How important is the Bible, really?

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?

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First year over

Today I received the marks for my last essay of the academic year, and so I have now officially finished the first year of my degree.

And what a year it has been.  I’ve been taught Old Testament by a vicar whose pioneering work with those on the margins gives real insight to issues of suffering and lament; New Testament by a man who manages to be super intelligent and teach us so much yet at the same time be genuinely excited by new insights from us students; Mission and Evangelism by another vicar whose years of experience gave perspective on how to (and how not to) put theory into practice.  I’ve grasped a (very) little New Testament Greek, and I’ve studied Church History at the rate of 200 years an hour!

In the course of the 33 Mondays at college I’ve also drunk well over 100 cups of coffee, and consumed similar number of slices of cake.  I’ve encountered God in times of joyful worship, and deep questioning.  I’ve had many conversations with people who will be friends and colleagues for life, and learnt much from their wisdom and experience.

Most of all I’ve had fun, and I’m looking forward to another 3 years!

 

 

 

Who is supporting who?

Reading Stuart Murray’s Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a strange new world, for my next assignment, and came across an interesting idea I hadn’t explicitly thought about before, though in practice I think I probably instinctively follow it.

He suggests that one issue with the church is that, even if we’ve rejected the idea of “clergy” and “laity” we’ve too often slipped into a model where the majority of the people are there to support the minority – the leaders – in doing Christian work.

He suggests that the Biblical model is the precise opposite, citing Ephesians 4:11-12, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service…”

So it is “the people” who are to live and work for Christ’s praise and glory, and those in positions of leadership and responsibility in the church are there simply to equip them to do so.  What a difference it could make to our witness if we could really understand this!

Back to University

I still remember the excitement I felt when my first textbook and reading list arrived the summer before I went up to Oxford to read Maths some 16 years ago.  It made the whole thing seem suddenly more real, and somehow I felt more grown up as I got stuck into the pre-course reading and problem sheets.

I experienced that same excitement when the first course books arrived for my distance learning Theology course at University of Lampeter, and when I gave that up after a couple of modules to follow God’s call to preach there was a similar sense of anticipation at the arrival of the Methodist “Faith and Worship” materials.

And now I get to experience it all over again, for my BA in Theology, Ministry, and Mission at St Barnabas, Sheffield.  The past couple of weeks I have been ordering books, and yesterday the first one arrived.  Christianity Rediscovered: An Epistle from the Masai by Vincent J Donovan, telling his story of taking the gospel to an unreached people group in the 1970s, is one of the pre-course reading books for the “Mission and Evangelism” module, and I can’t wait to begin reading.  At the end of my first undergraduate degree I never thought I’d say this, but I’m looking forward to being a student again!