A lot of people, Christians and non-Christians alike, misunderstand the idea of the Scriptures as our final authority for faith and practice. As a result, there is a lot of confusion about the Bible’s role in the lives of believers.
If you are reading this and are not a believer, then what I have to say may not mean much. For believers, however, let me remind you of the nature of the Scripture’s authority in our lives – what it IS and what it is NOT.
The Bible does not address all matters in life. The Bible is not a “handbook” for life that you can consult whenever you run into a situation you have never encountered before. There are not quick answers to a lot of life’s questions.
The Bible does provide you with the foundations to guide your life. Think of the Bible’s principles as setting parameters for a godly life. As a believer in American in the year 2013, you are probably not going to be asked to make an offering to the divine emperor as Christians living in 113 were. But the same spiritual principles should guide your decisions as guided theirs.
The Bible is not a magical incantation book. Memorizing Scriptures is good and healthy, but that does not mean that just reciting verses you have memorized will make bad things go away or guarantee good things. Quite the opposite may happen in fact. Jesus warned us that we will be persecuted for His name’s sake.
The Bible is truth. It is the Word of God, revelation from God himself. The reason we memorize the Scriptures is not so we can whip out a quick spell (or prayer if you prefer Christian terminology) that will fix our problems. Instead, the Bible gives us a glimpse into the heart and mind of God; and that gives us direction and correction.
The Bible is not easy to read. Forget the idea that you will be able to understand everything in the Bible. You won’t be able to. My father is sixty years old and has been a student of the Scriptures for most of his life, and things still catch him off guard. The Bible is a complex anthology of books written in three ancient (and virtually dead) languages over the course of three thousand years. It is not easy to read.
The Bible will draw you to a greater reality. Because the Bible is not easy to read, you will always find something new. You will be constantly drawn upward from wherever you find yourself. An easy to read book would leave you as you are, without challenging presuppositions and assumptions. The Bible’s very difficulty is what makes it so great.
The Bible cannot work alone. The Bible was never intended to be a tool used by individuals in isolation. We tend to think that the most important thing you can do with your Bible is read it in private devotion. The Bible was not used in this manner anywhere in Christianity except in medieval monasteries. Everywhere else, it was a communal book that came to life in the discussions and conversations of the Church in all its wonderful variety.
The Bible comes alive in conversation. The apostle Peter reminds us that the Bible is not for private interpretation (1 Peter 1:20). If you’re the only person who believes something, you’re probably wrong. The best place to learn the Bible is in community, in conversation.
Someone recently told me that when I preach, he got the feeling that I was not talking AT the congregation but rather I was speaking WITH them. This is my heart’s desire as a preacher of the Scriptures. I want people to feel as if the message is the beginning of a conversation, not a lecture delivered by the “learned reverend.”
At the beginning of the year, a lot of people of people will be making resolutions. Some folks will plan to read the Bible through this year. Some will decide to just read it or listen to it somehow. Some folks will recommit themselves just to worshiping on Sunday regularly. Others will decide to join a Bible study or to get involved with a one-on-one mentoring relationship.
Everyone is a little different, and we all interact with the Scriptures differently. But for a believer, the most important thing in the world is to be interacting with them somehow in community – in relationship with other believers.
If we lay claim to the Scriptures as our final authority, then we must be acquainted with them and continually interacting with them as the Church. Otherwise, what’s the point to all of our religious behaviors?