It is impossible to understand the Bible properly and grow in understanding of it effectively without training in such things as principles of interpretation, Bible history and geography, Bible culture, and theology or Bible doctrine, yet most members of Independent Baptist churches are grossly lacking in such things.
Most are like a church member I talked with recently who told me that his Bible reading is “hit and miss” and that he had no Bible dictionary, concordance, or commentary, had never learned to use such tools, and knew little to nothing about the principles of Bible interpretation. Another church member recently told me that his daily Bible study consists of reading a couple of verses.
It is typical for church members not even to look at their Bibles during the preaching. Few come to the services to obtain serious Bible education and to capture practical truth they can use in their lives and ministries.
In many Independent Baptist churches, people can attend faithfully for years without learning the Bible well. The Sunday School lessons and preaching are biblically shallow, and the people are not taught to study the Bible for themselves.
Visiting speakers tell great motivational stories but the biblical content of the preaching is weak, typically.
People don’t grow strong in God’s Word under such a ministry. The Bible is to be preached with reproof and exhortation, but also “with doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).
No wonder so many churches change direction so easily when the pastor changes. They aren’t properly grounded in Scripture. They are dependent on a man rather than the Spirit of God and the Word of God. They are man-centered rather than Christ-centered.
And the problem begins with the pastors.
In the Pastoral Epistles, we see that every preacher is to be a serious Bible student. Paul taught Timothy to be nourished up in good doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6), to give attendance to reading and to doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13), to take heed unto doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). He taught Timothy that it is the elder who labors in the word and doctrine who is worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Too many pastors want the double honor of this verse without paying the price of laboring in the Word of God.
Paul reminded Timothy that he had been educated among many witnesses and exhorted him to pass this same biblical education along to others (2 Tim. 2:2). He exhorted him to study to show himself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). He taught him to be “apt to teach,” which requires much learning (2 Tim. 2:24). He taught him that the Scripture is for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16). He taught him to preach God’s Word with doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2).
Paul showed Timothy the example of having a passion for study in prison even when he was old and knew that he would soon face martyrdom (2 Tim. 4:13)!
Paul taught Timothy that the qualified pastor is a man who has “been taught” so well that he is capable of protecting the congregation from whatever error the devil throws at it (Titus 1:9-16). This requires a lot of teaching and a lot of study.
Christ instructed us not only to preach the gospel to every creature, but also to disciple the converts so thoroughly that we teach them to observe all things whatsoever He has taught us (Mat. 28:19-20). See also Acts 20:27, where Paul taught the whole counsel of God. That refers to the complete canon of Scripture. That is a lot of Bible education. It requires the teaching of history and geography and prophecy and a thousand other things.
Many Independent Baptist preachers are not too far behind the Primitive Baptists described in The Man Who Moved a Mountain, a biography of Virginia preacher Robert Childress. They actually gloried in their ignorance. One preacher shouted, “Praises be to God that I am ignorant. I’d only praise him more if I were ignoranter” (p. 22). Hearing such things as a child, Childress recalled thinking to himself, “Did God hate learning?” (p. 22).
I have found that the most difficult place to sell serious Bible study books and associated materials is at the average Independent Baptist preachers’ meeting.
A pastor friend who has been in the ministry for many decades wrote the following to me in 2014:
“I asked a missionary what books he had read lately that were a blessing, and he replied that all he reads is a magazine on running. I fear that Independent Baptists may be the illiterati of the 20th and 21st centuries. And the present addiction to iPhones and social media only makes it worse. John Nordman, who worked with Hyles years ago at Hyles Anderson, led the Bible college in Brisbane for some years until the pastor’s son did a Schaap on some kids there and the wheels fell off. He sent me their college prospectus one year hoping to get some of our kids, and I wrote him back and asked him why there was not a course on theology. I later found out that Hyles Anderson never allowed theology to be taught because Jack Hyles thought it would turn their students into Calvinists. Some years ago I started asking preachers questions when we sat around talking or when we drove down the road. Questions on what doctrine was especially precious to them at that moment, or what book of the Bible they love the most this week, or what good book they are reading, or which one has helped them grow the most, or what authors are the most challenging to them spiritually, or what they think about this or that verse (and I pick the hardest ones to ask about). If they are driving, I take my Bible and read to them some passage I am meditating on and ask them to explain them to me. Most of them are out of their depth within ten seconds. Some stare at me with open mouth and shake their head. The Presbyterian pastors I know are the most adept at discussing solid Bible doctrine. Most of the Independent Baptist pastors have never read anything deeper than John Rice or Curtis Hutson. We had a missionary here this weekend who tells great stories, but doesn't know ANY solid Bible doctrine.”
This preacher said further:
“There is abysmal ignorance concerning the doctrine of Christ, concerning the doctrines of justification, sanctification, and glorification. One of our major problems is that expository preaching is not politically correct in fundamental churches. For a pastor to preach through a book of the Bible is a rare thing. Most of the men I know don't do that because it doesn’t draw big crowds and they like fireworks in the pulpit or fairy tales.”
Another man commented:
“I agree about the importance of the study of Bible prophecy. Unfortunately, fundamental Baptist preachers seem very reluctant to delve into prophecy. I think it might be because most preachers have not studied much beyond the first three chapters of Revelation. I don’t think I have ever heard a really solid message from an IFB preacher from the mountain of OT prophecies with momentous future fulfillment. They don’t seem to know what they are missing.”
A large percentage of the Independent Baptist preaching I have personally heard over the past 43 years has been motivational pablum (baby food) with no serious exegesis of Scripture and little spiritual depth.
Churches that aren’t serious Bible education institutions are building on the sand, and they won’t stand for long in today’s spiritual climate.
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