We recently bought a used car and it has been a problem ever since. It wasn’t the car that we originally wanted to buy. When we got to the dealership and asked about a car they had on their website, they told us that it was already sold, and that they hadn’t updated their website yet. We were almost out of the door when they told us about another car, which is the one we now own. About a month later we suddenly needed another car for our son to take to college. When we started shopping on the web again we were stunned to discover that the same car that we were originally interested in was still on the dealership’s website. That’s right, we had fallen victim to the old “bait and switch” routine. Well, as the old saying goes, let the buyer beware.
There’s a lot of bait and switch going on in Evangelicalism, and tragically it is being passed off as an “effective” strategy of “successful” ministry among leaders in the “emerging church” movement. It seems that a lot of “leading” pastors of these “fashionable” churches are of the impression that referring to the Bible is not a good thing, while others even suggest that it should be avoided. It’s funny how a little success can make you believe foolish things. Regardless of what may be promoted as effective ministry strategies, this approach raises two important questions: first, what was the model for ministry given by Jesus and his followers; and secondly, what will be the lasting impact of these modern ministries?
First let’s address the second question. If we intentionally display an aversion to referring to the Bible while attempting to reach the lost, what will be the impact upon those who actually trust Christ? In other words, after avoiding displaying any knowledge of and confidence in the Bible in order to make seekers more comfortable, should we really expect those that come to faith to suddenly start trusting the Bible? Moreover, how long will it take them to unlearn what we have so thoroughly modeled to them?
I remember listening to a youth minister explain that the “purpose” of his ministry was to make visitors “comfortable.” Immediately I thought to myself, “Great but how do you think they will feel once you start telling them they are sinners bound for eternal Hell if they don’t accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord?” Making sinners comfortable in order to tell them an inherently offensive message (Gal 5.11; 1 Peter 2.4-8) is nothing more than a bait and switch tactic; furthermore, comfort should never be the “purpose” of our ministries. We can only grow what we plant, and we usually reap a greater amount of what we have sown.
So I ask you, what does the church need more, biblical illiterate church attendees, or biblically mature disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ? Rarely can those we disciple overcome our weaknesses; and regrettably they may even exaggerate them. Consequently, if we think that we are doing unbelievers and young Christians a favor by not promoting the Bible as the foundation of the Christian faith, then we are sorely mistaken.
And this leads me to the first question that I asked: which is, what was the method of ministry that Jesus and his apostles modeled? Regardless of our justifications for how we minister, if we model an aversion the scriptures then we are certainly not following the example set forth by Jesus and his apostles.
Before discussing how the original followers of Jesus did ministry, it is necessary to briefly describe their historical context. The first-century world was overwhelmingly pagan, polytheistic, mystical, worldly, immoral, and skeptical of the Jewish scriptures. To put it simply, the pagan world of Peter and Paul’s day was antagonistic towards the Jewish worldview as revealed in the Old Testament; consequently, it was openly antagonistic and derogatory towards the Jews and their scriptures—that sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it? The reality is that the ministry context of the first-century world was no less hostile, sophisticated, and complex as ours is today, and it is simply arrogant to suggest that it was not. In fact, the first-century world was considerably more hostile towards the Christian faith than it is today, the Middle East and North Korea notwithstanding. Nevertheless, when the apostles wrote letters to churches they expected them to be read out loud to everyone in attendance, gatherings in which they knew that seekers would also be present. And in these letters the apostles regularly quoted and referred to the “scriptures,” and treated them as the basis of authority for the true Faith that God had once and for all delivered the church.
To prepare for this blog I did a quick word search for the term “scripture” in the epistles of the New Testament, from which I found 17 different references. This doesn’t even begin to include passages that contain phrases such as “God said,” “it is written,” and “the Lord spoke.” Now at this point I need to make an important observation about to the word “Bible.” When using the word “Bible” everyone knows that it is synonymous with the term “scriptures” (possible exceptions may be orthodox Jews or Muslims, and even these are questionable). The point is that the overwhelming majority of audiences don’t make a distinction between these words; to them they mean the same thing. Consequently, on this issue we should follow the example set by the apostles who were not the least bit hesitant to refer to the scriptures. They showed no aversion to quoting them because they knew that if they faithfully communicated the scriptures that God would speak to both saints and sinners alike. The bottom line is that they weren’t shy about referring to the scriptures; consequently, we should be no less shy about referring to the Bible as God’s word.
Nevertheless, many in the emerging church movement, as justification for their approach, point to Paul’s example of evangelism at Mars Hill in Acts 17, a defense in which Paul made no direct reference to the scriptures. The problem with their justification from this observation is that it is based upon a category mistake. Mars Hill wasn’t a Christian worship setting; instead it was a completely pagan gathering. When I was ministering at secular universities we regularly used this example during our own evangelistic efforts on campus. But Mars Hill wasn’t a gathering of believers; moreover, Paul never suggested that his method of engaging pagan philosophers should be embraced while also ministering in Christian worship gatherings whose primary purpose is the edification of believers. Consequently, it is indefensible to suggest that Paul’s approach at Mars Hill is the most effective ministry model for today’s post-modern generation. Moreover, with respect to ministering to the church, Paul directly exhorted Timothy to be committed to “the public reading of the Scriptures. . .” (1 Timothy 4.13).
This leads to another point touching on this issue. Some argue that we can’t claim that our Bibles are “inspired” or “inerrant” because they are not the original autographs. To this assertion I would only point out that when we read the New Testament we find no hesitation in its authors who interpreted and quoted translations of the Old Testament as they wrote. That’s right. Virtually every quote of the Old Testament found within the New Testament is a quote of the LXX, which is nothing less then a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and yet the apostles showed complete confidence in it; and they did so irrespective of the attitudes of their audiences. Moreover, they expected their audiences to believe, study, and receive the translations of their day as God’s holy word. In other words, the fact that they only had copies and translations of the autographs of the Old Testament didn’t deter the apostles from referring to them as the trustworthy, truthful, and most importantly as the very word of God.
Lastly and most importantly, the Bible is a powerful resource for creating faith in the hearts of those listening. Paul wrote in Romans 15.4 that the scriptures were written for the express purpose of producing both endurance and hope within us. And again in Romans 16.25-26 he stated that God “commanded” the composition of the “prophetic writings” “so that the nations might believe and obey Him.”
So to put it plainly, when we arrogantly show aversion to quoting the Bible in our attempts to reach people for Christ, then we are actually undermining our own ministries. Furthermore, when we avoid referring to the Bible in our evangelistic efforts then we are intentionally neglecting a powerful resource that God has commanded us to use. At the same time we are also abandoning the very method of ministry that the Lord and his immediate followers modeled for us. It sounds both ironic and tragic that we would actually reject the Lord’s ordained method for ministry while attempting to reach others for him. That type of ministry sounds more like a foolish attempt at a bait and switch tactic; the kicker is that it doesn’t even include any real bait at all.