One church I pastored years back (it seems another lifetime ago)—well—the ruling boards sought my removal on doctrinal grounds. When I left, one trustee, in an honest and friendship sort-of way, asked me to consider teaching in a seminary or religious school because he recognized my passion for teaching God’s Word.
I left, however, to pastor another church where one elder was disturbed because I appeared too intellectual, quoting various authors in my sermons and, seemingly, minimizing theology to an “overemphasis” on “living the Word.” A denominational leader—and I must say, caringly—asked me to consider pastoring in a denomination more in line with my beliefs.
It was time for a career change. It seemed a serious education in what is written in God’s Word and an open inquiry into its value threatened denominational autonomy. It seemed that doctrines explained, beyond what was necessary to keep parishioners faithfully coming, posed a quintessential challenge to the church’s very existence. Don’t mention glossolalia in a Baptist church or explain Martin Luther’s fears that led him to a “faith without works” belief. Don’t give a serious rationale to the “confessional” to a non-catholic.
But now, in retirement, I am rethinking all this. Have we not “dumbed downed” a passion for God’s Word among His people in the interest of denominational distinctives, doctrines that support the “mother” church at the detriment of an honest and open understanding of the Word of God?
What bothers me most is a congregant that cannot explain their faith well enough to be convinced of its importance in their own life. I fear some of the laity within Christianity are ill prepared to defend the very message they have been priding themselves on over the years. We have naively been memorizing scriptures not substantiated in real-life. We have depended on raw ritual to sustain us while, I fear, we are entering a time when we must depend on the strength of our faith to steady the helm in a raging sea of opposition to biblical truth—a faith we have neglected. We have organized our religious experiences around doctrines little equipped to keep us faithful in a time of persecution, which just might be afoot.
The church—any church, every church—needs teachers to educate God’s people in the clear, simple, and emphatic message of scripture: in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in the witness of an Ezekiel and the outcry of the rich man from the beyond to send someone to tell his brothers how wrong he was. We need teachers that are not afraid to step on a few theological toes for the sake of a genuine faith, a living faith, stirred to life within each listener. We need teachers that are not puppets of pet ideas or visionaries of personal achievements, but who will humbly let the Spirit of God do His thing among His people. We need teachers that are less scholars of finance and more scholars of Divine truth, that are willing to sacrifice their own reputations and lives for the same message Jesus sacrificed His!