Something very sad is happening in contemporary Christianity. People are just not giving the Bible the attention it deserves. Research shows that the number of Christians who read the Bible on a daily or even regular basis is dropping at an alarming rate. Nowadays, it seems, many view Scripture not as a book to read regularly but as a text book that one dips into when wishing to remind oneself of the basis of the faith, or when seeking an answer to some perplexing spiritual issue. However we look at it there is little doubt that the Bible is not being viewed by many of today's Christians with the same degree of importance as it once was.
There are a number of reasons for this. Liberal Christianity - which puts it own views above God's views - has attacked the authority and sufficiency of the Bible causing many to believe that whilst the Bible is a good book, even a great book, it is not necessarily God's book, in the sense that He is its Author. Whatever degree of inspiration may be claimed for the Bible (they say) it is no higher than that which can be claimed for other sacred works such as Paradise Lost or Dante's Inferno.
But before we spend too long focusing on what is happening in liberal Christianity we must not overlook the fact that something sinister is going on in many of our evangelical/charismatic churches too. In a lot of these communities (thankfully not all) the Christian life is portrayed as less a matter of assimilating truth from the Bible than experiencing a spiritual high. The leaders of such churches, albeit unwittingly, may be conveying the message that the Christian life is more about experiencing something than learning something.
Duncan Leighton, a minister in New Zealand writing in Evangelism Today (August 2000 edition) spoke for all who have a concern about this when he wrote:
There are many who feel that church has become an irrelevance. Music dominates. Sentimental jingles have replaced largely doctrinal-teaching hymns which prepare people for the uncertainties of life. The messages are often pick and mix affairs with the Bible treated like a Promise Box full of goodies with everything nice inside. Much of the resulting doctrine is built upon little more than clever observations and personal experience rather than upon the timeless revelations of God.
Pastors and Christian leaders who do not hold up to their congregations the importance of getting into the Bible for themselves may one day be in the position of pastoring communities who are charismatically sophisticated but biblically illiterate. Whilst I am all for genuine spiritual encounters I have no hesitation in saying that faith and certainty are anchored more to historical and biblical fact than they are to ecstatic spiritual experiences.
Another reason why regular reading of the Bible is dropping amongst today's community of Christians may be due to the fact that people in general don't read as much as they once did. Publishers tell us that bulky books are going out of fashion because people, especially the younger generation, have neither the time nor inclination to read them. Thin paperbacks are therefore the order of the day and, as a result, there is a good deal of literary slimming going on. The Bible is a bulky book. It has about 773,000 words, 1,189 chapters and 66 books. What a book! For this reason many people find the thought of ploughing through it from start to finish somewhat daunting.
However, I think the real reason for this drop-off in Bible reading turns on how the Bible is viewed. One's convictions on the character and nature of the book makes an enormous difference in one's approach to it. If one believes, for example, that the Old Testament is nothing more than a fragmentary record of a group of unimportant Semetic tribes, and the New Testament nothing more than the record of a good man named Jesus of Nazareth (and some of His chief disciples) whose main message was that we should love our neighbours as ourselves, then the Bible deserves no exceptional respect. But if a man or woman believes, on the other hand, that, though the Bible was written over a period of fifteen hundred years by about forty penmen, but was actually authored by God, and is His one and only published work, then he or she will come to the book in a completely different frame of mind.
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Convinced Christians regard the Bible not as an ordinary book and are teachable before it. They approach it not with thoughts about whether they are in contact with God's Word (that issue has already been settled) but only with questions about how God's message relates to their present situation and how they may best translate that message into their daily lives.
In the days when I was a pastor and a counsellor, whenever anyone would come to me complaining that the Bible was a difficult book to get into, I would begin not by attempting to lay out for them a reading plan or strategy but I would try to help them understand the nature of the book itself.
I would start off by saying something like this: nearly every brand of religion is based on a book. From the Book of Mormon to the Koran of Islam there are many illustrations of this fact. That is supremely true of the Christian faith also. It, too, is based on a book, a Holy Book called the Bible. Whilst all well-meaning Christians would speak with profound respect of the sacred writings of other faiths and would not deny the value of their ethical and moral principles, the Bible is in a category all of its own.
As Dr W E Sangster put it:
Whatever degree of divine inspiration may attach to other Christian writings (The Imitation of Christ, The Pilgrim's Progress and so on) the Bible is unique in that it contains the only record of God's incarnate life, the spiritual pilgrimage of the race among whom He was born, and the birth of the Christian Church. Scripture is not the first of a group; it is in a classification alone. It is not the leader of equals; it is a book apart.
Listen to what the Bible has to say about itself:
…prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
It says this also:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16).
…we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe (1 Thess 2:13).
Just as in the mystery of the Incarnation God linked Himself to humanity, so in the mystery of the inspiration of Holy Scripture God made use of human channels, yet without surrendering His divine authority or permitting the book to become the word of man rather than the Word of God. Both men and message were inspired.
If, when reading the Bible, we are in contact with God's eternal Word, how can Christians not help then but study it daily, store their memories with precious fragments of it, learn its highways and its byways, and make its reverent reading a prime part of every day? Not to do so almost borders on unbelief.
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One great Welsh preacher, John Morgan, said: "The point at which all Christians know they are growing is when they desire to have the mind of Christ in their mind." This being so, to imagine one can know the mind of Christ without soaking in the book where alone it is disclosed is folly of the first order.
One of the great passions of my life has been to encourage people to get into the Scriptures on a daily basis. In 1965 I began to encourage people to get into the Bible by writing a series of daily Bible notes entitled Every Day with Jesus. This year (AD 2000) I celebrate the 35th anniversary of that publication which began with distribution amongst a handful of people and is now read in 150 countries of the world by nearly half a million people every day.
In more recent days I have been gripped by a deep concern to encourage every Christian in the world to read through the whole of the Bible at least once in their lifetime. Many Christians, I find, have their favourite passages of books but, valuable though it is to study them and meditate on them, just to focus on these and nothing else means they have a truncated version of Scripture composed of their favourite passages, but missing out many other parts of the Bible. The only way to make sure such passages are not missed is to go systematically through the Bible and take in its message as a whole.
Some years ago I sat down with a colleague and planned a strategy of reading through the Bible in one year chronologically, that is following the events of the Bible as they happened. The programme is called Cover to Cover - through the Bible following the events of Scripture as they happened.
At the beginning of the year 2000 I set a target of getting one million people around the world to commit themselves to making the first year of the new millennium the year when they would read through the whole of Scripture. Now as we approach the end of the year, over half a million people have taken up the challenge, and there is evidence that in the year 2001 that number may well be exceeded.
The letters I receive from people who are participants in this programme are quite incredible. One person said: "What began as a duty turned out to be one of the greatest delights of my life." Another said: "Scriptures I have heard preached on came alive in a new way as I saw them not only in the context of the chapter or even the book but set against the great backdrop of the whole of God's Word." Still another: "Delving into the Word of God in this way (chronologically) has given me a sense of God's Story in a way I have never seen before. Truly history is His Story." With all the conviction of my being I say this: every Christian I believe would profit in ways beyond their utmost imagination from reading through the whole of the Bible at least once in their lifetime.
To quote Dr W E Sangster again:
The tooth of time gnaws at all books but the Bible. It is relevant to every age. It bears the living water that comes sweet and untainted to the thirsting souls of each succeeding age. It has passed through critical fires no other volume has suffered and its spiritual truth has endured the flames and come out without as much as the smell of burning.
Nothing fortifies the soul, prepares it for the day and tones up the spiritual and mental health of a person like time spent in the Bible. The old aphorism is as true now as it was when it was first uttered: The more your Bible is falling apart the more likely it is that you are a "together" person.
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H J Wilmot-Buxton, a Christian writer tells this story:
I heard of a young man who was left heir to his father's property but, when the father died, another disputed the son's claim. The matter came into the law-court and the young man was told that if he could produce his father's will, his inheritance would be secure. One day he opened the family Bible, seeking comfort and guidance in his troubles, and from between its pages a paper fell out. It was his father's will which showed quite clearly the property was distinctly left to him.
Spiritually speaking, that sort of thing is a regular occurrence amongst devoted readers of the Bible. Like the psalmist they are able to say: "I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil" (Psalm 119:162).
Let the last word be with the patriarch Job who said: "I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12, NKJ). I wonder how many of us see time spent in the Bible as more important than our daily food? If we believe that the Bible is truly God's one and only published work, and is in a most special sense the Word of God, then we will count any day ill-spent which does not include some time spent perusing its pages.
Rev. Dr. Selwyn Hughes was the founder and Life President of CWR (Crusade for World Revival). For over 40 years he was the author of the Bible-reading notes "Every Day with Jesus", read by nearly one million people worldwide. A Welshman, he was trained in Theology in Bristol, England and later attended a number of counselling training courses in the United States. He was a pastor for eighteen years before founding CWR and travelled in many countries presenting seminars on different aspects of the Christian life and ministering to leaders in many nations. Selwyn was also responsible for the development of CWR¹s counsellor training programme. With over fifty years of counselling experience, Selwyn developed deep spiritual insight into the complexities of human behaviour. He personally trained thousands of Christians throughout the world.
For more information about CWR and Selwyn Hughes, author of Every Day Light, visit www.cwr.org.uk