Summary: Many people who sit in the pews have "no knowledge of God," as Hosea says. Knowing God is possible; it is about living; and knowing God brings hope.
Last Thursday was a beautiful spring day, so my wife and I decided to knock on some doors on Pine Street, meeting new people and getting reacquainted with people we had met before.
At the last house, an apartment, we could see a man through the open door sucking the last drops of liquor out of a big glass bottle. I walked up and he said, “I’m not talking to nobody.” I told him, “You just did,” but he didn’t respond.
But a barefoot woman was standing outside the apartment who followed us as we left. She apologized for his rudeness. “I used to live in this place, but I had to get away from people like him.” We stood and talked and she told us her story.
She said she grew up in an alcoholic home where she experienced violence and abuse. Sometimes when their drunk dad entered the house at the end of the day, her sister would throw her into a closet for a couple of hours until he sobered up. She said she has been through everything: abuse, alcohol, drugs, prostitution. One day, several years ago, a pastor came by with his car and told her to get in, “Bring your paraphernalia. We’re going somewhere,” he said.
“Whoopee,” she thought. “A party.”
She asked where they were going and he said, “You’ll see.” Eventually, they pulled up in front of a church and she said, “Huh uh. No way.”
“Come on in,” he said.
She went along in, but when she entered, she sat down and said, “I ain’t doing anything.”
He said, “The Lord told me to find you and now you are here, Donna.” She looked around to see if anyone else by that name was there, because she hadn’t told him her name. She just sat there, kind of stunned and puzzled. He said, “That’s o.k. We have time.”
I don’t know what else the pastor said, but she told us that as she sat there her chest got heavier and heavier, and soon she started sobbing and she put her drugs and paraphernalia on the altar and left it there. Since then she hasn’t touched any of that stuff. “I didn’t know Jesus could do that,” she said. “I honestly didn’t.” And there on the street, we prayed for her before we parted.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t know what Jesus can do and not all of them are out on the street. Many of them are in our churches.
According to a survey by researcher George Barna, Bible knowledge among church-going Christians is at an all-time low. (Special Report by Michael J. Vlach,
Crisis in America’s Churches: Bible Knowledge at All-Time Low http://www.theologicalstudies.citymax.com/page/page/1573625.htm)
He found, for example,
• The most widely known Bible verse among adult and teenage believers is “God helps those who help themselves”—which is not in the Bible and actually conflicts with the basic message of Scripture.
And at Wheaton College, where they monitor the biblical literacy of incoming freshmen, they have found that:
• One-third could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of N.T. names.
• Half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew and half did not know that the Passover story was in Exodus.
So, if people don’t know basic facts about the Bible, what do you suppose they believe about Jesus? Barna found, among other things, that only 35% of mainline Protestant church members believe Christ was sinless. Barna says, “Millions of Americans who declare themselves to be Christians contend that Jesus was just like the rest of us —fallen, guilty, impure, and Himself in need of a savior.” It can no longer be assumed that the people in the pews know even the basics.
Why has that happened? These writers say that many Christian churches have abandoned serious Bible exposition and theological teaching. “Rather than explaining the historical setting of a passage, texts become springboards for devotional reflection,” they say. “Biblical passages are taken out of context as the preacher searches for stories that evoke the responses or attitudes desired.” As a result, people hear less and less about the Bible.
They suggest that more pastors should emulate the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli who forsook the common preaching methods of his day to systematically teach the Bible verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, and book-by-book, paying attention to the historical and grammatical contexts of the passages he was expounding. We need a systematic approach to biblical truth, they say.
Barna says that turning things around will take “a massive, concerted long-term effort.” But we must try. “We must pray for God’s guidance and power to bring about the reformation that He undoubtedly desires for America.”
I want to say two things before I continue on. For the past six years, Sue and I have been preaching through the Bible. It is our attempt to battle the problem of biblical illiteracy. But it is not enough. Even if you heard every one of our sermons and you remembered everything you heard, it is not enough. Just as one hour of sunshine per week is not enough to grow a garden, one hour of Sunday worship is not sufficient to grow a Christian. That is why we provide Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and other opportunities for spiritual nurture.