I follow Jesus, not the bible. Obviously. Yet, even as I write that it causes an unease and I am sure for many who have grown up in proud, “bible believing” churches that same defense mechanism is alerted. How many times have you said or heard, “Do they preach the bible?” Or, “I love that, fill in the blank church, because they aren’t afraid to just say what the bible says.” Now, without insulting anyone, isn’t that what basically defines all churches?
So, what is actually behind the idea of a bible believing church as a proud metric of comparison with others?
I grew up in a very conservative bible believing church, worked in it for nearly two decades, attended conferences with like minded pastors, was surrounded by people who knew Greek, have a Masters of Divinity and was applauded for my ability to preach and “rightly divide the Word of God.” I know all the talking points, marketing slogans and value behind “standing on the word of God.” In fact, I agree with much of the concern about lack of biblical literacy in our churches. I would say the bible was unapologetically the fourth member of the Trinity.
What is wrong with that? Here is what may never be said out loud, but what gets worked into the culture: belief becomes disconnected from any “works” to the point that eventually the actions become suspect to the point that “bible believing” means we pursue theological nuance while ignoring the proper action theology should motivate us towards. Maturity is equated to individual assent to a set of nebulous theological statements. There are exceptions, but not many.
I experienced this and it is all too common in “bible believing” churches. The church I grew up in has completely failed to actually live as a community embracing the way of Jesus. They have humiliated, silenced and ostracized victims of sexual abuse, failed to exercise church discipline on a fellow elder & staff member who admitted to sexual sins (including 20 years of ongoing sexual grooming, pedophilia and abuse of his pastoral power), elders hid a pastoral DUI from staff and congregation and have continued to hide information from their congregation all while saying, “trust us as elders.” This abuse happens with smiles from staff and elders who are generally nice people and good neighbors. You would visit on a Sunday and hear a “bible” sermon and see all the right values printed on the walls. This abuse of people happens and people attending say, “at least they are preaching the bible.” There is human carnage of former staff and members from decades of spiritual oppression in the wake of this church that one day in the presence of Christ the elders will have to account for.
Sick. I want nothing to do with that.
I follow Jesus. Jesus never treats people like objects. Jesus doesn’t use the bible as an excuse for inaction. Aren’t there passages where Jesus specifically said the opposite? I guess I’ll let the bible people point out how they don’t apply.
When was the last time our pursuit of Jesus put us in a place that drove us to your knees in prayer and caused compassion to rise up in our hearts that was Spirit inspired? What do we do? How does that impact time, action, words, budget and real life? For some, maybe the next time you read the gospels imagine yourself as the pharisees rather than the disciples or Jesus. The more I read the bible the more I wonder if “bible churches” actually spend time reading the very bible they claim.
I follow Jesus. I want my life, actions, responses and default mode to find alignment to what I understand to be the heart of God most fully expressed in the person of Jesus who I read about in the bible. I want to be with a group of people who read the gospel accounts and see connections to today and see the powerful culture forming way Jesus served, was strong in his warnings, was tender in his love and lived with integrity that made those farthest from God drawn to him.
Do I follow Jesus perfectly? No and I remind myself that isn’t the goal nor ever the question Jesus ever addresses. The power of the gospel is that I never deserved the freedom that comes from following Jesus and now with incredible freedom I am going to live as one set free. I follow Jesus who calls me his friend and will invite my neighbors, co-workers, and Christian friends to follow Jesus with me. Oh yeah, and we happen to read the bible. A lot.
Q. Why do you think we are attracted to bible teaching? What is good about that? What are the potential dangers?
Q. When have you or where have you seen failure of people that claim to follow the bible? What can you do to remedy this? How do you hope to act differently?