The church service finished about fifteen minutes ago. You are talking with a group of Christian friends, when a visitor approaches you and says, “I have some questions. Can you talk to me?”
You and your friends are eager to help. “Sure, what’s on your mind?”
“Well, for starters, I have been thinking a lot about Heaven. What will it be like there?”
What would you say? My guess is you would begin to talk about how God will one day create a brand new earth, and that those who have trusted Christ will live together with Him. In Heaven, there will be no more tears, or crying or pain! It will be a perfect place, free from all sin and evil, and it will last forever.
The visitor responds softly, “Heaven sure sounds like a wonderful place. I don’t have much hope in this life…but I could hope for that. How do you know these things?”
“These aren’t my ideas. In the Bible, God has given us the truth about Heaven, Hell, and His plan to save us from our sins. The things I am telling you are written down at the end of the book of Revelation.”
Now imagine that one of your friends eagerly chimes into the conversation and said, “You are right, Heaven is going to be wonderful! Just last week, I was watching this amazing show on TV, and a man was being interviewed who actually had gone to Heaven. Then this person was brought back to life. He said after he died, the first thing that happened is he was invited to a banquet table where he had a meal with all of his relatives who had died. After that, he was teleported to the pearly gates where Moses and Noah were standing. They told him he had not been good enough in this life to enter Heaven, so he was being sent back to try and be a better person. It was very inspiring and made me want to be a better person too. He wrote a great book about his experience, you should really check it out.”
The conversation has taken a new direction. How are you feeling right now? I hope you are about ready to jump out of your skin and are formulating a plan to interrupt your friend as quickly as possible! But what’s the problem? Why would you be concerned about this shift in the conversation? The answer is obvious. When someone asks us a question such as, “What is Heaven like?” we only need to make reference to one book—the Bible.
The Bible is sufficient to answer this question. Only in the Bible do we have God’s revealed truth about what Heaven will be like. To bring any other source of knowledge to the conversation is at best dangerous, and at worst heresy.
When it comes to questions such as,
• “Why did Jesus have to die?”
• “How can I be saved?”
• “Why should I be baptized?”
• “Who is the Holy Spirit?”
• “Where is God?”
Most Christians I know would use their Bible, and their Bible alone, to find the answers. They might need to make use of a reference book, but only so they might find the appropriate Scriptures. Christians believe that not only is the Bible true, it is enough. It is sufficient.
But what about these questions:
• “What should be our strategy in youth ministry?”
• “What should we teach this year in women’s ministry?”
• “Should we have children in our worship services?”
• “How can we reach more singles?”
• “How can we do a better job caring for the poor?”
For many years in pastoral ministry, I rarely opened my Bible to seek answers to these questions. Think of your own first response to questions like these. If someone asked you, “What should be our strategy in youth ministry?” Would you begin your reply with, “Well, in the Bible, God speaks to this issue and He lays out for us His plan for how children are to be evangelized and discipled. Let me show you…”?
Or what about, “How can we reach more singles?” Would your first response be, “That is a great question! God has a lot to say about singleness in the Bible, and in the New Testament we find some very specific things that the early church did to minister to singles. Let me show you…”?
This next statement may shock you. In some seminaries today, pastors are not trained to use the Bible for ministry decisions. We are trained to use the Bible for “doctrinal” issues like the ones listed above, but when it comes to daily church decisions pragmatism, innovation, creativity, and human wisdom rule the day. For the first decade of my pastoral ministry, I sought to get all my “doctrine” from the Bible, while I made ministry decisions myself and with my staff team. The Bible was enough for me when it came to my systematic theology, but not enough when it came to how God’s institutions of the family and the local church should function.