Church Life, Outreach, Missions
Using the Bible or Teaching the Bible?
by Ed Vasicek
When leaders from a predominantly liberal denomination were criticized for their disbelief in Scripture, their defense was that they used more Scripture in their liturgy than any other denomination. We would counter that it is one thing to use Scripture, another to believe it, and yet another to teach it.
By definition, evangelicals are conservative Christians who believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God; it is the final authority for faith and behavior. Nonetheless, many modern evangelicals are shamelessly ignorant of Bible content.
Modern evangelical trends advocate using the Bible as part of worship but dismiss actually preaching/teaching Bible content in their services. Some Seeker-Sensitive churches go so far as to discourage their folks from bringing Bibles to church or church functions because they do not want to offend lost people. They may refer to a Bible verse here or there, but they do not really teach the Bible.
Should we (A) use the Bible, (B) teach the Bible, or (C) both teach and use the Bible in our services? My conviction is choice "C."
Using the Bible can help us focus upon, and thus worship, God. Reading relevant Scriptures before or after singing songs adds meaning and authority to those lyrics. That God's Word is associated with worship is clear from Psalm 138:2b: "for you have exalted above all things your name and your word."
But do the Scriptures themselves emphasize teaching the Word? Let's begin with the three epistles dedicated to church organization and practices: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. These letters to Timothy and Titus were actually written to advise church leaders (Timothy and Titus) who served in a capacity somewhat similar to the role of modern pastors.
By casually perusing these three epistles, we can note several themes surfacing: the importance of Bible teaching, the importance of sound doctrine and indoctrination, and the importance of personal integrity and leadership skills. We'll focus on only the first two.
Here are just a few excerpts from 1 Timothy that emphasize Bible teaching and indoctrination:
"If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he...must be...able to teach" (3:1-2).
"A good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine" (4:6).
"Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching" (4:13).
"Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching" (5:17).
"Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing" (6:2b-4a).
"O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you" (6:20).
Second Timothy emphasizes teaching the Bible during church gatherings even more so:
"Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (1:13-14).
"What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2:2).
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2:15). (Note here that teaching is predicated upon careful and intelligent interpretation.)
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (3:14-17).
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (4:1-2).
From Titus we read:
"He [an elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (1:9).
"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine" (2:1).
"That the word of God may not be reviled" (2:5b).
"Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you" (2:15).
You do not have to be Albert Einstein to connect that church life is supposed to be saturated with Bible teaching and the declaration of sound doctrine. Although James warns about hearers of the Word who do not put it into practice (James 1:22), the way to solve that problem is not to become spiritually deaf! The proper resolution is to first hear the Word and then to follow what the Word says. Remaining ignorant of the Word is not the way to avoid hypocrisy!
At HPC, most of our sermons are expository in nature. According to Wikipedia, "Expository preaching is preaching that concentrates on explaining the meaning of a particular text or passage of Scripture." Most expository preachers preach through the Bible in a book-by-book fashion. Expository preaching is truly "preaching the Word." It is both fad-resistant and balanced.
Based on the above verses, pastors and teachers need to take the importance of careful interpretation and well-studied preaching or teaching seriously. When one preaches in an expository fashion, he shows that he takes his responsibility seriously. Like Paul, he can say, "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27, ESV).
Paul would have considered himself culpable if he had not taught the Ephesian believers the "whole counsel of God." And no method of preaching tackles everything like expository preaching does. Although topical preaching (dealing with subjects mentioned in the Bible) has its place, only expository preaching addresses complete texts of Scripture. I know of only two or three other pastors in Howard County who typically preach expository sermons. Once we get outside our county, I know many (for example, our Camp Emmanuel pastors are all expository preachers). We have become an endangered species.
We live in a day when the postmodern philosophy of the world has crept into the church. The issue of worldly philosophies creeping into the church is nothing new; what is new is the nature of the philosophies themselves. Although the trends may convince us that expository preaching is unappealing (or that doctrine is a bad word), and although some view the idea of actually studying the Bible as passť, there are still millions of Christians who love and want the Word of God! Hopefully you are among them.
No matter where you may live or where your future may lead, I hope you never participate in a church that does not emphasize deep Bible teaching and sound doctrine. Never turn your back on the Word; take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The Word of God is our only offensive weapon against the onslaughts of Satan; the rest of our armor is defensive. If Christians are to make a difference in the quality department, we must use our sword!
Perhaps you would like a hand when it comes to learning how to study the Word. Let me recommend a helpful book: Living By the Book. This volume is authored by Howard Hendricks and published by Moody Publishers. You can order it through Amazon or your local Christian or secular bookstore. (Webmaster Note: A great site that searches several online booksellers at once is BookFinder4U. See search results for the Hendricks book.)
The church is on the march when the people of God are mighty in the Word!
Reprinted from the August 2007 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA