Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, we were on the eastern most edge of the famed “Tornado Alley.” Each spring, in school, we went through tornado drills and were reminded of the dangers of severe weather. In 1985, there was a huge tornado outbreak in our area with 26 of tornadoes throughout Western Pennsylvania. The tornado that hit Atlantic, PA was an F-4 and was about five-ten miles from our home. It was certainly an unnerving day. Because tornadoes were frequent enough, we learned the signs of bad weather. I began to learn to see thunderheads forming off in the distant and know that later that evening we would have a storm somewhere in the area.
John wrote something simliar to his church in 1 John. There had been false teachers throughout the area, and because of that a storm was brewing as his church was facing a split because of these “anti-christ.” Here in 1 John 4:1-3, John encourages his congregation to be aware of the signs of a false teacher. He writes:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
1 John 4:1-3 (TNIV)
John is writing to his church who is in the midst of a division that has been caused by some “antichrist” or false prophets who are teaching something other than what John has seen, heard, experienced and then taught this early Christian community. He encourages them to test every spirit and that every Spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and is from God. John encourages his congregation that they must keep in mind what they know about Jesus. Jesus is God-in-Flesh and anything contrary is a false teaching.
In recent history, the Nazi Party used scripture to back the idea of Arayan supremecy. The Ku Klux Klan uses Scripture to support their hatred and bigotry towards African-Americans. We only have to turn the TV on to hear various teachings that claim to be Christian- some are various TV preachers and others are like Oprah who people listen to more than that Word of God.
It is a struggle that, as a Pastor, that we have lost our knowledge of God’s Word. It is our anchor that helps to give us assurance in the storms that we face in faith and in life. We live in a biblically illiterate society- and the Church must wrestle with the best ways to teach this members how to read God’s word for themselves and to be able to “test the spirits” of all the teaching we receive- whether from the pulpit, television, or a book. It is a little disheartening to me that many of our “Bible Studies” have become book studies by Christian celebrity authors where the Bible is never even opened up. For the Church to move in power, we must ground all we do on God’s Word.
How is your church teaching/studying God’s Word? Do you have Bible studies or Book Studies?
My pastor just starting teaching a class last night called A Deeper Spiritual Life. It's part of a series of courses they started here last year called Essential Discipleship. We also have men and women's studies. And we're doing a big small group push in January.