One morning awhile ago, I discovered our van had a flat tire. The culprit turned out to be a teeny sharp rock wedged in the tread. What surprised me most, though, was the flabbiness of the tire itself. Once I wrestled it off the van, I was able to actually squish it around, even with my bony girl arms. It was nothing like the old tires we use in the garden for the tomato plants. Although they have absolutely no tread on them, the rubber is so thick it can’t be dented by hand, let alone penetrated by a minuscule rock.
I don’t know why I was surprised at the puny state of the tire; everything from ice cream to canned goods to soda cans has been reduced and repackaged — it’s even true of the Bible.
According to a piece by Stephen Prothero (Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2011, “Thomas Jefferson’s Cut-and-Paste Bible”), Jefferson created what he entitled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” With razor in hand, he cut out passages he considered “of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, or superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications.” In other words, as Prothero writes, “there are no angels, no wise men, and not a hint of the resurrection.”
But isn’t that what the Bible is all about — the virgin birth, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, heralded by angels, witnessed by His followers and written down for the potential (because it’s all about choice) salvation of the human race? It’s all there, whether we choose to believe it or not. To eliminate passages we don’t agree with doesn’t make them any less true; it only makes us more false. To believe portions only we deem appropriate contradicts the authority of the entire word of God. It’s absolute — truly all or nothing where the Bible is concerned.
There are people who choose to believe what someone else says about the word of God rather than search the Scriptures for themselves. This isn’t a new concept. In “The Pursuit of God,” A.W. Tozer wrote in 1949, “The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart … Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God.” He probably wouldn’t be all that surprised at what megadenominations are doing to skew the Scriptures, lo these sixty-three years later.
I recently saw a church sign that boasted, “Practicing love beyond belief.” Sadly, I believe it. Many churches today appear to be all about diversity, denominations, numbers, tolerance, programs and good deeds, to the exclusion of the gospel, which, translated from the Greek (euangelion) and Hebrew (besorah) is rendered “good news.”
How did we get to this point? By trying to be all things to all people. In an article entitled “50 Ways to Increase Worship Attendance,” Robert Crossman suggests, “Decide today to open your minds, hearts, and doors to new faces, even if it means changing your music, sermon content, Sunday School, and enlarging your personal circle of Christian friends. Preach sermons that don’t assume familiarity with the inner workings of the church or a high level of previous biblical knowledge. Present all musical offerings well and in a style most likely to appeal to worship guests.”
These are only three of the fifty points, but what’s wrong with this picture? Whatever happened to the first priority of presenting sermons and music to the glory and honor of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
2nd Timothy 4:2-4 (NIV) says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
Sound at all familiar? Jesus Christ, the living and written word, is the standard of Christianity. Tozer has a great analogy: “one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other … being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which one must individually bow.”
All Christians should be tuned to Jesus Christ. How do we accomplish this? First Corinthians 2:16 tells us we have the mind of Christ in writing — the Bible. And, lest we’re tempted to water down the gospel so as not to offend potential visitors to our churches, it’s very specific about not adding to or taking away from that word (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19).
The word of God is alive and powerful, and God says in Isaiah 55:11, “it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” That’s the good news. Absolutely.
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.