How the Church is to Hear from God
Every semester I begin by having my students introduce themselves and explain why they chose to attend seminary. One would think that the most common reason would have something to do with being trained for the pastorate. However, this is not the case at all. Instead, the most common response is something like, “I’m here because I want to learn the Bible.” So, I will then ask, “Don’t they teach and preach the Bible at your church?” The answer is almost always something like, “Oh yes, my church is wonderful!” So, I will continue, “Does your pastor preach the Bible?” Again, the answer is usually, “Well, of course.” To which I then ask, “What was the last book your pastor preached? What was the book about? What was the apostle (or prophet) saying? To whom was he saying it? Why was he saying it?” And then, “Why should it matter to us?” At this point, I survey the class and typically observe a room full of bewildered faces and blank stares.
This line of questioning shows that some Christians don’t know the Bible nor what to believe because they aren’t learning it in their churches. As a result, many have turned inward to “hear from God.” However, much of what people are “hearing” is not Christian at all. Instead, they formulate their own personal interpretation of the Bible and their version of spiritual truth. What makes matters worse is that the untaught church is elevating teachers who do the same! The result is that many in the church today hold beliefs that directly contradict both the Bible and orthodoxy. As a seminary professor, I challenge seminary graduates to be part of the solution by teaching proper exposition of Scripture and sound doctrine. Because generally speaking, whatever is being preached or taught in the church today, and how it is being preached or taught, is not working.
How do we solve this problem? Simple. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers must return to teaching the “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3) because, as Peter explains, “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:20). In other words, the prophets of the Old Testament handed down the Word of God. Additionally, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” (Heb 1:1–2). Yet, Jesus didn’t write any of the books of the New Testament. Instead, He gave His words to His apostles. Thus, Peter writes that his readers “should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Pet 3:2).
The early church recognized what the Old Testament saints had known for some 1,500 years: Moses’s words were authoritative. (1) 1 In fact, prophets after Moses (even Jesus) were to be evaluated by Moses’s words. (2) Every prophet was to have the same confession. They were to tell the same story. This story, which was spelled out in the Song of Moses (Deut 32), was the same story retold by every prophet of the Old Testament and handed down to the next generation. As was promised in that story, the Redeemer who would save God’s people—Israel—from their sins walked into history, walked into His Story, in the person of Jesus. (3) And just as Moses and the prophets foretold, Israel rejected their Messiah. And as promised, the good news of Christ’s redemption and the gift of eternal life went out to the Gentiles. (4)
God’s plan, God’s purposes, God’s character, God’s sovereignty—all of it—were revealed through His prophets, personified in His Son, proclaimed by His Son’s apostles, and was to be passed down from generation to generation in the church. (5) These words were to be “entrusted to faithful men who could teach others” (2 Tim 2:2). Understanding and living out these words were the qualifications for elders (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:9). These same words are to be taught in the church today by evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.(Eph 4:12–15)
If the body of Christ lacks the unity of the faith; if the body of Christ lacks the true knowledge of the Son of God; if the body of Christ is “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine,” then it is not because God has not spoken. Instead, it is because we, as evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are failing to faithfully teach and preach the words of the apostles and prophets.
I’m reminded of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In it he expresses,
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!(Gal 1:6–9)
While Paul is addressing a different “distortion” of the gospel in Galatians, three points should not be missed here. (6) First, Paul expected the Galatians to clearly understand the gospel that he (Paul, the Apostle) preached to them. What Paul meant by preaching the gospel was teaching them the story of God’s redemptive plan, how they fit into it, and how they were to live in light of it. Paul’s beginning point was always the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament. Paul’s whole defense of the gospel in the Book of Galatians comes from the Old Testament (as is true in all of Paul’s writings). Second, they were not to be moved from that gospel by anyone—no preacher, no teacher, not even an angel! The once for all faith that was handed down was authoritative and not to be altered. Third, and here is the warning for those who preach, Paul proclaimed that anyone preaching another gospel is to be accursed. If we aren’t preaching and teaching the Scriptures, then we are truly treading on thin ice.
Every story has a beginning and an end. The same is true with the Bible. Our understanding must begin with Genesis and it must follow the plot of the Bible through all sixty-six books to Revelation. This story must be taught book by book, passage by passage so that we too can fully understand the “faith once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3,). It is long past time for the church to return to teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God, all sixty-six books, so that the “unfathomable riches of Christ” and the “manifold wisdom of God” might be “known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:8–10).
Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB translation.
- 1 Read Num 12 and the uniqueness of Moses.
- 2 See John 5:39–47; Deut 13:1–11; 18:9–22.
- 3 See Matt 1:21; 2:6; Luke 1:68; 2:25
- 4 See for example John 1:11–13; Gen. 12:1–3; Deut 32:15–21; Rom 10:16–21; 11:11–36.
- 5 See for example Luke 1:1–4; 2 Tim 2:2.
- 6 The distortion of the gospel that Paul is addressing in his letter to the Galatians is the fact that some Jewish believers, not wanting to be persecuted by Jewish unbelievers (6:12), are adding to the gospel of justification through faith in Christ the Jewish belief that the Jews were justified in the flesh (i.e., circumcision and law-keeping). Thus, they wanted to have the Gentiles circumcised and keep the Law. This specific issue was addressed by the apostles in Acts 10, 11, and 15. Paul responds that the Law was not added to justify anyone, that by words of the Law shall no flesh be justified. Instead, one is justified through faith, just as Abraham was justified. Further, only through faith can one receive eternal life—something that the Law was unable to provide.
About the Contributors
Dr. David Klingler (ThM, 2004; PhD, 2010) is an associate professor of Bible Exposition at DTS and resides in Brenham, TX, with his wife, Katie, and two sons, Luke and James.