As we head into another Sunday in our series “What is an Evangelical?” I again wanted to share a little recap of last week’s message. We were looking at the evangelical attitude toward Scripture as our first essential element.
A lot of factors have combined to leave us with, in 2015, a weakened, displaced Bible. This is the case not only in the world at large, where this should not be too great a cause for alarm, but it is tragically so in the church as well. We generally don’t know the Bible very well, so we don’t feel at home with it as we might wish we did. Many Christians feel they can’t understand the Bible, so it remains a little distant. Additionally, we are told by many public voices that we can’t really trust the Bible, and many believers just don’t feel equipped to answer those accusations. Finally, even if we know, understand, and trust Scripture, we are a little reluctant to obey Scripture. Altogether, not a very bright picture of things.
In 2 Peter 1, we have a wonderful passage that sets out for us in some detail the nature and function of Scripture. Peter, writing near the end of his life, is concerned to make sure he leaves behind a record of his teachings. It is quite possible that he is referring to the Gospel of Mark here, which an early tradition claimed was based on the preaching of the apostle Peter, which Mark had heard. With that motivation, this passage sets out Peter’s view of how the written Word is intended to function in our lives.
First, Peter claims that Scripture is a reliable testimony to Jesus. He was an eyewitness of Jesus, and Scripture is meant to preserve that eyewitness record for us. Second, Peter tells his readers that Scripture is meant to be useful in believers’ lives (this carries with it the assumption that even though there may be difficult parts, on the whole the Bible is understandable and clear). He compares it to a light in the darkness, and says we should “pay attention to it” until the day when the Lord returns in his glory. Third, Peter reminds his readers that even though human authors were responsible for its writing, Scripture is ultimately God’s speech to his people. This is where its authority comes from, and why we need to “pay attention to it”: it is God’s communication to us, and is meant to lead us to Jesus in a useful way.
With all of that in mind, we can ask the big questions of ourselves: how am I paying attention to Scripture:
1) as an individual Christian… When Willie Nelson wrote his classic song “The Family Bible” it was apparently possible for the average person to imagine a Bible with “pages torn and hard to read.” Is that so anymore? Do we wear our Bibles out from devoted, prayerful use? Or are they pristine because they’re untouched?
2) as part of the people of God… Do we connect our corporate hearing from God in church through sermons with the Word we seek from him on our own? Do we bring our Bible with us to worship on Sunday to dig in together to the same Word we’re contemplating throughout the week? Do we expect to hear nothing less than a word from God when the pastor stands in the pulpit to proclaim something from Scripture (as opposed to his own opinions and ideas)?
J.I. Packer, in his book Truth and Power, reminds us about John Wesley, who along with his Oxford university buddies in the eighteenth century formed a group so devoted to reading Scripture that they were teased and called “Bible moths” for devouring the Bible like moths would eat woolen clothes. Packer suggests that the Christians who have been most used by God for the sake of the gospel have always been “Bible moth Christians.” Can we look for a renaissance of Bible moth Christians today?