Updated: Oct 22, 2020
An honest assessment of what passes for Evangelicalism today is depressing. Individual Christians are vastly ignorant of the scriptures, churches that teach verse-by-verse are few and far between, and whole denominations are apostatizing left and right. The reason for this massive downgrade is simple: once a departure from Scripture’s authority has commenced, total destruction is imminent.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” – Matthew 7:24-27
The problem with evangelicalism is that, as a whole, the movement has rejected the rock of Scripture, i.e. these words of Mine. Paul prophetically saw this day coming when he wrote his second letter to Timothy.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-4
We are even now living in a time when “Christians” desperately desire to have their ears tickled. They want people to tell them what they want to hear and have no stomach for anything outside of that small circle.
Those of us who consider ourselves to be orthodox quickly point the finger at men like Joel Osteen or Steven Furtick who deny redemption from sin in favor of redemption of personal circumstances. We love to point out the damning error of women like Beth Moore and Rachel Hollis who preach empowerment instead of submission. These are ear-ticklers who have a vast following. But what are we doing about it?
The cancer of heresy is easy to spot once it manifests, but we must address the source of this sickness rather than only treating the symptoms. Generally speaking, we know the problem. We have departed from the Word of God. When you confuse the gospel of grace with personal wealth and individual independence, you’re clearly off the reservation. But where did this start? How far back do we have to go before we find the root of this problem? At what point did we become those who desire to have our ears tickled? It is my opinion that this sickness has infected many more of us than you may suspect.
What Is The Problem?
If you’re like me, you may associate that phrase “wanting to have their ears tickled” with heresy. Clearly what Paul is talking about is a gross misrepresentation of the gospel that might include things like:
– Denying the divinity of Jesus Christ
– Denying the humanity of Jesus Christ
– Denying the necessity of repentance from sin for salvation
– Denying human inability in salvation
We could go on and on all the while pointing out the heresies of various cults and false teachers, but Paul’s point is broader than that. All that the phrase means is that people want to be told what they want to hear at the expense of everything else. This does not mean that the thing that people want to hear is necessarily contrary to Scripture.
What does Paul place the ear tickling in contrast with? “Sound doctrine.” The Greek literally means healthy teaching/teaching that is wholesome. It brings the idea of a complete and filling spiritual and theological diet. There is no room in a good diet for sweets and fluff. But we also need more than only steak, more than only bread, more than only broccoli (Praise Him!).
To be a Christian is to hold certain convictions with an iron grip. There are many things that a true disciple of Jesus Christ will never budge on. But that iron grip must hold the totality of God’s Word and not only those convictions that we personally adore more than others.
There are certain beloved brothers and sisters that I can spend hours with as we talk about the joyous doctrine of God’s sovereignty over salvation. We can fellowship with each other and glorify our Lord as we marvel at His grace, mercy, and complete control over our eternal destination with Him.
Just this week I had a wonderful conversation with an older gentleman who was deeply concerned with the church’s drift on creation. He was troubled that people who profess Christ are so ready to reject God’s account of His good creation. This is a good and holy concern, but it cannot begin and end there.
Some of these same beloved believers, while holding fast their biblical concerns and convictions, are ignorant to other important doctrines. Not only are they ignorant, they’re indifferent. They have no time to think on these matters. They have no desire to submit to teaching on these matters. They only wish to hear about the things that are most concerning to them.
Yet is this not the same attitude that we rebuke those taken in by false teachers? Paul’s point is simply to say that people will only want to hear certain things at the expense of the totality of sound doctrine. The problem is deeper than realizing that we have departed from the Word of God. The problem is that we have long lacked an appetite for the totality of the Word of God.
Those of us who consider ourselves orthodox are eager to rally to the cry of Sola Scriptura! Yet that slogan (Scripture Alone!) means that we stand on the totality of Scripture alone, not that we only stand on our favorite passages and doctrines.
By way of illustration: I’ve noticed a trend in the various posts that I write. The majority of my writing reflects the majority of my preaching: careful exposition of whole books of the Bible beginning in verse one of chapter one and working through the remainder of the book. But occasionally it is necessary or at least prudent to address issues and topics outside the sphere of the book that we are studying. Those topics are still discussed and presented with a biblical worldview and studied under the light of Scripture, but they are still topical in nature. By far and away it is those kinds of posts that receive the most attention, most views, and most shares on social media. This trend follows the trajectory of the larger problem. In general, the people of God are more interested in topical discussions that just so happen to tickle their ears than enduring healthy and wholesome teaching. If I am honest, I find this discouraging.
If I were to write about the evils of abortion or the importance of the family unit, the response would likely be positive, well received, and well shared. If I were to write something rather controversial like the clear demonic influence of the Democratic National Convention or the apostasy of the Southern Baptist Convention, again these sensational topics would likely be widely (at least for this humble site’s standards) read and well circulated. But these are crumbs. The truths of these propositions are so utterly basic to the Christian faith. To feast on these things is to ensure spiritual starvation. To prefer sensational topics to steady exposition is the very definition of wanting to have our ears tickled.
Please understand me. I am not suggesting that pastors should not address topics that intersect with our surroundings. The sheep need to hear the clear voice of the Shepherd in all things. But it grieves me that there is a genuine lack of appetite for meat while the crumbs are quickly gobbled up. The true child of God loves all of the Word of God and not only the parts he finds to be sensational.
This is a problem of our own making. It has become the standard operating procedure of most churches to completely avoid certain portions of the Word of God. We are grieved when we see churches adopt atheistic presuppositions about the origins of the universe and deny God’s literal creation. We marvel and shake our heads when we hear that churches no longer teach that homosexuality is sin in both practice and desire. We are shocked when we see mainstream denominations promote blatant violations of the command: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” But all of these are only the fruit. The root is much deeper.
The problem is that we give lip service to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture while practically denying Paul’s words to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
There are only two verses separating this statement and the warning in 4:3-4. The problem is not just that the Bible isn’t being taught. The problem is that even where the Bible is taught, only select portions of it are being taught.
In plain language, the problem is a departure from the totality of Scripture.
What Is The Solution?
If the problem is that simple, then the solution should also be simple. We must cling to and submit under the totality of Scripture. But what does that simple solution look like?
As a people, we must soundly reject the false understanding of doctrinal triage. We cannot survive another decade if we continue to treat the church like a 1950’s dinner party where there are certain topics that just cannot be discussed. There is simply no such thing as secondary or tertiary issues that pale in significance or even lapse into insignificance when placed alongside “primary” issues. To say that there are only a few things a person must know in order to possess saving faith is not at all the same as suggesting that everything else is not as important. The biblical authors never divide the Word of God into degrees of significance and neither should we. The solution to biblical fidelity will never be found in arbitrary divisions of biblical teaching. If we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.
As a church, our pulpits must proclaim the full counsel of God and not only the portions that are palatable. The teaching must be only the Word and must consist of the totality of the Word. Careful verse-by-verse exposition takes a very, very, very long time. It took John MacArthur almost 50 years to preach through the New Testament (at two services a week that comes out to over 5,000 sermons). But there are still 39 books in the Old Testament that need to be taught. Precise verse-by-verse exposition is the only way to preach. But that means the church must provide more than only the pulpit ministry. The people need the whole story. Their diet must contain the totality of God’s bounty. The solution to biblical fidelity requires the totality of the Bible to be taught. If we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.
As an individual, you must feast upon the totality of Scripture on a daily basis. There are many Bible reading programs out there. I have my opinion as to how to make your daily Bible reading and communion with God most profitable, but at the end of the day you must be familiar with ALL of your Bible. When is the last time you read through Leviticus, or Habakkuk, or Philemon, or (heaven forbid) Revelation? If you own a Bible and possess the ability to read, there is no excuse to be biblically malnourished. This is akin to starving do death with a full pantry. The solution to biblical fidelity requires that we are familiar with our Bibles. If we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.
Find a church: The individual Christian is never truly an individual but a member of a larger body. If you find yourself floating from church to church, or just not going to church, then repent of your sin and attach yourself to a faithful body. But be wise to what you attach yourself. There is only one thing that should look for: does this church teach the Bible? Sequential exposition is not just an effective way to preach, it is the only way to preach. The style of music, the quality of the sound system, and the presence (or lack of) children’s church does not amount to a hill of beans. Does the pastor open up his Bible, read it, explain it, and then exhort obedience to it? Find a church that does this, attach yourself to her, bless her and be blessed by her.
Redeem the time: There are portions of our day when our minds a free to wander. Whether we are driving to work, getting in a work out at the gym, or doing some mindless chore around the house. These are fantastic opportunities to engage the mind as well as the hands. We live in a day when we have countless resources full of sound teaching at our fingertips. Many faithful ministries have applications free to download on your phone (Search for Grace to You and S.L.J Institutes in the app store). Stop wasting your time with pointless and Godless music or simply allowing your mind to wander but rather feast upon the Word of God.
Be selective: Make a conscience decision between what’s good and what’s best. There are many teaching resources out there that seek to teach biblical truth, but are not necessarily teaching the Bible. Is it good to learn about God’s good creation and the scientific discoveries that assume Genesis 1 is true? Is it good to listen to men discussing current events from a biblical worldview? Absolutely. But what is best is to feast on the Word itself. Why waste your time listening about the Bible when you can hear the Bible being taught?
Apostasy and heresy are running rampant in our land and we are partly to blame. We have the audacity to be shocked when the fruit of unbelief surfaces when the root stemming from abandoning Biblical authority has been growing for decades. I’ve referenced 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 4:3-4. What comes in between those two passages?
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
He doesn’t say, “preach the primary doctrines” but preach the full counsel of God. He doesn’t say preach it when it’s convenient, but to preach it in season and out of season. There is no other season! He doesn’t say to preach it but to keep your convictions to yourself. He says reprove (give correction to false understanding or disobedience), rebuke (call out sin for what it is), exhort (call the people to obey what it says) with great patience (people need to hear it over and over again. Change takes time) and instruction (TEACH IT!).
The problem with the church today is that we have neglected the totality of Scripture. The solution is to chain ourselves to, immerse ourselves in, and fully submit under all of Scripture. Look one last time at these verses.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
This is our battle cry. This is what Sola Scriptura means. This is the path of fidelity. This is the solution to the problem. But if we’re not part of this solution, then we’re part of the problem.