Whatever Happened to Teaching in the Churches?

Barb Wire

Once the regular teaching of the Word of God, of doctrine, of theology, and its application in the Christian life was a mainstay of any evangelical church. It was pretty much the core activity. Yet there seems to be such a dearth of good, solid teaching in so many churches today.

Instead of proper instruction in which believers are fed with the solid meat of the Word, with emphasis on biblical doctrine and proper exposition of key biblical themes and teachings, all we seem to get in so many churches today are topical sermons.

These are often little more than pep talks with one or two verses thrown in along the way. Most of our Sunday morning sermons tend to be feel-good, how-to chats, emphasizing how the Christian can be successful, happy, confident, and have a good time.

We promise folks their ‘best life now’ and give them motivational speeches, upbeat homilies, and the like. The systematic instruction and teaching of the Word of God, its core doctrinal truths, and basic Christian doctrines are almost never heard any more in so many churches today.

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Perhaps I am spoiled, because I think of my home church in the US and what was offered there, after I was first saved, way back in the early 1970s. What we had on offer there was typical of most Bible-believing churches back then. There was non-stop teaching, doctrinal instruction, and biblical exposition.

Back then this is the amount of teaching I got in one week at just this one church:
-adult Sunday School where various doctrinal and practical Christian living classes were on offer
-Sunday morning teaching in the sermon
-Sunday evening teaching in the sermon
-more teaching and Bible exposition at the Wednesday night prayer meeting.

Thus my old church offered at least four major events each week in which we got plenty of doctrinal teaching, teaching on key subjects (such as Old Testament survey, New Testament survey, various books of the Bible such as Romans, basic Christian doctrines, the cults, apologetics, ethics, etc) and regular Bible instruction and exposition.

bible 11Where is all that today? I know a few churches still do this to some extent. Some of the Presbyterian churches for example still put a very strong emphasis on doctrinal teaching and expository preaching. But the majority of our evangelical churches today simply no longer offer this.

At best there is one time only each week where the sheep are fed: the Sunday morning sermon. But as I just mentioned, this is seldom proper biblical teaching and doctrinal instruction. Almost always it is topical preaching with a minimum of scripture, more in line with secular or New Age motivational pep talks than anything else.

Thus it is clear to me that a major reason why Christians today are so biblically illiterate, have little or no understanding of basic biblical doctrine, and are so easily swept off their feet into error (be it heterodoxy or heteropraxis) is because of this basic lack of Christian instruction.

They are just not getting it in their churches. Unless they pick up a bit of Bible teaching elsewhere (say in books, or online, or listening to CDs or watching DVDs) they are simply being starved of the essential biblical information which they must have to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. No wonder the church today is so anaemic, so ineffective, so carnal and so salt-less.

But how can this be, given the overwhelming emphasis found in the Bible on the essential importance of teaching and instruction? Hundreds of times in the New Testament alone we read about teaching and its importance for the believer. In the gospels we constantly read about Jesus teaching the disciples. The same in the book of Acts where we see the disciples teaching others.

Teaching was the very foundation of disciple making for Jesus and the early disciples. Yet it is all but lost in so many of our churches today. No wonder the church has lost its way. No wonder believers are falling into theological and behavioral error so often. They simply have never been taught properly.

Let me look at just some of the New Testament verses on teaching. That God gave teachers to the Body of Christ is clear from passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” We find the same in Ephesians 4:11: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers”.

And this regular ongoing teaching ministry is exactly what we find in the early church. As but one example, consider Acts 2:42 which discusses the fellowship of the believers: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

I wish we keenly devoted ourselves to teaching as well today. Because there is so much biblical material on teaching, let me offer a few more verses, but only from the Pastoral Epistles. There are dozens of verses about teaching in these three short books. Here are just some of them:

1 Timothy 3:2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
1 Timothy 4:6 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
1 Timothy 4:11 Command and teach these things.
1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
2 Timothy 1:11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
2 Timothy 1:13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Titus 2:1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.
Titus 2:2-3 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
Titus 2:7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness
Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

A major reason why so many believers are falling into the hands of the cults and into heresy, and are engaging in sinful lifestyles is because of this lack of teaching. While all believers should take it upon themselves to learn, to study, to grow in knowledge, and to master the basics of the faith, our leaders have much to answer for if they are neglecting this vital and sacred calling of teaching and instructing.

Let me conclude with a few quotes on the importance of all this:

“The visible church in our generation has become astonishingly tolerant of aberrant teaching and outlandish ideas – and frighteningly intolerant of sound teaching.” John MacArthur

“Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season, but they will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church.” John Piper

“Secularism cannot be blamed on the secularists, many of whom were raised in the church. We are the problem. If most churchgoers cannot tell us anything specific about the God they consider meaningful or explain basic doctrines of creation in God’s image, original sin, the atonement, justification, sanctification, the means of grace, or the hope of glory, then the blame can hardly be placed at the feet of secular humanists.” Michael Horton

“If we go astray in our doctrine, eventually our life will go astray as well. You cannot separate what a man believes from what he is. For this reason doctrine is vitally important. Certain people say ignorantly, ‘I do not believe in doctrine; I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; I am saved, I am a Christian, and nothing else matters.’ To speak in that way is to court disaster, and for this reason, the New Testament itself warns us against this very danger. We are to guard ourselves against being ‘tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine’, for if your doctrine goes astray your life will soon suffer as well. So it behoves us to study the doctrines in order that we may safeguard ourselves against certain erroneous and heretical teachings that are as rife and as common in the world today as they were in the days of the early Church.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“I am convinced that there is an urgent need in the church today for much greater understanding of Christian doctrine, or systematic theology. Not only pastors and teachers need to understand theology in greater depth – the WHOLE CHURCH does as well. One day by God’s grace we may have churches full of Christians who can discuss, apply and LIVE the doctrinal teachings of the Bible as readily as they can discuss the details of their own jobs or hobbies – or the fortunes of their favorite sports team or television program.” Wayne Grudem

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bill Muehlenberg
Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne, Australia. He runs a web-based ministry of pro-faith, pro-family activism called CultureWatch: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com. Bill is widely sought out by the media for comments on social issues, faith issues, and family issues, and has appeared on all the major television and radio news shows, current affairs shows, and debate programs. He is the author of In Defence of the Family; Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, and several other books.

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