2 Timothy 4:2-4
2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Dear Friends in Christ,
(Show picture of New England Primer on screen) I wonder how many of you here today have heard of this book that I’m putting up on the screen. It’s called the New England Primer. This was one of the most important books in our nation’s history because it was used as the primary textbook in our public schools from the founding of our country all the way into the early part of the 20th century. And yet sadly, this book that survived in our public schools for all those years would not even be allowed in our classrooms today. Why not? Simply because of its numerous references to God and the Bible, something that is no longer allowed in our schools.
For example, it starts with a hymn entitled “A Divine Song of Praise to GOD, for a Child.” That is then followed by “The young INFANT’S or CHILD’S Morning Prayer” and “The young INFANT’S or CHILD’S Evening Prayer.” The Morning Prayer goes like this: “ALMIGHTY God the Maker of every thing in Heaven and Earth; the Darkness goes away, and the Day light comes at thy Command. Thou art good and doest good continually. I thank thee that thou has taken such Care of me this Night, and that I am alive and well this Morning. Save me, O God, from Evil, all this Day long, and let me love and serve thee forever, for the Sake of Jesus Christ thy Son. AMEN.” Can you imagine praying that in our schools these days where something as benign as a moment of silence gets the American Civil Liberties Union all stirred up because some student just might use that moment of silence to think about God or talk to him?
Then comes the alphabet in the primer. In teaching the ABC’s, this foundational textbook for our nation’s schools makes frequent references to Bible stories. For example, for the letter A it says: “In Adam’s fall, We sinned all.” The letter C has: “Christ crucified, For sinners dy’d.” The letter N has: “Noah did view the old world and new.” And on and on it goes. Twenty-one of the letters make reference to biblical names. And not just your most famous ones like Adam, Noah, and Moses. No, it also mentions the likes of Elijah, Felix, Korah, Obadiah, Josiah, Ruth, Esther, and Xerxes.
It even contains the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. Then when you get to about p. 30 it picks up with what is called The Shorter Catechism which contains questions that most Christians today would probably be hard pressed to answer, questions like: WHAT is the chief end of man? Ans. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. WHAT rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? Ans. The word of God which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him. What is sin? What is justification? What is sanctification? What is a sacrament? Have you had enough?
Remember, all this was a part of the primary textbook that the children of our country were schooled in for the first 150 years of its existence. That’s sad, isn’t it? It’s sad that children today are no longer exposed to these teachings and it’s especially sad because most elementary school children in the early part of our nation’s history actually knew more about the Bible than what most adults do today. And that is precisely why I am currently preaching a sermon series entitled “The Foundation of Our Faith.” Through this series I’m trying to get more of our people involved in the daily practice of spending time in God’s Word. Right now we’re in the section of this series where we’re looking at some of the problems that can arise when we fail to read and study this holy Book that contains the very words of God himself. In my last sermon we learned that biblical illiteracy hinders spiritual growth and maturity. Today we want to look at how biblical illiteracy threatens theological integrity. Or to put it another way, I want to talk about how failure to read the Bible and to know its truths and teachings is a way of undermining and perhaps losing altogether those truths and teachings that are absolutely essential, fundamental, and foundational to a healthy church, a healthy home, and I would also add a healthy nation.
Now when we talk about the truths and teachings of Scripture we’re really getting into the whole realm of doctrine. And it’s sad to say, but many people today could care less about doctrine. As far as they are concerned, doctrine is dry; it’s boring; it’s unexciting and uninteresting. When they come to church they just want to feel good. And when it comes to their pastor, they want one who is going to make them feel good, one who is sincere. But you know what I would say in reference to that? Any pastor can be sincere, but he can also be sincerely wrong if he’s not well-grounded in the doctrines of Scripture. And he could lead you down a path that is going to take you away from God, away from the Bible, and away from heaven, if you’re not careful.
For example, there are a lot of pastors today who prefer to be politically correct rather than theologically correct. They refrain from using words like “sin” because they’re afraid it might offend somebody or hurt their feelings. So they resort to using a more politically correct term like “mistakes.” Everyone will admit that they make mistakes, but to call someone a sinner, well, it just sounds so harsh, so accusatory. And you’re sure not going to hear a politically correct pastor talk about hell because how could a loving God ever send anyone to such a horrible place? And when it comes to salvation, they might be willing to say that Jesus is one of the ways to heaven but they wouldn’t dare stick their neck out and say that he’s the only way to heaven, even though that’s exactly what Jesus said about himself.
Now thankfully not all American pastors and not all American Christians have caved in to the pressure of the politically correct crowd. They still hold to many or most of the theological truths – the doctrines – that are found in the Bible. For example, one survey I came across revealed that 81% of Americans believe that there is some sort of life after death. That’s the good news. The bad news is that because of biblical illiteracy they’re a bit fuzzy about what that life after death will be like. Their views and opinions don’t always line up with what the Bible says. For example, while 76% of Americans believe that heaven exists, only 39% believe there is a hell. But perhaps what’s even more interesting is that while 64% of Americans believe they will go to heaven, only one-half of 1% believe they will end up in hell. And even though such a large percentage of Americans believe they’re going to heaven, a poll conducted by the Barna Research Group in 2003 shows a great deal of confusion as to why they feel that way. 43 percent believe they’ll be in heaven because they have “accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.” 15 percent believe it’s because “they have tried to obey the 10 Commandments.” Another 15% said they will go to heaven because “they are basically good people.” And 6% believe they’ll be there because God loves all people and will not let them perish in hell.
This theological confusion that is pervasive among Christians these days really should not surprise us. For in our text this morning the Apostle Paul, nearly 2000 years ago, foresaw and foretold that such a thing would happen. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 he says: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” But there’s more. This theological confusion that is so prevalent these days also leads to numerous other inconsistencies in how we believe and what we believe. George Barna, who has conducted extensive research in this area, speaks of “Americans’ willingness to embrace beliefs that are logically contradictory.” One example he cites has to do with many born again Christians who have personally trusted Jesus’ death on the cross as their payment for sin. Of those people, 50% contend that a person can earn salvation based upon their good works. Those 2 views, salvation through Christ and salvation by works, are mutually exclusive and completely contradictory of one another. And yet one-half of born again Christians believe they’re both possible.
Now what’s going on here? What has caused this decline in the understanding of the most basic teachings and truths of Scripture? The only thing I know of that can account for it is biblical illiteracy. And the lack of understanding that this has led to now poses a very serious threat to the theological integrity of the 21st century Christian church and, I might add, the impact that the church is having upon our culture. You know, there was a time when the church was well-respected and its morals and values were well-received in our society. In fact, they were deemed necessary to keep our country strong and healthy. But I’m afraid those days are long gone, partly because Christians have lost their ability to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and the city set on a hill that Jesus has called us to be. And the reason that’s happened is because they are not reading and studying their Bibles anymore. They don’t know their Bibles well enough to make its teachings and truths the foundation upon which they build their lives, their marriages, and their families…the cornerstone upon which they base their decisions and choices in life.
Forgive me if I’m sounding a bit negative or pessimistic this morning, but what we’re talking about is a matter that is very near and dear to my heart. And I hope it’s near and dear to your heart as well, my friends. We Christians have lost so much in our society over the past several decades and we stand to lose a whole lot more. So somebody needs to sound the alarm. Somebody needs to send out a wake-up call because right now our country is going the way of most European nations that were once strongly Christian, but whose magnificent cathedrals and beautiful churches are now pretty well empty whenever their doors are open for worship. I don’t want to see that happen here in our country. I don’t want to see happen here what happened to the Athenian republic more than 2000 years ago. Writing in reference to its downfall, a Scottish historian and professor by the name of Alexander Tyler wrote the following words as a warning to our founding fathers: “The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.”
Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds a lot like the course we’re on in our country right now. But there is hope, my friends. And that hope can be found in the God of the universe who loved us sinful human beings so much that he sent his Son to suffer and die on a cross for us so that we could have eternal life and eternal fellowship with him. That hope can be found in the God who tells us in 2 Chron. 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That hope can be found in a return to the principles and doctrines that are found in the Bible. For when we know them and understand them and live by them and govern by them, we’re going to be doing things God’s way. And there’s no doubt about it, his way is always the best way. But it’s got to start somewhere. And what better place for it to begin than right here with you and me?
So let me encourage you today to get back to the Bible if you haven’t done so already, to start reading it on your own, to take advantage of the Bible study opportunities that we offer here so that you can be well grounded in your faith and well equipped to defend that faith, to stand up for that faith, and to share with others its magnificent truths that can make a huge difference in their lives, but even more importantly their eternities. Amen.