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How Well Do Our Churches Know the Bible?

There is an excellent article called “Our Lost Love” in the current Christian Standard on-line edition. In it Charles A Lee begins:
The American Christian community is rapidly losing its love for the Bible. Studies by Barna, Gallup, and other pollsters repeatedly uncover a diminishing knowledge of the Bible among Christian adults and a consequent weakening of Bible-focused dialogue in the marketplace.

In the early 1970’s when I had just returned from several years’ mission work in New Zealand, I visited a church near my parents’ home in Florida. An adult Bible class was slogging its way through the Old Testament, chapter by chapter. The Sunday I was there, the elder-teacher was presenting Leviticus 16, the chapter that describes the rituals of the Day of Atonement. He did a good job of presenting the material – but I kept wondering, “When is he going to make THE POINT?”

Near the end of the class period, it had become evident to me that he wasn’t going to make it. I raised my hand, was recognized, and preached the gospel of the atonement of Jesus Christ for about 3-5 minutes.

I was amazed afterward by the number of people who came to me (including the teacher) who said, “That was wonderful. I never heard anything like that!”

I still shake my head in wonder that adult Christians could be so ignorant of such a basic part of the Old Testament as “types and shadows” of the New Covenant! I do not believe things have improved in the 40 years since then.

Not long ago, our local minister taught a series of classes as a Bible Survey. My own Mother surprised me by observing that she had never understood the Old Testament and how it was really connected to the New Testament. This is a godly woman who has been in church for all of her 92+ years. She began teaching Sunday School when she was 16. She taught in a Christian School for a couple of years, and has taught dozens of Jule Miller (and other) evangelistic Bible study classes. She just recently retired from being a regular teacher of “her” Sunday School class – but still substitutes occasionally. Yet, she simply was unaware of how the Old Testament provides the background for the New Covenant. This is in spite of the fact that she has read the entire Bible through every year for God alone knows how many years – and she and Dad have faithfully used the Power for Today devotionals every morning for years.

If this is the state of Bible Knowledge in the “green grass,” what is it like where the grass is dry?

My wife teaches a ladies’ class. Ever few years, she will present a series of lessons she calls “The Bible Road.” It traces the flow of the Scriptures from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden to the Tree of Life beside the River of Life that flows from the throne of the Father in Revelation. She does this to give a “clothes line” to “peg” all of the Bible Stories on – and to show how they are all part of one story, the Redemption God has wrought in Jesus Christ. This series is always an eye-opener to her students.

The Christian Standard is a publication widely read among the conservative Christian Churches. Let me assure you that things are no better among the churches of Christ (non-instrumental). While a few congregations appear to be well-taught and schooled in the Scriptures, they are few and far between. We are much better drilled in being able to support our “peculiar” doctrines than we are in being able to discuss the over-all story of the Bible.

I dare say that the average Christian of today has no comprehensive understanding of the story of the Bible. Most know some of the Bible Stories, learned in Sunday School. Few have grown beyond the Sunday School level of comprehension of how the Bible fits together. Nor do most know what God’s Eternal Purpose is or how He has accomplished it, other than to say that He wanted to “save us” through Jesus’ death.

Ask what it means for us to be saved, few could go beyond saying that it means He forgives us so we can go to heaven.

What are we doing to correct this? What can we do more than we are doing? I wish I knew. When I see this, I understand the significance of Revelation 2:4.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

There was a time when we loved the Scriptures because they told us of Jesus, and we loved Him. What do we love now? Do we love our disputes and putting other people down more than we love Jesus?


4 Responses

  1. I think you could insert the word “preacher” or “elder” where you have “people” and still be accurate. Many, many people who are leading churches do not understand what Jesus accomplished for sinners by his living and dying and living again. I know that because I have talked to so many people who have been in church for many decades and don’t have a clue what God has already accomplished to reconcile them to himself.


    • Royce,

      I agree with you – though in some ways preachers today have a better concept of God’s grace and His plan of redemption than when I was a youth in the 1950’s. I should say, “some preachers,” for there are still many who have little idea of what the gospel is, much less of how to preach it. “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” is a mystery to many.

  2. Could part of the answer be that we’ve been taught that we are “New Testament Christians” and, therefore, the Old Testament is no longer significant for believers today?

    This is the second time I’ve read your experience with Lev 16. Would it not be good a good idea for your to write your comments about the verses in your blog?

    • Richard, thanks for the comment – and the suggestion. I think I might take you up on that!

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