Posted by: Apostolic Oneness Pentecostals | January 21, 2009

Pentecostal Herald: Education and the Church by Gary D. Erickson

North America has never been more religious—perhaps, I should say, “spiritual.” Eighty-three percent of Americans professes to be Christian.  Seventy-eight percent believe in God and 15 percent believe in a higher power.  That leaves only 7 percent who believe in nothing! Yet, our biblical ignorance is appalling! Many church goers are biblically clueless and spiritually naïve.  Consider the following: A Newsweek Beliefnet Ppoll found that more Americans, especially those younger than sixty60, described themselves as “spiritual” (79 percent) and “religious” (64 percent). Almost two- thirds of Americans say they pray every day, and nearly a third meditate. 
In America even atheists are spiritualists, searching for meaning in parapsychology and near-death experiences. There is a streak in the United States of relying on what Pacific Lutheran’’s Killen calls “individual visceral experience” to validate religious ideas. “American faiths have long been characterized by creativity and individualism. That’s their secret to success,” says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. “Rather than being about a god who commands you, it’s about finding a religion that empowers you.” 

Eight in ten Americans, including 68 percent of evangelicals, believe that more than one faith can be a path to salvation, which is most likely not what they were taught in Sunday school. One out of five respondents said he had switched religions as an adult.   It is an age of great “depth of feeling” as people embark on their own personal “spiritual journey.” Popular New Age philosophies are influencing our culture’s leanings toward the spiritual. These quasi-religious ideas are replete with angels, astrological guidance, and pseudo-spirituality. This spiritual contagion for many has removed the apprehension of believing in modern day miracles. The receptivity of the age has birthed the emergence of a multiplicity of many hybrids and blends of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. Collectively, these churches have done a thorough job of educating the Christian world about the work of the Holy Spirit. Churches that encourage spirited worship and the expectation of the miraculous are growing, while the staid churches are dying. But, in spite of this surge of growth, we are failing to teach people the fundamentals of the Christian faith. This lackluster emphasis on teaching and educating our constituents is pervasive and goes across denominational lines. A piece of this religious cultural shift is a diminished emphasis on Sunday school and Bible study. We have moved beyond the “age of reason” to the age of “feeling.” Many churches are putting much of their efforts into contemporary methods that major on fun, entertainment, socially interactive projects, and loads of froth and pizzazz. The “Christianity-lite” approach is appealing to the masses because it appeals to the sensual, omits duty and commitment, and promises answers toward personal fulfillment.

What happened to good old, consistent, informative teaching? I know education is not everything, but it is something! Education plays a significant role in enriching a person’s life and making himthem a better personople. Some think education is dangerous, but ignorance has caused far more problems for humanity than education. Getting a good education requires discipline, hard work, and can take a hit on the pocketbook. That may be the reason some are so critical of achieving it. Perhaps it is true—we can be educated beyond our intelligence! Some learning institutions have a disproportionate number of eggheads. The wrong kinds of education can be destructive. An overemphasis on education can be delusional. Nevertheless, remaining ignorant makes us vulnerable to all kinds of deception and will not enhance our witness or fortify our strength of resolve. The secular world tries to stereotype religious people as ignorant. We do not want to provide examples of their unfair analysis. 

A few years ago a friend told me about his marvelous conversion experience. It had transformed his life! He said, “I know nothing about the Bible, but I have an experience!” I encouraged him to study and try to correct his vulnerability. He confidently assured me that was not necessary.  His conversion was intense and life changing.  He felt that was enough! I am sad to say, he is not serving God today! His lack of understanding left him vulnerable to failure, and it was ultimately his downfall. It is sad that so many depend upon experience alone to anchor their faith. We must have the Word of God salted away in our hearts like hard rock! We cannot live an overcoming life on experience alone. We must have reasons for our faith. We must be able to defend what we believe in ways that are persuasive and convincing to the unbeliever. We must be able to stand against the inevitable trials and temptations when the euphoria is gone.

Gaining fresh understanding about the Christian life can be just as edifying as a euphoric, emotionally intense, spiritual encounter. The discovery of truth is one of the most exciting of life’s pleasures! It is imperative that Christians learn their strengths and weaknesses, discover and set boundaries of biblical behavior, and discover God’s answers to life’s complex dilemmas.  Paul told Timothy, “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (II Timothy 2:7). To the church at Colossae Paul said, I “desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; Tthat ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10).

Is it possible for children to grow up in our churches and become biblically literate adults? I believe the answer is “yes!” If we ever needed to reevaluate the local church’s education program, it is today! Sunday school is more important today than it was when we were children. The church is the last bastion of hope for a culture in decay. We do not need Sunday schools that are just flaccid attempts to maintain an old tradition, but intense, professionally- implemented schools with qualified teachers. Our children need more than weekly entertainment sessions filled with clownish episodes, jumping jacks, balloons, and movie clips. We need schools of learning—biblical learning!

Specialized biblical education for adults is also imperative for a church with a future! Adults need to know how to raise their children, manage their finances, cultivate a devotional life, cope with temptation, and protect their home from the corruption of modernity. They cannot make it on clever sound bites and slogans. When the emotionally intense services on the weekend are over and Monday morning comes around, people need to “know” what and why they believe. This is what Paul meant when he told Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). The warning given to Hosea is old but has modern application: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee” (Hosea 4:6).

Education and the church must be partners!


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