Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Biblical 'Teaching'

These are some thoughts I shared on Facebook about how the purpose of the New Covenant "teacher" is to help people hear the Holy Spirit for themselves so that eventually the "teacher" (the mentor) is ultimately no longer necessary because the "student" is walking with Christ in His fullness. (I.e., Ephesians 4!)

A pastor I know once put it this way: Jesus didn't say "Go ye therefore and plant churches", but rather go and make disciples. Or more properly, "as you go make disciples". As we go along where He sends, making disciples along the way, "church" is what happens when people walking with Him happen to be walking next to each other along the same way. The goal is walking with Him, and then "church" is (1) the identity of anyone who walks with Him and (2) whenever 2 or 3 get together in His name. (^_^)

The main goal is to walk with Him and hear Him. It's kind of difficult though, because generally today what is meant to be a means is the ends instead. "Church" is usually the goal instead of walking with Christ and helping others walk with Him. According to the New Covenant's promise, the goal of a NC "teacher" is to put him/herself out of a job -- to help the 'student' hear the Holy Spirit for him/herself so that the "teacher" is no longer needed. Church meetings in the last 500 years have usually been set up around perpetual teaching, however, so that continually "being taught" is the goal. Don't get me wrong, I love so much of "church" and it's often very awesome, but the promise of the NC can't be fully realized in that setting. The NC gift of teaching is meant to be a means to an end, not the ends itself.

There are a lot of dark spots in places and cities that need "church" (2 or 3 disciples) in them. Usually we want people to come out of dark places "into church" -- to basically gather all the lights into one building. But the lights are needed most in the darkness. Just like the apostles were needed in places beyond Judea... people needed Christ in Samaria and in the nations beyond. If God hadn't allowed the persecution, would the light of the gospel have gone out into the nations? Would it have stayed in Jerusalem, the lights gathered in one place like churches today?

The thing with the "teaching" is interesting, because the NT says there are teachers -- and James in particular says they've got to be really serious about their job. But the NT also says in the NC document in Hebrews that no longer shall we teach one another saying "know the Lord" but that we all shall know Him, from the least of us to the greatest. Jesus said the Spirit would lead us into all truth, and John echoed the promise of the Spirit by saying that "you have an anointing that teaches you all things" and don't need anyone to teach you.

Teachers exist in the NC like prophets -- both are jobs with a timer on them. Both are secondary witnesses to the primary witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirits. Otherwise we are God's grandchildren instead of children -- still needing the priestly intercessor to speak to us from God. The teacher's goal is to eventually hand you over to a communicating relationship with Christ Himself, not to keep you attached to the teacher's breast, so to speak. Of course, it takes time to learn how to hear God. But that should be the teacher's goal -- to help you learn how to distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit until the teacher becomes mere resonating confirmation to what God has already been speaking to you. Of course it should go without saying that the Spirit confirms what He wrote in Scripture and does not depart from it.

The main problem is that just like we are deathly afraid of falling into sin without the umbilical cord wrapped around the Ten Commandments, in the same way we are deathly afraid of being deceived and lost if we take the NC's promise about the Spirit literally. And as shepherds, pastors are deathly afraid of preaching that promise to their sheep. In the end we basically are afraid that God won't do what He promised to with the Holy Spirit. That's why we cling harder to teaching and don't teach people to believe in the power, safety and security of His Spirit as our Teacher. Intellectual knowledge feels more controllable, manageable, etc. It feels safer. Just like "law" initially feels safer than "grace".

But after we were in the grip of grace, we found that not only was it more powerful than law, it was also more fruitful! What the law could not do, grace does! In the same way, even though perpetual teaching feels safer and more manageable, in fact we don't know that the Spirit is more powerful and we are safer in Him. Learning straight from Him and teaching others to learn straight from Him is more powerful and fruitful. That was the secret of the early church that received the Spirit -- He was their Teacher!

Acts 2:42 was a picture of the church at its beginning, a picture of people devoted to the apostles' teaching because the people had not yet learned much about Jesus. It was the apostles' mission to testify to what they had seen and heard. When that testimony was gathered, along with the prophets' testimony (in the OT) about Christ, the testimonies of the apostles & prophets became the foundation of the church (as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2-3). In other words, Acts 2:42 should not be telling us that we need continual teaching in large meetings, but rather that we need to be devoted to the apostolic foundation -- devoted to the apostles' testimony about Jesus Christ.

Large gatherings are fun and wonderful (I love large groups worshiping in song, especially). However they're not the NC definition of "fellowship" or of "church", which can be as small as Matthew 18:20, and at which is actually possible to give more adequate attention to the people present. (By the way, no one said anything about "lone ranger-ism", however, there are many people who attend the weekly seminars (so to speak) that don't get to share and whose pain may not be ministered to... in other words, there are a lot of people "in church" who feel alone even though they are not "lone rangers".)

An illustration of this is a friend who homeschools his five children here in Japan. While before his kids used to be in a public Japanese elementary school, one day he went during an open-house to observe the classroom... and he was appalled. The teacher tried to teach, some students listened, some didn't. I've taught in Japanese public schools and know that the best you can do is try to teach the few who do listen, and make an effort at those who don't. It's rough. Even when the class is "good" and "attentive", people have different learning levels. So you try to sort of do a "shotgun" spray -- you try to teach something that will "hit everyone", but it doesn't really challenge the advanced kids well enough, and it doesn't really help the slower kids well enough either. This is really easy to understand when teaching something like a language, because learning language is not like mathematics or memorizing history dates. You need to use and practice the language and have feedback in order to really learn. Spirituality is more like language than any other school subject, I think! It's a way of communicating with God, listening to Him and you talking to Him.

I think that is why although He did a lot of public teaching, most of Christ's time was spent walking, talking with and listening & responding to just 12 people. There is something to be said for the ancient systems of mentoring and apprenticeship! (And private tutoring as well!)

Like learning to speak a language, probably one of the most important things is to "use it or lose it". To practice it, put it out, say it and just do it! Large teacher-centered gatherings only give a handful of people that opportunity, which is why so many pew-folk grow so slowly. I Cor.14:26 is probably one of the most descriptive verses detailing what "church" ought to look like, but it is one of the least followed simply because it's logistically hard to fit into the large, teaching-centered meetings that have been part of our tradition since the Protestant Reformation (when "teaching" replaced a ritualistic focus on the Eucharist as the center of meetings).

During the Reformation it was really necessary for teaching because people had really been in the "dark ages"! However Ephesians 4 speaks of teachers (etc.) helping to build the body up into the fullness of the knowledge of Christ. All ministers' ministry is aimed at bringing people up into fullness in Jesus, not to perpetual dependency on the teachers' teaching.

And I don't think many teachers think of their goal that way at all, btw! It's just the natural result of the teaching-centered meeting style we've inherited to keep people as faithful pew-warmers, breastfeeding week after week on milk instead of meat, instead of growing into deeper communication with God for themselves and the going out to minister to others.

The way that John Eldredge put it in "Waking the Dead" is really poignant. He said that we need fellowship -- a place where we can share our hearts and others can share their hearts, and where we can pray for each others' hearts and fight for one another's hearts against the enemy's crap that he throws in our lives. A place where we can listen to God for one another and learn to hear Him better. That is real fellowship. Usually churches make that a sort of bonus or secondary thing, a kind of "extra" that isn't the main thing. The main thing is the big Sunday seminar. But Eldredge said it's backwards. The main thing needs to be that fellowship, and the big get-togethers need to be the "extra".


See also: Many 'Teachings' (at Weeping Jeremiahs)


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