GONE ASTRAY FROM HIS WORD
One of the most scary passages for any civilization is Hosea 4:6. Movies are made about giant meteorites headed toward earth that would destroy all life on earth. But when the destructive force of moral degradation hits civilization, life as we know it ceases to exist. Hosea 4:6 was a statement by God concerning a people who had given up a knowledge of their Bibles. And because they had become ignorant of the word of God, they had assigned themselves to national doom.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you so that you will be no priest to Me. Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.
Destruction often comes slowly … without notice and without pain. Our present generation may be fine, but the statement says that the “children” will pay the price. The children will be doomed to eat the sour grapes from the vines that their father’s planted. “In those days they will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten a sour grape and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone will die for his own iniquity. Every man who eats the sour grape, his teeth will be set on edge” (Jr 31:29,30). If the father’s forget the law of God, they will give their children sour grapes to eat. And so here we are in a worldwide Christendom that has little or no knowledge of the word of God. There are billions of religionists throughout the world, but few Christians.
If you think we are prophets of doom, then we would challenge you with some sociological norms that you must consider. Our work is among the masses of religionists in the developing world. Our frustration is that among the religious leaders of many churches, there is little Bible knowledge. We are not talking about novice believers, but about those who are standing before church groups throughout the world pretending to be ministers of the word of God. These preachers are often shallow students of the Bible, and subsequently, shallow teachers of the Bible. In the context of their little knowledge of the word of Christ, one might ask why such people would be preaching to groups who seek to be “Christian” when actually they are not preaching the word of God. The answer is that they are great speakers, and being great speakers is their curse. A great speaker needs no knowledge of the Bible in order to gather a crowd. The people follow the speaker’s great oratory, but not the word of God. And thus, those who are gathered before such speakers are usually not there because they want to hear the word of God. They have come to be tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching that comes forth from a gifted speaker. In many churches today, many people follow speakers, not teachers of the word of God.
Because there are so many gifted speakers who know little Bible, there are audiences throughout the world who are being destroyed for the lack of knowledge of the word of God. The result is that we live in a world of churches that are not based on obedience to the word of God, but on a social fellowship wherein lonely wanderers have found religious friends. What sparks one’s religiosity will define who he is in his relationship with God. If something of this world draws us to assemble with one another, then our assembly is not the serendipity of being drawn to Christ. We have thus missed the focus of what Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me” (Jn 12:32).
In the absence of a focus on the word of Christ, another catalyst is being used to draw and retain audiences. We have heard more than one prospective preacher say, “I wanted to start a church, and thus, I knew that I needed to learn how to play an instrument.” So in the absence of people being drawn to assemblies wherein the word of Christ is the drawing power, audiences are developed around the sound of orchestras or bands. Many assemblies, therefore, have become religious concerts of noise, during which it is no longer sung, “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Assemblies are moved to cry out “Lord, Lord.” The people are drawn to the assembly by the sound of mechanical noise, not the preaching of the word of God. The appeal for assembly is to our ears. It is not to our hearts. We seek to assemble in order to be comforted by the word of God. Nevertheless, there are too many of those to whom Jesus would say, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). One cannot claim that he is doing the will of the Father if he is drawn into assembly by the noises of men and not the word of the Father.
In the Qur’an, Muhammad wrote of the “people of the book.” To many Christians today, they have no idea to whom he was referring. If Muhammad were living today, he would probably never make such a statement concerning many Christians. He would probably write, “people of the assembly,” or “people of their cellphones,” or maybe, “people of their concerts.” But by the seventh century when he had the Qur’an written, Christians were still known to be “people of the ‘Bible.’” His statement was a testimony of the identity of Christians. They were “people of the book.”
Because Muhammad realized that a “book” must be the center of authority in any religion, he also needed a book for his beliefs. And today, “Christians” who are no longer of “the book” cannot understand why Muslims are so reverent to their book, the Qur’an. Muhammad made sure that Muslims not be drawn away unto other books. He thus instilled within his theology an iconic worship of his book, the Qur’an. Christians today cannot understand why religious/political organizations can assemble such a radical group as ISIS around the Qur’an in order to promote their national agenda. Since most Christians have long lost their respect for and obedience to “the book,” they wonder why any religious group can be so committed to the writings of “a book.” Since the masses of Christendom have given up any reliance on “the book,” they wonder why any religious people could be so dedicated to a book of words. We are often more dedicated to the sound of instruments than the reading of the Scriptures. We have gone astray further than we think.
So you might think that we are somewhat off course in our judgment of present dangers of planting vines that will set the teeth of our children on edge. Therefore, we would challenge you to walk into a classroom wherein a teacher is conducting a Bible class, especially in a classroom wherein there are assembled a young generation. Count the Bibles of paper and ink, and then count the cellphones and Ipads on which people are following an electronic version of the Bible. There will probably be more electronic Bibles than paper Bibles. There is nothing wrong with this. After all, did not Paul exhort Timothy, “Give heed to reading” (1 Tm 4:13). But we wonder if this is the only time the attendees have read their Bibles throughout the week?
We recently attended an assembly of a particular religious group in our area. It was the first time we had ever visited this particular religious group. But something impressed us about the people. It was not that almost everyone in the group was gray-headed, for it was an assembly of older people who continue to be faithful to their beliefs. What impressed us was that they had open Bible study, during which everyone had their Bible opened and were going through a chosen text verse by verse. This was a group that desired to stay on course with God because they sought to stay close to the road map of His word.
Our argument is that when one is a Bible student in his home, he seeks to use paper and ink, not exclusively electronics. People are moving away from personal Bible study with personal Bibles. And there is a vast difference between Bible reading and Bible study. If one does not know the difference, then herein is the problem. We have moved from a generation where every attendee at a Bible class was a Bible scholar with a marked personal Bible, being directed by a teacher who was also a Bible scholar. Now the classroom is filled with Bible readers who have not opened (sorry, “turned on”) their Bibles for a week. We are in the slow process of turning from a respect for the Bible. If you do not believe this, then when was the last time that you memorized a Bible verse?
In a Christendom wherein people are only “cellphone students” of the Bible, we have found it incredibly hard to encourage people to print and distribute Bibles for the world. The First World has long forgotten that it is the business of the church to get the word of God spread throughout the world, and thus, it is one of the prime objectives of the church to print “the Book” wherein is the message of the gospel. It is ironic that those who once built their heritage on the basis of Bible authority in all matters of faith now feel little compulsion to print the Bible for others to build their faith.
We have gone further away from our Bible heritage than we think. Military general Robert E. Lee of nineteenth century American history once said of one of the spiritual fathers of early America,
If I were asked to select a representative of the human race to the inhabitants of other spheres in our universe, of all men I have known, I would select Alexander Campbell, then I know they would have a high impression of what our humanity is like.
In fact, a former nineteenth century president of the United States once said of Campbell, “He was the ablest and most original and powerful expounder of the Scripture I have ever known.”
Campbell was from Ireland, and later immigrated to America. The son of Thomas Campbell, Alexander became a model religious leader because of his devotion to the word of God. His spiritual lineage was from the Seceder Presbyterians who required that each family have daily Bible classes in their homes. The children were required to memorize passages of Scripture everyday that were to be quoted in the nightly family Bible class. All the memorized scriptures during the week were to be repeated on Sunday. In Campbell’s spiritual legacy, he once wrote in gratitude for his father and mother,
To my mother, as well as my father, I am indebted for having memorized in early life almost all the writings of King Solomon, his Proverbs, his Ecclesiastes, and many psalms of his father David.
The religious heritage of America was built on people as this. It seems almost strange for us today to believe that our forefathers had this great respect for the word of God, when we ourselves are so far away from the Bible being the central focus of our lives. If Hosea were here today, would he pronounce over our generation God’s judgement of 4:6, “Seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.”
The problem, or danger, with spiritual apostasy is that one never realizes where he is if he has forsaken “the book” of the One to whom he has supposedly given allegiance. Apostasy is rarely recognized by apostates. In fact, it can never be recognized if there is no reverence for the word of God. After one forgets “the book,” then the spiritual fervor of the individual must substitute other “spiritual placebos” in order to maintain some sort of religiosity. Ask any idolater and he will explain this. He will explain that when carvings of gods that we have created after our own imagination replace cravings for “the book” of the One who created all things, then we have satisfied ourselves and become content in our religion. Add a paid clergy to this religion and we are doomed to no return, for the clergy seeks to guarantee the existence of the constituency for the sake of a salary. See if you can see this in the following words of “the book”?
For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires. And they will turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned to fables (2 Tm 4:3,4).
Apostasy from the word of God will go to the extreme of what one young man called us up on the telephone and asked concerning some of our writings. He asked, “What is apostasy?” If one does not realize what it is, then he does not know that he is there. We live in an age wherein there is more discussion going around about the latest “share” on Facebook, than the spiritual fruit that one has gained from hours of Bible study. If some people would spend as much time in their Bibles as in their Facebook, we would experience a worldwide spiritual revival.