(Appeared first in March 2012, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.—2 Timothy 3:16-17 (TNIV)
Studying the Bible is one of the most important things a Christian can do. But from the reports I hear around the church, we’re struggling to maintain this basic Christian discipline. It’s not that we don’t have enough Bibles. A recent poll found that 89 percent of Americans own a Bible, with the average home having 4.1 Bibles.
The underlying problem, I am told, is that we have less time, both in private and public, to read and study the Bible. I fear that the problem may lie even deeper. Perhaps we are not keeping our commitment to “persist and delight” in the words of Scripture, as stated in the following words from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective: “The Bible is the essential book of the church. Through the Bible, the Holy Spirit nurtures the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ and guides the church in shaping its teaching, witnessing and worship. We commit ourselves to persist and delight in reading, studying and meditating on the Scriptures. We participate in the church’s task of interpreting the Bible and of discerning what God is saying in our time by examining all things in light of Scripture. Insights and understandings that we bring to the interpretation of Scripture are to be tested in the faith community” (p. 22).
This is a call to recognize the Bible’s unique status and to live joyfully under its authority. Again, our confession states: “All other claims to represent an authoritative word on matters of faith and life must be measured and corrected by Scripture through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the community of faith.” And, “The church confesses and recognizes the authority of Holy Scripture; it does not take upon itself the right to give the Scripture its authority” (p. 23). These commitments underscore the importance of the third missional trait and signpost from our church’s Purposeful Plan.
Missional character trait: The Bible is normative in this church’s life. It sets the standard for our life as a people.
Signpost: The church reads the Bible together with the presence of the Holy Spirit to learn God’s good and gracious intent for all creation, the way of salvation, and the identity and purpose of life together.
I’ve been heartened by the widespread affirmation for a “year of the Bible” across our church. Over the next months, we’ll share news about the way our church is moving toward that goal.
One word of warning: Reading the Bible can influence our thinking on social issues. In 2007, the Baylor Religion Survey showed that the more frequently people read the Bible, the more they will lean one way or another on issues that divide our church and society. For example, they found that “support for abolishing the death penalty increased by about 45 percent for each increase on the five-point [Bible-reading] scale.”
Again, they learned that for each increased level of Bible-reading frequency, support for the Patriot Act to fight terrorism “decreased about 13 percent.” Further, they found that increased Bible reading made people more likely to believe that science and religion are compatible and that Christians should reduce their consumption in order to be ethically faithful. On the other hand, the survey found that frequent Bible reading correlates with increased “opposition to abortion and homosexual marriages and unions.”
We mustn’t think, therefore, that the differences among us will vanish if we only read the Bible more often. Rather, we must commit ourselves to Spirit-led, faithful, communal interpretation of Scripture, centered in the ministry of Jesus. Persisting and delighting in the study of Scripture can help equip us for every good work that God has called us to do.