As a young teen I was totally turned off by traditional church and its people. My disdain was not due to any lack of sincerity or love on their part. Truth be told, I simply wanted to sin, so I walked away from church and church people, and thought I would never look back!
When some ambitious evangelist would cross my path, I had ways to dismiss his enthusiasm pretty easily. When some contemporary representative tried to “cool” his way into my life to share the gospel, I could see through him a mile off and would remain unmoved. Yet in the end, I was influenced to return to the Lord by the most odious of all approaches- a pushy family friend speaking to me at a time when my self-made philosophies had crashed and burned. While at the time I was delighted to find that the Jesus Movement had a contemporary look that made me feel more comfortable, the “relatability” of those Christians was just the frosting on the cake. I was God’s no matter what!
Growing in Calvary Chapel a few years after my conversion and eventually getting called to ministry through Calvary, I was blessed to find a place where I fit in socially. But those social intangibles were nothing compared to the great essentials of the Christian faith that I was ingesting. Those essentials of abiding deep in the Word of God, of focusing on Jesus, and of learning a new dependence upon the Holy Spirit were life to my soul!
A few years ago, an internationally-known pastor asked me a leading question, inquiring what Calvary Chapel was all about. I suppose he meant to challenge the relevance of expository Bible teaching as a way to reach the people in his demographic.
My response was that Calvary Chapel pastors don’t just believe expository teaching. We believe in the effect of expository teaching and preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. One pastor expressed it well – in every message there must be milk, meat, and manna, which is that timely and applicable word drawn from whatever Scripture is being taught. I can’t count how often I have heard people remarking after a message that God was speaking directly to them. I have often said that while I am fumbling with words to communicate God’s amazing Word, He is having a private conversation using those same words to reach the hearer.
That pastor who questioned me has also asked how speaking from the Old Testament recounting the doings of the prophet Elijah, for example, could possibly impact those in his church. In his field of service he said there were many hanging by a thread and who are in dire need of the simple Gospel.
The thought of what was meant by the simple Gospel made my head spin. Yes we know we can express the Gospel in simple terms. But some take the argument to the degree that one can condense the entire Bible down to a simple, essential Gospel message. That may be possible, but it then leaves some questioning, “Why bother with the Old Testament anymore since we have the New Testament?” Some groups have even felt the need to only dispense New Testaments, with perhaps Psalms and Proverbs attached. Yes it is less expensive, but are we missing something here?
This is where the genius of God’s Word comes in! God speaks His whole counsel to us. We are built upon the “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 3:20). When a mother speaks to her infant, she does so with the thought that while he does not understand what she is saying now, the more she speaks, the more that child will comprehend and in time will learn that language. In fact, studies clearly show that mothers who engage in verbal communication face to face with their infants see a dramatic difference in that child’s comprehension and ability to speak, compared to moms who don’t. Some mothers have learned the hard way that dumbing down their language to a cute-sounding baby babble has only hindered their children from learning to speak properly.
Are we smart enough to decide what a young believer can handle? Shall we not instead encourage them to read through the entire Bible? Clever pedagogues who edit out the difficulties of God’s Word may only handicap believers who need a solid diet of the whole counsel of God’s truth.
True, there are places in our inner cities that harbor a world of brokenness, with people slipping into eternity every hour. So if I approach a member of the Bloods or Crips in the inner city, will my first thought be to share about the “cloud the size of a man’s hand” in the Elijah narrative? Probably not! Well, maybe, if the occasion warrants it. After all, is there an Old Testament reference that does not have a contemporary application?
Perhaps, to stick with my Elijah theme, approaching the gang member with the account of God working through a small remnant, the cloud, may very well speak to him. He may realize that all the huffing and puffing of his ego to effect control on his contemporaries cannot compare with the little ways in which God affects real change. Don’t despise the day of small things since after all Jesus became a baby in a manger. Perhaps that gang member would also wonder how some pastor is unafraid to speak the truth to him. After all, “every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” (Proverbs 30:5).
The proven, whole counsel of the Word of God is important! In equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and deepening them to be spiritual warriors, John writes, “you are strong for the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the wicked one”(1 John 2:14). And of God’s word the Psalmist declared, “Will he not magnify His word above all His name (Psalm 138:2)?
Jesus also likened His Word to seed falling on soil. Every seed has a string of genetic code guiding every detail of the plant’s growth and quality. A single acorn contains every bit of information required to create a future, massive oak tree.
So the Word of God, like a seed planted in the human heart, has all that it needs to form a new, magnificent creation. The spiritual DNA in that little seed even has the power to rewrite our existing, corrupted code. God’s Word can actually change lives that have been given over completely to drug addiction and countless other vices. This is the power of the Word of our Living God! Our clever distilling of the Gospel to a few words may be enough to arrest that gang member, to convict him of sin, but he will need a full array of God’s truth to come into the fullness of God and His purposes.
Jesus spoke even more forcefully on this to His disciples in John 6:63, “…The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” Words are more than words. God speaks and transforms us by that implanted word in our hearts. You will not be the same!
Bible illiteracy is at an all time high, even among evangelical churches. Running on a few spiritual pop tarts may provide temporary energy, but without the substantial diet of the Word of God, Christians will falter when the deeper challenges come. We need a balanced diet of Old and New Testaments, taught faithfully and enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God.
On a personal note, I want to exhort you all and especially those in ministry. As pastors, it can be easy to wax professional and make the time we spend studying to teach the only time we spend in the Word of God. As determined as I am to “study myself to death and pray myself alive again”, I am equally determined not to get lazy with my personal study. I need to open the Word of God for me, apart from what I am prepping for a message, and let God speak to me personally. In doing so, I am confident His Word is having its effect on me. Then and only then am I prepared to dig deep into my study for the church fellowship.
Coming back to our commitment to the whole counsel of the Word of God, I understand that there may be some among us who get lazy in their sermon preparation, believing they need but turn to a verse, make a comment or two before going to the next verse, and so on. Not so pastors! As a general rule, I often allow at least 10-15 hours of study for every hour I speak. Study the Word before you teach it. Put time into preparing that perfectly balanced meal of milk, meat, and manna.
But if on the one extreme we see a lazy yawning form of verse by verse teaching, on the other extreme, we have seen a great amount of diligence being given to devising all manner of gimmickry, props, and humor that also falls well short of the point. I am certain that there is no methodology of man capable of reaching third generational narcissistic Christians not to mention a world adrift and bereft of God. But God’s Word can cut though the most difficult hearts.
This brings me back to my answer to the pastor who inquired about Calvary Chapel. I believe in teaching and preaching the whole word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am confident God’s Word will not return void!