Our Beliefs - 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 1, Acts 10

A service plan exploring the paradox that Christians believe the Bible provides unchanging truth for all times. On the other hand, we need to reexamine our understanding of God's truth from time to time. Part of a series of sermons pairing together some of the seemingly irreconcilable paradoxes in the Christian faith.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

Reviewing "Worship Pairs"

The worship planning ideas that we have for you this week follow a different pattern than we usually present. Last week we began a four-week segment of providing the building blocks for a pair of services. Over the next four weeks we will provide ideas for four pairs of such services.

Christians have often had to deal with the fact that there are seemingly irreconcilable matters in the Christian faith that exist side by side as a paradox. For these four weeks we are be pairing some of these matters together in complete worship services. Since there are four pairs we will be dealing with, we will be providing building blocks for eight worship services. You may use these now or file them away for use at other times of the year.

Here's a review of the four issues (pairs) we're examining:

Prayer (Jan. 16):
"God Isn't Answering," Psalm 10; Psalm 13
"Prayer Changes Things," James 5:13-18

Our Beliefs (Jan. 23):
"I Believe the Bible Is True," 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21
"Sometimes I've Had to Change My Convictions," Acts 10:34-48

Our Influence (Jan. 30):
"Christians Need to Be Different," 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
"Christians Need to Be in the World," Matthew 5:13-16

Our Joy (Feb. 6):
"Sometimes Christians Are Broken," Psalm 34:17-18; Psalm 51:17
"Christians Should be Happier," Luke 15:5-7, 9-10, 22-24

You can readily see how the two themes for each week seem to contradict each other.

The intent of this method is to be honest about the questions and struggles that many Christians have with these and similar issues and to give them freedom to admit that. We also aim to portray that a healthy and mature faith often involves a tension or sense of balance between such seemingly irreconcilable matters rather than a complete resolution of them. And, of course, our aim is to give some guidance and help in how to answer some of these questions to the extent possible.

As we mentioned last week, the ideal method of scheduling these is to address them on the same Sunday-"point" during morning worship and "counterpoint" during evening worship. If that is not possible you may schedule "point" for one Sunday and "counterpoint" for the next Sunday.

We repeat two cautions from last week. First, provide clear explanations of your intent so the congregation is able to see the two services as a whole, for they could easily draw some unfortunate conclusions if they see or read about only one side of the matter. Second, each service and sermon should be a complete event without the one merely being a setting-of-the-stage for the other.

Suggestions for Two Sermons

The second "Worship Pair" deals with our beliefs and convictions. On the one hand, Christians believe the Bible provides unchanging truth that is normative for all generations and all times. On the other hand, we need to reexamine our convictions and our understanding of God's truth from time to time and even revise some of our convictions and interpretations. This is a delicate matter, easily open to misunderstanding, so the preacher and worship planners must be aware of and sensitive to potential misunderstandings that can result if communication is not clear.

Sermon #1 - "I Believe the Bible Is True"
Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21

Ideas for Sermon Development:

1. Two foundational truths undergird this message. First, God is a self-revealing Being. He does not remain aloof, absent, and uninvolved. God speaks to his creatures so that we can know him, his plans, and his thoughts. Second, God gives us unchanging truth that is valid for all times, all generations, and all circumstances. God does not leave each generation to discover what might be true for its day, but provides unchanging truth.

2. There are two methods by which God reveals himself and his work to us. General revelation is that which comes through God's world-its creation, governance, and complexity. Special revelation is that which comes through God's written and inspired Word. It is helpful in a sermon like this to review these basic beliefs.

3. The two passages provided for this sermon give us an understanding of the process and significance of the inspiration of Scripture and its implications for our respect for the Bible. It will serve your hearers well to present the basic convictions associated with our claim for the inspiration of Scripture. Ideas such as these should be included:

  • Both Peter and Paul speak about "the writings": all Scripture, the word of the prophets or the prophecy of Scripture, referring to a body of writings collected, held, and respected.
  • The origin of these writings is found in God, not in the will of man (2 Pet. 1:21). Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), when men "spoke from God . . . carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21).
  • The usefulness of these inspired writings to equip God's people for works of service (2 Tim. 3:17) rests on their divine origin.

4. In addition it may be wise and helpful to explain how the church has understood the qualities of Scripture on the basis of this conviction of inspiration: unity, clarity (perspicuity), accuracy, authority, permanence, and power.

5. The Belgic Confession of Faith (art. 5) provides excellent historic testimony to our reasons for believing that the books of Scripture are authoritative-not only because the church says so, but because the Holy Spirit testifies to that effect in our hearts, and because Scripture proves itself to be from God.

Sermon #2 - "Sometimes I've Had to Change My Convictions"
Scripture: Acts 10:34-38

1. As you plan for this sermon, particularly if you use this title, be prepared that some may find it disturbing and be suspicious of what you are about to say. They have had difficult and disturbing experiences with others who they believe have forsaken the Word of God and changed their beliefs to something that is contrary to the truth. Perhaps you will find it helpful to address such suspicions in the introduction to the sermon, warn them about the risk of running ahead of you, ask them to listen carefully and hear you out, and reassure them of your unchanging commitment to the truth of God's Word.

2. The core issue in this sermon can best be described in this way: Though we may never change the Bible and what it says (cf. the first sermon), and though unchanging truth cannot change, there are nevertheless times when we must change our understanding of what God is doing or what God's Word has told us. In other words, our understanding and interpretation of the Bible may change, though God's truth does not. Some people, granted, change their convictions as an expression of forsaking the faith; others change their convictions as an expression of having gained additional insight, clearer thinking, and a better understanding of God's truth. The one is negative change, the other positive.

3. After clarifying the issue, and hopefully after allaying some fears, it would be well to visit two people who faced this very big issue. First, introduce Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8)-a highly respected, God-fearing man who was nevertheless a Gentile and therefore told he was an "outsider." He assumed he could never be a full member of God's family. An angel brought a message that effected a striking change for him (Acts 10:3ff.) Second, set Peter before them, a man who also was drawn into this dramatic interchange. He, too, had been taught that Gentiles must always be outsiders. God surprised him with a vision (three times!) convincing him that he was to see it otherwise.

4. You can describe or portray or dramatize the meeting between these two men, both of whom were wrestling with new insight from God that made them question their previous convictions. Follow their dialog together in Acts 10:23-48.

5. You may desire to point to some other issues on which Christians have had to change their convictions-the earth is flat, slavery is permissible, the curse of Ham, certain sins can never be forgiven, etc. Of course, you must be very careful in this sermon so that your hearers do not assume you have a certain agenda on a certain issue! The aim is to help them understand the authority of the Word of God, which never changes, and the fact that our understanding of that unchanging truth may have to change as we gain new insight. The responsibility to interpret Scripture carefully, to determine what is normative and what is conditioned, is a major task, and one that every Bible student must take seriously. Therefore taking this sermon apart from the first sermon in this pair could be risky!

Suggestions for Music

You will find here suggestions for congregational song, instrumental music, and choral anthems for both of these services on the theme of our beliefs.

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Reformed Church in America,
Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church; Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice ( Augsburg Fortress)

Congregational Song Suggestions:
"Blessed Jesus, at Your Word" (LIEBSTER JESU) PH 454, PsH 280, RL 530, RN 93, SFL 56, TH 303, UMH 596
"Come, Thou Almighty King" (ITALIAN HYMN/MOSCOW) PH 139, PsH 246, RL 618, TH 101, TWC 5, UMH 61
"God of the Word" SNC 84
"Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!" RN 139, SNC 44, WOV 612
"Holy Spirit, Mighty God" (LAUDS) PsH 278, RN 95
"Lord, We Hear Your Word with Gladness" (HOLY MANNA) SNC 89
"May the Mind of Christ, My Savior" (ST. LEONARDS) PsH 291, RN 285, TH 644, TWC 560
"O Word of God Incarnate" (MUNICH) PH 327, PsH 279, RL 387, RN 97, TH 140, TWC 310, UMH 598
"Psalm 19: God's Glory Fills the Heavens" (CREATION) SNC 88
"The Heavens Declare Your Glory" (FAITHFUL) PsH 429, TH 113
"Thy Word" SNC 86

Instrumental Music Suggestions:

FAITHFUL ("The Heavens Declare Your Glory") PsH 429, TH 113
Organ:

  • Bach, J.S. Book of Airs. Boston 6615 [1921] (M).

"Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!" RN 139, SNC 44, WOV 612
Organ:

  • Behnke, John A. Three Global Songs. Hope 8057 [1999] (E-M).

Piano:

  • Carter, John. Contemporary Hymns & Songs for Piano/4 Hands. Hope 8087 [2000] (E-M).

Handbells:

  • Tucker, Sondra. Halle, Halle, Halle. Agape [1998] (3-5 octaves and optional percussion, M).

HOLY MANNA ("Lord, We Hear Your Word with Gladness") SNC 89
Organ:

  • Cherwien, David. Groundings. Augsburg 11-11119 [2001] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 9. AMSI SP-106 [1992] (E-M).
  • Haan, Raymond H. O Worship the King. Broadman 4570-42 [1979] (E-M).
  • Held, Wilbur. Preludes and Postludes, vol. 1.Augsburg 11-9318 [1972] (E-M).
  • Wood, Dale. Wood Works, bk. 2. SMP KK400 [1989] (E-M).

Piano:

  • Carter, John. Folk Hymns for Piano. Hope 240 [1987], p. 4 (E-M).
  • Carter, John. Hymns for Piano II. Hope 8197 [2003], p. 17 (M).

Handbells:

  • Garee, Betty B. Holy Manna. Flammer HP-5230 [1987] (3-5 octaves, M).

Alternative Harmonizations for Organ:

  • Busarow, Donald. All Praise to You, Eternal God. Augsburg 11-9076 [1980].
  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations, bk. 5. Ludwig O-14 [1992].

Alternative Harmonizations for Piano:

  • Organ, Anne Krentz. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000].

ITALIAN HYMN/MOSCOW ("Come, Thou Almighty King") PH 139, PsH 246, RL 618, TH 101, TWC 5, UMH 61
Organ:

  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 7. AMSI SP-104 [1988] (E-M).
  • Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 1. SMP KK234 [1978] (E, could be adapted for piano).
  • McKinley, Carl. Ten Hymn Fantasies. H. W. Grey GB274 [1933] (E-M, out of print).
  • Peeters, Flor. Hymn Preludes for the Liturgical Year, vol. 8. Peters 6408 [1966] (M).
  • Peeters, Flor. Thirty Short Preludes on Well-known Hymns. Peters 6195 [1960] (E).

Piano:

  • Gerig, Reginald, ed. Piano Preludes on Hymns and Chorales. Hope 251 [1959] (M).

Handbells:

  • Lohr, Alan. The Almighty King. Soundforth 184218 [2001] (4-5 octaves, level 3).

Alternative Harmonizations for Organ:

  • Goode, Jack C. Thirty-four Changes on Hymn Tunes. H. W. Grey GB 644 [1978].

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Organ, Anne Krentz. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000].

LAUDS ("Holy Spirit, Mighty God") PsH 278, RN 95
Organ:

  • Wallace, Sue Mitchell. Hymn Prisms. Hope 270 [1985] (E-M).

LIEBSTER JESU ("Blessed Jesus, at Your Word") PH 454, PsH 280, RL 530, RN 93, SFL 56, TH 303, UMH 596
Organ:

  • Bach, J.S. The Liturgical Year. (ed. Riemenschneider). Ditson [1933] (M).
  • Burkhardt, Michael. Six General Hymn Improvisations, set 1. Morningstar MSM-10-846 [1992] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 1. AMSI OR1 [1980] (E-M).
  • Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (M).
  • Manz, Paul. Ten Chorale Improvisations, set 8. Concordia 97-5342 [1979] (M).
  • Purvis, Richard. Seven Chorale Preludes. Fischer 0 3450 [1949] (E-M).
  • Rinck, Christian Heinrich. Music for a Celebration, set 3. Morningstar MSM-10-565 [2004] (E-M).

Handbells:

  • Kerr, J. Wayne. Liebster Jesu. Choristers Guild CGB-131 [1992] (3-4 octaves plus flute, E-M).

MUNICH ("O Word of God, Incarnate") PH 327, PsH 279, RL 387, RN 97, TH 140, TWC 310, UMH 598
Organ:

  • Clarke, Andrew. Chorale Prelude on Munich. Morningstar MSM-10-568 [2004] (E-M).
  • McKinley, Carl. Ten Hymn Fantasies. H. W. Grey GB274 (POP) [1933] (E-M, out of print).
  • Peeters, Flor. Hymn Preludes for the Liturgical Year, vol. 8. Peters 6408 [1966] (E-M).
  • Rotermund, Donald. Seven Hymn Preludes, set 3.Concordia 97-6243 [1993] (E-M).

"Thy Word" SNC 86

Piano:

  • Carter, John. Today's Hymns and Songs for Piano. Hope 244 [1995] (E-M).
  • Hayes, Mark. Lord, Be Glorified. Word 301 0047 312 [1990] (M).

Mixed Voice Choral Anthem Suggestions:
O'Brien, Francis Patrick. Ancient and New. GIA G-4522 [1996] (E-M, with congregational refrain).
Haugen, Marty. Halle, Halle, Halle. GIA G3961 [1993] (E-M, with congregational refrain).
Young, Gordon. I Am the Way, the Truth, the Life. SMP E.40 [1965] (E-M).
Burleigh, Glenn, arr. Jack Schrader. Order My Steps. Burleigh Inspirations Music;
sole selling agent: Hope Publishing [2000].
Courtney, Craig. The Staff of Faith. Beckenhorst BP1481 [1996] (M).

Unison Choral Anthem Suggestion:
Gieseke, Richard. Let the Word of Christ. Concordia 98-2903 [1990] (E).

Suggestions for Liturgy

1. We recommend that the liturgy for both of these services carry a humble and gentle spirit. Avoid militancy and harshness. In the first service we must take the stance of standing humbly under the Word of God, eager to hear and receive. In the second service we humbly admit that not all our ideas or interpretations may be accurate, and we aim to listen carefully to God, interpret his Word discerningly, and submit our convictions and beliefs to the Word. The words of transition, prayer, and introductions of Scripture readings will carry this spirit.

2. The prayers for this service should carry a special weight. The Prayer for Illumination should be highlighted since we cannot hear, receive, or respond to God's Word without the Spirit's help. The Prayers of the People should include the needs of our world as it tries to answer the big questions of life without consulting God's Word, the mission of the church in proclaiming his Word, the church that she may be faithful to the Word, and our personal obedience to the Word. You will find resources for such prayers inThe Worship Sourcebook (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, and Baker Books, 2004).

3. The Belgic Confession, articles 2 through 7, includes some excellent professions of the historic Christian Church concerning its convictions about the truth of the Word of God. You may desire to use some of this in the sermon, or other sections of it for readings by the worshipers. We have provided several options of this in a Q&A format for litanies that are more user-friendly. We provide those litanies here; you are free to use any of them as you see fit.

"The Means By Which We Know God"

How do you come to know God?

First, by the creation, preservation, and government
of the universe,
since that universe is before our eyes
like a beautiful book
in which all creatures,
great and small,
are as letters
to make us ponder
the invisible things of God:
his eternal power
and his divinity,
as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict men
and to leave them without excuse.

How else do you know God?

He also makes himself known to us more openly
by his holy and divine Word,
providing as much as we need in this life,
for his glory
and for the salvation of his own.
(Belgic Confession, art. 2)

"The Written Word of God"

What do you confess about the Word of God?

We confess that this Word of God
was not sent nor delivered by the will of men,
but that holy men of God spoke,
being moved by the Holy Spirit,
as Peter says.

And do you believe we have that Word of God in writing?

Yes, our God-
because of the special care he has
for us and our salvation-
commanded his servants,
the prophets and apostles,
to commit this revealed Word to writing.
He himself wrote
with his own finger
the two tables of the law.

Do you receive it as the Word of God?

Yes, we call such writings
holy and divine Scriptures.
(Belgic Confession, art. 2-3)

"The Authority of Scripture"

Do you receive all the books of the Bible?

We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes
of the Old and New Testaments.
They are canonical books
with which there can be no quarrel at all.
We receive all these books
and these only
as holy and canonical,
for the regulating, founding, and establishing
of our faith.

Do you believe what is contained in them?

We believe
without a doubt
all things contained in them-
not so much because the church
receives and approves them as such
but above all because the Holy Spirit
testifies in our hearts
that they are from God,
and also because they prove themselves
to be from God.

Do you believe this Word of God has power?

Yes, for even the blind themselves are able to see
that the things predicted in them
do happen.
(Belgic Confession, art. 4-5)

"The Sufficiency of Scripture" (1)

We confess that this Word of God
was not sent nor delivered by the will of men,
but that holy men of God spoke,
being moved by the Holy Spirit.

We receive all these books
and these only
as holy and canonical,
for the regulating, founding, and establishing
of our faith.

We believe
that this Holy Scripture contains
the will of God completely,
and that everything one must believe
to be saved is sufficiently taught in it.

For since the entire manner of service
which God requires of us
is described in it at great length,
no one ought to teach other than
what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us.
(Belgic Confession, art. 3, 5, 7)

"The Sufficiency of Scripture" (2)

We believe
that this Holy Scripture contains
the will of God completely
and that everything one must believe
to be saved
is sufficiently taught in it.

For since the entire manner of service
which God requires of us
is described in it at great length,
no one ought to teach other than
what the Holy Scriptures have
already taught us.

For since it is forbidden
to add or to subtract from the Word of God,
this plainly demonstrates
that the teaching is perfect
and complete in all respects.

We must not consider human writing-
no matter how holy their authors may have been-
equal to the divine writing;
nor may we put custom,
nor the majority,
nor age,
nor the passage of time or persons,
nor councils, decrees or official decisions
above the truth of God,
for truth is above everything else.

Therefore we reject with all our hearts
everything that does not agree
with this infallible rule,
as we are taught to do by the apostles
when they say, "Test the spirits
to see if they are of God."
(Belgic Confession, art. 7)

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