Learn Your ABCs. Dwight L. Moody, in his Edinburgh crusade, spoke to a large congregation of very young boys and girls. Moody began his sermon with a question: "What is prayer?"
He wasn't expecting an answer, but the words were no sooner out of his mouth than hands raised all over the hall. The evangelist, stunned into departing from his script, asked one boy for his answer. The young child immediately said this: "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies." Moody, recognizing that the words were from the Shorter Catechism, declared: "Thank God, my boy that you were born in Scotland."
Can anyone imagine such a thing occurring in morning worship today? If asked some question about your faith like "What is prayer," how many of us would have an answer? How many of us would slink down a little further in our pews, hoping that the guy next to us would say something.
Two things must work together in our Christbody community to keep it vital, growing, and self-conscious yet selfless.
First, we must know our tradition and learn from it. Second, we must know that all our most basic spiritual roots are nourished and strengthened at one source -- Scripture.
It is time we took seriously our Christbody responsibility to "learn the ABCs" -- learn "About the Bible in Church." Unless we read it, study it, learn what's in it and feel comfortable with it in our hands and on our tongues, we cannot truly love the Word of God. Instead, we are intimidated by it, afraid of it, shocked by it or simply remain ignorant of it.
We've all been stunned by stories about 12-year-old church attenders who have no idea what "manna" is; or watched as a class of teenagers desperately flipped through their Bibles on a retreat searching in vain for the location of Ephesians; or heard some highly creative but completely wrong recitations of the "Lord's Prayer" at a youth gathering.
To generalize -- I believe it's probably true that in mainline traditional churches, the sermon probably does not consult the biblical text in an expository manner as frequently as one might find in a sermon in the evangelical wing of the church. This is due, no doubt, to two (at least) distinctive preaching traditions, and current homiletical practice reflects this, and Bibles or the lack thereof is the fruit. In any case, if the sermon does not call the listener to engage with the text, there's little incentive to bring the text.
In this age of technology the traditional use of the Bible in church has become extinct but I believe we must be open to new biblical methods such as the newly published "Voice" Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers. The Voice is formatted like a screenplay or novel. Translators cut out the "he said" and "they said" and focus on dialogue.
A excerpt of this Bible comes from Matthew 15, when Jesus walks on the water, scaring his followers, their reaction is immediate:
Disciple: "It's a ghost!"
Another Disciple: "A ghost? What will we do?"
Jesus: "Be still. It is I; you have nothing to fear."
The publishers of this Bible that I recommend and will be using in my parish as we move to contemporary expressions of worship purpose is as follows: "I hope we get people to see the Bible -- not as an ancient text that's worn out -- but as a story that they participate in and find their lives in."
Every one of our churches is one generation away from extinction. The church must communicate itself, its essence, so completely too each new generation that its future is ensured in the hearts of each and every member. Each one of us is the future of the church. Each one of us shares with Timothy Paul's charge to "do the work of an evangelist" and "carry out [our] ministry fully" (2 Timothy 4:5).
Have you noticed that fewer people are bringing their Bibles to church these days even in our evangelical churches?
So the question is not whether we should bring our Bibles to church, but whether we, as pastors, are bringing the Bible to the people in helping them learn its ABCs. Do we have a strategy for the education of our congregation in the content and meaning of the one Book that is the centerpiece, if you will, of our faith?
Follow Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pastorbilljr