The Unread Bible
I belong to a church. That’s an interesting and perhaps more truthful way of saying it. I don’t go to a church. I go to the store, or I go to work. Well, I don’t go to work any longer since I retired, but I never ever belonged to work.
I suppose I belong to the library and I belong to Costco, and I go there as well. But I don’t make declarative statements about that. “I belong to a church!”
When I say that, I’m also saying several other things, at least to most people. I’m saying that I attend church services, I’m saying that I have at least a nominal belief in God. One could suppose that I also follow a code of ethics or beliefs. It’s all very vague and fuzzy around the edges, but not terribly frightening or threatening.
I spent forty years working in public education. That simple statement of “I belong to a church” had some distinct overtones, it was better to say “I go to a church”. Much less committing, you weren’t a complete zombie, checking your mind at the door, you were just being a good neighbor, a good citizen. Now, if I said I go to church twice a week, then all sorts of bells and whistles would go off.
Curious, if I went once a week for four hours, not too much. But twice a week, two hours at a time? That’s fanatical! We do seem to have some unwritten social laws.
So, I belong to a church. I am actually a member. Not a whole lot of difference, same relationships, same greeting, same treatment. Except. As a member I am held accountable to what I believe. I am held accountable to the tenets that are published in the Bylaws of the church. This is the simplest definition of membership, and clarifies the statement “I belong to a church”.
It does divide, it does set you apart. For even your neighbors and friends, going to a church can be okay, but “belonging” to a church? That’s something different entirely. That’s committing, and possibly even being brainwashed. Another one of those unwritten social social rules.
It takes awhile to accept all this, to turn things over and analyze the data. When I say “I belong to a church”, to an acquaintance, I can also see the wheels turning. They turn one way if they also belong to a church, they turn another way if they just go to a church, and they slam to a halt if they don’t go to a church at all.
I suppose the greatest fear that comes next, is the fear of evangelism. Okay, now that I’ve announced my membership to a church, it’s going to be an automatic invitation, “Why don’t you come by sometime, and check it out”. They are thinking, “This is socially awkward, John has broken another unwritten social rule.” Actually, I do know this rule. If my acquaintance is either going to, or belongs to a different church, it is a bit rude to “poach” people to come to your church. And if you don’t go to a church, then the high likelihood is that you have made that a decision, so the invitation is also rude. I mean, what are the odds that you will meet someone who has been thinking about going to church, and there you are saying, “I belong to a church”, so the next thing you say us, “You should come by an check it out”? And it is just the right thing to say?
Well, the odds may be great, but I have at times done exactly that. I can’t say I always do that, perhaps I should more often, but at times, it seems the right thing to do.
My real reason to say “I belong to a church” is to provide clues to who I am at a deeper level, to ease the developing relationship. I also mention a few hobbies or other activities. I used to mention my work, since so many of us define ourselves by the work we do.
And now then I mention I go to church about twice a week. That sorta cuts the cheese, so to speak. I’m not sure the source of that phrase, but it is descriptive.
Immediately there are potential visions of cults, special ceremonies, perhaps ritual sacrifices. In nearly everyone’s eyes I can see the wheels turning much faster. Try this out sometime yourself. Whatever activity you are engaged in, declare that you do twice the amount of the normal social standard, and you are immediately suspect, and labeled.
It’s fascinating. Depending upon the person and situation, I might then mention that last week I was in the pulpit giving the message. That generally is a deal breaker. It’s almost like saying at a dinner party that you are a biochemical engineer.
Well, it’s true. I did have the honor to stand in the pulpit. And it is the reason for this blog.
I was overcome by a thought. I thought, “Why don’t I just read the Bible aloud for thirty minutes? I can’t possibly have anything more important to say. I mean, I am already supposing that whatever I say is covered by God’s grace, but even still…why not just read?
Years ago I flew with a few men to go to gathering of believers to Washington DC. There were enough people coming that the entire Mall was going to be filled. The day before the event I wandered over to see the venue and watch the preparations. Naturally I was drafted into helping. I was given a small binder that contained a few chapters of the Bible. I could see that the entire Bible was there, but I only had one of the binders, and the rest were being handed out. We were then told to go out into the Mall, find a spot that was just out of earshot from the others, and read the binder.
A very neat idea, the entire Bible was being read over the Mall several times that day, possibly blessing the ground, so to speak. I was happy to do this and it really didn’t take long, the only issue was that I had Numbers and the “begats”, no matter, it was fine.
The real point of the memory, was when I went back, to turn in the binder, it was at the head of the Mall, and I had to turn around to walk the entire Mall back to my hotel room. I walked by hundreds, perhaps thousands of men, standing erect and reading the Bible. Genesis here, Romans over there, and Isaiah on the right. Each reader fading in, then out as I walked by. The entire Bible read out loud as I passed through. It is still a powerful memory.
So I’m standing in the pulpit, feeling puny, and wondering if God will have me toss the prepared sermon, and just go with his Word. The good thing was the sermon contained his Word, and was about reading His word, so we went with that. The title was “The Unread Bible”.
It was a simple thought, we read the Bible, but most of us have favorite parts and tend to read those passages over and over, and after a lifetime we still are inspired and often see new ideas that comfort us, and amaze us.
But technically, after several decades, you can probably cut out all the pages you don’t read, and reduce your Bible to… perhaps a hundred pages? What about the pages you don’t read? Very hard to change a good habit. I read, and study the Bible. But often it is the same passages, over and over.
So I felt convicted, and had to share this with the folks. Read and study the entire Bible, you can be comforted and amazed by even the hard parts. Even the “begats”.