A recent report tells us what many have suspected for a long time: Australian Christians are biblically illiterate.
‘Milk to Meat’ is an initiative committed to encouraging Bible reading. They claim that although most Church-attenders believe the Bible contains truth and is worth knowing, they don’t spend much time reading it.
Maybe that shows they don’t believe the Bible IS really the truth, the actual Word of God.
The majority of Christians in USA only read the Bible when they attend Church, and many pastors only read it when they have to prepare a sermon.
This clearly shows the Bible is not important to many Christians at all. For many, telling God our personal problems is more important than hearing His eternal words and teachings.
Certainly Jesus encouraged us to take our cares and problems to Him in prayer, and so we should, but to do this to the detriment of proper Bible Study is not what He and the apostles taught.
Again this shows the vast gulf that exists between what we say we believe and what we do to prove it.
A Recent Problem
The problem of Bible reading in Australia now has not really been experienced at other times in Church history.
The rule seems to be: if the Scriptures are rare or hard to obtain they will be eagerly sought, but if they are cheap and common-place they will be ignored, or, as the old proverb says, ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’
The early Church carefully preserved all the OT writings and every letter from the apostles because they wanted to read and study them over and over. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence that an inspired apostle would write to your Church!
And they were right: the NT Scriptures were all written within a 60-year period and the early Christians instantly recognised the value of those inspired books.
When Christianity grew in the following centuries, many small home Church groups outside the Roman Catholic monolith spent a lot of time and money to obtain handwritten copies of Scripture fragments that were not made available by the establishment.
As a result, after the invention of printing and the reformation, the Scriptures experienced another great surge of interest and diligent study.
But this inevitably led to a gradual waning of interest in the Western world: cheap Bibles such as Australia has had for over 200 years has meant many Christians now rarely look at the Word.
Can We Rely on Teachers?
Some Christians have been known to say that to have a good teacher is just as good as reading the Bible.
But the logical question follows: How do you know you have a good Bible teacher if you have not studied in context the part he is teaching in order to make a comparison?
This is why Paul commended the Bereans of old, when they went away and checked if what he was saying was true.
I know of some Bible teachers who are interesting, charismatic speakers and seemingly very knowledgeable, but COMPLETELY WRONG.
I think of the false teacher Brian Houston who often gives the impression of being a godly Christian leader by moving neatly around on his stage carefully balancing an open Bible in his hand.
The trouble is that often his sermon will be based on just one or two verses which he has selected to mangle into his prosperity gospel message.
There are many others – I hope you don’t have one in your Church. Be a constant Berean and you are less likely to be taken in.
Discernment of a Teacher
No matter how good a Christian teacher is, there is no substitute for the listener carefully weighing his words and comparing them with the teachings of the whole counsel of God.
And how do we do that? NOT by comparing him with the other preachers we have heard. NOT by comparing his teaching with what you have picked up in videos or books produced even by some supposedly recommended teachers. And NOT by blindly following what your friends may say about him.
The ONLY way to discern a teacher is to prepare yourself fully and very carefully. I know people who make notes on what the preacher is saying and still get it wrong.
If a preacher says: “God’s word teaches us …” then look up the passage he is talking about in a good translation, NOT in a paraphrase. Then check the context – the chapter, even the whole book – to see who the author is speaking to, why he is speaking, and so on.
Then, discuss the issues and pray with others you know who take the Bible seriously and meditate on the whole passage and other passages. In these ways you will begin to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to you.
Maybe it will sound new!
An Opinion and a Warning
An internet correspondent has written: ‘It saddens me that so few really do read the Bible. It may come from a culture where we idolise the preacher and the listeners have ‘itching ears’ waiting to be titillated or entertained rather than taught. In addition, we tend to look for the instant fixes instead of working on a lifetime of striving to reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, as described in Ephesians 4:13.’
I think this person’s assessment is valid.
I believe our task is to convince our preachers to preach directly from the Scriptures, and our Christian friends to study for themselves.
If we fail to do either of these we are in danger of breeding contempt of the Scriptures among others and ourselves.