A young pastor recently told me of his difficulties in leading an established Pentecostal congregation. In his teaching he is encountering relentless resistance. He is teaching the truths of the Bible, but he is challenging some long held traditional beliefs – incorrect beliefs. So what’s a young pastor to do?
I counseled, “Most of our people live in an uncertain world that is constantly changing. Their next door neighbors don’t speak the same language. The complexion of their community is changing. Their families are dysfunctional. The only certainty they have in life, the only place they feel safe, is the church. When you challenge their long-held beliefs you are robbing them of that certainty.”
He replied, “So what do I do? Let them keep believing a lie?”
In my rural southern tribe, interracial marriage is still widely seen to be an abomination and many cite Ezra’s prohibition against marrying “foreign wives” as proof. Their hermeneutic is informed by their cultural prejudices. Even so, Ezra’s prohibition was not a racial prohibition, but a religious prohibition. Ezra’s concern was not racial purity, but idolatry.
In my conservative/fundamentalist tribe, science is viewed with deep skepticism. The Bible says that the world was created in six days, so evolution must be “a lie of the devil.” In this religious context, any suggestion that Genesis 1 is not speaking of a literal week of 24 hour days is believed to be a denial of the inspiration of Holy Scripture.
So how do conscientious and sincere pastors affirm the truth of Holy Scripture when many Christians prefer the certainty of their misinformed beliefs?
The church has been here before – many times. Christians are a people traveling with a certain hope though an uncertain world. Because we are children of a corrupt world, we are sometimes corrupted by the myths and lies of this world. We should always be reminded that this world will be shaken by the hand of God.
I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations… (Haggai 2:6-7).
When God shakes heavens and the earth, the people tremble. When Jesus was crucified, the earth quaked. Again, when he rose from the dead the earth quaked. When the Holy Spirit was poured out, “there was a violent rushing wind” (Acts 2:2) and “the place where they were gathered together was shaken” (Acts 4:31). The resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit shook the theological foundations of Israel, Rome, and the whole world. And sometimes, God shakes the church – the place where believers gather. When Copernicus demonstrated that the earth was not the center of the universe He challenged the church’s (mis)reading of Scripture. When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis to the door of the Wittenberg Church the foundations of medieval Catholicism were shaken. When early Pentecostals began to speak in “other tongues” the church throughout the world experienced “a violent rushing wind.”
When our theological world is shaken we often lack discernment – we blame the devil. Sometimes, it is the hand of God that shakes the church. Even so, we tremble because as God shakes the church God also causes some of our theological certainties to crumble into dust. We need to be reminded that faith that is not established on the foundation of Truth is reduced to mere superstition. Paul warned that believers should avoid “what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21). While this certainly applies false philosophy and bad science, Paul’s primary concern is misinformed theology. Bad theology and misinformed readings of Scripture need to be shaken. Good theology will survive the shaking.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29).
So, we return to my question, “How does a pastor challenge the misinformation of believers?” By affirming the authority of the Word of God and and the truth of the Gospel (2 Timothy 3:16), by being a diligent student of the Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15), listening to the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), and trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). In all of this the pastor/teacher must exercise the humility of one who is not omniscient. In uncertain times, God’s people must have their faith reaffirmed. The truth of God’s word is unshakable, a firm foundation upon which we may stand with certainty.