In Dr. Robert Smith’s preaching class at Beeson Divinity School, he often tells his students that the greatest part of any worship service is the pure reading and hearing of the Word of God. Why is this true? We call the Bible the Word of God because it reveals to us the One Word of God, Jesus Christ. This revelation ought to lead the worshipping community into deeper fellowship with God and one another. Now I realize that there have been many arguments regarding the reliability of the Scriptures. Is it infallible? Is it inerrant? Is it inspired? I tend not to get too caught up in these arguments because at the end of the day, the Bible, as Cumberland Presbyterians see it, is “the infallible rule of faith and practice, the authoritative guide for Christian living (CP COF, 1.05).”
We have to be honest, though, and admit that the Scriptures have been maligned to do great evil in the name of Jesus Christ. From the Crusades to chattel slavery in America to the Holocaust during WWII to abusive situations in marriage, there is great harm that sinful humanity can inflict upon one another using an authoritative text. This evil shouldn’t surprise us at all, seeing that Satan twists God’s Word all the time in the Bible as he tempts Eve, as he tempts Jesus, and we all know from our own battles with temptation. The question that the serpent asks Eve in Genesis is the same question Jesus faced, as do we. That question: “Did God really say?” Sin in many ways is the result of us answering with an emphatic “NO!” to that question.
(A final brief word about the Bible. As Christians, it is important for us not to get caught up in speaking too strongly about the infallibility/inerrancy/inspiration discussion. Any discussion along these lines can very quickly lead us into a place where we think we have authority OVER the Bible. We are not the judge of Scripture–we never can be. We sit underneath the Bible and it reads us more powerfully than we read it. When we read Scripture, it is imperative that we do not get into the habit of picking and choosing what is and isn’t true or false. Scripture is the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Bible speaks, it speaks into a sinful humanity and should cause us not to quarrel with what the Bible says to us about our sinfulness. Instead, the faithful child of God receives the word of God in Scripture as his or her looking glass into the realities of our lives. So, rather than argue what the Bible is, the proper dispensation for the Christian is to humbly receive the commands of God and allow the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ. This is what brings glory to Christ in our lives.)
We know in 2 Kings 22-23, that when the Book of the Law was found in the Temple, King Josiah renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD. He vowed to follow the LORD, keep his commandments, statutes, and decrees with his entire being. Then the people of God followed and pledged themselves to the covenant with God to be a faithful people. Josiah ordered the people of God to celebrate the Passover and observe the holy call of God. He destroyed the altars to false deities and returned to the word of the Lord as his national standard. We often see the pure reading of the word of God cause the people of God to repent and return to faithfulness to God.
Paul also instructs Timothy in 2 Timothy 3 to be ready in season and out of season to proclaim the word of God. He tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for all teaching, preaching, correction, and rebuke. The Bible contains within its pages the standard of God by revealing to us His character and saving activity in Jesus Christ for a sinful humanity.
Our task as Christians is to faithfully encounter the revelation we have in Scripture, repent of the ways we have done violence to others when we misuse God’s Word, and seek the faithful adherence to the commands of God. As another Beeson professor, Dr. Osvaldo Padilla, cautioned us all on the first day of Exegesis of Colossians, “You current and future preachers of the Gospel need to understand that the Bible contains the words of life and death. Do not take your task lightly as a preacher. People’s eternity depend upon the proclamation of the Gospel.” Wow! The proclamation of the Gospel has the power of life and death Allow that to sink in. May God have mercy upon all preachers and teachers who work to communicate the truths of the Gospel from the Bible. Lord, have mercy!
In our sanctuary, we have a Bible sitting atop a lectern on the chancel platform. The purpose of this arrangement may seem to be decorative, but rather, it communicates to us abiding presence of God in His creation. The Bible atop the lectern reminds us of the importance, beauty, and revelation of God to us. (Note: As Christians, we don’t worship the Bible. As yet another Beeson professor Dr. Mark DeVine would say, “The Bible is not the fourth person of the Holy Quadrinity!” It is important to make this distinction. We do, however, need to understand and take the Bible at its word when it reveals to us the person of Christ and our sinfulness.) The lectern is the place from which the people of God hear the public reading of Holy Scripture. As we hear the great accounts of God’s interactions through Jesus Christ with Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Malachi, Mary, the twelve disciples, the Apostle Paul, along with all the others, we hear the story of a loving God pursuing his fallen creation. Even in the difficult sections when we read of Sodom and Gomorrah, the violence in the Book of Judges, and the enigmatic Revelation, we have a glorious truth of a God who is holy, just, and true to his promise. These events in the Scripture remind us that our God is a God who is never far from us. He has promised never to leave nor forsake us. He has even loved us so much that he gave us his Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from sin and death. We do great damage to the word of God when we treat it casually. When Scripture is read in faith, it presents with opportunities to worship faithfully, to serve God obediently, to trust Christ more deeply, and understand the presence of God in our lives continually.
The next time you see the lectern and Bible at HCPC, rejoice in the fact that, as Isaiah 40:8 affirms, “the grass withers and flowers fade, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” What a beautiful reality. Amen.