A tribe was exposed to the Bible for the first time in its own language. For fifteen to twenty years, this was all they had. If there were questions about practices or beliefs, the Bible alone was studied by the elders until a clear view emerged. The people memorized it, read it aloud to each other, enjoyed its language and encouragement, and heeded its rebukes and challenges. They taught the Bible to their families and in their church as if it were the only important thing to know. They even sang the Bible. The people were known as Bible people.
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But a missionary felt badly for this deprived tribe. They didn’t have the books that were necessary to help them grow and become what they should be. Pastors had no shelves of reference materials from which they could construct better messages for the people. There were no schools as we know them, with complete libraries of books that would expose young men and women to the thoughts that had made Christianity great. Something must be done. We must print books in the language of the people, they thought. And soon, the first project was under way. Everyone supporting this work was ecstatic. They would be the first to provide wonderful books to instruct the people of God.
So, the first book was printed. It immediately demanded attention. Everyone got their copy. It made its contribution to the thinking of the people. Now the people had a distinct doctrinal bias to help them interpret the Bible. The interpretation of the book concerning certain truths became the doctrine of the land. In fact, everyone was now a Calvinist. They even learned this term and used it freely.
But soon other missionaries published books for the impoverished church. Benny Hinn books were of special interest, along with Joel Osteen, and Kenneth Copeland. These books made people happy and hopeful, so they attracted lots of attention. There were stories in them, and fantastic claims. The pastors’ shelves were getting fuller. But soon the pastors and thinking members were seeing differences in the books they received, and sides were being taken. Descriptors were adopted for churches and pastors and people. Some were Arminian, some were Calvinistic, some were Pentecostal, some Word of Faith, some liturgical and Reformed. Out of the differences came denominations and even sects. But the arguments between Christians persisted and caused divisions, some polite, some not so polite.
The answer was to print more books and to win the day by having the best books available. The pastors were now busier than ever reading the books they were given. A pastor had to stay up with his reading, or else he might not understand the latest trend or belief that he was either to espouse or reject. He had less time for the Bible as a result, though the books’ authors all claimed to use the Bible as their source. And as the covers of the books became more alluring, they demanded even more interest on the part of the leaders and the people. The authors quoted other authors for the most part, but understood less and less of the Bible the authors claimed to believe.
In the Bible schools, the Bible itself was not read that often, but there were discussions about the books that were being read, and certain views were pitted against other views. A man going to Bible school might find that he read his Bible even less while in school than before. There were so many books to read. After all, there were distinctions to be understood, even among those who were trusted. What differences were there between Piper and Sproul, Baxter and Carson? It became important for everyone to know just where he stood on the various authors. If a person were naïve about such things, he was embarrassed. Conferences, numerous conferences, emerged to support the viewpoints that were written in the books.
And so the tribe carried on, until the Christianity that once looked only to the Bible was so fractured that only a few understood the original writings of God. “But we need these teachers called books,” the leaders would assert.
They were right, of course.
And they were wrong.