I’ll never forget my shock the first time I attended a Bible-less church. My kind of church was a Bible-teaching one and Bibles were standard operating equipment. The last word I heard as I got in the car to drive to church was, “Jimmy, do you have your Bible?” A child might forget his belt or socks, but never his Bible. Just as dutifully, the church children found their mothers after the church meeting to load her up with their Bibles while they ran around the church building with their friends. If a family was not using its Bibles at home, at least you could find them behind the back seat in the Buick, curling up under the sunlight, all ready for next Sunday.
I was a young married man when I first attended a mainline Protestant church devoid of Bibles. I wasn’t in a Communist country where Bibles were confiscated and therefore rare, but in a southern state. The mainline church I attended that day was built upon its founder’s love for the Bible. In rain or shine, that 1700s apostle and his cohorts had carried the Bible to villages and cities all across England and the United States in order to proclaim a message with authority. But, that day, I looked all the way down the long row on the left and didn’t see a Bible. On the right, as far as I could see, the people were sans Bibles. I’m sure the church’s founder would have hung his head in shame.
When the message was given by an otherwise articulate pastor that day, he successfully annihilated the Bible story of the Gadarene demoniac. Demons became distractions rather than evil spirit beings—distractions such as parent meetings, club gatherings, and soccer games—since, to him, the story was all about our fractious lives. But, the listeners didn’t care. They had no orientation to the Bible or concern about correct interpretation. They swallowed what was being said without choking because the church had long ago replaced the Bible with warm religious sounding words, emblems and ceremony rather than reality.
The Sunday School class for adults that day was no different. Since no one had Bibles, the short form of the 10 Commandments was put on the board for everyone to see and discuss. The first discussion from the Bible-less participants was quickly knocked out. “No other gods before Me” with a few verbal contortions, became “people who worship other gods are sincere therefore OK before God.” In fact, a spokesman said, “they are more sincere than we are.”The opinions from the group trumped whatever might be in the Bible, which to them was only another symbol of some kind of benevolent Being out there somewhere.
I don’t place the blame entirely upon the people in the churches however. The Bible left because the seminaries marginalized it. Professors keeping up with their peers in other schools of higher learning trained young pastoral students to think less of it. The mainline seminaries were mostly about doubt, and the power of professors to create it—heady professorial stuff to destroy a student’s naïve beliefs, to be sure. It was necessary to learn to express themselves with some Bible-like tones—everyone knew that— but full adherence to the Bible itself was unpopular, and even dangerous. Too much Bible will lead to a kind of Bible idolatry, they would say.
Gradually, it became easier for pastors to avoid the kind of discussions that would arise with Bible-believing members from the old school. They didn’t mind if such people left the churches actually, though they wouldn’t say it. Looking directly in the Bible to teach the people was a pattern that died because the pastors died. Now, not carrying Bibles, and that kind of Sunday teaching arrangement that does not invite hearers to look in Bibles, are the well-accepted marks of the liberal church. You almost never find it otherwise. It wouldn’t be said aloud perhaps, but the Bible for many churches is a sort of embarrassment and might cause people to forget just what kind of church they were a part of after all.
But . . . there are some exceptions in the membership of many of these churches. There are some people here or there who long to return to the Bible. They remember what church life once was like. They feel that the church has been hijacked while they were sleeping. Or, better yet, they have a hunger for His word that comes from a higher source, the Spirit himself.
Why Should Churches Return to Using the Bible?
Whether the Bible is under your arm or on your tablet or phone, it must be used. Here are some reasons to turn back to the use of the Bible in our church meetings:
1. It is axiomatic that the people of God are led by the word of God. In fact, I think I could go so far as to say that a church is not Christian without demonstrating that it uses God’s word as the revealer of Christ, guide to heaven, rule of life, and explanation for all that is.
2. Failure to use the Bible says that man’s opinions are the final arbiter of truth. How can one think otherwise when the Bible is not looked to—or when it is only used to place a scent of godliness over man-made ideas?
3. The people are dying with their doubts and need to be rescued. Some churches are proficient at raising doubts about truths held by the Bible. But the end result is devastating. This is not to mean that doubts are not to be addressed. But using the Bible faithfully goes a long way to saying, “Doubts are answered here; troubles are resolved.” I mean to say here that liberal churches can turn from being doubt producers to solution-givers through the Bible.
4. Some will find life in Christ through use of the word. I know that we cannot guarantee that everyone who hears the Bible will live. Yet, it is through the message taught faithfully that God promises forgiveness and a future with him. This theme is replete in the Bible. Only truth will lead us there. So, going to the source of all our understanding about Christ and to God’s best revealer of Himself, is the very thing we must do for the salvation of people.
5. A right use of the Bible publicly, will encourage its use privately. All of us know that people ought to read the Bible, but where will they get the encouragement to do so? Likely only through the example of those leaders who focus much attention on it. When a pastor or teacher opens the Bible and talks from it, with the eyes of the people looking at it as the pastor or teacher explains its meaning, is a strong encouragement to read the Bible at home. Indeed, those who do this best publicly will see the most private use of the word among its audience.
6. A people using the word as teaching takes place, assures that the truth will rule in the church. No pastor or teacher is infallible. And, we know that even the true words of Scripture can be wrongly interpreted. But the open Bibles of the people will go a long way to assuring that what is taught is true. Their evaluation and discussion about the texts, openly and in private, move the church toward truth consistently and positively.
7. Spirituality is dangerous without the use of the God’s word. Man is incorrigibly religious. All kinds of spirituality emerge from man, most of which are condemned by God. How spiritual were the worshippers of false gods in the Bible and how dangerous was the heart-felt worship of Gnostics who emerged in the early church? Worship that is offered to God must be true, fully informed by His word. Using the word to guide worship and life in the church is the way we assure ourselves that our spirituality is accepted by Him.
Could Churches Return?
There is hope. Without turning back to a visible and rigorous commitment to the Bible, churches will continue to lead the way in moral decline, giving credence to all kinds of errant and ungodly ideas. Why are some churches, for instance, on the vanguard for what the Bible describes as sinful sexual orientation and practice and places all such persons in those categories outside of His people? All people, no matter what their orientation, are to be loved, also a biblical truth, but repentance is necessary for any person to be accepted into the visible body of Christ. Only people without the word of God as its guide can miss this easily discernible message.
I do mean it when I say that there can be a return to the Bible in any professing church. Even if pastors struggle with its claims, emphasizing that people need to hear it and talk about it and hold it in their hands to study it can be a step in the right direction. But leaders must get over their embarrassment concerning the Bible. As with many important reforms, leaders can make a difference. Suppose a leader humbled himself before God on this important issue. What would happen? Who would follow? Could God possibly be unhappy when a leader becomes this humble, seeking to obey God through His revealed word? And can God not help him to become the man of the Bible God calls leaders to be if only he will seek the truth in the right place and the right way?
But leaders are not the only ones who can make a difference. Any member with an intense interest in the Bible can speak out about that desire, can meet with others who are interested for Bible study, and can become an instrument for change. It is hard to speak against such actions in any professing church since we all know that a church is at least supposed to be interested in God’s word. That is at least among the first things to do.
But I have to say, a bit sadly, that members who cannot thrive as Bible believers in one church, even if it is the church they have always attended, must consider finding a more biblical one. If they cannot find any true concern and room for growth in the Bible where they are, a change must come. If you are a member of a horse-riding club, but the leader never takes the horses out of the stable for you to ride, you have to find another association that accomplishes that purpose. There is no possible logic for you to remain in a church that has abandoned the Bible for its own perceptions of truth.