Equipping the Saints: The Totality of Knowing God Begins Here

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I was called a “religious totalitarian” yesterday by a commenter on the Facebook page of my former pastor.

Anyone want to venture a guess why?

I’ll wait here for a second—

{“Final Jeopardy!” music plays while Dan hums the tune—}

Okay, time’s up.

I’ll preface the answer by saying that people can call me whatever they wish. I’m not zealous for my name but for the name of Jesus. And it’s for His name that I am shaken to the core by the reason why I got labeled a religious totalitarian.

My crime? I had the nerve to suggest that perhaps we need to work harder to teach Christians the Bible.

Yeah, my jaw dropped too.

There’s a growing trend in the Church that on the surface is a wonderful direction. More and more people are saying that when it comes down to it, knowing Jesus is what it’s really all about. If you’ve read my recent post on how to become a Christian, you’ll know that I end it with that same admonition. Eternal life is knowing Jesus.

Which is why I’m troubled by folks who go on and on about knowing Jesus yet have this perverse idea that they can get there by bypassing the Bible. By the word of God...You’ve got to wonder what it is about the Bible that makes them so reticent to want to know it or have it taught. Even more so, you’ve got to wonder what is going on inside them that the mere mention of knowing the Bible throws them into hysterics.

I believe this reticence about knowing the Bible well enough to understand the overarching story, the major themes, and particulars about who Jesus is, why He came, how the Church should act, and how Christians should live is a frightening trend. People who are supposedly the People of the Book seem to not want to have anything to do with the Book itself.

But we can’t tell God how we want to grow. He’s already shown us in the Bible. Just three simple verses encapsulate it:

“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
—Joshua 1:7-9

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
—Psalms 119:9-11

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

Many of you know these passages. In fact, if you have ever memorized Scripture according to the Navigator’s Topical Memory System, they are key.

What cannot be escaped in these three is the power of the words of God. Power for courage and strength. Power for the avoidance of sin. Power for doing good works for the Lord.

People don’t give the 2 Timothy passage, as familiar as it is, enough power. Want to serve God? Know the Bible. Even if it’s the lowliest service there is, know the Bible. Did Stephen, who waited on tables in service to his Lord, give that profound testimony during his stoning based on ideas he pulled out of nowhere? No! He knew the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit set fire to that knowledge even as the stones fell down upon that saint!

If God asks that of a waiter, how can we possibly say that we, who too often consider ourselves above that position, are exempt from knowing the Bible? And if we don’t know the words of God in the Bible, what kind of strength and courage do we expect to summon when the mob comes, rocks in hand, for us?

The fiasco at Lakeland, Florida, that happened last year (anyone still remember the hoopla?) centered around a man who claimed he could take people to the third heaven.

Want to go to the third heaven? I can tell anyone exactly how to get there (and beyond) and I don’t need a circus around me to do it. Start by building a foundation on the word of God. Know it. Live it. Breathe it. Then when we’ve mastered the fundamental core of it, we”ll see we’ve built a ladder to the very bosom of God Himself. And that’s a whole lot higher than any third heaven.

The context in which I got called a religious totalitarian was evangelism. The idea that had been floated was that evangelism is a mindset/paradigm and not a program.

Evangelism is a mindset, to a point, but the reason we have people in the Church who are scared to death to evangelize others is primarily because they don’t know the Bible.

If I claimed to be a nuclear physicist and was subsequently asked, based on the credentials I claimed for myself, to speak at a conference on the topic of string theory, do you think I’d be a little panicked if I knew nothing about that basic topic? Yet that is the case with most Christians. We have no ease in talking about the Faith because the most obvious revelation of that Faith, the Bible, remains a mystery to us.

How much easier would it be for us to talk about being a Christian if we better knew the Book that outlines the entirety of our Faith?

We can’t know God if we don’t know what He has said to us through the Bible.

We can’t know Jesus if we don’t know what the Bible says about Him.

We can’t discern right from wrong if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t know how to live as a Christian if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t know how to determine which spirits are truthful and which are liars if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t know the voice of God if we don’t know the Bible.

We can’t make any progress in the Faith if we don’t know the Bible.

God has graciously given us His words because He has ordained that our growth toward knowing Him comes through those life-giving words He Himself spoke.

If you and I want to know Christ and to come to a place of deeper revelation, we simply can’t skip over the most clear document presented to us on how to begin that journey of knowing. That totality of knowing rests on growing in knowledge of God through the Bible. It’s the springboard for every aspect of growth we Christians may achieve.

So something is seriously wrong when Christians go on and on about their deep relationship with Jesus, yet they have a strange reluctance to embrace disciplined study of Scripture. You simply can’t have one without the other.

Several years ago at the church pastored by the pastor whose Facebook forum started all this, we started Wednesday night classes for adults. I offered to teach a course in the basic truths of the Bible. I had originally called it “Theology 101,” but I was told the word Theology was too loaded, so it was changed to something less high falutin’. Other classes were taught that night, about four or five, so people could choose which to attend.

I covered the basics in my class, like the nature of God, why Jesus is the sole way to salvation, and core doctrinal theology. Though scores of people in the church were new to the Faith, I had only a half dozen in my class. The class that got 95 percent of the many adults who attended Wednesday nights was “How to Move in the Power of the Spirit.”

When the three months of classes were over, I had one student left who had not jumped to the “Power of the Spirit” class. She was very grateful and blessed me mightily. When I confessed to her that I had not seen her around church, she told me she attended a different church, but that a friend from my church had told her about the class.

I learned a great lesson that day. Every Christian wants to jump straight to the third heaven, everyone wants to move in power, everyone wants to be a great saint, but next to none want to lay the actual groundwork that will get them to that place. They’re sitting in “How to Move in the Power of the Spirit” class, yet they don’t even know what God has revealed to us about His Spirit in the Book that He gave us.

In a previous post in this series, I said that you can trace a lack of dying at the cross to the reason that so many Christians burn out, walk away from the Faith, or never achieve great things for the Lord. I have to add ignorance of the Bible to that post mortem also.

If I claim to move in great charismatic gifts, I can erect a tent and people will fill it; but if I say that I know the Bible inside and out, no one’s going to toss Franklins into an offering plate on my behalf and tell me how wonderful I am.

The genuine way of Christ isn’t flashy.  It happens in back rooms devoid of glory and acclaim, at kitchen tables wet with morning tears. It happens in the hearts of people who know there’s no way to cheat on God’s test to get that A+, so they study to show themselves a workman approved, even if that study demands some discipline and commitment.

So here’s to the so-called religious totalitarians who believe you can’t get to heaven on a roller skate. If that’s you, keep on keeping on, because your final reward will be incredible.

18 thoughts on “Equipping the Saints: The Totality of Knowing God Begins Here

  1. francisco

    Thanks for writing this, Dan. We really need to grow “in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus” and that is no small feat. Day after day we must fight with God’s strength to persevere on this salvation He has freely given to us.

    • Michael

      I want to personally thank you for writing about the reality of why as Christians we need to grow in our walk with Christ. Like as our Pastor Mark of {Church for all nations} was saying recently, “the church as a whole is sleeping.” We need to wake up! Many churches preach a water down message of God’s Word or something that tickles the ears. I have more that I would like to say, but I have to go for now.

      Blessings,

      Michael & Jill

  2. Valerie in CA

    Too true. One of the dozens of reasons why we left our charismatic church a year ago (in the wake of the Lakeland fiasco). So much bad teaching about being able to ‘download’ rather than the discipline of studying the Bible. Your experience with the classes is one that is played out in a lot of churches that overemphasize power and the Holy Spirit. At one point my husband was paternalistically accused of worshiping the Bible; but assured that he’d mature out of it eventually. Sigh.

    You still need to read Total Church 😉

  3. Robert

    Dan,

    You are so right about people wanting to have more of the Holy Spirit and not interested in knowing God through his word. I have often found myself in this same condition. I now know better and by God’s grace hope to change my ways.

    Do you know of any blog that is gear to teach the fundamentals.

    Thank you for your blog. I am encouraged and my faith is strengthened because of it.

    Your Brother
    Robert

  4. G’Day Dan,
    I’ve added a link to this article on my own blog.
    The Christian attitude to scripture that you address is all too common. I’m not sure whether it is an increasing phenomenon or whether I’m just noticing more people drawing attention to it.

    I think it would be true to say that ALL false teaching and false practices arise and are perpetuated because of the lack of importance given to scripture by each individual Christian. Too many are satisfied if they’ve heard a sermon with at least one bible quote (regardless of its context).

    If we are serious about our relationship with God we need to search the scriptures and not merely look up an occasional “text”.

    Tim

    • Just a quick addition to my previous comment.

      How often have errors arisen because someone latches on to a single verse or passage without seeing how that portion fits into the wider context of the rest of scripture.

      Todd Bentley could get away with his “third heaven” claims because people accepted that the term and experience were “biblical” (ie mentioned in scripture) but took no time to consider whether Bentley’s usage of the term was consistant with the intended revealtion given through the whole of scripture.

      And another suggestion:
      Maybe sometimes people try to STUDY scripture before they’ve READ scripture. This can lead to the overemphasis of meaning applied to individual portions of scripture BEFORE the student has gained a general overall understanding of the whole of scripture and how each part relates to the rest.

  5. Jim

    Another post that is hitting right on the mark, Dan. Without the foundation of knowing Jesus through the Scriptures, there really isn’t much to build upon that is able to withstand being in this world.

    I have been surprised recently, as to just how many of my local pastoral colleagues, are teaching and preaching based on euphoria and the emotions that can be generated, rather than relying upon the Scriptures. In fact, in a recent conversation, I was told that I was relying too heavily on the Bible, and needed to “just let it come to you”. In years past, I practiced that type of teaching, and the result is a blend of tradition, hear-say, conjecture, and personal agenda. In the end, the students, are left fully convinced they have been fed, but in reality have been given little more than useless calories.

    In deed, in this world, being reliant on the scriptures really will not result in accolades, but will develop a relationship with the one who chose us, that will outshine anything we can imagine.

    You are always in our prayers, and have been a wonderful blessing to my own walk of faith. Thanks, Dan Shalom, jim

  6. I do think that “when it comes down to it, knowing Jesus is what it’s really all about.” But I’ve also learned that the only way I can really come to know Jesus is by reading about his life (the Bible) and in talking to him (prayer).

    If I don’t have those two things, along with my relationship, then I quickly find myself drifting away from God.

    The world is too good at pulling you away from God to not have an anchor firmly attached to the Bible and prayer.

  7. Pam

    I’m a charismatic and want as much of the Holy Spirit as He will give me. However, He also speaks to me through the Bible. We can come to the best understanding of the character of God in reading His word.

  8. Diane R

    Dan,

    Count me in as a “religious totalitarian.” And here is hopefully some good news. In his book, “They Like Jesus But Not the Church,” (emergent) Dan Kimball (who is far different from most emergents in that he wants people to know their Bible and how to study it) reported that he went to help a pastor friend register his mostly young church members for Saturday courses on How to Study the Bible as well as other Biblical courses. Dan thought there might be a few registrants, but he was shocked to see these young adults line up for blocks trying to register.

  9. lyrafowlpotter

    Thank you! I have felt this way for a long time, try telling a charismatic you need to learn the word and follow that as opposed to experience and you get lines like “God said we can’t know everything about him say things that don’t line up with scripture is just God doing a new thing.” Yes, someone told me that.

    I don’t mean to say ALL charismatics are that way, just a lot of them, just as many other Christians. Its just in the charismatic pentecostal movement you tend to get a lot of people who think all they need is to experience God and misquote scriptures to validate that experience. I am definitely not a cessanionist, but I believe strongly that the Bible tells us to know what is it in, hence God saying we NEED to know His word to have discernment to know what isn’t him so we can have legitimate experiences with Him!

    More level-headed people like you need to be talking about the importance of knowing God;s word. Thank you!

    God Bless ~Amy

  10. The irony is, that without a solid commitment to knowing Christ through scripture, you become a totalitarian of one form or another. The Lakeland fiasco for example, had the persistent air about it that some Christians are better than others because they talk to angels, the ignorant masses need super-spiritual gurus to unveil truth, leader-centered, top-down influence is the way revival occurs, and forced emotionalistic drama is the best indicator of the Spirit’s presence. Nothing could be more prone to real totalitarianism. The whole circus had an eerie flavor of control, manipulation, power-grasping, false humility…

    The final analysis, for us “totalitarians” I guess, ends with the Scripture being the highest and best authority, to which all believers should run and cling, so that things WON’T become religiously totalitarian.

    Nate

  11. Don Costello

    Dan
    Great post. Most times when I emphasize the importance of knowing the word, I point to two passages, the first is Psalm 119:97-104. “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
    Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than my enemies: for they are ever with me.
    I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.
    I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.
    I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.
    I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou has taught me.
    How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
    Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way”

    The second is Matthew 22:15-46, where Jesus completely routed his enemies in example after example through his wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures.

    We the church would look and act differently if we would spend more time in His Word. Dan, you’re being called a “totalitarian” in this case is a compliment.

    God Bless You!
    Don

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