As a pastor one of my early concerns was for the people under my stead to have a sincere devotion to the Word of God. Depending upon the type of person you are speaking to “sincere devotion” can have differing shades of meaning. For some this means a daily regiment must be in place.
Either it is when you arise early, or during a lunch break, or before you go to bed every night, whenever it might be that you decide is good for you to have some “quiet time” with the Lord. If you are going to be sincere in your devotion to Him and His Word this is what is meant for some. Others will put stress on reading through the whole Bible (Genesis to Revelation) every year as a way of demonstrating sincere devotion to the Lord and His Word. Both concepts have their merits. An individual who takes seriously the study of the Holy Bible will most certainly benefit from a consistent schedule and a thorough reading through the whole volume; beginning to end.
If you prefer either one of those methods, then you are doing well but that is not my meaning of sincere devotion. Thus, it was not the method I taught (and continue to teach) to those under my stead. My philosophy of ministry focuses on two key elements for biblical study: O.I.P. and saturation. I will explain what I mean by those here in a moment, but before I do, I want to address an unfortunate trend that I surveyed early on. That demonstrates a weakness in the way that the Bible is sometimes approached in Christian circles; not necessarily the method. Although, it is true, I have my own preferences.
An Inherent Problem Plaguing Biblical Study…
One of the problems with the ways that people read their Bible that I have noticed over the years is that they give little consideration to the flow of thought from the authors view point, all the while supposing that “this is what the text means to me” is the best approach. Having been raised in church I have seen many mid-week Bible studies. The “this is what the text means to me” or “I feel like the text is saying this” were common prefaces before a person gave the meaning of the text, and when I was young, I assumed that they had the right of it.
As far as I am aware that is not the normal way, we read other writings. For instance, when you open up an obituary you read about the passing of so and so, about how many relatives they’ve left behind, and either when the services will be held or a few “prayers and praises” given by loved ones. You are given statements that are examined and taken at face value. You understand that there is little room for personal interpretation and that the only way to properly understand what is written is how the writer has presented the news to his/her audience.
The same is true of the Sports section, of a national geographic article on zebras, or the upcoming weather report by your favorite meteorologist. While we may see some of the authors personal biases coming through in varying ways, the meat of the material presented is not to be treat like an Etch A Sketch where you can shake your own meanings out of it, filling in the lines that you believe are appropriate.
When an author writes to an audience, he/she has a specific message in mind. The reader is not at liberty to deconstruct and then rework the message to their own liking. Essentially, shaping it in their own image. Unfortunately, this is the approach that I observed many professing Christians do. What I have found (call it antidotal if you like) is that many church-goers do not know how to read their Bible’s in a way that they might most benefit. Where they take God at His Word and allow Him to say what He intends to say, thereby giving Him the glory.
As Greg L. Bahnsen once said “the Bible is not a clay nose that we can shape this way and that in order to make it say what we want it to say.” The first step in being rewarded from sincere devotion to the Word of God is by acknowledging it is God’s Word. A variety of disasters occur when we fail to take this first step of humility; chief among them is blaspheming His Name.
Since becoming a minister of the gospel, I have assumed that the task before me is of the utmost importance. To take this task lightly is a terrifying blunder not only for me personally, but also those who I am teaching and preaching to. I do not want to be a “blind guide” (Matt 15.14; 23.16, 24) and I take seriously the warning that “not many of [us] should become teachers…know[ing] that we who teach will be judged with great strictness” (Jas 3.1). For “to whom much [is] given…much will be required” (Luke 12.48).
Therefore, since I saw an egregious error committed and taught by some in the Church, I wanted to make sure I—to the best of my ability—avoided leading myself and others down the same path.
A Common Objection…
Now, I have encountered the objection by some that they have the Holy Spirit, and since they do “he will teach [them] all things” (John 14.26). Fair enough. It is true that the born-again have the Holy Spirit, lest how could they have possibly been born from above? It is also true that we who have the Spirit have the mind of Christ so “that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1Cor 2.12) in so doing be able to “discern all things” (1Cor 2.15). However, knowing the context of the passages in question and comparing them with other portions of Scripture is important to “discern” those things that have been freely given. The statement in John’s gospel speaks primarily to the apostles of Christ who would first send forth His message and later write down His words. The argument presented by Paul is focused on those who are teachers and others who have gained maturity in what has been given, so that they are able to discern the true message.
While we have the Holy Spirit, who leads us into the truth, the truth can only be properly understood when we correctly read His Word. Not to mention that Christ Jesus has deemed it necessary to provide His body of believers with teachers, preachers and evangelists to strengthen those who are not gifted in that particular manner “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to [maturity]…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4.12-14; italics added).
The point being we all need to be taught before we are ready to teach others. To use a Star Wars analogy, it is not the padawans who have the force that teach, but the Jedi Masters who teach the padawans in living and use of the force before they can teach others. If you’re not familiar with Star Wars mythology, or you find the use of such worldly illustrations appalling, then stick with what I said previously: you must first be taught before you can teach.
NOTE TO READER:
Due to the length of the original post I have split it into two segments. Segment “A” is the one you’ve just read. Segment “B” will drop sometime tomorrow. “A” introduces a problem I noticed early on in Christian ministry; “B” will reveal what I did to address that problem as a pastor-teacher.
Forthcoming…O. I. P. and Saturation: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry