Wanted: A Teaching Church
The Bible is the Word of God. All Bible-believing evangelical churches affirm this. In historic Protestantism, there is a theology of the Word that not only professes sola Scriptura but also professes the sufficiency of Scripture for all things concerning doctrine, worship, and godliness. What the church of the twenty-first century needs to be is a teaching church that plainly and powerfully proclaims the Word of God. Then the church will be equipped to fulfill its task in the world to worship and to witness to that world.
As the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), the New Testament church inherited a rich teaching tradition from the Old Testament people of God. Because the Levites failed in their responsibility to teach the people as they were called (Deut. 31:9–13), God raised up prophets to proclaim His Word. The central tasks of the prophets were to pray for the people and to teach the people (Ex. 18:20).
At the coming of Christ, divine instruction took on flesh and blood. We see a common picture in the gospels: “…and crowds gathered to him again, And again, as was his custom, he taught them” (Mark 10:1; cf. Matt. 4:23–25). Jesus focused so much on teaching because as the Christ, He summed up in Himself not only the Old Testament offices of priest and king, but also prophet to fully reveal to us the secret counsel of God concerning our redemption.
God’s emphasis on teaching is further highlighted by the various lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament that focus on teaching. Gifts like spiritual discernment (1 Cor. 12:10), words of knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8), and prophecy (Rom. 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:28) or prophetic utterance (1 Cor. 14:1–5) assume an awareness of and ability to articulate the things of God. All the “gifts” Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4 are those of the ministry of the Word: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Eph. 4:11). There are several discernable marks of a teaching church.
It Is Led By an Equipped Minister
While there is no command in Scripture requiring institutions that mirror contemporary seminaries, the New Testament assumes equivalent training to prepare one for the ministry. Ministerial training that resembles the New Testament paradigm will combine interpersonal discipleship, heart-warming devotion, and academic discipline. Paul charged Timothy: “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Churches today need to lead their men through seminary by seeing that they are discipled by coming alongside of more seasoned ministers. If seminaries are to properly prepare men for ministry today they must also seek to inculcate in their students a living piety. In the book of Acts, Luke makes a remarkable statement. He says that the Pharisees could observe that the disciples had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). They didn’t have the same credentials as the scribes and teachers of the law but they had been nurtured in the seedbed of the gospel in the care of the Master Gardener. They had studied with Him, asked questions of Him, been corrected by Him, and grown in their love for Him.
It Provides Ample Time for Teaching
Historically, Christian congregations had at least had two worship services on the Lord’s Day. One reason for this phenomenon is expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation one of the Sabbath command: “that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church to learn the Word of God” (Q&A 103). Sunday schools, mid-week classes, and small groups can certainly provide additional teaching and fellowship time. But God’s primary means of conveying, not merely information, but grace itself, is the preaching of the Word (Acts 2:42; Rom. 10:17). For this reason a teaching church will see the sermon as the centerpiece of the worship service(s).
It Understands Teaching Not Merely as Informing but as Equipping
The modern disdain for preaching stems in part from the fact that some preaching is indistinguishable from lecturing. If Scripture is useful for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, then teachers should use it in that way “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). In Ephesians 4:11–16 we get a clear picture of the relationship between the teaching ministry and the collective ministry of the church: the pastor-teachers are to equip the saints for the works of ministry. Sermons must explain the “what” of the text as well as the “so what.” Doctrine must lead to what the Puritans called “use,” also known as application. A. W. Tozer was right: “Exposition must have application,” faithfully and lovingly drawing out the significance of the text.
A Teaching Church Is Committed to Being a Learning Church
If there are teaching duties of a well-ordered church there are also learning duties that are shared by each of the members. A member is to make diligent use of the “means of grace.” These are especially the preached Word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It’s amazing that so much emphasis today is placed on private Bible reading as means of knowing God and His will, while relatively little stress is placed on the obligation of each member of Christ to diligently and regularly attend to the preached Word. As we read the Word, but especially as we hear it proclaimed, God speaks His Word about the work of His Son through the helping ministry of the Holy Spirit. This Word is directed to the head, hearts, and hands of sinners for one very important purpose; that we would increasingly turn from our sins and to God. That’s why the heartbeat of the Christian ministry and of the Christian life is a teaching church.
Daniel R. Hyde is senior minister of Oceanside Reformed Church in Oceanside, Calif. He is also coauthor, with William Boekestein, of the new book, A Well-Ordered Church: Laying a Foundation for a Vibrant Church.