“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed…” Acts 17:10–12 (NASB95)
The missionary encounters experienced by Paul and Silas as recorded in Scripture are as diverse as they are exciting. Whether it was sparking revival in the face of opposition, establishing the church despite the threat of life and limb, or raising people from a disastrous death so the preaching could continue, their ministry was marked by powerful moves of God. One such move of God that may be overlooked as such, was the testimony of the Bereans pointed out in the verses above. The Book of Acts states for all time that the Bereans were more “noble-minded” (εὐγενής) than their neighbors in Thessalonica. What does that mean and why were they described this way? The Greek lexicon BDAG points out that the Greek word is being used here to describe them as being open-minded and willing to learn, but at the same time, seen by the fact that they were searching the Scriptures, they were cautious and discerning. They were described this way simply because they had an eagerness to daily examine the Scriptures to test the validity of the words of Paul and Silas. In short, they had a love for and openness to the truth but yet wanted to make sure they were not being blindsided by something false or inaccurate. Indeed, what a truly noble-minded people.
Mickey Mouse Theology
In the construction world, a tradesman’s reputation rises and falls based on the quality of their skill and the ability to apply that skill to a project. If a tradesman has been apprenticed well and takes pride in their work enabling them to produce quality workmanship, that person will gain a reputation for integrity and excellence. On the other hand, if a tradesman does not have the proper training or the right attitude to put in the effort necessary to produce quality work, they may just as easily inherit a reputation of sloppiness and substandard craftsmanship. Sometimes in the construction trades, a person will hear this second type of work referred to as “Mickey Mouse.” If a project has been haphazardly thrown together without much care or concern to making sure it has been done in the right way, a person may hear such things as, “What kind of Mickey Mouse job is that!” Or, “What a Mickey Mouse way of doing things!” Furthermore, if a construction project has been “Mickey Moused” by workers who have cut corners on its quality, it is also understood that it will not stand the test of time, often causing scheduling setbacks, financial loss, and possibly lead to serious safety concerns down the road. The point being is that the name of the funny, talking mouse has somehow come to be used as negative slang for work that is subpar, substandard, amateurish, and not very sound.
In a similar way, biblical theology can find itself being handled in a “Mickey Mouse” fashion. Just as an unskilled tradesman can be guilty of mishandling the tools and materials of the trade, a teacher or preacher may misuse the tools and materials of the kingdom leading to serious consequences. If we are honest, the mishandling of Scripture is a serious issue in our churches today. To make matters worse, disturbingly, there seems to be the absence of concern that such poor mishandling of theology exists in the first place. When churches lose the ability to discern between what is biblical truth and what isn’t, that is one thing. But when we lose the very desire to be noble-minded theologians, we are in deep, deep trouble. Surely something fundamental in the heart of the individual has gone terribly wrong.
On the other hand, when biblical theology is desired and is properly taught and understood, it will lead to life and power in the church. The conspiracy theories of false witnesses, the fearmongering of false prophets, the confusion of false teachers will all be put at bay and laid to rest in the light that biblical truth brings.
Fortune Cookie Prophecy
Chinese food is one of the most beautiful categories of food available to mankind. Whether it is sweet or spicy sauces, crispy or soft noodles, egg drop or tofu, Kung Pao or General Tzo, the flavors are a delectable explosion of joy in the mouth of anyone who indulges in the nourishment of the Orient. Furthermore, all of this delicacy is traditionally followed up by the proverbial cherry on top; the amazing fortune cookie. A neat little sugar cookie wrapped in plastic that contains a personal aphorism of life. While I am sure there is a neat history to the rise of the practice of receiving a fortune cookie at the end of a meal (and I am just as sure that I do not know what that history is), whoever came up with the practice is a genius. Who hasn’t enjoyed a good hearty laugh or two at the end of a meal when you cracked open the cookie to read such things as, “Never forget a friend. Especially if he owes you money” or “The fortune you seek is in another cookie.” Or possibly instead of a laugh, you let out a small gasp of astonishment as you read generalized words that seem to have eerie echoes of truth to it, “You will be successful in business someday” or “Hard work will pay off in the future.” So not only do you get a brief moment of laughter or contemplation, but to top it off, you get to eat the vehicle in which the silly saying arrived in! What a perfect way to end a meal!
But while fortune cookies are great in the setting of a Chinese restaurant, they are really, really terrible in the setting of God’s church. While they are the superb final sweet delight to Kung Pao chicken, they are indigestion and nausea to Bible believing children of the kingdom. Pithy sayings that are so generalized that they could apply to anyone at anytime but yet are given the force of prophecy are seriously dangerous to the faith of God’s children. A philosophy that attempts to portray the God of the universe as a superficial, worldly-minded, buffoon who is willing to grant wishes to those who exhibit a self-approved faith verses a Bible-approved faith, is more in line with the image of Santa Claus than Christ. While God certainly cares deeply for His creation, even sending His Son to a fallen world to purchase its redemption (John 3:16), may we never view Him as the Great Magician in the sky who pulls rabbits out of His hat at every whim of His audience like some cheap parlor trick. Yes, God does miracles. But keep in mind, the miracles that God does first and foremost reveal the magnificence and glory of God, not man.
The Old Testament as well as the New Testament pictures prophecy as being both foretelling and forthtelling. Sometimes, the Lord spoke regarding a future event that would impact a nation or an individual. Sometimes, the Lord spoke a word regarding a truth that needed to be remembered or upheld. And more times than not, whether foretelling or forthtelling, prophecy came in the form of rebuke and correction, not in the form of fleshly indulgences that exalted man.
Unfortunately, the form of most “prophecy” that is being sold to the church is superficial, ambiguous, and generalized enough that it could be true of just about anyone, similar to a fortune cookie that says, “You have a nice smile and will receive a compliment.” Furthermore, when the fortune cookie philosophy is adopted by the church, it really makes her look silly and weak, not only to the Berean-type churches who are committed to searching the scriptures daily to draw out its truth but also to the watching world, who is looking for something real to give it hope. In an era when the church is struggling to find relevancy, may we not give in to the silliness of fortune cookie prophets.
The Demise of Biblical Literacy
As we consider these threats to the modern church, it is important that we ask the question, what has caused the church to meander down this broad path of Mickey Mouse theology that is strewn with fortune cookie prophecies? I believe it all began with the demise of biblical literacy in our churches.
It has been well said that the devil has no new tricks, he just simply keeps repeating the same lies to each new generation of the church. The same is true when it comes to his attacks on Scripture. If he is successful in getting the church distracted from the meat of God’s Word, he can then successfully plug in any false teaching he desires whenever he wishes. We should take a lesson from the Middle Ages. How was it that faith became so unhealthy and the Roman Catholic Church became so tyrannical and corrupt? Simple. It was because the Bible had been taken out of the hands of the common man and relegated to a dark corner where it became obscure and irrelevant. Even those who did have access to it, such as the priests and those who were versed in Latin, did not often fully recognize its authority. Therefore, the fruit that was produced during that period of time was extremely rotten. But interestingly, how did that rotten tree with its spoiled fruit get chopped down and replaced by one that bore honorable fruit to God? It was through the restoration of Scripture. Beginning first in the hands of the Reformers and then later being translated into the common languages of the common person so everyone could have access to it, the church was reborn. May we remember the lessons from that dark age before we are forced to repeat it!
But actually, we are facing a slightly different crisis in regards to the Word of God in our current age. Our problem is not a lack of access to the holy Word, but rather a fundamental desire for it. I am afraid that although our opportunities to access God’s Word have exploded abundantly in the age of information (anyone with a smartphone can immediately download the Bible for free on their personal device and read it whenever they wish), our desire to actually appropriate its truth has been replaced with other desires. Truly, the words of Jesus ring true in our generation that when the seed of the Word is sown, it is often only a matter of time before it is devoured or choked out. (Matthew 13:3-23). This all lends itself to our current condition of biblical illiteracy.
Here is a test to see whether I am right or not. Ask yourself, when was the last time as an adult Christian that I intentionally attempted to memorize a scripture? Or even part of a scripture? To see how far we have fallen down the chasm of illiteracy, consider a piece of papyrus dated from the 3rd or 4th century A.D. that was found by archeologists recently. It was from an ancient church in Egypt and outlined the requirements for someone who was applying to serve the church as a deacon. One of the requirements was as follows:
“Memorize and recite before the congregation the Gospel of John.”
Anyone wanting to serve the early church in Egypt were required to be able to teach God’s Word, just as is still required today, according to the Word of God in 1 Timothy 3, 2 Timothy 2, and Titus 1. To test this, the early church very wisely made sure that the candidates knew the Word, by memory no less! If we adopted those same principles and requirements for leadership in the church today, I wonder how many of our deacons would qualify to serve God’s church? I wonder how many of our pastors would still be in the pulpit on Sunday morning?
The most frustrating thing about all of this is the general lack of understanding for what exactly is at stake. We aren’t talking about superficial, unimportant words; these are the Words of life and this is the business of eternity! Real human souls are at stake and it frustrates me to no end that Christ’s followers would rather receive a fortune cookie “word” about how I am going to get a new RV for camping next summer than how I can repent from my sin so I can live for eternity in God’s paradise! (The prophecy about the RV is not made up, by the way)
To compound the issue, giving in to Mickey Mouse theology instead of rugged Berean noble-mindedness that digs in and boldly searches Scripture daily has birthed much error and weakness. Similar to a construction project that has not been built properly, it is only a matter of time before this theology that has been too often built on sand eventually falls into disrepair and crumbles. This will force us to try to recoup our losses and, Lord willing, He will mercifully allow the church to do that, hopefully without losing an entire generation.
While I know many who may read this may find much to disagree with in my concern and perception of the climate of the modern church, I know there are also others, a few probably, who will recognize the validity of this assessment and will want to change directions. Praise God.
So where do we go? We go to two places…to our knees in humble prayer and confession and to our Bibles. The two most amazingly simple acts a Christian can do are also the most profoundly powerful acts a Christian can do…pray and read. Through both, a believer who is honestly seeking the Lord will truly find Him. Yet for many, these are the most neglected disciplines in our daily routines. It has been mourned that the least populated activity in any church is the Prayer Meeting. This needs to change. Instead of the sound of crickets, may our Prayer Meetings ring out with the sounds of God’s people pleading and seeking His face! On the heals of the poor attendance of the Prayer Meeting, follows the absence of the professing Christian in reading and meditating on the gift of the Scriptures the Lord has given them. God spoke to mankind and it has been written down in a book of common words whereby with a little bit of effort, we can hear directly from the Lord of the universe.
Why would anyone want anything else? Especially the poor substitutes of Mickey Mouse theology and fortune cookie prophecies?