Speaking Non-Signs

… they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
~ Acts 17:11

Non-Signs the Bible is Being Preached

I‘m unaware of any preacher at any time who has not claimed to be preaching the Bible, or at least claimed the Bible backed up what he was saying. Paul charged Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), which he defined as all of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). Preaching the Bible is the main duty of every preacher of the Word and the standard of judgment for his faithfulness (James 3:1).

How can you be sure the Bible is being preached when you go to church? That could be a big answer. The church is responsible for that, so it’s also an important answer. I suppose we could come up with numerous ways of confirming the biblicalness of a sermon. I want to approach this from the other direction. We mistakenly assign authority to a message by a number of trappings that have nothing to do with the actual content of the sermon. I am going to give you seven non-signs the Bible is being preached. The presence of any or all of these signs in no way ensures the Bible is actually being preached.

1. A six-pound, three inch thick, black leather bound Bible is laid open on the pulpit

Such a Bible makes an impressive visual, but is the Bible necessary? Is it being used? We’ve all heard sermons where the preacher read his springboard text and then never returned to the Bible at all. If he would have closed his Bible and laid it aside after reading the text, it wouldn’t have changed a thing about the sermon. Some preachers have said the same things repeatedly for so long, they don’t even need a Bible in the pulpit to preach from. If the Bible is not being read, explained, and applied from the pulpit, the Bible is not being preached.

2. The preacher told you God gave him the message

The more a preacher primes the congregation by telling them God gave him this message, laid it on his heart, or otherwise told him to preach it, the more wary you should be. The sermons I have heard most qualified with those kinds of statements were the most obviously not from God, because they were not preaching the Bible. God did such with Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. This is how he communicated his word through his prophets and apostles. That revelation is complete and we already have it. He is not giving new revelation today. God has given preachers a message. It’s called the Bible and has sixty-six books. There are thirty-nine Old Testament books and twenty-seven New Testament books. Your preacher should take a text and preach it, and then you can be sure it is a message from God because it’s on the page in front of you.

3. The preacher says things you agree with

Just because a preacher is saying what you want to hear or what you like to hear, that is no sign he’s actually preaching the Bible. He may cycle through your pet doctrines like a politician hitting the talking points at a political rally, but that doesn’t mean He’s preaching the Bible. Ear-tickling comes in many forms and one of those forms is the preacher regularly regaling the congregation with their favorite doctrines or topics. The Scripture Paul told Timothy to preach is profitable for doctrine, but also for reproof and correction (2 Timothy 3:16). He warned that itching ears abound that will not endure actual Bible preaching (2 Timothy 4:3). If God is holy and we are sinners, then God’s words will cross us sooner or later. If the Bible is being preached, you Christian church goer will be reproved and corrected.

4. The preacher says some things that are in the Bible somewhere

A preacher can make true statements from the pulpit, but still not be actually preaching the Bible. On the whole, making true statements is better than making false statements, but that still falls short of the command to preach the word. Bible preaching is when the text is explained and applied. The content of the sermon consists of what is explicitly stated in the text and the consequences properly deduced from the text. It isn’t enough that the sermon’s substance can be found in the sixty-six books somewhere. It must be found in the text, if he’s to preach the Bible.

5. The church has the “right” doctrinal statement

The church may have a statement of faith that hits all the right points in your mind, but that doesn’t mean the Bible is being preached from the pulpit. Because we are humans and fallible, we can be inconsistent. We can be orthodox in one area and heterodox in another. But even if all our doctrinal ducks quack on cue, that doesn’t mean Scripture is being explained and applied every week. If a church’s doctrinal statement is actually biblical, then preaching the Bible will affirm it again and again. If Bible preaching causes you to lose articles from your doctrinal statement, that is a good indication those articles weren’t biblical to begin with. The true orthodoxy of a church is not measured by it’s church documents, but by the Bible being regularly preached from the pulpit.

6. The church and/or the preacher has the “right” pedigree

The church’s particular bona fides in terms of their lineage or associations, does not mean the Bible is being preached. The fact that a church came from, recognizes, or otherwise fellowships with another particular church does not mean the Bible is being preached. Similarly, the fact that a preacher has a certain last name, certain family connections, or the endorsement of certain other preachers does not mean he is or will actually preach the Bible. Some churches are more concerned about a preacher’s connections when it comes to having him preach, or even in calling a pastor, than they are whether he will stand up, take a text, and preach it.

7. The preacher looks like a preacher

We put more stock in appearances today than perhaps any generation before us. Many have the idea of what a preacher should look like in their minds. A man may have a matching three-piece suit, french cuffs, shiny shoes, and coordinated necktie and pocket square, but that has nothing to do with whether or not he’s preaching the Bible. For some, facial hair for a preacher is an abomination, while the absence of it is unmanly for others. We are far too concerned about appearances and set up standards that are nowhere to be found in the pages of Scripture. A preacher may fit well your idea of what a preacher should look like, but that doesn’t mean he’s preaching the Bible.

Conclusion

I have given you seven non-signs the Bible is being preached. You may think I’m saying the things I listed don’t matter at all. I am not saying they don’t matter at all. I am saying they don’t matter more than the fact the Bible is not being preached from the pulpit. If you believe in the inspiration of Scripture, inerrancy of Scripture, authority of Scripture, and sufficiency of Scripture, then you must accept no less and nothing else than God’s Scripture being opened, read, expounded in its original context, and applied to the saved and unsaved today.

Let There Be No Divisions Among Us

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
~ Psalm 119:18

Disclosure: The products and links herein inscribed and presented in this here blog are not indicative of any relationship expressed, implied, or enjoyed between the proprietor of aforementioned happy scribbles and any online retailer, marketer, distributor, publisher, et al, of said products.

I have previously written about reading the whole Bible in a year by using a plan. I can’t recommend it highly enough, though every time I do, some complain about it. I’m not your mother. I can’t force you to read your Bible. All I can do is encourage you to do so and that is my goal.

Enter: The Reader’s Bible

I’ve started my 2018 reading and this year I will be reading daily from the KJV Reader’s Bible. Bible layout design has improved in recent years to improve readability and such. The reader’s layout is an excellent treatment for not only reading, but also for studying.

What is a reader’s layout? If you’re not familiar with it, a reader’s layout is the text of Scripture presented without the chapter or verse divisions. It does not have any marginal notes, footnotes, or cross-references. It is a single column, paragraphed layout of each book of the Bible. Some say it helps the Bible read more like a novel, but I don’t love that description. What the reader’s layout does do, is let you read the Bible as it was given, except for the paragraphing and punctuation, but we shouldn’t complain about that. The early manuscripts were written with all capital letters, no spaces between words, no punctuation, and no paragraphs.

If you haven’t read the Bible this way before, I highly recommend it. It will be a different experience. The reader’s layout will help you read each book of the Bible with a better sense of the whole book. You will see the divisions between narratives, units of teaching, arguments, etc. It will help you get a better grasp of the big picture of Scripture.

Help for Preaching

If you are a preacher, or a Bible teacher and are planning on teaching a whole book of the Bible, the reader’s layout provides an excellent place to start. Read the whole book without the headings, chapter or verse divisions. Read it again and start noting divisions in the text. You’re looking for sections that naturally divide the text, e.g., changes in narrative in historical books, changes in narrative or teaching blocks in the Gospels or Acts, a complete thought or argument in the epistles, etc. Start noting these and you’re making an outline of the book, which is crucial to grasp the big picture and not lose sight of it while dealing with individual passages.

A Final Word

I hope these brief words help you see the benefits of the Reader’s Bible for regular Bible reading and for study. Obviously, much more could be said, but I hope you will read the whole Bible this coming year and this is a great way to do it. If you would prefer to read the Bible in a reader’s layout for Kindle, options are available. I’m using the following Kindle books: Genesis to Esther, Job to Malachi, and the New Testament.

A Simple Plan to Read The Reader’s Bible in a Year

  1. January: Read Genesis and Exodus
  2. February: Read Leviticus and Numbers
  3. March: Read Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth
  4. April: Read 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings
  5. May: Read 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
  6. June: Read Job and Psalm 1 to 89
  7. July: Read Psalm 90 to 150, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon
  8. August: Read Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations
  9. September: Read Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah
  10. October: Read Malachi, Matthew, Mark, and Luke
  11. November: Read John, Acts, and Romans
  12. December: Read 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation

Of course, you can always divide the number of pages by the number of days and get a daily page count to read. I pray God blesses you this year as you read and meditate in his word.

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.
– 3 John 2

A Unicorn in a Patio Chair

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
~ 2 Timothy 3:16

Why a book?

As of 2016, around one million books are published annually in the United States. Is this thing on? One million. Every year. I cannot make sense of that, but there it is. The term glut hardly covers it. The majority of ebooks I own were either free or less than $1.99. Many of the books I have in my humble home library were either given to me or purchased for less than $10. Rumors of the printed book’s death have grown and spread like kudzu for years, though Samuel Clemens might suggest they’re exaggerated.

People now perceive little value for a book. I’ve heard people question why anyone would read a book when you can always Google anything you need to know. Though the Bible is still the best selling book, it may also be the least read. Lifeway Research conducted a survey designed to be representative of the United States and found 10% of people had never read the Bible at all. Only 11% had actually read the entire Bible and only 9% had read it more than once. The largest group was 30% of those surveyed who answered they had read several passages or stories from the Bible. Despite not reading it, 87% percent of households own a Bible and more than half have a positive view of it and think it’s valuable.

You might think I’m going to bewail biblical illiteracy, and it is tempting. I have quite a different track in mind. With facts staring us in the face, I ask, is it reasonable that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Creator of everything would give us a book about himself? Books are about as abundant as dirt on the earth and probably only slightly more valuable to the average earthling. Many people will say the Bible is valuable, but it’s obviously not valuable enough to read. Why would God give us a book about himself that few would pay any attention to?

To Know or Not to Know?

We first must think, not about a book, but about knowledge. We bring nothing into this world with us. Though we are designed to breathe and transition naturally from fluid to breathing air, we don’t know what air is. We don’t know what breathing is, nor why it is so important? We are born knowing nothing. Everything we have come to know by the time we die, we have learned from somewhere. The knowledge we gain will have much to do with the nature and form of the information available to us.

Some things we find out through observation and exploration, but many things we have to be told. We can observe the creation around us and infer a powerful and wise Creator (Romans 1:19-20). Creation is a form of revelation, but it leaves much unknown. What sort of Creator has made everything? Is he holy, righteous, just? Does he have wrath and love? How can we creatures serve and please him? Does he even care or notice whether we do? What about heaven, hell, life after death? Why do we die at all? Having a conscience, we know guilt, but can guilt ever be removed? Is the Creator changing or unchanging? So revelation of some kind is necessary. We cannot find out such things by merely watching the sun rise or staring at stars in the night sky.

Says Who?

I hope we can agree that some form of revelation is necessary for us to know truth about our souls, life, death, and judgment to come. But, what form should necessary revelation take? God could give immediate revelation to each individual. The problem is obvious. The party of the first part has received revelation A, while the party of the second part has received revelation B. When A and B are not equal, and may even be in direct opposition, where does that leave us? How could we possibly know which is right when one says one thing and another something else?

Alternatively, God could give revelation to a few different ones and that revelation be handed down through oral tradition. This still ends up with the same problem. There is no fixed standard, so how could differences be resolved? When one claimed to speak revelation, how could it be verified? Another obvious problem would be how to deal with charlatans and deceivers. Without a fixed standard, we are ten-year-olds shoving each other on the playground.
“Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah!”
“Says who?”
“Says me!”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah!”

A fixed standard of revelation is then necessary. How are we to know and be assured of truth? God has given us a written word that is sufficient for everything we need (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 16-21). A fixed, written standard is not only necessary, but reasonable and indispensable.

Some would object: if there is an infallible, inerrant, fixed, written standard, then why are there so many different sects, denominations, and groups who all claim to be following the Bible? Why so many interpretations that vary widely and even contradict each other? Let’s consider a couple of things here.

First, finding fault with the Bible because different people think it says different things is kind of like finding fault with genuine currency because of the existence of counterfeit bills. Do we doubt the validity and worth of a real Ben Franklin because of a plethora of fake C-notes? Let’s look at it another way.

Say you have a sealed room with one way in and out. In the room you have placed a book and you have selected a dozen people at random. You send the people into the room one at a time to read the book. Afterward you quiz the participants about what the book said, and you get six or eight different interpretations of what was written in the book. Is it more reasonable to think the difference is in the book or in the people? That brings us to the next consideration of why so many different interpretations exist.

Second, the diversity of interpretations is due to the noetic effects of the fall and man’s imaginative capacity. The term noetic refers to the intellect and the fall refers to the fall into sin and the damage of depravity because of it. Man’s intellect is affected by the fall and one proof is that it is possible for a man to think of a lie and possible for a man to believe a lie. Why, it’s not only possible, but I’ve seen it done. So man has the capacity to conceive of lies and to believe lies.

Man also has an imaginative capacity that is capable of thinking of the impossible. He can imagine something in his mind that does not exist, and maybe could not exist for various reasons. Not only can he imagine unreality, but he can hold true, untrue, real, and unreal thoughts in his mind simultaneously. Let me illustrate.

Imagine a wrought-iron patio chair. It’s not hard. Maybe you have one, or your grandmother did. You can think of the white lacquer paint and the rust stains. You can envision the cracks in the paint and the places where the metal is exposed and smooth from wear. You can think of the heft of the chair and how solid it feels to sit in. Also imagine a purple unicorn. The beast can be solid, striped, spotted, piebald, or whatever you like. Think of the mane, tail, and the horn protruding between the ears atop its gallant head. Imagine the hoofbeats as it trots around the yard, or the crunch of the apples it eats off the tree. Now imagine the unicorn sitting in that wrought-iron patio chair. Silly image, isn’t it. A unicorn sitting in a chair is funny, but you did it. You saw it in your mind.

You just illustrated to yourself why there are so many different interpretations of the Bible. You just simultaneously imagined something real, the patio chair, and something not real, the purple unicorn, and brought them both together, the unicorn sitting in the chair. That scene does not exist, has never existed, and will not exist, but you saw it. The fact that you put a unicorn in a patio chair does not mean there is something wrong with the chair, or that patio chairs are not real.

Remember, Remember

I’ve gone long, so I hope the roast won’t be tough by the time you get home to it. I think I have demonstrated somewhat the reasonableness and necessity of a fixed, written standard. Our thinking doesn’t always go straight and we need something to inform and correct us. A written word is also necessary because we need something to go back to because we are so prone to forgetfulness. We need reminding and we need to remember. So, God has given us his word (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:14; Hebrews 10:32; 2 Peter 1:12-13, 15; 3:1). God has given us a book, so read it and then read it again.

Next Page »