Here is a tough question for you today.
Why should I read the Bible myself?
On the ‘I shouldn’t’ side, come a large number of persuasive arguments. I’m not trained. I don’t fully understand. I didn’t go to seminary to learn. How can I hope to get it right when even the experts sometimes disagree? Isn’t that why the pastor preaches every week – to teach us what we cannot learn ourselves?
Many of these arguments rely on a misconception – that you cannot learn anything about the Bible yourself, but you need to rely on someone else to teach you. And much of this comes from the church in the Middle Ages who decreed that the Bible can only be interpreted by the church – ie, by the ‘ordained clergy’. There is a pinch of wisdom here (just a pinch) – it is easy for one person to go off track and start teaching strange doctrines by completely misinterpreting the Bible. But the response of the middle ages church was wrong and extreme – to ban common language access to the scriptures for fear that someone might interpret it in their own way (and quite possibly to ensure that they held onto the ‘power’ that went along with being the sole interpreter of the scriptures – but that is a discussion for another day).
What I want to say today is this. You can read the Bible yourself, and learn from it. And more than that, you – you personally – need to.
2 Peter 2:1–3 (ESV)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Let me ask you a question – how do you know if someone is preaching truth or lies? How do you know if someone is teaching about God – or bringing in destructive heresies for their own greed? It is not always as easy as ‘looking at their lives’. We cannot always easily discern, on our own, what is good teaching and what is not.
But there is a way to know.
You need to read the Bible yourself. Not just a little bit here and there, but regular reading and thought. Then when someone brings a ‘new’ teaching – you can see for yourself whether it is truth or heresy. I know in my life I have heard some pretty strange doctrines, and sometimes even been ‘taken’ by these doctrines for a time until I understood and learned better.
During the reformation – when the protestant church was formed, there was a call – ‘Ad Fontes’. It literally means ‘Back to the Sources’. The call was for people not to just rely on the teaching of the official church, agreeing instantly with whatever it said no matter how good or bad it sounded. Instead the call was for everyone – trained and untrained alike – to go back to the sources, back to the Bible, and see what it really said; see what it really meant. And when people like Martin Luther and the Anabaptists did that 400 years ago, it started the process of the reformation, where people started really looking into the teaching of the Bible and seeing what was really true – what was really right.
So how do you protect yourself? How do you personally grow in your Christianity? Ad Fontes! Don’t just trust in the teaching of everyone who will preach at you, from the pulpit, TV or internet (me included), but go back to the sources yourself and see what is really right, what really honors God, and what really preaches Jesus as He should be preached.
(A small final word of warning – don’t start thinking everyone is wrong! There are many good teachers in the world, many good pastors, many people with a good honest heart who themselves ‘study to be approved’ before God, and teach you the same – there really are people you can trust. As you read and grow yourself, you will gain more and more wisdom to understand what is right and what is not – don’t read a single passage and immediately go and proclaim a new doctrine, but study and grow in wisdom first, and seek God before jumping to conclusions!)
Read your Bible! Ad Fontes!
Colossians 1:9-10 (ESV)
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.