How much truth does a Christian need ?
I guess it all depends on what it’s for. How much truth does someone need to know to be a Christian in the first place? Can a three year old who “invites Jesus into their heart” but has no real understanding of the atonement yet be considered a Christian? Do you need to understand the doctrine of the trinity to be a Christian? The short answer to this question is probably that true faith always perseveres, and that faith includes growing deeper in the core doctrines of Christianity.
But that’s not really the question I’m exploring here. In our last blog we discussed the five growth factors of Ephesians 4:11, represented by the five gifts God has given to the church for its growth. The five growth factors were Replication (as brought by the apostle), Encounter (brought by the prophet), Mission (brought by the evangelist), Relationship (brought by the shepherd), and Truth (brought by the teacher).
Today we consider the fifth growth factor of truth. How much truth does a Christian need in order to be growing? Jesus in his final commission to his disciples commanded them to “Go and make disciples of all the nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. (Matthew 28:19). So, if we are to be sending out disciples to teach other disciples, how much do they need to know? How much do Asian church planters need to know to start new churches and make disciples of others?
The More the Merrier?
Obviously the whole Christian life should be one of gradually growing deeper in our understanding of God’s word. The Bible is a big book and theology is a vast subject. We can expect to continue to be growing in our understanding for the rest of our lives, continually learning new dimensions and receiving insights into the nature of God and his plans as revealed in the scriptures. Knowledge of God’s word is something which should be valued. Remember the encouragement / correction from Hebrews 5:12-6:1. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…”.
Obviously some people will be more wired for delving deeply into God’s truth than others. That is the gift of the teacher. But everyone should be still actively pursuing a growth in truth, just like they pursue any other aspect of their relationship with God. However, we can add two important qualifications to this.
Applying Truth Is More Important Than Understanding Truth
The first is obvious but it’s practice is a constant struggle. Scripture warns us constantly of the danger of knowing the truth in our heads, but failing to carry it out in our lives. Consider the Lord’s warning as just one of many that could be cited: “The one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.”. Consider the words of James. “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Learning truth can be so deceptive. Why? Because there is an intellectual pleasure in learning new things, and we think we may be growing. There is an emotional thrill in being inspired by others who exhort us with God’s word. But just being intellectually challenged and emotionally moved does not translate to actual growth unless there is action carried out to apply God’s word in your life. So we need to be careful that we are not being deceived in thinking we are growing when actually our heads are merely getting more full of information. It is easy to let our education get way ahead of our application.
Teaching Truth Is Better Than Learning Truth
A second qualification is that we need to aim to produce teachers, not just learners. This is so often the focus of the scriptures. Jesus early on in his discipleship process with the twelve sent them out to begin teaching. We saw in the Hebrews passage above that the author expected them by this stage to have become teachers of God’ word. Paul commissions Timothy to entrust his teaching to “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2). Why is it better to produce teachers than learners?
Because it is by teaching that one really learns. It is simply the best way to really master a subject when you have to take the material yourself, present it to someone else in a way that makes sense to you, and answer their questions. Furthermore, if you are not living what you are personally teaching to someone else, this will be a great challenge and impetus for you to immediately take steps to apply this truth to your life. Apart from this, of course there is the added benefit that producing teachers stimulates the multiplication of God’s kingdom work as we send out new disciple-makers to teach others.
So How Do We Teach God’s Word Effectively Today?
In our next blog post we will share how we are seeking to apply this in raising up church planters in south east Asia and some principles for teaching God’s word in our disciple-making.