The road to hell isn’t obscure or hard to find. It is a super-highway, lined with familiar faces and paved with sincerity and good intentions.
Many of its travelers are self-proclaimed followers of Jesus who are oblivious to their final destination (Matt. 7:21-23). They were simply pointed that way by other well-meaning ‘Christians.’
How did they wind up on this super-highway? For many, it wasn’t a quick, conscious decision. Yet slowly, over time, they learned to reject the authority of the Bible.
And they learned to do this by sitting in the pew next to you.
We set them up for failure. We domesticated the authority of Scripture. By “we” I’m referring to many of our churches and fellow believers – not the least of which are many preachers, teachers, and parents today. We have sanitized Scripture, so much so that it no longer tugs on the heart or troubles the sinner.
Note some of the subtle ways we practically beg churchgoers to reject Biblical authority:
1. Avoid Talking About Important Topics
There are some preachers who rarely, if ever, talk about certain Biblical subjects. This is due to any number of reasons. Perhaps they haven’t studied a particular subject enough to address it with confidence (the end-times, transgenderism). Perhaps they have doubts about a particular subject themselves (unauthorized worship practices, eternal punishment). Perhaps they know the congregation is divided about the issue (alcohol, divorce). Maybe they generally just don’t like talking about the subject, regardless of how clearly it is taught in the Bible (church discipline, holiness).
As a result, the people of the pew are left with a vacuum in their understanding of the Bible. The funny thing about vacuums, however, is that they always get filled with something, eventually. Sin begins to fester. Truth, if not consistently taught on even the most difficult of issues, will be replaced with misconceptions and lies. And if some brave soul eventually does comes along and teach the truth, he/she will be challenged.
2. Act Embarrassed by the Bible
Building on #1, some churches prefer to just sweep the touchy subjects under the rug. Or, even worse, they hire preachers who say stuff like this: “Today’s sermon is from Matthew 19:9. Like other passages about this subject, the Bible has some pretty harsh things to say about divorce. I don’t like talking about this, but then again the Bible says some things I’m not 100% proud of.”
Even though this preacher has theoretically submitted to the authority of the Bible, he [perhaps unwittingly] deceived people into thinking that he is more gracious and lenient on people than even Jesus Himself.
However, like Paul, we cannot be ashamed of any part of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16). All (parents, teachers, preachers, elders) must communicate the entirety of God’s truth – plainly and unapologetically.
We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:2)
3. Give an Ounce of Legitimacy to Things God has Condemned
The Bible is remarkably straightforward about many things: the existence of heaven and hell, the reality of sin, mankind’s impending eternal judgment, the singularity of the church, the existence of false teachers, the essentiality of baptism, the exclusive nature of salvation through Jesus Christ, the demand for Christians to live holy lives, etc.
However, by listening to many of our pulpits today, you wouldn’t know the Bible is clear about much of anything. In an effort not to “come on too strong,” many have all too eagerly embraced postmodernism – particularly the idea that virtually every religious view has at least some merit to it.
We’ve gotten soggy with deconstructionism. That is, the attitude that any kind of conviction about anything should be held with contempt and therefore pulled apart and displayed alongside an opposing view.
It is no secret that there are opposing views about virtually every issue. Yet, just because an intelligent person happens to believe, for example, that homosexuality is okay doesn’t mean that the Bible falls short of emphatically declaring it a sin.
We can get as “academic” as we want. But when people grow up hearing remarks about “different views” about sexuality, the inerrancy of the Bible, salvation, grace, sin, the church, etc., – with the preacher being so timid he can’t bring himself to say, “This is what the Bible says” – no wonder they learn to reject Biblical authority about these subjects.
Christians cannot afford to be anything less than emphatically clear when it comes to what Scripture teaches – directly or indirectly.
4. Adopt all the Latest Churchy Fads
It is to our shame that many followers of Christ read more contemporary religious books than they do the Bible (if they are reading books at all). This has caused several problems, not the least of which is a stunted ability to identify wrong beliefs.
Self-help sermons and how-to lessons reverberate in our auditoriums today. It is not uncommon to hear preachers talk about the importance of environmentally-friendly lifestyles, smart money management, coping with divorce, diversity appreciation, dealing with grief, appreciating grandma/grandad, becoming more tolerant, developing self-worth, etc. Self-help sermons in moderation are appropriate at times. Yet, while the Bible does speak to these subjects, it is not primarily about these subjects.
Unless we want to diminish the authority of God’s Word, we cannot neglect teaching the core themes of the Bible: what it means to have faith, the horror of sin, living holy lives before God, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the importance of the church, and learning how to suffer as a Christian. When we preach today’s fads at the neglect of the rich theology of Scripture, we minimize the extent to which the Bible is authoritative in our lives.
5. Compartmentalize the Bible to Accommodate Busy Lifestyles
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word. […] Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word (Isa. 66:2, 5)
We’ve forgotten how to tremble.
An inflated view of our self-sufficiency blinds us to our need to read and re-read God’s Word. Constant gigabytes of data from the world consume our minds and hearts and desires. It is a stretch to believe someone who is swimming in pornography, pursuing an illicit sexual relationship, or consumed with envy is also investing much time with God’s Word. Our churches have enabled this behavior by making sure the Sunday sermon is “under 30 minutes,” and all the other church services are considered “optional.” People are busy, after all.
Here’s What We’ve Asked For
Do these five things, and the people sitting in the pew next to you will begin to reject Biblical authority over time. It will manifest itself in one of two extremes:
- Churchgoers will emphasize Biblical authority in theory yet reject it in practice. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “We want the Bible, and the Bible alone, preached here.” Yet show them how to better distinguish truth from tradition, pursue holiness, and correct their misconceptions, and they will often turn their backs on you.
- Churchgoers will claim Biblical authority in practice yet de-emphasize it in theory. On the other extreme, churchgoers often refuse to talk about Biblical authority or inerrancy, and instead want to “get past the specific words of Scripture” and “find the message God is trying to communicate through Scripture.” History testifies to the fact that these groups tend to drift quickly away from the Bible. These type of churchgoers have zeal, but not based on knowledge (Rom. 10:2).
An Appeal to Correct Our Wrongs
A negative list like this should invite us to positively pursue the opposite. Let’s talk about the important topics (even if they are uncomfortable). Let’s embrace the entirety of God’s Word. Let’s not be afraid to paint the Bible as “black and white” on most issues. Let’s not get swept up by the latest self-help book on the New York Times bestseller list. And let’s learn to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, instead of bread alone (Matt. 4:4).
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