by Wes Moore

His words took me by surprise. They were all at once a kind compliment and a stunning rebuke. He walked up to our booth at the conference and said, “Wes, I really enjoyed your session this afternoon. You know, of all the seminars I’ve attended at this conference, you’re the only who actually taught out of the Bible.”

Yes, you read that right. It was a Christian conference in the Midwest. There were probably a thousand people there and a hundred or more breakout sessions over the two day event.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened to me. A few months ago I had a similar situation at another Christian conference. Again, I did several breakouts over the three day event. After my last session, which was the last speaking event of the conference, a man walked up to me and said, “That was the best talk of the entire conference. You actually quoted the Bible.”

A Devastating Trend

Across much of evangelical Christianity in America the Bible has become a secondary or non-existent source of teaching. In many places, it isn’t even referenced at all on Sunday morning. In others, a verse may be quoted to start the message, but then the rest of the time is filled with a solid dose of the pastor’s “wisdom,” either from his vast “experience” or his scholarly “learning” at some quasi-pagan seminary.

Still other churches, who claim to be “Bible-based,” avoid many of the major teachings of Scripture for fear they will offend our oh-so-sensitive culture. They’re playing the marketing game, and the total teachings of Scripture just don’t fill the seats.

And then you have those who take the Bible and distort it to accomplish their own ends, namely, building self-help clinics for personal profit.

Across the nation, the Bible is becoming less and less a part of the life of the Christian church. We are quick to rail against the Catholics, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses for using another authority for their teaching (that is, a source of teaching other than the Bible itself), but we so conveniently overlook the fact that we do the same every day.

American Christians don’t know the Bible. They know what they’ve heard on Sunday morning for years or what they think the Bible says based on their own reasoning or ideas. But the true teachings of Scripture are far from their minds and lips. Let me give you another example.

A couple of times a year a new book will sweep through the church and create a great stir. Everybody will be talking about it, and many churches will quickly put their congregations through it. “This will revive your church!” they say. “This will revolutionize your ministry!” they proudly claim. But invariably, when I pick up the book myself, I’m often left thinking, “What’s so new and revolutionary about this book? This is taught all over Scripture. Our people should already know this!”

The content of the books we rave about is content we should have learned a long time ago. And not from some new release by Zondervan or Nelson, but from the Bible itself! What we need to revive our churches and revolutionize our ministries is not another book by some clever Christian pundit, but the Word of Almighty God Himself.

One of the Major Problems for the American Church

Our churches are a mess; we’re full of sin, self-centeredness, compromise, and conflict. Most churches are failing, and most of our youth are leaving. We’re in deep trouble to say the least. However, the main cause of our troubles is not the atheists, the ACLU, the Supreme Court, or the administration in Washington (as we so like to believe); the main cause is our shallow knowledge of the Word of God.

As we face our difficulties—like overcoming sin, standing against compromise, and finding victory in conflict—we no longer have the wisdom of God to guide and instruct us. We’re left with our own wisdom, and it always fails us.

But there’s another terrible consequence of marginalizing the Bible in the life and teaching of the church: Over time we become idolaters.

In biblical times, and in fact in many places around the world today, idols were formed by taking something from creation (a tree, a rock, a bar of iron), shaping it into an image, and then ascribing to that image the characteristics of the god desired.

But today, in modern American Christianity, we have put a new twist on creating idols. We take the God of the Bible, the true God, pull Him down from heaven, and remake Him into the god both we and our politically correct culture will accept.

The god of the average American church is not the God of the Bible. This god has an over-inflated and distorted sense of love, does not bring harsh judgments upon sinners, is never offensive to anyone regardless of their teachings or lifestyle, openly accepts sin, and is offended by the idea that he is sovereign over creation. He wants you to have a better marriage, a better job, a bigger car, and above all, he wants you to think he’s cool.

But this isn’t the God of Scripture. He is a God of wrath as well as love (Romans 1:18), a God who promises terrible and painful judgment for those outside of Christ (Romans 2:5-9), a God who offends people with His righteous rebukes (Matthew 15:12-16), and a God who rules over every event, every nation, every demon, and every human being with absolute and total control (Ephesians 1:11, Daniel 2:21). Oh, yes, and the God of the Bible doesn’t care if you think He’s cool or not (Deuteronomy 10:17).

A great number of Christians in America worship an idol every Sunday, and they don’t even know it. How about you?

The Bible is Integral to God’s Work

A detailed, thorough, ever-increasing knowledge of the Word of God is integral to God’s purpose and will for His people. Here are a few examples of the Word’s role.

1. It is His instrument for bringing us to maturity.

Jesus asks the Father in John 17:17 to “sanctify [set apart; make holy] them through the truth; your word is truth.” In fact, in the Great Commission He commands His disciples to teach new believers to “obey everything” He has commanded (Matthew 28:20). [1] Where do we find “everything” He has commanded? The Bible. Finally, Paul writes that gifts (apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers) were given to the church to build us up “until we all…become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Exactly what are they to use to do that? The truth, God’s Word. Not their own wisdom.

2. It is Christ’s instrument for purifying His bride.

Paul, while teaching about marriage, says that Jesus’ love for the church means He not only sacrificed Himself for her, but also now uses His Word to prepare her for the eternal state. He writes, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Pastors and Bible teachers take note of this.

3. It protects His people from heretics who will mislead and abuse them.

One of the goals of Christ (and Paul) in bringing us to maturity is to protect us from the schemes of charlatans who take the form of “godly” men but are actually demonically controlled and motivated by personal gain at all costs. “Then we will no longer be infants,” Paul concludes, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).

Many of our people today are suffering under such teachers. Whether it’s the slew of preachers who tell our people God doesn’t want them to suffer but have great wealth and worldly happiness, or those who have turned the true God into some form of self-help idol, false teachers and heretics abound in America.

The Word of God— it’s diligent study and faithful, fearless proclamation—is God’s primary instrument for revealing these people for what they are, helping us to avoid their destructive plans, and giving us the knowledge to call them out for their sin.

What happens in the end?

In the end, a Bible-less Christianity is apostate Christianity. It ends in not only false teachings of all varieties, but also in the manipulation and abuse of countless hoards of God’s people. However, all is not lost. The Bible is still there, on our night stands, coffee tables, and pew racks. You do not have to be the victim of a Bible-less Christianity; you can be delivered by God’s grace, and help to deliver others by studying His Word consistently and passionately.

Don’t wait until Sunday. Start today.

Notes:
[1] By this statement you can also see that the task of the Great Commission is not to get people to make decisions and then move on to the next potential convert. If the person we supposedly “convert” does not continue to follow Christ, attempting to learn and obey all He commanded in the New Testament, that person is not saved and is not a disciple. Furthermore, since it is true that faith and trust in the Word of God are essential to true conversion, let us stop making new “disciples” who do not believe the Word of God.


Recommended further reading:

Wes Moore: Forcefully Advancing
Tim Challies: The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment
Kevin Vanhoozer (Ed.): Everyday Theology