The Antioch church was well-taught.
The early church, including most church fathers, interpreted the Bible allegorically. This is a method that brushes aside the literal and historical meanings of Scripture in favour of “spiritual” meanings. Every colour, character and creature has a cryptic meaning to be decoded by the reader.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, the victim is Adam, the Samaritan is Jesus, the inn is the Church, the innkeeper is Paul. The simple meaning of “love your neighbour as yourself” is drowned in allegory.
And the Song of Solomon, originally a love story rated NC16, is read as an allegory of the love between God and Israel or between Christ and the church. Otherwise, this graphic celebration of human love would not have made it into the Bible.
The Antioch church opposed the allegorical method. Its most famous preacher after Paul and Barnabas was an elder by the name of John Chrysostom. John rejected any interpretation of Scripture that disregarded its literal meaning. Theodore, a contemporary of John, accused allegorical preachers of twisting the meanings of the Bible: “They dream up silly fables in their own heads.”
In place of allegory, the Antioch church cultivated the art of biblical exegesis. This method seeks to discover the literal meaning of the text in its historical context. Antioch is also the home of expository preaching, which creatively applies the meanings of Scripture to the lives of the hearers.
John Chrysostom was good at it. When he preached in Antioch, people pushed and shoved for a front row seat. After a two-hour sermon, they were still hungry for more.
But John knew that some came not to be taught, but to be entertained, as though it were a play or a concert, he lamented. Others came to judge and criticise. John urged his flock not just to attend church and listen to sermons, but to feed themselves on the Word of God.
After John died, he was named “Chrysostom”, which means “golden mouth”. His sermons are still being read and studied today. They are not meant to tickle ears, but to stir hearts and change lives. So there’s more to Antioch than missions, as great as that is. Antioch was a well-taught church and a great teaching centre.
If Singapore wants to be an Antioch for Asia, we’ve got some homework to do.
Fast and pray
In the world of trade and commerce, Singapore is rated the easiest place for doing business. In the world of public administration, Singapore is home to the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence. In the world of education, Singapore tops global rankings. But how do we fare in the world of theology and Bible teaching? Are we a Church well taught?
- On the positive side, the Singapore Church has produced some great teachers of the Word. You know some of them by name. You have been fed tremendously from their excellent teaching and expository preaching. Pause and give thanks to God. Acknowledge them as God’s gifts, not only to Singapore, but also to Asia and the world.
Ask God to raise up many more like them who are rooted in the Word and skilful in teaching the Word. May God put in them a noble desire to build a lasting legacy by mentoring a new generation of theologians, thinkers and teachers. May their successors surpass them in influence and impact.
- On the negative side, allegory is still alive and kicking in the pulpit today, even in Singapore.
In identificational repentance, ask God to forgive us where we have been careless and reckless. Where we have fallen for the fanciful, the sensational, the ear-tickling pep talks to please consumer Christians. Where we have misinterpreted the Word and mangled the truth. Where we have exalted the authority of personal experience over the authority of Scripture. Where we have parroted bogus teaching from dubious sources.
- The Church in any nation is only as strong as its local church. The local church is only as strong as its foundation in the Word. For the long-term good of Church and Nation, pray that we will think biblically and act wisely in this era of false teaching, in this kairos moment of generational transition. Competence in teaching the Word is one of the requirements of church elders (1 Timothy 3:2).
Pray, therefore, that we will be strict in selecting the next generation of elders. Elders who are well grounded in the Word. Elders who communicate the Word effectively—”teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Elders who shepherd the church according to the Word. Elders who inspire believers to love the Word, live the Word and spread the Word to the ends of the earth. May every local church become a centre of sound Word, excellent teaching and expository preaching.
- Bible literacy is declining in Singapore. Will you be part of the solution? How is your Word life? Are you reading the Word? Studying the Word? Is it your reference point? Realise this: Ignorance of Scripture is “a great cliff and a deep abyss”. The more we neglect the Word, the more secular, sceptical and selfish we become.
Return to the Word. Ask for a genuine revival marked by a deep hunger for the Word. Ask God to start with you, your church and your circle of friends.