Several years ago I was invited to attend a small meeting of key Free Methodist pastors to discuss the future of America, the church in America, and how we could best build healthy believers within our churches with the future in mind.
The conclusion was that we could not predict the future due to our current volatile political transitions, but that we could help build strong Christians no matter the outcome. Since Christian believers have proven to thrive in Communist countries, Islamic countries, and secular nations, perhaps we should stop assuming that our waning Judea-Christian cultural influences will continue to support the message of the church. Maybe we should begin training believers in our churches to be strong in their faith regardless of our cultural environment.
During our discussion I made a conscience decision to enhance the understanding of the Bible within our church. And as a result, we launched an intentional effort for every believer in our church to ingest the Scriptures into the fabric of their lives—in a life-giving way—instead of simply being exposed to the Scriptures. My unspoken assumption was that they might find themselves without access to a Bible in their lifetimes.
In this process, we learned that many of our members enjoyed Christian books and movies, as well as the inspiration they found in the body of Christ, but didn’t have a practical, applicable knowledge of Scripture. Thus, when faced with life-altering decisions, they made their choices based on cultural trends and the worldly advice of their friends or counselors instead of Scripture. Although they claimed to be Christians and believe the Bible, they were worldly. They enjoyed the positive aspects of our faith, but were not constrained by the dictates of Scripture. In my view, they wanted the eternal security offered by our most popular speakers and authors, but were not reading and applying the Scriptures to every aspect of their lives. They liked the comfort of their faith, but were not allowing themselves to be transformed by it.
So at St. James Church, we emphasize that it is of no use to read Christian books without reading and understanding the Bible itself. To simply listen to Christian messages without a serious contemplation of Scripture could inadvertently lead a believer to miss the point of their faith altogether. What we have decided is that our goal is to understand the Bible by reading it and contemplating its teachings chapter by chapter, and then reading and contemplating each chapter several times over. Then we meet weekly to wrestle with the texts and then have life-giving discussions of a 21stcentury application of the Scripture. So any Christian movie, book, or discussion would be viewed through the lens of biblical understanding, rather than worldly ignorance of biblical teachings.
Our hope is that some, who have not yet studied through the Bible on their own, would be motivated to devote time each week to exploring the truths of the whole Bible, book by book, as we follow our congregational Bible study program. Add to that practice sermons, discussion groups, breakfast meetings, and retreats, and they will find themselves more and more rooted in God’s Word. Then, should the benefits of a life-giving local group of believers be denied them in their futures, they will have God’s Word in their hearts and be grounded in their faith regardless of the culture surrounding them.
Let’s get stronger, and stronger, and stronger.