November 23, 2014

Church Tramps by Dr. Clay Nuttall

Our readers probably thought I had run out of subjects to fire people up. Actually, there is still a long list of these waiting to be tackled. This subject is not new, and I found a statement by J.C. Ryle that makes the point for this article. “There is an amazing ignorance of scripture among many and a consequent want of established, solid religion (theology). In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine.’ (Ephesians 4:14). Because of this plague of biblical ignorance, people are drawn quickly into all kinds of error.” Bishop Ryle goes on to speak to the impact of this ignorance:

“There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true.” (Holiness: Its Nature and Hindrances)
Ryle never intended his words to be prophetic, but they do aptly describe that situation in which we find ourselves mired. In years gone by, there were large groups of people who traveled from church to church in search of something different. They usually did not last long at any one place; their heads were soon turned to something new. They were often referred to as “church tramps.” Not everyone had a need for that kind of novelty, and many families remained a part of their local church as their generations passed on. These people were strengthened by strong pulpits and regular meaningful Bible studies. They put down their roots and “rolled with the punches.”


The “tramp syndrome” has a new face today. The people moving from church to church are more like a parade. The word spreads like wildfire that there is a new show in town, a better form of entertainment. The problem is fed by the mega-church mentality. After all, it is so easy to move on; who knows, and who even cares when you are gone? This syndrome demonstrates a terrible lack of integrity, because so many churches today have camouflaged their names so as to hide doctrinal error. That is patently dishonest. Folks who are ignorant of a theology that is biblical slide in and out of those churches, carrying more and more error with them.

The strange thing is that anyone who knows the scriptures and wants to participate in God’s holiness are in big trouble if they attempt to point these things out. They are tagged as “unloving troublemakers,” while the real villains are those who profit from their ignorance. Many young, unlearned men have been caught in this flood. They are sure that if they follow the religious gurus, the churches they lead will grow and become well-known. Most of the time, however, these men end up being tools of their own destruction. They have an ungodly disdain for the history of a church, its heritage, and its doctrinal standard and instead become immersed in their own trickery and smitten with the god of change. Many of these wayward ministries end up closing, and others wither on a long road to a certain death.


Over the past year, I have observed this tragedy from a personal point of view. Looking back over fifty-four years of ministry and thirty-seven as a senior pastor, we tried to maximize learning that would help people to know the scripture. Everyone knows something about the Bible, but that is not the same thing as actually knowing the Bible. Knowing Bible stories or narrative is good, but one needs to know the God of the Bible and the meaning of the revelation that God has given us. To accomplish this we used, in the main, an expository pulpit to study books of the Bible verse by verse. In addition to the Sunday school with some excellent teachers, there were all kinds of Bible studies for every level. We opened a Bible institute and created a strong Christian school with six years of intensive Bible study. Then there were Bible-reading projects, several radio programs, and Bible conferences - all to study the scriptures. But it seems that I failed.

How could it be that so many people who had the opportunity to feed on the Word through all those years could have missed the point or walked away from the basic truths they had received? Many of them have moved on to churches where doctrinal error is at the heart of what they believe. Some have even gone where cultic teaching is dispensed (on the sly), but those people don’t appear to have a clue.

I know all the pat answers. Of course they are responsible for their own choices, but if they had the information and if they chose to believe it, how could they tolerate blatant abuse of the scriptures? Perhaps it is no longer important, or the entertainment atmosphere has dulled their senses. It could be that many individuals were not saved to begin with, since that is a widespread problem in all churches.

While I grieve at the embracing of doctrinal error by those who have fallen, I must admit that my heart has been encouraged by those who did recognize a theology that is biblical. These folks practiced holiness and walked away from nonsense and the open teaching of error. They were wise enough to catch the undertone of heretical teaching, but then found it extremely difficult to find a place where the Bible is not taught as a sort of “fill-in-the-blanks” book.


While the questions may be many, the one answer is still the same: there is no substitute for immersing oneself in the Holy Book. Pastors must find more ways to get people into the Book. True believers cannot be satisfied with a few minutes of real Bible content in their Sunday activities. There must be a constant hunger for truth, because this alone will sound the alarm when error is taught.

SHEPHERD’S STAFF – November, 2014

A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd's Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address,

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min

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