There’s been a tacit assumption in our wing of the church that correctly understood, affirmed information will produce a corresponding change in a person’s life.
It’s possible to cling to that belief because there is such rampant biblical ignorance at every level in the church-from children to adults, from new believers to those with years in the faith, from occasional attendees to seminary students to church officers.
It is also true that in spite of the trouble we have communicating the Bible’s message, the easiest component to accomplish and the easiest to check is information.
In a variety of contexts we try to teach the Bible. But the problem doesn’t seem to get much better. It might help if we were to do more to determine just what people are learning. But that’s a partial answer at best.
We must challenge the assumptions. There’s a small minority of people who know a lot of what might be called Bible trivia, i.e., the name of Moses’ wife or even an outline of John’s gospel. But they haven’t gotten the Bible’s message. There’s another small group who are attracted to Christianity’s philosophical system. It hasn’t, however, had much impact on the way they live. It’s possible to know a lot about the Bible and still not know God
There’s a much larger group of Christians living with varying degrees of hypocrisy. We either ignore certain aspects of the biblical message, rationalize our disobedience or suffer from deep-seated feelings of guilt. We’ve heard the message but for one reason or another it hasn’t changed us.
Part of this might be the attitudes of the Christian culture. The people we associate with will significantly shape our thinking. On the one hand, those attitudes might reinforce biblical teaching or they could distort it.
Divorce has become commonplace. Getting a divorce is easier in spite of our efforts to strengthen marriages. To minister to those who have divorced means holding in tension the reality before us as well as God’s pronouncement. He hates divorce.
The myriad of individual decisions that lead to dissolving a marriage is at the heart of the breakdown of family life. Moving beyond divorce can sometimes take a lifetime for a couple and their children. While divorce is sometimes permissible according to biblical teaching and on occasion necessary, those ought to be the exceptions.
Christians might agonize over a divorce, wrestling with things like concern for the children as well as feelings of inadequacy and failure. They might raise questions about God’s love and grace. Such a rupture could stir guilt while at the same time virtually compelling self-justification.
Too often the fundamental teachings of Scripture are either ignored or conveniently forgotten as the drama plays out and its ramifications ripple through the months and years. It would seem that far too many people abandon the church (or the church abandons them) in their crisis.
A head full of biblical data and doctrinal formulations mean little if they are not used by God to influence our behavior when confronted with obvious life-altering decisions. However, if the information isn’t there, it can’t be used.
Keep that in mind when children learn the Catechism in Pioneer Clubs (as happens at our church). Keep it in mind when biblical accounts are studied in Sunday school. When Bible passages are memorized, remind yourself that this is the sword of the Spirit. But just as the Spirit uses people to explain the Word, he uses people to apply it.