Question: I feel that some preachers today aren’t really teaching what the Bible actually says. Are we in danger of losing the reality of scripture?
Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, responds:
In Amos 8:11-12, the prophet writes, ‘The days are coming, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, when I will send famine on the land. People will be hungry, but not for bread; they will be thirsty, but not for water. They will hunger and thirst for a message from the Lord. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.’
A warning for any age
It is uncertain whether the message of Amos referred to an event that was soon to take place or some future time. However his essential warning is relevant for any age – God has revealed himself through his word and a rejection of that word has dreadful consequences both personally and nationally.
These verses state that God himself would cause the famine of his word. We must ask why God would do that. In the book of Amos we find some of the reasons. Because…
• God’s direct commands were disobeyed (Amos 2:12a)
• God’s message given by the prophets was disregarded. (2:12b)
• Practised ‘religion’ was self-serving and man-pleasing while God’s message was neglected (5:21-23)
• People were materialistic and hedonistic (6:4-6)
• Religious leaders failed to declare God’s word and misrepresented, rejected and tried to silence the preacher who proclaimed it by challenging the people and calling them to righteousness (7:10-11).
Through Amos (Hosea and others) Israel had been given the opportunity to hear, believe and respond to God’s word, but they refused preferring to reject God’s values and replace them with their own.
As a result God said that, because the people had rejected his word, it would be lost to them and they would suffer the consequences of that decision.
God’s word blatantly disregarded today
Today, I believe, we are in a not dissimilar situation. I certainly do not remember a time such as this when God’s word has been so blatantly disregarded both outside and within the church when …
• Godly, Bible based principles and values have been rejected in favour of corrupt and self-serving man-made values
• ‘Politically correct’ standards (many of which unashamedly defy God’s word) are imposed with legal authority
• Preachers timidly avoid saying anything that may offend.
The Bible is God’s word in written form. Today it is in danger of being lost for a variety of reasons; there are some who –
There are many who simply totally ignore the Bible considering it to be a relic and wholly irrelevant to the 21st century.
There are others who are prepared to say that the value of the Bible lies in its being a superb example of ancient literature but that its teaching on morality, for example, is unconnected to contemporary living. Indeed, it is asserted, some of its ethical values are simply wrong as today we have a greater knowledge of the human psyche. With enlightened understanding it is better that we consider it as an interesting anachronism.
As the Bible presents us with some challenging messages that confront our self-interest or sinful inclinations, there are some who, while wanting to maintain that the essential biblical message, nevertheless are made uncomfortable by some of its teaching. They then take the path of ‘twisting’ the plain and obvious meaning of some of the challenging teaching to accommodate it to their own views.
We read about such people in 2 Peter 3:16. Peter writes in reference the letters of the apostle Paul, ‘There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures’ (RSV).
Those who twist the scriptures have ulterior motives which are far from pure. I am not referring to those who hold some differing interpretations from us. Some part of the Bible may be interpreted differently by sincere scholars who genuinely seek to arrive at the true meaning of some of the passages that are difficult to understand despite exegetical integrity.
However much biblical teaching is manifestly clear and can only be understood in a way that deviates from the evident meaning by deliberate – and often mischievous – misinterpretation. For example, the twisted ‘translation’ called the Queen James Bible, which is based on the KJV, has changed all the passages relating to homosexuality to make it more acceptable. Once we start modifying the Bible to accommodate our own preferences, we dismiss it as being irrelevant.
Cherry pick it
By ‘cherry picking’ I mean picking and choosing what to believe and then conveniently ignore the rest. When speaking to the elders of the Ephesian church, Paul said, ‘I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will (the Greek word means will, purpose and counsel) of God’ (Acts 20:27).
If we want to be truly consistent as people who acknowledge the authority of the Bible as God’s self-revelation, we do not have the licence to cherry pick and decide what to keep and what to discard, what to believe and what not to believe, what to teach and what not to teach.
Add to it
While there are those who subtract from the biblical message, there are others who err in the opposite way – they add things that they think should be there! In the early days of the church the Gnostics did precisely that and caused distress and division by imparting their ‘secret knowledge.’
Mormonism has significantly supplemented the Bible with its Book of Mormon. Other individuals and groups, some operating within the church, have added – and given equal weight to – their own outrageous doctrines, speculations, theories and methodologies and thereby have modified the teaching of the Bible. This seems to be on the rise today.
God’s word is alive and trustworthy!
What should be the standard by which all things pertaining to belief, doctrine and morality are based – the scriptures or our speculations and the ‘politically correct’ values of our day? We can either accept the biblical message as an objective truth, or process it through the subjective filter of our own often unreliable and tarnished rational abilities and self-centred values.
It really boils down to one issue – the trustworthiness or otherwise of the Bible. The Bible is either solid ground or a slippery path, a lamp without a light or a lamp to lighten our path. We can’t have it both ways! The word of God is what God speaks and it is eternal.
The writer to the Hebrews defines it very clearly: ‘For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12). That can, at times, make us feel uncomfortable, but we do regularly need to be confronted by God’s challenge and expectations.
If ever there was a day when …
• The Bible, in its fulness, needed to be preached, taught, embraced, declared and lived by, it is today!
• Christians needed to know and be grounded in the truths of Christian doctrine, it is today!
• Christians actually did something to address their biblical illiteracy, it is today!
The 19th century preacher, Dr Joseph Parker, has written, ‘Take this book away from thy mind, desist from perusing this sacred page, and thou art sundered from the central life of the universe.’
That warning needs to be heard again today.
Dr Jim McClure is the author of Grace Revisited, Overview of the Old and New Testaments and the Understanding… series. Orders and enquiries: email@example.com
Got a question? Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr McClure has surely addressed that which is at the heart of genuine Christianity – the integrity of the Bible and the ever-present need for those who name Jesus as Lord and Saviour to pursue the understanding and application of the Bible, rightly interpreted. The current situation where some Christian(?)leaders are coming up with re-definitions of key biblical teachings which in fact are errant interpretations, will not be going unnoticed by Christians who are keeping up with what is happening around the world.
It seems that sometimes there are some good church folk and leaders who are unaware that they are living on what we might call ‘Bible-light’…referring to having but a sketchy knowledge and conviction of principle biblical doctrines.
Of course there are many leaders and church folk who ardently pursue reading and interpreting and applying the Scriptures, and for that we rejoice.
May this article of Dr McClure’s be used to stir all of us who read it…to savour the written word through whom God’s revelation for us in this present age is made available…that we might trust and obey him according to his word.