A Pastoral Mistake

A Pastoral Mistake

If I am God’s servant bringing God’s rule to bear in God’s church for God’s glory and the good of his beloved children, if I am a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the complete salvation of sinners, if I am a man who knows and trusts the influences and operations of the Holy Spirit bringing to bear the very truth he has made known, I need to be a man of the word, and we need to be a people of the Book.

I often make the same pastoral mistake. It is not deliberate, it is often well-intentioned, sometimes it is even hopeful. It is this: to presume upon the biblical knowledge of the people to whom I speak. I do not at all mean by this to deliver a backhanded insult, appearing to confess a shortcoming of my own while really assaulting the failings of others. If I am teacher, if am called to preach the word, to be ready in season and out of season, to convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2Tim 4:2), then I cannot presume upon the understanding of the saints. I cannot say things, even true, biblically-based, and scripturally-sound things, and assume that everyone picks up the quotation of God’s Word or makes the connections of various texts-in-context that may be hanging in my mind. Not everyone is thinking of the chapter where that is taught, or instinctively arriving at the same point in redemptive history on the basis of what has gone before, or seeing the types and shadows fulfilled, or ticking the box of a certain conclusion in systematic theology.

I need to remember this in a variety of settings. I need to remember it when I am preaching, so that I more regularly quote the Scriptures, and—when appropriate and helpful, and probably more often than I do—to turn people to a particular portion or passage, so that they can see it for themselves. I need to remember this in teaching, publicly or more privately, when I may be discoursing on some scriptural theme or principle which I assume is evident to all, but which may be entirely in shadow for someone who has not read or understood that portion of God’s Word, or who has only just come to faith, or who has never been taught these things before. I need to remember it in church members’ meetings, when there are, perhaps, complex or thorny matters of church polity and practice to address, some of which may be alien in principle and in practice to some of the members. I need to remember it in evangelising—not that I can ask open-air listeners to look at their Bibles, or even that I can always put a Bible in front of someone with whom I am speaking more informally, but rather that I can both emphasise that I am speaking from the Bible and encourage them to check.

I need to remember all this not just for unbelievers who may never have been exposed to the Scriptures, but for both new believers and for older Christians as well. Even new believers who have been for years under the sound of the gospel, perhaps under the soundest of ministries, or who were raised by godly parents in a well-ordered home, are likely to be encountering much as if for the first time. The Spirit of Christ has opened their eyes, and they are like people who have never really read their Bibles before! To be sure, we are hoping that the new life they have will vivify the entire framework of truth which they have been taught, but there are lively perceptions and lively connections which they have not yet made, and will not without someone to guide them. And older Christians, too, for various reasons, may be marked by confusion, suspicion, or accusation. I have heard saints of many years standing assure me that the plain teaching of the Bible is wrong, or claim some obscure (or even well-known) verse, poorly interpreted and carelessly handled, as trumping the clear instruction of the more obvious portions of the truth. Some do not so much manhandle as manipulate or even mutilate a text, making it mean what they wish or expect, in danger perhaps of twisting it even to their own destruction. (Now, do I leave that hanging, or do I refer to 2 Peter 3:16, so that people know where I got that language?) Some listen to a preacher or teacher (more often than not, online) with a novel interpretation, or have perhaps come from a religious background marked by ignorance or flawed, if not false, teaching, to which they cling. Some have been bruised by bad teaching in the past. Some just don’t read or engage with their Bibles—some are scared of portions of it, or seem to have spent a lifetime with their eyes going over the page but little truth penetrating the mind. Some are (perhaps natively) marked by suspicion and aggression, quick to accuse and slow to trust, often ready to impute something ugly, perhaps because they have never heard of it or thought of it before. Often people have had little training in basic thinking and learning, or have their own particular limitations.

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