Wednesday, March 11, 2009

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The Milky Church: Biblical Illiteracy

In December 2008, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported on the beliefs of self-identified American Christians. Sadly, it probably won't come as a surprise to most of you that people who identify themselves as Christians (including those who call themselves "evangelicals") overwhelmingly hold to a host of unbiblical beliefs. A depressing sample is below:


I've been thinking more about this problem lately, as I have increasingly found myself among "believers" (many of whom are regular churchgoers) who know shockingly little about the beliefs they profess. Of course, this is not a new problem in the history of the church:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
Nor is it unforseen that sermons, Bible studies and popular Christian literature should eschew serious examination of the Scriptures in favor of such banalities as "victorious Christian living":
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
I suppose this should bring us back to Ellen B's question from last month: "what should we do personally?" For my part, I have resolved to do a better job in teaching basic Christian doctrine where I am able, particularly in the places and positions God puts me in (father, teacher, church leader, etc.), and in helping believers to learn to study the Scriptures themselves.

Oh, and I think I'll post something on the blog about it and see what you think can be done.

22 comments:

  1. If some Emergent Church authors are any indication of the direction that Christians are going, then Josh McDowell's rather gloomy prognosis for Christian youth in his book "The Last Christian Generation" may be closer to the truth than we imagine.
    I remember reading "Velvet Elvis" as I was preparing to use it as a supplementary reading in my Bible class a few years ago. I was struck by a statement megachurch pastor Rob Bell made. He was comparing doctrine to springs in a trampoline and that certain doctrines were really not important enough to wreck our faith. One doctrine he mentioned was the virgin birth. Suppose, he wrote, that an archaologist found evidence that Jesus had a human father. Bell believes that such a discovery would not matter to his faith.
    Such a cavalier dismissal of a cardinal teaching of historic Christianity is a sobering reminder of how far we have descended.
    It is no wonder that our churched young people are less than 4 points difference (according to Barna) from unchurched as to their conduct and behavior.
    Ideas have consequences

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  2. You stimulate some great questions here, Ray. One is, can sound doctrine transcend modernity? As a child of the modern era (I was born in the early fifties), it has been a huge adjustment for me to learn how post-moderns view the world. I have often not cared for what I have seen, but I am beginning to understand it a bit better.

    That said, I believe that sound doctrine can transcend modernity. But the way it is presented is constantly morphing.

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  3. A book called "unChristian" really puts a lot of this in perspective. Written by someone in Barna's organization. I strongly recommend it, but be prepared to spend a lot of time repenting :-)

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  4. Yes we run the risk of becoming a marketing exercise rather than a church as people prefer to guild the lily rather than have the disciplined basics. However, we also need to be able to reach the masses one person at a time and show that honest doctrine is uplifting. Take care and God bless.

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  5. This is an interesting and vital topic among believers, I think. I am working through a new book by Pete Briscoe of Telling the Truth ministry. He is the son of Stuart and Jill Briscoe. It is called Belief Matters and it is a great book, so far. It asks the question, "what do you believe and why?" Then he goes through Scripture to answer the question of what our faith is and what is it based on. The Briscoes have a passion and huge concern about Western biblical illiteracy and this book is one response to it. Anyway, it's engaging to read, but sound and challenging, too. Could even be used as a small group study, since it has questions and bible verse chains to build to support the core beliefs.

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  6. I agree with what you are saying, don't we crawl before we walk. When we are babes in Christ we need to be taught the basics and build from there. If your knowledge of your faith is not what it should be, the question to all of us is "what is keeping you from seeking it out".

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  7. I attend a church that is non-denominational which in some cases means that there is no real standard for a specific biblical or unbiblical doctrine. The most recent example is the belief that a Christian must every now and then receive prayer from the faithful to cast demons aside, in addition, I find that there are a few in the church that speak of satan as much as they do Jesus. This has caused a few problems because I have taught my daughters to understand that if you have the holy spirit you can't have demons too. We all have freewill and for that I don't think too many demons are necessary. Anyway, I agree that we have a very uninformed and biblically ignorant body. So I will end this short post with a scriptural reference for the mature Christian: Ministry of Reconciliation 2 Cor 5: "11Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."

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  8. Thanks for your thoughts; I could not agree more! I spent years checking off the church box in my life but had no heart change, convictions or fruit. Progressive and emergent church leaders are doing people who are seeking salvation a grave disservice. I to overlooked the simple fact that the bible is the inerrant, literal word of God and that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus alone.., (babes in Christ or lifers). I spent time listening and reading to others as well as my own flesh instead of simply reading and following the word of God... God was so good to clearly provide his will for us in his word. Last time I googled for best selling Christian literature, the number one "Christian" book was The Shack. The Evangelical church seems to be dividing with progressives and ermergents on one side and fundamentalists or zionists on the other. Maybe this is the wheat being seperated from the chaff... I will say that understanding the progressive revelation of scripture there seems to be clear evidence that we are living in the end times and your 2nd Timothy verse above sadly continues to grow everyday. What happened to the chuch eagerly awaiting the return of the BrideGroom... Many of our lamps are out of oil to be sure! “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because[a] narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Maranatha!

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  9. Maranath! Isn't it a wonderful thought? I can't wait! Many of our churches seem to be more interested in how to be attractive to the world instead of how to be attentive to our Lord. Our 'Worship" services have become "entertainment" services. We gauge our 'success' by how many attend or by how much we 'enjoy' the music - and we call it, 'Worship.' I am ashamed to tell when the last time I was actually on my knees in worship to my Heavenly Father - the King of all that is, was or will be. Is He the King of my life - the single object of my deepest love? If we removed from our Bibles everything many of our Pastors tell us is unimportant, our Bibles would shrink to pages or leaflets. Too bad no one told God about that when He originally inspired its writing, huh? We argue and debate over 'translations' and ignore the Holy Spirit, who wants to lead new Believers into a relationship with our Heavenly Father and is willing to speak in their language to make it happen. Ever listen to a Mother talking to her baby? Really uses the Queen's English, doesn't she? What's most important to her as she talks 'baby-talk' with that Baby? Then, as we grow up, Mom and Dad expect us to learn the language their language and speak it fluently so they can share more mature things with us. When our Sweetheart wrote to us, did we get out the dictionaries (at least a couple of varieties, to be sure) and dig into the original meanings of each word? Or did we look for the person behind the words - the one whom we love, and miss so much? Well, there! I've gone to meddling again. ;-)

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  10. In reading the book "Everything Must Change" I came across a really good metaphor: "(In the Bible) ... we have a jigsaw puzzle in a box, but someone put the wrong lid on the box. We keep trying to use the picture from the wrong lid as a guide to putting the pieces together. With the wrong picture implanted in our imaginations, some of the colors on the pieces don’t seem to belong, and some shapes don’t fit. We may assume they were included by mistake and push them to the side, or maybe let them drop off the table edge altogether. "Some people become so disillusioned and frustrated that they throw out the whole thing – pieces, box and all. They give up puzzling altogether. Others decide that it’s the box lid rather than the pieces that determines “orthodoxy,” and they zealously defend the lid and bestow on all who dare to question it the labels “heretic” and “apostate.” "Others … wonder what would happen if they reversed that loyalty and refused to accept a lid that doesn’t do justice to all the pieces in the box.

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  11. I bet the majority of those (in the USA) surveyed would state that "God helps those who help themselves" is a literal, quoted scripture :-)

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  12. Actually, Joe, according to the Barna Research Group's national study, when self-identified Christians were asked if the expression ‘God helps those who help themselves’ was in the Bible, 38% got the right answer (it's not), 42% thought it was, and 20% had no idea. Sigh.

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  13. This problem/issue has been a real burden on my heart for a long time and I'm leaning toward the view that the cause of the problem is that preachers, teachers, pastors, elders -those in leadership and ministers - are the problem, for thier job is to make sure that the flock knows the Bible, knows God, lives a victorious life in Christ overcoming all sin, and minister to others. In the legal field we have a principle to show cause and affect and it is called the "but for" phrase meaning "but for the fact that x happend y would not have happened". But for the fact that pastors, teachers, elders, preachers failed in thier duties this problem of the milky church would not have happened. Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." ... make disciples, not make an audiance .. teach them to obey all, not teach them to obey the minimum. Ephesians 4:11"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." ... mature them in 3 things (ministry works, knowledge of God, victory over sin) .. not maintain the bare minimum teaching in order to have as many people pleased as we can possible please in the hopes of increasing the church. Praise the Lord that God is raising up many like yourself that sees that this leadership problem is the root problem instead of blaming it on the flock.. Acts 20:27 "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." ... that is the type of pastors, teachers, elders, ministers that can fix the problem.

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  14. One way to counteract this is stronger one-to-one mentoring and discipleship led by committed Christians who are strongly rooted in God's Word. Baby Christians need that personal guidance--they are hungry, they just need someone who can first feed them, then teach them how to start feeding themselves, then teach them how to feed others. I've often heard the analogy that as parents, we are not raising our children, we are raising the parents of our grandchildren. That would also be an effective approach for Christians as well. Seeing people come to Christ is not the finish line....we need to personally, actively, consciously grow the next generation of Christian leaders in God's Word and in His grace.

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  15. i resolve to be a better teacher? how? we don't need teachers! there are thousands of radio stations and magazines, millions of blogs, hundreds of thousands of churches and pastors. in paul's time he talked about 10,000 teachers. teaching has done the world and the church a lot of good hasn't it?

    what we need is for folks to live the gospel. paul could say you've known my doctrine and manner of life. he didn't have a gap between his mouth and his feet.

    for so many, christianity is just something to talk about and blog about. it will have virtually no impact on daily living or the lives of others.

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  16. "We don't need teachers?" Why then, Mark, did the epistle to the Hebrews tell them that some of them "should be teachers" (Heb 5:12)? Why, according to Paul, did God make some to be teachers (1 Cor 12:28 & Eph 4:11)? You make many assertions, my friend, which don't bear up under the slightest biblical scrutiny.

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  17. As a Pastor (actually 1 of 30) in a very large church, and having been in full time ministry for over 20 years, I have always taught the "ownership of personal faith". By this I mean, that when we stand before God, we will not have anyone else to blame for what we did or did not do with the wisdom, gifts and talents that He gave us. We will give our account on that day, with no one standing around to point the finger at. God is "no respecter of persons and gives freely to everyone". If "you seek, you will find".

    Therefore, it is my responsibility to know (own) what I believe and to not allow myself to be spoon fed, potentially errant theology, by those in leadership teaching Un-Biblical doctrines or leaders with ulterior motives. I must not allow myself to be led like a hog to slaughter.

    One of the most practical ways that I have taught people to begin this process is by writing out their own "Personal Statement of Faith". Most people, in their life time, will write a dissertation, a thesis, a book or even blog, but will not spend the time putting pen to paper on the basics of their faith.

    In this "Statement" I have asked participants to include the following and to back up their profession with Scripture;
    1. To you who is Jesus?
    2. What does the Bible say about Jesus? Sinless, virgin birth, death, burial, resurrection, fully God - full man, etc.
    3. Is the Bible the inspired, inerrant Word of God?
    4. What does the Bible say about Christ's return?
    5. If asked the question, "Do you know if you will go to heaven", what is your response and why?

    You can tell a lot about how a person answers these questions.

    My goal is then to assist them in processing their answers, based on Scripture, not to berate them for how they answered.

    I've done this with my 3 sons and with anyone else that would give me the time and by the way, it is very time consuming, but well worth the effort.

    I take my calling as Pastor very seriously and understand that Scripture says that I will be held to a greater accountability. I purpose to not be ashamed on that day.

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  18. All excellent comments! Many times hen I preach, I explain to the congregation, that the more I learn then dumber I get! I want to drive home the point that we all are finite creatures with finite minds. Don't take my word for nothing....as Stacey so eloquently put it in another thread; test it against, Scripture.

    We must teach the Cross and let them know how important it is for them to create that personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. We, as leaders, cannot do it for them. Neither can their husbands, wives, dads, moms. grandparents, etc...we must come to the Throne of Grace fully exposed to our sinfulness and realize that we need a Redeemer and his name is Jesus.

    We must encourage our congregation and others we are ministering to to come boldly or tremblingly to Christ and let the Spirit work a miracle called saved by grace through faith in Christ while realizing that we don't need more words; we need a Savior. If we cannot teach the Cross then people will not KNOW Christ nor belive IN Him.

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  19. You could not be more accurate.

    The greatest weakness in the American church today is the anemic pulpit ministry. Anyone can put "pastor" in front of his name as long as he's able to drum up enough followers. He doesn't even have to know the Bible very well; just stay a little ahead of most of the dumbed-down congregation.

    Too many "pastors" today are unlike the New Testament preacher Apollos, who was "a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24). Even the Apostles, who were ordinary men, had the greatest theological education imaginable interacting daily with the master teacher, Jesus Christ.

    It seems today that many in Christendom have little value for Biblical expertise. No one walks into a doctor's office and tells him how to practice medicine. We don't tell the attorney how to practice law. But, EVERYONE'S an expert on the church...amazing!

    We can be influenced by marginal theologians (if they are theologians at all) and are sidetracked by every wind of doctrine. Spiritual babies are like physical babies; they pick up every false doctrine, put it in their mouths and swallow.

    I have utmost respect and deep appreciation for those men in ministry who accurately exposit the Scriptures every week--may their tribe increase! Today, there are too few real sermons being preached and far too many Christian motivational speeches being delivered in churches. Sadly, the average Christian cannot tell the difference (you'd be surprised at how many PREACHERS don't know the difference).

    Many Christians who listen to a preacher preach, are like a novice at an opera. They have never been told what a sermon is supposed to do. They may react to the emotional highs. They enjoy the human interest stores, jot down a catchy sentence or two and judge the sermon a success if the preacher quits on time.

    It never occurs to them that the preacher's job is the same as was Moses'. Moses was commissioned by God to go to Pharaoh and ACCURATELY tell him what God had said. That's it. He wasn't to embellish it or launch off into his own ideas--he was to simply deliver God's message to Pharaoh. He didn't have to be inspiring or humorous or engaging--but, he did have to be ACCURATE.

    A significant number of ministers--many of whom profess high regard for the Scriptures--prepare their sermons without consulting the Bible at all. While a Bible text serves as a springboard to get the sermon underway, the primary "message" consists of the preacher's own thoughts or opinions, wrapped in Christian cliches, warmed up for the occasion. While most preachers give sincere lip service to expository preaching, their practice is anything but.

    A preacher can proclaim anything he wants in the name of God. Yet, when a preacher fails to preach the Scritpures, he abandons his authority. He no longer confronts his hearers with a Word from God, but only with another word from men. Much of modern preaching is little more than an enthusiastic pep rally for Jesus. While I'm all for pep rallies, there will come a point in life where we actually have to know something!

    This will continue as long a congregations allow it. Since we don't (and shouldn't) have a bar exam for ministers, congregations will have to become self-policing and refuse to call pastors who haven't prepared themselves adequately for the ministry of the Word.

    Would you allow a dentist to work on you if he never went to dentistry school, but felt "led of God" to work on teeth? It's not the degree I'm impressed with, but the skill set the degree represents. Two of my favorite authors (Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Charles Spurgeon) never went to seminary. But they were brilliant men of giant intellect who read voraciously and taught themselves the Biblical languages (quite a feat in itself)--they are the exceptions, not the rule.

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  20. When people are fed lies long enough, they believe them. This is not the fault of new Christians; it is the sleeping of the old guard and the lack of insisting on strict adherence to the Word.

    I don't care what language you put it in, when you change the meaning of Scripture to please current demographics, you are lying. You are not spreading the true Gospel; you are not doing God's work. Truth is absolute, absolutely.

    Jesus came to save everyone. That means the rapist and killer as well as the nicest people in the neighborhood.

    God created our enemies, too. God is not an American, and we are quite blasphemous to presume He would lower Himself in such a manner as to claim only one sinful country when all the Earth is His. We need to fall on our faces in shame and beg His forgiveness and mercy for what we have allowed to happen to this country.

    Heaven is NOT a democracy.

    The institution of marriage is holy, and everything from the gender of the couple to the orders to be submissive and to be responsible are to be obeyed.

    God considers homosexuality to be an abomination, and has warned that those who do this will go to hell. He said it repeatedly, and never minced His words when He did. He was very clear.

    Mankind changed these things and much more because he didn't like what God said. It didn't fit with mankind's agenda, idea of self-worth, and pride. And mankind got that way because Satan got ahold of mankind. Hence, twisted meanings, sick doctrines, milky churches, infighting among believers, denominations, arguments over what language is spoken when spreading the Gospel, rather than focusing on keeping the Gospel accurate and complete, and the rest of the mess mankind has managed to pile up.

    The unkindest cut of all is when the very few of us who remain and insist of keeping God's word, living as closely as possible to what He wrote, are called out by our own brothers and sisters and told we are wrong because we resist the mainstream shifting currents. We actually criticize other churches, but do nothing else about it. We make fun of some, like the Amish. We belittle others, like those with fundamental Bibles and lifestyles. Do we see how tragic this is, really? DO YOU THINK GOD IS PLEASED WITH THIS?

    It is time for anointed and passionate preachers, yes. It is also time for those of us who are serious about our walk with Jesus to start walking that walk without shame or fear, be bold and refuse to be swayed, and truly be on fire for Jesus, not lukewarm and polite (politically correct). God wants warriors, not wimps.

    Just my thought on the topic. I don't expect to be agreed with, and I'm OK with that. I made my choice; I will follow Christ.

    with all humble love as a joint-heir,

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  21. From Poddy please pop over to pick your award?????

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  22. Biblical understanding is the responsibility of each individual believer. A teacher of God's Word cannot grow or mature an individual in their knowlege and application of God's Word - this is the Holy Spirit's responsibility. Having said these things, I have observed "faithful" followers of a Chrsitian teacher, sit in his/her pew for years and remain as infantile as the day they first believed. Why? Because, they did not (as those who willfully remain carnal today) believe Jesus Christ when He declared: "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my words: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you." John 14:23-26

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