Monday, December 06, 2021


In a previous post, I commented that modern “preaching/teaching does not add much value to the Kingdom of God”. Some readers disagreed with this deliberately thought-provoking comment. One of the clearest and gracious disagreements came from Rich Vermillion. I am reposting our discussion, and my response here, because it was buried down in the comments, and other readers might be interested. Rich commented

A question for the sake of clarity: Your 3rd bullet point up from the bottom begins by saying preaching/teaching does not add much value to the Kingdom of God. Leaving aside the preaching point for now, further down in the same paragraph you expressed the need to “teach” various things to the people being discipled. That appears to be a contradiction, so I am not confident that I understand your point of view there. Can you please clarify?
I responded with the following comment and link.
The problem is with the meaning of the word “teaching”. We tend to think of teaching as something that happens in a classroom. We mostly think of teaching as a transfer of information. Modern teaching is usually a process whereby an expert passes on information to a group of students. They are quite free to ignore what is taught.

The modern church has taken the classroom model into the Sunday worship meeting. The problem is that when people hear teaching week after week, they assume they are growing because they know more, but in reality, their practice, behaviour and character are largely unchanged. Modern Christians get significant theoretical knowledge, but very little practical experience. This is why I say that most preaching/teaching does not add much value. It makes people feel they are getting ahead (knowledge puffs up) when they are doing very little of eternal significance.

For the early Christians teaching was something quite different. They saw it as an activity involving personal direction and an exercise of authority. It took place within a relationship where the teacher had authority over the student. A student would submit himself to a teacher whose lifestyle he admired. Their aim would be to learn the way of life, and the truths which underlay it by copying it. So a teacher did not just give their views. They laid out what they expected the student to believe, and the way they expected them to live. So teaching in the New Testament was more like what we call "discipling". It included the formation of character.

We can see this in the way that Jesus taught his twelve disciples. He did not just impart information to them. By living in close proximity with them for three years, he developed a strong relationship with them. They submitted to Jesus and carried out all his instructions. He had complete authority over them. In this way, he formed their lives into a likeness of his own. And throughout the New Testament, teaching takes place within a similar relationship.

Jesus used a master/apprentice model, where the apprentice lived and worked with the master, copying what he was doing and learning while he was doing it. The master gave information to the apprentice, but it made sense because it related to what they were doing in the workshop. The parable of the sower makes more sense when you have been sent out two by two to share the gospel.

So there is stuff that needs to be taught/learnt, but it is best learnt while doing.

Rich’s response was as follows.
I appreciate you taking the time to explain those points further. I can agree with your point about the need for discipleship and enjoyed your metaphor with apprenticeship. However, I can’t agree that public teaching isn’t beneficial.

First of all, the growth of the initial assembly in Jerusalem was too rapid to possibly allow for the Twelve to disciple thousands of converts in this manner. Rather, it was public teaching:
Acts 2:41-42 (NKJV) 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added [to them.] 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 5:42 (NKJV) And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus [as] the Christ. Acts 6:2-4 (NKJV) 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of [good] reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Remember that Jesus likewise taught publicly in the temple, synagogues, mountain tops, open squares, and homes, but only personally mentored a small number of people (which included the original Twelve plus Matthias and others). Additionally, the office of teacher doesn’t connote apprenticeship, but public instruction: Ephesians 4:11-15 (NKJV) 11 And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ...

Lastly, I have personally experienced local church expressions that were very good at teaching truth (both theological and practical). I have experienced personally, and have seen firsthand in the lives of many others, that genuine spiritual growth in grace, with practical outworks, was the result.

In fact, I have pastored in two such churches.

I can’t help but think that the paradigm of “church” and related issues, about which you have been so critical, is specific to how perhaps the public assemblies are organized there in New Zealand. I get the impression that you have not been exposed to the wide variety of experiences available to us here in the USA. I have seen cold hardened religious expressions, along with lukewarm and apathetic versions, etc., but also excellent examples.

Looking at the different types of assemblies addressed by Jesus in Revelation chapters 2-3, I have observed or experienced churches in America that matched each of them. Hence, I tend to wonder if your strong views are not also born out of a limited experience regarding the possibilities of modern expression of biblical models (both good and bad).

I have gleaned some interesting things from reading your viewpoint, and am very pleased with your clarification regarding the Holy Spirit. In the light of the Word and with the context of my experiences, I can’t accept your every point. They appear to me to be “throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” as the saying goes. That may not be your intent, but that’s how it appears to me at this stage. Please forgive me if I have misunderstood you in any way, however.

Here are few more comments

We have to be quite careful about how far we push the accounts in Acts about how the first Christians were discipled as the evidence is quite thin. Here is something else to think about.

I note that the believers met in homes and had fellowship, so clearly, they started doing discipleship in Jesus’ way. They knew that if people got together in the way he had trained them, the Holy Spirit would teach them (1 John 2:20).

When the apostles were in the temple preaching, they seemed to be mostly doing evangelism in the way that Jesus did it, by confronting the religious leaders, and calling the people to switch allegiance and follow him. I think this is the proper role for preaching. All the public messages recorded Acts were evangelistic, calling the people to change their ways and follow Jesus: Peter, Acts 2:14-40; Peter and John, Acts 3:12-26; Peter, 4:8-12; Peter and the Apostles, Acts 5:29-32; Stephen, Acts 7:2-53.

There is no record in Acts of a mass-discipling type sermon that is so common on Sunday morning in modern churches, so I presume that it was a sub-optimal method that should not be normalised. If people do need more theological information, there is plenty of top-class teaching available on electronic media, so making teaching the focus of Sunday meetings is not as relevant as in previous generations when many people did not have access to books or could not read.

I agree that if hundreds of people came to faith in Jesus at that same time, it might be necessary to give them introductory information in bulk teaching sessions, but that is not happening in many western countries. And it would seem to be a mistake to make something needed in an emergency, the norm for Christians for the rest of their lives.

The early Church seemed to get into a bit of a mess in Jerusalem. Instead of following Jesus’ example and being sent out into the world, Peter, James and John stayed in Jerusalem. They seem to have gathered a large congregation of people who enjoyed listening to their teaching. These people had no means of supporting themselves (offerings had to be sent from other churches to keep them going) because they were not doing anything of value. God had to send persecution to shock them out of their comfortable complacency (Acts 11:19-21) and get them out into the world.

I find it interesting that God had to get Paul to get Jesus’ model of making disciples and quickly sending out the best to start a new church in a new place fully operational again. The Holy Spirit used Paul’s experience to get a description of the apostolic way working in practice into the scriptures. In contrast, Peter seemed to create problems whenever he did go out into other places (Acts 10:44; 15:20; 21:20-25; Gal 2:11-14). See

Governmental Apostles
Centralised Finances
Church Councils
Paul and James
Annas and Saphira

I presume that the other apostles (like Thomas who possibly went to India) were not mentioned again in Acts, because they followed Jesus’ command to go out into the world and make disciples.

I have wondered how Paul learnt to be an apostle in Jesus’s way, given that he was not discipled directly by Jesus. He was a good listener to the Holy Spirit, but that was probably not enough. I presume that he had learnt from Barnabas, who was an early disciple in Jerusalem, and possibly taught well.


I realise that the situation is different in New Zealand, although there has been considerable copying of American models here. Unfortunately, this has not turned back the tide of secularism in this nation, and Christian influence is declining rapidly. I observe that the church in the US is on a similar trajectory, although not as far down it.

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