Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Holy Spirit’s Method for Transmitting and Preserving the Faith [from Seventeen82]

 This article was first published at Seventeen82

[Photo: Emmet E. Hakim]

Last month, we considered from Psalm 78 the duty and necessity of each generation’s remembering God’s Word both unto itself and unto the next generation. Christ promised that the Spirit would complete the things that He had to say to His apostles, and through them to us:

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. (Jn 16:12–15, NKJV)

Declaring what is Christ’s
It was the apostles to whom He had already spoken. It was the apostles to whom the completion of that was promised. And, through the apostles, we have received in Scripture everything that Jesus intended to say to His church.

Since Psalm 78 has shown us how important it is, both for ourselves and for our children, to remember God’s Word and works, this raises an important question. What is the apostolic method for preserving and transmitting the faith? What is the method that the Spirit taught them? What is the method that is from the Father, and from the Son, and from the Holy Spirit (cf. v14–15 above)?

Transmitting it from one generation to the next
In 1Timothy and 2Timothy, the apostle Paul is charging Timothy with leading a reformation in Ephesus. A quick reading of the two letters reveals three main problems. The presenting problem is that there is toleration and even promotion of sinful living. The immorality problem has come from departing from doctrine that accords with godliness. And the doctrinal error has come from permitting as teachers those whom Christ had not graced, gifted, and called to that ministry.

One of the key texts in which Paul urges Timothy to his ministry of addressing this is 2Timothy 2:2:

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (NKJV)

That sounds very much like Psalm 78:5–7 from last month’s article! If the church is going to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1Tim 3:15), then elders like Timothy must teach the church. And as they teach the church, each generation of elders should be watching for the next generation of faithful men whom Christ is raising up to repeat that work.

A pattern of sound words
What is it, specifically, that Timothy had “heard from” Paul in v2 above? Hopefully, our well instructed children would immediately answer “the Bible!” And they wouldn’t be wrong. If we go forward into chapter three, we will see the apostle making exactly our point about what he had taught Timothy as Scripture (2Tim 3:10, 14). Then the apostle makes our point about the Old Testament Scriptures that Timothy had learned as a baby from his mother and grandmother (2Tim 3:15).

So, Timothy certainly had heard from Paul both Old Testament Scriptures and things that Paul has taught and now written in the New Testament Scriptures. Paul has even taught him the gospel of Luke as Scripture (cp. 1Tim 5:18 which is quoting Luke 10:7)! But in 2Timothy 2:2, the apostle has also just finished saying the following toward the end of the previous chapter.

13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. (2Tim 1:13–14, NKJV)

The word translated “pattern” is a word that means model or example, but with an added prefix that implies a sketch, form, or outline. It certainly fits two sections, in the contexts of the texts that we are looking at, that many have thought might be early Christian hymns. Perhaps they were sung, but they certainly fit the apostle’s own phrase, “a pattern of sound words”:

16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.
(1Tim 3:16, NKJV—in the context of 1Tim 3:15)


11 This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
12 If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
13 If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.
(2Tim 2:11–13—in the context of 2Tim 2:2)

It is not a stretch to say that the apostle has given us two samples from this “pattern of sound words” to which he is urging Timothy and future elders to hold fast.

Catechizing is Christ’s own plan for His church
It seems plain that the apostolic plan for preserving and transmitting the truth of the Scriptures was to arrange that truth into patterns. Each generation of elders is to pass along a pattern of Scripture truth to the next generation of the church.

The apostolic plan for preserving and transmitting Scripture truth is, in a word: catechizing. That’s even the word that the Spirit uses in Luke 1:4 to refer to the instruction that Theophilus had received.

It’s not surprising, then, that Reformed Presbyterians, in their zeal to be biblical, would end up with a confession and catechisms. I hope that you come away from this article with a renewed conviction that this isn’t just a clever or wise teaching tool but Jesus’s actual plan for His church!

Next month, by God’s help, we hope to begin looking at some biblically distinctive teachings from our Westminster Confession.

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