We are living in very difficult days and there are many challenges confronting the church, not only from those outside the church who oppose it, but particularly from within the church itself.
Often the church has been its own worst enemy as it has sought to follow questionable paths, violated its ethical values, compromised its witness, watered down its doctrinal beliefs, damaged its integrity and sought accommodation with the world.
1. Famine of the Word
In the book of Amos God declared, ‘The days are coming 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’ (Amos 8:11).
While biblical scholars debate the actual time referred to in the phrase ‘the days are coming’, throughout history there have been various times in which the phrase ‘a famine of hearing the words of the Lord ‘ would have been appropriate.
Today there is not a famine of God’s word in either printed or electronic forms. Millions of Bibles in multiple languages are available throughout the world and almost every Christian owns at least one translation of the ‘Word of God.’ And in worship services most churches read or at least refer to portions of the Bible.
But, although there is not a famine of God’s word in print today, there is an increasing famine of understanding that word.
The Hebrew word translated ‘hearing’ means ‘hearing intelligently’, or ‘hearing with understanding.’ The fact is that we are living in a time when intelligent understanding of God’s word appears to be in increasingly short supply – including among Christians!
Apart from biblical teaching that is exegetically and hermeneutically sound the result is confusion. Sadly that seems to be in short supply today and consequently many varied opinions are held which, rather than impart insights into God’s word, rather contribute to distortion and confusion.
In 1 Timothy 1:7 Paul gives this warning about some people in the church in his day, ‘They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.’ (Or as the Message Translation so pithily renders it, ‘They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence’).
We see the consequence of this in today’s church – confusion when …
a) Speculation is confused with prophecy
b) Astrology is confused with astronomy
c) Judaism is confused with Christianity
d) Hype is confused with the presence of the Holy Spirit
e) Entertainment is confused with worship
f) Emotionalism is confused with divine encounter
g) ‘Giving your heart to Jesus’ is confused with repentance and surrender to God
h) Superstar preacher is confused with the servant role of preacher/pastor
i) Ambition to be a pastor is confused with divine calling to that ministry
j) Corporate skills are confused with godly leadership
k) Imagining what we want to hear is confused with hearing from God
l) Spiritual gifts are confused with spiritual maturity
m) Super-spirituality is confused with solid faith
n) Compromise with clear biblical morals is confused with God’s command to love others.
Until it is, the church’s message will be baffling, its witness will be ineffectual, its relevance will be dismissed and its impact on the world for which Christ died will be impotent.
Unless the church truly aligns itself with God’s word and proclaims that word, it will contribute to the greatest famine of all for our world – the famine of hearing God’s word.
Paul’s charge to Timothy still needs to be heard, understood and acted on today: ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction’ (2 Timothy 4:2), Amen to that!
In future articles in this series we shall unpack the fourteen points that are listed heading 2, Confusion!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from concerned Christians. In his well-researched Grace Revisited he reveals grace as having a strong active meaning and is like a many faceted diamond out of which shines a greater understanding of the great God we worship.
Normally $35 but obtainable from the author for $25 (plus postage). Link/orders/enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
See also Dr Jim’s timely Missional article this month.