Friday, June 10, 2011

Pastoral Concern 1: Education

When asked by the Pharisees in one of their many attempts to trap him, Jesus told us the nature of the first and greatest commandment:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
(Matthew 22:37-38)
Jesus has masterfully taken the first four commandments of the ten God gave to Moses in Exodus chapter 20 and summarized them into one. God is to be the number one love of our entire life: heart, soul, and mind.

Wait a minute! Did Jesus just say something about our minds? Surely not! How can God want us to love Him with our minds? Doesn’t He understand what folks have long said about Baptists? When they come to church, Baptists leave their brains in their hats on the coat rack.

While we may laugh at such a thought, I fear there is much truth in the joke. Having been a member of several Baptist churches and a visitor in many others in my almost forty years of walking with Jesus, I am constantly amazed by the worldview held by many Baptists who claim they know Christ. It is safe to say their worldview is more often “politically correct” but certainly not “Biblically correct”.

Clearly one of the truths communicated by our Lord in this text is the need to have our minds governed by the Word of God. If we truly love God then our thoughts should not only think about God but our brains should guide our lives to live according to the Word of God, in other words, to live based on a Biblical worldview. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

In pondering the matter, I also realized the paucity of Biblical knowledge by many who have professed Christ as their Lord for many years. How can any of us love God with our entire mind, live a life according to the principles of the Bible, when we don’t even have a simple grasp of the contents of the Word?

There is certainly much Jesus is stating when He commands us to love the Lord with all our minds. But it can’t be denied that loving God with our mind includes intellectually knowing something about God. For example, I love my wife and my children with my entire being. That love includes knowledge about them: their birth dates, their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and so forth. Perhaps I do not know everything about them, but, over the years, my knowledge about them grows. My love for them demands I use my mind and get to know them.

What would my wife think of my love for her if I forgot her birthday every year? What if I constantly forget the date of our wedding anniversary? Do I really love her if I don’t ever learn her middle name, her parents’ names, or her love for sunflower seeds? I knew none of these things when I first met her. But my love for her has resulted in my mind learning about her; who she is and what she likes.

Church after church and Baptist after Baptist have proven to me many people who profess their faith in Christ do not have the type of love for God as Christ commanded in the above verses. I have taught classes where I have asked believers, those who have been a part of the church for decades, to open their Bibles to the book of Ephesians only to find them searching in the Old Testament or using the “Table of Contents”. I have witnessed seven and eight year old children put adult Christians to shame by quoting all the books of the Bible from memory. My eyes have seen long time church members arrive at church for Sunday school and worship without a Bible (no, they do not have it memorized either!). If we do not have a grasp of such simple facts as the titles of the books of Scripture then it is quite likely we have no grasp of the theological truths concerning God and His work. In other words, we have NOT loved God with all our minds.

Yet, despite the seriousness of not growing in our knowledge of the things of God, there is another fact which disturbs me even more. Many Baptists appear to have little or no interest in growing in their knowledge of God! That may seem like a strong claim so permit me to elaborate.

Baptists have long claimed to be “people of the book”. We teach the Bible is God’s Word, the revelation of God. Since we take the Word so seriously, Baptist churches offer education programs to assist their members (and guests) to better understand the Word and, therefore, grow in their love of God via their mind. Southern Baptist churches almost always offer a “Sunday School” program of some sort either before or after the morning worship service on Sunday. Some churches continue to have education classes on Sunday evenings as well. These may vary in title (Training Union, Discipleship Training) but their purpose remains the same: provide Biblical education for believers. Some congregations offer Bible Study classes in various members’ homes. Others provide further education opportunities on Wednesday evening often in conjunction with a church prayer meeting.

Virtually all of these educational opportunities are led by knowledgeable Biblical teachers. Furthermore, these classes are almost always free or charge. A Baptist can come, share in the fellowship time with fellow believers offered by the class, and grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ without paying one red cent!

But when we look at our churches, too often we find Sunday school classes with small attendance. We find Sunday evening classes with only a handful of students present. Bible studies in homes may begin somewhat large but often degenerate quickly into a small gathering. And Wednesday evening studies are almost non-existent due to the lack of people. No wonder our people have trouble finding the book of Ephesians!

Some who are reading this are likely thinking, “You’re right. I don’t go to those classes. I study my Bible on my own.” That may be true in a few cases. But I suspect those who fail to take advantage of church provided opportunities for education simply reveal their true nature, i.e., they do not study God’s Word. The situation is similar to those professing Christians who claim they can worship even when they are fishing on Sunday. Yes, they can but they don't!.

Christians, generally, and Baptists, particularly, need to learn their Scripture. They need to study and study and, then, study some more. They must invest the time and effort (yes, study requires effort!) to grow their minds in the truth of God so they can truly love their God with all their minds.

To those who are not growing in their knowledge of God, I challenge you to change. The first step in such a change is to repent of your failure to devour the Word of God. You will never change your behavior if you will not first confess to our Lord your sin in not studying His Word.

Then, let’s turn off our technology and televisions, open the Bible, and study. Let’s make it a habit to attend Bible studies offered by our local congregation whenever possible. Let’s do all we can do to grow our Biblical knowledge, not to impress others, but so that we may truly love our God with all our mind.

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