Sanctification: Monergistic or Synergistic?

deyoung_bwArticle: IS SANCTIFICATION MONERGISTIC OR SYNERGISTIC? A REFORMED SURVEY by Kevin DeYoung

Recently, in a leadership training class at our church, a spirited discussion broke out on whether sanctification is monergistic or synergisitic. No, this is not what every class is like at University Reformed Church. But this one was. I wasn’t there, but I was told the discussion was energetic, intelligent, and respectful. I’m glad to serve at a church where people know and care about this level of theological precision.

The terms monergism and synergism refer to the working of God in regeneration. Monergism teaches that we are born again by only one working (mono is Greek for “one,” erg is from the Greek word for “work”). Synergism teaches that we are born again by human cooperation with the grace of God (the syn prefix means “with” in Greek). The Protestant Reformers strongly opposed all synergistic understandings of the new birth. They believed that given the spiritual deadness and moral inability of man, our regeneration is owing entirely to the sovereign work of God. We do not cooperate and we do not contribute to our being born again. Three cheers for monergism.

But what should we say about sanctification? On the one hand, Reformed Christians are loathe to use the word synergistic. We certainly don’t want to suggest that God’s grace is somehow negligible in sanctification. Nor do we want to suggest that the hard work of growing in godliness is not a supernatural gift from God. On the other hand, we are on dangerous ground if we imply that we are passive in sanctification in the same way we are passive in regeneration. We don’t want to suggest God is the only active agent in our progressive sanctification. So which is it: is sanctification monergistic or synergistic?

I think it’s best to stay away from both terms. The distinction is very helpful (and very important) when talking about regeneration, but these particular theological terms muddy the waters when talking about sanctification. Synergism sounds like a swear word to Reformed folks, so no one wants to say it. And yet, monergism is not the right word either. To make it the right word we have to provide a different definition than we give it when discussing the new birth. What does it mean to say regeneration and sanctification are both monergistic if we are entirely passive in one and active in the other?

Those who say sanctification is monergistic want to protect the gracious, supernatural character of sanctification. Those who say sanctification is synergistic want to emphasize that we must actively cooperated with the grace in sanctification. These emphases are both correct. And yet, I believe it is better to defend both of these points with careful explanation rather than with terms that have normally been employed in a different theological controversy. Sanctification is both a gracious gift of God and it requires our active cooperation. I’ve tried to show in previous posts that these two truths are biblical. In this post I want to show these two truths are also eminently Reformed.

Let me give a few brief examples.

John Calvin (1509-64)

Commenting on 2 Peter 1:5 (“make every effort to add to your faith…”), Calvin says:

As it is an arduous work and of immense labour, to put off the corruption which is in us, he bids us to strive and make every effort for this purpose. He intimates that no place is to be given in this case to sloth, and that we ought to obey God calling us, not slowly or carelessly, but that there is need of alacrity; as though he had said, “Put forth every effort, and make your exertions manifest to all.”

For Calvin, growing in godliness is hard work. There is no place for sloth. We must exert ourselves to obedience with speed and diligence. The believer is anything but passive in sanctification. But later, while commenting on the same verse, Calvin also warns against “the delirious notion” that we make the movements of God in us efficacious, as if God’s work could not be done unless we allowed him to do it. On the contrary, “right feelings are formed in us by God, and are rendered by him effectual.” In fact, “all our progress and perseverance are from God.” Wisdom, love, patience—these are all “gifts of God and the Spirit.” So when Peter tells us to make every effort, “he by no means asserts that [these virtues] are in our power, but only shows what we ought to have, and what ought to be done.”

Francis Turretin (1623-87)

Turretin employs sanctification as a theological term “used strictly for a real and internal renovation of man.” In this renovation, we are both recipients of God’s grace and active performers of it. “[Sanctification] follows justification and is begun here in this life by regeneration and promoted by the exercise of holiness and of good works, until it shall be consummated in the other by glory. In this sense, it is now taken passively, inasmuch as it is wrought by God in us; then actively, inasmuch as it ought to be done by us, God performing this work in us and by us” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology 2.17.1).

When it comes to the grace of God in regeneration, Turretin is opposed to “all Synergists.” He has in mind Socinians, Remonstrants, Pelagians, Semipelagians, and especially Roman Catholics, who anathematized “anyone [who] says that the free will of man moved and excited by God cooperates not at all” in effectual calling (Council of Trent). Turretin is happy to be just the sort of monergist Trent denounces. But then he adds this clarification about synergism:

The question does not concern the second stage of conversion in which it is certain that man is not merely passive, but cooperates with God (or rather operates under him). Indeed he actually believes and converts himself to God; moves himself to the exercise of new life. Rather the question concerns the first moment when he is converted and receives new life in regeneration. We contend that he is merely passive in this, as a receiving subject and not as an active principle. (2.15.5).

Given this caveat, it’s hard to think Turretin would have been comfortable saying sanctification is monergistic, though he certainly believed holiness is wrought in the believer by God.

Wilhelmus A Brakel (1635-1711)

Like Turretin and Calvin, A Brakel makes clear that sanctification is a work of God. “God alone is its cause,” he writes. “As little as man can contribute to his regeneration, faith, and justification, so little can he contribute to his sanctification” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 3.4). This may sound like we are completely passive in holiness, but that’s not what A Brakel means.

Believers hate sin, love God, and are obedient, and do good works. However, they do this neither on their own nor independently from God; rather, the Holy Spirit, having infused life in them at regeneration, maintains that life by His continual influence, stirs it up, activates it, and causes it to function in harmony with its spiritual nature. (3.4)

We contribute nothing to sanctification in that growth in godliness is a gift from God. And yet, we must be active in the exercise of this gift. A Brakel even goes so far as to say, “Man, being thus moved by the influence of God’s Spirit, moves, sanctifies himself, engages in that activity which his new nature desires and is inclined toward, and does that which he knows to be his duty” (3.4, emphasis added). That’s why A Brakel later exhorts his readers to “make an earnest effort to purify yourself from all the pollutions of the flesh and of the mind, perfecting yours sanctification in the fear of God. Permit me to stir you up to this holy work; incline your ear and permit these exhortations addressed to you to enter your heart” (3.24). So in one sense (on the level of ultimate causation and origin) we contribute nothing to sanctification and in another sense (on the level of activity and effort) we sanctify ourselves.

Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

We find these same themes–sanctification as gift and sanctification as active cooperation–in the great systematician from Princeton. Hodge stresses that sanctification is “supernatural” in that holy virtues in the life of a believer cannot “be produced by the power of the will, or by all the resources of man, however protracted or skillful in their application. They are the gifts of God, the fruits of the Spirit” (Systematic Theology, 3.215).

And yet, Hodge is quick to add that this supernatural work of sanctification does not exclude “the cooperation of second causes.” He explains:

When Christ opened the eyes of the blind no second cause interposed between his volition and the effect. But men work out their own salvation, while it is God who worketh in them to will and to do, according to his own good pleasure. In the work of regeneration, the soul is passive. It cannot cooperate in the communication of spiritual life. But in conversion, repentance, faith, and growth in grace, all its powers are called into exercise. As, however, the effects produced transcend the efficiency of our fallen nature, and are due to the agency of the Spirit, sanctification does not cease to be supernatural, or a work of grace, because the soul is active and cooperating in the process. (3.215).

There are several important ideas in Hodge’s summary. First, he affirms that sanctification is a work of supernatural grace. It is not something that comes from us or could be accomplished by us. Second, he suggests that the soul is passive (monergism) in regeneration, but not in the rest of our spiritual life (note: by “conversion” he means our turning to Christ not the new birth). Third, he does not hesitate to use the language of cooperation. We are active in the sanctifying process with Christ as he works in us.

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

More than Hodge, and more like Calvin, Bavinck emphasizes the “in Christ” nature of sanctification. He wants us to see that we are not “sanctified by a holiness we bring out ourselves.” Rather, evangelical sanctification “consists in the reality that in Christ God grants us, along with righteousness, also complete holiness, and does not just impute it but also inwardly imparts it by the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit until we have been fully conformed to the image of his Son” (Reformed Dogmatics, 4.248). Bavinck goes on to say that Rome’s doctrine of “‘infused righteousness’ is not incorrect as such.” Believers “do indeed obtain the righteousness of Christ by infusion.” The problem is that Rome makes this infused righteousness that ground for forgiveness. We are given the gift of righteousness (by which Christ “comes to dwell in us by his Spirit and renews us after his image”), but only as we are also declared righteous by the gift of an imputed righteousness (4.249).

Sanctification, for Bavinck, is first of all what God does in and for us. But that’s not all we must say about sanctification.

Granted, in the first place [sanctification] is a work and gift of God (Phil. 1:5; 1 Thess. 5:23), a process in which humans are passive just as they are in regeneration, of which it is the continuation. But based on this work of God in humans, it acquires, in the second place, an active meaning, and people themselves are called and equipped to sanctify themselves and devote their whole life to God (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:3; Heb. 12:14; and so forth). (4.253)

While Bavinck may be more willing to stress the passive nature of sanctification rather than use the language of cooperation, in the end he hits the same themes we have seen in Calvin, Turretin, a Brakel, and Hodge. Bavinck sees no conflict “between this all-encompassing activity of God in grace and the self-agency of people maintained alongside of it” (4.254). He warns that Christians go off the rails when they sacrifice “one group of pronouncements to the other.” Sanctification is a gift from God, and we are active in it.

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957)

We see in Berkhof the same tendency to guard against any notions of self-helpism on the one hand and human inactivity on the other.

[Sanctification] is a supernatural work of God. Some have the mistaken notion that sanctification consists merely in the drawing out of the new life, implanted in the soul by regeneration, in a persuasive way by presenting motives to the will. But this is not true. It consists fundamentally and primarily in a divine operation in the soul, whereby the holy disposition born in regeneration is strengthened and its holy exercises are increased. (Systematic Theology, 532).

In other words, sanctification is essentially a work of God. But it is also “a work of God in which believers co-operate.”

When it is said that man takes part in the work of sanctification, this does not mean that man is an independent agent in the work, so as to make it partly the work of God and partly the work of man; but merely, that God effects the work in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. (534)

Conclusion

So what do we see in this short survey of Reformed theologians. For starters, we do not see the exact language of monergism or synergism applied to sanctification.

Second, we see that, given the right qualifications, either term could be used with merit. “Monergism” can work because sanctification is God’s gift, his supernatural work in us. “Synergism” can also work because because we cooperate with God in sanctification and actively make an effort to grow in godliness.

Third, we see in this Reformed survey the need to be careful with our words. For example, “passive” can describe our role in sanctification, but only if we also say there is a sense in which we are active. Likewise, we can use the language of cooperation as long as we understand that sanctification does not depend ultimately on us.

And if all this is confusing, you can simply say: we work out our sanctification as God works in us (Phil. 2:12-12). Those are the two truths we must protect: the gift of God in sanctification and the activity of man. We pursue the gift, is how John Webster puts it. I act the miracle, is Piper’s phrase. Both are saying the same thing: God sanctifies us and we also sanctify ourselves. With the right qualifications and definitions, I believe Calvin, Turretin, A Brakel, Hodge, Bavinck, and Berkhof would heartily agree.

Jesus’ Obedience of the Law – For Us

Scotty Smith is the founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. In an article entitled “Hallelujah! Jesus Fulfilled the Law for us” he writes:

And when they [Joseph and Mary] had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. Luke 2:39-40 (ESV)

Lord Jesus, though you began your life in our world totally on your parent’s care, Mary and Joseph didn’t realize how even more dependent they were on you. As obedient Jewish parents, they performed “everything according to the Law of the Lord” on your behalf. But for the next thirty-three years of your life, you perfectly fulfilled everything required in the Law for Mary and Joseph, and for us. Hallelujah, many times over!

You didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill for us. What we could never do, you’ve accomplished for us, once and for all. What we could never be, you became for us. You are our Substitute to trust, before you are our example to follow.

We praise, worship, and adore you, for so great a salvation, so firm a standing in grace, and so deep a rooting in the love of God. God’s favor, in which you’ve always lived, now rests fully and freely on us. Praise be to God!

Your last words from the cross, “It is finished!” have become our first and perpetual words of freedom. It’s not our obedience, but yours, in which we trust, boast, and hope. It’s not our righteousness, but yours, which has forever reconciled us to God. Now we obey you out of love and gratitude, not because of fear and pride.

By the same grace you’ve saved us, you’re now changing us. As you have fulfilled the Law for us, you are now fulfilling it in us. One Day we will see you as you are and we’ll be made like you. O the joy and wonder of such a gospel. Until that Day, keep us groaning and growing in grace, and free us to love others as you love us. So very Amen we pray, in your mighty and merciful name.

Quotes on Scripture

preaching-e1464051966448“Let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture.” – Martin Luther

“If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree they are false.” – John Owen

“The Bible is the sceptre by which the heavenly King rules his church.” – John Calvin

“It has always been the great minds exercising their powers apart from the Word of God who have produced the great heresies. Some think they can discover God by listening to a so-called ‘inner voice.’ But the voice is often nothing more than an expression of their own inner desires. Quite a few think that spiritual truths can be verified by supernatural events or miracles. But the Bible everywhere teaches that even miracles will not lead men and women to understand and receive God’s truth unless they themselves are illuminated by the Bible (see Luke 16:31).” – James Montgomery Boice

“God speaks through the Scriptures. He speaks with the Word, through the Word, and never against the Word.” – R. C. Sproul

“All Scripture must be received as if God, appearing in person, visibly and full of majesty, were himself speaking.” – John Calvin

“In too many churches, Bible exposition has been replaced with entertainment, theology with theatrics, and the drama of redemption with just drama.” – Steve Lawson

Death: The Last Enemy, and Our Deliverer

dead-bodyExcerpted from Randy Alcorn’s book In Light of Eternity.

Peter uses the word exodus in reference to his own approaching death (2 Peter1:15). Death for the Christian is God’s deliverance from a place of bondage and suffering to a place of freedom and relief.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, Paul refers to his death with the Greek word analousis, meaning “to loosen.” Consider some of its common usages in that culture:

an ox being loosed from its yoke when it was finished pulling a cart.
pulling up tent stakes, in preparation for a journey.
untying a ship from dock, to let it sail away.
unchaining a prisoner, freeing him from confinement and suffering.
problem solving—when a difficult matter was finally resolved, it was said to have been “loosened.”
Each of these is a graphic picture of death for the Christian.

On the one hand, the Bible calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). On the other hand, for the person whose faith and actions have prepared him for it, death is a deliverer, casting off the burdens of a hostile world and ushering him into the world for which he was made.

No matter what difficulty surrounds it, God is intimately involved and interested in the Christian’s departure from this world: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

What we call “death” is a transition from a dying body in a dying world to a world of light and life. No wonder Paul says, “To die is gain” and to go to be with Christ is “better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

There’s evidence that at death the believer will be ushered into Heaven by angels (Luke 16:22). Different angels are assigned to different people (Matthew 18:10), so perhaps our escorts into Heaven will be angels who have served us while we were on earth (Hebrews 1:14).

I’ve always appreciated this depiction of death:

I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.”

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she is gone” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” And that, for the Christian, is dying.

What will happen as we set foot on Heaven’s shores, greeted by our loved ones? I envision it as C. S. Lewis did in the Last Battle: “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.” [1]

The moment we die the meager flame of this life will appear, to those we leave behind, to be snuffed out. But at that same moment on the other side it will rage to sudden and eternal intensity—an intensity that will never dim, only grow.

On his deathbed D.L. Moody said, “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.”

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan, 1956), 180.

R.I.P.

Grave stone on the ground

Grave stone on the ground

When I say “Good Morning” I’m not stating that the person to which I am speaking has had thus far, or will have following, a good morning. In fact, maybe they’ve had – or will have – a terrible morning. But it’s certainly my wish for them.

“Rest in peace” (Latin: Requiescat in pace) is a short epitaph or idiomatic expression wishing eternal rest and peace to someone who has died.

And lest anyone want to nit-pick that God has already decided where they’re headed and so I might be wishing against God’s will, just chill. I pray and wish for healing he doesn’t always give to folks, and pray and wish some living folks will get saved when technically one can argue God already knows and/or predestined them, so the difference is negligible. If my wish doesn’t correspond with God’s will, so be it. Happens all the time.

Conclusion? I can say “Rest in Peace” with a clear conscience. I’m stating my implicit wish for their destination and usually have no idea what their final days or relationship was with God. My desire is that they ultimately bent their knee to God before their final breath and are present in His rest.

Now if I’m preaching a funeral and am asked to speak to the person’s destination with any kind of certainty, that’s a whole other conversation.

To be even more clear, there ARE some phrases I would avoid: I wouldn’t say of someone (particularly a celebrity and thus, honestly, a stranger) “they are now resting in peace”. That would be a declarative statement and not a wish or desire. So watching my words IS important, but the above seems fine to me.

– James Harleman

Pluralism: A Culture Without Truth

Vince Vitale

We live in a post-truth society – that’s what The Economist claimed a few months ago. Truth has so often been abused that society is fleeing from truth and adopting a pluralism that assures us “All truths are equally valid.” Does that include the claim that all truths are not equally valid? That’s how quickly pluralism runs into incoherence. So, why does it persist; why is it growing? Vince talks more about this in his new book, “Jesus Among Secular Gods,” co-written with Ravi Zacharias.

One Who Is Son

Dr. Liam Goligher is Senior Minister of Tenth Church, Philadelphia, PA.

From the Church website:
In the 1970s and 1980, a major battle was underway, often referred to as the Inerrancy of Scripture. Dr. Boice was on the front lines of that battle. Before that, Dr. Barnhouse chose to stay within the Northern Presbyterian Church, as it was called informally. He battled valiantly for the Virgin Birth of Christ, the possibility of miracles, including the resurrection of Christ, and many other core Christian beliefs under attack by the Modernists or Liberals of his day.

Tenth has a long tradition of engaging in such battles and being at the forefront of many of them. It has been a clarion voice in defense of orthodox Christian beliefs as they emerged from the Reformation 500 years ago next year. Documents were drawn up, still cherished today, which define the great truths of the Bible in the terminology of the era in which they were written. So we have the Westminster Confession of Faith and our great catechisms. People died for the truths recorded in them.

Few of us today could explain how Dr. Boice and others drew the battle lines against ‘neo-orthodoxy’ and its watered down view of Scripture in the 1970s. We acknowledge that it was important, but if called upon today to refight that battle, we would have much brushing up to do. That was less than 50 years ago. The battle with the liberals was less than 100 years ago. Few indeed, outside the seminary, would remember the shape of that debate. However, the faith of millions rode on those two battles. And Tenth’s congregation supported their ministers through those fights.

Today, Tenth has again been called to take on a serious challenge to the faith we hold dear. It is our privilege to take up ‘arms’ for our King in a battle far more foundational than those two huge debates of the 20th Century – the Doctrine of God and the full deity of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, false teaching has already crept, almost silently, deep inside the very walls of evangelicalism. It was Dr. Goligher who, last June, flipped the switch of the floodlights, revealing these teachings for what they are. Today we would say it went viral.

Also unfortunately, we are being called to pick up a debate that has lain dormant, not for a mere 100 years, but for 1600 years. Obviously, no one at Tenth remembers those battles and the great issues involved. Even the names of those who fought, and sometimes died, for the truth have an unfamiliar ring. That debate seems shrouded in the mists of history. It seems couched in Trinitarian language too abstract for us to comprehend. It seems as if we could never get our heads around such complexity.

We should thank God from our deepest heart that the men who fought the battle in AD 200-400 were men schooled in a world where philosophy – which at that time still included theology – was deemed the supreme field of knowledge. They were up to the task. Today, theology takes a back seat to medicine, all the sciences, history, languages, the arts and even philosophy. But those men defined the debate. We only need to relearn its terms.

Beginning October 9, when starting a series on Hebrews, Dr. Goligher began training us for the battle, which is already raging nationwide. Those have been tough sermons to follow. On the subject of the Trinity, it might be difficult to see the relevance to our daily lives.

Few people would grasp half of what they need to know on the first pass. Listening to them several times, one still finds new angles, new insights into the shape of this debate, new implications for every aspect of our faith.

The trumpet call has sounded. In accordance with Ephesians 6:13-18, let’s polish our spiritual armor. In particular, we need the sword of the Holy Spirit, the word of God as ‘unpacked’ in these sermons. There will be tough times ahead for Bible-proclaiming churches across our country. As so often in the past, many will look to Tenth to lead the charge.

Those who care deeply for the gospel faith, for our Father God, and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will spend time mulling over those sermons on the Trinity. As Dr. Goligher says in one of them:

“Everything is at stake! Everything is at stake!”

11/06/16 11AM Sermon “One Who Is Son” Tenth Presbyterian Church from Tenth Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.

EXTRACT: This word [Son] denotes having the very nature of God and the people of his own day, the Jews of his own day, understood this very clearly. In John 5:18, they complained, you see, “He was calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God.” They understood what was going on. And listen to Jesus’ reply. He doesn’t dissuade them. He doesn’t deny it; he doesn’t avoid the subject. In fact, he pursues the subject. He essentially says to them, “That is exactly… You are exactly right. ‘Son of God’ means God.”

VERSES: John 5:26, Psalm 2:7, Colossians 1:15-20, John 1:3, Mark 2:5-10, Luke 7:47-49, John 10:28, John 17:2, Philippians 3:3, Revelation 5:12-13, Matthew 2:2, John 20:28, John 9:38, Matthew 28:8, Hebrews 7:26, Isaiah 52:13, Isaiah 6:1, Philippians 2:9-10, Genesis 1, 1 Timothy 6:16, John 1:9, John 1:18, John 3:31-34, Isaiah 11:2, Colossians 2:2-3, Colossians 1:19, Luke 2:40, Luke 2:42-52, John 16:12-15, John 8:35-36, Hebrews 3:6, Proverbs 3:19, Proverbs 8:22-31, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Ephesians 1:17, John 5:18-26, John 6:46, John 8:38, John 14:7-11, John 4:24, Matthew 28:18, John 17:2, 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:19, John 17:3,

Series: http://www.tenth.org/resource-library/series-index/hebrews

Free Book: The Gospel According to Paul

macarthur-gospel-according-to-paulSome years I ago, I was very blessed to watch John MacArthur’s Bible teaching seminar “The Gospel According to Paul” live stream on the internet. Now, the content of that seminar is being made into a brand new book and the great news is – until January 15th, 2017, the book is available for free at this link (by request, for USA residents):

The Formation of the Bible

bibleHere’s a short article by Timothy W. Massaro entitled “6 Things We Need to Know about the Formation of the Bible” – original source here:

1. The New Testament Canon was not decided by any church council.
2. Early Christians believed that canonical books were self-authenticating.
3. The New Testament books are the principle Christian writings we have.
4. The New Testament books directly relate to the apostolic testimony.
5. Some New Testament writers quote other New Testament writers as Scripture.
6. Early Christians used non-canonical writings without analogous authority.

1. The New Testament Canon was not decided by any church council.
The church councils did not decide what was canonical. While regional church councils made declarations about the canon, these councils affirmed the books they believed had functioned as foundational documents for the Christian faith. The councils merely declared the way things had been since the time of the apostles. Thus, these councils did not create, authorize, or determine the canon. They simply were part of the process of recognizing a canon that already existed.

2. Early Christians believed that canonical books were self-authenticating.
Another authenticating factor was the internal qualities of each book. These books established themselves within the church through their internal qualities and uniqueness as depicting Christ and his saving work. The New Testament canon we possess is not due to the collusions of church leaders or the political authority of Constantine, but to the unique voice and tone possessed by these writings.

3. The New Testament books are the principle Christian writings we have.
The New Testament books are the earliest writings we possess regarding Jesus. The New Testament was completed in the first century. This means the writings include testimonies from eyewitnesses and were written within fifty years of the events, which cannot be said of any of the apocryphal literature often discussed in the news. This is particularly evident when it comes to the four gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the only gospel accounts that originate in the first century.

4. The New Testament books directly relate to the apostolic testimony.
Unlike any book from that period or the following century, the New Testament books were directly connected to the apostles and their testimony of the resurrected Christ. The canon is intimately connected to their activities and influence. The apostles had the very authority of Christ himself (Matt. 28:18–20). Along with the Old Testament, their teachings were the very foundation of the church. The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (Eph. 2:20).

5. Some New Testament writers quote other New Testament writers as Scripture.
The belief in new revelation or a testament of books was not a late development. From the days of the apostles themselves, these writings were seen as unique in their authority and witness. This belief seems to be present in the earliest stages of Christianity. In 2 Peter 3:15–16, Peter refers to Paul’s letters as “Scripture,” which would have put them on a par with the books of the Old Testament. This is a significant fact that is often overlooked.

6. Early Christians used non-canonical writings without analogous authority.
Christians often cited non-canonical literature with positive affirmation for edification. Yet, Christians were simply using these books as helpful, illuminating, or edifying texts. Rarely was there confusion as to whether they were on a par with Scripture. These books were eventually disregarded according to the criteria of whether they had general acceptance, apostolicity, and self-authentication.