(Read Part 1)
Where to from Here?
As a result of these past and present influences, the church of Christ is facing an authority crisis. There has been a steady erosion of confidence in Scripture for several decades cumulating in theological and/or practical elimination of the need for the Bible in our lives. After all, in a society infatuated with success—theological understanding, biblical knowledge and even righteous living are no match for fancy buildings, high-powered programs, the finest in entertainment and emotional experiences (no matter what the source).
Very few churches grow numerically today because of solid teaching of the Word. That is because very few Christians today see the importance of the Word. To them the Bible is much like a musical concert, there to produce an experience, not to transform their lives. They see no vital connection between Scripture and life. To know God’s truth is not essential to how they want to live their lives, therefore they have no desire to study the Bible.
This leaves a vacuum that is being filled with mysticism, rituals, entertainment and fun, all in the name of Christ. Ultimately, however, like the sinkholes in Florida a few years ago, once the faith has been sucked dry spiritually there will eventually be an implosion. Without a timely recovery of the importance and sufficiency of the Word of God such an implosion is imminent, although it will most likely take the form of a slow degeneration rather than a sudden collapse. I believe we are witnessing such deterioration even at this moment and yet few believers have noticed—another sign of our spiritual condition.
Our buildings are large, megachurches are prolific and multiplying, our programs are well-funded, the Christian entertainment industry is big business, and church attendance is still respectable, at least in America. Outward appearance would reveal a robust evangelical community filled with ministry opportunities and overflowing with life.
But beneath the surface we detect serious concerns. Two generations of believers have, for the most part, been devoid of sound systematic teaching of the Word. An appetite for the superficial has been cultivated and few crave solid food. Biblical discernment is a relic of a bygone era and is viewed with disdain by a people trained to cherish relativism. Such a situation cannot be long endured by God’s church. Francis Schaeffer warned in the early ‘70s,
Once we begin to slip over into the other methodology—a failure to hold on to an absolute which can be known by the whole man, including what is logical and rational in him—historic Christianity is destroyed, even if it seems to keep going for a time. We may not know it, but when this occurs, the marks of death are upon it, and it will soon be one more museum piece.1
The Bible Stands
One of my favorite Christian songs is “The Bible Stands.” Although it is difficult to find in hymn books these days, its message has always encouraged my heart:
The Bible stands like a rock undaunted
‘Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal,
And they glow with a light sublime.
The Bible stands tho’ the hills may tumble
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands.
The Bible lays out its own claim to authority and power. Our familiarity with 2 Timothy 3:16-17 should not rob us of its force, “All Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequately equipped for every good work.” Paul makes a radical assertion that the Scriptures are profitable to identify the true needs and issues in our lives, to correct us, to teach us how we should live and then train us in righteousness. When the Scriptures have finished their work we will be found adequate and equipped for every good work.
It is no wonder that Paul follows up this declaration of the Bible’s power with a charge to preach the Word (4:2) and to do so while there are still people wanting to hear and respond to its message (4:3-4). Paul speaks of a window of opportunity that, with the help of hindsight, apparently opens and closes throughout history. We can observe an opening of the window, for example, during the times of the Reformation and the Evangelical Awakening. Now we can observe the window of opportunity for the Word, especially in the Western world, rapidly closing. We urgently need to proclaim God’s truth while some are still willing to listen.
I believe the Word of God has the power to transform our lives and lead us into godliness, first and foremost, because it makes that claim. The typical evangelical would likely pronounce a hardy “amen” to the above statement—unless and until the claims of the Scripture run cross-grain to the patterns of his life. When the authority of the Bible steps into the arena of his career, his personal habits, his psychological concepts, his finances, his marriage and family, his sports, his dealing with conflict, then suddenly the Holy Scripture is considered of no value and eliminated out of hand. After all, our friend reasons, what does the Bible have to say about such things? The answer—everything. Our friend retorts, it is an ancient book full of nice stories and good proverbs, suitable for worship services and funerals, but it has no reasonable bearing on everyday life, does it? The answer—the Bible, through the power of the Holy Spirit, says it can absolutely transform our lives—every aspect of our lives.
The Holy Spirit in Romans 12:2 indicates that everyone is born with a mind conformed to the world system. As a result we naturally think and act as one would expect those lacking an understanding of God to think and act. Upon conversion we become new creatures (2 Cor 5:17) with new capacities to think and act in ways that please God (1 Cor 2:14-16).
But such a transformation is not automatic. We carry with us into the Christian life the residue of our unregenerate, conformed state. It is for this reason that the New Testament calls for us to lay aside our former manner of living (Col 3:5-9) and put on the characteristics of our born-from-above nature (Col 3:10-17). But such a transition will successfully take place only as our minds are renewed (Col 3:10). Paul commands us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Such renewal is possible only as the Word of God penetrates our minds and heart.
The Scriptures then stand ready and able to expose and correct all our former conformity to the world system and its way of interacting with life. And by the same token they stand ready and able to teach us how to live and to train us in the right path. When Scripture is viewed in this way it becomes the indispensable power and wisdom of God to direct us in every area of life. The Word is not just adequate for church services, funerals and occasional pick-me-ups. It is adequate for every area of our lives from child rearing to job selection to investments to tragedies and loss. The Bible is every bit at home in the work place, in the hospital, and on the basketball court as it is at a church service.
This becomes obvious when we observe that, immediately following the command to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, Paul launches into application on the most practical of everyday issues.
- Serving one another (Rom 12:3-8).
- Dealing with people (Rom 12:9-13).
- Handling difficult people and conflict (Rom 12:14-21).
- Attitude and behavior in regard to government (Rom 13:1-7).
- Loving one another (Rom 13:8-10)
- Moral behavior (Rom 13:11-14).
- Relating to those who embrace different opinions from ours (Rom 14:1-15:6).
This represents just a sampling of the many areas in which the Scripture brings our thinking into conformity with God’s. I would venture to say that the Bible speaks to every issue in our lives either directly or through principles.
The article referenced earlier dealing with biblical illiteracy ends with this sour prediction, “Experts do not expect the trend toward biblical illiteracy in churches to change.” But the prediction is followed up with wise exhortation: “This does not alter, though, the responsibility of church leaders to do all they can do to reverse this dangerous trend … we must try.”2
And, by God’s grace, perhaps we will succeed.
1 Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There (Wheaton: Crossway, 1982), p. 47.
Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.