Pulpits are full of men who are saying something without having anything to say. Many of them put on quite the performance as they bang and clang, stomp and snort, fizz and foam, and display their newly learned Tae Bo kicks. This is because they have no words. They have no words because they haven’t gathered any. And without words the pulpit has no voice.
The reformation that is needed cannot be accomplished by men who will not or cannot read. This is more than a practical point; it is a theological one. It is unfortunate, but there are many Christians who believe in the supremacy of Scripture, but who do not believe in the fruitfulness of Scripture. For example, if a pastor is reading a work of systematic theology, some well-meaning soul will gently admonish him to put aside the works of men, and devote himself to the study of Scripture alone. Such an admonition, although well-intentioned, is actually dishonoring to the Scriptures.
Suppose someone does devote himself to the study of Scripture alone. He pours over it, and he is saturated in its teaching. It can be said of him what Spurgeon said of John Bunyan—prick him anywhere and his blood would run bibline. Will such a brother learn anything? The answer is obvious—he will learn a tremendous amount. Look at Bunyan!
But having learned so much, is it permissible for him to share anything that he has learned with other Christians? May he teach? Or must we interrupt any such conversation to admonish listeners not to listen to the words of a mere man?
Whenever the Book has been honored and studied, the result has always been countless multitudes of books—the inevitable fruit of that study. Those who fear the Lord speak often with one another, and one of the natural ways to do this is though the publication of books. This is because the Bible tells us how the saints are to be instructed, and it is clear that it is not though private time reading the Bible alone. The writing and reading of God-honoring books is not a substitute for Bible-reading; it is the result of Bible reading.
But we still have been told to go to the Bible alone—let us do so: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). “Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:7-8).
The teaching of Scripture on this points very clear. God requires uninspired teachers to expound His Word and apply it to the lives of God’s people. The Bible does not say that worship services should consist of Scripture reading only—with no interpretive voice inflections. On the contrary, the Bible tells us that we are to receive much of our religious instruction from uninspired sources—parents (Deut. 6:6-9), husbands (Eph. 5:25-27), elders (Heb. 13:7), and fellow Christians (Heb. 10:25).
And if some of the believers are tempted to give too much wide-eyed credence to their fallible teachers, then their teachers should warn them about that, just as they warn them about other sins. Since all human teachers are fallible, it is very important for them to stick as close to the text as possible. Those who refuse to listen to such teachers (and who refuse to read books by them) may do so in the name of honoring Scripture, but they are really kicking against the requirement of Scripture. They say, in effect, that the Bible should be honored—so long as it is kept barren and produces no teachers, and no books. And incidentally, it must also be remembered that although they maintain that they sit at the feet of no man, there is at least one kind of human teaching they do think highly of—whatever has been forged in the fevered heat of their own brain.
But someone may protest that there really is a genuine problem when people pay attention to the words of men rather than the words of God. Of course it is a problem! But how did our brother warn us of this danger? Through his own words—the words of a man. Should we therefore dismiss his warning? Not at all. It is a biblical warning. But in heeding this admonition, we are not at liberty to set aside what the Bible elsewhere tells us to do, which is to heed and honor our uninspired teachers.
And even though this is a genuine problem, how is it solved through the avoidance of publication and reading? So long as Christians speak with one another, as long as there are preachers and teachers in the body of Christ, there will be some who find it easier to follow men than to follow Christ. We cannot remove this temptation from the Church; this is part of how God made the world. A man who has a problem with lust should not beseech God to solve his problem by removing all of the women from the planet. Nor should we seek to solve the problem of hero-worship by removing the teachers. Rather, when there is a problem, we should address it the same way as we address other problems in the Church—through God-centered and biblical teaching.
So all attempts to banish scholarship and published learning will only result in theological know-nothingism. If we succeeded in getting the saints to avoid listening to scholars and godly men, we would only discover that they now line up at the cash registers to buy the books of ignoramuses and airheads. The only way to avoid this is to require every Christian to be his own teacher, and place us all under a vow of perpetual silence—which, as a solution, would also have the disadvantage of being disobedient to Scripture. And besides, who is going to teach us this requirement of silence? Not a human teacher, surely?
Nevertheless, we may still learn from this misguided attempt to empty the libraries and the minds of Christians. Although we cannot agree that uninspired books necessarily supplant Scripture, we may and must insist upon books which uphold the primacy of Scripture.
If someone is reading God-honoring Christian books (as opposed to the theological treacle which most Christian bookstores specialize in these days), those books will admonish, advise, teach and instruct. But above all, they will do what all godly teaching does—drive their readers back to the Scriptures. And that will result in more books.
All this means that ministers should glory in their books. They should of course be immersed in the Scriptures, but in addition to this, they should surround themselves with commentaries, works of theology, and history. As they participate in this process of reading, submitting themselves to the learning of others, they may come to the point where they feel they can contribute to the discussion, and write some books of their own.
Too many pastors feel like they read all they had to read in seminary, and after entering the ministry they do not have any time for real reading. Further, they have been fully trained, haven’t they?! Why read anymore? This attitude is a real dereliction of duty. Because it relates to what a minister knows, it could be considered a mere academic issue. But because it frequently proceeds from laziness, it has to be considered a moral disqualification as well.
In order to be a good and godly minister, a man must love God and His Word. He is a shepherd of souls, and so he must also love those among whom he ministers. But if he understands well, he will also love his library. “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).
Preacher, if you aren’t going to devote yourself to the acquisition and study of good books, then for the sake of the Kingdom, go sell cars.