Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The importance of knowing what you are talking about

One of my real passions about the modern church—if you have not already guessed—is discipleship. We have a need to become more mature as Christians. Do we all need to be theologians? No, of course not. But the Bible does tell us that knowledge about God is important to our maturity. 2 Peter 1:5 says that to our faith we should add virtue, and to our virtue we should add knowledge. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we must always be ready to give a reasonable defense for our faith—which implies that we must understand our faith, of course. Jesus, in Matthew 22:37 tells us that we are to love God not only with all of our heart and soul and strength, but also with our minds. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul chastises the Corinthians for not yet being able to go beyond the simple parts of faith and advance to the “meat.”

So while we do not all need to be theologians, these verses show Jesus as well as the two luminaries of the early Church—Peter and Paul—stating very clearly that we must grow in our knowledge of God: we cannot simply learn the “Road to Romans” and then call our Christian education complete.

This is a major frustration for me in many churches today. There is a growing trend that if someone feels called to be a preacher or minister, they need no training in Christian doctrine—only training in leadership or communication. What they fail to realize is that leadership is only valuable if you can see where you are supposed to lead people; communication is only valuable if you have something worth saying.

Paul gives us a great example to follow here. Let’s see what he did when he was converted. For historical context, recall that Paul was a Jewish Pharisee of great knowledge. He studied under Gamaliel, widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish teacher of his day. Paul clearly knew the Scripture inside and out. Also, his father was a Roman citizen and Paul was raised in Tarsus, so it stands to reason that he was well-educated in Greek philosophy (this also shows up frequently in his sermons). So with Paul, we have a very high level of Scriptural knowledge. Then he spent years persecuting Christians, so he undoubtedly knew Christian preaching backward and forward as well.

Clearly, he was far more qualified at the time of his conversion than any modern preacher!

So then, what did Paul do when he was converted? Did he immediately go and begin to preach “practice sermons” at a larger church? Start a ministry? Serve on a church staff somewhere?

Nope.

“[After conversion], I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went to into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. …Then I went to Syria and Cilicia.” (Gal 1:17-19,21).

Paul, with his brilliant philosophical mind and his thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, feeling called to preach (v.16), did not embark right away. Instead he spent three years of Bible study, reflection, and prayer. And then, finally satisfied that his knowledge in the Lord was strong enough to preach, he went to Jerusalem and spoke with Peter (Cephas—the head apostle) and James (head of the church of Jerusalem) to validate that he understood the Gospel and was okay to go forth and preach.

Paul though it was important to learn the Bible before he presumed to teach others. Yet today we have pastors like Joel Osteen who preach to tens of thousands each week—and freely admit that their knowledge of the Bible is not as good as it could be. We have many more pastors who, though not as blatant about it as Osteen, teach things that they do not fully understand.

What we have lost is a good healthy fear of God. We have an awful lot of people who wish to be preachers or pastors, and very few who really listen carefully to what the Bible warns:

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that you will be judged more strictly.” (Jam 3:1)

“[A pastor] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Tit 1:9)


God takes this whole preaching thing pretty darn seriously. You better be certain that what you are teaching His flock is sound Biblical doctrine. And you cannot do that simply by being a good communicator or a good leader. You need to have some sound training in the doctrine of the apostles—following Paul’s example, several years of study and reflection with no other responsibility within the church. (You know, kind of like seminary provides…). Otherwise you run the risk of misleading (purposefully or accidentally) God’s people. He doesn’t seem to like that.

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