Dr. R.C. Sproul frequently told the story of when he was a student pastor in a local church. While laboring in that congregation, Dr. Sproul wrote a note to himself and kept it on his desk where he could always see it. The note read, “You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you want the Bible to say is true.”
Dr. Sproul’s note is striking for its simplicity and its countercultural—in the best sense—boldness. First, its simplicity. Dr. Sproul wrote it as a young preacher and with his specific calling in mind, but I know that he would apply it to all believers. What are Christians called to do? To believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true. That is our task as followers of Jesus. Our Lord had the highest view of the Word of God, telling us that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Throughout His ministry, Christ appealed to the Bible’s authority by prefacing so many of His words with “it is written” and then quoting the Scriptures (Matt. 4:1–11; Mark 7:6–7; Luke 20:9–18). Jesus believed, preached, and taught what the Bible says is true. We can do no less, given the God-breathed nature of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Whether we are ordained church officers or laypeople proclaiming Christ to friends, family, and neighbors, we must believe, preach, and teach what the Bible says is true.
Such a statement is hardly controversial to people committed to Christ’s authority. But I think we often fail to understand how countercultural the second part of Dr. Sproul’s statement is. Not only are we to teach what the Bible says is true, but we are not to believe, proclaim, and teach what we want the Bible to say is true. There are many ways that we proclaim what we want the Bible to say is true, but one that can go unnoticed is when we get embarrassed by some things the Bible teaches and do not talk about such things very loudly.
It is not that we are denying a scriptural teaching or reading something into it, but that we know and believe something that Scripture teaches but are afraid to make much noise about it. For instance, it is common in our day for Christians to loudly and forthrightly denounce the sins that the secular culture loudly and forthrightly denounces. Now, we should be happy whenever secular people rightly identify wickedness and speak against it. But the secular society often affirms particular sins as good things, and there the church tends to go silent. But we aren’t being prophetic if we are speaking loudly and forcefully only against the things that our culture already knows to be wrong, even if we should be speaking against such things.
Dr. Sproul frequently spoke of the church’s call to be the conscience of the culture, to call it to conform to God’s revelation. That means we must be as loud and forceful against the sins that the culture does not speak against as we are against the sins the culture recognizes. Otherwise, we’re just going with the flow of the culture and showing only that we’re embarrassed by the Bible.