Acts 2:42—“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
Bible literacy shapes a church in a way that no other experience does. Great music is a blessing, good preaching is critical, prayer is the church’s breath, and fellowship is vital. A church founded on biblical literacy experiences all of the above, and more. There’s no greater honor than to preach the Word to biblically literate people. Bible literacy transforms a church in seven ways:
- Biblically literate churches are much more likely to be faithful in attendance. When they read God’s Word, He convicts them about faithfulness, and they come. Studies show that the average “faithful attender” in church life now comes 1.8 times per month, but biblically literate people make attendance a priority.
- Biblically literate churches long for Bible preaching. True believers wither under “Empire State Building” sermons—one story piled on top of another—with “National Anthem” Scriptures—a text read to start the sermon that has no bearing on the rest of the sermon. Biblically literate people expect the Word of God to speak; as they read the law, the kings, the prophets, the gospels, and the epistles, they come with one question, “Is there any Word from the Lord?” Pastors who themselves are biblically literate delight in preaching the text of Scripture—exposing the meaning of the text, illustrating that meaning clearly, applying it to the contemporary situation, and then challenging God’s people to obey what they’ve heard.
- Biblically literate churches give generously and sacrificially. They learn of giving as they read the Word, and they learn to give to the Lord instead of to the preacher or the church. They give out of glad hearts, and they give sacrificially. Paul commended the Macedonian church for their sacrificial giving, noting that this giving was driven by their understanding of their place before God, “They first gave themselves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5). When believers learn who they are through the Word, they want to give to their great King.
- Biblically literate churches enjoy small groups more. When teachers are teaching on portions of Scripture that the entire class has already read, discussion ensues, and all are able to engage both the Scripture and one another. Small groups flourish under the faithful study of the Word, especially when they are all reading together.
- Biblically literate churches have greater unity. When everyone is reading together, the church is literally “on the same page.” Believers who are hearing from God and following Christ will walk together; as Amos said, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). As believers hear the Word, they keep in step with the Holy Spirit and find greater unity. Unity does not signal uniformity, however; biblically literate churches allow believers to flourish under the leadership of the Holy Spirit so that they can be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Believers find their place, utilize their gifts, experience true freedom in Christ, and love one another as they receive one another for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).
- Biblically literate churches take prayer seriously. Prayer stops being the responsibility of the pastor alone; believers read God’s Word, learn from the prayers of the saints, and see the need to seek the Lord. Praying churches make a difference (Acts 4:31), and churches steeped in the Word of God cannot help but pray (Acts 4:25-26).
- Biblically literate churches resist being assimilated into the surrounding culture. As they learn God’s Word, they become “people of the ear” who listen to God and follow His will rather than “people of the eye” who, like Eve, succumb to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
How, then, do churches become biblically literate?
- The pastor must promote, encourage, and honor reading God’s Word. It ought to be read aloud during every service (1 Tim. 4:13—“reading” means public reading).
- The pastor ought to challenge his people regularly to keep up in the reading. If he leads his people to use one plan, he can preach weekly out of that week’s reading and see attentiveness increase. He can field questions about the reading that challenge the hearers and allow them to be involved. He better be ready to face difficult questions. As I often tell my people, I sometimes talk to unbelievers who say, “I have questions about the Bible.” I tell them, “Come to our church; our people have many more questions than you do, and theirs are harder.”
Is Bible literacy difficult? Yes, but it’s doable. Our church began reading through the Bible when I came, and then adopted the One Year Chronological Bible about 10 years ago. When the pastor and the key leaders read and challenge others to do so, the people will rise to the challenge. Some say to me, “It’s hard.” My response is, “Grow a backbone; become a vertebrate!” Everything in life that truly matters is hard, and Bible literacy matters more than any other discipline. Jesus said, “If you continue in My Word, you will truly be My disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32).