|Volume 18 Number 8 August 2016||
God has given man the Bible; it is a great gift. “The Bible alone is the Bible only, in word and deed, in profession and practice; and this alone can reform the world and save the church,” wrote Alexander Campbell nearly 200 years ago (The Christian System, preface, x).
However, many do not think this way of God’s Word. Muhammad scornfully called Christians, “People of the Book.” Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, in defense of the Book of Mormon, spoke in derision of those who put their trust solely in the Bible, “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible and there cannot be any more Bible… Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible” (B of M, 2 Nephi 29:3, 6). Many false religions say they believe the Bible, but it is the Bible plus their sacred writings, and the Bible takes a backseat to their books!
When we look at the subject, “The Christian and His Bible,” we must remember that there are consequences for not studying the Bible. With five alliterated words we offer some thoughts on Bible study.
Profitable Bible study calls for a place of priority. The Bible is not a book to be relegated to last place in our reading. The Bible must have priority over all other writings of men – books, newspapers, magazines, even those written about the Bible, such as commentaries, reference works, theologies, etc. They are the lesser, the Bible is the greater. Yet, men put more stock in what others write about the Bible than in studying what it has to say for itself! Surely we do not recognize the value of Bible study if everything else takes priority over it. Ezra is a great example for God’s people in every age: Ezra “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10).
Profitable Bible study calls for personal study. It is very helpful to sit in a class where the Bible is being taught by a competent teacher or to listen carefully to a sermon expounding God’s Word, but nothing takes the place of personal study. A failure to study personally leaves one with a second-hand faith (Romans 10:17). Saving faith is personal faith. Personal faith comes from personal Bible study. Personal faith gives to us personal convictions that will cause us to stand for right and to condemn error. Faith that has conviction comes from personal Bible study. Personal study causes us to see that the truths of the Bible are directed toward the individual. “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). We should see the Bible as a mirror where we see our own image first (James 1:22-25). The first rule of Bible study is “What is the Bible saying to me?”
Profitable Bible study should always begin with prayer (James 1:5). Sincere prayer opens up the heart to God, and an open heart is essential. One should have the attitude expressed by young Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10). Prayer makes us aware of our weaknesses and frailties, and it causes us to be dependent upon God. When we are aware of our weaknesses, we are better prepared to look to God’s Word for help.
The Bible should be studied with purpose. The Bible has several purposes valuable to the Christian. The study of the Word of God is not just a mental exercise. Bible study involves life and death. Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). One should study the Bible with the end in mind of his soul’s salvation. If our study doesn’t lead us to salvation, we have completely missed its purpose for our lives. I read of a king of Spain that was kept in prison for 39 years. During this time he had only the Bible to read. He counted all the chapters, verses, periods and comas, but he knew little else about the Bible. We should not take Bible study lightly. The knowledge it contains results in eternal life. To be sincere in our religion, we must grow and develop in the doctrine of Christ, His worship, duty and moral teaching. “Look to yourselves” (2 John 8-9).
The Bible is the most practical book ever written. It is designed to meet man where he is. The characters of the Bible were men and women just like those today. It is a mistake to think of the persons of the Bible as super-humans, always having a miracle or miracle-worker at their fingertips. They had the same weaknesses, frailties and frustrations that people have today. The paths that led them into sin are the paths that will cause sin in us. The principles that made the characters of the Bible strong will produce the same strength in us today.
The Winds of Change
Many days of clinging winter and hesitant spring, one could step outside and feel the physical winds of change. The temperature would be warm one day, only to be replaced that evening by a drastically cooler one. The winds often blow from west to east, bringing in a new front, inevitably in stark contrast to the one that has prevailed for a few days (or a few hours). As many places in the country colloquially and sarcastically say, “If you don’t like the weather here, just wait an hour or two.” Sometimes the winds are more subtle and sometimes they are violent. In any case, the wind blows to bring in the change.
The Lord employed man’s universal understanding of meteorological basics to engrain spiritual lessons for all time. Jesus pointed out hypocrisy to Pharisees and Sadducees who could discern the face of the weather but not the signs of the end of Mosaic times (Matthew 16:1-4). Paul warned that Christians not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
Common speech employs the use of weather patterns to refer to non-physical phenomena. “The winds of change” might refer to a shift in a nation’s electoral mood, an alteration of governmental policy or even the personal modification of one’s religious or philosophical beliefs.
The winds of change affect religious bodies. Those with governing hierarchies often issue statements (of differing titles) claiming an authoritative nature, and these statements claim to make changes as if authorized by God. Whereas formerly a denomination may have stood against a particular practice or belief, these announcements signal a change in dogma.
The church of Christ has not been immune to those seeking change. No longer content with “the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16), many seek to draw in the crowds by employing the imagination of man in updated worship practices and by mocking biblically-based thinking.
“The only thing that stays the same is change.” Some celebrate, while others lament that truism. There are those who are always seeking something new (Acts 17:21). Others, to the point of extremism, wish to hold on to every personal tradition, no matter how pointless. Is there a middle ground between the two poles?
Some of God’s generic commands allowed room for change. The command to “go” (Matthew 28:18-20) has been carried out on foot and in jet plane. The command to “assemble” (Hebrews 10:25) has taken place in huts to grand halls. “Teaching” (Matthew 28:19) has been done by word of mouth and with the constant technological updating of visual aids. The substance of the teaching, though, must always remain the same. It can never change. Methods and means germane to a particular age’s culture will all pass like the flower and the grass, “but the Word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). As God has spoken through His Son in these “last days,” no one can expect God’s will to ever change again before the Lord returns and ruins this transitory earth (Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10-12).
Some, in an emotionally driven charge to oust all tradition, forget that some traditions are directly from God (2 Thessalonians 2:15). This author once warned one of them, “Be careful of tradition for tradition’s sake; be careful of change for change’s sake.” That seems to be a good balance. In all worship and practice, and in seeking to carry the Gospel to a modern world by every right means available, servants of God absolutely must exercise respect toward the unchanging tenets of His Word (Ephesians 4:4ff.).