We respect the Bible, but do we worship it or read it?

Do we worship the Bible or read it?

Teaching and preaching the Bible among Baptists convinces me that something “funny” has been happening to Scripture. One sign of it I've noticed recently is that for many Christians the Bible is not allowed to be funny itself. People can have fun with Scripture, like quoting from Hezekiah 3:16 or asking which sort of motorbike David rode. But Scripture itself has to be thought of as deadly serious. Even Jonah can't be meant to make us laugh. The Bible is too important for that!

I've taken up that challenge with a series of 5 Minute Bible podcasts that are working through the books of the Old Testament showing humour in each book of the Bible.

Clearly in our churches the Bible is treated with great respect. It is spoken of as the only authority, it is “believed”, and any argument - however sensible - can be trumped by quoting a Bible reference. Yet Scripture is hardly read in church. Just calculate what percentage of the most recent services you attended was actually spent reading the Bible... I suspect our church is about average, with a few verses from a psalm to open the service, and a short reading in the context of the sermon (so that we know what the pastor is talking about) and maybe a verse or two here and there elsewhere... total maybe 5 minutes, so less than 6% of a 90 minute service. Now of course you can't measure how much we really respect the Bible by such a crude measure. But it does cause me to stop and think.

We respect the Bible. We have ritual phrases that we use to demonstrate that our respect for Scripture is “sound”. (For some it's “inerrant”, for others “sufficient” or “perspicuous”, or just “the Word of God”.) But we don't actually waste time in our public worship reading and listening to Scripture. The pastor's wisdom is much more relevant!

Cutting a long story short, because these are meant to be short reflections ;) We worship the Bible, but we don't read it. It has become an idol, revered but useless. Teaching the Old Testament gives one a lively respect for God's attitude to idols. I wonder what the prophets, or Jesus, or sharp-tongued Paul would say about Baptists and the Bible in the 21st Century?

Tim Bulkeley, 2017

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