Reopening Plan

After speaking with other Chaska area pastors, our denominational leaders, and the leaders from the school where we meet, The River Church elders have developed a plan for meeting together again.We believe that the video service options we are currently offering have allowed our entire extended family to connect at some level. For that reason, we have put a priority on continuing to provide that option, but we would like to offer an in-person option as well for those who would like to meet.Due to the lack of air-conditioning and the need to use fans to circulate air, it is not ideal to begin our services inside. Our plan is to offer outdoor services on the school grounds during the summer months, meeting in an area where people can bring lawn chairs or blankets and sit in the grass, and others can stay in their cars if they prefer. This would give us a flexible meeting place and allow us to move inside only if needed.

It will be a simplified service that allows us to gather in person. We are hoping to livestream the service on Facebook for those who would like to watch live via that platform, and a recording of the message will continue to be available as it has been these past 2 months.Our plan is to begin offering this outdoor service option beginning on June 21st. This provides us with time to put things in place to meet the state guidelines and see how things progress as other churches begin to meet. Also, St. John’s will be holding an outdoor service across the street the first 2 weeks of June, which would make it difficult for us to meet outdoors at the same time.We are still working out details, so there will be more information coming in the days ahead.

If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to get ahold of Pastor Nathan at nathanphillipsriver@gmail.comor Pastor Rob at You can also talk to any of our elders: Tom Kocka, Greg Frank, and Gary Benedict.Please be in prayer for us as we continue to navigate our way through this current reality.

When Leaders Fall

Recently there have been several young influential leaders on the modern Christian landscape who have either partially or completely rejected the faith. It is always disheartening to see people become overwhelmed by doubt and pain and respond by turning away from Christ. More concerning then even these examples of rejection are the responses of some people. I have seen people who are crushed because they feel they have lost their “hero” or they see their rejection as a proof that Christianity must not be true. I only point to these recent examples because they have gained so much attention but there are countless examples of leaders who have fallen into sin, heresy, or lost their faith for one reason or another. When this happens it causes us to ask a question, “does the falling away of religious leaders weaken the truth of Christianity?”

A clear answer to this question, “does the falling away of religious leaders weaken the truth of Christianity?” can be found all the way back in the 3rd century in The Prescription Against Heretics written by Tertullian. Although Tertullian had his own theological weaknesses his words ring true concerning our present situation. He wrote, “It is usual, indeed, with persons of a weaker character, to be so built up (in confidence) by certain individuals who are caught by heresy, as to topple over into ruins themselves. How come it to pass, (they ask), that this woman or this man, who are most faithful, the most prudent, and the most approved in the church, have gone to the other side?” Tertullian points out that the reason we are so shaken when religious leaders fall away is because we elevate them in our hearts and our minds and make them examples of what it means to live a “good Christian life”. We see their charisma and their influence. We notice that the church approves of them and declares them champions of the faith. Maybe we even remember ways that they have impacted us personally and helped to define our relationship with God. When they fall away we are baffled and our confidence is weakened. Even in the 3rd century Tertullian recognized this as a common and damaging reaction. He then continues, “If then a bishop or deacon, a widow, a virgin or a teacher, or even a martyr, has lapsed from the Rule of Faith, must we conclude that heresy possesses the truth? Do we test the faith by persons or persons by the faith?” Tertullian answers this question with a question, “Do we test the faith by persons or persons by the faith?” The truth of the Christian faith stands on whether it is true or not. It does not stand on who accepts or denies it. The world was round even before we knew it and germs ravaged our bodies even before we could comprehend their existence. Just imagine the state our world would be in if we judged truth by who accepted it and not by its own veracity. It is heart breaking when people turn away from the faith but their turning does not weaken the truth of Christianity. There are many great men and women in history who have wrestled with the same questions we wrestle with today and have come out on the other side more assured of their faith. We look at modern Christian leaders and aspire to be like them. We follow their teachings and are encouraged by their faith, but our faith does not rest on the popularity of any individual it rests on the truth of the Gospel.

So how can we avoid the becoming distrait the next time a Christian leader falls away? Firstly we need to be rooted in the word of God and have an active prayer life. Sometimes we rely too heavily on Christian leaders in an attempt to make up for deficiencies in our own spiritual life. It can be easier to listen to a sermon or follow a social media feed then it is to study the Bible ourselves or spend time in prayer. Although sermons can be enlightening and social media feeds can be encouraging they are a poor substitution for meditating on God’s life giving word and approaching His throne in prayer.

Secondly, we need to choose different people to look up too. Ultimately our faith rests on no one except Jesus Christ, however the ability to look at mere humans and be encouraged by their devotion to our Savior is an amazing gift. Although the gifts and talents of young leaders should not be ignored and should serve as an encouragement to the Church, these gifts and talents are not the essentials of a life well lived. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul’s ministry was so great because he lived and died on mission for the kingdom of God. People do not enter the Hall of Fame during their rookie season no matter how spectacular their first appearance was. We should look up to people who have went through the pains of life, wrestled with the tough questions, and at the end of their life can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Instead of being swept off our feet by the new charismatic leader lets be rooted to the truth by the example of men and women like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Mother Teresa, A. W. Tozer, Florence Nightingale, John Wesley, Charlotte Moon, and many others.

So the next time you are discouraged because someone of importance has rejected the faith remember that our faith is built on the firm foundation of truth and we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.  

Author: Associate Pastor Nathan Phillips

Bible Part 2

I grew up in a home with two other brothers, and three sisters. And each of us were about 18months. We were always close in age but we were also really close in general. When we were kids our favorite pastime was dressing up like knights or Jedi and fighting with whatever we could find. I remember one time we had broken almost all of our Light Sabers so we resorted to the next best thing. Bats and long sticks. As you can imagine this didn’t go very well.

The worst time I can remember my younger brother Jeffery and I were teaming up on my older brother Joshua. During the sword fight Jeffery started running away and seeing victory in his grasp Joshua ran after him. But we had a plan. Jeffery would lure Joshua around the house, meanwhile I would be waiting around the house on this ledge. The plan was when Joshua ran around the house I would leap off the ledge and attack him from the sky.

The plan worked perfectly. As I saw Jeffery coming around the corner I got ready to jump and as soon as I saw Joshua I attacked.

I came down from the sky aiming for his bat thinking that if I hit it hard enough it would disarm him. At the last moment Joshua moved his hand and instead of my bat making contact with his bat it came down full force on his wrist. It was successful in disarming him but in the process it broke his wrist.

Now that we are older we don’t fight with light sabers or bats but instead we do “verbal jousting” we argue about religion and politics. Last election all three of us voted for different people and we all have slightly different theology so as you can imagine it gets pretty intense.

Usually it is very heated and productive but we hit a wall when we disagree on the credibility of sources. One person might have an opinion based of some statistic they found or an article they read but if we don’t all agree that the source is credible the conversation ends because we don’t have a common belief about the authority of the source.

That is why we decided to start our sermon series on systematic theology with the Bible. Whenever we talk about God, sin, salvation, or anything else in theology we have to point at the Bible. But if we don’t all agree on what we believe about the Bible we aren’t going to be able to get anywhere. One person could bring up a Bible passage but if people don’t agree that the Bible is the word of God then the verse means nothing.

Today we are going to look at 2 Timothy 3 and discuss a little more what we believe about the Bible.

To begin with lets look at some context. Paul wrote 2 Timothy while he was imprisoned for the second time in Rome, shortly before he was executed. He wrote it to Timothy one of his close friends and disciples.

The reason Paul is writing to Timothy is to give him advice and instruction when it comes to ministry. It is a pretty short letter but is just packed to the rim with insight. Today we are going to be taking a look at chapter three. It begins with a warning in verses 1-9.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.” 

Clearly the future Paul is describing does not seem very pleasant. I think the verse that best describes the nature of humanity in this passage is verse 5 “Having a form of godliness but denying its power.” In our world today we continue to see people who are searching for an answer to the problems of life. We try to reduce suffering, expand fairness and morality. Many people attempt to mimic the moral truths of Christuanity without believing Jesus or the Bible. They want a form of godliness but deny the power of God. They are looking for truth, finding false truth, and then teaching those false truths to the people around them. After Paul warns Timothy about this future he addresses Timothy directly in verses 10-13.

“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

When it says in verse 10 that Timothy has closely “followed” the word for followed means something like observed intently. Paul is telling Timothy that those who hold true to the truth of the gospel will face persecution. Timothy shouldn’t doubt this because Paul’s very life is evidence of this. Then in verse 13 Paul says that evil men and imposters will just get worse and worse. They will continue to be deceived and to deceive others. It is almost like this gap between those who want to live for Christ and those who are living for lies and evil will grow greater and greater.

Given Paul’s warning in the beginning of the chapter and his assurance that evil people will get worse and worse, and his assurance that those who live for Christ will be persecuted why doesn’t Paul just quit? Why doesn’t Timothy just close the letter and become a merchant?

Because they have a belief and love for Jesus Christ that makes those other things look so insignificant that they are not asking “How do I avoid this future?” they are asking “how can I bring the light of truth into this darkness of deception?”

Paul tells him exactly how to do this in verses 14-15,

“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Paul tells Timothy to continue in two things, the things that he has learned and been assured of and in the Holy Scriptures.

So what has Timothy learned and been assured of?

The Gospel of Christ. Paul also says that he knows who he learned them from. Timothy had been blessed to have many people teach him about the Gospel of Jesus. Two women, his mother and grandmother, taught Timothy from an early childhood about the Gospel. They lived out strong faith lives and wanted to pass that on to Timothy. Paul in his first letter to Timothy calls him his son in the faith, because he came along side Timothy and mentored him. He shared with him the love of Christ.

We talk a lot about the River being the kid’s church as well. Every Sunday we pray that God will bless these kids and reveal Himself to them. How amazing would it be if my children and your children could grow up and say, “I know and love Jesus because my family, because the people at the River cared about me enough to tell show me the love of Jesus every time they saw me.”

Paul tells Timothy to continue in the Gospel of Christ and the Holy Scriptures. But what is Paul referring to when he says Holy Scriptures? He means the entirety of the Old Testament. This term the Holy Scriptures at this time meant the Old Testament. Keep this in mind when we go to the next verses. Both the Old Testament and what Timothy had learned severed the same purpose to make Timothy wise for salvation in Christ Jesus.

So Paul tells Timothy that despite the nature of the future despite the persecution that is to come he should continue in what he has been taught and assured of and in the Holy Scriptures because the relationship he has with Jesus Christ brings salvation and that salvation is much greater then any evil or persecution.

Than Paul talks specifically about Scripture in verses 16-17.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

When Paul talks about Scripture in this passage he outlines where Scripture comes from and what it is profitable for.

Rob talked about the inspiration of scripture last week from 2 Peter. It means that Scripture as it was originally given did not come from human logic or reason but rather it came from God. The best way I can describe this is, “God gave His message to human authors who perfectly conveyed it in their own words.”

Paul says Scripture is profitable for doctrine, meaning it informs us about who God is and how as creations of God should operate. It is profitable for reproof, meaning t provides proof or reasons for what we believe. Scripture is profitable for correction, meaning it tells us to turn away from sin and turn towards God. Scripture informs us on how to live lives that are right before God and honor Him.

The ultimate purpose of Scripture is that it points us to Jesus Christ so that we can grow to be in a more intimate with Him and become more like Him. And it equips us to glorify God with our actions.

We have to ask again what does Paul have in mind when he says Scripture? Paul is talking about the Old Testament.

So how did we get to place we are now where by Scripture we mean the Old and New Testament?

Two weeks ago Rob talked about 2 Peter 1:20-21 which says,

“knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

We believe that the New Testament is Scripture because we believe that the process of God speaking through people by the power of the Holy Spirit which we see in the Old Testament was continued in the New Testament.

The early church had some criteria when confirming the books of the New Testament.

  1. Could the writing be link to an apostle/eyewitness?
  2. Were the books widely accepted by the church?
  3. Did the books contradict the Old Testament the teachings of Jesus or the writing of His apostles?

All the books in the New Testament had to meet all these and more criteria but these were the three main criteria.

So why do we not accept some of the Gnostic gospels like the Gospel of Thomas or Philip? The answer is pretty simple, they do not meet the criteria. They were not widely accepted by the church, they were not written based of eyewitness accounts, and they state something that is contrary to the beliefs of Christianity.

Some people make the claim that the early church just didn’t want any books in the Bible that disagreed with what they believed. And to this I say “well duh” They early church was made up of leaders who knew Jesus, heard His teachings and followed His ministry. So if they believed Jesus why would they accept any writings that contradicted Him?

So we believe the New Testament is Scripture because we believe that God took care of this process. God guided and directed the writing and preservation of the New Testament.

We believe the Old Testament because Jesus and the founders of the Church all believed the Old Testament. Two weeks ago Rob and I had several people ask us about the Apocryphal books. Some of the additional books in the Catholic Bible. Whether these were considered the word of God, or why don’t we have them in our Bible.

And this is an important question. Some of the Apocryphal writings are very valuable; some of them are even mentioned or quoted in other parts of Scripture.

One of the main reasons we do not include them in our Bible is because the early church and even the Jews did not consider them Scripture.

They read them and studied them but they were not considered Scripture. You see in the first century and throughout Jewish history there is the idea of a hierarchy of religious writing. A Jewish theologian named David Stern described it as Heresy, Sacred Text and Canon. Heresy would be something that directly contradicts the rest of the Bible. Heretical books would be like the Gnostic Gospels or the so-called “Lost Bible” these books are written by unreliable sources and make claims that are contradictory to our belief. Sacred texts would be things like the books of Maccabees where it has some really good historical and religious value but if you disagreed with it you wouldn’t be committing heresy. This would be like if a church had everyone read a Francis Chan or John Piper book. These books could be valuable to for us to read but God does not inspire them. The books that are considered Canon would be books we believe that are inspired by God and describe perfectly the Christian life.

Both the writings of the New Testament and the Old Testament have the same common story. All of Scripture points to salvation through Jesus Christ. The entire Bible describes the Human condition as being enslaved to sin and separated from God. And points to the only way that we can be reunited with God which is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

So that is what we believe about the Bible but how do we apply this?

I think it goes back to the warning Paul gave at the beginning of chapter 3. We are living in a world that is chasing after lies. People everywhere are being deceived and then deceiving others. So how do we survive in a world taken over by evil and deception? We follow the truth. We know that humans were created to glorify God and live in relationship with Him but that we are separated by our sin. Our own sinful nature and selfishness stops us from having the relationship with God that we were meant to have. The only way that we can be in a right relationship with God is if we are freed from our sin and in order for us to be free from our sin we need a perfect sacrifice to take the punishment of sin upon Himself. And that sacrifice was Jesus Christ. He was perfect and although He didn’t deserve the punishment He willingly took the punishment of our sin upon Himself. Then He defeated the power of sin and death by rising from the dead three days later.

The way we know this truth is because God revealed it to us through the Bible. The church can change in many ways. We can change the cloths our pastors wear, the buildings we meet in or the style of songs we sing. But if we do not hold fast to the Word of God we will loose the truth and we will be taken over by deception.

The word of God is what holds us all accountable. Rob and I are accountable to you to the district and to the elders. But more then that all of us are accountable to the word of God.

Not because the paper or binding or the ink is magic. We all are accountable to the Bible because through it God convicts us of our nature and reveals to us the good news of Jesus Christ.