its commands. Conversely, those who continue to submit to the authoritative commands of Scripture “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

In Matthew 24, Jesus makes a similar statement—not about Scripture in general—but about his own words as Scripture, thus linking his own views of Scripture to the future New Testament writings as well. As he taught concerning the lesson of the fig tree, he says this to his disciples: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt 24:35).

Not only that, Christ also showed the authority of the Old Testament when he resolved difficulty after difficulty by resorting to scriptural arguments. For example, when the Pharisees questions him about divorce, he answered them, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:4–6). So, Christ’s response to their questioning was to ask them if they have ever read the authoritative teaching of Genesis 2 on the topic.

In a similar encounter with the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, Jesus responds to their question with this statement in Matthew 22: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:29–32). In other words, in every matter that came to Christ, he sought to answer by Scripture—day after day. For Christ, the authority of Scripture was final, and settled all controversies. And, as that was Christ’s attitude toward the Scripture, so it should be ours.

Editor’s note: The previous posts in this series on Christ’s view of the Bible can be found by clicking the following links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?: An Introduction; (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture; and (3) Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture.

Image credit: Authority.

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Christ Taught that He Fulfilled Scripture

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

This is the third in my series of posts on Christ’s attitude toward the Bible. If you would like to read—or re-read—the other two posts, here are the links: (1) What is Christ’s View of the Bible?; and (2) Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture. In today’s post, we’ll observe Christ’s attitude toward the perfect and trustworthy Word of God in how he taught that his own life fulfilled Scripture.

Let’s start with the Old Testament. Christ’s entire life was covered by Old Testament prophecy. From his miraculous birth from the Virgin Mary (Isa 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) as the Son of David (2 Sam 7:12–13; Isa 9:7), through his atoning death on the cross (Ps 22:16; Isa 53) and his resurrection on the third day (Ps 16:10), Christ was the fulfillment of the Prophets. In fact, there is such a close relationship between Christ and Scripture that the Apostle John calls Christ “the Word” in John 1:1.

Remains of a Synagogue in Capernaum

Many books on Christian apologetics list the prophecies Christ fulfilled in great detail. For example, Josh McDowell’s well-known book The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict lists sixty-one prophecies Christ fulfilled from his birth to his death (pages 168–192 in the 1999 edition). Along with that are numerous types (pictures of Christ in the Old Testament, like Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, and the whole animal sacrificial system). The theme of promise-fulfillment is a major one throughout the entire New Testament.

Not counting Christ’s own statements, Matthew states ten times that something took place in Christ’s life to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: the incarnation (Matt 1:22), the flight to and from Egypt (2:15), the slaughter of the innocent babies (2:17), Christ’s residence in Nazareth (2:23), Christ’s residence and ministry in Capernaum (4:14), Christ’s healing ministry (8:1712:17), Christ’s use of parables (13:35), Christ’s triumphal entry on a donkey (21:4), Judas’ betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, and the use of the silver to buy the Potter’s Field (27:9).

The close connection between Christ and the Old Testament prophecies is thus a major theme of the apostolic message that makes up the New Testament. What concerns us here, though, is Christ’s own view of this matter. I’m convinced that the apostles learned this theme from the Master himself, Jesus. Christ openly taught throughout his ministry that he was born, lived, would die, and be raised to life, all in fulfillment of the Scriptures. He began his public ministry in incredibly dramatic fashion in Nazareth. On a Sabbath in the synagogue, in front of neighbors who had seen him grow up from childhood, Jesus claimed openly to be the Messiah in fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah that, at the time, was seven hundred years old:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16–21)

This is an astounding claim. But it is one Jesus would make again and again in his teachings. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, he made this claim: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). Even more dramatic was the claim he made directly to his hostile enemies in John 5: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). And again: “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:45–47).

It is hard to overstate just how astonishing this claim must have been to Jesus’ contemporaries. The Jewish leaders made a constant study of the written word of God their primary calling in life. Jesus claimed that the very scriptures they were studying every day testified about him. Even more directly, a moment later he claimed that Moses, who lived fifteen centuries before Christ, wrote about Jesus of Nazareth!

Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of ancient prophecies reaches its climax when Jesus spoke about his death and resurrection. Indeed, the majority of the detailed prophecies about the life of Christ recorded in McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict focus on the last week of Christ’s life, and his subsequent death and resurrection: thirty-one out of sixty-one (e.g., see  Luke 18:31–3322:36–3724:25–27).

Greek New Testament

Jesus also identified details of his suffering and death as they were happening and linked them to Scripture. For example, he said, “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me’” (John 3:18). And, in John 17 he prayed to his Father, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled” (17:12).

This all culminates in Christ’s actual statements from the cross, three of which are made as in direct connection with Scripture:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; this is a direct quotation of Psalm 22, which clearly predicts the crucifixion. It is almost as though Christ were pleading with the human race to read Psalm 22 and see his crucifixion predicted there, so that we would believe and be saved).

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last (Luke 23:46; a direct quotation of Psalm 31:5).

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:28–30; a direct fulfillment of Psalm 69:21).

In Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus’ bitter enemies stand near the cross to mock Him. They all believe that he is a great imposter and deceiver. When Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”), his enemies say, “He’s calling Elijah.”  But one of the more astute enemies gets a strange look on his face. “No, he’s not. He’s quoting the Scripture. Even now, hanging on the cross, he’s quoting the Scripture.”  It makes this Jewish leader wonder: what kind of man, condemned to die, would keep up the charade right to the end?

But it was no charade. Scripture covered Jesus’ life from birth to death. He was born, lived, ministered, taught, was opposed, arrested, condemned, and crucified, all in fulfillment of Scripture. And on the third day, he rose again, in fulfillment of Scripture. If Scripture is, therefore, not the inspired word of God, why did Jesus stake so much of his claim on it?

Image credits: (1) Wikipedia; (2) image of an opened Greek New Testament.

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