The B-I-B-L-E

When our kids were young, we bought one of those Wee-Sing Bible tapes (that was before CDs). And there was this song on it. I bet you know it (do you?). THE B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God the B-I-B-L-E? But it wasn’t always that way, you know. In the time of the reformation it was more like: The P-O-P-E— , yes that’s the guy for me. I stand alone on his holy word, the P-O-P–//-E!

For you see, in the days of Martin Luther, before the Reformation, everyone knew who was the authority in matters of faith and life… the supreme court in spiritual matters… it was the pope from the line of Peter. And it sort of made sense in a management kind of way. Jesus chose Peter as his successor. Peter chose bishops and others… and down through the centuries-you sort of can trace leadership chart of authority through the bishops of Rome-the Pope-all the way back to Peter.

And Luther, well Luther was a good catholic and a good monk. But something bothered Luther and others. I’m sure… the church he knew and loved was corrupt… power and pride had corrupted the church… there was the system of granting indulgences-a sort of stay of execution from the punishment of sin… forgiveness for sale– the Pope said you could pray and pay your way to forgiveness. And as usual with most systems, priests and others began to abuse it.

So troubled was Martin Luther that on October 31, 1517, he nailed 95 arguments of his very public protest of the indulgence system to the door of the church. That set up the confrontation with the religious authorities.

In addition to his struggles with the church he loved, Luther had his own personal and spiritual struggles. Luther would have well understood Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul. No one was more spiritual than Luther. He became a monk in his effort to find peace with God. He said if anyone could get to heaven as a monk, then he would have been one of them. But like Mother Teresa, Luther suffered bouts with self doubt and deep spiritual despair.

As Luther looked for answers for himself and the church he loved… he discovered something that brought not just reformation but revolution to the church. We’ve never been the same since. He discovered the Bible… specifically, the authority of Scripture. The B-I-B-L-E became the book for him. For him and for Protestant and Reformed Christians ever since, the Bible became the supreme court of the faith-the source for answers… and help and salvation. Luther discovered in Scripture that Christ was not so much the judge, jury and executioner of sin but rather his savior and comforter. The means of God’s grace and forgiveness.

He learned that we are justified-made right with God through faith-by grace. There was nothing you had to do to earn God’s love. It was a gift. He learned this as he read the word of God in the Bible which led him to believe in the Word of God made human in Jesus.

Likely in his journey of faith, he discovered or rediscovered something of this truth from our text today from 2 Timothy. In trying to guide and help Timothy, Paul is trying to ground him and offer him the source for faith and life. Did you hear him? "But as for you (Timothy), continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work."

As I listen to Paul I find it interesting to think about what he says and doesn’t say about scripture and its role in life and faith. I listen closely because I think there is a lot of confusing talk about scripture in the world. I can see why some people don’t know what to believe about scriptures. So, as one of my New Testament professors, Paul Achtemier used to say to us-let’s look at what the text actually says.

For instance, when he looked at our text today, he said, "If the author thought inspiration made the Scriptures infallible in anything, it was clearly in such religious matters as teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. They are intended to make one wise unto salvation, not unto matters of botany, biology, history or geology. [1]

The text does not tell us that this is a biology textbook.

Today on Reformation Sunday, I think it is a good thing to think about the role of scripture in the life of faith. Ever since Luther, Protestants have looked to the Bible as the ultimate and final spiritual authority. It believes in no infallible person and no infallible institution. We believe all people make mistakes and so does the church. As the supreme court of authority, we always send individuals back to the Scriptures.

That is why Protestants have been the leaders in biblical scholarship and we have actively promoted bible study like Disciple or Kerygma.

It’s also why we debate it so much. Sometimes without knowing what we are talking about. I’ve listened to the Daily Show interview politicians who wanted to put the 10 commandments back in the schools or courtroom. They were asked to repeat the 10 commandments. They couldn’t. I find it interesting that many present day Protestants have done almost everything with the Bible except to read it: that which is most important of all.

The Reformers did this first of all. May I humbly suggest that before you start arguing the Bible, you read it? So you can know what you are talking about? Sometimes I think over the years we become a little complacent or slack when it comes to scripture. In our laxity I fear we’ve become more confused. So if you will, let me humbly share with you some things I’ve learned about the faith and our relationship with scripture over the years. I want to sort of clear the table so we can hear the text today.

I’d like to suggest that we often work with some basic misunderstandings when it comes to Bible and the faith. Let’s be clear. Protestants do not believe in the Bible… we believe in the God who speaks through the Bible… we believe in Jesus Christ to whom the Scriptures bear witness…. To believe in the Bible is a form of idolatry. Let me also say when someone speaks of infallibility, let me say simply that infallibility of the text does not mean infallibility of a person’s personal interpretation.

By the way, when someone says they believe every word of the Bible literally, do not believe them. They don’t even believe it really. We learned this in Disciple recently when we were reading some of the 613 laws in the Old Testament.

For example, I doubt anyone here believes eating shrimp is a violation of faith. A sin. It is in the Bible. I doubt anyone here is ready to put their child to death if they curse their parents. The Bible gives you permission to do so. Most of us don’t mind planting different kinds of seeds in one garden. Prohibited in Scripture.
Are you ready to forgive the debts of those who owe you money every seven years-even if they borrow in year six? The Bible tells you to do so. If we tried to live by every word of the Bible, our lives would not be the same.

Did you hear about the man who tried to live for a year living as the Bible told him to. He is a reverent agnostic. Following the Bible literally led him to wear robes, walk in sandals, eat crickets, stone an adulterer with pebbles-he said he found it very hard. Hardest of all was not lying or coveting.

Following and reading the Bible is hard work. We are prone to read the Bible with self interest in mind. We tend to read and quote the Bible to support positions we prefer in faith, life and politics. We pick and choose the passages that we like and ignore the ones we don’t. Liberal Christians have their favorite texts as Conservative Christians do. Let’s be honest. We often ignore those parts of the Bible that do not support our cause. Many use the Bible as a sort of weapon to fight their ideological battles. They are not looking to the Bible for truth, but a sword. Not faith, but a fight.

One of those weapons I often see used is found in the text today. People will quote Paul saying: "All Scripture is inspired by God"-meaning don’t mess with me or my interpretation of the Bible. Well, may I point out that the Scriptures Paul knew did not include the New Testament as we know it? He was likely speaking of OT books like Psalms, the Pentateuch and the Prophets.

Then as I think further about that statement, "All Scripture is inspired…" can I confess that I wonder – really. All? If so, why aren’t we all tithing? Why aren’t we avoiding unclean food and eating kosher? And is all scripture inspired equally? It is sort of tricky. "All Scripture?"

But then I read the Scripture closely and it helped me out. As someone said recently, here’s where a little NT Greek can go a long way. In the Greek you can also translate the verse this way: "All scripture inspired by God is useful for teaching, for reproof…"

Do you hear the difference? It’s almost as if Paul is saying that as you try to understand which scripture has authority for you — use this as your guide: Scripture that is inspired will build up faith… nurture you… to transform you– bring the saving grace of God into your life. The purpose of Scripture is not to use it as a weapon-it is inspired to help us grow in faith.

When we are reading the Bible for understanding and inspired by it, we will change over time.

I like the observation one person made. He said, take any person you know whose knowledge of the Bible is, say, ten times greater than that of the average person who doesn’t go to church. Then ask yourself if that person is 10 times more loving, 10 times more patient, 10 times more joyous than the average person who doesn’t attend church. He said, knowledge of the Bible is an indispensable good. But knowledge does not by itself lead to spiritual transformation. [2]

I love the story I heard about G K Chesterton. He was one of the most knowledgeable and creative Christian thinkers of the first half of the 20th century. Someone once asked him the question, "If you were marooned on a desert island and could have only one single book with you, what would you choose? " You would expect him to say, "the Bible." It was not. Chesterton chose Thomas’ Guide to Practical Ship-building.

I like that and it makes sense. When we’re trapped on an island we want a book that will help us get home. We don’t want to be entertained or even informed. We want a book that will show us how to be saved.

Of course the truth is that we are trapped – trapped in patterns of thought and behavior and lifestyle that do damage to ourselves and others and some even lead to death. I had a professor once say that the doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith. We are all trapped, as Eugene Peterson put it, on an "I-land"-where we know neither ourselves nor God and are looking for a message to help us on our way. So the followers of Christ like Luther and Calvin and the Reformers have sought to be a people devoted to the Word.

Sometimes we are even called People of the Book. We are called that because we have found in the B-I-B-L-E the book of all books where they have heard the voice of God speak in ways that showed them the ways of life, peace, joy and salvation. It’s the gift of the reformation to us. It’s a gift meant to be treasured and enjoyed and used by any and all who love God. Amen.

[1] p 108, The Inspiration of Scripture

[2] John Ortberg, p 188, The Life You’ve always Wanted

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