By Steven Shaw
The Dangers of Being Either Under-Churched & Over-Bibled, or Over-Churched & Under-Bibled
Let me begin with this, I know I’m using the word “Bible” inaccurately as a verb, but it’s only to help get the point across and also to help the truth remain in our minds.
I’m writing this because I have experienced first-hand the dangers that come from an unbalanced walk with Christ and have also seen lives within the church deeply affected by this imbalance. I have been under-Churched and over-Bibled and have also been over-Bibled and under-Churched. Both extremes have had negative impact on my life. Alarmingly, living in these extremes has become an ever-growing problem within the church universally, as well as a problem for those who have left the church and have “gone rogue”. Both extremes produce dangerous types of people who are hindered in their own growth as well as hindering the people around them.
I am seeing this in a new light and am hoping to help others see how important it is to have a balance of bible knowledge and understanding coupled with the commitment to serve within the church. Neither should tip the scales in an unhealthy manner. My hope and prayer is that we can continue being a light in this world rather than remain in a self-consumed state that hinders the church and others around us. After all, we are talking about eternal Kingdom truths here.
Let’s look at the quick definitions then I’ll dig in.
Under-Churched & Over-Bibled:
This is a person who knows a lot (or at least they think they do) about the Bible who can usually quote scripture like a pro. However, they have no real understanding of the true meaning of the Scripture and they are mostly out of context in their interpretation. They can be argumentative to the point that everyone else is wrong and hold the position that what has been revealed to them is the only “true” and “right” way. This person tends to steamroll others in their conversations; they are combative and ignorant to important truths regarding the biblical points they think they know. They also cause strife in the family of God and misrepresent God’s glory and His truths. Consider the Pharisees and their attitudes and responses to Christ—what I have described here is a modern-day Pharisaic person. I used to be one of these people, and I began to recognize how immature I was in the faith. My arrogant ignorance and pride was leading me into false teaching and producing nothing in my walk with Christ; I had become a stumbling block to others. If we choose to be Lone Rangers who are not in a church community and stray out on our own without accountability, we face the danger of falling into an isolated, prideful state that produces no spiritual fruit. In other words we need one another to grow and mature in God’s truth.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”
I used to be this version of a Christian until I realized the importance of being in service to the church. I not only needed the Word of God, but also needed a place to go where there were people more mature than I that I could learn from. However, I found myself becoming over-Churched and under-Bibled! I went to church, served at church, did lots of good “churchy” things, but did not remain committed to personal study of God’s Word. This resulted in a weak and shallow place for me, what I call, “Churchianity”. There was no depth to grasp onto, no growing knowledge in an infinitely great God, no real sustaining joy, satisfaction and I lacked a healthy fear of the Lord. I felt no real passion to share Him with anyone, and was constantly submersed in church activity. I had become over-Churched and under-Bibled.
Over-Churched & Under-Bibled:
These are the people who are regular churchgoers. They have made the church, church activities, church programs and their friends their “god” and have no idea they have done so. They may be new believers or perhaps have been Christians for many years—both are immature in their faith and understanding of God’s Word. My intention is not to be negative towards people who are in this place, because I have been there too. I have also known many who have been in this place and who are still there today. For the most part believers like this have good hearts, they are true Christians who desire the love of God, but they remain “stuck” in the beginning infant stages of their walk with God and also in there understanding of the Scriptures.
It is a fact, that many Christians only open their bibles on Sundays, and with the handouts and/or sermon outlines given to the congregation, some don’t even feel the need to bring their bibles to church at all. This practice comes from the Westernization of the church. Weak, false, or just plain unhelpful messages are taught, that leave many congregations in a shallow and immature place. But don’t get me wrong, these people are the most passionate people around, they just lack depth to their footing. They know the common stories of the Bible and have been taught some of the values contained therein, but are not moving past the infant phase of when they first got saved to the more mature phase that Paul talks about. Some are perfectly content with “drinking milk” rather than learning how to “chew on the meat, getting much needed nutrients”. We can see that Paul also had this challenge in his ministry when he said, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14). Paul asserts that people who remain immature need to be taught over and over again about the basic truths, because there are not maturing.
Sadly, some do not even realize they are missing out at all as they continue to follow shallow or false teachings and the wrong interpretation of God’s Word. Some just follow whatever their friends believe of just draw their own interpretations without any rooting in the Word of God as a whole. The danger here is if something is taught incorrectly and does not line up with God’s truth, because one does not know the Word of God from their own personal studies, then they will follow heresy and lies without even realizing it. Not having proper guidance and/or leadership is what contributes to immaturity in one’s walk and leads to immaturity within the church (the corporate body of believers).
Pastors and elders carry the responsibility to help those in their congregation by way of true discipleship. If they fail at this task, they will be held accountable for not “feeding their sheep”. If the pastors and elders are being faithful to the command to disciple God’s people then Paul says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17). Now, don’t misunderstand me here, we are all responsible for our own personal relationship with Christ (Rom. 14:12), but pastors, elders and those in leadership roles are called to shepherd the “flock”. This is God’s design for the church; discipleship through solid biblical leadership is key!
I am telling you these things because without this kind of solid leadership we are prone to wander. We begin to draw our own conclusions from scripture, this is not always a bad thing), but without guidance and correction (if we are in error) we can fall into dangerous heresies which can lead to a distortion of God’s truth. Take a look at some of the teachings that are happening in today’s churches and you can see how easy it is to fall into dangerous interpretations and conclusions that are leading people astray. While no human being has all the answers and no one can claim to possess knowledge of the entire Word of God from Genesis to Revelation, through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the capacity to sharpen, correct, serve and worship in Spirit and in truth.
The Right Balance:
I’m not writing these things to be critical or to find fault in the church or in my fellow brothers and sisters. However, I am writing in hopes that we all take the time to consistently examine our hearts and motives concerning our walk with Christ. We all run the risk of falling into one of these extremes during our lives, and I would like to help others avoid this in order to prevent the hardships I have gone through in my journey. Like I said previously, I have found myself in both extremes and for me, it was a pathetic existence that did not reflect what it truly means to be a Christian. Those extremes left me ignorant to what the miraculous high calling of being in the body of Christ meant. It left me ignorant to the understanding of what an adopted son of the Most High truly means. As I began to see my immaturity and “babyhood”, I once again returned to the Scriptures and asked the Holy Spirit to help me. As I did this, my mind was blown, literally, my heart was changed and I began the process of maturing in my faith. I started reading the Bible from start to finish, beginning to end, and it changed my life. I saw the weakness in my walk, and saw how I had made God a bigger version of me rather than the Everlasting God of the Bible. Since, I have not been able to get enough of the rich truths discovered in God’s Word. I made sure I was connected with those who were solid in their faith and maturity. Through this process, I had to learn how to submit to those who were in leadership, but also how to question and at times disagree if the teachings did not line up with the Bible. Soon, God opened up my creativity to write congregational worship songs and I learned the difference between “worship God” songs and “worship me” songs (see blog to understand this more) and I received teachings from wonderful leaders and mature Christian friends. I began to see the changes in myself as I matured in my walk.
With all of these changes in my life, none of them would mean a thing if my life wasn’t transformed— not just in action but also from the inside out. Now I can’t keep quiet about Christ, I can’t share enough in telling people about the wonders that are found in the grace and mercy of God. Living by the power of God’s Spirit looks much different now than living the best “good guy” life that I was trying to live on my own. Open your bible, pray and ask God to lead you to a bible-teaching church and submit to solid leaders. Live the life that would be defined by the Bible as a disciple of Christ and nothing less. Will it be messy? Of course, you’re dealing with fallen people, but it’s family, and whose family isn’t messy?
Maturity in Christ is not merely based on a form of religious action, it is a desire to learn about the God we claim to love so much; to learn about His nature, His love, His holiness and His commands. Maturing in Christ causes transformation through the Holy Spirit that results in a changed heart; a heart that loves what God loves and hates what He hates. This is when we begin to live in God’s image as we begin to reflect who God is to the world around us, through our actions and deeds. That’s when we can claim to truly love God as our unquenchable thirst deepens to know Him more. We cannot claim to love God and ignore His commands and call on our life. Both have been made known and are made clear in His Word.
Listen to His call and obey!
I encourage you today to open your Bible. I encourage you today to connect with a solid bible-teaching church. I encourage you today to go after God in the way that He has gone after you.
Please don’t let my word be the final word on this. Pick up the Bible, read Gospel-saturated books by good authors, read good commentaries on the Bible, pick up Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, read the 1689 London Baptist confession of faith and learn from a man’s lifetime of study and meditation on the Word of God. Most of all, trust in Jesus Christ and know what He has given us is whole, perfect and is for our good and His glory. Love you all!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
Contributing editor credit: Lisa M Johnston, Th.M. and Pastor/sozofreedom.com