The Gospel According to Talk
By T.A. McMahon
There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. – Proverbs 16:25
Some months ago I wrote a brief statement in the “TBC Notes” which was intended to encourage our readers to make time for fellowship centered around the study of God’s Word. It was amazing to see the responses such a note of encouragement could bring. While many were motivated to start or join a Bible study, others were quick to point out the various problems they’d encountered in Bible studies, home fellowships and Sunday-school classes. A common and very valid complaint was against gatherings which too often looked to the fleshly wisdom of men in an attempt to interpret and understand God’s Word. This is indeed a universal problem and it may be Satan’s most effective ploy in undermining the power of the Scriptures in the life of a believer.
When my family and I began to search for a church after first moving to Bend, I remember being shocked by the acceptance of human “wisdom” as I sat in on a Sunday-school class for high schoolers. Reading from published materials, the teacher presented a hypothetical problem to which the kids were to suggest what they thought were good solutions. The problem involved a fictional teenager caught up in a sin-related situation. Of the twenty suggestions offered, only two were even close to being biblical. Just as disconcerting was the amount of time spent letting the kids “talk,” “share their experiences,” and “articulate their feelings” regarding the matter. The discussion left fewer than five minutes for what the Bible has to say regarding the problem. Even at that, the teacher interpreted the verses to conform to a leading Christian psychologist’s view. I was already close to being depressed, and then I overheard a couple of the more assertive teens (no low self-esteem problems here!) agree that their own solutions seemed to make the most sense. At that point I found myself in one of those “it’s too sad to laugh, too absurd to cry” zones.
That high school class was simply a blatant reflection of what I have observed in many Bible studies, fellowships, and classes through the years. All too often we’d rather hear what we’ve conjured up rather than what God clearly says to us in His Word. It’s also true that our inclination is to accept what some “authority” tells us God has said, and what He means by it, rather than to search the Scriptures for ourselves. But then, man has a long history of seeking second opinions. Even before sin impacted mankind, Eve was seduced by such a penchant: listening both to someone who spoke with authority and to her own rationalizations.
The serpent’s words to Eve in the Garden of Eden had two such enticements. First, there was an authoritarian challenge to God’s Word: “Yea, hath God said…?” To it was added a convincing contradiction regarding God’s command: “…Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:1-5). Eve liked what she heard. Second, she entertained her own thoughts on the matter: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat…” (Gen 3:6). Eve listened to Satan’s talk and then finished the job with her own self-talk. Here were Satan and self working in a deadly combination. That partnership is just as fatal today.
Paul knew something about the seductive and destructive effects of listening to other voices rather than listening to God. His prophecies concerning the matter reveal a heart grieving over the destruction to come upon those who were his spiritual children. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…” (1 Tim 4:1). “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
He ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. When I think about the circumstances under which Paul wrote those words, I sometimes wonder why he was so terribly concerned. Perhaps his emotional plea had even more to do with his prophetic insight concerning our generation than his own. The local fellowships of Paul’s day certainly had to be watchful regarding false teachers and erroneous doctrine; his letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians make that clear. But compared with the flood of unbiblical influences carrying believers away today, those early Christians were hardly threatened. That being true, why do we rarely hear concerned preachers echoing Paul’s heart cry?
Any pastor with a true shepherd’s heart is in serious trouble. Those who have a love for the truth and desire that their flocks be nurtured in all doctrinal purity face an overwhelming dilemma. Most of them have the opportunity to teach the majority of their congregations for perhaps 45 minutes, one day per week. Good turnouts during a weekday service may increase their effective teaching time to an hour and a half per week. Compare that with the fact that a large and rapidly increasing number of evangelical Christians receive upwards of ten hours per week of additional teaching from Christian radio and TV. Many committed believers allow their car and home radios to play throughout the day whatever the local Christian radio station has to offer; evenings often find Christian television programs running continuously. While we do not deny that there are some worthwhile Christian TV and radio programs, what has taken place because of indiscriminate viewing practices is the development of full-blown heresy via Christian media. The religious airways have become the chief vehicle for “depart[ures] from the faith,” “seducing spirits,” “doctrines of demons,” and “perverse things.”
Many of the sheep drink in so many doctrinal aberrations from the Christian media (add books, magazines, video and audio tapes, newsletters, pamphlets and tracts) that they assume much of it is consistent with what their fellowship teaches, even if it isn’t. This situation is especially true if their shepherd has no heart for “earnestly contend[ing] for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Today’s pastors must make personal discernment a teaching priority. If they do not, even their biblically consistent preaching will be lost in the swamp of humanly and demonically inspired teachings and practices.
I remember some years ago Dave Hunt was invited to speak at a National Religious Broadcasters convention. The Lord put it on his heart to exhort his audience to take personal responsibility for what they allowed to be broadcast on their stations. In his address he went over what the Scriptures had to say about Hymenaeus and Philetus “Who concerning the truth have erred…and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:17-18). He then posed the question, “What if Hymenaeus and Philetus had their own TV or radio show today?” Sadly, the answer is: they do-though under different names and in a myriad of formats. Popular talk is overthrowing the faith of far more than “some.”
Though pastors and others in leadership positions may fail to act upon or teach the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:4 (“Take heed that no man deceive you”), nevertheless every believer is personally accountable to the Lord to obey His command. If discernment as an aspect of your walk with Jesus is lacking, here are some suggestions that may help.
1) Realize that the Word of God is just that–the Word of God. Nothing that man has to offer can either improve upon it or add anything essential (Isa 55:8-9). 2) Understand that the Holy Spirit is your teacher (Jn 16:13), and He alone can reveal the Word of God. 3) Fill your heart and mind with the content of the Scriptures. Immerse yourself again and again. Let the pure, living waters of God’s truth wash out the pollution of worldly thoughts and erroneous teachings. 4) Test every teacher as did the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11). Steadfastness in the faith is not a product of learning from a human teacher, no matter how biblically true his teachings may be. Real confidence in what one believes comes from directly knowing and living what the Bible teaches, through the illumination and power of the Holy Spirit. 5) Spend more time in fellowship with the Lord, getting to know Him better and better through reading His Word, than you do listening to men talk or teach about Him.
Next to personal time with Jesus, I believe fellowship centered around studying the Word of God is the best experience you can have to help you grow in the Lord. Yet Bible studies, home fellowships, Sunday-school classes, etc. need to be constantly evaluated. Even the best Bible study can slip away from its original intent or fruitfulness. The Scriptures, first and foremost, reveal what God wants us to know about Him. Do you leave each study or class knowing Him better? Many studies I’ve attended began with the Scriptures but then quickly became a gab session of personal experiences, what a favorite author teaches, or one’s own subjective feelings about what the Word says. If you recognize this tendency in your study, try to encourage input which focuses on using other scriptures to help explain the verses you’re trying to understand, rather than pursuing your own ideas or what someone else has said. If you want to know what God wants you to know, let scripture interpret scripture.
My psychiatrist father, who died when I was in college, liked to say, “Talk is cheap… unless it’s psychiatric talk.” Even back in the early sixties “therapeutic” talk was expensive. Talk has become a mania today, even within the Christian community. Christian talk shows are for the most part platforms for every thought that ever entered the mind of man––good, bad, or indifferent. For Christians who glean their doctrines from them, the talk is all too often extremely costly. What price would you put upon that which keeps you from the treasure of God’s truth? Do your get-togethers to study the Scriptures resemble a call-in show? Are the opinions of so-called authorities and would-be experts given more time and honor than the clear, inspired writings of the prophets and apostles?
Secular talk shows lean heavily on psychological solutions. Christian call-in programs do likewise. Quite often they are sponsored by nationwide Christian psychology clinics or local Christian psychotherapists. Most programs are also man-centered. If you listen to Christian talk shows, use your watch and calculate how much time is spent on man and his problems vs. the time spent on getting to know the person, the characteristics, and the commands (Jn 14:15) of Jesus Christ. If you shun Christian media offerings, try the same test on your Bible study. It’s amazing how the world’s ways seep into the church, even when we think we’re not of the world.
Though today’s apostasy may seem overwhelming at times, the good news is that God’s grace is sufficient to keep us on course with Him. While we are assaulted by a deluge of unbiblical deception and delusion which threatens to sweep away the fruitfulness we can have in Christ, His grace is readily available to cause that river of living water to flow from our innermost being as He promised (Jn 7:38). Our prayer is that you will desire God’s Word through the teaching of the Holy Spirit and you will cause it to flood your heart and mind continually. That’s the sure way to know and follow Jesus. That’s the essence of what He is telling us in John 8:31-“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” TBC