God has been challenging me about the place of the Bible in my life, and particularly in the worshipping life of the church community. Though we don’t use the label, Beverley Baptist Church comes from the tradition known as Evangelical. The word means different things to different people, but common to all definitions would be a high place for the Bible as the Word of God.
And yet, look at our average Sunday service, and the Biblical content is often just a few short verses. Contrast this with the “Catholic” tradition – in which I include Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, and Orthodox in all its forms. In all of these the Bible would be held alongside church traditions which are in some way or other also seen as authoritative. So on paper the Bible is less important than in the Evangelical church, yet in a Catholic service of worship there will be four readings – Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel. And alongside this a written liturgy that is packed with Biblical quotes, imagery and allusions. Which tradition seems to place more importance on the Bible?
To which the Evangelical might respond that we spend a substantial amount of time each week unpacking, interpreting, and seeking to apply the few verses that we have read. This is broadly true, and shows perhaps a differing understanding of the purpose of reading the scriptures – the Evangelical church reads a passage from the Bible in order to preach from it, and to hear God speaking through the preacher; the Catholic church reads the Bible because it is valuable to hear in its own right as “The Word of the Lord”. That is perhaps an oversimplification, but one I think with some truth in it.
But I have a niggling feeling that the above is a convenient excuse to cover up the decreasing importance placed on the Bible in Evangelical churches. Is it really our “supreme authority on matters of faith and doctrine”, to use an oft quoted phrase. This was really brought home to me recently during my studies. One of our modules is “Missional Leadership” and as part of this we have occasional guest lecturers. Most of these come from Evangelicalism, broadly defined, and they have brought us ideas from various books, personal experience, secular management practice, etc. Last week our guest lecturer was the Venerable John Day, an Anglo-Catholic. And he turned us to the Bible, to the story of the Emmaus Road, and over the course of an hour ably expounded leadership based on what Jesus did in that story.
So, how important is the Bible to us, really?