Am I saying that churches aren’t preaching and teaching the truth? No, I’m not. I believe that most pastors and preachers sincerely want to preach and teach the truth. They, however, are restrained and constrained by a few factors. For one, everyone who has had a formal theological education in a seminary or bible school has come out of it “slanted” in the direction of the denomination the institution represents. There is not one, that I know of, that is denominationally neutral. This means that during the 3-4 years that the student was in the institution, he was being indoctrinated with the doctrinal position of the particular denomination. A senior pastor from a mainstream denomination (which I will not name) recently said to me quite a matter of factly: “Joshua, I want to you know that (name of the denomination) theology might not be Biblical theology. Nevertheless, it is what we believe.” Surprised?
As part of their training in the seminary, pastors are taught to interpret the Bible in a certain way, using certain methods. There are two which I wish to highlight here. One of them is Allegorization or Spiritualization. Allegorization has had a long and destructive history beginning with our Early Church Fathers. It was popularized by Origen, one of the Church Fathers. It was particularly used on the Old Testament because it was the Scripture of the Jews. The Early Church Fathers were openly anti-Semitic. Using alleogrization, they were able to show that the Church has replaced Israel as God’s Chosen People, the royal priesthood, by making every reference to Israel in the Bible mean the Church.
Canon within a Canon
The other method used to interpret the Bible is known as “a canon with a canon”. D.A. Carson, Professor of New Testament at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, explains it this way: It is “a subset of scriptures taught in exclusion of those that would result in true doctrine.” In order to understand the truth about a subject, any subject, we must look at all the texts that discuss the subject. When you follow this rule, what you will have is Biblical theology. What is being taught in seminaries is Systematic Theology – where selected verses relating to a subject has been picked out for you, and all you have to do is memorize them to pass the exam. Put another way: Biblical Theology is like organic food – unadulterated and full of natural goodness – while Systematic Theology is like processed food – harmful when consumed over long periods of time.
About the problem of the canon within a canon, D. A. Carson writes, “Long recognized by biblical scholars, the problem of ‘the canon within the canon’ is that although the church officially recognizes a written ‘canon’, viz, the Bible (whether the sixty- six books of Protestantism, the inclusion also of the Apocrypha in Roman Catholicism, or some other refinement), it invariable shapes its theology by greater reliance on some parts of this canon that on others.” (A Sketch of the Factors Determining Current Hermeneutical Debate in Cross-Cultural Contexts, Section C)
This method has been applied to the subject of Tithing, for example. Listen to and read any sermon or article on this subject and you will find Malachi 3 used as the key text every time. But tithing was not taught only by Malachi. In fact, Malachi did not teach about tithing, he merely challenged the Jews to start tithing again. Teaching on tithing are found in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But these have been conveniently left out. Historically, tithing was not preached in churches until the late nineteenth century. When you know why it was reintroduced, you will know that pastors did not preach on tithing so the their congregations would receive “the whole counsel of God”. Rather, it was a matter of survival – theirs, of course.
After the ratification of the (American) Constitution, the Church was separated from the State. This also meant that ministers were not longer paid by the State. They now had to work or raise funds for themselves. “Tithing was attractive as a source of funding to the degree that clergy could convince themselves and others that it was a spiritual law, as unappealable as the laws of motion, force, and gravity. It was also obvious to these advocates of tithing that their churches had been getting by on a good bit less than a tenth of their members’ money. Anything would be an improvement on the piddling sums they sometimes received from people of wealth and means.” (In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar, James Hudnut-Beumler, p.51) Coupled with the teaching on tithing was the proposition of Stewardship. One of the earliest advocates of Stewardship was Josiah Strong who believed that the powers and principalities of this world would become “the kingdom of our Lord” once money power had become Christianized (p.62). John M. Versteeg, a Methodist writer, who thought that the meaning of stewardship had been stretched beyond recognition, wrote in The Deeper Meaning of Stewardship:
When our leaders saw some years ago that moneydrives were necessary if the church were to meet postwar needs, they fell upon the word ‘stewardship’ with acidity. Here was a word that could lend itself to any enterprise! They worked it for all its worth. In every major appeal it was given prominence. Talk was made of the stewardship of prayer, the stewardship of time, the stewardship of money, the stewardship of life.” In short, stewardship was being expanded into meaninglessness.
Understandably, preaching the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is risky business. It is, if you will, ministerial suicide. In Church history, many of the so-called heretics were thus labelled because they chose to preach the truth. But the institutional Church would not hear of it. In the book of Acts, those who follow the Way were seen as a sect, a cult, by the religious leaders of the day. Thus, they were given the name “Christians” or “little Christs”. This implies that Christ was the chief of the heretics. Let us remind ourselves of what Paul said: “For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth” (1 Cor 13:8 NLT).
Truth or Therapy?
Fast forward to the 20th and 21st Century. Chuck Colson was on target when he made this observation (in 2008): “I think that this is at the heart of the problem of the church – we replaced truth with therapy.” Colson also said, in an interview with Time Magazine (2009): “The church has fallen into a therapeutic model. It believes its job is to make people happy and take care of their problems. It’s a feel-good kind of Christianity. I don’t think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it’s to make them holy.” Look around, and you will see that many Christians have not been totally set free; be it from the bondage of sin or from emotional and spiritual oppression and afflictions. What they don’t need is more “ministry time” (which are akin to therapy sessions). What they need is the TRUTH – even if it means telling them they have sinned. At about the same time, Bill Hybels, as result of conducting the REVEAL survey in his church, realized that he and his church had made a mistake. He now understands the problem the church is in today – it is into therapy (2007).
Truth is often like a bitter pill that is hard to swallow. But if you take it, it will set you free. Therapy does not cure the ailment; it merely provides temporary relief so that you will come back for more. An example of therapeutic teaching by the church is found in Devotionals. The most popular devotional, the Daily Bread, was first published in April 1956. Since then, many more devotionals have come into existence. With the boom of the internet, the number of devotionals have increased exponentially, and so has its reach. Just what should the purpose of such devotionals be? The Hebrew word for “devotion” is “kadosh”, which also means “holy” and “consecrated”. So, rightly, devotionals should help Christians become more holy and consecrated to the Lord. Are you using a devotional? If so, is it accomplishing what it ought to?
I know the futility of therapy because of my personal experience two years ago. In 2012, out of a sudden I lost nearly full use of my left arm. My shoulder was in pain. I was told that it was just a “frozen shoulder” and that it would go away after a while. One, two, four months later, it did not get better. Reluctantly, I consulted a physiotherapist. It was then that I learned that I had actually dislocated my shoulder. I was put on a twice-week therapy regime. Ten painful (and expensive) sessions later, my shoulder had not improved. So, I decided to stop going and rely on prayer. Two months later, I had regained full use of my left arm.
Preaching the truth will make you unpopular in the world – especially in this world of relativism, where having a position about anything will make you seem intolerant. But know this: you will be popular in heaven. I’d rather be popular in heaven, don’t you? What is the worst that could happen when the Church preaches the truth? It will be persecuted. What is the worst that could happen when the Church does NOT preach the truth? It will be ignored by the world. It would become salt that has lost its saltiness and is fit only to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Already the world mocks at our divided-ness and despises our hypocrisy.
A story was told of a preacher who was preaching at the street corner. Initially, many would gather around him to listen and respond. But as time went on, the crowd thinned till there was hardly anyone. The time came when he would be preaching to himself. A boy who saw all this asked him one day, “Sir, why are you preaching when no one is listening?” The preacher replied, “I will keep on preaching even though no one is listening less if I stop I might become one of them.”
Majoring in the minor
One of the mistakes the Church has continuously made is to major in the minor. Israel keep the fast but at the same time oppressed the poor and weak (Isa 58). The Pharisees were concerned about doting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” but they forgot to practice justice and mercy. In our race to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, we have focused on planting churches instead of making disciples as the Great Commission demands. Now that churches have been planted, it must now grow. In the last 50 years, many books have been written and conferences held on Church Growth. Peter Wagner was a Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary and authored The Strategies for Church Growth. He has since then gone on to found the New Apostolic Reformation. His latest book Dominion has become the theological bedrock for the Dominionism movement, of which the Seven Mountain Strategy is part of. Their collective goal is to bring about restoration in the world before Christ’s return. Ambitious, to say the least. Let us not forget what Jesus said to the seventy-two who returned with joy saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He said to them, “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
Are you concerned about which mountain God wants you to “conquer”? The most important mountain (or hill) every Christian should be ascending is the “holy hill”. “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart” (Psa 15:1-2).
Recently, the Lord allowed me to see something I had not seen before this. In the book of Acts, as you will remember, many were added daily. Add to what? To the Church? It is never mentioned that they joined the Church. In Acts 2:47, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (the called out ones). In Acts 5:14, believers were added to the Lord. And in Acts 11:24, people were added to the Lord. What the new coverts were added to was the Body of Christ. Today, we are more concerned about how many is being added our our local churches. What a pity.
“What about you?”
I get this a lot: “Are you theologically trained?” Well, if you mean if I have graduated from a Bible school or Seminary, then the answer is ‘No’. But this does not make me theologically un-trained. In fact, I would say that I am quite well trained because while students spend 3-4 years in a Seminary studying the Bible, I have been studying the Bible since I was 14 years old (35 years, in total). Since my conversion, it has been my practice to spend at least two hours a week in personal Bible study. When my dad bought me my first PC, I used it primarily to write notes on my study. One day, my mum found out about it and warned me sternly, “Your dad will be angry if he knows that you are using the PC for Bible study instead of school work.” That didn’t stop me. I love the Word of God.
I also love to read. I used to be able to consume 3-4 books at a time. However, I am more selective in the authors I read now. I find myself drawn to the likes of Charles Spurgeon, Tozer, and Pink. Their hearts were pure, and their theology solidly sound. While I was in the mission field, my resource was limited to what I could carry over. Internet was not available until much later. Even if it was available, it was inaccessible for me price-wise. As a result, I spent more time reading and studying the Bible than Christian literature. A good thing. The Lord taught me to read His Word on my knees. Admittedly, I don’t do it as much as I should nowadays. Because I had read so much, I thought that I already knew the truth. Then the Lord made me realize that I have not learned the truth unless I have learned it from Him (through the Holy Spirit). It is alright to learn from the men of God. But if that is your only source, you are in trouble. At the end of your life (and hopefully it is not too late) you will awaken to the fact that you, like Job, your knowledge of God was based only on hearsay (Job 42:5). He had no true knowledge of who God was until God revealed Himself to him. This is exactly why the Holy Spirit is given to us: to reveal the deep things of God and to lead us into all the truth.
I Love the Church
It might sound like I am blasting the church, as if I have an axe to grind. I want you to know that I love the Church. By that I am referring to the Body of Christ. I will be giving the rest of my life to doing what Paul had set out to do: proclaim Christ, teach and admonish every man with all wisdom so that I may present every man mature in Christ (Col 1:28).