I think many readers of this blog can relate to my church background. The churches I attended when growing up did not really teach the Bible. I never heard a sermon in which the speaker looked at the context and explained the meaning of the verses that were read. Once the Bible passage for that particular Sunday was read, you could put your Bible away. The speaker would then speak about how bad sin was, the need to get people to attend church or Sunday school, politics, how our culture was anti-God, or what was going on with local sports teams. Invariably, there would be a call to walk the aisle and give your heart to Jesus. My wife had a very similar background.
After we were married, my wife and I, due to various circumstances, attended a church that explained the passage that was read. In the bulletin you received upon entering the sanctuary, it even gave out an outline of the verses to follow. This was jarring. We had never heard that the books of Bible were written to actual people and that the verses were addressing specific problems. The speaker even talked about what certain Greek words meant. We didn’t even know our New Testament was translated from Greek, so what was he talking about Greek for? The preacher didn’t even have an altar call.
What did we think? We didn’t like it. It was strange. We couldn’t put our finger on it, but we decided it wasn’t for us. Maybe it was just because it wasn’t our tradition. Maybe it seemed too academic. But we left there saying we needed to look for a church that was more to our liking.
Fortunately, because of other events, we returned to that church. After a month or so of listening to the sermons, we fell in love with what we heard. We would discuss the passage on the way home and with folks we worked with. We got into the habit of reading a passage and trying to determine what it actually meant. We got into the habit of expecting that at church as well.
This went on for the next two years. Those two years solidified the habit of studying the Scriptures. Then, because of the military, we moved. We went back to our home state for two months as we prepared to move to Texas. My wife was hugely pregnant. The first Sunday back home, I attended one of our old churches. She was not able to go because she was feeling sick.
Even though I should have known what I would experience, what I heard was shocking. I was jarred just as much as I had been when I first heard an exegetical sermon. I had gotten used to the preacher’s explaining the text to me. It had become a habit. I had forgotten what it was like in my younger days, but this Sunday was just like the good old days. A certain passage was read, then the speaker spent the rest of the sermon saying that the next Sunday was going to be “Sunday school high attendance Sunday” and that we should invite all our friends so that we could meet our goal of beating the numbers from last year. Obviously, the verses we had read had nothing to do with the topic. We could have read any verses in the NT. The Scriptures were not the focus. In fact, they were irrelevant.
I went home and told my wife what I experienced. But she had fallen into the same habit that I had and couldn’t comprehend what I was saying. The next Sunday, she was feeling better, and we got into the car to go to church. As I was pulling out of the driveway, she said, “Wait, I forgot my Bible. I have to go get it.” I told her, “You won’t need it.” She was eight months pregnant, and I didn’t want her to get it, and I didn’t want to waste my time going back into the house to get it for her. But she absolutely insisted, saying, “I can’t go to church without my Bible.” I told her, “You won’t need it.” But I went in and got it for her. I must admit I was irritated that she made me do so.
Of course, she found out that I was speaking the truth in love. During the service, she was just as shocked as I had been the week before. In one of the few times in our married life, she said, “You were right.” Then she added, “I didn’t need my Bible.” I said, “I told you so” (but only in my mind).
As I said, I know many of you can relate to this story. But there is a vital lesson for us. Let us all become people who fall deeply into the habit of studying the Bible, of looking at the verses and trying to accurately determine what the Spirit of God is saying in those words. May it become such a habit that it jars us when we hear the Bible used in any other way.