Certain Christians downplay Scripture. But it is better to say that this book, full of revelations and wonderful teachings, should occupy the top spot in our gatherings. Here’s why.
Some people treat Scripture as an idol. Let’s not go that far. But it still has the power through the Spirit to change lives and grow people up.
1.. The earliest church taught the words of Jesus.
The earliest proclaimers of the gospel remembered what he said or asked those who followed him from the beginning what he had said.
Just before going up into heaven after his resurrection, Jesus in the Great Commission said to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to observe all that he had commanded them (Matt. 28:19-20). His commands are authoritative and must be taught.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, and Peter finished preaching to the extra-devout crowd in Jerusalem by quoting from the Old Testament, the author of Acts, Luke, writes that the disciples devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). The words “devoted themselves” comes from the one Greek verb, proskartereō (pronounced praws-kar-teh-reh-oh or prohs-kar-teh-reh-oh). It implies that meaning, because kartereō means to “persevere” and “endure” (Heb. 11:27), and the preposition pros has a directional meaning of “towards.” It’s as if they were looking towards or paying intense attention to “the teaching of the apostles and to fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The people were leaning in.
In Acts 5:42 the apostles went regularly to the Jerusalem temple and from house to house and proclaimed Jesus is the Messiah. In Acts 15:33, Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch and taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord. In Corinth Paul stayed a year and a half and taught the word of God among them (Acts 18:11). He stayed in Ephesus for two years, so that the Greek and Jews in Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10). Then on his quick return to a nearby town, on his way back to Israel, he reminded the Ephesian elders that he did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.
Luke writes with Paul speaking:
How I withheld nothing profitable in announcing to you and teaching you in public and in households, testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. … for I have not hesitated to announce to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:20-22, 27, my tentative translation).
A key phrase is the “whole counsel of God.” The word counsel comes from the Greek noun boulē (pronounced boo-lay), and it can mean, depending on the context, “plan, purpose.” Believers need the fullest teaching of the Scriptures and God’s ways, not just the happy tidbits. See v. 21 which discusses repentance, which is an elementary teaching. People need to go beyond these elementary teachings, and v. 21 is parallel to Heb. 6:1-2, which lists more elementary doctrines.
Finally, Paul spent two whole years in Rome and preached the kingdom of God and teaching the about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30-31).
So the apostles made teaching their top priority, and the people listened to them. Today we have some of their teachings written in Acts and their epistles. It would be to our advantage to listen their teachings, as well.
2.. Paul taught the word of his grace.
He was the Apostle of Grace. Galatians and Romans is all about it (e.g. Gal. 3 and Rom 3-4). In Acts 20:32, he reminds the Ephesian elders that the “word of his grace” is the message about Jesus. In other words, Paul offered repentance and salvation through Jesus, and that’s the message of grace. People do not need to work up self-effort to be accepted to God. All they need to do is repent and receive his love and grace. The word of grace builds up believers by reminding them of where they came from, what God has done in their lives, and where he is taking them. Only his grace will see them through to the end.
3.. Doctrine and reading Scripture in public is important.
Until I come, turn your mind to reading (Scripture), exhorting, and teaching … watch out for yourself and to teaching; persist in them. For doing this, you shall save yourself and those hearing you (1 Tim. 4:13, 16, my tentative translation)
The word Scripture is implied, but is clear by process of elimination. Paul did not expect Timothy to read pagan myths and sexy novels (they existed back then) and other such things to the congregation. The word teaching, appearing twice, is the noun, which could be translated “doctrine,” and is not the act of teaching.
Then Paul wrote to Timothy that he should entrust to reliable men what he had heard from Paul before many witnesses (2 Tim. 2:2). He also told him to be unfailing in teaching (doctrine). “For the time will come when people will put up with sound doctrine.” Instead certain teachers will draw lots of people to themselves and teach them what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:2-3, NIV). I wonder whether the “hopes and dreams and passions” doctrine that is circulating through the Western church is just ear scratching. Yes, we need to be successful in our endeavors because when we are, God gets the glory and we prosper, and then we can give to his kingdom.
Most importantly, Paul wrote to Titus that he should teach sound doctrine (2:1).
4.. All Scripture is inspired and the source of doctrine.
All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching (doctrine), for inner conviction, for straightening out, for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God would be capable and equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17, my tentative translation).
Once again, the word teaching is the noun, so it does not mean the act of teaching, but doctrine. Scripture is the Old Testament, but since the New Covenant sets aside the Old Sinai Covenant, the “God breathed” quality can transfer over to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.
The Word can develop one’s inner conviction, which most translations have as “reproof.” In other words, Scripture guides the believer away from bad teaching develops inner convictions.
The translation “straightening out” has the word Greek stem ortho– in it, and it means “straight” and “true,” but most translation have “correction.” But I wanted to catch the meaning of the stem. In any case, God-breathed Scripture can straighten out our defective and bad ideas.
5.. The church teaches first the milk and then the meat.
Peter wrote that “pure milk” is for newborn babies so that they can grow up in salvation (1 Pet. 2:2).
On the other side, we must not drink milk forever and exclusively. The author of Hebrews wrote:
1 Therefore leaving the message about the elementary principle about Christ, let us carry on to maturity, not again laying the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith in God and 2 of the teaching about baptisms and the laying on of hands and the resurrection of the dead and punishment in the next age (Heb. 6:1-2, my tentative translation).
And Paul wrote: “And so, brothers and sisters, I was not able to address you as spiritual persons, but as fleshly persons, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid foods, for you were not able, and neither are you now able still, for you are still fleshly” (1 Cor. 3:1-3, my translation). “Fleshly” means prone to cave into sinful desires and actions. The fault was not in Paul’s teaching, but in human nature too. Are people ready to grow up?
And the author of Hebrew writes relevantly:
For though you ought to be teachers by now, still you have need of someone to teach you the basic principles of the words of God and have become needy for milk and not solid foods. For anyone who has lived off of milk and is inexperienced in the word of righteousness is a baby. Solid food is for the mature who because of practice have trained their senses, for discerning good and bad. (Heb. 5:12-14, my tentative translation)
Renewal theologian J. Rodman Williams warns:
The sad truth is that many people come to church hungry, but receive no milk at all or impure milk, that is, milk adulterated by false, impure, human-biased ingredients. The pure milk, the ‘sincere milk’ must be drawn whole from Scripture and everything said and taught in consonance with it. (vol. 3, p. 112)
6.. Teachers need to arise and instruct the church.
The pastors and elders cannot teach by themselves. Small group leaders, Sunday School teachers, and other teachers should share in the load. The more the congregation matures in the Word of God, the more people are correctly trained to teach.
Eph. 4:11-12 says that Christ himself gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to build up the body of Christ. It is a team effort.
7.. Both the Old and New Testaments must be taught.
The Old Covenant Scriptures still have value. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 10:6 that the things written there serve as examples, often for what not to do. After he was resurrected, Jesus explained to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus that the recent events were predicted in the Scriptures, from Moses and all the prophets and in all of Scriptures (Luke 24:27). Philip the Evangelist taught Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, beginning from all the Scripture (Acts 8:35).
Briefly, here are five areas that are still relevant to the church:
A.. Moral law, which is imported into the New Covenant Scriptures
B.. Histories and stories about God dealing with his people
C.. Wisdom literature
D.. Devotional literature in the Psalms
E.. Prophecies about the Messiah and future events
For more information, see the posts
What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?
Do Christians Have to ‘Keep’ the Ten Commandments?
In my opinion, even these areas of Scripture must be filtered through the New Covenant. Some of the Old Covenant punishments, for example, were for ancient Israel living in a designated Holy Land. But this is not to say that God won’t judge the church, as Peter notes, writing that judgment begins with the family of God (1 Pet. 4:17). But judgment in the New Covenant takes on a different form, like no exile to Babylon, but discipline for improving one’s walk with God.
Today there is a gigantic movement in America towards Jewish roots (Americans are very trendy). Maybe such knowledge is okay up to a point. But if a believer in Jesus wants to fulfill the festival of Pentecost, for example, he can do no better than following the New Covenant way of fulfilling it: the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Let him hit his knees and ask for a fresh infilling.
The same goes for the Passover. The believer can just focus on Jesus on the cross when he takes communion.
Now let’s switch over to the New Covenant.
Most importantly, Christ is called the Word (John 1:1-3), so his teachings take priority, and the four Gospels should be taught.
As noted the apostles left behind their words in their epistles. Let’s read and learn from them. The Book of Acts records the activities and teachings of the apostles and evangelists and prophets.
So how does this post help me know God better?
The main mission of church leaders is to grow the flock of God, so the sheep can stay close to their heavenly Shepherd, and then when they grow up healthy, they can reproduce. They can do this in three ways.
First, they can implement programs for teaching. This can include classrooms. One church where I attended had various classes taught on Wednesday night, lasting ten weeks. Then they took a break and started up with new classes.
Second, they need to teach people how to study the Bible. Nowadays there are excellent study Bibles, and the web can offer basic Bible history. If there are puzzles, website can explain difficult passages, like why all the killing and wars in the Old Testament.
Third, small groups in the home can be an environment for learning. It should be Bible centered.
J. Rodman Williams also offers these three reasons for why the Word is so important.
First, the Word alone can satisfy the deep hunger in the soul. Human’s opinion may be interesting, but not satisfying over the long haul.
Second, the Word of God, properly understood and interpreted, can counter false teachings.
Third, The Word of God is essential to guide the believer in daily living. For example, it instructs him not to be yoked to an unbeliever, which can be expanded to include a marriage partner (2 Cor. 6:14). It instructs him to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25).
The Word is still vital for the church.
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Danger Signs
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Authority of Scripture
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Marriage and Sex
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Judgment Is Coming
At that link, look for Williams, vol. 3, pp. 109-17.