“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken (deceived), not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mt. 22:29).
“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Heresy can be fatalistic.
Ignorance of the Scriptures engenders bondage.
But willful ignorance that leads to Biblical illiteracy is inexcusable.
Daily the Bereans diligently searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching was true. Today most Christians easily believe and swallow what the most popular and elevated preachers in our culture say.
The lack of basic Bible knowledge in the church world today is extremely high. Most professing Christians have not read the entire Bible or even the whole of the New Testament once in their lifetime. And some don’t want to, which is a bigger problem, symptomatic of the church’s backslidings and false conversions. Scripture reading and the necessity for Biblical foundations have been dumbed down, and sadly, some of our pastors are not even qualified to teach the Bible. Moreover, many of our seminaries and Bible colleges generally produce lecturers and theologians void of the Spirit and fire of God, and full of head knowledge that puffs up and spawns unbelief.
Regarding Biblical illiteracy, researchers tell us that it is worse than many have even thought or imagined. Here are some interesting statistics from a recent Barna survey:
• Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.
• Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.
• 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the ten commandments. “Increasingly, America is Biblically illiterate.” [see Barna Group’s web site]
• According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better by only one percent.
• A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.
Some of the statistics are rather perplexing even to those aware of the problem.
• One poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults in America believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
• Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
• A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.
It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.
Perhaps what is even more alarming is that within churches and organizations that still have a high esteem for Scripture, there is also a growing ignorance of the content of Scripture. For many, especially modern day Charismatics, they regard some inner light or impulse as being “led by the Spirit” or “having a good feeling about it”, instead of giving priority of the Spirit’s testimony to the written Word. They don’t think or study for themselves. I call these Christians modern day sensationalists who are easily led away by fables and lies, spoken so cleverly by men that they sound like the truth, or they follow teachers who teach in accordance with their own desires.
Not only is ignorance and sensationalism a problem today, but following extreme teachings from Scriptures taken grossly out of context is a major plague in the Charismatic movement. The Bible warns us concerning those who twist Scripture this way:
“Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following” (Acts 20:30 – NLT).
Charismatics are notorious for pursuing new revelation without the expense of diligent study. And I say this as one who is a strong proponent of the supernatural and modern day Charismania and Pentecostalism. Often, though, we put more stock in ministers who have had visions, visitations, or some other spectacular experience more than the written Word of God. I believe in visions and visitations and all these things, but the Scriptures will forever be our standard.
For example, recently I had a dialogue with a Facebook friend who was posting supposed visions and revelations that people have had of hell, and how many professing Christians were there simply because they had not tithed to their local churches. When I told him that I couldn’t accept the authenticity of these visions based on what Scripture says, he unloaded Bible reference after reference on tithing, in an effort to prove that these visions were from God. But it was all out of context. So it is possible to study the Scriptures diligently, but still not rightly divide them and keep them in context when studying a certain topic. This, too is a common error. If you merely study to prove what you already believe without humility and being teachable you will miss it.
Knowing that in the last days many will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons this should keep us very sober in this regard (1 Tim. 4:1). The anointing of the Holy Spirit does teach us (1 Jn. 2:20, 27) and open our understanding, but we are also commanded to study to show ourselves approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15). The same Holy Spirit that leads us and guides us into all truth also inspired the apostle Paul to pronounce a curse on false teachers and those who preached another gospel (1 Gal. 1:8-9).
The biggest problem I’ve witnessed in almost every movement is the poor use of the full counsel of God. We tend to judge and evaluate everything we believe from our own traditional or denominational perspective or particular stream of faith we might be in.
For instance, the revival camp emphasizes repentance but don’t really have a working knowledge of faith. The faith camp emphasizes faith, but many don’t understand repentance. The holiness camp emphasizes holy living, but they don’t walk in power. The power camp emphasizes signs and wonders, but many of them don’t walk in holiness and have faulty foundations in the Word.
The fundamentalists emphasize their strong belief in Scripture but have a reactionary approach to the Bible. They are quick to shout, “if it’s not in the Bible I don’t believe it!”, but ironically they don’t believe in tongues and other aspects of the Spirit-filled life. They win people to a doctrine, but not to life in Christ. Conversely, the liberals, and proponents of the seeker-sensitive philosophy, relate to society by compromising truth and softening doctrine to reach the culture, which also creates problems, mainly the lack of true disciples.
When will we learn to reject error and blend all the truths together and be balanced? When will we learn to receive and release the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27)?
The greatest illiteracy tragedy is concerning the basics of salvation and the Bible. Here are some alarming statistics:
• Out of 79% of evangelicals who say their faith is very important to them, only 36% believe Jesus Christ is actually the only way to salvation. That’s a shocker.
• In mainline denominational churches that percentage drops even more as only 14% believe Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, while 83% believe all religions lead there.
• Only 22% of mainline denominational churches even believe the Bible is fully inspired by God while 28% believe it is just a book written by men.
• Perhaps the most disturbing trend is among the 18-35 younger group of religious Americans. For many of them Christianity is becoming a watered down hybrid version of eastern philosophy and biblical knowledge.
While some polls show roughly 9 of 10 Americans still maintain belief in a god or gods, the trend of religious young Americans is toward a conglomeration of varied religious beliefs, including atheism.
This generation must get serious about the problem of Biblical illiteracy, or a frighteningly large number of next generation Americans – Christians included – will go on thinking that the Bible is really not the inspired Word of God, Jesus is not the only way to salvation, and Noah and his wife Joan of Arc will live happily ever after.