Why are there so many people sitting in church services Sunday after Sunday who never, or rarely, read (hear, listen, connect), reflect, remember, and respond to God’s Word?
In a previous article, Unleashing the Bible in the Church, three obstacles to Bible engagement were identified – pastors that don’t get it, people who don’t want it, and principalities that oppose it. Since writing that article I’ve been thinking about another significant obstacle to Bible engagement …
I used to be a pastor in a local church. Despite my best efforts I simply couldn’t get everyone into God’s Word. With the advantage of hindsight, I now realize I was part of the problem. What made me part of the problem was that I did most of the preaching and teaching. When the pastor is the main person interpreting and commenting on the Word, it communicates the idea that the Word should be handled by professionals.
When someone knows better or is more competent with something, we tend to let them get on with it. It’s not surprising then that so many people hand off the responsibility for reading/listening and interpreting the Bible to the people who have seminary degrees or denominational ordination.
Here’s the problem. When one person talks about the Bible nearly every week, instead of everyone talking about it, it subtly conditions people not to read the Bible for themselves.
To address this stumbling block we’ve got to change the paradigm. A more organic form of church meetings is required. The preaching and teaching of the Word shouldn’t be mainly tied to a pulpit. Every Christian should be invited and encouraged to participate in the services of the church. Every Christian should function as a priest (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). And for this to happen adequately we need to be liberated from a largely clergy dominated and professionally oriented system that in part, has taken the Word captive.
Francis Chan, an ex megachurch pastor who re-evaluated his theology and practice of church gatherings, and started We Are Church, says, “For us, we want to devote ourselves to thinking deeply not about the pastor’s words but the inspired Word of God – that is how we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. We don’t want to draw people to how we explain Scripture. Rather, we double down on the belief that if you have the Spirit of God in you, you are able to read Scripture yourself, and as a body we can wrestle with Scripture together.”
“Wrestle with Scripture together.” That’s brilliant! Imagine what might happen to the spiritual temperature in your local church if everyone got to grapple with the Word.
Everyone grapple with the Word?
For those committed to the program-driven routine of “churchianity” the thought of everyone grappling with the Word is sacrilegious. They’re right. The idea that every Christian can “wrestle with Scripture together” isn’t religious, BUT it is biblical! (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26, 29-32, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 10:24-25).
Nowhere in the New Testament is there a precedent for a church meeting to be exclusively controlled by a pastor. Nor is there any biblical support for the modern-day pulpit and pulpiteers who dominate many churches today. Instead, congregational participation should be the norm. In fact, the major thrust in the Scriptures centers on every person in the church being actively involved in reading and reflecting on God’s Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26).
Mennonite theologian and ethicist John Howard Yoder says, “There are few more reliable constants running through all human society than the special place every human community makes for the professional religionist … But if we were to ask whether any of the N. T. literature makes the assumption listed … then the answer from the biblical material is a resounding negation …”
Forgive me for stepping on sacred corns. But if the right practice is going to emerge from error, we must be honest enough to confront the truth. If the Bible is the sole rule for our faith and practice, surely we must ask whether or not the Scriptures have been manipulated to support clerical professionalism in its present form (mainly one person interpreting the Bible and preaching to a passive audience). And if the Scriptures have been manipulated, then as author Frank Viola suggests, “The brittle wineskin of church practice and the tattered garment of ecclesiastical forms needs to be changed, not just modified.”
Do you agree or disagree? From the preponderance of biblical evidence it seems to me that if Bible engagement is going to take off, one of the things we need to do is desacralize the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in the local church by inviting and including a broader segment of God’s people (those gifted in preaching, teaching, sharing words of wisdom/knowledge, or prophecy) to share a word from the Word when we meet together.
Mark Frees – Is the One-Pastor System Scriptural, Truth According to Scripture.
© Scripture Union Canada 2019