It was exactly a year ago that I first introduced readers here to Russell Young’s writing. When I first met him, he was already very prolific and I felt that offering him an already-existing outlet for his thoughts would be good for him and a good fit for us. I am so appreciative of his contribution and the quality and consistency of his writing. ~PW
by Russell Young
The issue of following is just as relevant in the church today as it was in Paul’s day. All confessing Christians would affirm that they follow Christ but it isn’t that simple. Many take their instruction from others–pastors, teachers, or well-known authors. In fact, research shows that most do.
Paul ran into the dilemma concerning believers selecting teachers when addressing the Corinthian church and castigated them for their attitudes. He wrote, “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (1 Cor 3:4 NIV) On looking back at that church, it is easy to be critical of their thinking, but the very same practice is rampant today. Many in Bible teaching can readily state the names of their favorite authors or speakers and take their instruction from them. The doctrinal positions within a church often reflect by proxy, the position of a favorite teacher. Paul found a problem with this and so should we.
It was not Paul or Apollos who was to be the source of truth. Paul confessed to his readers that he had “planted the seed,” while Apollos watered and that each had been given his own task by God. The problem that exists, of course, is the discernment of the task given each person by God and how dedicated are they to it. Perhaps, the issue of discernment is the greatest challenge facing today’s church. There are a myriad of churches teaching a myriad of understandings; however, there is only one truth. The isolation of that truth is eternally important to each of us and Satan has been trying to confuse it from the beginning.
To whom do you attribute the possession of truth? It is easier to accept the understanding of another than it is to ferret it out for ourselves. It has become common to avoid the challenges of study, meditation, and prayer and to assume the teachings and beliefs of another. Christianity Today published a study concluding “that while 90 percent ‘desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do, ’only 19 percent personally read the Bible every day.’” Another poll stated that 57% of people who claimed the Christian faith only read their Bibles 4 times a year or less. (Caleb Bell in Religious News Service, April 4, 2013)
If the Word is not being personally read and studied, those who claim the name of Christ, must be accepting as their truths the teachings of another. This practice can be dangerous. A number of years ago, a pastor told me, “We teach what we have been taught.” Is it no wonder that the church is weakening? “Believers” are not putting sufficient investment into establishing their own faith system.
Pastors, teachers, and parishioners must be more discerning and more ready to challenge teachings that are in dissonance with their own reading of the Scriptures. Those who are being taught should not be intimidated by their instructors, regardless of their credentials. Believers in the twenty-first century are working with scriptures that have been translated many times and which have been placed in imperfect minds. The Lord still informs people, they need not rest the truths of faith in another.
1 Kings 13 relates the story of “a man of God” who had been sent to prophesy to evil king Jeroboam concerning his impending fate. The man of God had been told by God not to eat or drink in that place and to leave on a different route than taken upon arrival. Having given his message to the king the man of God left. Another man who claimed to be a prophet persuaded the man of God, since they were both prophets, to dine with him and although this was a lie he claimed that God had sent him. The man of God returned to the prophet’s house and enjoyed a good meal, whereupon the prophet relayed the death sentence that rested on the man of God for his disobedience.
When God speaks, his words are to be obeyed. He is the authority that is to be accepted. The man of God felt that he had been released from his command because the other was a prophet. God is God and he will not excuse our disobedience because of spiritual confusion even though manifested through someone esteemed and whose opinion might be highly valued. We are to be led by the Word and by the Spirit. Christ said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and I will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26 NIV)
In the last days, many will be deceived. Consider this warning by Paul: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) How well does this passage conform to your understanding? What questions does it raise that need answering?
There are many erroneous teachings in the Christian community as the presence of many denominations testifies. Christ said that he would teach you and remind you of his truths. This does not mean that pastors and teachers intentionally mislead; it means that we are to study and to let God teach us truth and righteous practices. If reliance is placed upon another, true discernment concerning the truth of his or her teaching should take place. Your eternal hope may very well rest in your diligence of study, meditation, and prayer. To default to another may reap destruction to your soul.
Russell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514 $17.99 US