One of Calvary Chapel’s core values is our approach to teaching God’s Word. But my concern may not be what you think. Whether or not a pastor tackles his teaching verse by verse, chapter after chapter, book upon book is up to him. There are Calvary Chapel pastors who do it different ways at different times. Some pastors take big portions of Scripture, while others tackle smaller slices. Some read a text and organize their thoughts, while others apply their thoughts as they read the verses. Over the years I’ve done it differently myself.
I believe when it comes to Spirit-filled and Spirit-anointed Bible teaching, the last thing we want to do is to force a pastor into a man-made straight-jacket. Spirit-led and straight-jacket would seem to be at odds. Here’s what I think is the crucial issue: In the pastor’s heart, does he respect the Bible for what it truly is, and what it is able to do? If a pastor holds a high view of Scripture, he will handle the Bible properly.
All pastors of all churches should believe that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible in the original writings. I agree with the Jewish rabbis who expressed their lofty confidence in Scripture. “When Messiah comes, He will not only interpret the passages for us, He’ll interpret the very words. He’ll even interpret the letters. In fact, He will even interpret the spaces between the letters!” These rabbis believed that the Bible was God-breathed down to the very spaces between the letters. Like Jesus, they trusted every jot and every tittle.
And if you believe this about your Bible, you will realize that ALL the Bible – the whole enchilada – is important. Leviticus is as inspired as Luke, Ruth as God-given as Romans. Some folks have a “dalmatian” approach to Scripture. They pay attention to a spot here, and a spot there, and become the arbiter of what is important. I’ve heard some short-sighted pastors say that all Scripture is equally inspired, but not equally instructive… Says who? Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Notice, all Scripture is inspired and profitable. Calvary Chapel pastors believe that God’s people need the whole of God’s Word, not just part and parcel. And this has profound implications on a pastor and his teaching. This is why a pastor spends eight weeks in Leviticus, talking about menstrual bleeding, and what happens if a fungus gets into the walls of a house. Trust me, he would like to stay in the Gospel of John, or in Philippians (the joy-filled letter). That would be much easier! But if he believes “all Scripture” is both inspired and instructive, he will find a way to tackle it all. God speaks lessons to us that we need to know, not only in the breath-taking narratives of Mark, but also in the gnarly judgments of Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Yes, Old Testament Israel was an ancient, agrarian, eastern culture. We live in a modern, urban, western culture. It certainly takes a little effort to see how laws that related to a neighbor’s donkey impact us today. But it’s doable! In fact, as Paul says to Timothy, it’s “profitable!” In Acts 20, on the beach at Miletus, Paul breathed a sigh of relief when he said to the elders of Ephesus, “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul believed it was his job to preach it all!
And if we truly believe all Scripture to be inspired and profitable, we will let the Bible speak for itself, and trust it to set the agenda in our churches. Who is the pastor to pick and choose what his people need to hear? That’s God’s job. When does the patient prescribe his own medicine? We should teach the Bible in a consistent, systematic fashion that honors the text itself, and its divinely inspired structure; then trust God’s Spirit to apply God’s Word in miraculous and surprising ways. Doesn’t it make more sense to move through the Word of God as it was written, rather than just skipping a rock across its pages, and diving in where it drops? That’s too random. A divine Book deserves a more refined approach – one that honors the actual text.
Pastors, even Calvary Chapel pastors, can develop a Pandora-like approach to Scripture. Have you ever listened to music on Pandora? Type in an artist or song you like, and an algorithm creates a playlist of similar sounding music. As each song plays, Pandora allows you to “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” the song. This helps the algorithm further tailor your music to your “likes” and “dislikes.” And this is how some pastors treat the Bible. They read of God’s love, and click “like.” But the Bible’s stance on sexuality… oops, that’s a “thumbs down.” The parable of the prodigal son, a “like.” The slaughter of the Canaanites… oooh, a “thumbs down.” Hope for the hurting, a “like.” Sobriety and holiness, that’s another “thumbs down.” And as with a Pandora playlist, this shapes the pastor’s teaching. Rather than deal with “the whole counsel of God” he gravitates toward his own personal tastes. And the result is a church that’s a mile wide, and an inch deep, or a church that reflects the same carnalities as its pastor. No wonder Christians today are so anemic.
It may contradict the latest church growth strategy, and it may not accommodate modern man’s puny attention span, but I don’t think you will hear the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if you don’t turn off Pandora, and let the Bible speak for itself. Rather than use the Bible to foster my agenda – or as a launching pad for some feel-good thoughts – I want to teach the Bible, as is! I believe its truths are both timeless and timely. Pastors today often use the Bible to address what they think are people’s felt-needs, but that’s short-sighted. I believe we need the Bible to tell us what it is we really need in the first place. The Bible should set the agenda, and define the issues that matter to us.
Each week when I teach the Bible I let a lion out of its cage. And the Bible has proven its power over and over and over again. I have gotten into a text, at the time wondering how this is relevant to anyone, only to have a person explain to me afterwards the wonderful way God spoke to them. The Bible is a mighty sword in the hand of God! Pastor, trust it’s edge! It can renew a mind, transform a character, create a new outlook, break old habits, produce sensitivities, spawn self-discipline, and grow faith!
Psalm 119:9 asks the question, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” In other words, what can tame a young man’s lusts and corral his selfish passions? There are a thousand shortcuts… pray for him, cast out the demon, slay him in the Spirit, get him into an accountability group, hype him up with Christian music… But the Psalmist answers his own query, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed to the Word of God.” The Bible is our only real help and hope.
There is a reason dumbing down his approach to the Bible might become a temptation to a Calvary Chapel pastor – over time he can lose confidence. His church hasn’t grown at the rate he thought it would, so he trades Scripture for “cute and clever.” Pastors start doing feel-good, self-massaging sermons that seem less offensive – more palatable to modern tastes. To me, there is no more pathetic picture than a pastor who has lost trust in the Bible’s sufficiency. He is like a cop with no badge, or a sniper with no ammo. The pastor who no longer trusts in the potency of Scripture is like a sheared Samson wrapped in Philistine twine, unable to shake loose. The secret of his strength now eludes him. He has become prey to the enemy. Pastors, we believe in the Bible’s authority, now let’s also trust in its power. Keep teaching it with all your heart. Be a man who is mighty in the Scriptures!