Faith News

Back to the Bible

Faith Pulpit
Faith Baptist Theological Seminary
Ankeny, Iowa
April 2001

Back to the Bible

Ralph G. Turk, D.Min.

For several decades, evangelical Christianity in America has experimented with fad after fad, only to see each disappear and be replaced with yet another. Much of this experimentation has been driven by pragmatism, evaluating everything on the premise of its workability. The secularization of our society has infiltrated the churches, and our thinking and programs have too often taken on a humanistic character driven by the world’s methodology and standards of success.

Veterans in ministry will remember the excess competition of often mindless Sunday School contests, nationwide drives for America’s largest Sunday School, and burgeoning bus ministries built on slick promotions. Then came major political involvement that absorbed startling amounts of time, energy, personnel, and money–an involvement based on the mistaken assumption that some “Messiah” would one day occupy the White House. And the list goes on.

But what do we see in the wake of all of this? Sunday evening church attendance has collapsed in church after church. Sunday School too often is a poorly maintained anachronism, and even the home Bible study groups of more recent times have forgotten their purpose and become cliques of special interests.

Surprisingly, though, in many larger churches, morning worship is doing especially well because of the use of contemporary music, modern technology, quality drama, and need-oriented preaching. In many churches, morale and excitement are at fever pitch.

But is godliness up? What about genuine Christ-likeness and commitment? Or do we have bigger and bigger audiences that come to watch the performance without getting serious about such things? This prevalent problem caused a leading preacher to say of this growing class of churchgoers, “They come for the show but refuse to grow.”1 One pastor in a fast-growing church remarked, tongue-in-cheek, “Our people are converted in every way except their mindset, lifestyle, and values.” Even after we have gotten people converted, many still act and think about the same as they did before.

These “secular saints” claim to be saved but don’t let religion cramp their style. They are consumers, breezing through churches as they would a salad bar, picking and choosing only what appeals to them. They generally select the positive, pleasant benefits of the gospel and leave behind painful, sacrificial cross bearing.

The problem is spiritual shallowness. We are becoming a river that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Christians are spiritually untransformed. Contemporary Christians tolerate at least an hour of church. A few may even like the warmth of a home support group. But when it comes to committed discipleship, they are absent.

This kind of Christian is growing in number faster than all other kinds of Christians combined. Some argue that these people are not converted at all. Perhaps they are not. Maybe we have democratized salvation, lowering the threshold to enable just about anyone to call himself a Christian. Where there is no cost, there is no repentance, no change.

Critiquing the contemporary church is one thing; offering a useful antidote is another, especially in light of our propensity to ride on bandwagons pulled by hobby horses.

Since our inception, fundamental Baptists have firmly declared that the Scriptures are our only authority for faith and practice. This stand continues to draw many to the cause, but something more is needed. We need a new resolve to take Scriptural authority to its logical conclusions, to its practical implications. We suggest these three for starters.

1. A Radical Biblicism

By radical we refer to root or origin, the fundamental, basic, and complete concept. We must emphasize the Bible as God’s Word because biblical refers to what is in the Bible, in keeping with the Bible, or like that in the Bible. We need to admit that the rank-and-file church member is startlingly ignorant of the Scriptures in terms of what they teach and is therefore incapable of connecting them to life. Psalm 119 offers many insights on this issue.

2. An Educated Constituency

The pastor by definition is a pastor/teacher (Ephesians 4). His primary role is that of saint equipper. Many a preacher has found himself in more trouble when he preached to saints than when he preached to the unconverted. But it is the primary pastoral role to biblically educate a congregation by every legitimate means seven days a week. This task requires that the pastor be biblically literate himself and capable of transmitting truth into the lives of his people.

3. School Planting

It is one thing to emphasize planting churches (which, of course, is biblical), but we need to understand that our churches don’t just have schools, be they Sunday Schools, day schools, or other. Our churches need to see themselves as schools. This perspective gives the best meaning to discipleship, training, equipping, or whatever terms we choose to adopt. We simply cannot be content to skim the elite young people off the tops of our congregations and give them what we hope is a quality biblical education while leaving the masses of our churches bereft of the same. The gap that this practice is creating is extraordinary. We now have preachers who are trained intensely and well, but they face many in their congregations who see no need for sound biblical instruction or fail to recognize its relevance. Then to face some people who are “baptized Baptists” yet may not even be saved simply compounds the problem.

The late senator from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, when asked how he could cope with the inadequacies of the political process, replied that while he conceded they existed and were troublesome, he would much rather “light a candle than curse the darkness.” Bemoaning our needs is relatively simple. Providing a consistent biblical answer, on the other hand, is incredibly demanding, but New Testament Christianity depends on it. Let’s light a candle!

1. Jack Hayford, cited by Keith Drury in “They come for the show but refuse to grow,” Current Thoughts and Trends, August 2000, 2 and 8.