I’m so pleased to be able to welcome the very first guest author to this blog. I asked Phill Sacre if he would write something for us and he very kindly agreed.
Phill has been a personal friend of mine for a long time, and forms part of the ordained ministry team at our church.
Alongside his church ministry, Phill has launched an online ministry called Understand the Bible. This video ministry supports Christians in their walk with God and… well, helps them to understand the Bible!
I’ll say more at the end, but for now, I hope you enjoy Phill’s post.
The Pattern of Sound Teaching
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14)
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
A few years ago Carl Trueman wrote a book called “The Creedal Imperative”. In the introduction to that book he said: “The burden that motivates my writing of this book is my belief that creeds and confessions are vital to the present and future well-being of the church.” I found the book very stimulating and it is well worth reading.
In the book, Trueman argues that 2 Timothy 1:13, the “pattern” (or “form”) of sound teaching is important for the church: this is not simply learning the Scriptures – as important as that is – but, more than that, learning the truth contained within the Bible.
Let’s consider an example: the Trinity. You may well be aware that the word “Trinity” does not occur within the Bible. However, does that mean that the Trinity is un-Biblical? Of course not! Trinity is simply a word which theologians over the centuries have come up with to explain what is in the Bible. As they studied the Bible, they realised that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity may be simply a word, but it expresses an important Biblical truth. It is a precious truth which has been passed down to us through many faithful Christians over the generations.
But if the Trinity is a deeply Biblical and important truth for our faith, why is it that Christians seem to have so little confidence with this doctrine? Why is it, as Andrew Wilson highlighted in a blog a few years ago, that modern worship songs are rarely Trinitarian (they tend to address God only as ‘God’ or ‘Lord’, rather than the specific Father / Son / Holy Spirit)?
You could extend this to many different areas. I, along with many other Christians, have been deeply distressed over the last few years that many churches in the UK have changed their minds on a number of significant moral issues of the day e.g. about marriage and sexuality, end-of-life issues, and so on. Why is it that churches in the 21st century seem too often to take on the values of the surrounding culture rather than being counter cultural?
I believe the answer to both of these questions is that many churches have neglected the “pattern of sound teaching” which we started out with. Over the last few years I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of people who have only recently come to Christ. They’ve been a variety of ages and from a variety of backgrounds, but one thing is common to virtually all of them: they started out knowing next to nothing about the Christian faith.
What became abundantly clear to me while as I tried to teach them the faith was that our traditional way of doing things in the church – a sermon on a Sunday, with a home group mid-week, looking at a section of the Bible – was simply not enough. For one, most of them didn’t come to church every Sunday – we’ve found it extraordinarily difficult to encourage young families to come to church! We found that home groups are attended much more regularly – but even a home group doing a traditional home group study on a Bible passage didn’t hit the spot.
It’s not that the Bible isn’t good enough – of course the Bible is sufficient. But rather, our teaching methods weren’t sufficient: I found that we needed to find a way of teaching people ‘from the ground up.’ One of my regrets with our group is that I tried to do too much too soon – we moved onto a traditional Bible study before I think they were really ready for it; they needed more time to learn.
So, the million dollar question is, what should we be doing instead?
Over the last few years, I have rediscovered something which the church largely forgot during the 20th century: catechism. A catechism is simply a way of teaching and learning the Christian faith through a series of questions and answers. Catechisms were originally developed in the early church to teach people the faith before coming to baptism. They have been used through the centuries to teach new believers (and children) the faith. They were rediscovered at the time of the reformation, and two of the most famous catechisms still in use today were produced at that time (the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism).
Why did they fall out of favour in the 20th century? Perhaps churches became complacent. Perhaps churches thought “everyone’s a Christian”, and so stopped doing it. There are probably many answers – but I think the weakness of the church now is simply the fruit of what was sowed then. At the start I quoted, George Santayana – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. We ought to learn from the experience of the church in previous generations. Not long ago I was listening to a podcast on the early church which talked about people being converted from pagan backgrounds needing to be taught the faith from the ground up. The church has been in our situation before – what we are going through in the 21st century is nothing new. We already have the wisdom of previous generations in dealing with this!
I have been enormously encouraged recently by signs that the church is beginning to learn. Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has published the New City Catechism – a modern language catechism with lots of teaching resources including a Sunday School curriculum. The church in the 21st Century is starting to wake up to the fact that people need to be taught the Christian faith systematically in order to understand it.
This is where Understand the Bible comes in. Over the last few months I’ve been working on a website called Understand the Bible. This is my effort at trying to help the 21st century church to teach people the faith. I have recorded lots of videos on different topics (e.g. the New City Catechism, Justification, Sin, and I am currently working on the Heidelberg Catechism). People can then sign up to the website and be guided through these videos, watching them in their own time at their own convenience. I have even just released a mobile app so people can watch / listen on their smartphones!
It is still a work on progress – one thing I really want to do is make it easy for local churches to link into it, to create a stronger link between UTB and the local church. I don’t want people simply to sit at home and watch the videos without getting connected to the church!
But my hope and prayer is that these videos will help people to understand the Christian faith by providing a “pattern of sound teaching” from the ground up. I hope that it will both strengthen existing believers and teach new believers the wonderful truths of the gospel which have been passed down from generation to generation.
A huge thanks to Phill for contributing his thoughts on this subject.
You can find out more about Phill at his personal website – phillsacre.me
Understand the Bible has a whole host of videos to take you from the basics of the Christian faith through to studies of particular books. There really is something for everyone no matter where you are on your journey with Christ. I encourage you to take a look.