Before the end of the first century, several of the early churches were already falling into serious biblical error. The age of the apostles had not yet ended. In fact, John the apostle was still alive. One of those errors was the teaching of antinomianism, which teaches the freedom to sin. Several churches were dealing with the indulgence of sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. In Revelation 2 we see God either warning or commending these churches, depending on how they responded to these false teachings.
I point this out to show that it does not take long for a church to veer off course and into serious biblical error. This has always been a potential danger and the early church was no exception. With each passing century the early church became more and more corrupt with a lust for power and an embrace of increasingly false teaching. Before the end of the third century numerous churches already accepted teachings that were in opposition to the gospel, such as baptismal regeneration, which teaches salvation through baptism.
By the 12th century, the Roman Catholic Church was in full power over both the people and the government with all of its corruption, and the Scriptures were intentionally hidden from the people, in order that the church could maintain its power and control. Very few people could know Jesus because the Scriptures were not widely available in the language of the common people, and the church at large did not teach the Gospel. The sermons were in Latin. Why did this happen? Because the church did not stay faithful to God’s Word and loved power and influence more than the truth.
In the 14th century John Wycliffe published an English version of the Bible based on the Latin Vulgate, against the approval of the Roman Catholic Church. He also published many writings against the false teachings of the Catholic church. Because of what he had done the Catholics despised Wycliffe. They hated him with such bitterness that 43 years after his death, his body was dug up from the grave and his remains burned and thrown into the river as he was pronounced a heretic. However, the spread of his work could not be stopped.
Later in the 16th century, on the heels of what John Wycliffe began, God raised up even more brave men like Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and John Rogers. These men risked their lives to restore the Word of God to the people. Two of these men, Tyndale and Rogers, were horrifically burned alive for their bible translations and their speaking out against false doctrine. Because of men like these, you and I are able to sit comfortably today in an air-conditioned room and read the Scriptures.
In 1536, John Rogers watched the body of his dear friend William Tyndale eventually drop into the flames as he was burned at the stake for translating the New Testament into English from the original languages for the first time in history. After Tyndale’s death, Rogers knew that he had to complete his mission, and that mission was to finish the work of Tyndale, which was the translation of the Old Testament into English from the Hebrew manuscripts for the first time ever. The very next year in 1537, under that pseudonym Thomas Mathew, the work was finished, and for the first time in history, English-speaking people had access to the entire Bible, translated from the original languages.
What John Rogers did was illegal. At the time the Roman Catholic Church falsely taught that the Bible was too advanced for the common man to understand. Rogers rightly disagreed. He was despised by the Catholics. He was eventually arrested, tried, and sentenced to be burned at the stake. In 1555, after a long imprisonment, he was marched to a large pile of wood and brush to be burned alive. Along the way to his death he passed by his wife and nine of his eleven children.
In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs it is said that Rogers refused to recant his rejection of transubstantiation. He would not recant. He believed, as the Bible teaches, in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross. When he was asked to recant, John Rogers bravely replied, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” Following this answer, Rogers was burned alive. He was the first of nearly 300 martyrs under the reign of Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary.”
How is it that a man can be so brave that he could watch his best friend be burned alive and then continue doing the very same work that got his friend killed, only to eventually face the very same fate? Because John Rogers treasured God and the perfect Truth of His Word, which taught Him how to know and serve God above all else. He poured out his life for all so that they too could know the life and teachings of Christ spread to the world through the words and writings of the apostles.
Shortly before his death in a letter to his family, Rogers wrote from prison saying,
Where I, among my iron bands, inclosed in the dark, Not many days before my death, I did compose this work And for example to your youth, to whom I wish all good, I send you here God’s perfect truth, and seal it with my blood. …
“God’s perfect truth.” That was the source of his bravery. Rogers sacrificed himself for the good of others so that they could have access to God’s perfect sufficient truth, so that they could also learn about Jesus and follow Him. And that is what I want to talk about today — the sufficiency of God’s perfect truth. The sufficiency of Scripture.
One of many biblical texts that teaches the sufficiency and supreme importance of trusting God’s truth as written by the apostles is found in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2.
In this chapter we see that the church in Thessalonica is in distress. They are being deceived into believing that Jesus has already returned. The text says that they were being “shaken” and “alarmed” in their minds about what was being taught. “Alarmed” here also means “frightened” or “troubled.” What was the source of their trouble? Verse 2 explains that there was a person or persons who claimed to have a spirit or a prophetic utterance, and they were speaking and writing letters claiming that the Lord had already returned.
Paul goes on to exhort the Thessalonians saying, “Let no one deceive you.” It’s impossible that the Lord has already returned. In verse 5 he asks a rhetorical question, “Do you not remember what I already told you when I was with you?” He says, “I already told you what has to happen before Christ’s return. Do you not remember? Why are you being deceived?” But out of the love and grace Paul had for the Thessalonians, he goes on to explain everything to them again to reassure and calm their troubled minds.
Now after re-explaining everything, in verse 13 Paul further encourages the church by reminding them that God has chosen them to be saved and to be sanctified and made holy by the Spirit. Paul says to them, “God has saved you. He chose you. He is at work in you right now in you through the Spirit, and some day the Lord will return, and you will be with Him, but He is not here yet.”
Then in verse 15, Paul makes a major shift in the tense and tone of the letter. He goes from reminding and encouraging them to speaking in the imperative tense. He commands them saying, “Based on everything I and the other apostles have taught you, and based on what I have just told you again, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by US, whether by our spoken word or by our letter.” He is saying, “Do NOT deviate from what we have spoken or written to you. Remain firmly and strongly convicted of the teaching you have already received from us.”
Then later in chapter 3, Paul twice commands the church to follow the instructions that they have received from him. In chapter 3 verse 6 he says, Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother or sister who is idle and does not live according to the tradition received from us. (2Th 3:6 CSB)
Then again in verse 14 he says, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take note of that person; don’t associate with him, so that he may be ashamed. Yet don’t consider him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2Th 3:14-15 CSB)
This is incredibly important to understand. Paul says if a church is troubled and even frightened regarding teaching that contradicts the teachings of himself and the other apostles, that church is to refer back to what has already been written. He says if there is an issue pertaining to biblical doctrine or the church, refer to the instructions already received from the apostles.
Now Paul makes it even more emphatic that the apostolic writings to Thessalonica and other churches who would have received this letter are not optional. In chapter 3 verse 6 he says that what he has written is a command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in chapter 3 verse 13 he says if someone refuses to obey what has been written that they are to have nothing else to do with him in order to warn him as a brother.
Now notice that the warning Paul gives in chapter 3 verse 13 is not even about a major doctrine such as the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith. It’s in the context of a smaller issue regarding someone who is being lazy and not willing to work. And Paul says, “If someone does not obey what we have said in the letter about idleness, have nothing to do with him for his own good.” And remember he just said in verse 6 that this was a command in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. So if Paul’s command about something so small as laziness is this strong, how much more important are the biblical writings about even greater things?
What does this mean for the local church? It means that like the church at Thessalonica, the local church must hold fast with firm conviction to all the writings of the apostles. There are not some that can be treated with less concern. The local church must consider all the writings of the apostles as the words and commands of Christ Himself.
This truth about Scripture is further supported in Paul’s first letter to Timothy in chapter 6. In the previous chapters of this letter, Paul has given instructions on how to address issues in the church such as falsely teaching abstinence from marriage and certain foods, how to treat older men and women, how to support and instruct widows and orphans, and how masters should treat their slaves. At the end of all this instruction, Paul says in 6:3-4,
If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain. (1Ti 6:3-5 CSB)
Paul equates his instructions for the church with the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And several more times throughout this letter, Paul reinforces the absolute authoritativeness of his own apostolic traditions and writings.
In 1 Timothy 3:14 he says,
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1Ti 3:14-15 CSB)
Here Paul equates his instruction as an authoritative blueprint for how God’s church is to be ordered, and as the church obeys this blueprint, they are functioning as the household of God, a pillar and foundation of the truth.
In 1 Timothy 4:6 he says,
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that you have followed. (1Ti 4:6 CSB)
Paul says that if you, Timothy, point out the things that I have taught you to the church, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, and you will be nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching you have followed.
Later in verse 11 to reinforce the authoritativeness of his instructions he says,
Command and teach these things. (1Ti 4:11 CSB)
And perhaps the most well-known passage about the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says,
All Scripture is inspired and breathed by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
In light of these truths, every local church needs to ask some questions. Do we believe that all Scripture, every word, the writings of both the prophets and the apostles, are breathed out by God Himself? Do we believe that it is ALL profitable for teaching? For rebuking? For correction? For training in righteousness?
Do we believe that ALL Scripture is given by God so that any man or any woman of God may be made complete and equipped for EVERY good work?
As each local church seeks direction, one thing is clear. It must hold fast to the biblical teaching that Scripture, the teachings of the prophets and apostles, are sufficient to equip us for every good work that God would have us to do.
With these truths in mind, let’s look at some practical applications:
- First, when there is a question or uncertainty about what direction the local church is to take as a body or even as an individual Christian, the first question to ask is, what does God say through His prophets and apostles? What teaching of the apostles or prophets from Scripture either directly or even indirectly addresses this question?
Because if Scripture really is sufficient to equip us for every good work, then everything needed to know about the good works God wants us to do is already in the Scriptures. Any “good work” that God wants a Christian to do, God has already made provision in his Word for training the Christian in it. There is no “good work” that God wants us to do other than those that are taught somewhere in Scripture: because God’s Word says it will equip us for “every good work.” The good works that God wants the church and individuals in the church to do are sufficiently defined in Scripture.
Now of course Scripture isn’t going to tell us what time to meet, what music to sing, or how to arrange the chairs, but Scripture is sufficient to train us in every good work that God would have us to do both as a body and as individuals.
- Second, if the local church becomes troubled or doubtful as an individual or as a body regarding a matter of faith or biblical teaching, it should do as Paul instructed Thessalonica. Go back and review the traditions and teachings of the apostles and the prophets which are breathed out by God.
Additionally each local church member, including its leaders, should exercise prayerful caution when reading other theologians, or pastors, or teachers, or authors, and we need to look more to what the plain teaching of Scripture in proper context says, because that is what the apostles instructed the churches to do.
Now other resources can be very useful if they are biblical. There are many incredible biblical resources out there. But if we are looking at these resources first or looking at these with a priority that holds them as equal to or even above the plain teaching of Scripture, this is not what God in His Word says we should do. The prophets and apostles tell us that the Scriptures they have written are sufficient by themselves to tell us what we need to know and do.
- The prophets and apostles also teach that Scripture is perspicuous, which is a fancy word that means Scripture is clear. This does not mean that there aren’t difficult things in Scripture, but it does mean that the overwhelming majority of the Bible is clear in the essentials of all that it teaches, especially relating to the individual Christian and the Church as a whole.
In fact, Scripture is so clear that the prophets and apostles command God’s people to teach it to their children.
Ephesians 6:4 says, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Scripture is also so clear, that even the simple-minded can read it, understand it, and become wise by it.
Psalm 19:7 says, The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
Proverbs 1:20-22 says, Wisdom cries aloud in the street… “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?”
God’s Word insists and demands that even children and the simple-minded can understand it and become wise by it. And if Scripture can be understood by children and the simple-minded, then we do not need to fear arguments from supposed theologians and teachers that tell us that Scripture does not mean what it plainly says in proper context.
Neither the prophets or the apostles ever suggest that historical, cultural, or scientific context is needed to understand their writings. They simply teach that the Scriptures, in and of themselves, are sufficient for the good works that God would have us to do. Contextual background can be very useful in enhancing our understanding, but it is not a requirement, nor should it ever contradict the plain and obvious meaning of the text, as many try to do in our day.
Make no mistake, the devil has been lying and creating doubt about what God has plainly and clearly said from the beginning in the garden, when he asked Eve, “Did God really say?” To this day, the devil is fooling many about both the meaning and authority of the Scriptures. The devil is a liar. The devil is the father of lies. Do not be fooled. The teachings of the prophets and the apostles are the words of God and they are sufficient for every good work that God would have His people do.
- Thirdly, if any local church desires to build a strong biblical foundation, then each church must stand firm and hold fast to the traditions and teachings of the prophets and the apostles. And if the local church desires God’s blessing, it must hold fast to God’s Word, and it must hold it with conviction and zeal.
God expects us to not only obey His Word but to do it with a zealous love for Him. In Rev 2:2-4,to the Church in Ephesus God said, “I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”. Romans 12:11 says, Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. (Rom 12:11 CSB)
For God to be with the local church on its journey, it must strive to trust and obey all of His Word with firm conviction and zealous love.
- Fourthly and lastly, the purpose of the church itself must be remembered, which is to exceedingly love and serve God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength…that we might give Him all the glory. How do we do that? By worshiping Him in spirit and in truth. The Father is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and truth. We worship Him with our whole spirit, our whole heart, according to His truth….according to the truth He has left for us through the teachings of the prophets and the apostles….as John Rogers called it….God’s perfect truth.
Again that means some questions. Do we believe these Scriptures are God’s perfect truth? Do we believe that they are sufficient for teaching us how to know Christ, how to walk with Him, both as individuals and as a body? The apostles say they are sufficient. Do we trust the apostles? Are we going to trust that all they taught is from God and do what it says by faith and with zeal?
If the local church obeys and follows the teachings of Christ and the apostles with conviction, God will bless what we are doing, not necessarily by increasing our numbers, but by blessing it with an increasingly deeper relationship with Him and with one another. And that is what matters.
And so each local church should heed these things to avoid wandering off course and losing God’s favor, as God Himself warns.
In closing, I want to leave you with the words of John Rogers who we talked about earlier. Shortly before being burned at the stake, he wrote some advice to his family while he was in prison. I quoted a short excerpt of this at the beginning of this message. As I read this, I ask that you listen closely to the heart of his message in order to understand why he was willing to die courageously and without fear, because he stood firm and held fast to God’s Word, and he was willing at all costs to make God’s Word, God’s perfect truth, accessible to the people.
As you listen to these words, ask yourself some questions, Do you believe that the Scriptures are God’s perfect truth and are you willing to stand firm and hold fast to everything it teaches, even in the face of disagreement, unpopular opinion, or ridicule?
Do you believe the Scriptures are so clear as to be understandable by children and the simple-minded to make them wise? Do you believe that the Scriptures contain all the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Himself that can equip us for every good work He wants us to do, and are to be cherished and followed with zeal?
With that let me read the rest of John Rogers’ advice to his family before his execution. Remember that he wrote these words knowing he would be burned alive.
Give ear my children to my words Whom God hath dearly bought,
Lay up his laws within your heart, and print them in your thoughts.
I leave you here a little book for you to look upon,
That you may see your father's face when he is dead and gone:
Who for the hope of heavenly things, While he did here remain,
Gave over all his golden years to prison and to pain.
Where I, among my iron bands, inclosed in the dark,
Not many days before my death, I did compose this work:
And for example to your youth, to whom I wish all good,
I send you here God's perfect truth, and seal it with my blood. …
Give honor to your mother dear, remember well her pain,
And recompence her in her age, with the like love again. …
Beware of foul and filthy lust, let such things have no place,
Keep clean your vessels in the LORD, that he may you embrace.
Ye are the temples of the LORD, for you are dearly bought,
And they that do defile the same, shall surely come to nought.
Be never proud by any means, build not your house too high,
But always have before your eyes, that you are born to die. …
Seek first, I say, the living GOD, and always him adore,
And then be sure that he will bless, your basket and your store.
And I beseech Almighty GOD, replenish you with grace,
That I may meet you in the heavens, and see you face to face. …
Though here my body be adjudg'd in flaming fire to fry,
My soul I trust, will straight ascend to live with GOD on high.
What though this carcase smart awhile what though this life decay,
My soul I hope will be with GOD, and live with him for aye.
I know I am a sinner born, from the original,
And that I do deserve to die by my fore-father's fall:
But by our SAVIOUR'S precious blood, which on the cross was spilt,
Who freely offer'd up his life, to save our souls from guilt;
I hope redemption I shall have, and all who in him trust,
When I shall see him face to face, and live among the just.
Why then should I fear death's grim look since CHRIST for me did die,
For King and Caesar, rich and poor, the force of death must try.
When I am chained to the stake,
and fagots girt me round,
Then pray the LORD
my soul in heaven may be with glory crown'd.
Come welcome death the end of fears, I am prepar'd to die:
Those earthly flames will send my soul up to the Lord on high.
Farewell my children to the world, where you must yet remain;
The LORD of hosts be your defence, 'till we do meet again.
Farewell my true and loving wife, my children and my friends,
I hope in heaven to fee you a11, when all things have their end.
If you go on to serve the LORD, as you have now begun,
You shall walk safely all your days, until your life be done.
GOD grant you so to end your days, as he shall think it best,
That I may meet you in the heavens, where I do hope to rest.