By Mitiku Adisu
There is something special about reading the Bible that is both transforming and refreshing. It is the Word of God! So pick it up and read. Read in complete books. Begin at the beginning and read through to the end in one, two, or three sittings.
Recently, a friend called to tell me what he considered a major benefit of the lockdown; he said he spent the day reading through the Book of Genesis! Yes, all fifty chapters. Yes, he did take a lunch break! Isn’t that wonderful! The question now is this; absent a pandemic, would my friend have taken a day off just to do that?
We are told that Ezra the priest read Scripture to the people of Israel from daybreak to noon! The hearers were on their feet and apparently very attentive, because they soon became aware of their shortcomings and started to weep. Weeping was followed by prostration before the Lord. Soon they were feasting and sharing the good things they had received from the Lord. It was here that we read the precious line, "The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8)
The people of God were weak and despairing one moment, and having listened to scripture, they were transformed and filled with joy! (Psalm 32) "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Of the early Christians, it was recorded that "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42; 6:4) Their community (diverse in every sense of the word) was known for godly living and revulsion towards worldliness. They never got tired of being together. "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Their heart was open to the Lord and so was their home. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:46-47) Priority was given to the Word, prayer, and fellowship! "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables ... and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:2, 4)
Then came persecution! Holiness and persecution go hand in hand. "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) The "freedom of worship" that we say we enjoy may in fact be an indication that we have become indistinguishable from the rest of the world! Satan is not in the business of waking up the 'harmless' to hold prayer vigils!
As the church grew and organized itself, a hierarchy developed between a literate class and the rest. Mediating relationships among God’s people was gradually left to the whims of political and religious elites. This persisted for fifteen centuries until the Reformation reset the Word and the church in terms of the "priesthood of all believers." (1 Peter 2:4–6) We have to ask once again if the state the church is in today is not a reversal of the state immediately preceding the Reformation!
Let us never forget that the church is primarily a community. Has undue emphasis on the individual deprived the church of a necessary check? Today, hierarchies of specialists have sprung up, leading to cottage industries of every stripe. Sure, we need scholars and Bible teachers. After all, Bible teachers were given to the church for the express purpose of instructing, correctly dividing the Word, and growing members to maturity. (Ephesians 4:11-16) With the rise in literacy and modernity, however, churches were gradually turned into service providers like any other organization.
Alas, we have granted too much authority to a class of "specialists." In so doing, we have pushed Jesus to the margins and turned ourselves into unreliable witnesses. It is to Jesus and to him alone that ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given. (Matthew 28:18) Not knowing scripture is synonymous with not knowing God's power or distinguishing between truth and near truth!"You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matthew 22:29) Knowing the power of God is the sole mode of Christian witness. "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) I submit that the tyranny of the worldly model can only be broken when the laity, led by the Spirit of Christ, begins to prayerfully and consistently read the Word again. May the gracious Lord make us hungry for the Word!
So when was the last time you sat down in a corner and read through the gospels? Suppose we were left with only the Bible to read? No commentaries; no favorite author guide; no denominational syllabus. Just the Bible (and a good cultural and historical background guide). Suppose you and I were thrown in jail without the Bible or, for some reason or another, unable to read our Bibles. Would we be able to recall scripture passages, parables, or the psalms? Would we be able to discern prayer-starved preaching?
"Just the Word" is where we all need to be. Oh, to be weaned off time-consuming, dependency creating, and wasteful diets! to throw away those crumbs and crutches! Just read the Word, the very breath of the living God! Imagine what that would do to us individually and as a community. One thing it will certainly do is shed light on our irregularities. It will also bring about a renewal that we thought would never come! Of course there will be critics—even persecution—because now we refuse to conform to the ‘worldly’ model and desire to be renewed in mind and in lifestyle. (Romans 12:2)
Imagine such activities taking root in every household and in every church group! Obviously, some churches will lose members who only look for "milky" talk. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12) Churches will also save a bunch of money to serve the lost, the poor, and the alien more by ridding themselves of books that are not necessarily scriptural—books that are cliquish, merely denominational, and incapable of bringing one closer to Jesus and to the people of God everywhere. Getting closer to Jesus should be the ultimate goal. "And when I’ve been lifted up from the earth," says Jesus, "I will draw ALL people to myself.’" (John 12:32)
How about inviting friends over for Bible reading? How about taking turns reading through the Gospels? What about a "Bible drive," in which you get in your car, either alone or with a friend, and drive while listening to the audio Bible? "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17) That is the gateway to a transformed life and a life of service. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will." (Romans 12:2) Do this every time you are in your car for a stretch of time, and you will never be the same again!