Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

This article is the first of a two-part series looking at the issue of how the average Christian is being robbed. They are being robbed of the opportunity to enter into discussion about what they hear on a Sunday; they are being robbed of training in the art of interpretation; and they are being robbed of helpful scholarly resources to support them in their study of God’s Word.

I grew up in a house church, but have attended a variety of mainstream denominations over the years.

While I am very grateful for my experience of these church fellowships, I have come to realise that some very important elements were missing. It wasn’t until later in life that I realised most churches have a theological leaning and preach from that perspective only; without making the congregation aware of the fact.

It does not seem to matter which denomination or type of church you find yourself in. Regardless, they do not seem keen on teaching about the history of their theologies and how to interpret the Bible.

I have begun to feel like I’ve been short-changed, or sometimes downright misled, being told something was ‘biblical’, when all along it originated well after the 1st century and cannot truly be supported by Scripture.  

Many churches claim to be ‘bible-based’ or ‘gospel-based’, and yet have widely differing, and even contradictory views. It seems an obvious thing to say, but they cannot all be right!

It seems that once you’re ‘in’ the church, your role is to listen to sermons week after week, without engaging in discussion or asking questions, instead of being equipped with the tools to rightly divide the Word.

It is pretty rare to hear a preacher explain why they believe what they believe about a certain passage or doctrine. They almost never provide other views and ask the congregation to look into these things for themselves.

If you happen to disagree with something you hear from the front, or ask questions, you are likely to be seen as a trouble-maker or even a heretic.

Why is that?

Questioning is good

I don’t know why questioning is not actively encouraged in church. Children at school are encouraged to question as part of their learning habits; in fact, it shows that they are engaged in their learning. They are rewarded for asking pertinent questions that demonstrate engagement.

Yet, when it comes to church, in some instances those that do have questions or have expressed different views have not been welcomed, or in extreme cases, even put out of the church.

When was the last time you heard a preacher say, “Does anyone have any questions about what I’ve just said?”

How do we really know what the preacher has said is true?

Questions that are asked out of genuine interest or concern should be welcomed. At least preachers should be honest to acknowledge that their interpretation is the result of particular theological perspective.

The problem is not with the questions being asked, it’s with the answers, or, more likely the lack thereof.

If someone’s theology cannot handle being questioned, there might be something wrong with that theology!

If the preacher cannot answer questions someone might have, again, maybe it’s the theology that’s at fault.

Instead of being threatened by questioners, preachers should welcome them as a healthy sign that their congregation are actually listening and are seeking to understand – surely this should be every genuine pastor’s dream?

When was the last time you asked a question about the sermon you heard on Sunday?  When were you given the opportunity or encouraged to do so?

Surely it would be beneficial for members of the church to be engaged in discussion about the bible and not leave all the interpreting to one or two leaders. 

Good questions to ask:

How did you come to that conclusion about that passage/doctrine?

What about this passage that seems to say the opposite?

What did the early church think about this?

What do other denominations say about this?

Do we know how this particular interpretation began and developed?

Is there any good scholarly work that would help us find out more about this?

I finish my article with a favourite quote by Richard Feynman: “I’d rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” 

Let’s keep the questions coming…