Tag Archives: Scripture

A Hymn for Meditation

O Word of God Incarnate

O Word of God incarnate, O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging, O Light of our dark sky:
We praise You for the radiance that from the hallowed page,
A Lantern to our footsteps, shines on from age to age. 
 

The Church from You, our Savior, received the Gift divine,
And still that Light is lifted over all the earth to shine.
It is the sacred Vessel where gems of truth are stored;
It is the heaven drawn Picture of Christ, the living Word.

The Scripture is a banner before God’s host unfurled;
It is a shining Beacon above the darkling world.
It is the Chart and Compass that over life’s surging tide,
Mid mists and rocks and quicksands, to You, O Christ, will guide.

O make your Church, dear Savior, a lamp of purest gold,
To bear before the nations Your true light as of old.
O teach your wandering pilgrims by this their path to trace,
Till, clouds and darkness ended, they see You face to face.

By William W. How 

  • Contemporary secular thinkers say that truth is malleable, changing in every new generation. How does the hymnwriter respond to that proposal?
  • What is the hallowed page? Why does this writer hallow that page?
  • What does this writer find in the Bible?
  • When has the Bible been a guide for you, a chart or compass along your way?
  • How does the hymnwriter believe the church can teach those who wander? What is the point of teaching wanderers the truth?
Advertisements

The Sword of the Spirit

In the USA, it is common for every person in a household to own at least one if not several Bibles. Certainly, there will be at least one in some location in the house where it may sit quietly gathering dust. Christians in America have such ready access to the text of the Bible in church worship guides, online at numerous sites and even on their phones that they have no concept of a place where a single verse of scripture would be as precious as diamonds. Unfortunately, the evidence of many studies of the US population tells us that ready access to the Bible has not translated into changed lives. One study reported that less than half of all Christians even believe that the Bible is a reliable source of truth.

Other studies report that, despite plenty of copies of the Bible available for people, very few people ever read it. In the culture of the USA, people pay coaches to help them be diligent in the development of their physical bodies, but very few discipline themselves to take any time at all to read and study the Bible. There are all sorts of online sources that will drop a reminder or even an actual text to read into someone’s email inbox every day. Evidence suggests either that the recipient only glances at or skims the mail, or that the recipient simply saves that mail for some more convenient time – every day.

There is a fairly vigorous debate among Christian leaders these days about the place of the Bible in Christian life. You can get the drift of this discussion in a well-written post by Michael Bird. There is a manner of regard for the Bible which can itself become idolatrous, but going all the way back to the Apostle Paul, there has been a solid understanding that the Scripture which God inspired is worthy of attentive regard and study.

This issue has special value for Christians in countries where simply being a Christian is an invitation to public scorn. In Bhutan, for example, someone who is known to have become a Christian could lose his job and would likely be unable to find another one. In Sudan, where the majority of the population is Muslim, someone who converts to Christianity is immediately an enemy of the state. In Nigeria, Boko Haram, a Muslim militant group, has staked out the northern half of the country for itself, and it works diligently at the goal of “cleansing” its territory of all non-Muslims. In Iran, more than one convert to Christianity has been arrested and tortured in an effort to force the convert to recant his faith.

In all such settings, the Bible is precious. Stories that tell how persecuted Christians treasure even a single verse from the Bible. After a church was burned down in Nigeria, members returned to salvage what they could from the ashes. Even small scraps of pages from the Bible were gathered up reverently and hopefully, and people read and savored those tiny bits of inspiration. Imprisoned in a shipping container with 18 other Christian women, one of the women managed to obtain Bible, and she shared it daily with the others; all shared the responsibility to keep the Bible hidden from their guards.

It used to be common in Christian Sunday Schools for children to memorize Bible verses every week. It is not so common now. Public schools require very little memorization, and church schools have followed suit. If Christians were less complacent about their continuing freedom to read the Bible and worship as they please, they might memorize more of the Bible. In Vietnam, a Christian man imprisoned for 18 years tells everyone that he recited over and over the memory verses he had learned as a child in Sunday School. During his long imprisonment, those memory verses sustained his faith.

Other Christians have such a hard time obtaining Bibles that distribution of any that become available is tightly managed. One house church in a restricted nation made the rule that anyone who wanted a Bible needed to prove he would actually use it. The church only gave a Bible to someone who had memorized all 176 verses of Psalm 119. Some Christian groups consider a Bible a treasure to be shared. Since it takes a long time to read the whole Bible, they tear a Bible into sections and pass the sections around. Members memorize as much as they can before passing their sections on to others.

Did you memorize verses in Sunday School as a child? How many of them can you say now without prompting? Do you ever challenge yourself to recite some of those verses as a personal meditation? Do you challenge yourself to memorize any new verses now that you are an adult? Do you think memorizing Scripture is a worthwhile endeavor? How do you use your Bible? Do you own a dusty one? Please share your comments.

The Church Shocks the Culture

It has been quite interesting to listen to the comments of various media personalities following the announcement that a new pope had been selected. Even as the cardinals were meeting to discuss and vote, the media had breathlessly speculated about what the new pope might be like, and all their speculation centered on his ethnicity and his social agenda. This sort of chatter seems completely irrelevant to the real work of the pope. The way things worked out, it appears that the cardinals did not consult the media for guidance in the process.

Nevertheless, undaunted, the media immediately began to press for an agenda from this pope. Since none has been announced, and likely none will be announced to the media, the press feels compelled to speculate. The most startling element of the conversation for people of faith is the suggestion that a new pope might act to alter fundamental church teachings that are, in the minds of reporters, out of touch with modern realities. The media often appears to believe that Christian teaching ought to be reshaped as the culture reshapes itself from time to time.

For example, since the culture in the US and the western world has improved the opportunity and freedom for women to wield power in the world of politics and business, the media constantly hammers on the fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women to the priesthood. Likewise, since there is a cultural move afoot to legitimize not only homosexual practices but to legalize homosexual unions as if they were marriages, the media seems to think that a new pope ought to be more open to these changes. In discussions of contraception, abortion and sterilization, the media constantly asks why the Church does not change its views since a majority of Catholics are believed not to comply with church teaching on these matters. The media treats the teachings of the Church as if they should be reviewed and revised and subject to a vote of the members at frequent intervals.

The Roman Catholic Church has a large membership, but it is far from the only Christian denomination. There are so many denominations because Christians don’t agree on all the fine points of theology. However, if asked, all Christians would agree that Christian teaching is not a matter subject to evaluation for customer satisfaction. Christian teachings are based on God’s revelation of himself and of certain absolute truths that cannot and will not be changed based on member opinions. Lutherans, for example,teach that Holy Scripture is the sufficient guide for faith and life. We mean that when we want to know how to live in a way that pleases God, we look in the Bible for guidance.

Some Christian individuals, some Christian churches, and some Christian denominations soften that view in practice, even though they may say that they hold the principle that the Bible is God’s sufficient guide for faith and life. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for example, publicly asserts the principle of the Bible’s sufficiency when, on its website, readers find this statement: This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life. Christians looking for a church home might take comfort in that assurance that the ELCA looks to the Bible for guidance in faith and life. When they find “A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” on that same website they might again feel reassured of the biblical foundations of ELCA teaching when they read on page 10: As we determine how to love and serve the neighbor in a complex world, Lutherans rely on Scripture. Yet they must certainly pause on page 20 of the statement to read and reread in a state of confusion if not outright dismay: some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today. To put this statement in plain English: Lutherans of the twenty-first century know things about human beings that God forgot to put in the Bible when he inspired it back in the day.

ELCA Lutherans are not alone in their assertion that either the Bible is irrelevant on some subjects or that the plain meaning of the words in the Bible is not the meaning God wants us to understand from his revealed Word. There are a number of denominations, numerous churches and many individuals who have abandoned the Bible in favor of making sure the church is not in conflict with the culture on politically sensitive issues. Since Peter’s first sermon in Jerusalem Christians have been challenged to obey human preference rather than God’s revealed will. The conflict raged to a greater or lesser degree through ensuing centuries. Whatever the situation, however, Christ’s church has stood firm on the principle that the church’s teachings do not develop in the culture for the church to absorb when they mature. Rather, Christ’s church has listened to Christ and proclaimed Christ’s message, even when that message was a judgment on the culture. The church has thrived best when it stayed closest to Christ and his message. The sorriest days of the Christian church have been the days of collaboration with culture and/or government when the church sought popularity rather than truth.

The Catholic Church has not been immune to that temptation, and it has its own issues with cultural collaboration. In Mexico today there are churches where Catholicism has submerged itself in the indigenous cultures, barely sustaining any connection with the teachings of Christ. There are state churches in many countries which have become so thoroughly enmeshed in politics that it is hard to identify the church within the political garments. Thus, it is possible to understand why reporters might breathlessly ask communicants in St. Peters Square in Rome, “What is your greatest hope for this new pope?” and expect an answer such as, “more emphasis on women’s rights” or “he should stand up for marriage equality.”

Christians must not go along with this sort of thinking. Christians in the US have a civic obligation to participate in their government and in the conversations that shape public policy. However, their faith, not polls and cultural norms, must shape their views. Christians must put Christ ahead of their civic concerns, and they must follow his guidance as they act and speak on political issues. The founders of the nation expected and desired that individual citizens would follow their individual consciences in the discussion of public concerns. The founders considered the influence of churches in the culture to be a good thing, and they expected the moral and ethical discussions to include input from religious convictions of citizens. In fact, contrary to the common contemporary notion that the culture should shape the church, history demonstrates over and over that the founders believed the churches should shape the culture.

Christians all know that they must live “in” the world without becoming part “of” the world. It isn’t easy to do when the world is clamoring to know what Christians will do to make Christianity fit better within the culture.