I was reading about Willow Creek Church in Illinois. It’s one of the largest churches in the country, with more than 26,000 attendees each week. A few years ago, their leadership became concerned that their process for developing disciples wasn’t working. After extensive research and conducting surveys, here was the conclusion they came to:
The common models of activating spiritual growth such as “getting people involved” in church activities (attending worship, participating in small groups, serving the needy) or sharpening their beliefs (salvation by grace, the authority of the Bible, person of Christ) were helpful but not the most effective vehicles for producing evidence of spiritual growth. The most powerful “catalyst” for moving people through stages of spiritual growth … was reading and reflection on Scripture.
I am not surprised in the least. What does Scripture itself say? “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2Ti 3:16, 17). If I were to cite every passage that promotes the supreme value of consuming the words of God, immersing ourselves in what God said, we’d be here all day.
First of all, the pastor himself has to immerse himself in the Word of God. He cannot merely go to Scripture as he prepares his next sermon. The Bible is not merely a sermon prep tool. If the pastor is not personally and intimately feeding on the Word of God, not only will he suffer, but the entire church will suffer.
Second, the pastor has to immerse the church in the Word of God. There can be no spiritual growth without it. Peter said, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the living and abiding word of God, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1Pe 2:2; 1:23).
I believe this step has two parts. First, the pastor needs to teach the church. He needs to provide them with a solid foundation, which will not happen apart from sound, consistent, and thorough Bible teaching. Second, he needs to instill a love for the Bible in the church. True story: I have been to churches where carrying a Bible into the building prompted someone to say, “You must be a preacher.” My thought was, Yes, I am, but that’s not why I’m carrying a Bible.
Think of it this way. According to John 1, Jesus is the Word of God (Jn 1:1). In John 6, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (Jn 6:51). In Jeremiah 15, the prophet says to God, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16). There is a clear connection between our intimacy with the Savior and our love for the Bible. How can we claim to love Christ if we don’t love his Word? Jesus himself said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (Jn 14:23).
Do we treasure the Bible as we should? I talked with a gentleman who said that his church avoids trivial debates over the inerrancy of Scripture. They prefer to focus on much more practical subjects, he said. How can we address practical matters if we haven’t first determined the inerrancy of Scripture? How do we decide whether women can be pastors or whether homosexuality is permitted if we haven’t even discussed whether the Bible is without errors? How would we determine what’s right and wrong?
We hear it all the time. Even Christians will make assertions without proof of Scripture. I’ve heard people say, “Homosexuality must be okay because God made some people gay.” That almost sounds logical, but what does Scripture say?
God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men. (Romans 1:26, 27)
The Bible refers to homosexuality as dishonorable passions, contrary to nature, and shameless acts. Jude calls it sexual immorality and unnatural desire (Jude 7). In 1 Timothy 1, Paul lumps practicing homosexuals together with murderers and slave traders. He calls them, unholy and profane (1Ti 1:9).
I’ll give you another example. How often have you heard someone quote, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Mt 7:1). They’re quoting Scripture, but they’re also leaving out Scripture. A few verses later, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs” (Mt 7:6). How can we follow that commandment without committing some form of judgment? Again, the Bible requires a balanced interpretation.
We do a great disservice to ourselves, the church, and Christ our head when we do not ground ourselves in God’s Word. I encourage you to read the story of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness again. The devil used accurate quotations of Scripture to tempt Jesus, but Jesus survived the temptations because he knew the Bible well enough to detect the devil’s misuse of it. Immerse yourself in the Word of God.
By the way, we’re taught to eat the Word of God. In other words, Scripture should enter us, not the other way around. Don’t vomit your thoughts and feelings onto the Bible. Let the Bible shape your thoughts and feelings. It’s like nails on a chalkboard when I hear someone read a verse and then attempt to explain why it doesn’t mean what it clearly says. Paul said this, but what he means is— No, he meant what he said. It’s almost as disturbing when I hear someone read a verse and then attempt to add a paragraph of text. It’s as though God has provided them additional revelation the rest of us don’t have.
If you remember anything, I suppose you’ll remember this: Eat the Bible; don’t vomit on it.