In local Christian congregations, too many to count, the Enemy has found a subtle way to substitute religious literature for the Bible, the eternal Word of God, not totally, but to a significant degree. The practice of studying books, instead of the Bible, has been going on for a long time. However, there is potential danger in this practice, not the least of which is the need to be neutral by the publishers of the religious material.
Too much controversy in a Sunday School curriculum, for example, is not good for business. As a result, many doctrinal teachings of Christ, and the apostles, are downplayed. Sweet and safe personal applications are preferred to dogmatism, and a historical defense of the gospel. The practical overtone of the average Sunday School curriculum, or Bible study guides, is hard to miss. Everyone has heard, “Doctrine divides”. The practical solution seems to be to remain non-controversial on every social and doctrinal issue the Church faces. “Christian, do not rock the boat.” That is the clear message being communicated in much of the religious curriculum.
In March, 1887, Charles Spurgeon was concerned over the downgrading of Scripture in his generation.
“At the end of the Puritan age] by some means or other, first the ministers, then the Churches, got on “the down grade,” and in some cases, the descent was rapid, and in all, very disastrous. In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old Puritan godliness of life, and the old Calvinistic form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation. Natural theology frequently took the place which the great truths of the gospel ought to have held, and the sermons became more and more Christless. Corresponding results in the character and life, first of the preachers and then of the people, were only too plainly apparent.” —The Sword and the Trowel
The voicing of concern by Spurgeon created an unimageable controversy which, some family and friends believed, led to his early death, so great was the strain brought to bear on him by the Baptist Union of London.
In our own generation, so widespread is the practice of using a standard, denominationally approved curriculum, instead of exegeting the Scriptures, line upon line, precept upon precept, that, to question this practice is to be deemed disruptive.
Nevertheless, it might be a good inquiry, worthy of discussion.
“When the Church gathers for formal teaching, and worship, to what extent should the Bible be used, and not just alluded to in the unified curriculums?”
To clarify the concern, let it be noted that no thoughtful person is against religious books such as commentaries, topical studies, study guides, or Sunday School curriculums. Even when he was in prison, the apostle Paul pleaded with Timothy to bring him books, along with clothing. But, especially the books.
“The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).
Every student of the Bible should have as many helpful resources as needed for private studies. The question of concern here is whether or not religious books should be a substitute for the Bible when the Church meets formally for teaching and worship? If so, why?
Rather than being too negative about this issue, let me state in a positive way why I believe the attention of every Christian should be directly drawn to the Scriptures during a Sunday School Class, a topical Bible study, or a traditional worship service.
First, God has promised to honor His Word. “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Psalms 138:2). The Psalmist prayed, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalms 119:18). It is the Scripture that was read and studied, not something about the Word of God.
Second, people are hungry for the Word of God, not a curriculum. When the Law of God was lost to a generation, the people rejoiced when a copy of Scripture was found in the Holy Temple. The Bible tells us that a man named Ezra “opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh. 8:5-6, 8, NASU). So hungry were the people for the Word of God itself they stood in respect for hours on end to hear it read and explained.
Third, the spiritual heritage of the Protestant Church is rooted in the principle of Sola Scriptura, or, Scripture alone. For centuries the Catholic Church substituted many documents and man-made teachings for the Bible. In fact, the Catholic Church refused to translate the Bible into the language of the people in order to keep individuals from the direct Word of God. By degrees, history is repeating itself. I plead with every Sunday School teacher, every Bible teacher, and every preacher of the gospel, to open the Bible when the Church gathers, read the text, and explain the meaning.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit is disrespected and discarded when the Church meets and a curriculum is substituted for Scriptures. One of the greatest promises in the Bible is that the Holy Spirit will reveal truth to the Church. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13).
However, for this to happen, individuals must rely on the Holy Spirit. The early spiritual leaders of the Church understood this and said to the people, “we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4).
The tragic truth of the matter is that today, it is far easier for individuals to rely on denominational committees’, miles away, to come up with a lesson, or sermon, week by week, instead of praying and relying on the Holy Spirit.
Fifth, the example of the early Church is worth following. According to Scripture, the early Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). How can the modern Church know apostolic doctrine without studying the Scriptures, in context? “The most basic “acts of worship” in the early church were the reading and exposition of Scripture, prayer, the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and the observance of the sacraments; all of these were derived from the example and command of Jesus Himself” (Worship in the Early Church, Dr. D. W. Ekstrand).
It is not my desire to put anyone on the defense, or to make anyone feel guilty. It is my desire to call people to put away denominationally approved curriculums in order to gather around the Bible, exclusively, when the church formally meets for teaching and worship. At the very least, it is something to consider.