Vision For The New Millenium: Concentrating On The Content
A new pastor moved into town and went out on Saturday to visit his parishioners. All went well until he came to one home. It was obvious that someone was home but no one came to the door even after he knocked several times. Finally he took out his card, wrote on the back “Revelation 3:20,” and stuck it in the door. The next day as he was counting the offering, he found this card in the collection plate. Below the message was this notation:” Genesis 3:10.” Revelation 3:20 reads: “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.” Genesis 3:10 reads: “I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.” So it pays to know the Bible after all!
Voltaire the French philosopher, known among other things for his hatred of Christianity once said, “If we wish to destroy the Christian faith, we must first destroy the Christian Bible.” Whatever else may be said of Voltaire at least we can say that he recognized the significance of the Bible for the Christian faith. And whatever else you may say about this church and its ministry to the world, we do recognize here that the Bible, the written word of God, the source book for the content of our faith, must be our focal point for growing significant Christian lives. That’s why we are willing to dig deep and spend thirteen million dollars providing the best methods and facilities for teaching the content of the Scriptures to young and old alike.
Why that is so important is made abundantly clear in a marvelous verse from Psalm 119: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In this day and age, when the darkness of the world is so pervasive and so threatening, our only hope is to follow the path in life which is illumined by the Bible, the Word of God.
We need the light of the Bible in the church.
Now you might be wondering why I am calling the church, of all places, to renew its focus and dependence on the Bible. But the reality is that the true Word of God is not being heard and heeded in many churches today. In fact, I think the greatest problem plaguing the church in our times is what I would call “Biblical Illiteracy.” Too many Christians today have no clue about what’s in the Bible…or even what the Bible is all about.
I love Kenneth Macfarlane’s story about the pastor in Kansas City who had been receiving criticism with regard to his Sunday School. He decided to visit in one of the classes the next Sunday. He chose the fifth grade class. He listened as the teacher asked the class: “Who tore down the walls of Jericho?” Nobody answered. So the teacher called on one of the students: “Billy, who tore down the walls of Jericho?” Billy immediately replied: “I don’t know, but I didn’t do it!” Of course the pastor was shocked. He went rushing to find the Sunday School superintendent and he said: “Listen, I’m really upset. I was just in the fifth grade class and the teacher asked Billy Jones who tore down Jericho’s walls, and Billy said he didn’t know, but he didn’t do it. Now what do you think of that?” The superintendent said: “Well, pastor, I don’t know about this incident you are investigating, but I know Billy Jones. If he said he didn’t do it, I believe it!” Needless to say the pastor was horrified. He called a meeting of the Christian Education Committee for that night. He told them the story of what had happened and then he asked: “Now what are we going to do about this?” The chair of the committee, who was an elder in the church, said: “Now, Pastor, don’t get all worked up about this. We’ll just take up a special offering and pay for the damages that were done!”
The ignorance of many people in the church today with regard to the Bible is quite amazing. Periodically Jay Leno does what he calls “people-on-the-street“ interviews and occasionally he asks questions about the Bible. One night he collared three college-age young people all of whom claimed to be Christians. He asked one of the young women: “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?” She replied: “Freedom of speech.” He then turned to another young woman: “Complete this sentence — Let him who is without sin…” She responded: “…have a good time.” Leno then turned to the young man and asked: “Who according to the Bible was eaten by a whale?” The confident answer was: “Pinocchio.” Those young people are not alone. Biblical illiteracy is so pervasive that 12% of US adults who call themselves Christians think Joan of Arc was married to Noah, and 4 out of 10 cannot name the four Gospels. Only half of those who claim to be “born again” read their Bibles during the week—half, that’s all.
Frankly, I think the blame for that rests with those of us who are pastors. Too many ministers today read books about the Bible, but do not read the Bible itself. Too many ministers believe that their congregations want to hear about things other than the Bible. Too many ministers regard the Bible as a collection of mythical stories bearing little or no relation to the world in which we are living. Too many ministers today proclaim their own words rather than the Word of God. Consequently there are too many churches today where the Bible is not regarded as the sole and supreme source book for the content of our faith.
That is why it was so encouraging to me the other day to have one of the families who joined our church say that the reason they took that step was because in this church the Bible is believed, honored, preached, taught, studied and obeyed. Amen—and so it must ever be!
And we need the light of the Bible in the world.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that while the Bible is far and away the best selling book of all time, it is also the least read. There was a time in this country’s history when the American people were referred to as “a people of the Book.” But no more. I haven’t traveled in every nation on earth but I have been to quite a few of them. And I will tell you that when you go into a nation or a culture where the Bible is not known and not honored, inevitably you find the worst poverty, the worst prejudice, the worst disease, the worst debauchery, the worst moral depravity that you find any place on the face of the earth. That is why we as a people must get back to this book and apply its great Good News to the world.
There have been times in history when it was against the law to read the Bible. Henry VIII, for example, allowed people to read the Bible in private, but they couldn’t read it when they were in groups or when they were in church. Slave owners here in America would not allow their slaves to read the Bible, or have it read to them, because they didn’t want them to hear so much about freedom and dignity under God. But as far as I know, the only place where it is illegal to read and study Scripture today is in our schools. Isn’t that a tragedy? Doesn’t that explain much that is wrong in our society? We offer sex education classes to teach our young people the mechanics of sex, but we offer no moral guidelines for conducting their sexual lives. Little wonder we are experiencing a bumper crop of teenage pregnancies, abortions, rapes and suicides.
Now, if the darkness of this world needs the light of the Bible, and I believe it does, and if the society around us is going to ignore the potentially saving power of the Scriptures, then it is up to the Church to find new and creative ways to reach this world with the guiding light of Scripture. That is why this church, in the century that is ahead, will be on the cutting edge of that enterprise.
A couple of months ago Davies Owens, Rob Bullock, and I attended a conference in the Silicon Valley in California. There we were privileged to hear some of the most noted leaders of the high-tech world. Among a raft of mind-stretching information we gleaned from that experience was this rather remarkable prediction: Within the next ten years, every man, woman, and child in the world will be linked to the internet. Of course the basic language of the internet is English. Therefore, they declare the first decades of the 21st century will be the first opportunity in human history to personally deliver to all the world’s people in a single language the content of the Bible and the Christian faith. Too many churches today are moving away from the challenges and the complexities of that high tech-world. Not this church. Here we embrace both the challenges and the complexities because of the unprecedented opportunities technology is bringing for teaching and spreading the truth of the Scriptures.
Amazing, isn’t it? Suddenly “winning the world for Jesus Christ” is not just a slogan or a pipe dream; it is quite possible. This church is getting poised and prepared to take the light of the Bible and our Christian faith out into the darkness of that world. Amen—and so must it ever be!
One of our people said to me recently: “You know, we come here on Sunday all beat up from the struggles of life, and you stand up there in the pulpit and try to put us back together again. But who puts you back together when you are all beat up?” I was deeply touched that he would have such a thought and then share it with me. I’ve thought about it since and I have to say that which puts me back together again, that which fills me with joy and puts the wind of the Spirit back in my sails again is seeing you, the people I specially love, grow in your faith in Jesus Christ. My greatest encouragement is to see you developing in your life the peace and the power which belong to the children of God. This may sound a bit too sentimental for some of you, but it is when I see the teachings of the Bible take hold of your lives and when I see you apply those teachings to your everyday experiences—that’s when my soul gets restored.
For this book is our ultimate and infallible standard. In its stories, its symbols, and its songs -in its parables, its pronouncements, and its promises—in its characters, its commandments and its Christ we find everything we need for enlightened living. Dear friends, hear what I am saying to you: What you need for both the hours of your living and the hours of your dying is closer than you think. It is in your hands. It is on your nightstand. It is in your living room. It is in this church. It is this Book. It is the Word of God to you, to me, and to our world. It is a lamp to our feet. It is a light to our path. When we have the Bible, we don’t have to live in the dark…
Amen—and so must it ever be!