Friday, December 26, 2014

Why Study The Bible When We've Got Pastors?

So, here's my question: Why study the Bible for ourselves, when we have pastors and teachers in the Body of Christ? I was involved in a short email chain this week talking about exactly this very topic. It all started when I watched a video of a well-known Bible teacher talk about the importance of pastors being equipped for a ministry of teaching the Word of God faithfully for the rest of their lives.
"We have in our hands the Word of God, but what does it mean if you can't understand it? So God gives to his church pastors and teachers who can explain what the Bible means." 
This statement is in dire need of a major caveat. It's true that God has given pastors and teachers to the Body. That's true. But it's not entirely true. There's another major piece the puzzle. What about everyone else?  So, let me attempt to supplement what's been said.

What about passages like 1 John 2:20? What about thinking through the impact of the New Covenant for believers' lives today? The great thing about the New Covenant is we receive both the forgiveness of our sins and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need a teacher, though there are some that function especially as teachers within the Body. We don't need someone to teach us, although God does use the proclamation of the Word of God in our spiritual lives. God accomplishes what he intends to accomplish through the proclamation of his Word. Those who do function primarily in such a way are gifted to do so by the Holy Spirit. Theirs, Ephesians 4 tells us, is an equipping ministry. Others are tasked to do "the work of service" and not necessarily equip the larger body in a collective sense. But I would argue that these two are complementary. Everyone is taught by the Spirit. Everyone can study and understand the Word of God if they have the Spirit. And as that is taking place, the Spirit uses certain people to teach and instruct Christ’s Body in an equipping sense.

Unfortunately, the speaker in the video I watched put forth a position that true knowledge of the Word of God is disseminated through a select few individuals. And unless you insert a caveat in brackets, it sounded as if he said true knowledge of the Word of God is only disseminated through this select group of individuals. Do I think he really believes that? Not entirely. I don't think he would say that people can't study God's Word and get the meaning of the text if they are not among the pastors and teachers in the Body. But my problem is that saying things like this, at least on a repetitive basis, appears to create a dependence on teachers. Why pick up your Bible every single day and mine the Word of God for yourselves if God’s given pastors and teachers who are tasked with telling you what it says and what it means? This is a dangerous game. I think we ought to be doing everything we can to encourage people to get into God’s Word for themselves. Then they can be doing the Great Commission, right! No wonder people think living for the Great Commission is inviting people to where you pastor teaches and writing some checks. It's pretty sad if you ask me.

Pastors and teachers model for the body-at-large what it looks like to be resolved in studying the Word of God. They model for the body what it looks like to accurately study the Word of God. They show the congregation how to study the Scriptures, not just tell them to study it. And God works through the teaching of his Word. He accomplishes the work of shaping us into the image of Christ, feeding our souls, and convicting us of sin through the exposition of his Word. I think we need this example. I think we need Bible exposition in our lives. But we need to be careful that we do not talk our people out of a personal relationship with the Lord! –And I don't mean salvifically. We really need to emphasize the importance of everyone studying God's Word. Get in the Word. Get in the Word! Shouldn't we wean people off of a dependency on human teachers? I think we lose a lot if we try and minimize the role that pastors and teachers play in the life of the Body. With that said, though, if we are over-emphasizing the role that pastors and teachers play in the life of the Body, should we not minimize it?

And remember, if pastors and teachers are given for the equipping of the Body for "the work of service," shouldn't we evaluate what's being taught by that standard? Does the typical Sunday sermon equip the Body to do what Christ commands us? Does it help us be more effective in living for the sake of the gospel? It might sound just a little pessimistic, but I've sat through enough sermons on Sunday morning to realize not all of it is equipping me. What it was doing, I can't say.

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