Sunday, February 17, 2013

Could The Bible Go Missing from Our Churches?

Six little people are strewn across the living room rug. In the main hall sits a plastic feast of purple grapes, bumpy corn, and assorted cookies, all to be consumed by the plush birds seated around the plates. Beside the kitchen table lay a dozen or more unstacked books, one left open in mid-story.

I've already de-cluttered these three rooms today. I know I did. But it always seems that as soon as I put a toy in its place, it is almost immediately found and deemed worthy of playing with again. And the books underfoot? While their titles are rarely the same, there is never a room without one or more dropped after a quick "read."

With young children in the house, the cleaning is never done. It weighs on me sometimes.

I wonder if that's how King Josiah felt when spending six years cleaning all vestiges of idolatry out of Israel. Did he, too, grow weary at yet another altar to be torn down, another graven image to be burned, another set of false priests to be dealt with?

A few years ago, we compared six reforms of King Josiah's time to our own.  The seventh reform is the story of Josiah that most churched grown-ups remember learning about as children.

The story is simple enough--the temple was a mess, so Josiah issued a command for it to be cleaned up and repaired. While cleaning, a priest named Hilkiah "found the book of the law of the LORD given by Moses" (2 Chron. 34:14). He had another man bring the book to Josiah and then read it to him: "When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes" (2 Chron. 34:19).

On its face, the story seems absurd! The people of God losing the Word of God? How could they let such a thing happen? It hadn't even been 50 years since Josiah's God-fearing grandfather Hezekiah had been on the throne. And yet, in that short span of time, the Word of God was LOST...and not lost just anywhere in the nation of Israel but lost in the temple.

I can hear people say, "Well, that couldn't happen today! There are 1400 different translations of the Bible available. Anyone can pick one up in a hotel nightstand, Wal-mart, the dollar store! They're still even distributed in our schools by the Gideons."

No danger of the word being lost in our time.

But I beg to differ. Instead, I would assert that The Word of God is already lost in many of our churches today. It's already lost in our country.

The sheer number of translations has served to make a book so common that it is readily stuck in the night stand drawer to make room for the newest bestseller. Additionally, creating translations for ease of reading or to make Scripture seem more modern hasn't merely drawn more to its pages for daily council but has, at the same time, watered-down the Word.

For the church-goers? Why, the Bible has become a colored fashion accessory with everything from pink princess crowns adorning the covers for our preschool daughters to camouflaged-covers for our military men...many stamped with our name in gold.

And when those lambskin-covered Bibles are opened? Even then, in many churches across America, the word is still lost because too many pastors refuse to preach all of the word...and too few churchgoers take the time to really read, examine, breathe the Word into their souls while outside the walls of the church.

I like the Holman Bible's version of 2 Timothy 4:2: "Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching."  That's the kind of God's Word Christians need to feel on their lips, hear in their hearts, and read with their eyes--the whole Word, popular or un.

We must be like Paul who said, "For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:27). Some versions interpret it as "the whole counsel of God."  Either way, the point Paul was trying to communicate was that one should seek to communicate the gospel in its entirety, not allow oneself to be caught up in one specific doctrine or verse.

I'm not the first, nor will I be the last, to send forth the call for the Word of God to be found again. In 1996, theologian David Wells wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church." In it, he says these profound words:

We must recover the lost Word of God. The problem is not, of course, that the Bible itself has disappeared. There are, in fact enough Bibles in America to put one in every home. No, the problem is that we are not hearing the Word of God. It does not rest consequentially upon us. It does not cut. And it is surely one of the great ironies of our time that in the 1970's and 80's so much of our effort was put into defining inspiration and looking at what were the best words to express and protect it. And while all of that work was going on, unnoticed by us, the Church was quietly, unhitching itself from the truth of Scripture in practice. Biblical inspiration was affirmed but its consequences were not worked out for our preaching, our techniques for growing the Church, our techniques for healing our own fractured selves. These all happened largely without the use of Scripture. It is as if we think that while the Bible is inspired, it is nevertheless inadequate to the tasks of sustaining and nourishing the twentieth-century! The result of this divine myopia is that he has left us with something that is inadequate to the great challenges that we face today.

If we do not recover the sufficiency of the Word of God in our time, if we do not relearn what it means to be sustained by it, nourished by it, disciplined by it, and unless our preachers find the courage again to preach its truth, to allow their sermons to be defined by its truth, ...we will lose our capacity to be the people of God....We have to recover a vivid other worldliness by making ourselves once again captives to the truth of God regardless of the cultural consequences.

If the Word of God does not "cut," as Wells says---then it is lost.

In our individual lives and in our corporate worship services, we must again find the word. And once we have found it, we must do as Josiah did: "The king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the Levites, and all the people, from the greatest to the least; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD" (2 Chron. 34:30).

From the greatest to the least--all must hear "all the words of the book." It must cut us. It must be where we run when facing the great and small challenges of life.

And if the Word doesn't, then it is as useless as if it were literally lost in an ancient temple.

Photo: Between the Lines, by Ariana Boussard-Reifel: A book with every single word cut out.

(Revamping an article from the archives tonight as I continue to dive deep into my the murky waters of Ezekiel and discern the message God is speaking.)

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