September 4 – Our Churches: Biblical Illiteracy

A Famine in the Land: Biblical Illiteracy

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Sometime between 760-755 B.C., during the reigns of Kings Jeroboam of Israel and Uzziah of Judah, God sent Amos from Judah to preach to the northern kingdom of Israel. He preached on inequities and justice, on God’s omnipotence, and on the divine judgments that were to come.

The Book of Amos is attributed to him. In it he gives this warning:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of learning the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east, they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12).

In a 2016 poll, researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli said, “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.”

According to data from the Barna Research Group, fewer than half of American adults can name the four Gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. Sixty percent of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments. Said George Barna, “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are!”

Secularized people in America should not be expected to be knowledgeable about the Bible. Confusion and ignorance about the Bible are a natural outcome of living in a “Scripture-free” post-Christian America.

In an article by Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he writes, “The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.”

An October 2019 article in Decision written by John MacArthur begins: “A casual observer might think Christians in our culture have more clout and vitality than ever. It’s true that the nation is dotted coast to coast with megachurches, despite a secular culture increasingly hostile to Biblical truth. There are pastors drawing 20,000 to arena-like settings each week and who have millions of people following them on social media. In the political arena, evangelicals are seen as a powerful voting bloc.“

He continues, “In reality, however, the world has had far more influence on the church than vice versa—because today’s evangelical churches enthusiastically borrow fads and absorb opinions from popular culture. That has rendered our collective testimony to the world almost totally ineffectual.”

Christians today are severely Biblically malnourished, MacArthur says. He says a dearth of Biblical preaching is the No. 1 reason the evangelical movement is so spiritually anemic.

So, does the problem belong to the churches, to their leadership, or to the individual Christian?

An article by Wayne Jackson in Christian Corner says Christians are suffering spiritual ignorance as a result of a leadership crisis—leaders who are not attending to feeding the flock of God. (He also places some of the responsibility on homes that are void of Biblical instruction.) Jackson concludes, “The crisis we face is real and deadly. Unless there is a revival of interest among church leaders, unless there is some resurgence of rich and interesting instruction of the sacred Scriptures, unless there is a rekindling of passion for the cause of Christ within the church—we are in for rough times.”

In seeking to be culturally relevant, preaching God’s Word has gone out of style. A 2018 article in Open Door says, “Cultural relevance has become a battle cry for some and a frustration for others.” The apostle Paul worked at being culturally relevant in his words to the Thessalonians, the Galatians, the Christians at Philippi and others. The message in Acts 17 that he preached at Mars Hill in Athens may be the best example of this. Yet in his relativism, he never forgot the centrality of the saving work of Jesus Christ. He brought Judeo-Christian ethics into the Greco-Roman world, without compromise.

The Bible is meant to be read and understood by everyday people—not just religious professionals or gifted communicators. In a blog by David Kim, pastor of a church in Northern California and life-long student of Scripture, he offers seven tips on accepting the responsibility of overcoming your own Biblical illiteracy.

  • Make the goal of Bible study to encounter the Person of Jesus Christ.
  • Approach the Scriptures as a dialogue with God.
  • Develop an attitude of thanksgiving.
  • Think about ways you can apply the Word.
  • Develop a teachable spirit.
  • Learn about the different types of Bible study tools and resources.
  • Approach the Bible as a life-long journey of discovery.

Hosea, another of the minor prophets, and a contemporary of Amos who also preached to the northern kingdom of Israel, says in chapter 4, “There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish. … My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:1-3, 6).

How then should we pray? 

  • For an increase in your personal hunger and thirst for knowledge and understanding of God and His Word.
  • For the Lord to lead you into deeper understanding of His Word through prayer and study.
  • That church pastors and congregational leaders would be faithful to the Word of God.
  • For the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole of God’s Word to hold priority over cultural sensitivity.
  • For the Spirit of God to lead you into a deeper commitment to living out His Word in your life.
  • For members of the government who know the Lord to have strong, righteous testimonies and that their witness draws others to Jesus Christ.

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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